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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THIS is Christianity

Mottel Baleston
check out this video (it will pop up in a new window)
     For many people religion is more of a cultural thing to appreciate and keep around like one does a family heirloom. It looks good on the shelf in the living room, but you don’t really use it all that much in real life.  For others, it’s just …foreign. At least, that’s often the impression given by the comments and reactions to religious expression we see from the talking heads of media and/or Hollywood.
     I’m probably being generous. Hollywood hasn’t understood Christianity or the Bible since the twelve apostles were still available to hire as consultants.
     And some of you… it’s okay to admit it…. won’t even get through the five-minute video above. After all, the Pew Research Center just informed us that Christianity is shrinking in America while the numbers of people with no affiliation with any religion, including atheists, and agnostics are growing. That’s especially true for anyone more youthful than 36 years of age.  So hey, if that’s you, then perhaps you don’t really care that some guy named Mottel Baleston decided to become a Christian after growing up Jewish.

     I understand. And I’m not posting this video to win any of these arguments. I’m posting this because THIS is Christianity.

Continue reading “THIS is Christianity”

A Moment Worth Appreciating

I watched Fox News Sunday on March 8 because Chris Wallace was really hammering Lanny Davis over the Hillary Clinton emails and to be honest, it was interesting to watch the exchange. Already settled in and hooked by the promises of more important issues to argue over, I watched Wallace’s entire show.

As most such programs do, Wallace finishes with a special feature. This time it’s an interview with Representative John Lewis to commemorate “Bloody Sunday” and the march in Selma. Lewis was one of those who marched and you can see him on the ground in the above picture trying to protect his head as a police officer grabs the corner of his trench coat. Lewis, a true hero that day in my opinion, has been in Congress for 20+ years and he still has the scars from that day.  Wallace’s segment and interview of Lewis was inspiring, one of those feel good stories.

I still might have gone on with my day without thinking too much about it until my youngest son walks into the room and notices what is being said on television.  He proceeds to ask me what they are talking about so I tell him.  That’s when he gets the usual confused look of a kid who thinks it’s strange people would be discriminated against because their skin is a different color.

I noticed that look, and then it occurred to me that Selma wasn’t really that long ago.  John Lewis is in his 70’s but he was there. Lots of people who were involved in that day are still around. Bloody Sunday is still in the memories of people, not just in the textbooks. Yet the comparison of then and now is stark.

Today Wallace (a conservative leaning guy) is celebrating the heroism and example of those who marched, and celebrating specifically the heroism of Lewis, a man who probably disagrees with Wallace on several political issues.  But on this, on Selma, they are united.  On this, Wallace finds Lewis to be inspiring and worthy of recognition.  And Barack Obama, who would have faced the same discrimination in Selma for the color of his skin, is now President of the United States.

That’s worth noting. That’s worth a feel good television segment. Still, as good as those facts are, my favorite observation, the one that really got me, was my kid. It was the look of a 12 year old who can’t fathom why people would have acted like that over something as silly as skin color….

And THAT is especially worth appreciating.

We’re in a better place thank God.

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. 🙂

Me and Mini-Me

Kicking back on thMe-Daniele Fourth of July weekend. Hope everyone had a good one, and thank you to all the men and women who sacrificed to make it possible. God bless!

and yes, that’s a Tough Mudder shirt.

Started The Daniel Plan this month at church on Wednesday nights. That’s Rick Warren’s latest book with help from Dr. Daniel Amen a pioneer in neuroscience.  His bio is unreal, it goes something like: physician, double-board certified psychiatrist, teacher, eight-time New York Times best-selling author, founder of the Amen Clinics, and a man whose work is featured in The Dr. Oz Show, 20/20, Newsweek, TIME, Parade Magazine, the New York Times, and TED talks. Oh by the way, he’s a Christian so evidently believing in a Creator God does not keep someone from contributing to science…

Aaaand Rick Warren also got help on the book from Dr. Mark Hyman, a practicing family physician, six-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field of Functional Medicine, plus founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, medical editor of the Huffington Post, and regular medical contributor on Katie Couric’s TV show, Katie.

