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Thoughts on Easter

I’ve been thinking about what to write for awhile. My life is becoming much busier as spring approaches and the sun’s golden glow draws us pale and vitamin-D deficient nerds out from our holes.

My children are now busy digging holes and gathering sticks for absolutely no reason in the backyard.

My grass is becoming greener and ready to do battle with the mower soon.

People are having weddings like crazy.

And the day commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ is night. This Sunday, people will gather in churches across the world to give Jesus his due. Some will come to just give him a tip o’ the hat until next year. Others see this as the apex of a 40 day period of fasting, sacrifice and prayer.

Easter is ultimately a reminder of the way things were, they are and the will be. It is the eternal spring of every human’s dormant reality, bursting forth like a flower from the ground and soaking in the fullness of the Light. It is justice in it’s purest form. Justice that breaks the yoke of earthly powers, but more importantly the spiritual bondage that undergirds the earthly bondage.

For those with faith in Christ, the Cross and the Empty Tomb are two sides of the same coin. The Cross marked Christ’s entrance into the bowels of Hades and because it could not contain Him, like a mining tunnel collapsing in on itself, Death was overtaken. Christ’s substitute for us was not to fulfill just some sort of cosmic legal writ, but He was the stitch in time that unraveled the rope binding humanity to Death. He literally cheated Death by being the atomic bomb shoved down it’s gullet.

Three days later, the son of God rose up out of the tomb into a glorified body, being the forerunner of the redemption of true humanity. The state we were created to be was templated by His very presence. Jesus Christ was the gift that gave all humans from the beginning of time to the end a way back into communion with God.

All the flowery language I can conceive doesn’t do justice to this reality, but the point is this – when Easter comes into view, then we can either see the Cross as a torture device (which is it’s old, unredeemed meaning) we are begrudgingly called to take up or we can see it as the place where we are reborn unto God. Our flesh dies but it’s then replaced with our true humanity. We are experiencing that reality inwards and then when we pass from this life to the next, we’ll be ready to take on a body fit for basking in the uncreated light of God.

The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection. – St. Isaac the Syrian

Between here and eternity, I’m constantly seeing where I am. Every moment and every breathe is a re-centering of myself outside of my linear, narrow dimension and into the dimension where I am mystically united with Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.

How does Easter take us there? It’s not the day or the date on the calendar which carries the significance, but how our hearts align with the purpose of Easter.  When Christ breathed His last on the cross and said “It is finished”, His mission on earth was over, but the end of ages also had began. He signalled that the cross was the point where when we look back on this place and this moment in time, we are at the same time looking at the finishing line. The linear moment in time is actually the end of everything. The end of injustice. The end of evil. The end of death. The end of mourning. The end of Satan. The beginning of hope.

All I hope is that wherever you are in life, you find hope in the cross. I myself am feeling rather defeated lately. I see that just as I grasp the light, the darkness taunts me and does everything it can to snuff it out. Christ is my sword and my shield. He is my hope in all things.

He is the God who spoke the universe into being and stooped down to rub mud in the eyes of a blind man. He’s the same God who led Israel out of slavery and freed a naked wildman from the clutches of a legion of demons.

To me, Easter is about Jesus as God just as much as it is about Jesus as human. He experienced human pain and He turned that pain into salvation for all of Creation.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:    That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;    And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:11 KJV)

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life! (The Pascal Troparion)

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Defying the Internet’s Mob Mentality

(The full article is available for reading here.)

Back in December, a PR executive sent an offensive tweet before hopping on a trans-atlantic flight.

By the time she had landed, she had sparked a trending hashtag and parody account on Twitter and been verbally torn apart by bloggers and Twitter users.

Along with her reputation, she’d also lost her job.

Now, it was a very offensive tweet—but the incident served as a good example of the way social media can stir up big groups of people. Somehow, thousands of people read and reacted to that tweet—thousands of people who didn’t know anything about the tweeter other than her name and the content of that one tweet.

 The New Mobs

The advent of Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere has created new ways of conveying information that can reach millions of people within seconds. Not only can this information be beamed directly to people, but it can mobilize large groups into action, effectively creating virtual mobs.

This phenomenon can have positive effects. It can enact real change, like the overthrow of a repressive regime or, less radically, a change in a harmful company policy. But sometimes they are misguided, unhelpful or even based on faulty information, like when a large number of folks on Reddit worked to find the Boston marathon bomber, but turned out to be mistaken.

