Church Discipline: The Form, The Attitude, The Reasoning, and The Goal

While I am positive the Bible runs counter to every culture in the world in many ways, it is how it is countercultural to America that most interests me as a citizen of this nation. Here at REO, we’ve written about many of them and one that I have not touched thus far due to how nasty its connotation can be is the issue of how churches deal with people caught in sin. What happens when the church finds out about a marital affair? Or a porn addiction? Or that someone has been lying habitually, or dealing with anger in sinful ways?

I realize that orthodox American Christian churches historically have messed up this aspect of theology and practice quite badly at times and that has caused the concept of church discipline to be treated as a profane term to be avoided both in speech and action. I add that I believe my current church in Chicago has actually done this quite well biblically speaking, thanks almost entirely to the other elders I have worked with. This doesn’t change the fact that this issue is significantly misunderstood and poorly practiced in some Baptist and Evangelical churches, if practiced at all.

I fear churches avoid discipline for at minimum three reasons. First, people so often in recent church history have done this with so little grace and without reconciliation in mind that it conjures up images of gossiping, self-righteous church members and leaders and scarlet letters. Second, on the opposite end, some churches simply do not judge the behaviors of their membership. Either through a warped view of grace, because of the fear of man, or a huge overlap of both, they never confront for any reason. These first two demonstrate how easy it is to live in extremes and not in the tension of balanced biblical interpretation and application—in this case, grace and truth[1. Which are not true opposites and need to work together, and that is basically the point of this whole article]. And third, the the current American church culture bends to segregating your church life and your personal life so that church is just a place to worship an hour a week and blend in and not a place to live in transparent, confessional community with other believers every day.

None of these things are remotely biblical.

Today I want to deal with it head on and with as much wisdom as I can. And as alluded to above, I do not come at this with mere head knowledge. I feel like I have been led by other men of God and have through the fire. By the grace of God we have come to understand this area of theology to some level. Having said that, while the best teaching and preaching involves illustrations and personal experiences, I will obviously be avoiding that today out of prudence and common sense. At least for the most part. A simple interpretation of a few Bible passages will be enough to start and these interpretations—and not my own war stories—will be most effective in helping others understand this topic. Jesus and Paul, the main source material for the NT for this topic, both speak very plainly about it.

With these two men in mind, here are four crucial aspects to confronting sin in the church, according to the inspired New Testament authorities:


The Form: Four Steps of Increasing Severity

In Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus gives a very basic and practical model to follow when a fellow believer has sinned. First, confront them personally. If they do not listen, take another Christian with you. If that doesn’t work, take it to the church. And then if they still do not listen then “treat them as an unbeliever (Gentile, pagan) or tax collector”.

There is a lot to unpack there and some of it is open to interpretation but I’ll try to be succinct. Disagreement here is welcomed below in the comment section (as well as disagreement with any part of this). The first two steps are pretty simple so I’ll skip to the third one. Our church has interpreted “the church” as this being the step when the elders get involved. Not the whole church at large. Not only does the latter seem impractical in our culture, it is our aim to show as much grace and patience in keeping things private until absolutely necessary. I hasten to add here that my church does not practice these steps with a “one and done” approach, meaning we may have several conversations at each step with the person caught in sin, as we try to figure out the truth and how best to serve the person, either through discipline or counseling or something similar.

Once the fourth step comes, then there is no choice. If the offending person shows no willingness to repent or even to meet with the church to present their side, then the person is removed from membership and the church must be notified.

What exactly does it mean to “treat them as an unbeliever or a tax collector”? Well in some way I believe it means you consider them as someone who is not a Christian because they cannot be if they are living in unrepentant sin. Especially after being shown that much grace. That part seems pretty straightforward. And after that? Well, this is where it can get hairy and part of this discussion is affected by how we view certain passages on the topic. I once had a disagreement with another elder at my church about how to treat a person at the fourth step, as far as how to interact with them. Based on 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I was adamant that this person needed to be cut off and left to their own selfishness as punishment. No association with them would be biblical. Another elder more graciously advocated for trying to win them back through relationship, since that is what our church does with unbelievers. Isn’t that the ultimate end to treating them as a pagan or tax collector? Could Paul and Jesus be in conflict here?

We discussed it for a long time. I admit the other elder was closer to the truth than I was but we both moved some towards the middle. We established that the way we would go about would be to try to maintain a relational connection if possible (in our experience people in stage four often do not want to have any communication with the church), but only to try to win them back with loving and graceful truth. Essentially by evangelizing them. But this does not mean we simply hang out with them as we would any other lost person just to be a friend. I share Jesus with the lost friends I have but not in an aggressive way every time we are together. Sometimes we just get together to watch a baseball game. I may work Jesus into the conversation, but it is not always the main point in the meeting. That is a crucial difference between a Step Four unbeliever and an unbeliever who has never been a part of the church. The former needs to be approached with restoration as the primary goal of the meeting. That is at least where my church landed.


The Attitude: Humble Self-Awareness

In Galatians 6:1, Paul makes it clear that when we confront someone in sin, no matter which step I would think, it has to be with humility. This can be shown through our word choices and the whole of our nonverbal communication, though I am sure what humility looks like will change from person to person. It obviously isn’t weak or passive or apologetic in this context but it absolutely should communicate to the sinning party, “I am not better than you. I could very easily be caught in sin just as you have been.” Self-righteousness has no place in church discipline. And it is my firm belief that if a Christian is living face down before God in worship, preaching the Gospel to themselves, and seeking forgiveness from God and others daily, then when it is time to confront, they will be able to practice Galatians 6:1 correctly. Isn’t this what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-3 as well?


The Reasoning: Protect the Body from Death

Paul gives a significant amount of teaching on this topic in 1 Corinthians 5. But for this article, I want to zero in on one thing he teaches. We practice church discipline and are willing to put people out of membership for a reasonable end: if you do not take sin out of the church, it will spread throughout the church like gangrene in a diseased foot will go to the rest of the body. Amputation can absolutely be the most gracious thing to keep a body healthy. He uses the illustration of yeast in bread but the point is the same; the sin of one person can corrupt the whole church if not extracted. That is just the nature of sin and humanity. If a person sins without repentance and the church lets them stay, other members will be extremely inclined to fall into similar temptations. So by removing the unrepentant former member from the church community, you are actually doing something entirely gracious—you are protecting God’s bride, who is supposed to be presented to him as radiant and without spot or wrinkle. This is of course primarily because the blood of Christ makes the church clean, but repentance keeps her clean. A lack of repentance, even by a single individual, can potentially ruin the whole body. Churches must be willing to seem ungracious to that one so that they are being gracious to all.


