10 Reasons Christians Should Not Watch “The Witch”

Disclaimer: I have not seen the actual film because I believe it would be wrong of me to do so. All of my information comes from plot synopses, summaries, trailers, director interviews, podcasts, and articles. This does not inhibit my ability to comment on the dangers of this film any more than a doctor’s lack of experience with heroin disqualifies him from analyzing it’s health risks.

     So if you’re reading this and are not sure what “The Witch” is, it’s a horror film by an atheist director named Robert Eggers. It’s about a family of Puritans in the early 1600’s living in New England who are all tempted, tormented, and eventually killed or converted to Satanism by a witch working directly for Satan himself, who also happens to be the family’s pet goat. Yeah, I know, spoilers. Hate me for that all you want, but I don’t care. I’m “spoiling” it, and writing this article, for your own good. But really spoilers are a problem dealt with in entertainment, and are only a problem if they prevent people being entertained, or “spoil” the fun. And if you are seeking entertainment or fun from this film then let me implore you to reconsider and read the rest of the article. If we are being completely honest here, I can still hardly believe this is even a topic for discussion. It never occurred to me that Christian would be defending this movie, but they are. So sadly, we must address it. The arguments that follow are in no particular order, and for the most part do not really depend on one another.

Argument 1:

Jesus has no power or effective presence in this film. No amount of prayers are effective. The counter-point to this has been something to the tune of, “Well Christians die from persecution in the middle east and other places despite their prayers, so that’s accurate!” No. Demonic possession and evil satanic spiritual forces are much more serious than physical persecution by other humans, and as such the Bible is very clear about the difference in spiritual warfare verses Christian warfare. We are not promised deliverance from physical persecution. But the Bible is full of examples of the power of God over and against spiritual persecution in the physical realm. When Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world, if it were, my servants would fight” implies that heaven does fight when it comes to areas of God’s true kingdom, which includes the hearts of His saints.

When Paul writes, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, on the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds” he is saying that though we do not fight with any physical weapons, and are not promised any physical victories, we fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons that have the Spiritual power equivalent of a nuclear bomb. When Paul also writes that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places,” he clarifies that our real battle is there. And we fight that real battle with real power. James writes that “if you resist the Devil, he will flee from you.” Luke tells of the disciples rejoicing that the Demons are in subjection to them at the name of Jesus. Even the demons that the Apostles could not cast out immediately we said by Jesus to be vulnerable to prayer and fasting. This does not fit with a film in which a boy (which the story would lead you to believe is a Christian) is possessed by a demon, brought back to his house where his family prays over him, and then cries out to Christ himself, only to be “delivered” by death. Is death deliverance for a Christian? of course. But that was not the kind of decisive victory of demonic power which Scripture says results from crying out to the Lord in repentance.

Argument 2:

     Some Christians have said that the film makes the point that evil should not even be played with, or at least that a Christian can draw that lesson out of it. But the film’s very existence is a contradiction of that concept. It’s a movie – something made for entertainment – about Satanic things. “Things done for the purpose of entertainment” is a very good definition of the word “play,” or the phrase “to play with,” and “Satanic” is a pretty decent synonym for “evil.”

Argument 3:

     The film was written by an atheist. Meaning his intent in producing it was born from a completely sinful heart. So finding redemptive content is dependent upon the consumer, and can only be done for the purpose of trying to justify the action for a Christian. Whether or not it is justifiable is something we will tackle in a moment, but it should be noted that to begin with this does not place it in a good context. The director is not a Christian, therefore the portrayals of Christians will inevitably be jaded. Now the argument could be made that there might very well be good Christians in the director’s mind, the story just isn’t about those Christians, but that’s a long shot. Even an atheist’s best perception of a Christian is flawed because they do not share our worldview, and the Bible says our wisdom and faith is foolishness to them. But anyway, this story isn’t about those Christians, and doesn’t make allowance for those Christians. it’s just a film with characters labeled “Christians.” And the majority of the unbelieving population will see the film as a condemnation of Christianity, and they will see the legalistic, hypocritical, and fearful people an think “Yup, that’s about right.” because it fits with everything the culture says about Christianity right now, and more importantly it fits with everything the unregenerate heart wants to think about Christians. That’s why the Satanic Temple endorsed this film, and why we, as Christians, should not.

Argument 4:

     A proper understanding of evil necessitates good, and vice versa. Philosophically, the two always co-exist, at least in this world, in the sense that light and darkness always co-exist. But finding an inverse implication of good from evil does not mean the evil is somehow good for leading you there, and subsequently to be tolerated. It is a gift of the Spirit that we can discern good out of evil like that, but it does not mean that we should pursue evil for the resulting good, anymore than we should continue sinning that grace may abound. For “what fellowship has light with darkness?” While, philosophically speaking, good and evil might be fairly inseparable, in practice Christians are called to be very separate from evil. The goal, in fact, being complete separation.

Argument 5:

     When I mentioned it to him, my father (a licensed professional counselor) made the point that the human mind can discern between good and evil in the content we take in and filter much of it out, but the brain itself does not do that so well. It simply takes in all stimuli and reacts to it. This is why fear or lust is experienced when a person is exposed to things of that nature even though the mind can know there is nothing to fear, or that lust is wrong. The only holy fear is one of God. The Bible doesn’t tell us to fear evil itself, it tells us to fear the wrath of God on it. We are told to fear the consequences of evil which are carried out by a just God, but when it comes to evil itself we are told to reject it, to cast it off, to be innocent of it, and to have nothing to do with it. But “We are given a spirit not of fear, but of power” over evil. So willingly subjecting yourself to a things designed to breed fear of the evil thing itself for the sake of entertainment is unwise at best.

