27 October 2015

Straight Talk about Gay

The following is a summary of the message delivered to the First Baptist Church of Hazard, KY on October 25.  The message was the culmination of ten months of prayer, conversations with a variety of individuals in person and via social media, reading and research, and bible study, consultation and counsel with church lay leaders.  We were strongly persuaded that our church must have a well reasoned and biblically faithful response to the June 26 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.  What follows is the product of that journey. 

In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court ruled that “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”

The majority claimed that four key principles and traditions "demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples."  First, marriage is fundamentally an individual decision.  Second, marriage is unlike any other two-person relationship for committed individuals.  Third, marriage safeguards children, providing a stable environment.  Fourth, marriage is a keystone of our nation's social order.  In a concluding thought the majority argued, “The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of fundamental right to marry is now manifest.”

So, the court stated that marriage is important for a variety of historically recognized reasons, but that since our views toward homosexuality have changed ("now manifest"), it is no longer acceptable for state laws to deny marriage to same-sex couples who desire it.

The majority argument can be summarized as follows:  1. Marriage is a fundamental right of a person who wants it.  2. Ideas about marriage have evolved throughout history.  3. Homosexuality is no longer recognized as a deviant sexual behavior or a mental disorder.  4. It is wrong to withhold marriage from same-sex couples and not afford them the same status and  benefits of opposite-sex couples.  5. States, therefore, may not enact laws to limit marriage to a man and a woman.

In an indirect fashion, the court decreed for all Americans that gay is okay.  And since gay is okay, then it only is consistent and "right" to grant the status of marriage and all it's benefits to same-sex couples who desire it.   The dissenting four justices did not base their dissent on their rejection of homosexual behavior. Rather, their disagreement was based on procedure.  They argued that the court should not be creating law.  This duty should be left up to the people and their representatives in the legislatures.  They wrote, "Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us [the Court]. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be."  

The Supreme Court has given our country a new reality in regards to marriage.  However, our culture at large has not arrived at this place overnight, or even just in the last decade of judicial activism.  An aggressive effort began forty-five years ago with the goal of normalizing homosexuality in America.  The Court's recent ruling only reflect a major cultural shift.  From 1969 numerous organizations have arisen with a focused agenda in regards to homosexuality.  Publications have been produced, carefully proposing strategies for winning the public opinion and indoctrinating the next generation.  The goals have been pretty simple.  Create a climate of acceptance and make gay normal; therefore, allowing gay people to be more open, less fearful and equal.  I know in my lifetime (I'm now 48) the advance of the gay agenda into the mainstream in undeniable.  Today, the presence of gay affirmation (and the bigotry of anyone who thinks gay is wrong) is observed in literature, TV and movies, public and higher education, politics, and an abundance of specialized activists groups.  If you would like a well-documented read on this history, consult Michael Brown's A Queer Thing Happened to America (2011).

So, with all this understanding, the relevant question for the church is clear:  How do we, the church, engage the reality of legalized same-sex marriage and a growing affirmation of homosexuality in our culture?  You cannot choose not to engage.  That is irresponsible, impractical, and cowardly.  However, it is imperative that we think carefully about how to engage.

First, we must engage with God's Word as our priority.  This is easier said than done for some people.  Because when we look into the Bible completely and draw out from it a faithfully interpreted picture of it's position on homosexual behavior, we find ourselves as odds with the Supreme Court ruling and the overall culture shift in our country.  The Bible teaches us that we cannot affirm same-sex marriage because homosexual behavior is contrary to God's revealed truth.  Approval of homosexual behavior stands in opposition to the direct instruction of the Bible and the created design for marriage and sexuality.

There are those who are in the process of attempting to turn the Bible on it's head and claim that it truly does not teach that all homosexual behavior is sinful.  I have read the arguments and find them terribly flawed, driven by personal agenda, and out of step with the Apostolic teaching, witness of the church, and faithful understanding for 2,000 years.  If you want to see a fuller treatment of such arguments, you can look at previous posts.

The bottom line for me as a pastor is that I must lead the congregation entrusted to me with a courageous conviction to make the teaching of God's Word our priority.  No amount of shaming or legal pressure can make me forsake God's Word.  I must lead the church to fear no one but God alone. 

Second, we must engage with kindness as our posture.  Even as we stay faithfully tethered to a sound understanding of the Bible's witness, we know that it also calls us to be both long-suffering and kind.  The church must engage people with truth and grace, just as Jesus did.  We neither change God's revealed truth to accommodate people's sin, nor do we treat people badly or like lepers because of their sin.  Our calling is to be salt and light in a spiritually flavorless and dark world (Matt 5:13-16).  And when we find ourselves receiving opposition because we are holding firm to God's truth, we must continue to obey Jesus who told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us for righteousness sake (Matt.5:43-46). 

The bottom line is that we love people - all people.  We love our fellow believers; we love the lost; we love those who disagree; we love those who attempt to shame; we love those who oppose and challenge; we will love those who will persecute.  But we will love without compromise.  We will not redefine love as permissiveness. 

Third, we must engage with the Gospel as our passion.  Once we articulate our stance on the same-sex marriage issue, we have to let our world know clearly, loudly and convincingly that we are not defined with being against gay; we are about showing people the Gospel of Jesus in word and deed.  Our purpose is to  help all people understand that their greatest problem is their sin that separates them from God, that their greatest need is for salvation that leads to true transformation, and that their greatest challenge is to agree with God about their sin and have genuine faith in Jesus.

The bottom line is that we, the church, will not be known for being against gay; we will be known for being transformed disciples of Jesus leading others to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  We will not be obsessed with treating the outward symptoms (gay or otherwise), but with offering people the cure for their spiritual heart disease.  We will lift up the Gospel.  This will be our joy and passion.

Finally, it is important for us to be clear on how all this works out practically for ministry.  What does all this look like in how we go about fulfilling our calling as a church?  First, we must be resolute to fear God alone and remain committed to the absolute authority of His Word.  Since, our biblical convictions lead us not to affirm same-sex marriage, we must have policy reflecting these convictions. (You can read our guiding documents here). 

Second, we need to repent of a long slide of permissiveness within our church in regards to sexual sin.  We have gradually accommodated and not held one another accountable in regards to easy divorce, cohabitation, and adultery.  All sin is forgivable, but within the body of believers such sin should not go unaddressed. We are a body that should love each other enough to offer courageous correction and proper biblical instruction on all sexual issues.  We have not done this.  We need to repent.

Third, we need to have a path for the person with same-sex attraction. We must have an answer for that person who grows up in the church or comes to the church and simultaneously says he desires to follow Jesus and is gay.  It is not okay for us to stumble around and heap confusion on top of confusion for that person.  I'm not saying that he or she may like the answer, but we will have a response that is clear and biblically faithful. 

Here is what First Baptist Hazard will tell that person:

God certainly desires for you to have a saving relationship with Him through Jesus, which includes submitting your life to His will.  God teaches you that homosexual behavior is sinful and contrary to his design for human sexuality.  Therefore, if you choose to follow Jesus and be part of His church here, a voluntary life of celibacy is your option, if you cannot pursue romantic relationship with the opposite sex.  If this is a choice you make in order to follow Jesus, this church will support you and help you be accountable. 

