• Beyond The Pale

Is It Time For Church “Worship” To Grow Up? Pt 2


worship_service1My previous post on worship seemed to generate a fair bit of passion.  Apparently there is no small amount of pent up frustration on the subject  …though fortunately most of the comments I received were positive.  But a couple friends came to me with a sentiment that could be summed up as,

“Steve, I agree with you mostly but I need my “worship” time.  This is how I relate to God.”

My response to that?

“I get it!  I do…”

If your understanding of what God loves, expects, or even requires has been part of your Christian faith for years (or for some, a lifetime) then it can be very unnerving to suggest that what you had thought was an essential piece of the Christian faith (i.e. evangelical style “worship”), was instead, only “optional”. On top of that, understanding God doesn’t see that form of “worship” as an essential way of relating to him can be especially difficult for those who have experienced very real connections to God during these times.

But these challenges are nothing new.  Paul the Apostle was dealing with a similar issue 2000 years ago.

Don’t Impose It On The Gentiles

In many ways, the modern Christian church mirrors the Jewish faith of old in that overtime there have been very prescribed structures (wineskins) for helping to develop our faith and understanding of God. In the early church when people in the Gentile regions beyond Israel were first hearing and responding to the message of Christ it was only natural that the Jewish people, who already had a relationship with God, would expect these new believers to adopt the customs and rituals that they understood were necessary to that relationship.

Temple attendance and worship, ceremonial laws, dietary rules, religious festivals, and yes, even male circumcision were understood by the Jewish people as “the way” people served and related to God.

The only problem with this plan was that although these new gentile Christians were very interested in following the Way of Jesus they were less enthused about adopting foreign Jewish culture.

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. (I really know how they feel)… Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

Acts 15: 1-2,5

Because many of the Jewish people could not even conceive of a real relationship with God apart from the religious patterns they had been raised with, there was a real fear that the system they had placed their identity in was under threat.  And unfortunately both then as well as today, that fear often manifests as antagonism and threats against those that would challenge the system.

But in Acts 15 Paul and the early church leaders meet to discuss the issue and decided that the Gentile Christians did not have to follow the Jewish requirements in order to follow Christ. But, and here’s the thing, if you were Jewish and / or these religious practices have been integral in your relationship with God, feel free to continue…

…just don’t impose it on the Gentiles!

You think that would of settled the matter…but of course it didn’t! Paul faced persecution from the establishment throughout his ministry for promoting a relationship with God which was free from imposed ritual.

Why the fuss?

Come on Steve, why is this such a big deal?

Well, two reasons really:

  1. Like the Gentiles of the New Testament, the culture that Christianity finds itself engaging with is increasingly “foreign”.    Unlike generations past where even if someone was not a regular church-goer they were usually familiar with the forms, rituals, and vernacular of Christianity, people today tend to view much of the church culture as peculiar and strange.  In effect many Christian leaders have become a lot like their the Jewish leader counterparts of New Testament.  They want new Christians to confirm their faith in Christ by first conforming to their religious culture.  Our “wineskin” has become hardened.  Specifically in regards to music, singing, and praise we need to find a “new more flexible wineskin”.   A “wineskin” that allows space for those who have “worshipped” in the modern evangelical way without imposing it on new followers of Christ who may wish to walk a different path.  bored
  2. There are many Christians in churches today that are going through the motions during a lot of “worship” time.  Not everyone connects to God through raising hands, singing, and clapping no matter how much you encourage them to just “press in”. In the end these folk see “church” as something boring and to be endured.  Because they love God though they stick out, year after year.   This is the result of creating a church culture that has forced everyone to relate to God in the same way.   We instead need to let God’s people GO so that they can really worship him!   

Worship in the New Testament is obedience demonstrated in mirroring the teachings and life of Jesus Christ.

Helping someone walk in the Way of Jesus is what worship leading really is

And we need more worship leaders!

I’ll expand on that more in Part 3




Is It Time For Church “Worship” To Grow Up?

true worship

Worship!  The very word conjures up powerful images of devotion that can take many forms…except of
course in church today where it tends to conjure up visions of that 30 minutes of singing at the start of a weekly church service.

When I first became a Christian back in the late ’70s that portion of the Sunday service where the congregation all sang together was just called  “music” or “praise”  and the guy (or pastor’s wife) who led the “music” tended to be called the “music minister”.

