Sunday, July 22, 2012

My journey with atheists and thoughts on the modern day church

I found this article in my old stuff. I wrote it about a year ago, but I still feel the same way.

I am writing this piece as an attempt to explain some things in my life and gather support for a cause; the Jesus cause. I spent the last 6 months communicating with atheists on facebook and on forums on the Internet. I wanted to find out how they thought, why they denied the existence of a God, and why they were so hostile towards Christians. After communicating with them and listening to their stories it became very clear that if you were on the fence about a God or Jesus, that most often, it was a Christian that would push someone the wrong way. Believe it or not, most atheists I spoke to were very well versed in The Bible. In fact, I would say that more than half the atheists I spoke with, knew the Bible and it's history better than most people who claim to be a Christian. I realized that for most of them, they didn't have a problem with a mighty God as much as they had a problem with us. I say this because most of them were willing to admit that we don't have the answers to the universe, but they are confident it is not the God of The Bible. After listening to them, most of them would somehow admit that they couldn't believe stories about a God, because the people who said they believed in this God acted very much like they didn't. Of course, they are mostly seeing the churches that protest soldiers funerals and go on gay bashing protests, but what about the rest of us? Is the church body as a whole, on track with the message of Jesus? I guess that is for each person to decide as we see experiences and tell ourselves different stories about those experiences. Nonetheless, here is my take.

We are all children of the empire

Imagine the average youth group, in the average church, on the average Sunday. Imagine you came to visit my church in Bend, Oregon and visiting our youth group and having the Pastor say to you "I just can't get my kids interested in Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?"

How do you respond?

Let's start by breaking this down to what is really going on. To begin with, our church has a youth group. This is a brand new idea in church history. A luxury. Everbody in the church doesn't just meet altogether? All of the baby's adults, men, women, widows, and children aren't in the same room; but have gone to separate rooms? And there are resources for this? People and organizational structures? And a budget? Let's imagine that in this case, our youth pastor is paid a salary as most are. A church with enough resources to pay someone to oversee the students? Once again, this is brand new and almost unheard of in most of the churches in the world, and in church history; a brand new invention. This salary can be paid and this building can be built because people in the congregation have surplus. They have fed themselves and their children, bought clothes, houses, cars; and now after these expenses there is still money available. And this money is given in an act of generosity to our church, which disperses it to various places, among them, the bank account of the Pastor. In many, if not most churches in the world, immediate needs simply don't allow for such luxuries. Too many people are hungry, too many people don't have a roof, too many people are sick. So any surplus is spent immediately on the basic needs that are staring them right in the face. 

But this particular church is blessed; and we should be very clear about this. It IS a blessing.It is good. It is fortunate that this particular church doesn't have those issues. This church has enough resources to hire a Pastor, who had the resources to get training to gather these students in the student room to teach them about the way of Jesus. Many Christians around the world would simply stand in awe of THAT kind of blessing. And the students in this church, these are good kids. They are from families who just want to see their kids become good Christians. Imagine just how much is available to them. They have more at their fingertips than any generation in the history of the world. More information, more entertainment, more ideas, more ways to kill time, more options. Many of them own more than one pair of shoes. There are even some of them who have eaten at least one meal everyday of their lives. So we are talking about a minuscule minority of kids in the world.  

And so each week they gather to hear a talk from the Pastor. Their Pastor tells them about the Jesus Revolution. About Jesus resisting the system, and about the blood on the cross. And many of the first Christians getting arrested. About Jesus having dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors. About people sharing their possessions, about Jesus telling a man to selling everything he owned. About the uniqueness of their story, and the larger story of redemption. 

How do my children of the empire understand the Savior who was killed by the empire? How does my 12 year old who has never had hunger pangs for more than about an hour understand a story about a 12 year old providing fish and bread for thousands of chronically hungry people? How do my kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any generation in the history of humanity take seriously, a messiah who said "I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor." How do they fathom that half the world is too poor to feed its kids when the church we recently left, just spent two years raising 1.2 million dollars to build a new front entrance? Families were losing jobs and homes. Marriages were failing from the economic stress and this church felt that the best use of it's resources was to build a nice new entrance to the church?! 

So we gather. We sing. We hear a talk from our Pastor. And then we all get back in the car with our families and go home. 

When we leave our church in Bend, we pass a Walmart which is across the street from the Albertson's, which is next to the Shari's, that is across the street from the Furniture Outlet.

We just listened to a message in Church about a "Jesus" who lived among the under-privileged and poor.  

Sometimes we get on the highway and get off a couple of miles down the road. There is a shopping center that has a Best Buy, and a Jamba Juice, and a Ross. A Home Depot, a Food 4 Less, and a Bed Bath and Beyond. Much like the other towns in our state and in our country. My kids all have an iPod and the music they listen to is distributed by one of five major corporations which also own the movie studios that create the movies they watch, which are also connected to the corporations that make the food they eat and the commercials they watch. Which also have significant ties to the clothes they wear and the cell phones they own and the ringtones on the cell phones. The ringtone by the artist that is signed by the record label, that is owned by the same company that owns the cell phone company and the advertising agency that announced the artist's new album. Which is owned by the same company that owns the beverage company in whose advertisement, the artist appeared, drinking that particular beverage. Singing the song that is now a ringtone on the students cell phone, that they purchased at the mall across the street from the Olive Garden, next to the home depot, on the other side of the starbucks.  

The garage door goes up. The car goes in. And the garage door goes down. 

And for most of us, that's it! That is the extent of our faith in action.

This is the revolution?!?!

This is what Jesus had in mind?

And so the youth Pastor turns to you and says again. "I just can't get my kids interested in Jesus." DO you have any suggestions?

What do you say?

How do you respond? 