The Internet is the gateway to spark a movement, and there are people with many different agendas who know this. However, often it’s not a conspiracy of mass-media or a certain group, but rather just people following where the crowd starts to go.

(Click here to read the rest.)

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Dear Hobby Lobby

Concerned with the consistency of ethics in their corporate practices, this is an actual letter I’ve written to Hobby Lobby from their website. If they respond back, I’ll let everyone know.

I’m not sure if this is the right place to contact, but I wanted to write to your corporate headquarters to say the following:

Dear Hobby Lobby,

I am a fellow Christian. I can appreciate what you’re doing in defending your company’s values. Likewise, I want to express my values to you.

I have been to your store numerous times in the past and I have purchased items there. Some of these items I now realize were probably made in Chinese sweatshops. I would implore you to remain consistent to your Christian ethic and stop the import of any and all goods from China, whom along with allowing manufacturing under severe, inhumane conditions also promotes forced abortions for population control.

If there are any other nations or companies you deal with who deal with unethical practices, I would implore you to change your business practices. Because when you go before the United States judges and plead your case, you’re pleading on behalf of all Christians and Christian-based companies. You’re also showing a fair bit of hypocrisy. I don’t think that gives our children or future generations a good view of the values we want to instill in them. I urge you to defend the unborn without also destroying the integrity of the platform your company now has.

Thank you for your time and patience in reading my letter.

Best regards,

Zach Perkins

Contact Hobby Lobby

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5 Arguments Not to Have on Facebook

I co-authored this article with the venerable Brandon W. Peach. The entire article is available for reading at RELEVANT here.

First things first: Please note, this isn’t an article about what shouldn’t be discussed on Facebook. All of these topics are worthy of interesting conversation, and social media can be a helpful platform for just that purpose. This is a list of things that aren’t worth arguing over on Facebook. When a social media conversation devolves into a fight, it’s generally advisable to be the bigger person, or inform the dissenter that you’d love to continue the debate in person at some other time.

Are there any topics that are completely taboo for Christians to engage in discussion across social media? Perhaps. But the most dangerous ones in fact present themselves as opportunities rather than traps. The political discussion may seem like a great place to inject reason and clarity, when posting an opinion might only stir the pot of dissension. Engaging in “media activism” by sharing the social justice cause du jour isn’t always the best way to help effect change. Social media offers the most universal, accessible and easily searchable link to your public identity in history.

Here are a few of the topics that, outside of a compelling reason, are probably best to avoid:

Read the rest at RELEVANT here.

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Five Things Friday – March 21st, 2014

Here are 5 things for this week I love and hope you’ll love too!

1. This 11 year old gets some big news and is overcome with emotion.

2. From RELEVANT: Why Fred Phelps’ Death Isn’t Cause for Celebration

3. St. Brigid of Ireland knew what a man wants

4. I admit this made me laugh.

5. The luckiest bonus round on Wheel of Fortune EVER.

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Why I Love the Gospel of John (Part 3)

(This is a continuation in my series on John.  Click here to see parts 1 and 2.)

I’ve been continuing some of my studying on John. I don’t suspect I’ll have too many profound insights that will knock your socks off, but maybe I can give you something to think about as we take a stroll through the Gospel of the “Disciple Whom Jesus Loved”.

Let’s start by taking a look at the text in John 3:1-8:

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for  no one can do these signs that You do unless  God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him,  “Most assuredly, I say to you,  unless one is born  again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered,  “Most assuredly, I say to you,  unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.    That which is born of the flesh is  flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.    Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’    The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I find it interesting how many people interpret “born of water”. It seems odd to me that Jesus would say that in order to be born-again, you must first be a homo-sapien who came out of the womb of a woman as a qualifier. Yes, this is how many would interpret the passage in order to juke the sacramental interpretation, which is that Christ was referring to baptism. I personally find the sacramental interpretation makes more sense, especially considering the text that comes after the Nicodemus dialogue, where John the Baptist is questioned. It also just makes more logical sense within the sentence structure.