Slowly in the ’80s with rising visibility of musicians who specialized in leading Christians in this particular style of corporate expression and fueled by new music labels such as Maranatha and Hosanna!,  that 30 minutes at the beginning of every evangelical / charismatic church service got referred to as “Praise & Worship

Then somewhere along the way in the late 1990’s with the rise of Hillsong, Vineyard, and many Christian artists changing their music styles to produce more Christian anthems for corporate expression, the notion of “praise” got mostly dropped.  Yep, we were “coming back to the heart of Worship”… and like Beyonce Knowles just one day became Beyonce!, somehow that nice singing time at the start of every  church gathering (because charismatic / evangelicals are nothing if not predictable :) ) just became Worship!

Old Testament Worship vs. New

Much of what the modern evangelical church considers “worship” is inspired by displays of piety found in the Old Testament.  Followers of God danced and sang outside the tabernacle, the temple, and the Ark of the Covenant.  But if you went to any surrounding pagan nation you would find them dancing and singing before their gods and idols as well.  That was because “the gods” were “out there…somewhere”!


Jesus came and with his final sacrifice tore down the curtain that separated us from God.  Now “the gods” are not “out there” but instead the Spirit of Christ resides within us.  Acts of worship now take place when we allow that nature of Christ in our heart to bring his “way” to ourselves and the world around. Cornelius was a perfect example of this new worship God was drawing his people towards…

There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea, captain of the Italian Guard stationed there. He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer. One day about three o’clock in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, as real as his next-door neighbor, came in and said, “Cornelius.”

Cornelius stared hard, wondering if he was seeing things. Then he said, “What do you want, sir?”

The angel said, “Your prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention.

Acts 10:1-6

You want to know what God really loves?  What he really sees as “worship”?  It’s when we act like HE would act. When we behave like HE  would behave.  Like any good father, God feels that warm tingly feeling when he sees his children putting into practice the parenting he instilled in them.  Worship in the New Testament is obedience demonstrated in mirroring the teachings and life of Jesus Christ!

But, we don’t really want “worship” to be:

  • loving our enemies,
  • giving to those in need,
  • bringing light to dark places in the world 

We want worship to be dancing as David danced!

It’s a whole lot easier and more fun…

When I was a Child…

I have a 5 year old named Ethan.  The way I feel Ethan’s love is when he jumps in my arms, calls me papa, gives me butterfly kisses, and play wrestles together ending with me blowing on his belly to his delight and laughter.  For lack of a better term, this is how my 5 yr old “worships” me.


I have an 18 year old as well named Gabriel.  His way of showing love has changed and matured.  We don’t do “butterfly kisses”, wrestle, and safe to say, I don’t blow on his belly anymore.  The way I receive devotion or again, for the lack of a better term, “worship” from Gabriel is when we spend time together talking, when he shares with me his life, asks my opinion on an issue, and puts into practice acts of kindness towards those around him his mother and I have taught him.

That lights up my heart more than anything!

I love both boys and enjoy the way each one shows their “devotion” to me but if my 18 yr old started acting like my 5 yr old in the way he related to me I would be a bit concerned.

Yet we do this in modern church services all the time.

We purposely bypass the New Testament where the primary way of worshiping the Lord is through communion with God manifesting in kindness to those around (i.e. obeying his teachings) and prefer instead to use the Old Testament model of singing and dancing for showing devotion to God.  Which begs the question…

When is modern church worship going to “grow up”?


Now I say “primary” way of worship because even my 18 yr old son will still give me a hug and an occasional peck on the cheek (usually reserved for when I will be away travelling for a while) as an act of love and devotion.  Likewise, the church should be encouraged in corporate expressions of devotion with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Just for the record, I believe singing and music in our church gatherings can be a very beneficial thing but when we singularly refer to that as “worship” we have gone off the rails.  And how do I know we have gone off the rails?

Because when someone introduces themselves as a “worship leader” I know that they are a musician…what else could they be?  In today’s church, music is what “worship” is.

And worship is SO much more!

There is more to say of course but that should wrap it up for Part 1










Some Podcasts You Should Check Out In 2016

Confession, I’ve read a few less books this year.  I’m usually a voracious reader of printed  (well, Kindle) podcastblogpage but a new mistress has entered my life…

…the podcast!

True, for the last couple years or so I had slowly been increasing my podcast consumption but it was on my journey across Spain on the Camino de Santiago this past spring that I truly became addicted.