The Goal: Reconciliation, Always

Perhaps the biggest sin of Phariseeism is that its self-righteousness makes reconciliation impossible. No matter the teaching in the New Testament, I cannot help but comprehend this topic as one where reconciliation with the one caught in sin and the church as the goal of every step. There is no room in our churches for “You messed up so you don’t belong here.” Quite often in my experience, people do not say this to the sinning person’s face; they just gossip them out of the church. Gossip is about as perpendicular to healthy confrontation, humility and reconciliation as it can be. And as such is listed with the worst sins in New Testament lists (Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20).

Instead, we need to be actively seeking reconciliation and restoration with the person caught in sin. That is what Jesus was teaching by giving the steps he gave in Matthew. It seems obvious to me that just looking at those four verses (vs. 15-18) you can see grace being shown by giving the person numerous chances to repent and by giving their sin privacy. But by looking at the larger context of Matthew 18, it becomes even more obvious how essential it is to see the guilty person as someone to be forgiven if they repent. In 18:21-35, Jesus teaches that we forgive over and over and over precisely because God has forgiven us far more than we have been offended.

Additionally, I believe Paul dealt with the offending man from 1 Corinthians 5 in his second Corinthian letter and taught to welcome him back into fellowship. Now I must assume that the man had repented because I do not think you can have reconciliation without repentance. You can forgive without it, but reconciliation takes two people: A forgiving victim and a sorrowful offender. But the fact Paul advises to forgive and accept the man from 1 Corinthians 5 is powerful when you consider how repulsive his sin was.


Much more could be said on this topic but part of why REO exists is to foster discussion and not presume to present the final, authoritative word on subjects like these. So feedback even in the form of disagreement is welcomed below.


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Five Amazing Songs I First Heard On TV Episodes

It is a beautiful thing when I am watching a TV show and a song I don’t know plays behind a significant moment, especially a climax, and I am so blown away by it that I immediately look it up on the internet. It’s cool when music and TV scenes come together with marvelous synergy and it’s a song I already know. Yet when I do not know the song it is even better, as I love being introduced to new music. And when this collision of an unfamiliar song overlaying a TV moment rocks my world, the two will forever be linked in my mind. The song then becomes more than music and lyrics; it becomes part of TV lore.

This has happened dozens of times in my life. Here are five that rise to the top of the list.

[Note: There are major spoilers revealed in these scenes.]


“Not As We” (Alanis Morissette)
TV Episode: House M.D. 04:03 “97 Seconds”

This is my favorite House episode as it chronicles House’s argument against the idea of an afterlife. His mind is not changed after he goes to extreme lengths to find the truth but the fact Wilson cleverly and articulately pushes back against House is a huge part of why I loved this show.

The song itself plays when House, after being told by a man who was legally dead for 97 seconds that there is something amazing on the other side, tries to replicate this experience by electrocuting himself in the hospital. Where he knows he will be revived quickly but not immediately. Honestly, the song lyrics do not match the scene to me and would play far better behind a person trying to move on after an intense break-up or a death. But the music does match the tone of the episode and I’m sure that is why they chose it.

The song reaches deep in its emotion and really pulls me in. Alanis Morissette did this for a lot of people many times over, especially women. This one time she got me as well. I’ve listened to it dozens of times.


“One October Song” (Nico Stai)
TV Episodes: Chuck 03.18 “Chuck vs. the Subway” and 04.07 “Chuck vs. the Fistfight”

Chuck is a sleeper show to me, one that doesn’t have a huge following in my circles but was surprisingly good and very versatile. An action-comedy at heart, it had plenty of romance and drama and heartstring-pulling. It also had some epic guest spots that gave tribute to the 80s, including Dolph Lundgren in a one-off and Linda Hamilton and Scott Bakula in recurring roles as Chuck’s parents.

Perhaps the most tear-jerking plot development in the series is when Stephen suddenly gets killed by Shaw at the end of Season 3. This song plays alongside that moment and enhances the emotion and has compelled me to listen to it over and over again. Which in turn lets me relive this Chuck episode. The song plays again at the end of a Season 4 episode and compliments it as well.


“Boston” (Augustana)
TV Episode: Scrubs 05:19 “His Story III”

The Janitor on Scrubs had a pretty simple role on the show: to give J.D. an extremely hard time and to make super weird off the cuff comments that bordered on disturbing. So when we got a chance to peel back the curtain a little and see him as a human being, as we do in this episode, it is special. Make no mistake–the ending moment with the song is set up by the Janitor kidnapping J.D. and making a bunch of random hilarious declarations to a man in the hospital who needed a computer to talk but could not for a while as his computer was broken.

Since no one else would talk to him and because everyone else was busy insulting the janitor for having a menial job, the janitor utilizes this man’s forced silence to vent to him. And, as a result, to bond with him. It’s very subtle and doesn’t really pay off until the very end the conversation when Dr. Cox comes in with the sick man’s new computer and the first thing the man says is “Thank you”. After Dr. Cox accepts his gratitude the man says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” before the camera pans to the Janitor mopping up the floor with a look of humble satisfaction at this small victory in his monotonous work life. At that very moment, the line from this song, “No one knows my name” is heard. Which is just perfect, since the Janitor’s name is never given in this show and since the whole point of this subplot was to highlight his invisible job in a place where the most important life or death jobs are on display.

Honorable mentions for Scrubs would include “Closer” by Joshua Radkin and “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hay. This show mastered music and climaxes so well I had my own “Scrubs” playlist on iTunes.


“I Go To The Barn Because I Like The” (Band of Horses)
TV Episode: Psych 04.16 “Mr. Yin Presents”

This is my favorite TV episode of all time, of any genre, and this song helps it achieve that lofty accolade.

The Yang trilogy is truly exceptional entertainment, from the heightened stakes, to the villain’s acumen, to Mary’s presence, to everything that Shawn and Gus say and do. And at the climax of the second part–the episode that honors film Part 2s like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II by being the apex of the series–we get a mind-blowing and goosebump-shattering cliffhanger. And the song that James Roday chose to play along with it was, in his words, the only song he could have chosen that would work for this ending.

It begins with Abigail telling Shawn that unless he can give up Psych and having psychopaths wanting to hurt the people he loves, she can no longer be with him. Then it cuts to a series of poignant scenes without words that melt my heart every time: Juliet finally breaks down in Lassiter’s arms after trying to hold it together after her traumatic experience, Henry cleans the paint off of the Psych office door that Yin used to taunt Shawn, Shawn and Gus attend Mary’s funeral dressed in full racquetball attire, Yang stares ahead from her padded cell and Yin comes home as the camera pans to a picture on his table of….Yang and young Shawn? WHAT???

Just a phenomenal three minutes of TV. It messed with my head for days. And I quickly found the song on iTunes, put it on my iPod Nano and listened to it 50 times the next few days.


“Easier to Lie” (Aqualung)
TV Episode: Lie to Me 01:01 “Pilot”

Lie To Me didn’t have the best series premiere of any show ever (Lost and Friday Night Lights would be shows on that short list) but it was still excellent. And after a twist ending where Cal lies to get a girl to tell the truth, this song helps close the episode over a montage of scenes that gave me chill bumps and let me know this was going to be my kind of show. I also love the added touch of Dr. Lightman telling Rita: “Believe what you want to believe. Everyone else does.” This has never been more obvious than in the social media age.