St. John Chrysostom spoke a lengthy sermon on this topic and he points out the reasoning for baptism as it relates to the rebirth through the Spirit:

In Baptism are fulfilled the pledges of our covenant with God; burial and death, resurrection and life; and these take place all at once. For when we immerse our heads in the water, the old man is buried as in a tomb below, and wholly sunk forever; then as we raise them again, the new man rises in its stead. As it is easy for us to dip and to lift our heads again, so it is easy for God to bury the old man, and to show forth the new.

He also points out that the Spirit usually comes before baptism and baptism is a way of confirming what the Spirit is already doing, but also it’s a mystical rebirthing process. In essence, it is a proclamation of faithfulness and a seal of a covenant with God. I recognize there are still even further ways one could take that, so I won’t say much more on baptism right now.

As for when Jesus compares “the wind” to “the Spirit” – He’s making an interesting play on words, because He’s using the Greek word pneuma for “the wind”. Pneuma is often translated as the word for “breathe”, meaning God’s breathe. So, God can breathe on whoever He wants to.

Further on down (John 3:9-21) Jesus says the following:

Nicodemus answered and said to Him,  “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered and said to him,  “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?    Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and  you do not receive Our witness.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?    No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven,  that is,  the Son of Man  who is in heaven.    And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so  must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever  believes in Him should  not perish but  have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten  Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.    And this is the condemnation,  that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.    For  everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.    But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been  done in God.”

Now, as I was reading John Chrysostom’s homily on this passage, he goes into some length explaining the reference in v. 12 to “earthly things”. I think the Orthodox Study Bible has a better summary of how Chrysostom explained it.

According to St. John Chrysostom, earthly things refer to grace and baptism given to man. These are earthly, not in the sense of “unspiritual,” but only in the sense that they occur on earth and are given to creatures. The heavenly things involve the ungraspable mysteries of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father; they relate to His eternal existence before all time and to God’s divine plan of salvation for the world. A person first must grasp the ways in which God works among mankind before he can even begin to understand things that pertain to God Himself.

Then, we have the infamous passages where Jesus shows the “type and shadow” regarding Moses’ lifting of the bronze serpent to heal the poisonous bites that were plaguing the Israelites in Numbers 21:4-9. It’s another distinct bridge between the Old Testament and the New which Christ does multiple times throughout the book of John.  Just as God used an image of a serpent to defeat the work of a serpent, God used a human to overthrow the work of another human (Adam). He used the Cross, an instrument of death, to defeat death.

Of course, everyone knows John 3:16 and the subsequent verses but I think the phrase in verse 21, “But he who does the truth comes to the light” is quite striking to me. Christ seems to show that it is not just cognition (mental ascent, belief via communicative thought, etc.) that brings us to the light, but action (specifically, using our will unto God).

This philosophical distinction between our head and our heart isn’t really in the scriptures. When the heart is referred to, many of the thoughts and actions come from there (Psalm 119:36, Luke 2:19, Proverbs 3:1, James 4:8, Romans 10:10).

Likewise, the mind is sometimes referenced using the Greek word nous (Rom. 12:2) and is understood as being a part of one’s intellect, consciousness or intuition. So, the lines are a little blurred from what we understand between our feelings and thoughts in scripture. Faith, belief, etc. is an act of will. Cognitive faculties are less important as being in a state where one’s soul is directed to God. It’s “walking in the light”. We so often fail to comprehend the light with our mind, but we know down in our soul that it’s something we want to get close to. In a sense, knowledge in the head doesn’t save you, but knowledge in the heart or nous does. It doesn’t equate to cognitive certainty, which is what makes faith so hard to explain in the naturalistic sense.

Evil comes when we run from the soul-yearning to be a part of the light. When dive deeper into our own pride and selfishness and refuse to struggle against the tidal waves of sinfulness. Many actively find ways to escape the light, so their actions will not be exposed. But if we walk in the light, we will want to keep our hands and our hearts clean before Him. We will continue to take up our cross and die for Him, realizing that we are made most fully alive in the light (Christ). Our inner being is then renewed and can walk towards Him.

I’ll have a lot more to come and I might go back and cover some of this text, but for now, this is what’s on my mind. I hope you found it edifying.

(This is a continuation in my series on John.  Click here to see parts and 2.)

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Confession and the Fullness of Repentance (Re-Post)

I originally posted this back in November of last year. In the time since then, I still feel even stronger that confession is vital for our spiritual growth.

