Bible Thumpers Aren’t the Dangerous Ones…

crusades

The use of force in historical Christianity, either by the Church itself or those believers who have acted on behalf of the State, has become more than simply a theological debate. It has also become a point of contention in apologetics as the history of violence by the Church has given atheists and academics grounds for questioning the legitimacy of Christianity. For instance, Sam Harris argues, “A glance at history…reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion.” Painting with such a broad brush is unfair in many respects, yet he is not alone. Professor John Moses notes, “It has been observed that monotheistic religions, with their claim to absolute truth, encourage their adherents to use force to impose their faith…violence therefore, is built into the religious system.” As much as Christians might protest such a statement, Church history admittedly includes the use of inquisitions, the promotion of crusades, and substantial military or social violence from one group of believers against another. While some actions could be justified, many other actions were indefensible. How is it possible that the very Church, which often expects to reign with Christ over the earth (Rev. 20:4), and believes itself to be destined to judge not only the world, but angels as well (I Cor. 6:2-3), could have brought so much suffering and violence to the Middle Ages? The answer deserves a closer look at the sources of both the violence and the reforms in church history. There are more factors at play than can be examined in this short essay, yet one surprising feature stands out with Christianity that flies in the face of modern assumptions. The source of reform in the Church, including the rejection of violence and a more limited scope of the use of force by civil authorities, came from the more fundamentalist side of Christianity. Harris decries those who “believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book,” and blames such beliefs for most of the violence in the world. The argument made here takes an opposite position with respect to Christianity. As this analysis indicates, it was the movements within Christianity to take the Bible more literally, and view the Bible as authoritative, which have in fact been a prime influence toward peace, and have inexorably led away from conflict and toward greater unity. The evidence for this can be seen from the Protestant Reformation to the present.

The Difference-Making Protestant Perspective
Of course, the very idea that placing a high authority on Scripture would lead society in the direction of peace, does not seem to match well with some portions of history or current cultural dogma. It is not without evidence that Harris and others would accuse Bible-believing Christians of being dangerous. Harris calls religious moderation “nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law.” Anyone who does fully submit to God’s law, from his point of view, moves into the realm of religious extremism and violence. This assumption, which sounds true to modern culture, nevertheless struggles to stand up under scrutiny.

There is no doubt, of course, that the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations in the Middle Ages, including Protestants, used coercion, force, and violence. Historian James Wylie wrote about the formation of the Catholic League, noting “the leading object of the League was the restoration of the Popish faith over Germany, and the extirpation of Protestantism. This was to be accomplished by force of arms.” Besides the formation of a military force against the Protestants, the Church eventually began to enforce its authority through inquisitions. Wylie again writes that Inquisitors would “search for heretics in towns, houses, cellars, and other lurking-places…Once discovered, a summary but dreadful ordeal conducted them to the stake.” Protestants and reformers have also been guilty historically of employing violence for their own means. Some like Ulrich Zwingli and Thomas Muntzer openly advocated for military actions. At least some of the Catholic-led Crusades are often held up as evidence of Christian aggression, along with the Protestant-led Salem Witch trials, or other episodes in church history. One scholar notes that during the Middle Ages, “Western peoples came to look upon groups that professed another faith as enemies of the kingdom of God who should be destroyed or converted.” The same author observes “Only one group of Reformers, the Anabaptists, practiced nonresistance.”

Significant theological changes arose with the Reformation movement, however, and those changes began to impact how the Church, and even society, viewed the use of force. What is even more notable is that these changes did not come from a movement away from the Bible, but a greater adherence to it. By this is meant a movement toward the teachings of the Bible as a whole, specifically viewing both the Old and New Testaments, as the Reformers did, as the revealed word of God. Not only did this result in interpreting the Scriptures in the light of the New Testament teachings of Christ, it more importantly meant giving authority to the Scriptures over and above the authority of any person or church.

