Monday, May 31, 2010

Southern Baptists and Mormons Maybe More Alike in Church Practice Than We Want to Admit

Recently some Southern Baptists expressed dismay that Glenn Beck, a popular political analyst and television commentator was invited to address Liberty University graduates at 2010 Commencement Ceremonies. Glenn Beck is a dedicated Mormon. But before I jump on the bandwagon of those concerned that a Baptist University would allow a practicing Mormon to give its Commencement Address, I wish to point out that it could be that Baptists, and even Southern Baptists, have much more in common with the Mormon Church than some wish to admit. A Southern Baptist missionary overseas emailed me the following comments:
"I, and many of my colleagues, follow your blog. Thanks for the work you put into it. It is very much appreciated.

I was reading some stuff of Mormonism and I stumbled a quote from a blog called Mormon Truth, a blog written by an obviously disenchanted ex-mormon. Anyway, on the May 25, 2009 posting there is this quote:

"Oh yeah, I forgot...Mormons aren't allowed to ever criticize their hierarchy either because 'its wrong to ever criticize the leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true'"

As a missionary I and a few others have been increasingly frustrated with this type of atmosphere so rampant in the SBC and especially in the IMB. Criticism, even if true, is not allowed. The IMB President's closing letters to the missionaries (he is up to 21) just reinforce this. All blame is placed at the feet of complaining missionaries with little, actually no, thought given to the idea that the "complaints" of the missionaries might be true. I was only sharing this because I was really struck with how similar the tact of the LDS is so similar to the predominate leadership in the SBC and IMB.

Ok, that's enough of that. Again, thank you for fighting for truth. Know that there are many missionaries on the field who are thankful that you are bringing things to light that should not be hidden.

God bless."
I know precisely to what this missionary is referring. When an organization becomes heavy on the top end, with no allowance for communication, criticism and suggestions from the front lines, then the organization must create a climate where leadership cannot be questioned.

This is one of tactics used in mega-churches, large religious organizations and conventions. It's also one of the reasons that Southern Baptists should seriously look at the long term effects of the GCR report. The further removed you get from the field of actual ministry, and the more you depend upon national headquarters to make decisions about what should be done in local municipalities and states (instead of the local missionaries on the field), then the more you are throwing money at a problem with no real solutions.

Just ask New York City Southern Baptist pastors about their experience with the North American Mission Board and their top down approach to doing ministry there. The criticism voiced was dismissed as irrelevant and all that is left to show for the NAMB ministry are rooms stacked full of high dollar office equipment in a building at 72nd and Broadway and an association of local pastors who have fought having to file bankruptcy because national headquarters refused to listen to their pleas that NAMB's efforts were duplicating their own. NAMB's now gone, and the New York Baptist Association is left to pick up the pieces. They will make it, but what would have happened had national headquarters been open to suggestions and criticisms before they made their move to strategic city ministries?

It's time we Southern Baptists listened to criticism. It will help us in the long run.

In His Grace,


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Moralism and Legalism Are Not the True Gospel of God's Grace and Love in Jesus Christ

My mother will periodically send me a devotion that has made an impact on her. The other day she forwarded to all her children the following devotion that precisely defines my theology and forms the substance of what I proclaim to others. I am intentionally holding off on giving the author of this devotion the credit he deserves until people have had a chance to read it and comment on it. However, before I move to another written post at Grace and Truth to You, I will give full credit and a commendation of the author.

The bold letters are my own emphasis. After the devotional, I will make a few brief comments of my own. As always, I am not trying to convince people that I possess the truth (though I believe I do), because there is always the possibility that I could be wrong. I base my beliefs on the inerrant Word of God, but I am not of the opinion that my interpretations and opinions are always correct. And, even though I believe the doctrine in this devotion is the heart of true Christianity, I give allowance for other Christians to disagree and point out my error. Here goes:

God always entices us through love.

Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change.

What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. If the mystics say that one way, they say it a thousand ways.

But because most of our common religion has not been at the mystical level, we’ve been given an inferior message—that God loves me “when” I change (“moralism”). What that does is put it back on you. You’re back to “navel gazing” and you never succeed at that level.

You are never holy enough, pure enough, refined enough, or loving enough.

Whereas, when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change.

No one is more surprised than you are. You know it is a gift
It is because I believe God's love effectual produces change in undeserving sinners that I hold to the doctrine of particular atonement. In other words, the love of God in Christ Jesus effectually and eternally saves the sinners for whom Christ died.

It is the moralist and the legalist who must make salvation something other than the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our convention and churches are filled with moralists who try to convince sinner they must do something to get God to love them. The love of God for sinners arises from His heart like an artesian spring, it is never pulled from his heart by the pump of human effort.

If I believed that Christ died for every sinner that has ever lived, or ever will live, then I would by necessity believe in universalism. The atonement is too powerful, the grace of God too efficacious, and the love of God too omnipotent to not produce the change His love brings to sinners. I believe the Bible teaches that God has chosen to bypass a few sinners and has sovereignly chosen not to give to them His effectual, saving grace. You may ask, "For what reason would God choose to leave sinners in their sin if it was within His power to deliver them?" Or, "Why would God not give to every sinner His transforming love since it is His love that transforms sinners?"  I respond: "Who am I to answer for God for His eternal purposes?" (see Romans 9). I can only conjecture  that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy and He hardens whom he will harden for the praise of the glory of His justice. In short, His people wouldn't appreciate the grace and mercy they have received unless they knew His justice and righteousness as revealed in the punishment of reprobate sinners.

The Bible clearly teaches that some sinners will experience the righteous judgment of God in hell. It's their fault that they experience God's judgment because it is their volitional sin that brings to them the wise and judicial justice of heaven. God declares that He takes no pleasure in their punishment, but He punishes unredeemed sinners to reveal His attribute of justice. On the other hand, there is a vast, innumerable company of sinners from every tribe, every nation, every kindred and every tongue upon whom God has set His love through Christ Jesus--in short, the world. I believe these elect are saved by the eternal love of God, and as we experience His love, we are transformed by His grace.

Again, whether you agree with me or not is of no concern to me. But if you believe the tenets of the above devotion to be true, your only option is to be a universalist or a particular redemptionist.

Otherwise, you become you fall into the spiritual quicksand of moralism and legalism.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

P.S. The devotion is by Catholic writer and Christian apologist Richard Rohr.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sectionalism, Fractionalism, and the Separation of Union: A Case Study of What Leads People of Principle to Fight

Alan C. Aimone is the Chief of Special Collections of the United States Military Academy Library, West Point, New York. He researches and writes historical articles, principally on West Point, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and Hudson Valley history. I wrote last week of Alan's kindness toward Rachelle and me as we visited with him at West Point. On the way home from New York I was able to read Alan's lengthy and scholarly article in the December 1991 edition of Blue and Gray Magazine entitled "Much to Sadden and Little to Cheer--The Civil War Years at West Point."

West Point, our nation's premier military academy for army cadets, became filled with tension in the months preceding the Civil War. Plebes (first year students) and cadets found themselves abandoning the traditional harmony of "God and Country" for the sectionalism of "north" and "south." In his article, Alan Aimone writes of the first recorded fist fight on the grounds of West Point over the division arising from principled differences that formed the cause of the Civil War. The fisticuffs between Emory Upton (Class of May 1861) of New York and Wade Hampton Gibbes (Class of 1860) of South Carolina was "the first determined stand by any Northerner against the long, aggressive and unchallenged dictatorship of the South" against those West Point cadets who held to abolitionist principles.