So instead of a year end book review, I thought I would share with you some of the best podcasts of 2015 that regularly reside on my iPhone and hopefully, with the imminent launch of my own podcast, pique an interest for this new media platform in you.

Note:  All these podcasts are available through iTunes but I include a link to the podcast website as well for your reference.

Faith/ Christian/ Spiritual Based Podcasts

Brian Zahnd: Word of Life Church podcast–  Who would have guessed that perhaps the biggest influence on my faith journey and theology in the last four years would be a pastor from Missouri who leads a church called Word of Life.  The Lord does work in mysterious ways.  Find Brian here

Zac Gandara: Losing our Religion podcast podcast- Zac Gandara is a former mega-church pastor who found the whole system of the way we do church toxic and pulled the jettison cord.  He loves Christ though and his podcast is an inspiration to me of how to build a real community that probably is much more what Jesus had in mind.  Find Zac here

Steve Brown: Steve Brown Etc. podcast- Steve Brown jokingly refers to himself as “a cranky old white guy who is more conservative than Genghis Khan” but in reality he demonstrates more grace and freedom than anyone I have heard.  Very few folk can interview Mark Driscoll  on one show and Nadia Bolz-Weber on another.  His Christianity is “Big Tent” and I like it.  Find Steve here

Rob Bell: The RobCast podcast-  What more can be said about Rob Bell?  Everyone’s favorite former evangelical pastor turned heretic.  He talks a lot like Jesus did, which usually gets him in trouble…not that he seems to care much :)  Find Rob here

Comedy Podcastsweird

Pete Holmes: You Made It Weird podcast- Comedian Pete Holmes offers up hysterical yet candid interviews with some of the most interesting folk in entertainment.  On top of that he’s a recovering Charismatic Christian who brings his spirituality and discussions on God to every interview.  Where else will you find someone who can interview Russell Peters and Richard Rohr?  Find Pete here

Jay Mohr: Mohr Stories with Jay Mohr: Like Pete Holmes, Jay Mohr talks straight with some really funny people…but with some great Christopher Walken impressions.  Find Jay here

Bill Maher: Real Time with Bill Maher- Conservatives who hate Bill Maher fail to see he lambasts liberals nearly as often as conservatives.  With Jon Stewart gone, this podcast is the best way of hearing news minus the bull@$%#…and done in a very funny way!  Find Bill here

Human Interest podcasts

Alec Baldwin: Here’s The Thing podcast- Actor Alec Baldwin offers one of the most interesting podcasts available.  His network of friends allows Baldwin to interview actors, musicians, politicians, and artists from diverse eras and he does so with an enthusiasm that is just so darn entertaining.  He seems to thrive on interviewing folk he has admired since a young man and it shows.  Carol Burnett, Debbie Reynolds, Peter Frampton, David Letterman, Penn Jillette…and the list goes on.  Find Alec here

NPR’S Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast- A round table of pop culture geeks discuss movies, TV, books, and music.  What’s not to love?  Find PCHH here

Jonathan Bowles: The Slingshot Show- Personal favorite of mine because Bowles hosts a lot with his wife, they are Christians who have jettisoned a lot of their evangelical baggage, and they like to podcast on faith, life, business, travel and stuff that interests them. Sound like anyone you know? I love it.  Find Jonathan here

Dan Carlin: Hard Core History podcast- 3 hour long history podcasts may not be what you think ofdan carlin when you are looking for something entertaining to listen to.  Think again!  Carlin’s mix of analysis and storytelling from a passionate yet non-partisan viewpoint makes it one of the most popular podcasts in the podcastaverse!  (Yes, I think I coined that term)  Find Dan here

There are quite a few more but these are my tops and should get you started.  Check these podcast out and let me know what you think

Peace in 2016,



Jerry Falwell Jr. Abandons Christianity For A Gun

I’m trying to understand something, perhaps you can help me out…JerryFalwell

In 2011, when Pastor Rob Bell wrote his book Love Wins where he suggested that God’s love is so big that it was incompatible with the concept of eternal punishment in hell, he was decried a heretic.  John Piper tweeted his famous “farewell Rob Bell” quote, pastors warned their congregations about Bell’s crazy “love” idea, and youth leaders quietly removed Bell’s popular Nooma videos from their repertoire of weekly teachings.

