Thursday, September 21, 2017

Why Wasn't Nabeel Qureshi Healed? (In Response to Dr. Michael Brown's Article)

Nabeel Qureshi, best-selling author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, died of stomach cancer this past Saturday at the age of 34. I never met Nabeel, but I followed his ministry and believed him to be a dear brother in the Lord. Nabeel grew up a devout Ahmadi Muslim. His college roommate, David Wood, challenged his beliefs in the Quran, Muhammad, and Allah, and helped lead him to saving faith in the one true God, Jesus Christ (1 John 5:20).

Nabeel spent the last several years as a Christian apologist, and I've enjoyed listening to him and Wood. I find their testimonies astonishing, full of the grace of God. Both Wood's and Nabeel's stories are amazing in their own right, setting aside the fact that these two men were good friends. Not only college roommates, Wood baptised Nabeel upon his confession of faith.

In August a year ago, Nabeel informed viewers and readers that he had stomach cancer and needed to step away from pursuing his doctorate and the work he was doing with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Over the course of his treatment, he provided regular vlog updates through his YouTube channel. I often watched these updates and prayed with him as he led his audience in prayer at the end.

Nabeel prayed for a miracle. He prayed to be healed. And guess what? God healed him! He delivered Nabeel into a healing far greater than he could have asked or imagined. Sickness and death will never touch Nabeel again. This man who once worshiped a false god had turned from idolatry to worship the one true and living God! That itself was miraculous. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). Nabeel is alive forever with Him in glory. Praise be to the Lord!

Yesterday, several websites, including that Serial of Saint Stalking Sneaky Squid Spirit Silliness known as Charisma Magazine, published an article by Dr. Michael Brown entitled Why Do Some Believers Like Nabeel Qureshi Die of Cancer? Before considering Dr. Brown's answer, Scripture tells us plainly why people die of cancer -- it's because of sin. Because of Nabeel's sin? Sure. And because of your sin and because of my sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Your body will suffer from disease, decay, and death. We live in a fallen world subjected to futility by God who cursed creation because of mankind's sinful rebellion against Him (Genesis 3:17, Romans 8:20). Even people who have faith in Jesus get sick. Sometimes sickness is a judgment on a person because of unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 11:29-30, James 5:16), sometimes it's just the natural course in a fallen world, and sometimes it's God's will for a person to get sick.

Paul got sick while he was traveling through Galatia, so he stopped to preach the gospel, people got saved, and God was glorified (Galatians 4:13-14). A man was born blind not because he or his parents sinned, "but that the works of God might be displayed in him," and then Jesus healed him (John 9:3). God put His own Son to death, for our sake and for His glory (Acts 4:28, Romans 8:32).

If you live long enough to die of a ripe old age, it will not be easy. You will feel death coming on you long before it happens. You might even find yourself wishing to die. We still inhabit sinful flesh in a fallen world, and we will feel the effects of the curse as long as we live in these broken bodies. But we have hope knowing that followers of Christ have been promised a kingdom where Jesus will wipe away every tear, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain ever again, for the former things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Only Christians will receive this kingdom and are even now His kingdom people -- those who have repented of their sin, their record of debt has been nailed to the cross and paid for by the blood of Jesus, they've been justified before God by His free grace as a gift, and their dead spirits have been raised to new life in Christ. We have peace with God that surpasses human understanding, for the sacrifice of Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God burning against all the unrighteousness of man.

Those who are in Christ Jesus will never have to experience the wages of sin again after their body has died (or, Lord willing, upon Christ's return). If you know Jesus and He knows you, this life is the only hell you will ever know. Sickness by comparison is nothing. You might be sick for a few years, but you have all eternity to experience an imperishable, glorified body, in which sickness and death and even sorrow and grief will be no more! (Philippians 3:21)

However, if you do not know Jesus, this life is the only heaven you will ever know. When you die, death and suffering will not end. You will suffer for your sins forever. You would take cancer for all eternity over eternity in hell. So repent, and ask Christ to heal you of the disease in your body -- the disease called sin, the most deadly sickness a person has. If you ask Him, He will heal you. He won't make your life easier, but He will make your eternity glorious.

Isaiah 53:5 says, "But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed." By Christ's shed blood on the cross your sick spirit has been healed and made brand new. Here's Romans 6:23 again, but this time the whole verse: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

But that's not the way Dr. Brown approached the question of why Nabeel died. As an apologist for charismaticism, believing that miraculous healings are regular and ongoing occurrences, Dr. Brown felt it necessary to have to respond to why people like Nabeel don't get healed of their cancer, and his answer wasn't helpful: "As for our brother Nabeel (or, another loved one you lost to sickness), God alone can tell us why he (or that loved one) was not healed."

Here's the question Dr. Brown attempted to answer, presented a different way: If Nabeel and thousands of others were praying for Nabeel's stomach cancer to be healed, why didn't it work? Jesus said, "Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do," a verse that Dr. Brown referenced in his article. So why did Nabeel still die?

Jesus did heal Nabeel! He is healed forever in glory! Sadly, most charismatics are not satisfied with this answer. They insist that God does mean for His children to be healed of their physical diseases right here in this life. Said Dr. Brown:
"What was my conclusion after these years of intensive study and prayer? I concluded that healing was God's ideal will for His obedient children, and that rather than praying, 'Lord, if it be Your will to heal,' we should pray with the expectation that it was His will, sometimes even rebuking the sickness at its root."
Respectfully, I would suggest he study some more. Jesus Himself prayed, "Lord, not my will, but your will" (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42). He taught us to pray that way (Matthew 6:10). James rebuked believers for not saying, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that" (James 4:15), and said, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:3).

The Bible gives absolutely no promise whatsoever that you will be healed of your disease in this lifetime. None. It is utterly foolish to say we should not pray, "Lord, if it be Your will to heal." We are not magicians that we can utter some magic words and magically heal people of their diseases, no matter what any name-it-and-claim-it teacher will tell you.

Jesus and His apostles performed miracles to affirm they were from God, and the words that they said were God's words (Acts 2:22). I would present to you that when Jesus said, "Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do," He didn't mean what Dr. Brown thinks He meant. Did the people Jesus healed still get sick and die? Eventually, yes. You are not promised healing in this life. You are promised healing in the next life, if you believe in Jesus.

