Category Archives: Double Talk

Mistaken Identity

The Biblical story of Adam and Eve has caused controversy through the years. And it recently sparked an Internet faux theological firestorm after a female rabbi used it to depict Eve’s story in Genesis 3:1-16 as the first case of sexual assault.

Tamara Kolton suggested that Eve was the mother of #Metoo movement and that God was the culprit.

While it is a good thing to honor women who have the courage to stand up and speak out against abuse and discrimination, it is not good to misrepresent God and hijack His book for a social agenda. That is particularly true when you paint a picture of God that completely betrays the integrity of the original text.

You can read Kolton’s depiction of the Genesis 3 passage at https://forward.com/scribe/393778/the-first-story-in-the-bible-was-the-first-case-of-metoo/.

Kolton wrote, “It’s time we all acknowledge an overwhelmingly powerful source of shame and silence — in the bible…The story that begins the bible, the first one that we learn in Sunday school, the founding story of man and woman upheld for thousands of years by Judeo-Christian religion, is actually the story of the first sexual assault of a woman. The woman’s name is Eve. And the perpetrator? God.”

Notice that this is not a passive suggestion. Kolton is calling out God in this story claiming He acted in a way that we would classify as criminal today. Before anyone goes and makes such a strong allegation, this person should have significant proof. Shouldn’t that same burden of proof be applied to God?

Kolton commented, “She’s hungry, so she does the most natural thing in the world and eats a piece of fruit. For following her instincts, trusting herself, and nourishing her body, she is punished. Her punishment? She will never again feel safe in her nakedness. She will never again love her body. She will never again know her body as a place of sacred sovereignty.”

Let’s look and see what Scripture actually says. The serpent asked Eve if they were forbidden from eating fruit from all of the trees in the garden. Eve corrected the serpent saying, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden.” God made a beautiful garden, set Adam and Eve in it giving them dominion over the plants and animals. They had freedom to eat from all the trees in the garden except one. That doesn’t make God sound like a villain does it?

Eve further clarified, “God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”

By her own words, Eve demonstrated that this is more than just choosing the wrong thing for dinner. Like a loving parent, God had set boundaries designed to protect both Adam and Eve. This was no normal tree. It would give them the ability to know the difference between good and evil, and that could only come about for humans if they experienced and participated in sin.

Eve’s act was not simply eating a piece of fruit. It was rebellion and disobedience despite all the blessings that God had provided. Kolton suggested that there was nothing wrong with Eve “following her instincts and trusting herself.” But in many cases sin may seem like no big deal until we realize that it is. Sin frequently occurs when we trust ourselves and our own morality instead of following God’s commands. Our instincts can get us in trouble when they go against divine instruction.

Kolton further portrayed the scene, “’What have you done?’ He God thunders. Eve wants to defend herself, but she is too ashamed to speak. Eve, our first mother whose name means the ‘mother of all living things,’ is silenced, much the way the ‘patients’ of Dr. Nassar were.”

Wow! A number of scholars have explained this situation as both Adam and Eve being caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They appear to be like two teenagers who get caught doing something they shouldn’t, and they deflect blame. God asks questions much in the same way a parent would when fishing for the truth. The comparison of God with a serial abuser of women is so outrageous that it doesn’t even deserve a response.

And unlike what Kolton wrote, Eve does respond. She claimed to be deceived by the serpent. She was not crouching on the floor in shame, unable to speak. She deflected blame just like Adam.

At first, God addressed the man with a series of questions. The first question is telling because God asked, “Adam, where are you?” Since God knows all things, He wasn’t looking for information. Some scholars believe, and I agree that this is a question asked out of longing. It reveals a break in the relationship caused by their sin. This is the question of a loving Father wanting his lost children to come home. This is not the question of a serial abuser.

Kolton in her essay paints God out to be the bad guy. She makes the reader question and doubt God’s motives. You know who else does the same thing in the Genesis story? The serpent does when it suggested, “You will not surely die…For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil.” The serpent was insinuating that God was holding out on them. He knows something that they don’t. It is interesting that the pursuit of “knowledge” can be a trap. Some things are best left undiscovered if it leads to sin, pain and death in the process.

Remember, God is desiring to protect here, not control for domination. He has already shared His authority with them. And He made them in His image. The fact that God bestows His image on them means that he values them. You don’t abuse someone that you value.

Just as God is merciful, He is also just. Their sin produced results. The punishment comes as a natural result of their sin, not because God was an ogre who wanted to put them in their place. And ultimately, the story of Adam and Eve leads us to the story of Jesus. He exemplifies the ultimate love of God by choosing to take our punishment. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world. And Christians believe that God redeems it through Christ’s work on our behalf on the cross. This is a love story where God goes to great lengths to show mercy and redeem his wayward children.

