Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

Some of you may be familiar with the popular atheist website, Why Won't God Heal Amputees.  The basic objective of the organization is not only to prove that God does not exist, but to encourage the believing Christian to rationally contemplate their faith and logically consider their arguments.  Their hope is that those who believe in God will eventually come to the deductive conclusion that faith is simply a superstition and therefore open their minds to a more enlightened thought process.  They seem to claim their arguments are presented to any religion or faith system, but Christianity seems to be their main opposition.  

I have to admit that these kinds of organizations used to make me very defensive.  From a faith perspective, I found it very hard to understand why some people come to a place in life where it becomes so easy to deny God's existence, but also feel compelled to attack the beliefs of others.  If someone truly has no belief in God, what difference does it make to them whether or not someone else does?  I still feel this way to a certain extent, but I have also grown to a place spiritually where I don't feel the need to attack other belief systems.  I believe in God and believe that Christianity is true, but my goal in ministry is not to "force" others to accept my beliefs, but to be a point of influence that will cause others to honestly consider the reality of the Kingdom of God and what it means to be a true Christ follower.

With that said, I find this organization very interesting and compelling.  The honest questions they ask seem genuine and whether right or wrong, they deserve addressing .  Granted, some of their statements are a bit antagonistic and condescending, but if you look beyond the defensiveness, anger and what might appear as an attack on those of faith, I think you'll simply find fellow human beings seeking answers to the same questions many Christians deal with.  And to be honest, the Church and Christians in general have traditionally done a pretty poor job in answering the arguments.  Today's culture demands more than just the typical rehearsed, memorized and cliche "churchy" answers.

So, here is a list of the "10 Questions That Every Intelligent Christian Must Answer" taken from the website linked above.  What I would like to know is how you would answer these questions in an honest manner, if you were involved in a discussion with someone who did not believe in God.  Avoid being defensive, argumentative or feeling as if you need to "win" the argument.  Avoid judging the questions as ignorant or simplistic because of what you know.  These are "real' questions that "real" people ask.  Consider how you would honestly answer these questions from your perspective of faith, knowledge and experience.  I plan on writing another blog that will address how I personally answer these questions, but I wold like to know what you think.

1.  Why won't God heal amputees?  We believe that God answers prayer, preforms miracles and heals in various manners, but we never see someone grow limbs in response to prayer.  Why not?  Does God ignore amputees?  

2. Why are there so many starving people in the world?  Why would God pay attention to your pray to find a job, when He seems to ignore the prayers of people literally starving to death?

3.  Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible?  Exodus 35:2 demands the death of anyone who violates the sabbath, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 demands the death of disobedient teenagers, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death of homosexuals and Deuteronomy 22:13-21 demands the death of woman that are not virgins when they marry.  In the book of Joshua, God commands Israel to not only kill the men, but woman and children as well.  In Deuteronomy, we see that God commands Israel to kill "everyone" in Heshbon and Bashan.  He also commands the extermination of everyone except the virgins of Midian in the book of Numbers (the virgins were plunder), and in 1 Samuel 15:1-9, the Isralites are commanded to kill all of the Amalekites - men, woman, children, infants, cattle, for something they did 400 years prior.                    

4.  Why does the Bible contain so much anti-scientific nonsense?  Can you remain a logical and intelligent thinker and still believe the supernatural stories of the Bible?

5.  Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the bible?  Take a look at these verses from both the Old and New Testament.  Exodus 20:20-21, Deuteronomy 15:12-18, Leviticus 25:44-46, Mark 14:66, Colossians 3:22-24, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18      

6.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Think about it.  We probably all know of someone that ranks up there with Mother Theresa, and yet they seem to be plagued with constant tragedy.  Consequently, we all know of people that could be classified as evil incarnate, and yet their lives seem to be completely absent of even minor troubles.    

7.  Why didn't any of Jesus' miracles in the Bible leave any evidence behind?  Several people have asked me why more evidence is not available of Jesus' miracles other that Scripture.     

8.  How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to anyone?   If Jesus is omnipotent and omnipresent, why does He seem to not appear to anyone?  Apparently, Mary has appeared to people in apparitions, why not Jesus?  

