A Hard Truth

This past Sunday morning at Oak Grove Baptist I began a sermon series on the life of Samson. That life starts with his conception in the womb of his previously barren mother. But why did God choose to open her womb at that time? It was because Israel needed a leader (a Judge) to deal with the Philistines. As is the frequent pattern in the book of Judges, Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, the Lord delivered them into the hands of an enemy race (in this case the Philistines), and then God raised up a Judge (in this case Samson) to deliver them from that enemy race.

But here’s the thing: Samson’s conception in his mother’s womb only came after the Philistines had oppressed Israel for 40 years. For that matter, even after Samson was born it would be several more years before he reached an age where he could fight the Philistines. The Bible doesn’t tell us precisely what that age was, but it records his first dealings with them as part of the circumstances surrounding his intended wedding to a Philistine girl (Judges 14:1-20). The death toll from that story is thirty Philistines. Most likely, Samson was twenty or so at the time of the story, give or take a few years either way. So, by doing the math, we come up with a period of approximately sixty years in which the people of Israel were delivered into the hands of the Philistines.

Now, I used to read such stories in the Bible and jump right over the sixty years to get to the part about Samson slaying all those Philistines. However, some of my experiences over the past ten or fifteen years have radically changed my perspective. Now my mind thinks different thoughts when I read this story. A couple of those thoughts are:

  • How many Israelites died during the 40-60 years of Philistine oppression, never having seen God’s deliverance through Samson?
  • Did the Israelites who were alive when the Philistine oppression began, and who soon afterward prayed prayers asking God to deliver them, have enough spiritual discernment to see the adult Samson as the answer to those longstanding requests? Or had they, years earlier, given up on God granting those requests?

Tell me, how would you feel if you were one of those Israelites who asked God to deliver your nation from the Philistines, but you died before Samson came along? On your death bed, what would your level of faith be? Believe me, there are people out there right now who have lost faith in God simply because years have now passed, even decades, and they haven’t seen Him move concerning their specific prayer requests.

So, Christian, the next time you talk with someone who is honest enough to admit that they no longer have faith in God, take the time to ask about their reason. What you’ll find is that many of these people have stories of disappointment to tell. They didn’t become faithless overnight. It only happened after years of what they felt were unanswered requests.

We should all be glad that God sends Samsons every now and then. However, we should also be spiritually mature enough to acknowledge that sometimes the deliverance never comes, at least either not in this life or in our lifetime. Such times call for the highest level of faith and trust in God. Job said, “Thou He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15), and I think he meant that. Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Why does God sometimes not send the deliverance? I don’t know. Why does He sometimes send it so late that its impact seems to get lost in all the years? I don’t know. Doesn’t He love us? Yes, He does. Will He bring good out of allowing us to remain in our state of oppression? Yes, He will. Will the Christian receive more eternal rewards for having to endure the oppression? Yes, he will. Will God’s purposes triumph over Satan’s purposes in the end? Yes, they will.

And so what is the hard truth that we need to learn? It’s this: Sometimes God either doesn’t send the Calvary at all or it rides in too late to do you any earthly good. This is something you’ll never hear from the “health-and-wealth” “prosperity” preachers of our day because they only talk about faith for deliverance, never faith for disappointment or faith for death. The reality is, though, that such faith is called for in the blank spaces that we find hidden between all the instances of deliverance in the Bible. We just have to retrain our brains to start noticing those spaces.

Advertisements
Posted in Adversity, Aging, Atheism, Belief, Bible Study, Death, Disappointment, Faith, God's Timing, Honesty, Patience, Perseverance, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Scripture, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How To Spot a Work of the Devil

Life is filled with all kinds of unpleasant situations. As Job 14:1 says, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” But how can you tell the difference between one of life’s inevitable troubles and a genuine work of the devil? How can you know when you simply tripped over a log as opposed to when one of Satan’s demons pushed you down? How can you look at one situation and say, “That’s just life,” and look at another one and say, “That’s spiritual warfare”?

I don’t have a demon detector that goes off every time Satan and his fellow fallen angels are messing with me and my family, but I have walked with the Lord long enough to have identified at least one tell-tale sign of the devil’s handiwork. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this sign. I’ve never read about it on an internet site. I’ve never even heard one preacher mention it in one sermon. I have, however, lived it on multiple occasions. And what is this tell-tale sign? When some trouble comes your way that is so stupid, so illogical, and so “shouldn’t have happened,” you are more likely than not being hit by a work of the devil.

Mind you now that I’m talking about personal matters, not world affairs. Sure, Satan is out there at this very moment working behind the scenes, orchestrating influential world leaders in expensive suits to do his bidding to accomplish world domination and ultimately bring his Antichrist onto the global stage. I understand that. But this post isn’t about any of that. This post is about you living your daily life and sometimes being brought face to face with the work of Satan’s demons against you. What does that look like? Like I said, it looks bizarre, odd, out of place, and even downright idiotic. It leaves you scratching your head and asking, “Why is this happening? There’s no reason for this. This makes no sense.”

The best Bible story on this subject is the one involving the demon-possessed man in the Gadarene cemetery. You’ll find the story in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39. Jesus and His chosen 12 step out of their boat onto the shoreline of the country of the Gadarenes, which is located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. There is a hillside there which serves as the local graveyard, and there are two demon-possessed men who live among those tombs. As soon as they see Jesus, both men (or more specifically the demons inside the men) start crying out and questioning why Jesus is there. That’s when the accounts of Mark and Luke single out one of the men as their focus of attention.

The man has a supernatural strength about him, so much so that various attempts to bind him with shackles and chains have failed when he has pulled the chains apart and broken the shackles into pieces. The man is naked from head to toe and spends his days and nights in that cemetery crying out and cutting himself with sharp stones.

Okay, put yourself in Jesus’ sandals. You get out of your boat and suddenly you find yourself face to face with this guy. The man is nude. His hair and beard are long and mangled. He hasn’t bathed in who knows when. He’s got scars and dried blood all over him where he has been cutting himself with rocks. He lives in that graveyard. And he’s screaming and hollering at you like a wild man. Get the picture?

