Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Friday, September 29, 2006

Glass shattering indignity

I've told embarrassing stories about myself, but none comes close to what happened to this guy! The story below is from a weekly e-mail of sermon illustrations that I receive.

A Glass Shattering Indignity

After my solitary walking incident (See When Bare Teeth are after your Behind), I decided that as long as I was in the Minneapolis area, I would take my walks with a friend!

Upon returning from one of these walks, this time with a former Iowa farmer, I entered the living room of the house where we lodged to find my fellow classmates all gathered around the TV. The movie seemed to be wholesome, so I decided to join them. The only problem was that all of the seats were already taken. The dirty floor was out of the question, so I chose a wooden end table for my seat instead. It was one of those tables inlaid with glass panels, and after testing it to make sure it would hold me up, I settled down to enjoy the movie. There was a sudden cracking sound! Before I realized what was happening, my glass seat caved in and I found myself stuck in an end table!

Instantly all eyes in the room shifted from the movie to me, and mouths gaped open as if I had just dropped in from Mars. (Or is it Venus? I never get this straight. I always forget whether men come from Mars or Venus!) After silently staring at me for what seemed an eternity, the room finally came alive, and twenty pairs of hands reached out to help me up. Before I knew it, I was again on my own two legs. Only one problem: My bottom-side felt as if it had been attacked by a dozen killer wasps!

"Euh…" one of the guys stammered, "you have pieces of glass sticking out of your … your . . . your behind."

Sure enough, my pain was caused by several glass shards that protruded from my poor bottom! My face turned red. Without even trying, I had become the class clown. My dignity had been shattered by an …. An end table! It was definitely time to retreat!

I quickly excused myself and withdrew to the only shelter I knew: my assigned room. Here I took off my pants and tried to locate the chards of glass. I had a bit of a problem, however. With my derriere being on the opposite side of my body from my eyes, my body was simply not built for such endeavors! What was I supposed to do? "Lord, help me!" I begged.

Just as I finished uttering my plea, my roommate opened the door: "Let me help you!"

Now I was in a bit of a quandary. Though I desperately needed help, it is quite embarrassing to be showing your bottom-side to someone who is little more than a perfect stranger, especially when there is glass protruding from it! Though I had cried out for help, I wasn't exactly sure I really wanted any! But since I really had NO other options, I threw myself across my bed and closed my eyes. My God-sent rescuer would have to handle my indignities!

When all was over, I was more than grateful for his help. Without his intervention, I would not have been able to sit until I reached home. And maybe I wouldn't even have made it back home! After all, how does one go about sitting in an airplane seat with glass chards in one's behind? I can see myself being arrested by the airport's security:

"Excuse me sir, you are not allowed to board this plane!"

"Why not?"

"You are carrying potential weapons!"

How embarrassing!

Getting back to the glass shards in my bottom for a moment, I realize that I was faced with a choice: To accept or to reject my roommate's help. Fortunately, I made the right one! How often, though, do we go through life rejecting the help of others? "I can handle this myself!" We say. "I don't need any help!" It is true that we may be able to handle our circumstances our own way, but how much more pleasant when we have the help of others who care?

The Bible tells us to: "Encourage one another daily…" (Heb 3:13 NIV); "Encourage one another and build each other up…" (1 Thess 5:11 NIV); "Be kind and compassionate to one another…" (Eph 4:32 NIV); and "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." (Rom 15:7 NIV)

We were not created to act independently. We are not solitary beings. We long for love and acceptance. Let's not dig our own graves by rejecting those who want to come to our help. It is only then that we really will know what true love is. It is only then that we understand what Jesus meant when He said: "As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35 NIV)

When we are facing impossible situations, let's remember the following advice given by the apostle Paul: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31 NIV); "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Col 3:17 NIV)

Are we giving glory to Jesus when we try to handle everything by ourselves?

"Euh…excuse me. You have something protruding from your behind. Can I help you?"

What will be your answer?

Rob Chaffart

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Paradise lost

Recently, when I was in Brazil, I read the novel Showdown by my favorite Christian fiction author Ted Dekker. The novel is about a small town in Colorado called Paradise that turns to hell on earth when an evil monk (much like history's Rasputin) shows up and dupes the town into releasing their inner inhibitions. The result is misery and destruction for everyone. One criticism I had for the novel while I was reading it was that I felt the novel was a bit unrealistic. Ted Dekker turned a peaceful town into hell on earth in one short week. Are human beings really that susceptible to the dark side?

Apparently. Right now over a quarter million Iraqis are fleeing for their lives due to sectarian violence. For a heartbreaking analysis, read Time magazine's article Life in Hell to find out what is really going on in Baghdad.

