Friday, June 28, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage, the Supreme Court and the Gospel

This past week, the Supreme Court weighed in on the subject of same-sex marriage. This decision reflects our culture and where we are as a nation. Yes, we would like the laws of our country to follow our beliefs, but many of them do not. Our nation is not a Christian nation, though in past times it followed Christian principles.

To be clear the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is unequivocal, and stems from the fact that God created humanity to be male and female, and ordained marriage as the only appropriate context for sexual intimacy. (cf. Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25) It is often alleged that Jesus has nothing to say about homosexuality, but this is inaccurate. Jesus addressed this issue when he brought the standards of marriage and sexuality back to the creation (Matt. 19:4, 5). Jesus certainly associated with sinners, but he did so in order to call them to repentance, not to affirm them in their sinful behavior which would lead to God’s judgment. (cf. Matt. 5:28; 15:18; 19:9)

This is where the gospel of Jesus Christ comes into play. Because the reality is that homosexuality is a sin and like any other sin, it needs to be dealt with in the only way possible. It needs to be laid at the cross of Jesus and repented of. The gospel is good news precisely because it has the power to rescue people from a life of sin which includes sexuality immorality and homosexual lifestyle. (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11, “such were some of you)

We need to also be reminded that it will always be the case that as Christians we live in the tension of confidently proclaiming the Bible’s teaching while respectfully and lovingly pursuing relationships with those who live contrary to the Word of God. We must always make “lovingness” our method and the manner in which we say and do all things. (cf. Eph. 4:15; Col. 4:4-6) We cannot settle for truth without love nor love without truth. We should treat homosexuals with the same dignity and respect as we would anyone else because, they are made in the image of God. By failing to do so, we as Christians cannot be an effective witness to those around us.

I am not ultimately saddened by the prospect of the government taking a position that may be contrary to Scripture. My hope rests, not in horses or chariots, but in the name of the Lord. I will continue to follow Paul’s advice no matter what the government decides. I have been and will continue to love God, lift up Truth, and love and show compassion to people who are sinful, just as I am sinful.

The church needs to rededicate itself not to advancing the kingdom through the political process, but to the preaching of the Gospel. I believe the Lord is presenting His church a great challenge and opportunity. We can proclaim the Word of God in a clear and fresh manner. We can offer real, eternal hope to sinners whom God loves.

For Christ,
Robert Prater

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Foot-in-mouth epidemic

What do you do after putting your foot in your mouth? No one is immune from the foot-in-mouth epidemic. And for those who heard me make the announcements Sunday evening at Central, you know this includes your preacher:) Let’s just say for those who weren’t there, instead of saying “The Old Testament ladies class……”, I goofed badly and let off the critical word “Testament” in the announcement! (insert foot in mouth here)

I imagine sooner or later it happens to all of us. We say the wrong thing. To the wrong person. At the wrong time. You hurt someone’s feelings. You offend them. You put them in an awkward position. Usually the best thing to do is admit the error and ask for forgiveness. I’m thankful for the gracious and forgiving Christian ladies here at Central:)!

Of course, in more serious situations and relationships in our lives, this is even more important to consider. Saying the thing you wish you’d never said, that hurt someone deeply…..we should continually strive to never do that intentionally (and do it less spontaneously).

The Bible references to the tongue over 150 times. James reminds us that the tongue cannot be tamed—only controlled. (cf. James 3:1-8) It has incredible power to hurt or bless depending on our choices. (cf. James 3:9-10)The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” And in Colossians 4:6 he says: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (NIV) Perhaps one of the most chilling of statements about the power of the tongue comes from the lips of our Savior as recorded in Matthew 12:36 where he said: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)

A humorous sign in a place of business describes an all too common truth about the tongue. It reads, “If you cannot think of anything good to say about someone else, then pull up a chair and sit down here beside me!”

In a recent issue of House to House/Heart to Heart, it included the following piece about the tongue.

The Tongue
“The boneless tongue, so small and weak, can crush and kill,” declared the Greek.
The Persian proverb wisely saith, “A lengthy tongue, an early death.”
Sometimes it takes this form instead: “Don’t let your tongue cut off your head.”
While Arab sages this impart: “The tongue’s great storehouse is the heart.”
From Hebrew wit, the maxim’s sprung: “Though feet should slip, don’t let the tongue.”
A verse from Scripture crowns the whole: “Who keeps the tongue doth keep his soul.” [Proverbs 21:23].
~ Author Unknown

Our daily prayer should be like that found in Psalms 19:14: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (NIV)

God bless,


Monday, July 30, 2012

Chick-fil-a, "gays", and the Gospel

Have you been paying attention to the Chick-fil-a controversy recently in the news and through social media?

