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A couple of weekends ago the annual Pride Parade shut down the city center here in Toronto. It capped what had already been a 10-day Pride Toronto festival. The parade gave an opportunity for the LGBTTIQQ2SA* communities to declare their pride in who they are, and they did it by parading through the heart of the city. The event was publicized, televised, and celebrated.

At the same time, I was preaching the next text in a series of sermons and came to Romans 1:16-17 where the Apostle Paul declares some pride of his own. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he says. He was writing to this church in Rome to tell them of his desire to travel to their city for the specific purpose of preaching the gospel to them and to the people around them. The reason he wanted to do this was his gospel pride. He was proud of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe it.

And I found myself wondering, Why is the gospel more offensive than a pride parade? Why is gospel pride scorned while gay (and lesbian and trans and…) pride is cheered? After all, the parade, its floats, its participants, its nudity, its blatant sexuality—these things could easily be offensive to many people. My family has been warned by gay people not to take our kids anywhere near it because of what it would expose them to. Yet our culture celebrates LGBTTIQQ2SA* and mocks the gospel. In a world of crazy ideas, the gospel sounds like the craziest one of all. Why?

Because of this: The gospel is the one message that counters everything we want to believe about ourselves and about God. It counters the message of Pride Toronto, it counters the message of liberal Christianity, it counters the message of atheism, it counters the message of Mormonism, it counters the message of humanism, it counters every single message outside of itself.

We want to believe that we are autonomous, but the gospel assures us we are under the jurisdiction of God. We want to believe that we are good at heart, but the gospel says we are far worse than we could possibly imagine. We want to believe we are wise, but the gospel says we are foolish. We want to define ourselves by our desires and preferences, but the gospel says that God has already defined us in the act of creating us. We want to believe that we can do whatever we want today without fear of eternal consequences, but the gospel unapologetically declares that there will be the most fearsome and eternal consequences for our sin. That is an offensive message. That is an ultimately offensive message.

Gay pride and its many extensions—that is an easy sell. It is selling candy to children, crack to addicts, ESVs to Calvinists. It is simply giving people what they crave. It is reassuring them of what they long to believe. It is allowing them to celebrate what they already love.

But the gospel cuts against the grain with a message that counters it all: You are disobedient, you are dead, you are doomed. (And, of course, until Christ found me I, too, was disobedient and dead and doomed.) This bad news of the gospel is so offensive (yet so demonstrably true!) that few people stick around to hear the good news—the good news that there is hope and forgiveness and freedom for those who will put their faith in Jesus Christ and receive his salvation. The bright stars are only visible against the dark sky, and the ultimate joy of the gospel only shines against the ultimate bad.

Image credit: Shutterstock

By Tony Merida

OrdinarySocial causes come and go like bad fashion trends, sometimes quite literally: what color bracelet are you wearing this month?

Surely our consumer-conditioned attention spans have something to do with this, but let’s be real: when you care about something enough to devote serious time and energy, it can be discouraging when the anticipated results never materialize.

Many people know they should care for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, but few are motivated to do this over the course of a lifetime. Jesus reminds his followers, “You always have the poor with you” (Mark 14:7). In other words, we ain’t gonna solve poverty anytime soon.

How in the world can we keep up the good work when it feels like a lost cause? Good theology.

Theological types often get stereotyped as all head and no heart. This is unfortunate because a few key doctrines of the faith provide the sustainable inspiration we need for a lifetime of good works.

Love everybody, because imago Dei

If we believe that everyone is made in the image of God—imago Dei—then everyone is worthy of dignity, love, basic human rights, and hearing biblical truth.

Those who abuse people made in God’s image through enslavement, torture, rape, and grinding poverty, are dehumanizing people and insulting God Himself. Many victims of human trafficking and abuse report how they felt inhumane after being oppressed.

Those who believe in the imago Dei should live out their theology through practical acts of love for the oppressed and vulnerable.

Show mercy, because redemption

The Bible records for us the story of God coming to save people. When we were enslaved, He freed us. When we were orphans, He adopted us. When we were sojourners, He welcomed us. When we were widows, Christ became our groom.

The mercy and justice of God meet at the cross, where our redemption comes from. We needed His redemption because we cannot live up to the standard God has set. But One did. Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of a life of righteousness and justice. Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness.

Now, as believers, we have power to live just lives, and when we fail, we know God won’t crush us, for He has already crushed Christ in our place. Now we pursue justice because we love God, and have already been accepted in Him.

We want to show mercy. That’s what God’s redemption has done for us.

