Talking About Same-Sex Marriage in a Society that Disagrees

For too long the political agendas and debates have framed this question, and far too often the discourse has pushed evangelical Christians into a corner where they appear condemning and discriminatory toward LGBT people

Unfortunately, sometimes appearances aren’t deceiving.  Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s hard to find words that don’t come across without sounding… well… bigoted. The Bible calls it a sin. How can I say that nicely?

That’s a struggle for a Christian. We like to be the compassionate ones in the room, and we tend to go out of way to fight against the stereotype of a placard waving protester screaming hell fire and damnation. But the same-sex marriage issue has forced our hand. It has become the club that our culture has used to push back against Christianity in general, and it’s partly because we do sound condemning.

I’m not suggesting we change our views. The truth of Scripture and a belief handed down by Divine precept should not be tossed to and fro with every whim of a particular culture. I didn’t have the chance to sign it, but I agree with the statement signed by 100 other pastors regarding this issue.

My question is how do we talk about it and deal with it, and still love our neighbor?

After all, there’s no denying the love and heartfelt feelings between a same-sex couple. To loudly proclaim the sinfulness of that union is often hurtful. As a friend of mine, whose son is planning to marry another man told me via Facebook “my son (and my future son) respect the institution of marriage so deeply, they seek its fulfillment for themselves. I, for one, rejoice at the dignity this great country has bestowed on our fellow gay citizens.” Can I disagree with that and still be loving? Because I appreciate him, and I know the love of a father to a son, my response involved a little soul-searching and Scripture searching.

It is a weird feeling as a Christian to be “against” what others feel as “love”. It’s weird to condemn something as sin when it seems to be just the way people are made, like condemning a corn stalk for producing ears of corn.

It’s worth noting the Bible never condemns the deep friendship or closeness in spirit that two people of the same sex can have. 1 Samuel 18:1 said David and Jonathan “became one in spirit” and David loved Jonathan “as himself.” That’s a very similar description to a husband’s love for a wife in Ephesians 5:33 which tells each husband to “love his wife as he loves himself.” A bond like that CAN be between two brothers or two sisters.

It’s the sexual actions that the Bible calls a sin, and I do believe that, but the Bible calls many other actions sinful, and they are all common to humanity. I’m not immune to sin. No one is. Sin feels a part of who we are sometimes and it’s not easy to turn off or on. But Jesus is Lord and Savior, and so we turn to Him for forgiveness and help in all things. All of us do. Fortunately, God loves sinners, including me.

Therefore it seems to me to do little good to merely condemn someone’s sin and tell them to quit it. For one, who am I to say that? The message is to believe in Jesus, to make Him Lord and Savior and let Jesus work in us to lead us to righteousness.

It’s what we all have to do, because no one can follow Christ unless they are willing to give up everything. That includes all of us, whether living homosexual and heterosexual lifestyles. If there is anything we withhold from the Lordship of Jesus, we cannot be His disciple. Luke 14:33. So if someone comes to God but says “Lord, I’ll follow you but I’m not willing to give up ______” it doesn’t matter if you’re talking a same-sex relationship or an opposite sex relationship. Everything should fall under the Lordship of Christ.

And maybe, especially when we disagree, we can start and end there. Someone believes a particular activity is a sin, while someone else believes that activity is actually good. We will argue about it undoubtedly, but for each of us, Jesus must be Lord.

For years my dad suspected dancing was a sin. I don’t. We argued once or twice but we still loved each other. Many churches believe playing a piano on Sunday morning is a sin. I don’t. I think it’s a good thing! We can be honest with each other, and we can weigh each other’s warnings. Our wrangling over what is sin and what isn’t, is to be expected. After all, we care about each other. The real question is are we willing to give everything over to our Savior and King if He requires it of us?

As the Bible says “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” I Peter 3:15  Getting that part right, we can patiently leave room for Jesus to work in other people’s hearts just as He works in our own. And we can remember to let Him work in our own! Because whatever the law of the land is or or isn’t, Jesus is still King of kings and the Savior for all who come to Him. He ranks higher than all human government, and at His name every knee will bow.