Now, trust me, I like so many of you on Facebook who are my Christian family and friends, I too initially got genuinely offended at once again, another attack by the media and political liberals on our Christian beliefs and values. And yes I’m glad that the Cathy’s do share similar faith values that I hold and I’m thankful that Chick-fil-A strives to operate as a business with Christian morals and think it’s very commendable how they are closed on Sundays for their workers can worship the Lord and all of that good stuff.

But when it really comes down to it: I choose to eat at Chick-fil-a, not because of the Cathy’s shared values we have about Christianity, but well, because the quality and product of their food is excellent! I’ve known a few Christian business owners and even members of the church of Christ who I did not give my business regularly too because of their poor product:)!

Now, regarding this issue and controvesary, I have blogged in the past about such national hot topics in the past especially regarding same-sex marriage and homosexuality. This article will be more of the same.

How should we as Christ's followers respond to all of this? Well, I am not talking about going through the drive-thru on Wednesday. (Although I not opposed or would discourage doing such to show support to this company) No, I’m talking about the larger discussion and issue of how to respond to the issue of same-sex marriage and homosexuality. Well, first of all, we should be bothered by it. I am bothered by sin. It dishonors God. I dislike lust, lies, murder, oppression, hatred, etc. I regularly stand in a pulpit and strive to communicate God's plan of having sent Christ to die in our place for the punishment of sin and to set us free from sin. I need to be bothered most by my own sin.

But, again, I think this issue poses some interesting questions as to how Christ followers are to respond.

First of all, let me be clear about my viewpoint and beliefs. I believe God defines marriage in His Word. (Matt. 19:4-9; Ephesians 5:22-33; Genesis 1-2 for starters) God also describes in Romans 1 that the individual that denies God will be demonstrated in many evil ways, one of which will be homosexual tendencies and lifestyle. (Rom. 1:26,27). This means that homosexuality along with a host of other God-denying lifestyle choices (1:29-32) is sin. Why does it surprise us that a nation that does not know God, would begin to ignore God's definitions or His Word. Should we really be surprised by what we have heard in regard to this Chick-fil-a controversary.

But the question still remains: So what can we do as Christians? This sounds really simple but I'm going to say it... we need to start by obeying God. When I say that I am not conjuring up images of rallies to Washington or letters to our elected officials. Those may have their place, I just think they lose their weight when not backed with sincerity and our own life example of cross-bearing obedience. So what type of obedience am I talking about? How about these for starters...loving.... loving God.... loving your spouse.... being reminded of the definition and characteristics of marriage we find in the Bible, and then living them out.... mirroring in your marriage Christ's love for the church.... allowing Christ-followers to be defined as those people who actually keep their promises, even their marriage covenants.

Does it make sense for us to enter the public and political arenas fighting for the definition of marriage when we fail to live out the very characteristics God commands a biblically defined marriage to have? What's worse a broken marriage covenant or same-sex lust and union? How sad if a homosexual relationship is far less broken than a marriage that supposedly has followed God's way. Both have failed God's standard to reflect Christ's love for the church. Both have broken God's law. Both can be repented of and forgiven. (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11)

So should we mistreat homosexuals? Of course not. (BTW, I also don’t equate racism and gender biais to be the same as opposing a redefinition of marriage. "Gay" is not the new black.) But no, of course, we oppose mistreatment of sinners. After all, do we mistreat each other for sinning? Not mistreating sinners does not mean we stand idly by and not speak out and live out what Christ in us is to look like, nor does it mean we should fail to live out and speak out about what a natural and healthy marriage looks like. It doesn't mean that if you own a nationwide corporation that you must remain silent concerning your beliefs. Christ-followers must not be shy about God's definition of marriage; nor should we try to redefine God's words if we don't like them.

God didn't get it wrong when he put a man and a woman together for the first time in Genesis 2:21-25. It was also no accident that He said "a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh." This was a universal directive, He chose to say "a man" and "his wife" not "Adam" and "Eve" - these instructions were for all God's children. No, we should not falter as His followers in this area.