As I’ve been reading through St. Ephraim the Syrians’s Spiritual Psalter I’ve found myself a bit uncomfortable and uneasy at times. I recognize this as a gut reaction based on how I still process salvation and forgiveness. Ephraim has many Psalms that are down-in-the-dirt, nose-in-the-mud degrading from the first-person perspective, but they are also about admitting he’s the greatest sinner of all and pleading for mercy from God. Psalm after psalm follows this pattern of admitting all of his flaws in a hyperbolic fashion and then begging for salvation. However, David did the same thing in many of his Psalms (which St. Ephraim emulated) and St. Paul calls himself the “chief of sinners”  (1 Tim. 3:15). It’s very humbling but still a bit conflicting to me.

All of this made me uncomfortable because I failed to see the whole picture here. Grace is given freely from God and He does not withhold mercy from those who seek it. The Church IS the body of Christ, first and foremost. In the Church, salvation isn’t restricted. In fact, it comes through more avenues than I could possibly count. It’s in the sacraments. It’s in baptism. It’s in the Eucharist – but most of all…it’s in our personal repentance, for as we draw near, He’s ready with open arms (Jam. 4:8).  However, our personal repentance is not always personal. Another scripture in James:

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16, NKJV)

When I read St. Ephraim, I need to remind myself of one thing – Ephraim had a spiritual father most assuredly, Ephraim would at least have confessed his sins to someone whether an elder or priest. Ephraim pleaded and begged for forgiveness, but there are also Psalms of gratefulness at the abundant grace of God. Between psalm A and psalm B, Ephraim wouldn’t have been anxiously twiddling his thumbs, waiting for God to speak. His psalms showed he was confessing to God first and then we can assume he was most likely going to his spiritual father, confessing his sins and receiving absolution. He most assuredly received peace that this forgiveness was a done deal…multiple times, but above all he received healing. It’s a lot like going to a Doctor and having the doctor stitch you up and bandage you so full healing can begin.

This brings me great peace for a couple reasons: 1) It shows that even in our darkest times, confessing our sins is necessary to receive a peace that surpasses all understanding and to drill God’s love into our hearts and minds. Maybe some people can gain that without confessing their sins, but I know that I cannot. God gives us spiritual liberation through confession. The confession is the plateau of repentance. Hallelujah, that we have such a grand ending to our striving for holiness! 2) The church is an organism and Christ works through his people. We shouldn’t disdain one another’s power to forgive each other’s sins, but we should celebrate that God uses His people….His Body…to bring a physical, direct peace to us.

Confession is another expression of the Incarnation because it’s the physical, “fleshy” side of repentance. Yes, the work happens in our heart but it is manifested in the physical realm. Mirroring Christ’s love for us by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Christ Himself, in His person, spoke the words “I forgive you” and it made the Pharisees shake with fury (Mark 2:5). A physical manifestation of a spiritual reality -that’s what confession does for us.

Praise God for His magnificent grace! Amen.

Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life…. On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. (Didache 4:14, 14:1, [AD 70])

 

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Taking the “Paul” out of “Christianity”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone post on a Christian Internet forum and ask “Ugh…Paul…why do we care what he says?” It seems that the latest trend in revisionism within Christianity is to snipe Paul out of the picture. A couple decades ago, people aimed to take Jesus out, but they’ve set the scope on a lower target.

All this may stem from Paul’s influence in scripture. Paul’s epistles take up a significant amount of the New Testament canon. He writes a great deal about cultural issues, some which are too unambiguous to sidestep. Also, in an age where our culture is very liberal towards sexual issues, Paul is the immovable annoyance that keeps God from condoning any sexual relationships outside of a heterosexual union. I know this is a very tough issue and I’m not going to focus on Paul’s sexual mandates in scripture, but rather, I’d like to turn attention to the supposed validity of arguments against Paul’s placement in Christian dogma.

There are a few main common gripes on Paul that come up repeatedly, so I’d like to take a look at each one and raise questions about how each objection holds up. Here we go…

Argument #1. Paul is not Christ and we should put a lot more weight on Christ’s words in scripture rather than Paul’s

This seems legitimate on it’s face. I mean, Christ is the absolute authority and cornerstone of our faith. The Gospels are testimonies to the work Christ did for us. It is true and right to say that Christ’s words are more important and dear to us than Paul’s. Paul is really just kind of grabbing the coattails of this growing Galilean movement by the time he shows up, so maybe we’re correct to be suspicious. And yet…there are some things which don’t add up with this theory.