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Knowledge Versus Obedience

As a minister it is easy for me to critique another person by their depth of knowledge, the logic they use, and the way they present an argument. It sounds a little prideful to say that, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that I have everything mastered, myself. It’s just part of my every day life to study, teach, and speak in front of people so I look closer at those things.  A basketball player will watch another basketball player with a more critical, discerning eye than the regular fan, and a welder will gauge another welder’s work more closely than I would. So while most people who attend church are listening to what the pastor has to say, when a pastor actually gets to attend another church, it’s easy for us to sit there measuring not only what is said, but how it is said. I’m sure most pastors try to be gracious and understanding, but like everyone else, it’s not always quick and easy to “turn off” the job.

That’s a big reason why it always means more to get a compliment from someone who works in the same field. Not only do they know what they are talking about, but they can judge closer, too.  The best compliment I ever received for doing radio play by play for basketball, came from another radio announcer.  And the best compliments I’ve received for preaching, came from another preacher. It just means more coming from them.

The thing is, however, sometimes in the midst of feeling… ummm… qualified to criticize… 

God steps in and humbles you.

If you haven’t read the discipleship training book T4T, you really should. (It’s reasonably priced on the Kindle, but expensive as a paperback for some reason. Regardless, it’s still worth a LOT more than the goofy $18 paperback price…)  Among the gems you find is the observation that (and I’m paraphrasing here)…

Spiritual growth is not only measured by how much you know, but  also by how much you obey.

So even if I might have my doctrine fine-tuned better than someone else, or might be able to deliver a sermon with more creativity and force, or put together a better organized system of outreach…

…Hey, a guy can dream…

Even if I could do all of that better than someone else, what does it matter if I’m not obeying Christ?

We sometimes judge each other by our doctrine, or some measure of performance. We have baptism figured out, or we understand Bible prophecy better, or we have a better grasp of the New Covenant in Jesus. Maybe our church is better at praise and worship, or our greeting ministry is ten times better than some other group. But what if instead of measuring each other by doctrine, or some outward appearance, we measured each other by our obedience to Christ in our lives?  You know, the actual “fruit’ test where we look for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control etc…?

Sounds obvious? It’s not.

Over the past month I’ve had encounters with people who were extremely opinionated over some point of doctrine and were interested in arguing with me over it.  Well, it’s probably more accurate to say they wanted to educate me because it was hard for me to say more than a sentence or two before I would be interrupted and they continued on with their points.

While I wouldn’t want to judge their specific motivations, I think it’s fair to say that from time to time all of us want to out-argue someone else, or prove our belief is right, because of a selfish desire to feed our ego.  There are also a few people, you probably call them know-it-alls, who always want to be the smartest person in the room. Or on Facebook.

I was thinking these very thoughts, judging them a bit for not letting ME speak enough, and judging their views because they disagreed with ME.  I’ll even admit I thought: hey, our church is way bigger than yours!  But that’s when God hit me with the question…

Who is obeying me in their life?

And that ladies and gentlemen, is an entirely different question than who has their doctrine correct on the New Testament or how many people attend on Sunday. It’s also an entirely more important question.

Some Scripture is vaguely coming to mind here, hmmm… something about not being hearers of the word only, but being doers…. Jesus said something about building a house on sand if you don’t do what he says… knowing a tree by it’s fruit…it’s not what goes into a man but what comes out… but hey… that’s just the Bible.

Anyway, for one of those persons especially, I had to admit they seemed to be faithful to God in how they lived. In fact, I admired their faithfulness.

So while I might still think I’m right on the doctrine part…

They win this time. 🙂

How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?

Although I haven’t taken an official poll, it seems most professors, skeptics, media, and those who comment on the Bible would say the disciples of Jesus expected him to come back within their lifetimes. This is often used as another reason not to take the message of Jesus all that seriously, but that is a sweeping judgment that lacks perspective. In fact, when it comes to the return of Jesus according to the Bible, Christians and skeptics alike may be guilty of missing key details.