I won’t delve any further into the story because this physical condition of the man provides me with my proof text. You tell me, is there even one thing that is even remotely logical, reasonable, normal, or understandable about this man’s condition? No, there isn’t. And yet it is all the direct result of a work of the devil (demon possession) in his life. This shows us that the devil’s work isn’t always ingenious, sly, subtle, crafty, and wickedly brilliant. Sometimes it’s just as blindingly stupid as a nut running around naked in a graveyard cutting himself with sharp rocks.

So, the next time you find yourself being afflicted by some moronic circumstance, and you honestly can’t put any reasoning or logic to why it’s happening, don’t overlook the possibility that it’s a work of the devil. I’m telling you, he has hit me and my family with this kind of stuff more than once over the years. As a matter of fact, it’s happened enough that I’m now pretty good at spotting it when I see it. Perhaps your life is so different than mine that you will never have to deal with such a thing, but if you ever do, remember that you read about it here first.

Posted in Adversity, Demons, Persecution, Personal, Satan, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering, The Devil | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Should a Christian Tithe?

Allow me to begin with a list of prominent preachers, pastors, theologians, Christian apologists, and Christian authors, ranging from the early days of the church up through today. Here goes:

  1. Justin Martyr (AD 100-AD 165): early church apologist, founder of a Christian school
  2. Irenaeus (AD 130-AD 202): early church Bishop, apologist
  3. Tertullian (AD 150-AD 225): early church apologist
  4. Origen (AD 185-AD 254): early church scholar, theologian, writer
  5. John Wycliffe (1330-1384): theologian, Bible translator, reformer, professor
  6. John Huss (1369-1415): excommunicated Catholic priest, theologian, reformer
  7. Martin Luther (1483-1546): theologian, leader of the Protestant Reformation
  8. John Wesley (1703-1791): missionary, preacher, founder of Methodism
  9. Matthew Henry (1662-1714): pastor, legendary commentator
  10. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892): pastor, often called “The Prince of Preachers”
  11. C.I. Scofield (1843-1921): pastor, theologian, author of the Scofield Reference Bible
  12. G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945): pastor, evangelist, commentator
  13. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963): author (The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.), theologian, apologist
  14. J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988): pastor, radio minister, commentator
  15. F.F. Bruce (1910-1990): professor, author
  16. William MacDonald (1917-2007): author, commentator, Christian college president
  17. Charles Ryrie (1925-2016): professor, theologian, author of the Ryrie Study Bible
  18. James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000): pastor, theologian, radio minister
  19. John MacArthur (1939-present): pastor, radio minister, commentator
  20. John Piper (1946-present): pastor, author, theologian, seminary chancellor

Impressed? You should be, and you would be if you knew the full extent of the roles these men have played in the history of Christianity. They didn’t all come from the same denomination. They didn’t all hold to exactly the same doctrinal beliefs. And they didn’t all serve Christ in the same capacity. But they did all have one thing in common. Do you know what it was? They didn’t teach tithing. (By the way, my thanks to tithing.com for compiling such a list.) 

To tithe is to give a tenth, which means that a “tithe” is a “tenth.” The average Christian in America has heard plenty of sermons on tithing, so much so that he doesn’t think he needs to ever hear another one. However, that average Christian has probably never heard just exactly what the Bible does teach on the subject.

Let’s begin by looking at Leviticus 27:30-34, a passage that describes a tithe God commanded the people of Israel to pay each year. These verses say:

‘And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.’ These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. (N.K.J.V.)

Okay, so God was to receive one-tenth of every kind of harvest and herd in Israel. Deuteronomy 12:5-7 tells us that each Israelite was to bring this tithe to the Tabernacle. Later on, the Jewish Temple was built to replace the Tabernacle, and the tithe was then to be brought there. Malachi 3:10 mentions “the storehouse,” which was a room in the Temple that was used for storing the tithes of crops and animals.

But what was this tithe used for? According to Numbers 18:21-24, it was used as provisions for the Levites, the priests who ministered in the Tabernacle/Temple. This explains why this tithe is known as “the Levite’s tithe.” In a very real way, it was God’s Old Testament way of taking care of the minister. For the record, the Levites themselves had to pay a tithe on the offerings that were brought to them. They paid this tithe by offering up a tenth of the offerings as a heave offering and then giving that offering to Israel’s High Priest. This is all explained in Numbers 18:25-32.

Of course, when the Old Testament talks about tithing, the focus is oftentimes placed on things other than money, things such as herds, grain, fruits, and possessions. Job was the richest man in the East, but Job chapter 1 describes his wealth in terms of 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and a very large household. This brings up a major problem with trying to tithe today: To completely pay a true tithe, a tenth of more than just your money would be involved.

Similar to the description of Job’s wealth, our Leviticus 27:30-34 passage describes tithing one’s flocks and herd. The Jews would line up their animals in single file and mark each tenth animal with a rod dipped in a colored substance. This is what God means by “whatever passes under the rod.” The point is, God was to get each tenth animal. And what happened if a Jew got caught trying to manipulate the lining up so that his best animal didn’t end up tenth in line? God said, “If a man tries that, then I get the animal that should have been tenth in line and the animal that was actually  placed tenth in line.”

You might also have noticed that the passage mentions the possibility of a tither redeeming (buying back) some of his tithes. What’s that all about? Well, let’s say that a Jew wanted to keep for himself something that he should otherwise use as part of his tithe. That tither could “buy back” that something from God. He did this by bringing the full value of the thing and then adding one-fifth of that value. In other words, the tither had to bring 100% of the thing’s value and then add an extra 20%.

Before leaving this passage, let me pull one last point from it. Please don’t miss the fact that the last verse says these commandments are ones which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. You see, this commandment to tithe is found in the book of  Leviticus, and it was a part of God’s law for the people of Israel. Don’t try to make it God’s command to anybody else. All of the Bible was written for us, but not all of the Bible was written to us. We Gentiles are not Jews, and we do not live under Jewish law.

Alright, we’ve now looked at one tithe the Old Testament Jews were to bring. That tithe was brought to the Tabernacle/Temple and went to the upkeep of the Levites, the priests who ministered in the Tabernacle/Temple. But now let me tell you something that most people don’t know: The Jews’ tithing didn’t stop at the paying of that one tithe. To read about a second tithe that God commanded them to bring, let’s now look at Deuteronomy 14:22-26:

“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” (N.K.J.V.)