Argument 6:

 

 “If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.” – John Piper

Any moral lesson that could possibly be learned from this movie could be better learned form Scriptural teaching. Of course, the same could be said of anything, but this does not mean we should never watch anything and only read our Bibles, because there’s nothing wrong with entertainment in and of itself. What it does mean is that the intake of entertainment that contains sinful content is completely unnecessary for the purpose of learning about evil, and therefore that fact can never outweigh the dangers or consequences of willingly subjecting yourself to potentially harmful content. In other words, “It’s worth the bad stuff because I can/need to learn good stuff” doesn’t work. In reality, Scripture equips us better for dealing with evil than anything else ever could.

Argument 7:

     “We should not be entertained by the sins for which Christ died.” As Christians, sin should grieve us. Deeply, at that. It should not be a source for entertainment. To say the least, a story of a puritan family who tormented and tempted by Satan, and then are all either violently killed or brought into a coven of Satan-worshipping witches is not something we should be willingly subjecting ourselves to for the purpose of entertainment. There should be not enjoyment taken out of something like that. I don’t care if you “like being scared by horror movies.” A Godly sorrow over sin leaves no room for thrill seeking with this type of content.

Argument 8:

  • Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” – Philippians 4:8. (The implication being not to think of things which do not fit into those categories.)
  • I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.” Psalm 101:2-4 
  • “What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment? Lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.” – Westminster Larger Catechism

There are plenty of things in this movie which, satantic themes aside, do not line up with Scriptural commands to purity.

Argument 9: 

     Paying money to support this movie and increase it’s financial success sends a message to hollywood that movies along this theme will sell tickets. Just say we got lucky and this movie was a justifiable take on demonic possession and witchcraft (which it isn’t). Of the next few dozen that attempt to capitalize on the same success, few, if any, very few would be so *hypothetically* redemptive.

Argument 10: 

On a recent episode of the podcast, “Popcorn Theology,” the host, Richard, made a reference to one of the final lines Satan has in the movie, where he asks the only surviving daughter, “Do you wish to live deliciously?” Implying that if she will surrender herself to him, he will provide her with all of the earthly pleasures her previous family and faith were unable to supply her with. Richard made the comment that he felt in himself that desire to “live deliciously” welling up. Of course, being a solid Christian who I’m sure loves Christ dearly, he was quick to realize that temptation and stifle it. So I’m not picking on him here. But the point is, there is legitimate temptation to be found in this movie. Whether it’s the temptation to lust, to fear, to view Satan as more powerful than he is, to view Christ as week, or to view sin as delicious, it’s there. Sure it might be easy to spot for those who are more theologically astute, but even so, we are told to flee temptation, not to turn to it in small, theoretically manageable doses, for entertainment.

So in conclusion, if you are a Christian and considering watching this movie, I implore you to consider otherwise. If you are a Christian advocating this movie, I would humbly ask, on the basis of Scripture and Scriptural reasoning, that you stop. And if you think I’m just making way too big of a deal out of this, that’s OK. The Holy Spirit is the only person I’m worried about offending or grieving (Eph. 4:30). And it is my conviction that watching this movie would do that.

Advertisements

You Designed Your 2015, and God Designed You.

“Every system is perfectly designed to yield it’s results.”– Anonymous  

Parents have a lot of great one-liners. I don’t know if they are passed down from parent to parent in some sort of secret book when a couple have their first child, or if it’s like some sort of gnostic quest for hidden knowledge that you unlock at a certain stage of enlightenment, or if it just kinda hits you in the face one day when you’re changing your first diaper. Some of them are just goofy enough to merit being classified as what you might expect to hit you in the face when you’re changing your first diaper. But others are pretty good. Like the quote above, for example. The fact that no amount of googling was able to turn up an original source for that quote might actually lend itself to the theory of some secret book of parental wisdom, but whatever. Bottom line, it was one of those things my dad said about as often as my mom said “it’s easier to prevent a mess than to clean on up.” Which was a frequent occurrence with me in the house. In fact, most of this post is stuff he has taught me in one form or another, so I take credit for none of it. 

     But anyway, as with most bits of “hidden wisdom*,” you have to reach a certain stage of “enlightenment*” to get the meaning. For me, it was about 16ish. Right around the time *some* of the teenage brain began to wear off, and two very helpful things called “foresight” and “hindsight” began to develop. You know, the things that tell you “Hey, this ______ (insert incredibly dangerous teenage stunt) might not actually be the best idea…” and “Wow. That ______ (insert same knuckle headed scheme) was definitely a bad idea.” Prior to developing those precious instincts, all that really comes through up there is “BROOOO…” right before you jump and “duuuuuudeee….” right after. Sometimes in reverse order. But anyway, I digress. 

After putting that one phrase to the test for several years I began to realize that, go figure, dad was right. Everything I did added up to a system. And every system was perfectly designed to yield the result that it did. Whether it was the physics behind a particularly daring jump that lead to a particularly broken leg, or the 18 years worth of cumulative experience that lead to my desire to be a pastor one day, it’s all the same. It’s all a system, and it’s all perfectly designed. Which brings me to the main point, and the reason I decided to write this today: 2015 was a system. And where your life was last night, on December 31st, 2015, was the result it was perfectly designed to yield. So i guess the question that begs answering is, “Are you happy with your result?”

     I see so many Facebook statuses, tweets, and instagram posts all devoted to the same idea, that people are so glad 2015 is over. As if everything bad that happened to them was somehow now definitively in the past, whereas 24 hours ago it was still painfully in the present. The hard reality of the situation is, every system you have not intentionally changed is still in place. If you had a system of self destructive behaviors in place last year, then unless you have gone in and intentionally re-worked them, they are still there. Buying a new calendar didn’t change that. If you made poor decisions last year, and have yet to isolate the errors within those decisions, then you will almost certainly make similar if not identical ones in 2016. 