For instance, many pastors and evangelical Christians today, (of which I qualify as both) maintain that Jesus can come back at any moment. We commonly speak and write in ways that give the distinct impression Jesus could return any moment in our lifetimes. In that respect, we aren’t much different than those early Christians.

It makes one wonder what people might conclude if, in the distant future, someone were to find the writings of Christians from today. Would they pick up a worn copy of “Left Behind” and conclude we believed Jesus would return in the next few years and that Kirk Cameron was our prophet? Couldn’t they also use that as evidence that since Christ did not return, he must not be real? Of course, ask almost any of those Christians or pastors of today and their views are not so simplistic. I have often said Jesus is coming soon, but I am not so certain he is coming in my lifetime.

Perhaps, we Christians should speak and write more carefully using more perspective in the first place? Probably, but that’s not going to happen. There’s never going to be a shortage of writers or speakers making exciting claims, no matter whether they are Christians, secularists, or global warming/climate change alarmist/deniers.

Besides, it’s more fun to talk about Jesus coming in the next few minutes. Come on.

Anyway, as it turns out and despite the fact this is often ignored for the sake of arguing, the writers of the New Testament DID write with perspective. Shockingly, they never Continue reading

Neuroscience and the Bible

Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Or not.

When it comes to advances in science regarding the brain and our understanding of where our thoughts, emotions, consciousness, perceptions, choices, and more come from, some of our religious notions like the idea of the immaterial soul, or free-will, or sin might be shaken.  That shaking however, so far seems to involve religious traditions and a few interpretations of the Bible, but not the Bible itself.  Turns out the actual Scripture is holding up just fine.

Neuroscience, thanks to the use of brain scan technology, is a rapidly growing field of science that is in the process of revolutionizing psychology and our understanding of ourselves, but ironically Jesus and the Bible seem to have been saying similar types of things.

Some logical premise building first: If God is real, and the Bible was truly inspired by him, then it stands to reason that it would remain consistent with much of our own science.  That’s not the case with church traditions or some interpretations of the Bible. Those things change all the time. In fact, discovering the truth about most anything, means also discovering what was not true.  So while Christians may have to wait until reaching heaven before some arguments over interpretations are settled, it may be that some new scientific discoveries could actually help resolve some long standing debates.

Yeah, that’s probably wishful thinking, but at least the discoveries make the debates more interesting.

For instance, if neuroscience could prove (and some research makes a strong case) that our brain makes a decision BEFORE we are conscious of it, that seems to take away our ability to have free will over our own actions.  If we have no real choice, then what about sin? How could God judge us? Continue reading

New Year’s Eve Post

Blogging through the New Year on Central Standard Time. Another year is going into the books tonight and where are we?  Where are you? Where am I?  Beyond a shadow of a doubt things are changing in our world, our culture, and always, always, always things change for us on a personal level. Here are some thoughts on all three. I’ll be blogging for the rest of the year, so feel free join in below.

World.  Christianity garnered some sympathy because of the increase in real persecution, especially in the Middle East.  From Egypt, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, to a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Christians have been under real attack by Islamic militants.  Shades of Revelation chapter six going on in Middle East?  Well how about those famous four horsemen of the apocalypse? A white horse that represents revolution perhaps? Check. A red horse that represents war? Check. A black horse that seems to represent shortages and high prices of basic goods? Check. A pale horse that represents Death? Check. Move on from the four horsemen to the Fifth Seal which represents persecution? Yep that one too.

Most Bible prophecy teachers believe the Seals of Revelation are world-wide problems, of course, not merely local Middle Eastern events.  Still, it’s a little spooky.

The big change for the West has been the rise of an aggressive populist atheism, and social changes including same-sex marriage and the view among almost all media that the Bible, and those who believe in it, are no longer anywhere close to the mainstream.  From movies, to books, to talk shows, traditional Christian beliefs are increasingly being viewed as morally wrong, or intellectually bankrupt. Ironically, this comes at a time when the arguments in favor of Biblical Christianity are at their strongest.

