Don’t Be A Christian Troll

Christian Troll

Few things cause my blood to boil as much as “Christians” who misrepresent the Name they bear, and it seems the place where this is most prevalent is on the World Wide Web. Alas, something that should be an effective medium for spreading the Gospel of Christ in a respectable way has become a means for inviting more ridicule and rejection for the Christian community at large.

Christian Trolls, as I like to call them, are those people who jump into an online conversation—usually in a string of Facebook comments, or in the discussion section of a blog article, etc.—drop a few Scriptures, which are usually badly taken out of context, and turn on their heels as soon as someone tries to question their motive and message; or, even worse, the holier-than-thou “Christian” becomes impatient and angered, stomping their monstrous “I’m right, you’re wrong!” troll feet in a digital temper tantrum, making an even bigger mule out of themselves.

I can’t count the amount of times I’ve apologized to people for the ridiculous and malicious behavior of those who claim the name of Christ but live and act opposite to what Christ actually lived and taught. In fact, the description of the Christian Troll sounds akin to those who Jesus directly rebuked and rejected during His days on earth—that’s right, the Pharisees.

The Pharisees—and other religious leaders—of 2,000 years ago loved to preach and dictate to the people what they should and shouldn’t do, and if ever someone disagreed with them—confronting their preferential ideologies that traded relationship with God for religious activity—they became irate, and even violent. When Stephen, a loving and faithful servant of God, confronted them, they “gnashed their teeth,” “covered their ears,” “yelled at the top of their voices,” and in a blind rage, “rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (Acts 7:54; 57-58a). Do we really want to be like those guys? God forbid.

Whenever we enter a discussion on the internet, especially about Scriptural matters, we should at least have the decency to engage in an actual conversation, being as open-minded as possible—without compromising our own convictions—instead of just spouting our own opinions, or a couple Scriptures out of context, and then running away, or worse: becoming an angry troll, stomping everyone else underfoot.

Could you really see yourself joining a conversation in person that way—just stepping in long enough to drop your two cents and immediately tucking tail and running away, or raising your voice and yelling at people because they don’t agree with you? That’s not exactly the way to have a mature, intellectual conversation. And although that may not matter so much to you—“I’m not the intellectual type,” you may say—keep in mind that if you are a professing Believer and Follower of Jesus Christ, bearing his name is no fickle matter.

Let us then handle our affairs, both on the World Wide Web, and in personal, everyday life, with the utmost respect for God’s name, and other people, whom He loves. Is that not, after all, the crux of Christianity: love? The Bible does say that without it, we are just making senseless noise (1 Cor 13.1).

Nobody likes a troll, most of all, the “Christian” variety.

Dreams: Deeper Meaning, or…Not?

Dreams1

What do you do when you wake from a troubling, or simply outlandish, dream? Is your first response to analyze everything about it, refusing to rest until you find out what purpose it held—what deeper meaning may be hiding within it? Sure, some dreams may be from God—may be His way of telling us something that’s going to happen, or something we need to do; this is, after all, not a foreign concept to Scripture.

This isn’t always the case, however, and I think we, as “spiritual people”, put on our hyper-spiritual thinking caps far too often for our own good—and the good of others, when analyzing our dreams. Just because I had a dream about a specific person being in danger, or even dying, does not at all mean that I should rush to meet that person for coffee and tell them they’d better be careful, or else. And just because I dreamed about a specific place—like Ireland, for instance—does not inherently mean God is calling me to move there; though, at the same time, I’m not saying that couldn’t happen….

I’ve had a lot of trouble with this throughout the years. Often after a strange and vivid dream, I would dissect it as long as possible (before going crazy), to see what God was trying to communicate with me. What I found was that, more often than not, this only caused confusion, and made me act, well, weird. The more I learned about this in a practical, and even scientific way, the more I was able to put the confusion behind me quicker, which, in turn, resulted in a greater level of peace and solidity in my relationship with God.

So what are dreams made of? A recent study by psychologists and brain scientists that aired on PBS called “What Are Dreams?” sheds some light on the subject. Without delving into too much detail, the program basically shows that dreaming is for the purpose of processing emotions, images, information, relationships, thoughts, challenges and so forth that we face in everyday life. It’s like our mind’s way of trying to organize and troubleshoot life’s occurrences in a much more relaxed state—a completely different way of processing information than when we are awake. (This is my summary; please follow this link to view the entire program: What Are Dreams?)