Some will cry foul here.  However, I am convinced directing those with same-sex attraction to the option of celibacy is the biblically faithful solution to this dilemma.  Also, I have listened to testimony of folks with same-sex attraction who choose this, resulting in their personal satisfaction.  

Fourth, we need to beware of giving equal weight to side issues that detract from the critical question: Is homosexual behavior right or wrong and why or why not?   There are numerous rabbits to chase when discussing this issue.  Probably, the biggest bunny we run after is the question concerning whether gay is somehow biologically natural for some people.  Now, I think this is an interesting topic and certainly not unimportant.  However, it has absolutely no bearing on whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong.  From what I read, scientists believe they have discovered many genetic patterns that seem to indicate people have certain biological predispositions toward obesity, ruthlessness, crime, and sexual infidelity.  However, they all admit that environmental factors appear to be the deciding factors even if the genetic patterns that suggest such predispositions exist.  The point is that no one justifies certain behaviors simply because they might have a genetic predisposition.  Actually, we will work to figure out how to counter it if we believe the behavior is undesirable! 

Christians must be careful not to reason fallaciously that if certain people are biologically predisposed to homosexual behavior, then we must admit it is natural for them.  Then, if it is natural for them, then it must be the way God created them.  Then, if God created them that way, then the resulting behavior can't be seen as wrong. Then, if the behavior can't be seen as wrong, then anyone calling it wrong is wrong.  The argument is logical only if you accept the assumptions throughout it.  (i.e. that predisposition necessitates behavior or that the existence of such predisposition necessitates that God directly created it)

I believe there is a price to pay by talking straight about gay in the church and committing clearly to a non-affirming posture and policies.  I have been sensitive throughout this journey that for some in my flock this issue is extremely personal and uncomfortable.  For those I have offered much prayer, and I hope my tone has always been gentle and kind.  I have also learned that there are some who do not have ears to hear, and shut down because they choose not to submit to the teaching of God's Word.  They want a church, with a worship service, but without fully surrendering to His Word.  Some have left and others are more withdrawn.  And no matter how kind I am, there are some who will still regard me and my church as unenlightened, fundamentalist, narrow-minded bigots.  So be it.

However, I believe talking straight about gay has brought great rewards and will continue to do so for the future.  The more faithful this congregation boldly chooses to be to God and His Word, the more spiritually vibrant we become.  The more we step out on faith, letting go of fear and hesitations, the more I've witnessed God's provision.  As we more intensely lean on God for wisdom and direction, the less self-sufficient and proud we become.  Leaders within the church have had to walk together on this journey with me, resulting in a more intimate fellowship.  And through all of this we have been encouraged to what is good and right and seen exposed our own hypocrisy and need for real repentance.  All of this and more has been very good.

The same-sex marriage issue is a huge crossroads for pastors and the churches. You're at the crossroad right now, whether you like it or not.  The only question is about how you will lead your flock.  Pastor, lead them to chart a faithful course without fear.  Lead them to do the Gospel ministry to which God has called you.  Lead them as a gentle shepherd with the courage to fight off the wolves that would try to destroy them.  Trust God.  He is faithful.   

20 October 2015

Four Essential Responsibilities of Christian Parents

A wonderful and challenging gift God gives to parents is raising a child.  When a Christian parent seeks to raise that child well, he or she needs to consult the Book. When we look into God's Word we get more than great advice; we receive divine instruction!  

The first foundational truth we must sear into own minds and hearts is this: God has entrusted Christian parents with the job of raising children that belong to Him.  Don't miss this simple truth that will profoundly impact how you see your task of parenting and how you actually do it.  When you know that God created each person, including your children, for Himself, then you raise them with God always in view.  And when God is the object of our vision, then we remember that the greatest commandment for all people is to love God.  Therefore, your stewardship as a Christian parent is to raise children to love God more than anything else in this world, including themselves.

With these truths in mind, I believe Scripture points us to four basic areas of spiritual responsibilities in regards to raising children who will love God the most. 

1. Christian parents have the responsibility to protect them for God.  We are told that children are gift from God to be treasured and protected.  Without a doubt, we have much to protect children from in our world.  First, they must be protected from us from conception to birth.  The first protective decision parents make, particularly the mom, is to not kill her unborn child.  Abortion is a moral issue that Christians and the church must carefully consider, not dismiss or ignore.  We cannot relegate it to merely a political issue or a women's health issue.  It's inconceivable to me how a Christian woman can have a clear conscience about killing the developing human life that God has created within her.  Remember, that child belongs to God, not even the mother, not even while in the womb.  Our culture has become inhumanely callous toward the unborn; Christian people are a contradiction to themselves who support this murderous, albeit legal practice.

We also must protect children from the darkness of this world. We bring children into a spiritual war zone where the enemy prowls around and seeks to destroy.  Christian parents must be sensitive to all the forms of darkness that seek to enter our homes and into the lives of young, impressionable minds.  We have to see ourselves as the one standing in the gap for our kids and the first line of defense for them.  You wouldn't let your ten-year-old play with a poisonous snake; why would you let him play with forms of entertainment, images and ideas that are straight from the enemy?

Children also need protection from their own immaturity.  The Proverbs tell us that the heart of a child is bound up in foolishness! (i.e. immaturity).  They can't know what they know before they know it, but they can be given too much independence before they're ready.  Children need more guidance than they think or often want.  Why don't they think they need it?  Because they are immature!  We all were.  A Christian parent should be equipped with more experience, more maturity and better insight that will help protect a child from his own foolishness at times.  He will thank you later even if he despises it now.

Even with children growing up in the church, we must protect their minds from false gospels.  The New Testament warns repeatedly of the danger of perverting false gospels and the damage perpetrated by false teachings.  Christian parents have to be intimately knowledgeable of the Gospel themselves, so they have the ability to spot the counterfeits - for themselves and for their children.

2. Christian parents have the responsibility to point them to God.   If protecting children is our defensive plan, then pointing them to God is our offensive strategy.  Both are really important.  Something will be informing our children what to believe and how to live.  Christian parents have to be fully devoted to loving God's Word and making it the standard for belief and living.  Our heart should beat like the Psalmist in Psalm 119, and we should want our children's to beat likewise.  From early on we have to be investing into them the Word of God correctly understood and faithfully applied.

Parents also point their child to God by administering correction when it's needed. The Proverbs give us much encouragement not to spare the rod of discipline because when properly used we love our children by reinforcing God's standards.  It's not really a matter of whether you think spanking is an appropriate form of discipline.  The point is that correction must be used to help a child learn between right and wrong and to help her mature.  Whatever button you have to push in a child to make the punishment effectively sting, we must remember that such discipline should always be fair, consistent and loving. 

