Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I hate being inconvenienced or uncomfortable. There's a air of entitlement that I become painfully aware of when I don't have what I want, when I want it, how I want it. In short, I'm spoiled.
It's an ugly side of myself - but we all have it. I'm normally able to keep the beast satiated - but stripped of my usual soothing accoutrements - he roars.
So I'm reminded that as we enter 2009, we must expose the beasts in our lives. As I preached last Sunday, we need to expose every dark corner (and the beasts that dwell there) to the light that they might be consumed by His presence.
So this will be my only post until I return to the world of DSL Internet. Have a great New Year celebration my friends.
(If I don't return in one piece, at least Leah will have some great action shots of Samuel and I zipping down the hill on our sled - over the rocks and through the woods!).
Sunday, December 28, 2008
What is your favorite Christmas phrase, quote, or verse?
What is the memory from your Christmas celebration this year that you will probably remember the longest?
What does Luke 2:25-32 tell us about the character of Simeon? What quality of Simeon’s character do you most want to develop?
Luke says that Simeon waited anxiously for the coming of the Messiah (the Christ). However, many in his day were awaiting the Messiah. What do you think made Simeon special? Why do you think that God responded to his longing with such an extraordinary promise?
Read Luke 2:25-27 and Titus 2:11-14. What do you think it must have been like to be waiting for the coming of the Messiah? How was it similar to waiting for Jesus to return today? How should we live while waiting for the Lord to return?
We don’t know when in his life Simeon began to search for the Messiah. As you look back on your own spiritual journey, what events have led you to your present walk with God? Luke 2:27 says the Holy Spirit moved Simeon to go to the temple courts at just the right time. In what ways has the Holy Spirit to moved you to be where you are today?
What do you think it says about Jesus to call Him “the light” (Luke 2:32; Matthew 4:16; John 1:9; 8:12)?
As a group, list examples of “Jesus Christ bringing light into the world.” In what ways has Jesus brought “light” into your life? What darkness has “the light” helped you overcome?
If Jesus is powerful enough to conquer the darkest parts of this world - and our hearts - how could that affect your life? What impact do you think it should have on you personally? Where do you need His light right now?
Friday, December 26, 2008
A couple of those guests joined us a little later in the evening, and one of them walked through the door asking, "OK, what can I do? Put me to work. Can I do the dishes?" It took some convincing, but this person eventually sat down and simply enjoyed some coffee and conversation. (at this point I would like to clarify, I am in NO way ridiculing or chastising this person - which is why I'm trying to protect his/her identity)
Upon getting up to leave at the end of this evening, this same person said, "Are you sure there is nothing we can do? We haven't even earned the right to sit down." To which I replied, "It's Grace."
My invitation was more than enough. These people were my guests. I did not ask nor expect anyone to earn a place at my table. It's Grace.
In the same way, none of us can earn a place at God's table. I dare not insult God by implying His invitation is insufficient - that there is something more I must add in order to earn a place at His table. I can't earn my place. But His invitation - His Grace - is more than enough.
Isaiah 55:1 - Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
John 7:37 - Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink."
John 6:35 - [Jesus said,] "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."
Thursday, December 25, 2008
- "A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more." (Matthew 2:16-28)
This Christmas Eve, CNN posted an article titled: Iraq Christians face 'bleak future' and a second article titled Report details abuse of Christians. I was reminded of 1 Peter 5:9: Resist [Satan], firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." We dare not hold at arm's length the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and throughout the world.
But we don't want to think about "ugly" things at Christmas! And so it is easy to turn a blind eye to Rachel weeping for her children. To plug our ears to those mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who will weep and refuse to be comforted for their loved ones are no more. To forget those innocents who have been and will yet be slaughtered because of the baby born in Bethlehem.
So this Christmas, let's refuse to turn a blind eye to the dark underbelly of Christmas. Rather, let us stand in solidarity with the suffering of the slaughtered and the weeping. Let us remember them. Let us honor them. Let us pray for them. And this new year, let us ask what we might do for them. Voice of the Martyrs (http://www.persecution.com/)
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
As I watched, fascinated by all of the giant machinery (guys never grow out of it), I couldn't help but laugh. All of this effort, energy, and money is being spent removing something that the sun could remove effortlessly. Eventually this will all melt and be but a memory - then what will these snow removal guys have to show for their great efforts?
And it struck me - this is how we look to God.
We spend undue amounts of effort trying to shovel, shift, move, (and often just hide) the sin in our lives. But the truth is, the most we can do is "clear" small spots - and even then, who of us is able to scrape the ground clear, down to the naked pavement? And even if we've "cleared" a small spot, have we actually eliminated the snow or just moved it?
We don't need better shovels or even snow blowers (though again, big machines are fun). What we need is the Sun. Our efforts can only move, but never eliminate, the sin in our lives. It is the Sun that brings the thaw we so desperately need. As the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee says:
Melt the clouds of sin and sadnessMy prayer this Christmas is that the light of day might dawn within your heart. That you might find relief from the exhaustion of your vain efforts to deal with the snow yourself. That the sin which has accumulated - freezing your heart and life - might melt away in the presence of the Sun. That a great thaw and springtime might arrive - bringing you new hope and new life. This is the good news of Christmas.
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day
The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. Matthew 4:16
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
So I am obliged by these unwritten laws to post about Christmas. However, I realize this is just the problem: Obligatory Christmas Blah (or OCB as I'm going to designate it).
