How has the Church Historically Viewed Alcohol?

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Just as the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10)[1], the tongue is a world of evil capable of enflaming a forest (Jas 3:6), and over-eating is a sin that calls for a slashing of one’s throat (Pros 23:2); alcohol consumption can also be grievous sin.  Held in the context of the canon, however, none of the aforementioned infers that Christians are to abstain from earning money, speaking, eating, or even drinking alcohol.  In some circles in the modern American church the concern over alcohol consumption has been elevated to a level of dogma, going so far as to become a denominational distinctive by which certain groups are identified.  This article will make an investigation of the following questions:  What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol? What is the church’s historical view toward alcohol?  How did we get to this point?  And, How should we move forward?  By thoroughly laying out the views of prominent historical Christian leaders, this article will seek to offer a thoughtful assessment of the historical theological positions the church has demonstrated towards the consumption of alcohol.  To support this endeavor, this article will examine the views of the biblical authors, the early church fathers, the medieval Catholic Church, the Reformers, early American Christians, nineteenth and twentieth century Protestants, and the views present among church leaders today.

Views of the Biblical Authors

In making a thorough perusal of the biblical authors’ mentions of alcohol it is clear there is neither an unbridled exhortation to indulge, nor is there an express condemnation of the simple act of drinking alcohol as sin.  The biblical authors offer a balanced view towards alcohol calling it both a “gift,” and a “mocker.”  On one hand, King David, a man after God’s own heart, extols praise for God’s providence in causing “the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalms 104:14).  Conversely David’s son, Solomon, a man of incredible wisdom, writes, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov 20:1).  In the New Testament, the Apostle John tells readers of Jesus’ first miracle, an event coming at a wedding reception in Cana, in which the party had run dry and left the hosts in need of wine.  John makes clear that the guests of the wedding party had already been consuming wine when he clarifies that when the wine was gone Jesus’ mother expressed concern for the dignity of the hosts (John 2:3).  Jesus’ response to the hosts’ need was as follows:

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now (John 2:6-10).

John here demonstrated that Jesus, without sinning and without being a stumbling in encouraging the sin of others, offered the providence of between 120 and 180 gallons of wine for the purposes of preserving the dignity of the wedding hosts and extending the duration of the celebration.  Responding to the Pharisees specific concerns regarding His interaction with alcohol Jesus said the following, “John the Baptist has come [. . .] drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man has come [. . .] drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him!  A [. . .] drunkard, a friend of [. . .] sinners!’  Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:33-35).  Later, the Apostle Paul exhorts the early church, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (Ephesians 5:18),” but later exhorts his ailing young cohort, the church leader Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23).  In addressing the views of the early church toward wine, I. W. Raymond offers the following insightful summation:

[The] favorable view [of wine in the Bible] is balanced by an unfavorable estimate.  The reason for the presence of these two conflicting opinions on the nature of wine [is that the] consequences of wine drinking follow its use and not its nature.  Happy results ensue when it is drunk in its proper measure and evil results when it is drunk to excess.  The nature of wine is indifferent. [2]

The nature of the biblical authors’ amoral view towards alcohol itself, consideration of alcohol as both a blessing and a potential danger, and their explicit condemnation of drunkenness have left room for much debate in later generations as to the wisdom of alcohol’s consumption.

Views of the Early Church Fathers

In the early years of the church, during the time of the Apostolic Fathers, there is little information offered regarding views toward the proper treatment of alcohol in the Christian life.  In the oldest surviving written Christian catechism, The Didache, there is a brief mention that anyone partaking in wine should offer the first fruits to the prophets among them (Didache 13:6).

In his writing, The Instructor, in a chapter titled “On Drinking,” the church father Clement of Alexandria stated that “the soul is wisest and best when dry.”  Clement goes on to state that taking a little wine for enjoyment after the day’s work is complete is considered acceptable so long as a person is not tempted by drunkenness.  Clement exhorts Christians, to “be not eager to burst by draining [drink] down with gaping throat,” but drink with proper “decorum, by taking the beverage in small portions, in an orderly way.”  Still Clement insists caution, “for wine has overcome many.” [3] While the church historian Eusebius indicates that the popular early church father Origen did not personally imbibe, there are no specific writings to indicate he forbade drinking among the laity. [4]

By the late fourth century AD there begins to arise a more clear recording of the direction given by church fathers’ views toward engagement with wine and the folly of drunkenness.  Augustine, who had been reformed from a life wrought with indulgences, championed the cardinal virtue of temperance.  Within this movement of virtue, drunkenness was viewed as a form of gluttony, and self-denial and temperance was instructed.  Augustine clarifies his overall view toward the drinking of alcohol when he states, “The drunkard is not always drunk, and a man may be drunk one occasion without being a drunkard.  However, in the case of a righteous man, we require to account for even one instance of drunkenness.” [5]  It stands to reason that Augustine’s concern was primarily with over indulgence, but said over indulgence must never transpire.  At the same time, John Chrysostom was teaching that those who would say wine should be prohibited were immature Christians bordering on heresy.  John Chrysostom pleaded with believers that they not be drunk for, “wine is the work of God, but drunkenness is the work of the devil.”  Chrysostom argued, “Wine makes not drunkenness; but intemperance produces it.  Do not accuse that which is the workmanship of God, but accuse the madness of a fellow mortal.” [6]

Views of the Medieval Church

The middle ages witnessed a great transition in the history of alcohol production and consumption from wine to beer.  This change was heavily influenced by the church.  As early as the eighth and ninth century A. D. the lack of potable water and generally unsanitary conditions in the post Roman world led homes to produce ale for common consumption.  Unlike wine, which could only be produced when grapes were in season, ale was brewed year round and proved a suitable remedy for the needs of the time.  Monasteries in this time discovered they could perform a public service by mastering the brewing of beer, and using the proceeds to fund church works and charity.  As monks developed the palate for beer, the drink became common place amongst clergy, and monks began receiving a daily allotment of beer for the use of nourishment during times of fasting. [7]

In the thirteenth century AD the Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, expresses his beliefs toward Christians’ engagement with alcohol:

A man may have wisdom in two ways.  First, in a general way, according as it is sufficient for salvation: and in this way is required, in order to have wisdom, not that man abstain altogether from wine, but that he abstain from its immoderate use.  Secondly, a man may have wisdom in some degree of perfection:  and in this way, in order to receive wisdom perfectly, it is requisite for certain persons that they abstain altogether from wine, and this depends on circumstances of certain persons and places. [8]

Thomas Aquinas was not the only medieval theologian to speak in regards to alcohol, however, and not all orders of monks saw fit to follow in the practice of producing ale.  Giovanni Ptolomei founded a movement of aggressively ascetic monks called the Olivetans.  The Olivetans were bent on monastic reform and engaged in extreme ascetic practices such as severe public corporal mortification.  The Olivetans rejected any concessions of wine, uprooted their vineyards, and destroyed their wine presses.  The radical practices of the Olivetans were however short-lived, and the group soon softened its stance toward total abstinence from alcohol, and drew closer to the general view of the day. [9]

Views of the Protestant Reformers

The Protestant Reformers, beginning with Martin Luther, were universally tolerant of the drinking of alcohol.  Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was external to the Protestant Reformation, attested to the general truth of the Protestant churches’ affinity for alcohol when, being rebuked for drinking on a day of Catholic fasting – on which Catholics would temporarily abstain – Erasmus said, “My heart is Catholic, but my stomach is Protestant.” [10]  The traditional view of alcohol among the Protestant Reformers was fairly favorable.  Martin Luther said he, “drank freely to spite the devil.” [11]  The great Reformed theologian John Calvin, shared Martin Luther’s sentiments.  Calvin wrote in his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion that, “It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but to make us merry,” and that, “in making merry,” those who enjoy wine “feel a livelier gratitude to God.” [12]  Calvin further taught that, “By wine the hearts of men are gladdened, their strength recruited, and the whole man strengthened, so by the blood of our Lord the same benefits are received by our souls.” [13]  Uniquely, Luther was so insistent that real wine be used in the Lord’s Supper that he wrote, “If a person cannot tolerate wine, omit [the sacrament] altogether in order that no innovation may be made or introduced.” [14]

The favorable view of alcohol among reformation theologians was not exclusive to Calvin and Luther, but was also shared by reformation heavy-weights John Knox and Ulrich Zwingli.  Knox spoke of drinking wine as a daily occurrence, akin to eating bread, and beholding the sun. [15]  Zwingli so strongly favored his wine that he used the aversion to “good wine” as a parabolic depiction of ones inability to enjoy the Bible. [16]

Views of the Earliest American Christians

When the earliest Christians made their way to the shores of North America, they recorded that they themselves had not made their travels empty handed.  The Puritan Reverend Francis Higginson recorded that upon making the voyage across the Atlantic in 1629, for the purposes of acclimatizing himself as comfortably as possible to his new surroundings, he imported cargo of five tuns (1200 gallons) of beer and 20 gallons of brandy. [17] For all their rigidity and proper reverence, the Puritans were similarly quite comfortable in enjoying alcohol.  Puritan Minister Cotton Mather, speaking to the operator of an ale house, wrote, “It is an honest and a lawful … employment that you have undertaken:  you may glorify God in your employment, if you will, and benefit the town considerably.” [18]  While the Puritans are famed for their strict piety, abstinence from alcohol did not prevail among their practices.

Views of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American Church

“In the mid-19th [sic] century, some Protestant Christians moved from [the] historic position of allowing moderate use of alcohol (sometimes called moderationism) to either deciding that not imbibing was wisest in the present circumstances (abstentionism) or prohibiting all ordinary consumption of alcohol because it was believed to be a sin (prohibitionism).” [19]  Quite interestingly, the turn from a favorable view of alcohol began among the Methodist movement, and there was not complete agreement even among the founding members of Methodism: the Wesley brothers.  Famed hymn writer Charles Wesley was known to drink ale. [20]  His legendary brother, the evangelist John Wesley, however, preached strongly against even the slightest temptation to partake in any alcohol.  John Wesley said, “You see the wine when it sparkles in the cup, and are going to drink of it.  I tell you there is poison in it!  And, therefore, I beg you to throw it away.”  Wesley went on to command that his followers should “taste no spirituous liquor . . . unless prescribed by a physician.” [21]  In 1780, at a Methodist Conference in Baltimore, the Methodists denominationally vowed to oppose the production of liquor, thus setting into motion the beginnings of an American temperance movement.  As a general sense of prohibitionism arose, nearly every Protestant leader in the United States came to a position that the wisest choice under modern circumstances was for the Christian to willingly practice total abstinence from alcohol.  As the abstinence movement grew, alcohol of any kind began to become demonized, and thus it became seen as improper to administer wine even in the Lord’s Supper.  In 1869, ordained Methodist minister Thomas Bramwell Welch, developed a process for pasteurizing grape juice, preventing the fermentation of the juice, and thus, Welch’s Grape Juice was born.  Welch’s Grape Juice became for many, the appropriate symbol of the blood of Christ.

So impactful was the temperance movement that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed, and by 1919 succeeded in bringing about the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which formally prohibited alcohol in America.  While the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed only fourteen years later, the Protestant-American view of abstention from alcohol remained.

Views of Evangelical Church Leaders Today

The views toward alcohol among the church today are a matter of heated debate and division.  Among Evangelicals there exists three main views toward alcohol:  prohibitionism, abstentionism, and moderationism.  The moderationist view argues that it is within the Christian’s biblical freedom to enjoy alcohol responsibly as a good gift of God.  Moderation holds that while drunkenness is unquestionably sin, moderate drinking is not.  Moderationists believe self-control and not abstinence is the biblical mandate.  Among evangelicals, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Reformed churches, and members of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement are adherents to moderationism.  Evangelical leaders holding the moderationist position are notably:  Reformation Bible College President, Dr. R. C. Sproul; famed theologian J. I. Packer; and Acts 29 President Matt Chandler.

Both prohibitionists and abstentionists are teetotalers.  A teetotaler is one who does not partake in the consumption of alcohol under any circumstances.  The main distinction that can be drawn between the prohibitionist and the abstentionist is that the prohibitionist does not imbibe by constraint of law.  Either by their interpretation of God’s views toward alcohol, obligation of conscience, or legal obligation, the prohibitionist feels bound by law to avoid drinking.  The abstentionist, on the other hand, believes he is within his biblical right, and allowed by Christian freedom, but in wisdom he willfully chooses to abstain.  Abstentionism is the common practice among Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals.  Evangelical leaders adhering to abstention are: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Dr. Albert Mohler; Masters Seminary President, John MacArthur; and famed pastor John Piper.

Concluding Remarks

Due to the ramifications of prohibition in the early twentieth century, it is not popular in the present era to openly profess prohibitionism.  The line between prohibitionism and abstentionism, however, is more easily applied in theory than in practice, and can be blurred.  When each person is allowed the freedom to determine for himself what the Spirit and Scripture has bound upon his conscience, the prohibitionist and abstentionist views remain clearly distinct.  It is frequently the case, however, that a person who is a teetotaler by way of personal abstention further intends to impose his choice on other brothers and sisters.  C. S. Lewis was outspoken in saying that, “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up.  That is not the Christian way.” [22]  When this person is in a position of authority and seeks to impose a position of willful abstention upon his congregation, those congregants – whose consciences are not equally bound by the Spirit to the choice of abstention – are then held under the mandate of their shepherd.  The abstentionist leader’s will becomes an external legal mandate that forces his congregants into a prohibitionist response rather than allowing for the same personal choice that the abstentionist afforded himself.  Alternately, a person who intends to exercise his Christian freedom by engaging moderately in alcohol can also become an offense, or a stumbling to his brother or sister who is not afforded the same sense of Christian liberty.  Held in tension between these two positions is the area to which the Apostle Paul has called the church in Romans 14.  The one who abstains must not judge the one who partakes, and the one who partakes must not despise the one who abstains.  Instead the two must endeavor to love one another, and find grounds for unity.  “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [. . .] So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:17, 19).

[1]Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version Bible, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2]I. W. Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1927), 25.

