Convert or Die – In Reverse

My title may sound like a follow-up to my last blog about the 21 Christian brothers who were beheaded in Libya this past weekend and in a weird twisted way it may.  But no, this is about a 5th column within the church itself which is growing ever stronger advocating the church “get on the right side of history” or become irrelevant and die.

From what were we saved and redeemed?  This may sound like a rhetorical question.  Light was shown on the sin of man by the giving of the laws of God.  This was done in order for him to realize his need for God and the need to be cleansed from the curse of sin.  It’s not like sin is simply some bad habit we should eventually be rid of, but more like some agent of death we must be rescued from lest we be destroyed in hell.

Wow, that last line makes it sound like there is some Holy God out there who will cast us into outer darkness unless we convert to His way of thinking.  Yea, pretty much.  But unless you come to the realization He loved us so much He sacrificed His only Son in order to make it possible for that to not happen, it can be made to sound really intolerant and judgmental.

In 2011, Rob Bell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.  Just a few of years earlier he was named one of the 10 most influential Christian leaders by The Church Report.  For some time Rob has been leaning heavily towards the universalism tenant that there is no eternal physical punishment (i.e. hell) and more recently he has fully embraced same sex marriage.

I am only somewhat familiar with Rob Bell, but there are millions who hang on his words.  So when he says ‘the Church will “continue to be even more irrelevant” if it continues to cite the Bible’s prohibitions on homosexual behavior’ referring to the Bible as some “letters from 2000 years ago”.  I guess there are a goodly number of people who stand up and take notice, especially when he says it shoulder to shoulder with the Big O herself (Oprah).

And here is where it really gets twisted.  In referring to the church’s battle against same sex marriage his wife states that “there are churches who are moving forward and there are churches who are almost regressing and making it more of a battle”.  Rob followed with “I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work. … You sort of die or you adapt … we have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.”

So, brothers and sisters, 2000 years after “those letters” were written to encourage us to repent of our destructive sinful ways, follow Christ and be saved from eternal punishment, it is now we the church who, Rob Bell claims, must repent of our commitment to that holy living and revert back to a time before those thousands of years when living sinful lives was vogue ——- or die.  In other words, what was considered destructive and sinful living for 2000 years has all of a sudden become not sin and any commitment advocating the avoidance of sinful living has been turned on its head and has now become the destructive thing?

And it’s not just from former “old letter” believers where this is coming.  Just this week a judge in New Jersey declared any counseling for, even requested, conversion therapy to be fraudulent and prosecutable.

So, after what did happen with the 21 CHRISTIANS in Libya this past weekend, you thought your commitment to Christ mite at the worst put the choice before you to convert to Islam or die with the name of Jesus on your lips.  No, brothers and sisters, it’s much, much worse than that.  In order to “get along” in this generation, you will have to deny over 2 thousand years of church history, deny those faded “silly” letters, deny the testimony of the saints, deny your own experience with God and even deny the purposeful sacrifice of Christ.  Or become irrelevant and die.

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But you don’t understand, my problems are worse than a martyr’s – Said Nobody EVER!!!

I have not yet watched the video of the beheadings of 21 Egyptian brothers.  I am very conflicted as to whether I will on not.  Part of me wants to and part of me is loathe to watch it and I have no particular “spiritual” reason for either.  But I have read accounts of a father in Egypt having to stop watching it after seeing his son crying out the name of Jesus Christ just before his beheading.  Other reports are of many of them proclaiming Jesus as their only savior as the knives come out.

I have seen a picture of the sea turned BLOOD red and I can just imagine the chorus of their blood crying out from the sand and the sea.

Part of me cries uncontrollably, part of me wishes I could have been a sniper on a sand dune overlooking the event to take out the executioners before they could carry out their empty deed.  I say empty because I cannot imagine someone with any self esteem, worth or noble purpose in life being able to do this kind of thing.

Then there is the part of me which cries almost more intently because of my complaints to my wife, my kids (and worse yet) the Lord about my problems.  Until the last couple of days my problems loomed large and many would agree as to the severity of what I am facing.  But in light of the real life, captured on video and broadcast to the whole world, plight of these precious Coptic brothers in the Lord facing modern day martyrdom my issues are just that – temporal issues with no eternal implications.