Now, I think we also need to consider another question related to this issue: "Should we expect the world to get it right (the marriage definition) when they don't know God?" Romans seems clear in reminding us that this is one of the characteristics of a people that deny God and worship themselves. It serves us well to note that any spiritual battle to be fought is best raged with a firm grasp on the gospel and its power to transform rather than on a political agenda promoting godly morals on a people that have chosen not to live it out. (And no, I’m not saying we shouldn’t then try to legislate any morality, of course we should and still do thankful in the United States).

But I'm saying let’s try to stay focused on our real agenda as Christians. Sharing the saving gospel message of Jesus Christ with the lost (and not get overly distracted on these side bar minor issues)(.

You see friends, my concern with the heated political rhetoric is that if we’re not careful (and I know I’ve been guilty of such), we will allow the message of Christianity to be misunderstood as saying, “We hate you and will discriminate against you.” Rather it is our responsibly to strive to make sure it is heard as “We love you and want you to know the deliverance and freedom that comes by making Jesus the Lord of your life.” It is the same message to homosexuals that we speak to adulterers, thieves, liars, blasphemers, atheists, agnostics, other world religions.

And let’s never, ever confuse our task as Christians. Our mission is not seek to make America a Christian nation, but to make Christians in America. And there is a major difference between those two agenda’s. The early church and Christians did not seek to transform hearts and lives through socio-political agendas of the Roman culture but rather through the proclamation of the Gospel! We cannot change hearts and minds by political fighting. (And yes I believe it is possible to talk about the issue of same-sex marriage in a Godly and loving manner with those who support it)

But at some point, as Christians, we must begin to accept the reality that whatever our nation was in the past regarding being a “Christian nation” and however upset we may get about where she stands now, clearly our nation has become a “post-Christian” nation with tremendous diversity not only ethnically and socially but also regarding morality and religiously. It will never be the same or what it once was!!

We must accept this reality as Christians. I’m not arguing that we can’t push back against this drift. But our push can’t simply be in the political arena. We cannot neglect politics, but the core of the problem is in the hearts and minds of the individuals in society. The only way the real problem will ever be solved is for Christians to be faithful in sharing the gospel of Christ with our ever increasingly non-Christian society that is America.

And we must also get serious in our lives and marriages about living out Christ; forgiving the way Christ forgave, forbearing the way our Sovereign God forbears, and advancing daily to love our spouses the way Christ loves us.

Now having said all that, and in a much less meaningful step, enjoy Chik-fil-a soon near you!

“5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

God bless,

Robert Prater

For more on this issue, check out an excellent blog article by my fellow preaching friend Tim Pyles, who preaches at the Broken Arrow Church of Christ in Broken Arrow, OK dealing with the recent Chick-Fil-A controversy.

Some of you may not agree with all of his perspective. But I know I needed this reminder he gives about Christians not having a “Christian over reaction” to these type of news stories.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


This coming Sunday is Easter, a day of togetherness and celebration for families far and wide. Hams will be devoured! Sweet potatoes will meet their doom, and thousands of chocolates will melt as the sun beats down on their plastic-egg-ovens. It’s a special time, a fun time for children. It will be in the Prater household I promise (with three children under the age of 10).

Easter is also a special “holiday” for hundreds of millions of “believers” in the Christian religion who remember that first “Resurrection Sunday.” Because of this attendance at church gatherings will swell. In many churches, the normal program of worship will be altered to accommodate special Easter services.

Easter is an important opportunity for churches. Many will be present at worship services that haven’t attended all year and may not again until this time next year. Therefore, it’s an infrequent opportunity for churches to make an impression on folks who believe at some level, but haven’t yet made a commitment to Christ.

Now it should be observed about the interesting historical origin of Easter. It actually seems to have risen from the ancient Saxons who celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eostre. Later Catholic missionaries in trying to ease the transition of pagans into Catholicism, “Christianized” the celebration by incorporating some of the pre-existing traditional festivities into the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which took place in the same season. So they moved its date to the first Sunday after Passover, and making it a celebration of Christ’ resurrection from the dead. Today, both Catholics and Protestants celebrate Easter as a religious holiday.

Though some have veered from tradition, historically, churches of Christ have no special programs honoring Easter. It’s not because we disdain the day, or wish to be judgmental, nor is there anything inherently wrong with the personal celebration of holy days (Romans 14:5-6). It’s because we’re committed to simple Christianity as described in the New Testament that we strive not to do anything in our assemblies for which we find no New Testament precedent, or that would bind one man’s opinion upon another (Galatians 4:10-11).