Several years ago, prior to the PBS program, I had heard something along the same lines—that dreaming is basically just our brains downloading, processing and organizing information from our daily lives. I heard this at a time when I was still struggling with my dreams, trying to understand them, trying to hear God through them. Well, upon learning this, I decided to put it to the test. Here’s what I did: every time I would have a vivid dream, no matter how strange or frightening, I would think about it for a few moments after waking, but instead of desperately trying to interpret what the dream meant in terms of spirituality, I would take a mental trek through the previous days (and weeks if necessary) trying to find the most dominant elements—people, places, things—in the occurrences therein.

Bingo! About 99% of the time, there they were. If I had a dream about a specific person that I hadn’t seen in a long time and thought, “Man, that’s weird; I haven’t seen them in a while, maybe God is telling me to talk to them about something,” I would stop and replay the previous day in my head. And sure enough, I had checked Facebook right before bed the night previous, and in scrolling through the News Feed, had briefly seen a picture, or post by them. It had stuck in my mind just long enough to pop back up in my dreams, as my brain was processing the information from the day.

I tried this with just about everything that stood out in my dreams. It was all there: something I had thought about, someone I had seen or talked to, a place I had seen in a movie, a phrase from a song that played in the background on my car stereo—it was all there.

So am I saying dreams have no deeper meaning or purpose than the automatic processing of random information? Not always, and sometimes, I believe, God definitely speaks to us through dreams. As a matter of fact, there have been times I have woken up thinking about someone I hadn’t seen in a while, and without a doubt, felt God nudging me to connect with that person—but in a much more subtle way than telling them I was seriously worried about their well-being.

From a more practically beneficial standpoint, as the study on the PBS program shows, dreaming is a vital part of processing and troubleshooting what happens to us from day to day. Again, I do not at all deny the power of a dream or vision from God—as stated before, it is something theologically sound—but how often do we, as Christians, immediately associate every peculiar dream with some deeper meaning, when it might merely be the result of a news article we read, a conversation we had, or a late night web surfing tangent.

My challenge is simply this: the next time you wake from a curious dream, try retracing your steps through the previous day(s) in your mind for a moment, looking to see if the main elements from your dreams are there, listing them off one by one—like a checklist. This may help to put your mind at ease and move forward more freely with your day. And it just might save that old friend of yours from some undue angst caused by an overly zealous, ominous doomsayer message.

Does Jesus Know Everything?

Clearing Up the Confusion About the Omniscience of Christ

Jesus Knows

If you, like me, have read Matthew 24:36, then you, like me, have probably scratched your head in theological angst. In this verse, Jesus basically says that He doesn’t know when the end will come.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (ESV; emphasis mine)

Many people take this verse at simple face value, believing that Christ really doesn’t know everything. But, that raises some hairy issues, bringing into question the omniscience of Christ, which, I’d say is rather faulty ground.

So how do we clear it up? Why did Jesus make this seemingly controversial statement?

I. Jesus was talking in the “present tense”

Though Jesus does say in this verse, this small snippet of Scripture, that He does not know when the end will come—when He will return in all His glory to take His followers to heaven—that does not necessarily mean He is saying He will never know… Concerning this topic, Jesus speaks in the present tense, “no one knows”. Could this mean that maybe Jesus didn’t know then, something that He knows now, post-resurrection?

You may think that this sounds ludicrous. Why would Jesus need to learn anything? That’s sacrilegious! Is it really? I think that saying Jesus doesn’t know everything, in His current, glorified, heavenly state, is much more ridiculous and blasphemous than saying He had to learn and grow during His life as a human 2,000 years ago.

II. We Must Consider the Holistic Gospel Message

Taking into consideration the reason Jesus came to earth in the first place, this concept makes perfect sense. In order to die for the sins of all mankind, Jesus literally had to become a man, live a man’s life—flesh, blood, bones and brains—in order to fulfill his propitiatory mission.

Jesus—God the Son—allowed Himself to be confined to a weak human frame, experiencing everything that comes with it. He subjected Himself to hunger and thirst, to temptation, to physical pain and sorrow, and to a limited mind—a mind that had to grow, just like the rest of His body, and learn.

Was Jesus fully man? Yes. Was He fully God? Yes.

So, if He was fully God? Why didn’t He know everything? As we just discussed: He subjected Himself to a human life—limiting Himself from exercising His full power in order to die as a man. Because, how could Jesus—God Himself—be killed by men, unless He chose to limit Himself. The moment Jesus came into the world as an infant, He was limited, so that, once He fulfilled His mission, we would no longer be limited in connecting with God because of our sin.

It’s the Gospel message.

III. He Was Dependent on the Father

It is obvious that Jesus was no ordinary human. Just because He limited Himself, does not at all mean that He took a break from being God. Being that He still was God Himself, His connection to the Father was much more intrinsic than our own could ever be. Therefore, He exhibited extraordinary powers and authority, even in His earthly confinement.

