Sunday, May 13, 2012

Theological Bigotry (or why I voted against Amendment One)

In case you don’t follow politics, there was recently a vote ratifying North Carolina Senate Bill 514 (now known as Amendment 1). Simply put, this redundant bill’s sole purpose was to further solidify the already existing law on North Carolina’s books regarding the nature of marriage: one man and one woman.
Both my church and seminary strongly supported this bill, much to my chagrin. (In fact, you might remember Dr. Heimbach from the time I got fired from the seminary for espousing pacifist views and challenging the alcohol vs. military hypocrisy of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; he is now Jon Stewart’s example of ignorance on the issue!)
I truly believe that someday, in the not-so-distant future, the Church will look back on this, as we now do with slavery, and realize that we were on the wrong side of the fight...
Let me clarify: 

The most frustrating part about the same-sex marriage debate is that, by and large, neither side is starting from the same argument and therefore they will never come to terms. It is a circular conversation; a treadmill conversation: everyone works really hard but you never really get anywhere...
Christians (of whom I am one!) are concerned with the “sanctity of marriage.” I fully support this concept in theory, insofar as the institution of marriage is God-ordained and theologically significant to our understanding of the relationship between Christ and the church (read through Ephesians 5 for just one example!).
Paul talks about marriage. Jesus talks about marriage. Both seem very clear that this is an institution to join together one man and one woman, before God and the church, where the two shall become one, and once God has joined them together, let not man tear asunder. 
I would argue that this is a timeless truth because the reasoning for the structure in marriage is Adam and Eve (God’s original, perfect design).  It was not the provincial views of an unenlightened society, but how God desires for us to live and procreate.
Furthermore, Scripture is abundantly clear that homosexual practices are sinful and not to be tolerated as compatible with a Gospel-centered life. 
I bet by now you’re probably wondering if my title was a typo (you know, that dang ol’ auto-correct...)
Here is my problem:
The conversation is not really about theology. We arguing about social rights and civil liberties, which are afforded to every person, even the gay ones, by the United States Constitution and which we, as Christians, ought to further defend by virtue of the fact that every human being bears the Image of God!
I hate to be the breaker of bad news, but the “war for the sanctity of marriage” is over and we lost!  That ship has sailed, sunk, and has now become a popular drunken dive resort spot for tourists looking to let loose for a short time.
If the argument is to be made that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman, this is chiefly due to the fact that God has declared, in His good sovereignty which far surpasses my own ability to reason and rationalize, that homosexuality is not an acceptable form of romantic expression. It breaks my heart and I wish it were not so, but I lack the hubris to tell God He’s wrong.
Furthermore, the aforementioned assertion is made with the unspoken assumption that this man and woman are followers of God! In the Old Testament they were Jews living under the Law.  In the New Testament Paul is writing to believers on how they ought to live under Christ’s grace.
Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 that while we are to avoid people who call themselves believers but engage in sinful behavior, we are not to sit in judgment of outsiders! “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.”
Now, if we reframe the argument to more honest, we should say that the sanctity of marriage must include far more than the gender of those joined! It is nothing short of bigotry and Pharisaical sin-favoritism to sit idly by in silent acceptance as unsaved heterosexuals are married and go on living sinful lifestyles, raising pagan children, and slowly dying amid the same impending dangers of Hell as their homosexual cohabiting counterparts.
We cannot single out a sin and make it the poster child for marital immorality.  If we want to reform marriage and reclaim the sanctity of godly matrimony, then the answer is to stop fighting with the government over a lost cause. When did the government start owning the semantic rights to religious ceremonies? Why is the government included in the first place? Who cares what Washington thinks a marriage is?
What we need to do is fight for the civil rights and liberties of all sinners while preaching the good news of Jesus to them! 
Stop for a moment and truly search your heart: Is God glorified when a man is prohibited from seeing his partner of twenty-five years on his death bed because he is just a “roommate”? Is the Gospel embodied when the church tell homosexuals that they are second-class citizens because of their particular sin ailment?  I know that I would not be very open to hearing a message of radical grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy from someone who has spent their life campaigning against me!
I think the best solution is to abandon the secular model of marriage altogether. If the government wants to maintain the anachronistic practice of legally binding social contracts between lovers, so be it. But what if we, as Christians, focus our time and energy on preaching the Gospel to sinners of all shapes, sizes, and sexual orientations and leave the secular policy to the bureaucrats? 
Marriage should be between one man, one woman, with Jesus at the center. I want to get married someday. But not for the certificate from the State! Forget that hassle. I want to make an eternal commitment to my bride before God and our families, both our earthly families and our church family, and allow that covenant to be the one that matters!

