Let’s not ask the wrong question

This morning, I was asked the following question – “Does God view all sins the same way?” The person then said the reason for the question is that pastors, in her experience, answer this question differently.

My response to her?

“You’re asking the wrong question.” This is a question that actually demonstrates what I call an “Old Covenant” mentality. Throughout the law, which is the heart of that covenant, there were different penalties for different transgressions, penalties that went all the way up to and including a death sentence. Blessings and cursings depending on one’s actions is part and parcel of the Old Covenant. God tells the Israelites that if they keep the covenant, He tells them what He will do. If they do not keep it, He tells them what He will do.

Under the Old Covenant construct, a person’s sin required a response on God’s part. It’s called judgment and punishment.

I then gave her a different question: “Does God view sin at all?”

Now, I will admit, many who just read my response question will have an immediate critical reaction to the question, but hang with me here.

Paul says something very enlightening about how God views and approaches the world during this time. In Colossians 1:20, Paul writes that God “…through [Christ] to reconcile all things unto Himself, having made peace through His cross, through Him, whether the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens.”

This is very key. The grammar of the words translated as “to reconcile” and “having made peace” points to a specific point in time. The phrase, “through His cross,” that being the cross of Christ, points to what that specific point in time is. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, reconciliation is now open for people, reconciliation which is only possible because of how God now views His relationship with the world – at peace. If He was not at peace with the world but was still viewing the world from a viewpoint of sin, reconciliation would not be possible.

This is further supported by Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:9 where Peter says “God is long-suffering, not desiring any to perish but all to come to repentance.”

If God still viewed sin as He did under the Old Covenant, God would only be demonstrating patience up to a point before pronouncing judgment and sending the appropriate punishment. One only has to look at the history of Israel to see how that all played out.

So, from God’s perspective, He is at peace with all of creation because of Christ and the cross. God now views all people from the viewpoint of righteousness and what might be lacking in a person’s experience of that righteousness. That may be from a total lack of righteousness, as it would be when He sees someone who has not become an adopted son or daughter of His, all the way to seeing what is still lacking in a believer’s experience of the righteousness God has made him/her to be through Christ.

Either way, God now views each person and this world through the lens of Christ.

This is a very vital and crucial part of the New Covenant. Without it, the New Covenant falls apart.

But so many followers of Christ, pastors, teachers, leaders, and laypeople, by asking the wrong question, reveal that they still have part of the Old Covenant construct as an integral part of the New Covenant. That just does not work.

And until that type of perspective and thinking changes, the Gospel that is taught in many circles will not be the pure gospel, but a diluted or a defiled one.

So, let’s ask the right question.

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A New Adventure

Two years ago, First Baptist of Fort Dodge, in conjunction with the Fort Dodge office of Upper Des Moines Opportunity, began a transportation ministry. The goal was to help those in poverty situations for whom transportation is an obstacle to moving ahead in life. A schedule was set up to provide transportation to Iowa Workforce Development, GED classes, and Walmart to be able to shop for nutritious food.

It went nowhere.

No one signed up to make use of what was being offered. For months, no one made use of this resource. Finally, from a conversation with staff of Early Head Start, First Baptist began providing transportation to its monthly social gatherings for some of their clients. Additionally, after a conversation with the local YWCA, First Baptist also began providing transportation out to Walmart twice weekly for clients of the YWCA.

In an effort to increase the reach and impact in the community of this ministry, more opportunities were sought through conversations and attendance at monthly meetings of social workers where the existence of Wheels of Hope was shared.

From this came an opportunity to serve the Fort Dodge Community School District. There were nine at-risk students who needed to be in summer school but for whom transportation to, from, or both was an obstacle. Maria Lehman with FDCSD contacted Pastor Jim Laupp to inquire whether or not First Baptist through Wheels of Hope might be able to provide transportation for these nine children.

summer schoolSo, beginning June 21st and for the duration of summer school, Wheels of Hope transported these nine children three days a week to and from an elementary school for class. The picture shows Pastor Jim with the children in the van.

From this opportunity, additional opportunities to serve the children of the Fort Dodge community through FDCSD have been discussed.

When Wheels of Hope was designed, in no one’s mind was it conceived that we would be at this point, doing this type of thing, but thanks to the Holy Spirit’s direction and leading, the path has developed and continues to develop for additional opportunities to impact the community of Fort Dodge.

Happy Spiritual Father’s Day!

Okay, I made that up, but I am viewing today as “Spiritual Father’s Day.” I didn’t write this yesterday out of deference to my biological father, but today I will.

A spiritual father is a man who has been a father to me in the spiritual realm. In this area, I have been extremely blessed, for I have had 3 of them. And even though they were all fathers, I was unable to send them a card or give them a call yesterday to wish them a “Happy Father’s Day” for all of them have experienced their reward from their Lord Jesus.

A father is to train a son. That’s what the word that is often translated as “discipline” in the Bible means. It is education and training. It is not a reaction or consequence for stepping out of line. It is not what it is taught from many pulpits as being.

I will speak of them in the order in which they entered my life.

Dale Redfield came into my life in the Fall of 1986. I called him “Grandpa.” He was my wife’s maternal grandfather. He went to his glory in August 2002. There were two things that Grandpa consistently and constantly gave: kindness and time. And he gave those because of the three things he knew to be the most important: faith, relationships, and being a good steward.

Practically everything he did found its source from those three important things. And for 16 years, I watched and learned. Grandpa had a profound effect on me. He taught me what it meant to be a man of faith who nurtures those around him. And I’m still learning from the lessons he taught me for I still have a distance to go, but I am where I am because of Grandpa.

Next is Dr. Carl B. Hoch, Jr., who came into my life in the Fall of 1990 as I entered seminary. Herr Hoch was my advisor and taught many of the classes I would take during those years. He went to his glory in March 1999. Herr Hoch taught me to be a biblical theologian. He taught me to let the text speak for itself and follow where it led.

This training has greatly assisted me as I have wrestled with different topics and passages of Scripture. I am the theologian I am today because of Herr Hoch.

Last is the Reverend Dr. Fred Moore who came into my life in January 1993 as I entered my first pastorate. I consider Pastor Fred my mentor in ministry. He went to his glory in May 1996. I am the pastor I am because of Pastor Fred and what he lived out in front of me.

And Pastor Fred did something else for me in being my mentor. He literally lived out scripture in front of me, for he lived out 2 Corinthians 12:9 where God says to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for the power is perfected in weakness.” Because of that, Paul said, “Therefore, I will gladly boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that power of Christ should rest upon me.”

Due to a rare genetic disorder, Pastor Fred did not live a day without pain, yet I rarely heard him speak of it. What he exuded was extreme grace to all who were around him. And that was a powerful thing to watch.

So, “Happy Spiritual Father’s Day” to Grandpa, Herr Hoch, and Pastor Fred. Know that each of you left an indelible mark on me and, through your lives and training, have made me the man, theologian, and pastor I am today and am becoming as I build upon what you established in me through training and by example.

The level of confidence in organized religion continues to fall and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

It has been reported that Gallup, in its annual survey about the populace’s level of confidence in different types of institutions, has discovered that the level of confidence in organized religion has reached a new low of 41%.

I don’t find this shocking. Actually, I applaud this finding! I’m thrilled with this! Do you find it strange that a pastor would be thrilled by this news? You shouldn’t because it actually falls in line with why the good news of Jesus is truly the antithesis of religion, even though there are those within the Faith who seek to transform it into what is truly a religion.

You see, religion, with all of its requirements and regulations and codes of conduct and morality doesn’t truly work. And that’s why I believe there are many who are losing confidence in organized religion – they are realizing that religion doesn’t truly accomplish what it says it will accomplish.

Paul states quite clearly that religion is a failure. He writes to the Colossian believers, If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as if alive in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances?  Do not handle nor taste nor touch, (regarding things which are all to perish when used) according to the commandments and teachings of men?  Such things indeed have a reputation of wisdom in self-imposed piety and mock humility and severe treatment of the body but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23 JHL)

All religion truly does is take a rotten piece of fruit, an apple, let’s say, and cover it with the skin of a good piece of fruit, a pear, let’s say. So, when someone now looks at that piece of fruit, what is seen is a pear which seems to be an edible piece of fruit, when truly it is a rotting apple. The new skin covering only appears to make a difference when in reality it has no impact on the nature of the fruit and eventually will succumb to the rotten interior.

Religion does not change a person’s nature; it only covers it up. The person looks good on the outside because of adherence to a code of conduct and morality, but on the inside, the person is still the same selfish, unloving individual. Religion seeks to change the nature of a person through a process of behavior modification, but it doesn’t work.

In contrast, the good news of Jesus starts with death. God is not in the business of behavior modification. God wanted nothing to do with “pastoring” the sinful nature because He knew it didn’t work. So, He came up with a different plan, one altogether different than that of religion. He decided to kill that old sinful nature.