Kolton’s further commentary reveals that she wrote her essay informed by a mistaken view of God. She applied to God evil things that were done by wicked men, some who even claimed to speak for God. She lamented, “The founding myth of Judeo-Christian religion, the story of Eve, granted generations of men permission to violate women. It teaches us that women are liars and sinners. Even if ‘She’ is telling the truth, she deserved it. God told her not to eat that apple, or wear that skirt, or go out after dark, or be pretty, or desirous, or in that bar or on that street or in that car or born a girl… This God, this man-made figurehead of the patriarchy, is not my God. He is a fiction, a man-made myth, but yet one so powerful that it’s poisoned and limited our notion of what GOD, the truly divine, is and can be, especially for women.”

Yes, it is true that some men have misused Scripture to justify their own positions and dominate women. But that is not God nor His heart. Truth is that all humans are liars and sinners. Both men and women are in the same boat. Kolton seems to want to raise up the ‘holiness of humanity’ while denying the glory and righteousness of God.

Reading Kolton’s essay my heart broke for her because I believe she doesn’t know the God who created both men and women in His image. I read years of hurt in her words and don’t deny those experiences. I just wonder if her ire is misplaced. Maybe it is humanity that really is the villain here not God?

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Holy Spirit, may you awaken Tamara Kolton to know the love of God. May she see the great lengths that God will go to reach and save anyone. May she see that following our own instincts when it contradicts your Word does not lead to life. It is a trap. May she see the beauty in the Genesis story not a distorted view of God. You are both just and loving. That is why sin begets punishment. But thank you God that Jesus took our place. Amen!

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The Enemy Wins When We Hate

Jesus said, “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25).

As I have watched the events unfold both before and after the election, I am aware that my real enemy is not the person who disagrees with me politically. It is not the person who has a different worldview or follows another religion from mine. My real enemy is Satan, the forces of darkness, lying spirits and sin. In the Beatitudes, Jesus called on His followers to love those who hate you. As a Christian, I am called to love everyone, including those who anger or annoy me. It is hard, and I struggle with it just like the next person.

The real enemy is anger, hate, sin, pride, lies and those things that would divide the body of Christ. Some “Christians” have said some horrible things over the past six months. And any way that I have fueled those flames, please know that I apologize. I am asking for forgiveness for the body of Christ for those who claim to be Christians and have spewed hatred, malice and anger.

Can we disagree? Sure, we can. Can we vote for different people? You bet. Can we believe in different futures for America and the world? Yes, we can. But at the end of the day, we need to treat each other with mutual respect. This means allowing those who are upset about the outcome of the election to vent or mourn. And it means those who are happy with the result can celebrate. This situation calls on everyone to be aware of the feelings of others. The guy who I openly liked (Gary Johnson) didn’t win either.

Elections have real outcomes, and those who win get to decide what the agenda will be. So this is not an editorial calling for the Republicans to fold up and sheepishly put away their agenda. But it is a call for civility to listen and understand the other side. All the major players in the presidential stage have acted with extreme grace and maturity since the election. This includes President Obama, Secretary Hillary Clinton and President –elect Donald Trump. I hope and pray this continues even though I know the various sides will work to defend the principles they hold dear.

As President Obama said this is an intramural scrimmage not a war between two different countries. I have friends and family on all sides of this election. And I want them to know that I love them. I want them to know that I am here to listen. Do I believe that God is still in control? You bet. Do I understand how that thought might not be very comforting to those who are overcome with grief in the moment? Yes, just like it may not have seemed a comfort to the Israelites in the Bible who were oppressed and lived in exile.

Even though I was not a fan of Barack Obama, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and pray for him. I was a bit afraid when he was first elected because of strong disagreements with his policies. As a person, I liked Obama and was proud that the country had overcome racial barriers. As a politician, I feared his solutions would only make our problems in the country worse. And I understand that at this point in time, there are millions who feel the same way about Trump.

I have no idea what the man I have called “Hair piece” will do as president. But I am going to give Trump the same benefit of the doubt as Obama. And I hope that Trump can be a better man in the White House than he has shown on the campaign trail. I do believe that people can change. Otherwise, the cross would be useless. I do believe that Jesus can redeem anyone.

If Trump turns out to be a nightmare and tramples on the rights of U.S. citizens or acts in inhumane ways, I will be right there with the oppressed standing for them. And I will publicly stand up for them in any way that I can. I will fervently defend the Constitution if Trump tries to become some sort of fascist leader.

