While I am recharging my batteries, take a look at this post from the past. It is just as relevant now as it was then.
Read Isaiah 55:8-13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.” (1 Corinthians 8:2)
We live in a world that often only sees in black and white. Things are either right or wrong, good or evil, bad or good, up or down, this way or that and there is no possibility for anything else in between. People who think this way often fear that if you start giving leeway in allowing for more possibilities, or allowing for people to interpret things differently, you start to head down a “slippery slope” toward the pit of destruction.
For example, since the publication of his book, “Love Wins”, Rob Bell has been branded a heretic by people who disagree with his propensity to question Christian dogma in order to shed light a deeper and more profound truth. The book “Love Wins” happened to question the Christian doctrine of Heaven and Hell, or at least the doctrine as it has been understood in the last 2-3 centuries. Much of the criticism against him was launched before the book was even published. All that his critics had to go on (as they obviously hadn’t read it yet) was the title of his book and a short video trailer that featured Rob asking questions such as, “Will only a select few make it to heaven and will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And, if that’s the case how do you become one of the few?”
In the video, he points to the fact that many have been taught that the central point of the Gospel message is that God will send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus, who came to save you from God’s wrath. “But what does that say about God,” Rob Bell asks? “What that ends up implying is that Jesus has come to rescue us from God.” The video goes on to ask even more questions, with the hope of sparking a desire in the viewer to refelct on these questions, on heaven, on hell, and on “the fate of every human being to have ever lived.” As his book title suggests, and if you haven’t read it…I highly recommend it, in the end, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8), and love wins!
People really got in a frenzy over this book. Christian book stores started to ban Rob Bell’s books from their shelves, some Christians started to refute the claims that they hadn’t actually read, but assumed were in his book. Franklin Graham went on cable news and called Rob Bell a heretic for not believing in hell, despite the fact that Rob’s book never denied hell as much as re-framed it. Rob’s critics stated that his questions would open up the proverbial can of worms and lead many people away from Christ. The problem is that slippery slope arguments are not logical. It does not follow that by asking questions one will necessarily LEAD people away from Christ. In fact, the fervor over the book actually drew more attention to the book, to the doctrines of heaven and hell, and to the teachings of Christ, as well as to Christianity; it seems that the book helped draw more people to at least stop, pause and theologically reflect on some pretty big theological questions. What’s the harm in that? What’s the harm in trying to point people to the LOVE, as opposed to the WRATH, of God?
Today’s challenge is two-fold. First, do not allow yourself to get caught up in fear. Unchecked fear is paralytic and keeps us from moving forward from where we are to where God wants us to be. Second, don’t get caught up in the slippery slope. There are more than one way to look at things, and not everything is black and white. There is a lot of gray in the world, and whole spectrum of colors beyond that. Open your eyes to the beauty of God’s world and allow all of the possibilities to be presented before you jump to conclusions. Remember that God’s grace is wide and far-reaching, it calls to all people, and no fear in the world will ever change that.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.” – Socrates (found in Plato’s Apology)
Lord, humble to realize that I do not know it all, and allow me to avoid the slippery slope of thinking I do. In you all things are possible. Amen.
Read Matthew 7:15-27
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)
In Christianity there seems to be a fear that one needs to be careful not to be deceived by the devil who will steer one away from the truth and the light of God. When I was growing up, I remember coming across all sorts of different things in Christian bookstores and in churches. I remember seeing tracts that would warn of the perils of the New Age movement, there were tracts warning against the danger of letting your children watch the TV show “He-Man: Masters of the Universe”, and that there were perils in allowing your children to participate in Role Playing Games (RPGs) such as “Dungeons and Dragons.” I have since seen similar tracts and brochures against books such as “Harry Potter” and the like.
What’s more is that fear often crosses into Christian territory as well. “Beware of false prophets who clothe themselves in words of light but are really agents of darkness.” I have seen devout Christians such as Rob Bell and others get thrown under the proverbial bus as being heretics and agents of Satan. And there seems to be some serious Biblical precedent for it, as Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15).
But what does Jesus mean by that? Is Jesus trying to strike fear into the hearts of his followers? Or is Jesus doing something completely different? And what do we make of that when we pair it with Jesus’ other warning, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”, which only comes 14 verses earlier and is what starts off this section of teachings?