So, He sent Jesus, His Son, to pave the way through dying though Jesus didn’t deserve it. When a person believes in Jesus, God immediately kills that person’s old nature and buries it in the tomb with Jesus. Then, just as that one was joined to and participated with Jesus in His death, that one also participates with Jesus in His resurrection to walk in newness of life, just as Jesus did. When that person walks out of the tomb resurrected, s/he needs another nature because the old one has stayed in the tomb. So, God places the nature of Jesus in that person. Therefore, that person’s nature is now changed.

And, now, that person’s understanding and realizing who s/he is in Christ begins. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, a person grows into whom God has already declared him/her to be. And that person God happily pastors because that person’s behavior emanates from a new nature and is on its way of becoming natural for the person.

And this is why I do not look at anyone who is a believer through the lens of the old nature; I look and approach him/her as the new creation s/he truly is! Paul clearly stated that those who believe are the righteousness of God in Christ. Therefore, since I will not call or view God’s righteousness as sinful in nature, I will not call a believer or view him/her as a sinner, not even a sinner saved by grace, because that’s not who s/he is today. Yes, s/he was a sinner who became a sinner saved by grace, but after receiving that grace, s/he immediately became a saint, a holy one of God. That is the way God sees and approaches him/her, and that is exactly the way I will also. That is my starting point with people as I pastor him/her.

Religion treats people as sinners whose behavior needs modification and control. And that’s truly a failed exercise. I’m thrilled more are realizing this all the time.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the antithesis of religion

In the wake of the heinous act in Orlando, FL early Sunday morning, I knew there were statements, both written and verbal, from certain people and groups stating something along the lines of “This is God’s judgment” or somehow giving “approval” for it.

And I wasn’t going to comment about the presence of these statements, but this morning, after reading the comments one pastor from Sacramento, CA made in his sermon Sunday, there was a person quoted in the article that has led me to now comment.

In his sermon Pastor Roger Jimenez said the following: “Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? Um no, I think that’s great! I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight. We don’t need to do anything to help. As far as I’m concerned, Orlando is a little bit safer tonight.”

That there would be those who would celebrate the death of any person saddens me, but it totally does not surprise me.

But the quote I to which I would like to comment is from Sandrea Nelson, the Pride director of the Davis-Phoenix coalition. Nelson said, “He’s not a man of God. He is not teaching religion.”

I 100% disagree with the second part of that statement. Religion is exactly what Pastor Roger Jimenez is teaching. Religion is all about rules and requirements; it’s all about people attempting to maintain that code of righteousness and morality. The only result of this is that people discover just how far short they fall in achieving the goal.

God’s true purpose in giving the law was to demonstrate that it was impossible for people to achieve righteousness through keeping it because keeping it was an impossible task. Being guilty of violating the law in one way makes one guilty of the entire law.

That what God did through Jesus is the opposite or antithesis of religion can be found in a variety of places in Paul’s letters. Paul clearly states that Jesus sets a person free from the law. Paul writes in Romans 7:4, “So then, my brothers, you also have been made dead to the law through the body of Christ so that you might be joined to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit to God.”

Further, in 8:3-4, Paul writes, “For that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

When a leader like this pastor states this very type of thing, he is not approaching this world through the things of the Spirit but through the things of the flesh which is religion.

This leader is not participating, at all, in the ministry of reconciliation which is the ministry Paul states we have been given by God. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes, “So then we, from now on, know NO ONE according to the flesh, even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him no longer. So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, they have become new. But all things are out from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, not accounting their offenses to them and has put in us the word of reconciliation.”

Notice the two parts I have underlined. Paul specifically states that we know no one, be that person a believer or not, according to the flesh. We see that person through spiritual eyes, through the eyes of God, through the lens of the Gospel, the antithesis of religion.

Further, Paul flat-out states that part and parcel of God reconciling the world to Himself is “not accounting their offenses to them.” If God were to do that, reconciliation would not be possible because judgment would be forthcoming. Peter the Apostle supports this as fact when in his second letter, he writes, “But the Lord does not delay regarding His promises, as some count delay, but is long-suffering toward you, not intending that any perish but that all advance to repentance.”

So, how should one who truly has spiritual sight and is involved in the ministry of reconciliation respond to this tragedy resulting from a heinous act like this? With sadness, because with that size of group, there surely was present those who had not yet experienced that reconciliation and no longer will have that opportunity.

The second one shows whether or not the first is truly reality

In Matthew 22, Jesus answers a question about what is the most important commandment in the law. Without hesitation, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your understanding.” Jesus affirms that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with every fiber of one’s being: the seat of the will, all emotion and desires, and with all understanding.