     Now, if you find yourself thinking that this New Year’s Eve was almost hopelessly bad, and that changing that tangled mess of systems seems almost impossible at this point, then let me suggest something: start at the beginning of the system. Just like altering the aim of an arrow by a few inches at the bow can alter the target of the shot by hundreds of yards in any direction, so can altering the most foundational parts of your system. Perhaps rather than focusing on a particular negative outcome, or a myriad of negative behaviors all at once, you could kill multiple birds with one stone by altering the source of all of them; your heart. 

     Of course, different people’s systems start out in different ways, so when I say “heart” I could really mean either your emotions or your thoughts. Some people feel based on their progression of thoughts (me) and others think based on their strongest emotions at a given time (the majority of people). So for some it may be as simple as changing a distorted thought pattern, and for others it could be a matter of recognizing unhealthy or wounded emotions. But regardless of which camp you fall into, we can probably simplify this even further by starting with your “desires.” Because fact of the matter is, whether you think through emotions or feel based on thinking, the direct motivation of that system is your desires. It’s what you want. It’s what you don’t want. Sometimes it’s even what you want not to want. But however you want to call it, it’s what drives you. 

So how can you go about adjusting your desires to improve your system? Well, truth is you can’t. You are not powerful enough to do it. Jeremiah 17:9 says “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” Our hearts are hopelessly (in a sense of our own ability) broken, and beyond our ability to repair. Have you ever noticed what happens when you try to cultivate pious thoughts behind your pious actions? For example, have you ever done something nice for somebody, kept it a secret in an attempt to be humble, and then become prideful at your own humility? No? Ok. I’m the only depraved one here then. Or what about the myriad of times we do something kind for someone not just so they will be better off, but so that they will think better of us? Yeah. We are all pretty bad off. Heaven forbid any of us were to start a blog to show off our theological knowledge, as that would be the hight of hypocrisy.

              What I’m trying to get accross is that we are all desperately damaged. But we should probably finish the verse in Jeremiah 17. It concludes, “I, The Lord, search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” So not only does the Lord know and discern the heart, but He puts it to the test. To judge the fruit of the system, and then to improve the system. Because in all honesty, the system belongs to Him. 

            Yes, The Holy Spirit has a system of His own in place. Because the more radically depraved we are, the more we will learn to depend upon the sufficiency of His righteousness. Only once we have seen the state of our own hearts without Him, will we learn of a holy discontentment with our sin, and an inability to be satisfied or to receive joy from any of the things we desperately seek apart from Christ. Only at that point could we begin to cultivate a new desire. A desire for something other, something better than what we have. It is from this first step that Christ will begin a new creation. Just think about that… A system perfectly designed to create something new and beautiful out of tragedy.  If only God were sovereign enough to do something like that, huh? (Proverbs 16:9, Romans 8:18-25, Romans 9, James 4:13, etc say he is.)

 

But I understand that this whole concept of a God sovereign enough to work all things (the greek word used there is πας, meaning literally “all things,” in case you were wondering) together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) is hard to accept for some. So if by chance you are curious about what it would mean for God to be so sovereign as to work even our pain and our desires into His plan to draw us to Himself, please feel free to email me. I would love to talk with you further about it! I also plan to address the topic more fully in future blog posts. In the mean time, check out websites like http://www.desirginggod.org, http://www.aomin.org, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org, http://www.reformedpub.com, and ligonier.org.

     Or best of all, go read Paul’s letters to the Romans, Galatians, and the Ephesians, or the whole book of Job. Really, pretty much anywhere we look in Scripture we are faced with the reality that there actually is a being in the universe who lives up to the title of “God,” and I think that is more than most people, including most Christians want to admit. But I think the more you look at it, the more you realize that only a God like that could ever have the power to mend such broken beings as ourselves. 

Thanks for reading, and happy New Year.

– Robert Jackson 

 

*In case it’s not implicitly obvious, I’m joking about the ancient heresy of gnosticism, not espousing it. Don’t write me emails about that.

21 Reasons for Christians to Drink Alcohol

A Christian Response to “ 50 Reasons Why I Don’t Drink ”

Ok, so let’s clarify some things right off the bat. 

  • This article is geared towards Christians. If you’re not a Christian, I’m still glad you’re reading! I certainly wouldn’t want you to think we all hate beer. However, just know all of the following reasoning is not all expected to hold sway with you. 
  • This article is geared towards Christians who believe the Bible is the Word of God. In other words, Christians. It also helps if you believe He has managed to preserve it from error and maintain it’s complete relevance to our culture too. That clears up tricky issues like “should women be pastors?” and more over, “Should women be pastors and write legalistic articles advocating total abstinence from alcohol?” In case you were wondering, from the historical orthodox position of the church and (more importantly) the most literal and correct interpretation of Scripture, the answer to both of those culturally offensive questions is no. (1 Tim. 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34, and the rest of the references in this article) But please, feel free to disagree. And if you shared the “50 Reasons” article without noticing that it was published by a female pastor from the Assembly of God group just because it was anti-alcohol, then you might possibly be more concerned with who is or isn’t drinking rather than who is or isn’t preaching. And that’s probably not a good thing. 
  • The only type of drinking advocated here is that which is done in moderation (avoiding the very clearly defined and Scripturally condemned sin of drunkenness), that is done in complete compliance with the laws of both the country and state you currently live in, and that is not done by (or intentionally in the presence of) an individual currently struggling with alcoholism. 
  • I don’t have 50 reasons because A) I am unwilling to make stuff up or repeat myself that much and B) That’s absolutely too much time spent on something so obvious.