The truth of the matter is that the New Testament says nothing about celebrating Easter (or Christmas) on specific days. Besides, nobody knows when Jesus was born and nobody knows the Sunday on which Jesus was raised from the dead.

What we do find in the New Testament is that the early church always emphasized the resurrection on the Lord’s Day and in the weekly remembrance of the Lord’s Supper on every first day of the week. (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-24; 16:1-2) In reality, every day of a Christian’s life is supposed to be a celebration of “the first-born of the dead” (Revelation 1:5).

Having said all this, let me be very clear: I don’t want to ever come across as one who think's that Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection are unimportant and certainly not rooted in historical truth. As a matter of fact, I’ve already taught my oldest daughter who has become old enough now to know the truth about Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, etc. I have no problem with fun and imagination (make-believe stories) so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth. But they need to enjoy them in their proper context. We are for fun. We are for Jesus!

But make no mistake about it; the truth that Jesus came out of the grave means everything to us as Christians. (cf. Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:14-17; 1 Peter 3:21-22) As a matter of fact, the New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Christ is the central fact of New Testament Christianity. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4) If Jesus were not raised from the dead, then nothing in the scriptures—or for that matter, outside the scriptures—is of eternal value. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19 NIV). Christianity without the resurrection of Christ is no Christianity. It would be absolutely meaningless.

Not only that, the resurrection of Jesus Christ certainly gives meaning to the Lord’s Supper we observe each first day of the week. (cf. Rom. 4:25; 8:34) Indeed this exciting fact gives meaning to every aspect of our worship. So anytime we study the resurrection it will certainly strengthen our faith and its truth will enhance our worship.

Now, it is because of these things mentioned above, that I am always thankful when people anytime are thinking about Jesus and His life, death, burial and resurrection. I am thankful that many souls will come out Sunday interested in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If a person doesn’t’ ordinarily come to church, but plans to on Easter, I praise God that they do that, and hope they’ll hear something that will make them want to attend regularly, and more than that, to make a commitment to Christ!

Though I personally don’t believe the church should have special “Easter services,” so to speak (I don’t have a problem with egg hunts and the like—things outside of the worship service), every church should try to reach out to those who’ve come to church in honor of the day. Their intentions are good.

So for me rhere’s nothing wrong with preaching about the resurrection on “Easter Sunday,” (I’m going too) but nothing in the Bible requires it either. I hope all of us who are committed to sharing the message of the gospel will be prepared to reach out to the souls who visit our churches this Lord's Day, the day of resurrection!

God bless,

Robert Prater

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thoughts on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin

I’ll try not to get myself in too much hot water here in commenting on the national hot potato topic concerning the sad and tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin death. We certainly do grieve and pray for his parents and family who have endured a terrible loss. As we do for all families who experience the senseless loss of children and young people all of races due to violence in our nation everyday.

Now yes in partciular we should be very sympathetic and understanding about the victimization the Afrifican-American community is feeling. Further I have no problem with calls for further investigation from the Justice department or the Governor’s office as long as it isn’t used for political purposes for one party or the other. I think all good morally decent Americans from every race and political parties would want a thorough investigation into the case and see if any mishandling or injustice has been done by the Sanford police department and if evidence warrants it, bring any possible charages against George Zimmerman

But I’ll be completely honest with you; I’m getting alittle tired of all the “kangaroo court” being played out on national TV, blogs, and media in general. From preachers, politicians, political pundits (i.e.,MSNBC news), and even race baiters (i.e., Black Panthers, Jackson, Sharpton, Farrakhan) who stand to profit of such a tragedy.

I think everyone needs to step back, take a deep breath and wait until all the facts can clearly come out before making definitive conclusions either way. After all, we are now really just beginning to get more details on Martin’s death from the police reports. The police claim to have a witnesses that says Martin, at some point during the altercation, was on top of Zimmerman, beating him.

Was this a case of justified self-defense or more about an overzealous neighborhood watchman (or want-to-be-cop/vigilante??) who racially profiled, stocked and provoked the situation into violence. We do know that Zimmerman was armed with a gun, and headed toward Martin, despite the explicit instructions of a police dispatcher. Maybe both can make the claim of defending themselves under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law." I don’t know. But neither do you! None of us just don’t know everything that transpired.

