Christians And Gay Rights


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoYesterday the Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed a bill that would have permitted people to refuse service to gays and lesbians on the grounds of religious persuasion. You could think of it as the equivalent of the military’s alternate service for those drafted into the armed services who were pacifists. The intent, as I understand it, was to accommodate people who believe, based on their religion, that homosexuality is wrong.

Of course both local and national news shows, on every channel, covered the story, often tagging it as a clash between religious rights and personal freedom. I couldn’t help but think of the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees a person the right to free expression of his religion. I don’t see anything in the Constitution about freedom of expression of a person’s sexuality.

I also have thought how early in the debate about “gay rights” those advocating for inclusion often argued that what a person did in the bedroom was their own business, no one else’s. That argument has been replaced.

Just last month a particular ethnic group here in SoCal held a parade. Originally a group of LGBT advocates were denied permission to be a part, but that decision was reversed. On parade day, the news shows covered this “happy end” to the conflict as the contingent of homosexuals marched behind their rainbow banner. Presumably what they do in their bedrooms is now something to celebrate.

Christians, who are uniquely singled out because of our opposition to homosexuality–not Muslims or any other group who also oppose that behavior–are portrayed with growing frequency as bigots.

The most bizarre news clip last night was the interview with a member of the LGBT community who was holding up pages and pages of pictures of lawmakers who supported the Arizona bill or who have taken a conservative position on marriage. This individual explained that all these lawmakers would be boycotted.

In other words, if a person says he opposes homosexuality on religious grounds, he would be discriminated against. But somehow, their boycott is not discrimination while exercising your right to express your religious beliefs, is.

The thing I don’t like is the fact that the news media is framing this discussion. Over and over, the same snippet came on the air showing people celebrating who were holding signs urging the veto of the bill. The implication was that this was a big crowd in front of Arizona’s Capitol. And yet the camera never panned out, never showed more than two rows of people, and the people they did show were not tightly packed together.

Of course, one station also aired their recent poll, showing that 52% of Americans now support same sex marriage. I think they forgot to mention the margin of error in the poll (usually a +/- 3%, sometimes greater) or whether it was conducted scientifically or informally. The point is, there’s a great attempt to create a bandwagon effect.

Homosexuality, which is sin, is now being presented as the position which a good, kind, caring person will naturally support. One Tweet, for example, thanked Christians who don’t discriminate.

Such loaded words. Once Christians who said homosexuality is sin were called homophobes. The name was used as a shaming tactic. No one wants to admit they’re afraid of “gayness.”

But the rhetoric has changed. Now homosexuality is getting traction as a civil right and therefore opposing it is discrimination and someone taking that stand is a bigot. This approach is more aggressive. It’s not shame but condemnation. It is a way of saying the religious person is wrong and the gay person is right.

Which reminds me of these verses in Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight! (5:20-21)

At the root of the LGBT issue is the fact that those who are choosing against their God-given bodies are being wise in their own eyes. They know what they are like inside and ought not be hampered by the biological organs they’ve been born with–the body which God formed in their mother’s womb.

To me, what’s most interesting in all this is the admission of this inner being–you’d almost call it a soul or spirit–which the LGBT community listens to. If they feel like a woman inside, it doesn’t matter if they have a male body. The inside is what counts.

But that brings up the question: what happens when the body dies? The body, so many people say today, ends life. But this inside someone the LGBT community identifies as the stronger-than-the-physical entity of personhood–does it die with the body? This question, I would think, offers a conundrum for the gay person. If the body ends it all, then why should this inner person hold sway over the body? And if the inner person lives on after the body dies, does that mean there really is life after death, and a whole supernatural world with a God who will judge according to what a person has done during his time on earth?

As I see it, Christians have the greatest opportunity now to speak into the lives of people in the LGBT community. What they believe about their inner person determining their gender identity can open up a discussion about what happens to that inner person.

May we focus our attention on rescuing the lost and not on winning arguments.

Theology Versus Morality, Part 3


Shepherdandsheep_1298569I ended Part 2, Theology Versus Morality by suggesting that there was perhaps more than one reason some readers want stories that show a “complete conversion”–one in which the protagonist apparently stops sinning.

