Friday, June 30, 2017

Christmas (planning) in July!!!

No Santa. No Frosty. No Rudolph. No Olaf--in church Christmas services. Does that make me The Grinch? After this weekend's Independence Day festivities, Worship Leaders will begin to plan Christmas programs and let's face it, we need to have a talk.

A few years ago I attended what is, perhaps, the single largest, most epic, over-the-top Church Christmas production in the nation. In addition to a 300 voice choir, phenomenal orchestra and entertaining script, the first act featured a cast of hundreds, bright, colorful costumes, intricately programmed lighting design, choreographed dances and astonishing sets including moving digital video backdrops. It was the most overwhelming production I have ever experienced full of lively fun and color and happiness, All for the Glory and the Honor and the Praise......of SANTA CLAUS........

Um, yeah....so that happened. I mean, there were pyrotechnics, elves descending upon the platform by cables and zip-lining across the stage. There was a reindeer-drawn Sleigh flying (via helicopter shot digital video or CGI) over the metroplex to the church and then an ACTUAL fully functioning sleigh with live Santa flying over the congregation from the top of the highest balcony on cables down to an actual turn around landing on the stage and then back to the top again---TWICE.

Now, I have seen fictional characters used effectively to portray scenes which address issues of faith and encourage the audience to make decisions, this is not what went on here. This wasn't creative evangelism. It was a purely secular storyline without a hint of God anywhere. I get what they were doing. I understand they were going fishing and the first act was the bait, but I don't believe this is what Jesus was talking about when He promised to make His disciples fishers of men.

After intermission, the 2nd Act featured less from the orchestra, some soloists, the choir was out much of the time, no acting or story, little movement, black and gray clothing, static lighting changes. It was the "Jesus" part of the show. And if you brought children, it could have been the boring part where you might consider leaving if they got restless. Now, they did rally in the 3rd Act by ending with the incredible 20 minute Nativity Symphony. There was a gorgeous live nativity with many animals including a flock of live sheep, flying angels and an impressive parade of kings coming to pay tribute to the newborn King. They did give a clear Gospel presentation and invitation to accept Christ at the end.  God did receive WORSHIP during the 2nd half of the show. But I felt like all of the fun, energy and creativity, all of the PRAISE had gone into the Santa part of the show. I think Jesus should get it all.

For many years I did not realize the special honor, privilege and responsibility that I had in getting to plan even a public school Christmas concert. Sometimes I even included non-Christmas music. I wince at the missed opportunities. How much more should we carefully consider what we include in our church Christmas programs? 

I have personally experienced, at different churches, similar situations to the one mentioned above. Once, our choir special was cut in order to make room for children to sing songs about Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus in weekend church services. I have stood before a congregation playing music as we led them in singing about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa and Frosty...on a mission trip. I have played music accompanying children singing secular songs about mythical cartoon characters as part of a Night of Christmas event as well. Look, it is simply never appropriate to sing songs about Santa Claus, flying reindeer or other fictional characters in church. When I was a kid, if the music leader or children's choir director had led the church in singing songs about fictional, secular cartoon characters at Christmastime, I can tell you the performance would have been followed by a deafening silence--no applause--and a complete lack of the affirming "Amen" after the music ended. Stern looks would have been given and there would probably have been a deacons meeting, perhaps followed by talk of tar and feathers.

One reason I shared the story of the "big" church production above is that I have been part of productions that followed their lead and even used some of the same music. With all of these performances, there is an attempt to contrast Secular Christmas with Sacred Christmas and to show the secular as being the part for children and the sacred as being for grown-ups. It seems kind of like an excuse for including songs that don't belong in church in the first place. We have supplanted the true Gospel for a cheap psychological trick. Here is what I mean.

The word "Gospel" describes an event from the ancient world. When a mighty, victorious, conquering King, a good King, a King who will bring peace and blessing to your city, comes riding into town, he is to be greeted and welcomed with both praise and worship. The people of the city have a choice, to accept his leadership and receive the benefits of His Kingdom, or to reject it and be destroyed. So the right way to greet Him is to have a parade, to come out into the streets with singing and celebration, shouts of acclamation, playing instruments and dancing to invite His Presence and express gratitude that He has come. This is what we do at church when we sing joyful songs of praise and fanfares. THIS is a major part of the theological foundation for music in the church and especially Christmas music!!! This is what we are supposed to get to do at Christmas. We celebrate the reign of the Prince of Peace. We welcome Him among us and we give Him all the glory, honor and praise. If He were to show up and find us celebrating a fake, mythical figure (which is what the false gods and idols were) in HIS house, that would not be good. Think of the epic celebration that is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who is ALWAYS the guest of honor whose presence and special season of celebration is ushered in by the parade with creatively designed floats, marching units, musical performances and dancing all bringing in the one, the only....Santa Claus. This is the type of Gospel event we are supposed to be having for JESUS, especially at Christmas when we celebrate His Birth, HIS coming to bring us the blessings of HIS Kingdom. Church should be a place where we honor and celebrate God. The Hebrew word for Gospel means to show forth. We are meant to show forth what God is really like and we cannot do that effectively if we let Santa steal his thunder in church. To worship means to ascribe worth to something. When we allot rehearsal time, practice and even service time to Santa, we are ascribing worth to him, we are worshipping an idol. All of our worship belongs to Jesus. He is the one we ascribe value to. All of our efforts should be for Him.

Next December I will watch my favorite old Christmas cartoons and enjoy a variety of seasonal specials on TV. I will decorate the tree while drinking Hot Chocolate and watching Elf and The Santa Clause. But church should be a refreshing contrast to the world. It is shocking to think that it was actually a Bishop who created the modern idea of Santa Claus by writing a story for his grandchildren. I have honestly been taken aback at the unequally yoked marriage of sacred and secular Christmas music that I have witnessed going on in churches.