The reality is that, while we ought to be worried about taking a wrong turn onto a destructive path, that worry often turns into a form of “holier than thou” judgmentalism that Christians have been warned against by the one we claim to follow. So, first things first. How do we spot false teachings without falling into a group of hypocrites who judge others and lack the humility to see ourselves as the wolves in sheep’s clothing?
First off, Jesus rightly said in today’s scripture passage that you will know a tree by its fruit. We, as Christians, know what God wants from us. God want our full devotion; we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our souls, and all of our strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). And, equally as important, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. ANYTHING or ANYONE who leads you to THAT is producing GOOD FRUIT. After all, this is the heart of the Gospel and, according to Jesus, sums up all the Law and the prophets.
Second, if we come across something that is counter to what we find above, we simply avoid it. There is no need to interject Satan, or throw around judgments on the beliefs or their adherents. After all, judgmentalism is BAD FRUIT. We simply need to avoid bad fruit and nourish ourselves on good fruit. But to be in line with Micah 6:8, we also need to have a smidge of humility. Many people say and think differently than us, but that doesn’t make their thoughts and words FALSE. We need to be open to different angles on things without compromising on the core values of LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR.
In the end, Jesus is calling us about being vigilant in regard to not failing to see the image of God in ALL PEOPLE, even those who express things differently than us. Jesus’ words were not to inflict fear but to caution us to remain true to the Gospel and to spark a little bit of humility in us. Let us not point the scapegoating finger at people and “cry wolf” just because they are different. Rather, let us measure the teachings we hear by the RUBRIC OF LOVE and then determine whether that is something we should or shouldn’t pursue. And let us not forget to measure ourselves and our beliefs by that same rubric!
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“LOVE, not fear, IS OF GOD.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig
Lord, teach me to be open to difference without judgment, and allow me to discern, even among my beliefs, the GOOD FRUIT from the BAD FRUIT.
Read John 13:34-35
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
One of the great pleasures of being a pastor is the fact that I get to lead in worship week in and week out. I love worship because it brings people together with a common purpose, which is to refresh and renew our connection to our Lord and God. One of the most important elements in worship, for me, is music. I love singing hymns, singing and/listening to “Special Music”, centering myself on the prelude and greeting people during the postlude.
Many people don’t know the actual purpose for hymns. Most people sing hymns in church because it is an “age-old” tradition, never giving it a further thought beyond that. But hymns do play a very important part in the worship service in that they impart important Christian theology to the congregation as they sing them.
One popular hymn tells us that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” This hymn suggests to those singing it that Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world by our love for each other and our love for all of God’s creation. This is one of those hymns that informs us of Jesus’ words to his disciples and for his will for us as his followers; however, when we look at the history of Christianity, and even at Christians today, are we living up to the love for each other that the hymn speaks of? Are we graceful toward one another, are we accepting of difference, and patient with those who don’t see eye-to-eye with the way we believe and understand things?
I remember a couple of years ago, Rob Bell came out with a book titled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person That Ever Lived.” Up until the writing of this book, Rob had garnered quite a following and was well-liked by most in the Christian world, including Evangelicals; however, once the title of this book was released in order to promote it, that acceptance quickly turned into anathema. People, including the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, were calling Rob Bell a “heretic” and denouncing this book which, according to the critics, claimed that hell doesn’t exist.
The odd thing is that these criticisms of Rob’s book came out BEFORE the book was released for people to read. That means, in case you didn’t catch it, that people were claiming the book said something without ever having read the book. Their assessment was based off of the title of the book and a promotional video where Rob poses some provocative questions…again, not giving the answers to them but just posing them. After actually reading the book, which was provocative for sure, I did not discover “heresy.” I simply found Rob wrestling, in a relevant way, with a theology that many people wrestle with. Nor did I find him EVER claiming that hell does not exist. Quite the opposite, actually.
The point of this is not to endorse Rob Bell or his book, but rather to put a caution on something that should, by this point, seem obvious. Christ called us to love one another…that people will know we are his by our love of one another. Let us not be so quick to judge, to anathematized, and to demonize fellow Christians who might think differently than we do. If we cannot love our own family in Christ, how can we ever love our neighbors? What’s more, if we cannot love our own spiritual kin, how can we ever love our enemies? Christ has set the bar high for those wishing to follow him, and when we fall short of that bar, we do not reflect Christ. Remember, they will know we are Christian by our love.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
In Christ love ALWAYS wins.
Lord, teach me to be more loving of my fellow Christians, especially those who think and believe differently than me. Amen.