Children by far lean the most about how to live their lives through their parents' examples.  We are told in Scripture not to frustrate and provoke our children by our own bad behavior, but to bring them up with consistent instruction and correction.  Kids will learn some by what you say and teach them; they will learn more by how you live it out (or don't) in front of them.
3. Christian parents have the responsibility to prioritize God for them.  Certainly a great challenge for the modern family is time management.  It's easy to get overwhelmed with busy schedules.  The more kids you have and the older they get the bigger this challenge becomes.  But here is the bottom line: You are the parent and if God is going to be the priority for them (for real), then you have to do this for them in the right way.  You have to lead them to worship God alone and you have to show them what actually putting God first in a family looks like.  You have to be committed to consistent corporate worship and involvement in meaningful discipleship.  They have to see mom and dad giving their money to support the church and their time to serve God through the church.  They have to see parents that worship God with their whole lives and love Christ's church and place great value on it.  Faith has to be more than merely sentiment and going to worship whenever other stuff doesn't take you away from it.  Faith is faith that is always in action.  The reason kids grow up and leave the church is not because they typically hate the church.  They leave it because they were never led truly to prioritize it in their lives and love it.  They were taught to love other stuff more.         

4. Christian parents have the responsibility to pray to God for them.  Lastly, but certainly not less importantly, parents must saturate all the above with a vibrant prayer life.  We must pray for the wisdom concerning how to protect children from a spiritually dark world.  We must pray for insight as we strive to know God's Word, correctly understand it and faithfully apply it for our kids.  And we must pray for guidance and moral courage in regards to prioritizing our busy lives to put God first and above all.

Children are a wonderful gift from God.  We should be grateful for such a gift and the joy it brings, but we should fear the Lord in regards to the responsibility He puts on us.  It doesn't matter what lies behind you in regards to striving toward these responsibilities; what matters is what will you do with the time remaining.  You'll never regret effectively helping them to love God the most.  

12 October 2015

The Secret of a Happy Christian Marriage

The goal of Christian marriage is unity.  An intimate relationship between a man and woman was the first of all human relationships.  Although Adam and Eve didn't possess a marriage license issued by a county clerk, we see the foundation and model for what we understand to be the marriage commitment.  The first couple were created as complements for a special physical and emotional intimacy and to produce children and be a family. 

For professing Christian couples there should exist more than merely a desire to be happy with the relationship.  There should be more than simply caring about personal gratification.  As people who want to do things God's way, we should earnestly desire to know God's instruction about marriage and have a disposition toward obedience to God. Honestly, for Christians that ought to be a no brainer!

But even for Christians, when it comes to marriage, our modern notions get in the way of our obedience.  The reason for this is that we run into the word submit, and we really, really, really don't like this word and what we think it means.  Furthermore, when we look into passages that address husbands and wives, we consistently observe this word and we have a tendency to either ignore it completely or work hard at explaining that submit doesn't mean submit.

Christians need to learn to embrace the concept of submission in marriage, with the right understanding and application.  Yes, even today!  We have to get it engraved into our minds that doing anything, including marriage, God's way leads to two critically important results.  First, we honor God through obedience.  Second, we secure for ourselves our greatest happiness. 

The idea of submission in the marriage relationship offends our modern senses because we find that the idea within the biblical content appears to be aimed more toward the wife than the husband. It just seems a little one-sided.  Because we have a modern egalitarian bias embedded firmly in our minds, we react negatively. Non-Christians easily reject the teaching of a wife's submission to her husband.  They attribute such content to an archaic, less enlightened culture.  However, for the Christian (and church), who truly wants the Word of God to be the guide on all matters of faith and practice, ignoring what God says is rebellious.  It's like that defiant toddler who stands in the kitchen, arms folded, stomps the foot and yells "no!"  The problem is not that God's Word on marriage is at best out-of-date or at worse repressive, it's that our hearts are rebellious.  We don't want to bend our wills to His.

There are two informative passages in the New Testament that speak directly and clearly to how Christian husbands and wives should relate to one another:  Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7.  Of course, there are numerous other passages that inform us about issues of the marriage commitment and sexuality, but I'll just interact with the thoughts contained in these.             

When we look at the teaching from the Bible on Christian marriage we see that God has given a pretty simple instruction to the couple that will produce the unity and intimacy marriage is designed to possess.  God has given each a key of his and her own that cooperatively provides this oneness. 

The wife's key that creates unity is showing respect to her husband.  Both in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 the wife is instructed to submit to the leadership of her husband.  To submit means to voluntarily make yourself lower or second place to another who has authority.  It is right for a wife to place herself under the headship of her husband.  This biblical instruction does not teach or imply any kind of inherent female inferiority.  It's only our modern bias that makes us leap to that conclusion.  We completely understand the idea of headship in other relationships in which one has authority over another, but we tend to resist the thought that God instructs this kind of relationship between a husband and wife in a Christian marriage. This resistance occurs because we wrongly equate submission with inferiority.  A wife is no more inferior to her husband, than a child is to a parent, or an employee to an employer, or a youth to and elder.  By acknowledging that God has called her husband to lead the home does not diminish one bit her shared humanity, dignity and worth.  Even within the Godhead, we see a clear submission of the Son to the Father within the relationship even while they share oneness in being. 

Peter agrees with Paul, adding that a wife should engage her husband with a gentle and quiet spirit.  Again, our modern ears are tempted to infer that "gentle and quiet" means weak.  However, exercising this gentle and peacemaking spirit is a way a wife shows respect to her husband and creates a godly climate in her home.  This doesn't mean that she neither has her own brain and opinions nor ever disagrees with her husband.  That would be biblically unfounded and absurd.  Showing respect through a gentle spirit is how God desires for her to interact with her husband through of all life's events and challenges. 

The bottom line is showing respect is something a Christian wife does, not always feels.  A Christian wife seeking to obey God first chooses to respect her husband.  A selfish wife reasons that she will show respect when, in her opinion, he deserves it and she feels loved by him.  But what the Christian wife, who is seeking God, needs to understand is that God's command to respect though submission and a gentle spirit is the key that He is giving her to unlock the very best in her husband's love.

The husband's key that creates unity is showing love to his wife.  In Ephesians 5 husbands are instructed to love their wives.  To our modern ears, it may sound as if the husband is getting the easier command in the marriage.  However, you only are tempted to think this if you're operating with a definition of love that falls short of what Paul actually describes.  A husband's love for his wife is to be like Christ's love for His church. As a man, simply contemplating loving my wife like this first takes me to submission to God because of my desperate need.  How can I possibly love her like that?  God may not be calling me to submit to my wife like he calls her to submit to me, but He is calling me to a greater submission to Him in order to love like Him. 

God has granted the husband a role of leadership, but it is the servant-leadership that Christ himself modeled.  Jesus demonstrated this leadership through a gentle strength and self-sacrifice.  Paul says it is the kind of love that caused Christ to give himself for the church so that the body of Christ could be forgiven of sin.  A Christian husband's disposition toward his marriage should be selfless.  He should understand that God has first called him to cherish, protect, nourish and care for his wife.  As he selflessly does these things, he puts on Christ while submitting himself to God's instruction.  He doesn't shallowly see marriage as something that exists merely for his own happiness and gratification.  It's not a relationship in which he can just get some sex when he wants it, while not treating her as he should.  God's calling the Christian husband to something greater. 

The bottom line for him is that showing love is something he does, not always feels.  The Christian husband who desires to obey God chooses to love his wife sacrificially.  He cares for her needs and thinks about her before himself.  He makes himself second in order to love her as commanded.  In other words, he submits too.  He needs to understand that God's command to love like Christ as the key that He is giving him to unlock the very best of his wife's respect.

There is a bigger picture that both husband and wife should keep in mind.  Paul weaves through the Ephesians passage the fact that marriage is an analogy for the relationship Christ has with His church.  The big story of history is God's redeeming work through Christ to make a people for Himself - His called out people, the church.  Marriage is a subplot to this main plot.  From beginning to end in Scripture marriage is used as a way for us to understand the intimacy of the relationship God has with his redeemed people.  Marriage was instituted in the garden and the imagery of Christ returning in Revelation is as a groom coming for His bride.  Jesus told us that after this life marriage will no longer exist (Mark 12).  Therefore, Christian marriage, right now is a beautiful gift and picture from our God to remind us of the love that is shared between Christ and His church.  Christ is the head of the church, but he lays down His life for her.  The church willingly submits to Christ as her head, but not from fear or intimidation, but because of love and gratitude.  When a Christian couple relates to each other this way, not only are they obeying God's instructions, therefore honoring Him, they are holding up to the world a picture of Christ and His church and what godly love looks like.

It's still possible that you may not be buying all this, especially if you're the wife.  I would encourage you prayerfully to read the biblical passages and just meditate on the content.  Then I would recommend that you just see if it works.  Don't wait for your spouse to start.  Don't play that game.  You just get busy doing your part.  The problem we often have is we allow our feelings to dictate our actions, which can put us into some pretty dysfunctional cycles of behavior.  What we have to understand is that God always calls us to action, which is always to obey Him in all matters.  It's when we finally get that through our thick heads and hearts that we begin to experience the truth that the feelings we have longed desired follow the right actions. 

It may sound crazy to you and your friends, but the biblical command of submission, properly understood, within a Christian marriage is the key for which you've been looking.  Surprise!  It's not that it wasn't there, we've just been ignoring it for a long, long time.        

08 October 2015

Getting Ready to Talk Straight about Gay

I haven't posted anything here on the blog for quite some time. But now it's time to flesh out the culmination of much prayer, discussion, study and searching in regarding my journey to lead a congregation through the new reality of legalized same-sex marriage.  What follows here and the next three weeks hasn't been arrived at casually or uncritically.  The obligations and the risks have been prayerfully considered and a path has been determined.  Here is a summary of my message from this past Sunday.

It became clear to me during months of contemplation on these challenging issues, for every critically thinking Christian and for every church that seeks to be faithful, that an appropriate foundation had to be set first.  In other words, a framework from which to engage these issues had to be first set forth to get a congregation on the same page.  We had to first agree on how to begin to address these issues before we could get to the specifics of the issues themselves. 

I set before the congregation a three-legged stool (literally) and explained that our approach to all these matters concerning family and sexuality must contain a three-fold commitment from the beginning if we were to successfully carry the weight of faithful ministry. 

First, we must have an absolute devotion to God's Word.

A huge problem we have within the church and evangelicalism at large is an authority problem.  When we dive into our sometimes heated discussions about hot-button moral issues, we rarely pause to consider that we are arguing from vastly different starting places.  We must at least be honest and acknowledge this reality.  I am leading my congregation to adopt an unashamed, absolute devotion to the authority of the Bible for our belief and practice.  If we can't agree on this, then we have a bigger problem than any differences on gay marriage.  And frankly, some may choose to get off the bus at this point.  I have to trust that to God.

Either the Bible is God's written revelation or it is not.  Either it is God's witness to Jesus Christ and constitutes a trustworthy guide for His church or it is not.  There is no room for ambiguity here.  If we believe God's Word, then let's say it loudly and clearly.  If we believe God's Word, then let's strive to interpret it correctly and apply it faithfully.  Let's agree that it doesn't matter what you or I think, but what God has revealed to be true.  Our job is to desire to discover God's truth in His revelation and nurture a disposition to respect and obey it when we know that truth.     

The culture doesn't determine truth.  Activist groups that attempt to heap shame on me do not determine truth.  Judges or lawmakers do not decree truth.  God has revealed what is true.  Let's talk about that and determine that Scripture alone will inform our views and policies.  

Second, we must have real compassion for all people.

Jesus stated very clearly and concisely that he had come to seek and save the lost (Matt.19:10).  Our attitude must reflect his mission and character.  The church's mission is to seek the lost as well.  The lost are those who are dying without Jesus and on a broad path to eternal separation from God in hell.  Jesus talked about the reality of this broad way, and we have no right to ignore what He said. 

The church is in the rescuing business by pointing people to God's truth.  We must point people to this truth with conviction and compassion.  We have to be clear that people go to hell for rejecting God and His provision in Christ, not for being gay, living together, watching porn, or divorcing.  It seems that we spend a lot of time talking about the symptoms as if it were the disease.  We need to understand that the disease is lostness and the only cure is genuine new life in Christ evidence by spiritual fruit.  

The church must adopt the attitude that there are no throw-away people.  Every person's greatest need is to know Jesus and have a personal, saving relationship with God resulting in eternal life. And because we want to be like Jesus, every person is sought and welcome because every person needs Him.

Our commission by Jesus is to make disciples, and the thrust of that directive is to teach disciples to obey God.  We go about doing this with the grace and truth that was embodied in our Savior, who neither ceased to be bold with truth nor failed to be compassionate to sinners (John 8:1-11).  Having the truth doesn't help people see Christ unless it is delivered with genuine love and compassion for people whom God loves.   

Third, we must have accountability within the church.

The last peg in the three-legged stool is purely a church family issue.  At some point in the past the church as a whole abdicated its responsibility to love each other the way God's Word instructs.  Whereas, God has clearly told us to test the spirits, restore the wayward brother through gentle confrontation, and rebuke the sinner brother for his own good, we have chosen the cowardly route by perverting the words of Jesus.  We have taken Matthew 7:1 and created a mantra for moral permissiveness and negligence within the body of Christ.

Many read Matthew 7:1 as a proof text for the idea that choices regarding sexuality are individual choices, reasoning that what might be right for one, may not be right for another. Those who do this wield this verse like a toddler with a loaded gun, failing to read on through verse 6.  To make Jesus the guru of a live-and-let-live mentality is not only ignorant, but blasphemous! 

Here is what Jesus was saying in Matthew 7:1-6:  First, we should not be mean-spirited with our judgment.  This is the point behind v.2 about being judged with the same measure with which we give it out (presumably by God).  We are to be ever mindful to be careful with our judgment, exercising great humility and care.  Second, we should understand that a hypocrite is an unfit judge.  The whole absurd illustration of the speck and the log is about this matter.  A good goal is to get the speck (sin) out of your brother's eye, but you have to be seeing clearly first yourself.  Third, redemptive judgment is an exercise within the body of believers, not for the lost.  Just as a dog or pig will not appreciate objects of beauty and wealth, neither will an unbeliever value trustworthy correction or rebuke.

There are many, many places within the New Testament that teach directly or by example the principle of accountability within the church family.  We have to be committed to this principle.  How that exactly looks at this point is hard to say, but I believe it starts with each individual loving others enough to tell them the truth about their sin.  Biblically, it must be done gently and discretely as possible.  But it must be done.    

These three, the Bible, compassion, and accountability must constitute the foundational commitment of our church.  The Bible gives us the right knowledge for our task, compassion equips us with the right attitude for engaging people, and accountability protects the integrity of Christ's church and gives us credibility in our witness to the world. 

Now, we are ready to talk straight about gay (and other stuff too).

05 June 2015

The Bride Should Be Beautiful

A bride on her wedding day is made as beautiful as possible.  She is adorned in such a way to create the "wow" factor.  I have watched a few episodes (by force) of "Say Yes to the Dress," so I'm somewhat of an expert!  The bride's goal is to feel beautiful and be beautiful.  The dress, make up and hair are scrutinized until the perfect combination comes together.  I've performed a few weddings as a pastor, and I have never seen a groom not get that big, goofy grin on his face when he sees his bride in all that get up coming down the isle to meet him.  Why?  She's beautiful.  She's beautiful just for him.

The analogy of the church as the bride of Christ is powerful.  It communicates some important truths about how God relates to His church and what is expected of her.  In the Old Testament the imagery of the bride was used as a description of the people of God.  The prophets sometimes portrayed Israel as a bride who had committed adultery when they went after false gods and forgot mercy and justice. In the New Testament this bride imagery extends to the relationship Christ has with His church.  This is a dramatic image - one worth considering beyond the emotional sentiment.  How should this image impact us right now? 

First, the bride should be earnest in making herself ready for her Groom.

The expectation of a bride (especially in the ancient world of the Bible) was that she would present herself to her groom sexually pure.  In our culture, the white dress has traditionally symbolized this quality.  As she walks to meet him beautifully adorned in the white dress, she is saying that she has reserved herself for him. 

Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers using this marriage imagery.  As a spiritual father he wrote, "...I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2).  Of course, his concern was with their faithfulness to Christ.  He feared they were being deceived by false doctrine and immoral practices. 

In the ancient world the purity and devotion of the bride was paramount.  Everyone understood this, even if it was not always the reality.  Therefore, the meaning of the comparison of God's people to a bride was obvious.  God's people were to strive for spiritual purity and faithfulness.

As Christ's bride, we in the church must recognize the importance of purity in our doctrine and living.  The church is to adorn itself with the beauty of correct doctrine and a faithful message.  In other words, the church much have a uncompromising commitment to the Gospel of the Groom and no other.  We must heed the Apostle Paul's warning never to accept a distorted message about our Groom.  Good, sound, biblical doctrine is a very good thing and an essential way in which the church keeps herself pure for her Groom.  But we can have all our doctrine correctly arranged and articulated, but still possess dirty lifestyles.  We have to know what to believe first, but then we have to live by it.  It's not enough only to believe correctly; we must also behave correctly.

The bride of Christ makes herself beautiful by proclaiming an unadulterated Gospel message that people need to hear and by keeping herself away from idols and spiritual fornication.  She must beautify herself by putting on love and good deeds while all the while never allowing anything to compete for her allegiance to her Groom.         
Second, the bride should remember she is cherished by the Groom.

All during the effort of making herself ready for her groom, she must remember that she is not doing so to attract His favor.  She already has that.  He already loves his bride with an unmatched, sacrificial, divine love.  Those of us who make up the bride were already defiled with sin.  We were not fit for the Groom. But the Groom, who was pure, gave Himself for us so that we could be a pure, fit, clean bride. 

We may not always feel like a beautiful bride ready to meet our Groom, but we have to remind ourselves that it isn't how we feel that rules the day, it's what He has done.  We may still have some areas that are in the process of massive makeover, but He loves us still.  Now, don't think the Groom is okay with an ugly, dirty, defiled bride.  He's not.  So, don't assume that one can come and not be transformed and still be the bride.  The Groom loves and transforms those who are found truly in Him.  He is working in them a work of purification that will meet His level of expectation.  And on the day of consummation, she will be perfect and truly beautiful.

Church, Jesus the Groom does only what He can do for us.  We can't make atonement for our own sin.  He already has.  We can't be righteous apart from His righteousness.  But if we are found in Him, we possess His righteousness.  We can't clean ourselves up and make ourselves presentable for Him.  But He can make us clean. 

When we know, really know, How much the Groom cherishes His bride we are motivated all the more to be faithful to Him and not take that kind of love for granted. 

"...Christ loved the church and give himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph.5:25-27 ESV).

28 May 2015

Wisdom for My Graduate

Congrats son!  Soon you'll be walking across the stage and strolling right on to the next major chapter of your life - college.  As you make this transition, I have the desire to share with you some advice for the immediate days ahead of you.  Life can be messy and certainly unpredictable.  It's full of unexpected turns and unintended consequences.  At times all is good.  At times it can be filled with frustration.  Sometimes you just feel stuck.  Bottom line - life is best approached with some wisdom in your tool box from the start.  Of course, you've heard some or all of this before, but if you're like me, hearing some things again and again is helpful.  It's only through repetition, that stuff really begins to stick.  I want to give you some practical advice that I know is wise.  I'm not naturally wise myself, but I've got a book in hand full of wisdom.  And in that book is a portion particularly focused on wisdom.  Here are some pearls of wisdom from the Proverbs for you to know, cherish and follow for a happy life. 

1. Enjoy sex in the right context

"The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense;
He who would destroy himself does it." (Prov.6:32)

"Suddenly he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter..."(Prov. 7:22)

I know, this is kind of embarrassing, but it's just the truth about us guys, so let's just tackle this one first!  We all have the drive, especially in our physical prime.  But understand sexuality is a God-given pleasure with purpose in the right context.  It is not a casual, recreational activity.  The Proverbs warn the young man of an unrestrained sexual appetite.  There are many that speak about the dangers of prostitution, the foolishness of adultery, and the godly goal of being sexually faithful to your wife.

Our culture has become extremely casual and cavalier in regards to sex.  Your senses are flooded with images and messages intended to feed your sexual appetite.  About this you have to be wise for a couple of reasons.  First, you're wired just like every other male and you can't underestimate your capacity for sexual lust.  Second, the world's culture is stacked against you.  The Bible gives you a great prescription for these conditions - flee!  In other words, you have to be smart, realistic, and proactive to guard your eyes, mind and heart for inappropriate sexual stuff.  Appetites are funny things.  The more you feed something, the more you tend to want it.  Don't feed this appetite with stuff that is contrary to God's will for you and shameful to yourself.  And on the issue of pornography, please don't let it in.  Treat it like the poison that it is.  It's not funny or harmless.  It distorts, disturbs and destroys lives.  A man will secure for himself, not merely a more faithful life to God, but a more happy life for himself by keeping a close guard on his sexual appetite.  (Also see Proverbs 2:16-19; 5;6:23-35; 7; 9:13-18; 22:14; 23:27-28)  

2. Tell the truth
"Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue
is only for a moment." (Prov. 12:19)
"Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal
faithfully are His delight." (Prov. 12:22)

This one sounds simple enough.  Yet the struggle to be a man of integrity can be quite the battle.  In theory it's easy, but in the moment of decision you may amaze yourself how easy it is to become comfortable with half-truths, embellishments, omissions and exaggerations all employed for the purpose of self-protection and deceit.  No one has a problem with truth telling when there is nothing at stake.  But we are all prone to deceive when either we are trying to avoid a negative consequence or secure some kind of advantage or benefit.  At these moments we are tempted to be less than truthful.

Value and cherish integrity and truth telling now in all things.  Commit yourself to the fact that God delights in your truthfulness and hates deceit.  When you are straight with the truth rather than loose with it, you are demonstrating trust in God and reflecting His character to others. (Also see Proverbs 6:16-19; 8:7; 12:17; 16:8; 19:1; 23:23)

3. Be aware that words are powerful

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh
word stirs up anger." (Prov. 15:1)
"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul
and healing to the bones." (Prov. 16:24)

The Bible tells us a lot about the power of speech either for good or evil.  With your words you can sooth and heal another or cut a person more deeply than the surgeon's scalpel.  Words are powerful.  You can use words to gossip, slander, ridicule and demonize.  You can use words to encourage the discouraged, praise what is praiseworthy, instruct and correct with gentleness, and give glory to God.  How you use your words will become a discipline and habit. 

But never forget the words that come from the lips originate in the heart.  Or as the old timers say, what's in the well comes up in the bucket. (See also Proverbs 10:19; 12:18; 15:4; 17:9,27-28; 18:7,21; 25:11; 26:28; 29:20)

4. Be okay without everyone's acceptance and approval

"He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the
companion of fools will suffer harm." (Prov. 13:20)
"Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their
minds devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble." (Prov. 24:1-2)

Be content to have some people reject you for the right reasons.  In the end you're always better off for this.  It's so easy to lower your standards or to compromise what is right in order to gain the approval of others.  God's Word warns us of the harmful influence of ungodly people.  You must understand that you are no better than any other person, but you must simultaneously guard your mind and heart from the influence of those who would lead you away from faithfulness to God. 
(See also Proverbs 1:10-19; 4:14-15; 9:6; 14:7; 22:24-25; 23:20-21)

5. Stay away from the booze

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is
intoxicated by it is not wise." (Prov. 20:1)

Certainly a great temptation for a young man, certainly once reaching the legal age, is to finally have some alcohol and see what all the fuss is about.  Since you grew up in a house where there was never any alcohol, this curiosity may become particularly strong.  And honestly God's Word does not command that you abstain from alcohol.  But the proverbs do give us some good warnings that you should heed.  In our culture, alcohol is not a necessary, staple commodity; it is chiefly a legal recreational drug, particularly among the young.  Of course, I don't have to tell you this.  You've already seen plenty of it in friends in high school.

The Proverbs tell you to stay away from the drinking crowd, that intoxication is harmful, and that it's better to avoid it and keep your mind clear and sharp.  All of these are important warnings from God's Word.  I would encourage you to keep alcohol out of your home and your recreational time.  There are plenty of common sense reasons just to leave the stuff alone.  (See also Proverbs 23:20-21; 23:29-35; 26:9; 31:4-7)

6. Don't tolerate laziness in yourself

"How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and
your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your
need like an armed man." (Prov. 6:9-11)
"As the door turns on its hinges, so does
the sluggard on his bed." (Prov. 26:14)

Make yourself get out of the bed and be productive.  There are many proverbs that address the human problem of laziness. Of course in the agrarian culture of the day, much of the impact is on not having the food one would need because of a lack of diligence in the growing season.  However, the principle remains timeless.  You're not going to make your way in life in any vocation on your good looks and talent - okay, not your good looks and talent alone!  Achieving and getting the job done is by far mostly about a consistent, good work ethic.  Discipline your soul to desire God.  Discipline your body in good habits. Discipline your spirit to Christlikeness.  Discipline your effort to a great work ethic.  Not only will this serve you well, it brings honor to God.  (See also Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5,26; 18:9; 19:15; 20:4,13; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-16)

7. Don't sing your own praises

"Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD;
assuredly, he will not be unpunished." (Prov. 16:5)
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty
spirit before stumbling." (Prov. 16:18)

The Proverbs tell you much about the pitfall of pride.  It doesn't usually take long in a proud person's presence to pick up on his sense of self-importance.  It typically is not a pretty thing.  However, pride more often resides in the small corners of our heart, expressing itself every time we think we don't get what we deserve or that we are getting what we don't deserve.  Get busy now with the goal of keeping this natural drift toward pride in check.  The way to do this is to nurture your genuine dependence on God.  Flee the prideful trap of self-sufficiency and cultivate a humble walk with the Lord.  It's something your going to have to work hard at your whole life.  But it begins with knowing that it's something you have to work at.  (See also Proverbs 3:7; 6:16-19; 8:13; 15:25; 18:11; 25:27; 26:12; 28:25)

8. Seek to love people by understanding people

"Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart so you will find favor and good
repute in the sight of God and man."(Prov. 3:3-4)
"Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions." (Prov. 10:12)

Most people are not going to be like you.  Many people will come from completely different ways of thinking about stuff.  Some people's world views and values are going to simply blow you away.  The struggle we all have is truly loving people really different from us while being true to ourselves.  It's easier to dismiss, ignore, and denigrate those who are really different.  But God's Word points us to the goal of loving people.  It's a whole lot easier to love a person, when you have done the work of getting to know and understand him.  You don't have to even share the same commitments in regards to faith and values to genuinely love.  And when you dig deeper into the Proverbs and the rest of God's word, you will discover that God is very interested in your kindness and understanding toward the poor and even your enemies.  (See also Proverbs 14:21; 14:31; 24:17; 25:21-22)

9. Choose a peaceful woman for a wife

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains
favor from the LORD." (Prov. 18:22)
"It is better to live in a corner of a roof, than in a house shared
with a contentious woman." (Prov. 21:9)

Not sure that I can, or should, say any more than what is stated above, but the Proverbs certainly give you wise advice on one aspect of choosing a wife.  It won't matter how beautiful, smart, funny, or talented she is, if under the least amount of stress she habitually transforms into an unkind, angry, offensive person.  This is not to say that from time to time you will not give her a reason to get mad at you.  You definitely will do your share of doing and saying dumb stuff.  But the Bible gives you a heads up on the grief you will endure by unwisely tying the knot with the wrong kind of personality.  Make sure you see how she handles stress and see her at her worse before you decide it's till death do you part.  (See also Proverbs 15:17; 17:1; 19:13-14; 21:9,19; 27:15-16; 31:10-12)

10. Be a life-long learner

"A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man
of understanding will acquire wise counsel." (Prov. 1:5)
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction."(Prov. 1:7)

Knowledge produces wisdom, but wisdom does not necessarily follow knowledge.  Wisdom is knowing what to think and how to act on knowledge.  Knowledge and wisdom go hand in hand;  however, there are plenty of really knowledgeable fools who leave God out of the equation.  Never stop learning.  You're going to learn plenty in college because that's what you do.  Learn all you can, but most importantly fall in love with learning.  Then, once you've completed the course, you'll still be motivated to learn.  Keep reading and exploring.  Most importantly, let me urge you to consistent and diligent study of God's Word.  Here is where you will find wisdom.  Here is where you go beyond just mere knowledge.  Here is where you know your Creator and you find your purpose for your existence.  (See also Proverbs 1:5-7; 2:1-5; 8:11-12; 10:14; 12:1; 28:5)

11. Acknowledge that God's in charge

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all
your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."(Prov. 3:5-6)
"Commit your works to the LORD, and your
plans will be established." (Prov. 16:3)

Lastly, remember that your life is not about you.  I know that is a tough one, but it's good to learn that now rather than later.  Yes, you will have your pursuits and enjoyments, as you should.  But your life will be best lived if you put God first, living for His glory first.  And I don't merely mean going to church.  Staying active in worship, discipleship, and service in church is just evidence that you are putting God first.  Putting God first is about all the above and much more than just going to church.  It is about humility, properly placed desire, love, integrity, faithfulness, and more.  It's about having the right perspective on life that informs everything.  It's you saying to God in your heart, "I'm Yours. No matter where you lead me or what I do, I'm Yours.  In great prosperity or great difficulty, I'm Yours.  Whether the world applauds or throws stones, I'm Yours."  (See also Proverbs 2:1-5; 3:9-10; 4:26-27; 14:12; 16:9,25; 28:5; 30:5)

There you go.  I hope you'll read the Proverbs everyday along with all your other reading and learning.  There's one for each day of the month.

You will always be my son and your mother's baby (just accept that), but more importantly you belong to God - the one who made you and loves you more than anyone.  You couldn't have more proud parents on the eve of your graduation.  We love you.  We miss you already.  We will pray for you.  We will always be there for you.  Happy graduation.

By the way, your sister wants your room. 

08 May 2015

The Real Issue Behind our Disagreements on Homosexuality

Proverbs 29:18 is one of those often misunderstood and applied verses of the Bible.  In a recent leadership meeting at church, I read this verse and explained this unfortunately reality.  Too often this verse is used to emphasize the importance of leaders having a clear vision for the church and the KJV rendering is typically quoted, "Where there is no vision, the people perish..", and only the first half of the verse.  Ripping out of it's immediate context results in us missing the intended message. 

Although it is critical for a pastor and the people of the church to have a clear, focused, articulated, plan for the congregation, Proverbs 29:18 is a poor proof text.  This little gem is about something truly of much more importance - the absolute necessity of divine revelation for knowing truth resulting in humanity's harmony with God and with one another.

Here are some modern English translations of the verse:
"Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom's instruction." New International Version 

"When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful." New Living Translation

"Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law." English Standard Version

"Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law." New American Standard Bible

"Without revelation people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy." Holman Christian Standard Bible

These translations help us get at the meaning and intent of the original language.  The Hebrew word hazon means "vision."  But this is the kind of vision associated with divine revelation, a "Thus says the Lord" kind of moment.  It is a revelatory word from God. The Hebrew word yippara means literally "to let loose."  So, where there is no word from God, the people have neither instructions nor constraints and are let loose to their own inclinations.

The second part of the thought is a contrast.  Whereas the lack of divine revelation leads to moral confusion and unrestrained behavior, the presence of God's law produces blessedness.

There exists a tremendous amount of tension, disagreement, hurt, confusion and anger within American culture among those who call themselves Christians in regards to the current push for so-called "marriage" equality.  There is much finger pointing, name calling, and ugliness.  This madness is certainly confusing to some in the church, somewhat puzzling to outsiders, and probably sadly amusing to skeptics.  How did we get to this place?  Sure, we can understand why non-believers might over time be persuaded to embrace the normalization of homosexuality, but how could Christians do this?  Shouldn't those who trust in the Bible as God's revelation be on the same page on this issue?  Is this behavior approved or disapproved by God?  A simple question for which you would think Christians would have a simple and clear answer.  Christians claim the same revelation from God.  So, why do we find ourselves in such strong disagreement?  Is the Bible unclear or is something else at play?

As I talk eye to eye and converse via social media with folks all over the spectrum on these issues, I believe more strongly than ever that our fundamental, irreducible, and irreconcilable difference is really about the nature of revelation.  The real source of our tensions, conflicts, and impasses is about how we differ in our understanding of the Bible - its nature and its place of authority in our faith communities.

If we take Proverbs 29:18 for what it says, then we all probably agree that revelation from God is critical for belief and practice.  At the very minimum, without it, we are mired in ignorance and confusion.  At worse, as it declares, we inevitably become unrestrained people who end up exiting the boundaries that God has set, which always leads to disastrous consequences.  How can we know anything beyond our own extremely fallible opinions about God and moral issues without revelation?

Of course, this leads us to basic questions that must be answered, which ultimately rest on personal faith.  What do I really believe about the Bible?  And where the rubber hits the road on that question is found in defining the nature of the Bible.  How you answer that question will determine a particular approach to the Bible, which will in turn lead you to a particular application of the Bible, which will in turn lead you to your commitments and matters of conscience.

First, one must consider if revelation is primarily propositional or primarily personal.  Is revelation what God reveals about Himself or is it the experience that a person has with God with the Bible as a key catalyst?  The former sees the Bible as the means by which God has revealed truth about Himself to us.  The key is to discover truth in the Bible and follow it.  This is managed through careful study of the Bible coupled with the belief that the Holy Spirit enables our correct understanding.  The latter tends to see the Bible as a record of some people's or group's experiences and expressions of their encounter with God. What is primary is one's own personal encounter with God.  The Bible might help inspire you or give you insight, but what is most important and authoritative is one's own subjective, personal experience. 

If the Bible is the Christian's source of revelation, however understood, then the issue of God's inspiration of it is also pertinent.   How is the Bible inspired by God?  How does that work?  What does that even mean?  In some way the belief that God has inspired the Bible is the idea that the book you hold in your hands is fundamentally different than any other writing.  It is certainly the product of men's hands in the writing, collecting, preserving, copying, and translating, yet the idea of inspiration asserts that there is a divine superintending that has taken place over all of this.  Of course, this is a matter of faith.

Yet, this faith in the Bible (and not in other writings) is not a blind, arbitrary faith.  The reason I believe in the Bible is because I believe it to be God's primary witness to His Son, Jesus, the Christ.  The attestation to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the commentary of its meaning and application to me and the church as recorded in the Bible is absolutely essential.  Furthermore, the revelation given to Israel is the revelatory foundation for the New Testament that unpacks the significance of Jesus.  It's nonsense to assert faith in Jesus and be His follower and hold a view of the Bible that makes its content suspect. 

Of course, there exists a variety of views in regards to the dependability of the Bible.  In other words, how far can you trust it to convey to you the actual words (i.e. ideas, doctrines, morality, etc.) of God?  Some view it hopelessly burdened with questionable events, confused with contradictions, and mired in an irrelevant ancient context.  Some insist that the ethic of Jesus is all that is truly important or trustworthy - the proverbial kernel of Christianity.  This approach makes the reader the arbiter of what constitutes that "kernel" and what does not.  These approaches make the individual or a particular consensus the functional source of authority, sifting the nuggets of truth from the myths, embellishments, and errors that pervade the collection of culturally antiquated writings.  Hopefully, you can see that, as a Christian, viewing the Bible as anything less that fully trustworthy in its content is extremely problematic. 

Although there has existed a wide variety of views on the inspiration and dependability of the Bible as God's revelation, it would seem to me that only two views are reasonable. 

Option 1: The Bible is merely a collection of ancient stories of man's search for God, some of it mythological and some of it more historically reliable.  Who can say for sure which is which?  The Bible is just another human expression of our futile hope to find purpose for our existence and that our physical death is not our end. If God does exist, it's not the only or final word on the subject.  On the issue of homosexuality, the Bible clearly condemns the behavior, but that was the product of an less enlightened and less tolerant humanity.  We can simply discard such ancient prejudice because the Bible doesn't really constitute any kind of special authority. 

I don't agree with this view, but I respect it as intellectually consistent within itself.  

Option 2: There is a God.  He created all that exists, including us.  There is purpose to this existence, and our Creator has left us a means by which to understand the essentials in these matters.  He has ultimately revealed His purpose in His Son, Jesus.  Since the New Testament is the historical witness to Jesus, built upon the foundation of the Old Testament, then we regard the Bible as inspired of God and given through men.  Other, so-called sacred writings, are not about Jesus, so we don't recognize those as inspired by God with truth about Jesus.  Logically, if God left us this revelation of Himself, then it must be completely trustworthy.  If it is not trustworthy (i.e. inerrant), then God himself has proven Himself to be untrustworthy.  Yes, I'm aware of textual variations within the ancient copies of Scripture, but it seems to me that each of them are inconsequential.  Yes, I'm aware of progressive revelation and how the new covenant in Christ rendered certain aspects of the old covenant fulfilled and now obsolete.  And yes, I'm aware of interpretive challenges on some matters. However, God certainly can and has protected the integrity of his primary means of revelation, the Bible, and that on critical issues of doctrine and morality it speaks clearly.  This is a matter of faith and intellectually consistent. 

Settling for the option that God would reveal Himself in Jesus and then hand us a written revelation burdened with error or that doesn't give us timeless truth about salvation and issues of morality, including the homosexual question, isn't an intellectually reasonable position, in my opinion.   

Relatively speaking, only a handful of people in history had the privilege of being eye witnesses to events or to interviewing the people who were (e.g. Luke).  Countless more have only had the testimony of the witnesses to cling to, including us.  If we doubt the trustworthiness of certain parts of the Bible, then what makes us think we can trust any of it with confidence?  If I decide that certain stories or teachings are not true, or the product of a less enlightened era, then I have become judge over the Scripture.  I will mostly like swallow what suits my taste and spit out what I find unpalatable.  I must stand under the authority of the Bible as God's revelation.  I must read it prayerfully and humbly, while seeking to discern accurately its meaning and proper application.

The reason this is on my mind is because I love the church.  My calling is to be a responsible and faithful shepherd of a local church.  My flock must understand that I do not lead them by my own authority, my own notions, or the latest cultural consensus.  My calling is to lead them in the ways of God.  And God has revealed how I am to do this.  God has given us His revelation in a collection of writings.  His truth must by necessity be propositional, trustworthy and clear.  My experience is that we wrestle some with understanding the teachings of the Bible, but more so with simply believing and obeying the vast majority of its content that is clear.

In regards to the current debate on homosexuality within the Christian community, I suggest our real debate is about the Bible.  The argument that the Bible is unclear is classic subterfuge. It's truly not a matter of clarity; its a matter of submission to authority.  There is a growing population of professing Christians who simply do not want to submit to God's revelation on this issue.

We think sometimes we are debating an issue such as homosexuality, but in reality we are not.  Bible-believing Christians for centuries have understood the Bible's witness on the subject.  The real debate is about how we view the Scripture.  Any Christian proponent of same-sex marriage currently has to work extremely hard to explain away the relevant texts, or as some are doing, simply dismiss those texts as too antiquated to really speak to our current debate at all.  I think it's time for these folks to be honest.  The debate is about the authority of the Bible, not about homosexuality.  We know what the Bible says about the issue.  What Christian supporters of same-sex marriage need to admit is that they don't want to believe those inconvenient texts that so clearly challenge their desire to harmonize homosexual behavior with Christian living.  So, in the attempt to hang on to their Bibles and embrace a new sexual enlightenment that affirms homosexual behavior, they latch onto incredulous interpretations that primarily attempt to convince you that the Bible doesn't contain sufficient revelation to condemn homosexuality categorically.  Basically, this constitutes a willful discarding of God's revelation, which brings us back to the truth of Proverbs 29:18, "Without revelation people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy."

You may be tempted only to apply this truth to people on the planet who lack access to the Word of God; however, it seems that the truth of this proverb applies to those hold the Bible in their hands, yet willfully choose to ignore or dismiss it so they can accommodate a lifestyle of their choosing.  We are certainly witnessing a significant segment of self-proclaimed Christians doing just this concerning homosexuality.  Many pastors, like myself, see the clear and present danger this poses to the biblical witness on the family.  And we cannot be silent about this.

Yet, I think the legal and ecclesiastical push for "marriage" equality is really just a conspicuous symptom that we left our commitment to God's revelation some time ago. What we are observing now is the proverbial "running wild" and "casting off restraint" of which we are warned.  We haven't arrived at today's debate overnight.  We are now simply reaping what has been sown for decades - American Christians who have a love affair with this world.  Too many have lived a weak, anemic version of faith that lacks the strength to stave off the creep of spiritual adultery.    

Church, we need to repent of so much.  Our hearts should be broken with grief at what we have allowed to become normal in our churches.  Maybe this current debate about homosexuality is a splash of cold water on formerly distracted faces. Maybe this crisis will help us see more clearly how we have laid down God's guiding revelation and picked up idols of materialism, recreation and competition, sexual indulgence, and all kinds of selfishness.  We have lowered the bar and we are reaping exactly what we have sown.  Our culture is progressively throwing off restraint. Please don't be na├»ve to the depths of depravity we will reach as we continue to throw away God's revelation. 

We most desperately need now a course correction back to the Bible.  It's time to stop fashioning a god to our liking and start discovering who He really is, including a serious reckoning with what He loves and what He hates.  It's way past time to be diligent students of His written revelation, the Bible.  It's time to choose.  Will we live by God's revelation, or will we cast it off?

Church, it starts with us. 

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