The problem, of course, is that the story generally ends when the character conquers whatever problem he’s been plagued by, often by making a commitment to Christ. The implication is that ALL is solved and the character will never face the problem again. I suggested some read or write these stories because they put morality ahead of theology. Essentially they’re saying a moral life is the measure of a person’s relationship with God. It’s the same argument Job’s friends made.

But in the stories I’m talking about, the reward God gives is victory over sin.

And the truth is, God does give victory over sin. However, a new believer isn’t always free from addiction at the moment of conversion. Some people struggle. In fact, my guess is that more people identify with Paul’s statements in Romans 7 about the war between what he wants and what he does, than identify with what he said in Romans 6:

our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (vv 6-7)

Freed from sin, Paul says, but still struggling. Our fiction, however, seems to tell only the first part–freed from sin. Almost automatically. Almost magically. And those stories don’t ring true to readers who struggle with sin in their own lives.

Writers might be penning these stories because they have elevated morality above theology, but they also might write them because they have a philosophy of storytelling that values creating a model for readers to emulate.

A couple years ago I did some study for an article at Spec Faith and discovered that the novel in its earliest forms had two distinct purposes. One was “to invite the readers to mirror the virtues of the story heroes” (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”).

I suspect this goal is still the desire of many writers. After all, we as a society copy those we look up to. That’s how fads and fashions catch on. That’s why ad companies use slogans like “Be like Mike,” a popular phrase back in the day when Michael Jordan was at the top of his game.

The key for Christian writers, I believe, is to show a character struggling, wrestling, working to turn away from evil and do good. After all, the Bible says a lot about morality. It would be one sided to pretend that God only cares about what we believe concerning Him, not what we do as a result of our belief.

But we must see morality as an outgrowth of our belief, not a means to gain right standing with God. And the depiction of morality in fiction must not confuse the two.

Some writers, however, believe that, rather than giving a model for readers to emulate, fiction should be a means to understand the world–natural and supernatural. To accomplish this, the writer must accurately and truthful reflect the world, warts and all.

This last approach creates stories that are in line with ones you can find in the book of Judges, involving such things as gang rape and murder, idolatry, betrayal, thievery, abuse, war. The idea is to discover and understand, “to expose life and society for what it is” (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”).

These stories, then, subjugate theology to morality, but not for the sake of establishing right morality per se. Rather, a reflection of society, especially an unrestricted look at the underbelly, which exposes or critiques, is the goal.

Here are the two views, both holding theology at bay:

If we understand reading to be a mechanism by which we learn how to be or as a means for personal growth, then we probably want books that call us to godliness or at least to ethical behavior.

If on the other hand, we see reading as a reflection and critique of society, then we want stories that push our awareness of the world, including the seamy side of society. (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”)

What I wonder is why those who want to “push our awareness of the world” don’t see as paramount the need to push our awareness of the spiritual side of the world. And by this, I’m not suggesting we need more stories about demons or angels in the vein of Frank Peretti. Rather, there seems to be a great desire to show cursing construction workers and women who sleep around, and not so much a desire to show a loving God who will tend His people like a shepherd, who will carry us with His arm, or hold us close to His chest, or gently lead us.

This is the picture God gives of Himself in Isaiah 40:11. Do we fiction writers think it’s unimportant for the world to understand God as He has shown Himself? Or do we give verbal assent to it but doubt in our hearts that He really shows Himself as He described?

That, I think, might be the key question Christian writers should ask of ourselves. Maybe that all of us should ask.

(Here are the links to Parts 1 and 2.)

Published in: on February 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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Should We Forgive Authors?


working-man-131372-mWhen I was in high school, my church was a growing, vibrant congregation, due in large part to the dynamic preacher who occupied the pulpit. That is, until his wife ran off and had an affair. Not only did our pastor lose his marriage, he lost his ministry.

I wasn’t privilege to all events that transpired. Did he resign or was he forced out? I don’t know.

Not so many years afterward, one of the gifted teachers I’d been reading was discovered to be having an affair. He too lost his ministry, though I recall that he did repent of his sin. I don’t know what happened in his marriage.

Of course all of us are sinners, but some have a more public fall. Solomon would qualify for that category. He wrote some of the clearest warnings against sexual morality, addressing his words to his son. Many people memorize these words and turn to the passages to study in regard to the issue of sexual purity.