Glad we got all that out of the way. Also, in preparation for writing this and in addition to my own study, I got some great help from my friends over at the Reformed Pub Facebook group! If you like reformed theology and beer, you should totally check it out. Just read the rules before ya join, and make sure to follow them afterwards. Also check out their information website/blog, http://www.reformedpub.com for more information.


Now, let’s get started! Here are 21 reasons why I think you (presumably Christian person of legal drinking age) should (or can, if you want to) drink alcohol (in moderation): 

  1. It is not condemned under those conditions anywhere in Scripture except where it is speaking directly to a Jew undertaking a voluntary Nazirite Vow (Numbers 6:1-21), or a person undergoing ceremonial (not moral) sanctification for a specific purpose (Samson and John the Baptist, but not Jesus. More not that later.). In other words, it is never condemned for use by a Christian unless that Christian chooses to fast from it for the same reason you fast from any other thing. The Bible never says alcohol is wrong. Ever. 
  2. It tastes good. Unless you buy cheap, nasty stuff. Then it tastes bad. So get the good stuff. Jesus said the good stuff is better anyway (Luke 5:39).
  3. You wanna be like Jesus. Ok, obviously that was a bit tongue and cheek. But seriously, Jesus likes wine. (Luke 5:39, John 2, Luke 22, Matthew 26, Mark 14, etc). If abstinence from alcohol was in any way morally superior, Christ would have also practiced it as he was perfect. If Christ sinned, we are all totally going to hell. I would also note that not sinning includes avoiding the appearance of evil (like drinking grape juice and calling it wine as some crazy conservative theories suggest. Here’s info on that, btw: http://dispensationalist.blogspot.com/2007/11/alcohol-content-of-wine-in-bible.html ). 
  4. It’s good for you. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/30/health/beer-good-health/ and http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/17/health/health-effects-of-red-wine/ and 1 Tim. 5:23
  5. It keeps you from seeming legalistic to non-Christians, and opens doorways for gospel conversations. No, really, it does! I’ve shared the gospel 3 times with non believers by starting up a conversation about beer, them asking how I can drink that if I’m a Christian, and me explaining. Avoid the appearance of things that are actually evil, like unfounded legalism. 
  6. It keeps you from being legalistic. 
  7. It’s a blessing from God! (Gen 1:29, Acts 10:15, Psalm 104:14-15, John 2, Gen. 27:28, Deut. 7:13, 14:26, )
  8. Because drinking is biblical (see previous references) and legalism is not (Matthew 23:4, Luke 11:46). 
  9. Because Jesus chose wine as one of two things meant to symbolize His body and blood in a tradition which the church was meant to practice for over two thousand years. 
  10. Because “wine not?” Say it fast now…
  11. Because it is entirely possible to drink and not get drunk. Like at all. Just drink one. You don’t totally stop eating because it’s easy to get fat. You don’t stop talking forever because you’re tempted to cuss. You don’t practice complete celibacy because sex outside of marriage is wrong. No, you eat in moderation, speak in love and kindness, and have sex with you spouse. Frequently. 
  12. Because ounce for ounce it’s usually healthier than soda. If that’s not obvious just google it. 
  13. Because it helps you appreciate other cultures and broaden your tastes!
  14. Because it goes great with good food. 
  15. Because demonstrating to your children how to properly handle the blessings of God in moderation and with self control will show them how to do the same when they are grown. But what you unjustifiably forbid, they will seek out for themselves. 
  16. Personal opinion: a dark beer goes great with good Bible study. 
  17. Alcohol has made a positive difference in my family! It has given us a unique experience to share and learn about as we thank God for His blessing. 
  18. Because alcohol in not addictive in moderation. In fact, some studies show abstinence isn’t even effective for long term addiction recovery: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-addiction/201103/abstinence-is-not-the-only-option
  19. Because being drunk does not start with one drink. It starts with being drunk.
  20. Because it’s good to have hobbies! Exploring craft beer and fine wine are excellent hobbies to have. 
  21. Because _______ (insert any reason for drinking any liquid other than water)

Now before I close, I want to be clear that this article is not directed at those who practice abstinence due to commitments required by work, school, pregnancy, serious cultural reasons, or other special circumstances. And I do honestly still respect those who maintain a personal commitment to abstinence. I just ask that they do not claim it as a biblically mandated moral command. This article is predominantly written in response to the kind of legalism behind the original article noted at the top of the page, and the attitude of unfounded  moral superiority which has sprung up from that brand of misguided theology.

Anyway, thanks for reading! And as always, I welcome any and all comments and responses.


Now “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” Ecclesiastes 2:3

A few of those “Medium Box” Truths

When I was a c2H43Z0W1PS.jpghild, my father divided up all of the most important things he would ever need to tell me in life in to three separate groups. He called them the “small, medium, and big boxes.” The idea was that when I was young, understandably there would be many truths in life that I simply was not able to handle before a certain age, and therefore those discussions would need to wait until a later date to be had. Of course he was right, and I doubt there are many parents that would disagree with this strategy.

Not surprisingly, as an adult I have a similar philosophy about truths which warrant communication, and I would say for many of those truths, it boils down to these categories: Facebook, Blog Post/Sermon, and one-on-one discussion truths. The idea behind that being, some issues you can address to a large number of people in a sentence or two, others require several paragraphs and are directed towards only those who would voluntarily succumb to a lengthy explanation, and still others are so touchy that they require a one-on-one sit down conversation. For example, “God’s not dead” is the epitome of Facebook post-worthy truths. You can blast that stuff all over social media and the worst you’ll get is an eye roll from either a nonbeliever or a truly committed evangelist.