Do we need to move on from hysteria? Yes, at some point. And I will be patient enough to realize that some people need a chance to decompress. Do many people have legitimate grievances with Trump and his rhetoric? Yes, I think so. I have personally criticized many things that Trump has said and done in the past. But even for Trump’s harshest critics, the best thing they can do is be vigilant, pray and act to mobilize socially to defend their rights in peaceful, non-disruptive ways.

Upon reflection, the real enemy is within when I and others let anger, fear, frustration, disillusionment or resentment lead me/them to act in ways that do not reflect Christ, who is the essence of love. The real enemy is not the other person but the powers of sin and darkness in the world. The real enemy wins when we hate.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All.

My tongue tends to get me in trouble a lot. Or maybe it isn’t really the fault of the tongue. I think the real problem goes much deeper than that. Jesus said in Matthew 15:17-19 (NIV), “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

What I say reveals a lot about what is going on in my heart. This is especially true in those moments where I am not “focusing on being good.” We all have moments where we slip up and say something we would rather take back. What comes up in these moments may reveal things in our hearts that we need to allow God to resolve.

My tongue problem is really a heart problem. And the tongue is indeed a powerful part of the body. With the tongue we can curse or bless; we can hurt or heal; and we can encourage reconciliation or cause division. The words we say to others can come back and hurt us. I think of it sort of like bouncing a ball against a wall. All that force and destructive energy has to go somewhere. And it tends to bounce back at some point.

I am starting to realize that much of what I think should never be said. This is hard for someone who is a verbal processor. And while it may seem like common sense, it is hard to accept when you highly value honesty and justice. Keeping your tongue in line, is also hard for someone who is paid to make value judgments in his occupation. As a journalist, I am supposed to interview various people and write what I find. But this is always more than just dictation. You have to make judgments about the reliability of various sources, analyze the importance of the different aspects of a story, and make clarifying statements that some would seem as undue criticism. When it comes to writing opinion pieces, you have to be critical and analytical. That is what you are paid to do. It is hard to turn off this way of looking and speaking about the world when you are not at work.

Scripture offers a pretty harsh critique of the tongue. It calls the tongue a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” The tongue is “set on fire by hell.” The tongue cannot be tamed by any man. It can “corrupt the whole person” according to James 3. This famous passage makes you almost want to take a knife to your tongue. But I think even a mute person might tell you this doesn’t really solve much.

Jesus clearly never shied away from making a harsh rebuke when necessary. He scolded His disciples and made all sort of tough rebukes (some might even call slanderous statements) against the political and religious leaders of the day. Jesus said all sort of things that baffled or enraged some who heard His statements. Of course, we are not Jesus. He is His own category. Yet, it doesn’t seem that Jesus forbid His followers from making judgments or giving harsh rebukes. The key comes back to the heart and why we say what we say. Is this rebuke to build up or just merely to cast mud on the reputation of another? Do you have standing so that your words matter to that person? Have you prayed about this first?

These questions all make me want to stop and think before I say anything. Maybe my momma was right. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all (that is unless you know that you have the authority, standing and the responsibility to give a godly rebuke).

Some interesting Scriptures on the tongue and its power.

Psalm 139:4
Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.

Proverbs 10:19
Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.

Proverbs 12:18
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 15:4
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

Proverbs 16:1
To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.

Proverbs 21:23
Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.

A Crisis of Faith

The recent economic and political events in the United States have helped to bring to the surface a problem that is prevalent throughout our society. We don’t know who to trust any more. As a society, we have lost faith in our government, leaders, institutions and long-held philosophies. This goes way beyond presidential politics. It trickles down to every aspect of life from finances to religion.

There seems to be a growing tide of skepticism in this country. We feel like we have been burnt too many times in the past to trust again. Some of this is the result of a society that has valued the wrong things. From absentee parents to compromised politicians to ungodly preachers, we have become accustomed to those in authority letting us down or in some cases abusing us.

I wish this was just a Washington D.C. problem. But the level of distrust is growing out in the heartland. It has impacted the American Church as millions leave the pews never to return. Many Christians are disillusioned with the church and their pastors. They struggle to find real faith and a community that will embody Christ in this world.

We are at a moment of decision. This crisis of faith could lead to redemption or even more fear and panic. I believe now more than ever is the time for us to cling to the only one we can really trust. And His name is Jesus.

Can Barack Obama Really Be a Christian?

After the Saddleback forum between the two presidential candidates, I had a conversation with someone very close to me who questioned my post about the event. This person said they thought it was good except they don’t believe that Barack Obama is really a Christian. In my post, I took both candidates at their word when they claimed to have a deep personal faith in Jesus Christ.