Yet this week, when Jerry Falwell Jr. stands in front of the student body of Liberty University and says,

It just blows my mind when I see the President of the United States say that the answer to circumstances like this is more gun control…I always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill

he is hailed by the crowd as a hero of the faith.

Bell promotes love and gets crucified.  Falwell promotes violence and is validated…

I know I asked you to help me figure this riddle out, but I think I got it.  It isn’t so hard to understand really.  It’s the same choice Pilate offered the crowd at the crucifixion.

Who does the crowd really want?

Jesus: The man of peace who wants to see compassion and mercy be extended to people of every nation, tribe, and language.


Barabbas: The violent revolutionary who takes a stand for Israel against the invading Roman pagans that threaten the Jewish way of life

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him…

…But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

Matthew 27: 15-22

Jerry Falwell Jr. has gone on to say that since his remarks,“I’ve never received more support or a more positive response from anything I have ever said in Convocation before”

Falwell then goes on to encourage the students to obtain concealed weapons permits so they can be armed even as he was at the speech.

Yes, you heard that right.  A good disciple of Jesus needs to be packin’ heat!

So now have the president of a major Christian University who is supposed to be proclaiming the Good News of The Prince of Peace instead arming himself to defend against Muslim terrorists and encouraging his students to do the same.

This is what happens when you trade the Gospel for a Gun…

This is what happens when you choose Barabbas over Jesus…



Four Responses Christians Have To Hearing Christ’s “Good News”


Nearly four years ago I began blazing a new path in my Christian walk.  Although I hadn’t quite put it into words, as I sat in the back of church staring blankly as others swayed with lifted hands to yet another Hillsong tune, I thought to myself, “Is this all there is?  Telling people about you so if they say yes they get to join the club and go to heaven and if they say no, well, they go to hell.  In the meantime, here’s the club manual, read it!  And don’t miss the weekly club meetings.”

Surely You, the God who made all of creation wouldn’t want us to be this boring.

Then I read a book by Brian Zahnd called Beauty will Save the World and everything changed.  That started the snowball rolling and led me to reading Peter Rollins, Greg Boyd, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and others.  These guys opened up the Bible in a way that was much more in line with who Jesus was and what he was on about.

The “so-so news” had suddenly become “Good News” again!

Here was a group of Christian leaders who were seeing Christians needed to be “saved” as much as anyone.

And I was one of them. I was a Christian pastor who got “saved”!  Not from hell, but from a mind numbing religious system

However my experience in the last few years has been that Christians respond to this Good News of Jesus differently.  Some seed falls on hard soil, some on a soft heart, and some somewhere in between.

So here are 4 responses I have seen to Christians hearing “the Good News”.  (Granted, these are charictures and generalisations.  People are admittedly more complex and nuanced than this but these 4 responses are in the ball park)

The “Double Downer”:.  In poker, sometimes you get a hand at the start you think will be good so you bet high.  As the hand develops though you start to have your doubts; perhaps this hand isn’t what I thought it was going to be.  Then you look and see the amount of money you have already invested and the thought of folding and waiting for the next hand becomes just to difficult to consider.  Instead, you steel yourself, raise the bet, and pray that the sheer confidence you pretend to have will silence your own inner doubt while creating it in your opponents.

It usually doesn’t work…

Likewise I seem to encounter a lot of folk that the real Good News is just to much for them to handle.  Most of them, if they are honest, have their own doubts.  They wonder why the Christian life that was supposed to deliver freedom seems to just create a new set of chains.  Yet they have invested so much of their time, money, and more importantly, their identity into the evangelical “system” that anyone who threatens that system, even if it brings Good News, is a threat.  This is especially hard for Christian leaders.  So rather than admit the hand they are holding is not what they thought it was going to be, they silence the doubt, raise the stakes, and hope if they expose the heresy of Rob Bell loud enough, they might eventually win the hand in the end.