Cadet Upton had attended Oberlin College in Ohio, an institution that was "hated and despised by the South for ... admitting negroes as students." Cadet Gibbes made unflattering comments to his Southern friends regarding Upton's "intimate relationship with Negroes." Battle lines were then drawn and a fight was held behind closed doors in the barracks while a crowd of cadets gathered in the hall to listen to the skirmish. A contemporary of the fight's participants, cadet Morris Schaff, stood in the hallway and later wrote home describing the scene:

From time to time we could hear angry voices, the scuffling of feet, and those other dull sounds which fall so heavily on the ears ... (W)hen the fight was over, I saw Upton's resolute face bleeding. Upton's roommate and his second in the fight, John Isaac Rodgers, stood at the top of the stairs and defied the mob of cadets, yelling, 'If there are any more of you down there who want anything, come right up!' No one accepted his challenge. I am satisfied that the South then and there beheld what iron and steel there was in the Northern blood when once it was up."
This interesting anecdote gives some insight on why people of previous harmony wind up fighting.

(1). When differences in beliefs are not debated with civility, and one side or the other begins to personally denigrate and ridicule the character and personhood of those who believe differently, the beginnings of a fight emerge.

(2). From the group being abused personally--usually those who hold to a minority viewpoint--there arises one who stands firm against those who denigrate and abuse.

(3). When those in control feel  threatened or are challenged, they will attack with ferocity, believing themselves in danger of losing their dominating position.

(4). If the minority leader successfully holds his ground, others who also hold to the same viewpoint are emboldened and begin to rally, eventually feeling safe enough to issue challenges of their own to those who have personally denigrated those with whom they disagree.

(5). Eventually the fight will cease because those who love to bully and attack those with whom they are exposed as lacking the kind of character needed in true leaders.

An illustration of all five principles at play in a modern "fight" among Southern Baptists is forthcoming.

In His Grace,


Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Call of God Is As Much on the Businessman as It is the Preacher

Jeff Sandefer spoke at Emmanuel, Enid this past Sunday at all of our morning worship services and a special brunch for our graduating seniors. Jeff is the President of The Acton School of Business and he and his faculty teach using the Socratic method. The staff is forbidden from making declarative statements and must teach through asking questions of the students, allowing discovering to occur through a process of reasoning.

Jeff created his first business at the age of 16 and with the profits, paid his way through college. Now 49 years of age, Jeff sold his last business, a corporation with several billion dollars worth of assets, and made more money than any man would need in multiple lifetimes. Yet, Jeff told our church that the only thing that will really fulfill a man or a woman is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He said that if a person's goal is to win the rat race of making more money than everyone else, when they win the race, they still remain a rat.

The counsel Jeff gave our graduating seniors was some of the finest advice I've ever heard given young people. Jeff told them that rather than being concerned about "making money," they should find their "calling" in life. Their calling is discovered by asking three questions:

(1). What gifts or skills do I have, granted me by God's grace, that set me apart from others?

Jeff suggested that the students ask three individuals this question. He said that at Acton, professors discover that when their students ask three signficant people in their lives this question, all three will usually give the same answer. This is a surefire way to disover one's gifts.

(2). What is it that I do that brings me joy? More specifically, is there something that I spend time doing that causes me to lose track of time because I enjoy it so much?

Jeff called the quick passage of time doing those things you love or bring joy to you life "flow." Others might call it passion. Jeff said that "calling" involves discovering your gifts and skills, matching those with tasks that create joy in your life, and then asking ...

(3). Is there a need in society that is met by what I do?

Jeff said that when you find a need in society that is met by something you do, which also brings you joy, you have found a "calling." For Jeff, that calling is to educate students on the importance of freedoms in economics, politics and religion. His passion is creating and growing businesses and teaching others how to do the same thing. He derives tremendous joy from his "calling."

I couldn't help but think that "calling," as defined by the President of one of the premier business schools in America, is very similar to the "calling" that preachers receive. In other words, could it be that all Christians--not just preachers--receive "a call" from God?

I think so.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Technorati Lists Grace and Truth to You A Top 100 Blog

I don't know a great deal about technology, but over the past few years I've become a tad bit more proficient. Technorati is the resource for all things associated with blogging, and according to the professionals Grace and Truth to You is in the Top 100 blogs for two categories: Living and Religion. Last week this blog cracked the Top 10 of all Religious Blogs. It's obvious the subject matter of this blog covers more than just religion. Posts relate to history, culture, politics, the family, and a host of other topics. But it is true that one of the major functions of this blog is to address issues related to the Southern Baptist Convention. I write, and it seems that people are reading. In commemoration of reaching the 4,000,000 visitor mark, I refer the reader to an interesting commentary on the power of blogs in the 21st Century:

It used to be that once something appeared in print it was rarely ever challenged. I think, to to a certain extent, the system in place for challenging the journalists and national newspapers was too complex and time consuming for many of us to pursue. ..not to mention that the Press Complaints Commission is a self regulating body… Today, however, it’s much easier to correct factual inaccuracies--(thanks to the power of blogs).
Here's hoping that the ideologues who give an inaccurate and false accusation of "liberal" toward those conservative, Christ-honoring, Bible-believing Baptists within the Southern Baptist Convention who happen to disagree with their ideological interpretations of Scripture can forever be corrected by bloggers who will correct the record.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In New York for Research on Spring 2011's Release of Red Earth Courage

Rachelle and I have been enjoying our week in New York. We arrived Monday at Laguardia and drove two and a half hours north to Albany. On Tuesday we spent all day in the Research and Archives Division on the 11th Floor of the New York State Library and Cultural Center. I have been working for about a year and a half researching a book which will be released next spring on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Red Earth Courage recounts the incredible true story of the Civil War's first secret mission.  My hometown, Enid, Oklahoma, is opening a new Smithsonian affiliated $8.5 million dollar museum this fall, and I am working on material for an exhibit covering this unique mission, which tangentially touches the land upon which our fair city is located. I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the project for our community and state, and will conclude the research tomorrow. I intend to spend the next four months writing, and will having the manuscript ready for submission by September. Everyone in New York has been extremely helpful, and it has been a profitable week.

Yesterday Rachelle and I spent some time with West Point's military historian Alan Aimone, at the stunning United States Military Academy Library. One of the heroes of the Civil War's first secret  mission was an 1855 graduate of West Point, a man who after completion of the successful mission eventually became a Union General. Alan was able to assist us with some great background information concerning West Point at the beginning of the Civil War. Upon leaving the Library we went to visit Major Paige Heard. Major Heard is a Southern Baptist military chaplain and I've written before about her service as the Protestant Chaplain for the United States Military Academy. We were told upon arriving at West Point's Chapel that Major Heard had been promoted and transferred. We visited with the staff for a little while, all of whom complimented Chaplain Heard on her faithful ministry to the cadets, and then my wife took the picture you see to the right. I am standing in the building where Major Heard faithfully preached every Sunday to hundreds of cadets.