Stay hopeful, because restoration

The good news about injustice isn’t only that we’re making some progress today, though we are. We take heart knowing that the King of kings will return to restore this broken world, bringing perfect peace—shalom.

In the coming Kingdom, will be no more orphans; no more trafficking; no more abuse. This fallen world will give way to glory. Doing justice and mercy is about showing the world what our King is like. It involves bringing the future into the present, that is, giving people a taste now of what the future will be like then.

When you welcome the stranger, share the good news among the nations, cultivate diverse friendships, adopt children, or defend the defenseless, you are simply living as the King’s people before a watching world. We don’t fight the problems of this fallen world as victims, but as victors.

Work for good not grace, because justification

We can’t keep God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves perfectly. But Jesus has kept the Great Commandments perfectly for us. And only Christ can justify us. Only Jesus can make us ordinary citizens of the kingdom of God.

Justification means “just as if I’ve never sinned” and “just as if I’ve always obeyed perfectly,” as my friend Daniel Akin has said. Jesus Christ can forgive you entirely, and give you His perfect righteousness.

Justified people stand accepted in Christ. So, don’t look to yourself or your good deeds for salvation, but trust in Christ alone. From this acceptance and justified position, we can live in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good to all your neighbors. Tim Keller explains how receiving the good news leads to a life of good deeds:

Before you can give neighbor love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need (Generous Justice, 77).

In other words, justification leads to justice for others. Receive— and give—the neighbor love of the Great Samaritan, and give Him thanks.

Always remember the people

My focus flowing from these theological motivations is on people.

You may do justice and mercy through large-scale, political and social transformation like William Wilberforce, who worked to abolish slavery. Or you may do mercy and justice through simple acts like welcoming a foster child.

In whatever case, let’s do it all in effort to bless people. Because people are made in God’s image, because people need redemption, and because people will one day dwell with God in the new heavens and the new earth where everything will be finally transformed, we should be seriously interested in how to love our neighbors as ourselves—our orphaned neighbors, our lonely neighbors, our impoverished neighbors, our enslaved neighbors, our racially different neighbors, and our lost neighbors.

That’s how God loves us, as good theology helps us understand.

For more on this topic, see Tony Merida’s new book Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down.

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. Tony is the author of OrdinaryFaithful Preaching, co-author of Orphanology, and serves as a general editor and as contributor to the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series along with David Platt and Danny Akin. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five adopted children.

Tim Challies

I think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right man, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

 

shutterstock_166980404A few months ago I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism. But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.

False Teachers Are Common

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

False Teachers Are Deceptive

False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers, but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced. As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher’.” Instead they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.

False Teachers Are Dangerous

False teachers are dangerous, and part of what makes them so dangerous is that they will affirm so much that is good and true. They will not deny all of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith stands or falls, but only select parts of it. They draw in the unsuspecting with all they affirm and only later destroy them with all they deny. There is an important lesson: We only know a person when he understand both what he affirms and what he denies.

False Teachers Are Divisive

False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honoring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. Amazingly, it is often those who stand fast against falsehood who get labeled as divisive. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.

False Teachers Give People What They Want

As Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy he warned that the time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching (and hence, sound teachers) but instead they would have itching ears and demand teachers who would satisfy this itch. False teachers do this very thing. Their concern is not for what people truly need, but for what people want. The concern of the Christian is the exact opposite—the gospel does not address what we want, but what we need!

False Teachers Are Not Innocent

False teachers know they are false teachers. This may not be true all the time, and perhaps some false teachers deceive themselves before they deceive others. But I believe most know who and what they are; in fact, I believe most know and delight in who and what they are. They are not naive people who have taken a wrong turn in their theology, but evil people who are out to destroy others. Their attack on truth is far more brazen than we may like to think.

False Teachers Cannot Tolerate the Gospel

False teachers simply cannot tolerate the gospel. At some level and in some way, they will always add to or subtract from the pure and sweet gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They may affirm the Trinity or inerrancy or the deity of Jesus Christ, but they will never fully affirm the gospel of the Bible.

Tim Challies

It was pretty ornery preaching,” Huckleberry Finn mused when he found himself in church one particular Sunday morning, “and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace of preforeordestination, and I don’t know what all, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet.” “But,” according to Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones in their book PROOF, “free grace and preforeordestination” were never meant to produce rough Sundays or “ornery preaching.” Here’s what the doctrine of predestination provides for the people of God, according to the Scriptures:

  1. Comfort in trials, because — if God is capable of choosing zombie rebels and turning them into beloved children — there is no hardship in all creation that he won’t be able to work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28-30).
  2. Motivation for praise, because praise was part of God’s purpose in predestining particular people for salvation (Ephesians 1:5-6).
  3. Encouragement for evangelism, because sharing the gospel with unbelievers is a necessary means that God uses to bring his predestined people to faith and repentance. Paul persisted in evangelism and church planting even during times of persecution precisely because he knew that God had already chosen particular people to salvation: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10).