This was a major characteristic of the Reformation. Prior to the Reformation, not only was the Church itself intertwined with government, something which continued with Protestants as well, but to follow Christ meant specifically to follow the Church. Salvation was attained by performing good works and especially the sacraments. As Millard Erickson writes, “In the historic Catholic view, the sacraments are effective ex opera operato (‘from the work done’) …It indicates that the conferral of grace depends on the act itself.” He summarizes this description by saying, “What all of this amounts to is that salvation is dependent on the church.” As a result, when it came to the Crusades, the Roman Catholic Church presented fighting in the campaign as another work that could earn the blessing and forgiveness of God. One historian notes, “By constructing an ideal of Christian holy war—in which acts of sanctified violence would actually help to cleanse a warrior’s soul of sin—the papacy was opening up a new path to salvation.” The papacy could do this because the Church was viewed as the highest authority. Wylie records that before he was burned at the stake, Jerome was rebuked for referring to the Scriptures. According to Wylie, a Cardinal scornfully mocked Jerome, saying, “The Holy Writings! Is everything to be judged by them? Who can understand them till the Church has interpreted them?”

The exchange highlights the contrast. What drove the Reformation was giving authority back to the Scriptures instead of the Church. Thus, when Martin Luther forcefully argued the case for his ninety-five theses to Sylvester Prierias, he tells Prierias, “You cite no Scripture.” Luther historian Roland Bainton observed, “The radicalism of (Luther’s) tract lies not in its invective but in its affirmation that the pope might err and a council might err and that only Scripture is the final authority.” Indeed, appeal to Scripture became a defining characteristic of Protestantism and has remained so.

That appeal to Scripture made salvation by faith a more personal message than salvation by obeying the Church. The works that were done, were works done for God, and involved more than regular sacraments. Modern-day pastor John MacArthur put it this way, “Salvation by faith does not eliminate works per se. It does away with works that are the result of human effort alone (Eph. 2:8). It abolishes any attempt to merit God’s favor by our works.”

Thus, for Protestants especially, pleasing God daily by how one lived, became paramount. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed war as a pacifist in Germany, when the Anabaptists practiced nonresistance, when St. Augustine proposed the idea of a “Just War,” or even when the American Revolutionaries took arms against England, regardless of whether or not these people were correct in their interpretation, they nevertheless made their decisions on the basis of Scripture in an effort to do what was right in the eyes of God. They did not make their decisions based on a church edict or promise of forgiveness for the act of taking up arms. A greater adherence to Scripture, meant a greater personal concern for living life according to the will of God. A Protestant did not believe salvation could be earned by fighting in a crusade or simply by being a member of the Church.

The Tension for Protestants Between Following Christ and the Use of Force
Once free to use the Bible to guide one’s actions, theological debates and struggles over the use of force immediately ensued. A modern theologian argues, “Jesus clearly explained that the cause of God was not to be advanced through the use of physical force (John 18:36), and He criticized Peter for violently defending Him at His arrest (Matt. 26:52-54).” It is also true, however, that Jesus did not condemn the soldiers he met (Matt. 8:5-10), and He himself used force to drive money-changers from the temple (John 2:15). Thus, there have been, and continue to be, differing views on how to balance force and toleration.

A particularly extreme case, the early Protestant Thomas Muntzer believed it would be necessary to “slaughter the ungodly” and erect a theocracy. Less radical was Zwingli who looked upon the Catholic League armies and was convinced, “the gospel could be saved in Switzerland and the confederation conserved only if the Catholic League with Austria were countered by an evangelical league…ready if need be to use the sword.” Zwingli’s actions especially were intertwined with his political and military involvement, and according to one scholar he did not limit his views to defensive wars. “Zwingli’s intentions were unmistakable,” he writes, “He sought to force the Catholic opponents to accept the evangelical faith and to couple the Word of God with the military might of Zurich.”

Other Protestants, however, vehemently opposed using force to propagate Christianity. The emphasis by the Reformation on salvation by faith led to an emphasis on preaching the Scripture instead of demanding loyalty to a church. When Zwingli was killed on the battlefield, Bainton writes that “Luther considered his death a judgment upon him because as a minister he wielded the sword.” When it came to government, however, many including Luther saw a need for force, within appropriate boundaries. For instance, a key passage in Romans says:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience (Romans 13:1-5, NIV).