[3]Saint Clement (of Alexandria), The Writing of Clement of Alexandria: Exhortation to the Heathen (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1884), 208.

[4]Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History:  Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 121.

[5]Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 4 (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 495.

[6]John Chrysostom, First Homily on the Statutes (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/190101.htm), 11.

[7]Jim West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!  A History of Alcohol in the Church (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2003), 22.

[8]Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Raleigh, NC:  Hayes Barton Press, 1952.), 3269.

[9]J. C. Almond, “Olivetans,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent:  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11244c.htm).

[10]Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church, 86.

[11]West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 33.

[12]Ibid., 53.

[13]Ibid., 56.

[14]Ibid., 36.

[15]Ibid., 61.

[16]Ibid., 65.

[17]Ibid., 80.

[18]Ibid., 95.

[19]Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., God Gave Wine:  What the Bible Says About Alcohol (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2001), 3.

[20] West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 102.

[21] John Wesley, “Sermon 140.”

[22] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1952), 78.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

Is the Universe Interconnected by a Supernatural Force?

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Is God in all of us? Are all of us in God? Is there a universal spiritual or quantum force that binds all of existence? Are we all one with each other in the universe? These are the questions that quantum spirituality and Eastern mysticism have introduced to the Western worldview. Popularized by movies like Star Wars and Avatar, and brought into the church by authors like Leonard Sweet, some Christians – consciously or not – mingle these ideas with the teachings of Scripture. The question is, “Do these views align with the Bible’s revelation of God and the cosmos?”

Use the force Luke.

God is omnipresent within creation, but metaphysically beyond His creation. Simply stated, God is a being separate in substance from the universe. Created entities are not forged from the substance of God, nor is God Himself comprised of creation. That said, transcendence for the purpose of this article, should not be understood as meaning God is not actively present in the world. Quite the contrary, “Judeo-Christian religion does not picture the universe as a spatial box with God overflowing it or standing outside it.” [1] Transcendence here is intended only to mean that God is substantively different from His creation, not that He is absent from creation. This article will explain and defend the position that, while immanent, God remains concurrently transcendent. While permanently pervading and sustaining the universe, God is ontologically distinct from His creation. God is not in any way dependent on the created order, neither is God the sum of all creation, nor is God present within every created entity or being. Citing modern philosophers, theologians, and Scripture this article will outline the prominent examples of, and reasons for, the diminishing of transcendence as an attribute of God. This article will address the traditions of monism, in their primary forms, where they most directly interact with the Christian faith. Using a logical, theological, and philosophical defense of the church’s orthodox position on the transcendence of God, held in balance with God’s immanence, this article will affirm the necessity of upholding the historic view of transcendence, and will outline the ramifications of pantheistic views such as those depicted in Star Wars, Avatar, What the Bleep Do We Know, Lucy, etc., which conflict with the biblical understanding of God as a transcendent being.

Monism

Philosophies that champion a God who has a diminished transcendence result in what is referred to as immanentism. Immanentism is manifest in a broad array of philosophical and religious ideologies qualifying as monism. The simple definition of monism is: any belief or philosophy that sees all things connected or unified in universal one-ness. For the purposes of this theological discussion, this paper will focus only on the two forms of monism that most commonly interact within Christianity. These more specific variants of monism are pantheism and panentheism.

Monism in its most straightforward form is pantheism. “The word pantheism derives from the Greek word pan (=’all’) and theos (=’god’). Thus, pantheism means all is God. In essence, pantheism holds that the universe as a whole is worthy of the deepest reverence … ‘nature is my god.’” [2] By eliminating transcendence entirely, pantheism holds that God is fully immanent and encompasses all. Pantheism holds that all people are connected to one another, to nature, and to God, whose physical body is the universe. President of the World Pantheist Movement, Paul Harrison, puts forth the following: “God is said to be the creator: overwhelmingly powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, infinite, and eternal. Indeed [the universe] is indeed the only thing we know to possess these qualities.” [3] The very elements that compose our bodies are the same elements found in nature, and the universe has the ability to end our lives, at which point, those elements return to nature. This is the pantheist’s “circle of life,” which is an existence that is easily observable, congruent with science, and does not depend on any transcendent “mythical” place or being. In pantheism, life the universe, and the interactions between the two can all very clearly be perceived and experienced.

A person indoctrinated in orthodoxy might not quickly pinpoint the locus where the worlds of pantheism and Christian doctrine mingle, but the rallying point in scripture clearly falls at Acts 17:28 where the Apostle Paul proclaims, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century German Lutheran Theologian, managed to propose a formidable case for God being, “not a being” but “being itself.” Tillich wrote in his Systematic Theology, “The being of God cannot be understood as the existence of a being alongside others or above others. Whenever infinite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, it has ceased to be a being and has become being itself.” [4] Tillich goes on to say that entities themselves are the manifestation of God as the “power of being.” The power to resist non-being, which is inherent in everything that exists, is that being’s acknowledgement that God is the power of being within it allowing it to be. From this one can conclude that in Tillich’s philosophy, God is the “universal essence” within all things, which makes up being itself.

As quoted previously, Tillich states, “The being of God is being itself.” Tillich argued that what he referred to in saying this is not pantheism as it is understood to mean, “God is everything,” but rather that God is the “ground and unity of everything.”  Tillich makes his defense of his position saying,

Pantheism asserts that God is being itself.

This idea [that God is the static divine ground of the world] was founded on the principle of identity over against the principle of detachment and depths of everything. [God] is not everything, as this much abused term “pantheism” says. Nobody has ever said that. It is absolute nonsense to say such a thing. It is better to avoid the term itself, but if it means anything at all, it means that the power of the divine is present in everything, that He is the ground and unity of everything, not that He is the sum of all particulars. I do not know any philosopher in the whole history of philosophy who has ever said that. Therefore, the word “pantheism,” which you can translate as “God is everything,” is down-right misleading. I would wish that those who accuse … [me] of using it would define the term before using it. Whenever some people hear about the principle of identity, they say this is pantheism, which supposedly holds that God is this desk. Now, of course, [Martin] Luther would say that God is nearer to everything than it is to itself. He would say this even about the desk. You cannot deny that God is the creative ground of the desk, but to say that God is the combination of all desks and in addition all pens and men—this is absolute nonsense. The principle of identity means that God is the creative ground of everything. What I dislike is the easy way in which these phrases are used: theism is so wonderful and pantheism so horrible. This makes the understanding of the whole history of theology impossible.[5]

Regardless of whether Tillich would consider himself a proper pantheist, his detractors voiced significant concern for his intriguing argument for the essence of God in all things. Interestingly, William Paul Young, #1 New York Times Best Selling author, borrows Tillich’s exact terms to define God. In Young’s most acclaimed work, The Shack, the Jesus character, referring to the Father, explains, “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things … and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away.” [6]

Quantum Spirituality

Arriving at similar conclusions, yet coming from a different approach, is leading Emergent Church theologian (and former Rick Warren colleague) Leonard Sweet. Sweet, along with other quantum mystics, proclaims that, in a world where science and religion are increasingly at odds, quantum spirituality bridges the gap between science and God. Quantum physics is the viable scientific basis for innovations in technology such as lasers, computer chips, and nuclear power, [7] and many hold the view that discoveries in quantum physics “provide a mandate to reevaluate the traditional understanding of God and reality.” [8]

Quantum physics has taught scientists that particles at the subatomic level communicate with one another at speeds faster than light. Whatever is done to one particle has an immediate effect on another remotely located particle. [9] This transfer of information from one particle to another, at a speed faster than light, is seen by some as proof that all things are indeed connected. This leads to a theory that the universe is somehow one, an undivided whole.

Quantum physics theorizes the interconnectivity of the universe.

Scripture has also been used to qualify such a thought. The Apostle Paul uses variations of the expression “in Christ” over 160 times in His epistles. The most notable scripture used to support a quantum spirituality is Colossians 1:17 which says, “In Him all things hold together.” On the basis of these unfolding discoveries in quantum theory, Leonard Sweet, speaks directly to postmodern Christian thinkers saying, “Quantum spirituality is nothing more than your ‘new account of everything old’—your part of the ‘I Am’ that we are.[10] Sweet ties this quantum spirituality, also termed New Light, directly to pantheism when he says:

Quantum spirituality bonds us to all creation as well as to other members of the human family. New Light pastors are … earth ministers who can relate the realm of nature to God, who can help nurture a brother-sister relationship with the living organism called Planet Earth. This entails a radical doctrine of embodiment of God in the very substance of creation. New Light spirituality does more than settle for the created order, as many forms of New Age pantheism do. But a spirituality that is not in some way entheistic (whether pan- or trans-) that does not extend to the spirit-matter of the cosmos, is not Christian.[11]

Panentheism

Another form of monism, which espouses God’s presence in all, is panentheism. This view has long been present in the literature of the monastic Catholic mystics and has increasingly found its way into Evangelical streams via the Emergent Church movement. Where pantheism defines God as the comprisal of all, panentheism asserts “the belief in a personal creator God who transcends the world, but is intimately and actively present in the world and within each [person].” [12] In panentheism, God interpenetrates every created entity, while also timelessly and spatially extending beyond creation. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, for which Thomas Merton Square in Louisville, KY is named, is famous for the story of his standing at that very corner when he came to this realization:

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs. … Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart … where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. … If only we could see each other that way all the time. … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness that is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God. … This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of god  in us. … It is in everybody. … The gate of heaven is everywhere.[13]

Similarly, another Trappist monk, an architect of centering prayer, Fr. Thomas Keating said, “The second commandment of Jesus is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is rooted in the recognition and acceptance by faith that the Divine Presence dwells within every human being.” [14] The Catholic mystic movement maintains that God is present in all creation, sustaining every creature. They believe this is what Jesus referred to specifically when he prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us” (John 17:21). Emergent Church leaders within Evangelicalism, embracing (in varying degrees) the theology of Leonard Sweet, have also been identified as teaching mystic practices and panentheistic views, similar to the Catholic mystics.

Theological Support for Transcendence

The transcendence of God is most readily evidenced in Scripture by God’s immaterial “spirit” nature, His authorship in creation, His perfect holiness, and the unique dual divine-human nature of His Son. There is no better place to launch the theological case for the transcendence of God than in the study of the words of His son, the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the mediator between God and man.

In the Gospel of John, in a discourse with the woman at the well, Jesus makes clear, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Here Jesus affirms what other biblical authors say, which is that God is not finite, nor material, but “immortal” (1 Tim 1:17), “invisible” (Col 1:15), living “in unapproachable light,” and not capable of being beheld by man (1 Tim 6:16). God further warns His people that viewing or portraying Him as anything in material creation is an egregious sin, and a violation of His second commandment. In Exodus 20:4-5 God instructs that man shall not worship anything that is in heaven above, on earth, or in the waters below. Any such thing is not God, but an idol. “God forbids His people to think of His being as similar to anything else in the physical creation. The creation language of [the second] commandment … is a reminder that God’s being, His essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created … To picture God as existing in a form or mode of being that is like anything else in creation is to think of God in a horribly misleading and dishonoring way.” [15]

The Bible is also clear that God existed before all things, was the creator of all things, and brought all things into existence from nothing. Jesus Christ Himself affirms the biblical creation account by directly referencing the opening chapters of Genesis 7 times in Scripture. The most notable reference being, “Have you not read … at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4) If a person believes Christ is God, they must also agree with Christ’s view of Scripture and the creation. The Bible begins in Genesis 1:1 by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The statement, “God created the heavens and the earth,” makes clear that before heaven and earth existed, there was God. Hebrews 11:3 goes a step further and says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Even more directly, the faithful Jewish adherent writing in the second temple period instructed, “Look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing” (2 Maccabees 7:28). These verses identify creation as the finite work, of the infinite God, brought into existence from nothing, and certainly not from any material contained within His preexistent self.

At this point it is important to note the distinction between the Bible’s telling of God’s involvement in creation and the monistic idea. C. S. Lewis poignantly clarified this difference when he wrote the following:

Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God … [Christians] think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed … If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course … some of the things we see in [the world] are contrary to [God’s] will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense. [16]

 

Patheism entails that cigarrette butts, cancer, and all evils are equally manifestations of God.

In returning to the words of Jesus, it is made clear that God cannot be the sum of both good and evil. Being accused, by the Pharisees, of operating under the authority of evil, Jesus quips, “A Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). This is to say good and evil cannot successfully cohabitate. One will always overrun the other, and they will never be harmonized. Jesus also instructs His followers, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In this it is clear that the omniscient, omnipresent, immanent, and transcendent God of the Bible is a holy God. The word holy specifically means “different from the world,” “set apart,” and literally, “a cut above.” God is perfect, creation is not, and God is therefore different from the world. Conversely a monistic, materialistic, and impersonal God cannot be a holy God because this God is not different from the world. Wayne Grudem explains, “If the whole universe is God, then God has no distinct personality.” If all is God, then what is holy? If all is God, what is evil?

The Bible teaches that not only is God holy, He also calls His people to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). God has not called His elect to embrace unity with the fallen world, nor has He promised fellowship with unrepentant sinners who live outside of a consecrated relationship with Jesus Christ. Psalm 4:3 says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for Himself,” and 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” In John 15:17 Christ informs His hearers that they are to be “not of this world.” In Romans 12:2 Christians are instructed to resist conformity to the world. James 1:27 says to “keep oneself unstained from the world,” and 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Go out from their midst, and be separate from [unbelievers].” The Apostle John offers a clear warning to those who have not consecrated their life to Christ when he writes, “Whoever does not believe [in Christ] is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

These scriptures do not suggest in any way that God desires His chosen to seek one-ness with people who have not placed their faith in Christ alone. Christ followers are instead to flee from conformity to the world because God cannot have fellowship with darkness (1 John 1:6). God is a just God of wrath toward wickedness (Isaiah 11:4, Revelation 19:5), and promises the future destruction of this fallen world (2 Peter 3:11), and eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous inhabiting it (Matt 25:46). A monistic God who embodies the fallen world and all evil contained therein cannot fulfill His eschatological promises without waging war on Himself.