These verses describe a second round of tithing the Jews were to pay each year. But whereas the first tithe went to the Levites, this second tithe was enjoyed by the tither himself. He and his household were to go to the Tabernacle/Temple with this tithe and eat a feast out of the tithe. That’s why this second tithe is known as “the festival tithe.”

Here again, though, we see some of the complexities involved with true tithing. The Jew was to pull this tithe from his flocks as well as his yearly harvests of grain, new wine, and oil. He was to load it all up and, with his family, make the journey to the Tabernacle/Temple. If, however, he lived too far away to allow for the safe transport of the tithe, he could sell the tithe for money, make his journey to the Tabernacle/Temple, and there buy whatever his heart desired to ensure that his family’s time of feasting from this tithe was a joyous, celebratory time.

And so each year the Jew was to pay “the Levitical tithe” and “the festival tithe.” But would you believe the Old Testament law commanded a third tithe? This third tithe was not a yearly one. It was, instead, paid at the end of every third year. We read about it in Deuteronomy 14:27-29:

“You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates.  And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” (N.K.J.V.)

At the end of every third year, the Jew was to bring a special tithe to a designated place in his home city or town. Once there, this tithe went to feed the local Levites. The Levites operated in rotating shifts at the Tabernacle/Temple, and they had homes when they weren’t on duty. Just as they were supported by the Levitical tithe when they were on duty at the Tabernacle/Temple, they were supported by this third-year tithe when they were at home, not on duty.

Also, this third-year tithe went to support the needy strangers, fatherless, and widows of the city or town. Therefore, this tithe is known as “the poor tithe.” It was different from the other two tithes in that it was only paid once every three years and wasn’t to be taken to the Tabernacle/Temple. It was, instead, to be taken to the designated place in the city or town.

Well, by now, I trust that you are beginning to see that tithing under the Old Testament law was complex. First, the tithes involved a tenth of not just money but also livestock, oil, wine, fruit, and grain. Second, the tithing got to be much more than 10% because God required at least two tithes each year and a third tithe every third year. So, you see, we grossly oversimplify a very complex system when we say, “If you make $600 a week, you should put $60 in church.” Furthermore, God pronounced a curse upon the nation of Israel if the Jews weren’t faithful regarding their tithes. This curse manifested itself by way of failed crops and empty harvests (Malachi 3:8-12). Does anybody want America to be held to that same bar of judgment today? I certainly don’t.

But now let’s look at what the New Testament has to say about giving. We find it in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. The backdrop for these verses involves the dire financial straits in which the Christians in Jerusalem found themselves at that time. The situation was so desperate that it led the apostle Paul to ask the various churches to which he ministered if they would take up a love offering for those Christians. As he writes to the church of Corinth:

Now concerning the collection for the saints (the love offering for those Jerusalem Christians), as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week (Sunday) let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. (N.K.J.V.)

What’s important to see here is that Paul doesn’t say to those Christians of Corinth, “Bring your tithe to church on Sunday and let it count towards the love offering for the Christians in Jerusalem.” Actually, the truth is, you can search high and low but you will not find any New Testament passage where Christians are commanded to tithe. The reason is easy to understand: The tithe was a part of God’s law for Israel, and Christians do not live under that law. Paul himself frequently talked about Christian giving (1 Corinthians 9:1-14, 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:8-15, 9:6-15; Philippians 4:15-20; and 1 Timothy 6:17-19), but he never used the word “tithes.” (The only possible exceptions would be a handful of references back to Old Testament tithing from the book of Hebrews, if indeed Paul was the unnamed author of Hebrews.)

And so what is the New Testament’s standard of giving? It is giving in accordance with one’s prosperity. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “…let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper…” Some people prefer the old King James rendering, which says: “…as God hath prospered him…”

We see this same standard of giving taught in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, another passage from Paul. This time he says to those Christians of Corinth:

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (N.K.J.V.)

Here again we find that Paul makes no mention of tithing. What he says is, “Every man should give as he purposes in his heart.” Let it be known, though, that Paul’s intent was to get Christians to be more generous in their giving, not less. We know this because he adds in the solemn reminder: “He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” That doesn’t sound like a man who is trying to get Christians to give less, does it?

Now, to be fair to those who teach that tithing is mandatory for the Christian, let me mention that there are a couple of Old Testament, pre-law examples of tithing. First, in Genesis chapter 14, the Bible gives us the story of how Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of a certain battle to Melchizedek, God’s priest in those pre-law days. And since that story has nothing to do with the Old Testament law, some take it as evidence that God has always wanted His people to pay a tithe and still does. Really, though, a careful study of Abraham’s life will show that God never commanded him to tithe, and he never practiced any kind of regular, systematic tithing.

Second, in Genesis chapter 28, the Bible gives us the story of how Jacob vowed that he would give a tenth of his possessions back to God if God would keep him safe and give him food and clothing as he made his way from Canaan to Padan Aram and back. Again, though, Jacob never practiced any kind of regular, systematic tithing. For that matter, there isn’t even a followup passage that says that he kept his vow and paid his promised tithe when he came back to Canaan. I figure that he did, but there is no Bible passage to confirm it.

What am I saying? I’m saying that God never commanded anybody to regularly and systematically tithe until He built that command into the body of law that He gave to the people of Israel. I’m saying that the Jews were the only people who were ever commanded to tithe.

Along these same lines, I should mention that Jesus spent His earthly life as a Jew living under Israel’s law. Therefore, it isn’t one bit surprising to find Him saying to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (N.K.J.V.)

Someone says, “Aha, right there it is. Jesus said the paying of tithes ought to be done. ” Yes, He did say that, but He said it to Jews who, like Himself, were living under the Old Testament law. Everything would change following His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

Listen Christian, Jesus doesn’t want you to live under any kind of forced legalism involving tithing. What He wants you to do is make Him Lord of every penny and possession you have. He wants you to seek His will in where to work, what to buy, what to finance, and (yes) how much to give as an offering. You don’t even have to have a fixed, set amount that you always give as an offering. Some weeks you might be able to give more than other weeks. Some months will be tougher than other months. The key is to get in tune with the Lord on this matter of giving and let Him guide you concerning every offering.

You see, when you come to a right understanding of New Testament giving, you can begin to approach your giving in an entirely different way. For example, when you get your car paid off, you won’t just immediately start looking for a new one and a new payment. Why not? It’s because God might burden you to drive that paid-off car for a while and have a season of putting more money in church. Or, when you finally get your house paid off, God might say to you, “Now I want you to really bump up your offering.”