(Taken from PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones)

 

Not too long ago a good friend of ours [I am co-writing this with Sean Harrelson] attended an evangelical pastors’ conference to tell people about his ministry to the disabled, to their families, and to their churches. There were nearly one thousand godly, theologically-astute, gospel-enamored leaders in attendance. What an opportunity, right?

As we spoke to our friend in the aftermath of the event, he told us that his booth, located in a prime spot in the busy exhibit hall, had generated a grand total of five conversations—five conversations in three days. Two of those were with inattentive attendees who apparently mistook the display for something else. In an attempt to escape the awkward moment, one of them uttered, “This doesn’t affect me” before turning his back and rushing away. Apparently booths displaying mentally disabled children and disfigured adults in wheelchairs do not attract crowds. Of the thousand people who repeatedly walked by the booth, only three engaged our friend. One pastor watched the promotional video, wept, and said “Thank you,” telling about his son who has a rare neurological disorder.

We love that man. We understand his reaction. We too are pastors. We too have seen disability up-close, in our churches and in our families. We too have wept and thanked our friend for his ministry. And we have a keen interest in why 997 aspiring evangelical leaders avoided The Elisha Foundation.

The Thing With Beauty

To be fair, there may have been many reasons. But our friend has manned his booth at many conferences and has usually experienced a great response with many meaningful conversations. So what was unique about this event? What we realized as we thought it through was that this conference had two significant emphases: beauty and mission.

Ours is a highly marketed culture popping with logos, sound bites, and all kinds of bling. Where the mainstream church of yesteryear was criticized for isolating itself from culture, our younger generation of evangelical leaders care a great deal for aesthetic quality in music, technology, architecture, interior design, and graphic arts. They value beauty.

We are grateful for this emphasis on aesthetic quality and the resurgence in art and creativity, and especially so when those same people value sound doctrine and biblical preaching. But make no mistake: beauty has become more than a catchword to many Christians today. Beauty has joined truth, worship and mission as a core value in many churches.

This conference displayed beauty at every turn and heralded beauty from the pulpit. It expressed that beauty is missional, that we can appeal to people better through beauty than through ugliness. And in that beautiful and put-together event there was just one area that stood apart: a booth covered with pictures of broken bodies and disfigured faces.

Could it be that the emphasis on beauty and the lack of interest in disability are related? We think it may be. After all, the disabled have a way of disturbing our commitment to beauty.

Beauty’s Purpose

Let’s be clear: There are good and biblical reasons for a focus on beauty and aesthetics. Our God is an aesthetic God. He created all that exists and pronounced it good and very good. He took rigorous care over the design of the tabernacle and priestly garments in the book of Exodus, demanding that they be exquisite in their design and creation. We see many places in the Bible where “beauty” is loaded with theological meaning associated with God’s glory and God’s salvation. Beauty is good!

Beauty serves an especially important purpose in this broken and sin-stained world. God is beautiful and God made us in his beautiful image. Every bit of beauty in this world is just a glimpse of his beauty. In his perfect Creation there was not a single stain of ugliness. But then we chose to be ugly before him. We chose to go our way instead of his way, and in doing that we became hopelessly marred and disfigured. Now God’s beauty highlights our lack of beauty. It draws attention to the stark contrast between God and us. What every Christian wants to do is give unbelieving people a vision of God’s beauty, and primarily, the beauty of the salvation he offers to people who have deliberately made themselves ugly through sin. God’s beauty draws those whom he gives eyes to see. In this way beauty is closely tied to mission. We tell people about a beautiful God who wants to bring a beautiful salvation to lead to a beautiful future.

Beauty’s Dilemma

Beauty is good, but allegiance to it can be damaging because so often the disabled do not fit our perception of beauty. The greater our focus on beauty and the greater our desire to be known for it, the more jarring their presence may be. A heightened emphasis on aesthetics simply creates a greater contrast. Could that contrast become so pronounced that it causes us to walk away from booths at a conference, or away from an opportunity to serve the disabled, their families, their churches?

