Observation #13

As the test I took just proved, studying Greek at 4:00 in the morning while holding a screaming infant might be a less-than-ideal situation for maximized retention.


Creation and Stewardship

Genesis 1.27-28 says,
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”
Referring to that passage of Scripture, I came upon a wonderful quotation from Father Robert A. Sirico in Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition regarding the way we should treat the environment from a biblical perspective:
“In our modern times, however, this biblical vision of the relationship between God, man, and nature is muddled by two false views. The one sees the natural world as the source of all value, man as an intruder, and God, if he exists at all, as so immanent in the natural order that he ceases to be distinguishable from it. The other places man as the source of all values, the natural order as merely instrumental to his aims, and God as often irrelevant. Genesis presents a radically different picture of how the world is put together.”
Discussions on the environment become highly charged and highly politicized in today’s climate (think global warming), and often the issue is painted as if there are only two options: either the protection of the environment is most important issue, or it isn’t important at all. The biblical perspective of stewardship falls between those two extremes, and is the position that Christians should seek to embrace.


Is All Sin The Same In God’s Eyes?

Scales of Justice Mosaic; photo by Flickr user eflon

During my years of ministry, I don’t know how many times I have heard someone claim, in one form or another, that “all sins are the same in God’s eyes”. Basically the idea is that we as humans distinguish between different types of sin and consider some to be worse than others, but that God doesn’t do that—He is holy, He doesn’t tolerate any type of sin, and therefore, to him one type of sin is just as bad as any other.

This idea has certainly become a basic tenet of pop theology, but is it biblical? I would humbly submit that it is not, and it’s an idea that I wish could be put to rest.

Why Isn’t All Sin Equal?

First off, we should mention that all sin is equal in the sense that it separates us from God. Romans 6.23 says that the wages of sin is death—we can’t have any relationship with God until we do something about the sin in our lives. So all sin, any sin, is a big deal because it damages our relationship with the Father.

So why, then, isn’t all sin equal?

(1) The Bible teaches that there are different degrees of sin.

There are a whole lot of examples that could be used here, but just consider the following:
  • In John 19.11, when speaking to Pilate in the context of his arrest and trial, Jesus  says,“You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” Here Jesus explicitly says that one sin is worse than another.
  • Speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.23-24, Jesus says that they had neglected the “weightier provisions of the law”—justice and mercy and faithfulness—and had instead focused on minor issues. To me, if some parts of the law were more important than others, then the implication is that neglecting those portions was a greater sin.
  • In Matthew 7.3, in the context of being careful about the way we judge others, Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” The clear indication here is that the log is a bigger problem than the speck, and should therefore be dealt with first.
  • Luke 12.10 talks about sinning against the Holy Spirit, and how it is unforgivable. People debate all the time about exactly what this sin refers to, but if there is a certain sin that is unforgivable, doesn’t that mean that it is worse than others?
  • Ezekiel 23 compares the cities of Samaria (the capital of Israel) and Jerusalem (the capital of Judah), and clearly states that Jerusalem was more corrupt than Samaria (v.11) because of her greater degree of unfaithfulness.
  • When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32), Moses charged them with committing a “great sin”. If all sins are the same, why is this one specifically referred to as “great”?
  • In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he emphasizes how terrible it is for a Christian man to neglect his family. In 1 Timothy 5.8, he says, “But if anyone does not provide for his people, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” If one can be worse than someone else, doesn’t that imply greater sinfulness?

(2) Some sins have harsher consequences than others.

When you think of the earthly consequences of sin, do all sins seem to be the same? Committing lust in your heart is undoubtedly a sin, but does it have the same consequences as committing adultery? In one case, the sin is limited to yourself, while the other necessarily involves another person and could potentially destroy an entire family. Stealing a piece of gum is a sin, but it is unlikely that it will cause great damage to the person you steal it from. On the other hand, committing murder destroys a life and affects an untold number of people. In short, some sins might not have long-lasting temporal effects, while others literally destroy people’s lives.