Now, does that mean we shouldn't pray for healing? No, I pray for healing all the time. I cast all my cares on Him for He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). John prayed for Gaius, "Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul" (3 John 1:2). I don't want to be sick. I pray for health in my body. My kids and I pray for health in our family and in our church. I've entered into the homes of my church members, laid hands on them, anointed them with oil, and prayed for them to be healed. I do believe God still heals. Read that: God heals. We don't heal anyone.

In John 5, we read about a man by the pool of Bethesda. There were actually many invalids there. They believed the pool had healing powers. But Jesus approached this one man in particular, and He said, "Do you want to be healed?" The man said, "Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the waters are stirred up. And when I try to get in the pool, someone goes in front of me." Jesus said, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." And the man was healed.

The man had no idea who Jesus was, and again, there were dozens of people by the pool. Jesus healed just this one man, and his faith had nothing to do with the success of this miracle! It is God who heals, and He does it His way in His timing for His reasons. Often when Jesus healed, people believed in Him for the wrong reason (John 2:23-25). God save me if I think the reason God didn't answer my prayer my way was because I said, "Lord, if it be Your will to heal."

I have a sciatic nerve that likes to act up every once in a while, and there's simply no telling when it's going to happen. I can still remember the first day I felt it. I woke up one morning in immense pain and never had that pain before in my life. I walked around limping for 3 weeks, and probably should have used a cane. Whenever my nerve acts up, the pain is so debilitating, I can neither walk nor sit. I can't drive anywhere. I can only stand or lie down. I pray for God to take it away. Sometimes He does quickly and sometimes He doesn't.

Do you know what that pain does for my faith? It makes me pray longer prayers and long for heaven even more. It makes me want to get out of here! I don't want to be on this earth anymore. I don't want this body. I want to be with my Lord forever in glory. Likewise, whenever someone I love gets sick or dies, it makes me long for Christ to put an end to all of this. I have never longed for His deliverance as much as when I experience pain or hurt in my body.

Heaven was hardly mentioned in Dr. Brown's article. A call to repentance wasn't given at all. When Jesus was told about some Galileans who were murdered while they sacrificed in the temple, His response was "Repent, or you will likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). Exactly what hope was Dr. Brown expecting to give his readers when his message was basically, "Most people won't be physically healed, and hardly anyone is ever healed of something major like stomach cancer, even by modern medicine, but pray as though they will be healed anyway, regardless of God's will"?

Now, there was one paragraph I particularly appreciated. He said:
"You might say, 'Obviously, people who die of sickness don't have enough faith.' But that would also mean that the many people who prayed for Nabeel, including some used powerfully in healing, lacked faith, too. And if you have so much faith, why didn't you successfully pray for his healing?"
Yeah, looking at you, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Ken and Gloria Copeland, Todd White, and Bethel Church! Where was all the naming it and claiming it for Nabeel?

Dear Christian, you may not have been healed of your diseases, but as a follower of Jesus, you have been healed of your sin. A day will come when your body will reflect the healing that has happened in your soul. The Bible says death is an enemy, and we serve a Christ who has conquered that enemy. All who believe in Him will receive a resurrection like His (Romans 6:5).

In the meantime, we will continue to feel the effects of this fallen world while we are in it. Nabeel Qureshi is in glory with His Lord, but he has left behind a wife and daughter who are crushed by the loss of their husband and father. They need our prayers. Let us continue to show the love of Christ to one another, all the while praying, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Review of Single, Gay, Christian by Gregory Coles

"Let's make a deal, you and me," writes Gregory Coles, author of the book Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity. "Let's make promises to each other. I promise to tell you my story. The whole story. I'll tell you about a boy in love with Jesus who, at the fateful onset of puberty, realized his sexual attractions were persistently and exclusively for other guys. I'll tell you how I lay on my bed in the middle of the night and whispered to myself the words I've whispered a thousand times since: 'I'm gay.'"

As a pastor, this is not the first time I've listened to that confession. The first person I ever baptized used to call herself a lesbian. She sat across from my wife and me on our couch and wanted to know how she could still be a lesbian and be sure she would go to heaven when she died. I read to her 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which says:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men [or women] who practiced homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
It was important to help her understand that one of the sins that will keep a person from the kingdom of God is homosexuality. "Idolatry" is grouped together with sexual sins because to engage in any sexually immoral practice is to bow at an altar to a false god -- a god of your own design, who will fulfill all your desires and give you all the pleasures that you want.

But those who belong to Christ "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). Peter said to "live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:2). Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).

The young woman responded with a common rebuttal: Jesus didn't say anything about homosexuality. So I took her to the part of Scripture where Jesus talked about marriage, sexuality, and the sexes in Matthew 19:4-6. He said:
"Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let man not separate."
"Or in other words," I said to her, "let man not redefine." Sex was made by God. It is His gift. Since He created it, He gets to define it. And here He says it is meant for a man and his wife, "and the two shall become one flesh." Later the Apostle Paul wrote, "Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.'" So sex outside the context of marriage between a man and a woman is sin. It is immoral. And Jesus explicitly said sexual immorality is evil (Matthew 19:9, Mark 7:21).

Furthermore, Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would reveal more truth (John 16:13, 1 John 4:6, 5:6). As the Holy Spirit is God just as Christ is God, whatever the Spirit has said through the Apostles and the Prophets is also what Christ has said. Therefore, when we read in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, or 1 Timothy 1 that homosexuality is sin, though these words were written by the Apostle Paul, they are also the words of Christ. Jesus is also the author of Leviticus. Jesus reigned down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Bible strictly condemns homoerotic behavior. To encourage someone in sin that God has promised He will judge is not loving. With the love of Christ for this woman, who had been attending our church and was listening to me preach, I was not about to let her leave our living room believing that she could practice a gay lifestyle and still inherit the kingdom of God when the Bible says the opposite.

I told her to notice the part in 1 Corinthians 6:11 where Paul said, "But you were washed!" Some of the men Paul wrote to were formerly guilty of homosexual sin. But they were loved by God and forgiven their sins. They were washed and cleansed by the Holy Spirit. Sitting among the people of the Corinthian church were those who could say, "I once was that! But I've been washed!" They were being made into the image of Christ, who died for their sins so that He might present us before God purified and holy with great joy.