I have seen postings of praying for the executioners.  I know I should be there, but not just yet Lord.  Please give me a few more hours of righteous indignation and desire for exacting retribution of similar fashion.  But even as I write that I hear scripture proclaiming the Father is so very patient in His return – not willing for any to perish, but that all would come to repentance.  But I don’t want them to repent!  I want them to pay and I want to be the one that makes them pay.

But then I hear the rebuking words of Jesus to James and John – “you don’t know what kind of spirit you have taken on” and all of a sudden I have become no better than those lost souls on the beach in Libya – having no knowledge of the risen Savior.  I know from how low I have been pull up and compassion begins to roll in like a flood – God, you take a pass on my problems if you can save but one.

PS – There but by the grace of God went Paul …. re-phrase – There went Paul before the grace of God!

Don’t wee wee down the back of my neck and tell me it’s raining!

This blog has nothing to do with anything religious.  It is just a garden variety rant which happens to involve a product I have been using for over 15 years – TurboTax.  I started using just for myself and then did all my kids taxes until they moved out and took it over for themselves.  I still have a couple of stragglers at home who I can’t seem to shake and one of them this morning asked if I had bought the software yet to do his taxes because he wants his refund.

As I went to Office Depot to buy it, I was cautioned that you can no longer buy the deluxe version but instead must now buy the new premier version ($20 more expensive).  The reason – after all these years of being consistent in their offerings, they removed the schedule C (business form) as well as the investment and rental income forms from the deluxe version and now only offer them in the Premier version and higher.  I also happened to check my email today and there was a nice email from TurboTax apologizing for the “confusion”.

Obviously they had received enough angry complaints from those long term customers who bought the deluxe version only to find they now had to upgrade or buy the more expensive version as well.  Here are the main lines in the letter from TurboTax addressing their reasoning for the change.

“Here’s why we made the change. Over the years, we have worked hard to make it easy for you to choose the TurboTax product that is right for you and your unique tax situation. We want that choice to be clear and confidence inspiring.  However, as new online and mobile technologies emerged, our products, and the tax scope and features they included, began to differ, (what does that even mean) leading to customer confusion (I suggest it is TurboTax who is confused about how to keep customers). These differences also impeded our ability to introduce new innovations across our entire product line (What?). So this year, we made the product experience consistent across all TurboTax offerings (but inconsistent with your history). This change enables us to innovate faster and make improvements that benefit all customers at the same time, regardless of whether they use our online or desktop software.” (Not to mention enabling them to make several more millions of $$$)

So while telling me they did this for my benefit, they clearly did it only for their benefit and thus the title of my blog/rant today.  You will have to excuse me now as I must go change my shirt as the collar and back are all wet and it stinks.

Update as of a few hours after I posted this blog and also put a link to it on TurboTax’s facebook page.

“Dear James M.,

We recently tried to explain the changes made to our TurboTax desktop software and apologized for the impact it had on you. Many responded and let us know our apology and rationale were not acceptable.  You want the TurboTax desktop product (CD or download) you’ve used in the past to do what it has always done—handle your tax situation. We heard you. It’s time we make it right…………”

They went on to offer additional monetary and free upgrade incentives to their customers.  Was this in response to my blog?  I’m pretty sure not, but one can dream:)

Maybe the church could learn something from McDonald’s!

McDonalds is not my favorite place to eat and in fact I may have spoiled my kids from even gracing the doors of Ronald’s place because of all the times we stopped there on road trips.  It was simply one of the cheapest and quickest ways to get food to go while on long vacation drives.  And although not my favorite place to eat, there is one thing about McDonalds I do really appreciate – if you go to a Mickey Ds in Tulsa, San Diego, Hawaii or DC you know exactly what is on the menu and how it is going to taste, in other words, consistency.  Just this week I had a double quarter pounder w/cheese for the first time in several years and it was exactly as I remember it from years previous.

This is where I believe the church could learn a lesson.  This blog will not be so much about which is right or wrong, but rather exposing some of the inconsistencies Barbie and I have witnessed over the years.  Some have not impacted our lives very much and others more so.

I will start with a short caveat about our time in Israel in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  We were part of an organization made up of Christians from all denominational backgrounds and many different countries.  Some were conservative dispensationalist, some more liberal Europeans still others were looser independent charismatics.  This variety made little difference in our fellowship as we were focused on a bigger, God given, goal of service to the Jewish people.  Our unity of purpose made those theological issues pale in comparison.  This common goal allowed us to be very consistent in the expression of our commitment and love.