Isaiah tells us that our Savior came into this world with “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Nor did Jesus surround himself with beauty. He spent most of his time with the blind, sick, diseased, deformed, demon-possessed, and dead. Why? Because they were Jesus’ mission. He had come to seek and to save the least, the lost, the last, and the lame, not the beautiful, the whole, the put-together.

What concerns us as we think about that conference, and toward our churches as they, too, pursue beauty, is the apparent contradiction between exalting the missional importance of beauty, but all the while ignoring or neglecting the disabled because their lack of beauty makes us uncomfortable. You cannot have true mission while ignoring the disabled! They too, are marred by sin, they too need to be told of the beauty of salvation, they too need to be our mission, they too are the church.

 

The-twisted-case-of-Donald-Sterling-and-a-few-other-racists-I-know

Social Media is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing of humanity and a revealer of the thoughts and intents of our lives. And no creature is hidden from its sight, but all people are naked and exposed to the eyes of our big brother to whom we all must give account.

At 2PM EDT, April 29, 2014, Adam Silver the NBA commissioner, announced his decisive action against Donald Sterling’s alleged racist comments that were released to the press the previous weekend.

Sterling was fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from the NBA for life. There was also an appeal from Silver to the board of governors to make a move to force Sterling to sell his business, the Los Angeles Clippers.

This latest media conflagration around public scandal has gripped my thinking this week. And I am not a news guy. I have never been interested in the news because it is not how I am wired.

The LORD gave me the end of the news reel a long time ago (Revelation 21:1) and I typically leave the in-between details up to Him. My thinking has always been if it is really important somebody will tell me about it.

I heard about the Oklahoma City bombing ten days after it happened. Someone told me about flight 370 being missing three days after it was lost. It seemed the LORD wanted me to give some thought to this Sterling fiasco. So I have.

There were five things that troubled me about what happened. I’ll list them for you here and then interact with them in order.

  1. Donald Sterling’s comments.
  2. Public dissemination of a private conversation.
  3. Sensationalized racism.
  4. The harshness of the penalty.
  5. What if they catch me for my racism?

Comments

What Sterling said was wrong. It appears to no longer be alleged, but factual. I listened to several minutes of the audio recording and there is no doubt about the wrongness of the comments. They were harsh, unkind, mean-spirited, and unacceptable. There should be no place in our hearts to foster that kind of thinking, but sadly we all have been guilty of his sin.

As my soul settled down and my mouth closed, the Spirit of God came around to reveal to me how I’m not any different from Donald Sterling. There is a kind of racism in all of our hearts.

Racism is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. – Google

If you or I are different from him, it is because of the grace of God and nothing else. Looking at Donald Sterling is in some way looking at me. I have hated people.

Through the course of our marriage, I have said some shameful things to my wife, as well as to my children. In moments of disappointment or impatience, I have used hate speech.

I am not going to sugarcoat my hatred in a way to convince you that I am better than Donald Sterling–for by grace I have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). Speaking unkindly in times of elevated self-importance is not outside the range of possibilities for me.

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” – Jesus

It would be intellectually dishonest to set myself apart from him, while speaking against him. It does not mean I should refrain from speaking out against his sins; it means before I pick up my rocks to toss on the pile, I need to realize how I have carried hate in my heart toward other people.

This kind of self-imposed modulation is one thing that is not forthcoming from the media screamers. Christians know better. We can see Donald Sterling through a biblical lens, which gives us a threefold advantage.

  1. We can speak against his hatred of blacks because those views are sinful.
  2. We can be humble enough to acknowledge our own sin, while we speak against his views.
  3. We can intercede for him, asking our kind Father to show mercy on him, as He has shown mercy on us (Matthew 18:33).

Dissemination

There is something wrong with the dissemination of Sterling’s comments. While I could never condone what he said, I also cannot condone someone recording a private conversation and making those comments available to TMZ.

There is more deviousness going on here than his racist remarks. Suppose you worked for a company and during one of your lunch breaks a colleague engaged you in a conversation about gays.

Let’s further suppose your friend recorded the conversation. During your lunch break you are asked leading questions that reveal your anti-gay lifestyle views. (Though you are not against gays, only their lifestyle, it is a moot point to those who have no tolerance for people like you.)

Your “friend” then shares the recording with the owner of the company and you are fined, fired, and banned for life from the company. This is, essentially, what happened to Donald Sterling. Follow the sequence here:

  1. Donald Sterling does not like black people.
  2. Someone records his views about black people.
  3. Those views were shared in the public arena.
  4. Donald Sterling was fined, fired, and banned for life, with the future possibility of losing his business.