In recent times, atheism surprised Christianity with a deluge of new and old arguments, and fresh styles of attack. The culture, which today values the style of debate over the substance, is often swayed by fierceness of the attack. Christianity is not argued against as much as ridiculed, scoffed at, and laughed away.  And as we’ve seen in presidential debates that award someone the win based on how well they interrupted or talked over or laughed at their opponent, so the new atheism uses a new attitude as much as any new argument.

Nevertheless, because of evidence of design the arguments for Creation have never been stronger.  Genetics has also presented what I consider insurmountable hurdles for macro-evolution, and even paleontology has challenged, of all things, the age of the dinosaurs.  Despite these and other advances on the evidence side of defending the Bible and the existence of God, the debate is as much about style now.  In fact, I get the distinct feeling it’s a lot like a fashion show, and what is “in style” now currently isn’t the Bible.

Personal.  There are lots of things we can say have changed on a personal level. We may have gone through triumphs or tragedies or both.  Kids grow up, we grow older, new opportunities come, and sometimes we leave things behind. This being a blog about spiritual things, however, let’s talk about where our views have gone, perhaps some things we’ve learned along the way, and definitely where God has led us.

For me, a few things stand out.  A trip to Kenya opened my eyes to the role of the rich in this world. And yeah, it’s we Americans who are rich.  It was in Kenya when God showed me our role was to give it away. Someone has recently said we need to be more ruthless in giving away our material blessings.  I couldn’t agree more, but I didn’t really GET this until Kenya.

While there, we gave away clothes, we gave away our reading glasses, our shoes, our spending money, and whatever else was needed. We didn’t do it at random mind you, but like any accountant at any business, we wanted to know where, why, and if it was a good idea to give in this way or that.  As managers over a trust fund, we invested as wisely as we could, but we made sure we invested.  God opened doors for us to purchase food, Bibles, medical treatments, pay for school fees, and even, before it was over, give a family a new home.  Going back to the Bible, we realized the role of rich believers is simply this: to give it away as good stewards of God’s money.

Not only was that big for me in regards to doctrine, it was a time that opened a door for the Gospel. With the help of two on-fire local pastors, we met with people, sharing with them about Jesus. Many already attended a church but believed they were “saved” because they were a member, or because they followed a particular preacher.  We didn’t try to get them to change churches, we simply wanted to tell them about Jesus, and shared with them the basics of the Gospel.  The Bible says that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ.  It didn’t say the gift of God was eternal life in Church XYZ, or Preacher So and So.  It said Jesus.  And Romans 10 says if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead we will be saved.

There’s just no getting around it, the Bible preaches salvation through Jesus, not religion or anyone else.  And through the ministry that began with our little group, 42 people who already attended a church, accepted Jesus for the first time.  Today, a church is forming, one that preaches Jesus instead of religion. That was just cool.

There’s more to say on the Personal side of things.  A new understanding of what worship is, what living by the Spirit really is all about, will impact the new year.  What about you? Hope you’ve had a good one, too.

Bill O’Reilly versus John Jay?

OReillyJohnJay

One of our founding fathers, a guy by the name of John Jay, was very open with his belief in Jesus and the Bible. He also happened to be, at one time or another, the president of the Congress, a diplomat, the author of the Federalist Papers, the original Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and the governor of New York.  That’s quite a resume. He once wrote:  “The Bible will also inform (people) that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed – that this Redeemer has made atonement ‘for the sins of the whole world,’ and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy, has opened a way for our redemption and salvation;”

You don’t hear that from the Supreme Court very often, even less from the governor of New York, but John Jay believed in a Creator, in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and in the need for everyone to be forgiven and saved from judgment.   God’s judgment.