For starters, the gospels are considered by almost all scholars to have been written after Paul’s epistles. The epistles can be dated sometime between 51 and 58 AD. The gospels have been dated sometime between 68 and 100 AD. Luke is regarded to have been written by Luke, who was a student of Paul’s.

Taking all this into consideration, it seems more plausible that Paul was a higher influence on the text of the gospels than the gospels were standalone works themselves. I don’t actually believe Paul manipulated the gospel texts in any way, but if he did, you’d think he would have shored up his own apostleship more. The Christians back in the day already had a lot to suspect against Paul, so it wouldn’t have worked out well for him to start messing with the stories the disciples of Christ were already circulating.

Argument #2. Paul’s words shouldn’t be taken as seriously as the were only addressed to a certain group of people in a certain context.

There is a grain of truth to this argument, but I think we need to be careful about making such a sweeping assertion, considering Paul’s works were considered vital enough to remain in the Biblical canon. Paul did write to specific congregations and was addressing issues that needed an authoritative hand to straighten out. However, the epistles that made it into the New Testament canon were included specifically because they held some value to the universal church. Why were the the epistles of Peter or Clement and other epistles left out of the canon over time? Well, it’s because these epistles were either highly abused by heretical groups at the time or they contained a lot of localized mandates for the churches they were addressed to. A Christian could still read these letters and gain much value for his/her walk with God, but they were still not considered useful for the instruction of the entire body.

It’s important to remember that the canonization process has really never ended. It’s just that certain councils came together and confirmed or denied what popular as beneficial to the church at the time (before Guttenberg, mind you). Certain ones, stuck around and were universally accepted. Pretty much all of Paul’s epistles passed the test through numerous councils.

Argument #3. Paul’s conversion was a fake and as Jew he was trying to sabotage Christianity from within.

Now, this is just pure speculation. But let’s suppose it’s true for a second. If Paul was truly trying to twist Christianity as a Jew, he really did a piss-poor job. I’m sure vehemently defending Christian freedom to the Gentiles against the Judaizers won him a lot of friends in Jerusalem. Paul even went toe-to-toe with Peter regarding Peter’s sympathies with the Judaizing crowd. (Gal. 2:11) Thanks in large part to Paul and a vision to Peter while he was crashing at Simon the Tanner’s house, us Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised (yay!).

Paul also had a separate conversion from the rest of the Apostles. He was a Pharisee through and through until he met Jesus. (Phil. 3:5) So, this often gives people hesitancy and makes them think he might have been a double-agent. However, if we’re to believe that one well-known Pharisee who persecuted the church could’ve put the blinders on Peter and the rest of the disciples, we’re pretty much “up a creek without a paddle”. One man would have utterly destroyed the Church before it even began and Jesus’ promise to Peter that “the gates of hell” would not prevail against it would have come true. Even if one could make a case that there’s always been some sort of “true sect”, then that also means that the disciples failed to keep the teachings of Christ throughout the world where they were sent.

Here’s how I see, Paul: He was an emissary to the growing Christian world in a time where things were drastically changing. The 12 disciples were also Christ’s emissaries, but they had a bit of a different mission, to plant the Gospel. Paul’s job was to water it. That is why we have more writings. Also, let’s face it…he was also much more educated and had the capacity to face-off against the philosophies of the age with wit and vigor. If you think Christianity would be less pagan without Paul, then you should probably read more Greek philosophy. Paul, Clement, Irenaeus and many more during the first few centuries of Christianity defended the Christian faith against the rising tied of pagan thought by tackling the most popular philosophies of the day.

Don’t diss Paul. He isn’t the outlier many make him out to be, neither is he more important than Christ.

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The Unethical, Soul-winning Church

Scandalized, but not by the cross.

Over the past year, the evangelical Christian world has seen more than a few scandals crop up among the mega-church leadership titans. Mark Driscoll has been allegedly plagiarizing content for books  (although Tyndale publishing did an in-house investigation which they claimed came back clean) and also using church tithe to artificially boost his “Real Marriage” book on the New York Times bestseller ratings. Then, you have Steven Furtick who besides being lambasted for purchasing a multi-million dollar home, he has been allegedly manipulating people to baptisms.

