The Associated Press just cited Pope Francis, aboard his papal flight back to Brazil, saying, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Did Pope Francis therefore mean that practicing homosexual sex is now considered by the Catholic faith as a morally acceptable and even morally good behavior? Probably not. Many in social media interpreted that Pope Francis was taking a new step which was inconsistent with traditional teaching of the Catholic faith. One observer stated, “A good change. The church updating its policy to be consistent with modern science (again). Intolerance and oppression for being born different has historically led to suffering and destroyed lives.”
However, it is still noteworthy that in the same question and answer session before Pope boarded his flight, he referred to some sexual relations as “sin.” In the context, Pope Francis said, “And when someone sins and confesses, God not only forgives but forgets.” The Associated Press also noted, Pope Francis saying, “clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.” Of course Francis was not talking saying that in cases of sexual abuse on minors that we should “not judge.” In fact, Pope Francis stated, “We don’t have the right to not forget.”
Perhaps there is confusion about Pope Francis usage of “judging.” Pope Francis was probably merely asserting that he is not “judging” the inside of one’s heart who has repented, because after all only God knows their heart. (I Sam. 16:7).
The Pope realizes that ultimately God knows their heart. This seems consistent with historical Catholicism which indicates that Christians are to make moral judgments, but not to judge a person’s ultimate salvation. We are to “judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24) Christianity also teaches that Christians need to show love to people of homosexual persuasion. Christians often work with practicing homosexuals, attend classes with some, or have them for neighbors. One of the great commands is to “love our neighbors.” The apostle Paul said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim.1:15)
Most practicing homosexuals argue, “I was born this way…I have never been attracted to the opposite sex.” The Pope will affirm that because of sin entering the world at the fall, every human being is born with sinful urges. However, “sinful” desires can be restrained and even replaced with godly urges. A man might have a deep urge to pursue other women besides his wife, but he can control those passions. Having such attraction does not make this man a genetically determined adulterer. The AP reported Pope Francis saying, “I still haven't found anyone at the Vatican who has 'gay' on his business card.” Pope Francis will likely still believe that that though a boy may have homosexual interest, this does not mean he is a genetically determined homosexual; through grace he can resist those urges. Therefore, the Catholic Church will still likely indicate that homosexual practice is “sin.”
But, through the power of God, Pope Francis will still affirm that all sinners (including ourselves) can be transformed – thoughts, emotions, and innermost desires – into all that God prefers us to be.
Dave Sterrett is the author or co-author of six books, including “I Am Second” (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and “Why Trust Jesus?” (Moody, 2010). He teaches philosophy and theology at San Diego Christian College’s liberal arts program, Rivendell Sanctuary in Minnesota. Follow Sterrett on Twitter @davesterrett
I have certainly failed many times in my life. I have said hurtful things to friends that I regret. I wish I could take my words back, but my apology does not erase the past. As a thirty-two year old single man who has never married, I’ve failed in some of my dating relationships. Earlier in my career, I made some poor financial decisions. Even this evening, I let my volleyball team down. My teammates were counting on six feet seven inch tall “Big Dave” to bring home the victory. All I brought home was lots of sand.
Have you ever felt like a failure? Maybe you’ve had an unsuccessful career, a botched marriage, or made a stupid mistake that ruined a friendship. Feeling like a complete failure can be a lonely, depressing experience. One mother expressed her feelings of failure to her pastors in this way:
I’m the world’s number-one failure. My marriage is failing. I seem to do everything wrong in raising my children. I’m not very good at anything. I’m not even able to understand the Bible very well. Most of it is over my head. I feel as though I’m not worth anything to anyone. I’ve not been a very good wife, mother, or Christian. I have to be the world’s greatest failure.
As a Christian, one reason I believe in the Bible is that it does not hide the deficiencies of its heroes. In the Bible we see that:
· Abraham, the “friend of God,” lied to save his life.
· King David, the “man after God’s heart,” committed adultery with a good man’s wife and then murdered him to cover the evidence.
· Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ three closest disciples, openly denied his Master three times, swearing that he “never knew the man.”
Thankfully human failure is not the end of the story. In each of these cases, God showed His amazing grace, and these flawed human beings continued on to live productive lives of service to the Lord. In my own life, God has continued to bring success and favor despite my failures. The Lord has provided an abundance of ministry opportunities, despite my shortcomings. My finances are coming back into order, I have paid off all my debts, and now am saving money. Even though some past dating relationships did not work out, I’ve grown as a godly man who hopefully will be ready to lead more wisely in my next relationship. Most importantly, I believe God has used all my shortcomings and even outright failures over the years to draw me closer to him. And, if God can change me, there’s hope for you!
If we submit ourselves to God with sincere humility, God will redeem our failures so that we can be better prepared for the Lord’s service.
John Newton was remembered as a “foul-mouthed sailor whose wild behavior even shocked his less-than-perfect ship-mates. He was a slave trader who had no conscience about buying and selling people for profit.” As Newton was sailing back to England from Africa in 1748, the slave ship Greyhound encountered a severe storm on the Atlantic triangle trade route and almost sank. As the ship filled with water in the middle of the night, Newton awoke and prayed to God to save his life. This terrifying experience was a real wake-up call for him. Newton eventually rejected the slave trade, became a minister, and later became instrumental in the abolition of slavery. Even though Newton had lived a life of many sins, he understood the grace of God.
After reflecting on his wretchedness, Newton penned the words to a famous hymn:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Newton befriended and mentored the young politician William Wilberforce, who, after many years of persistence, helped to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Newton’s final words are inspiring: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”
You cannot do anything to make God love you less. Jesus’s grace and love is for people who have made lots of mistakes. Even when you fail in your spiritual life or in any other aspect of life, God wants to forgive you and extend His infinite spiritual riches to you again.
This piece is adapted from Dave Sterrett “Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look at Doubts, Plans, Hurts, Desires, Fears, Questions, and Pleasures”(Moody Publishers). http://www.amazon.com/Why-Trust-Jesus-Questions-Pleasures/dp/0802489729/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374609399&sr=8-1&keywords=Why+Trust+Jesus
I remember writing at a coffeehouse and struck up a spiritual conversation with a twenty-something man who was sitting across from me.
“Wow, that’s a huge book you’re reading,” I commented, “What are you studying?”
“I’m actually editing a book that my father wrote. This is the Chicago Manual of Style.”
“Well, you are a wonderful son!” I replied, “Editing is not the fun part of writing. You’re father must really appreciate you.”
“Well, he’s paying me.” We both laughed.
“What type of book did your father write?”
“It’s a book on religion and spirituality. My father is a university chaplain.”
“Excellent!” I responded. “So are you a Christian also?”
“Well,” he hesitated, “Not exactly. I’m agnostic. There might be something out there, but I don’t think you can really know if it’s God, and especially if it’s the God of the Bible or some other religion.”
“How do you know that?” I asked. “Surely, you don’t believe that the universe popped into is own existence, without a cause?”
“Well,” he replied, “What caused God?”
“No one,” I responded, “God by definition is the Uncaused Being. Stephen Hawking said that everything and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang. If this is true, it’s more probable and rational to believe that the cause of the Universe in its very nature is uncaused, eternal and very powerful. That’s what I mean by God.”
Next thing you know, this young man and I were having a spiritual conversation for about 30 minutes about God’s existence, Jesus, and the Bible. I offered to buy him another coffee and I got to learn his story. Most importantly, I was able to share the message of God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
Later that afternoon, a college student sat down across from me with another story. He told me, “I’ve been looking and searching for the truth. I didn’t grow up in church. My girlfriend is Jewish, but I want to know if God is real. She doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah. I’m not really sure what I believe.”
Together, we looked up Isaiah 53 on his computer, and he identified that the passage was talking about Jesus, even centuries before His birth.