Further troubling within the monistic belief systems is the difficulty in finding a proper place for the inclusion of Satan. If God is both perfectly good, and the combination of all created beings, a paradox arises when God must be made to be one with the adversary, Satan. In monism, Satan must be considered to be part of God, inhabited by God, or non-existent. A non-existence of Satan would leave God to be the author of all evil. Each of these scenarios is equally blasphemous. Unacceptably, the biblical doctrines of Satan and Hell eventually escape every monistic belief system.

In Monism Good and Evil interplay as one.

The most damaging blow, however, the neglect of God’s transcendence deals Christian faith ultimately strikes at the heart of Christianity Himself, Jesus Christ. “Monism believes that the real problem [in faith] is lack of knowledge–the knowledge of ourselves as divine.” [17] This assertion does nothing short of rob Christ of His very essence, His unique divinity among men. Monism takes the divinity of Christ and essentially applies it to every person. If all people are in God, or the divine essence of God is in all people, Jesus’ dual nature, fully God-fully man, is in no way unique to Him, but exhibited by all. Colossians 1:15 says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” God is Spirit, and Jesus is the Spirit of God born into human flesh, the tabernacle of flesh in which the Spirit of God dwelt visibly among the ungodly creation. “The Bible never speaks about God’s presence in unbelievers in a direct way. In Christ, God’s own nature is present.” [18] In the most exclusive verse in the Bible Jesus teaches, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus states point-blank there is no access to God apart from faith in Him (John 3:17). This makes abundantly clear that Christianity is not a matter of finding a fully immanent God at the center of our being. Christianity is God’s saving gift of faith in the Man who lived the sinless life and died on the cross to reconcile the wicked condition of sinners before the righteous, holy, and transcendent God. The Christian’s connection to God is not found buried within the self, it is found only in the “one mediator between God and Men,” Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).

In the same way immanentism sees a diminished need for a Savior, the person who disregards transcendence also fails to rightly understand the person and work of the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. The pantheists, and panentheists believe the Spirit of God is inherently existent within every human being from birth. This is not the teaching of Christ. Jesus promised His followers, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper (John 14:16). You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and the “Spirit of Truth … the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (John 14:17).  As has been demonstrated, Monistic mystic and quantum Christians, rejecting a proper necessity for God’s transcendence, misunderstand the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. This improper view of God nearly unanimously leads to engagement in interfaith practices, the borrowing of elements from other false religions, and the encouraging of members of false religions that they have access to God apart from Jesus Christ.

Scientific Support for Transcendence

While it has been sufficiently demonstrated that disregarding transcendence cannot be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy, it is worth noting that science also fails to support a God who is both eternal and material. Where the Bible calls God “the King eternal” (1 Tim 1:17), the modern cosmological consensus is clear that the universe itself is not eternal. The second law of thermodynamics dictates that, while infinite in space, the universe is finite in time. A large majority of cosmologists agree that the observable data indicates that the universe has a beginning and an end.

Today, few cosmologists doubt that the universe, at least as we know it, did have an origin at a finite moment in the past. The alternative – that the universe has always existed in one form or another—runs into a rather basic paradox. The sun and stars cannot keep burning forever: sooner or later they will run out of fuel and die.  The same is true of all irreversible physical processes; the stock of energy available in the universe to drive them is finite, and cannot last for eternity. This is an example of the so-called second law of thermodynamics, which, applied to the entire cosmos, predicts that it is stuck on a one-way slide of degeneration and decay towards a final state of maximum entropy, or disorder. [19]

God cannot be both eternal, and comprised of the natural entropic universe. “According to the second law the whole universe must eventually reach a state of maximum entropy. This supposed future state of the universe, which will also be its last state, is called the heat death of the universe.” [20] Thus, the second law of thermodynamics implies that the universe faces an inevitable extinction. Where monism cannot reconcile Christianity and science, interestingly the orthodox Christian view of the eternal transcendent God and His finite creation are compatible with modern cosmology. In the Bible, the earth is described as having a creation point (Genesis 1), and a final heat death (2 Peter 3:10). Therefore, a striving to use monism to reconcile Christianity and science is an unnecessary failure.

Concerns for an Over-emphasis on Transcendence

It must be stated that, while this paper refutes immanentism and champions for transcendence, a hyper emphasis on transcendence is equally dangerous to its neglect. Transcendence and immanence must not be understood or applied apart from one another. As attributes of God, transcendence and immanence must be held in proper balance. Where an over-emphasis on immanence leads to monism, the juxtaposed over emphasis on transcendence results in deism. Deism is the belief that “God … created the world, but does not interfere with it by means of providence, miracle, incarnation, or any other Christian affirmation.” [21] Deists believe that creation provides evidence to affirm that God created the universe, but that God limits His activity only to the maintenance of the general laws of nature. A. H. Strong, writing in 1907, states that deism reached its prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has since fallen out of favor because it “regards the universe as a ‘perpetual motion,’” and “modern views of the dissipation of energy have served to discredit it.” [22]

Deists believe that God wound up the universe like a clock, then left it to run on it’s own.

Conclusion

Proper regard for God’s transcendence is essential to proper knowledge of God. A failure to acknowledge God’s transcendence leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. The inclusive one-ness of monism leaves man with no recognition of his need for reconciliation to his Creator. In monism there is ultimately no need of a Savior; no need for a Spirit induced conversion; no need for Spirit wrought sanctification; and no need for a God-Man intercessor. In monism, humans lack the autonomous agency to fear culpability for wicked actions, and have no fear of the righteous judgment from a god who is also comprised of evil. Monism leaves man with no fear of judgment for sins and eternal separation from God. Monistic beliefs exalt man as divine, and deny the unique divinity, and necessary work of Jesus Christ.

It is important that monism’s influence on the church not be underestimated. Peter Jones of Westminster Seminary states that, “In general terms, pantheism is at the root of all non-biblical religions, which worship creation rather than the Creator.” It would seem that if there is a tangible threat of a false religion that could unite the world it is monism. Romans 1 teaches that there is one place in which the entire fallen human race continually meets in unity to worship, at the throne of the idolatry of creation. Whether monists believe all people are in God, or God is in all people, what monists are really positing is a worship of self. “They exchange the truth about God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The monistic view of God can neither be held in tandem with Christian orthodoxy, nor can science support the notion of the temporal created order being the eternal God. Thus it must be concluded that an excessively immanent, monistic God is not consistent with the God of the Bible, and God therefore must be transcendent.

The monistic view of God has been consistent among Eastern religions for several millennia, and has ventured in and out of vogue in the West since the 5th century BC. The most recent group to propagate the monistic teaching among the Evangelical church is the 21st century Emergent Church movement. One leader of the Emergent Church recently said, “Some people say the Emerging Church is dead, other people say the Emerging Church has spread so far it’s just been absorbed into the fabric of the American church.” [23] While leaders of unbiblical monistic movements are consistently refuted, the hooks of their teachings often land in the hearts of undiscerning churchgoers, and have long lasting effects within the Body. By being educated in the attributes of God, and holding a proper understanding of transcendence, these false teachings can quickly be discerned and dismissed as, what Leonard Sweet appropriately coined, “nothing more than [a] new account of everything old.” [24]

[1]William E. Horden, Speaking of God: The Nature and Purpose of Theological Language (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2002), 121.

[2]Paul Harrison, Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe, 2nd ed. (Coral Springs, FL: Llumina Press, 2004), 1.

[3]Ibid., 36.

[4]Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 235.

[5]Paul Tillich and Carl E. Braaten, Perspectives on 19th & 20th Century Protestant Theology (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967), 94-95.

[6]William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 112.

[7]William E. Brown, “Quantum Theology: Christianity and the New Physics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, 4 (December 1990): 480.

[8]Ibid., 477.

[9]Ibid., 480.

[10]Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Dayton, OH: Whaleprints for SpiritVenture Ministries, Inc., 1991), 261

[11]Ibid., 125

[12]Harrison, Elements of Pantheism, 2.

[13]Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 140-142.

[14]Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (New York: Lantern Books, 2000), 14.

[15]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 187.

[16]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 36-37.

[17]P. R. Jones, “Sexual Perversion: The Necessary Fruit of Neo-Pagan Spirituality in the Culture at Large,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 261.

[18] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 176.

[19]Paul Davies, “The Big Bang – And Before,” The Thomas Aquinas College Lecture Series (Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA: March 2002), cited in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics: third ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 144.

[20]P. J. Zwart, About Time: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of Time (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1976), 136.

[21]G. DeMar, Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 274.

[22]A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 415.

[23]Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Values Voter Summit Session Claims Emergent Church, Satan, and Islam are Bringing Down America,” Huffington Post (August 28, 2013).

[24]Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, 261.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

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A More Christian Approach to Post-Christian Culture

Part 3 of a series on the Application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian Living and Approaching Culture Today. Part 1 Here
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The church’s recognition of its identity as the continuation of Israel, and its exilic existence, provides the context for interpreting Jeremiah 29 today. The question becomes—particularly as the Western church transitions deeper into a post-Christian culture—“How do we sing our song in a strange land?” (Ps 137). As the church journeys through the already but not yet, Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles serves as a prescription text for living in the world, but not of the world. In The City of God, Augustine explains that the Bible provides the history of the world as a tale of two cities. The city of man and the city of God. “Babel/Babylon becomes in the Bible a symbol of self-restraint, imperialistic secularism; control without accountability to the Creator. [. . .] Isaiah saw this spirit in the imperial ambitions of Assyria and Babylon (Isa 10:7-11; 14:4-6; 47:5-7, 10).” In Revelation 18, the Apostle John speaks of Rome and the kingdoms of the world to follow as Babylon, the great seducer of nations, and Peter too refers to Rome as Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13. In Augustine’s view, the city of God is the church—the kingdom people of heaven—living in the world. Like the diaspora in Babylon, the church is a culture within the culture working for God’s glory in the midst of a great and dark secular city scape.

Minister to the City
It remains no wonder that God, in Jeremiah 29:5, tells His exiles to settle in the metropolitan center of the Babylonian Empire. A brief survey of the missional strategy of the Apostles shows that God gave them too an affinity for the largest urban areas. Historically it is evident that culture is shaped by what happens within cities. This has become increasingly relevant to the church today. According to the 1790 U. S. census, ninety-five percent of the American population lived outside of urban areas. The percentage of people living in urban areas by 1890 had grown to thirty-five percent. By 1990 approximately sixty-five percent of Americans lived in an urban setting. The nation’s urban population increased by another 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. The combination of the exile to Babylon, the missional strategy enacted in the book of Acts, and the rapid urbanization of America, are strong cause for a renewed focus on urban ministry. Despite the focus of much of Christian literature, poetry, paintings, and photography, the height of Christian contentment is not intended by God to be found in sprawling natural landscapes. “The center of God’s creative delight is not a garden, but a city. [. . .] Somehow the city, the embodiment of concentrated human culture, has been transformed from the site of sin and judgment to the ultimate expression of grace, a gift coming ‘down out of heaven from God’ (Rev 21:2).” If we are to honor God’s calling as exiles, the nations are to be reached, and this must begin with the city.

Exhibit Exile Posture
Jeremiah 29:5-7 is clear that exiles are to become citizens and contributors to the city. To be civil is to know how to act in the city. Aristotle said that the first type of bonding a person experiences in terms of kinship is with family. Kinship then extends to extended family, to friendship, and then the culmination of civility comes when a person learns to extend the bond of kinship to strangers. When a person can learn to love the stranger as family, they become a person of civility. Aristotle also said that a man without a city is not a man. He is either superhuman, or a beast. This is not a calling to accommodate the secular world, but a call to engage in what Richard Mouw calls, “convicted civility.” Mouw’s simple premise is that convictions and civility are not at odds. Christians require, not a change in calling, but a reevaluation of their approach to their calling. Further, Christians require a new view of their non-believing neighbors whom they are called to love. “Jeremiah’s life and prophesy is based on faithfulness and sacrificial love, which is a reflection of Jesus. God says, ‘I’m giving you over to them, put your faith and hope in me, and there will be life. This is not your home, but seek the peace and prosperity of your pagan neighbors and in it you will prosper.’”

Many theological views see the “post-exilic Hebrew history and literature as representing the period of sad decline and loss.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher contends that “the Jewish people is deserving of attention not only in the time when it displayed its power and enjoyed its independence, but as well in the period of its weakness and oppression during which it was compelled to purchase spiritual development by constant sacrifice of self.” An exegetical view that sees the exile as more than merely a regrettable fate for Israel acknowledges that the exile forced the Israelites into the very positive formative act of learning what faithfulness to Yahweh looks like outside the borders of a theocracy. In the diaspora the exiles demonstrated that it is possible to be a faithful people outside a nation-state model, and outside a culture in which God’s people maintain political control. “For American Christians, the task will be the painful process of disengaging from the myths of the dominant ‘Christian nation’ that has so deeply corrupted a radical Christian witness in the world.”

Breaking false American conceptions: Christianity is neither politically theocratic, nor is Christ’s kingdom of this world.

 

Today, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Christian majority that has stood in the West as the socio-political order for nearly two millennia will not be the environment in which future Christians will live. Christians will draw increasingly closer to feeling the reality of exile. In an “attempted reassertion of political and social authority,” well-meaning but misguided Christians address this loss of power with a “crusading mentality,” and by “doing theology by megaphone.” The circumstance requires the consideration of a striving for a more civil virtue. Christians must learn to develop a Christ-like language that speaks with, and not at sinners. The post-exilic Scriptures hold many examples for emulation. Virtuous believers like Daniel, Mordecai, Esther, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and Ezra demonstrated that the proverb is true: “He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend” (Prov 22:11). The key for the people of God is ‘purity of heart.’ In the posture of exile the Western church must do as its spiritual forefathers did before, and must submit its heart to the plow (Hos 10:12).