We were able to see all the beautiful campus of West Point, and the picture to the left is from Bear Mountain, looking east toward the Hudson River. The river runs from the north to the south, with its mouth at New York harbor, just 25 miles south of West Point. The military academy can be seen in the foreground of the picture, sitting the plateau above the western bank of the Hudson. It was a thrill for us to visit yesterday with  one of our church members, Trey Wheeler, who is graduating this Saturday as a member of West Point's Class of 2010. Trey was tops in his class his freshman year, served faithfully on the Army's Parachute Team all four years at West Point, and is now engaged to the valedictorian of the Class of 2010. His fiance is a young lady who will be addressing the cadets this Saturday along with President Obama. Rachelle and I dodged the Secret Service as they were already in full protection mode getting ready for the President's visit, but we enjoyed visiting with both Trey and his mother before the day was over.

We closed yesterday evening with dinner at a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant near Rockefeller Plaza in mid-town Manhattan. We have some work to in a couple of museums today (Thursday), and will be returning to Enid on Friday. It was a little surreal to walk down Broadway after dinner Wednesday and listen to my phone as our son, Logan, put his own phone next to the television set in Enid to allow me to hear the tornado coverage for the area. New York may have the throbbing pulse that goes with a cosmopolitan city, but little old Enid, Oklahoma has the heartbeat of a city shocked by the powerful defibrillator of unannounced tornadoes. Though I love Manhattan, I was sad I couldn't chase the tornadoes with my boys.

Oh well, springtime is not over.

P.S. Just as soon as I posted this, WNBC TV, New York City posted dramatic visual video images of the tornado just south of Enid and north of Hennessey. It's weird to sit in the Kimberly Hotel in mid-town Manhattan with the newscasters mentioning your hometown. The weatherman was shocked at the size of the tornado. To us Oklahomans, it was a little one. Lord willing, none of our church members who farm south of the city had any property damage.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Pastor with a D. Min. Degree Should Not Be Addressed as "Dr." - Tom Kelley

After a few weeks of posting at Grace and Truth to You and fluctuating with my desires about comments, it seems that moderation provides the best solution for what had become a  perplexing problem. Moderating comments--viewing them before they are posted--is a compromise between the completely open comment system which sadly allows subversiveness from ideological ranters which drowns out the substance of other commentors, and the completely closed system which just as sadly shuts out the incredibly astute comments of many who either agree or disagree with what I write. Until events dictate otherwise, Grace and Truth to You will operate under comment moderation.

I've discovered an army of Southern Baptists, usually silent in public, who feel empowered to comment on blogs, and their comments are both needed and thought provoking. One such layman, a highly educated professional himself, wrote a comment on last week's post about mail order degrees obtained by some Southern Baptist pastors. Tom Kelley did not comment about fraudulent degrees, but instead wrote about D.Min degrees,  degrees that are legitimate post-graduate degrees for many Southern Baptist pastors. However, Tom expressed his disapproval that these pastors either insist on being called "Dr." or even allow others to address them as "Dr."--a distinction that the D. Min degree does not afford. Tom explained his feelings in this manner:
"One thing that bothers me is the number of pastors who complete D.Min. degrees and then refer to themselves (or allow others to refer to them as) "Dr." As a practitioner's degree, the preface of Dr. for a D.Min. grad is not appropriate, as it is with an academic's degree, such as a Ph.D., Th.D., or even Ed.D.

It's appropriate, if one sees a need, for a D.Min. to follow their name with their "letters", just as a lawyer can follow their name with J.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudence). But one should no more call a D.Min. grad "Dr." than one would call a lawyer "Dr." This is because the purpose of both degrees serve as terminal degrees in the practice of one's "craft"; the degrees are not intended as scholarly qualifications.

In fact, a pastor with a Ph.D. should not be called "Dr." in reference to his position as pastor, only in his work as a professor or theologian. Even someone with an M.D., a profession notorious for insisting on being called Dr., would be out of line to think his mechanic should call him "Dr." when he gets his oil changed.

Context is key."
In light of Tom's perceptive--and in my opinion, accurate--comment, I would like to thank Kevin Ezell, President of this year's 2010 Pastors' Conference in Orlando. No speaker is listed as "Dr.". Most speakers have earned the D.Min degree. A couple have earned Ph.D's. It is right to do away with all titles when SBC pastors are called to preach the word of God. Christ Himself spoke about being careful of considering oneself superior to those to whom one speaks (Matthew 23:8). Thankfully, the SBC Committee on Order of Business has adopted a similar approach when presenting speakers.

Do you agree that the D. Min is not an academic research degree, and that pastors desire to be identified as a person with this degree, they should abstain from "Dr." before their name, and simply go with D. Min after their name, as would an attorney with a Juris Doctorate degree? Or do you believe that a pastor with a D.Min should be called "Dr." and introduce himself as "Dr."? It seems that most Southern Baptist pastors with a D.Min believe it is both normal and expected for their congregations to refer to them as "Dr.". I think Tom Kelley has made some valid points about this being an errant practice.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them

Jeff VanVonderen is both a personal friend and television reality show star. He is the professional interventionist on the Emmy award winning show Invtervention. Jeff has spoken at our church several times, but his ongoing ministry to the people of our community comes in the form of his bestselling book Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them. For all the pastors, counselors, teachers and family members who read this blog and know people who struggle with chemical addictions, there is no better written resource to help addicts understood the source of their problem and to find recovery than Jeff's book. We keep dozens of the books in stock in our church office and give them away almost as fast as we order them. Our Celebrate Recovery Ministry is introducing us to people that we would otherwise not know, and Jeff's book has been a great tool and resource for this ministry for our church as a whole.

I've been re-reading the book, and a passage from Chapter 1 reminded me why it is such a great resource for Christians who work with the chemically dependent. I quote from portions of the pertinent text to give you a sense of the power of the book to expose the real cause of chemical addictions.

Chemical dependency is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in our society. There is no typical alcoholic or chemically dependent person. If it had the power to choose whom it would affect, chemical dependency would not be very good at distinguishing between the rich or poor, young or old, black or white, male or female, white- or blue-collar worker. Holding a religious view that prohibits alcohol use proves no more effective in the area of preventing chemical-related problems than holding a liberal view. Why not? Because alcohol and drugs are not the cause, only a symptom of what runs much deeper.

In Mark 7:15 Jesus said, "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him." If Jesus is right in this passage, why are so many families and churches characterized by a "barriers" approach to preventing "defilement?" That is, telling people how bad it is for them to drink this, eat that, or go there, making a rule against it, trying to make them good rule-followers. This represents such an inadequate view of health. Just because a person avoids or stops using chemicals and goes out for football or band does not mean he or she is a healthy person. Attendance at church instead of the local bar is no the same as health either. Yet, so much of the effort put forth in families and churches is toward extinguishing one behavior and rewarding another.

Jesus' statement confronts all of our efforts to solve or prevent problems by avoiding something that does not have the power to cause the problem in the first place. What a waste of time! This approach urges us to define health in terms of outside behavior instead of inside fullness. It provides no help or support once a person has broken through the barrier. It simply does not address the cause of the problem.

So what is the cause? It is seeking life from idols. At first glance, my answer to that question might seem so "religious" as to be of no use at all. This is hardly the case. The truth is that this concept, whcih we have too long seen as purely theological, has many very practical ramifications in our lives. I believe that at the heart of all harmful dependencies is the issue of idolatry. A grasp of this concept is essential as a foundation for understanding the processes of chemical dependency and codependency, or, for that matter, any unhealthy dependencies. Let me explain idolatry.