After talking for a while, he asked for my email, so I handed him card that said I Am Second and gave him the first book in the Coffeehouse Chronicles, Is the Bible True…Really?
Hopefully, we’ll stay in touch.
Was either one of these guys converted on the spot to become a Christian? No.
Nevertheless, I was thankful that we had the opportunity to talk about Jesus Christ. Many of us may profess Jesus but we don’t like to talk about Jesus outside of church. What do most Christians do? Well, they invite their nonbelieving friends to their seeker church, or talk about missions or humanitarian efforts. Perhaps they will share their story of how bad they were then and how good they have become.
These are all good conversations, but Jesus commanded us to share the gospel with others. What is the gospel? The gospel is the deity, death and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15).
Josh McDowell and I wrote the Coffeehouse Chronicles because we want Christians to be equipped to take their spiritual conversations deeper. It’s good to talk about your church, your story, or your humanitarian efforts, but the goal of these conversations is to lead into the most important conversation. The most important gift that you can offer is the “living water” of Jesus Christ. His story. His deity. His death. His resurrection. His free gift received through faith. That’s the gospel. Humanitarian efforts are wonderful. My coauthor Josh McDowell and I have ministered to the poor with in Russia, Poland, Haiti and Africa.
James 1:27 says that serving the poor is good religion, and it is indeed a part of good religion, but good religious actions are not the same as the gospel of salvation through Christ. I pray that we will equip believers to know why they believe what they believe and to center the spiritual conversation, not on your church or your community, but on the very person of Jesus Christ.
Kanye West’s YEEZUS and the Real JESUS
I Am a God is the name of one of the songs on Kanye West’s brand new album titled, Yeezus. Yeezus resembles the name for Jesus in the koine Greek language, in which the New Testament was written. Kanye, who has just had a baby girl with Kim Kardashian is considered by many to be one our culture’s most loved and innovative artists. As a gifted marketer, Kanye’s album has already gone to the top of the charts. His controversial statements regarding faith, however, are nothing new.
Kanye, after all, is not the only one to claim deity for himself. Madonna and Jay-Z are amongst others who have made claims of spiritual equality to Jesus. Jay-Z referred to himself as Jay-Hova after the name of Hebrew/Christian God.
Several reviewers of Kanye’s songs in mainstream media suggest that Kanye’s work is not blasphemous but rather authentic art expressions.
But some religious groups believed such claims of deity are blasphemous. Adam R Holz who reviewed a previous album of Kanye’s, for the blog, Unplugged, says that Kanye’s sexual messages mixed with his spirituality are incompatible with the teachings of the historical Jesus. Holz who reviewed Kanye’s album observed:
We hear references to oral sex, anal sex, group sex, lesbian sex, prostitution, masturbation, orgasms, promiscuity, male and female genitals, and filming sexual exploits. On "H‘‘‘ of a Life," Kanye sings, "I think I just fell in love with a porn star/Turn the camera on, she a born star." The song's chorus proclaims, "P‘‘‘y and religion is all I need." "Devil in a New Dress" describes a Christian couple's capitulation to carnal pleasures ("We love Jesus, but you done learned a lot from Satan/I mean, a n-gga did a lot of waitin'/We ain't married, but tonight I need some consummation").
Even while we as Christians strongly object to Kanye West’s message about spirituality, several things can be observed about Kanye’s work. One, Kanye’ reference to Jesus Christ reminds our culture that the real Jesus Christ is still the most talked about person in the history of world. While close to an astounding ten million people follow Kanye on Twitter (only thirty million behind Justin Bieber), over two billion living people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. So while we are offended by Kanye’s message, we definitely are not discouraged but ask ourselves, why does Kanye mention Yeezus, and not Mohammed, Buddha, or Abraham? Could this indicate that perhaps Yeezus (Jesus) was truly unique in his claims of deity and bodily resurrection?