By the time Christmas rolls around, we are exhausted because of OCB. You know what I mean: obligatory christmas cards, obligatory parties and gatherings, obligatory meaningless presents for relatives and friends that you don't know how to buy for (and they don't really need), etc. It seems like more than a happy coincidence that OCB is so close to OCD! It is Obligatory Christmas Blah (whatever it looks like for you) that drains the joy from the season.
In the midst of your own personal OCB, did you ever stop to realize that we're celebrating not an obligation but a gift? We didn't ask Jesus to come. We sure didn't deserve His coming. We hadn't done anything that might oblige Him or put Him under complusion to come. He came freely.
Doesn't that word ring beautifully in your ears - freely. When a gift becomes obligatory, there is usually little joy or love left, just OCB. True gifts - True Christmas Joy (or TCJ - the second new abbreviation I have created in the scope of just one post) - must be freely given.
Joy is the message of that first Christmas; "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10).
Jesus freely came and joyfully celebrates our rescue; "And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep'" (Luke 15:5-6).
Jesus freely and joyfully offered Himself for us on the cross; "for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame" (Hebrews 12:2). The joy of the cross? There are many words that could be used to describe crucifixion, but joy is not one I would ever choose. Yet Joy comes when the gift is freely given.
And now we freely and joyfully receive - laying down everything we have, everything we are, and everything we ever hope to be - not out of compulsion, but for joy; "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field" (Matthew 13:44).
I pray that we all might rediscover the gift of "The Gift" this season so that we might also rediscover true Christmas Joy.
B/C, XMAS FYI: OCB steals TCJ ASAP.
So all I want for Christmas is TCJ (although that parking space would be nice...)
Saturday, December 20, 2008
If you had to write a Christmas greeting no more than 10 words in length that would be printed on 100,000 Christmas cards, what would it be?
Regardless of your gender, which role in a live nativity scene do you think you’re best cut out for?
The Magi came looking for a king. Create a list of qualities that you think would describe the perfect king. How does Jesus fulfill those qualities?
What does it mean to you to have Jesus as your king? How have you experienced His reign in your life thus far?
To be a good servant of the King, we must trust and obey Him. Why do you think this can be so difficult to do? How do you think we might become more trusting of the King? How might we better obey Him?
In your journey to Jesus - how are you like or unlike these Magi?
Why do you think these pagan astronomers were so bent on finding Jesus?
How do others you know approach Jesus today? How should we, as believers in the Lord Jesus, approach him? How do you approach him?
How did the Magi react when they found Jesus (Matthew 2:11)? How do you think their actions provide an example for us?
The Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus (Matt. 2:11). How do we offer Him gifts today (cf. Rom. 12:1)? What gifts do you offer Him this Christmas?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
By the way - for those playing along at home; yes, I will be posting an mp3 of last week's sermon shortly. There was a problem recording it (the first few minutes were cut off). So I need to re-record the opening and edit it into the whole.
There's a short but thought-provoking article at smallgroups.com titled Discipleship: The New Evangelism. It reflects:
consider some of the assumptions that led to the seeker-sensitive model of church that was visible throughout the country just 20 years ago. The assumption was that people needed to be introduced to the concept of faith at a church. So, any attempt to go too deep would inevitably scare people off....The shift into postmodernism has lead to a people who are comfortable with ambiguity, mystery, and uncertainty. They would rather wrestle with the question than just accept an easy answer. This generation is not looking for bumper sticker theology or the bromides of the past, but deep answers to the deep questions that haunt their souls.
The answer to the little question we asked revealed that an overwhelming number of believers wanted depth in their times of study. It showed a dissatisfaction with easy and pat answers, and a desire to really study and wrestle with God's Word and its implications for life.
The surprising thing was that the number of non-Christian respondents was nearly identical to the number of Christian respondents in terms of who wanted that depth. Both non-Christians and Christians wanted depth in Bible study.
As we ask the hard questions of our own church structure, part and parcel to that is a question of "the process." If we exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ in Midcoast Maine, more and better disciples - how? How does one become a disciple? How does one grow as a disciple? How does one make other disciples?
It is not though spiritual platitudes nor easy answers that disciples are made (or that others will come to know Christ), but wrestling with God.
It is notable that after Jacob wrestled with God, his name was changed:
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome" (Genesis 32:28).Israel means he struggles with God. In Christ, we are now - in the words of Galatians 6:16 - the "Israel of God" (cf. Ephesians 2:12-13; 3:6; Galatians 3:28-29). We are not a people who have all the answers, but a people who wrestle with God.
Discipleship/evangelism invites others to wrestle as we wrestle - with the uncontainable, unstoppable, uncomfortable, incomprehensible, indescribable, true and living God. Through Jesus Christ we come hand-to-hand, toe-to-toe, face-to-face with this God. We wrestle, engage, struggle, learn, understand, and grow with Him.