As medieval author John Milton so aptly described, the human race is a tragic story of Paradise Lost. There is something wrong with human nature that, if left unchecked, will destroy us, just like what is happening in Iraq. Torture. Death squads. Suicide bombings. What is this world coming to?

Thank God, there is victory in Jesus Christ. When Jesus was on the cross, He showed the world that love is more powerful than hate and mercy is more powerful than revenge. The message of the cross is just as relevant now as in any time of history. May God raise up men and women to show the world the power of unconditional love. It's love the world needs now more than anything. Who better to look for a role model than the King of Love, Jesus Christ? Rather than ridiculing and blaspheming the Prophet Muhammed, which is unethical and gets us nowhere (I am not a fan of the Danish cartoons). We, as Christians, should elevate Jesus in the eyes of the Muslim world as the supreme example of love and kindness. We do not have to demote the one while promoting the other, but we do need to promote the other. And that other is none other than the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who calls us all to faith and repentance while loving us unconditionally. Who in their right mind would want to refuse this kind of love? Without the love of Christ in our hearts, we as human beings are perfectly capable of creating our own hell. Chief object lesson number one- Baghdad.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Theology from African chickens

This post was written on May 15th 2006.

A couple of years ago, I was preaching in a small African village in the country of Guinea Bissau when I had a thought that struck me as rather humorous. Well, I guess humorous is a relative term, morbid might be a better word. For the first time in my life I actually got to see the whole process from the slaughter of the chicken to the arrival of the chicken meat on my plate. And let me tell you, it is not a pretty picture. First, they cut off the head and drain the blood and then they pluck the feathers out of the chicken. And the rest, well, you can probably imagine it for yourself. Here is the funny thing. I noticed that, at least from the chickens' perspective, watching their fellow comrades getting their heads chopped off didn't seem to bother them all that much. I never noticed any attempt from the chickens' part to escape their impending doom. In fact, they just kept hanging around and hanging around as if they were household pets. It never seemed to occur to the poor little chickens that we humans are their mortal enemies. If that were you and me, we'd be out of there faster than you can say KFC.

Here's another example. Did you know that a female black widow eats the male who mates with her? Now, I don't know about you. But if I were a male black widow and I saw numerous of my brothers and cousins getting eaten by their female lovers, I just might reconsider the whole mating thing. And yet, this thought never seems to occur to the poor little male black widow.

Believe it or not, I do have a point in all this. Look at what God says to Job in Job 39:13-17, "And the wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are her wings and pinions like the kindly stork's? For she leaves her eggs on the ground and warms them in the dust. She forgets that a foot may crush them or that a wild beast may break them. She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers. Her labor is in vain, without concern, because God has deprived her of wisdom and did not endow her with understanding."

It doesn't matter if you are a chicken, a black widow, a stork, or a human being. Whatever mental capacities you possess have been given to you by God and are directly proportional to your class of being. This is helpful in understanding and clarifying the doctrine of "free will." It appears that God has given a degree of "free will" to all of his creatures, but the freedom of the will is directly relational to their creaturely capacities. A chicken is free to behave like a chicken and will make decisions based on his capacities as a chicken. The same is true with every other creature in God's creation.

What is awesome to think about is the fact that not only are we homo sapiens capable of the act of reflection (an attribute obviously missing in lower life forms), but our decisions have eternal implications. We can choose to love and obey Christ and follow Him to heaven, or we can send ourselves to hell and be separated from God forever. The fact that our choices have eternal consequences points to our infinite value as human beings. With all this in mind, I suggest that choosing Christ is the only sane option available. Especially in light of the fact that the Bible says "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from African chickens and black widows. As long as we can reflect on our mortality, we might want to put that art of reflection to good use. Those who refuse to do so might take a hint or two from our African chicken friends.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rosie's fears

Recently, I received an e-mail from the American Family Association harshly criticizing Rosie O Donnell for her comments on ABC's The View in which she said that extreme Christians on the religious right are just as much to be feared as the Islamic jihadists. My first reaction was strong offense. How could Rosie equate peace loving Christians with bomb throwing jihadists? At the outset, the idea seems completely ridiculous, and it is-to a degree. No, I do not know of any Christian in America, even fundamentalist Christian (with the exception of the cross-burning white supremacists who claim to be Christian, but who takes them seriously?)who believes that killing innocent civilians is an appropriate means of social change. So, in that sense, O Donnel's fears are largely unfounded.