Dear Christian, welcome to your future. You are now Donald Sterling. You and I can agree that disliking blacks is heinous and unwarranted. We can further agree that the process of exposing Sterling was wrong. But there is more.

Because public media is the means through which moral agendas are established and punishments are demanded, you and I are also considered to be of Sterling’s ilk. We are standing in their line-of-sight.

Sensationalized

There is a difference between sensationalize racism and racism. What has just played out in our culture the past few days is sensationalized racism. This is what is alarming to me.

To sensationalize something is to make much of an event. Donald Sterling was caught on tape and that one event was sensationalized. The hypocrisy of this is that Sterling has a well-documented history of racism. If the issue was only about racism, they had him dead to rights years ago. But there is irony here.

The local chapter of the Los Angeles NAACP gave Sterling a lifetime achievement award in 2009. He has been a major donor to their organization. In 2011 the NBA awarded Donald Sterling, along with the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA All Star Game, their showcase event for the league.

His long history of racism was permitted until this one event was swept up into the vortex of Social Media. What the country has witnessed this week is the power of Social Media.

It became apparent how I am caught between two worlds. In one world I despise sin, which can manifest as racism. In the other world I hear people yelling at me, “Crucify him, crucify him.”

When the herd mentality ramps up to a fever pitch, there is no turning of the tide. I have listened intently this week because I know this kind of swarming hatred of another person is going to be turned on me some day.

Penalty

The NBA is a business that is free to operate how they see fit. As a fellow business owner, I am glad they have this freedom to manage their affairs in broad and unhindered ways. It is one of many things I love about America.

Still yet, it seems to be the NBA was caught between a rock and a hard place. The penalty for hating someone is $2.5 million dollars and a lifetime ban from the company you own, with a future aim to make you sell your company. (I praise God some of the private conversations in our home have not been recorded.)

The mass hatred for what Sterling did was so unabated that the NBA had no choice. There was no way they could put themselves on the side of racism. They needed a sacrifice. The only way they could win was to levy the stiffest penalty allowed, which is what they did.

“This has all happened in three days, and so I am hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league and to the Clippers organization,” Silver said.

Silver had to make a big time power play to quell the uproar. There was talk of a boycott. This was a highly charged political nightmare that, from a business perspective, could have only one outcome–Sterling had to be offered up.

I am not sure we fully realize the power of our media culture. This case, like no other before it, has clearly shown how the new morality maker is Social Media. One of the most popular and powerful organizations in America could not stand against it.

Some would argue that $2.5 million is chump change for Donald Sterling. Maybe so, but that is not my point. The point is the new morality makers in our country. When disgust for a person and his views swell to the level it did this week, then even the mighty are not willing to go to war.

My racism

While I’m sure you don’t want your most sinful thoughts displayed for public scrutiny, what about your religious views? This kind of reverse hatred is already part of our culture’s right to body slam anyone who thinks differently from them. They will not tolerate anyone hating on anybody, unless you disagree with them. Then they will hate you with all of their force.

  • Do you realize how closely aligned you are to Donald Sterling?
  • What do you think about homosexuality? (If you are a biblicist, then you are opposed to that lifestyle.)
  • Are you aware there is a label already created for a person like you?

If you are against the gay lifestyle, then you are a homophobe. If you believe homosexuality is a deviant behavior, then you have a mental disorder according to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. You are closer to the Sterling camp than you might be aware and they have science to support their hatred of you.

A homophobe is a gay racist and people like you and me have no place in the public arena. What if the current of our massive media culture bent its way toward you or me? What if they targeted your employer?

What if your comments regarding your views of the gay lifestyle were recorded? What if they made their way to the public square? I’m somewhat confident your employer would sell you down the river for the sake of capitalism.

You would be fined and banned for life because of your bigotry. When the culture is allowed to determine our morality, all Christians are in the soup. This is why I am watching the Donald Sterling saga play out with mixed emotions.

I don’t agree with his position or his attitude toward black people, but I sense a dark shadow falling over my soul as the culture condemns him. The Sterling story has put me on both sides of the fence. I’m against his views, but I’m soaking in, as much as one can, what it must be like to be him—because I am him.

Many of my views are condemned by our culture—the new gatekeepers to what is right and wrong. I suppose some Christians could read this and say, “Damn the torpedoes, we’re pressing on.”

Well, that is what I plan to do by the grace of God, but I don’t want to be naive about what I have just experienced this week. Today, I am pointing my finger at Donald Sterling. Tomorrow, I’m getting the finger pointed back a me.

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand.