Wow, those are serious heavy weights in their scientific fields teaming up with a pastor. Once again it demonstrates you can be a Christian and embrace scientific discovery. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Anywhoo, we’re going through the Daniel Plan, and I’m starting to do the hardest part for me and that is to incorporate the diet suggestions and change some of the things I eat and drink.

Over the past three years I’ve gotten myself in decent shape, but I’ve cheated around the edges. I lost 20+ pounds, and the other day ran 5.1 miles with an average pace of 8:32 a mile. Working out in the gym twice a week, I’ll spend 50 minutes on weights and do 1000 crunches on a stability ball plus a few other exercises. Through all of that however, I’ve continued to drink diet Mtn. Dew, eat junk food occasionally although I watch the calories, and I even still stop at McDonalds and sometimes buy the fries.

The Daniel Plan is telling to me to quit that silly stuff.  It’s actually a little easier than I thought as it focuses on eating whole foods. In fact, it says you can eat anything you want but make it whole foods. If you want fries, chop your own from an actual potato. Eat fresh fruit, whole vegetables, whole grain everything, and stay away from unnatural sweeteners in drinks. That part isn’t easy at all, but I HAVE learned to make a smoothie…

I’ll have to let you know how it’s goes.

Thinking About Hope when Life is Unfair

A classmate of mine passed away a couple of weeks ago, and he was probably one of the best of guys I’ve known.  Funny.  Humble. He was a walking definition of sincerity.  It’s people like him who make death at 46 years old seem very unfair.  Unfortunately, it’s been a month of unfairness.  Another friend of mine had a classmate pass away, and just tonight, a 17-year old student who has attended our church and made many friends has died in an apparent tragic accident.

This is the point I’m supposed to ask where is God.  If God exists, these things shouldn’t happen so randomly perhaps.  If God exists, there should be some semblance of rhyme and reason involved.  There should be a why.  Otherwise God is either hiding or ignoring us, or he doesn’t exist at all.

Something like that.

To be fair to God, He made something I consider good come out of the death of my classmate.  He gave my classmate real hope.  See, my friend had always been an atheist because when he was young his dad had died.  My classmate couldn’t understand why, and rejected any belief in God as a result. Things changed in him when he faced own death.  And it didn’t change as you might imagine. Continue reading “Thinking About Hope when Life is Unfair”

Dear Senior Class 2014…

Thirteen years ago when you got home from your first day of kindergarten, most of us parents picked you up and asked, “How was your first day of school?”  A lot has happened since then. You tried to make good grades, you excelled in sports, in music, in art, or maybe in science.  It’s really amazing the talents you have developed.

This past week I picked up my daughter from school and this time my question was, “How was your last day at school?”  You have reached the last day, and just like that first day, we are excited for you and proud of you as we cheer for your success in life.

Did you know God cares about your success, too?  The Bible says “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Knowledge can help you achieve the desires of your heart, of course, but God can do things no one else can. He has ultimate control over our success or failure.

I don’t know if you believe that or not. The Bible predicted “scoffers” would come in the last days and they’re here.  People will make fun of you for believing in Jesus. Religion is old-fashioned. We are evolving past it they say.  Bill Mahr says religion is the source of all our problems, and Bill Nye seems to think you can’t be a scientist or help the human race advance if you believe God created everything.

They can sound convincing, but that road doesn’t end well. The Bible talks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it’s worth noting that it should have been Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.  Esau was the oldest son and should have been the next in line. His father loved him, wanted to pass everything down to him, but Esau just didn’t care.

He only cared about the here and now, and agreed to sell his birthright to his brother. The Bible says, he “despised” his birthright.  That decision destroyed his future.  That’s why we remember Abraham, Isaac, and his younger brother Jacob instead of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

You’ve heard people say God has a plan for your life, but you don’t have to care either.  The world will tell you not to worry about it. The world cares more about the here and now, but I believe if you go down that road, like Esau, you’ll miss out.

So here are three old fashioned things to hang on to no matter what the world says: Continue reading “Dear Senior Class 2014…”