I feel as though I should pause here and prophylactically defend myself from the potential accusation of hypocrisy between this article and my previously published views on abortion. As difficult as it can be to define, I believe there are parts of God’s law that need to be legislated and parts that are only for His followers. Due to my belief that every person is a person from the moment of conception coupled with my charge from God to defend life, I must argue for that legislation, especially when those victimized are completely helpless. 

On this issue, however, I do not feel that God’s law is being broken any more so than when two unbelievers marry for the secular/societal benefits that come along with this [now] state authorized institution. The church does not recognize homosexual marriage, God does not recognize it, so who cares about the government?!?
I have prayed over and studied this issue probably more so than any other in my faith journey (with the exception, perhaps, of election) and I am firmly convinced that Jesus is most glorified when we love our neighbors as ourselves, even if their sin makes us more uncomfortable than our other neighbors’ sins. Or our own sin. I work very hard to maintain close friendships with homosexuals and attempt to love them through the Gospel as I do any other unbeliever who struggles with any of a myriad of sins (many with which I myself struggle: anger, lust, judging, idolatry, laziness, etc.).
Again, I would encourage you to step back from the moral majority mentality with which, if you are anything like me, you were probably raised and ask yourself what brings our GOD the most glory, rather than the GOP. What is the purpose of marriage and why do we need to defend/define the States’ definition/understanding? What other areas of ministry could we focus this intense energy, passion, and financial contribution?
As always, I love you, even if we disagree.
Lets make the world a little better in Jesus’s name!
“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen and amen.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Saving the Planet One Meal at a Time (or why/how I'm a vegan)

Recently the gentlemen of ESM had a special Food & Fellowship (the themed fortnightly gathering) dedicated to Creation Care (what happens when the Gospel overtakes a hippie). I feel that one of the clearest calls we have from God throughout the Bible is to be stewards of that with which He has blessed us, and this includes caring for His creation rather than living as functional hedonistic parasites that slowly erode the resources with which we have been blessed and must rely for survival, and as such I have made various life choices to reflect that conviction of the Holy Spirit.

One of the fastest, most effective, and easiest ways to curtail our negative impact on the planet (as well as the "least of these" for whom Christ calls us to care!) is by adjusting our diet.

I began my vegan journey early in 2009 when I was challenged by some statistics regarding the consumption of meat and the impact that eating it has on the environment and the poorest nations and people groups. Around the same time my conscience was being pricked about this area of selfishness in my life, I received an email from Meat Free Monday which encourages people to voluntarily give up meat one day a week. This can have a huge impact on CO2 and methane emissions, as well as a myriad of other benefits to the planet and its peoples!

After a little while I realized that meat free Mondays were turning into meat free Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and... well, you get the idea. This eventually turned into a meat free lifestyle.

After about three years as a ovo-lacto vegetarian (one who does not eat meat but will eat eggs and dairy products; the most common type of vegetarian) I was challenged yet again, this time by the practices of the dairy industry. I had originally dismissed veganism (and for a while vegetarianism) because of the unfortunate pagan connotations of earth worship and a misunderstood anthropology (the nature/purpose of humanity) where the argument is "animals are people too", something clearly contrary to the special place in creation to which humanity has been assigned. We are the only creature to bear God's image (the Imago Dei) and have clearly been given dominion over plants and animals (Genesis 1:26). That does not, however, mean that we are to abuse that power by taking advantage of God's creation. You have dominion over your children as a parent, but this is not a license for abuse, rather a call to serve and sacrifice and focus outside of your own interests.