People don't want or need simple, surface answers. Invite them deep. Invite them to wrestle. That is evangelism. That is discipleship. That is our God.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
- Albert Mohler: Turning the Bible on its Head
- Prof. Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary: More than "Mutual Joy"
Last week the magazine sold out quickly at newsstands around DC and it nationally received over 40,000 responses to the piece. Newsweek officials reported that the vast majority of these contacts were negative.The author of this biased cover article is Lisa Miller, "Society and Religion Editor" at Newsweek. Yet, as I read her biography (click on her name) I see NO indication of any actual theological training, Biblical study, competency in the original Biblical languages, or scholarly credentials. So this entire article amounts to the unreliable testimonial of an author who is questionably qualified in this field. This doesn't stop Lisa Miller from publishing her own personal opinions as if she were a credentialed, seasoned, and reputable Biblical scholar. If you'd like the opinion of real scholars, you can read these articles written by staff and alums of my Alma-mater Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
- The Covenant of Marriage - Gordon Hugenberger
- Questions and Answers on Issues Related to Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage - Gordon Hugenberger
- God’s Plan and the Mystery of Marriage in the New Testament - Roy E. Ciampa
- Is Marriage an “Evolving Paradigm?” - Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
- New Testament and Homosexuality: 4 Myths - Sean McDonough
- Reflections on Same-Sex “Marriage” - John Jefferson Davis
No matter what one thinks about gay rights—for, against or somewhere in between —this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt—it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition. (emphasis mine)At least the cards are all laid on the the table upfront: those who appeal to the Bible as an authority are "intellectually bankrupt," "unserious," (which is NOT even a word!) and "unworthy." Ouch.
The gloves of tolerance, respect, diversity, and political correctness may be taken off when dealing with Christianity. Try making statements like that about Islam (or any other religion) and you will have the rioting religious, the politically correct police at your door, and a public apology in the next issue of your magazine. But Christianity is fair game? I am not one to cry foul, but come on!
Jon Meacham here makes a bold logical fallacy, offering a bare assertion about "arguments from Biblical authority" without offering any support, proof, reasoning, or evidence for his assertion. So from the starting gun - fired by Meacham at the leg of the opposing runner - the race begins with a bias.
While Lisa Miller opens her article, "Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does," she then proceeds to construct a view miles from what most "conservatives" might think or the Bible teaches. Her caricature is but a rhetorical straw man to knock down, tear apart, and light on fire (for good measure).
In the opening paragraph, Miller offers a hasty generalization and oversimplification of the life and lessons learned from some Biblical figures. The practice of "quoting out of context" is sometimes referred to as "contextomy" - and this is exactly what Miller has done with the lives, teachings, and relationships of these Biblical characters. Isolating anyone from their larger story and context makes misunderstanding and misrepresentation a cinch. She follows up by begging the question, offering a cursory dismissal of the Bible's teachings as applicable today:
Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?This is but an echo of the unconcealed bile and bias we read in Meacham's opening assault. Here again we are pummeled by the bare assertion that the Bible does not apply to today's world, thus any appeal its authority is "intellectually bankrupt," "unserious," and "unworthy."
Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.
Lisa Miller goes on from there to make a statement of such grievous error it calls into question her competence as a scholar. She says, "while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman." What Bible is she reading (if she has bothered to read the Scripture at all before blithely dismissing it)?
Matthew 19:3-6 says:
3Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"Jesus' teaching here on marriage doesn't make any sense unless marriage is defined as one man and one woman. He implicitly defines marriage not only as one man and one woman, but roots this "one man, one woman" definition in God's design and intentions at the creation.
4"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Jesus appeals to two texts in Genesis which elaborate on God's order and plan. Jesus first refers to Genesis 1:27, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Humanity has been created male and female - distinct and corresponding. We see the mystery of the "image of God" in humanity. Just as the Trinity is three-in-one, humanity is two-in-one. Male and female together are created in the image of the triune God.
So man and woman were created unquestionably distinct, but complementary and equal. Genesis 2:18 says, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Some have tried to use this text to assert the subservience of women or superiority of men. However the same Hebrew word used here for “helper” ('ezer) is used in Deut. 33:7 and repeatedly in the Psalms to describe God in His relationship to humanity (e.g.: Psalm 33:20 - "We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield").
What "helper" implies in this Genesis passage is not inferiority, but correspondence. Male and female were designed as distinct, complementary, and unified (the two were designed to be one), just as God is distinct, complementary, and unified in the Trinity (three-in-one). This is why the second text that Jesus references is Genesis 2:24, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (emphasis mine).
As an aside, abuse and domination of women is not the way it was intended to be, but a consequence of humanity's fall (as Genesis 3:16 makes clear). As Bible commentator Matthew Henry expressed, “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
All of this to say that Miller's assertion that Jesus and the Bible never designate marriage as between one woman and one man is either a boldfaced lie or a grievous scholarly omission. Either way, it casts a pall upon the whole of her exposition.
Miller goes on to again beg the question, trying to build upon her earlier hasty generalizations and her "contextomy" of the Biblical teaching on marriage. She writes, "And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes."
Note here the slanted language: "no sensible modern person wants marriage [to look like this]." Well, since no-one wants to counted a fool, of course we must believe as she believes!
Also note the chronological snobbery - a "modern" person wouldn't want this. So if you might even give consideration to the Biblical teaching (and by that I mean the true teaching, not how Lisa Miller misrepresents it) you are old, out-dated, and out of touch - a neanderthal. However, slapping a negative label on something does not negate nor disprove it.
Miller's next statement is a half-truth and and false cause:
Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.Yes, Hebrews 4:12 affirms that the Bible is "living and active" but is that the same as what is meant by a "living document" (or is this merely a case of equivocation?).