There is, however, a theological movement in America known as Theonomic Reconstructionism that seeks to establish the Law of Moses as the supreme law of the land. I can see why Rosie might fear this, since in the Law of Moses, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death (by means of stoning if we apply the strict interpretation)! Thankfully, this view is a very small minority within American evangelicalism. And for good reason. If Jesus were a reconstructionist, instead of saying "He who is without sin among you, let Him cast the first stone", He would have personally presided over the stoning of the adulterous woman in John chapter 8. The fact is, neither Jesus nor His disciples advocated starting a political kingdom to impose theocratic rule over the nations, and neither should we. Rather, we should let the Scriptures guide our consciences (especially New Testament Scripture), and then as the gospel spreads throughout society, the collective conscience of the Christian community informs the collective conscience of the nation. Notice I said "inform" not "impose". This is a far cry from theocracy. A Christian conscience informed by the New Testament is just plain good old fashioned common sense.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The courage of coming out

I have found a new way to finance my ministry. All I have to do is to "come out". Sure, those who support this ministry might be shocked and my wife's life might be ruined (the woman whom I pledged my love to till death do us part almost 5 years ago), but I am sure that after a couple of years, I could get a fairly decent book deal and find numerous sympathizers. I could then take the money and finance whatever I want to do. Some in the media would even call me "courageous and inspiring."

I've debated within myself whether I should write this post. For those of you who watch the news, you probably know by now that I am referring to the ex-New Jersey governor James McGreevey who came out of the closet two years ago in order to save himself from charges of political corruption. At the risk of sounding too judgmental, something I try to avoid in my writing, let me first say that I think it is admirable that McGreevey, a self-proclaimed Catholic, voluntarily recused Himself from receiving communion in light of his pro-choice views, saving his archdiocese from political embarrasment. I think that shows a bit of integrity.

Having said that, I am concerned about the near-heroic welcome he has received in the media for his decision to come out of the closet. Never mind the fact that he was unfaithful in his marriage, his "coming out" is a courageous act in the minds of many. Why is this? Because, as I've said in other posts, the new American religion is "to thine own self be true." Self-autonomy has trumped other time-honored virtues such as fidelity and self-sacrifice in the new American religion. Think of the film The Hours that came out a few years ago,where the art of leaving one's spouse and children is virtually portrayed as a saintly act. My question is "since when has selfishness become a virtue?"

I don't think that Christians should have a haughty and judgmental attitude towards homosexuals. I am a firm believer in "love the sinner, hate the sin." If Jesus were around today, I think he probably would be found in gay bars extending his hand of friendship while lovingly and gently calling them to repentance, much to the chagrin of millions of Christians in the "moral majority". This is why I was so embarrassed by the reaction of certain fundamentalist pastors in this country who told their congregation not to see the film End of the Spear simply because the filmakers chose to cast an openly gay actor in the leading role. I see nothing of the spirit of Jesus in these misguided shephards. Jesus befriended sinners and so should we.

Having said that, I think that all of society, not just Christians, should question the new American religion of self autonomy. If taken to its logical conclusion, virtually all decisions become moral decisions, no matter who they hurt, as long as one is true to one's self. I think this is a dangerous philosophy that will bring much harm to innocent people if left unchecked. One of the chief characteristics of our humanity is the ability of moral reflection. Morality should be grounded not only in what is good for ourselves, but also in what is good for others.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Aaron in the news

It's official. I'm a celebrity! Well, not actually. My name was mentioned in an article in the Farmington Daily Times, a Newspaper in Farmington, New Mexico. Never mind the fact that the article is mostly about my father-in- law Eliot O Brien and his pastor Steve Marquez and their ongoing efforts in Pakistan. Oh well, I'll take what I can get. Here is the article. To my millions of readers (I think I hear the Twilight Zone music about now) Have a great day!

Test your knowledge on Islam

I thought you all might enjoy taking a quiz to test your knowledge on Islam. I'm giving this quiz tonight to a church in New Mexico. I think many people will be surprised by some of the answers, as I think my readers will be. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lessons from a liberal

I want to draw my readers' attention to an article I read in Newsweek by Anna Quindlen called Frightening-and Fantastic. It is similar to the post that I wrote entitleld What a wonderful frightening world.

Quindlen points out how our society is constantly obscessed with warning people of bad things that can happen to them. It seems that we in America want to be prepared for everything. I've noticed in other cultures that I have lived and worked in, people don't spend all their time worrying about the bad things that can happen to them. They are much too busy either surviving or enjoying time with their friends and family. This is definitely true in Africa. Sometimes we in America can be so cautious that we forget to live.