This can also be seen in the Bible—if all sin is the same, why did God decide to basically reboot the whole system in the days of Noah and start from scratch? At no other point did God decide to do this, so the indication is that things must have somehow been worse in the days of Noah.

What about Sodom and Gomorrah? Undoubtedly every city on earth is plagued by a great amount of sin—why were these cities singled out for destruction? I would submit that it was because their sinfulness was so widespread—in just the small glimpse we get of Sodom, it appears that the majority of people were guilty of homosexuality, inhospitality, violence against strangers, and sexual assault. It seems that the sinfulness of Sodom was worse than in other places.

There is also some indication in the Bible that different types of sin may have different eternal consequences as well (see Matthew 11.20-24, Luke 12.47-48, and Hebrews 10.28-29).

(3) Some sins are harder to repent of than others.

Biblically, repentance isn’t just being “sorry” for sin, it’s a conscious turning away from the sin in your life. From that perspective, some sins are harder to repent of than others. It’s one thing to turn away from a sin that you commit by accident; it’s another thing entirely to repent of a sin that you plan out ahead of time and intentionally commit—in other words, it’s easier to turn away from sins we are already trying to avoid than those we seek out.

Hebrews 6.4-8 conveys a similar message, saying that for those who have “tasted the good word of God” and then fallen away, it is “impossible to renew them again to repentance.” This is a much-debated passage, but at the very least, the indication is that the sin of these people places them in a category that makes repentance more difficult than for others.

Furthermore, sinful addictions that destroy people’s lives are much harder to repent of than single, isolated sins.*

(4) Simple logic tells us that not all sin is the same.

To reiterate what I said above, all sin is the same in the sense that it separates us from God, but if it was the same in every sense, then that would mean that stealing a piece of gum is just as bad as stealing a car, which is just as bad as killing someone, which is just as bad as killing 20 people. Does that really make any sense?

Put another way, that would mean that in God’s eyes, Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler are exactly the same, because they both committed sin at some point in their lives. If it’s so easy for us to see the difference in the goodness of those two people, does it make any sense at all that God would look at them in exactly the same way (where do you think our moral code comes from in the first place?)?

Then Why Do So Many People Believe This?

If the idea of all sins being equal didn’t come from the Bible, where did it come from? I don’t have any proof of this, but I suspect it came out of the desire to emphasize two ideas about sin that are very true:

(1) Every sin, no matter how small it seems, is a big deal and requires forgiveness. Sometimes, in an effort to emphasize the grace of God and His willingness to forgive, some people effectively minimize the magnitude of sin. The idea here is that it doesn’t matter what kind of language you use, it doesn’t matter if you live a sexually immoral life, it doesn’t matter if you are a chronic gossip, because you can just ask for forgiveness and it’s that easy.

The thing to remember is that while grace is free, it isn’t cheap. The sin of mankind is such a big deal that it required the death of the sinless Son of God to make grace possible. Sin—all sin—is a big deal.

(2) Even the “big” sins that we think of as being terrible can still be forgiven. Sometimes, when people commit very public, very damaging sins, we tend to write them off. A girl gets pregnant out of wedlock or a man divorces his wife, and too often, they are treated like their lives are over and that God has no use for them anymore. The idea here is that only especially saintly people who avoid all “major” sins can ever hope to have a relationship with God.

As mentioned above, it cost God a lot to forgive sin, but thanks to the work of Christ on the cross, He is able and eager to do just that, regardless of how “bad” your sin is (Prodigal Son, Apostle Paul, etc.).

With these two ideas in mind, it’s easy enough to imagine where the “All Sin is Equal” idea came from: simultaneously wanting to underscore that even the “worst” of sins can be forgiven but that even “minor” sins are a big deal and separate us from God, it’s not a huge jump to just declare that all sins must be the same from God’s perspective. 