A living document is defined as:
A living document or dynamic document is a document which may be continually edited and updated by either a limited or unrestricted group. A simple example of a living document is an article in Wikipedia, in contrast to "dead" or "static" documents, such as an article in a single edition of the Encyclopædia Brittanica...The Bible is not to be "edited" nor "updated" (Rev. 22:18-19). Neither should the Bible be "reinterpreted" but rather the goal is to "rightly interpret" and apply to today's world.
The United States Constitution is often considered a living document as, in non-Originalist jurisprudence, it can be reinterpreted and updated endlessly by judges without actual amendment;
Miller later goes on to assert: "A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours." First, notice the slanted language; "mature view" - implying that all other views are immature and childish. Secondly see the bare assertion; "requires us..." Why? Why are we "required" to do something when no real reasons for doing so are presented?
It is undeniable that the world of the Biblical authors is grossly unlike our own and that the Bible does contain commands and prohibitions specific to the culture into which they were written. The goal of the serious Biblical scholar is to discern what is cultural and what is universal. It is to then rightly apply the principles undergirding the cultural passages and universal truths of the timeless passages to our lives and to our world today.
As I say in my own Confession of Faith:
Scriptural interpretation (hermeneutics) should be literal but not “literalistic.” The most literal way to understand poetry is as poetic, symbolism is as symbolic, history is as historical, etc. Scripture is to be interpreted in its true sense, or intended sense, as determined by its historical, grammatical, Biblical, and cultural context.We interpret and apply Scripture according to its "true" or "intended" sense (i.e.: What did the author mean? What did the hearers hear?). So while the Bible is living and active - in that it still speaks to us today - it does not speak to us by re-interpretation but rather by right interpretation and application.
So we find that there is a stark difference between "living and active" (which the Bible is) and a "living document" (which the Bible is not).
Accordingly Lisa Miller's argument falls apart - the Bible does not support homosexual marriage just because we might "reinterpret" or "update" this "living document" to say it does. We must instead understand what the Bible truly teaches on the issue, discern what is cultural and what is universal, and seek to rightly apply the teaching to our lives and our world today.
The condescension in Miller's tone is startling. She argues that the Old Testament espouses the "traditional" family simply to protect "the Jews' precious and fragile monotheism." "Fragile" - as in it is a belief that is so backward, unenlightened, and without foundation that it might be easily toppled? Even if this was not meant as an offense, given the bias and disdain with which she treats the teaching of the rest of Scripture it is difficult not to see this as another assertion of her superiority.
The assault upon the Scripture continues: "if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God..." This statement calls into question the origins and authority of the Bible by offering a half-truth: isn't it just a document written by man? Yes, it was written by man - by the hand of human authors, in their own "voices," in their languages, within their own cultural contexts - but wholly inspired by God (Ex. 24:4; Isa. 40:8; Luke 21:33; John 16:13-15; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21). So no, it was not handed down in its leather bindings by God, but that is not to say it was not divinely inspired and is not wholly authoritative.
Miller writes, "[Jesus] preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels." Miller offers us here a false dilemma / either-or fallacy. Just because Jesus preached a radical community - a family of believers - that does not mean that He did not also espouse and value the "nuclear" family. This is not an "either-or" situation.
Exposing again her lack of theological training, Miller says, "[Jesus] roundly condemns divorce (leaving a loophole in some cases for the husbands of unfaithful women)." However, Matthew 19:3-12 gives us the correct context and understanding of Jesus' words about divorce.
The question posed to Jesus in Matt. 19:3 was, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" (emphasis mine). Talk about a loophole - in that day a man might divorce and abandon his wife for any reason at all! So Jesus' teaching actually closed the loophole (contrary to Miller's assertion). The closing of the loophole felt so much like a noose to His hearers that they declared in Matt. 19:10, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." So where Miller asserts that Jesus was leaving loopholes, He was actually tightening them - espousing, respecting, and protecting the covenant of marriage.
Miller again reveals her lack of Biblical study saying, "Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire." What? How about Romans 1:26-27:
God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men (emphasis mine)The Greek construction here sets up two parallel cases. First, the women exchanged "natural" sexual relations for unnatural ones. Then it sets up a parallel case and makes explicit the meaning of "natural" sexual relations: "In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men" (emphasis mine). So what is condemned here is both sexual acts of women with women and of men with men.
Next Miller tries to blithely dismiss all of the Apostle Paul's writings regarding Homosexuality with this statement:
Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued that his condemnation of men who "were inflamed with lust for one another" (which he calls "a perversion") is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery....We're talking about really, really violent people who meet their end and are judged by God.First, notice another instance of chronological snobbery; "progressive scholars." So anyone who might disagree with this interpretation is backwards, out-of-date, out-of-touch - a neanderthal scholar.
Secondly, the statement "[this] is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery...really, really violent people" is a bare assertion for which Bible offers no corroborating evidence. The above quoted passage (Romans 1:26-27) contains nothing within the language to assert any kind of "self-delusion or violence" within these homosexual relationships.
Further, we find no implication of "self-delusion or violence" in Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, "Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
The first word used here (translated "male prostitutes") is malakos - is used only three times in the New Testament. The other places it is used, it is translated as "soft" and used to describe clothing (Matt. 11:8, Luke 7:25). The King James Version of the Bible translates the word as it is used here in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as "effeminate." According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature the use of malakos in other early Greek literature designated, "men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually."
