Monthly Archives: June 2013
A Marriage of Convenience
There are some things I do not believe I will ever understand.
I went into a McDonald’s a while back and there was a sign hanging on the wall: “Braille menus available.”
Who is that sign for?
There were a couple of songs on the radio in the early seventies which have always given me fits. One was MacArthur Park: “someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.”
Seriously? Forget the cake; what about the hash brownies the writer obviously inhaled before writing this jingle?
One of the thornier issues facing Christians in general and myself as a pastor in particular is same-sex marriage. Over the years I have heard some very good men make some incredibly gifted attempts to claim the existence of same-sex marriage undermines the existence and value of heterosexual marriage. One pastor used the image of marriage being a boat and the proponents of same-sex marriage were doing the equivalent of boring holes in the bottom of the boat. In other words, if any other definition of marriage is allowed to occur, the whole of marriage would be destroyed.
I cannot more vigorously disagree.
Heterosexual marriage, in practice, doesn’t exactly have a “moral high ground” in this matter. The divorce rate in America still hovers around the fifty (50) percentile mark; those who identify themselves as Christians are not far removed from this mark. Yet it seems some of the more strident voices against same-sex marriage emanate from those claiming to be Christians—and some of the verbiage they are using gets pretty ugly!
As a pastor, I teach the entire Bible. Some believers have been trotting out the passages in Leviticus which describe the results of “men being with men” (my paraphrase) and “women being with women.” Those words are there and God was serious when He wrote them—He still is. The Bible states homosexuality is sin—along with many other activities as well. I also realize there are many people, some of whom I am friends with—who are homosexual.
If you are reading this and have chosen this lifestyle, then I most likely have hacked you off bad enough for you to throw your computer across the room! I would not recommend that action.
I do not dislike homosexuality any more than I dislike divorce, lying, over-eating, greed or any other sin. In fact, I can state along with the Apostle Paul, “I am what I am by God’s grace.” If there is anything I or anyone would consider good in my life, it’s not because I’m better or smarter, it’s because God is good.
Same-sex marriage is going to be what “is” in our country. Christians are going to have to come to grips with this. It doesn’t change what God’s Word says, it doesn’t change my responsibility to be obedient to God’s Word. We live in a democracy. If the people in this country decide this is okay, then believe it or not, God isn’t shocked one bit.
Allow me to channel my father’s words to me when I was ten years old: “I don’t care what the neighbor kids do—you belong to me!”
Our responsibility as believers is to love people with the love given to us by God and demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the Cross. This “love” is not sex, the “warm fuzzies” nor are we to embrace the definition our culture demands and then has called “good” what the Bible calls “evil.” True love is lived, it is demonstrated through our action and obedience to Jesus Christ in our lives. We do not and cannot demand obedience from those who are “not part of our family.” They may do as they choose. We are called by God to demonstrate truth through obedience.
The normalization of same-sex marriage is an opportunity given by God for us to prove the truth of our God and demonstrate our relationship to Him through our obedience. Christians should strive to have marriages so everyone who sees them would desire a marriage just like them! This is the whole point of living for Christ: demonstrating the love Christ has for this world through our obedient love for Him!
God has placed American Christians in America. He understands democracy and the great freedoms it gives. He also understands the human heart. When people reject His commands and His offer of salvation, believers should not react in hate and anger. People who reject the tenets of Scripture are not rejecting Christians or our sensibilities (so we need to get over ourselves): they are rejecting God.
Of course, the demand by the proponents of same-sex marriage who say I must state their cause is just and right are just as unfortunately wrong. I am not called to approve actions because of social pressure; I am called to be obedient to the Lord. Just as in first century Rome when the Church was in its infancy, Christians were not persecuted because they believed in Jesus Christ or Yahweh-God. Christians were persecuted because they refused political correctness and would not call Caesar “Lord!” Our obedience to Christ will always make us incredibly unpopular.
For far too long Christians have allowed Satan to get them off task by focusing too much on what those who are outside of a relationship with Christ are doing. Should sin be identified? Yes it should. But the identification of “sin” should be motivated by the same love a mother has for the child who gets too close to a hot oven: the warning is clear, it’s strong and its concern is for the safety of the child. It’s because the mother loves her child.
If we speak out against the sin in this world, let us make sure it’s because we love people like Jesus does. Our responsibilities are the same as they have always been: to love others.
This isn’t convenient.
It’s love and obedience.
Is there Acceptable Collateral Damage?
The term “collateral damage” was unknown prior to about 1970. The terms specific meaning is tied directly to war and the idea of “elements not directly associated with an intended target being damaged or destroyed as a result of a specific action.” From the first Gulf War until the most recent action in Afghanistan, our military has taken great pains to develop “smart” bombs which are able to pinpoint their targets with a minimum of collateral damage.