Remember the account of the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis? It tells of God's creation of Adam and Eve. God was their source and sustainer. He placed them in relationships (with Himself and each other) and in an environment in which all of their needs were met. This is much of what I believe God meant whenHe said, "This is very good." There was a tree in the garden which was off-limits. Genesis 2:17 says, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." They ate and they died.

Man lost life in the Garden of Eden.

Understanding death and life is not really so difficult. It is like darkness and light. Darkness is not the opposite of light; it is the absence of light. The way to be in the light is not by trying hard not to be in the dark. It is by coming into or turning on a light. Death is not the opposite of life; it is the absence of life. The way to have life is not by trying hard not to be dead. It is by coming to what can give life.

"I have come that you may have life" (John 10:10); "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48); "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25); and "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Why did Jesus come bringing life? Because we did not have it. Romans 5:12 says that "death spread to all men, because all sinned" To argue whether we are dead becasue Adam sinned or because we sin misses the point. The point is that we all lack life.

Anything besides God to which we run, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry; money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ's performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous; robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything! Addiction is the ulitmate end of idolatry.
 When people look to anything other than Christ for life, they will eventually find ultimate dissatisfaction. Alcohol and drugs dull or mask the inner dysfunction, and soon they become the substitute for life from Christ. Anyone who uses a chemical, or a hobby, or religion, or food in order alter one's mood is addicted. Only when one comes to know, to trust, and to love the fullness of life that Christ brings will the ultimate solution to the idolatry behind addictions be found. This small post gives the reader just a taste of Jeff VanVonderen's book Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them. I would urge readers of Grace and Truth to You to purchase a copy for yourself. You will find yourself reading, learning--and giving it away to help someone you love.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Southern Baptist Convention: Where Liars and Embellishers Condemn Homosexuals to Hell?

I believe same gender sexual activity is a sin. The Bible calls it such. What I can't figure out is why we Southern Baptist pastors continue to single out and target homosexuality as a sin that supercedes all other sins. A decade ago messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention changed Article III of the SBC Constitution by adding the following sentence (in bold letters):

Article III. Membership: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the Convention as follows:

1. One (1) messenger from each church which: (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. And, (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention's work during the fiscal year preceding.
I think I might propose a constitutional change to Article III at this year's Southern Baptist Convention that actually might be more appropriate in terms of the sins with which we as Southern Baptists struggle. It might go something like this:

Among those churches not in cooperation with the Convention are those which act to affirm, approve or endorse any of their pastors embellishing their educational accomplishments through the use of diploma mills and/or purchase of unaccredited theological degrees. Any SBC pastor that fraudulently uses the title "Dr." and any SBC church that approves and/or endorses such activity by any member of their pastoral staff will be deemed out of fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention.
When we passed resolutions condemning homosexuals--while at the same time boycotting Disney--I thought things were becoming strange in the SBC. But at the time, I couldn't quite put my finger on the problem. Now, I feel like I understand. We have allowed a culture to be created within our Convention where we deem certain sins "heinous" (homosexuality, abortion, imbibing alcohol, women preaching, etc...), while other sins, the ones with which we Southern Baptists struggle (lying, pride, selfish ambition, etc...), are either quietly ignored or explained away as "platform charisma," "bold leadership," or "powerful preaching."
A diploma mill, also known as a degree mill, is an organization which awards academic degrees and diplomas with very little or no academic study and without recognition by official accrediting bodies. Websters defines a diploma mill as "An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless." Such organizations are unaccredited, but they often claim accreditation by non-recognized/unapproved organizations set up for the purposes of providing a veneer of authenticity. Pastors who use fake degrees or "doctorates," and churches which care more that their pastors be called "Dr." than they are their pastors display character, have fallen into the kind of sins that negatively impact our Convention.

Remember Steven Flockhart? His resume contained not one, but two fake degrees. Yet, at the bottom of Flockhart's fraudulent resume, was this amazing statement:
"I have been accepted to Liberty University Seminary to begin working on a second Doctorate."
Huh? Liberty, would you explain? How can a man with two fraudulent degrees be accepted into your seminary? Liberty first denied that Flockhart was a seminary student at Liberty, but then corrected their mistaken denial. The Palm Beach Post then questioned Liberty about the peculiar circumstances surrounding the admission of Flockhart into their seminary. An accredited theological school doesn't "admit" a new student until official "transcripts" from GAAP accredited schools have been filed for the applicant. According to reporter Jane Musgrave, Liberty gave this official response to her questions about Flockhart's admission to Liberty Seminary:

"The pastor is enrolled and has paid in advance,” said Ron Godwin, executive vice president and CEO of Liberty University. “I love those kind of students.”

He said Flockhart did not turn up in university records because Caner apparently recruited him. A Turkish-born Muslim, Caner converted to evangelical Christianity, then set off a firestorm in 2002 by describing the prophet Mohammed as a pedophile possessed by demons.

“Dr. Caner has a wide outreach to church leaders all over the United States and, as president of the seminary, enrolls a number of pastors individually,” Godwin said.
I've posted before about the connection between Flockhart and Liberty. Others have written about the tendency of SBC leaders to use fraudulent degrees. Certainly it has been easy for SBC pastors to embellish in order to be a mainstay on the Southern Baptist speaking circuit or to climb the Southern Baptist national and state leadership ladder. Southern Baptist pastors seem infatuated with the title "Dr," even to the extent of asking others to use it of them before they've earned it. Take a gander at the Pastors' Conference line-up. Does every single speaker really have an earned doctorate? It would be inappropriate for some to single out one man for questioning without the rest of us demanding that all be held accountable.

It's time that we Southern Baptists quit pointing our finger at the sins of the world and for us to start getting serious about our own sins. The picture at the top of this post comes straight from the site of Cambridge Theological Seminary International, "the minister's best friend." Several SBC pastors claim "degrees" from this diploma mill. As long as churches and leaders of the SBC are more interested in condemning homosexuals than we are about truth and integrity in our leaders, we will never make an impact for Christ in this world. Would to God we debated our own sins of pride, lying, cheating, embellishing and selfish-ambition at this year's Convention and refrained from condemning homosexuals or talking about another boycott of Disney.

In His Grace,


(Technorati Code  CEPKSU3GB9DJ )

Congratulations to Rachelle Burleson!

My wife of 27 years, Rachelle,  was pinned by me  at her Graduate Student Nurses Association Awards Banquet this past Wednesday night. In addition to raising four kids, being a wonderful homemaker and pastor's wife, Rachelle graduated from the University of Oklahoma's School of Nursing with a Masters as an Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist which is an Advanced Practice Nursing Degree (APRN). At the Awards Banquet Rachelle was given the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award, The Einstein Award (for the post-graduate demonstrating superior academic intellect), The Student Government Leadership Award (Rachelle is the President of the Graduate Nurses Association at the University of Oklahoma), and the End of LIfe Nursing Education Consortium Award.

Since my wife decided to go back to school in 2004, she has completed two degree programs with nothing less than an A, six hundred Advanced Practice clinical hours at The Oklahoma Heart Failure Institute and the Oklahoma Heart Hospital in cardiovascular and thorasic surgery care. She has also worked as a Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Room at St. Mary's Hospital while pursuing her advanced education. She is quite the lady, and dad and the four kids are particularly proud of her accomplishments! After her clinical hours this summer, Rachelle will be granted her prescriptive authority and will be working in the cardiovascular field as an APRN.