9.  Why would Jesus want you to eat His body and drink His blood?  Many of us have grown up in the Church, so this does not seem unusual.  But what about those who have never heard of this concept?  Could this not seem grotesque and cannibalistic?    

10.  Why are Christian divorce rates the same as that of non-Christians?  This is a great question and one that cannot be denied.  In fact, being involved in ministry, I seem to see more instances of divorce than I do outside the Church.  Why is this?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Breaking News: It is Now OK to Love Queers

If you're a Southern Baptist, great news!  It's now OK to love homosexuals!  You can now get rid of your Gaydar Detector and take a deep breath!  Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler has shaken up evangelical circles with his recent chastising of Southern Baptists and their tendency for negative treatment of homosexuals.  The Associated Press quoted Mohler as saying, "We’ve (Southern Baptists) lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as homophobia… We’ve used the choice language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice...That doesn't mean it's any less sinful, but it does mean it's not something that people can just turn on and turn off."  He also encouraged the denomination to repent from a "form of homophobia" and condemnation, rather than granting them a spirit of love and embracing them as fellow sinners.

Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright has also recently challenged conservatives to refrain from using hateful rhetoric toward the gay and lesbian community and urged compassion in saying, “It’s not only upholding God’s Word, but there’s always that spirit of Jesus that we want to seek to communicate. When we feel passionately that something is wrong, we are still called to love that person who is ignoring what God’s Word says. It’s not always easy to do.”  Note that neither of these two leaders are condoning homosexuality or rejecting the traditional doctrinal belief that it is a sin.

Most of you know that I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but don't necessarily label myself to be a Southern Baptist.  My initial reaction to these two statements was that these leaders deserve praise for taking what is proving to be a very controversial stance.  This is a huge step for a denomination that has long been considered intolerant, judgmental and even hateful toward the homosexual community.  But after meditating on this for a while, I realized that I actually have a very different perspective on this issue and wondering if it is such a good thing after all.

First of all, I am purposely not going to share my beliefs on homosexuality.  Many of you already know where I stand on this issue and if you would like to know details on how I feel personally and how I deal with this in ministry, you can always email me and I'll be glad to elaborate.  However, the purpose of my silence of personal belief is intricately intertwined with the reason I am writing this blog in the first place, and that lies in a simple question: Why?

Why does it matter?  Why is a non-Christian homosexual any different than other non-Christians and why do Christians have to be told how to treat them?  Why does it have to come to a point where two very respected Christian leaders have to remind us that we need to love our human brothers and sisters, regardless of their particular sins?  You see, whether or not you believe that homosexuality is a sin is totally irrelevant. The overshadowing element is that our personal beliefs should have no bearing on our love for one another and should have nothing to do with how we treat each other; in this case those that claims to be a homosexuals.

From the perspective of the Kingdom of God, there are two types of people that we journey through this life with: those that know the truth, love and salvation of Jesus Christ, and those that don't.  Our mission within the Kingdom should remain focused on bringing Christ's life changing message to light; not critiquing the sins of someone that needs Christ because of sin.  Whether or not homosexuality is a sin is not the point.  The point is, we're all messed up people before knowing Christ and carry a lot of crap in our baggage.  We need His unconditional love and to understand that it doesn't matter what's in the suitcase.  That's why we need Christ and that's why others come to him in the first place.  Does it matter, or should it matter why they come?  Do our individual sins calculate differently on the salvation meter?  Because I have news for you; God looks at ALL sin as repulsive, so if that disgusting spec in your neighbor's eye is causing you chronic nausea, try removing the hideous log in your own first. (Matthew 7:3) 

This reminds me of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  If you aren't familiar with the story, take a look at it in John 8:3-11  The Pharisees come rushing up to Jesus with this young woman that has been sleeping around.  More than likely, she was a prostitute, in fact some theologians think that this woman could have been Mary Magdalene.  "Teacher, this skanky woman was caught screwing some guy that she's not married to!  She’s a whore!  The Law of Moses says that we should kill her!  She's not worth salvation!  She's a lost cause!  What do you think about this?"  After all is said and done, what does Jesus say to the woman?  Does He point out the fact that her sin is more repulsive than the next person?  Does He tell her to keep her legs closed, stop sleeping around and gets her life straight first, and then come back?  Instead Jesus tells her that He doesn't condemn her.  He doesn’t judge her.  He  doesn’t make her feel like an outcast, subhuman or not worthy of the Kingdom.  He accepts her as she is and asks her to leave her life of sin; not her life of sex, her life of sin.  Did you catch that?  He doesn't rate her sins on a scale of 1-10, or point out to everyone that she’s a whore.  He just says "leave it" and "come".