We can have a wonderful time together in our Christmas services and programs. We can have fun. I will smile warmly at seasonal songs that reflect on family gatherings and beloved traditions and we can include a few of them in our celebrations at church. We can laugh together and have joy and share fond memories together as a church family. But the mythical characters have got to go. Precious children singing songs about Jesus will warm and soften hearts more than any cheap, worldly alternative. Our musical programs can be joyful and happy, inspiring and moving, emotional and encouraging, while remaining Christ-centered. There is such a rich tapestry of wonderful Christmas carols and hymns for us to draw from. These beloved melodies carry such deep meaning and bring to mind many wonderful memories. Creating our church Christmas services and programs with them will enrich and enhance the experience for all. Let's not forget that filling our churches with the praises of our Lord and the beautiful sounds of Christmas is not only our sacred responsibility, but our great joy and privilege.

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Check out the other posts in my series on Worship Ministry:
http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/2017/04/are-patriotic-church-services-ok.html

http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/2017/01/5-reasons-to-include-students-in-your.html

http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/2017/07/milli-vanilli-worship-thoughts-on.html



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Psalm 23: Powerful Imagery and Beautiful Symbolism

Each verse of the 23rd Psalm is full of rich symbolism and beautiful illustrations to help us deepen in our understanding and relationship with God.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

God cares for our daily needs and has promised to provide us with food, clothing, safety and shelter. In contrast with the many desolate and desert areas of the Ancient Near East, Green pastures provide food for sheep to eat and represent a place which has received plenty of rainfall and temperate weather. To lie down means to rest and the word pasture also refers to a habitation or place to live. In the same way that a Shepherd takes sheep to safe places where they can live and rest, God will provide us with a safe place to live and the means to take care of our basic needs. He is our provider and protector. He also provides us with spiritual food, His word, and peace in our hearts. We should never forget that God often provides for people through His church and that we have a responsibility as His agents to provide for others.

He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

Jesus is like living water to our soul. He heals our wounded hearts and darkened minds. The Psalmist also wrote: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. Jesus is the water of life that renews and refreshes souls that are wearied and worn with the cares of this world. He has promised to give us a sound mind and to make our hearts like new through His Spirit which invigorates our soul, the way that fresh, living water revitalizes our bodies.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Jesus is the Way (the path), the Truth and the Life. He has promised to believers that His Spirit will be our Counselor and Guide to lead us through this life. Shepherd's would often sleep in the entranceway to the sheepfold or to a canyon where they had led their sheep for shelter and safety. The only way in or out was through the Shepherd. His body was the Gate. When we see references to Jesus as the way or the path, this can also be translated as gateway. It is important to remember that no one enters in among His sheep except by coming through the gate, meaning no one will be saved and enjoy a relationship with God in this life, or enter into God's rest in heaven except through Jesus.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.

The phrase shadow of death was first used by Job to describe a state very near to dying. We could picture the valley of dry bones which Ezekiel saw brought to life, or we could envision the valley of Hinom off the southern slope of Jerusalem which was a smoldering ash heap and full of centuries worth of the bones of animals and perhaps even pagan human sacrifices. Though today this area houses a beautiful resort, in the Psalmists day it would have been a ruined and desolate place. This valley separates Mount Zion, representing God's Kingdom, from the Mountain of Evil Counsel, representing the dominion of Satan. When I read this passage, I think of us as the dry bones being brought to life because we were all once dead in our sins and transgressions and have been given new life in Christ. I think of passing through the valley as being led out of darkness and into the light, leaving our old life of sin behind and heading toward our new home in God's Kingdom. There is true evil in this world but we do not have to fear because God is our guide, leading us down the right path, watching over us like a shepherd and always right beside us. We do not even have to fear death itself.

Your rod and your staff they comfort me.

The rod is a symbol of authority. It is sometimes translated as scepter or club and usually translated as "tribe" because it was a symbol of leadership and unity. Last week I viewed a sculpture from this time period of Pharoah Amenhotep II, later altered to look like Ramses II, of Egypt which portrayed him with a long, straight whip with tails on the end and also with a staff with a crook on the end like that of a Shepherd, though the curved end had broken off. These were the symbols of the Pharoah's authority. They were used to enslave and enforce his power. The rod and staff in this psalm are reminiscent of these Egyptian symbols of power, but with an important contrast. The Shepherd's crook was used to gently guide and direct sheep, even to pull them near, but never to strike them. Shepherd's might also carry a club which could be used to fight off wolves and protect the sheep. The symbolism here is that God guides us, draws us near and protects us by fighting off wolves and lions which represent both physical and spiritual enemies. I envision David with his shepherd's staff in one hand holding the sheep back under his protection while he fends off the wolves with the implement in his other hand. Or, to individualize it, Picture David hooking his crook around the neck of a sheep, pulling it toward himself and away from a wolf, while simultaneously beating the wolf back with the rod. HIs rod and staff comfort us because they represent his protection and care for us.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

The table here can refer to the King's very own table. I picture Jesus sitting down for His last supper together with his disciples and how He earnestly desired to share it together with them. God wants to have communion with us. He desires a relationship with us right here in the middle of our journey through this life. Even in the middle of battles and difficult times when we are hard pressed all around, we have the privilege of sweet communion with our Lord. There is also an aspect of this word "table" that describes being sent out as the King's men. We are God's representatives and His children and we get to eat at His table. Each time we partake in The Lord's Supper, or Communion, we should remember the relationship with enjoy with our King.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over.

Anointing with oil represents being chosen by God, the way that David was anointed as King. Like living water, oil also represents being filled with the Holy Spirit. Under the New Covenant, we, as believers, are all anointed. Our bodies are described in the New Testament as being vessels. Our vessel, or cup, running over, represents the unlimited access we have to God's Presence, His work in our lives and His Spirit being poured into us so that we overflow into the lives of others.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

God will pursue us the way a Shepherd pursues a lost sheep. Once we are his own, he will follow after us, watch over us, draw us back to Himself and mercifully forgive us as long as we live.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

Once we are His, He will never leave us or abandon us. We are His and nothing and no one will ever snatch us away from Him.  He has promised us eternity in Heaven. Whatever difficulties this life may hold, we will ultimately see every promise fulfilled and will enter into God's rest. We are part of His household, forever.





Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Response To Wade Burleson's Claim That the OT Moral Law and Commands Are Obsolete


My Dear Brother in Christ, I feel like you are perched to jump off a very large Theological Cliff without a parachute. I am writing to encourage you to step back from the ledge. My friend. I'm not sure what you were thinking with some of the statements you made in your recent post "The Normal Practices of a New Covenant Church." (http://www.wadeburleson.org/2017/06/the-normal-practices-of-new-covenant.html) While I also have concerns about legalistic, authoritarian leadership in the church, I believe you have chosen a poor example to illustrate your point and made some very unfortunate claims defaming the Old Testament.

You said: "The cultural custom of Old Covenant Israel was that the kings of Israel could have many wives and many concubines"

You used this as an example of the Old Covenant being invalid. But Deuteronomy 17 provides instruction for the Kings of Israel. Verse 17 declares:

"He shall NOT multiply wives for himself..."

Kings of Israel were forbidden from taking multiple wives. David's action was a sin and in direct defiance of God's law and the covenant directions given to the Kings of Israel.

I am even more concerned with some of the other comments you made about the Old Testament. You wrote that "Not one Hebraic civil, ceremonial or moral law is binding on a Christian"

But In the New Testament, Paul clearly upholds Old Covenant teaching and God’s Moral law when he instructs the church at Corinth to remove a member who was having sexual relations with his father's wife, breaking the command of Leviticus 18:18 and Deuteronomy 22:30. Fortunately, under the New Covenant, such a person does not have to be put to death (Lev 20:11). There is opportunity for church discipline followed by restoration and forgiveness under the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 2:7, Galatians 6:1). God's moral compass has not changed. His definition of sin has not changed. Here, we have a clear example of a church exercising discipline according to God's moral law. Note, that it is the church who disciplines, not an authoritarian leader. It is a congregational decision, which could be avoided if a brother or sister submitted to correction from any one person in private or even by two people in private before receiving correction from many believers. (Matthew 18:15-17)

You also wrote: "All the ceremonies, civil ordinances and legal commands of the Old Covenant way of life have now been made obsolete."

Your statement seems to be nullifying the Ten Commandments. Surely, that is not what you meant to say? While the law of love goes far beyond the commandments, it certainly does not nullify them. Here is Jesus' authoritative New Covenant word on this matter recorded in Matthew 5:

"Do not think that I came to *destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will be no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. So then, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

Jesus said that He did not come to *destroy the Law and the Prophets. This word means to make void, to annul, to discard or to bring to nothing. You used the words “made obsolete,” which means the same thing. He did not come to do that. Jesus came to add to the teaching and bring us to a deeper level of understanding by giving us the rest of the story. I have included the full text because we see a classic type of Jewish reasoning, from the lesser to the greater. Jesus quotes the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” or from a modern translation: “You shall not murder.” The commandment not to murder was the bare minimum. Under the New Covenant we must do more, not less. We should not even have anger or look down on our brother in disdain with haughty eyes or hate in our heart. It isn't enough not to murder. The thoughts and attitudes of our heart must also be right before God.  It all comes down to the need for a heart change. Hebrews 8:13 teaches us with regard to our salvation; "In speaking of a New Covenant, he makes the first one obsolete." But if we look back to verse 10 we learn what that new covenant is. "For this is the covenant I will make...I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts." God's moral laws and commandments are part of the New Covenant. What is being made obsolete is the old means of attaining forgiveness, not God's word. He goes on to promise that we can know God and be in a relationship with him and that He will be merciful and forgive us when we sin. The New Covenant provides salvation through Jesus Christ and a renewed heart with God's moral laws written on it. We have a better means of entering into a relationship with God under the New Covenant. The Law of Love does not negate the commandments, it exceeds them and puts them into our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit who is our guide and counselor.

Theological Mudslinging against the Old Testament is never a good way to make one's point. Timothy grew up on the Old Testament Scriptures. Even during his adulthood, the New Testament was still under construction. I encourage you to really chew on these words about the Old Covenant from 2 Timothy 3:15-17:

"From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work."

This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, the Lord says, I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds, and I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts. Now where there is forgiveness of these there is no longer an offering for sin. -Hebrews 10:16-18, Jeremiah 31:33

This prophecy about the New Covenant was originally delivered by the prophet Jeremiah. Its original audience clearly understood that it referred to God's laws as delivered by Moses. The fact that it is quoted again in the New Testament shows that God's moral laws and commandments remain as the standard for Christian conduct and practice and they define what sin is. Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and resurrection, everything in the Old Covenant to do with sacrifice and atonement for sins and cleansing and purification that was the responsibility of the priests, is taken care of by Jesus our high priest. When we accept Him as our savior and are Baptized, we are washed clean, justified and forgiven forever. We no longer follow God's laws in order to obtain a right relationship with Him, we follow them in thanks and gratitude because He saved us and brought us into relationship. Jesus said: The one who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me. (John 14:21)

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:24-25)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What We Learned From Our Worship Pastor Search: Congregationalism in Action

Over the past 9 months we have been in a season of waiting and searching for a new Worship Pastor at NRH Baptist Church. We have learned many valuable lessons. From the beginning of this process, we understood that our Pastors Scott and Danny were fully empowered to search for and hire a new Worship Pastor to replace the great man we lost. Yet, they chose to include and involve us in the process and in doing so, they positioned us to grow and learn in special and meaningful ways. We learned that our pastors have servant's hearts and model godly leadership. Here is what they did and what we learned:

1. They Asked For Our Input
From the beginning, they asked what we were looking for in a worship pastor. The answers overwhelmingly revealed that a servant's heart and humility were the most important character traits to us. We were looking for someone kind, patient and gracious. We also place value on a leader who is dedicated, well-prepared and skillful. This short and simple conversation bore much fruit. We talked about how it was important that our new leader be comfortable and competent working with both a choir and an orchestra. Many of us had been through difficult transitions before and did not want to go through another one. They also sought specific counsel from veteran members of the worship department. While this position was highly desired and sought after, our Pastors took care and time to patiently search and wait for just the right person who is passionate about choir and orchestra and well able to lead us.