As we all know, there are ebbs and flows to life, and if you are hopelessly tied to the idea of always giving a tenth, you will sometimes give more than God wants you to give and sometimes less than He wants you to give. I do believe that a tenth can be a good general reference point for how much you should give, but it shouldn’t be an end-all-be-all kind of deal. Don’t allow yourself to become a robot in your giving, always stoically paying your weekly or monthly tithe like you’d pay your union dues or property taxes. God wants you to become much more spiritually minded with your giving as you join Him on the great adventure that He calls the financial part of your life.

You say, “But Russell, if I based my giving on what you are describing, I would have to think about what to give and pray about it.” YES, THAT’S THE IDEA! Now you’re getting it! Never forget that Christianity is about liberty, not legalism. We’ve got far too many man-made rules in our churches today, and I’m sad to report that the rule of tithing is one of them.

Posted in Giving, Money, The Old Testament Law, tithing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should a Christian Get a Tattoo?

We are currently living in the age of the tattoo. A Harris 2015 online survey poll of 2,225 American adults found that 29% have tattoos. That was up from 21% just four years earlier. And of those who have a tattoo, 69% have two or more. I guess once you take the plunge and get one, you have no qualms about getting another one.

According to the poll, the demographics of tattooed people break down as follows: (I’ll provide a definition for each age group, but please understand that there isn’t always total agreement on when an age group begins and ends.) 

  • Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000): 47% have at least one tattoo, and 37% have at least two.
  • Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980): 36% have at least one tattoo, and 24% have at least two.
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964): 13% have at least one tattoo, and 6% have at least two.
  • Matures, famously known as “The Greatest Generation,” (born between 1927 and 1945): 10% have at least one tattoo, and 2% have at least two.

Tattoos are no longer reserved for military men, sailors, bikers, convicts, rock stars, scandalous women, and drug addicts, and people now get them for a variety of reasons. A tattoo can be a rite of passage. It can be a mark of freedom. It can be an expression of individuality. It can be a sign of rebellion. It can serve as a symbolic beginning. It can serve as a symbolic ending. Basically, whatever it is you want to say, there’s a tattoo that can say it for you.

One big change that has helped fuel the recent uptick in tattoos is the fact that more and more Christians are getting them. Here’s a list of the ten most requested “Christian” tattoos. (I got these from a website called tattoodo.com.):

  1. The Cross
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. Angels
  4. A Dove
  5. The Sacred heart
  6. The Virgin Mary
  7. The Rosary
  8. Praying Hands
  9. Adam & Eve
  10. The Devil

I was surprised to find that no Bible verse made that list. One that I’ve seen a lot is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (N.K.J.V.) Proverbs 31:25a is another one that seems to be popular among women: “She is clothed with strength and dignity” (N.I.V.) But these are just two examples of a sizable array of options. The fact is, the Bible is filled with verses that can be turned into tattoos.

One verse that nobody uses is Leviticus 19:28, where God instructs Moses to say to the people of Israel:

“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord” (N.K.J.V.).

Obviously, that verse seems pretty definitive that God doesn’t like tattoos. It’s no wonder that for centuries it played a huge part in keeping Christians from getting tattoos. But does the verse really outlaw today’s tattoos? Well, let’s talk about that.

First, the verse begins with a prohibition against making cuttings in your flesh for the dead. Such cuttings, along with shaving the head and shaving the edges of one’s beard, are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as being expressions of mourning among the heathen people (Leviticus 19:27; 21:1-5; Deuteronomy 14:1; 1 Kings 18:25-28; Jeremiah 16:6). God didn’t mind for the people of Israel to mourn their dead. Mourning was proper and right. What He minded was them mimicking how the heathen mourned. Any ritual that involved the disfiguring of the body was viewed as an affront to God, the Creator of the human body.

Second, still on the subject of heathen practices that defiled the human body, God lists tattooing as another one and, as such, forbids it. As for just how common tattooing was in ancient times, Charles R. Erdman has provided us with some help. He served as Professor of Practical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary for over 30 years. In his commentary on the book of Leviticus, he writes:

The custom of tattooing was forbidden, while among the nations of antiquity it was common; a slave carried the initials of his master, a soldier those of his general, the worshiper bore the image of his god.”

It should be noted, however, that the tattoos of the Old Testament weren’t the same kind that we know today. Since the word “tattoo” didn’t enter the English language until the late 1700s, the 1611 King James translation didn’t use it. The King James translation of Leviticus 19:28 reads:

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

The Hebrew word that is translated as “print” (or “tattoo” in later translations) is natan. It’s a common verb that is used well over 1,000 times in the Old Testament. It’s primary meaning is “to deliver over” or “give over into the possession of another.”

The Hebrew word that is translated as “marks” is an uncommon one. Actually, this is the only time it is used in the entire Old Testament. It’s the word qaaqa, and it means “an incision” or “a gash.”

Putting both definitions together, we learn that the “tattooing” being described is one person delivering over an incision or a gash to another person. This seems to indicate that the Old Testament tattoos were engravings or inscriptions made directly into the skin as opposed to the ink-style tattoos of today. This interpretation is backed up by the fact that the first part of the verse speaks of making cuttings in the flesh.

So, now we know the background and interpretation of Leviticus 19:28. But the question we have before us goes like this: If we aren’t Jews living under the Old Testament law, and if our motives for getting tattoos having nothing to do with mourning for the dead, and if the text’s forbidden tattoos aren’t even the same kind we have today, does Leviticus 19:28 even apply to us at all? Good question.

Even if we assume that it does, the plain truth is that Christians have co-opted plenty of other heathen/pagan practices and “baptized” them into Christianity. Most of this “baptizing” can be attributed to the Roman emperor Constantine’s professed conversion to Christianity. When he went Christian and set a course to take his empire down the same path, he minimized the effect the change would have upon his pagan citizens by keeping pagan celebrations and rituals in place but putting a Christian spin on each one. This is how a pagan Winter Solstice celebration became our Christmas and how a pagan Spring celebration became our Easter. While it’s true that it took decades for these changes to gain a firm foothold, the job eventually got done.