Yes that little dig was intentional.
Moving on.
Other things, like confronting a bother or sister in Christ on a personal moral failure, need to be addressed in person, with kindness and compassion. Our topic today (or rather my topic, and yours by extent if you are patient enough to still be reading) is one of those blog post/sermon topics, because it is public enough to be appropriate for social media, and yet controversial enough to bring the villagers out with their pitchforks and torches if not handled appropriately.
Part of the reason this particular set of issues is so controversial, is that almost every Politician, Pastor, TV evangelist, and good ol’ boy who likes to run his mouth has weighed in on them by now.
It’s like everyone in America thinks it’s their Christian duty to put their two cents in. So, I figure if everyone else is doing it, I might as well join in. Before I do though, I want to be clear that my intent is not to stir up division, breed dissent, provoke anyone to anger, cause anyone to feel foolish, call anyone out specifically, or otherwise agitate anyone beyond the response which the truth alone would produce if received from any other source.In other words, for those that know me personally, I am not talking directly to, or about, you. This discourse is solely for the purpose of providing a biblical perspective to the Church on a crucial issue in our culture. Nothing more.
Now that the four paragraph disclaimer is in place, I will press on ahead with the well intended but probably misguided assumption that nobody will get mad at me for this post. Worst case scenario, I can always fall back on my complete, yet good natured lack of remorse should anyone decide to be mad anyway. The topic at hand is manifested in three separate ways, and yet ultimately traces back to a core issue. That core issue, is that contemporary American Christians are whiny, distrustful crybabies. Every last one of them.
<insert disclaimer admitting my own participation in said distrustful whininess, thus preventing anyone’s righteous indignation from being justifiable> 
We as both a nation on Earth, and a small portion of an Eternal Kingdom, are sometimes prone to acting as some of the most self-centered and faithless people ever to walk the earth.
Now allow me to provide some clarification for these inevitably inflammatory remarks. What I really meant by that, was… well… Exactly what it sounded like I meant.
We, the church in America, are the people who walk in to worship on Sunday morning and sing songs with lyrics that say things like, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.” then walk out on Monday morning and buy an AR-15 to both protect our homes against potential invaders and stick it to the democratic man.
We are the people who say things like, “I’m really just going to have to rely on God to choose the right one for me” when we are talking about our desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend, and not our desire for the next President of the United States. Somehow we think that our life partner is not something which requires our own good judgement, and our next national leader is something which we can control with our “all-powerful right to vote.” Maybe that’s why both our marriages and our presidents are failing.
We are the people who who spout of verses about “judge not” this and “love all of these people unconditionally” and “forgive seventy times seven” when we are talking about people we can tolerate, and then go around complaining that congress should have ordered a bigger airstrike on ISIS months ago.

Let me take these one at a time. First, is God more effective than an AR-15? (If your answer is no, then we have a whole other conversation on our hands) If He is, then why not spend time praying for protection instead of purchasing weapons for self defense? Are you afraid He won’t answer your prayers the way you want? Then He probably has a reason for that, and you might want to consider if it is wise to think you can take justice out of His hands and place it in your own. Now you might say, “God helps those who help themselves” for this kind of thing, but until you can show me a chapter and verse in the New Testament which condones an individual Christian killing another human for any reason, I will say that those who help themselves in the biblical sense are those who pray.

“Turn the other cheek” is not conditional. The Bible says “Pray for those that persecute you,” not “shoot them.” And if you think persecution only means direct challenges to your faith, read 1 Peter. (Chapter 2, verses 18 through 23)

Concerning Presidents and other elected Officials, read 1st Peter chapter 2, verses 13 through 17, Romans 9:17, Colossians 1:16, the rest of the New Testament, etc. Believe it or not, it is not our Christian duty to vote. Nor is it our Christian duty to set up an earthly Christian nation called “America,” and try to maintain it as such. What we are commanded to do instead is act as citizens of another nation all together, the Kingdom of Heaven,(Ephesians 2:19) and go out into this world as lights, being submissive to authority as far as it does not require us to violate scriptural commands, and focussing our time and energy not on political triumph, but on spiritual warfare. (Ephesians 6:12) At the time Paul wrote some of his letters, Nero was the Emperor and was trying to elect a horse as a member of the senate, set half the city on fire, and use Christians burning at the stake as lamps for his garden parties. This is the emperor Paul was saying to be subject to. If early Christians could be subject to him, you can deal with a President you don’t like for 8 years without complaining. You’re blessed to even have a vote at all.

Finally, concerning ISIS, I only have one thing to say.
It is a good thing the Bible does not condone airstrikes on everybody who decapitates children, or else everyone who has ever chosen to have an abortion would be left without a chance for repentance. 
If we extend grace to the mothers who have made a decision like that (as well we should) then consistency mandates that we do the same for everyone. But say you haven’t ever had an abortion? Then read Matthew 5:21. You’re probably no less guilty in the end (none of us are), and no, their sin is not greater than yours. So put down your rocks and walk away grateful for your own second chance, rather than attempting to rob somebody else of theirs.
One other loose end to tie up, if anyone is thinking of appealing to the justice of God in the Old Testament, I wouldn’t recommend it. You would fail that test before ISIS would.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1-4)