It doesn’t work…

The Jettison God Guy: Some folk just end up jettisoning God all together.  For whatever reason, they have seen behind the curtain of the institutional church system and realize it wasn’t so much about the Great and Powerful Oz as it was about a system pulling levers…and legs.  Either because they are mad, or disillusioned, or simply just don’t give a crap anymore about the games people play in church, these folk find their new journey as atheists.  My brother is in this group and you can get his story here.  I’ve gotten to know quite a few people in this group and here is the irony; since they stopped becoming Christians, many of them have become more “Christ-like”.  So there you go…doubt_dice

The “Civilian”:  Some Christians respond positively to the Good News…but it kinda just stops there.   They know the present system has it’s flaws but at least, they figure, it’s already set up…“and you know, the worship’s good and the kids like it.”  The “Civilian” has their doubts about hell, atonement, church structure, judgement and grace.  They secretly read a book by Brian McLaren or sneek off to hear Rob Bell speak without telling their home group leader …but that’s about where the journey ends. The present system gives them a security, and more importantly, a certainty that keeps them from moving forward.  The best analogy I can think of is the town folk on the East Coast of America in the 19th century.  They knew that the journey West offered freedom, opportunities, and a new life.  But they also knew that it came with less structure, less security, and less trappings of certainty.  On top of that people who took that journey got arrows shot at them.  “Thanks but no thanks, we’ll just stay here in cozy Boston and read your exciting dispatches from the front.”

The “Pioneer”:  Still the “Good News” is heard by other Christians and they can’t help but respond and run with it.  Admittedly, I put myself in this category.  Four years ago I sat in the back of a church and hoped no one called on me to speak. I had nothing to give but “yesterday’s mana”.  It had been so long since the “good news” had been really “GOOD NEWS” that when I finally did hear it I couldn’t shut up.  I suddenly wanted to speak at any gathering that will have me about a Jesus that reconciles all creation through his love, mercy, and forgiveness.  To share about a God gives us the tools through his Holy Spirit to be agents of restoration in the world.  To be part of a new way of ordering society that no longer created an “us” vs. “them”.  And to declare a Good News that says you don’t have to be afraid anymore.  Sure, you get arrows shot at you from time to time. Sometimes it’s a nasty comment, sometimes it’s the shunning by friends, but when I get a little down about those things there will suddenly be an e-mail from a stranger who thanks me for sharing this Good News with them and for the freedom they discovered…

… and then every arrow was worth it!

The number of pioneers are increasing, but there is still so much work left to do.




Logo: Help Needed!

Dear Beyond the Pale readers,iqoncept-Help-Bullhorn

I was hoping someone out there might be able to help me.  If you’ve been following for the last 3 or 4 months you know that I’m preparing to launch a new podcast along with the blog.  (You may have noticed some of the changes starting to happen here at the website).  Anyhow, I’m in the process of trying to design a new Beyond the Pale logo that will be used on the podcast when it goes live in iTunes as well as at the website here.  An artist friend of mine has done some very helpful groundwork creating some sketches and even a rough graphic design to get us heading in the right direction.  I’m looking for someone whose expertise is in logo and / or graphic design that can now take that foundation and translate it into a finished work.

Don’t worry, I’m not looking for a “freebie”!  An artist is worthy of their wages.  But remember this isn’t a deep pocketed business looking for their corporate logo…just a high school teacher looking to do a podcast on the side! :)

If you are interested in taking a look at the preliminary sketches and work to get a better feel please message me by using the contact form, comment section, at the site here or if you know me, through Facebook or e-mail.





“God’s Not Dead 2” Perpetuates a Cycle Christians Are Supposed To Break


Back in 2011 I wrote a post promoting a Christian film company that seemed to be taking faith based
movies into a welcome new direction.  I had just watched Pureflix’s film Hidden Secrets about a group of friends who reunite at the funeral of their old youth pastor.  The movie touched on areas of doubt, faith, sex, and relationships in such a real way it left me with hope that well produced films with a Christ affirming theme were possible.  Here was a Christian group making movies without resorting to the Rapture, the Anti-Christ, culture wars, or fear.

I may have wrote that post a little prematurely!

Unfortunately since then Pureflix has gone on to producing such gems as Jerusalem Countdown, The Mark, and the hugely popular God’s Not Dead.

How the mighty have fallen…

Now this week I saw someone on my Facebook page had posted the newly released trailer for the upcoming God’s Not Dead 2. Watching it I nearly fell out of my chair.  Here were Christians seemingly under attack in America with the declaration, “This is war!”  And although THEE Anti-Christ doesn’t make an appearance in God’s Not Dead 2, I couldn’t help but feeling from the trailer that everything about the film will essentially be “anti”-Christ!