A large amount of material, expense and effort is expended to identify what is an appropriate target and what is not. Of course the enemy, knowing America and her allies desire to not harm those deemed to be non-combatants, will often set-in-place their operations in the midst of schools, hospitals and mosques in order to insulate them from attack. Of course, far too often the press overlooks this callous disregard to life and put all the more pressure on those who desire to eradicate the threat.
Perhaps one of the sharpest aspects of the double-edged sword of war is militaries—unless of course they are being utilized by a dictatorship—often find themselves fighting against an antagonistic camera and press as often as an enemy action. Such is the nature of war in our modern milieu.
Christianity is also involved in warfare. Of course, the Bible makes it abundantly clear our warfare is not waged against “flesh and blood” combatants, but rather in the spiritual realm; one unseen and filled not merely with spirits, but with ideas and philosophies. What manifests itself in the physical realm—whether in the form of atrocity, sin, death and immorality—is but a result of what is and has already occurred in the spiritual realm.
One of the scourges of our society is “abortion-on-demand” which has been available since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. I am unashamedly pro-life; the Bible teaches we are made in God’s image and life begins not merely with conception (which is our only means of observation as humans) but life is something ordained by God who is the Creator of all that lives. As a Christian and a pastor, God expects me to not merely believe this, but also to proclaim this through my life and teaching.
People are a complex mechanism. By God’s design no two of us are alike. We do have commonalities which are measurable across the masses of society (a reason for the existence of the disciplines of psychology, sociology and even history) and these provide us with incredible insight into human nature. If my desire is to communicate the message of Scripture—what Christians refer to as the ‘good news” (Gospel) of God’s love for us and His desires for us—I cannot then ignore the reality of human nature.
One of the most difficult things we are faced with as believers in Jesus Christ is our call to “hate the sin” (action, attitude, idea, and philosophy) but also “love the sinner.” I have heard those outside of Christianity scoff and ridicule this concept; they believe it is impossible to separate the individual from what the individual does (there is a whole economy built on the existence of this concept—this also ensures people will always be “defined” and “enslaved” by their sin and issues as well). Again, I defer to what Jesus taught: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Those who proclaim and claim the name of Jesus Christ are capable of getting “caught up in the emotion of the moment” just like anyone else. The difference between those who have a relationship with Christ and those who do not is this: those who have a relationship with God the Father through the work of Christ have both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to constantly judge and check their own actions. One of the hardest to remember is that we are to “love the sinner.”
It is far too easy to simply allow hate to season our speech and actions. Standing outside of abortion clinics with signs proclaiming “Abortion is Murder” and the like makes as much sense as standing outside of funeral homes with signs stating “Sin Kills!” Abortion is murder—I agree completely! Yet is it actually loving to paint with such a broad brush that we alienate those who are captives of their own circumstances and decisions? Oh, and let’s not overlook the incredible sense of love fostered by those holding those signs.
Our churches need to communicate they are more of a place of refuge for the hurting and injured rather than a staging point for those with a desire to be “culture warriors.” We are no more in a war with culture than a fish is at war with water! We can battle ideas and philosophies, we can tend to the wounded and we should confront those who actively engage in what the Bible describes as sin. Yet as we do all of these things, we cannot fail to communicate the love by which we are motivated!
Jesus Christ came into this world as a baby. The Lord of Creation, the One who by His very hand created all there is and by His very existence holds all of reality together, came into a world as one of us. He struggled as He grew; He worked in order to provide for food and clothing for Himself and His family. He formed relationships with those around Him and the Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature” with God and people.
His ministry was marked with compassion, healing, confrontation of sin and wrong and ultimately, He proved His love through His action: He died so those who believe in Him might live forever with Him. The reason His words were accepted is because His love was clearly demonstrated; even the crusty Centurion who stood at the foot of His cross when He died stated “surely He was the Son of God.”
If Christians desire people to take us seriously, we are going to have to seriously love them!
NMSBY (Not My Sin But Yours)
I think this is pretty much a “human” thing—a deep down desire to make other people look worse than we are and the easiest way to do this is to compare apples with oranges; or in keeping with my theme here, “not my sin but yours!”
I’ve been a pastor for a reasonably long time now. I have had several “older” members in some of my churches proudly and verbally “thump” their proverbial chests and proclaim, “I have never slept with any other woman other than my wife!” While I find the sentiment admirable, obedient and (especially in my case where death would be immediate) safe, I also find it a complete and utter lie!
Jesus made it perfectly clear in His Sermon on the Mount if a man even looks at another woman with lust in his heart (Seriously? Do I really have to get more specific here? Stay on task and pay attention—I’m trying to make a point!) this man has already committed adultery. Does this mean if I think something then I might as well do it since I’m already busted?
No it does not.