The second word used here (translated "homosexual offenders") is the one more commonly used to designate homosexual behavior: arsenokoiten. This word is composed of two parts: arsane - which simply means "man" and koitay which according to Strong's Dictionary Of Bible Words means: "a couch; by extension cohabitation; by implication the male sperm:—bed, chambering." When koitay is used in Romans 9:10 it literally means "conception" and in Hebrews 13:4 the "marriage koitay" is contrasted with the adulter and sexually immoral. So literally arsenokoiten means a man who has sex with other men. There is nothing to suggest "self-delusion or violence" as implied by the quote Miller employs.
Finally, arsenokoiten is used by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:10 in a warning against, "adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine." So the act of men having sex with men, along with a list of other offenses, is condemned as "contrary to the sound doctrine," yet we find nothing of the purported violence or self-delusion.
This "self-delusion / violence" theory finds no leg to stand on in the Old or New Testament. While the witness of the Scripture seems mixed on some issues (such as the role of women or slavery) it is consistently negative in regards to homosexual behavior.
The one so-called positive affirmation of a homosexual relationship cited by Miller is David and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:26). However, the legitimate question may be raised, are we simply reading our own biases back into their relationship? This is but a false analogy created by our own cultural stereotypes and biases: they say they love each other, therefore they must be homosexual. However, cannot platonic love exist between two heterosexual men?
Miller tries to draw another false analogy between homosexual marriage and slavery. However she grossly misstates the Bible's teaching on slavery saying: "The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric."
First, the Bible does not endorse slavery, but rather regulates it. In the same same way, Malachi 2:16 says God hates divorce, yet Mark 10:4-5 teaches that God allows and regulates it. Also analogous is the fact that the U.S. Surgeon General does not like or condone tobacco, but he does regulate it. The Bible never condones slavery but regulates the practice of what was a culturally accepted employment situation of the day.
Secondly, in the words of Professor Gordon Fee:
We need to remember that slavery in the first-century Greco-Roman world was considerably different from that of recent American history; it was rarely racially motivated. Most people became slaves through war or economic necessity…the freeing of slaves, was a common occurrence, although in many cases slavery was preferred to freedom because it offered security – and in some cases, good positions in a household.What is described in the New Testament is not the travesty of racially motivated slavery that happened here in American 200 years ago. It was a culturally accepted (and often mutually beneficial) employer-employee relationship.
Thirdly, it was eventually the teaching of the New Testament that helped bring an end to the unjust practice of American slavery. Earlier we examined the warning of 1 Timothy 1:10 against, "adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine." Notice the phrase "slave trader" - which literally means "man stealer." The slavery practiced in early America is soundly condemned here (along with homosexual behavior) for both are "contrary to the sound doctrine."
Miller then tries to appeal to the Old Testament stories of those who married outside their tribe or outside of the Hebrew people as somehow analogous to homosexual marriage. However, this is a blatant and desperate false analogy to try to bolster her faltering argument. She fails to offer any substantial correlation or connection between these two realities.
She oversimplifies the message of Jesus and Christianity saying, "In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified." Miller then quotes Walter Brueggemann, saying, "The religious argument for gay marriage, [Brueggemann] adds, 'is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness.'"
Yes, Jesus will accept and "include" all exactly where they are. No, He clearly does not accept all behaviors (e.g.: Matthew 15:19-20; 25:41-43; Mark 9:47; Luke 12:47-48). Jesus loves us right where we are, but He loves us enough not to leave us there (see my closing comments for more on this).
And so we see that Miller's conclusion - "Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition" - is actually itself rooted in her custom, tradition and complete ignorance of the Scriptural teaching.
So what are Miller and Meacham influenced by? Public opinion. Reread both of their pieces and count the number of references to public opinion, polls, popular sentiment, etc. They make use of a bandwagon mentality - the tide is changing, the majority seems to believe it, therefore it must be true. However, if 40 million people believe a dumb idea, it is still a dumb idea. The number of people who believe a particular idea has no bearing upon its veracity. I appreciate this quotation of Robertson Davies:
I had a heated argument this afternoon with one of those well-meaning people whose democracy is a burning faith rather than a belief based on reason; a majority, he roared, while his eyes brimmed with sentimental tears, must always be right and must always have its way; he talked feelingly about the wisdom of the Common Man. "But," I protested, "why should you assume that a group of people, all of mediocre ability and restricted information, possesses more wisdom than the same people as individuals? For instance, if I told a group of fifty average people that the cube root of 100 is 1,000,000 it is most unlikely that anyone would dispute my word, because they do not think; but in actual fact the cube root of 100 is 4.641." He was nonplussed, and I saw that he had fallen for my bit of sophistry himself.... I am a democrat, but the idea that a gang of anybodies may override the opinion of one expert is preposterous nonsense. Only individuals think; gangs merely throb.Finally, I wish to lay to rest the stinking red herring that Miller, Meacham, and others continue to drag into this debate. The repeated attempts to compare the homosexual marriage movement to the Civil Rights movement is a false analogy - a red herring meant to ellict an emotional response and distract us from the logic of the argument.
Skin color cannot be changed. So may it always be as Martin Luther King Jr. wished for his own children, that none should ever be "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." However, homosexual behavior is not skin color. Homosexual behavior is a choice.