The unidentified critic couldn’t see how Obama could be a Christian if he was such a staunch supporter of abortions, including procedures that many Democrats find hard to support. While I understand where this person is coming from, I don’t believe it is my place to sit on the judgment seat about the soul of another person. That seat belongs to God alone, and He will judge us all for our words, actions and thoughts.

I believe someone can have political or cultural views that doesn’t seem to line up with Scripture and still be a Christian. I believe someone can be living in sin and still be a Christian. This gets to the whole issue – What really determines the salvation of an individual person? Is is our stated beliefs, our actions, our relationship with God,  divine grace or some hard-to-calculate combination of all four? That question is difficult to answer with certainty because each person is so different. To quote Obama, “It is beyond my pay grade.”

When it comes to salvation, I consider the question that the Apostle Paul asked, “Who am I to judge some else’s servant?” As long as someone claims to follow Christ and acknowledges Him as Lord, I believe that person may very well be a Christian even if they support things that God hates. The Bible is full of people who loved God and yet did incredibly horrible sins. That is where grace and mercy come into play.

At the same time, a person can claim to be a Christian all they want and not really be one. Only God and that person really know the truth. I don’t believe that Jesus can be your savior unless He is also your Lord. The problem is that the lordship threshold is hard to define since we all sin in some way.

Personally, I believe abortion is wrong and should be outlawed in most cases. I have no intention of voting for Obama. I find some of the comments of his pastor impossible to reconcile with Jesus’ teaching. But that doesn’t mean that I think the guy is going to hell. Obama will have to account to God for his support of abortion rights and his role in extermination the unborn children of this country.

At the end of the day, only God knows for sure if either of the candidates are really part of His kingdom family. I hope they both are the real deal.

There Is No Problem Here

Religiosity is alive and well in Islam just like any other major world religion. I define religiosity as doing something in the name of god that any rational person would see as foolish, useless, inhumane, or possibly even evil.

While in Morocco, our team saw this by interacting with a ministry that seeks to help women that get pregnant outside of marriage. Islam strictly forbids sex outside of marriage although many young people do it. At the same time, most families discourage getting married until a man can support his family. This means that most couples do not get married into they are in their 20s or 30s. Just like in American culture, many Moroccan youths don’t wait for marriage. The young “lovers” take their chances, thinking that they will not get pregnant. Many times a young “man” will lie to the girl, promising to marry her if she will only sleep with him.

If the girl gets pregnant, in many cases the guy walks away claiming the child is not his. Unfortunately, that’s not odd behavior for many young people around the world. It’s just sinful human nature. The women gets left with the baby.  

In Morocco, it is illegal to have an abortion although many pregnant women have back alley procedures done to terminate unwanted pregnancies. I applaud the Moroccan government for protecting the life of the unborn. But unlike in the United States, a Moroccan woman that decides to go ahead with an unwanted pregnancy faces a much harder road to navigate.

Our team was told that most Moroccan families will not help the woman do to the public shame of having children outside of marriage. While it may not be a big deal in the United States, it is a huge scandal in most Muslim countries. We were told that many families would privately pressure the woman to have an abortion and would then welcome her back once the “problem” went away. All of this would happen in secret because abortion is illegal and in most cases forbidden by Islam.  

In many cases a Moroccan woman pregnant outside of marriage would be on her own to cover the cost of the birth, raise the child and provide for her family. There is limited legal recourse to seek for child support. She would be cut off from her family. She would find it nearly impossible to ever get married. Many women are somewhat limited in what they can do as far as occupation. It would be a fairly dead end situation for this woman. That is why an abortion is such an attractive thing.

The Moroccan government doesn’t want to really help due to the cost and the concern about encouraging sexual promiscuity. Instead, we were told that the government simply acts like it is not a big problem. Humanitarian workers on the ground in Morocco told us that the problem is much worse than the government reports.

While the Moroccan government has done the right thing by limiting abortions in the country, the society does not do the right thing when families refuse to support young women who make the mistake of getting pregnant outside of marriage. It seems the loving response would be to support them.

Please take a few minutes to pray for all the young women in Morocco that face the difficult scenario described above. Pray that young people will understand the risks and be smart. Pray that the Moroccan government will allow humanitarian and aide organizations to get the permits and support to help with this often ignored problem. Please lift up the families involved that they will see their responsibility to love and support their “wayward” teens and young women. Pray that Moroccan guys will realize that they have an obligation to woman if they sleep with them. Most importantly, please pray that thousands of Moroccan youth will come to know Jesus.