One of the hardest parts about going vegetarian or vegan is the learning curve requisite to overcome a lifetime of meat and dairy eating. Most of our meals center around some meat dish and there is a lot of learning that has to be done to figure out a new way to cook. The good news is that, once you get going, you realize that you actually will have MORE options and dishes from which to choose. I have expanded my horizons and discovered all sorts of foods that I now count among my favorites that I would not have even tried were I not a vegetarian/vegan!

As such, since I have climbed this learning curve, I want to share my experiences and knowledge that I have learned so that it might be easier for you to explore this option and maybe try giving up meat for at least one day a week!

As far as recipes go, I use online resources to find them and never underestimate the power and importance of experimentation!

If you have an iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad) then there are some GREAT apps that can help out. My favorite one is the Wholefoods app that has tons of recipes and the option to search based on the ingredients you have on hand. It also will keep your shopping list for you when you find a recipe you like (it will add the ingredients to your list for you so you don't forget it!).

Eating out is going to be tough. Italian is not your friend; almost all of it has egg (pasta), butter (pasta, bread, even sauce), cheese, meat, etc. Mediterranean, Indian, and "hold-the-sour-cream-and-cheese" Mexican are good options to consider. I also enjoy Thai and other Asian foods that use tofu for stir-fry options.

One of the most helpful books for me when I started was (I'm almost too chagrined to admit it!) The Kind Life by Alicia Silverstone. It has great recipes, easy to follow logic for why to go/stay vegan, and it really helped me get up and running.

Here is a list of resources I find helpful for vegan living. Keep in mind that not all of them are espousing the lifestyle for the same reasons I do, but I try to chew the meat and spit out the bone (if you'll pardon the ironic idiom). I love PETA for their recipes, but not their "animals are people too" stance. There are some good films out there as well that can be very helpful, as well as articles from various non-profits and news organizations.

If you have questions, comments, or just want some more advice, please don't hesitate to contact me and I'll be more than happy to help you out in whatever way I am able!

Be blessed,

Saturday, April 2, 2011

No Longer Good News (or why I reject "anonymous Christians")

Many people, when confronted with the doctrine of exclusivity (that is, that Christ is the only way to God and there is no salvation apart from His name alone), rightly wrestle with “the fate of those who never hear the Gospel.”

Recently Rob Bell released a rather controversial book entitled “Love Wins” in which he challenges the traditional orthodox understanding of Heaven and Hell and salvation. Despite the current hullabaloo surrounding his borderline (if not outright) heretical statements, this is nothing new. Over the years this argument has come up over and over. Rob Bell is not the first person who’s conscience was burdened over the prospect of people going to Hell “unjustly” who then decided to abandon Scripture and tradition After all, how could God damn to Hell a person who never heard the Gospel or had an opportunity to respond? What if this is a good person who worships god as they know it and lives a moral life within the confines of their given worldview (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.); wouldn’t God recognize their effort and redeem them apart from Christ? They make the argument that God’s love is bigger than His own name.

I have heard this referred to as “anonymous Christians” because they are saved by Christ, they just don’t know it yet.

This sounds really good, right? People try hard and God rewards them for it. But this isn’t how Scripture defines the Gospel, humanity, or grace.

While the doctrine of exclusivity is exceedingly difficult (I resonate with the Psalmist of Psalm 131!), it is necessary to maintain a consistent character of God that balances His love/mercy/grace with His justice/holiness/righteousness. I might do a series defending the doctrine over upcoming weeks, but for this post I just wanted to touch on a comment I Tweeted that seemed to cause some confusion.

The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” This is what Christ called it, what Paul called it, what the early church called it, so it seems they understood the life and message of Christ as something positive and freeing. Christ commanded us to share this message with all peoples in all places.