So that is my list. What are some of yours?





Is Holiness God’s Fundamental Attribute?

Is God’s fundamental attribute holiness instead of love?

I was taught this in my Systematic Theology class back in Bible College. I rejected the teaching for years, however, thinking that God doesn’t really have a fundamental attribute. I stated my opinion as God’s love doesn’t cause him to be holy but his holiness didn’t require Jesus to go to the cross and die in the greatest act of sacrificial love of all time.

I don’t necessarily disagree with my stated opinion above but I have come to the conclusion that even if that opinion is true, God does have a fundamental attribute. The problem I had in seeing it is that I had a definition of “holy” that was too narrow. I suppose it was because of how I was raised but even though I knew the technical definition of the word as “set apart” I associated it with moral perfection. God is morally perfect and when he tells his people to be holy it means he wants them to be set apart from other nations in their moral excellence.

But that isn’t the totality of the meaning and when you get closer to the fuller meaning it becomes clearer as to why I changed my mind about this.

First I want to establish that definition. But I want to go beyond a strict dictionary definition of “holy” and its like forms. Back in grad school, my favorite professor, Dr. Wong Loi Sing, used to teach us to consider when doing hermeneutics what he called the “wording of meaning”. He distinguished it from the meaning of words. To give an illustration of what he meant by the difference, if I said you are the “apple of my eye,” then you would know that a strict dictionary definition of “apple” would be wrong. (A good dictionary will give idioms and the like, and that is the point.) A biblical example is when David writes in Psalm 139, ‘You discern my going out and my lying down”. He obviously means that God knows everything about him, and says so plainly in the same verse. But he uses two phrases that are not meant to be taken literally to get the totality of the meaning. This can be classified as a merism in Hebrew, which is when an author uses two extreme boundaries to speak to the entirety of something. Like English may say “I love you from your head to your toes” to talk about loving a person completely.

In all of these cases, how the words interact with each other in phrases and clauses—and not precisely what the words mean in a dictionary—is of utmost importance. Dictionary definitions matter, of course, but communication meaning resides more so with how we use words to make meaning.

So with that in mind, I want to look at ways the Bible uses the word “holy” in context of other words and terms around it and pull out a more fuller meaning than just “set apart.” Then I will examine why I think this definition fits with God’s core attribute.


1. The Sabbath Day
In verses like Gen. 2:3 and Ex. 12:16 God establishes this day as set apart in the sense that is was not like other days. Six days were for work, one was set aside for worship and rest. This day was unique. It was different. At its heart, it was opposite the previous six days.

2. Israel
“Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Ex. 19:5-6)

Again they were set apart, as special. They were treasured in a distinct way. They were not like other nations.

3. The Holy Place and The Holy of Holies
In reading chapters like Exodus 26, 28 and 31, we learn that only priests could enter into the Holy Place and it was separate from the people by a veil or a curtain[1. Words like “veil” and “curtain” conjure up more flimsy images of material than what this was—extra-biblical materials say that it was four inches thick and that two teams of horses pulling in opposite directions could not pull it apart.]. Entering the Holy Place had to be preceded by quite an ordeal of clothing or death would result. That is how serious this separation of holy place from what was outside is.

The Holy of Holies was even more separated—only one man one time a year could enter it.

So you can get a sense of “holy” from the things God considered holy–days, people and places. Yet the Bible defines God as holy in the most extreme sense of “set apart”. It describes Him, as I did about Aslan the Lion from the Narnia series, as wholly unique, transcendent and “other.” No person or god or anything in all of the universe is like him. He hits upon this idea over and over in a long section near the end in Isaiah. Even though Isaiah does not use the word “holy” in all of these verses, this is what I think it means:

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Is 43:3)

I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior (43:11)

I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King. (43:15)

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me.” (44:6-7a)

Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any. (44:8)

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself.” (44:24)

I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God; (45:5 ab)

For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.”(45:18)

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ (45:22-23)

To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
and compare me, that we may be alike? (46:5)

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (469b-10a)

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. Listen to me, O Jacob,
and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. (47:11-12)


This is why I think holiness, and not love or anything else, is God’s fundamental attribute. If you asked me what God is like, there is nothing more essential to his being than that he is not like us. And different and unique in the most magnificent way possible. Worthy of worship and glory because of who he is. I will use words like “respect” and “honor” to describe how I react to my dad or my pastor. But there are some words and phrases I will only use for God: “worship,” “glorify,” “bow down to,” etc. This is the essence of God to me. His holiness doesn’t necessarily cause him to love, but it does mean his love is also unique and set apart, as Romans 5:6-8 explains that it is. Human love is not in the same universe as God’s love.

As the church we, of course, are supposed to be holy as Israel was commanded to be thousands of years ago in that we are different from the world–morally and in other ways—and unique as God’s special possession. The word church even literally means “called out ones”. But we can never truly be like God. Not when his holiness is understood most fully and completely.

And that is why I consider it his primary attribute.




Why We Named Our Son Liam Erasmus

I asked my mother once why they named me Gowdy and she replied, quite simply, “Because we thought you’d be different.” Named for my great-grandfather’s surname, I did not like it growing up. But after finding out the why, I embraced it. Since then, my name has mattered to me.

This is how it should have been from the beginning, and I just needed to grow up some. Names have mattered throughout human history to all types of cultures and even in the Bible. Because of this, when it came time to name my first child, a son, I had a few criteria in mind.

First, I wanted him to be named for someone or someones who made a difference either to my wife and me or within human history. Notably Christian history. Secondly, I really wanted a name that was different. No doubt the love I have for my own unique name drives this. Names like John and Stephen are solid names, but I wanted something a little more out of the common way.

My wife had her own criteria and coming together to discuss it, we had a bit of a time agreeing for a while. She didn’t like the name I really wanted but slowly conceded it as a middle name. The first name took a while. Her opinion was going to weigh heavier since she gave me the middle name but she wanted something I still liked.

So after several months and few mind changes, we settled on Liam Erasmus. This name, especially the middle one, tends to have people ask about its origin. Hence, this article.

The first name is pretty simple. It is a name we both liked and while popular in America, it is not a name many people we know have used. Her grandfather, whom I’ve gotten to be close to over the last five years, is named William. So it is to honor him as well.

The middle name is from a Dutch Christian man that lived 500 years ago, who has fascinated me for a long time. His full name was Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, and when I was at Bible College earlier nearly 20 years ago, he was frequently a topic of conversation between me and my friends Brett, Kiley, and Charles. Erasmus was a brilliant man and was well read and well learned in arts, languages, literature and other Renaissance type areas of knowledge. He reminded me of people like Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (also of the book of Daniel), of whom it is written: “These four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.” The crowning jewel of Erasmus’s labor in this realm is his published Greek New Testament, which has had an impact in Bible translations and Bible reading for five centuries, even into the English speaking world. If you know and love the King James Version Bible or have heard the phrase Textus Receptus, you owe a debt to Erasmus.