And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. – Matthew 27:27-32 (ESV)

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. – Mark 8:34 (ESV)

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Phil back in September 2009. Phil offered his thoughts on the so-called transparency that has been en vogue in recent years.

As usual, the comments are closed.

I'm not impressed with the postmodern notion of transparency as a substitute for the old-fashioned (and biblical) virtue of humility.

The type of transparency I'm speaking of is that faux-honesty so often used as an excuse for voicing various kinds of complaints, doubts, accusations, fleshly desires, and other kinds of evil thoughts. This exhibitionistic “virtue” is often paired with a smug self-congratulatory sneer or a condescending dismissal of anyone who dares to suggest that propriety and spiritual maturity may sometimes require us not to give voice to every carnal thought or emotion—i.e., that sometimes discretion is better than transparency.

Here's a biblical case-study that goes against conventional postmodern “wisdom”: In Psalm 73, Asaph is rehearsing the confusion he felt over the reality that wicked people sometimes prosper while righteous people suffer. He says:

I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. (Psalm 73:3-12)

A note of resentment against God? A model of the very kind of transparency I decry? Sure sounds like it, huh? He continues:

All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

Self-pity, too. Wow! Is that not a classic example of brilliant, transparent, postmodern confessional writing? The psalmist is venting his spleen, giving voice to his doubts, teaching us that it's OK to broadcast whatever doubts and resentments we maybe harboring against God. Right?

Well, not exactly. In fact, the point Asaph is making is precisely the opposite: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,' I would have betrayed the generation of your children” (v. 15).

In other words, Asaph confesses that if he had broadcast his doubts before resolving them, it would have been a sinful act of betrayal against God and against the children of God.

Asaph is actually testifying about how he resolved those doubts and resentments: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (vv. 16-17).

He has acquired a decidedly un-postmodern kind of confident faith. He reaches a settled certainty about the very things he was tempted to doubt. Then he goes on to explain to his readers that the state of the wicked is not as comfortable as it appears to carnal eyes. He's spreading his new-found faith; not soliciting companions who share his doubts.

So this psalm is not an apologia for the sort of “transparency” whose only aim is to vent in a way that aims to legitimize skepticism; it's a condemnation of precisely that sort of intemperance.

There's nothing vague or confusing about the point Asaph is really making. As a matter of fact, the whole psalm starts with an explicit statement of his main thesis: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”


The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White and Norman Vincent Peale. Today we turn to one of the most outrageous charlatans of our time, a man who claims to have healed countless people. His name is Benny Hinn.

Benny Hinn

Benny HinnToufik Benedictus Hinn was born on December 3, 1952 in Jaffa, Israel (modern-day Tel Aviv), the son of a Greek father and Armenian mother who had immigrated from Greece. He was raised in the Greek Orthodox tradition but educated in Roman Catholic schools. After the Six-Day War, he and his family emigrated to Canada and at the age of nineteen he professed faith in Jesus Christ. He immediately became involved in the Pentecostal movement in Toronto and was mentored by Dr. Winston Nunes of Broadview Faith Temple.

In December 1973 Hinn traveled with other Christians to Pittsburgh to attend a miracle healing service led by Kathryn Kuhlman, the foremost faith healer of that day. Though Hinn never met Kuhlman personally, she left an indelible impression on him, and at that service he had a life-changing religious experience. Shortly after, he received a vision of people falling into a roaring fire and heard the words: “If you do not preach, every soul who falls will be your responsibility!” Later that year he began to preach and claimed that at this time God miraculously cured him of a terrible stutter. He soon began to imitate Kuhlman and even to sponsor services endorsed by the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation. In 1979 Hinn moved to the United States of America, settling in Orlando, where he met Suzanne Harthern, a pastor’s daughter who would become his wife.

In 1983 Hinn founded Orlando Christian Center and began to perform miracles and conduct healing services, claiming that God was using him as a conduit for these supernatural deeds. Soon his “Miracle Crusades” were being held around the world and, by 1989, were being televised across America. The daily talk show “This Is Your Day” followed, and is now broadcast in over 200 nations around the world. In 1999 he handed the leadership of Orlando Christian Center to Clint Brown so he could focus entirely on travel and crusades. Millions, or even tens of millions, attend his crusades each year. The largest event to date took place in Mumbai, India, where over seven million people attended over a three-day period. He claims to have preached the gospel to over a billion people, either face-to-face or through television.

