Category Archives: Teachings

Legalism or Progressivism: Which is Deadlier to Faith?

Since 2002, I’ve been advocating for religion-free Christianity, as well as warning of the dangers of allowing legalism to invade our faith-walk. Over the years, I’ve been accused by fundamentalists of being “soft on sin,” preaching “greasy grace,” and failing to understand the importance of the Law.

I’ve been physically assaulted on two separate occasions, I’ve been labeled a “radical” and a “heretic,” placed on false teacher websites and have been blacklisted from several churches due to my views on sovereignty, the believer’s authority, and faith-righteousness.  Through all of that, I’ve stood strong for the message of the New Covenant, the finished work of the cross, and the righteousness of the believer through faith.

Recently though, I’ve received a new form of opposition. Despite my very public (and considered in some circles to be “radical”) stance on grace, I’ve now been accused of being a legalist. How did this happen you may wonder?  Let me explain.

For the last several years, I’ve been addressing a theological phenomenon known by some as spiritual extrapolation.  Spiritual extrapolation is the process by which one attempts to discover a deeper revelation of the Word by starting with a biblical truth, but over time extrapolating the revelation of that truth, until the end doctrine has progressed beyond what is found in Scripture, and the individual ends up in error.

The main concern of spiritual extrapolation is not simply that one now holds to the error, but that he has let go of the value and importance of the Word in establishing a right belief about God.  This form of extrapolation, rooted in Gnostic thinking, gives preference to reason and logic over biblical inerrancy.  Thoughts such as, “If God is really good, then there would be no hell,” sound good on paper, but they violate foundational truths of the Bible, such as freewill, personal responsibility, and the empowerment of the believer. Don’t be fooled, a God that gives no choice, cannot be truly good.

I understand the attraction to this line of thinking, especially by my grace brothers and sisters, many of whom have been deeply wounded by denominational thinking and Pharisaical Christianity. Like many in the grace community, I too, have experienced firsthand the negative effects of legalism, adherence to tradition, and the damage that a faulty view of God can cause to one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

It makes sense to me that those of us who have been wounded by religion would have the tendency to set sail for greener and freer theological pastures.  And in many cases, this has proven to give birth to wonderful theological renewal.  New insights into the meaning of the cross, a greater understanding of the purpose of the Mosaic Law, and powerful personal revelations of the unbreakable and everlasting covenant with our God through Christ abound. But not all “so called” revelations are good, as is the case with progressive thinking that inevitably leads to extra-biblical extrapolation.

Think of doctrine like a buoy floating in the ocean. Fixed to the bottom of the ocean floor by a strong cable, the buoy is free to float along the surface of the water. It can float a little to the left or a little to the right, but ultimately, it remains safely anchored to the seabed.

In the case of doctrine, our opinions regarding specific scriptures may float, if you will, between various individual interpretations and theological variations, but assuming we are still connected to the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus, we can remain fixed within the broader bounds of orthodoxy, free from the devastating effects of heresy.

However, if our belief and connection to the infallibility of the Word of God is somehow lost, like a buoy ripped from its foundation, we, too run the risk of floating out into the life-threatening waters of false doctrine. This is exactly what happens in the case of spiritual extrapolation and it is the trademark of progressivism.  (For more on spiritual extrapolation, click HERE.)

Verses that used to serve as the final authority on a given topic, are now treated with contempt – marginalized, criticized, or suggested to be inapplicable to a New Covenant believer in the modern era.  All this is just a vain attempt to justify holding onto false doctrines and man-made opinions over the Word of God.

Furthermore, since our new doctrines inevitably violate the Word of God, our belief system creates a tension in our heart.  The need to resolve this tension only further propels us into distancing ourselves from the Bible.  If we begin to hold to a particular belief and wrongly elevate it over the truth of the scriptures, eventually, something has to give.  Unfortunately, our pride usually prevents that from being our own belief system, so by default, our dependence on the scriptures is often the first to detach.

“But isn’t progressivism better than legalism?” I was asked recently. To be completely honest, I had to think about that question for a minute, until I eventually found myself answering it with a resounding, “No!” Here’s why.

In Romans 3:19, Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”

Additionally, Paul adds in Galatians 3:23-24,

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”

According to Paul, the purpose of the Law was to silence man before God and to reveal his need for a savior.  In fact, any real effort at attempting to fulfill the Law, should eventually lead a person to a deep surrender to the lordship of Jesus.

If man were truly to attempt to fulfill the whole law, he would quickly realize that he could not, and therefore, would call out to God for help.  In reality, mixture is infinitely more dangerous than adherence to the Law, because the worshipper falsely believes that with just a little bit of law and a little bit of God’s grace, he could accomplish righteousness on his own.

But in the case of progressivism, the worshipper must reject allegiance to the written Word of God, which is supposed to confirm and validate the person of Christ and the truth of God. Through humanistic thinking, a progressivist simply follows his own vain imaginations and theological ponderings.  Floating detached from truth, he begins interpreting Scripture with what feels like divine inspiration, yet with each new wave of “revelation,” he floats closer to the shores of agnostic skepticism, before eventually running aground on the rocks of atheism.

These theological drifters have exchanged the Holy Spirit’s prompting for the comfort of their own wit, and by doing so, have lost the opportunity to be reined in by spiritual conviction and God’s rebuke.  Though once enlightened, the tether that was at one time attached to their source of truth has been severed – cut by their own egos.  As a result, progressivists exist in an extra-biblical world, outside of the covenants and separated from the Word of God.

For example, some progressivists suggest that the apostle Paul had only a partial revelation of grace, thus, “his words can’t be fully trusted.”  Anyone who adheres to this thinking is like one who makes the “doctrine of the month” his new authority. His own lack of confidence in the word testifies against him.

Contrast this with the legalist, who, even though he preaches a “ministry of death,” remains loyal to the very law that was intended to lead a man to Christ.  Ironically, through this strict adherence to the Law, there’s actually an opportunity for faith to lead such a person to the hope found in the Gospel.

Does this mean that we should stop speaking out about the hazards of legalistic thinking, because it’s not as dangerous as progressivism?  Personally, I’m not even sure that this is the right question.

Whenever legalistic thinking and/or progressive thought present themselves as an affront to the message of the cross, we do speak – but not with humanistic partiality.  As New Covenant believers, our purpose should not be defined in what we are against, but rather in what we are for – and that is the reconciliation of the world to God.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The frequency with which grace-oriented believers are turning a blind-eye to the grievous errors of Universalism, yet vehemently splitting hairs over minor doctrines such as the tithe is appalling.  It is like jumping over a canyon in order to condemn a crevice.

Some might falsely think that I’m proposing that it’s never right to challenge tradition or to distance ourselves from so-called orthodoxy, but anyone who has read any of my past works knows that I often challenge traditional commentaries on various passages and present “new” meanings to verses. True orthodoxy, however, should never be mistaken for deceptive interpretations or a misrepresentation of God’s intentions.

So how can we as believers protect ourselves from the blind oppression of legalism or the subtle deception of progressivism?