Although I do not share many of Quindlen's values (especially regarding her cavalier attitude about the sacredness of human life), I think it is good to keep an open mind to hear from others even if they don't share your core values. The truth is, we can all learn from each other.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Big Brother, the Anti Christ, and chips under your skin

I was watching the 700 Club last night and they were talking about micro-chips being implanted into human skin. Growing up in a Pentecostal/Charismatic church, I have heard about this for years and have been warned against the dangers of taking the Mark of the Beast, even though I've always been taught that I probably won't be on earth when the Anti-Christ comes to power. Even a pre-tribulatpion rapture view never seems to console those who live in constant fear of their eternal destiny. I have heard of Christians fearing secret micro chips being implanted into their toilet seats! One of my aunts took a trip to the Appalacian mountains to conduct a Vacation Bible School for children. One 12 year old girl would not allow her to stamp her hand because she was afraid of accepting the Mark of the Beast.

As far as taking the Mark of the Beast, we can all relax for now. Ã…ccording to Revelation 14:6-11, when the real Mark of the Beast arrives, there will be angels flying to and fro throughout the earth warning the inhabitants of planet earth not to take the mark. Unless I see angels flying in the sky, I am not going to worry about a stamp on my hand or a microchip in my toilet seat. If I am going to be ridiculed for the sake of the gospel, I would rather be ridiculed for something intelligent, not ridiculous.

You may think that Left-Behind fans are the only ones concerned about the new technology. If you think that, you're dead wrong. Fundamentalist Christians see this as a sign of the soon and coming anti-Christ, but many left-wingers see it as a sign of Orwell's Big Brother stripping away our civil liberties. For many civil libertarians, religious people (especially those with political power) are public enemy number one to an open and tolerant society.

Ironically, I think they are both right in some ways. No, I don't think the Republican party is going to produce a Hitler-like despot such as is portrayed in the film V for Vendetta any time soon, but I do think all of us need to take a cold, hard look at what the implications are if human beings lose their ability to move about freely without being tracked by who knows who. The fact that both Christians and liberals seem to agree on this issue should further confirm that maybe the Apostle John's vision of a future society where people can not buy or sell without a mark on their hand or their forehead isn't such a fanciful imagination after all. Given the track record of the Bible in predicting future events, I for one am not the least bit surprised.

Why I like Kirstie Alley-the self proclaimed Fat Actress

After reading my post on Fast Food woes, you may be wondering why I would dedicate a post to Kirstie Alley the self proclaimed fat actress. Despite the fact that I think her weight loss of 75 pounds is inspiring and despite her affiliation with the Church of Scientology (you won't believe what these people actually believe) there is something I like about her, and that is her ability to make the best of her situation.

My mom used to tell me all the time when I was a kid that I need to learn to laugh at myself and not take myself so seriously. If you read my post releasing my inner sissy you might be able to tell that I have made a conscious effort to follow this advice. And you would be right. I think it is a tremendous moral value to be able to laugh at yourself and I think Kirstie Alley does this well. I've seen her making fun of herself on the show King of Queens and I can tell you that she was hilarious.

In an age when Hollywood actresses are obscessed with making themselves so skinny they could slip through the cracks of a sidewalk, it is refreshing to see a Hollywood actress capitalize on her not-so-skinny image. I'm sure Kirstie Alley is laughing all the way to the bank. And that's exactly my point. To be able to make the best of your situation is precisely the value that Jesus affirmed when He told the story of the unjust steward found in Luke 16:1-13. Here is a man who gets fired from his job, but rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for himself, he decides to make a few friends to ensure his financial security. Jesus does not commend him for his deception, he commends him for his shrewdness.

To sum up what I am saying, I think we should all learn to laugh at ourselves a little more and to make the best of our situations, even our own mistakes. And that, Kirstie Alley has done and that is why she deserves a place in the soon-to-be-world-famous blog of Aaron D. Taylor. Oops. Did I say that out loud? Let the laughing begin.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fast food woes

First, let me set the scenario for you. I had already eaten at Jack in the Box for lunch. I went to a friend's house for a going away party for my cousin who will be spending several months in Israel doing missionary work. At the party, there was plenty of junk food for my spoiled appetite to partake of. Then we went to a Baptist church service to see my brother sing (he is a singer in a band for his college) After the service it was about 7:30 and, although I wasn't very hungry, I still wanted something to eat.

And then the woes began. First, my wife and I had to decide what we wanted. I was hungry for a cold cut sandwich so we decided to go to Subway. Normally I get the tuna sandwich but they were out of tuna. My wife does not like cold cut sandwiches so she asked for a cup of brocolli cheese soup and they were out of that as well. So we decided to go to Quiznos. We arrived at exactly 8:00 and the door was locked. Then we decided to go to St. Louis House of Pizza which was in the same plaza, but as soon as we stepped in, we discovered that it was too hot and we didn't find anything we wanted on the menu.