Beyond this I deeply appreciate how Erasmus, a Catholic, walked a middle road between theological extremes of his day, pushing back against misdeeds in his church without abandoning it to join the Reformers. Even though I side theologically with the Reformation. He seemed to believe you can change an organism from the inside out if you put up with some of its bigger issues without ignoring them. That can be wise and it requires maturity.

He also championed free will over predestination and debated Luther about it. Having read that debate, I love Erasmus’s thinking and many of his conclusions.

I do not want to live vicariously through my son Liam but I also hope that by giving him the name Erasmus, he grows up to appreciate who his namesake was and what he did. I hope Liam takes to languages, not just Spanish and Mandarin, but also Greek and Latin. I hope he loves classic literature like Moby Dick and The Lord of the Rings (he will love Harry Potter, a modern classic, if I have anything to say about it). I hope he is willing make two extremes angry on many issues by trying to find the nuanced middle and by trying to change things from the inside out instead of running for greener pastures. (Though I hasten to add that sometimes leaving a church, group or movement may be necessary for some.)

I know very little about parenting. The journey is just beginning. But I know that names matter. That is why my wife and I took so long to decide on our son’s name and why we named him after two men who have had deep impact into our lives.




Five Very Cool Songs Written For TV Plots

Music and television go together like music and weddings, or music and long road trips, or music and…just about anything. Between TV opening themes, songs playing behind dramatic climaxes and the topic I’m covering today, TV has wowed me with music too many times to count.

One unique thing I’ve really come to appreciate from my thousands of hours of TV watching over 40 years is when a TV show doesn’t simply rely on an already popular song to help advance a plotline, but they actually write from scratch and perform it as part of the episodes’ plot. This organic approach makes TV more real to me. Today I want to discuss some of my favorites.

Just to set the criteria clearly, I am not speaking to the aforementioned TV theme songs, though there are dozens of those that are awesome and you can read our take on the Top 10 ever here. Also, I will be writing about songs that have lyrics, to help narrow it down (if I only did music and not lyrics, LOST would dominate this list). So without further ado, here are five amazing songs that were written especially for TV episode plots:


“The Pit” [Mouse Rat, Parks and Rec]

“Bye-Bye, Lil’ Sebastian (5,000 Candles in the Wind)” is probably the better song and the standard for all other songs in this odd category, but there is something special about this Andy Dwyer original. First, it’s quintessential Andy. Pure, unadulterated, lovable idiot Andy. Second, I think the fact it ties into a huge PnR storyline makes it memorable. Additionally, it’s lyrically simple but that is part of the appeal I think. Lastly, it got a huge bump in my mind when April played it for Andy as an apology for not respecting his band. But I can’t lie, a huge reason above all others that I love this song is because its guitar music takes me back to 1991. Back when I cared a lot more about music and riffs than lyrics and content. I could listen to this 90 seconds on repeat many days.


“If I Didn’t Have You (Bernadette’s Song)” [Howard Wolowitz, The Big Bang Theory]

Originally written by the modern comedic musical duo Garfunkel and Oates (both of whom you probably have seen in multiple TV shows or movies, including The Big Bang Theory), Simon Helberg used his real world talent to kill this scene as Howard playing and singing an A+ romantic number to his wife. It is perfectly written for the show’s quirky, nerdy-yet-cool personality, summing up the committed relationship between the two scientists by referencing everything from binary code to isotopes to Doctor Who and the TARDIS. And it has a line in Klingon! LOL. It is a song that touches the brain and the heart at the same time, supremely endearing and deeply emotive. BBT will never be my favorite sitcom but this original song is among the best ever on TV to me.


“That’s An Adventure” (Main Cast, Community)

In all of Community’s outrageous episode premises, having a muppet episode did my heart good, having been a huge fan of Kermit, Miss Piggy, et. al growing up, and feeling a deep kinship to Gonzo especially. Even to adulthood.

But what really brought this episode home was that it was, like the Jim Henson Muppet movies, a musical. And the magnum opus of the cast was a jolly, joyful jaunt of a tune called “That’s An Adventure,” that I affectionately refer to as “The Hot Air Balloon Song”. My wife can testify that no song originally written for a TV has gotten to me like this one.

The gang feels like they’re in a rut and they need something original to do together to shake up the doldrums. They need an expedition. They go through some ideas that they disagree about as the song begins before Annie satisfies all of their criteria by suggesting a hot air balloon ride. “Yes! That’s an adventure!” And so one of the most lyrically hilarious, musically magical songs I’ve ever heard takes off.

I’ve actually listened to this song many times while working out and I doubt I have gone more than a month of time without listening to it since I first heard it in August 2017. That’s how much I love this song. It never, ever fails to put me in a good mood.


“White Lie” (Eli Loker, Lie To Me)

Unlike the rest of the songs on this list, this one was from a drama and not a comedy. Yet the song is amusing and compliments the show extremely well.

Loker had to take care of some visiting kids during a crisis at the Lightman Group HQ and he entertains them with a song that goes along with what his company is about yet is suitable for children: white lies. It’s quite charming and always brings a smile to my face.

I confess I liked this show and was disappointed that FOX cancelled it after three seasons and that it never got picked up elsewhere. This simple song is just a small piece of evidence of its originality that I enjoyed.


“Semi-Weirdo” (Gonzo, Muppet Babies)

The Muppets in their various variations dealt frequently with Gonzo’s uniqueness. The movie Muppets from Space chronicles Gonzo trying to get in touch with his kind, who are from another planet. A book called “What’s a Gonzo?” deals with Gonzo’s confusion over not being a regular animal like Kermit or Piggy and trying to figure out what he is, and ends with him realizing ‘You’re a Gonzo” and “Isn’t that enough?”. They always dealt with this in a clever and healthy way.

This Muppet Babies episode is no different. They did plenty of musical type episodes and characters would break into song frequently. Here, Gonzo bemoans the fact he’s odd with a contemplative song that starts melancholy but ends upbeat and, well, weird. It’s a perfect way for Gonzo to express himself, starting off with self-doubt and ending with self-realization. If you think I’m reaching too deep with that, you’re probably not a Gonzo.

So there is my list. Do you have any you like? Please share below!




Report: Millennials Offended by Behavior of TV Characters Who Ended Up In Jail

NEW YORK CITY—According to at least one internet blog post, which in America is considered sufficient evidence to drive a narrative and spark widespread outrage, U.S. millennials are now offended by hijinks of the four main characters from TV’s Seinfeld, a sitcom of mammoth popularity back in the 1900s.

The obscure web site—which allegedly has used the term “grammar nazi” in articles on occasion—-also stated that show’s uber-famous episode involving a Manhattan soup stand proprietor known as the “Soup Nazi” was just one of 13 reasons why the show is now problematic.