What this means, is that the God of Justice and Divine Wrath has chosen pour out His retribution in full upon the God of Mercy and Forgiveness, and as a result He has handed over to Him all authority and dominion to judge the living and the dead, and to decide the fate of mankind. This new Priest brings with Him a new Covenant, and a New Age. His name is Jesus Christ, and it is He alone who Justifies man before God. (Romans 8:31-34) For you to say someone is beyond the Justification of Christ is for you to make yourself Judge, and declare their eternal fate. More than that, it is to say that there is a point from which man cannot be redeemed, which is dangerous for you, because left to your own devices, you would surely cross it as well. “There, but for the grace of God, go us all.” 
If there were truly a point to all of this, I would say it is this: Pray without ceasing, and trust without wavering (1 Thessalonians 5:17, James 1:16). Either God is powerful, or He is not. And either His judgement is just, or it is not. He always hears your prayers, and always gives an answer. So trust His answer. Spend less time buying guns to defend yourself, and more time taking up the armor of God (Ephesians 6, Luke 12:4). Spend less time with political campaigning, and more time evangelizing. Take the command “Do not worry about anything” (Philippians 4:6) for what it is — a commandment — and quit worrying about the latest social media fueled panic, whether it be Ebola, dumping ice on your head, or a Mayor in Texas who trying to get copies of sermons. Speaking of which, sermons are meant to be read and to be disagreed with. I don’t see the problem here. Luke 11:49, John 15:20, and especially Romans 12:14 back that up.
Bottom line, you are not your own protector, and you are not the judge of mankind. So instead of trying to be those things, hope in the One who truly is. If you are still reading, I appreciate your time and attention. If you are mad, I am sorry that you are mad. I genuinely am. It is my desire to approach these topics with a blend of humor, logic, and scripture, and if I have not succeeded in doing that well, then I apologize. But I am not sorry for the principle behind it. As always, feel free to email me with questions, concerns or issues at wannabedeadguy@gmail.com
Thank you, and God bless.
– Robert

A Theology of Provision and Pizza

Z8XWHF6BW6.jpg

I am sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that God will sometimes use seasons of your life to teach you one or two very large, and sometimes very difficult lessons. That’s not to say that you won’t learn other smaller stuff too, but it just seems that sometimes life will have a bit of a theme to it, and I don’t think for a second that it that way is by accident.
One of those major themes for me as of the past year or so, has been God’s intent on teaching me a theology of His provision. This is not an uncommon thing for bible college students to learn, mind you! The first time you move out of your parent’s home and begin a career and education in ministry you are bound to learn two things: 1st, that you have needs. A lot of them. 2nd, that God will provide for them. All of them.

However, while many of us have, at one time or another, heard teachings of the provision of God, I think it is still possible that our theology, in other words how we think about God’s provision, could still be very flawed. Some people tend to think that God’s provision is something that is accomplished through your own hard work. In other words, “God helps those who help themselves.” I actually think this is not only wrong, but a low degree of blasphemy. Because when you take the credit for providing for yourself, you then assume (intentionally or not) the title of Provider, which does not belong to you. It is God’s title, for He holds the universe together by the power of His Word, and not you. You could not even hold on to your own breath for more than a couple of minutes before you are forced to surrender it to Him, and beg for another.

So no, I am not excusing laziness, but yes, I am saying you can’t take credit for your own success, for it either comes from God as a blessing, or from Satan as a distraction. Secondly, a common attitude I hear is, “God wants me to be wealthy.” It is this attitude in particular I would like to go after tonight. While being a college student, as previously mentioned, I have learned that I have needs, and I am poor. I am often unable to provide for those needs myself, and I am forced to turn to others for aid, especially my parents who have been more help than I could ever say.

But It has been a constant theme in my life, that when I have a deficit of something, be it time, money, resources, what ever, God sends a person into my life with a surplus of that specific thing, in that specific quantity. He does not, however, give me the winning lottery numbers. Likewise, when I have found myself blessed beyond my needs in a specific area like time, money, etc, He will usually place someone in my life with a corresponding deficit in that specific area, and often in that specific amount. In other words, my excess is usually somebody else’s enough, and visa versa.

For a biblical example of this, let’s look back at the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. When Jesus asked for food, the boy gave up his fish. After Christ divided and multiplied them, the boy did not ask for them back and immediately open up a 24-hour “fish and bread supermarket” in first century Palestine. He ended up with lunch, and no more, just like everybody else. Now here is where prosperity gospel preachers would jump up crying foul, with the question, “What about the twelve baskets left over?” as their reply, their tone smug enough to match their greedy, shiny smiles.

Well, depending on how many woman and children there were besides the 5,000 men, the crowd could have been as much as 20,000, conservatively speaking (allowing for one wife and two children, which is a ridiculously low estimate in that culture). Probably more like 25 to 30k or more. 12 baskets amongst a crowd that large is nothing. It’s crumbs. Table scraps. It’s one basket full (probably not a large basket either, because it was just the kind they had on hand with them in the desert) for every 2,000 people or more.  In other words, they really had just enough. Most professional caterers couldn’t get that close with portion sizes at an event that large even if they rationed it out.

I saw this play out on a much smaller scale at a youth event my church held recently. We bought pizza, and asked people to bring a suggested $2 donation for it. Several people couldn’t pay however, and even with the $2 from everyone else, it woulda been short. Funny thing though, 1 person dropped a $20 in and two others dropped $5’s, and it ended up just $4 short of the total cost of pizza for 30 people. At first I thought, “hmm, 4 bucks short. Dang.” And then I realized that I and one other sponsor had pizza too. There was the missing $4. For me, it  just further exemplifies the fact that God provides just enough. And on a small scale, it partially illustrates why I believe ministers should never be exempt from tithing. I’m the youth pastor, but even I should put the $2 bucks in to round out the number.