Take for example, the instance when Jesus was only a boy and amazed the well-learned teachers of the law with His extensive knowledge.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. –Luke 2:46-47 (ESV)

This verse displays Jesus’ outstanding ability, even in human frame, but it also shows the limitations He subjected Himself to. It says that He was “listening to them and asking them questions.” Jesus asked questions; Jesus listened and learned.

Another scripture that shows Jesus had limited Himself in human form is John 5:19, which says:

So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’ (ESV; emphasis mine)

Whoa! Did He just say what I think He said? I’d say this verse pretty much covers it. But, let’s continue for good measure…

IV. He Wasn’t Yet Glorified

In His earthly form, Jesus was not yet “glorified”, but the Bible says now He is. During his years on planet earth, confined to a human body, Jesus could not do everything He could do if He were still in all of His glory—that would be cheating. In order to fulfill His mission of redemption, He chose to allow the limiting of His glory, but when His task was completed, after He had died for the sins of the world, He returned to glory—the fullness of glory.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. –Hebrews 1:3-4

That sure doesn’t sound like the description of a Jesus who is still limited.

Does Jesus know everything? I think the answer is obvious.

Is Church Merch Bad?

Examining the REAL reason Jesus flipped tables…

Jesus with Whip3 

It isn’t very often we think of Jesus as a violent man, but in the book of Matthew, chapter 12, this seems to be what we see…

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” –Matthew 21:12-13 (ESV)

And this wasn’t a solitary incident. At the beginning of His ministry, in addition to table flipping, He actually made a whip and chased everyone out of the temple with it. (John 2:15)

These accounts, not surprisingly, have raised some interesting questions. One in particular that I would like to focus on here is this: If a church has a bookshop in its lobby, or sells merchandise on occasion, does that inherently mean it’s become a “den of robbers” and has neglected its responsibility to be a house of prayer? I say no. There are some, however, who use these scriptural accounts as grounds for saying the opposite. Their argument simply holds no water. I believe this to be a simple matter of misinterpretation, due to the neglect of understanding context. When we take time to look at the historical significance surrounding the text, we can see a much clearer picture of why Jesus became so infuriated.

Firstly, according to historians and Bible scholars, the specific place in which the money-changers and sacrificial animal salesmen had set up shop was called the “Outer Court”, or the “Court of the Gentiles”. This area was the only place in the temple where non-Jews—specifically Gentiles—were welcome to come hear God’s Word and pray and worship Him. But instead of respecting this purpose and inviting all people into meeting with God, the temple leaders had turned it into a marketplace, thus making it incredibly difficult for anyone but Jews to find a place in God’s House.

Secondly, the business being conducted here was corrupt and deceitful. The merchants and money-changers charged far too much for their services and products, and took advantage of foreigners who didn’t know that they were paying more than they needed to.

“The Temple only accepted shekels (cf. Ex. 30:13). There were no longer any Jewish shekels available but there were Tyrian ones. Pilgrims were charged exorbitant prices for exchanging into this coinage. The doves were available for the poorest people so that they could make a sacrifice (cf. Lev. 1:14; 5:7; 12:8; 14:22), but the High Priests were charging exorbitant prices even for them.”[1]

Now let’s attempt clothing this story with a more relevant, modern day scenario. Imagine showing up at Church one Sunday morning and instead of being welcomed into a sanctuary with plenty of space for worshiping and hearing the Word of God, you find yourself in a room filled with tables from wall to wall. At some of these tables there are people collecting mandatory church service taxes. What’s more, they don’t accept regular money. So you have to exchange your money for theirs at a rate much higher than normal currency exchange costs. And that’s not all! After paying out the wazoo to acquire “church currency”, you must proceed to another table where a Communion salesperson waits to sell you small pieces of bread and little cups of grape juice, which, for the same amount of money, could buy you a whole loaf and gallon from the supermarket. If you’ve even made it this far, you can now take your Communion Sacraments and find a place to sit on the floor—probably in a corner—and strain your ears to hear the Pastor over the pandemonium.

Notwithstanding the obvious liberties required in translating a 2 thousand year old ceremonial context to one more fitting for today—namely animal sacrifice*—this is essentially what it would look like. No wonder Jesus got mad. God’s servants, who were supposed to be helping people draw near to Him, were conducting dishonest and excessive business in the “sanctuary” built for the Gentiles! He became furious with them because they were literally standing between God and His people, denying them a place to worship Him and hear His Word. They had essentially desecrated the temple, perverting its original purpose.