I like what David Shane, wrote on “Now, it's quite possible that Zimmerman is guilty of everything his worst foes accuse him of. There is plenty about this case that troubles me. But that's exactly the point—I don't know. Neither does anyone else, and both the scope and tone of the media coverage ought to reflect that fact."

Erick Erickson, who is often seen on CNN debating fellow analyst Roland Martin, is editor of which I think has a pretty good , well balanced article in presenting what we do know a this point and what we don’t know as of yet. He makes the following conclusion:

“The best thing as a nation we can do is to demand justice, but not a preconceived justice. This is why we have the justice system in this country, so we can try to find out what happened when there is such a situation. If it is clear that Zimmerman was acting out of place, he will likely be judged by a jury of his peers: until the case becomes clearer, it does no one any good to project hatred into an already volatile situation. The sad thing is, that is what we are seeing.”

Now, it should hardly go without saying that we’ve been reminded once again that race and racism are still issues in the US. And yes, some, folks aren’t even conscious of this heavy blank of prejudice that they carry around that causes them to see and be more suspicious of people whose skin and language are not the same as their own. And many of this same people can’t fathom that this could ever lead to the kind of misperception that ends in death.

Now, I certainly believe America has made much progress in the area of race relations. I’m thankful that many new strides forward have been made regarding race and racism espeically in regard to the civil rights movement of the 1960's which saw many of our country's discrimanting laws changed. Despite so much that is good about our nation's history and pursuit of freedom and liberty, we should never forget our country's sad history of prejudice, biogotry and racism towards people of color. And I do think that the majority of Americans realize this and believe that racial discrimination is evil and both unjust and unworthy of this nation and the God we claim to put our trust in.

However, it would be terribly naive to also realize and deny that too often what has happened has only a covering over, not a fundamental change. To be sure, we have much room for improvement. So, yes, I do think what the Trayvon Martin case says about us is that we still have a long way to go in regard to race issues.

But let's like more closely and carefully about the Martin shooting death and back to the issue getting all the facts straight and out before making pronouncements of innonence or guilt of those involved in the Martin case.

I do like what conservative author Victor Davis Hanson has said in his thought-provoking column out this morning which examines the public uproar over the Treyvon Martin case and what it means for race relations in the United States today:

He writes:

“The Trayvon Martin tragedy, by the time the entire process is played out, will reflect poorly on lots of people and groups, who in mob-like fashion have weighed in before all the facts in the case are fully aired. We have reached the nadir when the civil-rights community decries the release of further pertinent information about Mr. Martin as gratuitously defaming the deceased — with the implicit understanding that incomplete and leaked information so far has been welcomed if it reflected poorly on the alleged perpetrator.”

Hanson continues:

“The narrative of the shooting unfortunately changes every 24 hours, which suggests the media saw a preliminary narrative it liked and then adorned it in a manner to ensure sensationalism and polarization. …

So what does all this mean for race relations in the U.S.? Again, Davis explains: (emphasis mine):

“The net result of the demagoguery will be more racial polarization, as African-Americans believe that young black males are unfairly stereotyped by society and treated less fairly by police, while non-African-Americans will only be further convinced that the African-American leadership is not concerned with the vastly inordinate rates of black violent crime, given the small percentage of the African-American community within the general population, much less the much higher rates of black-on-white crime – and as both sides argue either for more money to be invested in social programs, or that too much has already been spent in counter-productive fashion.”

Now, if you don't know me, I'm a Christian and a preacher. So I want to address and look at this issue of racism always from the lens of Scripture (my worldview). I don’t hesitate one second to submit to you what I think we find the Bible teaches us.

First, we find in Exodus 20:13, God’s commandment against murder. But how are we to apply this commandment, does it mean that we can do anything to our fellow man short of murder? Could you denigrate and verbally abuse him? Our Lord corrects our thinking in Matt. 5:20-22 where He informs us that murder-like behavior is not only actual murder, but unjustified anger and abusive language. (Read also 1 John 3:11-12 where the apostle John equates hatred with murder using the example of Cain---and remember we are our brother’s keeper!) No, we cannot justify our hatred or abusive language on the basis of race or anything else. Life is to be treated as sacred.

Second, we need to realize that man made in the image of God from one blood. Acts 17:26 states that God made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth. From where did Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, etc., originate? Everyone originated from two parents, Adam and Eve. Thus, no one is inferior to another since we’re all part of the same race, the human race. Further, in whose image was man made? Gen. 1:26-27 tells us that we were made in God’s image and Jam. 3:9 reveals how wrong it is to curse one another since we are made in His image.