Except, Solomon was the man who had . . . what, 600 wives and 300 mistresses? But no adultery, apparently. Well, OK.

Of course, Solomon’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so there’s a greater reason to listen to what he had to say than that his life validated his words. Because it did not.

So I’m wondering, do we reserve our forgiveness for a writer’s wayward life just for those the Holy Spirit inspired? Or can we look at what others write and glean truth from their words though their life might not hold up to close scrutiny?

I mean, let’s face it. No one’s life holds up to close scrutiny. That’s why we need a Savior. But no author that I know of puts their most egregious sins in the bio that goes on the cover of their book. So what happens if readers learn of a life style or a proclivity or a habit with which they disagree?

Of course, most Christians don’t expect non-Christian writers to live according to Biblical standards. As such, there’s often a lot of filtering of material. Just today a friend who reads just about everything by a famous author said she brushes past certain scenes by certain characters. But otherwise the writing is so good.

Should readers take the same approach toward Christian authors?

I ask in part because notoriously Christian readers are harder on Christian authors. We want their lives to be godly and their stories to be theologically sound. And why shouldn’t we? I don’t think Christian novelists are so different from pastors or non-fiction writers.

Or are they? Because they command the attention of an audience, should they live in an intentionally different way since people are watching?

In reality, I think all Christians should live in an intentionally different way because people are watching. We should want them to watch because we should want them to see Jesus in us.

But what happens when a writer falls short? What happens when you learn your favorite novelist is a universalist or believes in sinless perfection? What happens when the evangelist you look up to takes Mormonism off the cult list?

How are readers to respond?

I think there are three ways that believers might commonly respond. Some will treat the books and authors exactly as they do non-Christian works and writers–enjoy them, but stay alert for what is false. Others will simply stop reading those books from that particular author. Others may or may not read the books, but they will pray that God will open the eyes of that author’s heart and that he might come to a position of repentance.

So here’s the thing. I’ve thought for . . . maybe my whole life, about how authors can influence readers. But now I’m seeing that, through prayer, readers can influence authors.

So guess which response is the one I’d recommend? ;-)

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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An Argument Against Thanksgiving Day


horn_of_plentyWhen I was in school, our teacher would inevitable give us an assignment as Thanksgiving approached that required us to write down all the things for which we were thankful. From what I remember, I put the big things on my list: my parents, God, my home, my brother and sister, our cats and dog, my friends, school and teachers (OK, maybe I didn’t put those on the list. ;-) )

The point is, I was thinking of all the good things I had, in particular the ones I took for granted, but when I paused, I really was glad I had each one.

Never once did I think that Thanksgiving could be a day for digging deeper. In fact, this “count your blessings, name them one by one” approach to Thanksgiving trained me to think of the good things I was thankful for as the tangible evidence that God cared.

I didn’t stop to think that He might also care just as much for a little Christian girl in an orphanage in India who had no parents or home, and sometimes went to bed hungry.

I also didn’t realize that many, many of the people recorded in Scripture who started well, who said they would obey God, turned from Him on the heels of receiving His blessings.

King David comes to mind. He’d survived Saul’s attempts to kill him, ascended to the throne, and led his people to victory after victory. Then, as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he decided to stay home while his commander led his army into battle. And that’s when David saw Bathsheba, ignored the fact that she was married, and committed adultery with her.

David repented, but others never turned it around. King Asa, for example, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah, walked with God and experienced great success against the enemies because he turned to God for help:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

God answered that prayer, and for thirty-eight years Asa ruled as a man dependent upon God. But there came a day when he decided to buy his way out of trouble instead of pray his way out.

His scheme worked, but here’s what God told him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)

Asa could have repented too, but instead he threw Hanani into prison and he oppressed some of the people. He ended up sick, alone, and bitter. He had the blessing of answered prayer and God’s protection and power, and he turned his back on the Giver of all those good gifts.

I could go on and on. Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, Jonah, Gehazi, and many more.

It seems as if the good things either became an idol that moved in front of God as the most loved, or the individual took credit for the good things and moved himself in front of God as the most loved.

When the people of Israel were in want, they turned to God. When they experienced His abundance, they turned from Him.