Let’s reason this through.

if the Gospel = good news;
not hearing the Gospel but living morally or worship your understanding of God = salvation;
introducing the Gospel to an unreached people group now means they can go to Hell;
the Gospel = bad news

I would rather live in ignorance leading to salvation than knowledge leading to damnation. If this is the case, wouldn’t that make Christ a jerk for telling us to go and spread condemnation to the ends of the earth? Can you imagine a physician so concerned about the plight of AIDS that he finds a cure and wants to make sure everyone has access to it so he goes to places where AIDS is not present and starts injection the “cure” into people, thereby introducing AIDS to a previously uninfected area. Not only that, but not everyone will take advantage of the cure! Unfortunately, all will be touched by the disease. There is no good news in a cure that only heals you after infecting you in the first place. I’d rather just stay disease-free to begin with, thank you very much.

That is what I meant by my tweet. Sending missionaries to unreached people groups is not good news for those people if the missionaries’ presence only breeds responsibility before God leading to damnation apart from Christ where there previously was “anonymous” grace. This seems patently antithetical to God’s character and thus I must reject such a theory.

Like I said, I will try to write more soon about other reasons I hold to a doctrine of exclusivity, but for now, maybe this will help to show my concern with undermining evangelism and missions by deluding ourselves into thinking people are not currently dying and going straight to Hell all over this world because we are more focused on our next car than with sacrificing of ourselves to be Christ’s love to someone helpless and in need of rescue. This is insidious, evil, and unproductive. Which is more useful, denying the thief outside the door or calling the police to arrest him?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

All You Need is Love (or the best reason to love)

Sometimes I find it hard to love my brothers, much less my enemies. Yet, 1 John tells us that God is love and we ought to therefore love one another because love is from God.

4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
I put this song together as a reminder that I am called to love, not because of anything in me that can do so, but because God in me allows me to love. I am unlovable, a child of wrath who deserves nothing but punishment. But God, being rich in mercy
, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ! It is not that I loved God, but that He loved me; how can I not, therefore, love my brothers, love my enemies, love those whom I have never met? God loved me when I was at enmity with Him. I therefore will love. After all, it is the new command that Jesus gave us, is it not?

I hope this encourages you to love.

I love you.

...or download it here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul was Anti-Patriotism (or why I stopped saying the "Pledge of Allegiance")

I recently tweeted a comment that, given the fact that he could not possibly know my thought process leading up to it, offended someone.

Let me elaborate. I had been watching the film Brothers, a story about two brothers whose lives have taken seemingly different paths in response to an alcoholic, abusive, "former" military father; one has joined the Marines, like his father before him, while the other responded to their father's abuse differently, taking to an unsuccessful life of petty crime.

At a family dinner that takes place in the brief window between when the Marine deploys (again) and when the ne'er-do-well is released from prison, the father expresses his displeasure with the son heretofore incarcerated by the state by comparing him to his brother who suffers under a different, more voluntary form of imprisonment by the United States armed forces.

The father makes the statement that the Marine is a "hero" by sheer virtue of "fighting for his country" as though there is an inherent value in murdering someone who was born outside of whatever imaginary lines inside of which you were born as long as you wear a uniform.

As if for the first time I was struck by the absurdity of our society's willingness to automatically make military personnel heros if for no other reason than that they sign away their lives to possibly kill or die for the stars and stripes.

My tweet was this:

I really feel like by now humanity should have evolved past nationalism/patriotism as being seen as something noble rather than provincial.

The retort from the offended party accused me of being anti-patriotic as part of a fad. Being "hip" is not why I am anti-patriotic. I don't know that I would even consider myself "anti-patriotic" at all. Maybe "post-patriotic."

My concern, as a Christian, is the same as that of the Apostle Paul to the church in Galatia. Why are we so caught up in trivial and temporal conditions like whether or not we are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, American or Iraqi?