2. We Re-Established Our Sense of Purpose and Direction
Through this process, we have clearly established and re-affirmed our churches commitment to a choir and orchestra program. In a day when many churches have long since abandoned their choir and large instrumental groups, we are looking to not only maintain, but to grow and develop in these areas.

We have had meaningful discussions about our position as worship leaders and about serving and leading the congregation to engage in true worship.

We are a multi-generational church and are dedicated to providing an atmosphere of worship that is conducive to engaging all ages in praising God together. This sense of identity has really been codified through this process.

3. We Learned A Lot About Each Other
We got to know our Pastors better in a way that we never would have if they had left us out of the process. We saw what humble, godly men they are and by serving us through their efforts, they helped us to become more service-minded and servant hearted toward each other and the congregation.

We learned that there are many talented people in our church who are capable of directing a choir or instrumental rehearsal and many people, both staff and volunteers had opportunities to lead and help in small, medium, large and enormous ways. We learned to cooperate and come together to keep everything working. Several people had the opportunity to step up in a big way and I am grateful for them.

4. We Learned To Be Humble And Appreciative
As a worship department, we have seen tremendous dedication from those who faithfully showed up week after week. I really respect that. We have learned to offer more helpful input, ask better questions and to interact in a more cooperative and collegial manner. We have learned to show more appreciation to each other. It has been a joy to watch people grow as we approached the end of this season.

5. We Learned The Value Of Accountability
Through each step of the process, our Pastors made themselves accountable to us. They chose to keep us informed and were transparent about where we were at with the search. At the end, they were able to stand in front of the church, explain the care and process that had gone into the selection of our candidate for Worship Pastor, provide a glowing reference and assure them of what a good, highly-qualified and godly man they were presenting. The church stood behind them to heartily affirm his appointment.

Conclusion
Because of the way our Pastors included the worship department and congregation in the process and because they were humble and held themselves accountable to the church, we have grown together instead of apart during this long process. Everyone expressed their gratitude at having a candidate brought before us and our readiness to accept a new leader was greatly enhanced. I never heard a single person express anger, irritation or frustration over the process or the wait during the last 9 months. This speaks highly to the character of individuals, but much of this is owed to the careful guidance and leadership we received from staff, volunteers and especially our Pastors. They inspired great trust and peace throughout the process and when our candidate came last weekend, things went very smoothly.

Hebrews 13:7 tells us Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

The word submit, hupotasso, means to partner together and cooperate with each other. It comes from a root word that describes rowing a boat together in perfect unison, the way we worked together to keep moving in the right direction. By involving us in the process, our Pastors helped to bring us into hupotasso, partnership, working toward the same goal. I believe we can all feel good about where we are at and look forward to what the future holds.
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Did you miss the 1st 2 installments in this series on congregationalism? You can read them by clicking the links below:
http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-congregationalist-manifesto.html

http://thetrustworthyword.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-congregationalists-responsibility.html



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Founded on Equality: The REAL Origin of Baptist Churches in the South

Much has been said this week about how Southern Baptists split from Northern Baptists over the issue of slavery, or more specifically, over whether or not to allow slaveholders to serve as missionaries. What everyone misses is that Baptist Churches in the South did not start off this way, they were corrupted over time by wealthy southern landowners, slaveholders and others with political and financial motivations who were seeking personal gain.

Shubal Stearnes, one of my personal heroes of the faith, moved with his family to North Carolina in 1755 to plant a Baptist church. The term Baptist, at that time meant that they practiced believer's baptism and rejected the infant baptism of the Protestants. They founded the Sandy Creek Baptist Church which was the first Baptist church in the south.

Sandy Creek was a remarkable church and what they did in the 1750's in North Carolina was astonishing. They extended the right hand of fellowship to everyone regardless of race or gender. Not only was Baptism and the taking of the Lord's supper offered to all, but this meant that they washed each other's feet, gave each other holy kisses on the cheek and shared love feasts, aka fellowship meals, together as children of God. This physical contact across racial and gender lines, for which they were known, also included the laying on of hands (to pray) and anointing the sick (for healing). They were Congregationalists which meant that Everyone, whether black or white, male or female, slave or free, had a say in how the church was run. All were given the opportunity to teach. They were all equals at church, all created in the image of God, all equal heirs in grace.

They emphasized the new birth in Christ and offered an invitation to respond and be saved in their services. They worshipped fervently and emotionally, believed in being led and directed by God's voice, preached the word with passion and planted churches. They sent out both black and white men to preach and established a network of churches, The Sandy Creek Baptist Association, that supported and encouraged one other. Within 17 years, 42 churches with over 1500 members had sprung from this movement which discipled and produced 125 ministers. In the 1800's, they started a mission society and a foreign bible society, held associational meetings and founded a Seminary.

Not surprisingly, it was Shubal Stearnes who envisioned such a movement. He is said to have prophesied the 2nd Great Awakening. While the rapid, explosive growth of these churches endured a setback when many of the members fled North Carolina due to the Regulator Wars, they had already planted churches in neighboring states, and I personally believe that it was this very scattering of believers that planted seeds all around the South and eventually grew into the 2nd Great Awakening with revival fires springing up all over.

Over time, leading up to the civil war, the work of these movements was corrupted as many (but not all) southern churches became contaminated with the cancers of racism, politics and greed. It is true that the Southern Baptists split from the Northern Baptists in 1845 over the issue of allowing slaveholders to serve as missionaries, a fact which is disgraceful, shameful and completely disgusting. But Baptist churches in the south did not start off that way.