Exhibit Exile Action
Following the flow of Jeremiah’s prescription for the life of the exiles it can be clearly concluded in what ways God intends His people to be a blessing to the city. The first thing we understand about God is that, in the Trinity, He is communal. He pours Himself out in love and gives His life away as a gift to others—sinners, rebels, and pagans. In His image, God made man to give Himself away. In Jeremiah 29:6 it is made clear that the first step toward true civilization is family; and family starts with marriage. “When we [say] yes to marriage, we are saying yes to the life of the world. We are saying yes to the mystery ahead [. . .] new life. [. . .] Ultimately, saying yes to marriage is about living a life of offering. Marriage is a yes to your beloved, and you and your beloved saying yes to your family. Your family saying yes to the world.” Man is pointed outside himself, to his God, to his family, to his neighbor, and to his city. “Christian culture making [. . .] is a matter of community—a relatively small group of people whose common life is ordered by love. [. . .] It seems small besides the towers of Babel and Babylon. It is like a mustard seed, tiny and seemingly vulnerable. But it is the unseen truth of the universe, the key to the whole story.” Like the Jews in Babylon it remains crucial that Christians not lose their faith identity in pursuing the love of neighbor. This begins with, and is not limited to, honoring the Bible’s command to restrict Christian marriages to New Covenant believers. Christians must strive to introduce non-believers to the gift of Christ Jesus, but limit marriage vows to those of faith. Unity in faith is sacred, and that unity must begin in the home and work outward. Healthy family is the foundation of healthy society.

Jeremiah 29:7 could not be clearer that God’s purpose for His people is that they should give and not take. Most people live in the city because of the abundant amenities the city offers them. Spiritual Israel (the church), is God’s gift to the world. The world is not merely God’s gift to the church—Christ is God’s gift to the church. In the image of God, it is the nature of God’s people to give. Work cannot merely be about oneself, but must serve the needs and wants of others. The righteous person should give freely, and strive to take no more for themselves than what is needed. In God’s image people are makers and creators. Gifts are given by God to be shared and to be stewarded. A mentor transfers wisdom for the sake of unlocking potential in another. This is the stewardship of the gift of knowledge. When knowledge is shared, communities thrive. In like manner, discipleship transfers faith and pays forward the fruit of raising disciples who make disciples, advancing the kingdom of heaven. Work too is a God given gift to be stewarded. Through vocation a person discovers their callings, and in vocation a person creates the goods and services that benefit people for the greater good. The fruit of work is not merely the products, but relationships. The fruit of a Christian’s labor is ultimately fellowship, community, and relationship. More than just consumable products, business creates an economy of community and meets that community’s needs. This has been evidenced in society in the justice system, medical system, education system, welfare system, etc. All of these constructs are imperfect but faithful strivings to apply faith, wisdom, and love, for the advancement of the city’s people, for the glory of God.

A person who consistently seeks God’s will and has a concern for the things that concern God will not easily be led astray by false prosperity teachings like those in Jeremiah 29:8-9. Christians should not idolatrize ease, comfort, and material wishes in denial of the will of God for the good of their souls and the care of others. If Christians are to be about the welfare of others, they must make sacrifices and cease neglecting to love the stranger, the sojourner, the outcast, the defenseless, the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed. As a people who gives, rather than takes, Christians must make space for these people in their lives, budgets, and homes, remembering that while we were strangers, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Because Christ commands His followers, Christ is in His followers, and Christ is glorified by His followers. Life is not meant to be inwardly focused or to be lived for self. The life that terminates on the self is a life that truly fails to live at all because it is a life that only deeply knows one very small sampling of the many billions of beautiful creations and experiences God has made for His children’s concern and wonder.

Christ followers should live from a position of awe, beholding God’s beauty and His goodness. In Jeremiah 29:11-14 God has told the Israelites He is for their good. God makes similar promises, specifically relevant to Christ followers, in Romans 8:28-32. Living in light of God’s promises and His gifts—as kingdom heirs—God’s people will rediscover their humanity and who God has created them to be. The Christian who finds joy in the will of God will have their fortunes restored in flourishing in their own personal shalom.

What does it look like to live in the awe of God and to steward one’s life and gifts for the glory of Christ and the life of others? Gerard Manley Hopkins, who as a young man struggled with homoerotic thoughts, and suffered a lifelong affliction with what is today called bipolar disorder , paints a glorious picture. “What I do is me: for that I came. I say more, the just man justices; keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces; acts what in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is – Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His; to the Father through features of men’s faces.” This is the personified and active beauty of the Christian sojourner’s work, empowered by the grace of Christ. As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” This is by no means to say, “Be selfish,” or “Follow your heart” (Jer 17:9); but it is to say that each of God’s children is endowed, nay embedded, with unique and certain gifts for stewarding back to God in service of the Father and concern for fellow man. A Christian is to recognize their gift and honor the stewardship of that gift. Hopkins gave his life and his sin to God, and in turn was led to the priesthood and to celibacy. By God’s grace he came to understand his gift was in keeping a literary treasury of the Creator’s majesty—communicating the beauty of God in an aesthetic theology he observed in all things seen, and in the awesomeness of relationship with the Unseeable. This was his gift and his calling. Using his calling he has summed up the calling of every Christian.

Every Christian should do what the Father has gifted them to do, and they should do it with all their might, for the welfare of the city of man to the glory of God. As the Body of Christ, Christians are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Christian lives are for His service and to His glory. If Christ be in a person, their desire to actively engage the calling to steward their God-given gifts should be no less natural than breathing.

Like the Judean exiles in Jeremiah 29:11-14, “we are called to abide in God and say, ‘Let it be to His plan for our part in His divine and wondrous mystery.’ We can be assured that God’s desire for our work is a mighty collaboration, not only with our Creator, but the entire world. In this broken world we have a responsibility to bring healing and harmony to our most immediate surroundings, and work outward. By these actions we too are healed.” Let us not deny our exile, accepting this place as home. Let us not live for the now. Let us not resist the plow. Let us not allow the potential work of our gifts to go unrealized, or our lives to terminate on self. Let us follow God where He leads us, settle there, and give every ounce of our lives. Let us be like Christ, and be poured out as a gift in the city of man – for the love of our neighbor, for the welfare of the city, and for the life of the world; so that in this all the glory may be God’s; forever. Amen.

* References are cited in the print format available for download above.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

Christians as God’s People in Continuing Exile

Part 2 of a series on the Application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian Living and Approaching Culture Today. Part 1 Here.
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The Arch of Titus commemorating the sacking of the Second Temple.

The Theology of Continuing Exile
“In the exile the Hebrews become a stateless minority in the context of a massive empire, first under the Persians, then under the Hellenistic rule after Alexander, and finally under the Romans into the Common Era with Christianity.” N. T. Wright, most notably among others, has argued that the first century Jews saw their existence under the rule of the Roman Empire as a continuation of the ongoing exile. Israelites in this time believed they were still living under divine punishment as they awaited the fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah 40-66. “In the common second-temple perception of its own period of history, most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant: we are still in exile. They believed that, in all the senses which mattered, Israel’s exile was still in progress.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher stakes a similar claim saying, “In later biblical thought, consciousness of being a ‘certain people scattered and separated among the peoples is also evident in metaphors for Israel as the ‘righteous remnant’     [. . .] that suggest a minority consciousness.” “Part of the myth of Persian benevolence is the idea of an end to the exile in 539. But all that ended was Neo-Babylonian hegemony, to be replaced by that of the Persians. Ezra would point out, in his public prayer, that the Jewish people were ‘slaves in our own land’ under the Persians (Neh 9:36).” Smith-Christopher continues, “Post-exilic Hebrew writings like Daniel, would go so far as to reinterpret Jeremiah’s predicted ’70 years’ into 490 years—effectively implying that the people were still in exile in the Persian and Hellenistic periods.” What is clear is that even after the return of the Jews from Babylon, Israel remained captive to foreigners and never regained status as an independent nation-state. While Israelites returned to Jerusalem, they remained exiles under the slavery of oppressive foreign empires.

N. T. Wright suggests that worse than foreign oppression, “Israel’s god had not returned to Zion. [. . .] Israel clung to the promises that one day the Shekinah, the glorious presence of her god, would return at last.” For four-hundred years, between the time of the building of the second temple, and the coming of John the Baptist, the Israelites did not hear an inspired word from the Lord. What is indicated is that “the exile is not yet really over. This perception of Israel’s present condition was shared by writers across the board in second-temple Judaism. The exile, then, was not concluded at the Jews return to Jerusalem, nor was it completed in the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. Rather than seeing the restoration of a national past, the enslaved Jewish people were forced to form a new sociological existence with no political stronghold, instead becoming a purely religious community with an ethno-centric identity. During the 400 years of silence, the estrangement from Yahweh was felt by the Jews, and recorded when the author of 2 Maccabees wrote, “Gather together our scattered people. [. . .] Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised” (2 Maccabees 1:27-29).

When Jesus came announcing the forgiveness of sin and the coming of the kingdom of God, it is evident that the Jews identified Him as their political savior from exile. But rather than restore national Israel, Christ came to begin the rescue of the exiles from their estrangement from God. Christ releases the shackles of sin, beginning God’s people’s—the “elect exiles in the dispersion” (1 Pet 1:1) —sojourn to the “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). In this context, the exile of the Israelites to Babylon receives its proper recognition as the first pivot point in God’s redefinition of the geopolitical identity of His people. This shift finds its fulfillment in the great commission when Christ commands His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28: 19). There is now no difference between Jew and gentile (Gal 3:28).

The Great Commission

New Creation is the true Promised Land
“We have a natural affection for our native country; it strangely draws our minds; [. . .] and therefore if providence remove us to some other country, we must resolve to live easy there, to bring our mind to our condition, when our condition is not in everything to our mind. If the earth be the Lord’s, then, wherever a child of God goes, he does not go off his Father’s ground.” As N. T. Wright explains, it is not as if Israelites were a national people and Christians are a non-territorial people. The strip of land in the Middle East is not God’s true Promised Land. Israel was a sign post marking God’s claim on the whole world. The children of Abraham, the seed who would inherit the land, are the people who are found in the Messiah (Gal 3:29). Creation will have its own Exodus, and in Christ, the people of God will inherit the true Promised Land—renewed creation itself. The Spirit is the down payment on that inheritance. “In the midst of the nations, Israel will be a sign that it is possible to be a nation whose key characteristic is trust in the world’s invisible Maker—to use the biblical word, a culture defined by faith.” In Romans 2:17-24 the Apostle Paul says that Israel was given for the salvation of the world, but under the Law, Israel completely failed in performing its salvific role—to be the light of the nations (Isa 49:6). Paul, referencing Isaiah 52, says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of [Israel].” “So God’s response to the ultimate cultural problem—a world full of mutually antagonistic nations entrenched in the self-provision and self-justification seen in Babel—is a fully cultural solution.” In Babylon, God takes Israel out from under the wicker basket and says, “Now let your light shine before men.”

As the people of God, the elitist Israelites never fully grasped their identity in this calling. Between the exile and the time of Christ the Israelites are constantly faced with the question: If God has created the world for Israel, why does Israel continue to suffer? The answer is that the world is not merely given for Israel, but that Israel was also given for the world. “In terms of the first level of covenant purpose, the call of Israel has as its fundamental objective in the rescue and restoration of the entire creation.” The exile became the first step toward Israel receiving a more realistic view of herself. Israel is not “true humanity,” ordered to establish dominion over the subhuman nations. God’s people are given a priestly calling for salvation of the nations. The exile paves the way toward Yahweh’s people’s understanding of God’s plan for the world.

Because Israel was unfaithful to her commission, keeping God’s message of salvation to themselves, God resolved to send His Son, to be born an Israelite, and faithfully fulfill the Israel vocation. In this lineage, Christians are the continuation of Spiritual Israel, qualified in Christ to carry forward the New Covenant message of salvation to the world. Christ’s work has been passed to the continuation of Israel (Spiritual Israel, the church), by Christ’s sending the Spirit of God to dwell within believers.

God’s covenant purpose, according to Wright, has first to do with “the divine intention to remake and restore whole world through Israel,” and “second, with his intention to remake and restore Israel herself.” The greatest prophecies for the return from exile strongly affirm God’s commitment to restore Israel. In Ezekiel 36, Yahweh says, “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. [. . .] Then you shall live in the land I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Israel understands then that sin has caused her exile, and the exile cannot be finished until her sin is forgiven. To this end, Christ entered the world. To the surprise of the Jewish people, Jesus did not free the Israelite captives from empirical oppression, but instead frees the faithful from the captivity of sin. Jesus did not end the physical exile of the Jews, but inaugurated a New Exodus. Leading followers through the waters of baptism, the Greater Moses now marches the enslaved out of captivity and into new life, inaugurating the new journey toward the new and restored kingdom of promise. The kingdom/exilic existence of spiritual Israel hinges at Jeremiah 29. The Babylonian exile results in the replacement of God’s national people with God’s faithful exiles. The Lord’s people will not again be a gathered kingdom people until the consummation of the kingdom of heaven.

Part 3: A More Christian Approach to Post-Christian Culture

 

* References are cited in the print format available for download above.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

NF – Mansion, and the Meaninglessness of Chasing After Wind

It’s interesting what was once considered a mansion. This photo, for me, is a reminder of the ills of the exponentially growing expectation of the American dream. What was once thought a mansion, now looks almost average, and yet depression, chemical dependence (legal and illegal), and violent crime in our nation is not improving. It’s an image of the soul decay of serving at the foot of the idol of earthly riches. NF, the first Christian rapper to be signed by a major record label, Capitol Records, released this album cover today for his début album dropping March 31. You can see the video for the single here.

Great work by NF, presenting the collision of human reality and biblical truth in an unexpected medium.  I have been both of the people represented in the video, at both ends of the spectrum, and found depression at both ends. The answer only came when God opened my eyes to see that no matter what I had, or what I did, I was never going to have peace until I understood my purpose. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” He is what our souls are longing for. Until we understand that, we will continue be people who heap up possessions to fill our emptiness, or be those who are unsatisfied with life or feel insufficient because we can not keep up with the perceived success of others. Both paths lead to the same place.