So I put this before her: "The question you need to ask is not, 'Can I still be this and still get to heaven?' The question is rather this: 'Do I want God?' Do you want Him so much that you would be willing to give up every desire of the flesh that you have in order to be like Jesus? The Bible says it is they who will be given life, and given it more abundantly. It is they who will receive His kingdom. Revelation 12:11 says of them, 'They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.'"

She said she believed the words that I told her. She wept and said that she wanted to repent of her sins and no longer be identified by a label of her flesh, but by the name of Jesus. I was privileged to be the one to baptize her, her appeal to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21, Hebrews 10:22).

Note that when I started, I said I baptized a former lesbian. I didn't baptize a lesbian. I baptized a woman who had crucified the old self and was raised anew in Christ. She no longer recognized herself by her former sins. She was no longer a leper. She had been washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

After reading Single, Gay, Christian, I wondered if Gregory Coles had ever heard the things I told that young woman.

Prior to picking up the book, I had been told that Single, Gay, Christian was about a young man who struggled with same-sex attraction, but he had made a commitment to Christ to remain celibate -- hardly common in today's hyper-sexualized, gender-confused, instant-gratification culture. I was intrigued, even though I had some misgivings with the title of the book.

Gregory calls himself a gay Christian. The last time I'd read a book with those two words in the title, the author was attempting to rewrite the Bible and redefine marriage. Much ink has been spilled (or keys have been clacked, I guess) about whether or not a person can be gay and a Christian. To call oneself a "gay Christian" is to tack a sin adjective to the front of the pursuit of holiness.

What if the book was entitled Single, Adulterous, Christian, the story of a man who identified himself as an adulterer? Ever since he was twelve, he's had thoughts about sleeping with women he wasn't married to. He feels incomplete without a woman. It's a temptation so pervasive sometimes the desire consumes him and makes him feel dirty. But he fled from temptation and entrusted himself to Christ, who forgave his sins and clothed him in righteousness.

I've basically told the story of just about every maturing Christian male. So why aren't there young Christian men walking around calling themselves single adulterous Christians? Because we understand that adultery is a behavioral sin. Who wants to be called an adulterer? Only people who behave adulterously are called adulterers. Only people who hijack planes are called hijackers. Only people who kill other people are called murderers.

There's no such thing as being gay. There is no evidence that there are people who have a permanent orientation for homosexuality. It is not an immutable characteristic, and no one has proven otherwise. As we just read above in 1 Corinthians 6, there are men who used to do those things, but they have been cleansed by Christ, and they don't do them anymore. Homosexuality is, by biblical definition, wrongdoing.

So why was Greg choosing to call himself gay? (There is actually an answer to this question, and I'll get to it later on.) Other questions I had heading into the book were these: Does Greg understand holiness and sanctification? Does he know what it means to repent? Does he understand grace? Not taking anything for granted, does he understand what it means to be a Christian? Is he aware of what he's calling himself when he proudly admits that he is gay?

Unfortunately, Single, Gay, Christian is a book that fails to define its terms. Greg makes allusions to the gospel, but he never actually says what it is. He might say something like, "Jesus died for me," but he doesn't explain what that means. Also absent are words like justification, sanctification, redemption, salvation, or righteousness. Greg talks about sin and repentance only in the abstract. In fact, I'm not even convinced Greg understands what homosexuality is. I came away from the book knowing more about Greg, but I'd not been any more informed about "Single Gay Christians."

I have counseled persons wrestling with the things Greg says he's fought through, and their stories are nothing like his. In fact, his story is quite easy compared to the testimonies I've heard (I'm not at liberty to provide examples). In the story he told, he was never actually oppressed by anyone. His grief was largely self-imposed, even to the extent of taking offense at things he had no reason to be offended by.

My review will sound a little harsh, and maybe it already does, but it needs to. This is serious. Deadly serious. I cannot let you leave believing that a person can be gay and a Christian when the Bible says the opposite. That doesn't mean I think Greg isn't a Christian. I think he's confused and he will lead others into confusion. Whether he likes it or not, Greg is a teacher with this book, and teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

You might say, "But brother Gabe, he's committed to celibacy! Surely that's worth something, right?" Indeed that is brave of him. I hope he continues entrusting himself to God. However, Greg's celibacy is a personal commitment that's built more on what he feels is right rather than solid, convicting truth. He doesn't make an appeal to any other self-ascribed gay men to leave a life of sinfulness and be celibate. He's just telling his story, and he thinks that's enough.

I'm going to do more than tell a story. I'm going to tell you to repent. I'm going to tell you to die to yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. I do this in love. It's because I love you that I must tell you harsh truths. My desire is to glorify and imitate my Savior God, who from the moment he began to preach in His earthly ministry, He was preaching harsh truths: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 4:17)

Greg is a gifted writer and his book is easy to read. Before becoming a teacher in Pennsylvania and a worship leader in his church, he grew up in a Christian household devoted to ministry. Greg is still a young man, and many of the experiences he talks about in the book come from his time attending a Wesleyan college.

"The evangelical church is a strange place to be a sexual minority," Greg says. "What do you call yourself when you're gay and celibate in the church? There's no easy word for it, no label that doesn't confuse people or carry a heavy suitcaseful of connotations." So believing that he had no where else to turn, Greg became content in calling himself gay.

"When you say 'gay' in the church context, many Christians assume you mean the active pursuit of gay sex," he says. "But when I hear most people outside the walls of the church use the word gay, they're talking about an orientation, the nature of a person's attractions, not about a specific sexual act." Greg wants us to believe that the world has the best intentions when it applies the word "gay." It's not about a sexually immoral act. It's about who a person is, he insists.

"Being gay doesn't mean you're actively having sex, in the same way that being straight doesn't mean you can't be single and committed to sexual abstinence." The world doesn't have a problem understanding what a person means when they say "gay," Greg says. The church has the problem.

All this tells me is that the strategy to normalize terms like gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender as an identity has worked, and Greg has naively bought into it.

In 1988, a group of prominent homosexuals gathered in Warrentown, VA to map out a plan that would make homosexuality accepted by the general public. As a result of this meeting, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen wrote a book entitled After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s. When you read that book now, it is uncanny how much it describes our culture today. Their strategy worked. Part of that strategy was to portray gays as victims and to make those who oppose homosexuality into vicious haters, using bumper-sticker rhetoric and appeals to emotion rather than facts and logic.