Admittedly, some have made it sound as if there is no good news in the Bible for homosexuals (like that cult Westboro Baptist Church with their "God Hates F*gs" protests). But look again with me at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (emphasis mine).Again we see the two descriptions of homosexual behavior that we considered earlier. Now notice verse 11 - it is not a verse of condemnation, but of hope: "that is what some of you were" (past tense). Jesus does not condemn people, but He does condemn sinful behavior. The heart of the gospel is that He accepts all people exactly where they are, and loves us enough separate and free us from our sins and wash us clean by the Spirit of our God. Or in the words of Boston College Professor Peter Kreeft, in his book Between Heaven and Hell:
All sin, all spiritual garbage, necessarily meets its due end, destruction. God can't let garbage into heaven. Only if the sinner won't let go of his garbage does he get burned with it. God offers to take the garbage off his back, to separate the sinner from the sin so that the sinner is not separated from God. Jesus is the garbage man.Scripture condemns homosexual behavior but not homosexuals (i.e.: homosexual desire). We all, because of our fallen state, have desires and longings for things that are sinful. As a heterosexual man, I have sexual desires for women other than my wife. Acting on those desires (or entertaining them - i.e.: lusting) would be sinful. It is the same with homosexual desires.
The homosexual movement has failed to prove any conclusive, causal biological link for homosexuality. At best, the analogy might be compared to alcoholism - possibly there is a genetic predisposition, but that is heavily influenced also by environmental factors.
So the bottom line comes down to choice. No, the homosexual did not choose to have these desires, however the person struggling with homosexual longings has a choice as to whether to entertain or act upon these desires. It is just as I have a choice as to whether to entertain or act upon my heterosexual desires.
We see that comparing homosexual behavior to skin color is but a false analogy and an appeal to pity - an emotional appeal to the repugnance we all rightfully feel towards racical discrimination.
There is much more I could say regarding the theological travesty of this Newsweek article, but I want to close on this note: As Christians, we should always be welcoming to the sinful - whether the struggle be with gossip, slander, dishonestly, heterosexual or homosexual lust, etc. Let's stop viewing 'homosexual sin' as so much more heinous in God's sight than our own personal sins. They are all equally heinous and make us all equally deserving of punishment (Romans 3:23).
The good news for all of us - heterosexual and homosexual alike is John 3:17, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Jesus didn't come to condemn the sinner but to save Him from his or her sin. That's good, because I need saving.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
What’s the first Christmas that you can remember? What specific aspects of it do you recall?
According to Luke 1:29-35 (Mary and the angel), Matt. 1:18-25 (Joseph and the angel), and Luke 2:8-12 (the shepherds and the angel) - surprise is a central element of the Christmas story. What’s the best Christmas surprise that you’ve ever had?
What do you think of Joseph’s character, and his reaction to Mary’s pregnancy? (Matt. 1:18-25) How does God provide you with opportunities and situations to better yourself? What gets in the way of you seeing them or accepting them?
Read John 1:14. When has a word, whether good or bad, become intensely real to you because you have seen it embodied in a person? (i.e.: “He is what it means to be….” or “She is a true….” or “He is the embodiment of…”)
Has there ever been a time when you experienced God as “Immanuel” – God with you in a real and immediate way? Would you be willing to share that experience with this group?
Read Psalm 23:4; Isaiah 43:2; John 14:26-27. How has Immanuel’s presence been a comfort to you personally in times of trouble? Now read 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. Remembering the comfort you have received from Immanuel, in what practical ways can you bring that comfort to others?
Read Hebrews 4:15-16. Having become flesh, God understands our human plight, so we can never say to Him, “But Lord you do not understand.” How does this truth affect you? How do you think it should affect our prayer lives?
Matthew begins (Matt. 1:22-23) and ends (Matt. 28:20) his gospel with the promise that “God is with us.” In fact, the gospel closes with a mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations…” and a promise “I am with you always…” How do you think the mission and the promise fit together? Do you think you can have one without the other? Why or why not?
Thursday, December 11, 2008
What should post #100 be like? Should it be funny? Should it be serious and reflective? Should it be just another post - you know, whatever I happen to be thinking about?
I've known this day was coming for a long time and I've been wrestling with just what I should post. There's almost a paralysis that happens when you over analyze something. Then fear creeps in - this is so significant, what if I make the wrong choice? What if blog post #100 is so bad that I loose my faithful followers? (thanks Mom)
I have a postcard hanging on the small bulletin board above my desk. According to the postmark on the back, it was mailed in September of 1995. It's one of those "inspirational postcards" sent by someone who loves me (thanks again Mom). The bold letters on the the front of the card inspire: "Be Decisive - Even If It Means You'll Sometimes Be Wrong."
Sometimes, I'm guilty of over analyzing my life and I forget to live. Sometimes, fear of making a mistake means I don't make a decision, means I don't act, means I don't risk. It could be a simple decision, like what to blog about for post #100, or it could be something significant - such as I feel God calling me to this ministry, to talk to this person, to take this stand, to steer the church in this direction.
Reflecting on the Christmas story, there's a lot of risk involved. Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25) chose to risk everything - their reputations, their freedom, their lives all to become a part of something so big they could never have imagined. There had to have been a lot of fear. Had they over-analyzed and just become frozen by analysis paralysis, where would we be today?