After about 5 minutes of discussion we decided to go to Lion's Choice. I decided to delude myself into thinking I was eating healthy by ordering a Turkey Club. Rhiannon ordered a cup of what she thought was brocolli and cheeze soup, but it turned out to be cream of brocolli soup, something she didn't want. When I got my Turkey Club, I was rather annoyed to see there was no mayonnaise on my sandwich. Who eats a Turkey Club without mayonnaise? Certainly not me, so I asked for mayonnaise and was even more annoyed when the lady behind the counter produced the world's worst substitute for mayonnaise, Miracle Whip. Yuck!

I hate to admit it, but I think we Americans are just plain spoiled. This is why it is so difficult living in America after living in a third world country. Rhiannon and I have actually seen starving children in Africa. We've seen children delighted to eat leftover chicken bones because that is probably all they had to eat that day. I couldn't help but feeling a profound sense of guilt that I was so annoyed about something so trivial.

Part of the danger of prosperity is that a satisfied soul is rarely ever satisfied. Proverbs 27:7 says, "A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet." What is true in the natural I think is also true in the spiritual. Our consumer spirituality in America reflects our consumer culture. We are so full that we have forgotten what it is like to be hungry. Religion is more about personal choice than a genuine hunger for spiritual truth. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Poor people are grateful for the crumbs that fall from their master's table. Rich people think they deserve the entire platter. May God teach us how to be hungry again.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Should Christians evangelize Jews?

I don't normally post on Saturday's, but I came across this article from J. Lee Grady, a writer for Charisma magazine. He speaks of an issue I think every Christian should carefully consider. I've always liked Grady. He writes with clarity and does not compromise on the truth of the gospel. We need more writers in the Charismatic movement who will take a bold stand for the gospel.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Perilous words in a new age of terror

The Muslim world is currently inflamed over the remarks of Pope Benedict suggesting that the Koran promotes violence. Some say the Pope should not say such things. Others say he is only speaking the truth. My view is in between the two. In a time when the Muslim world is so volatile, those in religious leadership should be very careful not to provoke anger among Muslim sensibilities. The backlash would only mean harm for Christian minorities living in Muslim countries, as my Christian friends in Pakistan would confirm.

In all of this I do think there is an irony. The Muslim world seems to be in denial that the Koran advocates the use of the sword to spread their faith. Some say that the Koran only speaks of intellectual struggle or self-defence. Since I am not a scholar on the Koran, I can not make a judgment on this except to point out the fact that the historical record shows otherwise. Peaceful Muslims of the 21st century seem to be in denial that for the first 1,000 years of its history, Islam spread primarily through conquest and invasion. Yes, I know that some of the wars were of self defence and some places were Islamicized by peaceful Arab traders (such as Indonesia and Malaysia), but to say that Islam spread primarily through peaceful persuasion is living in fantasy land. Just ask Bernard Lewis, the world's foremost scholar on Islam.

Of course, the record of Christianity also has its blemishes such as the Inquisition and the Crusades, but these sins have long since been acknowledged and apologized for by Christians around the world. It doesn't seem that the Muslim world at large is very willing to fess up to the sins of Islam (such as the butchering of Armenians in Turkey in the early 20th century) like Christians have been to the sins of Christianity.

Yes, I know that the argument can be made that those responsible for the Inquisition and the Crusades were not real Christians. And I agree with that argument since Jesus was a man of peace. But, in a sense, the argument is irrelevant. Muslims claim that those responsible for 9-11 were not real Muslims. It will be very interesting to see if the Pope's remarks stir up riots around the world as what happened with the Danish cartoons last year. If Muslims around the world want to be taken seriously as a reasonable faith for the 21st century, instead of living in denial, they should acknowledge the sins of the past and live according to the principles of peace they claim their religion teaches them.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

One thing I forgot to mention in my post on modern day Pharisees is the danger of committing blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. First, let me give you a definition. To put it simply, to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the Devil. This is what the Pharisees did when they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. Although I think the definition could include other things (such as a willful and final rejection of Christ), this is the immediate context where Jesus discusses the issue (Matthew 12:24-32).