The indication in this Scripture that government is to “bear the sword” and to punish those who do wrong seemed to prescribe appropriate boundaries for civil authorities, and as much as Christians were involved in government, these boundaries came into play. That Paul describes authorities, who in his day were hostile to Christianity, as established by God, led Luther and others to reject rebellion. Luther condemned a Peasant Revolt, writing “If the peasant is in open rebellion, then he is outside the law of God.” Yet as an example of the difficulty in wrestling with this issue, one could observe that Luther himself rebelled against authority by standing up against the Catholic Church. Even Paul, who wrote the above statement, ran afoul of the law for preaching the gospel.

The question of disobedience, including under what circumstances and in what way, preoccupied the American colonists prior to the Revolution as well. In fact, they worked diligently to conduct their protests, and eventual decision to declare independence, in a way they felt did not violate this passage of Scripture. The historian David Barton writes, “Reformation leaders turned to the Bible and found much guidance on the subject of civil disobedience and resistance to tyrannical civil authority.” There are indeed many instances in Scripture of resistance to authority, perhaps summed up by Peter and John with a single statement they uttered to the Sanhedrin: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!” (Acts 4:19). In like manner, according to Barton the Founding Fathers believed “that the institution government” was not to be opposed but only tyranny. Thus, they acted in what they viewed as a defensive posture, and with a colonial government in place so that they were not rejecting government itself. These issues concerned them, and they looked to the Bible for guidance.

Protestants, Revolutionaries, and even modern government officials have also hearkened back to Augustine’s idea of a “Just War.” For Augustine that required “proclamation by a ‘legitimate authority’…a ‘just cause’…and prosecution with ‘right intention’, that is, with the least possible violence.” Of course, despite Christians best efforts, however, it is difficult to know for sure whether a war is just, and mistakes have certainly been made. There continues be debate over the justice, or lack thereof, regarding the Crusades. Although the call to war for the first Crusade was made on the basis of atrocities against Christians and the danger of Muslim aggression, Thomas Asbridge writes that Pope Urban II’s “accusations bore little or no relation to the reality…but it is impossible to gauge whether the pope believed his own propaganda or entered into a conscious campaign of manipulation and distortion.”

Whether Asbridge is correct or not, the point is that Bible-believing Protestants did not commonly launch into Crusades or revolutions with blood-thirsty zeal to expand the faith. Instead, they began to even wrestle with how to use force in government, and with only a few exceptions, were theologically disposed to use preaching to expand the faith, instead of using the sword. Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides a thought-provoking example. A scholar notes Bonhoeffer’s stance as a Christian pacifist, quoting him as saying, “Every form of war service, unless it be Good Samaritan service, and every preparation for war, is forbidden for the Christian.” Yet, even Bonhoeffer may have had second-thoughts as he watched the rise of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. Although some argue he was unaware, the pacifist Christian minister did get involved with an organization that attempted to assassinate Hitler. The vast majority of people would applaud him, but for Protestants who gave the Scripture authority over every church and government, the question was about pleasing God first. Thus, they wrestled with what to do. They looked to the Scriptures for guidance.

The Protestant Trajectory in History
It made a difference although for centuries, and certainly during the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation as battles raged between Christians during the Thirty Years’ War, it could be argued that God refused to answer the prayer of His Son. Christ had prayed for future believers, asking that, “all of them may be one”(John 17:21), and that Christians would experience “complete unity” (17:23). For much of the Middle Ages and in the years that followed, there was little that could be characterized by unity. Christians were guilty of inventing ways to reconcile wars and violence with Scripture. Prior to the Reformation, Arthur Ripstein notes that “Augustine defended punitive wars” and later “Suarez defended the Spanish conquest of the Americas on the ground that the indigenous inhabitants were likely to resist settlers and missionaries.” Deep divisions also separated Protestant denominations. Those divisions were reinforced by governments that tended to officially recognize a particular church denomination, which was then promoted over the others. Douglas Sweeney writes,

“The Protestant world was broken apart, and its state churches were not the only signs of division. Its theologians developed competing Protestant confessions, or doctrinal statements…They fought theological battles with their fellow Protestant leaders. They encouraged the laity to think of themselves primarily as Calvinists or Arminians, as Lutherans or Anabaptists, rather than those who shared in the words of St. Paul, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’”

If the story were to stop here, the argument that the efforts to return to the Bible did not cause more peace, but in fact, more division. In some respects, the accusation was true. Just as changes from monarchies to more democratic governments handed over responsibility to millions of citizens, thus resulting in an increase of political discussion and disagreement from person to person, in like manner the increase in Bibles and literacy, coupled with the view that the Bible held more authority than any church, gave each person an opportunity to form their own spiritual opinions.  A multitude of groups sprang up, including Puritans and Pietists who encouraged the study of the Scriptures, yet often found themselves with doctrinal divisions.