Hopefully, as I’ve explained above, that idea doesn’t make sense logically, and it doesn’t square with the teachings of Scripture either. As we move forward, let’s emphasize that all sin is a big deal, but that it can still be forgiven. But let’s emphasize that without making unbiblical, broad-brush statements about all sin being the same to God.

UPDATE: As reflect upon what I wrote here, I want to be clear that my intention was not to maximize or minimize any specific sin, or to encourage active reflection on how some sins “rank” in comparison to others. Instead, I am simply calling for people to quit saying, “All sin is the same in God’s eyes”, because biblically, that just isn’t a true statement.

 *I’m not intending to debate addiction as sin vs. addiction as illness. Really, I think it’s a moot point—even if addictions affect the body and mind like illnesses do, they still begin with sinful behavior.


Newt Gingrich and the Sanctity of Marriage

A lot of Christians and social conservatives (like myself) were hard on Bill Clinton (and rightfully so, I think) for his perceived lack of moral character.

The thought of voting for Newt Gingrich should give serious pause to the same group of people.


Ozark Ultimate Preseason Magazine

Of my hundreds dozens pairs of readers, a few of you are ultimate fans, and so I thought I would take the opportunity to mention the 2012 Ozark Conference Preseason Magazine from Ozark Ultimate.

This 52-page magazine is available for download for just $2, and provides quality analysis of all ten teams from the Ozark Conference. I had a minor role in the development of the magazine, designing the cover and also writing an article on ultimate statistics.

For $2, it is a bargain, and it also helps to support media coverage of ultimate, which is still in its infancy (click the link above to buy the magazine via PayPal).


Reading in 2011

Something I started doing a few years ago and have greatly enjoyed is keeping track of the books I read each year.

Here is my reading list for 2011:

  1. The Speed Of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, by Stephen M. R. Covey
  2. The Historical Books (Interpreting Biblical Texts Series), by Richard D. Nelson
  3. Joshua to Chronicles: An Introduction, by Antony F. Campbell
  4. The Art of Biblical History, by V. Philips Long
  5. A Biblical History of Israel, by Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III
  6. God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations, by Jackson W. Carroll
  7. Crossing the Wire, by Will Hobbs
  8. Leading the Congregation: Caring for Yourself While Serving the People, by Roger Heuser and Norman Shawchuck
  9. Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral, by Thomas G. Long
  10. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
  11. Crucifixion, by Martin Hengel
  12. Crazy Love, by Francis Chan
  13. The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicut McGrath
  14. 1776, by David McCullough
  15. A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich
  16. The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America, by Joe Posnanski
  17. Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding, by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine
  18. Show Us How You Do It: Marshall Keeble and the Rise of Black Churches of Christ in the United States, 1914-1968, by Edward J. Robinson
  19. Reviving The Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America, by Richard T. Hughes
  20. The Death Collector, by Justin Richards
  21. The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis
  22. The Greenest Island, by Paul Theroux
  23. Night, by Elie Wiesel
  24. Convicted: A Scientist Examines the Evidence for Christianity, by Brad Harrub
  25. The Restoration Movement in Northwest Arkansas, by Virginia Lynn Vego
  26. Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War, by George B. Kirsch
  27. The Way of Life: Church History, Reformation and Modern, by Everett Ferguson
  28. Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith
  29. Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, by William Baxter
  30. Youth: A Narrative, by Joseph Conrad
  31. The Conquest of the North and South Poles, by Russell Owen
  32. A History of Arkansas College: 1850-1860, by Robert Dockery
  33. Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, by Everett Ferguson
  34. Undenominational Christianity, by J.N. Armstrong
  35. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John Le Carré
  36. My Turn at Bat: the Story of My Life, by Ted Williams (with John Underwood)
  37. The Third Man, by Graham Greene
  38. The Fallen Idol, by Graham Greene
  39. More Strength for the Journey: A Daily Devotional Guide, by Danny Boggs, Kirk Brothers, Bobby Dockery, and Neal Pollard
Once again, I did a poor job of writing reviews of the books I read this past year, and that’s something I hope to improve upon in 2012. Regardless of my lack of reviews, there were a few books I read that I thought were great. The Art of Biblical History and A Biblical History of Israel were both excellent, and I would readily recommend them to anyone with an interest in biblical history. Other favorites for the year included 1776 (fascinating reading on the early days of the American Revolution), Night (gut-wrenching, personal account of the Holocaust), and The Soul of Baseball, which was possibly the best baseball book I have ever read (which is saying a lot). In the category of fiction, Gorky Park and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold were both very enjoyable.