Entire books have been written about how Constantine and his Bishops blended paganism and authentic Christianity to create the Catholic church and all its rituals, but I won’t cover all that territory here. All I’m trying to do right now is explain that if Christians do take the heathen practice of tattooing — any version of it — and “baptize” it for use in Christian service, it certainly won’t be the first time something like that has happened. (Did you know that even the wedding band has its roots in paganism rather than Christianity?) Still, though, none of this explicitly answers the question of the rightness or wrongness of Christians getting tattoos.

Christians who do not believe that a Christian should get a tattoo cite multiple passages to support their view. Here are five of the more commonly used ones: (all references from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
  2. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18: And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”
  3. Ephesians 5:11: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.
  4. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22: Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
  5. Romans 12:1-2: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Okay, that covers those passages, but there are other Christians who say, “Those passages don’t truly apply to the question because tattoos come under the heading of Christian liberty.” While I understand the attempt to use the Bible to justify a tattoo, let me be crystal clear about something: The subject of Christian liberty is very tricky. It’s not nearly as straightforward as it usually gets made out to be. Take Paul for example. He was the world’s leading authority on Christian liberty, and he taught that the Christian must be careful not to let Christian liberty become a stumbling block for others who are looking to that Christian as a role model.

In Paul’s day, the big debate among Christians was whether or not it was acceptable to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Paul’s take was that it wasn’t a sin as long as the Christian could do the eating with a clear conscience, understanding that a lifeless idol didn’t have the ability to spiritually corrupt meat. But Paul didn’t stop there. He then went on to say that each Christian should be careful in eating such meat because the act might cause a fellow Christian (one who wasn’t spiritually mature enough yet to eat the meat without feeling guilty) to eat in sin. Consider Paul’s explanation as it is given in 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 of The New Living Translation:

It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful with this freedom of yours. Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble. You see, this is what can happen: Weak Christians who think it is wrong to eat this food will see you eating in the temple of the idol. You know there’s nothing wrong with it, but they will be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been dedicated to the idol. So because of your superior knowledge, a weak Christian, for whom Christ died, will be destroyed. And you are sinning against Christ when you sin against other Christians by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong. If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live — for I don’t want to make another Christian stumble.

You see, Christian, even if we accept the idea that Leviticus 19:28 and those five other passages I listed don’t forbid you from getting a tattoo — and that is a SIZABLE acceptance  — we’re still left with the undeniable fact that most people in this world (including many Christians) feel that getting a tattoo is wrong. Think about it, if that Harris poll concluded that 29% of adults have tattoos, that means that 71% don’t. And a sizable percentage of that 71% don’t have one because they believe that getting one is a sin.

So, if you are still determined to get a tattoo, here’s where you stand:

A: You are going to apply a liberal take to Leviticus 19:28 and other verses just to reach a place where tattoos can come under Christian liberty.

B: You are going to mark your body in a way that won’t sit well with the majority of the population if they see the mark. Naturally, that will hurt your Christian testimony even if you don’t think it should. And how effective a witness can your tattoo of John 3:16 be if more than half the people who see it are immediately turned off by it?

C. You are going to open yourself up to the possibility of causing fellow Christians to get tattoos their consciences aren’t ready for yet. That, in turn, will create sin not only in their lives but in yours because they have gone against their consciences and you have caused them to stumble.

Now you tell me, does your individuality really mean that much to you? Does it compel you to express it by way of a tattoo? If you answer both these questions with a yes, then here’s another one for you: Is the attitude you’ll take into that tattoo parlor one that is pleasing to God? Remember that the Bible sings the praises of modesty over showiness, humility over bravado, and holiness over sex appeal.

By the way, here are a few other results from that Harris poll. These are more practical than scriptural, but they too are things you need to consider before getting a tattoo:

  • Of those polled who had tattoos, many indicated that they associated their tattoos with certain feelings. 33% said their tattoo made them feel more sexy (that’s an unworthy motivation for a Christian). 32% said it made them feel more attractive. 27% said it made them feel more rebellious (another unworthy motivation). 20% said it made them feel more spiritual. 13% said it made them feel more intelligent. Another 13% said it made them feel more respected (whatever happened to the greatest among you shall become a lowly servant?).
  • Interestingly, though, of those polled who didn’t have tattoos, 45% said they believe those with tattoos are more rebellious. 47% viewed them as being less attractive. 44% viewed them as being less sexy. 34% viewed them as being less respectable. 29% viewed them as being less intelligent. 25% viewed them as being less spiritual.
  • Finally, 23% of those who had a tattoo admitted regretting getting it. That was up from 14% in a similar poll from 2012. The regrets cited were: too young when the person got the tattoo; the person’s personality or lifestyle changed so that the tattoo no longer characterized them; the tattoo was the name of someone the person was no longer with; the tattoo was poorly done.

Now, as I begin to close, let me say that I have friends and family members who have tattoos. I’ve also had church members who’ve had them. And, trust me, not one of these people is going to die and go to hell for having a tattoo. Also, I’ve never broken fellowship with anyone over this issue or asked them to leave church. I’ve got enough problems in my life without me trying to be the tattoo police.

Furthermore, I realize that I won’t win any popularity contests with this post, especially with all the readers who already have tattoos. The truth is, though, that I genuinely felt burdened of the Lord to address this issue. So that’s what I’ve done. How God uses what I’ve written is up to Him. My prayer is that my words will be read in the spirit in which they’ve been written, and they will help us all reach a correct understanding of whether or not a Christian should get a tattoo. Needless to say, we’ll never get any further down the road of that understanding if we don’t put the issue under the microscope and talk about it.

Posted in Christian Liberty, Current Events, Dress and Appearance, Evangelism, Individuality, Personal Holiness, Sanctification, Tattoos, The Old Testament Law, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Becoming Childlike

A man was driving down a treacherous mountain road. Suddenly a deer bolted out in front of him, causing him to instinctively jerk the steering wheel to his left. The next thing he knew he was headed off a steep cliff. At the last possible second he bailed out of his truck and barrel rolled off the cliff. As he headed over the edge, he managed to grab hold of a root that was half sticking out of the side of the mountain. So, there he was, hanging for dear life by that root, watching his truck plunge to a fiery crash deep down below in the gorge.

As the man hung there, he cried out for help, hoping against hope that someone would hear him and come to his rescue. Suddenly he heard a voice saying, “I’m here. I’ll help you. This is God. What I want you to do is turn loose of that root. My hands are underneath you, and I’ll catch you. You just have to trust Me.” After thinking about that for a few seconds, the man finally replied, “Thanks Lord, but I was wondering, is anybody else up there?”