Now, while it is certainly true that I believe we can show from the two points above where God emphatically forbids racism in the world at large, but God forbids it even more so in the church. In Galatians 3:26-28 the apostle Paul teaches us in the kingdom of God all stand on equal footing and value before the Lord: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, ... neither slave nor free, ... male nor female. At to this the fact that Christ’s body cannot be divided. (1 Cor. 12:25) Paul I believe in principle condemns racism and any form of it as being apart of the works of the flesh which includes hatred. (Gal. 5:20)

I’d add that as Christians, we are commanded to consider others more important than ourselves. Rather than seeing others as inferior because of race, we are to esteem others better than ourselves, Phil. 2:3. This flies in the face of racism, which dictates that one race is better than another.

Let me just also add two important instructions from the New Testament for believers regarding racism. First, victims of racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Racists may not deserve your forgiveness, but we deserved God’s forgiveness far less. Second, those who practice racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to repent. “Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13).

So I think without any doubt, we as a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe we are mandated by God to repudiate racism. And of course we should resist, oppose and speak out against such evils in whenever we see it in our soceityand world. We should repent where we have contributed negatively in perpetuating racism and have done nothing to oppose it and renew our efforts to help bring about racial reconciliation whenever we can in our nation in our communities in which we live.

And I do also think that at the end of the day, we can’t get too caught up in all the “political focus” and remember for us as Christians that ultimately we are charged from Christ to go into all the world (that begins with first the world/communities in which we live) and speak a word for the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ (which deals with all people’s heart/sin problem which includes racism) and allowing that message to bring true reconciatlion all peoples and every race into one united body, the church. (cf. Eph. 2:11-22)

What’s my conclusion?

Well, I do think this is indeed a time of much prayer, wisdom, racial reconciliation and healing with our neighbors of every race and ethnicity. Let's help build bridges and not put up more fences. Let's have open, frank discussions with people in our communities of different colors and race. See if we have been unknowingly contributing or helping stop racism and begin to work together to bring more racial harmony.

Yet, having said that, I do also believe it’s a time for speaking and addressing openly and honestly the racial issues and problems facing our country and the tough solutions and ideas which might be needed to turn the tide for the better of our society for people of all races and ethnicities and cultures in America.

No, we won't always agree on all the answers and solutions but again, we need to be having real, genuine and tough discussions about race matters and what we might do as a nation to address these problems.

I guess bottom line, for me, yes I’m saddened over the tragic shooting death of young Trayvon Martin. And I will be just as appalled and angry as I hope would any morally decent American of any race would be if the truth is discovered that Mr. Zimmerman deserves to be arrested for committing a crime (possible murder)against Mr. Martin.

I do want to put myself in the shoes of those in the African-American community who are no doubt feeling confusion, hurt and anger about this terrible death of a young black teenager.

But I guess I’m just trying in between all this national media hysteria to be a supporter of the truth (and justice for the guilty) but not the circus media and political show that this has sadly turned into.

"Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding." (Proverbs 23:23)

But we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals.” (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

Robert Prater

Friday, January 13, 2012

Can you Hate Religion and Still Love Jesus?

This video, entitled, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" has risen to fame via Facebook and YouTube, almost overnight. Jefferson Bethke is the author of the poem and is also the man performing a dramatic reading of the poem in the video.

Many of my friends on facebook are liking it and sharing it. If you haven’t seen it, you can view it here at this link

But again, I’ve been thinking about it more carefully.

Now it probably resonates with so many different people because first, no doubt many folks have been “burned” by their encounters with Christians and churches. No question. Hypocrisy and the bad practice of the religion of Jesus Christ. It’s the principle of what Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

But second, I also think that this video resonates with folks sadly because it doesn’t take any obvious stances other than a basic rebellious attitude that claims the higher ground by supporting “Jesus” over “religion,” whatever “religion” is supposed to mean.

So let’s talk about this video. Yes, this is a strong artsy video with some great editing, good background music, a strong emotional appeal, a catchy rhyme. But it is a weak theological video. Don’t get me wrong. He makes some good points. Some denominations and individual churches do not do some of these things like feeding the poor and judging divorced people, etc. Some people assume your faith based on your political vote. And I do wish some would take “Christian” off their religious status on Facebook based on how their act. Again, I think I understand about encounters with bad and loveless Christianity and of the institutional church which in too many places only focused on “rituals” and often interferes with their personal relationship with Christ and does not changes the core of my heart and how I live my life. So yes, there are some things that he says that modern “Christians’ need to hear.