On the flip side, The Death Collector was undoubtedly the worst book I read this year (the dangers of choosing young adult audio books for my drives to and from Memphis). The only other real disappointment for the year was The Alchemist, which I had high hopes for but ended up being weird and uninspiring.

Sadly, my overall book total decreased (down to 39 from 41 in 2010). Part of this was caused by an unproductive January, and also by the fact that I took one less reading-intensive graduate course this year. Hopefully I’ll reverse the trend and be back up over 40 books in 2012.

As always, I have some books set aside to read in 2012, but I always like recommendations for good stuff. Any ideas?

(For comparison’s sake, you can see the books I read in 2010, 2009, and 2008).


Tim Tebow’s Viability As An NFL Quarterback

Photo by Chris Schneider of the Associated Press.

Since he emerged as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, Tim Tebow has become the dominant storyline of this year’s NFL season. It’s a story that has been analyzed from a number of different angles, ranging from Tebow’s abilities as a quarterback, to his personal faith, to whether or not God cares about football games, to the relationship between Tebow and Broncos General Manager John Elway.

One angle that hasn’t been discussed as much is the assumption made by many NFL experts and fans that the quarterback position can only be played successfully a certain way in the NFL, and that because Tebow doesn’t fit into that mold, he is by definition a bad quarterback.

I think it’s a close-minded and somewhat arrogant perspective that needs a closer look. To put it another way, if the only way to successfully play quarterback is to do it like Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers does it—using pinpoint throwing accuracy to sling the ball all over the field to multiple receivers and amassing tons of passing yards along the way—then Tebow clearly isn’t successful. But is that the only way a quarterback can succeed?

Well, I think if you consider all levels of play, the answer is clearly, "no".

First, looking at kids playing football (whether you reflect back to your days of playground football or whether you’re watching an organized Peewee game), you see a fairly common theme: the quarterback is a kid who can usually throw the ball well, but he’s almost always the kid who is athletic enough to beat the pass rush and scramble for long runs. Moving on to junior high and even smaller high school football, it’s unusual to have a heavy pass offense—instead, the running game is the focus, and usually involves a lot of quarterback option play.

Now, it is true that as you move up in skill level (peewee to junior high, to small high school ball, to larger high school ball, to college, to the pros), you tend to find more of an emphasis on passing and the quarterback becomes more of a specialized skill position rather than just the stud athlete on the field who runs around and/or over everyone. But even at the highest levels of college play, there are notable exceptions.

When Tim Tebow broke into the college game at Florida, he started off by sharing quarterback duties with Chris Leak. Tebow came in almost exclusively to run the ball (or throw the jump pass!) while Leak was the more traditional QB, and the tandem combined to lead the Gators to the 2006 National Championship. The general thinking at the time was that, despite his success as a freshman, Tebow would struggle to make the adjustment when the full quarterback responsibilities fell on his shoulders, but everyone knows what happened: Tebow went on to have one of the greatest careers in college history, leading Florida to another National Championship in 2008, and also winning a Heisman Trophy (though I still think he shouldn’t have won the Heisman).

But still, despite the previous success of Tebow, you still had the overwhelming majority of scouts and observers saying that he couldn’t be successful in the NFL, and as I mentioned above, if the measure of success is putting up statistics like Aaron Rodgers, then Tebow hasn’t been a success. But if success for a quarterback is measured by the ability to make plays, move the offense down the field, and win games, it’s hard to completely discount what he’s done this season, regardless of his pass completion rate.

