Quotable: Community

April 16, 2007

In The Crucible of Korea, my brother Britt has been posting about what He learned from His years in Korea and traveling abroad. The whole thing is good, but this quote is a great summary of what we’ve all been learning over the years:

Community is the most important aspect of the Body of Christ. You will grow to the degree you have intimate relationships with other believers. Without them it is only an organization. It is not the Church.

Jesus was rich?

October 23, 2006

If you’ve never seen Creflo Dollar preach, watch him on TV sometime, and just sit back and be amazed at how cunningly he perverts scripture. If there was ever a good modern example of the danger of ordained clergy, and its potential for corrupting theology, this is it.

The worst types of deceit are the types that sound extremely close to the truth, but pervert a portion of it, making the new “truth” sound more welcoming. People are flocking to the “prosperity gospel,” and why not? It promises wealth and comfort to those who are faithful to God. The only problem is, there’s really no Biblical support for it. Not unless you’re as crafty as the guys who can read whatever they want into scripture, so it supports their lifestyles.

From the AJC:

Christians gather around the world each Christmas to sing about “poor baby Jesus” asleep in the manger with no crib for his bed.

But the Rev. Creflo Dollar looks inside that manger, and he doesn’t see a poor baby at all.

He sees a baby born into wealth because the kings visiting him gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. He sees a messiah with so much money that he needed an accountant to track it. He sees a savior who wore clothes so expensive that the Roman soldiers who crucified him gambled for them.

Dollar sees a rich Jesus.

“He was rich, he was whole, and I use those words interchangeably,” says Dollar, senior pastor of World Changers Church International, a 23,000-member College Park church, which broadcasts its services on six continents.

Dollar is part of a growing number of preachers who say that the traditional image of Jesus as a poor, itinerant preacher who “had no place to lay his head” is wrong.

“Did Jesus have money? Well, the Bible was clear. Kings brought him gold,” Dollar says. “Did Jesus have money? It’s clear. He had a treasurer to keep up with it.”

Yet many academic scholars say pastors like Dollar are inventing a rich Jesus for selfish reasons.

“You’re giving people divine sanctification to be greedy,” says Sondra Ely Wheeler, an ethicist at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. “You tell them what they want to hear: The reason you have a Mercedes is because God loves you.”

People have argued over their perception of Jesus for centuries. They’ve debated his politics, his race and more recently, his relationship with Mary Magdalene.

The new battleground: his economic status, because of the popularity of pastors like Dollar.

Dollar preaches the Prosperity Gospel, where the basic tenet is God rewards the faithful with wealth, spiritual power and debt-free living. And he is joined by a host of other nationally known preachers:

•Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of the most popular televangelist in the United States, a best-selling author and star of MegaFest, one of the largest annual revivals in the country.

•Televangelist Oral Roberts, founder of Oral Roberts University.

•And Atlanta’s own Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of the city’s largest church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, 25,000 strong.

Their teaching, once seen as a fringe theology championed by flamboyant characters like “Rev. Ike,” a prosperity televangelist with a pompadour who once boasted during his heyday in the 1970s that his “garages runneth over,” has now moved mainstream. In the 1970s and 1980s, the flamboyant Rev. Ike made millions by promising wealth to those who followed his unabashed emphasis on materialism.

Millions of people across the world watch prosperity preachers’ broadcasts and attend their crusades.

But preaching the Prosperity Gospel presents a snag in logic to its proponents: If God wants people to be prosperous, why was Jesus poor?

Well, he wasn’t, say many prosperity pastors. And although their claims appear to contradict 2,000 years of traditional Christianity, they say they can prove it through Scripture and history. They also invoke common sense: Jakes reportedly told a Dallas Observer reporter that Jesus had to be rich in order to support his disciples for three years.

‘Supernatural provision’

Those who preach against a poor Jesus say they aren’t trying to justify personal greed. Prosperity preachers like Dollar say their teaching isn’t solely centered on money, but extends to other areas such as health and relationships. They say God will provide for the faithful in all areas of their life — just as he did for Jesus.

“When we are following God’s will with all of our hearts, if it takes us to a place where we need God’s supernatural provision to keep going, he will always provide it,” says the Rev. Dennis Rouse of Victory World Church, a 5,000-member church in Gwinnett County.

And when it comes to Jesus, that’s evident throughout his life, prosperity preachers say. How, for example, could Jesus have supported his mother when his father died early — unless he had ample money?

“It’s historically inaccurate to say that Jesus was poor,” says Bishop Johnathan Alvarado, senior pastor of Total Grace Christian Center in Decatur. Alvarado’s church has 4,000 members who worship at two locations.