Congratulations, Rachelle!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Lost Grace of Confession in Evangelical Leadership and Churches

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" I John 1:9-10 (ESV)

It  has been said that there are only two things certain in life -- death and taxes. In reality there are other things just as certain, and one of those certainties is that you and I will mess up. Some may call our messes "poor choices," others may say we have "problems," but the Bible calls it "sin." Sin is what happens when we live our lives independent of Christ and His ways. We have sins of behavior as well as sins of the heart (envy, bitterness, anger, pride, etc.). A key to living with the complete joy that comes from experiencing the grace of God is to know what to do when we sin as believers in Christ. There is a principle or precept of grace that seems to have been lost in evangelical circles:

We are called by Christ to regularly confess our sins to God and others.

I don't know if it seems to you, as it does me, that there is just the opposite spirit in evangelical Christianity. Most of us seem to be doing everything possible to NOT confess sins to God and to others. The loss of this grace principle is, in my estimation, one of the reasons evangelical Christianity lacks the power of Christ and is becoming like any other religion in this world.

"If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (v.9). Confession is the Greek word homolegeo which means "to say the same thing as." To confess sin means you know that God thinks that what you have done, or what you have said, or what you feel is a violation of His precepts, and you agree with Him--and are unafraid to tell others.

The mark of true Christianity is not sinlessness but sin-consciousness. We are sin sensitive.  But the reason we Christians often find it hard to "confess" our sins to God and to others is because our perspective about our sins is wrong. We see the sin, but we don't see it like God sees it. Confession becomes part of my life when three things occur:

I. I have confidence in God that He has already dealt with my sins.

This is where our brothers who emphasize their works, their faith, their commitment etc... and not the effectual, powerful and eternal work of Christ often fail. Those who add to the grace of God by exalting human works wind up tripping and falling in their confession because to admit sin and failure negates the grace of God in a system that places human works on par with God's grace.

 The "confession" of I John 1:9 mentions nothing about what you do, nothing about what you promise, nothing about what you perform, and absolutely everything about what God does for you as you confess your faults and sins to God and others and  then rest in the finished work of Christ. Christ died for sinners, not the righteous, and confession of sin exalts the work of Christ.

II. I have confidence in God's faithfulness to fulfill His promises to believing sinners.

He will be faithful and perform all the promises that He has made to those who trust in Christ. "As far as the east is from the west He has removed our sins from us" (Psalm 103:12). Now, you and I must ask a very important question. On what basis has God removed our sins and fulfilled his promises to sinners who trust Him? Love? Yes, but there is an attribute of God that is even more important when it comes to freeing us up to confess our sins to God and to others. God is love, but the faithfulness of God in regards to our sin is found in the attribute of His justice. Until you comprehend God's justice at Calvary, you will never be a believer prone to confess your sins to others.

To have confidence in God's justice means that He, as my Judge, has already punished my sins in the substitutionary death of His Son at Calvary. The wrath and condemnation of God will never be experienced by the believer who continually confesses his faults and sins to God and others because God's holy anger toward those sins has already been satiated at Calvary. And it is the confession of sins to God and others that is the evidence of trust in the Son.

Christians often have very little understanding what it means to trust in God's justice. It is this inability to understand that God is faithful and just that makes confession hard. In Romans 3:26 Paul writes about our sins, Christ's work, God's justice, and our faith. Christ died that "God might be just and justifier of one who has faith in Jesus." I have confidence that my sins were borne by Christ and paid for by Jesus Christ. Therefore, I don't mind telling you of my sins because my confession of them portrays to you the confidence I have in Christ's work of Christ for me.

III. I have confidence in God's grace in me to actually remove my sins the more I confess them.

Forgiveness means that God views and treats me, the offender, as not guilty of the sin which I have committed. Not because He blinks at my sin and ignores it, but because His Son has become my sin and borne the punishment due it.  The grace of God will cleanse me of the remnants of sins in me as I confess to God and others my actual sins.

God, by His grace, takes my angry spirit (of which I am forgiven) and replaces it with a soft spirit. God takes my lying, cheating and stealing, and replaces it with truthfulness, integrity, and generosity. But notice: Too many of us get the concepts of confession and cleansing reversed. We often wish to wait until things are straightened out in us out before we confess our sins to God and others. But the Bible says "Don't wait!" The moment you are conscious of your sin, when you are in the middle of it, confess it to God and to others. This is path God designed for you to have your life actually and experientially cleansed of that sin. Others won't help you wipe the dirt off your windshield until you point it out to them. God's grace never shields you from dirt as you travel this world, but God's grace will help you instantly get rid of it when you tell Him and others that you have been splattered with it.

I was called "stupid" by someone who declared that there is no way any evangelical leader who has lied about his past should be kept in his position of leadership.  I receive the label gladly, because the ways of God are much different than the ways of the world. The Christian leader that is MOST qualified to lead is the one who confesses his sins to God and to others on a regular basis. The Christian leader who should be fired is the one who covers and conceals his sins.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Assertion of Innocence without the Establishment of Innocence

A fellow SBC blogger who is known for ranting against those who question his illogic, has written a defense of Liberty University, stating that those who exposed the public lies of her seminary's President were guilty of quick assertions and false assumptions. This blogger commented:

"What I see at play in the White-Kaufman-Burleson-Kahn coalition to discredit Caner (is) the assertion of guilt without the establishment of guilt...  For me, it’s a horrible crime to publicly charge someone with either moral or societal crime or both without sufficient evidence to establish the charge."

I ask readers of this blog to carefully persuse  this article and compare it to this article. Which of the two uses more facts and testimony from the public record? Which uses more words and testimony from Dr. Caner himself to establish guilt or innocence? Which article would you deem more oriented toward factual discovery? Could it be that the actual problem in this Caner issue is the assertion of innocence without the establishment of innocence?

For sycophants to proclaim the innocence of an ideological hero, when the world itself can read the facts that lead to the establishment of guilt, then that which is ultimately damaged is the message of the gospel itself. For Christians not to press for veracity in the testimony of her leaders is to abdicate truthfulness in the delivery of her message. How can people believe what we say about Christ when they can't believe what we say about us?

The fact that these ideologues can't see the ridiculousness of seeking to share the gospel with a Muslim while simultaneously trying to cover up the lies of one of their ideological leaders is an indictment on their Southern Baptist brand of Christianity. For those with a senstive conscience, this post is not about Caner, but those individuals who have boldly and emphatically declared that a thorough investigation has cleared Caner of all wrongdoing--only to have the Chancellor of Liberty University release the following statement yesterday evening:

"In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry.”
Do you remember what Dr. Towns, Vice-President of Liberty University,  declared  three weeks ago?
"The Liberty board has held an inquiry and directors are satisfied that Caner has done nothing theologically inappropriate.
Well, either the Chancellor and the Vice-President of Liberty don't communicate regularly, or Dr. Towns is also guilty of asserting innocence without actually investigating the facts--just like the sycophants who have oft quoted him these past three weeks as justification for excoriating those who have declared guilt based upon an actual examination of the public record.