I understand why a group like Pureflix does this though.  Why focus on thoughtful films dealing with folk struggling with real life challenges to their faith like Hidden Secrets when there are an army of Fox News Christians convinced the Philistines are at America’s gates ready to shell out big bucks to see their culture war vindicated on the big screen.

Sixty million dollars in movie receipts later and it’s easy to see why there is a God’s Not Dead 2 and not a Hidden Secrets 2.

The Fallout

What movies like God’s Not Dead does to the American church has sever consequences for the Body of Christ.  When Christians choose to engage in culture wars to defend perceived territory, then the Good News we have to share that people are forgiven and free is lost. Circle the wagons to “defend”, and I guarantee the compassion of Christ in our message will disappear.


Recently a Seattle high school coach was placed on leave for continuing to pray in the middle of the football field after the game. (Sounds like a plot right out of God’s Not Dead) He has been asked not to do this from his school district yet Coach Kennedy has chosen to “make a stand”!  What’s interesting is that “making a stand”;  using prayer as a weapon in the culture war is in a real contrast to Jesus’ admonition NOT to use prayer as a public spectacle;

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.

Matthew 6:5-6

Our instinct as humans though is to “defend” ourselves.  When soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the middle of the night, the disciples first thought was to draw their swords.  But Jesus rebukes them.

This is not how we do it!

If we live by the sword, we shall be caught up in a vicious cycle that will never let us go.  The only way out is to break the cycle…to not play that game!

Movies like God’s Not Dead plays that game!

But they are loved by a lot of Christians because it validates their beliefs on the big screen.  Here are larger than life characters defending “us” (and some how “us” is always noble, brave, and bold) against “them” (who are always characterised as sinister, greedy, and liars) on.  The story of Shylock never ends; it is simply retold in various forms through the generations.

Until Christians are ready to begin to break the cycle of fear and distrust instead of helping to perpetuate it, I fear the return of Christ for his bride will still be a long way off.



Beyond the Pale Podcast Update

Hi all,

Just a quick word to say that there will be some new things happening here at Beyond the Pale.  The website will be under construction for the next week or two as we upgrade, redesign, and prep for the launch of our new podcast.  Somethings might disappear, form and colors might change etc. but the posts themselves should remain accessable.  Think of it like a renovation at store; we’re still open, just ignore the mess.  It will be worth it when it’s done!

And, knock on wood, the podcast should launch later this month…hopefully!



Tennessee Official Seeks Protection From God’s Wrath Over Gay Marriage Legalization


Whew!  That was close.  On Monday the County Board of Commissioners in Blount County Tennessee was all set to vote on a motion asking God (yes, you read that right, “God”) to spare their county from his coming wrath because of the legalization of gay marriage within the U.S.

At the last minute though saner heads prevailed and the agenda item was not brought forth.  That, or the County Board saw that they were on the verge of looking like fools on the national stage and ignored the motion purely from the motive of self preservation.

The entire proposed motion can be found here but it contains nuggets of pure gold such as:

WE adopt this Resolution before God that He pass us by in His Coming Wrath and not destroy our County as He did Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring cities. As the Passover Lamb was a means of salvation to the ancient Children of Israel, so we stand upon the safety of the Lamb of God to save us.

WE adopt this Resolution begging His favor in light of the fact that we have been forced to comply and recognize that the State of Tennessee, like so many other God-fearing States, MAY have fallen prey to a lawless judiciary in legalizing what God and the Bible expressly forbids.

You can kinda see why some of the other Commissioners put the brakes on this.

The kicker for me whenever this weird stuff goes down is the selective memory these folk have and what they think is going to incur God’s wrath.  Ok, laying aside all debate on what God’s wrath is, let’s assume an Old Testament position, as the Resolution’s author Commissioner Karen Miller does, and explore what should be the tipping point for God’s anger to be released.

  • In the 18th and 19th century citizens of the United States, driven by the vision of ‘Manifest Destiny”, committed acts of betrayal, murder, and near genocide of the Native American Indian nations.  What tribes were allowed to remain were relocated to worthless and remote reservations.

God’s Wrath is not released…

  • 12.5 million Africans are shipped to the Americas (2 million die in transit) to serve as slaves.  They had their dignity, their lives, and their dreams ripped from them so hard that the effects still reverberate today.

God’s Wrath is not released…

  • Today we continue to destroy the environment, blithely condemn the lives of both the unborn and the criminal, enact laws that help the rich amass wealth beyond imagination as the poor and middle class slip lower and lower on the economic scales, and America can hardly seem to go a year in our history without being at war with someone in the world and yet…

God’s Wrath is not released...