“The behavior of those people was rancid and in 2019 to more enlightened ears, a grown man pushing others out of the way to be the first out of a burning building and then rationalizing why he was so selfish just isn’t funny,” the writer concluded. “The passive racism, the cheapness in buying toxic envelopes, the shameless judgment towards a potential pig man, and the utter disregard for everything that is good and decent in society…I’m totally offended that 20 years ago such actions were exalted. Those were despicable characters. They probably should have ended up in jail.”

Show creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David could not be reached for comment, as both are spending copious amounts of time these days not caring at all about what humor modern Americans find offensive.




REO Presents: New Year’s Recommendations

We write reviews often. We’ve also had a semi-consistent book review/recommendation series. (We really need to update that…) This will be a little different. Instead of focusing on one thing: movies, books, music, etc… we are going to try to paint a broad view of things we love that we think you should check out. These blurbs are going to be fast and furious – all around 200 words and all about things we think are pretty great. Consider them our New Year’s gift to you.


Gowdy Cannon

TV Show – Chuck

This is not a popular show but my wife and I watched it this year on Amazon Prime Video. I was blown away. It’s not like any other TV show I’ve watched. It defies any genre box. It may be a comedy at its heart but it has extremely well-executed action scenes and its most important story arc is romance. In a world full of Ross and Rachels it dared to give us Bartwoski and Walker. This show reached deep and pulled wonderful emotion from me often.

Levi, Stahovski, Gomez, and Baldwin are unforgettable as the main players and like any TV show worth watching the role players are dynamite, highlighted by Jeffster! and their hijinks and musical concerts (which were basically the same thing). It is also replete with unforgettable guest stars and if you loved the 80s as much as I did, you will probably get giddy with their choices.

It can be a tad campy and goofy at times, but that never bothered me. It is exceptional at its strengths and it was fantastic entertainment for five seasons.

Food – Bojangles

It’s a shame that so often in America if you claim you like something, people sometimes interpret that to mean you do not like other similar things. I love Chick-Fil-A and think it is blessed by God, but I also eat and thoroughly enjoy KFC and Popeye’s. And to me, the second best chicken place I’ve had in my life is Bojangles, which seems to be less known than these other three. Probably because it is so regional (though its regional fans are pretty passionate from what I can tell).

Whether sandwiches, strips, sides, or those glorious biscuits, Bojangles has excellent quality in taste. There used to be one in Turbeville, SC and any time I was down there visiting family and someone said, “Let’s just pick up some Bojangles for lunch” I would get quite excited. No place has equaled CFA to me but this place is close. And it deserves a huge fanbase.


Ben Plunkett

Book – Strange Stories, Amazing Facts of America’s Past

Throughout most of the second decade of my childhood (about 11-18) I was obsessed with what I called fact books (Most people know them as books of trivia, but I prefer fact books. I suppose they might not be useful for a person’s day to day life, but is any information actually useless? I think not.)

Anyway, when I was 16 my parents got me this particular quality hardback fact book for Christmas. While I am no longer consumed with fact books and have sold most of them, I still have this one and still read portions of it now and then. This book does not attempt to cover all the important basics of American history. What it does do is to highlight fascinating stories about its history that are not discussed much or at all in history class. My edition was published by Reader’s Digest in 1989. They published a new edition in 2007. I cannot comment on that edition since I have not read it yet.

TV Show – Better Call Saul

I realize this show is fairly popular but I don’t understand why this show isn’t more popular than it is. My guess is that people were disappointed that Better Call Saul, which serves as a prequel to Breaking Bad, wasn’t a clone of its predecessor regarding its how the story plays out. It is true that the two shows have the same basic outer feel and framework. It is also abundantly clear that the two are part of the same universe (if you are familiar with both, that is). But the individual stories themselves are very different. Better Call Saul is less dark, intense than Breaking Bad. It is also basically an extremely well fleshed out legal story with multiple intriguing plotlines and angles. The show stars Bob Odenkirk who plays Jimmy McGill AKA Saul Goodman but also stars an amazing ensemble cast. Odenkirk and every one of his co-stars bring it every episode. Forgive the hyperbole but most of them deserve every acting award in the history of mankind.

I will probably be destroyed for saying this, but I believe Better Call Saul is better than Break. In fact, it is in the running for my favorite show of all time. It had an extremely good first season and has been greater every season (It recently finished its fourth).


D.A. Speer

Board Game: Dropmix

One of the most off-the-radar board games right now sounds like something right out of the future. DropMix (created by Harmonix studios…you know, the same team that created Rock Band) has players placing cards onto an electronic, Bluetooth-powered board with six spaces for cards. Each card in the deck has a chip inside of it, and each card space is equipped with a wireless chip reader. When you place a card on the board, the game (which runs on a tablet or phone that sits at the front of the board) reads it, syncs it to BPM and the set key, and then incorporates the loop into the mix. There are cards that have drum loops, vocal tracks, instrument tracks, or even custom-designed effects.

You can DJ your own set in “Freestyle” mode, go head to head in a VS mode, or even play a new Puzzle game based on a surprisingly interesting card game that is incorporated. The music source material is all over the place (electronic, rock, country, pop), and more expansion packs are coming out all the time. You can find the base set on sale frequently…I bought a new one for $30! At the very least, check it out on YouTube and marvel at the technical genius:


Phill Lytle

Food – Aldi “Journey to India” Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce

In the past few years, my wife and I have fallen in love with Indian food. Unfortunately, it’s cost-prohibitive to get it as often as we would like. Enter: Aldi and their amazing sauce in a jar. I was skeptical it would taste anywhere close to restaurant quality, but I was wrong. We keep things simple with some seasoned chicken we sauté in olive oil and some steamed veggies added to the sauce to make it a bit more “healthy.” We serve it over white Basmati rice and we are good to go. It’s moderately spicy so if that’s not your thing, you shouldn’t be eating Indian food anyway.

Comedian – Nate Bargatze

Maybe you’ve seen him on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Maybe you’ve seen his special on Netflix. Perhaps you’ve just seen clips on YouTube. Or maybe, sadly, you’ve never heard of Nate Bargatze. Well, be sad no more! If you like your comedy clean (yet not lame), dry, and just a little bit odd, then Nate is the man for the job. He holds a special place in my heart because he graduated from the school where my wife teaches and my children attend (Donelson Christian Academy). If Nate came from DCA, then there is hope for my family as well.




Book Review: The Gospel Comes With A House Key

When I was in college studying youth ministry and biblical theology, my degree professor read from “My Utmost From His Highest” to begin some of our classes and he referred to it as “The Hammer.” That’s the word that first came to mind as I read the book I’m about to review. There are clearly parts of the Bible and especially the Gospels that are woefully under-practiced in America and our culture is good about making excuses and rationalizations as to why. This book crushes those two things with a mighty swing of a basic theology of what the author calls “radically ordinary hospitality”.