Ecclesiastes 1:14  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

 

Matthew 6:19-22  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

 

Christianity is Not a Western Religion

Matthew 28:19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In conversations with non-believers I have repeatedly heard the argument that Christianity is a “Western” religion that ignores the history and culture of the rest of the world. This argument is odd to me as all reports indicate that, while portions of Europe and North America are in a post-Christian decline, Christianity in other parts of the world is growing at rates not seen since Early Christianity (AD. 30 – 325). For that reason I have gathered a few statistics here to encourage my brothers and sisters as we live on mission for Jesus:

There are more Christians in Africa today than there are PEOPLE in the USA.
The number of African Christians increased by 3500% in the 20th century and is projected to double by 2050
Today there are more churches in China than churches in the USA
71 Million people in India claim Christianity, making it the 8th largest Christian nation in the world
Protestant Christians in Vietnam have grown by approximately 600% over the last decade
By the year 2040 China will have the highest Christian population of any country in the world
By the year 2050, only one-fifth of the world’s Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.

Despite the rhetoric of the growing American anti-faith movement, Christians will not need to compromise their beliefs to remain in touch with the future world. It is actually new European and American post-Christian philosophy that will be minority thinking on the global level. Further, those who claim that Christianity ignores the history of other cultures also assume that Christians in these other cultures ignore their own history…or ignore factors that should keep them from reconciling Christianity to their history. It should also be noted that Christians in several of the cultures above are worshiping Christ despite great social pressure and persecution.  Finally, what is most apparent is that Christianity is not merely a Western religion, but a global Church of faithful believers consecrated to Christ from all four corners of the world.

*Stats and info from CBN.com, Wikipedia, persecution.org, and Evangelist Dwight Smith, and Operation World/GMI.org

Why Do We Suffer? – Just a Thought

God uses our suffering to pry our idolatrous hands from the things we thought were most precious, and to teach us to cling to the One who truly is.

Philippians 1:29 For unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.

Top 5 Most Misquoted, Misused, and Misunderstood Bible Verses

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You probably hear these adages all the time! But are you hearing them as they were intended? The Bible is not merely a collection of quotes, or one-liners, but is the telling of history. The Bible is a comprehensive story, from the beginning of the world to the end – not ending 2000 years ago or in the present, but at the end of the world at the return of Christ. The end is not unknown, but is already written. The Bible is a perfectly cohesive collection of 66 books by ~40 authors, and is divinely uniform. Despite the uniformity of the Bible, verses are all too often misinterpreted or quoted out of context. If I was to write, “You should never read a Bible verse,” and you were to quote that phrase by itself, you would severely misrepresent my intent if the next thing I said was, “You should always read an entire thought or even an entire chapter to properly understand a verse’s context.”

Unfortunately in our quote crazy, sound bite loving, tweet happy world, information now comes one line at a time. The reality is that chapter and verse markings were actually not added to the Bible until over 1500 years after its writing. The Bible was never intended to be read one verse at a time. Below are what seem to be the Top 5 most frequently misused “Bible verses,” that misquoted or taken apart from the context of the rest of the Bible, become tragically misunderstood.

5.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.  Exodus 14:14

This verse comes out of the Exodus narrative in which the Israelites, who are fleeing their Egyptian oppressors, become trapped between the impending doom of Pharaoh’s approaching soldiers and the Red Sea. In their fear the Israelites began to cry out to Moses that they would have been better off had they never left Egypt. In the NIV translation, Moses responds by telling them not to fear, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” This version of the verse has been lifted and placed onto a plethora of Christian items…home decor, T-shirts, bookmarks, bumper stickers, etc. Many Christians have latched onto this verse as encouragement that as they face trials in their lives they need only to wait in their current situation and the LORD will deliver them. Oddly enough, other Bible translations like the New King James and the ESV translate the verse as “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace,” and, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent,” respectively. These translations indicate the verse has nothing to do with holding your ground. The Hebrew word translated here does not have an English equivalent, but means all of the things stated in those 3 translations…to be still, peaceful, and silent. Basically, Moses was not telling the paranoid Israelites to stand firm, he was telling them to remain calm. This all becomes further troubling when you read the next verse (which is never included on the Christian merchandise).

Exodus 14:15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Move on?! In 14:14 Moses tells the Israelites they need only be still, and in 14:15 the LORD says to Moses, “move on.” And people have gone and quoted what Moses said here. Why is that? Moses says be still. God says get moving. And people have decided to take their reassurance in the words of Moses? Really?  Clearly we know in the Exodus story that the Jews did not stand their ground on the shore of the Red Sea…they got moving.

When we read verses 14 and 15 together it becomes far more clear that what we are being told here is that our reaction to mounting trials should be two fold. First, we are to remain calm and remain steadfast in our hearts.  Know the LORD will fight for us.  But that’s only half of the message. Don’t stop there. Second, we must move in faith. Don’t stand still! God says, Get moving!!!

Still your heart. Quiet your emotions. Trust in God. Then get moving in faith. GO!

4. This too shall pass. Ecclesiastes 3:??

This is a great proverb! But…to the surprise of many…it’s not in the Bible. Historical records often attach this phrase to a fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will give him happiness when he is sad, and keep him from taking for granted the times when he is happy. After deliberation the sages present him a simple ring bearing the words “This too shall pass.”

The great king is humbled by the simple phrase. Jewish folklore casts King Solomon as the humbled king of the fable. Still, the fact remains, this phrase does not appear in the Bible. The portion of the Bible that most closely resembles this oft quoted piece of wisdom is chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes (authored by Solomon), which says: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep, and a time to laugh…

3. Money is the root of all evil. 1 Timothy 6:10

This is a misquoting of the verse: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” In the Bible “sin” is identified as the root of all evil. Sin is any action that transgresses the mark set by God’s Holy Law. Sin is the byproduct of want. Want is bred by either fear or lack of trust in God. Lust, desire, greed, and temptation (all forms of want) stem from a lack of trust in God’s promises and a fear that God’s provision will not provide His promised perfect fullness for our lives. In the Garden of Eden we see sin first enter the world when Adam and Eve fail to trust that God has given them a perfect existence, and wanting the knowledge of God, eat the forbidden fruit. Money in and of itself is an amoral object. In the Bible Christ calls His followers to properly steward money and other resources for the furthering of the Kingdom of God. In this case, money can be used righteously. Nowhere does the Bible say it is money that is the root of evil.

It is the love of money, a sign of want and greed, that is a root of all kinds (but not all) evil.

2. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phillipians 4:13

The famous coffee cup verse that sends us boldly and confidently forward into our day! This verse, while extremely powerful in proper context, is typically grossly distorted from the original intent in the writing of the Apostle Paul. At the time of the writing of this letter the Apostle Paul had finally reached his desired destination of Rome, but only after being taken prisoner, shipwrecked, and placed on house arrest chained to a Roman soldier. Further he was facing potential execution, and was mentally preparing himself for the not too distant reality that He would be leaving this world. Paul is not saying here that through the strengthening of Jesus Christ we can overcome all obstacles or succeed in all things. What Paul is saying is that through the strengthening of Christ we can press forward and endure through all hardships…even death. This verse does not infer that by having faith in Christ we will achieve or prosper in all we aspire to, but rather in Christ we find the sufficient comfort and support to carry on through all adversity. The preceding verse, Phillipians 4:12 provides proper context to verse 13.

Phillipians 4:12-13 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

1. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Matthew 7:1

The mother of all Biblical misrepresentations. Let us “twist not a scripture lest we be like the devil” (Paul Washer). The most frequently misused verse in the Bible is without question, Matthew 7:1. Often misstated as “Judge not.” or “Jesus said don’t judge.” The most humorous aspect of the misuse of this verse is that it invariable occurs in such a way that the person misusing the verse, in referencing it, actually declares a judgment on the person they feel is being judgmental. Hypocrisy much? Someone will say, “You’re being judgmental. Jesus said don’t judge.” And in their pronouncing a person as judgmental, they too have judged. Additionally, If you’re perceptive enough you will notice as well that Jesus Himself is passing judgment here on those who improperly judge. Clearly this interpretation of this verse doesn’t make sense.

The verse actually reads “Judge not that ye be not judged.” This verse is often swung as a gavel to bring about an immediate cessation of discussion of another person’s behavior. The incorrect understanding of the verse is that we are completely forbidden to call to attention any areas in others’ behaviors that demand correction. This is a clear misinterpretation of Christ’s teaching. The words of Christ:

John 7:24 “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

Matthew 7:16 “You will recognize them by their fruits…”

Luke 17:3 “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”

Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Clearly here, Christ says we are to judge righteously, recognize and discern good from evil by peoples’ actions, and rebuke our brothers and sisters when they sin. To rebuke a brother we must first identify that they have sinned. To identify a person’s sin, we must obviously first judge their behavior. Without the authority to judge others’ behaviors there is no permissible authority by which we could uphold governing laws, discipline children, select leaders, choose teachers and childcare providers, or discern which Bible teachers are profitable to listen to. Our selections of spouses, friends, and business partners are all based on judgments of character and ethics. Christ said, “You will know them by their fruits,” meaning we are to discern between a person who bears fruit, and a person who does not.

Leviticus 19:15 You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

To see what Jesus is actually saying when He says, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” it is helpful to read the subsequent verses:

Matthew 7:2-5 “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

We see now that Matthew 7:1 is not a warning against the judging of any action or behavior. It is a warning against self-deception, self righteousness, and hypocrisy.  If you are going to correct someone then you must expect to be held to the same standard.  If you judge with harshness, you can expect to be judged harshly.  If you judge with gentleness and good intent, your brothers and sisters are more likely to return the kindness.  Note that a speck of sawdust and a log are both of the same essence…wood. Jesus here is referring to the hypocrisy of casting judgment on another for a sin of the same essence as a sin of which you yourself are guilty. Jesus declares here that You must first overcome this sin in your own life before you will be any help to your brother. Notice in verse 5 that Christ does not prohibit us from pointing out our brother’s sin, or from assisting him in removing it.  Jesus does not command we say nothing about the speck in our brother’s eye. Jesus commands us to first address this particular issue in our own life, and then assist our brother in love.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.

**For a look at another incredibly intriguing, and perhaps unrealized, modern misquotation of the Bible, see my article on Pulp Fiction and Ezekiel 25:17

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

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Making Decisions that Align with God’s Will

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Time and time again we hear that we should seek God’s direction for our lives. We are told that we should seek God’s guidance in making big decisions, we should pray for the answers to life’s big questions, and we are told that we should aspire to carry out all our actions in accordance with God’s plan for our lives.

We have all been guilty at times of being overly confident in our own abilities. Our egotism has at some point given each of us over to an overinflated sense of self-assurance. Having experienced some success we become apt to believe that we can function without the guidance of the LORD. In other cases, many of us start in the right way – fervently seeking the guidance of the LORD – and as He promises, He guides our steps. As we begin to develop a level of comfort that the LORD is with us, and is smiling upon our endeavors, we sometimes then begin to seek the LORD’s guidance less, and trust more in the unfounded confidence in our own hearts. It is easy for Christians to believe that we are in alignment with God’s will and we are capable of making our own decisions. After all, we have been saved by grace, we are His chosen, and we live by the aid of the Holy Spirit. We begin to believe that our own decision making is sound, and forget that it was because of God’s good providence that our decisions were blessed to begin with. In either case it is by an overgrown sense of self-righteousness that we then cease seeking God’s guidance in all our decision making. When we begin to believe we are “good” people, and believe we operate with “good” intent, we become confident that our decision making is consequently “good.” We then become dependent on ourselves for our own guidance, and unfortunately, as has been demonstrated by thousands of years of history, self-reliance ultimately leads a person far from the LORD and, the more ambitious a person is, the more catastrophic the results can be. Jesus teaches, “No one is good except God alone (Luke 18:19).” We must not begin thinking that because we have come to know Christ that we are now “good” people capable of making righteous decisions. The truth is, we are sinners, soiled by sin, making decisions with a fractured conscience and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Though we are justified to God through Christ, it is by Christ’s righteousness alone, and not by any good of our own (Ephesians 2:8). No person does righteously apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must remember who it is that is good – He who makes us good – and seek His advisement always.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

The Bible very clearly teaches and demonstrates that those who lean on their own understanding, rather than acknowledge the LORD in all they do, will indeed eventually falter. Man is completely and fully corrupted by sin, and there is no one righteous apart from the Lord, not even one (Romans 3:11). Even those with the best of hearts and the best of intentions are sinful, and are betrayed by their own hearts. We must depend on the LORD for our provision, and we must understand that we truly succeed when we desire our lives be more of Christ and less of ourselves (John 3:30). Wisdom comes from the negation of self, and the entire reliance upon the LORD.

What must be done to know the will of God you ask?  First, have no will of your own.

When seeking direction from God we must remember that His voice may be heard in many different ways. Sometimes God’s message to us is clear as day. Sometimes God’s answers appear in black and white in the Bible. Sometimes we feel as though we are being unmistakably called to a certain action. Sometimes we receive a sign that is undeniable and rocks us to our very core. Sometimes we receive a pressing instinct that, by faith, pushes us to move. Sometimes, the unfolding circumstances around us elicit His desired reaction from us. Sometimes we have no choice, and react simply out of survival. Sometimes someone speaks a prophetic word that drives right to the heart of an issue we are dealing with. I’m sure there are countless other ways the LORD reveals himself that I am leaving out here, but I know many people who can speak of the amazing ways our LORD has revealed His will to them and changed the course of their lives. It is truly incredible when The LORD moves in these kinds of ways and manifests Himself and His will so clearly. Other times, the LORD’s will for our lives is not clear at all. Not all of God’s revelations come in an earth shaking show of fire and wind. Sometimes the LORD speaks to us in a gentle whisper. Be always prepared to hear the LORD in the event that He may speak to you in a subtle way (1 Kings19:12). Sometimes in all of our running, we fail to listen, or to be observant.