The divisions, and the proliferation of the Bible, weakened any sort of centrally-powerful church, however. Indeed, it can be argued that the sheer number of churches, and various Christian groups, weakened the ability of any church to use force. In general, preaching replaced armies, and doctrinal disputes, while argued passionately, did not usually result in someone being burned at the stake or arrested by Inquisitors. The arrival of the Great Awakening demonstrated a reliance upon preaching the word instead of advancing Christianity by force, and it was clearly more unifying in nature. Timothy George noted, “The awakenings were international, transatlantic movements of ecclesial and spiritual renewal embracing Pietism in Germany, Methodism in Great Britain and revivalism in the American colonies.”  It wasn’t unity for the mere sake of unity, but it became a unity of purpose, of working together worldwide. George writes, “The awakenings spawned a host of interdenominational ministries, including orphanages, Bible societies…and above all, an evangelical missionary movement of global proportions.” Today, the very group of Christians that emphasizes the authority of Scripture, often goes by the ecumenical label “Evangelical” which encompasses Christians from various denominations all over the world. While the prayer of Christ may not have been answered for centuries, the trajectory of many Protestants has indeed moved closer to unity. 

Conclusion
In many respects, this analysis is subjective, and there are many theological and historical details that lie outside the scope of an essay of this size. However, while admitting that Christianity of all types has struggled to coexist peacefully with others, it becomes undeniable that something has changed in Christianity since the Middle Ages. The most obvious change is the Reformation Movement which emphasized Scriptural authority over the authority of the Church, and emphasized personal faith over seeking salvation by obedience to the Church and the sacraments. As a result, salvation could not be forced upon anyone since it required faith, and the highest official in any church, could be opposed on biblical grounds since Scripture held the authority. While the ramifications of these changes took centuries to work through Protestant, Bible-believing Christians, history has demonstrated a notable difference. It has been the Christians who have gone back to the Bible that then began to wrestle the most with the use of force in society, and who have ultimately experienced a greater unity of purpose and fellowship. The effect has since spilled over into all of Christendom so that today, the Catholic Church is a strong voice for peace. In doctrine, most would agree with Erickson who writes, “The church is to show concern and take action wherever it sees need, hurt, or wrong.” The point here is one of the most crucial factors that has led to this attitude, has been a return to seeing the Bible as the authority. One could then argue the Bible isn’t a danger, and never has been. The Christians who returned to the Bible have reformed Christianity. They have limited the use of force in society, eliminated it in the Church, and encouraged greater unity.
Bibliography

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades, The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2010.

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1978.

Barton, David. “The American Revolution: Was it an Act of Biblical Rebellion?” WallBuilders.com. May 5, 2009. Accessed Dec. 15, 2016. http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=24548.

Clouse, Robert G. “War” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Second Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

George, Timothy F. “Why I Am an Evangelical and a Baptist,” in Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity. Edited by Anthony L. Chute, Christopher W. Morgan, and Robert A. Peterson. Wheaton,, IL: Crossway, 2013.

Gordon, Bruce. “Huldrych Zwingli,” The Expository Times. Vol 126, 4 (Dec. 12, 2014): 157-168. Accessed Dec. 16, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0014524614560493.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005.

MacArthur, John. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.

Moses, John A. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Repudiation of Protestant German War Theology” Journal of Religious History. 30 (2006): 354. Accessed 12/15/16, DOI:10.1111/j.1467-9809.2006.00498.x.

Ripstein, Arther. “Just War, Regular War, and Perpetual Peace,” Kant-Studien. 107, no. 1. (March 2016): 179-195. Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed December 16, 2016. DOI:10.1515/kant-2016-0009

Sweeney, Douglas A. The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

Wylie, James A. “The Thirty Years’ War,” in The History of Protestantism: A Complete History of the Christian Church. Book Twenty-one. Harrington, DE: Delmarva Publications, Inc., 2013.