So it seems to me, having a thanksgiving day in which we simply tick off the good things we have is a way to set ourselves up for failure. Not that we should deny the good things, but it seems to me the true approach to Thanksgiving should be an enumeration, not of our stuff, but of God’s attributes–the things He’s revealed about Himself that give us a look into His character. And not just an enumeration, but an all out face plant at His feet, thanking Him for who He is and what He’s done.

After all, who God is lies behind what He’s given us and why. Who God is will outlast any of the stuff we enjoy today. Who God is, is a treasure that outshines any other.

It’s certainly not wrong for anyone to celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day as we are here in the US this coming Thursday, or for anyone to have a personal day of giving thanks. For myself, though, I want to change my focus. I don’t want this to be about the good things our God gives but about our good God Himself.

I wish I was clever enough to make a video that would go viral or savvy enough to get this trending on Twitter. What I’d like to see is believers unite to say, I’m thankful because God is merciful. I’m thankful because God is just. I’m thankful because God is generous. I’m thankful because God is my salvation. I’m thankful because ___ Your turn! :-D

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 7:37 pm  Comments (3)  
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Cultivating Thankfulness In A Disaffected Society


The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_FerrisIt’s hard to be thankful when more seems to be going wrong than right. It’s freezing outside and you catch a cold, but can’t skip work because you have no more sick leave. Besides, there’s this important thing due, and you CAN’T be late. Or unprepared. Because rumor has it, your job is on the line.

Then there’s the latest news story that says something in our water is probably killing us, if the terrorists don’t figure out a way to do it first. The economy is a mess no matter what the stock market is doing, and every day one government official after another is being exposed as a jerk, a lawbreaker, or a corrupt politician.

Then there’s the disappointing mess that the new health care law has become. How many of your friends are like you and are about to lose their present policy?

Are we thankful yet?

The specifics for each of us may be different, but it seems a lot of people would identify with the sentiment that there’s more going wrong than right.

Add to all the pressure and bad news, the constant message from our computer screens and TVs that we deserve better than what we’ve got. We deserve better treatment, a better gadget, a better policy. Advertisements bombard us with the idea that we can, and should, do better, if only we’d get with the program and buy their stuff.

So, how are we doing with thankfulness?

Oddly enough, the people that originated a celebratory feast as part of a day of thanks, had a whole lot more problems than we have. According to the Scholastic article “The First Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims arrived in the New World during the winter. Their perilous two-month voyage across the stormy Atlantic had lasted far longer than expected, and had already taken a toll. Their supplies were nearly depleted, and they became ill because of the conditions on board ship.

As it was, because of exposure, malnutrition, and disease, nearly half the original 102 settlers died before the coming of spring. At the lowest point, only seven people were healthy enough to take care of the sick.

Without the help of the Native Americans living in the region near the place where they settled, it’s likely they would not have survived another winter. Other colonies had failed, and future colonies would be wiped out by attacks from a different group of Native Americans.

The survivors, of course, were committed to this dangerous adventure, and needed to figure out how to provide properly for themselves in order to avoid another disastrous winter. The Indians gave them invaluable help.

In April, the Mayflower headed back to England and the small band of settlers were on their own.

Well, not quite. God was watching over them. By His providential care, they made friends with the Monhegan Tribe, and became acquainted with Squanto who knew English and translated so that the Indians could teach them when to plant corn, how to catch fish, how to use the carcass as fertilizer, and who knows what else.

So it was, they dug in, built homes, and cultivated the soil.

The Pilgrims’ entire male working force consisted of twenty-one men and six of the older, stronger boys. With this small force, they tilled and planted with heavy hoes, (having no horses nor domestic animals), twenty acres of Indian corn, six acres of wheat, rye and barley, as well as small gardens near the homes consisting of peas and other small vegetables. (“The Pilgrims Story and the First Thanksgiving”)

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAt the end of the summer, they reaped a bountiful harvest. And from a deep sense of gratitude, they held a feast of thanksgiving. Ninety Indians came and celebrated with the fifty-eight Pilgrims for three days.

Why? They had all lost loved ones, were in a strange land with no way of returning, and winter was coming.

They didn’t have health care. Or grocery stores. Or cars and freeways, let alone the Internet and Skype. They were cut off and alone. But they celebrated thanksgiving.