It has been a long road back over these last 172 years. This fact is an ugly stain upon our history, but it is simply NOT where our history began, nor is it representative of the beliefs of most Baptists throughout history. While it is right and proper that we express regret and repentance for this sorrowful part of our denomination's past, and it is important that we grow, mature and seek unity and reconciliation, it is also important to realize that this was an effort by the devil to undermine the awesome work that God was doing, it was not the beginning of our denomination. Now, we are 4 generations past this event looking back at one generation of Baptists that was partially led astray by wealthy Southern slaveholders who knew that their way of life could not survive Baptist preaching.

From the beginning, it was Baptists leading the charge against the practices of enslavement. Sandy Creek was founded by Baptists who were subsistence farmers who did not keep slaves. Not only did their teachings and actions begin to break every chain of racism and ignorance among church members, but they actively sought to change society. By the early 1800's they began imploring slaveholders to end the inhumane practice separating families by selling them to other plantations. By 1835, the Sandy Creek Baptist Association formally condemned slavery and began expelling members who wouldn't give up the practice of enslavement. Even during the Civil War, the teaching of faithful, backwoods Baptist preachers was still firmly against slavery. If you've seen or read The Free State of Jones, the teaching of Shubal Stearnes and Sandy Creek strongly influenced those who rejected the sin of racism and fought against it from the pulpit to the battlefield.

The ugly fact of the split from northern Baptists is only a small part of our history and even then, many Baptists did not agree with that position. Since the time of the Reformation, we have a rich, shared inheritance from groups like the Radical Reformers or AnaBaptists, to the New Lights of the 1st Great Awakening to the Sandy Creek Baptists to the Conservative Resurgence. Throughout our history, Baptists have boldly fought against false teachers and fake religious leaders and secular individuals with selfish ambitions and hidden agendas who sought to take over our churches. If there is one thing we should be known for, it is our willingness to stand up for what is right, admit when we are wrong, and boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. In this country, we proudly trace our heritage specifically and directly to a group of Believers who sought to live their lives for Jesus and started a revival movement that grew out of the Sandy Creek Baptist Church, teaching the world to love Jesus and to love each other as equals.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What The Bible Really Teaches About Hell...and What It Doesn't

Satan is not immortal. He will not live forever. There is a time appointed for his demise and the destruction of all who are with him. You and I are not immortal either. Only God is immortal. The only way that anyone will receive eternal life is by salvation through Jesus Christ.

There is much confusion on the subject of Hell. The interpreters of Scripture did not help this situation by choosing to translate two very different words with unique meanings, Hades and Gehenna, both as Hell in most English New Testaments. Hades is a place of spiritual imprisonment. Gehenna is a valley outside of Jerusalem. The Lake of Fire, often confused with "Hell," is something entirely different. In this post, I will answer the following questions: What is Hades? What is Gehenna? What is the Lake of Fire? Is purgatory real? Is there a second chance after death? What happens to the soul after death? Is there an afterlife? Will some people suffer eternal conscious torment in hell?


What is Hades?
Hades is a spiritual place, a spiritual prison. The Bible describes it as a place of outer darkness where there is weeping and knashing of teeth. It is a place of conscious torment where there is suffering, thirst and despair. There is a fiery gulf fixed between Hades and Paradise and no one can pass through. Fallen angels are imprisoned there in chains. The souls of human beings who died without placing their faith in the one true God are consigned to Hades as well. Hades is not the same as Catholic Purgatory. No one can pay, pray, work or earn their way out of Hades. There is nothing that anyone on earth can do such as Baptism for the dead or paying indulgences that will get a friend, relative or loved one out of Hades. During the Millennial reign of Christ on earth, Satan will be imprisoned for 1,000 years in the deepest pit of Hades, known as Tartarus. Hades will not last forever. At the end of this age, all of Death and Hades will be cast into Gehenna, which is the lake of fire, and destroyed.

What is Gehenna?
Gehenna is a name the Jews used to describe a physical place, the Valley of Hinnom, located off the southern slope of Jerusalem. This was a place where the bodies of sacrificed and dead animals were burned and discarded and it was basically the trash dump for the city. It would have looked like an ash heap, a boneyard of destruction, a picture of ruin and desolation, likely containing the bones of humans sacrificed through the centuries as well. The name Gehenna, or Gehenna of fire, translated sometimes as hell fire, aptly describes this place because it was constantly smoldering, and is used symbolically of ultimate punishment, judgement and destruction. It should remind us of the smoldering remains of Sodom and Gomorrah. At the end of time, when Satan and all of his evil hordes come rushing in to surround Jerusalem, fire will rain down on them in this place and destroy them. Since, Jerusalem represents God's Holy City and the Kingdom of Heaven, Gehenna represents being permanently cast out from God's Presence and destroyed by fire. When we think of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we could think of this terrifying place. The desolation found in the Valley of Hinnom provides a picture of the judgement that awaits the enemies of God. The Valley itself separates Mt. Zion from the what is called the Mountain of Evil Counsel, one of the "high places" where sacrifices and pagan acts of worship were offered to false gods. It represents the divide between the Kingdom of God and those who follow Satan. It symbolizes the divide between good and evil and in the middle is an un-crossable void where evil will be destroyed and not be allowed to enter into the Presence of God and His rest.

What is The Lake of Fire?
The ultimate judgement of the world will be in fire. Exodus 24:17 teaches us that: The appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop. Hebrews 12:29 says: For our God IS a consuming fire. I nearly fell out of my chair when my Systematic Theology professor at the most conservative Seminary in the world announced that he believed the Lake of Fire was the Presence of God, not because I was shocked by the teaching, but because I was astonished that anyone else had come to the same conclusion Scripture had led me to. Over and over again, God's Presence is described as being an all-consuming fire and God is described as having a fire go before Him and sending fire in judgement. No one can enter the actual Presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all of His glory without passing through the flame. Evil cannot stand before the Presence of our Holy, Almighty God. His Holiness will utterly and completely defeat, destroy and bring a definite end to all evil.