Ultimately, I don’t know if Tebow will have a successful career in the NFL or if his recent success is just a flash in the pan. What I do know is that the traditional NFL-Quarterbacks-Must-Play-In-A-Specific-Way perspective needs to be reexamined. Because regardless of what happens with Tebow himself, a quarterback like Tebow, who is smart enough to read defenses, athletic and strong enough to make plays with his legs, and good enough with his arm to catch defenses off guard will enjoy prolonged success in the NFL someday.

And who knows—it may start next year in Denver.


Ice Cream Offsets

Several months ago, in a post about how Christians should use their blessings to bless others, I mentioned that Americans spend $20 billion each year on ice cream, which is enough money to provide everyone in the world with food and clean water for a year.

That statistic blew me away when I first heard it, and after I referenced it in a sermon (shortly before I included it in the blog post), it became particularly convicting to me—I just couldn’t get over the amount of good that could be done if the collective money we threw away on ice cream could be channeled into helping others.

After being bothered about it for a while, I came up with the idea of “Ice Cream Offsets”. Based loosely on the (somewhat humorous) notion of carbon offsets, Caroline and I decided that we would scrupulously keep track of the amount of money we spent on ice cream for the remainder of the year, and then donate that same amount to an organization dedicated to fighting hunger.

Certainly I realize that this is not the most efficient way to combat world hunger—after all, I could just cut out ice cream altogether and donate even more money. However, I felt like this was a tangible way for us to take part in the solution of a problem, and theoretically, if every American did the same, world hunger would cease to be an issue (besides, we like to eat ice cream!).

So, here are our ice cream expenditures since late March of 2011, when I began to keep track (You’ll notice that Caroline and I are particular fans of Cold Stone Creamery):
  • Shake at Steak n’ Shake (3/27)—$3.00
  • Maggie Moos (5/14)—$4.50
  • Klondike bars from Wal-Mart (Uncertain date)—$3.00
  • Cold Stone Creamery (Uncertain date)—$9.32
  • Cold Stone (7/1)—$9.32
  • Cold Stone (7/14)—$9.44
  • Cold Stone (7/31)—$9.32
  • Cookies and Cream from Wal-Mart (8/23)—$2.00
  • Andy’s (9/4)—$6.00
  • Cold Stone (9/9)—$9.32
  • Cold Stone (12/31)—$9.32
  • Total for the year—$74.54
To “offset” the amount of money we spent on ice cream in 2011, we made a $75 donation to Lifebread, which is a neat organization that helps to fight hunger and poverty in Africa in a unique way, while also spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

One final note: the intention of this post wasn’t to make you think how generous we are for doing this—a $75 donation didn’t require a great sacrifice from us and we don’t deserve any praise for making it. However, as Christians, I believe we are to look for ways to give more and more of ourselves all the time (including our time, our efforts, and our money), and this was one way for us to do this. Maybe it will encourage someone else to do something similar.


“Forgive And Forget”

At the onset of a new year, perhaps this post is timely.

In Jeremiah 31.34 (and this passage is quoted again in Hebrews 10.17), God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

A while back, I read a good thought on this passage:
“Since God is omniscient, ‘forgetting’ is not an intellectual matter with Him. It is a functional issue. Of course He knows what we did, but when we repent, He can act just like it never happened.”1
I think this idea is helpful as we wrestle with the difficult task of forgiving those who have wronged us in some way. Biblical forgiveness isn’t some sort of amnesia where you literally cannot remember the evil that someone else has done to you; rather, it is the conscious choice of will to act as if we cannot remember it. This is how God forgives us, and is how we must forgive others in turn.

What a comfort and what a challenge that is in light of the admonition of Ephesians 4.32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

• • •

1Danny Boggs in More Strength for the Journey: A Daily Devotional Guide, 271.

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