But (you knew that was coming) there are too many other false messages I take away from this video. I am not breaking down each point this guy makes but I do care, strongly on a few.

First, he says (and many others have said), that Jesus came to get rid of religion, Jesus didn’t. In fact he said the opposite if anything. (Read Matthew 5:17-19)

It is true that in the Gospels, the Pharisees and Sadducees are depicted as the representatives of organized religion at the time of Christ. Jesus constantly confronted them about their hypocritical lifestyles. But remember the definition of a hypocrite: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. Jesus actually told the disciples that they should DO what the scribes and Pharisees tell them...“…practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:3).

Now we are also read in many of the NT epistles how there were “organized groups” that mixed the gospel with certain lists of required works and rituals. They also sought to put pressure on believers to change and accept these “Christianity plus” religions. Galatians and Colossians give warnings about such religions.

So yes, it is true that in many cases, the end result of organized religion is a distraction from the intent of Jesus Christ.

However, the Bible does speak of organized believers who are part of His plan. God calls these groups of organized believers “churches.” Now the New Testament often refers to "the church" in a universal sense, encompassing the entire saved body or family of God throughout the world (Mt. 16:16-18; Eph. 1:21-22;19-22; 5:23-25) Also, the scriptures frequently refer to "the church" in a local sense (1 Cor. 1:2).
Furthermore, what do we do with Jesus’ declaration “on this rock I will build my church” if we think Jesus hated organized religion? (Matt. 16:16-18)

The Bible authorizes no organization for the universal church, except Jesus, who is the absolute ruler and head (Eph. 1:21-22) with absolute authority (Matt. 28:18). The New Testament does present Christ's plan for the organization of the local church. (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-12; Titus 1:5-11)

From the descriptions from the book of Acts and the NT letters clearly indicate that the church is to be organized and interdependent. The organization leads to protection, productivity, and outreach (Acts 2:41-47). In the case of the church, it could better be called an “organized relationship.”

So, again, yes, Jesus confronts religious people and challenges them, but he never does away with religion because of the people that are misguided. He actually comes to bring religion to its fullness, what it is really meant to be, steeped in relationship with Him. (cf. John 14:7)

Further Jesus did give further instructions on how we as His followers should actually live out our relationship with Him. You can say that the whole of the Sermon on the Mount is about how to live properly in “religion”.

So, no God doesn’t hate religion. Jesus didn’t come to throw it away. God made religion, Jesus is it’s fulfillment. (Mt. 5:13-16) God’s displeasure is not in religion, but its misuse, in religiosity that misses the point of using the system of religion to be in relationship with the One who created it.

Ultimately, as many others who have written a negative response to this video has said, there is a false dichotomy; you cannot love Jesus and hate religion. Jesus himself was VERY religious. Now the thing about religion is that it is composed of people. The thing about people is that they are not perfect. Therefore the people who practice the religion of their faith (the church) will never be perfect! Yet, God is still works through people and His church, every day!

Some other problems I had with this video.

In the video Bethke says that religion is just “behavior modification, like a long list of chores.” I think this speaks to a profound “don’t tell me what to do” attitude that dominates, if not defines, my generation. If you don’t what to be told that you’re not perfect and are in need of change, then Jesus is not the guy you want to speak to. To claim that “religion” is trying to tell you how to behave, but Jesus doesn’t want to tell you what to do demonstrates at best a profound ignorance of the Bible, in particular the Gospels themselves, and at worst a dangerous self-centeredness that is fundamentally antithetical not only to the Christian faith, but to Jesus himself. Jesus’ entire ministry was centered around how to live a particular way of life, or as Bethke said it “behavior modification.” To call it “a long list of chores” reveals a true lack of interest in fulling Jesus’ command to bring the kingdom of God “to earth as it is in heaven.”

And in this connection, where does James 1:27 fit in the hatred towards “religion?” James said, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Now, keep in mind that James 1:27 is NOT intended to be an exhaustive or comprehensive definition of true religion as some have mistakenly thought. But James clearly says that the real outward manifestioan of a genuine faith is in the practical life. True religion or worship will best express itself by action.