These days, even conservatives and professing Christians like Bill O’Reilly won’t go that far.  Continue reading

Review of “The Harbinger” by Jonathan Cahn

harbingerRabbi and Pastor Jonathan Cahn’s book “The Harbinger” rocketed onto the New York Times Best Seller list last year, and garnered Cahn some national attention and several appearances on television and radio.  The book, which is written in the form of a conversation between a writer and publisher, AND the same writer and a mysterious prophet, suggests that an ancient prophecy in the book of Isaiah is repeating itself in the United States beginning with the attacks of 9/11.  It suggests there are nine harbingers of God’s judgment on the United States and all nine have already happened through events during and since those attacks.  In the book, Cahn warns that unless the United States returns to God and repents, that a much larger judgment is inevitable.

Speaking along the same lines at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC last January, Cahn brought up many of the same points he made in his book, portraying America as a nation that had fallen away from God and was in danger of judgment.  It should be noted that President Obama was not a part of the prayer breakfast, and judging by the reaction of those in attendance, the audience was largely of the same mind as Rabbi/Pastor Cahn.  Early in the sermon he said, “A thousand apostate ministers swearing on a thousand Bibles will not change one jot or tittle of the word of God,” and the audience erupted with approval. Once again, the words that Cahn spoke received media attention again, and the video of the sermon landed on Youtube.

So what of the book and the claims that were made in it?  For many Christians who study the Bible and Bible prophecy in particular, there is nothing new or radical in the Harbinger’s conclusions.  The idea that the nation is falling away from God as it pursues agendas such as same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, and forces faith-based organizations to comply with these values- is a conclusion shared by many.  The problems of materialism, carnality, and immorality are also seen by most Christians as rampant and getting worse, mirroring the prophecy of II Timothy 3:1-4.  The idea that God may be threatening the nation with judgment, is a common opinion and worry.

Therein lies my view of what reading the Harbinger is like.  It’s the claims, the information, and the conclusions that grab your attention.  They will cause discussions at church or at work, and occasionally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  No matter how skeptical you go into it, there are several points he brings up and several instances of events that have occurred since the tragedy of 9/11 that are at least somewhat eerie.  And once you get to those parts of the book it becomes hard to put down.

Getting there might be your battle.  Michael Crichton was one of the best at using a fictional story to convey information, and many others including the Harbinger have tried the same idea.  Crichton, however, was a master storyteller who included lots of action and story to go with his information.  His books often became movie blockbusters as a result.  The Harbinger, while borrowing from the idea, doesn’t include much of an actual story with action and drama, but instead reads as a conversation between a writer and a publisher at the publisher’s office.  Even then, the writer named Nouriel is recounting in great detail other conversations he had with a mysterious figure who he calls “the prophet.”

The book, therefore, reads as one giant dialogue between two people, alternating between Nouriel and the publisher, and Nouriel and the prophet.  As a piece of literature, I often found the dialogue to be tedious, and the characters weren’t always believable.  The publisher for instance, seemed too accepting of a Christian worldview which isn’t very common in this culture anymore, especially in the media.  Likewise I thought the main character Nouriel would have had more objections to what he was being told by the prophet since he was not a believer in Jesus.  (He did become one at the end.  Don’t they always?)  Nevertheless, you don’t read this book for the story the way you might a Michael Crichton novel.  You read this book because of the message.  You read it to discover, just like Nouriel did, what exactly those 9 Harbingers are and what they mean.

Without spoiling the book for you, the Harbingers center around a passage from Isaiah 9.  It reads like this in the King James Version:  “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars. -Isaiah 9:10″  The Bible described this as a statement made by Israel “with pride and arrogance of heart,” in verse 9.  Instead of repenting, in other words, the northern nation of Israel was making bold proclamations of rebuilding after an attack.

Cahn applies this to America, correlating the Assyrians who came against Israel with the terrorists who attacked on 9/11, and making several other correlations as well.  The bricks that had fallen down represented the destruction of the Twin Towers, the hewn stones represented the memorial stone that was laid at Ground Zero several years later, the sycomores represented the sycamore tree that was cut down next to Ground Zero by the church where George Washington and others had prayed for our nation in 1789.  The rebuilding with cedars was represented by the large pine that replaced the sycamore at that site.