We do have trouble trusting God completely, don’t we? This is one of the reasons why Jesus says in Mark 10:15, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will be no means enter it.” Obviously, in the light of scores of other passages, Jesus didn’t mean that if you don’t get saved when you are a child you will miss your chance. (For the record, the New Testament is filled with examples of adults getting saved.) But what He did mean is that in order for you to experience the salvation offered in Him, you must become childlike.

Now, please note that I didn’t say you must become childish. There’s a big difference between being childlike and being childish. So what does it mean to become childlike? Here’s the answer:

  • A little child is trusting. Small children implicitly trust others to take care of them.
  • A little child is dependent. Small children have no qualms depending on others for help.
  • A little child is simplistic. Small children haven’t lived long enough to learn all the devious, conniving ways of the world.
  • A little child is quick to accept a gift. Adults sometimes have problems accepting gifts because of pride, ego, or whatever, but small children never do. This is important because Ephesians 2:8 describes salvation as a gift. All you can do with a gift is receive it or reject it. The second you try to do something to earn it, it becomes pay.

You see, all these characteristics come into play when it comes to being childlike. That’s why Jesus taught that it was a requirement for salvation. For that matter, even after you place saving belief in Him and become a Christian, you still need to remain childlike in regards to trusting Him and depending upon Him in simplicity to meet your needs. The problem we adults have is that, like that fellow hanging from the side of that mountain, we oftentimes have real trouble with the concept of “letting go and letting God.” And so I’ll just close this short post by asking you, “How are you doing right now when it comes to being childlike in regards to your relationship to Christ?”

Posted in Belief, Children, Doubt, Faith, Needs, Salvation, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: The Unkept Hippie

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #7)

Johnny Paycheck was a country music star who had his biggest success in the 1970s. He was most famous for his hit Take This Job & Shove It, which went to #1 on the country charts in 1977. That song was such a commercial success that in 1981 it inspired a major Hollywood movie by the same name.

Paycheck will always be associated with that song, but he did have lesser hits, some of which were I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised), Me And the I.R.S., and D.O.A. (Drunk On Arrival). Can you spot a theme in all of these titles? Yes, Paycheck was a major player in the “outlaw country” movement of the 1970s. He was right up there with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. I remember all this because my dad and mom, uncle and aunt, and a whole lot of other people I knew listened to country music back then.

In 1979, Paycheck released the single The Outlaw’s Prayer. The first time I heard it was on a Country Music top 40 countdown when I was 12 or 13. The song told the story (perhaps autobiographical but more likely fiction) of a Sunday morning in Fort Worth, Texas, after Paycheck and his band had played a Saturday night show there. As the song’s story went, Paycheck had some time to kill that Sunday morning before catching a flight that afternoon. So he went for a walk around town and soon found himself standing right in front of a large downtown church. He could hear the singing and decided to step inside and enjoy the service. But he hardly got past the door before a young man walked over to him and said, “Excuse me, Sir, but I can’t let you in with that big black hat, those jeans, that beard, and that long hair.”

After leaving the church, Paycheck got down on his knees on the curb outside the church and prayed what the song calls “The Outlaw’s Prayer.” The “prayer” touches upon many of the common themes that “outlaw” types typically hold against churches: one stained glass window from the church could feed a poor wino’s family for years, some of the ladies in the choir had been drinking beer and dancing at Paycheck’s show the night before, John the Baptist wouldn’t be welcomed into such a church, people should be judged by what’s in their heart, etc. The closing words of the prayer/song are as follows:

Oh, by the way, Lord, right before they kicked me out, didn’t I see a picture of you with sandals and a beard? Believe you had long hair too. Well, this is Paycheck signing off. I’ll be seein’ you Lord, I hope.

Ah, there it is, Jesus the unkept hippie! He had long hair. He had a beard. He wore sandals. And since He didn’t worry about His own appearance, He didn’t care about anyone else’s either. All He was interested in was the heart.

Okay, let’s start with the sandals. Assuming that Jesus wore them, why did He do it? Well, surely it was simply because that was what EVERYBODY in that culture wore. I really don’t think that Jesus meant for sandals to be viewed as more spiritual than other shoes. If He had preached the Sermon on the Mount at an NBA basketball game, I figure He would worn sneakers.

And what about Jesus’ beard? Oh, there’s no doubt that He had one. The gospels don’t say anything about it, but Isaiah 50:6 is a Messianic verse that speaks of the Messiah (Jesus) having His beard plucked out. So, yes, Jesus had a beard. Most Jewish men of that day did. But that doesn’t mean that a beard is a mark of deeper spirituality.

Now let’s get to the hair. I have to assume that all those Renaissance artists who depicted Jesus in painting after painting had never read 1 Corinthians 11:14, where Paul asks the question, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” Frankly, that verse can be spun only so many ways. I’ll concede that we might debate just exactly what length constitutes “long” hair. For example, long hair in the Marines Corps is different than long hair in other settings. But let’s get real. It isn’t all that hard to discern whether or not a male’s hair is long enough to bring dishonor to him. Furthermore, if a man really wants to get it right he should err on the side of shorter rather than longer. This is not a hard concept.

But what about this business of God looking upon a person’s heart as opposed to the person’s appearance? Well, there’s no doubting the scriptural validity of that principle. Remember that God said to the prophet Samuel as Samuel was looking for Israel’s next king, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). What I resent, though, is the implication that a right heart has such a difficult time producing acceptable attire, a neat beard, and a haircut worthy of a Christian. Does the old saying, “Come to Jesus and He’ll clean you up” apply only to thoughts, words, and deeds? Isn’t there some room in there for personal hygiene, appearance, and clothes?

Consider a couple of passages from the New Testament:

  • I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2, N.K.J.V.).   As I once heard Charles Stanley preach, presenting your body refers to what you do with your body, what you put in your body, and what you put on your body.
  • And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17, N.K.J.V.)   Surely those words “whatever” and “all” include the way you dress, the way you wear your hair, etc.