Here are a few questions to consider when approaching doctrinal differences, both old and new.

  • Is my understanding of this belief based upon the sum of God’s Word?
  • In order to believe some new idea, am I forced to ignore certain scriptures or invalidate entire books of the Bible?
  • Is my belief based upon scriptural context or shaped by my pre-formed assumptions?
  • Does my embrace of Jesus as the Word of God force me to distance myself from the Bible as the Word of God?
  • Does my view of God’s goodness rob man of his own right to choose?

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Philemon 6: Harmonizing Two Opposing Viewpoints

One of my favorite verses has always been Philemon 6, which reads in the NIV, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Essentially, Paul is explaining that the more we share our faith, the more understanding we gain into our unique position in Christ.  I take this to mean that evangelism, doesn’t just strengthen the new convert, but also the one sharing their faith.

As powerful as this is, the KJV translation presents a different and somewhat opposing reading of the very same verse.  It states, That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” The KJV reverses the order and describes a different process at work; that as we acknowledge the realities of the finished work in our life, the more effective our faith will be.  For the believer, this directs our focus to the confession of who we are in Christ as a tool in seeing our faith manifest into the physical dimension.

So which is it? Do we share our faith in order to learn more about who we are in Christ?  Or do we speak the truth about who we are in him, in order to see our faith shine?  I say, “BOTH!”  Certainly, the more we share our faith, the more we will grow and learn.  And the more we confess the realities of the new covenant over our lives, the more we will begin to see those realities made manifest.  Instead of battling over which is true – do both and you’ll be blessed either way!

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Making Sense of Psalm 119:71

In my pursuit to reveal God’s goodness and true character to the world, I often spend more time studying passages of scripture that seem to contradict his goodness, than those that validate it.  To put it another way – I focus on studying what I call the “problem passages”, so that I can understand them in context and help people see that God is in fact, better than we think he is.

In my recent book, Good God, I dealt with literally dozens of these problem passages, such as: the book of Job (yes, that’s right, the whole book), James 1, Hebrews 12, John 9, Romans 9, and so many more.  Although I tried to make Good God as exhaustive as possible in dealing with the questions that people might have about God, every now and then, I come across an additional verse that didn’t make the cut.  Perhaps I’ll release an updated version down the road that might include some of these, but in the meantime, that’s what my blog is for.

One such verse is Psalm 119:71.  It states,  “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”

Out of context and by itself, it’s easy to spot the apparent contradiction to the character of God that I present in Good God.  It appears that the writer is thanking God for afflicting him, so that he could learn his ways.  If you’re a student of the message of grace, or if you’ve read my book, then you know that this can’t be the true intention of the writer.  So what’s going on here?  What does the passage really mean?

As usual, context is king.

Let’s take a look at the full passage from a different translation.

Before I had trouble, I strayed from the true path, the path of righteousness, but now I live according to Your word. You are truly good, and Your acts are too; teach me what You require. The proud smear me with their lies; I will keep Your instructions wholeheartedly. Their hearts are dull and callous; I am delighted to study Your teaching. It is a good thing that I was humbled because it helped me learn Your limits.
-Psalm 119:67-71 VOICE

In context, the writer clearly states that his pain was as a result of his own choice to stray from God’s path.  Never is he accusing God of doing anything to him, but rather he is simply acknowledging that he was thankful that he experienced humility during his rebellion, otherwise he wouldn’t have turned back to God.  God didn’t bring him through bad things to humble him, but because he went through bad things and humbled himself – he was thankful.

Just another perfect example why context is so important in reading scripture.  Remember, when you come across a verse or a passage that seems to contradict what you know about God; take the time to study it out and see what it really says.

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The Final Secret: Part 4

2 Corinthians 3:6

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

I’m a recovering legalist. There was a time in my life when my relationship with God was based on how well I did and how well I performed. But, that’s not the Gospel.

The verse from Ephesians reminds us that the law brings death. It’s taken me a long time to realize that. If something isn’t working in my life there’s a simple reason. I’m not talking about those things that take time. There’s seed time and harvest. Sometimes we have to plant seeds and wait for them to germinate. We have to wait for them to develop and we seek a harvest on that.

I’m talking about things that are flat out not working and you know they’re not working. Whether it’s a relationship, how you’re connected to people, how you talk to people; maybe your financial goals and you realize – this just isn’t working. Weight loss, parenting, a dream… If something isn’t working in my life I’ve found that I’m not operating in grace in that area. Because – GRACE WORKS.

Grace works every single time. It gives life. It increases, it prospers, and it grows. Grace works. There’s life in it. It’s that life giving seed planted in the ground and you know what it will do.

For about three years my wife Krissy and I planted a garden. Before I go any further – you know we’ve all had our dumb moments. We’ve all done stupid things. This was one of those things for me. No joke, the first year I planted the seeds – I’m looking at the back of the package and it says the corn will grow in 6-10 days. Day 6, day 7…I was getting irritated because there was nothing there.

So, I’m serious – I actually went to the garden and dug up the corn to see if the seeds had germinated. And I immediately remembered Jesus’ parable in which He says no one plants a field and then digs it up to see if it’s growing. And I was like, well, this kid does!

And as silly as all that sounds – we do it all the time. We say, “God, you said this was what I was supposed to do. Is it working? Why isn’t it working yet?” And we push and prod and pull.

Bottom line – grace works. And it develops in our lives and we cannot stop that.

What doesn’t work is legalism and law and performance. When we have that kind of thinking and are consistently falling apart in our finances – then there’s legalism. It’s an attitude of lack and performance in our finances that is preventing that area from growing and developing.

Believe that God wants you to prosper and that it happens when we put him first and we worry about him and we let him worry about us. That’s the starting point. We have to start there – in parenting, health – we have to look in the mirror and ask, “Lord, am I doing this through grace?”

There are still those areas in my life as a grace pastor that I’m still open to that I haven’t yet been able to identify. Areas that God is going to show me and he’s going to eradicate those blind spots and I’m going to be able to walk in grace in those areas. And that’s humility that allows us to ask for help.

God uses others to speak to us when we can’t see it ourselves. He uses others to share these areas – but I have a rule. I do not let someone who doesn’t understand the Gospel of grace to speak into my life on heart issues, heart level – grace oriented stuff. Other areas – tech stuff, construction – sure. But, not heart matters because it’s the heart of the Gospel of Grace.

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A System of Grace

Angry mother scolding daughter clutchin teddy bear in living room

The opposite of a shame based system is one of grace. If you aren’t quite sure what this looks like, or if you’ve been living in a shame based system for any length of time, this list reveals how to build up your family while teaching them solid lessons they can implement for a lifetime.

The Top 10 Characteristics of a Grace Filled System

1. Out Loud Affirming

“Good job!”

“You are so capable!”

Recently our nieces and nephews were over and my nephew spilled apple juice – the stickiest substance if it dries on the floor. We cleaned it – or so we thought. About 3am I got up for a glass of water. Walking across that spill in my bare feet, I was quickly reminded that I needed to go over the spot again. And it was easy to think at first, “Oh man, Little Guy! You made such a mess on the floor!”