“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Still, Many times, even while we diligently seek God’s will in our decision making, we do not see His answer. We feel we are left to make decisions on our own – relying on our own best judgment. We ask questions like, “What does God’s will for my life look like? How do I know?” And we say things like, “If God gave me a clear answer to my prayer, I never knew it.” At this point we either take decisive action on our own, or we flounder. We all know from experience that either can sometimes be to our detriment. When we pray for guidance and we feel we receive no answer it feels as if we are calling for help and there is no one on the other end of the line. In times like these it is important to remember that God always has His hand on our lives. Nothing in this world happens outside of His provision or allowance. Where we are fervently seeking the LORD, He is there. Many have heard the song that says, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” No truer words could be spoken regarding this matter. Trust that God knows the plans He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Having established that we must consult the LORD in our decision making, and that the LORD determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9), how then do we know that the clear message we are receiving truly is a message from God? How can we confirm that we are not being deceived by the desires of our own hearts, but know that our decision is indeed the will of God? And, if we are not receiving a clear answer, what can we do to seek God’s will for our decisions?

1. Pray Unceasingly
Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Do not be discouraged when you do not immediately receive answers to prayer. Jesus says, “Ask, seek, knock. (Matthew 7:7),” and instructs that we ought always continue to pray without being discouraged.

Luke 18:1-8 And (Jesus) told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

Pray with persistence. If an unrighteous judge will respond to persistent pleas, certainly our just and loving God will give His response to our continuous prayer.

2. Test Your Decision Against Scripture
Does the Bible specifically address this issue? The scripture is the infallible Word of God and is the first litmus test against which we must measure all decisions. Does your decision honor and glorify God? Does this decision further the Kingdom of God? Will this decision be helpful to your Christian brothers or sisters, or be a stumbling block to them? Is this decision being made in pursuit of godliness, or as an indulgence of worldly, temporal, material things? Will this decision bring you closer to Christ, or will it serve to distract you from your walk with the Lord? The Bible does well to define what honors God and speaks specifically to many issues we are faced with everyday.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. Proverbs 9:10 “…knowledge of the holy is understanding.”

Some people like to think of “B.I.B.L.E.” as an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” Truly the word bible is simply Greek for “book.” The Bible is “The book of books.” The Bible may not be a step by step plan for living (fortunately it is more entertaining than a droning list of instructions), but it does indeed outline the principles for living righteously, coping with death, and receiving eternal salvation. The Bible’s instruction is spread across nearly 1200 chapters and over 31,000 verses so opening it up once and expecting to quickly find answers is an unrealistic expectation. It is wise to be well versed in the scripture in advance of making decisions. My best advice is to start reading your Bible now in preparation for the future. It is a certainty decisions are coming. If, however, you need answers immediately, we live in the age of Google. You can search “What does the Bible say about…,” and find verses that speak specifically to just about any topic.

3. Fast
Fasting is something that seems a taboo in our society of abundance and self-indulgence. We live a lifestyle that rarely, if ever, denies us any fundamental need.

Christ, when seeking to properly prepare himself at the beginning of His ministry first fasted 40 days. Christ’s stated expectation was also that you and I will fast.

Matthew 6:16 “Whenever you fast…” 17 “But when you fast…”

Christ does not say “if” you fast; He says “when” you fast. While fasting you will find that every time you are hungry, and every time you avoid a particular food, you are reminded of the reason why are you are fasting. You are making a sacrifice in your desire to become more closely aligned with God. This is very effective in keeping the LORD at the forefront of your mind, and making you more keenly aware of His presence. Most of us are much better at talking to God, than we are at listening to Him. It is very difficult to forget to listen to God when he is forced to the forefront of your mind in this way. There are few times when I have engaged the LORD so intimately and consistently, or been as acutely aware of God as while fasting.

4. Seek Counsel from Godly Advisers
What do the Godly people in your life, who have wisdom, experience, and a track record of Biblical living have to say? Even if you believe you have received your answer from the LORD it is still wise to seek the advice of the people you know who are qualified to give Biblical counsel. I am speaking mainly of your ministers and church elders here. Be discerning in whose advice you take, and don’t seek out someone that you think will give you the answer that you want to hear. Be open to receiving honest and unbiased advice from someone who knows the LORD. Ask your pastors. It is their responsibility to guide you. The LORD has blessed them with wisdom for this very task, and they will be happy to help as they have dedicated their lives to the very service of shepherding the Lord’s flock.

Psalm 1:1 How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked… Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

5. Remain Faithfully Open to Correction
This is arguably the single most difficult thing to do. For most people it is a painstaking task to develop the humility necessary to openly receive and appreciate rebuke from others. Being that all people sin, it is very easy to respond with a “Who are you to correct me?” attitude. Many people are also quick to go directly to “Judge not lest ye be judged,” discarding any good point that could have actually been made by the person offering them reproof. Though Christ instructed that we should not judge, for we will be judged in the measure by which we judge others, the Bible does consistently instruct (across the Old and New Testaments) that we have a responsibility to teach, develop, and correct our brothers and sisters. Sometimes the one needing correcting is us. Are you open to that? Or do you really think you are perfect? Some correct out of love, and others out of contempt. The truth is, a wise man knows this does not validate or discredit the content of the criticism. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters are more graceful in lovingly rebuking us than others. Often times, graceful or not, it is hard to hear. What we must come to understand is that the intent of the person offering us correction is not important. What is important is that we receive what they have to say and examine it for truth. Are we in need of improvement in our thinking, or in our actions? Are we being honest with ourselves in our decision making, or is God speaking to us through this person? It is incredibly important that we remain faithfully open to correction. The Bible demands it.

Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 15:32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

The absolute last thing that we want to be is the King who has everything, but brings destruction upon himself because he despises the wise words of a prophet (2 Chronicles 16:10), or a Pharisee who dedicates his life to the pursuit of righteousness, only to end up crucifying the Lord because He is too prideful to receive the Lord’s correction. We must swallow pride and remain humbly aware that we ourselves are not perfect.  We are far, far from it.  We must seek counsel from God, from the Bible, and from our church leaders.  We must be open to receiving correction from our brothers and sisters. This is how Godly decisions are made. Decisions made outside of these confines are decisions made in sinful self-reliance due to pride.  Being mindful of all these things, and seeking to hear the guidance of the LORD in it’s many forms will help us find the path to righteousness.  Narrow is the path that leads to righteousness (Matthew 7:14), but God assures us that if we listen to Him and follow His commands He will make us abundantly prosperous in all our endeavors (Deuteronomy 30:9).

Deuteronomy 28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.

 

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

25,653 total views, 13 views today

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 1

Part 1 of 4:  Peace Comes From Trust in God’s Plan

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Phillipians 4:6-7

In Romans 12 Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for Christ, and submit wholeheartedly to God’s will. When we are fully committed to that task, we should no longer find ourselves wanting.  I know from experience submitting fully to Christ is easier said than done.  Hopefully, I can shed some light on how trusting in God’s plan for our lives, aligning the desires of our hearts with God’s will, and having absolute faith in the LORD can bring about true peace, contentment, and rest for our souls.

If you truly believe in the God of the Bible, whose character traits are clearly and unequivocally outlined on nearly every page, then you know everything on this earth, good and bad, happens by God’s will. Everything you are receiving today is by God’s provision.  We are called to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

From our vantage point, life doesn’t always make sense.  Sometimes life doesn’t seem at all fair.  However, our present home is not heaven.  We are inhabitants of a fallen world that is the result of our sin.  There is no promise that this life will be easy.  It is certain that at times it will be hard.  The only real promise resulting from sin is that all people will someday die.  But, for His glory, God seeks to bring His children back to perfect fellowship with Him.  To do this, God works all things together, good and bad, to achieve His ultimate plan – the redemption of His people.  Our knowledge of His plan, and exposure to the details contained within, are limited.  From our vantage point it sometimes appears to be a mess, but by faith we must trust in the plan of our creator.

I have heard a couple of analogies that help provide perspective…

If you look at the back of a watch you will see many parts…cogs, sprockets, springs, levers, etc.  From the back of the watch it looks like a complicated jumble.  It is hard to follow how these pieces work together.  The watch is a relatively simple device in relation to the complexity of our universe.  Countless pieces work together in perfect unison each day to allow for our existence.  Does our lack of comprehension of the inner-workings of the watch indicate the watch is not working?  Of course not.  When you turn the watch over and look at its face, you can see there are two hands there working together in harmony, keeping perfect time.

Tapestry backside

A man was looking to buy a tapestry, and came across a massive one that appeared to him to be a complete disaster.  He stood puzzled as he examined it.  It was tufted and knotted, had colors that didn’t belong together, and  appeared to have a pattern that seemed indiscernible.  The salesman came to the man, and said, “It’s really beautiful isn’t it?”  The man said, “I’m sorry.  It looks like a mess to me.”  The salesman chuckled and turned the tapestry around 180 degrees revealing a most beautiful image – a true work of art.  The man was astonished and equally embarrassed.  He had been judging the backside of this tapestry.   All of the mess on the back came together perfectly on the front, and he was immediately aware of how little he knew about what was involved in the creator’s design.

You see from our vantage point, in this single isolated point in our lives, we do not see the big picture.  We are on the backside of the watch, or the backside of the tapestry, judging one single piece of a very large puzzle.  God’s plan becomes much clearer and much more amazing when we step back and view it from a proper perspective.  Like a stained glass window, the many broken pieces of our lives may actually be coming together to reveal a beautiful image.  Sometimes we just have to step back and take in the big picture.

Additionally we can see much of the glory of God’s providence by taking a 30,000 foot view of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and holding it against World History.  This is a wonderful investment of time, and changed my entire perspective on life.  I find it terribly hard to imagine anyone with an open heart would not marvel at the glory of God’s majesty in the unfolding of His story throughout history. When we know God’s promises we can truly witness that everything is working just as He planned.  We can see history is coming together just as He predestined it. The history of the world is unfolding just as it was prophesied, just as it was written, and we see that we can trust His Word as Truth.  God is working a masterpiece for His glory.  Trust in His plan. This is integral in finding the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Read Part 2 Here

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

1 Corinthians 6:9

“Or 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 who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)”

Sadly, I must confess, before coming to Christ I was guilty of more of these sins than I like to admit. I was guilty of quite a few of them. When you consider idolatry (the making of anything in your life a higher priority than God), that any sex outside of marriage is sexual immorality, and that divorce, biblically, is adultery, this passage has convicted a great majority of people in the Body of Christ at some point in our past. Further, according to this passage, not one of these sins is more condemnable than another. Sadly, some of us treat these sins as if one were worse than all the rest. These sins are equal according to this passage. Others of us don’t want these acts labeled as sins at all. Still the Word of God says what it says, and regardless of anyone’s heart in the issue, Christ followers are subject to the authority of the Bible. I myself have stood alongside every person guilty of any of these acts as a sinner unworthy of God’s love. I recognize that on my own I am no different. I do not hold myself in higher regard than ANYONE, and as the Apostle Paul said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” What I want to express is that by my belief in the Bible and my love for Christ I do not hate anyone nor do I believe I have any more right to Christ, or life and liberty for that mattter, than anyone else. People who know me, know my heart in this matter, and my LGBT friends can attest to the depth of our relationships and the genuine love and compassion that we share for one another. At the end of the day, what I know most clearly is that we are all sinners and all desperately need Jesus. That is the only message I’m called to deliver.

The good news, I found, and that I want to extend to everyone, is that immediately following the passage above (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) is verse 11: “And such were some of you [members of the Corinthian church]. 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.”

What verse 11 illustrates is that many members of the Corinthian church, were formerly idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers, etc., and they were all worshiping and serving together in the church, and accepted and loved by God. They were people who were saved and sanctified by Christ. Maybe all of the sin I’ve committed makes me more compassionate. I don’t know. Christ says, “he who is forgiven little loves little.” Maybe that means “he who is forgiven much loves much.” Perhaps that’s me. But perhaps that should also be all Christians. The Bible is clear that no people, on their own merit, are worthy of God. But the Bible is also clear God’s love and saving grace are available to anyone who would take hold of them and look to the cross. Every last one of us are sinners in need of the savior Jesus Christ. Not one of us in the Church is at liberty to deny anyone access to the cross or the gift of repentance. We are not called to badger, or hate, or condemn anyone, but to be light in the world. Our calling is to be like Christ, to engage, love and embrace sinners, to encourage all people to receive the gospel, and to help every person develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must understand that the sanctification of individuals is not our work, but is the progressive work of God in the hearts of each person as we engage Christ in His Word. My hope is simply that we would all bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Be kind, love people, point them to Jesus, and let God work.

Nonbelief is Not a Failure to Believe in God, but in Depravity – Just a Thought

The more I talk about Christ with others the more I’m made acutely aware that our society’s hang up with faith is not at all a failure to believe in God. Nearly all people acknowledge, or are at least open to, the existence of God. Where our culture stumbles is in believing in personal depravity. We can all recognize that we have fallen far short of perfection, that we sometimes make poor choices, and that we sometimes hurt others. But we refuse (and adamantly do not want) to believe that these imperfect and hurtful actions are sins, that they are wicked, and that place us in rebellion to God. By failing to believe that our own wicked decisions and actions have placed us at odds with our creator, we can see no need for salvation, and no necessity for a Savior.

The Truth about Pulp Fiction and Ezekiel 25:17

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Of the 50+ postings I’ve made on TruthByGrace.org, the runaway most-read post remains the “Top 5 Most Misquoted, Misused, and Misunderstood Bible Verses.”
Given the preoccupation with misused Bible verses, I want share what I find to be, by far, one of the most intriguing, and perhaps unrealized, modern misquotations of the Bible. In a 2004 poll, Samuel L. Jackson’s misquotation of Ezekiel 25:17, in Pulp Fiction, was voted the fourth best movie speech of all time.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the scene. Jackson says,

“Do you read the Bible, Brett? Well there’s this passage I’ve got memorized – sort of fits this occasion. Ezekiel 25:17.”

Then Jackson goes on to deliver what appears to be a tremendously dramatic Bible exhortation:

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

*The following video contains violent content not suitable for all viewers.