You see, before you start cultivating the “unkept hippie” look in honor of Jesus and tolerating everything in His name because your Jesus is so cool, laid back, and accepting, you’d do well to study the Bible. It just could be that those pictures you saw hanging on the walls of your local church were wrong. And even if they were right, you might still be reading far too much into Jesus’ appearance and clothing. What I mean is, just because He looked a certain way doesn’t mean that He thought a certain way. His looks could have been nothing more than the product of the culture in which He lived.

Johnny Paycheck’s career was seriously derailed in 1989 when, after several years of losing appeals, he was sentenced to a medium-security prison on the charge of aggravated assault. The charge stemmed from a 1985 bar fight in which Paycheck had shot a man, wounding the man’s ear. Paycheck ended up serving two years of a nine-year sentence before the rest of the sentence was commuted by Ohio governor Richard F. Celeste. Just prior to the beginning of his prison term, Paycheck became a born-again Christian and quit alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.

If Paycheck’s salvation was genuine — and I have no reason to believe it wasn’t — his soul went straight to heaven at the moment of his death on February, 19, 2003, at the age of 64. Paycheck may have been a rebel in life, but there are no rebels in heaven. So, if he’s there, he’s not rebelling any more.

If he could speak to us today, I wonder how he would rate The Outlaw’s Prayer. Would he stand by it? Would he change it up some? Would he discard it altogether? I don’t know, but what I do know is that thinking of Jesus as an unkept hippie, complete with a hippie’s lax attitudes and iffy standards, does a real disservice to the infinitely holy King of King and Lord of Lords.

There’s no doubt that some Christians really are too uptight and persnickety in their efforts to please Jesus. Unfortunately, these types tend to become the gatekeepers of the local church. On the other hand, though, there’s also no doubt that other Christians are far too laid back and hip when it comes to serving Jesus. Somewhere in it all there is a balance that we should strike, a balance of which the Lord approves. And all I can say is, here’s hoping that each of us find it.

Posted in Church Attendance, Dress and Appearance, Personal Holiness, Rebellion, Salvation, Sanctification | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: The Conservative Icon

“The Jesus You Know” series (post #6)

Ed Dobson was about as conservative as conservative gets. In 1979, when Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority (a Religious Right conservative movement that helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency in a landslide), Dobson was one of Falwell’s top lieutenants. In the years prior to and after 1979, Dobson served in a wide variety of roles for Falwell. He was a teacher and administrator at Falwell’s Liberty University, an associate pastor at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, a founding member of the board of Moral Majority, the editor of Falwell’s Fundamentalist Journal, and one of the ghost-writers of Falwell’s book, The Fundamentalist Phenomenon. 

By the mid 1980s, however, Dobson had begun to grow disillusioned with the Religious Right’s brand of Christian conservatism, particularly the basic assumption that cultural problems could be fixed by means of politics. In 1987, he left politics altogether and became the senior pastor of the non-denominational Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There he led the church to reach out in Christian love to the area’s homosexual community and provide care for Aids patients. He still believed the Bible’s teaching that homosexuality was a sin, but he was burdened to offer homosexuals an experience with Christians that was based upon love and dialogue rather than hate and name-calling. Ironically, years later in 2013, his own son Daniel would come out as gay.

In 1999, Dobson co-authored a book, Blinded By Might, with Cal Thomas, another prominent former member of the Moral Majority. Even though the book was quite critical of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, Dobson eased up a bit after Falwell’s death in 2007, saying in an interview for Christianity Today magazine, “I was an outspoken critic of Jerry Falwell and others. Recently, I’ve changed my mind. I think he was doing what he felt God was leading him to do, and I was doing what I felt God was leading me to do. The ultimate judgment is up to God, not me or Jerry.”

In 2000, at age of 50, Dobson was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and told he had 2-5 years to live. Following the diagnosis, he sat down and made a list of everyone he had ever offended. Then he began working through the list and asking forgiveness from each person. He resigned as the pastor of Calvary Church in 2005, but continued to defy expectations for how long he had to live. In 2008, he accepted the unpaid, voluntary role of the vice-president for spiritual formation at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It was along about that same time that he devoted himself to a full year of trying to eat what Jesus ate, pray as Jesus prayed, observe the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish holy days, and basically just live as Jesus had lived. From that experience came a book, The Year of Living Like Jesus. But Dobson’s time at Cornerstone wasn’t without controversy. In late December of 2008 and early January of 2009, he came under fire for admitting in multiple media outlets, including a television interview on Good Morning America, that he had voted for Barack Obama in the recent presidential election and had drunk alcohol during his year of living like Jesus. Those two admissions were downright shocking to conservative Christians.

In a written response to his critics, Dobson explained that his vote for Barack Obama was based upon his pro-life belief, not in spite of it. He wrote: “I am pro-life before birth and pro-life after birth…For me, being pro-life includes not only the protection of the unborn but also how we treat people who are already born.” He also noted, though: “…I have little faith in politicians of either party. The real work of reducing abortions and extending love and compassion to the poor and oppressed should be done by those who are devoted followers of Jesus.”

As for Dobson’s defense of his consumption of alcohol, he said, “Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Obviously, he was neither! But he did eat food, and he did drink wine. He did frequent parties with tax collectors and sinners. So part of my journey was to try and emulate Jesus in this way.”

Ed Dobson died on December 26, 2015, just a few days shy of his 66th birthday. But the right-wing brand of Christian conservatism that he led and left in the 1980s is still very much alive and well. The problem is that now it’s so in bed with American nationalism, capitalism, consumerism, and the Republican political party that it’s oftentimes hard to draw lines of distinction at all.

Lest you think that I am a liberal infidel for making such a statement, you might want to read my blog posts on the social issues of our day. By doing this you’ll find that I’m pro-life, anti-abortion, and anti-homosexuality. I’m even a registered Republican who usually votes Republican, if you want to know the truth.

At my core, though, I’m a devout, discerning Christian, and that fact compels me to say that the Jesus that many conservatives are now presenting is a distorted savior. He’s disturbingly American, disturbingly white, disturbingly enamored with wealth, disturbingly unconcerned with the plight of the poor and the sick, disturbingly at ease with win-at-all-costs politics, disturbingly hypocritical when it comes to sexual sin, disturbingly paranoid about losing His place at the head of the table, disturbingly obsessed with guns and military might, and disturbingly unconcerned with the evangelization of the entire world.