That's where I'd like to live. Facing fear, choosing boldly - and risking that I might choose wrongly - all in the hopes that I too might be used by God, becoming a part of something bigger than I could ever imagine. Well, at least a lot more significant than blog post #100.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
(Quote is from a friend of Philip Yancey)
Something about this quote broke my heart. It is such a disarming confession of brokenness and dependency.
Do we at Chestnut Street Baptist Church need each other like the alcoholic needs her AA meeting? Are we honest enough with one another about our own brokenness and frailty that we recognize from week to week that there will always be some who "almost didn't make it"?
And how it is it that we are so surprised (and often appalled) by those who "don't make it" in the Christian life? If we stand far apart from one another then of course our arms are too short to embrace and support, and some are bound to fall. As songwriter Rich Mullins wrote:
We are frail we are fearfully and wonderfully madeWe are not as strong as we think we are, yet we daily don the Lone Ranger mask, an expression of invulnerability to hide our frailty, and ride off alone into the sunset. And we wonder that some never return?
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are
We desperately need one another. Yet, instead of transparency we offer a plastic smile. Instead of an embrace, we exchange pleasantries. Instead of community, we are but marbles in the same jar - touching but never affecting.
The backhanded-blessing of tragedy is community. We lower our guard, we shed our plastic smiles, we cry real tears. Alcoholics know this - AA is a community borne out of desperation.
I pray we too become a community of desperation. With a honesty and a desperate need for one another that might win out over our desperate frailty and pride.
Monday, December 8, 2008
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
"Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming,
but who can stand before jealousy?"
It's so insidious. I read my friend Jon's blog at Stuff Christians Like and I wish I could be as witty, as deep, or as popular (and did I mention that Zondervan is publishing a book of his blog in 2010?).
I mean, seriously, can't I just be happy for him? Can't I just enjoy his wit and ruminate on his profundities? Can't just be content with who I am and how God has gifted me? No. The green-eyed monster is insatiable. (For you Red Sox fans out there, I would like to assure you that the green-eyed monster is in no way related to the "Green Monster" at Fenway)
I can sense the green-eyed monster, his hot bitter breath on my neck. Someone has something "more" or "better" than I do. Or maybe it's not even more or better but just something different. You know, the grass is always greener?
So then I say, "OK, I'm not going to think about it." However, I go to write a blog post and find a creeping thought in the back of my mind: WWJW (What would Jon write?) - I can be that funny, I can go that deep, I can get that many people to read my blog, I can get noticed by a major Christian book publisher. Feeding time again for the green-eyed monster.
Daily the monster must be slain anew by the power of the Spirit. However, I can't help but wonder if I bear any culpability in the frequent resuscitation of my green-eyed nemesis?
Saturday, December 6, 2008
December 7 – Matthew 1:21 – Jesus (Yahweh Saves)
December 14 – Matthew 1:22-23 – Immanuel (God with Us)
December 21 – Matthew 2:1-12 – King of Kings
December 24 (Christmas Eve) – Luke 2:8-20, Isaiah 9:6-7 – Child
December 28 – Luke 2:25-32, Matt. 4:13-17, John 1:9, Isaiah 9:1-2 – Light
As the Christmas season draws near, what song is it that you can’t wait to hear?
Regardless of its monetary value, what is the single most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
As we learned last week, “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus meaning 'Coming.' The season of Advent is a time for preparing for Christ's Second coming, even as we remember and celebrate His First coming at Christmas. What does Advent mean to you? How do you prepare for Advent?
What comes to mind, or what emotions do you feel, when you hear the name “Jesus”? Why do you think this name has such an affect upon people?
Does your name have a special meaning or story? What is it?
Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to “be saved”? What happened? How did you feel needing to be saved? How did you feel having been saved? Put in your own words: according to the Scripture, from what does humanity need to be saved? (Is. 53:5; Jn. 12:31; Rom. 5:6-10; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 1:21-22; 2:13-15; 1 Jn. 3:8).
In spite of the scorn and stigma of taking a wife already with child, Joseph changed his mind and did so (Matt. 1:18-25). Can you share about a time when you said “no” to something only to have God change your response to “yes”? Can you share about a time when, like Joseph, you took a great “leap of faith” (a great risk) because you believed God was calling you to?
How will you give the Christmas gift of Christ to others this year?
Friday, December 5, 2008
The Christian elementary school at which Leah was a teacher decided to bring this star-studded production to a local nursing home - spreading joy, cheer, and graham cracker crumbs in their wake. As I shuffled through the cold nursing home hallway wearing a bathrobe, Birkenstocks, and with a towel covering my head (secured by a band of cloth that was way too tight - threatening to cut off all circulation and any remaining cognitive function), I heard one of the old women quip, "What's with him? He's in his bathrobe!"
I realize that if someone's only exposure to the Nativity story is the annual Christmas play, what might these people learn about how people dressed in First Century Palestine?
- Everybody wore towels on their heads. Why? Who knows. Fashion is fickle. Maybe they sweat a lot? Maybe they just got out of the shower in the morning and instead of drying their hair completely, they just wrapped a towel on their heads? My wife still does this today.
- Everybody walked around in bathrobes. Comfortable. Terribly drafty.
- Everybody wore rope belts. It's a piece of rope. Now it's a fashion accessory!
- Everybody wore Birkenstocks. (However, I've noticed the more "well off" or "athletic" shepherds seem to have worn Teva Men's Hurricane 3 Outdoor Sandals).