They were grateful that God had provided what they needed for that next season. And they trusted that He would do it again and again.

Perhaps our disaffected society isn’t particularly thankful (and I’m talking year round, not whether or not we remember to say thank you to God or to our family on Thanksgiving Day) because we don’t remember what it feels like to be without.

Maybe we need to take a short term mission trip to an underdeveloped nation or volunteer at a homeless shelter or walk the streets of a big city urban center to see what “being without” looks like.

Maybe we should pray that God would open our eyes to the countless blessings we enjoy–and keep our eyes open so that we live in joyful contentment rather than in disaffected greed or coveteousness.

Joy And Rejoicing


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

Published in: on November 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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I Ran A Red Light


stoplights at twilightA month ago I ran a red light. Generally running a red light is not something a person does intentionally, but in my case, and to my shame, I knew exactly what I was doing.

I’d met a group of friends for dinner, and we were carpooling to another location, following the one who knew the area best. I was the third car down the line. Our leader came to a red light at a T intersection on a stretch of road that seemed quite deserted. She stopped but, with only the slightest hesitation, proceeded to accelerate through the intersection.

What? I thought. She just ran a red light!

The driver in front of me pulled up, looked for oncoming traffic–and there still were no cars in sight apart from another stopped car in the lane next to ours. Driver number two accelerated through the intersection.

By this time, I’m beside myself. What am I supposed to do? The lead car is quickly distancing itself from me, and the driver of the vehicle behind me–also a part of our caravan–might well be growing anxious about the separation. I pretty much know the way to our destination, so does it really matter if I lose track of the lead car?

On the other hand, this light is red, and there is NO traffic, except for us suckers sitting there waiting for it to turn. What if the light is broken? That’s probably it! My friend who arrived at the light first and who knows this area probably came this way earlier and realized the light is broken. It must be broken.

And I accelerated through the intersection.

But what would the car behind me do? Would that friend run the red light too? I glanced in my rear view mirror. Sure enough, with a moment’s hesitation, she sped to catch up–just as the light turned green.

Further down the block, the first two cars in our caravan were pulled over to the right waiting for the lost half of our group. We reconvened our line and off we went

When we all reached our destination, the lead driver asked, What happened to you? We thought we lost you.

I was sitting at the red light trying to decide if I should follow or wait for it to turn green, I explained.

What red light? she asked.

What red light? the driver of the second car said.

Uh, the light you both blew through.

Neither one of them had noticed that they were at a light. Perhaps because the road was so deserted or because of the T configuration of the intersection, they reacted as if they were at a stop sign.

But I knew I was running a red light.

And suddenly I felt as Adam may have felt.

Eve was deceived and ate the fruit God had warned against. Adam ate and knew what he was doing.

In the same way, I ran the red light, not because I was deceived, but because I didn’t want to be separated from my friends. I didn’t want to lose sight of the drivers ahead of me, and I didn’t want the driver behind me to be irritated with me for not following.

How much more would Adam have determined he didn’t want to be separated from Eve? He already knew there was no other suitable partner for him. And he knew God had fashioned Eve especially for him. How could he lose her now?

I wonder what justification he gave himself? Was he already formulating the “God made her and gave her to me, so He can’t fault me for doing what I need to do to stay with her” argument?

It’s impossible to know the particulars of his thought process. But I know from my own experience I felt in a clear way, the pressure to stay with the group even if it meant running a red light. I can only imagine how much more pressure Adam felt.

I wish I could say I chose obedience instead of conformity, but I didn’t. I responded no differently than Adam did. Which puts to death the argument that it’s preposterous for all Humankind to suffer because one guy slipped up.

I have no doubt that I would have eaten if I was in that garden and some other deceived person–my own Adam perhaps, or my good friends Adam and Eve–had taken a bite and handed fruit to me.

Published in: on October 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm  Comments (4)  
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What Else Christians Know


search_and_rescueChristians know that God is and that Jesus reveals God. We also know that we are saved by grace. By implication, we also know that we need to be saved.

Christians know that we are sinners. We understand our spiritual condition is a lot worse than simply admitting that we make mistakes. Our inability to live perfectly indicates that there’s a fundamental difference between us and God: He is holy and we are not.