I am glad to be an American, don't misunderstand me. There are a lot of great things about this country and I am afforded a lot of privileges having been born and raised here. I know it's easy for me as a white middle class male to wax philosophical from the comfort of my iMac. However, that being said, this is not a perfect country and I am not willing to delude myself into some sort of nationalistic trance that translates into anybody who does anything in the name of "America" as therefore being intrinsically heroic or laudable.

I want to break down invisible "us" vs. "them" lines drawn on maps by people long dead in favor of bringing the Gospel to all nations and all peoples by sheer virtue of their imago dei, not the color of their passport. I think we should stop worrying about green cards and focus more on red hearts. Christ has called me out of a country and into a Kingdom.

Here is my latest offering of Scripture that makes you want to dance. I hope you enjoy God's words through Paul and allow them to challenge how you think about nationality and allegiance.

And here is the higher quality version to download!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Call it "Ambient Gospel" (...but you can call it a Moby rip-off)

I've been really enjoying how much more I can do in GarageBand with my new iMac since I don't have to wait years for tracks and effects to process (thank you, Quad-Core i7 processor and 8 gigs of RAM!) so here is another installment of what I do late at night instead of sleeping...

Oh, and, once again, you can download the m4a from my iDisk!

For the record I think it sounds way better with headphones on...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hope for Havana (...or how I spent my Saturday night)

I have about a half dozen half written posts sitting waiting to be finished and published, but, alas, this is not one of them. I promise I'll get back to it soon. I feel like I missed out on the increased traffic my previous post got me, but last semester was crazy and I never had a chance to follow up.

I have been playing with GarageBand lately, though, and writing music instead of writing blog posts. I put this together tonight in honor of the Fourth of July. I know that might sound strange (once you listen to it), but I was thinking about what freedom means and those who not only don't have it, but risk their lives to obtain it by coming to this country to work in terrible conditions just to try to make life better for their families.

So, Arizona, put this in your iTunes and listen to it.

Wow, that didn't have nearly the impact I had hoped for. But, since smoking is forbidden at Southeastern and I'm already on thin ice, I figured I'd censor the saying.

I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Europe Saved My Life (...or why I have the best dad ever!)

This is one of those posts that I started (back at the beginning of June right after returning from Europe) but never finished. So, here it is:

I'm sitting on my parent's three-season porch in Summit, New Jersey, listening to jovial rain drops serenade the trees with a chorus of early summer melody as my body struggles to know when and where it is. I have returned from a brief holiday to Europe with my father that was exactly what I needed after this hectic semester. For those of you who may not know, I have spent the last six months working upwards of 80 hours a week and taking a full time graduate course load, trying to juggle work, school, relationships, and sanity to varying degrees of success. I spent most nights napping for a couple hours here and there, tending to Lou's needs, never really sleeping for any extended period of time and subsequently paying the price for this lifestyle in the currency of physical, emotional, and spiritual dollars; I nearly bankrupt my soul.

I tell you this, not to solicit your pity or come across as some sort of Superman, a compliment some people have falsely ascribed to me, but rather to give a frame of reference for my state when departing on this trip. I guess you could argue it was having consistent sleep, eating fresh food, or just being with my dad taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Europe, but I believe God showed up big for me to restore my soul. I felt like angels came and were ministering to me.

I know this might sound like a little thing, but we had perfect weather the entire time! We had sun in London, breezes in Bavaria, snow in Switzerland, and thin crisp air in the alps. The rain in Oberammagau, where the Passion Play took place (the climax of the trip), had been constant every day until the day we arrived (according to G√ľndi, our wonderful little old B&B host) and then was gorgeous while we were there.

Watching the Passion Play itself was restoring also. I've seen more Jesus films than I can count, but there is something deeply different about seeing a huge stage packed full of people waving palm branches at a German Jesus and calling desperately for peace to come.