It is my opinion that "the official inquiry" by Liberty University, slated to begin soon, will leave no stone unturned. I believe the conclusions and recommendations of the inquiry will be appropriate. The chairman of the committee is a man with impeccable credentials and is known by faculty for both his integrity and honesty. In short, this Caner issue will be resolved one of two ways in light of the established facts via the public record:

(1). There will be an official acknowledgment of the embellishment of Dr. Caner's biographical and professional background, a sincere public apology by Dr. Caner for his unethical behavior, and a statement by Liberty Seminary 's Board of Directors that Dr. Caner will be kept as President of Liberty Seminary, or

(2). Dr. Caner will be removed as President of Liberty Seminary.

I am hoping for the first resolution above, but as long as "friends" of Dr. Caner dogmatically and viciously assert his innocence before they have even thoroughly examined the facts, then they actually work to prevent the former from occuring. So, if Dr. Caner is released from his job, he will have nobody to blame but himself and those sycophants who weren't his real friends, just worshippers of his celebrity and ideology.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Milestone Is Reached: The 1,000th Post on Grace and Truth to You

Today is the 1,000th post for Grace and Truth to You, and we are closing in on 4 million unique visits since the blog's inception four years ago. It has been an enjoyable experience, and I have made a great many new friends. This milepost blog is dedicated to my top five observations about blogging (in no particular order).

(1). The greatest blessing to me is hearing someone say "Your post has caused me to really think."

It is our privilege at Emmanuel to have a number of Air Force pilots and their spouses who transfer into Enid and Vance Air Force Base from cities and countries around the world. Invariably, when they find out we are a Southern Baptist Church, they express suprise, particularly if they have personal experience with SBC churches in the south. Due to puerile, Nickelodean southern cultural activities that make Sunday morning at an SBC church often seem like childen's camp, these Air Force pilots are pleased with the substance and depth of both small group and corporate teaching at Emmanuel. I feel the same satisfaction when I read blogs that make me think..  To me, the best blogs are those that address pertinent theological, moral and ethical issues in a substantive manner. Of course, no matter how hard I might try to ensure my posts address these important issues affecting the churches and people of the SBC, invariably some readers who disagree with my writing will opine that I am "attacking." I do not wish to attack any brother or sister in Christ. I want Christians to think. For this reason, the greatest compliment I am given is "You've caused me to think about an issue in ways I've never thought of it before!"

(2). Comments are both a great blessing and a cursed headache.

I have learned a great deal from some insightful, articulate faithful readers of this blog. They comment and correct me, teach me, inspire me and redirect me. My wife has told me more than once that my posts are boring, but the comments are interesting. Laughing. She's right.

But unfortunately, some people take advantage of being free to comment on a blog and wind up saying things that they would never say to people in person. I have sought over the years to only address issues that I have no problem addressing with others in face to face meetings. But the tone and tenor of some commentors have caused me to go back and forth on the subject of comments (see #2). I have gone a few weeks without comments, and am now on comment moderation. I'm not sure of the future of comments on this blog, but I continue to feel my way around this issue.

(3). I am not always as careful as I should be in expressing my intentions for the future.

When visiting with one's spouse or close friends (i.e. people who love and respect you) about future plans, there is understanding and acceptance if those plans suddenly change. However, when you express your intentions for the future publicly on your blog, those who would not consider themselves your friends will use your words to impugn your character and call you a liar if your plans change. For example, on April 28th, 2010, I expressed my desire to put the Caner issue to rest on this blog. That was my sincere, heartfelt desire on that day. However, a few days later, I read the "official" statement from Liberty's Vice-President Dr. Elmer Townes about the Caner issue.
"It's not an ethical issue, it's not a moral issue," Towns told Christianity Today on April 27. "We give faculty a certain amount of theological leverage. The arguments of the bloggers would not stand up in court."
I decided to address Dr. Towne's curious response, and began a new blogpost with the following sentence: "I've made a commitment to not write another post about the biographical, educational and professional fabrications of Liberty Seminary's President, a promise which I will keep, but after reading Christianity Today's article and the response of Liberty's Vice-President Elmer Towns, I feel compelled to write this post about the growing lack of institutional integrity at Liberty Seminary and Liberty University."Then, I wrote a second post asking Liberty's administrators, particularly Dr. Townes, three questions about their "official" response. Those who do not consider me a friend have accused me of "lying," being a "hypocrite," and "one in need of repentance," etc.... My writing was about Liberty, not Caner, so I could respond to my critics by just saying that I'm a believer what Towne's calls "theological leverage," but I'll simply write I've learned its better to keep your words about future intentions to a minimum.

(4). Blogs have given people otherwise unknown, a very powerful voice.

Like the printing press, the Internet has revolutionized the means of mass communication. If anybody wants change in the 21st Century, then they MUST get on the Internet and advocate for change. It has been my pleasure to come to know people across the nation who have made an incredible impact for the kingdom of Christ through simply writing and publishing those writings on a blog. There are those who may wish to minimize the influence of blogging, but the truth is clear: Blogs are a powerful medium for cultural, political, and religious change.

(5). The more people say "You have no influence," or "Nobody's paying attention to what you are saying," or "Nobody cares what you think,"-- the more those people are actually revealing a concern that what you are writing is making an impact.

I'm sure many more observations could be made, but the hour is late, and I want to get this posted before going to bed. Hope you have enjoyed Grace and Truth to You and these last 1,000 posts. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Best Theology Is Summed Up in the Words: Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

Yesterday one of our former members, Jeff Rogers, forwarded me an article sent to him by his daughter, Rebekah. The article, entitled How Does Jesus Love You?", was written by Eric M. Pazdziora as a guest post for a blog named Quivering Daughters. Ironically, the owner of that blog, Hillary McFarland, is someone that I have read for the past few years. She is soon to publish a book entitled Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy, a book for which I have given an official, written commendation. Jeff sent Pazdzoria's post to all the men in our Tuesday morning Bible study with these words as a preface: This is probably the most profoundly deep doctrinal statement we are likely to encounter in all of our meetings, discussions and debates. After reading How Does Jesus Love You?", I have to agree with Jeff's assessment. Rarely do I read something with which I so fully and totally agree. The following article represents the core and very essence of my theological construct. I hope you enjoy it as much as I.

How Does Jesus Love You? (Let me count the ways.)

Eric M. Pazdziora

The story goes that somebody once asked a great theologian—nobody’s quite sure which theologian, but so the story goes—what was the most profound doctrinal statement he had ever heard. The theologian thought for a moment and replied:

“Jesus loves me; this I know
For the Bible tells me so.”

We smile at the irony of a distinguished scholar singing a ditty for children. But I think he knew his stuff. Unless you become like a little child, after all, you won’t get into the kingdom of God. Out of the mouths of infants and babes, God has perfected praise. In those three little words we all sang as children is everything we really need to know: “Jesus loves me.”

Is the statement too simple? It might seem that way, especially if (like me) you learned those words just as soon as you were old enough to sing them. Like most simple truths, it’s easy to overlook it, to neglect it, to assume we know it and move along. But some things shouldn’t be overlooked—at least, not according to the Bible that tells us so. “This is My commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). “The life which I now live in the flesh,” wrote Paul, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s even in the Bible’s most-quoted passage on marriage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 2:25).

Jesus’ love for us is not just a simple truth for children, though it is that. It’s not just a comforting thought for when we’re feeling lonely, though it is that. It’s not even just a doctrinal proposition, though you can make it that if you like. If these verses are anything to go by, it’s nothing less than the foundation of everything to do with the Christian faith and the Christian life.