I do not have the answer. This is something I have struggled with for some time now. Since I do not yet have an answer, I choose to take steps that I believe are aligned with what Jesus would have me do. I take my children to the homeless shelter every Saturday. We feed the residents food we brought and prepared, then we show them a movie. Does it make difference? Does it win souls for the kingdom? I don't know. I do it because I want my children to see that not everyone has been blessed the way we have. I do it because I hope that my children will learn to look beyond themselves and strive to help others, as they grow into adults. I do it because I want my children to be able to relate to a "Jesus" that came to preach to the poor.

My wife and I send our kids on mission trips. Does it make a difference? Aer they winning souls for the kingdom? I don't know. I just hope that by them being in poor countries and using whatever resources they have to help others, that they will learn to appreciate what they have and not become so entitled that they never help other people because they believe that everything they have is "theirs." I hope that when they return to America, the land of over indulgence, that they will use their resources to help other people.

Will my plan work? I am not sure. I can say, that I am going to do whatever I can to teach my children about the "Jesus" revolution, in spite of the fact that we live in an "empire."

I borrowed some insights from an author named Rob Bell to write this. I related everything to my own experiences and I waited to the end to share this because I know Mr. Bell raises a lot of controversy. He does not "fit in" with the modern day church as it is defined by society. He goes against what a lot of church's in our day proclaim. Funny, so did Jesus, and Paul, and John the baptist.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Should homosexuals burn in hell?

To address this question I first want to cover a Jewish concept called "binding and loosing." Jesus said "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." --Matthew 16:19; 18:18

For me, believing in the Bible is very easy. Actually applying the Bible is very tricky and sometimes quite difficult. The concept of binding and loosing was something the Jewish rabbi's did with scripture. They would sometimes lock themselves in quiet rooms for days and sometimes weeks to wrestle with interpretations of scriptures and their applications to the current day and culture. When the rabbi's would "bind" a scripture, they were declaring that after careful study and application, that scripture still held meaning for that day. If they were to "loose" a scripture, then they were declaring that although that scripture had meaning in the past, it did not have the same application or meaning that day.

Jesus gave us some examples of binding and loosing in His ministry. He binds murder to include anger.(Matt 5:22)  He binds adultery to include divorce/remarriage.(Matt 5:32) He binds/extends the commandment on loving neighbor to loving enemies. (Matt 5:44) But he looses Sabbath-keeping so that one might harvest grain by hand and even heal people.(Matt 12:12) He also looses the restrictions against idolatry by allowing tax payments to Caesar who considered himself a god. (Mark 12:17) Make no mistake, Jesus was a first century, Jewish Rabbi and He did what rabbis did—they took the law and applied it to daily practical issues of morality—loosening the grip of some rules and tightening and extending others. He never disposed of the law, but applied it to real-life through the process of binding and loosing.

Jesus said "I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." Since that was the statement right before he discussed binding and loosing, I think we can say in context, that He was giving us permission to bind and loose the scriptures. Some (particularly Protestants) will say that Jesus was giving permission to bind and loose, only to "the Church." If we go along with this, we have to recognize that "the church" did not exist yet, in the way it does today. But even if we do accept that, which Church? The Catholic Church? The Mormon Church? The Baptists? Which doctrine gets the keys. According to wikipedia there may be as many as 38,000 Christian denominations. I have seen other authors cite as many as 130,000. So which Church do we give the authority to "bind and loose?" If we go out of context of the scripture and look at the actual concept of binding and loosing, we find that it was not done by the church, but by individual rabbi's. Each rabbi would bind and loose certain scriptures and this was called their "yoke." It was list of interpretations that the rabbi held, that he would teach his students. For instance one rabbi might say you could walk one mile on the sabbath and not violate the law. And then another rabbi would say you could walk 3 miles and not violate the sabbath. Both ideas were a part of that rabbi's teachings, or his yoke.

Now that you understand what binding and loosing is, let's see what we can do with it today. I want ot take a bold step and attempt to apply binding and loosing to homosexuality. Before you condemn me to hell for eternity, for twisting God's word to suit my own needs, please hear me out. It makes perfect sense to me, why God would forbid homosexuality 6000 years ago. In the days of Moses, the world's population was very low. And we know that the population of the Israelites was around only 1.5 million. If God wanted them to increase their population, they would not be able to be "fruitful and multiply" if they were in homosexual relationships. Since then, the population of "God's people" is estimated to be at around 2 billion people. That is one third of the population. We have defiantely been "fruitful and multiplying." We have populated the earth as God intended. So do we still need the decree that homosexuality be banned? Especially when we consider how many parts of the world are suffering from a lack of resources. If we are so over-populated in some parts of the world that there are not enough resources for everyone, should we still be being fruitful and multiplying? Is it possible that we can "loosen" the restriction on homosexuality based on what is happening in our world today?

This is the point where condemnation comes flying my way, especially from my fundamentalist brethren. Let me point out that I am not trying to "re-write" the Bible or God's word. I am simply trying to do what rabbi's have done for hundreds of years, what Jesus did, and what Jesus gave us permission to do. And even if we all decide that we cannot under any circumstances "loose" homosexuality, let me explain what I believe my "job" is, as a christian. I believe that it is my job to lovingly and gently bring them to the cross. And then leave them there, and let the Holy Spirit do, whatever He will. It is not for me to change the heart of a person. I find it to be the height of arrogance, when a christian believes that they are going to change someone's heart and bring them to God. And please consider how many homosexuals are scared to death to enter a church because of the abuse they have received from christians. Shouldn't we do everything we can to encourage them to come to Jesus, "as they are" and let Him change their hearts as He sees fit?

Please consider my words, consider the scriptures I have provided, consider your heart when you speak to someone about our Father, and consider your mission as a christian.

in His grip,