This, then, goes much deeper than whether or not churches sell merchandise—which, like many things, is not bad in and of itself. As per His usual way of addressing things, Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter. He clearly and powerfully displays that what truly makes God angry is the hindering of His people from encountering His presence. Which then begs the question: could the way our church services are being conducted actually cause His blood to boil? If Jesus were to visit my church, would He joyfully join in the service, with no hesitations, or would He interrupt it to rebuke the Pastors and leaders? Without giving way to fear, it is important that we consider these questions soberly.

Another interesting thing to see, in regard to this subject, is what Jesus does immediately after rebuking the religious leaders for their corruption. In one short sentence, we catch a glimpse of His heart for the church, and begin to see what is most important to Him:

“The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.” -Matthew 21:14 (NIV)

Jesus wanted all people to feel welcome in His House—especially those deemed “unfit” by overly religious standards. He clearly displayed that God’s heart is for people to come and experience His healing presence. That’s what makes Him happy. What makes Him angry, then, is anything that stifles this. Our resolve, therefore, should be to make sure that in our church gatherings everyone is encouraged to experience God’s presence, and that each individual is unequivocally shown they have a place in His House.


*If it were difficult for the people to come hear the Word of God and worship Him with the clutter and clamor of the money-changers and merchants alone, how much more, with the addition of a veritable barnyard.

[1] Utley, R. J. (2000). Vol. Volume 9: The First Christian Primer: Matthew. Study Guide Commentary Series (174). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.

Machine Gun Preacher: Radical Compassion or Renegade Christianity?

There is something truly rewarding about a film that grips the viewer with both intensity and philosophical thought, and it is not something easily done.  It is within this vein of thought that I applaud the recent film Machine Gun Preacher.

machine gun preacher2

In this film [based on true events], Gerard Butler plays the part of Sam Childers: a former drug dealing biker who finds God and changes his ways—at least, for a little while.  For the first quarter of the film we see the gritty side of this man. Just after being released from prison, and upon finding out that his wife has given up her job as a stripper—because it’s not honoring to the Lord—Childers throws a grown man’s tantrum and hooks up with his old bar-buddies.  We then see the worst of him: getting drunk, shooting up heroin and nearly murdering a transient by stabbing him multiple times (this scene is quite disturbing).

After wading through some of the unpleasant scenes portraying the “old” Childers, there comes the chilling “conversion” scene.  Childers ends up in a church service with his wife and daughter one Sunday morning.  The pastor gives a compelling message about the love and grace of God and then calls forward anyone who would like to be baptized and give their life to Jesus.  The director knew what he was doing with this scene as Childers doesn’t immediately jump up and go running to the front.  You can almost feel his nervousness as you watch and wait for him to respond.  Finally he does. Later, when he rises out of the water from being submerged by the pastor, he is truly a new man.

We see the change immediately.  Childers begins spending all his time with his wife and daughter, performing his duties as a father, and lands a steady job in construction, which in turn leads to starting his own company.  Then one day during another service at church, the pastor presents a guest speaker from Sudan, who speaks to them about how to help with the efforts in Africa.  Childers feels drawn to this opportunity to serve and decides to take a trip over for a couple months.  While in Africa, Childers comes face to face with the reality of the conditions and the ongoing brutality inflicted on the Sudanese people by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony).

Upon returning from his venture, Childers spends a whole night praying and planning. The next morning, he tells his wife that he has heard from God and that God wants him to build a church and an orphanage in Sudan.  Due to his connections in the construction industry, he is able to successfully build and start his own church—of which he is a pastor of sorts—bearing a small congregation of steady attendees.  It all looks great at the start.

He speaks boldly—yet tenderly—to his congregation, following a worship set for each service, with some simple, yet solid, biblical truth.  He then returns to Africa to begin construction of the orphanage.  All goes fairly well—aside from the locals telling him he’s crazy for wanting to build in the location he’s selected: basically in a war zone—until the orphanage is attacked by the LRA and burned to the ground.  Childers becomes discouraged and wants to give up. On a powerful phone call with his wife however, she encourages him to get right back up again and rebuild it.  He does, and with a better security perimeter.

Childers then teams up with the SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberation Army) to go on child rescue missions in the bush, following up on intel they’ve received about where to find children needing rescue.  Although they are successful in bringing to safety many children, they encounter extreme difficulty.  On one of these treks, which, turns out to be a trap, an LRA sniper takes out two of their own.  And, on another, they find a large group of children, which cannot all fit into their trucks.  They decide to take only the youngest and injured and return for the rest.  When they return however, they find that the others have been brutally slaughtered.  Childers, overtaken by fury and grief, begins taking matters into his own hands.