In recent days Hinn has been the subject of scrutiny on a number of fronts. In 2010 his wife filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.” This was shortly after the National Enquirer published photographs of Benny Hinn and fellow televangelist Paula White walking out of a Rome hotel hand-in-hand. However, nearly three years later, Benny and Suzanne were remarried at The Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando. His claims of miracles remain unverified despite a host of programs and publications that have looked for evidence. He has also been widely criticized for his lavish lifestyle, which includes a private jet, a multi-million dollar mansion, and regular stays at hotels costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per night. This extravagance led to United States Senator Chuck Grassley announcing that the United States Senate Committee on Finance would be investigating Hinn’s ministry.

False Teaching – Faith Healing

Critiques of Benny Hinn can span a multitude of areas—his Word-Faith theology, his “little god” theology, his claim that each person of the Trinity is actually his own trinity, his outright lies about his accomplishments, and much more besides. But for our purposes, we will recognize him as the world’s most recognized faith healer.

Hinn teaches that God intends for everyone to be healed of all of their diseases. If people simply have the faith to believe they can be healed, God will heal them through the agency of a healer like himself.

Hinn’s crusades are carefully constructed to lead and manipulate those in attendance, with singing and repetitive music that build a particular atmosphere and sense of anticipation. These crusades crescendo in a time where he announces that God has begun to heal people and he then invites those people to come to the stage to tell what God has done, a technique that was mastered by Kathryn Kuhlman and has since become a staple of faith healing. Hinn claims that God is working powerfully through him to heal others and begins to list those miracles, usually starting with ones that are invisible and unverifiable at the moment—diabetes, depression, and the like. As the healings begin, many people come forward, hoping for their own miracle. Generally, though, only people who claim to have already been healed are showcased on the stage where Benny speaks to them and then often “slays” them in the Spirit.

In this way he has manipulated countless people to give money to his cause, believing that giving money will be key to activating their miracle. Not a single one of Hinn’s miracles has ever been verified, though many have been proven to be temporary or false.

Benny Hinn Prayer

Followers & Adherents

Hinn’s television show “This Is Your Day” is broadcast around the world and remains regular viewing for millions. He speaks to millions more each year through his crusades. He has also perfected faith healing techniques that have been imitated by a host of others. He is the world’s best known and most notorious faith healer.

What the Bible Says

While the Bible clearly presents a God who is capable of healing and a God who at times does heal miraculously, it never tells us that it is always God’s will that we be healed. In fact, it may be God’s will that we suffer for a time. Never does the Bible tell us that our healing is dependent upon the quantity or the activation of our faith. And most Christians hold that even while God does still heal people today, he no longer does so through the agency of a healer (see James 5:13-16 and read about A Presbyterian Healing Service).

Hinn’s theology of healing is laid out in his book Lord, I Need a Miracle. Richard Mayhue points out eight grave errors: Benny Hinn holds it is wrong to pray “Lord, Thy will be done” even though Jesus Christ did (Luke 22:42); Hinn believes that God always intends for believers to be healed, even though some great saints of the Bible were unhealed (the apostle Paul among them); Hinn teaches that believers should command God to heal, while the Bible instructs them to ask (1 John 5:14-15); Hinn suggests that miraculous healing from God is gradual, while the miraculous healings of the New Testament were instantaneous; Hinn teaches that faith on the part of the sick person is essential to healing, while a man like Lazarus could not have exercised faith when he was healed since he had been dead; Hinn believes that we must do our part before God can heal, while the Bible teaches that God is sovereign; Hinn believes that Christians should not be sick, while the Bible teaches that Christians can be sick and will all eventually die; Hinn implies that a person’s healing can be lost and that the healed person must do certain things to keep the healing, while such a notion is completely foreign to the Bible.

In the final analysis, Benny Hinn is a dangerous deceiver, a fraud and charlatan who enriches himself at the expense of countless others.

 

Lunar Eclipse
Photo:sodai gomi/Flickr

I most often read Christian books that appear to offer the opportunity to grow in knowledge and obedience to the Lord, but occasionally I see one soaring up the bestseller lists or otherwise making an impact and decide to read it just to see what the fuss is all about. Such was the case with John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons. The book has lingered near the top of the Amazon charts for a few weeks now and has received nearly one thousand five-star reviews. For those reasons I decided I would give it a read.

We have just experienced the first of a series of four lunar eclipses. Acccording to NASA, “The action starts [started] on April 15th when the full Moon passes through the amber shadow of Earth, producing a midnight eclipse visible across North America. So begins a lunar eclipse tetrad—a series of 4 consecutive total eclipses occurring at approximately six month intervals.  The total eclipse of April 15, 2014, will be followed by another on Oct. 8, 2014, and another on April 4, 2015, and another on Sept. 28 2015.” These four consecutive total lunar eclipses will each result in the moon appearing red for the duration of the eclipse. This phenomenon is known as a blood red moon.