The thing is, the quotation above is not at all a proper rendering of Ezekiel 25:17. The actual verse reads as follows:

Ezekiel 25:17 And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.

Sure Jackson’s quote finishes along the same lines as the Bible verse, but the preceding lines in Pulp Fiction’s rendition appear nowhere in the Bible, and certainly not in Ezekiel chapter 25. Additionally, there are a couple of theological inconsistencies present in the Pulp Fiction monologue. Admittedly, Quentin Tarantino, the writer and director of Pulp Fiction, dreamed up this quotation as a re-imagining of several Biblical themes, and reworked them as a monologue that he believed best expressed the drama intended for the movie scene.

Pretty much all of the themes Jackson’s passage incorporates are found in different places in the Bible, but they are all re-workings, not true to the original text. The portion of the monologue about the tyranny of evil men is inspired by Ezekiel 34. The portion about the valley of darkness refers to King David’s words in Psalm 23, and the portion about being one’s brother’s keeper refers to the first human death, occurring in Genesis 4, in which Cain, after murdering his brother, asks the LORD, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

It should be noted that this post is neither an endorsement of Tarantino’s re-rendering the Bible, nor of the movie Pulp Fiction as a theological guide. I would hope that much would be obvious. But, what I do find most interesting, and want to point out, is that often over-looked in this incredibly popular film is the salvation story of Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield. Toward the end of the movie the savage bounty hunter experiences what clearly seems to resemble the effectual calling of the LORD.

Winnfield, who seemed to have always had a passing fascination with the way the words of the Bible sounded (rather than what they actually meant), comes to confess that in the context of (his rendition of) Ezekiel 25:17, he has always been “the tyranny of evil men.” But by divine revelation (or as he called it, “a moment of clarity”) he has come to the realization that he must denounce his wicked ways and strive to ”be the shepherd.” Jules Winnfield has experienced what Ezekiel 36:26-27 tell us is a regeneration of the heart.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

*The following video contains language not suitable for all viewers.

As the end of the movie nears, this enlightened Jules Winnfield, rather than kill a man that he previously would have, says this about (his rendering of) Ezekiel 25:17:

“Now… I been sayin’ that *** for years. And if you ever heard it, that meant your ***. You’d be dead right now. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a ***** before I popped a cap in his ***. But I saw some **** this mornin’ made me think twice. […] See, now I’m thinking it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. And I’d like that. But that **** ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.”

And for that reason, rather than kill Ringo, Jules shares this brief testimony and gives Ringo his wallet (which Ringo was trying to steal). In doing so he begins the process of repentance, turning from his prior way of life.

Lost in the melee of the artistic brilliance and grunge that Pulp Fiction truly is, lies a beautiful, realistic, and moving depiction of God’s sovereign grace in the redemption of lost men. See, God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Nothing we have done on our own qualifies us more than another for the saving grace of God. It is of no advantage to a person who feels they have lived more righteously than another if they are without faith in Christ. The Bible is explicit in telling us that separate from being reborn in Christ there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:12). But the good news is that God wishes to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us through Jesus Christ, and by grace God saves the wicked through their faith. This faith is not anyone’s own doing; but it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:7-8.) This is the gift Jules Winnfield, in Pulp Fiction, is experiencing. You see, in sending Christ to die on the cross, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God. This is how wicked people, incapable of consistently doing the right thing, incapable of controlling our thoughts, incapable of controlling our mouths, and incapable of always acting rightly (guys like Jules Winnfield…guys like myself, and each and everyone of us)…this is how Christ brings us to reconciliation with God the Father. Jules Winnfield had his “come to Jesus moment.” By his faith he was made new. Maybe you’ve never picked up on that part of this movie before…maybe you have. But by your faith in the Lord, you can be forgiven. God will put in you a new heart, and give you a fresh start to live in right standing with Him. You need only repent and believe in Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

**I would like to add that this post is not an endorsement of the graphic content or unrighteous themes of the movie, Pulp Fiction, nor is it an endorsement of the movie as a theological guide. Rather, this post is an attempt to shine the light of Biblical Truth amongst movie fans that might otherwise not hear the gospel and choose to remain in darkness, continuing to view this movie quote as nothing more than (as Jackson’s character would say), “a cold-blooded thing to say to a ***** before I pop a cap in his ***.”

***Download Full PDF Version (The PDF version is a more thorough, technical, reworking and elaboration on the contents of the original post further incorporating feedback and input from the comments section below.  I chose to include this PDF as a separate document rather than editing the original post for fear of tampering with the effectiveness of the original post or damaging the integrity of the ongoing dialogue in the comments section.  If you enjoy this post I do hope you will appreciate the PDF as it has additional content.) ***

If you enjoyed this film analysis, you may also enjoy my other film analyses of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road or Richard Linklater’s Bernie starring Jack Black.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

403,040 total views, 82 views today

Sacrifice for Tomorrow

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 2:9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Hebrews 10:35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

A better tomorrow never comes without sacrifice today.
Do good…share what you have…sacrifice in faith.
Endure. Embrace.
This life is not the reward…but tomorrow…

This post was inspired by the teaching of John Piper…

And the Lecrae song, “Sacrifice”

Lecrae – Church Clothes 2

Lecrae, whose last album Gravity debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, released his new mixtape – Church Clothes 2 featuring Paul Wall, Bun B, BOB, David Banner, etc. – for free download today at 1:16 Eastern (Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.) This is a BIG DAY as Christian Rap crosses over to mainstream and reaches a huge new audience of non-beleivers. Listen and download the mixtape below.

The Unrelenting Love of God – The Hosea Story

If you’ve ever questioned the depth of God’s love or the measure of His patience, you truly need to watch this video. This short film, produced by the teaching team at Irving Bible Church (led by E. Andrew McQuitty and including Dallas Seminary professor Barry Jones) is a deeply emotional, beautifully directed, contemporary portrait of the book of Hosea. Hosea tells the story of a prophet’s deep love and unfailing commitment to his unfaithful wife. This is the allegorical depiction of the unfailing covenant love of God for His people.

CLICK “PLAY ALL”

Here is a brief selection of verses from Hosea chapters 1-3 which tell the story of Hosea’s unfailing commitment to his wife.

1:2 When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how (God’s people have) acted (adulterously) by turning against the Lord (making other pursuits their priority, idolizing temporal earthly gain, and) worshipping other gods.”

2:2 (Hosea tells his children) “Plead with your mother, plead…that she put away her whoring…and her adultery…3 (otherwise I will) strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born (publicly exposed and helpless)…5…she…has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, (and sell myself to them to attain all I need)’ 7 She shall pursue her lovers…but shall not find (happiness, nor her needs met by) them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ 13 And I will punish her for…she…adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me…”

14 “(Then), behold, (I will forgive her) I will allure her, (I will show her mercy) and speak tenderly to her (and win her back). 15 And there I will give her…a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth…16 “And…will call me ‘My Husband,’…18 And I will make…a covenant (promise) on that day…and I will…(enable her) to lie down (unafraid in peace and) in safety 19 …(with me) forever…in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will be faithful to (her) and…(she will be) mine…

3:1 And the Lord said to (Hosea), “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, (this is how) the Lord loves (His) children…

Hopefully this helps you understand the depth of the love and commitment that God has for His children, and how our sinful behavior and our rejection of God truly appears from a third person perspective. I find it difficult to watch this video without feeling a strong need to repent and run to God. Despite our continuing to ignore Him, and our refusal to obey Him, He continues to pursue us to the ends of the Earth. He has not given up on you and is waiting with open arms for your return to Him. Ask for His forgiveness…He will forgive you. God is love.

The Most Common False Beliefs of Professing Christians

Is Your Christian Faith Biblical?

Many people’s faith has a number of extra-biblical influences they are unaware of.

Many Christians, who are not well versed in the Bible, combine elements of the Bible, church tradition, culture, other religions, and personal beliefs to create belief systems that don’t actually align with the teachings of the Lord they profess to follow. There is a recent trend in Christianity, a somewhat knee-jerk reaction to our post-modern culture’s proclivity to relativism and tolerance, that has led many Christians (and even Christian leaders) to shy away from clear teaching of the Bible. In some cases there are Christians who have questioned teachings of the Bible or even attempted to reconstruct long held Christian doctrines to fit within the confines of our country’s new cultural beliefs. For this reason I have constructed a quick test to help determine if our individual beliefs, and the beliefs of our churches, are truly in line with the Bible. Answer the yes or no questions, and then check them against the answers below.

1. Do you believe man evolved from something other than humans…a bacteria or another species of animal (IE. apes)?

2. Do you believe any of the following: that God and creation are one, that creation is a manifest part of God, that the universe is contained within God, or that God exists within creation?

3. Do you believe that all people are united to one another other and to the universe in mind, spirit, and body?

4. Do you believe the human mind has the potential to alter or override physical reality?

5. Do you believe people have the ability (independent of the work of God through the Holy Spirit) to heal illness by belief, with the mind, by touch, or by spoken word?

6. Do you believe that it is possible to believe desired outcomes into existence (IE. thinking positive thoughts will bring positive outcomes into existence)?

7. Do you believe that God accepts people into heaven based on the merits of the life they live, if they live a life of good, of love, or of good works?

8. Do you believe that the God of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Bhuddism, etc. all share the same God, and the different religions are merely God’s way of reaching different people?

9. Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and do you place yourself, your beliefs, and your actions under the authority of the Bible?

10. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God Himself come to earth in human flesh, and is an equal part of the Holy Trinity?

11. Do you believe Christ physically (in the body) rose from the grave and ascended into heaven?

12. Do you believe the atoning work of the blood of Christ is mandatory for the salvation of a sinner from the wrath of God (including eternal separation from God in hell), and that faith in Christ is the only way that a person can be reconciled and placed in right standing with God?

13. Do you believe the Holy Spirit of God is exclusively granted to believers in Jesus Christ as Lord?

14. Do you believe Christ’s Church is consecrated and set apart from the world?

15. Do you believe that faith is the free, unmerited gift of God, granted to His chosen by His grace, and that while we pursue righteousness, faith is not developed by works, logical reasoning, or the convincing of man?

16. Do you believe that Christ will physically return to earth at the Day of the Lord to gather His elect, and to tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty against non-believers?

Answers:

1. If you answered yes to #1, you are a believer in the scientific theory of macro-evolution. This theory is so far unproven, and in conflict with Genesis 2:7 which says, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” You can learn more about science’s inability to prove macro-evolution here:

2. If you answered yes to #2, you hold some variation of the heretical views of pantheism or panentheism. These beliefs contradict Genesis 1:1 which says, “God created the heavens and the earth,” and Hebrews 11:3, which teaches, God created everything from nothing (ex nihilo). Matthew 5:48 says God is perfect and Malachi 3:6 says He does not change. The idea that God would have a portion of Himself that is corrupted by sin, wicked, and destined for destruction (Revelation 20:15) is in contradiction to the very character of God which is eternal, perfect, and holy (Deuteronomy 33:27, Isaiah 6:3).

Pantheistic belief that God is in creation.

3-6. If you answered yes to any of questions 3-6, you hold beliefs from the non-Christian religion, New Age.

New Age belief that we are all one with the universe.

3. The Bible says in Psalm 4:3 that we are not all one in body and spirit, but that “the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself,” In John 15:17 Christ says we are not of this world, just as He is not of the world. In Romans 12:2 we are instructed to not conform to the world.

4&5. Christ taught in Matthew 17:20 that with enough faith Christians will be able to move mountains. The faith He speaks of however, is not a faith in ourselves and our own abilities, but faith that God will move mountains for us. Christ Himself said that the power by which He performed His miracles was not his own, but the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18). In Christianity we are not to depend on our own abilities, but to pray to God for the aid of His Holy Spirit.

New Age belief that physical objects can be controlled with the mind.

6. If you answered yes to #6, you believe in the New Age belief in the power of positive thinking. Some feel good preachers teach that by speaking power over our circumstances we can will change into existence. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 however says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Clearly we all know that our lives will not always be perfect, and there will be times when we will all endure suffering. So often we want God to change our circumstances and we pray that He would, but we are reluctant to accept the truth that God has placed us in our circumstances to bring about change in us. This is not meant to discount the importance of prayer, as it is paramount, but rather to bring about awareness that as followers of Christ we are not called to attempt to influence God’s will, but rather, to make it the desire of our heart to live in submission to it. Our confidence lies in the greatness of our God. We can always be confident that He will provide us exactly what we need. What we need may not be exactly what we want. In Luke 22:42 Christ demonstrates that even He lived in submission to the Father’s will when he said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” We are to trust God’s plans for our lives and seek to align our hearts with them.

7. If you answered yes to #7 you are holding to a false doctrine of works based righteousness. This belief that a person can earn their way into heaven by their good deeds is the same belief that Christ condemned the Pharisees for. The Good News of the gospel is that we are save by our faith in Christ. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

8. If you answered yes to #8, you hold the heresy of Universalism. This is the belief that all roads lead to God. This contradicts the words of Christ when in John 14:6 He says, “I am THE WAY, and THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ, here, says He is the absolute Truth, and the only way to salvation. If this sounds exclusive it is because it is. Jesus was crucified by the religious leaders of the day because He was outspoken in stating that He is God, and that He is the only way. Some people say that Christ never claimed to be God, but in John 14:8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is God. Anyone who does not know Jesus, does not know God.

Universalist belief that all beliefs have the same end.

9-16. If you answered yes to #9-16, you hold to sound Christian doctrines as expressed in the Holy Bible. These doctrines can be seen most clearly in the following places in the Bible: (9) 1 Timothy 3:16 (10) John 1:14 (11) Luke 24:39 (12) 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 (13) Acts 2:38 (14) 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (15) Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:8-11 (16) Matthew 24:29-31, Revelation 19:20

I hope this test was helpful, and my prayer is that all of us will always continue to prayerfully and thoughtfully seek Truth and seek to grow in knowledge and relationship with our LORD. Some people fear learning more about God because they are comfortable with God in the terms by which they imagine Him, and are afraid they would uncover something that they would not like. This is understandable, but a wise man once posed the following question to me, “If you knew God better, would you love Him more, or would you love Him less?” I have found it very encouraging to ponder that question. Someday we will come face to face with God, and on that day we will see Him perfectly. Let us hope that on that day, when we know Him rightly, we will love Him more.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

Treasuring Time

In the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, Uncle Screwtape, a senior ranking devil writes letters of advice to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter. In one letter he directs the attention of his young nephew to the following point, “…you will have noticed that nothing throws (a person) into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. […] (This perceived loss angers) him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen.” Screwtape goes on to encourage the young temper to, “Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties.”