Alvarado also disputes the notion that Jesus was homeless — traditionally believed because of the passage in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Luke where Jesus tells a would-be follower that he has “no place to lay his head.”

But Alvarado says Jesus was speaking metaphorically — the world was not his home. “How many carpenters do you know who haven’t built themselves a house?” he says.

And Jesus and his followers lived “sacrificially” by helping the poor and not trusting in their riches, Alvarado said. “Sacrifice is contextual,” he says. ” I can afford a BMW or a Bentley, but I drive a Nissan. … It’s OK to have stuff so long as stuff doesn’t have you.”

Dollar doesn’t drive a Nissan. He drives a Rolls-Royce.

But he also believes that stories about Jesus being prejudiced against the rich have been misinterpreted. For example, he views the tale of the wealthy young ruler that Jesus confronts in the Gospel of Luke through different eyes.

In that encounter, the Gospels say Jesus told the man that it is “harder for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Dollar says, however, Jesus wasn’t saying wealth was a barrier to being accepted by God.

He says the “eye of the needle” was an ancient passageway entering Jerusalem that was so small that a camel had to drop to its knees to squeeze through. Jesus meant that a man who trusted in his riches would have similar difficulties adjusting to God’s way of handling riches, Dollar says.

“This guy had an opportunity to love God with his possessions, but he couldn’t do it because his possessions had him,” Dollar says.

That same passage also proves that Jesus’ disciples “were absolutely not poor,” Dollar says. (The Gospels report that the disciples were astonished when Jesus told them about the perils of riches.) “If the disciples were poor, why would they get astonished?” Dollar says. “If they were poor, they should have jumped up and said, ‘Whoopee, we’re on our way.’ ”

‘A lack of understanding’

However, if Jesus and his disciples weren’t poor — because God had blessed them — what does that say about the millions of faithful Christians who live throughout the world in brutal poverty?

Is that due to a failure of their character?

When asked this, Dollar says: “Part of it may be, first of all, a lack of understanding. You cannot do better until you know better. I used to be broke and poor just like all of those other people. I had to first change the way I think.”

Rick Hayes, a 14-year member of Dollar’s church, agrees.

He says he was “homeless and hopeless” until he attended World Changers. He learned there that Jesus preached to the poor so they wouldn’t be poor anymore. Today he is a medical supply salesman.

Hayes says he believes Jesus was rich because some biblical translations suggest Jesus — as a baby — was visited by a caravan of about 200 kings bearing gold, not three wise men. Jesus also needed wealth to pay travel expenses for his 12 disciples as they took the Gospel from city to city.

Hayes, quoting the ninth chapter of Ecclesiastes (“The words of a poor man are soon forgotten”), also says Jesus could not have attracted a devoted following if he was poor.

“Nobody is going to follow a broke man,” Hayes says.

‘By any means necessary’

Wheeler, the ethicist from Wesley seminary, sighs when she hears the arguments for Jesus being rich. She and other New Testament scholars say these pastors are distorting history and words and have no understanding of the socio-economic conditions of Jesus’ time.

Wheeler, author of “Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, $20), says most biblical scholars don’t even want to dignify the debate with a response.

She says that Dollar’s argument that Jesus started off wealthy because of the gold he received at birth is nonsense. Only one out of the four Gospels even mentions the gold he received from a king and that passage never gives the value of the gift.

“The notion that you would go from that to the assertion Jesus is wealthy passes credulity,” she says. “You have to want to get there by any means necessary.”

She also disputes Dollar’s interpretation of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. Jesus was being literal when he said it was hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

“What Jesus says is that it is rarer than teeth in chickens to find a person who can own many things and not be owned by them,” she says.

Similarly, Obery M. Hendricks Jr., author of “The Politics of Jesus” (Doubleday, $26), scoffs at the contention that Jesus had enough money to support himself and his disciples for three years. Hendricks says the eighth chapter in the Gospel of Luke paints a different picture: Women, using their own meager means, covered the bills for Jesus and his disciples.

“If Jesus was rich, why would he need women to support him?” Hendricks asks.

Eric Meyers, a professor of archaeology at Duke University, says he has never heard a single reputable scholar argue for a rich Jesus.

“It’s new to me,” he says at the beginning of the conversation. But as he listens to a litany of arguments on why Jesus was rich, he breaks in: “Now you’re getting me mad.”

Meyers, who personally excavated the village of Nazareth where Jesus lived during a 19-year-period, says there is absolutely no evidence of an “eye of the needle” gate in Jerusalem.