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THIS is Christianity

Mottel Baleston
check out this video (it will pop up in a new window)
     For many people religion is more of a cultural thing to appreciate and keep around like one does a family heirloom. It looks good on the shelf in the living room, but you don’t really use it all that much in real life.  For others, it’s just …foreign. At least, that’s often the impression given by the comments and reactions to religious expression we see from the talking heads of media and/or Hollywood.
     I’m probably being generous. Hollywood hasn’t understood Christianity or the Bible since the twelve apostles were still available to hire as consultants.
     And some of you… it’s okay to admit it…. won’t even get through the five-minute video above. After all, the Pew Research Center just informed us that Christianity is shrinking in America while the numbers of people with no affiliation with any religion, including atheists, and agnostics are growing. That’s especially true for anyone more youthful than 36 years of age.  So hey, if that’s you, then perhaps you don’t really care that some guy named Mottel Baleston decided to become a Christian after growing up Jewish.

     I understand. And I’m not posting this video to win any of these arguments. I’m posting this because THIS is Christianity.

Continue reading

Knowledge Versus Obedience

As a minister it is easy for me to critique another person by their depth of knowledge, the logic they use, and the way they present an argument. It sounds a little prideful to say that, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that I have everything mastered, myself. It’s just part of my every day life to study, teach, and speak in front of people so I look closer at those things.  A basketball player will watch another basketball player with a more critical, discerning eye than the regular fan, and a welder will gauge another welder’s work more closely than I would. So while most people who attend church are listening to what the pastor has to say, when a pastor actually gets to attend another church, it’s easy for us to sit there measuring not only what is said, but how it is said. I’m sure most pastors try to be gracious and understanding, but like everyone else, it’s not always quick and easy to “turn off” the job.

That’s a big reason why it always means more to get a compliment from someone who works in the same field. Not only do they know what they are talking about, but they can judge closer, too.  The best compliment I ever received for doing radio play by play for basketball, came from another radio announcer.  And the best compliments I’ve received for preaching, came from another preacher. It just means more coming from them.

The thing is, however, sometimes in the midst of feeling… ummm… qualified to criticize… 

God steps in and humbles you.

If you haven’t read the discipleship training book T4T, you really should. (It’s reasonably priced on the Kindle, but expensive as a paperback for some reason. Regardless, it’s still worth a LOT more than the goofy $18 paperback price…)  Among the gems you find is the observation that (and I’m paraphrasing here)…

Spiritual growth is not only measured by how much you know, but  also by how much you obey.

So even if I might have my doctrine fine-tuned better than someone else, or might be able to deliver a sermon with more creativity and force, or put together a better organized system of outreach…

…Hey, a guy can dream…

Even if I could do all of that better than someone else, what does it matter if I’m not obeying Christ?

We sometimes judge each other by our doctrine, or some measure of performance. We have baptism figured out, or we understand Bible prophecy better, or we have a better grasp of the New Covenant in Jesus. Maybe our church is better at praise and worship, or our greeting ministry is ten times better than some other group. But what if instead of measuring each other by doctrine, or some outward appearance, we measured each other by our obedience to Christ in our lives?  You know, the actual “fruit’ test where we look for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control etc…?

Sounds obvious? It’s not.

Over the past month I’ve had encounters with people who were extremely opinionated over some point of doctrine and were interested in arguing with me over it.  Well, it’s probably more accurate to say they wanted to educate me because it was hard for me to say more than a sentence or two before I would be interrupted and they continued on with their points.

While I wouldn’t want to judge their specific motivations, I think it’s fair to say that from time to time all of us want to out-argue someone else, or prove our belief is right, because of a selfish desire to feed our ego.  There are also a few people, you probably call them know-it-alls, who always want to be the smartest person in the room. Or on Facebook.

I was thinking these very thoughts, judging them a bit for not letting ME speak enough, and judging their views because they disagreed with ME.  I’ll even admit I thought: hey, our church is way bigger than yours!  But that’s when God hit me with the question…

Who is obeying me in their life?