The Screwtape Letters theatrical adaptation @ http://screwtapeonstage.com/

C.S. Lewis concludes, “…man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his (personal possessions).” In the end, man has no ownership over time, and the idea of ownership of time is a foolish notion, being that our time is clearly God given, and God’s to cease giving.

Our time is a gift.

My realization in reading this piece is that, while I desire to give all of myself to Christ, the thing I most selfishly cling to and begrudgingly relinquish is the last of my free time. I place a higher value on time than on possessions or money, and where the cliché will say, “time is money,” I literally treasure my time. I’m not talking about moments in time or memories, but literally, the time itself – the free time to do what I want to do, even if it is doing nothing. Christ says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” and where many will link this verse to monetary wealth, I have been forced to make an examination of how I spend my time, and called to make a better effort to steward my time in ways that better please and glorify God.

This text further disturbed me as I truly want to believe I endeavor to have a servant’s heart. I am by no means fully self-sacrificing, but I believe I desire to be. I believe this begins with the recognition that we are not our own, but were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19). The cost of our souls was the life of our God in the flesh. He cashed His life in, purchasing ours, and covering our debt. Christ gave his life, not just in death, but also in living sinlessly (in traveling, teaching, preaching, and healing – always doing the work and will of God even when it conflicted with his own self-preservation). Christ did this all to pay the cost to reconcile us sinners to the Father. Hence we should recognize we are not our own.

If I acknowledge that I am not my own, and I willingly give my life to Christ, then certainly, in fullness, this must include the forfeiture of my time, which clearly I have idolatrized and continue to place far too high a value on. Our lives (not our existences, but our lives as we perceive them here on earth) are truly just the days our souls spend encapsulated in these present vessels – our earthly bodies. God, however, promises that our souls exist independently of this earth (where time constrains), and are eternal. Somehow the idolatrizing of time must absolutely be indicative of a lack of faith in the eternality of our souls. Who would be so concerned with every minute, if we believed we had forever?

Psalm 90:12 says, teach us to number our days. This demonstrates that our days in this body are limited, come at a high premium, and should not be wasted. This, however, does not mean that we should be selfishly and fearfully hoarding our time for the purposes of self-worship – making ourselves our highest priority, and seeking endeavors that ultimately come to nothing more than our own vanity. We are offered such a limited time to come to know Christ, to introduce others to Him, and to get to the business to which He has called us. With this in mind I feel a very real need to let go of my grasp on time and invest it in ways that better satisfy Him. In doing so I believe I will also be better satisfied in Him. After all, it would seem that neither legacies nor memories are ever built in the moments when we are hoarding time, but always in the moments when we are spending it.

Deep Calls to Deep

Psalm 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember You…7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have gone over me.

This is a sermon that was inspired by this blog post, and was preached in the Alumni Chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY as part of a preaching practicum.

These are powerful words from King David, a man after God’s own heart. A man who experienced both times of unmatchable joy, and times of extreme, terrible anguish. In all things, high and low, David found complete fullness in His relationship with the LORD. Here David delivered a paramount analogy of our souls’ longing for the comforting, healing, and filling Spirit that can only be had in relationship with our Father.  David says “Deep calls to deep.”

“In the grandeur of Nature there are awful harmonies. When the storm agitates the ocean below, the heavens above hear the tumult and answer to the clamor. Down comes a deluge of sonorous hail or swift-descending rain, attended with peals of thunder and flashes of flame. Frequently the waterspout, of which David speaks…evidences the sympathy of the two great waters above and beneath the firmament—the great deep above stretches out its hands to the great deep below and in voice of thunder their old relationship is recognized. It is almost as if the twin seas remembered how once they lay together in the same cradle of confusion till the decree of the Eternal appointed each his bounds and place. ‘Deep calls unto deep’—one splendor of creation holds fellowship with another.”
-Charles Spurgeon, Sermon No. 865

When life’s storms rage, and perils come in succession, the waves crash over us, a dark cloud settles above us, and the storm rages down upon us.  We find ourselves stranded in the deep, waves crashing…they continue again and again – billowing over us, unrelenting, unyielding…mercilessly commanding surrender…leaving us desperately crying out for a rescuing hand of salvation.

As the plummeting power of the waters of the sky call out a tumultuous response from the waters of the sea, so too is reflected the powerful call of God – the call sent forth from the deepest chambers of His being to the most inward parts of our hearts.  As the wind and the rain stir the waves of the deep, so too does God’s immeasurably deep call intend to stir an echo with us. In the Bible the LORD’s voice is described as the roar of rushing waters (Ezekiel 43:2,Revelation 14:2). The cry of God’s voice, roaring like the waterfalls, paints the picture of God’s yearning command that you cry back to Him from the deepest, most longing places in your heart.

In life’s storms, the strongest of us are made helpless, the highest of us are brought low, the high, mighty, and proud spirits are humbled, and only what is of crucial importance becomes the sole pursuit of our hearts.  In a time of drowning, what will we cling to?  Will a drowning man cling to his treasure?  Will he cling to his pride, being content to sink to death, holding on to possessions which can not save him?  Or, will the drowning man let go of all that is not able to save and extend his hand to its fullest reach, and with all his might stretch out for the hand of his savior?  Will we reach out for life?

A person diagnosed with cancer quickly finds the priorities of their life changed.  No longer do they find themselves concerned with a promotion at work, or the latest Iphone.  A person who is losing a loved one can not find adequate joy in a new car, or living vicariously through the lives of reality TV personalities.  There comes a time when we all will have lived long enough to know we bleed.  There comes a time when life happens.  There comes a time when we will all experience a hurt so deep that there will be no adequate solace found on this earth.  There will come a deep hurt that can only be mended by a healing more soothing than any medicine this world can provide.  In that time, there is the realization that there can be no clinging to our treasure or clinging to our pride. There is no consolation in temporal earthly things. We come to realize our possessions can not save, nor even distract our attentions, from the sinking of our souls.  It’s in this time we are brought to the realization that we must let go, we must stop looking around us, and start looking above us.  The call is coming like the roar of a waterfall from the depths of Heaven.  It’s in this time we must echo the call, cry out in response, and reach out for life.  A deep sea of affliction requires a deeper sea of grace.   A deep despair calls for the deliverance of a God of infinitely deeper mercy.

Deep calls to deep.

The Hebrew word for deep, “tehom,” refers to an immeasurable chasm, an abyss.

Christ of the Abyss statue

Everyone recognizes there is a deep emptiness within us.  There is an undeniable longing for something more.  Many, many people believe this void can be filled by attaining more of what we already have. If what we already have isn’t satisfying then more of it must be the answer.  More success, more power, more money, more friends, more square footage, more toys, more clothes, more vacations, more freedom, more stability, more excitement, more danger, more drugs, more alcohol, more sex.  MORE! We believe that if we pile enough of these things into the empty chasm in our souls that we will be able to fill them. The media says more, the advertisers say more, the celebrities say more, and even the American Dream itself tells us to aspire and we can achieve and attain more.  But true spiritual contentment never comes from more of what we already have.  Even when we think we are happy, this happiness is fleeting.  We never find lasting contentment by building our foundations on the temporal things that do not last.  In a single moment our lives come crashing down.  Then, when we are weighed on the scales…ultimately we are only found wanting. Unfulfilled with nothing solid to lean on….wanting something we still do not have, and lacking that which is required.

This has happened because man was created full and whole.  At creation, man was made in complete harmony with God, heaven, and all the earth.  There was perfect relationship with God, and peace in the souls of man. Then When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, sin entered the world, and a deep rift was driven between man and God.  This separation manifests in the immeasurable chasm between man and God that exists inside our very souls.  Our souls long to return to the fullness and wholeness we were created to have, but on its own, the soul can not mend.  This emptiness is not a void that can be filled with power, money, success, drugs, or even more grandchildren. This chasm is simply too deep. Too genuine.  Our souls cry out to all creation, and there is only one thing that can fill the immeasurable emptiness within us.  This deep emptiness cries out for a deeper love, a deeper provision, and a filling of the Spirit – The only One deep enough to repair this void.

Deep calls to deep.

Over the course of our lives we have all buried ourselves so deep, under such a wretched heap of sin, that those of us willing to humbly examine ourselves can only come to own that there is a terrible amount of hurt we’ve caused our LORD, others, and ultimately ourselves. Beneath this heap of sin and hurt we realize that we lie practically paralyzed – enslaved in the bondage of our iniquity. We become reserved to the idea that we are idolaters, liars, slanderers, gossips, manipulators, cheats, and addicts, and become convinces that that’s just simply who we are. We are wallowing, dead, in a pit of filth and transgression so deep that only a God of greater grace, deeper forgiveness, and a love as deep as the oceans could wash over us and cleanse us, plant us back on our feet, give us new life.

Deep calls to deep.

Many who have received Christ as their savior, and believe, still do not feel the deep peace that comes from being filled with the Holy Spirit.  They believe that Christ alone will not bring all fulfillment, but cling to their old ways, believing that their sinful desires will be more satisfying than Christ alone. This is the unfortunate result of a continued seeking for carnal, worldly pleasures, and a lack of dependence and trust in the ways and provision of the LORD.  Sadly, this straddling between two masters leads to people being unfulfilled in both the world, and in the Church. The LORD demands to know, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions (1 Kings 18:21)?” How long will you straddle between the sinful ways of the world, and the righteous ways of God? Until you are willing to stop straddling between two branches, and go out on the limb with Him, you will never make it to the fruit. You will never truly have faith that peace is found in letting Him support you. Believers who do not feel the fullness and contentment of life in Christ should seek to go further with the LORD. Christ plus nothing equals everything. Where you go deeper, the Spirit has the depth to fill you.  You will not outpace Him.  He can provide a contentment not found in carnal pleasures or worldly temporal gain.  All you need do is measure the expanse of the earth, or number the visible stars of the sky and realize you are only one tiny person in one small corner of God’s great creation.  We have an infinitely bigger Father who longs to take us infinitely deeper.  He is ready and waiting to take you there.  He desires to take you into His everlasting embrace and shower you with His grace.  Trust He is the source of deep contentment and peace and is the only One capable of bringing fullness to your life.

Deep calls to deep.

And between you and I, brothers and sisters…children of the living God…Only a call from the depths of our hearts can provoke a response in the depths of another.  A shallow sales pitch will never stir the depths of others. Nor should these shallow, forced presentations of the gospel even be necessary. When you know the love of God, your contagious enthusiasm for the Lord will spill out uncontrollably. His light will reflect in you. Like Moses off the mountaintop, those who come in contact with the LORD glow.  Only the deep reaches the deep.  Likewise, only those who are willing to dig deep into their hearts, examine themselves, and be honest with their deepest feelings will respond to the deep call.  We know this because we know what it is to connect with someone on a deeper level.  We know what it is to feel something pierce beyond the superficial and resonate within us.  We know when someone is genuine, when someone is in love, and we know when something stirs deep within someone’s heart…to the point it actually touches ours.

So, I cry out from the depths of my heart to the depths of yours.  I was lost and hurting, empty and wanting.  I was seeking in every place, in every way, and desperately lost, finding no fulfillment.  I struggled with a terrible depression, a hopeless emptiness, an endless seeking, and a desperate belief that that was simply what life was.  I became bitter.  I became selfish.  I blamed others.  I hurt others.  Badly. A lot of people, a lot of times.  I was blind to the realization that I was this way.  I thought I was a good person.  I tried to tell myself I was happy.  I tried to convince others I was happy.  But I knew I wasn’t fulfilled, and my actions were the result of that.  I put my every focus on myself – my search for my “happiness.”

Then God brought the rain roaring down on me, and He brought His waves crashing over my head.  I tried to hold my life, as I knew it, together.  But it unraveled. I was undone…exposed…a fraud.  Then I collapsed.  All that was left for me was surrender….to stop resisting and to give God what He had always been after…my heart…to accept that all He ever really wanted to do was save me from myself.  Like a father watches a son continuously walk into peril, God said to me, “Enough!!!”  And He reached down and snatched me up and saved me. He put me back on my feet and changed me.  That was the beginning of my walk – my fall, and my rebirth.  The greatest thing that ever happened to me.  Many people would tell you that the greatest day of their lives was the day they were married…or the day their children were born.  I would tell you that those days do not come close to the day the Heavenly Father came for me.  That was the beginning of a joy that has been a complete explosion in the depths of me.  I was baptized on August 12, 2013, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and since that moment I have walked in a freedom and fullness that I have never known.  I want so desperately for everyone to know this love.  This love of the God who is who He says He is.  I urge you from the bottom of my heart, to seek comfort in the only One who can meet you in your deepest need.  The one who knows you, fills you, and heals you in the deepest parts of who you are.  If you are already a believer, I urge you…go deeper! Let go of your baggage that is only weighing you down.  You will not find the ends of His love, and you will not seek him in vain.  Seek and you shall find. No matter how deep you go, He will go there with you.  The more you give up, the more you find. I know because I am experiencing it…more and more each day.  I love you and I want you to know these things. I don’t tell you these things because I read somewhere that it was what I was supposed to do, or because I feel like I need to prove something to you. I am dedicating my life to telling you these things because in Christ I found fullness and joy. Someone once told me…”If you knew Him like I know Him, you wouldn’t be able to shut up about Him either.” Truth. With all my heart I want you to have His love and His peace. From the deepest depths of my heart.

Deep calls to deep.

Bird York – In The Deep

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey