Tag Archives: belief

What Can We Learn From Jussie Smollett?

smollett
Mug shot taken of Jussie Smollett at his arrest by Chicago P.D. – found at abc7chicago.com

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that actor and musician Jussie Smollet (born “Justin Smollett”) allegedly faked an attack upon himself on January 29, 2019, stating that he was assaulted by two white men who put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and called him racist and homophobic slurs while also saying, “This is MAGA country.” Smollett is African-American and gay. He also allegedly received a threatening letter a week earlier containing a mysterious white powder which turned out to be Tylenol.

Chicago P.D. investigated and have concluded that the attack did not occur as Smollett stated, and have subsequently arrested him on felony charges. Although Smollett’s attorneys deny the allegations against their client, he has also been written out of the rest of the season of the television show Empire. The latest “revelation” regarding this young man is that he now states he has a drug problem.

While all this is getting a lot of attention in social media, not everyone is condemning him, at least publicly. Some politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker, have deleted their initial “tweets” on twitter that showed support for Smollett, however U.S. Representative Maxine Waters continues to believe him. Also, African-American author and screenwriter Steven Barnes, while not defending Smollett’s alleged crime outright, does say that faking the attack does not make him a racist (and who said it did?).

Now, although Smollett has gotten a severe “dressing down” from both African-American Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and African-American Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. (I’m pointing out that both men are black so readers don’t believe their comments are based on racism), as Judge Lyke stated, before the law, Smollett is presumed innocent until the state proves its case against him (assuming they can).

However a blog, as well as social and news media, are not courts of law, so we can afford to make some assumptions. Let’s assume that all of the allegations against Smollett are true and that he not only mailed a threatening letter to himself (which may constitute mail fraud, a Federal offense), but hired two men he’s worked with on “Empire” to fake the attack. What can we say about this?

It seems like this 36-year-old man needs a lot of attention, and playing the role of a victim, both because he’s gay and black, would certainly qualify as attention. Having his “assailants” pretend to be white Trump supporters would likely result in immediate condemnation on Trump in particular (for inspiring hate) and white conservatives in general, both being pretty easy targets in the aforementioned social and news media. In other words, on the surface of it, the attack would seem credible to a lot of people.

But that’s not enough. Before Chicago P.D. formally charged Smollett, he described himself during the attack as a gay Tupac, meaning that he was tough and fought back (although the real life boxer Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996 at the age of 25, had his own legal problems). Smollett apparently was attempting to dispel the traditional stereotype that gay men are effeminate and would be helpless in a physical fight (which is ridiculous because I’ve known gay men who have served in the Marine Corps and they are tough).

Smollett is alleged to have staged the attack, in part, because he was dissatisfied with the amount of money he was earning on “Empire” which was supposedly about $125,000 per episode. With 18 episodes per season, that comes out to over two million dollars a year. Of course, there are television actors who earn more, such as the cast of “Big Bang Theory” who are said to each pull down $900,000 per episode. Nice work if you can get it.

If you put everything together, you can make a case for Smollett being a talented but highly insecure individual who needed a lot more recognition than he was getting, and yes, money is definitely a form of recognition. Sympathy and admiration are other forms, which would play to his being a victim and valiantly fighting back against his two, supposedly MAGA loving white racist attackers.

Let’s face it, most of us feel insecure at times and probably want more attention than we’re getting, but most of us don’t go to such lengths to get that attention. Add Smollett’s own admission that he has a drug problem, and you have some significant psychopathology going on, which I bet this young man’s attorneys are going to significantly exploit in court.

But it doesn’t matter. Smollett’s already destroyed his life, at least for the next several years. However, consider actor Robert Downey Jr‘s own drug-related career damage. After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, he finally got this act together and now he’s one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. I suppose that could happen to Smollett, too, but he could also pull a Lindsay Lohan. Or not, since I just read that her career is also slowly getting back on track. Who’d have thought?

However, he’ll have to go through a lot of hurdles first, not the least of which are the consequences of being convicted if it goes that way.

But he’s not the only one who will experience consequences.

Smollett’s ploy isn’t unique. According to USA Today, it’s actually pretty common, and as a result, each false allegation causes further damage to race relations, and in this case, will again make it more difficult for real victims of racism and prejudice against the LGBTQ community to be believed. Now each and every actual victim of a hate crime gets to “thank” Smollett and the many others who put their own issues ahead of everything else. Now, with each difficulty in being believed, in having their allegations be considered valid, at feeling like they’re not being taken seriously, these people can turn to Smollett and realize that he made it harder for them.

And as Catholic teenager Nick Sandmann found out, this also makes it more likely that anyone wearing a MAGA hat for any reason will be considered a violent racist.

Why am I writing this here on my religious blog? Because we’re supposed to be people of good conscience. We’re supposed to provide charity to the widow and the orphan, which is Biblical shorthand for the disadvantaged. I’ve been burned before giving charity to someone who had duped me, and I didn’t just waste my own money doing it. How do incidents like the one Smollett allegedly perpetrated affect our own willingness to believe the victim, offer help, give to the needy? After all, we’re people just like anyone else, and I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Christians right now who are raking Smollett over the virtual coals in social media, in their families, and in their churches.

Is that right?

The court will judge Smollett on legal matters, and like everyone else, God will judge him on how he’s treated the Almighty and other human beings. While we, as individual human beings, likely have an opinion about Smollett and the behavior he’s accused of committing, a wider or more “God-like” view should tell us that we too have a judge, and while we may not be guilty of faking racist or homophobic attacks on ourselves, we do need to pay attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds first. Have we done something that hurts others because of our own selfishness? If the answer is yes, then it behooves us to make amends in our own lives. This won’t change Smollett, and it won’t justify us “badmouthing” him, but it will mean we’re capable of learning a lesson here. So, hopefully, is Jussie Smollett.

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Sunday Sermon: Belief But No Spirit

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.

And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Acts 19:1-10 (NASB)

I know I finished my review of MacArthur’s sermon series, but today (Sunday, February 9th as I write this), the Pastor at my church delivered a sermon based on Acts 19:1-22. As you’ll recall, MacArthur’s final sermon in his series was based on Acts 19:1-7 so there is the potential for overlap between MacArthur’s message and Pastor Randy’s preaching. In fact, there was sufficient overlap and parallel, that I felt compared to present my own interpretation today.

I can only read or listen to a recording of Pastor MacArthur, but with my own Pastor, I’m sitting in the pew, watching him, listening to him, and directly experiencing his message, particularly with the background of knowing something about him and how he thinks.

He opened with the Bonfire of the Vanities, which I’ll skip, and I just thought that was a novel by Tom Wolfe, one I haven’t gotten around to reading (Pastor mentioned that Wheaton College might need to burn a few things, but I had to look that up online to know what he was talking about).

Oh, to see why bonfires are relevent to this sermon, see Acts 19:18-20. I also mention those verses at the very end of this missive.

The “MacArthur connection” came in when Pastor backed up a bit into his sermon for last week and discussed Apollos.

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Acts 19:24-28 (NASB)

You may want to refer to the relevant sections of MacArthur’s sermon to see how MacArthur’s and Pastor Randy’s messages interface. Just a suggestion.

Relative to both Apollos and the twelve disciples Paul encounters at the very beginning of Acts 19, Pastor Randy seems to split the state of being a “believer” with being a “Christian.” I tend to use the two terms interchangeably, but Pastor Randy drew a sharp distinction based on this:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

James 2:19 (NASB)

walking_on_waterApollos and the twelve disciples were taught the baptism of John (probably not by John himself) but, as MacArthur said in his sermon, didn’t have all of the details about who and what they were being baptized into. Frankly, I really can’t place any blame at the feet of Apollos and the other disciples since they didn’t have the Internet, email, text messaging, the telephone, or any other way to quickly disseminate a unified body of information in the then-civilized world of two-thousand years ago. Written letters were slow and when copied for re-delivery, may not have been copied precisely. I imagine there were a lot of folks with only bits and pieces of the teachings of Jesus who had to interact with other believers and teachers in order to get a better picture, but this would have taken a lot of time.

Both MacArthur and Pastor Randy said (and I like Pastor Randy’s delivery a lot better) that believing isn’t enough and that at this point and until they received the Holy Spirit, Apollos and the twelve weren’t Christians. In my previous review of MacArthur, I wondered how he arrived at that conclusion and Randy was able to fill in some blanks.

But this raised other problems. Like MacArthur, Pastor Randy said that a certain passage in this text has given rise to a misunderstanding.

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

Acts 19:2 (NASB)

Depending on the translation, the question could be rendered (erroneously, according to Pastor Randy) “Having believed, did you then also receive the Holy Spirit?”

The idea is that coming to faith and believing in Christ automatically results in, as MacArthur states, a one-time, momentary miracle of receiving the Holy Spirit. Apparently (I’ve never heard this but there’s a lot I don’t know) in Pentecostalism, there’s the idea that one becomes a believer and then at a subsequent time, one receives the Holy Spirit. Randy and MacArthur both stress that coming to faith and receiving the Spirit is a simultaneous event. It’s not one and then the other.

Of course, that makes quoting James 2:19 in this context seem odd since James is saying that believing isn’t enough. Then again, James isn’t talking about believing and the Holy Spirit, but he’s “marrying” belief/faith and actions, leading a transformed life. Of course, Christianity teaches that you can’t live a transformed life without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so I suppose that’s implied.

I got to thinking about Calvinism, which both MacArthur and Pastor Randy support, the idea that only certain pre-selected individuals will ever come to faith in Messiah and that, regardless of how we evangelize the rest, they are not pre-determined to be among the elect, and therefore, they are automatically condemned to Hell before they were ever born.

arminianism-calvinism-debateAccording to Calvinists, you’ll never believe let alone receive the Holy Spirit if you are not among the pre-selected elect. The gospel message of Jesus Christ will just bounce off of you. However, if you are among the elect, you will take hold of the message of salvation and receive the Holy Spirit and become a Christian. Of course to be pre-selected also supposes that in your future at some point, you are destined to hear the message of the plan of salvation. I can’t imagine God selecting someone and then not providing the opportunity to hear about Jesus.

I also can’t imagine God selecting someone as a member of the elect and then them becoming a believer but not a Christian. But then Pastor Randy did challenge the congregation. He said that we can’t take for granted that we’re saved just because we answered some altar call once upon a time or raised our hand at a Bible camp at age 14 indicating that we believed. If we aren’t living a transformed life, we haven’t received the Spirit. We’re not really Christians.

But if belief and receiving the Spirit is a unified event and don’t take place separately, then how is it possible to be a believer and not receive the Spirit, thus becoming a Christian?

I’ll take it for granted that I missed something in Pastor Randy’s sermon, but it certainly seems based on my notes and my memory, that a contradiction exists within the body of his message.

Randy painted a picture of someone at Heaven’s Gates asking to be let in. A voice asks the person, “Why should I let you in?”

Randy said the only appropriate answer would be, “I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

Before Randy answered his own question, the first response that came to me, imagining such an august and solemn query was, “I am not worthy to enter the Heavenly Courts and to approach the Throne of God.”

Well, I’m not. Who am I? Just a guy. Why would God allow me to enter into His presence. Not because of any answer I could possibly give Him. Only because He is good and gracious and merciful. Belief and faith isn’t a magic ticket that gets you a free ride on the bus to Heaven. If God weren’t merciful in the extreme, no amount of belief we could cognitively or emotionally generate, and no acts of righteousness, even out of that faith and devotion, could sway God this way or that.

Yes, I believe human beings have free will and we can choose or reject God, but it is God who chooses to accept or reject us as Sovereign King, and the King only accepts out of His gracious mercy through our woefully inadequate and imperfect faith.

Although, thankfully, Pastor Randy didn’t use terms such as “Pre-Cross” or “wrong side of the cross,” he did characterize Apollos and the twelve disciples as “Old Testament Saints” as opposed to Christians (he also used “mini-Pentecost,” which MacArthur mentioned as well and I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean). The difference is the arrival of Jesus and the key verse “…no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). Before Jesus, Jews came to faith in God the Father and in that faith by God’s grace, there was salvation. Then Jesus arrived and faith in God was no longer the key, but rather access to God required faith in Jesus. Did God change the rules?

I’m not even going to attempt to evaluate that one and the Jewish anti-missionaries have a field day with the dissonance suggested in this doctrine.

I won’t go into the rest of Pastor Randy’s sermon since at this point, the parallels to MacArthur end, but I do want to mention the “saving grace” of the service, so to speak (not that I had anything against the preaching, but it raised as many questions as answers). Today (as I write this) is part of a series of services at my church aimed at promoting and supporting Christian missionary work, so normal Sunday school classes were suspended. Instead, one big Sunday school class with guest speakers was to be conducted in the sanctuary.

So instead of the last hymn being sung, Pastor Dave went up to the pulpit and conducted a closing commentary and prayer based on this:

Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.

Acts 19:18-20 (NASB)

burningPastor Dave invited us all to consider our lives, what we have in them that is displeasing to God, those practices, materials, and beliefs we need to confess and burn (literally or otherwise), all the “stuff” that separates us from a closer relationship with God, or even having any relationship at all.

Theology aside, Pentecostalism aside, transitions from Judaism to Jesus aside, this was probably the single most practical message based on these scriptures that I heard, the urging to leave our habits, our traditions, and our comfort zones and to honestly examine ourselves, and I hope (re)examine the scriptures, and re-evaluate who we are, what we’re doing, and what sanctifies and desecrates the Name of God.