Reverting back to his past violent tendencies, he ambushes a caravan of the LRA on the road with an RPG. Rumors now spread among the Sudanese that he cannot be killed, that angels protect him.  It is in these latter parts of the film that one’s own philosophical view of morality and theology is challenged most.  We begin to tangle with questions like: “Does God endorse violence when done in [supposedly righteous] anger?” and “Would God approve of neglecting one’s own family for the sake of helping many in another land?”

With dramatic momentum, Childers becomes completely engrossed in his mission to save the Sudanese children—no matter what the cost.  We see this most drastically on one of his trips back home to his family.  He blows up at his daughter when she asks if they can rent a limo for prom. And when his friend—who actually had been undergoing a spiritual transformation because of Childers’ positive influence on him—tries to reason with him, Childers explodes and while spitting profanities, threatens and completely humiliates his friend in front of his wife and daughter, with no sign of remorse. This friend, now riddled with depression, returns to his vice of heroin, overdoses and dies. But it doesn’t stop there; further bad fruit of Childers rage emerges in his preaching at church.  Shouting in fury at the congregation, he declares that “…the Lord doesn’t want sheep, He wants WOLVES!”  Oh, I’m sure he meant well.  But that doesn’t compensate for the fact that this stands in direct opposition to simple biblical truth. It is well known that Jesus refers to His followers as sheep—and even sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16)—but nowhere in Scripture do you find the kind of theology that Childers had stooped to teaching. It was not led by spiritual wisdom, but simply, by emotion. Specifically, anger.

To top it all off, shortly after this, there is a scene in which Childers is arguing with his wife after his friend’s funeral, and blatantly declares his disbelief in God.   His main argument behind this being, “How could God let him die? How could God let these children die?  There is no God!” This man, who had seen with his own eyes the radical transformation God had worked in his life; this man who had been compelled to start a church for God’s glory and give aid to the suffering people of Africa, had now denied the very existence of the proof he could so easily see before.  He had essentially put his passionate emotion for the Sudanese children before his own family, his friends, his own integrity and worst of all, before God.  And this is the sad state we find him in towards the end of the film: a man entrapped by a chaotic tangle between good intentioned Social Activism, and compromising all personal responsibility to God, family and friends.

Though the ending of the film seemed to wrap it all up into a nice packaged call to support this kind of effort, I did appreciate that the filmmaker kept it still closer to an unbiased accounting of events.  That helps the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions about the story. Personally, I really liked the film.  One thing I’ve learned about philosophy is that I can still learn from and greatly appreciate what is being communicated, even if I do not agree with the intended message. Truth is truth wherever it’s found.  If the film does in fact have an “agenda”, which at times it subtly seems to, I do not conform to it.

On one hand, the film is a powerfully gripping call to action on behalf of people in great poverty and oppression.  On the other hand however, it serves as a study of one man’s decisions, and the effect—both good and bad—those decisions have on others.  Without stable understanding of God’s ways, which are clearly communicated in His Word, it is easy to be led merely by emotion.  Slowly but surely, we return to our carnal mindset led by the tides of feeling, and ultimately throw heavenly wisdom to the breeze in exchange for what we call “love”.  When in reality what we are doing is creating our own definition of love.  The Bible says that God is love, thus, isn’t it plain to us that He would be able to tell us best what love should look like in our own lives? But alas, we often fabricate our own definition based upon what we feel, and then pin God’s name on it, assuming He approves.

Childers’ fiery passion to rescue Sudanese children from the hands of evil people is noble to be sure, and I would not at all be surprised at many people wanting to rise up and support this man and his mission.  But the question must be asked: “At what cost?”  Does God desire that we abandon our responsibility and ministry to friends and family, so we can ship off to other parts of the world in order to bring aid to others?  This is what I see in the story of Sam Childers.  I see the story of a man who was driven by compassion turned awry resulting in neglect of his own family, abuse of a friend who was in great need of his godly influence (and in so doing caused his friend to throw away his life as result); I see a man who let his anger run wild, leading others away from solid biblical truth; and a man who in the end, denied God, the very One who had rescued him from his past life of anger, alcohol abuse and drug addiction.  I see the story of a man who was radically changed by the grace of God—a grace that, in the beginning, moved him to amazing feats—but who sacrificed it all on the alter of his own vengeance, ultimately replacing God with an idol of his own making.

The ending is bittersweet and not for those who prefer only happy ones.  But, if you enjoy a film that is compelling, both in emotion and thought, and if you can handle the violence, language and drug content (and one scene of sexual implication), I would definitely suggest seeing this film at least once. Not only to watch it for entertainment, but to ponder these relevant questions of social responsibility and faith.