Do we have a counterpart to that today? I believe those who say that speaking in tongues is of the devil come dangerously close to this. Please note that I am not referring to the average cessasionist (a person who believes that miraculous gifts such as tongues, healings, and prophecy ceased at the death of the last Apostle). Most cessasionists at least believe that Pentecostals and Charismatics are their brothers in Christ, even if they think they may be a bit misguided. What I am referring to are those who say that any miraculous healing, gift of prophecy, or speaking in tongues must be attributed to the devil. Nowadays, this is a minority position even among non-Pentecostals and Charismatics, but there are still some who believe this and I think they are dangerously close to committing blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Only God knows whether those who say such bold statements have actually committed this particular sin, but I would rather be safe then sorry when talking about miraculous phenomenon. When evaluating particular manifestiations, it is better to say "I don't know" than to run the risk of attributing a genuine work of the Holy Spirit to the Devil.

Modern day Pharisees

Question: I was wondering if you would ever do a teaching or side by side comparison of the
Pharisees in Jesus time and the Pharisees in our time. I am very drawn to learn more
about not being a Pharisee.

Thank you for the question. I think your desire to avoid becoming a modern day Pharisee is an admirable one, but I don't think you have much to worry about if you are a sincere Christian seeking to follow Jesus. I have to confess that in the past, I have thrown the word "Pharisee" around a little too lightly, as many others have done. It seems the word is used most often when one particular group of Christians wants to insult another group of Christians. This trivializes the word and loses sight of who the Pharisees really were and what the modern equivalent would be. Even Paul the Apostle when He was persecuting the church was not as depraved as the other Pharisees who were responsible for delivering up Jesus to be crucified (I Timothy 1:13)

First of all, the Pharisees thought that Jesus was demon possessed even though He did nothing but heal the sick and love the poor (John 8:48). They burdened people with rituals and laws and condemned people for not following their rigid demands (Matthew 23:4). They were powerful religious rulers who had married their zeal with the power of the state (John 11:48). They had a strict interpretation of the Old Testament law which did not allow for mercy. They thought nothing of stoning a woman to death for adultery (John 8:1-12). Lastly, they were motivated not by love for God, but by greed, envy, and power (John 11:48,Luke 16:14).

Do we have an equivalent in our day and age? Yes we do. I believe the religious police in Saudi Arabia and the Mullahs in Iran fit this description perfectly. Check out the book Iran: Desperate for God for a description of the Mullahs and Blink by Ted Dekker for a description of the religious police in Saudi Arabia. Of course, the Taliban would also be a fitting description of a modern day Pharisee. I would put the medieval Catholic Church responsible for the Inquisition in the same category. They used religion to condemn and kill rather than to love and save.

Yes, we have religious people with Pharisaical tendencies in American Christianity, but none to the same level as the actual Pharisees in the Bible as far as I am aware of. One safeguard against a Pharisaical spirit is to have an all-inclusive view of God's love for humanity. It is a human tendency to think of God's chosen as us four and no more, whether it is extreme Pentecostals who think that only tongue talkers will be in heaven (a minority view)or Fundamentalist Christians who believe that all Catholics are destined for hell for believing in purgatory and praying for the dead. Surely God is bigger than our theological squabbles! I am not suggesting that all are saved or that docrine doesn't matter. What I am saying is the cross of Christ has far more ability to save than does Adam's sin to condemn (see Romans 5). May we rejoice that our sins are forgiven and extend the same hope to the rest of humanity. When the gospel is such good news, who needs Pharisees?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Are Apostles for today?

Are Apostles for today? Some say yes. Some say no. Between these two views are a wide variety of ideas. I want to introduce my readers to a friend of mine Dr. Eddie Hyatt. He has written extensively on this subject. Please read his article here.

Tomorrow I plan on writing about Modern Day Pharisees. A friend of mine e-mailed me a question about what would be the equivalent of a Pharisee in our day and age. My answer may surprise my readers.

Have a great day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What a wonderful frightening world

I see trees so green, red roses too.
I watch them bloom for me and for you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Such are the words made immortal from the voice of Louis Armstrong. They speak of the beauty and splendor of God's creation and the sense of wonder that nature invokes.

But the truth is one could also write a song that says:

I see lions and tigers
and grizzly bears too
I watch them kill
O what should I do
And I think to myself, what a frightening world.

It seems that nature is sending us a mixed message. One one hand there is order and beauty, on the other hand there is death and destruction. Why is this?

I can't claim to know the full answer to this question, but it seems that God has instituted a cycle in nature to keep us from grasping at the temporary so our eyes can be fixed on the eternal. (see Ecclesiastes chapter 3)

Nature seems to be God's object lesson to humanity regarding the eternal choices that are set before us. Jesus said, "Narrow is the way that leads to life. Broad is the path that leads to destruction."