And that ladies and gentlemen, is an entirely different question than who has their doctrine correct on the New Testament or how many people attend on Sunday. It’s also an entirely more important question.

Some Scripture is vaguely coming to mind here, hmmm… something about not being hearers of the word only, but being doers…. Jesus said something about building a house on sand if you don’t do what he says… knowing a tree by it’s fruit…it’s not what goes into a man but what comes out… but hey… that’s just the Bible.

Anyway, for one of those persons especially, I had to admit they seemed to be faithful to God in how they lived. In fact, I admired their faithfulness.

So while I might still think I’m right on the doctrine part…

They win this time. 🙂

How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?

Although I haven’t taken an official poll, it seems most professors, skeptics, media, and those who comment on the Bible would say the disciples of Jesus expected him to come back within their lifetimes. This is often used as another reason not to take the message of Jesus all that seriously, but that is a sweeping judgment that lacks perspective. In fact, when it comes to the return of Jesus according to the Bible, Christians and skeptics alike may be guilty of missing key details.

For instance, many pastors and evangelical Christians today, (of which I qualify as both) maintain that Jesus can come back at any moment. We commonly speak and write in ways that give the distinct impression Jesus could return any moment in our lifetimes. In that respect, we aren’t much different than those early Christians.

It makes one wonder what people might conclude if, in the distant future, someone were to find the writings of Christians from today. Would they pick up a worn copy of “Left Behind” and conclude we believed Jesus would return in the next few years and that Kirk Cameron was our prophet? Couldn’t they also use that as evidence that since Christ did not return, he must not be real? Of course, ask almost any of those Christians or pastors of today and their views are not so simplistic. I have often said Jesus is coming soon, but I am not so certain he is coming in my lifetime.

Perhaps, we Christians should speak and write more carefully using more perspective in the first place? Probably, but that’s not going to happen. There’s never going to be a shortage of writers or speakers making exciting claims, no matter whether they are Christians, secularists, or global warming/climate change alarmist/deniers.

Besides, it’s more fun to talk about Jesus coming in the next few minutes. Come on.

Anyway, as it turns out and despite the fact this is often ignored for the sake of arguing, the writers of the New Testament DID write with perspective. Shockingly, they never Continue reading

Too Tough to Follow Jesus? Really…

bible_gridiron (1)For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. -The Bible (I Timothy 4:8)

I played four sports in High School because we didn’t have five. I’ve pulled the muscle that makes your leg go up and down when you walk and all I did was tape it up because that’s just what we did back then. I’ve sustained more severe high ankle sprains than I can remember, a broken wrist that I distinctly remember, and once stepped into the runner on a double-play helping him break his jaw in 3 places. I bet he remembers. And yes I still feel bad about that…

I’ve run so hard my chest was on fire, broken a school record in the triple jump, and hit a home run or two. I was only occasionally the best, but I love to compete. Still do. I’m scrappy, I know how to cheat, and I’m good at smack talk.  Oh yes, the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990’s, the Miami Hurricanes of the 80’s and 90’s… You bet I was a fan. Still am if you can get me to admit it.  I was born in Dallas, so I had little choice.

Look, I’m into sports.  I speak the language, and know the lifestyle.  I just got back from helping to cover a game on the radio, and I did the play-by-play for a Division I junior college earlier this week. Tomorrow, I’m going to run 3 miles because I still take personal pride in pushing myself.  I’m offended by movies and television shows that make pastors look like awkward wimps that punch like a girl.  Really?  That’s not me. Try me in football, dare me to do a rail slide in a snow terrain park, or just try… try… to strike me out.  I’ll crush that weak stuff.  Don’t even bring that with you if it’s all you got.

(yes I know I should have used the word “have” there, but that’s not how you say it in the dugout)

Sports are a part of me.  I’ve grown up playing them, felt the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  And I identify with those who know exactly what I’m talking about here.  And it’s why I find it so crazy, so hard to understand, why so many who play sports in high school or college, have so little time or interest in following God, or going to church, or being real about where they stand with Him.