Jesus was pointing out to His listeners (especially those who were the religious “high muckity-mucks” of His day) God knows what we think just as easily as He sees what we do. Thinking a thought removes innocence. Doing the deed removes mercy. Thoughts merely demonstrate the truthfulness of the ancient statement, “There is no one who is righteous; not anyone.” When we choose to act on a thought we remove any assumption of innocence among others and we end up “reaping the results of the action we have sown.”
In other words, when Sir Isaac Newton came up with his Third Law (action=reaction) he most likely had the aid of his Sunday school training; for every action there is an equal reaction and we reap whatever we sow. So the individual who was attempting to demonstrate his superiority over others in his fidelity to his wife, only managed to demonstrate his own ignorance of the teachings of Christ.
This tendency to always try to make ourselves look better than others always ends up biting us on our proverbial bottoms, bums and derrieres.
In my part of the world there are many such things, but one which I find more annoying than most is the idea of both alcohol consumption and Sunday sales of said alcohol. It is not my intention to discuss whether it is okay for Christians to consume alcohol, but it is my intention to point out the shrill nature of those voices who cannot seem to find anything better to complain about.
For some of you who live in other parts of the world (not America) even the idea of getting upset about selling a particular thing on a particular day is absurd (not even the Bible places the importance of one day above any other). Yet follow my thought here.
You live in a foreign land. In the land and culture in which you were reared taught you certain things were just wrong and your family didn’t do them. Yet now you are not home and you live in the midst of a people who were not raised as you were. How do you think your new neighbors would view your insistence they adhere to your “rules” in which they find both foreign and silly?
This is what believers in Christ need to grasp! We must ask God to grant us the wisdom to separate symptoms from the cause. Many Christians act like they’re angry booze is being sold on “The Lord’s Day!” Christians have forgotten not everyone considers Sunday to be “The Lord’s Day”—especially if they do not “belong” to the Lord!
The only thing accomplished by making such a “big deal” about the sale of alcohol on a particular day is those who are squawking the loudest draw the greatest amount of contempt. My desire is to present Christ in a winsome, attractive way. I cannot hope to make Jesus appealing if I continually act like a horse’s hinter parts! Jesus was harsh regarding attitudes and the sin of those around Him—and so should we.
Yet remember this: His harshest comments were reserved for those who claimed to be the most religious.
Back in 1958 Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote the book The Ugly American. It told the story of the hapless efforts of the United States in a fictional country in Southeast Asia (widely regarded to represent the US efforts in Vietnam) in the attempts of America to fulfill its quest to “contain” Communism and therefore continue to implement Truman’s famous doctrine.
Originally, the desire of the authors was to write a factual study, but the publishers persuaded them to transition to a work of fiction. In doing this they were afforded greater creativity and even more freedom to both apply their version of “truth” as well as greatly expanding the means by which their work could be disseminated among various competing ideologies. In other words, the work became a tool for those who espoused a decidedly anti-American and anti-Western philosophy.
Sadly, Burdick and Lederer accurately portrayed the reality of the American efforts in this region of the world. Neil Sheehan in his book A Bright Shining Lie further highlights the incredible incompetence spawned by unchecked bureaucracy during the Vietnam War. The cold reality dogging American efforts was reflected in the words of the Apostle Paul, our “good was evil spoken of.”
In many ways, Christians today are far too often and too easily viewed as ugly. In my own denomination, there seems to be this almost puerile obsession with the habits of those outside of Christianity yet all the while they are oblivious to the ugly and insidious nature of the accepted behaviors within Christianity. What is sad is many of these unattractive attitudes and practices come from those who are regarded as leaders and pastors.
Many of the problems arise from the assumptions made of those professing the name of Christ. A whole industry has been built to fortify an almost revisionist-style history portraying the United States as a country began with solely Christian values. While the underlying philosophy of our founding fathers was a definitely a Judeo-Christian paradigm, we were not and are not now a Christian nation.
There were many of our founders and leaders who were familiar with Christian nomenclature and philosophy—some even reared by strongly Christian parents—yet for every reference point given to “prove” the evangelical bent of these men there are equally as many proofs countering those claims. Even though evangelical Christianity did not infuse every one of our founders, there were many genuine Christians among our founders.
So should those who are Christian handicap themselves by not referring to the importance of Christianity on the formation of this country? Not at all; yet Christians cannot continue with their arrogant attitudes and patronizing actions if they (including myself) truly desire to reach those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I wouldn’t want you to think I am immune from such silliness either. Far too often I “catch” myself thinking some incredibly stuffy thought and then something inside me (I believe it is the Holy Spirit who resides in all who have a relationship with Christ) points out my foolishness. My plan is to write a “series” (I usually can’t stand multi-part anything; I’m making attempts at maturity here so bear with me . . . . .) dealing with the subject began in this post.
My desire is the same as the United States Senator Adlai Stevenson: “Today, I come to you with the task of speaking; your task is that of listening. Let us hope we all end at the same time.”
Hey, it’s a hope!