Kirk and Madsen wrote the following:
"Our effect is achieved without reference to facts, logic, or proof. Just as the bigot became such, without any say in the matter, through repeated infra-logical emotional conditioning, his bigotry can be alloyed in exactly the same way, whether he is conscious of the attack or not. In short, jamming succeeds insofar as it inserts even a slight frisson of doubt and shame into the previously unalloyed, self-righteous pleasure. The approach can be quite useful and effective -- if our message can get the massive exposure upon which all else depends."
The homosexual agenda got massive exposure through music, movies, television, and the arts. A word like "gay," defining men who had sex with other men, was redefined to describe a person with a natural, unchangeable orientation. If anyone says otherwise, they lack love and empathy and compassion for another human being. Some of you are convinced a person can be gay, and they can't help themselves. Why do you believe that? The same reason Greg believes it: because it's been repeated to you over and over and over and over again.

Greg even does this to himself. He talks about how for years he would lie in bed and repeat, "I'm gay. I'm gay. I'm gay." He describes his acceptance as coming out of the closet. He uses all the words of the popular nomenclature without the least hint of irony. "I called myself 'gay' in my own head, because it was the best word I knew to describe the world I occupied. It meant that I shared an important piece of my life story with others in the LGBTQ community," he says. "I called myself 'gay' because I was tired of euphemizing, tired of being ashamed."

Though Greg is not giving into the temptation to be with other men, he doesn't want to let go of it either. Greg feels more comfortable identifying himself with a repurposed label once used for male prostitutes who serviced other men, and the church should feel ashamed for not embracing that label in a non-dirty or non-sexually-explicit context. We all have to change our minds (which is exactly what the culture wants us to do), but he doesn't have to change his. That is an astonishing argument.

It also exhibits Greg's confusion. He claims, several times in the book, that his identity is in Christ, yet he keeps coming back to finding his identity in cultural labels. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the word "gay" appears 160 times in Greg's book. The word "Christian" appears half that many times (the benefit of reading a book on Kindle is I can look up stuff like that). He spends less time talking about what it means to be a Christian, and more time making sure that you know he's gay. No one will find peace redefining words. Peace is only found in Christ.

Yet Greg insists, "Most of the English-speaking world is already using gay to describe sexual attractions. If I refuse to call myself a gay Christian, if I say that 'gay' and 'Christian' are contradictory identities, a lot of people will hear me saying that they have to be straight to follow Jesus. And I'll do whatever it takes not to communicate that message. I'm willing to risk being misunderstood by the church if it means being understood by the world Jesus died for."

And therein lies the flaw in Greg's doctrine. Who did Jesus die for? Ephesians 5:25-27 tells us, and it just so happens to be in the context of marriage:
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."
There we have that word "washed" again, another term strangely absent from Greg's book. Now, when Greg says Jesus died for the world, maybe he was thinking of verses like John 1:29 or John 3:16 or 1 John 2:2. I'm sure he means well. But to insinuate that Christ died for the world and not the church, and to think that comment was profound, goes to show how immature he is in his doctrine. We are to take the gospel to the world, not sexual identity categories to the church.

Furthermore, Greg says "I'll do whatever it takes" to not sound confusing to the world. Friends, the church is always going to sound confusing to the world. Read John 6. Scores of people walked away from Jesus because they didn't get what he was talking about. Jesus said, "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word" (John 8:43). "You do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:26-27).

Not that we should try to sound confusing, but we certainly shouldn't be confused ourselves when the world thinks of us as strange. Peter said we are like strangers and aliens (1 Peter 2:11). Paul said, "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). That's something Greg really needs to think deeply about. In the meantime, he is placing an unnecessary burden on his brothers and sisters in Christ that has the potential to cause division, not the unity he desires.

Though Greg wants the church to accept the word gay and use it without the connotation of sinfulness it justifiably evokes, his appeal is inconsistent. There are times he wants people to call him gay, and then there are times he doesn't. Is it then the responsibility of the church to learn when it is appropriate to use this word and when not to? Requiring everyone to walk on eggshells around you is hardly evidence of the grace of God.

Greg is simply not aware of the problems caused by blurring the lines of sexuality and normalizing "being gay." For example, he talks about sharing a bunk with another man and admiring his body when he undresses in front of him. Follow the logic here: How is this not the same as a man sharing a bunk with a woman he's not married to, and she undresses in front of him? Is it okay as long as the man doesn't feel guilty about watching another woman undress? Say that man was married. Do you really think his wife would be okay with him sharing a room with another woman, and that woman undressed in front of him?

Greg takes the approach that "I have these thoughts and there's nothing I can do about them" (not an exact quote). Folks, that's not a good message for anyone, homo- or heterosexual. Jesus said that if you look at someone with lust in your mind, it is the same as committing adultery with them in your heart (Matthew 5:28). The Apostle Paul said there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality among you (Ephesians 5:3). To be sexually pure even in our thoughts is sanctification at its most basic level. If you've not mastered this, you've not even ascended to the first rung of what it means to grow in holiness in Christ. We read the following in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you."
We are reminded that we were bought with a price, therefore we are to honor God with our bodies, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Every other sin a person commits, they commit outside the body. But sexual immorality is committed with the body. We are told to flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). Sexual sins are unique. They are unlike any other sin. Homosexuality even more so because it is described as unnatural desire (Romans 1:26-27).

This is not okay that Greg can talk about this and write a book about it without blushing. It is not good for him, is not good for any other young man struggling with homosexuality, and it is not good for anyone else who struggles with any other kind of impure thoughts. It is not okay for us to think we're just always going to have those thoughts and there's nothing we can do about them. Do you honestly believe you can have the mind of Christ if you're still enslaved to your lusts?

Have you not read that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37)? Did Paul not say "I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12)? Why do you continue to whine about things that God has given us power to master? Why do you continue to submit to them and be labled by them as though they have power over you? Friends, I emplore you -- be holy as God is holy!