The following morning we got up with the kids and he had apple juice again and I realized I didn’t tell him what a great job he did by not spilling it this time.

We forget to say, “Such a good job!”

“I love you!”

“I’m glad God put you in my family!”

And when using out loud affirming – use names and use them often. Use your child or spouse’s name when praising them.

2. People Oriented 

Grace filled families separate people from their behaviors.

David Seaman said, “We all need an environment where our needs are met because of who we are, not because of what we do.

It’s not psycho mumbo jumbo to say to Little Johnny, “I love you, but I don’t like what you just did.”

It’s grace. It’s about communicating acceptance when behavior is lacking. And the psycho mumbo jumbo that works is God’s invention. The psycho mumbo jumbo that doesn’t work is psycho mumbo jumbo and we have to sort through the two.

Sometimes God isn’t real pleased with my behavior – even as a pastor. When God sees me He sees Jesus. I am forgiven. I am in Him. I am righteous. I am holy.

People have made grace to mean God can’t see us or our actions. But we can grieve the Holy Spirit and at the same time have perfect love and righteousness and acceptance and holiness. He sees us in Him. But sometimes he sees us and says, “No! Don’t choose that path. It leads to pain and disappointment.”

3. Out Loud Rules and Expectations.

I like rules. People don’t expect that from me. I’m a grace pastor, after all.

I travel a lot. Travel to me means anywhere but home and I get really serious about my travel rules. Now, you know you have your own set of neurotic rules. Come on! Admit it!

Recently we went to the movie theater. I was the last one inside the theater. I have this rule – always turn right when it’s an arbitrary choice. The couple we were with went into the theater before me. So, when I entered the theater and saw them I immediately let out a sigh and realized I didn’t have to react that way.

We all have these things. And when we verbalize them, what it prevents is someone going, “What is wrong with this person?”

Some people hang onto things for years that they don’t tell their spouse – that a particular thing drives them crazy. Verbalize them – not in a dictator kind of way, but talk about them. I’m not picking on the little rules. But, some people have big ones. Take those things – what are the big rules you don’t talk to anyone about? If the truth is spoken it reveals a problem and it’s addressed without attacking the person who is sharing them. Have family time and allow members to identify their preconceived rules as well as rules the family would like in place. It really will bring you closer together without creating unnecessary animosity or resentment down the road.

4. Communication is Clear and Straight.

Zachariah 8:16

These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts

“Truth is the absence of the intent to deceive.” – Jeff Vanvonderen

Sometimes what someone says is true, but the way it is said or what is omitted deceives the hearer.

5. God is the Source

God meets needs, defends, and is the one who determines our acceptance. It may be very American to think our value is determined by money or position or clothes, tools…whatever else we are using. But, our position in Christ is that our acceptance is in Him and not in what we have or how we can perform. Only God decides what is true about us.

It’s okay to be concerned about our child’s math grade. But, if they fail math they only fail math. They are not a failure. And it’s important to distinguish the difference between the two.

 6. Children Are Enjoyed.

In a grace filled home children are free to act according to their age appropriate development rather than being expected to act like adults.

7. Responsibility and Accountability Dwell in a Grace Filled Relationships

Fault and blame are used in shame filled families to punish for lack of performance. And they’re used as tools in an attempt to control others.

People are responsible for their choices and it’s okay to hold them accountable for their behavior. This may involve discipline, but this does not mean punishment. There’s a difference. It means helping the child learn from the incident, which might occur in the form of consequences received or it might happen just by talking about it together.

 8. Head Skills Are Used for Learning, Not for Defending

“Why did you do that?” usually triggers a defensive response. But, when we say, “Help me understand your thinking here.” That doesn’t invoke the need to defend. When you ask your child’s help in understanding what was going on in his head and the answer is “I dunno. I just left the milk out.” That’s okay. Since the person is already preapproved; living in a grace filled relationship – the focus is on learning and growth. And if the thinking is faulty it can be changed. The behavior will change as well and if done early, growth occurs.

If you’ve been living in a shame filled system – when you attempt to do some of these things there might still be a tendency to defend because the person doesn’t feel preapproved.

 9. Feelings Are Valid and Useful

Feelings aren’t right or wrong – they simply exist.

 Feelings act as signs that let us know that something is going on between us. There’s a big difference between “you always do this.” and “I feel like you always do this.”

Because the moment we acknowledge we feel like this – it reveals that our perspective may not be true. And it may be skewed to some extent.

I love what Jim Richards says about truth: He says when referring to past events in our lives, what is important is not what happened, but how we feel about what happened. And that’s essentially what creates the reality of our experience and what those emotions do at a heart level.

 10. It’s Okay for Outsides to Match Insides

In a grace filled family what is real is more important than how things look to others or maintaining an image. Life is viewed from a process perspective rather than an event perspective.

I rejoice in progress.

God is not through.

Behavior is changing.

Unacceptable behavior is about poor choices, not our value and worth as a person. Therefore, grace filled families don’t have to fix one another in order to fix themselves.

 

 

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The Sign of the Rainbow: Grace and the Homosexual Community

I regularly receive questions regarding issues of what I call “practical” grace.  Lately some of the most common questions have dealt with grace and homosexuality.  Many pastors have chosen to shy away from answering similar questions, due to the immense controversy, but I personally believe that as this issue continues to gain increased attention both socially and politically, it is likewise important that churches and individual believers know how to respond to such questions.  More specifically, I believe that it’s important to know what the Bible teaches regarding faith and sexual orientation/sexual identity, no matter how controversial the answers may be.

Additionally, I think this topic is important to address, because many homosexuals are in fact seeking a relationship with God, but have been isolated and segregated in the past, or simply made to feel this way, from the church due to hate speech, bigotry, and religious thinking.  My hope is that by addressing properly and clearly what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, sin, and most of all God’s grace, that the church might once again be restored as a place of refuge and healing for all who are seeking a Savior.

With that being said, I would like to acknowledge from the start that issues of gender, sexuality, and identity are quite complex and usually trigger strong emotions on either side of the debate.  In no way, especially in so few words, am I able to adequately answer all questions related to sexual orientation, but hopefully the below questions and answers will serve to give initial insight into what we teach and also provide much needed biblical perspective to readers wanting to understand a gospel oriented view of grace and homosexuality, etc.  I trust not all will agree with my responses, but I very much hope that all will at least see this as a positive step in furthering the discussion.

Q: Are homosexuals welcome at your church?