Going back to the story of the fish, if God could bless 5,000 with 5 loaves and two fish, imagine what he could do with the 12 basketfuls leftover? Simply put, I believe the excess belongs to God, and I believe that is the true spirit of tithing. You could enjoy the abundance of it, or somebody else could enjoy the sufficiency of it in fulfilling their needs, as opposed to it simply satisfying your desires. Now if you want to get hung up on how small and possibly random that one isolated event was, that’s cool. If you want to say I’m misinterpreting the passage, that’s your prerogative. But if you do, be ready for me to spend an hour telling you more stories just like it. Talk to any pastor, I bet they’ve got em in even greater abundance than I do! Ultimately no, I’m not suggesting we base or entire theology of money on a youth group’s pizza party. But what I am saying is that we should be exceedingly vigilant in our own lives to watch for the very specific provision of God, and the very ironic needs of those around us.

Essentially, I do not believe God wants you or I to be wealthy. I believe He wants us to be generous. And in my experience, if I enjoy excess, it’s almost always because I have ignored the immediate needs of someone around me to get it. The only thing I think the Christian should really have too much of is Joy. And the funny thing is, I’m finding that same Joy is often the result of giving away my own surplus to meet the needs of another.

Know Thyself

One of the greatest challenges American teens face today, is the task of trying to answer a single, seemingly very crucial question. This one question has become so important, and so essential to a teen’s life and social acceptance, that sometimes culture even tries answer it for them, often with heartbreaking results. It is the simple, difficult, always over-simplified question, “What is special about me?”

In today’s highly individualistic American society, the value of a single individual is touted above all others. To find an example of this, simply look at Hollywood. Every movie and tv show out there features one or two main characters, and they are usually people who are the best at something. Either by accident, by nature, or in very rare cases by experience, the heroins in today’s media all have one thing in common: whether they realize it or not, they are special. Something about them sets them apart from the crowd, and makes them valuable in at least one major aspect of their lives. Often in the stories, it begins as social awkwardness, and transforms into something beneficial. This concept is intoxicating to the teenage ego, and almost impossible to resist pursuing.  After all, not only does the idea of being special stroke a person’s pride, it also gives them a sense of justification for the way they are. If, by some turn of fortune, their flaws aren’t really flaws, then life becomes suddenly easier, and more tolerable.

The desire to emulate this, and receive the same kind of respect and acceptance as the television characters do is extremely enticing to young adults and teenagers. As humanity is often prone to doing, they begin to identify with that which they idolize. But what happens when the majority starts identifying with the uncommon, and thereby trying to imitate them? What happens when every one believes they are one-in-a-million, and have no need for continued personal growth? Well suddenly, everybody begins to think and act like they are special just the way they are, and we are back to where we started, except worse. Now, nobody but the unbalanced, over driven few can ever separate themselves from the pack, and those that used to be considered average are left in the dust as the outcasts. Out of a desire to still be accepted and to feel valuable, even they try to justify their status as “special” outcasts — believing to be cast off for their truly superior nature, which the rest of the culture simply can’t understand. Ultimately though, nobody really feels special, and nobody improves.

The other problem is, since all of the characters on tv somehow either stumbled into their incredible skills, or were born with them only end up suddenly achieving greatness one day, the concept of earning your specialty is all but lost. Examples are not hard to find; Peter Parker goes from zero to hero over night (The Amazing Spider Man), a girl is born mysteriously possessing natural skill in every type of culturally acceptable vocation (Divergent), A princess is born with power over ice which she hides up until the moment she decides to “let it go” and become the powerful, self assured queen she was always destined to be (Frozen), and the list goes on. Teens are fed stories of people with extraordinary “specialness,” and told by well intended teachers, preachers, motivational speakers, and parents that they have something special too, and they eat it up. Nobody is told that they aren’t special until they earn it.

Before leaving the subject of motivation however, let me broach another aspect of the issue. I do not think pride is the only motivation behind this push for everybody to find their “specialness.” In fact, I think there is an even deeper issue than pride behind much of it, and that’s the problem of insecurity. Go look at facebook for for teen minutes, and see how many posts you find that sound anything like this: “Find Out What Your Eye Color Means About Your Personality” or, “Which Disney Princess Are You?” or especially, “Find Out if You’re an Introvert, Extrovert, or Ambivert.” All of these questionnaires are harmless in and of themselves, but their staggering popularity has had me wondering about the root issue behind them.

Ultimately, I think it boils down to a lack of identity. I think it’s a bunch of people who really don’t know how to be authentic, and are looking for either instructions on how to act, or justification for their current personality. They’re looking for something that can tell them it’s ok to be the way that they are, and there’s an explanation behind their personalities. It’s the same thing behind their idolizing of characters in popular media, they’re seeking validation. Essentially, it comes back to a person’s desire to be different from what they perceive as average, and to feel that they are special.

Unfortunately, this system breaks down in a few areas. To begin with, all of humanity’s purpose, every single individual’s chief end, is to glorify God. If you are one of the few blessed with a special talent, it’s because you were meant to glorify God with it. If you are not possessing of any talent which fits into the realm of socially, morally, and scripturally acceptable talents, then perhaps you were meant to glorify God in a more direct method. I mean simply by praising him with your heart, soul, voice, life, actions, and whatever else you can muster. In fact, it’s not really such a foreign concept, scripturally speaking, to think that glorifying God might not at any point actually bring any glory to us. If you have a special talent, then that’s great! Use it for Him. But if not, you aren’t entitled to one, and you certainly don’t need one to fulfill your intended purpose. Ultimately, it’s not about us, it’s about Him.