C’mon, Tony Dungee is a Christian.  Emmitt Smith?  Ever heard of him?  Tom Landry, Kurt Warner, Joe Gibbs, and these days some famous young guns like RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, and that infamous Tebow. They love God, and dare to follow Him. There are so many more.  You’ll find serious Christians in everything from the X-games to the UFC.  So, since when did going to church become wimpy for a high school athlete?

Well, speaking as someone who knows what a wind-sprint is, AND also speaking as a Christian who has followed God from the mission field, to the inner city, I know I’m not being soft when I say Godliness… is better. Following God is the real goal, and takes real commitment. Character will be built more in your relationship with God and in every adventure you dare to follow Him, than on a court or on a field. Don’t pretend to be tough if you can’t play on HIS court baby, where the battle is real and the war is for souls. If you play sports, great! Enjoy the game, but c’mon… don’t wimp out on the real one.  And don’t tell me you teach your kids character when you let them sleep in on Sundays, don’t care if they practice self-control on the weekends, and train them to think that attention and accolades are the most important things to seek in life.

If you do, then I dare say that in the great game of life, you hit like a girl.

And that’s an insult to girls everywhere.

That’s why sports or no sports, I tip my ball cap to those of you who get on God’s team, and leave it all on HIS field. That’s the big show right there.  Anyone who says different is wearing a spiritual pocket protector on their soul. Booyah.

Now This is What It’s All About

The body of Christ is often known more for its conflicts than its cooperation.  At least, that seems to be the perception of the world, or maybe it’s just an excuse? (Sometimes I do wonder.)  At any rate, I’ve been a pastor for nearly 16 years, a Christian since I was a kid, and what people are seeing in Joplin, Missouri has actually been the norm in my experience. For example, from our small, rural community -which is a good 3 hour drive from the tornado devastation- a team of 66 workers made up largely from the Christian Church, the Baptist Church, and the local hospital staff, spent a full day cleaning tornado debris with Samaritan’s Purse.  Different churches with differences over a few doctrines, working together because of Christ.  It happens more than you think, and there is probably less hesitation than you imagine.  In fact, churches often jump at a chance to work together on such projects.  I think there is something about enjoying unity and working together where names, titles, and buildings play no part whatsoever.

It’s just the way it’s supposed to be.  The way it WILL be eventually.

Like the Bible says in I Corinthians 13:2… “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing… there are more pressing matters than being able to figure out all the mysteries, or having all the knowledge, or accomplishing great feats of faith.  With God, none of that matters if there isn’t real, lived-out, love.

It’s no accident that when telling 3 parables having to do with the end of the world and a coming judgment, Jesus final story was about love.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus describes the nations being divided before Him on judgment day, and the reason for the division was that one side had given water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and had met the needs of those who were destitute and devastated.  The other group had not. Continue reading

We’re All Going To Die and I’m Having Tea

Issues, issues everywhere and not a drop to drink!  Ok, not exactly true, I’m guzzling sugar free iced tea right now… But where to start?  Hell or the imminent second coming of Christ?  Let’s start with hell!

These days the idea of hell seems a non-starter with most.  In fact, as a society we are in the midst of concluding that the idea of a God who sends people to hell is simply dangerous. Unfortunately, the “Church” has not always helped.  Instead of actually following the teachings or example of Christ (Christians right?), the “Church” has sometimes burned people at the stake.  It’s a past that contributes to a dangerous image, one that is often exploited today by those who oppose Christianity.  That’s to be expected of course.  It’s just a fact of life that when some of those who claim to follow Jesus do such horrible and anti-Jesus things, Christianity itself gets associated with evil.

It has come to the point in our culture, that make no mistake, basic Christian beliefs are being looked upon with suspicion.  No longer are heinous acts of the Dark Ages being blamed on a corrupt church or power-hungry leaders, now it’s the Bible itself, the traditional religion itself.  Maybe it’s imbedded in our belief system?  Seems silly to most Christians who regularly give to help the poor, or work in the soup kitchens and slums of the world.  But nevertheless, despite our actions we are being painted as something more sinister, even by those who call themselves believers.  As Rob Bell said in his book “Love Wins” :

“Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklisting – when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent.” (For you Kindle users, that’s at 88% through the book, chapter 7)
 
Don’t miss the logical conclusion of such reasoning.  Continue reading