- Everybody carried tall, straight, misshapen sticks. Supposedly these were used for walking or shepherding. However the sticks we see used in Christmas plays are generally neither strong enough to support a man's weight when walking nor are they "crooked staffs" making them useful for shepherding. So I guess people in the first century just had an affinity for wood. Maybe it was the first century version of "tree hugging"?
- The more stylish wore some sort of sash across their chests. Jesus is famous for this. All the pictures I've seen of him have him wearing a white robe with a blue or red sash across His chest. It's just good style sense - a slimming look that draws attention away from "problem areas."
- Whites remained brilliantly white. And that without the aid of dry cleaning, washing machines, bleach, or Tide with Color Guard. Considering how dusty the roads were and that most people were manual laborers, this is nothing short of miraculous. Mothers today still wish they could get these same results.
- Beards were never full beards. Rather their beards always looked as if the shepherd had merely stopped shaving one week prior to the Christmas production.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
UPDATE: Now I won't give away his/her identity, but the church member who shared this video with me also offered a suggestion for its use:
Okay.....picture this......as you lead in to start worship with the team.....the screen drops down from the ceiling....you mention you have something special to share......(the team members are all in their usual places looking as if they are about to start with their usual worship posture)....the video starts and when it gets to the hoppin part the whole team starts jammin (silently of course)....even Dan and Terry....Rick could have some blinking christmas lights on his guitar too.....then when the video stops everyone assumes his/her prior posture and it's like the whole thing didn't happen. Of course the lights would be dimmed so maybe some wouldn't believe it actually did.
I know...I know...not in my wildest dreams....
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
The idea of giving the gift of water on Christmas is powerful. Do you see those numbers? We will spend $450 billion on gifts (many of which are unnecessary, will be unappreciated, will be returned or shoved into the back of a closet). Yet, it would only take $10 billion to address the world's water problem - providing safe and clean drinking water to all. Here are some other numbers from the 2005 New York Times article, "Bad to the Last Drop," by Tom Standage (08/01/05):
- $46 billion - Amount spent per year globally on bottled water
- More than one billion - Number of people worldwide who lack reliable access to safe drinking water
- 80 - Percentage of world illnesses due to water-borne diseases
- Jeremiah 17:13 - O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.
- Zechariah 14:8-9 - On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.
- John 4:10-13 - Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." // "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?" // Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
- John 7:37-38 - Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."
- Revelation 7:16-17 - Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
What an appropriate gift to give on Christmas. The world is thirsty - so offer them a cup of clean water in the name of the Living Water (Matthew 25:34-40).
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Yesterday, December 1st was the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day. The ONE campaign website describes the plague of AIDS as such:
I also have sitting next to me the May 15, 2006 issue of Newsweek magazine marking the 25th "anniversary" of the diagnosis of AIDS. They note that Newsweek had featured 19 covers dedicated to the issue of AIDS since its diagnosis in 1981 and this cover was the 20th. Within, we hear story after story of people living with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS. Amongst the accounts, we read of two children, one 10 and one 15-years-old, both infected - though no fault of their own - by their mothers at birth.
In 2007, HIV/AIDS killed 2.2 million people, 1.7 million people died from tuberculosis (TB) and malaria killed another 881,000 people. These global pandemics disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people and Africa is by far the hardest hit: over 8,000 people die every day in Africa from these three preventable and treatable diseases.
The human impact of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria is undeniable, but their socioeconomic impact is also severe. In Africa, AIDS threatens to wipe out an entire generation during its most productive years- businesses are losing their workers, governments are losing their civil servants and families are losing their breadwinners. These three diseases are having a measurable impact throughout developing world: 12.1 million children in Africa have already lost one or both parents to AIDS. Some estimates indicate that annual GDP growth rates in countries with high incidences of HIV/AIDS can be 2-4% lower than in countries with an absence of the disease...
Antiretroviral medication to treat people living with HIV/AIDS costs as little as $140 per patient per year, down from nearly $10,000 a year less than 10 years ago...
Despite recent successes, current efforts are not on the scale necessary. Around the world, 6.7 million people who need antiretroviral treatment are still not receiving it and 7,400 people are newly infected with HIV each day.
AIDS is not a plague or a judgment visited by God upon the homosexual community or the sexually promiscuous as some ignorant zealots of the past used to proclaim. Rather is a horrible disease for which, twenty-five years after it's identification, we still have no cure.
It is a disease that has ravaged the continent of Africa, leaving in its wake orphans and infected children. A generation has been robbed of the protection and the wisdom of their parents. The older generation would pass onto their children the secrets of farming, craftswork, and survival in the harsh African climate - but that wisdom has been stolen by AIDS. Wisdom, previously passed down from generation to generation, gone. This next generation left to "reinvent the wheel" and to suffer starvation and poverty in the wake of the learning process.
AIDS often elicits fear, as it did in me until I met Charles. When I met him, he had defied all odds to become one of the oldest living hemophiliacs in the world. I believe it was back in the early 1980's that Charles had received a bad blood transfusion and become infected with AIDS. His two daughters were part of the youth group at my previous church in Massachusetts. I walked with them through many scares and then though Charles' inevitable death. In those four years, I learned to see past the label of AIDS and to see the man. Most importantly for me, I learned to hug him - tightly - without fear.
I pray that as the church, we might learn to hug those infected with AIDS - tightly - with our prayers, with our money, with our actions, with our words, and with our own arms.