Gospel of Inclusion

While in Atlanta, I saw a clip on CNN about a pastor in Oklahoma who went from opposing homosexuality to accepting it. He now preaches a “Gospel of inclusion.” Bishop Carlton Pearson of New Dimensions Church in Tulsa changed his theology because of people he knew who came out of the closet.

Pearson asked, “Do you ever see anywhere in Scripture where Jesus rejected anybody? Period.”

Most people would say, “No.” But I immediately thought of the time that Jesus rebuffed a Canaanite woman who sought deliverance for her daughter. Eventually, Jesus gave in to her request although he rejected her pleas at first.

Then I thought about a warning that Jesus gave. He said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Pearson has a point that Jesus showed love to many people who were rejected by the religious establishment. Unfortunately, the same thing happens today. But I believe Pearson strays from Biblical truth when he makes the leap from loving people to condoning their sin. Jesus never did that.

Although Jesus was willing to be seen and associate with prostitutes and sinners, he never told them their sin was okay. I get a sense that people who spent much time around Jesus were so amazed at what they saw that they left their old lives of sin. People came to Jesus so that they could change.

A number of years ago Pearson had built a 5,000 member mega church in Oklahoma. He earned big speakers fees for conferences and was a regular on Christian TV programs. Then he made a drastic change on his beliefs about sin, hell and salvation. He lost it all. Most of the members of his large church left. Nobody wanted him for conferences any more.

Now, Pearson pastors a much smaller church that openly embraces and condones homosexual behavior. Pearson denies the existence of hell as is traditionally taught in most Christian theology. 

Basically, Pearson believes that almost everyone will be saved and very few people will go to hell. He believes that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross covers the sins of the world, including those who have not confessed faith in Christ.  

While part of me respects Pearson that he would take a stand for something even though it would likely cost him a lot, I also reject his conclusions and theology. I would have left his church too just because I believe his new teaching compromises Scripture. The Bible is clear about salvation and sin. Scripture is also clear that homosexual acts are a perversion of God’s standard and design.

Pearson said, “All this hyper conservative, fundamentalist religion is probably not working.” That’s true. I believe that much of the rhetoric gets in the way of reaching wholeness and proclaiming the Gospel. Many people use God and morality as talking points to get elected or obtain power. God is not a registered Republican or a Democrat. At the same time, God decides what is right and wrong not men. And for the Christian, the Scriptures are the basis for judging morality. The Holy Spirit reveals the mind of Christ to us through the Bible.

Pearson said, “We have idolized the Bible and used it to denounce anything we don’t like, don’t understand or we fear.”

While I agree that some people seem to worship the Bible by denouncing any other way for God to speak today, Pearson’s conclusions about homosexuality are unfounded. Throughout times, some people have used the Bible to support all sorts of horrible things, such as the Crusades, racial bigotry or slavery. On the other hand, I strongly disagree with Pearson’s characterization that people are doing the same thing today by using the Bible to condemn homosexuality as a sin. I don’t believe that fear, dislike or misunderstanding has anything to do with the fundamentalist position that homosexuality is a sin.

Fear, dislike and misunderstanding may be behind inappropriate reactions by misguided Christians. But that has nothing to do with the proper interpretation of the text. There are times where Christians say and do things to homosexuals that are horribly wrong. This includes gay jokes, stinging comments, physical harassment, judgmental attitudes, etc. Those actions stem from fear, prejudice, pride and other sinful conditions.  

You see I believe that a Christian can say homosexuality is a sin without being judgmental. The real test comes in how we treat a gay person. Do we show them the love of Christ? Would we treat them like a leper?

If you believe homosexuality is a sin, it would be a dreadful thing to tell others that it is not. One of the last things you ever want to do is call good evil and evil good. That is lying, and it doesn’t really help anyone in the end. 

Pearson also said, “Scripture says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself not counting men’s sins against them. So if God doesn’t count men’s sins against them, why are we Christians or religious people so comfortable doing that.”

Pearson is right that God has forgiven the sins of those who are Christians. But that doesn’t mean we should keep on sinning. The Apostle Paul dealt with this issue. He wrote that we should not keep on sinning but should live holy lives as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Christ may not hold our sins against us, but that doesn’t mean it is okay to live in sin. Jesus not only came to forgive our sins. He also came to set us free from being a slave to sin. We don’t have to give in to temptation because we can escape it by God’s power.

The real danger of Pearson’s teaching is that it makes people feel comfortable in their sin. They are likely to think that they will receive a free get-out-of-hell card regardless of what they do or believe. The devil wants people to believe that so many lost souls will go to hell. It sounds like this Gospel is something that you don’t want to be included in.