Come.  I like that about Jesus.  He asked people to come to Him, and they did.  When He walked the earth, he just wanted to be close to people, not caring where they’d been or what they’d done.  He just wanted people to come.  The Church is His Body, His hands and feet.  Why should we add qualifications that He never did?    

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30                 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jesus Meets Socrates

I'm convinced that one of the biggest problems within the Christian Church is a lack of thought.  Not the kind of thought that most of us engage in on a day to day basis, but deep contemplative thought.  The kind of thought that births creativity and allows the imagination to run wild.  In fact, this is the very foundation upon which Naked Theology was built.

The Church Fathers and other great theologians were also deep thinkers and contemplative philosophers.  Ambrose, Athanatsius, St. Augustine, Clement, Ignatius, Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis of Assisi all built their theology, not only on their interpretation of scripture, but the deep thought that followed.  Even modern theologians such as Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were not afraid to dig deeply into the mysteries of God.    

Think about the times that you have run across a subject on which the Bible seems to be totally silent.  Are there areas on which you wish scripture expounded more or expanded?  Specifically in the New Testament, are there topics that you find yourself wishing that Jesus would have addressed directly, but doesn't seem to?  Are there cryptic or difficult to understand passages that you wish contained just a few more verses to help you understand it more clearly?  Have you ever read a verse and thought to yourself, "What?!  I have no freaking clue what this means!"

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I firmly believe that the Bible is completely sufficient for guidance on every and all aspects of life.  There are obviously some areas that the Bible does not directly address, such as modern cultural topics, but in studying similar issues and parallel passages, it is possible to translate a particular passage and find what you need to know in most modern contexts  There are also areas on which the Bible is vague and some passages that are very difficult to understand.  It's significant to remember that while the Bible was just as much written for people in 2011, it was written by people that lived in a very different time, a very different culture and in many areas of life, thought very differently than we do.     

I get asked theological questions fairly frequently, and since I've been to seminary, some people automatically deduce that I have all the answers.  Well, sometimes I have an answer, but not as often as I would like to admit.  There are quite a few instances where I have to plead ignorance or pull the old, "Let me get back to you on that one" while I go and ask someone more knowledgeable on the respective topic than me.  In fact, there are times when I feel that I know less after seminary than I did before...the more I read and learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.  And times when I feel like a complete idiot.

But one thing that I have learned is that while the Bible is meant to read and teach, it is just as important to be meditated on and pondered over.  It's meant to be philosophized upon, discussed and written about.  It's meant to have music written from it, art created from its influence and poetry to be inspired from it.  God doesn't just want us to mechanically read and regurgitate what we learn from scripture, but He wants us to use our hearts as well as our minds.  The early Church Fathers weren't afraid to gaze toward Heaven, and ask the tough meditative questions.  In fact, this is how many of our Church doctrines came into existence.        

When was the last time that you read a favorite passage and found yourself asking, "What if....?"  "I know that Jesus doesn't address this issue directly, but if he did, what would He have said?  How would He have handled this?"  "If Matthew, Mark, Luke or John would have been inspired to write another passage on this topic, what would they have said?"   

So, here's what I need your help with.  Do some thinking and ask yourself these questions?   

1.  What are some issues on which the Bible seems to be silent?    

2.  Have you ever found yourself thinking, "I've read this verse over and over, and have no clue what it means.  I've even asked several pastors about it, but no one seems to know or be able to explain it to me."  Tell me about it. 

3.  Have you ever thought, "I wish Jesus went deeper on this issue.  I understand what He's saying, but I feel like I need more."  What was the issue? 

I'll be compiling your comments and using your input for my book.  I'll also be posting short excerpts as the writing progresses.  Looking forward to hearing what you have to say, and more importantly, what you "think"!