Rosaria Butterfield splashed onto the scene a few years ago with The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, which my dad strongly encouraged every teenager and adult in my immediately family to read. That work put her on the map and for very good reason. It is a unique story of transformation that only the Christian God could have written. But using her to tell it made her a must-read author to my mind and I am thrilled my senior pastor informed me about this book. In reviewing it I am not going to get fancy; I will tell you what I loved about it and then talk about the things that I was unsure about. I aim to give the benefit of the doubt so I won’t go as far as to say I do not like them. But they are things I would love ask Rosaria about if I ever got to talk to her.


Things I Loved

First, I loved just the simple premise of the book and how plainly yet boldly the challenge is laid out and exegeted: The Bible calls us to hospitality and that means doing the sacrificial thing and opening up our homes to people in extremely intimate and absolutely inconvenient ways. In the Preface on page 11, she articulates her thesis very simply: “A truly hospitable heart anticipates every day, Christ-centered table fellowship and guests who are genuinely in need.” I may be in the minority but I do not know many people who practice this. The fact she wrote this makes me think I am not in the minority. The way she uses the Bible (passages like Luke 9:44-50) and her own experience (including her daily schedule!) to support this statement is the heart of the book. It is what convicted me for nearly 200 pages. She is not afraid to be offensive by speaking a hard truth. I deeply respect that.

Secondly, I love how brutally honest she is about how rough hospitality can be in 3D. After a few dozen pages, you may think (if you are like me), “Man she sure is bragging on herself a lot.” That thought was not enough to get me to put the book down because the material was far too good, and I know that sometimes my own insecurity and defensiveness cause me to perceive other people preaching truth to be haughty. But Butterfield eventually makes sure that God’s grace is manifested through human weaknesses. She tells of a time her family adopted a daughter at 17 years old and how the girl did not take to them and as she aged out she left them behind. She tells about how when her mother lived with them it wrecked their hospitality efforts and put a strain on their family that exposed her (Butterfield’s) own sinful nature. She tells of a time her family got robbed and how no one in her house “found okay” for months. She talks about how to deal with hospitality with a “Judas,” the individual at a church under church discipline and how complicated that makes living out her thesis. By the end of the book, I appreciated significantly how Butterfield demonstrates that life in Christ is not picture perfect and that community can be ugly, messy and filled with rejection. She has a sober view of self in my opinion and does not come across as falsely humble. Any time a Christian is honest about themselves, humility should be the result. She is raw and transparent in her stories.

I also love how she brings self-righteous people like me to their knees by pointing out when church leaders get caught in sins and prove that our judgmental, inhospitable approaches to people we perceive to be more sinful than us are not biblical. Jesus got his hands and feet dirty reaching out to the people in society that no one would touch (the way she explains Jesus’ response to leprosy is masterful) and he was morally perfect. Who am I to walk to the other side of the road to avoid others? People in my circles of Christianity know Jesus ministered to the disenfranchised. Yet who among us is living as he did? We often are too worried about getting taken advantage of to really live out the story of the Good Samaritan or too concerned with dignity to bend down and associate with the dirty sinners among us. The truth is that quite often that the same pride that prevents us from ministering to those people is the same pride that leads to our own downfalls. Butterfield is at her best here, providing a searing rebuke to modern Pharisaical Christianity. Trust me, I need this. I get this teaching at my church but her skills as a writer really accentuated things I can get complacent about. Just recently I heard about a girl who got pregnant at 11 years old and my first thought was a Pharisaical one (I didn’t have sex before marriage!), even though I’ve lusted after women thousands of times in my life. I need this book for this reason.

Lastly I love how she makes a point to say that hospitality is not just receiving people but going into their homes as well. It is being a host and a guest. This is something I have noted good churches in Chicago have been promoting in recent months—why not do what Jesus did with Zaccheus and others and invite ourselves to others’ homes to evangelize and disciple them? This is definitely counterintuitive and countercultural to me but this book motivates me to try it.


What I Am Unsure About

If you have read anything by Butterfield you know it seems like she has passionate and pointed opinions about secondary things, like singing only biblical psalms and not “man-made hymns”. But at the same time, I do not know her personally so I tread very carefully in judging the things she writes that cause me to furrow my brow. One of the things in this book I am speaking to is from page 103:

“Next in the biblical family is a mom who is home and available to serve. While I am employable in a full-time way outside of the home, our family has always needed me at home, and so home I am. As a stay-at-home mom I can do one hundred helpful things for the people I love most in the world in the first thirty minutes of waking. Things that matter and cannot be farmed out to others for pay.”

Now, of course as a man married to a Chicago Public School teacher who is paid pretty well to experience some of the most frightening aspects of humanity, all to be salt and light to inner-city children, I wonder at first exactly what she means by that. Other parts of the book make me think that it is not as myopic as it may sound. Part of the issue is that stay-at-home/homeschooling debate has created a lot of scars, for all kinds of people. But setting aside this baggage, which biblically I should do to live in community, I can try to understand Butterfield better here. She and I are absolutely on the same team. We can sharpen iron with iron on topics like these.

Another thing that gave me a bit of pause is her willingness to bring the government and politics into the discussion on hospitality. Now, I agree with everything she said, but I come at it with a bias. Also, I have zero issue with Christians calling out politicians on their words about people who are different, especially those who are not from America. But on the issue of policy I am less clear how much the Bible says about what a sovereign nation is required to do in the compassion vs. national security debate. I appreciate how plainly she speaks and the risks she takes here, but I am not sure how much I agree with every jot and tittle of her conclusions. I vote for compassion but I have Christian friends who think differently so I do not consider this an absolute truth issue, as some people on both sides seem to want to.


Overall this is a necessary book for 2019 America. It has messed with my mind in the best way possible. I hope to practice it, even with a baby coming. Because as Butterfield teaches, our excuses, even those that involve the protection and safety of our children, can at times succumb to the weight of Biblical demands to love the unlovable and to allow others to infiltrate our most secure dwelling: our home. I recommend it to all Christians everywhere.




Narnia’s Aslan and The Biblical Trinity

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

The greatest fantasy works of the last century all have a character that feels larger than life, a leader that seems omniscient at times and full of wisdom all the time. I’m thinking of course of wizards like Gandalf and Dumbledore in literature and the Jedi Yoda in film. Each in their own way has an air of both invincibility and goodness to them so that you know the hero of each story is in good mentoring hands as they seek to vanquish the evil they must face.

Even among this specific genre of character, there is something wholly unique about C.S. Lewis’ Aslan the Lion, who impacted a wide range of heroes across seven distinct stories. As a Christian, his uniqueness is obvious after even a cursory reading of The Chronicles of Narnia—far more than a wizard or Jedi, he seems sovereign and completely transcendent over humans and every other being in the fantasy world in which he resides. To say it another way, he is godlike. And seeing as how C.S. Lewis’ intention in creating Aslan is not a secret, I think we can say he is Godlike. Capital G. It would be an exaggeration to say that I’ve learned more about God from Narnia than from Lewis’s non-fiction but it’s closer than you would think. Every time I’ve read these stories, this aspect of Aslan has struck me as more and more meaningful.