Here’s a side bar observation: I’ve noticed that one difference between emerging progressive and more traditional evangelical Christians is how they conceive holiness. Emergents seem to often more than not to see it primarily in terms of social action. A holy person is one who cares for the poor, and they tend to be less concerned about that person’s swearing, drinking, gambling, or sexual activity. By contrast conservative evangelicals tend to view holiness much more in terms of sin avoidance. Thus you can be considered “holy” by avoiding a long list of sins, but without ever lifting a finger to serve the needy.

James reminds us about the balanced definition of pure religion.

Now, also, Bethke promotes what is at the heart of modern Protestant doctrine and it’s idea that we are saved by “faith alone.” He says “which is why salvation is freely mine and forgiveness is my own. Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone.” Well, yes and no. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be quick to remind us “ye were bought with a price…and what was costly for God must also be costly for us.” Likewise, we don’t have ownership of our forgiveness. If we did then it would be something we purchased or earned which would be counter-intuitive to Bethke’s argument. And while he’s right that that forgiveness stems from the actions of Jesus and not us or what we do, nonetheless, we are saved by “grace through faith.” (Eph. 2:8-9) Grace is God’s part. Faith is our part. And true saving faith is obedient. (cf. John 3:36; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; James 2:22-24) Our obedience is the demonstration of our acceptance of that grace and forgiveness. The two are not as separate as soon many have come to believe.

Bethke also says, “See because religion says do; Jesus says done.” – So is he implying Jesus doesn’t want us to “do” anything? That he doesn’t want us to act a certain way? That he doesn’t want us to treat other as we would like to be treated? Your interpretation of Jesus as something that is already “done” implies that there is nothing left to do. That is a very dangerous assertion, and one that is very damaging to the church you claim to love. We can appreciate, love, and worship what Jesus has done without throwing our hands up in the air and saying “well, I guess that’s it then, let’s go do what we like!”.

Again, what about what James said about true and undefiled religion: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

Sounds an awful lot like we’ve got something to “do.”

I like what J.F. Arnold wrote when he blogged about this video: “The problem with the ‘relationship’-exclusive language–particularly when it jettisons ‘religion’ language–is that we have a generation of people who ignore or deny the importance of church (be that fellowship or history or wisdom of old), which strikes me as problematic. It isn’t that I think we need to be extremely strict with how this plays out, but if we end up systematically opposed to all things that sound like ‘religion,’ then suddenly it doesn’t matter whether I have fellowship with other believers. All that matters is me and Jesus.”

Exctly. We hear a lot of the popular sentiment, It’s not a religion, but it’s a relationship” from people are not active or apart of local congregation of Christians. But when we seperate Jesus from the religious community then we are left with a Jesus out of context whom we are free to shape and mold in any way we see fit.

So for me this video is a mixed bag of some good but too many erroneous thoughts. And I do care when Christians do not know the Bible enough to even recognize when a lot of this is questionable.

Now let me say I hope that some of the good things he does say in this video will be remembered and taken to heart and even the errors make the truth to shine all the more brightly.

I’d also encourage you to check out Trevin Wax who works as managing editor at LifeWay Christian Resources and his excellent review of this video at:

Robert Prater

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Praise Him 2012!

This past Sunday night nearly 600 members from the Shawnee area churches of Christ came together for Praise Him 2012. We once again, rented out the Shawnee Expo Center and had a guest speaker, Tim Lewis and guest song leader Gary Jones Jr.
It was a terrific night of worship, unity and fellowship for the body of Christ in the Shawnee area. The event was sponsored by the five Shawnee area churches of Christ including Central where I preach, and I’d guess there were probably at least 5-10 other area congregations represented in attendance.

It hasn’t been that many years ago when congregations in a local area made it a point to join together for regular fellowship, worship and Christian service. Many remember the uplifting “area wide singings” of the past when Christians from a wide area would meet at one of their buildings and raise their voices in unity to God.

In today’s culture of churches we tend to withdraw and isolate ourselves, not so much because of differences, but because we rut ourselves in the routine of what we do. Sunday night at the Expo truly uplifted us spiritually as it lead to an increased sense of brotherhood with our neighboring congregations. We joined together to praise God for what He has done for us in Christ and our hope of eternal heaven.

Now, check out this link and video: whcih was shown Sunday night in which members from the various congregations were interviewed and asked the question: "Why they want to go to heaven?" (Our theme for the night was “Why I Want to Go to Heaven”) Some of you might recognize that pretty little girl on the thumbnail:), my daughter Megan. Daddy's very proud of her that already at her young age she's talking about her real home!

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)