Greg also talks about a time he was riding in the car with his sister-in-law, the wife of his brother. The two of them were alone together. His sister-in-law said it would be weird riding along in a car with another man, but because Greg is gay, then it's okay. Really? Greg is a worship leader in a church, and he says his church doesn't know he's gay (though after this book, surely they do now). Does the Bible not tell us that we should avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)? That we should be above reproach (Colossians 1:22)? If someone were to raise an objection about this driving arrangement, what would his sister-in-law say: "It's okay, he's gay"? That's better?

Regarding this exchange, Greg says, "My gay body knows by instinct what so many straight men must fight to learn: that a woman's body should never be just an object of male sexuality." First, just because he's not sexually attracted to a woman does not mean he instictively knows she's not a sex object. You can watch gay men on reality TV shows cat-call women more suggestively than a football team. But we dismiss that as okay because those men are gay and they don't actually want that woman's body. Secondly, this story is right after Greg just watched a man undress and "admired" his body. Greg's veiled rebuke is rather hypocritical.

Now, there are times when Greg will challenge the church's understanding of masculinity and intimacy among men, and I can appreciate that. But hearing a professing gay man tell me how to be affectionate with other men is as awkward as if a woman were to instruct me about male sexuality. Why does Greg think he's qualified to talk to me about intimacy, especially when he confesses confusion about his own sense of intimacy?

At one point he says that he's "unable to conjure even the slightest heterosexual desire." Yet he tells a story about a time he made out with a girl and did in fact become sexually aroused. But he doesn't have even the slightest heterosexual desire? What does Greg think that sexuality is?

As he doesn't seem to understand human sexuality, he's equally confused as to what qualifies as sexual immorality. He presents the following hypothetical question:
Let's say I have two female friends. One is a lesbian. She's desperately in love with Jesus, willing to follow the cross no matter where it leads her. After years of study and prayer and reflection, she concludes that God can bless same-sex unions. She marries another women. 
The other friend is straight. As a Christian, she believes that any sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is wrong. But following her own sexual ethic is easier said than done. Year after year, she keeps falling for men she believes are "the one" and going to bed with them. Eventually she finds a steady boyfriend and agrees to move in with him to save money. After they get married, she flirts with cute guys at work to make herself feel desirable. She doesn't want to do any of it, but she can't seem to stop. 
Theologically, I am more in agreement with the second friend. But whose life is most honoring to God? Who really loves Jesus more? Who am I more likely to see in heaven? 
I don't know.
He then goes on to say it's not his place to judge either of these women; he can only judge his own story. Then who is he to say that the church has done anything wrong related to the acceptance of whom he calls sexual minorities? He's been making judgments all the way through this book. Suddenly it's not his place to discern the spiritual condition of two sexually depraved women?

He says, "If the only hope the church can offer to sexual minorities is the hope of orientation change, we have a weak gospel indeed." Exactly who has said the only hope for sexual minorities is orientation change? If Greg doesn't think the gospel can change a person who identifies as gay, then it's Greg's gospel that is weak.

A gay friend of Greg's asked him, "What if I decide it's okay to be in a same-sex relationship? What if I get married to another guy?" And Greg refused to tell him it was sin that will exclude him from the kingdom of heaven. What about Romans 6, where Paul says that if we've truly died to sin we can no longer live in it? Instead he says, "I'm convinced that in the end, God is more concerned with the depth and the recklessness of our love for him than he is with our right answers." Huh?

Jesus said the true worshipers of God will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The Apostle Paul said, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). There is no conflict between love and law. There is no love in any kind of sex outside the biblical definition of marriage. How can you say you love someone if you're going to permit them to commit sin God has promised He will judge?

The Bible is clear: the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. But by the grace of God, we can be forgiven our sins and made new! For those who are followers of Jesus, our iniquities have been placed on Christ on the cross. His righteousness has been placed on us. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). That message is absent from Greg's book.

During the writing of this review, I had to stop, go upstairs, and spank our daughter for drawing in marker on the fireplace. She has been told dozens of times she is not to draw on anything but paper. Nonetheless, she continues to draw on walls, tables, banisters, floors, and now a brick hearth. Through consistent and loving discipline, she will learn that is wrong, and a day will come when she will no longer be Aria Who Draws On Walls.

That's something Greg has yet to learn. He lacks discipline. He's not yet been broken enough over his sin since he is still clinging to even the label of his sin. The Bible says:
"In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives'" (Hebrews 12:4-6).
There's no mention of Greg's relationship with the Father in his book. He never mentions the Holy Spirit either, which is surprising for a guy who's been a worship leader in the American evangelical church. It is the Spirit whom Christ has poured into the heart of every believer and washes us with His word. Greg's theology has a unitarian "only Jesus" kind of feel. I don't know what his relationship in Jesus is like, but I can safely say it's not as intimate as he thinks it is.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Single, Gay, Christian. His writing style is wonderful and the book was an easy read. But the doctrine is too poor, his experiences are too immature, and his conclusions are too self-centered. The young man has some growing up to do, and his skin needs to thicken a little bit. He needs to receive more grace and give more grace. That is not to belittle. Again, I say this in love.

Though he's torn between who the world says he is and who Christ says he is, he has made the decision to honor God and be celibate, and that is extremely big of him. I hope that serves as an example to other young men struggling with the same thing. My concern, however, as I expressed early on, is that his commitment is based more on what he feels is right rather than what he knows is right.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh, and refreshment to your bones." (Proverbs 3:5-7)
I hope Greg continues seeking the Lord, and I hope God protects him in the environment of a liberal college campus, where he is currently pursuing his doctorate. Surely after this book, he's going to become a target. I pray Greg submits his whole body unto Lord, holy and acceptable in spiritual worship. I pray he will not be conformed to this world, but he will be transformed by a renewal of the mind, that he may test and discern what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

A few years down the road, on the other side of that growth, perhaps Greg will write another book. I'd be interested in reading it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Legend of Prince Han Solo

When my oldest daughter, Annie, was about three years old, she didn't have many toys. I was an associate pastor at the time, and Beki had just given birth to our son, Zeej. Things were really tight for us financially. We ended every month in the red, and could only buy Annie the things she needed, like clothes and homeschool supplies. Occasionally we would splurge and buy her a new cup or some coloring books.