I took a heap of video that I am working on putting together into a movie of the trip. In the meantime I have a few photos online.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Drinks We Don’t Drink and the Lives We Take (or why the Church should apply the same logic to military as they do to alcohol)

*ADENDUM* I would like to start this off with a preface that apologizes for the misunderstanding that occurred when I originally posted this essay and to make it unequivocally clear that I both love and respect Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as an institution, Dr. Danny Akin, our faithful president, and the faculty and staff of my seminary who serve King Jesus tirelessly. I have been inspired, edified, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through their faithful exposition of the Word and constant challenge to live a life that reflects the Great Commission and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only reason I bother in writing these articles is because I care enough about SEBTS and the SBC to take the time and effort to challenge the things I see as out of line with Scripture rather than throwing my hands up and just walking away, as some are prone to do (as we have been made painfully aware recently here at SEBTS).

In part, it is because of this teaching and adamant adherence to Scripture that I have been convicted by the Holy Spirit to share my thoughts on the issue of a seminary that actively endorses military involvement for its students. I personally feel that they should seek to discourage their students from taking up arms against their enemies, but I am aware that such a tremendous step would take the miraculous intervention of the Lord, not a silly blog by an obscure and overworked student. At the very least, however, I feel that the seminary has an obligation to at least remain consistent on this “gray area” by not inviting men in pressed green uniforms to stand up in the pulpit of our chapel where the Word of God is preached and tell the future ministers of this world to grab a gun and fall in line.

Furthermore, my primary problem is with the fundamentally inconsistent logic the administration engages in when on one hand there is the prohibition of the biblically sanctioned moderate use of alcohol while simultaneously endorsing military allegiance from its students. How deluded are we as a body of believers when the consumption of a beer is elevated to a higher priority level than the taking a human life? We have lost sight of what matters more (to intentionally allude to Derek Webb's recent album controversy) when the beverages we sip become more important than the blood we spill.

And, to be clear, despite my disagreement, I have adhered to the alcohol ban the entire time I have been in seminary, even when acting as the best man at my best friend’s wedding at a vineyard in Virginia last summer when I easily could have had a glass of champagne to toast his union to his wife without getting “caught” because I want to respect the authority of the seminary over me and submit to the covenant into which I have entered. I will not, however, submit in silence, when there are bigger issues at stake!

The good news out of all this controversy is that I now have some more time to sleep and do school work. The bad news is, as much as it grieves my spirit, I am no longer under the employ of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (not by my decision). That being said, here is a slightly edited version of the now notorious essay:

I know that not everyone feels the same way I do about the military and it's role in the world or in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ (although, I do stand in good company, with the likes of Charles Spurgeon in my corner, a favorite Baptist preacher). I have tried to be open and listen to those who are proponents of "Just War" theories (I even attended a breakout session at the most recent 20/20 Conference with Dr. Heimbach who helped craft the Just War policy for the first President Bush during the Persian Gulf War). I was challenged by some of the Scriptures he used and how he applied them to the notion of war and peace, but, to be honest, I was left wholly unconvinced. At best there is an argument from silence that Christians are not prohibited, per se, from joining the military. Proponents of this point of view use verses such as Matthew 10:34 and 24:6, Luke 3:1, 14:31, and 22:36, Acts 10, and Romans 13:4 to defend their position. I do not think that Jesus’ acknowledging that wars and rumors of wars would always be with us is the same as saying we, as Christians, should participate in them or endorse them as a body. Jesus’ claim that He did not come to bring peace is because He was dispelling the misconception of being a political messiah instead of a spiritual messiah. This is not the same as saying that He does not desire peace on earth or that we should not be actively working towards bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (sound familiar?).

Also, the decision for someone already in the military to finish out his term of service after conversion cannot be twisted to say that people who are already Christians are allowed/encouraged/commanded to join the military. These are NOT the same! The early church clearly held that centurion converts ought to finish their military duties, but they did not want Christians to join the military (until Constantine).

Finally, about the passage in Romans, a favorite go-to proof-text for military involvement by Christians, I want to make two points. First of all, the passage is referring to civil and domestic power. You can use this to argue for the existence of police and the judicial system. Second of all, it tells us to submit to those authorities, not participate with them, especially when they engage in activities that could be contrary to God’s will, purpose, and demonstration of His love and mercy.