This answer, I believe, is one that the group of Pharisees who were with the teacher of the law liked. They emphasized the importance of being in this type of relationship with God. It was what truly mattered and nothing else. But Jesus, because he understood what they thought, gave them a bonus answer, one that gave further explanation of the practical application and outcome of truly loving God – “And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” The word here translated as “like” means in the exact same manner and way. The second is a natural result of the first because, in the first, one draws close to the heart of God and His desire and compassion and love for people. And because of that intimate connection, the second becomes the true barometer of the reality of the first.

Jesus confirms this connection when he finishes his reply by adding, “On these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets.”

And this is where the Pharisees took exception. Their position was that the only thing that was truly important is one’s relationship with God. How that affected those around one didn’t matter. If it negatively impacted someone, that was just to be expected. Jesus is telling them that the second speaks to God’s desired outcome for love. It is also the outcome God had for everything He spoke through giving the law and direct revelation to and through the prophets.

Having the first with no concern for the second leads to unloving actions that are now justified by “deeply held convictions” and “strict adherence to the letter of the commandment.” For example, God commanded His people to participate in fasting. Through the prophet Isaiah, God takes them to task because even though they are maintaining strict obedience to the command, they are using the fasting from food as a savings plan for themselves when God says the intended outcome from the fasting is to use the money not spent on food to love those around them by helping those who are hungry. The Israelites, through strict obedience, made it to only be between them and God.

Jesus is clearly stating that if how one is loving God is not naturally result in loving others through actions, then that person is not properly and truly loving God. This is a connection that some of those among the followers of Christ need to once again read and truly comprehend and then shape their actions to conform to this truth.

Can you hear the screaming?

The government’s definition of “The Golden Rule” – “The one with the gold makes the rules.”

Recently, Iowa Governor, Terry Branstad, issued an official proclamation encouraging all Iowans to participate in a Bible-reading marathon from June 30 – July 3. This marathon would take place at the respective courthouse of each of Iowa’s 99 counties. In both Facebook posts and conversations, I have vehemently and adamantly disagreed with and opposed the governor’s actions.

One person was quite surprised that I, as a member of the clergy, would take such a position. Yes, I am a member of the clergy, but I am also a historical Baptist. And as such, I am adamantly opposed to having any type of entanglement, establishment, promotion, or restriction of one particular faith over another.

As one of my Baptist forebears, John Leland, said in 1790, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

My Baptist forebears were the recipients of persecution and penalty because they were not part of the state-sanctioned church of the day. They fought hard against having this continue under the newly written constitution that would take the place of the Articles of Confederation which was the governing document the first 7+ years (March 1781 – June 1788) of the official existence of this country. John Leland forced a promise from James Madison in Virginia that in exchange for his support, Madison would write and work to have a “Bill of Rights” added to the text of the new constitution, one of which was the Freedom of Religion. And the above quote of Leland shows just exactly what Leland contended that Freedom of Religion to mean.

At the time of the writing and ratification of the new constitution, along with that of the Bill of Rights, it was only the federal government that was to abide by these restrictions and freedoms. Those who put together the text of the new constitution kicked the “state-church” topic to the states, passing the buck to them. And it wasn’t until 1833 that the last official state church (meaning that a particular faith was established via the text of that state’s constitution) was officially abolished by it being removed from that state’s constitution. That state was Massachusetts by the way.

There have been some who have recently argued that the U.S. Constitution still only prohibits Congress from this type of activity and that states are still free to do so. I would agree, except for that little thing called the 14th Amendment (ratified on July 28, 1868) which states that all governments, be it state, county, or municipal, are now required to also abide by the same restrictions that the federal government must.

At the very least, Branstad’s official proclamation has effectively promoted one faith/religion over all others with governmental sanction. And while some may say it was okay for him to do so as long as he would do it for a different faith as well, I say that I would be shocked if he would ever call on all Iowans to participate in a Koran-reading marathon. It smacks of a “separate, but equal” approach and philosophy, which was declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court decisions starting in 1954. “Separate, but equal” has been shown to be a farce, a sham. It is nothing more than a justification of promoting one group and/or establishing one group over another.

The best way to avoid entanglement is for the government to just stay out of the faith/religion area altogether. The only role, as Leland said, that the government should play is after the fact if, AND ONLY IF, it becomes necessary to step in to protect someone who is being abused by another on account of faith/religion or absence thereof.

And it is when government, be it a legislature or one official like a governor, chooses to jump in before the fact and promote, that the government’s version of “The Golden Rule” is not often far behind in some fashion or form.

I can almost hear John Leland screaming from his grave.