Look, the LORD will come with fire-- His chariots are like the whirlwind-- to execute His anger with fury and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the LORD will execute judgment on all flesh with His fiery sword, and many will be slain by the LORD. -Isaiah 66:15-16

Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; The upright will behold His face. -Psalm 11:6

What Happens to the Human Soul After Death?
The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Upon death, believers immediately go to heaven and are in God's Presence. Scripture teaches that at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. But what about unbelievers? The most common position which has been preached among Protestants and Evangelicals is that Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment where you burn forever and ever for all of eternity with no hope of reprieve in the most horrific suffering imaginable. When I began to realize what the Bible was teaching on this subject, I tried hard to prove myself wrong by carefully researching and studying each text that could prove that ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment) was correct. I was unable to prove it. We have to allow the Text to say what it intends. Here is a careful examination of 3 key passages that have been frequently misunderstood and mistaught.

1. The worm that never dies?
And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24, quoted in Mark 9:43-48)

In it's original context, this passage referred to the destruction of Israel's enemies. It is also quoted in the New Testament to refer to all of the enemies of God. The NIV translates this as "The worm that eats you will not die." This phrase is like a colloquialism for death, similar to saying "You're worm food," or "You're dead meat." It refers to the destruction and decay of the flesh. The worm is not referring to a human soul as some have taught, it is referring to actual worms feasting on dead and rotting flesh. The part of this passage about worms refers to the death of the body. The part about fire refers to the death of the soul. The passage about the fire affirms the fact that this judgement has already been rendered and will not be relented from. It forshadows ultimate judgement by fire in Gehenna.

2. Tormented Forever?
...and he will be *tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LAMB. And the smoke of their *torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night. -Revelation 14:11

At the end of time, Satan is loosed from Hades after 1,000 years, he leads all of hell to surround God's people at Jerusalem, then...

And fire came down from heaven and devoured them. The devil who deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be *tormented day and night forever...And the sea gave up the dead which were in it and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them...then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. -Revelation 20:10-15

The Bible says in Hebrews 4:3 that the righteous will enter into God's rest and repeats this frequent quote about evildoers: You will never enter into my rest. This is a reference to never entering heaven, not a reference to never ending torture in hell.

*The words translated as "torment" and "tormented" are very specific words, basano and basanizo, both of which refer to a type of Purity Test. They describe taking a black rock, like unrefined coal or brimstone and scraping it across gold or silver to see if it is pure. It is easy to understand how the early interpreters of Scripture into English pictured this as torturing someone with hot coals. But they missed the whole point. Basano simply does not mean to torment or torture. It means to TEST. This should bring to mind Isaiah's vision of an angel using tongs to remove a coal from the altar and placing it on his lips to purify them. The Bible refers to Christians as being like gold or silver refined in the fire. Scripture also tells us that the righteous will pass the test and pass through the flames and that the unrighteous will not pass the test and will be destroyed in the flames.

The phrases "day and night" and "forever and ever" mean that this is a permanent judgement from which no one will come back. Day and night are temporary, earthly things which will no longer exist at the end of time and are passing away. There will no longer be day or night. Time is ending. They will not receive relief by day or by night or ever. They will never enter into God's rest. This eliminates all possibility of purgatory, second chances after death or universal salvation. This sentence is carried out in the Presence of God and His Holy angels. The fire comes down from heaven. This is the final test, a final judgement and the elimination of all evil forever and ever, not a continuing state of torture and suffering, but an eternal decision and permanent destruction of Satan and all demons. At that point in history, all souls suffering in Hades will be judged and then those sinful human beings who refused to be forgiven and covered by grace through Jesus Christ will also perish in the flames of testing.

3. Eternal Punishment/Eternally Cut-Off From God 
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. -Matthew 25:46

The word "punished" comes from the root word for pruning a tree, a word that means to "cut off." This means that unbelievers will be permanently cut off from God. The Bible describes the unrighteous as tares (weeds) that are separated from wheat and cast into the fire, as the chaff that is separated from the wheat and thrown into the flames, as branches being cut off from Abraham's family tree, and as evil trees that will be cut down and cast into the fire. So what happens when someone is cut off from God?

Scripture says that God alone is immortal. (1 Timothy 6:15-16) ONLY God is immortal. You and I are a finite beings. Only God is infinite.

The Bible says: In Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

Jesus said I am the vine (young tree), you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing.

The ONLY opportunity for eternal life comes through Jesus Christ. He is the tree of life. No one and nothing can live cut off and separated from God, the giver of life. Apart from Him is destruction.

Jesus taught that both the body and soul of unbelievers are destroyed.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. -Matthew 10:28


JESUS said the soul is killed, slayed, and otherwise destroyed in the fire of God's judgement. The first death is the death of the body, the Bible calls the death of the soul, the second death. For an unsaved person, that encompasses the totality of their existence. A saved person is filled with the Holy Spirit of God and is a trinity, restored to the Image of God, consisting of Body, Soul and Holy Spirit. An unbeliever is spiritually dead and will cease to exist in the Lake of Fire with both parts of their being, body and soul, destroyed. Suffering in Hades will not last forever. It is like spiritual death row. When all of Hades is cast into the Lake of Fire, those who have been suffering there will be destroyed.

Satan is NOT immortal. He is not a god. He is a finite, created being who rebelled against God, led other angels to rebel with him, tempted man to sin and fall and is called the enemy of our souls. He will not live forever. God will END Him and all those who are with him will suffer the same fate.

Jesus said that we must be born again, of the Spirit, to see the Kingdom of Heaven. Eternal life is for born-again followers of Jesus Christ. It is also important to understand that children who have not yet reached the age of accountability are under grace, not the law and no sins are held against them. They are considered innocent.

In the same way that the Angel of the Lord (Jesus) protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace and they emerged unharmed and untouched by the flames, Jesus will take Christians through the flames and we will enter into Heaven and God's Presence.

How Do We Respond?
Scripture frequently says that The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast lovingkindness. But a good God must put an end to evil and suffering. God also loves justice.