For most of us, correlations like this are a bit of a stretch because you can almost always manufacture a correlation, at least a vague one, with a poetically written Scripture like Isaiah 9:10.  Isaiah 9:10 was a rather obscure sentence in the midst of the entire Bible, and as some have said, there’s nothing in the Bible to indicate God was talking to anyone there besides Israel.  Cahn however, makes the case that this follows a pattern of how God calls a nation to repentance, and what God does in leading up to judgment.  He goes on to show some hair-raising “signs” that have happened since, such as the stock market crashing 7 years later, on the last day of the 7th Jewish month, and dropping 7 percent, or 777 points in one day.  That particular Jewish Day also happened to be the day of reconciling debts, and naturally it was our debt problem that crashed the stock market after the Congress initially rejected a 700 billion dollar bailout deal.  Yep, there’s that number 7 again.

That IS a little curious, but if there is a pattern this precise every time God judges a nation, one would expect a sycamore tree to be cut down somewhere every single time.  We should expect memorial stones to replace buildings made out of bricks, and cedar trees to replace the sycamores.  It’s hard to believe that God always does it this way, with this much detail, such as the idea that terrorism always comes first, or someone related to the Assyrians always starts things off.  It seems more reasonable to believe that the circumstances of God judging a nation, may change, depending on a host of different conditions and different times.  So a bit of skepticism is in order.  Having said that, there are… well…. eerie things.

Cahn brings up some instances that correlate so well, that you are left with the thought that history may be repeating itself.  Remember, that’s not a good thing.  For instance, while it is true that the Bible was talking to Israel in Isaiah 9:10 and describing what Israel said in the arrogance of their hearts, as it turns out, leaders of the United States said the exact same things after 9/11.  In fact, they didn’t just say similar things, they QUOTED Isaiah 9:10 as if it was a good thing.

On the morning after 9/11, Tom Daschle began a speech by saying “there is a passage in the Bible from Isaiah that I think speaks to all of us at times like this… “the bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the …...” You get the picture. Three years later, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards gave a speech in remembrance of 9/11 and began with the exact same Scripture.  Then he tailored his entire speech around the words of that verse. Generally, if someone wants to apply a verse to themselves or their country in a good way, they don’t use a verse of the Bible that was proclaiming judgment and condemnation.

Yet that’s exactly what happened.  This doesn’t necessarily mean of course that Cahn is right, or that the verse really applies to the United States.  It’s just spooky.  Obviously the verse applied to Israel when it was first spoken, but many other prophecies have come true in more than one time period, in more than one set of circumstances as well.  The virgin birth for instance, or the abomination that causes desolation, or the destruction of Jerusalem, etc… It is certainly possible in other words, for history to repeat itself.  It’s happened before, and the fact that leaders of the United States quoted the words of Israel when they were in direct rebellion to God, hmmmm…. poor choice of words.  Those were famous LAST words for the Israelites, we probably shouldn’t repeat them verbatim.  Just saying.

The conclusion of the Harbinger as I mentioned, leads us back to the same message that many others have spoken concerning our nation.  It’s a call to repent and turn to Christ.  The apologetics and salvation message in the closing chapter were strained, almost like Cahn’s character, the prophet, was afraid to be too blunt and turn people off.  I wish Cahn would have been as straightforward and blunt in those pages, as he was when speaking at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast.  The gospel isn’t complicated, it’s Jesus.  He died to pay for the sins of the world, so that we might have forgiveness.  For those who turn to God, Jesus is the reason we are forgiven, and the Lord who we follow from that day forward.  Cahn would have been well-served to have quoted the apostle Paul:

 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” -Acts 17:30-31

Easy for me to say, though.  I didn’t go to all the work to write a book.

The Harbinger.  It’s an interesting read once you get going.