I cannot look at the life and teaching of Christ as a whole and walk away with the thought that He would desire us to voluntarily enlist in the armed forces. Over and over Jesus encouraged peace through love, not violence.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9)

"But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." (Matthew 5:39 - not "blow them up or point machine guns at them until they stop upsetting or threatening you"!)

"Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52).

There are a myriad of such examples – including the oft overlooked counterpart to the aforementioned Romans passage that is the context (hermeneutics 101) for their proof-text: Romans 12:9-21- Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (emphasis added)

Beyond the explicit teachings of Christ we have the example of His life, which we are implored to emulate, which was one of radical non-violence. Jesus did not retaliate when struck. Jesus did not choose to accomplish His will through overpowering others with military might. Jesus did not create a community with high walls and locked gates to keep “them” away from “us”. To quote an old hymn “…but He never said a mumblin’ word. Not a word, not a word, not a word, not a word. They all cried, “Crucify Him”… but He never said a mumblin’ word…”

Getting away from the aspect of non-violence in the personal Christian life, which I find to be almost overwhelming, let us talk about idolatry. I can also speak from the personal experience of having multiple family members in the military, having dated a Navy nurse for two years, and having close friends, fraternity brothers, and many acquaintances who are either in or preparing to enter the military and the detrimental effect that being a soldier had on their psyche and the lives of their (and my own) families. When one becomes a soldier they are broken down and rebuilt to have an allegiance to their country above all else. All else. When Jesus is teaching on finances during the Sermon on the Mount He tells us that, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matthew 6:24) While Jesus is obviously talking about money here, I think the principle of not having any masters above Him is throughout Scripture (cf. Luke 14:26 for another example of not holding anything or anyone in a place of more importance than Christ or the first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3). When someone becomes a soldier, they are forced to forsake their identity in order to adopt a new one that is one of submission to country and commanding officers above all else. There is a subculture that is incredibly strong that supersedes any sense of self; a Christian soldier is no longer an adopted child redeemed by the blood of the Lamb but an "Army of one." There is a former Marine I know who no longer says, "amen" or "Hallelujah" when he agrees with something said in the sermon but rather he exclaims, "Hoo-Rah!" like a dog dreaming he is catching the mailman. He is a Marine first and a Christian second. He has told me that when he dons his uniform he is first and foremost a soldier who must act in that capacity above all else. This is idolatry! “You cannot serve two masters...

I say all this because I was struck by a thought recently when yet another military man made a plug for becoming a [Army, Navy, Marines, whatever] chaplain during our chapel service here at Southeastern. I was struck by the inconsistency in logic I find coming from an institution that forces its faculty, staff, and students to be teetotalers because of the potential for sin involved with the consumption of alcohol. When I first arrived at Southeastern Dr. Akin put out a
series of articles regarding the "Gray Areas" of life and how to make wise decisions in those areas. His argument is that, despite the fact that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), the fact that Jesus instituted the drinking of alcohol in remembrance of His voluntary salvific self-sacrifice and spilling of His blood for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:27-29, Mark 14:23-25, Luke 22:17-18), that [in the Old Testament especially] the Jews viewed wine (but not drunkenness) as a sign of joy and God's blessing (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 3:10), or that Paul tells Timothy to drink wine instead of water (1 Timothy 5:23), that, despite all these, it is most wise to abstain from all alcohol due to the potential for addiction or making a brother "stumble."

One of the arguments that Dr. Akin makes is that we ought to ask the question, "Will this action potentially enslave me?" I think this is a wise question when it comes to alcohol; alcoholism runs deep in my family and I have seen the slavery that it can bring. However, as I mentioned earlier, military allegiance also runs deep in my family tree, and I can tell you that, as far as enslaving decisions go, selling your soul to Uncle Sam by enlisting in the military is an equal commitment to being a slave for the rest of your life. Just like a recovering alcoholic still identifies themselves as an alcoholic, even if they have not had a drink in years, so a former soldier will carry the emotional scars and damage of that decision and will forever be a "soldier."