Most of our money had to go to food, bills, debts we'd incurred before we got married (like student loans), and of course the baby supplies. Still, God kept in our hearts an understanding that we were very blessed. Some friends of ours were trying to adopt, and we bought some things from them as well as sold some things of our own to help with the adoption costs. Sometimes people would come to our house asking for help and we never turned anyone down.

Our church family was very kind and took good care of us. They made us meals, took us out to eat, and on occasion handed us some food cards or some petty cash. Friends of the family would buy Annie dolls, but most of her toys were hand-me-downs. All of our furniture was given to us, including our TV. We were living in a borrowed home. We didn't have cable or smartphones. It was very basic living.

Even when things were at their most difficult, we didn't complain. And bless her heart, neither did Annie. I'm sure she recognized that she didn't have the nice play-things her friends had, but she never argued about it. She had a very vivid imagination, and would make her fingers have conversations with each other as though they were action figures. Really.

One time a friend of the family handed us a gift card and said, "Use this to buy something nice for Annie." So we bought her something she always wanted and we never had the money to buy -- a Disney princess castle. It wasn't one of the more elaborate castles. Just a small, cheap, plastic, pink castle. But for Annie, it may have well been Neuschwanstein Castle. She adored her new palace.

In case you didn't get the reference.

We also got her a few Disney princesses with exchangeable outfits. Again, nothing fancy. They were small figurines with rubber dresses, and you could trade the dresses among the princesses. Annie had a horse and carriage that had been given to her, a piece from some other kind of play set. It wasn't even to the scale of her castle, but she made it her royal carriage, large enough to transport all her princesses from one place to the next.

And yet, there was something missing from her magical fantasyland. She had the princesses. She had her elaborate castle. She even had an over-sized horse and carriage. But there was no hero. No prince charming to come and sweep any one of these deserving princesses off her delicate plastic feet.

One day, while listening to her play, my dad heart was overcome. I went out to the garage and opened one of my totes in storage. It was full of Star Wars action figures, still in their original packaging.

Perhaps you'll remember that back in the 90s, George Lucas re-released the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters as an enhanced special edition. It was Star Wars' 20th anniversary, and along with the film they also remade the action figures. I was in high school at the time, and I bought at least two dozen, all main characters -- Luke, Leia, Han, Vader, Obi-Wan, etc.

I didn't buy them to play with them. I bought them so they would accumulate in value and one day sell them for a profit. My younger brothers were totally baffled by this. Why was Gabe buying action figures he had no intention of playing with?

Somehow they'd survived college and multiple moves, and were still just as new-looking as the day I bought them. And I was about to give one of them up. Because I didn't even have enough money to buy Annie a Disney prince charming, I had to liquidate an investment.

Han Solo seemed like the best candidate. Yeah, I know, he's a nerf herder and a bit of a scoundrel. But of the bunch, he at least looked the most like a prince charming. I felt like it was my solemn dad duty. I needed to sacrifice Han from my treasure trove for the happiness of a little girl. I opened the package, and brought him to Annie.

She hadn't seen Star Wars yet -- again, she was only three. She didn't recognize him. So I introduced him to her: "This is Han Solo, and he has come to take your princesses to the ball." She was so ecstatic! And I'm sure somewhere in his plastic chest, so was Han Solo. He'd been set free from his tote prison and introduced to a harem of Disney princesses.

It's kind of prophetic now, when you think about it...

Fast forward about six years to this past weekend. I've been working on constructing a more adequate laundry room down in our basement for my wife. We've accumulated so much junk in our garage that I don't have anywhere to cut wood. Most of the stuff just needed to be tossed, so I went on a cleaning spree and in the process, I came across my boxes of action figures.

It's now been 20 years since I first bought those Star Wars figurines (minus a Han Solo). How much could they have accumulated in value over the past two decades? So I hopped on the computer and started doing some research. The answer is -- not much. The Darth Vader that cost me $4.95 in 1997 was now worth $14.95 in 2017. What? Really? That's it?

Alright, well how much had Han Solo accumulated in value? Surely that was a more noble sacrifice than a mere $10 mark-up, right? I mean, the guy's dead now and will only be featured in prequel movies from here on out. Surely that's got to increase his demand.

Well, it turns out that very Han Solo which cost me $4.95 in 1997 was now worth a whopping... five dollars and ninety-nine cents twenty years later. A difference of one dollar and four pennies. That doesn't even cover inflation! My Han Solo actually lost value!

Of course, I didn't know that at the time I gave him up. It was a big sacrifice! Annie surely didn't care if Han Solo cost 495 pennies or 495 dollars. He was worth his weight in gold when I handed her the little figurine to become part of her magic kingdom. Thankfully, love cannot be quantified in dollars and cents -- because I still don't have a lot of that!

Even the piano and the Christmas tree... donated.

Sometimes we might think the kind deed we did for someone else mattered a lot, and then we find out it really wasn't worth as much as we thought. Other times we might think we haven't done much of anything at all, and it turns out to be a priceless act of love.

The Bible says, "Let love be genuine" (Romans 12:9). Don't be fake. Don't do things to get recognition for yourself. Give without expecting anything in return. Consider the needs of others ahead of your own. Be grateful when someone else does something for you, even if what they gave didn't quite meet your expectations. They may have given you all they could.

You don't know the intentions of someone's heart, but you can know if your own intentions were authentic. Test yourself. Examine your own heart against what God says in His word, the Bible. What does He say love is supposed to look like? Give to the glory of God, not for the glory of others. Then the Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:3-4).

I held on to some action figures for about 20 years that turned out to be worth not as much as I had hoped. So I'm giving them to my kids now, and they're excited to play with them. I did get something wonderful out of them after all -- it just wasn't the treasure that I thought I would get when I first started investing!

Moments like these that I experience on earth with my kids and with my family, are but a small, tiny taste of the overwhelming joy of heaven that awaits all those who are followers of Christ. Store up treasures in heaven and not on earth, Jesus said. The reward you will receive will be worth far more than you could have asked or imagined.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bad Doctrine in the Hands of an Angry Minister: A Review of Brian Zahnd's "Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God"

Brian Zahnd has a bone to pick. By the title of his upcoming book, slated to release on August 15, you might think his bone is with puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards. The title of the book is Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God, a play on words against Edwards' sermon Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God, perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil. But Zahnd's bone isn't with Edwards. It's with the Bible.