Assuming they aren’t coming for nefarious reasons, absolutely everyone is welcome at any one of our Oasis’ churches.  At Oasis, we aren’t focused on sin management or trying to uncover everyone’s deep, dark secrets, rather we focus on love and identity in Christ.  People are very safe at Oasis to engage, learn, grow, and ask questions relevant to their lives.  Our assumption is that every single person who attends one of our churches has “issues” to some degree; shortcomings, secret sins, or character flaws.  It isn’t that we look at these struggles as if they don’t matter or aren’t important to God.  Our character matters deeply to God, because it affects the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us.  The difference though at Oasis is not in what we believe about sin or character, but rather in what we believe about God’s grace.  Titus 2:12 says that grace “teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”.  At Oasis, we understand that the secret to life transformation and healing is experiencing God’s love and grace, and doesn’t come through finger pointing, fault finding, or condemning words – what unfortunately many people are used to finding at church.  Grace doesn’t mean that we approve of homosexuality, but simply that we believe that every person, regardless of their behavior, has value and worth.  Sometimes people hearing this will ask, “So you believe in going easy on sin?”  My response is always the same, “No, I just believe God went hard on Jesus.”  Make no doubt about it, sin can kill you, but Jesus is greater than our sin.  The Bible teaches that Jesus became sin at the cross and received in himself the full payment and penalty for our sin through his death on the cross (Isaiah 53:11, 54:9-10).  This is what we call the “Great Exchange”; that he took our sin and exchanged it for his righteousness.  As a result, we now have peace with God and walk in his grace.  In this way, we extend this grace to others, regardless of their struggles, because we trust God’s grace to lead people into truth and godliness.

Bottom line, if someone is coming to Oasis to hear the message and to explore their faith – that person is always welcome.  If someone else, gay or not, is coming simply to cause problems, that’s a different story and a person like this, assuming they refused to stop whatever issue they were causing, would be asked to leave until their attitude or agenda changes.

Q:  Nature versus Nurture?  How does grace respond to this debate?

First off, the homosexual agenda needs for the answer to this question to be nature.  If the answer is nurture, then homosexuality becomes a result of abuse, pain, and distorted emotions and thus something that can and should be healed.  The temptation here is to make homosexuality about this debate, but it isn’t.  Personally, I do believe that the primary cause of homosexuality is nurture, or lack thereof, (i.e. abuse, emasculation, bullying, etc.) but because of how pervasive I believe sin to be, I have no issue conceding perhaps some causality to nature, with the understanding that science is finding, and I believe the Bible confirms this, that our genes pass down programming and emotions on levels that we are just beginning to realize.  (Please note – this is NOT generational curse teaching, which is unscriptural, and something altogether different.)  So, if the answer is nurture, then certainly there is restoration and freedom in Christ.  But if the answer is nature or both nature and nurture, what should this matter?  If Lady Gaga is right, and we were all “born this way”, this still should not be an obstacle, for in Christ we can all be born again into newness of life.  Our nature, that was once dead to God, can be made alive to God and filled with the fruit of righteousness (i.e. God’s kind of life – life as it should be).

As the church, we need to be aware that to many in the homosexual community, talk like this simply sounds like Christians are trying to change people.  In order to be truly effective in reaching people with the gospel, especially reaching a group like homosexuals that have been subjected to decades of hate speech by the religious, we need to demonstrate and carefully clarify that our intentions in preaching the message go far beyond trying to make converts, and that our main goal is to see people renewed, restored, and full of the life of God.  Grace and sincerity, not debate, are perhaps the greatest tools that we possess in reaching this community.

Q:  Is homosexuality worse than other sins?

The short answer here is, yes and no.  From God’s vantage point, sin is sin.  People mistakenly think that the Bible teaches in James 2:10 that all sins are equal, and although this is true in some ways, this is only part of the picture. What it actually states is that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  This doesn’t mean that all sin is equal exactly, but that to commit one sin is to be found guilty of all sin.  Obviously, without Christ, the consequencesof this are dreadful.  So in this sense,to commit any sin, makes even a heterosexual man guilty of homosexuality.  Because of this, homosexuality is no worse than any other sin.  This should hopefully wake up some of the legalists out there who see homosexuality as the worst sin imaginable, since in the absence of Christ, they themselves, according to the law, are guilty of the same offense.

On the other hand, it would be foolish to think that horizontally, that is on earth, all sins are equal or that the consequences are the same.  The consequences of lying are typically less than the consequences of sexual sin, but likewise, the ramifications of murder far outweigh those of both deceit and any sexual sin.  In this way, homosexuality does have detrimental effects to one’s emotions, sense of self-worth, and at times, health.

All considering, I think it’s important that we keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to manage sin, rather to lead people into true,unhindered relationship with God.  Sin management is shortsighted and stems from a performance driven view of sin that does little to actually restore and heal those who are hurting.  To truly restore people, at a heart level, regardless of the sin, we must focus on identity in Christ, grace as God’s power for change, and most importantly the love of God.

Q:  If all sins are equal, and we all sin, should homosexuality disqualify you for ministry?

In regards to homosexuality disqualifying a person for ministry, part of the problem here is that the question is flawed.  The question begins by isolating homosexuality as a special class of sin, and thus makes it nearly impossible to answer the question in such a way that doesn’t trap Christians into saying that homosexuality is worse than all other sins. With this in mind, the better question is, does sin disqualify a person for ministry?

To answer that, let me remind us that in the New Covenant we understand that Jesus took upon himself the sins of the entire world and removed the dividing wall of hostility between God and man.   As a result, when approaching God, sin is no longer our problem.  With this in mind, we see that it isn’t sin that disqualifies a person for ministry; rather it is his belief about his sin that does.  If sin disqualified us for ministry or Christian service, then we would all be disqualified, for all have sinned.  To make sense of this, let’s look at 1 John 1:8-10 where it says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make himout to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  This means that a man or woman who has homosexual thoughts or feelings, but acknowledges these tendencies as sin or desires of the flesh, chooses to honor the word of God and takes responsibility for their own heart.   This person, with time and grace, will find freedom and wholeness and I believe the church should model God’s grace towards them, by embracing them, as they would any other brother.  On the contrary, to deny homosexuality (or gluttony for that matter) as sin and to embrace it as part of one’s nature is rebellion and as John states, “makes him (God) out to be a liar.”  In this case, it is a man’s belief about his sin that disqualifies him, not sin itself.  Referring back to the previous passage, John illustrates this in verse 8, where he states, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

On the other hand, in verses 9 and 10, John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all righteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make himout to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  The Greek word used here for “confess” literally means “to say the same thing”.  Commonly, people think of the word confession as having to do with rehashing all of your secret sins to a priest or even to God, but biblical confession really has little to do with this. Biblical confession actually entails agreeing with God about our sin; saying the same thing about it that he does.  Yes, we do this when we acknowledge that our sins are in fact truly sins, but we only fulfill the true definition of confession when we agree with God that our sin has also been covered by God’s grace and is no longer counted against us.  One who either fails to acknowledge sin as sin or fails to confess their sin as forgiven in Christ, both fail to “say the same thing” as God and really have no business ministering to others, when they themselves are still not walking in God’s grace.

So to the person struggling with sin, but who desires to live for God, I would say:  Simply agree with God that your sin was covered and paid for on the cross and receive his grace in your life.  Jesus is your qualification, both now and forever.

Q:  If you could share one thing with the Homosexual or LGBT community, what would it be?

To those in the homosexual and LGBT communities, I want you to know that at Oasis, our message is simple – God loves you and he’s better than we think he is.  I also want you to know that God’s not mad at you, but crazy about you.  In the book of Genesis, God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow in the sky, as a testimony of his promise and faithfulness towards all of creation.  Isaiah, the prophet, takes this a step further in Isaiah 54:9-10, where God says, “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.  So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.  Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  In all of this hopefully it’s clear, God wants a relationship with you – with all of us.  He wants to fulfill your hopes and your dreams.  He wants to give you wisdom, truth, and his abundant grace.  He wants to show you the real you.  Not the person you see when you look in the mirror, but the real you; the deep reality and beauty that is in your spirit, beyond the sum of your sexuality and your outward behavior – the person you’ve been searching for all these years.  He wants to show you who you were created to be.  God is extending to you the greatest offer that there ever could be – to be made truly alive.  But understand this, he won’t force himself on you, he won’t make you receive him.  That is your choice – you must invite him into your life.

Let me close by leaving you with the words of John in John 3:16-21:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

If you are interested in ordering more life giving resources from the Oasis Network For Churches or to receive additional information about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ, please visit www.oasnet.org or call 574.247.9800.

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Making Sense of Marriage and Divorce

Let me start by stating that in writing this I am not trying to create a law for our church, and neither am I trying to state an opposing argument to the teachings of others on the subject.  Instead, I’m responding to a need.  Divorce is epidemic.  I’ve heard statistics of anywhere between 35 to 50% of marriages end in divorce (though the exact figure is actually harder to calculate than one might think.)  In addition, this article is not intended to bring condemnation on you, regardless of your past decisions or the situation with which you are currently in.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:17 that “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.”  This means that you shouldn’t abandon your marriage or change your status simply because of new information.  Instead, keep seeking the Lord and make the best of your situation.  The grace of God is sufficient for your circumstance.  With that being said, my audience is specifically Christians considering divorce, Christians who have gone through a divorce in the past, and believers that are considering entering into a relationship with another believer who was divorced in the past.  I want to encourage you to read and stay with the article all the way through, I truly believe that the Word is good news for the hurting.

 TO THE DIVORCED AND THOSE CONSIDERING DIVORCE     

In Malachi 2:16, God clearly says, “I hate divorce.”  I think this is important to point out right from the beginning.  God is not for divorce.  It isn’t the best option.  If you are considering divorce, I believe that you should do whatever you can to reconcile your marriage.  Most at this point say, “I’ve tried that and it didn’t work!”  Perhaps you won’t like what I have to say next.  There are circumstances where scripture permits divorce, which we’ll discuss shortly, but never does scripture permit divorce for the following reasons.  

1.)                Because you aren’t happy.  It isn’t the job of your spouse to make you happy.  Happiness is a choice; even in prison, Paul was able to operate in the joy of the Lord.  Seek out pastoral help to gain insight and principles in order to positively affect your marriage and restore joy in your relationship.

2.)                Because you fell in love with someone else.  According to scripture, this is called adultery and it’s one of the greatest enemies to marriage.  Every single one of us has to confront evil desires that try to draw us away from our mate.  James admonishes us to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (4:7) Proverbs 27:20 states, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.”  If you just allow yourself to follow every single feeling or attraction that you have, you’ll always be blown around like the wind.  If you leave this relationship, because you “fell out of love”, you’ll leave the next one the same way.  Love is a choice and marriage is a commitment to choose to love your spouse, even when it’s hard.

3.)                Because it’s challenging or difficult.  People seem to have this misconception that the problems in their marriage are the result of being with the wrong person.  This isn’t the case, regardless of God’s will, that person became the right person the moment you said, “I do”.  Our difficulties stem from our self centeredness.  Proverbs 13:10 in the KJV states that “only by pride cometh contention.”  This means that pride is the cause of the contention and strife in your relationship.  This shouldn’t condemn you; instead this understanding should encourage you and equip you with the power that you need to end strive forever in your marriage.  Get it at the root, partner with your spouse to end self centeredness in both of you.  (If this does offend you, it is probably a good indication of where the source of the pride is coming from.)

4.)                When your spouse wants to stay married to you.  This is assuming that your spouse isn’t or wasn’t unfaithful and that they aren’t potentially harmful to you physically.  1 Corinthians 7:12-13 says, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”  If your mate, even if they aren’t a believer, is willing to work with you and live with you, you shouldn’t leave them or divorce them.  Obviously there are cases when the situation is unsafe due to substance abuse or violent abusive tendencies.  In these situations, it might be necessary to separate for the sake of safety, but still I believe God’s best would be to pursue your mate’s emotional well-being and to seek reconciliation and healing.  Divorce in these situations should be an absolute last resort.

             Under the Old Covenant, in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the law gives instructions on divorce and remarriage.  It says, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.”  Jesus added to this in Matthew 19:8, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.  But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 

            Jesus’ teaching was so strong on this topic that it caused his disciples to say (in verse 10), “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  Jesus’ disciples thought if the rules are this tough, it’s better to never get married!  Regarding this, John MacArthur states, “The rabbis had taken these laws and broadened them to permit divorce for virtually any reason.  Under the rabbinical laws, if a wife displeased her husband in any way, he was entitled to divorce her.  Jesus stated that this was never the purpose of Moses’ Law.  In fact, Jesus teaching on divorce was given specifically to refute the rabbinical loopholes.” 

            Jesus strategically used the law to expose the sinfulness of the self-righteous Jews of his day.  As Paul says, in 1st Timothy 1:8-9, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.  We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels…”  Jesus took the Law to the extreme and used it to expose those that were trying to use the Mosaic Law to promote their own selfishness and agenda.  The teaching of Jesus stopped them in their tracks. 

            Paul later clarifies the doctrine of the church regarding marriage and divorce in 1St Corinthians 7:10, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  Some might be surprised to find that the commands for marriage and divorce are actually stricter under the New Covenant, but at the same time, grace abounds.  Paul essentially states that divorce isn’t permissible (except for marital unfaithfulness), but that if you DO get a divorce, you should remain unmarried.  In this passage, God speaks against divorce and then in the same breathe speaks love and hope for those that find themselves caught in the wake of it.  But it’s only when combined with 7:8-9 that we see the full picture of this grace.  The King James Version puts it this way, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.  But if they cannot contain, let them marry:  for it is better to marry than to burn.” 

            Paul says that if you’re unmarried or a widow, that it’s best to remain that way, but if you cannot, it is much better to marry than to be bogged down by feelings of lust, loneliness, and dissatisfaction.  The word for “unmarried” in the Greek, means simply that – unmarried.  It’s different than the word for a virgin, and doesn’t seem to take into account the person’s history or past.  Essentially, Paul is stating that regardless of your past, it is better to marry, than burn with lust and passion. 

            It is so hard to make blanket statements about this though, because situations do vary considerably.  Even in writing this, I’m well aware that someone might try to twist certain liberties or permissions to their favor to do what they want to do.  At the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for that.  My intention is to speak to those that are trying to do the right thing, to follow God’s word, and to break free from the guilt and condemnation associated with their past.  If you are married and considering divorce, seek solid biblical counsel.  Remember, it took time and effort to create the hurts in your relationship and in the same way, it’ll take time and effort to bring healing and to regain intimacy.  Don’t give up early, don’t rush the process.  Give it time and healing will come.  God is faithful!

 DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

            First off, if you haven’t yet, read the section above, as I believe it will give some biblical insight into the nature of divorce and God’s perspective on the issue.  Beyond this, it’s important to note that divorce typically (almost always) is the result of two people’s shortcomings and failings and not just one party.  At times, when one party has an affair or files for divorce first, they typically are seen as the “bad guy” (or girl).  But in divorce, everyone loses, and no one leaves unscathed.  And really no one really knows what goes on inside of a relationship between two people and we need to be careful of making quick judgment calls as to fault, etc.  As the saying goes, it does take two to tango.  Often times one’s behavior is simply a response to the others behavior.  You treated me like this, therefore, I’ll do this, and so on it goes.  As marriage counselor Emerson Eggerich calls it, they enter the “crazy cycle”, spiraling downward until someone eventually can’t take it anymore and the relationship is inevitably dissolved. 

            We need to be honest with ourselves and with those that you are in relationship.  If you’re divorced, it’s okay to take ownership of your short comings and your mistakes in the relationships.  You’re human – and we all make mistakes.  Some mistakes have greater impact and consequences in our lives, but as Romans tells us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Take ownership and learn from the mistakes of your past.  In fact, simply blaming the entirety of your divorce on your ex, does little to help your new husband or wife.  They would be much better off knowing realistically what caused the problems in the relationship.  If they really love you, they’ll want to understand and work with you through these struggles or past tendencies.  Except in extreme cases, there are most likely things that both parties could have done differently to salvage the relationship.  The exception would be in extremely abusive relationships, either physically or emotionally, where one party is being victimized.  As tragic as these situations are, many of them (note not all) could have been avoided all together, by not rushing into a relationship without taking time to really know the other person and their past.  In no way though does this excuse the abusive person from their behavior, but should serve as a warning as to the danger of rushing into relationships or just naively assuming that “once we get married they’ll change”.  In entering marriage, you should assume that the person will never change and in fact, their problems are likely to get worse.  After all, while dating we are on our best behavior. 

            Often times, I’m asked if as a Christian, it’s okay to marry someone who has been divorced, (Earlier I dealt with if it’s okay as a divorce Christian to get remarried which in some ways is the same answer.)  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV), “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled from her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  For obvious reasons this teaching isn’t very popular. 

            Paul starts off in this passage and tells the church, as a charge from God, that husband and wives should not separate from each other.  This is God’s best.  Marriage is supposed to be a picture of God’s love towards us.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, many have ignored this charge or been unable to live under it.  But Paul (and the Lord) anticipates this, and states, “But if she does”.  And then he goes on to give instruction that if someone does divorce, that she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  I personally think that it’s important to point out that these instructions were given to Christians within the church.  Personally, I believe that if divorce or remarriage happened prior to a person coming to Christ, then Paul’s instruction aren’t applicable.  It is also important to note that Paul was not writing to the person whose spouse divorced them, but rather to the Christian person who filed for divorce and decided to leave.  If they are leaving for reasons other than physical abuse or marital unfaithfulness, then they should remain unmarried.  Marriage should be treated with the highest level of respect and not abandoned lightly.  This charge should make someone considering leaving their marriage for superficial reasons think twice and should be a motivation to try to make it work.  Unfortunately, many ignore this and leave anyway.            

            Throughout scripture, marriage is used as the closet analogy of Christ’s relationship with the church.  Scripture tells us that even when we are unfaithful, that He will remain faithful to us.  We would do well to learn from Christ as to how to love our spouse and have a successful marriage.

 God’s Grace in Marriage and Divorce

             Some of you might ask, so where is God’s grace in all of this?  Obviously, as with anything, it is ever present and is sufficient towards us in all ways!  First off, if this is the first time you’ve heard any of this teaching or you’ve recently became a Christian, or you’ve been divorced before and are now remarried, engaged to be married, or are wanting to get remarried someday, I don’t believe Paul’s words are meant to condemn you or to restrict you from enjoying your life as a Christian.  Beyond all of this, the Bible teaches that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Are you divorced and later became remarried?  Stay as you are, there is grace for you.  Did your spouse divorce you?  You are free to remarry.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:15, “A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstance.”  As a Christian, did you divorce your spouse for reasons other than abuse or their unfaithfulness?  Repent and realize your mistake, God’s grace is sufficient for you.  The best case scenario would be to restore your failed marriage (assuming they haven’t yet remarried).  If you divorced your spouse prior to becoming a Christian, you are not bound to your previous life, God’s grace is sufficient for you.  You are free to marry.  Are you considering marrying someone who is divorced?  If, as a Christian, they divorced their spouse for reasons other than what scripture provides, how do you know that they will not do the same to you?  This is not a situation to enter into lightly.  Seek the Lord for wisdom in what you should do.  As I think about this, really the only person who might be offended by this teaching is the believer who is currently thinking of divorcing their spouse for ungodly reasons.  And for that, should you not be offended?  If that is you, repent, change your heart and seek counsel on how to restore your marriage.  But if you do get divorced, I tell you the same as Paul states, you are not to get remarried; for you are making that choice now with full knowledge and with rebellion towards the truth.  As James reminds us in 4:6, “But he gives us more grace.  That is why scripture says:  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

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The Power of a Humble Heart

There is perhaps nothing more powerful than a humble heart.  Humility, the most misunderstood of all virtues, is the ability to accept and acknowledge God’s opinion and perspective in our lives.  This is where the power lies.  The moment I accept and embrace God’s perspective, I share in his strength and am able to flow in his plan.  This level of empowerment is often missed in our traditional understanding of humility.  Typically, when defining humility, most would only associate it with being lowly in spirit, but this is incomplete.  True humility, simply put, is being sensitive to God’s perspective in our lives.  This definition allows variety in our personality while keeping the emphasis on embracing God’s perspective.  Regarding this level of empowerment, Psalm 149:4 states,For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.”  The surest way to victory is to embrace God’s perspective and that is that he “takes delight in his people”.  When we know God’s love for us, we are empowered to be truly humble. 

In this, when I know that I am loved, it becomes quite easy for me to admit fault, acknowledge weakness, and seek forgiveness from those around me.  This kind of humility seems may seem counterintuitive to our minds, but only in reaching this level of security in God’s love for us, can we ever really be free to be ourselves.  To admit fault, seems like such weakness, but in reality, it brings power.  In fact, humbling yourself to those around you, confessing your weaknesses, in actuality is the greatest sign of God’s power and personal confidence working in your life.  A truly great person, one who is fully established in who they are in Christ, should have no complaint in admitting their shortcomings, for regardless of their weaknesses; they know their position in Christ.  Additionally, they know Paul’s confession in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “for when I am weak, then I am strong”.  Like Paul, when we walk in true humility, we gain access to the power of God and begin the road to abundant victory in every area of our lives. 

Only a person insecure in their faith, unsure of how God feels about them, would struggle to demonstrate or show weakness.  This ignorance and insecurity causes them to overinflate their abilities, refuse to see their flaws, and make the false assumption that they are always right.  Like Adam and Eve in the garden, they desperately try to cover their shame with anything they can find.   Their self-worth is so low, that acknowledging one more fault, in their mind jeopardizes their personal value more than they are able to bear.  Therefore they stand firm in their positions and behavior, refusing to acknowledge that they are the ones to blame.  In actuality, all of us make mistakes, even the most spiritual of people.  In every situation and conflict, we all play a part.  Resolution comes by acknowledging this.  The sooner we acknowledge our weakness to those around us, the quicker we will begin to overcome our relational conflict.  Breakthrough is as close as our willingness to acknowledge our humanness.  (Please note, in Christ, we are complete in our spirit man.  In our spirit, we are righteous, holy, and perfected forever.   But in our minds and flesh, we are still being renewed day by day; none of us have fully arrived.  To only take the perspective of the spirit, will cause you to ignore areas of your mind that are still in need of renewal.  To only take the perspective of the mind, causes us to fail to notice our fullness in Christ.  So as far as God is concerned, we are blameless through Christ, but as far as our brothers and sisters are concerned, we must acknowledge our faults.)

As we further strive to maintain a life defined by humility, below are a few questions to consider.

1.)     When was the last time that I took even partial responsibility for another’s pain or an incident of relational conflict?

2.)    How often do I ask those around me how my behavior patterns affect their lives?  Would I be able to receive and deeply consider their answer if it was a negative response?

3.)    If humility is embracing God’s perspective, what am I doing in my daily life in order to gain this perspective? 

4.)    Make a list of 10 behavior patterns that you display (i.e. running late all the time, have trouble listening) and how these patterns might affect those around you. 

5.)    Make a list of as many promises as you can think of regarding God’s perspective towards you. 

6.)    Return to these questions often.

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A Clanging Bell: A Response to the Book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell

                I don’t like controversy.  I know that because of the radical grace message I teach, sometimes I do find myself in the middle of it, but honestly I really don’t like it.  You can imagine then how I felt when several people asked me if I would be willing to read Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins, and share my thoughts with them about it.  At first, I didn’t even want to touch it.  But after hearing the constant clanging of Bell by his critics and witnessing the tremendous impact and reach that this book has already achieved among his fans, I decided to take the plunge and grab a copy myself.  What follows is my response to the book, Love Wins. 

                To start with, let me dismiss from the beginning any claims that Bell is a Universalist.  This label has been thrown at him considerably by critics of the book, but I would have to assume that these are the same critics who still haven’t read it.  If Bell believes what he wrote, he is clearly not a Universalist.  A Universalist believes that all religions are essentially the same and that all paths lead to God.  This concept is not something that Bell promotes in the book at all.  In his defense, he clearly establishes that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.  Now, one may disagree with his liberal definitions of accepting Christ, but regardless, to brand Bell as a Universalist seems a bit harsh to me. 

                With that being said, the next question is whether Bell believes in Ultimate Reconciliation.  Let me begin that discussion by stating that essentially everyone who preaches grace will at some point be accused of teaching Ultimate Reconciliation.  Ultimate Reconciliation states that because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, all men are saved.  Period.  Proponents of this belief fail to acknowledge any difference between Christ being the propitiation for the sins of the world and the idea of justification by grace through faith.  Simply put, the teaching of Ultimate Reconciliation believes in salvation by grace alone and would consider faith a work.  This leads Ultimate Reconcilists to falsely conclude that all men are saved and will inherit eternal life – apart from faith.  Extreme adherents to this teaching even go as far as to proclaim that Satan himself will be saved and reconciled back to God. 

               

So does Bell believe in Ultimate Reconciliation?  Many have assumed based upon the title of the book that he does, but I think it’s more complicated than that.  In Love Wins, Bell almost introduces a new argument, which is neither Universalism nor Ultimate Reconciliation.  In the book, Bell introduces an idea, which I will call, an “open heaven” theology where Bell paints a picture of a heaven, much like Motel 6, that proclaims, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  His heaven is always open, always ready to receive those that might find their way home.  Clearly stated, one might wander around hell for awhile, and then decide to choose Christ after years of torment, and like the prodigal, return home.  With that being said, his perspective also implies an open hell, where one can come and go as he pleases – it’s his choice.

                I agree this picture is quite beautiful and enticing, but is it biblical?  Bell enthusiastically touts in the Book, that he will show us “every single verse in the Bible in which we find the actual word hell.”  Though a far cry from a concordance listing, Bell does do a fair job summarizing the references of the word “hell” in scripture.  He also goes a step further and discusses several biblical words/passages that describe punishment and judgment, presenting alternate understandings of these words/passages which further strengthen his argument.  What Bell seemed to shy away from though was the book of Revelation.  In my reading, I wasn’t able to find a single explanation in Love Wins for passages such as, Revelation 20:14-15, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  This seems fairly straight forward to me.  Some fail to receive their inheritance in Christ.  For this we should all weep.  So how does Bell handle the finality of hell in such passages?  I don’t know, because he didn’t address it.  The closest he comes to it is on pages 91 and 92, where he shows differing uses for the Greek words “aion of kolazo” and the Hebrew word, “Olam”; both phrases which carry the implication of “forever” or “eternal punishment”.  From there, Bell closes the chapter by proposing that perhaps hell is only a period of time for some people.  That maybe forever according to Jesus, doesn’t really mean forever.

                So what do I think about all of this?  To start with, I think that the book is reactive theology.  Love Wins seems to be Bell’s response to countless personal experiences and frustrations with how salvation has been presented, how heaven has been talked about, and how hell has been thrown in people’s faces.   And I agree.  Religion has gotten it wrong.  The “turn or burn” theology of some has caused countless people to never want a thing to do with Jesus.  As Paul wrote, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  To continue, Bell also shows his frustration towards Christians who seem to get excited that people are going to hell and I would again concur with his frustration.  This is not the time to cheer the destruction of the wicked, but rather it is time to proclaim the love of our God -as Paul also stated that “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.”  And in 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul also reveals to us that God “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”  This should be our mantra, not the ignorant shouts of “turn or burn”.  Bell is right on in addressing this. 

                Partially, I think the controversy of the book, is more about Bell’s presentation as a critic and a teacher than his theology as a pastor, though it might be correct to call both into question.  As a critic, Bell is a deconstructionist.  As a teacher, he is a whimsical romantic.  As a critic, he takes a wrecking ball to every belief with the assumption that what is true will be left standing.  As a teacher, he is a painter, filling our thoughts with his warm brush strokes and vibrant colors, allowing his audience to interpret what they see for themselves.  This style satisfies some and infuriates others, and it is quite possible that both groups misunderstood what Bell was saying. 