Other questions Dr. Akin encourages asking about alcohol I think ought to be equally applied to the military are:

Will this action encourage my brother or sister in Christ?

Will this help or hinder my gospel witness?

Is this action consistent with my life in Christ?

Will this action follow the pattern of the life of Jesus?

Will this action show love to others?

Will this action honor my body which belongs to God?
Will this action glorify God?

These are all great questions that we should ask about everything we do in our lives... including our allegiance to the military! Stop for one minute and try to think outside of the American Dream indoctrination with which you have likely been flooded. Think through these questions through the filter of the gospel, not the Constitution. Can we really answer any of these questions in the affirmative when it comes to joining the military? Does dedicating your life to death (even if you make it more palatable by labeling it "freedom" or "liberty" or "justice for all") really follow the pattern of the life of Jesus? Does learning how to disassemble and reassemble an automatic weapon to shoot brown or yellow people who disagree with you or threaten your way of life bring glory to God? Does dropping bombs on innocent men, women, and children in hopes of assassinating a few "bad guys" (who still bear the Imago Dei) show love to others? I cannot wrap my head around how that could be so.

In a perfect world there would be no war; there would be no Hitlers or Husseins or Stalins or Castros. But there are. I know that. This is a complicated issue that requires careful prayer and consideration. All I know is that I cannot justify committing my life and allegiance to Uncle Sam instead of Jesus. Nobody said the gospel would be easy. No one promised perfection to be an overnight acquisition. Loving our enemies isn’t easy or else everyone would do it. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What frustrates me in regards to Southeastern's policy is what I perceive to be inconsistent logic. Either let me enjoy a Guinness (which is more Christian than the Army by far!) with my supper because we are adult Christians who enjoy the freedom and liberty that Christ paid dearly to grant us or stop pushing the military on me because all gray areas that have the potential to enslave us or make others fall into sin ought to be prohibited by the administration. We need to commit to one or the other. (At the very least be balanced and invite a non-violence organization to come speak in chapel and talk about opportunities to serve the world for peace and justice in ways that don’t require the shedding of blood.)

I know this is controversial, and I'm ok with that. I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue about this issue with you over coffee. I just ask that you really think/pray/meditate/challenge your preconceptions before doing so. I have taken time and sought God extensively before writing this. This is not an article I take lightly, but it is one that I feel I must share out of a conviction I believe to be from the Holy Spirit. At one time I actually planned on joining the military until the Lord convicted me about what truly being under the Lordship of Christ (not the Commander in Chief) meant.

Thank you for pushing yourself, even if you still disagree with me.

In love and seeking Truth,

Your brother.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Love & Respect (or how to make sense of the gender static)

Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Love & Respect is rooted in (However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.) to find why it is that men and women often have trouble communicating in relationships with one another. The premise is that women desire to be shown they are loved whereas men are more focused on feeling respected. This is not to say that men do not desire love nor that women have no need for respect, but rather, that each gender has a different emphasis and, thus, there can be something “lost in the translation” when going from male to female and vice versa.

While I am as of yet unmarried, I have had girlfriends with whom there have been times where, despite earnest efforts on both our parts, there was a fundamental communication breakdown that left us both feel, well, crazy. Dr. Eggerichs aptly refers to this as the “Crazy Cycle” (without love she reacts without respect; without respect he reacts without love; without love… well, you get the idea!). Reading this book gave me great insight into how better to communicate with not only my girlfriend, but also women in my life in general. I realized why I misunderstood what women have tried to communicate to me in the past and how I can better express myself so as to ensure that what I intend to say is received correctly (so that the words that come out of my blue megaphone can be understood through her pink hearing aid without getting drowned out by gender static).

Grounded in biblical truth and psychological research, Dr. Eggerichs successfully conveys his message in an easy to read format that is as entertaining as it is insightful. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever been in a failed relationship and hopes to someday be in one that works!