And Meyers, editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaelogy in the Near East, says simply put, Jesus was poor — like virtually all the people around him.

“He didn’t even have his own tomb,” Meyers says. “He had to get it from a friend.”

But Dollar says his interpretation of Jesus’ ministry is just as valid as any scholar. His own prosperity is proof that God wants to bless his followers with financial and spiritual blessings — just as he did for baby Jesus.

“God didn’t give the Bible just to theologians and scholars, he gave it to poor people,” Dollar says. “He gave it to farmers, sheep-herders — we don’t need somebody to help us misunderstand the Bible. If we just read the Book, things will begin to happen, and you’ll see.”

The phrase “third place” refers to the place you go to hang out, the gathering place, separate from home and work. Mark Batterson of evotional.com talks about this in a recent post:

I just read an interview with Howard Schultz, Starbuck’s chief global strategist. He said, “The physical environment has become as important as anything we do, including the coffee.”

Think about the profundity of that statement. Starbucks isn’t in the coffee business. They are in the third place business.

Schultz said, “The environment and the experience is the brand. It’s a very important distinction that people use our stores all over the world as an extension of their daily lives, and sometimes the coffee is subordinate to that.”

Mark has a interesting background on this, because his church in Washington, DC didn’t build a traditional church building — they built a coffeehouse. In his post called Thou Shalt Hang Out at Wells, he describes his approach in more detail:

Wells were ancient hang outs. They were the BC version of coffeehouses, chat rooms, and malls. Jesus didn’t invite people to the synagogue. He hung out at wells. He was often accussed of hanging out with the wrong people at the wrong places. But Jesus didn’t let that keep him from a party with a tax collector or a conversation with a Samaritan woman at the well. He went to where the people were. Maybe the gospel has been quarantined behind the four walls of church buildings long enough? The church is called to compete in the middle of the marketplace.

That’s why we’ve built a first-class, fully-operational coffeehouse on Capitol Hill. It’s a place where the church and community can cross paths. That’s why the vision of NCC is to meet in movie theaters @ metro stops throughout the DC area. And that’s why we do events at the largest nightclub in DC.

Coffeehouses, movie theaters, and nightclubs are postmodern wells.

He also makes reference to something that I’ve thought about in the past couple of months:

I recently heard about a church that was building a community center for their community and they “rent” from themselves on the weekend for church services. I think that is genius!

So do I! The more I have different ideas, the more I find that God is putting similar thoughts into others also.

Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light. When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave. When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry – but it’s no concern of yours now.

This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.

Matthew 10:6-15, 41b-42, The Message

Personal Savior?

May 12, 2006

From What Would Jesus Ask?:

The Jesus we create in our mind, you know the one that works for us, perhaps, this Jesus is not the real Jesus. Last time I checked, this Jesus does not demand my life. Actually, this Jesus tells me that everything is going to be okay and that I should just fall in line with the rest of them. Somehow the Jesus of the Gospels does not fit the Jesus we make up in our church gatherings.

Would Jesus be as concerned with appearance as we are? Do we ask the questions Jesus would ask? Do we have the people in our communities which Jesus would have? If Jesus showed up to our quaint religious services, would we let him in with his town whore and fishermen buddies?

Since when did Jesus’ message become nice, tame, and purposed in serving the individual soul? Didn’t Jesus give us a mandate to go into the whole world and make disciples? Is that not different than an altar call to save souls?

I’m left wondering which Bible we read in America…

God help your church.

Stossel on Education

January 25, 2006

If you haven’t read any of John Stossel’s columns on education, here’s a few for you to enjoy:

From Trapped in the Wrong Government School (25 Jan 2006):

In public education, our land of the free is now a bunch of local fiefs, where petty-bureaucrats-turned-lords-of-the-manor decide whether you can get a decent education, and parents must go to them, begging for their children’s future. Meanwhile, in Belgium and much of the rest of the world, students and their parents have the freedom to choose their schools — and the opportunity that comes with that freedom.

From Myth: Schools Need More Money (18 Jan 2006):

The truth is, public schools are rolling in money. If you divide the U.S. Department of Education’s figure for total spending on K-12 education by the department’s count of K-12 students, it works out to about $10,000 per student.

Think about that! For a class of 25 kids, that’s $250,000 per classroom. This doesn’t include capital costs. Couldn’t you do much better than government schools with $250,000? You could hire several good teachers; I doubt you’d hire many bureaucrats. Government schools, like most monopolies, squander money.