Surprisingly, THIS didn't seem to set off God's Wrath. It sets off mine though.

Surprisingly, THIS didn’t seem to set off God’s Wrath. It sets off mine though.

But somehow two guys getting married and setting up a house somewhere with a lawn and a white picket fence is what brings it on.  THAT is going to be the catalyst for the ‘Fireballs from Heaven’ to start flying?




Two Views On God’s Wrath (or What Type Of “Justice” Are You Looking For?)

Michael Brown (right) and Brian Zahnd (left) debate God's "wrath"

Michael Brown (right) and Brian Zahnd (left) debate God’s “wrath”

For our monthly Bread & Wine group here in Hong Kong last Friday night we watched a debate between Michael Brown and Brian Zahnd over the concept of atonement, or more simply “what exactly was Jesus was accomplishing on the cross”.

Brown took the position defending the theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) or the view that God the Father required a violent sacrifice in order to appease his wrath and forgive humanity of its sin.  Zahnd countered that belief and instead stated that God can forgive of his own volition and that Christ’s death on the cross revealed the heart of the Father which can be summed up as mankind executes it’s creator with, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing!”

Now there are many verses in the Bible that support Brown’s position.  You want God’s wrath, anger, vengeance, and calls of slaughter of the sinner…it’s all there.  Arguably it’s confined to the Old Testament but some of that good old fire and brimstone works its way into the New.  Sometimes it looks a little misplaced.  Almost like if you had a book about Mother Teresa teaching on loving the poor unconditionally but then she adds, “you can kick their ass later if they don’t respond.”


But it’s natural, as humans we want, dare I say, need to see “bad people” get their comeuppance, their just deserts!  And that was the focus Michael Brown kept coming back to in the debate. Yes, God is loving but (always look for the “but”) he is also just!  

However the concept of justice takes on different form depending on the perspective. If my son breaks into someone’s home and steals their goods the wronged family rightly want to see my son caught.  They want the police to handcuff him and wouldn’t mind if an embarrassing mugshot was posted in the papers.  They want justice!

But it’s retributive justice…They’ve been wronged and that wrong must be righted to restore balance; an eye for an eye .

It’s both very biblical AND what Jesus came to help us rise above.

See the perspective on justice changes radically when it shifts to my view as the father.  Like the offended party I am very upset with my son breaking into a house and stealing their goods but I take no pleasure in seeing him led away in handcuffs or his mugshot on display.

Instead my heart is broken.


As a father I to want justice but I want a justice that makes the situation beautiful again for both my son and the offended party.

I want to see restorative justice.

In the debate, Michael Brown kept coming back to the biblical argument that a debt must be paid for sin but as Zahnd countered this form of retributive justice does not make the world right.

Similarly in the New Testament Jesus countered this Old Testament idea of retributive justice on many occasions (Matthew 5, Luke 9: 54-57).  To repay evil for good in the hope that a sinner could be restored and the world made a little more right.


As a high school school teacher I will often have a student come and tell me what another student is doing that is “bad”.  (For the record, my generation would never have tolerated the tattle tailing that goes on with kids today :) ) The goal of the tattler is to try to get another student in trouble.  When I say I’ll “take care of it” the student is left thinking I will levy some punishment.  In fact they want to see a teacher meet out punishment.  But what is going on in my head though is much different than the tattling student.  They want to see demerits, detentions, and trips to the principal’s office for the offending party.


They want retributive justice!

As a teacher though my goal is much different.  I want to see justice too but I want to bring wholeness to the student’s lives and contribute to keeping the school running in a life giving way.

I want restorative justice!

Paul the Apostle deals with this adolescent attitude to justice in his letter to the Romans.  In the epistle Paul gently encourages a people who only think through the retributive eyes of the offended party towards beginning to view the world, and those around them, through the restorative eyes of a father.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12: 17-21

As humans we often project our need for retributive justice onto God. We want Jesus to come back and kick some butt and haul the bad guys off in chains.

In the process however we often transform into the angry demanding mob!  (Which never leads to anything good)

So when God says, “It is for me to avenge” that’s His way of telling a tattling student that he’ll take care of it.

And believe me the Father sees “taking care of it” a whole lot different than we do.