But that’s not all there is to it. In fact, if you want to be really hardline with it, you could almost say that anytime we humans receive glory in the process of glorifying God, we are doing it wrong. I’m not saying God will not glorify us one day for faithful service simply out of the generosity of His incredible heart, and I’m not saying He can’t be glorified through us, but I am saying that we are not deserving of a single ounce of human praise for ourselves. God, on the other hand, deserves it all. When we take some of that from Him, we are steeling what doesn’t belong to us. Not only that, but when we give glory to others which rightfully belongs to God, we are committing a sin called “idolatry.” Idolatry is defined as worshipping anything that is not God, and worship is defined as a profound love or admiration for, or showing extreme devotion to, a person, place, thing or deity. Therefore to show profound admiration (beyond healthy respect) to something other than God is idolatry, plain, uncomfortable, and simple.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to be special, to have talents, and to pursue excellence. What I am saying, is that God is not looking for special people who want to be admired. He’s looking for people who have a special desire to glorify Him. It’s ok to stand out, just make sure it’s for the right reasons. And most importantly, know that your identity in Christ has nothing to do with your skills and talents, but it has everything to do with your love of the One True Living God. Do not simply subscribe to the age-old proverb, “know thyself,” as if it is something you may do on your own. Rather, begin by knowing thy Creator, then through Him come to know thy purpose, and finally by these things know thyself.

When The Gates of Hell Put Out a Welcome Mat

     I’ve been a Christian for many years, in ministry for 3, and a youth pastor for about 6 months. Over the course of this experience, I’ve realized two very troublesome facts. The first, is that the vast majority of people I’ve ever met or even read about are incredibly friendly, logical, committed, and open with their beliefs. And the second, is that this is an incredibly dangerous thing. Bear in mind, I meant everyone, not just Christians. I’m talking everyone from pagans, to satanists, to atheists, to agnostics, to heretical sects of “psudo-christianity” like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. All of them, across the board, have been welcoming and seemingly logical with their beliefs.
     So why is this such a bad thing? Don’t we want to live in a friendly society? Well, yes! The problem is we aren’t prepared for that. More specifically, Christian kids aren’t being prepared for that. What I’ve realized, is that Christian movies, media, churches and parents are all setting kids up to combat hardline atheists who just want to argue about evolution, and who are really all just running away from the God who, deep down, they know actually exists. Well I have yet to meet one of those atheists. In reality, I’ve talked to many non-christians and atheists, and not a single one of them has given a rip about creationism vs. evolution. Further more, non of them had become atheists because of some life-altering death or tragedy which in turn caused them to hate God for “taking that person away from me,” or “letting that happen to me,” as almost every Christian movie ever made portrays them doing.
     Instead, they have all had very solid and reasonable reasons for their unbelief. In fact, some of them even had atheist parents, which means that rather than coming to their unbelief through any kind of rebellion against legalistic religion, they were literally born into it. Such a person may really and truly be telling the truth when they say they don’t believe God exists. Imagine that. But not only do we have the genuine unbelievers, but on the opposite end of the spectrum there are those who are atheists simply because they are lazy. Atheism is, after all, the easiest thing in the world to believe, it just takes a little secular science and some serious apathy and you’re there. Don’t want to have to worry about consequences for immoral but not physically detrimental behavior (if there truly is such)? Then atheism is very convenient. Having a difficult time understanding the complexities of Christian Theology? Simply label them as contradictions and move on to “enlightenment.”
     Now somewhere in the middle there is another group, and they are probably the most common, and the most determined. These are the ones who have found “genuine peace and happiness” from their atheism or other pagan worldview. I would call this genuine wish fulfillment and self-gratification, but that’s only true from where I stand. To them, it’s as real as it gets. To make matters even more difficult, some non-believers were horribly abused and hurt by people in their lives claiming to be Christian, and for them turning away from that perverted form of religion provided some of the first safety they had ever experienced. Now from where we stand there is a distinction, but from their point of view it’s all the same name. It’s all religion, it’s all judgmental, and it’s easier just to do away with all of it that to try and pick apart the good from the bad, especially when the good reminds you of the bad.
     All of these attitudes thrive in our American culture centered around the individual’s happiness. After all, happiness is one of those three things we are all told we are entitled to back in 2nd grade. Here, everyone is encouraged to find a belief that works for them specifically,  even if it has to be made up. Find the thing that makes you happy, and smile at the rest of the world as they walk by. How dare anyone else try and tell you what you should feel, how you should live, or what you should believe? These are the messages that are pulling people out away from the faith in droves. These are the beliefs that are producing glowing testimonials from people who have never been happier than they are now. People who have finally found what matters to them in life. People who are finally able to love themselves. And we are the ones telling them that’s all wrong? What’s more, our kids are the ones walking into their schools, and their culture, expecting to find tortured souls but instead encountering liberated individuals experiencing happiness and “self actualization?”
     Something has to change, and I highly doubt it will be the culture. Rather, I believe it is time for the Church to start partnering with parents to educate and equip our kids more deliberately than we have in the past. Teach them the difference between temporary happiness and lasting joy, and most importantly, show them the joy we experience in every day settings, offering it to them until it becomes theirs too. Prove that the Christian faith truly is safer and more welcoming than the world around it. And what if we don’t have that Joy? what if we aren’t that safe? Then it’s our responsibility to fix that. In years past the church has combatted the culture by remaining pure in the midst of debauchery, by providing selfless humanitarian charity in the midst of rampant selfishness, and by providing a sense of community in an individualistic society. Today, we must continue to do all of those things while also simultaneously adapting to face the new countermeasures of the world around us. Today it is our responsibility as the body of Christ to put on display the joy which we claim, not only as a solution for the pain of the world, but also as the truly superior alternative to any kind of happiness found anywhere else. We don’t just have what is right, we have what is better, and it is time to show it.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to you Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16