Yes there is evil and suffering in this world, but there is also grace and beauty. Life on earth is a test. Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus is the sum total of everything good and right in the world. The question is-which way will you and I choose? I think everyone needs to ask themselves this question. The stakes are too high to ignore.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The changing face of Pentecostalism

I've written in the past about how Pentecostalism is taking over the world, even when it is not called by that name (see my post in July 2006 entitled "tongue talking demon smashing baptists"). Now I would like to consider the changing face of Pentecostalism. Pentecostals have long been chided for their theological ignorance and anti-intellectual bias. In the old days, to be a Pentecostal was virtually synonymous with low class and low education.

Those were the old days. Although some still cling to the tradition of cessationism (the idea that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit died with the last Apostle), most will at least concede that tongue- speakers are not demon- possessed (a mainstream idea during the first half of the 20th century). In the book Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today? four scholars weigh in on the question of the perpetuity of miraculous gifts such as tongues, healing, and prophecy.

What strikes me about the book is the level of sophistication of the scholar defending the classic Pentecostal view of Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Pentecostals have gone from arguments like "Well golly Martha, dems Apostles spoke in tongues. I guess that means we can too" to "Luke has a distinct pneumatology that need not be subjugated to Pauline distinctives" (my paraphrase). If you didn't understand that last line. Don't worry. I basically said the same thing that uneducated hillbillies have been saying for a century without using the sophisticated language. God has this funny habit of "choosing the foolish things of the world to confound the wise." While stiff ivory tower intellectuals have been inventing Liberation theologies for the poor masses of the world, the poor in masses have been turning to Pentecostalism.

Lastly, what I think is most exciting is that Pentecostals and Cessationists can now bring themselves to the discussion table without accusing the other of heresy. Both sides seem to recognize now that the essential issues of the faith are what should unite us. This is a healthy step for the Christian faith worldwide. Thank you Zondervan for showing us every side of this issue. I'll take a genuine dialogue over mudslinging any day.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lessons from Doug and Carrie

I was watching King of Queens the other night when I got the idea for this post. I didn't catch the first part of it, but what I saw was hilarious and insightful at the same time. Doug and Carrie had given a $500 donation to the local library and were supposed to have their name on a plaque under the "patron category", but instead, they were listed under the"friend" category indicating a donation of only $50. This is where it got interesting. Carrie wanted the mistake to be corrected and Doug felt that was wrong because it would have indicated that they gave the money with wrong motives. When they consulted their local Catholic priest about the situation, he told them they should let it go.

But Carrie didn't want to let it go. Instead, she hung out at the library and, while Doug was reading stories to the children, she was trying to persuade a young child to talk to the official in charge to correct the mistake. Doug chided her saying that she was bound for hell. Carrie, on the other hand, did not see what was wrong with wanting a little credit for a good deed. Although it was never stated on the program, the reference to the teaching of Jesus on the sermon on the mount about not doing good deeds to be seen by men was unmistakeable. This, to me, serves as further confirmation that the human conscience naturally agrees with the teachings of Jesus. We don't think of Jesus as a moral teacher often, because we emphasize His role as the Savior. But Jesus is the perfect moral teacher and I am certain that He would have told Carrie to let it go.

But what about the question of heaven and hell? Doug and Carrie were both concerned that their hearts were not right and that they might be on the path to everlasting flames. Putting the question of the literal nature of hell's flames aside, I asked myself, "Would someone like Carrie Heffernan really enjoy heaven?" Heaven is a place where God is supreme and all who are there want Him to be the supreme focus of their lives. It would seem to me that heaven would be hell for a person like Carrie Heffernan who is constantly focused on herself. When it comes down to it, heaven and hell are the natural consequences of our heart's desires. God will not force heaven or hell on anyone. But He will give us our heart's desires. The problem is that few realize the implications of where their hearts are leading them. Every person is either moving to God or away from God. As for me and my house, I choose to move to God. Knowing that He loved me first despite my sins and failures, why wouldn't I choose Him? I invite my readers to contemplate the same question.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pakistan rape law

Today in the news is a story about legislators from Pakistan threatening to dissolve the current government over an ammendment to the current rape law which says that a woman needs 4 witnesses to prove a rape, if not, she could be accused as an adulterer and penalized for making false accusations. Although I am not in favor of making generalizations about Islam as being an evil and wicked religion (intellectual honesty forbids it) I do have to ask the question-can you imagine this happening in a Christian country in today's society? If this does not show the difference between the values of Jesus and the values of Muhammed, I don't know what does.