Zahnd hates the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. He has made no secret of this. I believe that if he and I were sitting next to one another, he would go, "Yup, I hate it." He agrees that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but he has a rather vague way of explaining that. Zahnd says, "We violently sinned our sins into Jesus." Okay, what does that mean? Where is that in the Bible?

The Bible says Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt for our sins onto His Son, and He bore the punishment that we deserve in our place. By His sacrifice, God's wrath burning against unrighteousness is appeased. All who believe on the name of Christ are covered by His blood, and they have peace with God. The theological term for this is penal substitutionary atonement.

The Bible says, "He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned -- every one -- to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6). Notice there that God put our sin on Jesus.

The Apostle Paul says the same in 2 Corinthians 5:21, stating that for our sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. God did that. To the Romans he wrote, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:23-25). Again, God put Him forward to be a propitiation by His blood.

Propitiation specifically means that God's anger has been turned away by the ransom that Christ paid for us. R.C. Sproul explains, "Propitiation brings about a change in God's attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him."

John wrote, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). The doctrine of the atonement is a beautiful word of God that brings forth praise in the heart of every Christian who looks upon the cross and sees the love of the Father displayed in His Son Jesus Christ who laid down His own life and shed His blood for our sins.

Brian Zahnd doesn't think so. He's quite sour over it, preaching that it makes God out to be a monster. Consider the implications of that -- If the doctrine of the atonement is biblical, Zahnd says God is a monster. How can Zahnd worship God if he thinks Him monstrous? Is he willing to hinge his own salvation on this issue?

Now, I've only read the first chapter since that's what his publisher has made available online ahead of the book's release. Lest anyone think I'm being unfair limiting my judgment to one chapter, the chapters in the table of contents happen to be titles of articles Zahnd has written on his blog: Jesus Is What God Has to Say, Who Killed Jesus?, Closing the Book on Vengeance, etc. I doubt the rest of the book says anything I haven't read or heard him say somewhere else.

From Jonathan Edwards to George MacDonald

Apparently Zahnd used to be quite the fundamentalist and his inspiration was Jonathan Edwards. He even made his own handwritten copy of Edwards' sermon Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God. That's dedication. But then turning to criticize the sermon, Zahnd is on his way to calling God a sadistic juvenile by page three, and a merciless torturer and keeper of an eternal Auschwitz by page five.

Now a far cry from Edwards, Zahnd's opinions on divine punishment are heavily influenced by the late George MacDonald, of whom Zahnd gives glowing praise. MacDonald likewise hated the doctrine of the atonement and taught that Jesus atoned for sins simply by defeating evil (known as the Christus Victor theory). He also believed that hell was not a place God sends people to, but a fire he uses to purify the heart of a hardened sinner just as a doctor uses fire to cauterize an infectious wound.

Zahnd quotes MacDonald's repudiation of Edwards believing that the Puritan's teaching was not Christ-like: "From all copies of Jonathan Edwards' portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing. Not such a God is he concerning whom was the message John heard from Jesus, that he is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

According to Zahnd, God can't be a God who destroys sinners because that's too dark and God is light. He craftily pieces together fragments from Jeremiah, Paul, John, David, Hosea, Solomon, Job, and Hebrews. He insists, "The Old Testament is a journey of discovery," and "The Old Testament gives us many (and often contradictory) options." In between he says, "The Bible itself is on the quest to discover the Word of God."

Ah, and there's the fault in Zahnd's doctrine. The Bible is not on a quest to discover the word of God -- the Bible is the word of God. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). The God on the right side of the book is the same God as the one on the left side of the book. Jesus Christ is the God of Leviticus. He is the God who delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and destroyed those in the wilderness who did not believe (Jude 1:5). He was not idly standing by while He watched His angry dad reign down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah but was active in that judgment (Genesis 19:24).

How does Zahnd deal with such stories and passages? The same way MacDonald did concerning hell. Whenever we read about God's "wrath" in the Bible, Zahnd says it's simply a metaphor. Citing Psalm 7:11-13, Zahnd says God doesn't actually abhor sinners. Rather, sinners destroy themselves by their own sin and the Bible calls this the wrath of God.

The truest picture of God we have in the Bible, believes Zahnd, is seen in the parable of the prodigal son. "This is the portrait that preachers and theologians and artists should work from," he says. By that one quote it should be apparent how Zahnd attempts to paint the version of God he likes best. When you approach the Bible as a quest or a metaphor, then you can start with any allegory in the middle and work out from there.

I'd like to note that the story of the prodigal son is not actually called the story of the prodigal son. That's the name most popularly attributed to the parable, but it would be more accurate to call it the parable of the older brother. Why? Because that's who Jesus is addressing. The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling that Jesus "receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). So Jesus told them three parables: one about a shepherd who rejoices when he finds his one lost sheep, one about a woman who rejoices when she finds her one lost coin, and one about a father who rejoices when he receives his one lost son.

All three parables illustrate that all of heaven rejoices when even one lost sinner repents (verses 7 and 10). But the parable of the prodigal son contains an element the other two stories don't have, and that's the older brother. When Jesus gets to the third parable, he hammers his point home to the audience he was addressing -- the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling. They're like the older brother who doesn't rejoice over the repentance of sinners, but rather believes he deserves a party because he kept all the father's rules.

In a sermon on this parable entitled Beware the Elder Brother, Voddie Baucham preached that the older brother here is saying, "I don't care that the death of Christ on the cross made the redemption of my brother possible. I just care that you don't think enough of me keeping the rules. What's important here," according to the elder brother, "is not the Father's delight in a sinner who was ransomed by the Son and brought home by the Spirit. What matters here is that you make much of me." That's the point of the parable. It's to warn the elder brother, not to preach the gospel.

Much to Zahnd's chagrin, Benjamin Warfield has pointed out that the parable of the prodigal son does not contain the gospel. Jesus said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), yet there is no seeking on the part of the father in the story. But most importantly, Warfield says, the parable is not the gospel because there's no atonement for sin! Of little wonder why Zahnd likes it so much.