There comes a point where one has to ask, is it worth the headache for the evangelical world to have multi-million dollar industries built around specific personalities? And is it worth defaming the name of Jesus Christ to tolerate unethical practices for the spread of the gospel? My hope is that most people would realize these are rhetorical questions which shouldn’t take more than a millisecond of thought and then answer with a resounding “No”.

Do the ends justify the means?

Somewhere in the last century, the evangelical Christian culture in the west decided that when Christ said “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19), He concluded it with “by any means necessary” and then He lit a cigar, put on some Ray-Bans and ascended to the sky.

The methodology of evangelism in the United States went from street corner preaching (which we can all admit is a little bit annoying) to covertly disguising the Christian message into the cultural milieu in hopes of driving  people into the doors of our churches. The latter has it’s own ill-advised effects. This model is called the “seeker-driven” model of doing church and it’s become astronomically popular. But how does this relate to Furtick and Driscoll? Well, the idea that is behind these churches stems from a “marketing” methodology in regards to evangelism. The steps are usually as follows:

  1. Plant a church.
  2. Get a snazzy website, maybe a billboard and a lot of trendy, hip people on board.
  3. Cultivate the church’s image.
  4. The church grows and the lead pastor’s influence grows.
  5. The lead pastor must now keep the money and influence coming for the church to continue to grow and thrive.
  6. The marketing methods increase, and the church’s continue to grow with newcomers (who are willing to tithe of course.)

This growth plan is becoming common, not because all church planters are seeking the limelight (although some may indeed be doing so), but it’s because they know no other way to evangelize without offending culture. Indeed, there are many groups who evangelize by offending culture repeatedly and they wear it like a badge of honor. But when the church becomes a sort of industry, finely-tuned to win souls, it will eventually run into some ethical dilemmas. Christ doesn’t call us to just make sure we stay away from sin in our moral behavior, but He calls us to pursue virtue and honor in our behavior. His ethics are much higher than the world’s.

For example, they may choose to expand to a second or third campus site for the church, but that may also raise the question of whether or not the money would be better spent in serving the poor and the needy. Or, they may want to continue to increase the lead pastor’s salary as he takes on about as much as a Fortune 500 CEO would. They may soon see no problem in buying a jet plane for the pastor or a multi-million dollar home. Are these things immoral or illegal? No. But that’s not really the point, is it?

Walk the walk.

So, what can a Christian today do? Well first, you can speak up. If you’re at a church which may be a well-meaning place which is trying to preach the Gospel truthfully but the church has become more like a company and the pastors like executives, so they start to address issues from a business paradigm. Maybe they start believing that “better marketing” is the answer for spreading the gospel, not…you know preaching the good news in word and deed so much.

Second, stop using the excuse “Well, everybody else is doing it”. The Church should be above reproach. Paul exhorts the Philippian church after instructing them on their behavior:

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; (Phil. 2:15, KJV)

and to the Thessalonians:

Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thess. 5:22, KJV)

Notice, there’s no caveat by Paul of “…unless it wins more souls to the Kingdom!” Paul also usually caps these exhortation segments of his letters of with a word on the sanctification of the body because he wants the believers he’s addressing to know that this work is important for conforming them to Christ. Any reproach Christ got from the world was because He was stating the truth of repentance and how to offer one’s self to God wholly and completely.

I have one more word from 2 Clement, a letter so circulated it was almost universally considered canon on par with Paul (and honestly, the Roman Catholic church still considers it as such). The author is not considered to actually be Clement any more, but the words still echo the truth of our time:

When the pagans hear from our mouths the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness. But when they discover that our actions are not worthy of the words we speak, they turn from wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and a delusion. (13:3)

Meaning, you can speak prophetic words or be a great orator – but unless your actions are worthy of the words you actually speak, the world won’t care. They’ll go back to a life empty of Christ or the truth He came to gift us. Why? Because they perceive that being a Christian means nothing more than being part of a nice social club with a rock band and a lecture. There is no actual challenge to a higher, more virtuous life, especially when the church’s leadership doesn’t even subscribe to that. 
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What Are We Waiting For?: My Observations on the Christian Afterlife

Naturalism or escapism? There’s a better choice.

Imagine you are stranded on a desert island in the middle of the ocean. No other populated landmasses for several thousand miles around you. After pulling yourself to shore with gasping breathes, you start to collect yourself. You realize there’s a waterproof satellite phone in one of the few surviving crates that has come ashore with you.