This year I completed my 4th reading of this series all the way through (having read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe maybe ten times), taking notes on this topic. And I was able to really zero in on this one thought as I read this time—Aslan not only communicates the attributes and personality of the Christian God, but also of each of his three persons, which are at times distinct. I think you can clearly see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in his actions, words and general character. Today we at REO discuss them.  

 

Note that because the allusions to the Trinitarian God in LWW are so famous—notably that Aslan dies as an act of atonement and rises from the dead and that the Beavers refer to him as “good” but not “safe”—I will bypass that book and focus on the other six. Note also that as I cannot cover them all due to space restraints I strongly encourage our readers to share any I may have missed in addition to commenting in general. Lastly, I will be going in publication order. If you disagree with that, prepare for a Prince Caspian-esque fight to the death! (Just kidding.)

Prince Caspian

One of the remarkable things about Aslan is that, other than The Magician’s Nephew if I’m not mistaken, for such a dominant player in the story he actually has sporadic appearances. By the page count in my big one-volume version of The Chronicles of Narnia, this book begins on page 317 and Aslan doesn’t show up until page 373 and then it is only by Lucy seeing him ‘off camera’ so to speak. He doesn’t speak until page 378 and doesn’t appear in all his glory until the following page.

The fact he shows up before he is heard or “seen” is exactly what I’m talking about. Lucy sees him with her childlike innocence and faith (a carryover from LWW), and the whole scene smacks of the story of God calling Samuel, as well as biblical statements like, “The last will be first,” and “A little child will lead them”. Which Lucy subsequently does. Literally. And while there is no one verse I can point to that mirrors this, I love that Aslan tells Lucy that he seemed bigger because she had grown. On the other hand, Aslan telling her “All of Narnia will be renewed” has a clear parallel in Revelation 21:5.

Aslan’s later moment with Susan, forgiving her for not believing, definitely has a Jesus/God type feel to it. Especially since it’s the sin of unbelief.

Finally, I love that Prince Caspian responds to Aslan that he doesn’t feel sufficient to take up kingship in Narnia with Aslan replying, “Good. If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you are not.” There are few things as crucial to the Kingdom of God as being humble and meek. The New Testament reminds us over and over that the humble will be exalted. Just as Caspian was.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The most obvious example of my thesis as seen in this book is Eustace explaining how he regained his human form after being stuck as a dragon for a time. The way he describes Aslan removing his dragon skin as being painful and pleasurable at the same time sound exactly like something you’d read in the Bible, where conflicts live in tension. And where transformation happens in Christ.

And later Aslan says, “I call all times soon,” echoing a thought the Apostle Peter has about how God views time in his second epistle.

I also appreciate how at the end he is a lamb at first before metamorphosing back into a lion, since both animals are used to describe Christ in the New Testament.

The Sliver Chair

I confess Jill’s first encounter with Aslan in the second chapter of this book was the first passage that really birthed the idea of this article. There are few passages in the whole series that cause my heart and mind to dance with joy the way this one does.

Aslan inviting her to drink makes me think of Divine invitations in both Old and New Testaments to do the same (Isaiah 55, John 4). Drinking the water immediately quenches the thirst and not drinking it leads to death.

And I adore this quote by Aslan: “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” followed by the explanatory note: “It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.” That brings chills to my soul like few things outside of Scripture itself.

Their continued conversation just adds more and more to the image: He gets her to see her sin; He tells her that she would not call to him unless he called her first; at one point he replies to her question with “I am”, and he mandates her to “Say [the signs] to yourself when you wake up in the morning and when you lie down at night and when you wake up in the middle of the night.” The whole scene is overflowing with Scriptures—Deuteronomy 6, John 4, 6 and 8–that point to how God interacts with humanity.

Finally, it is perfect to me that Aslan uses his breath to send Eustace and Jill to Narnia from the cliff in this chapter, the same means he uses to bestow forgiveness on Susan in the previous book. Both Hebrew and Greek have a word that can be translated to “spirit” “breath” and “wind” and hence, it feels like yet another echo of deity.

The Horse and His Boy

Shasta’s intimate confrontation with Aslan is one that I could read over and over before moving on in the book. Especially this: “I was the lion who forced you to join with Ararvis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile that you pushed bait in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight to receive you.” I can clearly imbibe of the sovereignty of the Father, the comfort of the Spirit, the protection of the Son (as promised to Simon Peter), the invisible God who protects and never gets tired. All in this one short speech.

And then Shasta asks him “Who are you?” And Aslan says, “Myself,” which sounds semantically different yet quite similar to YHWH’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3 to a similar question. Mere mortals do not give that kind of answer unless they are being obtuse. Which Aslan, nor God, ever is.

The Magician’s Nephew

There can be no doubt about the chosen passage for this book:

“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it.” 

And then:

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

There are few things as Godlike as the act of creating. Not just making or producing, though there is that, but creating from nothing. By nothing more than the spoken word. Creating life. Life with personality. As Aslan does here. This is Narnia’s Genesis 1 and John 1. And what is remarkable in view of this article, between those two biblical chapters we know the Trinity is fully represented by the creation of the universe. There can be no mistaking who Aslan is to Narnia. Creation depends on the Creator but not vice-versa.

I will also add that even though I said I would not reference LWW in this article, this part of The Magician’s Nephew takes me back to this exchange in the LWW movie containing a truth that is only implied in the LWW book:

Jadis: Have you forgotten the laws upon which Narnia was built?
Aslan: Don’t cite the deep magic to me, Witch! I was there when it was written.

Boom!

The Last Battle

This scene gets me all choked up because it is so much bigger than fiction:

Then he fixed his eyes on Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling and flung himself at the Lion’s feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of Kings of Narnia, who stood firm at the darkest hour.” Not only does it sound like how Disciples Peter (Luke 5:8, pre-resurrection) and John (Revelation 1:17, post-resurrection) react to Christ, the words Aslan uses are clearly Christ’s to all those who remain faithful until the end (Matthew 25, Luke 19).

A similar scene with Emeth a few pages later has the same effect. He falls at Aslan’s feet only for Aslan to (again) breathe on him to raise him back to his feet, reminding me of Ezekiel’s encounter with God in Ezekiel 1 and 2. And he too is welcomed in, despite a life lived quite differently than Tirian, showing grace that our God does manifest in Scripture to people like Cornelius.

And there are these words of the Lord Digory:

“Listen, Peter, When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. They had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and will always be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. 