This leads to an obvious question, a question so obvious that I’m not surprised so few people think to ask it. How, exactly, does Christ love the church? What does the Bible mean when it says Jesus loves me?

It may be an obvious question to ask, but it’s not a trivial one to answer. The answer you give to it will do more to shape your life than anything else will. Or perhaps it’s that the shape of your life reveals the answer you’ve given to this question.

Maybe that’s part of the reason Jesus was so furiously opposed to spiritual abuse. When a Christian husband is domineering, harsh, or controlling toward his wife, it sends the message that that’s how Jesus treats the people He loves. When a pastor is legalistic, arrogant, browbeating, or manipulative toward his congregation, it sends the message that that’s how Jesus treats the people He leads. When a church leader withholds his approval until you’ve met his arbitrary standard, it sends the message that that’s how Jesus dispenses His love.

Is Jesus manipulative? Can Jesus’ love be earned? Does Jesus micromanage? Does Jesus demand perfection? Does Jesus use “love” as a tool to compel our servitude? Does Jesus withhold His love from those who aren’t good enough? Does Jesus force submission? Is Jesus harsh and authoritarian? Does Jesus reject those who don’t love Him enough?

I admit that if we looked for the answer to those questions in the way we’ve been treated by some people who called themselves Jesus’ followers, we might come up with an unflattering picture. (Trying to calculate from Christians in my own experience, I’d estimate two negative for every positive, evening out more lately.)

But that’s where the second line of the song comes in. It doesn’t say “Jesus loves me; this I know / for my pastor treats me so.” Or my parents, or my friends, or my employers, or anybody else. To see what Jesus’ love is like, we have to start with Jesus Himself, and the most reliable representation we have of Jesus is in the Bible. Once we know what Jesus’ love is really like, then (and only then) we can determine whether something else shows Jesus’ love correctly.

The minor difficulty here is that trying to find the parts of the Bible that talk about God’s love is a bit like trying to find the parts of Moby Dick that talk about whales. What parts don’t? And I can’t just go slapping all 1,189 chapters into one article or we’ll be here all month. It might be worth mentioning, though, that Jesus Himself advocated reading the whole Bible in just that way—looking for the truth about Him in every part. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). You could do a lot worse than, whenever you read a passage of Scripture, asking yourself, “How can I see the love of Jesus here?”

There are some verses, though, where it’s especially easy to see.

Jesus’ love is real and knowable.

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21)

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

To people with a skeptical nature, this whole notion of the love of Jesus can seem to border on absurdity. I get that. It’s easy enough to appreciate where the skeptics and atheists are coming from on this one. There’s a person you can’t see, yet you’re certain He loves you? Isn’t that just having an imaginary friend?

I respect an honest skeptic. So does Jesus. He doesn’t propose what would surely turn off any doubting inquirer, a glib assertion that “you’ve just gotta have faith.” Instead, He asks us to observe a particular commandment: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12. This also explains the verse that trips up some readers: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The commandment in question is not to practice legalism but to love others.)

If you try this, Jesus says, “I will manifest myself to [you].” In other words, if you want to see whether Jesus’ love is real, find out how His love is described and try loving other people that way. Then you’ll know—although, as Paul says in Ephesians, you will “know this love that surpasses knowledge.” There’s a lot more to it than knowing: it’s like the difference between knowing someone’s name and having them as a friend. Or, if you like, the difference between having an imaginary friend and having a real friend.

Jesus’ love is like the Father’s.

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. (John 15:9)

Some people give the impression that God the Father was itching to smite us with His wrath until Jesus stepped in and showed us some love instead. Those people are wrong. Jesus said He does nothing but what He sees the Father do (John 5:19). So anything that’s true of the love of Jesus for us is true of the love of His Father for us.

However, this declaration moves it to another dimension: Jesus said His love for His disciples—and therefore, the Father’s love for His disciples—was just like the Father’s love for Him. The Father’s love for His Son is eternal and unchangeable, a greater constant than the universe itself. It’s a part of His essential nature: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Jesus loves you exactly the same way.

Jesus’ love takes the form of a sacrifice.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:2)

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)

Loving someone means wanting what’s best for them. Truly loving someone means giving up something voluntarily so they can get what’s best for them. It can’t be forced or manipulated by anyone else—real love makes sacrifice come naturally. The more someone truly loves, the more they freely sacrifice.

R. A. Torrey put it directly: “The love of Jesus Christ manifested itself in His giving Himself, laying down His life for us. His was a self-sacrificing love. The death of Christ was not the only sacrifice He made, but the crowning one. His whole life was a sacrifice, from the manger to the cross. His becoming man at all was a sacrifice of immeasurable greatness and meaning. (See Philippians 2:6-7.)” (What the Bible Teaches, ch. 4).

This shows that Jesus’ love won’t demand, compel, or manipulate. Jesus never says, “Well, now that I’ve given so much, it’s time for you to do something for me.” He follows His own commandment to “give, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35).

He just gives. He gives everything.

He gives Himself.

Jesus loves people when they don’t deserve it.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

The greatest kind of love we can imagine (as Jesus said) is someone giving up their life for someone they love. We could probably picture ourselves trading our lives for somebody we love who loves us back—our child, our spouse, our best friend. But how about taking a bullet to save an enemy? Drowning to rescue somebody who hates you? Consider your mind staggered.

Sin, by definition, is an action that goes against God’s nature. Lies are sinful because God is the truth; adultery is sinful because God is faithful; resentment is sinful because God is forgiving, and so on. God hates sin because it puts us at odds with Him: our choice to sin makes us God’s enemies (compare Colossians 1:21, James 4:4). But God didn’t wait for us to turn our lives around, to become “good enough” to earn His love and approval.

Jesus died for us while we were His enemies.

If you have ever thought that you had to be good enough for Jesus to love you, or that Jesus would stop loving you if you did something bad, or that the better you were the more Jesus would love you, now would be an appropriate time for you to crumple that thought up and toss it in a wastebasket to hell.

Jesus’ love makes people pure and beautiful.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Why did Jesus sacrifice Himself for us? We all know the Sunday School answer: “To take away our sins.” However, that doesn’t fully answer the question of “why”—it tells the result but not the motive.

What was His motive? He wants to make us pure and beautiful, like a bride in white. He wants to make us glorious, flawless, and spotless. He wants to show that He considers us beautiful and unique and special. He wants to take away anything that might make someone think otherwise. He wants us to be whole, and complete, and cleansed, and made new and lovely. He wants to celebrate us, delight in us, rejoice over us.

And that’s exactly what His sacrificial love for us accomplished.

By the way, that verse is written to tell Christian husbands how to treat their wives. So if you ever wanted to see one verse that singlehandedly demolishes the false teaching of Patriarchy—well, there you go. To Jesus, to love and lead means to serve and sacrifice.

Jesus’ love nourishes and cherishes.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. (Ephesians 5:29)

This verse continues the previous thought, part of the same admonition to husbands. A godly husband applies the Golden Rule to his wife—he loves her as he loves himself. He nourishes her—he makes sure she has everything she needs to be healthy and grow. He cherishes her—he lets her know how special he thinks she is. He shows her every day that he’s thankful for the blessing of having her in his life. He encourages her and builds her up. He makes room for her to be vibrant and to flourish.