Some recent news stories caught my eye as being perfect examples of today’s brand of Christian conservatism. Each of these involved Russell Moore. Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which is the denominational policy-arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. During America’s recent presidential election, Moore publicly criticized not only Donald Trump as a candidate but Christian leaders who were lining up to support Trump. Some of those leaders were nationally known pastors of Southern Baptist Convention churches.

In May of 2015, Moore, who was definitely not a Hillary Clinton supporter either, wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times in which he asked the question “Have evangelicals who support Trump lost their values?” In the piece, Moore provided his answer by pointing out Trump’s two divorces and “Bronze Age warlord” attitude toward women. Recalling the Christian outrage over Bill Clinton’s sexual sins, Moore rebuked the hypocrisy of Christians for giving Trump a free pass in the same general area. He also commented on Trump’s racial prejudices, his past support of abortion, his casinos, and the damage his declared bankruptcies had done to the local workers and the local economies.

Later on, in May of 2016, Moore weighed in on a meeting that a group of notable evangelicals (including some Southern Baptists) had held with Trump at Trump Tower. Moore tweeted: “dietary restriction: I’m allergic to Kool Aid.” The obvious implication was, the evangelical leaders were lining up to drink Trump’s poisonous Kool Aid, the way Jim Jones’ followers had once lined up to drink his. As you might guess, that incendiary tweet got Moore into even more hot water with his denomination. Of course, Trump himself had tweeted earlier that same month: “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!” But I never heard about anyone rebuking Trump for that little blast.

Really, though, those who had been following Moore’s ministerial career could have seen his take on Trump coming. Previously, Moore had vigorously opposed public displays of the Confederate flag, worked toward racial reconciliation between blacks and whites, criticized evangelicals for getting so heavily involved in political affairs, called into question the past actions of the Religious Right, and praised the idea of a “prophetic minority” as opposed to a “moral majority.” In other words, he had been running counter to the Religious Right establishment for a while. That had made him very popular with the black pastors and the younger pastors of the S.B.C.

Unfortunately for him, though, he would find out what it means to cross a certain breed of Christian conservatives, especially during an election cycle in which 80% of white evangelicals would vote for Donald Trump. Following Trump’s election, over 100 S.B.C. churches threatened to cut off their donations to the Cooperative Program, the S.B.C.’s primary funding organ. The reason wasn’t hard to figure out: They had major problems with Moore’s views, views they believed stood in direct opposition to their’s.

Most prominent among those churches was Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Texas megachurch pastored by Jack Graham. Graham is a well respected former president of the S.B.C. who sat on Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory council during the campaign. In February of 2017, following Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, Graham met with Moore, after which Graham announced that his church would temporarily escrow over one million dollars in Cooperative Program funding as the church took some time to internally evaluate how best to delegate its money. The church made no mention of Moore in its announcement, but it wasn’t hard for cynics to interpret the monetary withholding as nothing short of a strong-arm tactic to either get Moore fired or at least censured.

Dwight McKissic — the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and the S.B.C.’s most outspoken black pastor — certainly saw it as such. On his blog, McKissic wrote: “If Russell Moore cannot give a candid evaluation of Donald Trump without being publicly humiliated and without white churches withholding and threatening to withhold funds…I pity the SBC officeholder who would dare whisper a word of disagreement on a Trump statement or action.”

And so how did all of this end? Well, Russell Moore and Jack Graham agreed to what amounted to a peace treaty. In March of 2017, Moore, along with the E.R.C.L. Executive Committee, released an extended statement that focused upon “seeking unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Shortly afterward, Graham tweeted: “This is a gracious and unifying statement from Dr. Moore.” Then, in April, 2017, after two months of withholding their Cooperative Program funding, Prestonwood Baptist Church resumed the funding.

Now, as I head toward the finish line of this post, let me say that I don’t know either Russell Moore or Jack Graham personally. I have read some of Moore’s writings, and I’ve listened to Graham’s television sermons on several occasions, but that’s the extent of my relationship to the men. I certainly don’t know enough about either one to defend him or lambaste him. I will say that I have no doubts that each man is a genuine Christian and that each has legitimately been called into the ministry. Even more than that, I’m sure that God has used both men greatly.

With that said, though, I take the recent dust-up between the two as an example of how closely aligned Christian conservatives and the Religious Right have become to the Republican party. It seems to me that we’ve now reached a point where to offer an honest criticism of a Republican candidate is to draw the ire and wrath of many a “good Christian,” especially many a “good Baptist.” And since I’m currently serving as the pastor of Oak Grove Baptist, which is an S.B.C. church, well, you can understand my interest in such matters.

For the record, I voted for Donald Trump. I did so simply because in the end it had to be either him or Hillary Clinton, and I considered him to be the lesser of two evils. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t able to hear and appreciate the truth in Russell Moore’s criticisms of him. Like Moore, I was shocked when I kept reading the reports of how so many big-name evangelicals were meeting with Trump, praying with him, advising him, etc. I remember watching a particular You Tube video that showed Trump being prayed over by some major players in the world of ministry. As I watched that video, I kept thinking, “Are you kidding me?” You see, all Russell Moore did was go public with thoughts similar to the ones that I was having myself.

And that brings me back to Ed Dobson. He’s in heaven now, but I’d love to pick his brain on Trump’s election, Moore getting his hand slapped by certain S.B.C. leaders, and America’s religious landscape in general. I don’t think Dobson would be surprised by any of it because he saw the handwriting on the wall over 30 years ago as to where the Moral Majority, the Religious Right, and conservative Christianity were headed. Unlike Jerry Falwell and others, he just couldn’t make that direction mesh with the Jesus he read about in the Bible. So he broke rank and charted a new course for himself, one that he felt would allow him to not only draw closer to his Savior but better serve Him.

Falwell is heaven too these days, and I smile at the thought of him and Dobson enjoying eternity together. Moore and Graham will be there too one day, as will every other Christian. I guess that’s when we will all at last have this “Jesus thing” down pat. Until then, though, I hope you will join me, Christian, in admitting that trying to live for Jesus in this fallen world can get tricky sometimes. And if you can at least admit that, there’s hope for you when it comes to walking the fine line between serving Jesus and settling for the Americanized, politicized, whitened, Republicanized, conservative, iconic version of Him.

Posted in Current Events, Discipleship, God's Work, Ministry, Personal, Politics, Preaching, Racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment