Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review of Just One Scene


In case you've been living under a rock, and under that rock you dug a deep cave, and at the end of that cave you fashioned a bunker with thick, steel-reinforced concrete walls, cutting off the outside world, and making yourself impervious to any kind of radio, television, or internet frequency -- the latest Star Wars movie is out, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I've seen it, and it's a Star Wars movie. Don't worry, I'm not about to spoil it. Well, much of it anyway. There's just one tiny little scene I wanted to bring up, and then I'm going to spoil the outcome of that scene at the end of the blog. I'll put up a spoiler alert when I get there. If I remember.

If you saw the The Force Awakens (everyone dogged on that title, but I thought it was fine), then you might remember the rather disappointing conclusion when Rey found Luke Skywalker, handed him his lightsaber, then cut to John Williams music and blue credits. Luke had more dialogue in the previews leading up to that movie than he did in the movie.

Well, fret no more! We pick up at that exact spot in The Last Jedi (I won't spoil how Luke responds to getting his lightsaber back, but it's perfect). Rey wants Luke to teach her the ways of the force so she can become a Jedi knight like her father... er, wait, that was a different Star Wars movie. She wants Luke to teach her to become a Jedi. "I want to find my place in all this," she says.

Where Luke ended up going -- the most hidden part of the galaxy according to him, but apparently not hidden enough -- was an island where the last Jedi temple rests in an old, dead tree. There inside the tree is a single table with a few books -- the ancient Jedi texts.

So fiddle faddle fum, plot-plot and sub-plot, Luke won't leave with Rey, so she leaves on her own to  help the resistance/rebellion without him. Because Luke fears Rey is becoming like Ren/Ben, he decides to burn the whole Jedi thing to the ground. Literally. He lights a flare and walks up to the tree/temple. But before he can torch it, he's visited by a cameo appearance of Oz/Yoda.

Luke hesitates to act on his impulse, so the Green Goblin burns it down for him (in dead-Jedi fashion, of course). Having a change of heart, Luke is absolutely beside himself. You destroyed the last Jedi sacred texts! Yoda replies, "Did you ever read the texts?" And Luke stammers with an answer that was probably about to be, "Well I was going to!" Yoda says, "Page turners, they were not."

The whole Jedi thing has always been an excuse to put magic in a sci-fi landscape. There's nothing mysterious or deep about the Jedi religion; the filmmakers are just making it up as they go. Now the Jedi have ancient texts, and there's apparently only one copy left.

But the texts are not important. Of course they're not. Because being a Jedi is about feeling the force, not reading about it. There's no reason for texts. Remember Obi-Wan's first lesson to the young Luke: "Stretch out with your feelings." In this movie, Luke gives Rey that same advice. So what's the point of having a text if you don't need it? He never even read it! Which is the point Yoda makes with Luke.

Trusting your feelings is the lesson in almost every epic or adventure film I've seen: Follow your heart! Believe in yourself! It's the way of the world, exemplified in virtually all blockbusters. You can say, "Oh, it's just a movie." Sure, I won't argue with that. It's a cash-grab. I pay the money to be entertained just like you do. But all movies have messages, and that under-whelming philosophy is usually that you make your own way and your own truth.

The Bible says the opposite. You cannot make your own truth, and your feelings are not dependable. Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool (Proverbs 28:26), and the heart is so deceptively sick that no one can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9). You're following a dumb, sick guide when you follow yourself.

The Bible is our only objective, unchanging source of truth. On the days that you don't feel like you know your "place in all of this," you need the text to remind you. You were created in God's image for a purpose, and that is to worship God with everything that you are, giving thanks to Him in all that you do. There is a place for you in His eternal, imperishable kingdom.

But wicked men don't want to be with God. This world is fallen and subject to judgment along with everyone who is part of it. They will be destroyed when Jesus returns "with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12). That's not a truth you can feel. You read about it in the Bible.

For those who are in Christ Jesus, God has promised to deliver you and will give you an inheritance in His eternal kingdom. When this world gets to be too much, you will forget that. When the world looks alluring enough, you will give in to temptation. You would fall with this world if it wasn't for the fact that God upholds you by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

So you go back to God's word to be reminded of the truth. You're reminded of your sinfulness and your need for a Savior. This is what it says will happen to those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 7:15-17):
Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve Him day and night in His temple;
and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat. 
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and He will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Knowing the truth of Christ fills us with joy, something far more invincible than happiness or chills. You can feel goosebumps sitting in a movie theater with surround sound and lightsaber battles to John Williams music. But God's word is not verified by how you feel. It is verified by the never-ending, never-failing character of a gracious God, who gave us His word so we would know His love and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Okay, and now here's a spoiler. Am I supposed to put that in all-caps? Is that the proper online etiquette for a spoiler alert?

SPOILER ALERT!!

At the end of the movie after Rey... well, never mind... Fin goes to a drawer on the Millennium Falcon to get a blanket, and when he opens it up, gasp! It's the Jedi books! Apparently Rey swiped them before Luke/Yoda could destroy them. You see them for just a flash, but my daughter Annie and I agreed they were the Jedi texts.

Whatever's in those books, the script doctors will make it up by the next movie (unless it's a plot twist they decide to drop). But I'm willing to take a guess: the books describe what the Jedi feel when they experience the force.

That's not what the Bible talks about. As Peter said of the testimony of the Scriptures, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:16). We follow the truth.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Rooftopping Daredevil Falls to His Death

Wu Yongning, a 26-year-old Chinese rooftopping daredevil, fell to his death while performing a stunt from atop a the 62-story building. The Xiaoxiang Morning Herald reported on Saturday that Wu was taking part in a rooftopping challenge that promised 100,000 yuan ($20,400) in prize money.

The former movie extra had been attempting to climb the Huayuan Centre, the tallest building in Changsha, capital of China's Hunan province. On social media Wu was referred to as "Chinese Superman" since he scaled such tall buildings without protective gear or safety harnesses, relying upon martial arts training and careful timing to perform these risky feats.

He'd post his videos on Weibo, a Chinese social media site similar to Twitter. Millions of followers watched as he would tiptoe along a skyscraper, stand atop a high tower, or hang by his fingertips over a ledge. His fans noticed that he'd stopped sharing videos online, and that's when his family broke the news.

His step-uncle Feng Shengliang told the Straits Times that Wu planned to propose to his girlfriend the day after completing the stunt.

Wu Yongning performing some of his risky stunts.

Wu is one of many who have died while rooftopping, a craze also called "urban exploration." This fascination involves amateur stuntsmen, or self-confessed skywalkers, scaling tall buildings or high-rise structures in order to snap the perfect photo. Some are so dedicated to this hobby that they travel the world taking such pictures.

There are many tragic stories of people falling to their death performing such stunts. One of the most notable is 17-year-old Andrey Retrovsky, who died while doing a building-hang in Russia, where the rooftopping craze is huge. That same year, 24-year-old Conner Cummings was killed in New York City while trying to climb the Four Seasons Hotel, a 52-story building.

Despite regular fatalities, rooftopping continues to increase in popularity. It's about more than just thrill-seeking. A GoPro video from a selfie-stick that goes viral promises millions of hits and thousands of dollars in revenue. It can also increase star-power. Some models have taken high-rise photos to set themselves apart from other models, attracting more attention.

But they are literally risking their lives for fame and fortune. For Wu Yongning, it cost him everything. Said the China Daily editorial, "With all the likes and comments, he overestimated his own abilities and finally lost his life because of that feeling. Had Wu not been so popular on live-streaming apps, he might not have died."

Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Regarding daredevil rooftopping, that's quite literal.

When a person falls while doing pretty much anything else, they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again, learning from the mistakes they made. But when a rooftopper falls... that's it. One wrong move and life is over. The mark they leave on the world will be the stain they left on 57th street when their body hit the pavement.

Do not think to yourself, "Well, I'm not putting myself up there to fall and die like that so I've got nothing to worry about." They might be taking greater risks than you are, but your life is still just as fragile, and your fall might be today.

"You do not know what tomorrow will bring," it says in James 4:14-16. "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

Peter said, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time, He may exalt you, casting your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, Resist him, firm in your faith" (1 Peter 5:6-9).

Believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. You have nothing to fear of death, for Christ has raised you up and seated you in the heavenly places with Him. Seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. And when Christ who is your life appears, you will be with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

But if you do not humble yourself before the Lord, your fall will be greater than a slip from atop a sky-scraper. God in His righteous judgment will cast you into the hell of fire for all eternity. Life is too short and too fragile to take such a risk. Believe in Jesus today. Call out to Him for forgiveness. And the Bible promises that He will save you, as only Jesus can.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Would Jesus Bake a Gay Wedding Cake?

The Supreme Court of the United States listened to arguments today from a case formally known as Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was approached by two gay men, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, and asked if he would make them a wedding cake. When Mr. Phillips declined, he was sued.

Phillips said that he was glad to sell them any other product from his shop regardless of their sexual orientation. But he would not make them a wedding cake since it would be a romantic endorsement of something that as a Christian he did not believe was morally right. Marriage was created by God to be a life-long covenant between a man and a woman. Phillips is an artist, and he did not want to use his artistic expression to present a message he didn't believe.

When the two men took legal action against Phillips, the state of Colorado agreed that he had violated the state's anti-discrimination ordinance -- this was in 2012, before gay marriage was even legal in Colorado. Nonetheless, the state brought legal action against Phillips which was upheld by the lower courts. In an article published yesterday in USA Today, Phillips said that since being sued, he has received "hate mail, obscene calls, and death threats." So much for love and tolerance.

Praise God the Supreme Court has decided to take the cake... er, case... and already Justice Kennedy, likely the deciding voice, has said that Colorado has been "neither tolerant nor respectful" of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs. This is not just about freedom of religion, but also freedom of speech: Can the United States government force a person to express a message that person does not believe?

I became familiar with Mr. Phillips this past summer when a video was circulating featuring him and his lawyer answering questions on The View, the morning talk-show that has become a bastion of integrity and fairness (I'm being wildly sarcastic). The question Mr. Phillips was asked that made the video so popular was whether Jesus would make a cake for a gay wedding. Comedienne Joy Behar said He would, Mr. Phillips said He wouldn't.

If I were on The View, this is how I would have responded to their line of questioning. This is not a knock on Mr. Phillips' responses. My answers would be a little different than his because a) I'm a pastor, and b) I'm not being sued (which could change tomorrow in our current cultural climate). The following are actual quotes presented by the ladies in that interview. Their comments are in bold and my responses follow.

From left to right: Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin, Paula Faris, Jack Phillips, Kristen Waggoner (Phillips' lawyer), and Sara Haines. Forgive me but I could not identify the woman on the end, so she will be called simply "Host."

Host: I understand the concern people have about government dictating to private businesses what their business should look like. But on this religious freedom argument, I struggle. It violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, for example. Do you then, when straight couples come in, do you ask them if they've had a child out of wedlock, for example, if they participate in premarital sex, if they -- (audience applauds). Because, where do you draw the line then? Because that all could be deemed sinful, or sinful to someone who's religious as well.

That's a common argument when addressing cases of this kind, but it doesn't apply. Who is coming into a cake shop saying, "Hey, I'm having premarital sex. Could you bake me a cake?" In this particular case, two men have specifically asked for a wedding cake to celebrate something that Mr. Phillips doesn't consider moral.

I'm sure that if he was asked to participate in anything else he believed would be an endorsement of that behavior, he would decline. Mr. Phillips has said so: if someone asked him to bake a cake for an adult-themed party or Halloween or a KKK celebration, he would have refused in those scenarios as well. He has been consistent in his convictions.

Joy Behar: What exactly is your belief that prevents you from making that cake? What is it?

As Mr. Phillips expressed, he believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, as God created it to be. The Bible clearly teaches it.

Behar: But there are other things in the Bible I'm sure you don't believe.

No. I believe every word in the Bible, and I teach all of it. As a pastor, I go word for word through the Scriptures to help the hearers understand what God has said through His prophets and apostles.

Sara Haines: Well that actually brings me to my question, because one thing that's always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it.

Thank you, I have.

Haines: I was raised in the church, and it says do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. But it also says don't judge others. We're not the final judgment. It also says love thy neighbor. There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality which ones to go with, because in my mind, whether you believe in it or not, you should definitely not marry a man (laugh). But if someone else does, it's not my place to judge them because God will ultimately judge them (audience applause).

First of all, the Bible doesn't say not to judge at all. In John 7:24, Jesus said, "Do not to judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." You're making judgments now regarding Mr. Phillips. Secondly, God created marriage, and He said it is to be between a man and a woman. Jesus made this point also in Matthew 19:4-6. Whoever is having sex outside of that definition of marriage is guilty of sexual immorality.

We read in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that those who practice homosexuality or sexual immorality of any kind will be excluded from the kingdom of God. Revelation 21:8 says they will be cast into the lake of fire. God has already said what that ultimate judgment will be. So out of love for my neighbor, I do not want to encourage him in sin that will exclude him from the kingdom of God. Jesus died to forgive sin such as this, not so someone would persist in sin such as this. Wouldn't you agree it is actually unloving to encourage someone in behavior that will harm them?

Host: There are artistic endeavors that have no relation to same-sex couples at all that you decide -- I just want to be clear about that, because these other things that you do not (indiscernable). They're not related to gay marriage, or...

Okay.

Paula Faris: I have a question for you, too, kind of bouncing off of Sara's question. I know that you're a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low; the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself: What would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think maybe Jesus would have said 'I don't accept this, but I'm going to love you anyway'? Do you think that maybe would have had a more powerful testimony?

Jesus would not have encouraged someone in behavior that positioned them under the wrath of God on judgment day. He told the sinners to go and sin no more. Your question accuses Mr. Phillips of being unloving by refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple. On the contrary, he told them they could buy anything from his shop regardless of their sexual orientation. But he could not encourage behavior the Bible says is destructive.

Faris: So you don't believe that -- I just ask, what do you think Jesus would have done in that situation?

He would have told a sinner to repent before something worse happened to them, as He did in John 5:14.

Behar: Oh, come on. Jesus would have made the cake.

Faris: Jesus could turn water into wine. He could do whatever He wants to do.

Behar: You can believe the Bible and everything, but Jesus, that's a deal-breaker. Jesus is gonna make the cake. 

The devil told Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Jesus replied, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." And what has come from the mouth of God is that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Mr. Phillips is attempting to live in accordance with what God said.

Behar: Listen, I'm not judging what he did. I'm just speaking for Jesus right now. (Audience laughs and applauds.)

Jesus has spoken, and what He has said is in the Bible, which is the word of Christ.

Sunny Hostin: Let me ask you this, because we talked about this same issue yesterday on the show, and I can see both sides of this argument. When I put one hat on, when I put my legal hat on, I think it's a closer call than I think we're giving credit for. When I put my human hat on, I think, "Just make the cake." But let me ask you this. Lower courts have found [that Jack] broke the law, because there is an anti-discrimination law in Colorado. So lower courts have found that you discriminated against this couple, but you're taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just make the cake?

If your argument is, "Why make a federal case out of this?" you need to ask that of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins. They're the ones who sued Mr. Phillips. Remember that this happened in a year in which gay marriage wasn't even legal. The state discriminated against Mr. Phillips, and so has everyone else who has threatened him and his family. As far as I can tell, he's been nothing but kind and respectful through this ordeal. Doesn't he deserve to have his case heard before the Supreme Court?

Hostin: Now, he's received death threats. [Has he] lost business because of this?

The court ruled that Mr. Phillips had to make wedding cakes for gay weddings. He had to. So Mr. Phillips stopped making wedding cakes, a significant portion of his business. Who's to say someone wouldn't try to bait him into refusing to bake a cake for another gay couple? He would face more lawsuits while this one is still pending.

Behar: You're losing business! It's a bad business decision!

I agree, it is a bad business decision -- made by the state of Colorado, not Mr. Phillips. This is a form of authoritarian oppression more akin to fascism.

Behar: But there's a large issue here. I mean, some people are saying you could set back the law. You know, the case would set back the law fifty years. Because anyone would say I have religious freedom to deny you my wares.

Denying a person their freedoms of speech and religion, which are expressly protected by the constitution, is usurping the law in this case. The right for two gay men to marry each other and demand a wedding cake be made for them is not a right guaranteed by the constitution. Over the last 60 years, sexual liberty has taken precedence over the basic fundamental rights protected by the constitution.

Hostin: It certainly is a close call, but let me tell you, we reached out to the couple's, the gay couple's attorneys. They declined to comment at this time. But on the day that the Supreme Court announced that it would be taking up this case, they said, "The law is squarely on David and Charlie's side because when businesses are open to the public, they're supposed to be open to everyone. While the right to one's religious beliefs is fundamental, a license to discriminate is not." (Audience applauds.) What's your response?

Well, Mr. Esseks of the ACLU, who issued the statement, is discriminating against Mr. Phillips. He believes his clients are right and Mr. Phillips is wrong to run his business based on his moral convictions. That's discrimination. Everyone discriminates. The NBA and the WNBA, the PGA and the LPGA -- these are discriminatory labels. The question here is whether or not the discrimination was legal.

Does Mr. Phillips have the right to refuse to participate in an activity that goes against his fundamental religious beliefs? The constitution says that he does. I hope the Supreme Court agrees. Again, I must reiterate this because the point seems to be getting lost: Mr. Phillips did not refuse business to anyone. He simply refused to make a specialty cake. They could still buy anything else they wanted from his shop.

Haines: That's evolved in a lot of those religions. Because my brother's gay and in our church, it's fine for him to get married. (Audience applauds.) And I was raised in the church, so there are a lot of God-fearing Christian gays who are accepted and loved and they are choosing to love someone else, and, so I do think that the Bible has not changed because it was written thousands of years ago and translated sixty-some times, so what we're reading even, if you studied the Bible is interesting enough. But faith has changed and it has evolved to accept people.

There is no such thing as a God-fearing Christian gay man. He would be choosing to be gay precisely because he does not fear God. It doesn't matter how religious convictions have evolved on the subject. Jesus said in Mark 13:31, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

Hostin: But is he allowed to have his faith? 

Haines: I totally agree with that, but I do feel it should be: I should know that when I go in, because when my brother walks in and can't buy a cake from him, I don't want to put my business there. It's my personal freedom. (Audience applauds her again, apparently able to make more sense of her than I can.)

Hostin: And what do you say to that? Because we discussed this. I know that we're running out of time, but we discussed this again yesterday. Would you be willing to put up a sign that says, you know, this is a Christian bakery, this is a Christian establishment, I will not make cakes for A, B, C, D.

Behar: He won't get any Jews buying cakes either, or Muslims, if you do that. You might be putting off other religions. 

Haines: I don't think a Jewish person would not buy a cake because he's Christian.

Behar: No, but if he said, "This is a Christian store," that could put people off.

Haines: Well he could list adult parties, Halloween, gay marriages, and just let everyone know: these are the things I do. 

John the Baptist was beheaded for having a biblical view of marriage, so I do understand the culture is always going to be against those who follow the teachings of Jesus. But I still hope that justice will prevail in this case on behalf of Mr. Phillips, and that is also for your benefit. May the Holy Spirit convict your hearts of sin and righteousness, and for your sake I hope you come to an understanding of who Jesus really is before the day of judgment comes.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bethel Church Believes a Different Gospel


Last week, a reporter at BuzzFeed posted an in-depth article after going undercover during prophecy week at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. The school is one of the darling ministries of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, which also includes the music of Jesus Culture and their healing ministry Bethel Sozo. Any look into Bethel is bound to uncover some strange things, and the author certainly did. But despite an excellent exposé, she overlooked something crucial.

Molly Hensley-Clancy's revelation of the charismatic school -- nicknamed Christian Hogwarts by its own students -- presented more than the usual anecdotes of the weird. She also brought to light what Bethel is doing in their own city. They've given money to civic government, invested in the town's infrastructure, and even paid handsomely to save the jobs of four police officers. Bethel Church members have run for public office and started a secular public school (they get by with this saying the message of the "kingdom" is love, not religion).

All the kooky trickery that Bethel is known for was there, too: glory clouds, fire tunnels, grave sucking, dancing, chanting, healing, creepy laughter, and speaking in tongues. Oh, and false prophecy. Lots and lots of false prophecy. As one former student named Chris pointed out, what they call prophecy is no different than when a psychic does a cold reading. Only one out of every hundred prophecies are "true." We hear all about those, which they catalog along with their "miracles" like a baptist church does its baptisms. We never hear about the failures.

Hensley-Clancy also pulled back the veil on the dark side of Bethel's reckless charismaticism, from being a disruption in the community to the point that it has cost people their lives. Perhaps you've heard the story about a man who fell down a cliff and some students of Bethel attempted to heal him before they finally got help. There's another about a young man who died after an asthma attack. Neighborhood Bethelites wasted precious time trying to heal him instead of calling 911.

The coverage was thorough, sure to mention that Bethel is part of the New Apostolic Reformation, (though Hensley-Clancy called it New Apostolic Christianity) before shifting to the new name they wish to go by: the Independent Network Charismatic, or INC. Chris Rosebrough reported earlier that the NAR was attempting to shed the term coined by the late C. Peter Wagner and adopt this new moniker. That's a change we might have to get used to.

Bethel Church INC makes a lot of sense, when you think about it...

Hensley-Clancy also noted the seven mountains mandate believed on by every NAR church... sorry, INC. She says it is the "belief that Christ will only return to Earth when true believers bring God into seven spheres: religion, family, education, government, media, arts, and business." Mike Bickle at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOP), just down the road from where I live, has taught the same thing. It's one of the reasons I've paid so much attention to Bethel in recent years. Even though I'm in Kansas, this does affect my area.

It's an excellent piece of journalism, something I'd expect to see in a more high-profile publication. As I said, Hensley-Clancy's writing is great, but the story lacks an important consideration, which even reputable media outlets miss when covering these kinds of things, from religious movements to radical religious extremism. That crucial examination is this: theology. Why is Bethel different than most Bible-believing churches? Are there any spiritual concerns we should be aware of? Is it really all that bad if they are lying about their miracles and glory clouds if they do so much good for a community? The article only barely touches on such questions, much less gives answers.

The reporting is straight-forward and the writing balanced enough that you could fall to either side of the opinions about Bethel: you might think they're a nuisance, or you might see them as harmless, even helpful. Sure, there are those students who were so charismatic that their detachment from reality resulted in someone's death (IHOP has those stories, too, and attempts to cover them up). But at the same time, Bethel is doing a noticeable amount of good for an otherwise drug and crime-riddled city.

Students are coming to BSSM from all over the world, and they're staying and contributing to the local economy. Hensley-Clancy's reporting is so fair that she included a comment from a community member who wasn't thrilled with the international presence Bethel brings to Redding. The resident's comment came across as bigoted. Who wouldn't want to see the kind of unity promoted by Bethel Church? Furthermore, their students are often educated, employed, entrepreneurial, and eager to do more.

This is where theology becomes really important. It really doesn't matter how much good Bethel does in their town. It doesn't matter that Bethel produces quality and inspiring music being sung all over the world, even in otherwise doctrinally sound churches. It doesn't even matter where you fall in the cessationism-vs-continuationism debate, whether you believe miracles are still common or not. What Bethel Church is doing is deeply and deceptively demonic. Bear with me as I explain.

Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church, preaches a different gospel. This is a very serious charge, and I'm very serious when I make it. Galatians 1:8-9 says, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

Citing this very same passage, Johnson teaches that the gospel is miraculous physical healing, and if anyone says that God doesn't miraculously heal, or that He would even bring harm rather than healing, they're teaching a different gospel. But the gospel of Jesus Christ isn't physical healing, it's spiritual healing. More than that, it's spiritual regeneration. The Bible says, "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked," but God who is rich in mercy "made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:1-10).

As I pointed out in another recent article, the Bible does not say or even allude to the idea that the good news of Jesus Christ will miraculously heal you from any of your physical diseases. Bill Johnson would say I'm teaching a different gospel. But it is he who is preaching a message that can neither save the human soul, nor can it deliver what Johnson says it will. Johnson cannot heal you. Just look at the man. If the gospel means miraculous physical healing, why is he wearing glasses?

He won't heal his wife either? What a monster!

Johnson teaches about a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible. He and many other word-of-faith charismatic preachers believe that when the Bible says Jesus left His throne in heaven and "emptied Himself" (Philippians 2:7), He actually gave up being divine. The incarnate Christ was fully man but not at all God. When Jesus lived a life of sinless perfection, it wasn't as our substitute but as a model. Any one of us are capable of the same perfection. Jesus didn't do miracles because He was God. He did miracles to show us that we can do them, too, if we just believe that we can.

Here is Johnson in his own words (Justin Peters also mentioned a portion of this sermon in his DVD series Clouds Without Water):
"Jesus was so emptied of divine capacity, eternally God but He chose to live with the restrictions as a man. Why? To set a model, to set something to follow, an example. His lifestyle, if He did all of His miracles as God, I'm still impressed but I'm not compelled to follow. I just stand back and go, 'Wow, that's amazing. God, do some more. That's awesome, do some more, God!'  
"But when I find out that He set aside divinity and chose to display what life would be like for anyone who had no sin, and was completely empowered by the Spirit of God, He models something that is made available because the blood of Jesus was shed to deal with the sin issue. There is no lack in the power or the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus. There is nothing He left outside of its reach. There's nothing if He had it to do over again He would include that He didn't already include. It's all covered. 
"When He said, 'It is finished,' He meant it. He meant it is a complete job, and it is more than sufficient for absolute transformation. So what does He do? He models for us the normal Christian life."
Boy, there are all kinds of problems with this, but let me try to narrow it down to three. First of all, did you catch that Johnson isn't interested in following Jesus if Jesus was still God? He would be amazed by Him, but he wouldn't be compelled to follow Him. That's craziness. Many unbelievers think Jesus was a good man who did some amazing things, but they refuse to honor Him as God (Romans 1:21). Johnson's Jesus is no better than an atheist's!

Secondly, there's no room for sanctification in his message. If the moment you come to Christ, you're instantly perfect, there's no growth in holiness because you're instantly holy. That is counter-biblical. If you are not being sanctified, you were never justified. Those whom Christ has justified, He also sanctifies (John 17:17, Romans 8:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 10:14).

Those who follow this teaching believe they are sinless. Todd White, an evangelistic partner with Bethel Church, recently said about himself that he was without sin. But the Bible says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). If we become sinless the moment we believe in Jesus, then why did He teach us to daily pray, "Forgive us our debts"? (Matthew 6:12) Why did He tell us we are evil? (Matthew 7:11)

Third, if Jesus was not God, then He is not good. Jesus Himself said, "There is no one good but God alone" (Mark 10:18). If Jesus wasn't good, then He was imperfect. If He was imperfect, then He could not have been the spotless sacrificial Lamb whose blood atoned for sins. If you follow the Jesus of Bill Johnson, you believe in a different Jesus, therefore you have received a different atonement. If you have a different atonement, you are still dead in your sins, and you are not saved.

When the Bible says that Jesus "emptied Himself," it does not mean that all of His divinity drained out of Him. Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." So at no point did Jesus cease being God. Rather, He set His rightful claim as God aside and willingly submitted to the will of His Father, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). The miracles that Jesus did were not because He modeled a perfection that every human is capable of. It was to verify that He was from God.


When you hear the word "gospel" mentioned at Bethel Church, know that it is a different gospel they're talking about. This filters into all of their ministries. The "Jesus" in the name "Jesus Culture" is not the Jesus of the Bible. When you listen to their worship songs, you might hear all the right Christian words, but you are not praising God with them because they are writing and singing about a different Jesus.

Even if the signs and wonders witnessed at their school were real -- and they aren't -- they're encouraging students to follow another god. Deuteronomy 13:1-3 says, "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

The work of Bethel Church is for the devil's kingdom, not God's (Romans 16:18). Satan is absolutely delighted with the work Bethel is doing for the city of Redding. Good deeds if not accompanied by good doctrine are as good as polishing the brass on the Titanic as its sinking. Michael Horton on page 15 of his book Christless Christianity said the following:
"What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, 'Yes, sir' and 'No, ma'am,' and the churches would be full every Sunday... where Christ is not preached."
In the case of Bethel Church, a different Christ is preached. Molly Hensley-Clancy is a good reporter, but she didn't go far enough. Only when you consider the theology do you understand just how dangerous Bethel really is. She admitted that she's not a born again Christian and mildly hinted at being raised Catholic. I have prayed for her salvation, and I hope over the course of her investigation that someone shared the gospel with her.

Hensley-Clancy mentioned in her article that Bethel takes its name from the place where Jacob the patriarch had his vision of a stairway to heaven. That place eventually became a great city in Israel. Do you know what happened to them? They chased away the true teachers of God and were destroyed for worshiping false gods.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Death of Hugh Hefner


Hugh Hefner died yesterday at the age of 91. He was a pornographer, most famous of course for the publication of Playboy magazine. His Wikipedia profile, and probably any other biography you'll read of Hefner's, describes him as a political activist and a philanthropist.

His "charity" contributions included giving to free-speech causes that kept porn easily accessible, supporting an anti-vaccination campaign, and saving the Hollywood sign. I guess that qualifies as philanthropy. It is said Hefner also fought for civil, gay, and women's rights. But the reality is that Hefner did not free, liberate, or defend anyone. He enslaved them. Millions and millions of them. And made millions and millions of dollars in the process.

The Bible says that everyone is enslaved to various passions and pleasures (Titus 3:3), most especially sexual perversion. Jesus said if a person lusts after another, they have committed adultery in their heart (Matthew 5:28). Whatever overcomes a person, right down to what dominates his thoughts, to that he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19).

Though Hefner claimed to be a sexual liberator, he was an enslaver. The notorious Playboy Empire shackled men and women conquered by their lust, and the people happily gave themselves over to be ruled. They gave their money and their bodies, while the empire gained fame and fortune.

Women and also men gleefully wore the attire of the empire, which... wasn't much of anything. The emperor said, "Take off your clothes," and they obeyed. The emperor said, "Glory in your shame before the world," and they struck a pose. They wore the imperial brand (the bunny ears logo). They coveted the imperial body standards like Adolf Hitler aspired to have his Aryan race.

Playboy destroyed marriages. A husband became disappointed and unsatisfied with the body of his wife. Instead he retreated into a Playboy fantasy land, picturing himself frolicking among satin bed sheets and having sex with airbrushed centerfolds. Meanwhile, his wife found herself unable to compete with his mythological, impersonal, unemotional sex-object.

Playboy destroyed the consciences of young boys. Barely old enough to understand their own sex organs, in their curiosity they were introduced to naked women in submissive poses and come-hither looks on their faces. This developed an unrealistic portrait of a woman, one that is to be dominated and used for pleasure rather than respected and celebrated as a person.

Playboy destroyed the image of women. Even if a woman was appalled at the idea of taking off her clothes and posing for a porno, the Playboy mindset of the world around her demanded that she possess a certain body image. And if she couldn't accomplish that look or she refused to abide by their standards, she was not as important or valuable.

Playboy destroyed the meaning of sex for a civilized culture. No longer reserved for marriage and procreation, sex was a revolution. It wasn't meant to be private but flaunted and boasted about. A man who used to be called a pervert or a deviant became a playboy, hound, or player. A woman who used to be termed a prostitute or a whore became a bunny, pin-up, or centerfold.

Many of the most admired celebrities in our culture frequented the brothel known as the Playboy mansion, Hefner's home, or they were Playboy models themselves. Even our own American president was featured on the cover of Playboy magazine, and evangelical Christians gave him the thumbs-up.

There's little difference between Hugh Hefner and Donald Trump.

Playboy destroyed lives -- literally. Because sex was not just about marriage or procreation, because it was something that could be enjoyed liberally with anyone at leisure, many out-of-wedlock pregnancies resulted, and many children were aborted and killed. The normalization of pornography has also led to an increase in sex crimes and sex trafficking.

Since Playboy was one of the most influential publications in the sexual revolution, and since the meaning of sex had been redefined to build an empire, of course Hugh Hefner also became a champion for gay rights, "a fight for all our rights," he said. "Without [gay marriage], we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time."

Puritanical? Ironic. Hefner did not realize that by his own words, he admitted what he had done was impure. Unclean. Sinful.

Evil.

The Bible says that the perverse and the sexually immoral will be cast into the lake that burns with fire and sulfur (Revelation 21:8). We are told to see to it that "no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal" (Hebrews 12:16). The writer of Hebrews likened sexual immorality to selling your own soul.

Hebrews 13:4 says, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous." Sex is a beautiful gift from God meant to be enjoyed between a husband and his wife only. Any other kind of sex is immoral. Sexual immorality destroys you and destroys other people.

Sexual sins are unique because every other sin is committed outside the body, but sexual sins are committed against the body (1 Corinthians 6:18). It is also likened to idolatry. You take what was made in the image of God and make an idol out of it, worshiping the created rather than the Creator. You use people for your own pleasure, and the Bible is clear, God will destroy you for it.

But there is forgiveness in Christ, and only He can wash you from the stain of this perversity. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
"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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
Only those who are followers of Jesus have been washed of this sin, made pure in the eyes of God. The shame of their nakedness has been clothed by the righteousness of Christ. And they are in bondage to this sin no longer, set free by the power of the gospel. John 8:36 says, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

That means you can no longer walk in the sins of your former self, the old man you were before Jesus made you new. If you are still in that sin, you are still in bondage, and you've not yet been set free. You can no longer submit your body as an instrument for unrighteousness but you must become an instrument for righteousness (Romans 6:12-13, 12:1-2). Paul said in Colossians 3:5-10:
"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away... seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator."
If you cry out to Him for forgiveness, Jesus will forgive you and save you from your sins. He will give you a new heart in place of your old, dead, perverted heart. He saved me from this sin. He will save you, too. Psalm 101:4 says, "A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil."

Hugh Hefner will be buried alongside Marilyn Monroe, the first Playboy nude. Shortly after the news broke that Hefner had died, social media was all a twitter (pun intended) with kind regards for the porn mogul. It was said that the Playboy Mansion is heaven. The most common comment was this: "Hef is the only person to ever die where the phrase 'he's in a better place now' doesn't apply."

I tell you the truth: Hugh Hefner will stand before God in judgment, and the eternal sentence that God lays upon him will be holy and right and just. The wrath of God is coming against all the unrighteousness of men. Save yourself from this crooked and depraved generation. Repent of your sin and worship the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Review of Single, Gay, Christian by Gregory Coles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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