We also understand that no amount of self help is going to take care of our condition. We can try all we want. We can aim to balance out the bad with the good. The problem is, no matter the split–20/80, 60/40, or 95/5–whatever is on the “not good” side is deadly. No exaggeration. We understand our inability to hit the bulls-eye 100% of the time equates to being infected with a terminal illness. The result–the wages, Scripture calls it–is death just as surely as if I drank poison.

So, yes, Christians realize we need to be saved.

We also know we can’t save ourselves. For one thing, the standard is too high. It involves our thought life and our attitudes and intentions as well as our actions. And if we say we don’t sin, Scripture nails us on that and says we’re lying–which of course also is a sin. So we face the fact that we can’t do enough religious deeds to undo our sin, and we can’t clean up our thoughts, actions, words, attitudes sufficiently to cover the sins we have committed. They are on the account book, marked down as stuff we owe. And the debt can only be satisfied by our lives.

Enter God’s grace.

Since God is holy, He’s the only one qualified to intervene. Because He loves us, He’s chosen to do the work to re-connect us to Himself. In many ways, His extension of grace is the same as what the Search and Rescue teams offer someone swept into a fast-flowing river current heading for disaster. Nothing the person in the water can do on his own to keep from drowning. Unless someone tosses him a lifeline, he will die.

The lifeline spiritually is God’s grace.

The means God used to extend His grace to us, is His Son’s death. Jesus willingly offered His life to pay the debt we owe. His death canceled our debt. He died once for all, “the just for the unjust,” that He might bring us to God.

God’s grace is His free gift. Christians know we aren’t special, haven’t done anything to earn God’s favor, and are no better than anyone else. God’s work in us has changed us. He has declared us righteous and is working in us to mold us into the likeness of Christ. But this process is not something we do by pulling up our socks and trying hard. We become who God has declared us to be by giving God the reins of our lives, letting Him take us where He wants, when He wants, how He wants. It’s a position of surrender.

You’ve seen the video of the Golden Retriever who made friends with the little boy who wanted nothing to do with him? He crawled and rolled to his back and lowered his head. He did everything imaginable to show that he was submitting to that little tike. He didn’t have to, certainly.

We, on the other hand, have no choice if we are to have a relationship with God. He’s made the way of escape. Our role is nothing more than to submit freely to God alone who loves us as His children.

Published in: on October 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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Our Sin Is Too Small


Justice_Wills_Vanity_Fair_25_June_1896Years ago a little book came out entitled Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips (reissued in 2008). The title seemed to say it all. Christians were losing a proper view of God as transcendent, sovereign, majestic, holy, all powerful, omniscient.

Instead, we were turning God into whoever we wanted Him to be. He could be our buddy, for example–one that wouldn’t mind if we were too tired on a Sunday morning to keep our appointment with Him. He was OK with taking a back seat to . . . pretty much anything.

What a far cry that view of God is from the one Jesus showed us when He proclaimed that His followers would have to hate their family members and even their own lives if they were to be His disciples.

Today, it seems, a good many professing Christians have taken another step along the continuum of making God small. The way they’re going about it, though, is not by making less of Him, at least not initially. It’s by making less of sin.

    Sin, you see, was never so egregious that sinful people deserved a death sentence. In fact “sin” is such an ugly, old fashioned word. People all make mistakes, but sin?

    Most of us are simply living out learned behavior. It’s society who taught us to be prejudice and selfish and greedy.

    Not to mention that a good many people are sick. We have addictions and paranoia and all kinds of disorders that make impulse control difficult. But none of it is sin.

    Then there’s our DNA. I mean, really, is it our fault if our genes put us on a path toward alcoholism? Forget the old “the devil made me do it” line. It was our genes which we can’t control or choose. This “sinful” stuff is simply not our fault.

    So how can anyone ever think God should condemn people to death for such petty things as complaining against their leaders? Or eating a piece of fruit. OK, that killing your brother thing was pretty bad, but King Saul got condemned for actually sparing someone’s life.

    God apparently can’t make up His mind.

That kind of reasoning sounds so rational, it’s a little scary. The problem, however, is with the reduction of sin. Because God is sovereign, any command He gives is to be obeyed. Ultimately He gave us two: to love Him with our whole being and to love other people in the same way we love ourselves.