A whole article could be written just on the way this series ends. But suffice it to say that Aslan’s role in the world he created and the “real” world is a clear a picture of the Christian God as could be. It makes me long for the New Heaven and New Earth unlike anything else in fiction. And not to merely experience the new but to experience seeing my Savior with my own eyes, and not the eyes of faith. I feel like that is the most real thing there is.

I believe God’s fundamental attribute is that he is “other”. He is not like us. He is exalted, highly lifted up, above and beyond and distinct from all beings in history. There is none like him, he says over and over in Isaiah. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. If that is what it means to be “holy” (and I believe it does) then that is who God is at his core, far more than other adjectives we use for his nature.

That is the air Aslan has about him throughout the seven stories. And that is why he has taught me so much about our God. Kudos to Lewis for this timeless children’s series that impacts adults in such a meaningful way




Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 4)

Links to the previous three essays can be found at the end of this article.


Part 4: Jesus Is Offensive In His Judgments

Injustice or Jealousy? 

One of the hardest parables Jesus gave for me to preach is the one from Matthew 20 where Jesus talks about workers getting hired at different times of the day and all getting paid the same wage at the end of the day.

I think I get it in its interpretation. That’s not the problem. The reason I say it is hard to preach is that no matter how you interpret it, it just sounds unfair. It is bookended by the phrase “The first will be last,” which sounds intriguing. But everything that happens in between sounds like a fast-talking businessman who gets you with the semantics of the contract he had you sign even though there is something clearly wrong with how it played out in real life.

Welcome to the world of not being able to put Jesus in any boxes. For the record, I do not think Jesus is a fast-talking businessman. I think God, and by nature Jesus, are completely fair in their judgments. But what is fair to God may not sound fair to me. And hence, it can be offensive. And crazy enough, this example isn’t even close to how offensive Jesus as Judge over men’s souls can be.


Even Tolerance Is Exclusive 

It gets even more offensive, at least if secular American culture is any indication when you talk about how Jesus himself and his early followers claimed he was the sole path to get to God. In one sermon Jesus attested, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” This sounds like arrogance unless you consider that Jesus believed himself to be God himself and proved it by rising from the dead. Taking that into consideration I think he has the authority to claim which way is correct. Besides, you cannot escape claims of exclusivity by any view on this topic and the major world religions do not even try. Jesus also claimed the vast majority of people would not accept the one path, adding to the arrogant exclusivity effect.


The One Subject We All Want To Avoid

Yet it gets even more offensive. It is not enough that the vast majority of the world will not get to God because they choose manmade religion or human ego instead of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that those that do not end up in Hell. Whether we interpret the biblical imagery of Hell as literal or figurative, I find it quite difficult to get around the harshness of it being a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual reality. Maybe there isn’t really fire but there is real suffering[1. I learned a lot about this from Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle in Erasing Hell, 76-80.].

This may be the king of all the offensive Bible teachings[2. Tim Keller says it is in his experience in the multi-contributor book Is There A Hell Or Does Everyone Go To Heaven When They Die?]. When you hear atheists talk about it, often their ire will come in the form of them saying something along the lines of: “Say I live a good, moral life. I love people. I give to the poor. I live that way until I die. According to the Bible, God is going to send me to eternal fiery torment just because I didn’t believe in his Son?” George Carlin, the comedian who used humor to make serious points, said it this way:

“Religion has convinced people there is an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do…And this invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time…But He loves you!”[3. Cited by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 317.]

These types of statements are a clever bit of searing verbal gymnastics but are abysmal biblical hermeneutics.

The problem with it at its core is defining what a good moral life is. Take this statement from the late atheist Christopher Hitchens: “My challenge—Name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a nonbeliever.”[4. Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 289]

The answer to that is simple and it is the basis for all of Christian morality. A nonbeliever could not give glory to God in covenant relationship. It is foolish to use the Old Testament Law to try to castigate the Christian’s basis for morality since we are no longer under it (Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18). Our basis of morality is in a relationship with God, similar to children to a Father and a bride to a husband, worshipping him with our lives. And those who have and do that will spend eternity with Him. Those who do not, will not. Make no mistake, if I live a moral life by the world’s definition but do not humble before God by confessing I am not moral by his standard[5. Remember, Jesus said put lust in the same category with adultery, and once disintegrated a rich young ruler’s morality, utterly humiliating him, after the man claimed he was righteous by God’s law], I am worthy of eternal punishment according to the Bible. If I never relationally enter into his kingdom to give Him all honor and glory for all that is good, I am worthy eternal punishment according to the Bible.

Here is what I mean: If there is a God who created you and gave you life and strongly desires a relationship with you in spite of you being sinful by his standards and you say, “Nope, I’m good. I got it on my own,” then that is about as terrible an insult as you can throw at him. Reading Ezekiel 16 gives a graphic allegory of why God sees it that way. As a result, human pride–defined in the Bible as living life without giving God the glory in covenant relationship—is listed over and over as something that God hates. And it is at times listed right beside things like the murder of innocents (Proverbs 6:16-19).

I expect the secular world to bristle at that and find it deeply offensive or just ludicrously stupid. But to me, it makes sense if there is a God. God’s standard of perfection cannot be attained and he offers committed relationship anyway, as the lone sovereign Creator of the universe. And to spit at that is the worst we can do. In Ezekiel 8 God tells his people he wants to show them the most abhorrent, vile, repugnant thing he can. And does he show them rape? Bestiality? Torture? No. He shows them God’s people worshipping other gods. For many the false gods are their own appetite and earthly things (Phil 3:19). Or to say it another way, it is themselves.

Hell in that sense makes rational sense to me. There will be people who end up in Hell who never killed a person or committed adultery. But there isn’t a single person in Hell who didn’t fail to give God the glory in covenant relationship. And if that is as evil as murder or rape or child abuse–and biblically I believe it is—then Hell makes sense. You can argue that even child abusers do not deserve Hell if they die without repenting, but putting it in that context definitely causes you to not take George Carlin or many atheist proclamations about biblical morality and Hell quite so seriously.

I hasten to add that I am adamant about saying Hell makes rational sense to me. It does not make emotional sense and I’m not sure it ever will. It causes me to be nauseous often when I think about it. It wages war on my emotions any time I preach it and no topic in the world makes me more uncomfortable. But if it is what the Bible teaches, I have to man up and deal with it.


Only Christ Can Judge You, And He Certainly Will 

Jesus clearly laid claim to deity by claiming to be the Judge of all humanity. He said in John 5, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son…And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” And he also claimed his judgments were fair and true (John 5:30, 8:16). I think we can also add one heavy adjective to his judgments as well: offensive.

It has not been my fundamental intention to bring a downer to the Christmas season this year. It’s simply to rediscover who Jesus is, at a time of year when people are talking about him and taking advantage of an innocent baby to make him someone he wasn’t. I guarantee understanding the real Jesus of Scripture will only help us to worship him more biblically this time of year.

And that is what REO is all about.

Read Part One Here. 

Read Part Two Here. 

Read Part Three Here.