Warfield dealt with this same matter in his day. Certain false teachers were denying the atonement and trying to push the message of the gospel contained in the parable of the prodigal son. Warfield responded:
 "It is precisely because there is no atonement in this parable that it has been seized upon by the modern tendency to which we have alluded, as the norm of the only Christianity it will profess. For nothing is more characteristic of this new type of Christianity than that it knows and will know nothing of an atonement. The old Socinians were quick to perceive this feature of the parable, and to make use of it in their assault upon the doctrine of Christ's satisfaction for sin. See, they cried, the father in the parable asks no satisfaction before he will receive back his son: he rather sees him afar off and runs to meet him and gives him a free and royal welcome. The response is no doubt just that other Scriptures clearly teach the atonement of which no hint is given here; and that we have no right to expect that every passage in Scripture, and least of all these parables, which exist under necessary limitations in their power of setting forth the truth, shall contain the whole circle of Christian doctrine."
Bam. So again, nothing that Brian Zahnd has written in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God is anything new. Warfield was combating these same criticisms a hundred years ago. It's just the same old heresies with a different book jacket on it.

In Conclusion

The doctrine of the atonement has taken some punches this year, but the word of the Lord stands forever. Michael Gungor went on a Twitter tirade in which he called the doctrine of the atonement "horrific." William Paul Young, who wrote the forward to Zahnd's book (and whose most recent book I reviewed a few months ago), calls the atonement a "lie."

In response, Owen Strachen wrote the following: "What truly horrifies sinful humanity is not, in the end, Scripture's stubborn reliance upon blood atonement. The problem is much deeper. What truly offends human nature about the atonement is the greatness of the God who forgives through it, the lavish nature of the mercy that flows from it, the salvation for the wicked accomplished by it. It is precisely this salvation our fallen hearts reject. It is exactly this forgiving God we defy and even dare to correct. We must take care here: to promote the cross without the atonement means we do not promote the cross at all."

I fear for Zahnd's soul when he calls God a monster for the atonement when the Bible clearly teaches the atonement. If Zahnd doesn't repent, he may soon discover that the wrath of God is not a metaphor, no matter how much he insists it is. If Zahnd does repent, he will finally see the grace, love, and mercy of God in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ for sinful man -- as he has yet to see it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Internet Famous: How a Young Couple's Quest for Fame Turned Deadly

A young couple wanted to be famous on YouTube. They aspired to have 300,000 followers and millions of views. What kind of stunt could they do to get that much attention? So the young man, Pedro Ruiz III, got an idea. He would have his girlfriend, Monalisa Perez, fire a gun at an encyclopedia he held to his chest, convinced the bullet wouldn't go through.

The gun Perez used would be a Desert Eagle .50 caliber pistol -- comparable to a .44 Magnum and can hit with the force of a .308 Winchester rifle. But Ruiz thought he was safe. He had tested the stunt on a stack of encyclopedias and it didn't even go through the first one. Perez was of course reluctant to participate, but her boyfriend talked her into it. She posted on Twitter that they were "probably going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever."

Ruiz thought this was the ticket to becoming internet famous and he would be throwing parties. The couple resided in rural Minnesota, Perez a stay-at-home mom pregnant with their second child and Ruiz working for a railroad company. They wanted something more than their meager living. YouTube fame was their way to stardom.

But the stunt went horribly wrong.

On Monday evening at the couple's residence, a camera was fixed on a ladder and another on the back of the car to catch the feat from two different angles. Ruiz held the inch-and-a-half thick book in front of him. Perez fired the gun from a foot away. It went through the volume and hit Ruiz in the chest. Their three-year-old daughter was with them.

The Norman County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call around 6:30 from Perez, admitting that she and her boyfriend were trying to make a YouTube video and she accidentally shot him in the chest. Ruiz was pronounced dead on the scene.

Perez is being charged with second-degree manslaughter, meaning that according to the law she killed her boyfriend out of negligence and not malicious intent. For this stunt, she could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Her family has said that she will have to live with this for the rest of her life, and that's penalty enough.

"I really have no idea what they were thinking," said Sheriff Jeremy Thornton to the New York Times. "I just don't understand the younger generation on trying to get their fifteen minutes of fame."

Indeed, fame is toxic. Even deadly. The Apostle Paul said, "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

In other words, anything we try to gain in this world that we think will bring satisfaction to our flesh will ultimately result in destruction. That might not happen as quickly for you as it did for this young couple, but it's still corrupt and will come to ruin.

You know that. You observe it in the world around you. The tech gadgets you love so much today that you can't imagine your life without are the stuff of tomorrow's garage sales and garbage heaps. So why are you trying to find joy in things that will not last? That ultimately we know cannot bring us any lasting satisfaction? Surely you've heard the proverb that says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25).

That's what happened to Pedro Ruiz III and Monalisa Perez. And everyone else thinks they know better. Prior to this disastrous stunt, their YouTube videos had a couple-thousand views each at the most. Thanks to the attention caused by Ruiz's death, they now have views into the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, one video with half-a-million views.

I scrolled through the comment section of those videos, and it's full of people who think they have more sense than Ruiz or Perez. Said one comment, "Now you're a stay-in-jail mom!" Another said, "I hope nobody feels sorry for his death, you two are idiots" (profanity omitted). Another said, "Playing Stupid Games will award you Stupid Prizes."

But what if the stunt had worked? What if they got the attention they wanted without someone having to lose their life to get it? I wonder how many of the same people who are decrying the couple's foolish antics would have become immediate participants in their quest for fame. How many copycats would have tried to concoct a potentially deadly stunt just to get a million thumbs ups?

Maybe you have enough sense not to shoot someone in the chest. Maybe internet fame is not important to you. But given the circumstances, you are just as capable of doing self-destructive things to get the things you think you need to be happy. Maybe that destruction won't happen in the length of a trigger-pull, but again, you will be destroyed with whatever worldly thing or idea you sow to your flesh.

The Bible talks about a day that is coming when the world will be judged with fire, and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Whatever was done for the glory of God will survive, and that person will receive an imperishable crown in Christ's eternal kingdom. Whatever was not of God will be destroyed, along with those who did such godless works.

Said the Apostle Peter, "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (2 Peter 3:11-14).

The Bible says to set our minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth, and we will live forever with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:1-4). All flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower which withers and fades into nothing (1 Peter 1:24). For those whose minds are set on earthly things, their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame (Philippians 3:19).

Jesus said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:23-26).