The art of rap, can actually trace some of its roots back to the Greek poet Homer’s rhapsody, the Illiad. Homer’s work, the most widely read in the ancient world influenced many other Greek poets and writers including the Greek, Lucian of Samosata of the second century. Lucian mocked Christianity in his satirical writings:
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account...You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.
Although the Christian community of the second century were perhaps offended at Lucian’s mockery, religious scholars centuries later, now appeal to Lucian’s writings as another source from a non-Christian writer who actually provides historical confirmation that Jesus did in fact live in history, died by crucifixion, and that his early followers worshiped him, believed in the after life, did not fear death, and shared their belongings as common property amongst each other. In other words, Lucian in the second century sought to make a mockery of Jesus, but perhaps he only provided more historical proof of Christ’s uniqueness of being God. Likewise, those Christians who are concerned about Kanye’s songs being a satirical mockery of Christ’s unique claim of deity, can affirm that perhaps Kanye’s lyrics provide just one more piece of evidence of the compelling and influential life of the first century Jewish man, Jesus, who people are still rhyming about two thousand years later.
In moments of severe disasters like the tornado in Oklahoma, people of faith will often speak of “praying for the city” or “praying for the victims.” As the massive tornado outside of Oklahoma City annihilated buildings including a school with students and teachers, some people of faith used social media to speak messages of prayer and hope in God. However, some atheists also posted in social media, referred to this natural disaster as a “gratuitous evil” or evidence against God’s existence. One atheist tweeted:
“NEWSFLASH—If god cared about Oklahoma he wouldn’t have allowed the tornado in the first place. #PrayForOklahoma #Atheism
So, are natural disasters evidence against God’s existence or his care for mankind? Some eastern religions, like Hinduism and types of Buddhism, will suggest that evil is ultimately an illusion. On the other hand, some atheists do believe that evil really does exist, and it isn’t something invented by cultures or individuals. On the other hand, a theist (Jew, Muslim, Christian) may respond to the atheist saying, “If atheistic naturalism is true, what makes a natural disaster, evil?
You may not personally prefer such an invent like a tornado to occur, but to call such a natural event like a tornado, “evil” seems to be delving into a metaphysical area of reality which is beyond the physical.”
When atheists use natural disasters as a time to rebuke individuals of faith, there may be some indication that their argument against God is more of an emotional objection, rather an intellectual problem. However, with some atheists, it seems to be a genuine intellectual objection that dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and later, David Hume.
Some atheists, following Hume, who are watching natural disasters or experiencing true evil, will often hold that the two statements: “An all-powerful and all-good God exists” and “Evil exists” are logically inconsistent. But other logicians will note that there is not an explicit contradiction in these statements. The atheist is often assuming that if God is all good, then He would prefer to create a world without evil than to create a world in which evil exists.
The reality is that natural disasters and so-called problems of evils, are not just something for the Christian to try to answer, but a reality that every worldview, whether atheist, Buddhist, Muslim or agnostic, should consider.
Christian Philosopher Norman Geisler points out that, “The infinite power and perfection of God guarantee the eventual defeat of evil. The fact that it is not yet accomplished in no way diminishes the certainty that it will be defeated. Even though evil cannot be destroyed without destroying free choice, nonetheless, it can beovercome.”
Human beings may not know all the answers of “why” God allows natural disasters or other evils in the universe. Although we personally would prefer that such disasters never occurred in the universe, we recognize intellectually that angry feelings towards tornadoes does not logically disprove God’s existence. Religious individuals who have rationale for affirming non-physical realities like “evil” also affirm non-physical realities of “hope” and “love.” Ethicists acknowledge that many of the virtues such as “helping” and “courage” would not exist unless there was evil and privation.
Christians, who claim a relationship with God, wager that God’s goodness does exist. They have hope that the God, who experienced both suffering and resurrection through Jesus, will one day return to heal and wipe tears.
In moments of natural devastation like the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma, multitudes of people of faith will be praying, but they will also be grieving with the hurting, rolling up their sleeves, and joining together with other compassionate people to provide humanitarian help for those who are in need.