You turn on the device and with joy, you find out it works! You finally hear a voice on the other end of the satellite device and you tell the operator at the other end your situation. The operator then tells you that with the latest in GPS tracking technology, they are able to pin your location down. The only downside is this: a rescue plane will not be able to come and get you until some time between 2 days and 30 years! (I know that’s an outrageous span of time, but bear with me.) You are frustrated at first, but at least you know the plane will be coming. Days and weeks go by without the plane in sight. You’re starting to wonder if the plane will ever come, but you do know that every time you contact the operator, you hear the echoes of “the plane will be coming soon”.

It is here in our parable where we will explore the three options available to you as a survivor:

1. You’ll most likely get busy surviving in any scenario and you’ll start scrounging for fish and what little vegetation is available on the island. But as you possibly start to lose hope that the plane will ever come, you begin to create a life on the island. You expect that your children (supposing your family is with you) will only know the island as home, so you do as much as you can to make it your home. Before long, the memories of your home fade away, like a dissipating fog, to the point that even when ships pass in the distance, their presence is ignored. The island is your home and ever shall be.

2. You do as little as you can to survive or to even care for the island. You start to take the trees and burn them all down. You take what little food you have and devour it in excess. Pretty soon, all of your resources are gone and all that’s left is “the plane”. The words repetitiously devour the memories of your previous life. You stand on the beach day and night waiting for the plane, believing that today will be the day it will come. Before long, your entire residence is on fire and you slowly die a tragic death.

3. You do all you can to survive and thrive in your island home, but you do as much as you can to stretch your resources and steward what little you have. You keep the memories of home alive by telling stories to your children. You know that the plane will come someday, but you use wisdom and keep the island’s ecosystem in check, knowing this is the place which sustains you until you are able to return.

I outlined these scenarios because I want to talk about how our views of the afterlife will shape our behavior here on earth. I’ve heard of two particular views which are almost diametrically opposed to one another and I wonder if there’s any real middle-ground between the two.

The first view is the naturalistic view that this world and the reality we live in is all there really is. Jesus is our cheerleader and heaven is possibly there, like a promise of pizza after the big game, but we’re not too concerned. We concern ourselves more with being good people and improving the earth by following Jesus’ example. Our existence in Christ necessitates social action because we really see no value in the spiritual actions. God is a buddy, He’s our therapist, but when we get ready to die we will shrug our shoulders and says “who knows and who cares”. There are a few good things to note in this view (specifically, social action), but it hampers the power of the Gospel.

The second view is the escapist view. It’s “I’ll Fly Away” eschatology. Borrowing somewhat unwittingly from Platonic and Gnostic dualism, the natural world is seen as evil and unredeemable. We are called to live here until the big plane comes to sweep us up and take us to a cloud-world where we can shoot pool with Johnny Cash and totally care less about the world we’ve left behind. Our life here on earth is seen as a means to an end. There are some good things about this view, but also some very dangerous things. For instance, there’s no reason to not pollute the earth, provide systems which alleviate the plight of our neighbor or be concerned about our own health when the entire goal of our existence is to live it up before “the Rapture” happens and we can say “Sayonara suckers”!

The third view (which I happen to hold) is that the natural world is God’s creation and although it is not our final destination, in God’s design, He brought us here to steward it and magnify His presence within it as He fills it. (Eph. 4:10) When He made it, He said “it is good” and He seems to still think it’s worth something or He wouldn’t have bothered to keep it around.

And when we do die, we know that Christ has already conquered death. Our peace and joy flows from knowing that the final enemy has been defeated. (1 Cor. 15:26)

So, our view on death can be put succinctly as this: we are constantly prepared to die. To live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21) While we’re here, we can also rejoice, because God has given us time to seek Him fervently and has given us opportunities to lead others into His presence. When He returns, all things will be made new and the uncreated light will shed it’s light on the former things, transforming our lives and our world to shine back to Him.

Heaven is our home and earth is our home too…just in need of some drastic renovations. The great carpenter will come back and make sure that the place where we are becomes His dwelling place too, in a mystical union.

I’ll leave you all with this word from C.S. Lewis on eternity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.  - Mere Christianity, chapter 10, paragraph 1

Christian theology from the ground-floor

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