                From a theological standpoint, my biggest concern is what we are leading people to believe.  I’m personally not worried about Bell.  I think overall he is fairly grounded.  My concern is for those who read the book and come away with the conclusion that there is no hell.  This belief stems from the continued erosion of personal responsibility.  The thought is that God’s love is greater than my lack of faith or belief in him.  And in time, his love will win me over.  Again this sounds good and seems to jive with 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”, but it fails to not only consider personal responsibility, that is that the gospel is “by grace through faith”, but also fails to understand the true nature of love.  “Through faith” means that I have a choice in the matter; that my belief or acceptance of God’s love is what determines whether or not I will receive my inheritance.  Salvation is for all, but not all are saved.  This is the reality of the gospel.

                Regarding love, I would like to point out that love, by nature gives freedom.  The love of the Ultimate Reconcilist is a love that gives no choice.  It’s forceful; domineering.  True love always gives a choice; always allows one to say no.  The doctrine of inclusion gives no choice – you’re coming to heaven whether you like it or not.  This love is little different than a man who drugs a woman in order to take her home with him.  It’s a distortion of love, not the real thing.  And if this is God’s kind of love, then why hasn’t love won over this world.  Why are we still fighting wars?  Why are babies still dying?  God’s love always generously gives us the freedom to choose, even if at times the choice we make is wrong. 

                In conclusion, let me say that I agree with Bell that “the good news is better than that”.  Isaiah 54:9-10 says, “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.  So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.”  And in Hebrews 8:12 we are told that God “will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  The New Covenant is the best news that most of the world has never heard.  There is peace with God.  There is forgiveness of sins.  There is life abundant.  There is eternal life.   There is no more condemnation.  There is love and it certainly does win.  And this love is so great and so good, that it respects us enough to give us a choice.  My prayer for you is that this love might win in your life. 

To listen to podcasts from Lucas Miles, visit www.oasnet.org

For more on The Error of Ultimate Reconciliation, make sure and check out this discussion between Dr Jim Richards and Allen Speegle at http://impact.rbm.tv/ .

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God Speaks: Thoughts on Lost and Avatar

Let’s be honest, God can reveal truth through anything; burnt toast, puffy clouds, and even Hollywood productions.  Now before I get started, I just want it to be known, I’m a Word-guy.  Although God can speak through anything and everything, I believe that His main ways of communicating to us is through His Word and also through the person of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes it seems that religious people can be easily offended by the thought of God speaking through other avenues, especially one as seemingly unspiritual as television or movies.  What I would like to point out from the beginning here that it isn’t that God is “speaking through” movies or discolored patterns on pieces of toast, but rather that the Holy Spirit is constantly speaking to our hearts, revealing Christ to us, and that because of this, whatever is in front of us, can become the object lesson of his choosing.  For me, though I typically prefer to learn about God through His Word, talking or listening to other believers, or even a walk in the woods, recently I was deeply impressed by 2 different media productions that I saw; Lost and Avatar.  Here are a few revelations that I got from each of them.

LOST:  Though I came into it a few seasons late, I really fell in love with the series.  My staff and some others at our church were all pretty into it, and we spent a lot of off time (and probably some “on” time) discussing theories and plotlines.  I’m proud to say that I figured a few things out, but going into the last episode, I still had a few pretty big questions.  Prior to watching the final episode, I had said on several occasions that no matter what, as long as the main characters live, I’m going to be happy with the ending.  So you can imagine the utter disappoint, when in fact, not only did some of the main characters die, but in fact, everyone died and they flashed forward to some sort of politically correct unitarian afterlife.  From a literary standpoint I felt it was a major copout, and I was pretty frustrated that I had even wasted my time with the show.  What about the island?  What about Jack?  What about the polar bears?  I mean, I needed to know these things.  Or did I?  Now weeks later, God has really been teaching me something about this life….most of what we hold so crucially important isn’t.  Like Jack, I can easily be so focused on “the island” that I miss the fact that this life isn’t about the island at all, but rather it’s about the next, and for me, I believe that to be knowing Christ.  In thinking back, how stupid and arbitary was Jack’s mission, to plug an oozing energy drain in the center of some random island, but how fitting.  Most of my best efforts aren’t much better, but they mean so much to me.  And like Jack, it seems that I am sometimes still frantically trying to hang onto my life, not realizing that in order to find my life, I must lose it.  As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live….”  For me, the themes of Lost, whether intended or not, have been reminding me that my island isn’t near as important as I would like to believe, and in the end, for those in Christ, as Desmond said, “Everything is going to be okay.”

Avatar: Was it the greatest movie ever?  Probably not, but I enjoyed it.  Visually impressive?  Most certainly.  And again, I have no idea what the intent was of the actors and producers, but the places that it took me, or rather that God took me while I was watching it was incredible.  The basic storyline is that a disabled marine who is unable to walk, takes over for his deceased twin brothers research project for the military on another planet.  The project was that they had cloned or created an “Avatar” which was a host body replicated by human and alien DNA, through which the military was able to project their consciousness into the large blue creatures.  These bodies were identical to the nature of those on the alien planet and were able to almost effortlessly master their surroundings by running, jumping, and climbing.  As you can imagine, if you haven’t seen it, for this disabled marine to “leave” his human body and to enter into the body of his Avatar produced instant freedom and joy for the man.  He was crippled, and now, in his new body, had virtually no physical limitations, in fact, he was able to move in ways that he could never imagine.  For me, it was just a perfect picture of the new creation and even more so, death in Christ.  You and I, we are ALL crippled.  We might not realize it, but we are so limited and disabled in our flesh and bodies, to the point that we can’t hardly move at all in the way God intended for us.  We are so crippled in our flesh, that we can’t even imagine what it would be like to be free, to be masters of the world around us.  Now I’m not starting the first church of Avatar, but this simple picture of a crippled man entering into this new body and discovering freedom and life like never before….how perfect!  As a kid, and even sometimes as an adult, if I’m honest, I’ve been afraid of death.  And not just death, but I’ve been afraid of heaven.  I mean, what are we going to do for ALL eternity!  Though God has been bringing revelation of his goodness to me for sometime of these concepts, this picture in Avatar really was influentual to me.  It made me excited.  Once this guy got into his Avatar, he never wanted to come back.  How much more so when we receive our new bodies in Christ, will we be so filled with freedom and joy, finally released of the limitations of this physical realm, to be able to experience life, and the life God intended for us.  As believers, we can get excited about being with Christ.  I’m confident that HIS imagination and plans for us, are far superior to the imagination of James Cameron (Avatar ‘s director) or even ourselves.  We can’t out think God’s goodness and plans for us.  He didn’t say that He was going to prepare a place for himself, but rather for us.  God’s intent is to build a home for us, and I’m confident that our creator will no just how we like it and what we are desire.  Rest easy, death is but a moment, after which we awake to true life!

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