Some years after returning to the states, we felt it necessary to switch churches when one of the elders at the church we were attending decried what became known as the Toronto blessing or renewal movement as being from Satan.  And although I might have agreed that some of what was exhibited early on was pretty weird and not exactly in scripture, I was not ready to throw the whole movement under the bus because of a few bad passengers.  A few years later we were applying to be part of a Christian organization which ministers to the military.  We had nearly completed the application process when presented with a form indicating we must not practice glossolalia – or speaking in tongues.  Now I personally don’t get bent out of shape if someone speaks in tongues or not, but I do know there is a scripture rebuking anyone who tries to forbid it (1 Cor.14:39)  This one seemed like déjà vu from when I was 11 and our family was kicked out of the Baptist church for speaking in tongues.

This next one might seem a bit odd as we now attend an AG church (which traditionally prohibits alcohol), but what is the deal with trying to dictate abstention from any alcohol?  Some places respectfully address it up front, such as ORU and others.  One organization I was in training with over the course of almost 3 years did it a bit differently and frankly deceptively.  I was taking these courses towards the goal of becoming a credentialed chaplain.  In addition to the cost of the courses, I even had to travel to the DC area twice involving plane flights and hotels.  After I had successfully compleated the course I was handed the final application packet in which there was a “Personal Conduct” agreement I had to sign.  Most of the items listed were scripturally addressed moral issues.  But then at the end was listed no alcohol consumption even for communion.  I made an appeal regarding the alcohol prohibition based on the scripturally founded acceptance of alcohol which included Jesus and the disciples (as long as it did not involve drunkenness).  The reply was dismissive and condescending expressing that they never indicated their conduct agreement was based on scripture.  I guess one makes certain assumptions when the name “Christ” is in the title of their organization.  Mind you the director and the person rejecting my appeal is morbidly obese and seems to ignore the fact scripture speaks as much about gluttony as drunkenness.  Even more disturbing is the fact that even after exhorting them several times they still withhold that conduct agreement and spring it on applicants at the very end???

Another similar situation happened a couple of years ago when a prominent Christian organization canceled a speaking engagement by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty when they found out the family had invested in a California winery.  And again, as the previous illustration, the head of the organization who made the decision probably weighed at least 400 lbs.  Phil was slated to share his testimony to a large gathering of young people as to how drugs, sex and alcohol almost destroyed his marriage and came close to killing him and how his walk of faith with Jesus saved his life and marriage.  Do these people who “strain at a gnat” and swallow way too much camel, hamburgers, bacon and soft drinks really believe their hypocrisy is somehow lost on those young people not to mention the scrutiny of the un-churched.  And consider the irony that Jesus and the 12 might not be welcome to share with those young people or lecture at some Christian universities because of their reputation of drinking and even making wine.

When it comes to worship it would come as little surprise to those of you who know us that we lean far to the side of quieter more reflective types of worship and less to the orchestrated big production worship.  This dividing line has been a deal breaker for many.  But truth be told, we are primarily speaking of preferences on these subjects and not issues of spirituality – Seriously ……

Then there are the immersion vs. sprinkling groups, the instrument vs. no instruments churches, the Saturday vs. Sunday crowds, the transubstantiation vs. bread and grape juice people etc. etc. etc.  I could go on and on listing areas where the Church is inconsistent or hypocritical on many issues that are simply not really that important to our salvation.  Of course baptism and communion are vitally important, but not the precise method.  The sad truth is that when we do argue or make big deals over these kinds of things, what we have done is to give the world ample fodder for their justification to reject Christ.  Not because of Christ, but because of us and our stupid pet peeves or trivial issues.  We do this while at the same time ignoring issues which have proven to be far more devastating to the character of the church such as porn, gossip, divorce, greed as so on.  And just for the record, this is not a new issue; Paul had to addressed stuff like this in his letter to the Colossians when he mocked those trying to dictate diet going so far as to charge that we not to put up with or be bullied by people who try and control what we eat or drink.  He further described these kinds of people as arrogant and resorting to worldly ways of manipulation.

Having it your way cannot be some cute advertising slogan as it serves only you and your preferences.  Our goal must be to have it God’s way.  In the church our consistency is not looking and tasting the same but rather showing the world the unity of calling and fellowship we have in the midst of our diversity, much like those groups in Israel.  We must embrace the vast array of practices in the worldwide church (not having to do with foundational issues of salvation) as the infinitely creative nature of God and not some battle line because “Whose side are you on anyway?”