New study-celebrities are more narcissistic

I thought this was funny. A new study shows that celebrities really are more narcissistic than the rest of us. As if we needed proof! Ambition and humility usually do not go together. But, then again, who am I to talk? It is basic human nature to love self. The Bible says, "No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it" (Ephesians 5:29). It is obscession with self that Jesus came to save us from.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Dead Man Walking

The other day I was in Wal-Mart when I saw the DVD for Dead Man Walking, a film I knew was a true story about a nun who counseled a murderer on death row. Although I rarely ever buy a DVD before seeing it first, I took a chance on this one. And I'm glad I did. Although many people might take issue with the anti-death penalty stance of the film (which is never stated but implied), the film to me was much less about capital punishment as it was a lesson on unconditional love.

Susan Sarandon plays the character of Helen Prejean, a nun, who counsels Matthew Poncelet, a man on death row for rape and murder. Poncelet, played by Sean Penn, is not an innocent victim. He is a cold-blooded killer who refuses to face the truth about himself throughout most of the film. The film shows Helen's internal struggle with loving someone as despicable as Poncelot while trying to comfort the victims' families at the same time. Throughout the film, Poncelet slowly comes to realize the gravity of his sin reaching to a very emotional confession of guilt at the end.

The most moving part for me was when Sister Helen tells Poncelet, "You are a son of God" and Poncelet replies, "No one has ever called me a son of God before." He then thanks her for loving him. Shortly before the execution, Sister Helen tells him that she wanted to be the face of love for him as he dies. Although earlier in the film, Poncelet declares his confidence that Jesus will take care of him on judgement day, it isn't till the very end that the audience sees that Poncelet has been truly redeemed. It was sister Helen's unconditional love that forced Poncelet to face who he truly was and to receive the unconditional mercy of God.

Sister Helen saw Poncelet not for what he had done, but for who he was in the eyes of God before the world began-a child of God. Helen had an inclusive view of God's family, not an exclusive view. She understood that the work of the cross meant actual forgiveness for sinners, not just a potential forgiveness only for those who realize its implications. She saw all of humanity as God's children, even the wayward children like Poncelet. That is why she could treat Poncelet as someone who was actually forgiven even though he did not realize it yet. It is mercy that transforms, as Poncelet shows in the end. May we all learn from the loving example of Sister Helen Prejean.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The hypocrisy of justice

Some of you may remember the story of Martin and Gracia Burnham, the two missionaries from the Phillipines who were kidnapped by the Abu Sayaff and held hostage for a year. During the rescue attempt, Martin was killed but Gracia made it out alive and went on to write a book describing her year of hell called In the Presence of My Enemies. In the book she describes a conversation with one of her captors who was boasting about how Islam was a stronger religion than Christianity because it enforced greater punishment on evil doers. Martin and Gracia explained to the man how Christianity emphasized the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God based on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The captor then snarled as he said, "Where is the justice in that? People should pay for their sins." When Martin and Gracia asked if he thought the way they had been treated was wrong he looked at them like they just landed on earth from another planet (my words, not the author's).

That is the problem with justice. We humans are all too eager to condemn others while being blind to our own faults. Of course, living in a sin-cursed earth we need a system of law and justice to curb evil and protect society, but does that mean that God governs his moral universe on the basis of law and retribution? I think not. When Jesus was on the cross, He said "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Where is the justice in that? Those people murdered the Son of God! And here Jesus is asking the Heavenly Father to forgive them? Jesus also said to "love your enemies." Why would God tell us to do that if He doesn't follow His own advice? The Bible says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses against them."

Everyone,no matter how good or bad they are, is reconciled to God as far as He is concerned. The problem is that not everyone wants to be reconciled to God. Some would prefer hell with themselves over heaven with God. God is gracious enough to give people what they want. Why would anyone want to remain an enemy of God when they can be His friend? I don't know. But I do know that since "God is love" and God is everywhere, even those in hell are loved by God. Unconditional love may not make sense to us, but it is a far better moral principle to govern the universe than simple tit for tat retribution.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Leave your left knee outside!

Imagine if I handed you an invitation to a party at my house. I told you to bring your wife, your kids, your neighbors and your friends, and then at the bottom of the invitation, there is hand-written on the note-please leave your left knee outside, it repulses me. I imagine that you would feel insulted first and then second you would think I was crazy.

Now imagine how Jesus feels when you do the same thing to Him. In our day and age we have a lot of self-styled spirituality. People say things like "I'm a spiritual person. I just don't believe in organized religion." What they are really saying is "I want to be spiritual on my own terms so I don't have to deal with other people." Many people believe that they can be a sincere Christian without having to go to church and fellowship with other Christians. I hate to be the whistle blower here, but that is sheer nonsense. The Bible says the Christian church is the "Body of Christ." It also says that the way you know if you "have passed from death to life" is if you "love the brethren" (I John 3:14). You can not love Christ without loving Christians. That would be like saying-"Jesus, please come into my heart, but leave your left knee outside."