He got that idea from the way Jesus treats the church.

Jesus’ love lifts the lowly.

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.
(Psalm 113:7-8)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

God’s love for us is not from the top down but from the bottom up. Jesus didn’t wait for us to get our acts together; He got His hands dirty. The story of the Incarnation is the story of a king who laid aside His crown for the love of a beggar. Then, a beggar Himself, He gave the beggar He loved His crown and all His kingdom.

Jesus loves the neglected, the poor, the lowly, the outcasts, the overlooked, the untouchable. Jesus loves the disenfranchised, the misfits, the minorities, the friendless, the victims. He loves them so much that He came to earth and became one of them Himself.

Jesus was not ashamed of your lowliness; He made it His own. Jesus does not wait for you or anyone else to lift yourself up; He lifts you up. Jesus’ love doesn’t put us down in our places. It lifts us up to His place.

Jesus’ love is friendship.

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

Jesus doesn’t just love you in a vacuous general sense, like a recorded message that says, “Your call is very important to us.” Jesus doesn’t just love you because He’s somehow obligated to. Jesus doesn’t just love you because He loves everybody as a collective group. Jesus loves you as an individual. More than that—Jesus likes you.

Jesus isn’t interested in having mindless servants who blindly obey. Jesus wants friends who will hang out with Him. Jesus wants friends He can talk with (His favorite topic, again, is His Father). Jesus thinks you’re the kind of person He’d like to get together with over coffee. Or, if you’re in England, tea.

Jesus’ love is constructive.

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19).

This verse may rub us the wrong way if we’ve been abused by authoritarian leaders. In reality, it shows us how Jesus finds a middle path between two extreme misunderstandings of discipline. A parent who destructively abuses and controls their child does not love that child as Jesus does, but neither does a parent who carelessly lets their child do whatever they please. Jesus instead gives us constructive training and guidance to help us develop into free and healthy individuals. As Paul put it, “The kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4, emphasis mine).

The fact that Jesus loves us does not guarantee that our life will be all flowers and sunshine and rainbows—often, quite the opposite. Jesus allows suffering and hardship in our lives to teach us and (sometimes) to correct us. It’s not that suffering always means we’ve done something wrong—though our actions do have consequences—but that it often gives us an opportunity to see our faults with a bit more clarity. (For instance, having to wait in a long line at the bank reveals to me that I’m woefully impatient.) That in turn gives us an opportunity to change and to become more enthusiastic about our walk with God.

Jesus’ discipline and training is not about controlling us but about helping us to grow. When Jesus points out our faults, weaknesses, or sins, it’s never to make us feel guilty or inferior but to get us to turn away from them and turn instead to His grace and the transforming love and power of His Spirit.

Jesus’ love is compassionate.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice… (Isaiah 42:3)

If you’re bruised, or wounded, or hurting, it may seem like people want to cast you aside, throw you away, or (worst) make you think it was all your fault. What good is a bruised reed except to break and throw away? What good is a smoldering candle except to blow out? What good is a broken person except as a cautionary tale to avoid?

Not to Jesus. Jesus isn’t in the business of discarding things other people have broken. Jesus is in the business of finishing the good work He started. Jesus treats the bruised and broken things of the world with the tenderness they need to recover and return to life.

Jesus is all about resurrections.

Jesus’ love identifies with our suffering.

For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me. (Romans 15:3)

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace for their convictions, the king who put them there was astonished to see a fourth man in the flames with them—one who looked like “the son of a god” (Daniel 3:25). Jesus does something infinitely better than keeping us from ever going through suffering and hardship. He experiences our suffering and hardship right along with us. He’s not just with us in our suffering, or even just “carrying us” like in the old “Footprints” poem, but actually experiencing our suffering as much as we are.

In His life on earth, Jesus experienced what it was to be hurt, abandoned, beaten up, misunderstood, mocked, laughed at, scorned, slapped, betrayed, tempted, and even seemingly forsaken by God. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus’ suffering absolved not only our sins but also our griefs and our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). When someone insults you, hurts you, or abuses you, Jesus feels it too. He’s been there before, and He’s there with you now.

Jesus’ love is unilateral.

We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Once in a while, it helps your interpretation if you look very closely at what the Bible doesn’t say. For instance, this verse doesn’t say, “We have to strive to love Him if we want Him to love us back.” It doesn’t say, “He loves us when we love Him and do our best to be well-behaved and attractive.” It definitely doesn’t say, “He won’t love us until we’re good enough.” You get the idea.

Lots of people like to use the phrase “unconditional love,” which is accurate as far as it goes—Jesus’ love comes with no strings attached. But the Bible goes even further than that phrase does. A friend of mine, a theologically minded woman, once suggested the phrase “unilateral love”: as far as Jesus is concerned, His love for us is entirely His idea and exclusively His initiative. I like the phrase.

Jesus’ love for us is the cause, and our love for Him is the effect. If you want to love Jesus more, don’t waste your time trying to strive or to do good things or to work up your passion and emotions. Just think about Jesus’ love for you, and how much He had to do with it, and how little (nothing) you had to do with it.

A little girl in London once asked her Sunday School teacher—his name was Mark Guy Pearse—how she could learn to love Jesus, since she didn’t. Pearse thought for a moment and replied, “Little girl, as you go away from here today, keep saying to yourself, ‘Jesus loves me,’ ‘Jesus loves me,’ and I believe you will come back next Sunday saying, ‘I love Jesus.’”

It worked.

Jesus’ love is invincible.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
(To be followed by the “Sevenfold Amen.”)

Conclusion: Abiding

Well then. In the words of a scholar who taught me many of the principles of applied hermeneutics and exegesis—“So what?” Was this all a pointless intellectual exercise, or does it make a difference to the life we’ll face on a Monday morning?

If you were expecting a list of things to do here, I’m going to have to disappoint you. The first thing Jesus tells us to do about His love is to stop doing things about it. His word of choice is “Abide”: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love” (John 15:9). “Abide” means “Make yourself at home.” Stay, relax, hang out, take a load off, pull up a seat, put down roots; you can stay forever. Jesus wants us to live in His love.

What does it mean to live in Jesus’ love? It means you can know you will always have someone who loves you. As the psalmist sang, “Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).

It means that you never have to worry about being good enough for Him to love you. Jesus loved you first. Your behavior had nothing to do with it either way. You don’t have anything to live up to. You’re already good enough.

It means you don’t have to worry whether you will be loved or not. You just have to know that you are loved, and that therefore you are worth loving. You can lose the worries of legalism, perfectionism, and authoritarianism. You can feel the freedom to love yourself. You can feel the security of being unconditionally loved.

If you still insist on doing something, there is one thing you can do: You can love other people the same way Jesus does. Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Of course, that’s impossible, except for one thing: abiding in Jesus’ love changes us and makes us more like Him. The more we see what Jesus’ love is, the more we become able to love that way ourselves. It’s not the kind of commandment you have to struggle to live up to; it’s the kind of commandment you grow into and live out.

One other thing. Don’t accept substitutes. Don’t believe the lies. Once you see what Jesus’ love is like, stay there. Don’t put any other person or place or idea in that place, especially not one that’s a lie. Nothing can separate you from Jesus’ love for you. Nothing can stop you from being loved forever.

Anything that says otherwise isn’t Jesus.