Basic. Short and sweet. But no matter how hard we try–and people in religions all across the world have tried for centuries–we continue to fall short. We can’t love God the way He deserves to be love or the way He requires us to love. And though we fully understand how we love ourselves, we can’t manage to treat other people in our lives the same way.

Instead of being heart sick at such utter failure, however, we simply shrug and say God is too demanding, too filled with wrath, too petty, too unloving.

Unloving!

When our sin becomes so small, our egos seem to grow in compensation, and they apparently block our view of who God actually is. Which leads us to say nonsensical things about His character.

    After all, WE would never strike down Korah and his 250 followers for simply wanting to share in the priestly duties. (See Numbers 16) Why should their desire to better themselves be viewed as rebellion toward Moses and Aaron, and why should rebellion against their leaders be viewed as rebellion against God?

    WE would be kinder and more willing to listen and probably commend the Gang of 250 for their initiative. And if we’d react that way, then God has to be a monster for not seeing things the way we see them.

    Yep, we are now the measuring stick, not only of sin but of God Himself. We can declare homosexuality off the sin list, just as we did wives submitting to husbands, adultery, pre-marital sex, and any number of other things. And because God wanted those things to actually be punished, well, that makes Him a tyrant.

Because, you see, we’re now judging God by our standards instead of Him judging us by His.

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm  Comments Off  
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The Wages Of Sin Are A Slap On The Wrist


A_young_lamb_amongst_the_bracken_fronds_-_geograph.org.uk_-_287551This summer Christianity Today reported that the Presbyterian Church USA was disallowing Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend’s hymn “In Christ Alone” into their hymn book because of a line that clashed with their theology. They sought permission to change the offending lines “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”

Until I read about this decision, I was unaware of the controversial nature of the doctrine referred to as “penal substitution.” To be clear, the PCUSA says the problem they had wasn’t with the idea of God’s wrath but with the idea of it being satisfied. Others, however, who have weighed in on the controversy, make it clear that they do indeed have a problem with the idea of God’s wrath. See for example this explanation:

What inevitably results from the penal substitution theory of the atonement is the picture of a God who is a blood-thirsty monster who demands violence and death in order to satisfy his boundless wrath and who apparently can conceive of no other response to sin other than murder (which ironically is itself a sin). (excerpt from “The Wrath of God Was Satisfied?”

I’ve heard similar accusations against God before. God is heinous, apparently, according to this view, because He actually meant what He said when He told Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. What’s more, when He said through the pen of Paul that the wages of sin is death, He only compounded the problem. Now people couldn’t view God the Father as heinous but Jesus as nice and loving because the New Testament was agreeing with the Old.

The ironic thing is that people who are rejecting God’s right to judge, are setting up themselves and their values as the “better way.” They are, in fact, judging God’s act of justice against sin and calling it “murder.”

People, apparently, don’t actually deserve to die. Our sin isn’t worthy of such a harsh punishment.

I’m not sure how those who hold this view explain that in fact, one out of one persons dies. We are actually and factually suffering the wages that God said would be ours as a result of sin.

The good news is that God has made a way of escape and life awaits us after death, if we accept by faith the gift of a cleared debt made possible by Jesus’s willingness to be our surrogate, to take the penalty we deserved.

The thing is, nothing could offer us a more complete view of God than this act of salvation. He is holy, so our sin separates us from Him. His is righteous, so His judgment is without error. He is just, so He doesn’t condemn that which is innocent. He is loving, so He is willing to redeem us at His own cost. He is merciful, so He forgives us when we have no hope of paying Him what we owe.

I could go on. It’s inconceivable that people who claim to be Christians are so willing to deny God’s nature in one area or another.

It’s honestly hard for me to imagine that thinking people could read the book of Leviticus and not see the picture of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the sin offering or the peace offering or in the Passover, or that they could read Genesis and not see the substitution of a ram for Isaac as the substitution of Christ for sinners.

The only way I can make sense of these accusations against God is to suppose that those saying God is a murderer simply do not believe that the wages of sin is death. Apparently, in their view, the wages of sin is a slap on the wrist. What’s needed then, is not a substitute to pay the price, but a gentle reminder or a stern reprimand because surely sinners know better and simply need a refresher course in how to please God.

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