From Public Schools Are Cheating the Children (11 Jan 2006):

Remember when the Postal Service said it couldn’t get it there overnight? Then companies like FedEx were allowed to compete. Private enterprise got it there absolutely, positively overnight. Now even the Post Office guarantees overnight delivery sometimes. Competition works.

Why can’t education work the same way? If people got to choose their kids’ school, education options would be endless.

Government monopolies routinely fail their customers.

This is something you have to read. A blog I often read linked to an booklet written a few years ago by Pastor Dennis Rosker of Duluth Bible Church in Minnesota titled “Seven Reasons Not to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart.”

The seven reasons listed were:

  • It is never found in the Bible.
  • It is not how one is saved.
  • It requires no understanding of the gospel of grace to do it.
  • It confuses the means of salvation with the results of salvation.
  • It either results in no assurance of salvation or brings a false assurance to people.
  • Revelation 3:20 does not teach it.
  • It does not clarify the condition of salvation, it confuses it – especially with children.

    I’d recommend you read Heath Casey’s summary of the article first, he did a great job summarizing it. You can also view the original PDF booklet (22 pages).

  • I went to go see Episode III last night, at the midnight show. As usual, going at midnight is fun. Lots of fans, lots of anticipation. This is likely the last time we’ll be seeing a new Star Wars movie on the big screen.

    It was also Lucas’ last chance to get it right. The best Star Wars movie, by far, was The Empire Strikes Back, known otherwise as Episode V. Why the best? Because it was a great story, it deepened the characters and their relationships. And it was only successful at that because Lucas didn’t direct it. Lucas nearly killed himself making the original Star Wars (now known as Episode IV), and knew he needed to stay out of the director’s chair to keep himself alive. So he turned to one of his trusted film professors.

    Unfortunately, he didn’t learn from that success, and he certainly didn’t learn enough from his mentor in terms of dramatic directing.

    Note: if you haven’t seen Episode III yet, you might want to wait to read the rest. Or go ahead, I don’t care. I’m not going to be giving away much, and if you really cared about spoilers anyway, you’d be in line to see the movie by now (5:00 pm on opening day).

    Lucas has developed a reputation for changing things, but perhaps one of his boldest changes came when he described the original Star Wars Trilogy as being about Anakin Skywalker, not Luke, Leia, and Han. As he was preparing to announce the prequel trilogy (which is now complete), he wanted to assure us that it was always supposed to be about Anakin, his rise, his fall, and his redemption.

    Fine, we can understand and accept that, and the desire to go back and tell the story of Anakin’s rise and fall. After all, we all wanted more Star Wars.

    Lucas proved with Episode I and II that he simply can’t direct dramatic sequences. The scene at the Skywalker home in Episode I around the table is one of the more painful scenes in Episode I. But we all had this feeling that maybe it was just Jake Lloyd (the actor for the 9-year-old Anakin in Episode I) — kid actors can be very difficult to work with. But even what were supposed to be heartfelt scenes with only adult actors seemed dry and contrived — such as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor) apology to his master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) about his disrespectful comments.

    Episode II didn’t improve anything. If anything, it only more deeply revealed Lucas’ incapability in the dramatic direction department. The entire love story between the 19-year-old Anakin (now played by Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman) simply wasn’t in the same league as the romance between Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in The Empire Strikes Back.

    Now, finally Episode III is out, and Lucas’ ineptitude is complete.

    The only reason to film Episodes I-III were to see Anakin Skywalker turn into Darth Vader. We all wanted to know (or were supposed to want to know): how did it happen? In Episode III, the moment we’ve been waiting 28 years for was simply uneventful. The most pivotal moment in the entire saga, and it ends up playing out more or less like this: oh, I guess I’ll be a Sith now. There’s simply no drama to the moment. The setup — the events leading up to that point — was good. He’s confused, he doesn’t know who to trust, and he’s desperately afraid of losing the one person he cares about the most. Everything after that point was pretty good — his confrontation with Obi-Wan towards the end of the movie was nearly everything I wanted it to be. But the turning point itself was nothing worth remembering. It should have been a moment on par with “I am your father” from The Empire Strikes Back, but instead of going into the annals of film history as that scene has, it will simply pass into obscurity, except possibly as a footnote for how a great opportunity was wasted in an otherwise good film.

    Everything in the prequels up to that point was successful in terms of setting up how Anakin was at the edge of a cliff. But there was never anything truly impacting about how he fell off that cliff and plunged into darkness. A good director would have fixed that with a few small changes, a heightened sense of drama, and a better ability to tell a story. It’s too bad Lucas didn’t learn enough from his success with the original Star Wars Trilogy to hire better directors for the prequel trilogy. But hey, not all movie franchises can live up to expectations like the Lord of the Rings series did.