For after all, it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in Flaming Fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the Presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day and to be marveled at among all who have believed. -2 Thessalonians 6-10

So here is the question. Do you believe? You can be 100% certain that you will spend eternity in heaven with God and live life without fear, without regret and full of hope by placing your faith in Jesus. John 3:16-17 says this:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have ever lasting life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Maybe you are someone who has had trouble accepting a God who would torment souls in unimaginable horror for millions of years and all eternity. I sincerely hope that by correcting that misinterpretation, this post helps you to realize God is fair and loving, and because of that, He must put a definitive end to all evil. I urge you now, don't be destroyed. Your life is precious to God. The death of the soul is a very serious thing. Believe that Jesus died for you. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to come into your heart and life. Ask Him to fill you with His love. Eternity in heaven with the loving family of God awaits.

MORE SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:

God and Fiery Judgement: Isaiah 33:11-12, Psalm 18:7-15, Psalm 29:7, 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Psalm 21:9, 2 Samuel 22, Ezekiel 1:13-14, 2 Peter 3:7-13, Isaiah 29:6, Isaiah 30:27-33

Gold and Silver Refined: Psalm 66:10, Proverbs 17:3, Malachi 3:2-3, Zechariah 13:9, 1 Peter 1:7, Daniel 12:10, Isaiah 1:25, Proverbs 25:4-5, Ezekiel 22:17-22, Isaiah 48:10, Deuteronomy 4:20, 1 Kings 8:51, Job 23:10

Righteous Passing Through the Flames: Isaiah 43:2, Psalm 66:12, 1 Corinthians 3:15


Cut off and cast into the fire: Matthew 3:10, 2 Samuel 23:6-7, Luke 3:9, Matthew 13: 24-38, 36-43

Hades and Outer Darkness: Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 25:30, Luke 13:27-29, Jude 1:6, Revelation 20:2-3












Monday, June 5, 2017

Singled Out: Do Singles Bear God's Image? Or Only Married Couples?

Our status as human beings, created in the Image of God, is not defined by our relationship status. Jesus, a single man, said: He who has seen me has seen the Father. Colossians 1:15 declares: He is the image of the invisible God. Hebrews 1:3 proclaims The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His nature.

I have heard many teachers make claims such as "Marriage is the Image of God." They claim that human beings only bear the image of God when a man and woman are joined together in marriage. I have heard some go so far as to say that we are only half a person until we are married. As someone who is unhappily single, the first time I heard that, it was a nasty sucker punch to the gut to be told that I am not an Image bearer of God. Marriage can present a beautiful picture of Jesus' relationship with the Church, a bride for which He has not yet come. But Scripture clearly and irrefutably says that JESUS, a single person, was the perfect image bearer and reflection of the Father.

I realize that good men and well-respected leaders hold to this unfortunate point of view. I have encountered this teaching everywhere from the organization "Marriage Today," to Seminary classes, Equip classes, and the Pope in Rome. We've even discussed it in Sunday morning Bible study. This is not an attack on any specific teacher. I have no interest in tearing down a godly teacher for making a mistake. Good men and close friends that I deeply respect and love as brothers in Christ take this position. But the notion that marriage is the Image of God is an ill-conceived and poorly considered statement which you are unlikely to read within the pages of any Systematic Theology text, study in a Biblical Anthropology class or discover in any legitimate, refereed, scholarly journal. This teaching disenfranchises single believers and disrespects our status and standing before God.

Matthew 24 says that there is no marriage between individuals in heaven and all Christians agree that we will be perfect, fully restored Image bearers of God in heaven. That's the whole point of the glorified body. The doctrine that redeemed man bears the image of God is not negotiable. Colossians 3:10 declares that we:

...have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the Image of its Creator.

Because of Adam and Eve's sin, we lost a crucial part of the Imago Dei, our connection with God through the Holy Spirit. That connection is re-established through salvation in all believers, single or married.

Certainly, marriage is a wonderful thing: He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from God.  But marriage does not define our position before God. Adam was created in God's Image, BEFORE Eve was made. She was also created in God's image. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. Both men and women are created in God's image as individuals and together in marriage they show a picture of God's relationship with us, not a picture of God Himself.

This teaching devalues and polarizes single Christians. All believers single and married are, without doubt, created in God's image, sons and daughters, children and heirs and fully accepted as a valuable part of God's Kingdom. Marriage is a wonderful and God-ordained union between a man and a woman. There are many ways that family honors God and throughout Scripture, the family is highly honored and something to be sought after. It is not, however, the source of one's value or worth as a child and Image bearer of God. Paul, who encouraged us to be filled with all the fullness of God and to reach full maturity as believers, actually encouraged singleness for the sake of the Gospel and viewed it as favorable in certain situations.

Various resolutions by the Southern Baptist Convention have recently been put forth, which recognize the Image of God in all people as a non-compromisable value. It is unfortunate that teachings persist which further disenfranchise singles from the church. This is one of those areas where we draw the line in the sand and firmly say NO. God's image in all people, and in particular, believers, is not a doctrine to be trifled with. All Christians, both single and married are equal, priests, filled with the Holy Spirit, ambassadors for Christ and Image bearers of God.








Saturday, June 3, 2017

Are You Toeing the Line or Going The Extra Mile?

You will know them by their fruits..... The spiritual maturity and authenticity of many believers is often demonstrated by the way they treat new leaders. Toeing the line, to me, describes a person who wants to see just how far they can go, just how much they can get away with. Like the Pharisees, their heart isn't looking to see how they can help, they will give the least amount of cooperation and effort possible. Any time we see someone in the church who tests their limits, pushes boundaries, busts chops or otherwise gives a new leader in the church a hard time, that person likely falls into one of 3 categories:

1. A new or immature believer
2. A backslidden believer
3. Not A Believer

Mature Believers who are genuine Christ followers, filled with the Holy Spirit should:

1. Demonstrate a humble attitude
2. Have a servant's heart
3. Be patient, teachable and helpful
4. Be on a Gospel mission

One of the places where the Fruits of the Spirit (or lack thereof) are clearly on display and easy to read is in the church music rehearsal. Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control are clearly evidenced in the way we interact with one another. Sadly, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, conflicts and divisiveness also rear their ugly heads.  (Galatians 5:20-23)

As musicians, we have to check ourselves because our feelings and attitudes during rehearsal can be very revealing. This can be a good thing if we engage in self-evaluation and accept that we are still growing to maturity in Christ.

Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

The word submit, means to cooperate and partner together with one another. The Greek word used here, hupatasso, is an action verb that comes from the word for Rowing a ship together in perfect unison. We are meant to row together in beautiful harmony, as we all work toward the same Goals, some of which are To:

1. Offer Praise, Honor and Worship to God
2. Use our gifts to their highest potential to build God's Kingdom
3. Provide an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit can soften people's hardened hearts, speak to deaf ears and open eyes that have become blind to spiritual things
4. Help the congregation to engage in meaningful worship and connect with God.
5. Help others to deepen and grow in their relationship with God

The concept of submission is tied closely to going the extra mile. A Roman soldier had the right to compel a citizen to carry his pack for one mile. Jesus said

And if anyone compels you to go one mile, go with him two.


He was telling us to go above and beyond the call of duty. He was calling us into willing partnership and collaboration. He doesn't want us to give the minimum. He wants us to take a personal stake in the work and to make it our own. This is about spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God. So the next time you think about putting a toe across the line, instead, find a way to be helpful and go the extra mile...








Friday, June 2, 2017

Spiritual Themes In Wonder Woman: Movie Review

Wonder Woman is the best of the recent efforts put forth from the DC Comics Universe. The movie is a well crafted period film featuring stunningly designed sets, a fantastic, well-written storyline and expertly portrayed characters. While I could have done without some of the Greek and Roman Mythology, it was incorporated into the narrative in interesting and enjoyable ways and provides opportunities for meaningful discussion.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Wonder Woman is the first movie I have seen that presents a theologically correct view of man, as created good and for good purposes, but easily corrupted and entirely fallen. If we allow a concession to use Zeus as a metaphor for God, albeit a weak and deceased stand in, and we allow Ares, the god of War as symbolic of Satan, then this movie gives a realistic depiction of the fallen state of man, how we were created, how we became spoiled and just how badly in need of rescue we really are.

The movie presents man as created by Zeus, in his own image and created very good, the same way the Bible presents man as created in the Image of God and called very good. The film presents Ares as corrupting all of humanity through his influence. He is seen to be whispering evil into the ears of people and manipulating depraved human behavior, trying to destroy everything Zeus has created and mankind, whom he loves. This is the same as Satan, an evil fallen angel who tempted the first man, Adam and Eve and caused sin to enter the world, corrupting all of humanity, as he still tempts us. The Bible, likewise teaches that All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

In the movie Ares is the son of Zeus. In real life, however, Satan is NOT the son of God. He is a rebellious, sinful, defeated fallen angel. In the movie Wonder Woman, Diana, is the daughter of Zeus and is herself, a lowercase "g" god. In mythology, the term "god" was equivalent to our term superhero, though ours are entirely fictional, whereas the ancients actually worshipped some of these entities as deities. This is an area of caution to consider when allowing children to see these films. However, as the daughter of the god of this movie, which takes place in the pretend universe of DC Comics, she takes on the role of the Messianic Everyman character. Much like King Arthur, Frodo, Aragorn, the Pevensie children, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdean, Tris, Superman and Beowulf, Wonder Woman is the designated savior of the world. This theme, which resonates so deeply to the very core of human existence, really goes back to the true story of Jesus. Before His life, death, burial and resurrection on earth, these stories simply did not exist. All stories were tragedies, heroes were self-serving and self-centered or forced into service by gods who were self-serving and self-centered and the concept of someone dying for his friends, the concept of a God dying for his people, or stepping down from glory to help them was completely foreign to human thought. All of these stories are lesser presentations of the Greatest Story Ever Told, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Diana, as the daughter of the god of the DC comics universe, can be used to symbolically represent Jesus, the Son of God. In the same way that Jesus was tempted by Satan to worship him and rule the world, Diana, was tempted by Ares to agree with him and rule the world. Like Jesus, she chose to show love, mercy, grace and compassion toward mankind and to utterly and completely defeat Ares, aka Satan.

There is tremendous compassion shown in this movie, which poignantly displays the heroin's shock at the atrocities of human behavior and her revulsion at the callousness of people not to help. The most wonderful moment in the movie is when Diana makes her choice. She realizes who she is and that can rule the world with Ares, or serve and protect it instead. She sees the fallen and depraved state of mankind and chooses to show mercy anyway. She sees the incredible potential of mankind along with the bad. She realizes that mankind does not "Deserve" it, but she chooses LOVE anyway. She demonstrates Grace in a powerful and intentional way. This is deliberately portrayed in the Script with great Intentionality. The themes of risking and sacrificing oneself for others and of love are powerful. The movie clearly states that all people have the capacity for both good and evil and that we must make a choice. Going beyond the movie, when we choose God, we choose Good. But our need for a Savior goes way beyond that. We need Jesus in our lives to heal us of our inclination toward sin and evil. We need all be talking about.

Caution Areas for viewers with children:
Most of the movie was surprisingly void of sexualized content. Diana is quite innocent and her male companion is portrayed as respectful and somewhat chivalrous, explaining that men and women do not sleep together unless they are married, though they did lie down fully clothed, next to each other to sleep in a boat. She comments awkwardly on having read someone named Cleo's works on bodily pleasure, who came to the conclusion that men are necessary for pro-creation, but not for pleasure. There is a wide shot of Chris Pine coming out of a Hot Natural Bath, like the ones at Hieropolis, when Diana walks in and he is briefly shown covering himself with his hands. A small amount of innuendo is employed. There is one kissing scene, alone in a hotel room behind closed doors. While a love scene could be implied, No clothes are removed and the camera moves to a shot of the building with a light on in the room and fades away. The emphasis was on the love between a man and a woman, which was welcome, though I would have preferred a goodnight kiss at the door.