Well, if you are deeply involved in biblical prophecy, this is the kind of thing you will find difficult to ignore. After all, Joel 2:31 says, “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Hagee believes that “God uses the sun, moon, and stars as signals to mankind. He uses the heavens as His divine billboard announcing coming events.” He says:

The sun, moon, and stars are unmistakably connected to Israel and biblical prophecy—and that connection inspired this book. God will use them to light up the heavens with an urgent, top-priority message for all mankind. What is God saying to us? How does the past hold the secret to the future? What is about to happen on planet earth? Everything is about to change … forever! Keep reading, because this message from God is so urgent to Him that He sovereignly arranged the sun and the moon to perfectly align themselves to create a Tetrad—four consecutive blood moons.

It turns out that over the past five hundred years, blood red moons have fallen on the first day of Passover three separate times. “Tetrads linked to Jewish history have happened only three times in more than five hundred years. And it’s about to happen for a fourth time.” By doing some historical research, Hagee has determined that each of those moons have happened at a pivotal moment in Jewish history: 1492 (the expulsion of the Jews from Spain), 1949 (the U.N.’s recognition of Israel) and 1967 (the Six-Day War).

Now it’s important to understand that Hagee believes the Jews were and still are God’s chosen people and that all God’s promises and covenants with the Jewish people are still in effect today. “The Jewish people are still the apple of God’s eye. They are still cherished and chosen of God. And they are still the people of covenant—a covenant God has pledged to keep forever.” He also believes that God has a special relationship with the United States of America, since, as the Jews were expelled from Spain in and around 1492, they were soon welcomed to America. “The mantle of prosperity was lifted from Spain and placed upon the shoulders of an infant nation that would become the United States of America.” America has been given the special privilege of protecting God’s people and, therefore, America needs to be especially vigilant about the sign of the four blood moons.

Four Blood Moons is a disappointment. Books like this will always prove a disappointment. At the end of it all Hagee won’t say what we should expect or exactly when we should expect it. He merely says that something big is going to happen in the near future. Vague predictions based on misused Scripture have a way of coming about.

I suppose we have already read this book, or others like it, a thousand times. It is, of course, based on endless speculation (and, as many have pointed out, another person’s research). What do we do with a book like Four Blood Moons? I say we ignore it. Let me give four reasons.

Hagee misuses Scripture. Hagee routinely misuses Scripture as he draws out his prophecies. He appears to read the Bible literally or metaphorically entirely on the basis of whether doing so suits his purposes. He approaches the Bible with his mind made up and then goes looking for proof of his assertion. Not surprisingly, he finds it wherever he needs to find it.

Hagee reads history conveniently. Four Blood Moons reminds me of the infamous book The Bible Code in its ability to predict the past and complete inability to say anything meaningful about the future. Hagee picks and chooses the historical events he will pronounce as significant while simply ignoring the ones that do not fit his point. He does not say, for example, that three of the four eclipses in this tetrad will not even be visible from Jerusalem, rather an odd fact if they are meant as a sign to and about Jerusalem. (An excellent article at AiG explains more about the lunar calendar and the occurrence of eclipses.)

Hagee writes as an American for Americans. It is always strange to read books like this from my Canadian perspective. Hagee believes America is a special nation in God’s eyes. But why is this true of America and not Canada, or Switzerland, or Vietnam? Why is it America that needs to heed these warnings and not any other nation? Though the gospel is for all nations, tribes and tongues, this is a book by and for Americans.

Hagee is not clear on the Messiah and the Jewish people. Hagee has a great admiration—envy even—for the Jewish people. His admiration is so pronounced that he appears to deny their need of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The most cruel and false love of all would be to assure Jews that they are saved by virtue of their Christ-less faith. Yet Hagee seems to do just this, extolling Jewish faith and practice and refusing every opportunity to call Jewish people to turn to the Messiah who has already come. If he actually does believe they ought to turn to Christ, he does not make this at all clear.

Of course we already know something will happen in the future, though we do not know if it is near or far. The Lord will return! But God, in his wisdom, has chosen not to reveal his timing to us, and has warned against predicting it. Such speculation based on the moon and stars is little more than Christian astrology. We do far better to just enjoy the blood red moons as another of God’s displays of beauty, and not as a vague prediction of coming events.