    Happy Tax Day

    April 15, 2005

    Have you done your taxes yet? Did you get a refund? Even if you did, do you still realize that you still paid a lot in taxes?

    In today’s Nealz Nuze, Boortz quotes T. Coleman Andrews, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service from 1953 until 1955.

    Congress went beyond merely enacting an income tax law and repealed Article IV of the Bill of Rights, by empowering the tax collector to do the very things from which that article says we were to be secure. It opened up our homes, our papers and our effects to the prying eyes of government agents and set the stage for searches of our books and vaults and for inquiries into our private affairs whenever the tax men might decide, even though there might not be any justification beyond mere cynical suspicion.

    The income tax is bad because it has robbed you and me of the guarantee of privacy and the respect for our property that were given to us in Article IV of the Bill of Rights. This invasion is absolute and complete as far as the amount of tax that can be assessed is concerned. Please remember that under the Sixteenth Amendment, Congress can take 100% of our income anytime it wants to. As a matter of fact, right now it is imposing a tax as high as 91%. This is downright confiscation and cannot be defended on any other grounds.

    The income tax is bad because it was conceived in class hatred, is an instrument of vengeance and plays right into the hands of the communists. It employs the vicious communist principle of taking from each according to his accumulation of the fruits of his labor and giving to others according to their needs, regardless of whether those needs are the result of indolence or lack of pride, self-respect, personal dignity or other attributes of men.

    The income tax is fulfilling the Marxist prophecy that the surest way to destroy a capitalist society is by steeply graduated taxes on income and heavy levies upon the estates of people when they die.

    As matters now stand, if our children make the most of their capabilities and training, they will have to give most of it to the tax collector and so become slaves of the government. People cannot pull themselves up by the bootstraps anymore because the tax collector gets the boots and the straps as well.

    The income tax is bad because it is oppressive to all and discriminates particularly against those people who prove themselves most adept at keeping the wheels of business turning and creating maximum employment and a high standard of living for their fellow men.

    I believe that a better way to raise revenue not only can be found but must be found because I am convinced that the present system is leading us right back to the very tyranny from which those, who established this land of freedom, risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to forever free themselves…

    Realize that it can be different. The FairTax can change all of it, to a system that satisfies the attributes of a good tax system. I, for one, completely support the FairTax.

    Abortion = Slavery

    November 29, 2004

    I was reading information about the Dred Scott case (1857) recently, and I was amazed at how similar the arguments were to arguments from pro-choice advocates. Speaking for the majority, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney said:

    We think they are… not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States….

    In a nutshell, the Supreme Court said that Dred Scott had no legal standing in the court system simply because he was black, and that he was considered “property” under the Fifth Amendment. At the time, blacks were considered inferior, or not fully human, and thus were not guaranteed the same protections under the constitution.

    The entire basis for the pro-choice position is that it’s “the woman’s body”, and therefore, “her choice”. Legal justifications for this are predicated on the fetus as not fully human, and therefore have no legal status or protection under the constitution. The Roe v. Wade decision phrased this as an issue of the fetus reaching a “viable” stage of development in order to be granted constitutional protection, but went so far as to say that:

    The law has been reluctant to endorse any theory that life, as we recognize it, begins before live birth or to accord legal rights to the unborn except in narrowly defined situations and except when the rights are contingent upon live birth… In short, the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.

    Then I found this article today — The Peculiar Morality of Secession.

    Shocked that “moral values” was the issue that defeated them and re-elected President Bush, the LibDems are bleating on every air wave they can ride that they have moral values too. Yes, they certainly do – it’s just that some of those values are immoral. Not all. Confederate Southerners held many decent values – but on slavery they were morally wrong. No relativistic morals here, no “that’s just your opinion” situational ethics, no wiggles, hesitations, or qualifiers. Slavery is immoral, period – even the LibDems agree.

    Thus the teachable moment – for abortion is morally no different than slavery, the claim that one human being may own another as personal property to be disposed of if the owner so chooses.

    Thus we need to refer to abortion as “the peculiar institution,” and Roe v. Wade as disgracefully unconstitutional as Dred Scott. Watch for this to happen. Watch for abortion advocates to be increasingly on the defensive as they are made to understand the moral equivalence between abortion and slavery.

    The day is not that far off when schoolkids will be asking their history teacher puzzled questions as to how there was a time in America when people passionately defended the morality of a mother killing her own baby.

    This mirrors my own thinking on the subject, and I’m encouraged that there are others who share the same idea.