Jesus and Homosexuality

The following link will take you to a paper published on the Village Church website, that is an excellent rebuttal of the idea that, since Jesus never taught about homosexuality, it was not an issue of concern. I recommend it to you.

Click here to go to the article.

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Follow Up on “The Shack” Discussion

Thanks to all those who came. The post below has the link to the interview with William Paul Young.

This page contains the literary review by Julie Moore.

Tim Challies’ 17 page pdf file critiquing the book is here.

I hope you are reading, and doing so with discernment.

Published in: on March 17, 2009 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Praying As Jesus Said To Pray

Last week, I spoke to the Sunday evening gathering about prayer, and specifically how we are to pray as instructed by Jesus in Luke 11.  There, in answer to his disciples’ request to teach them how to pray, he replied “Whenever you pray, say this…” and gave them a version of what is often called “the Lord’s Prayer.”  One point we considered was that the words of instruction are in a form that indicate that we would regularly use this model, and that it would often even be these very words.  As averse as we Baptists are to recitation, it has been the practice of the church for centuries to do so, and to do it together.  So, one aspect of our praying that may need to change is a more frequent use of both public recitation and use of this form itself.

Second, the five basic elements of the prayer provide us with a comprehensive approach to our praying.

Father… this tells us we are addressing ourselves to God in relationship with us.  It is an invitation into familial intimacy.

…hallowed be your name.  We are to offer praise, and seek that God’s name would be praised and lifted up in the eyes and hearts of all people everywhere, and especially among us as believers.

Your kingdom come.  We acknowledge that God is the sovereign of our lives and of this universe, and our greatest desire is that his control and rule and authority be both recognized and revealed.  That is something that will happen in its fullness at the end of the age, but it certainly is underway now, ever since the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus in Heaven now.  We are citizens of that kingdom, and whenever the Spirit’s power is at work in and through the Church, the kingdom is at work and advancing.

Give us each day our daily bread.  We are asking God for what we need daily.  Note that it is a plural command (in fact, the whole prayer is collective, indicating that we pray not just for ourselves and by ourselves, but for each other and with each other).  All of our intercession for others rests under our faith in and seeking of God’s daily provisions.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  Ah, here is the heart that is so crucial to right living–the heart of forgiveness.  We continually acknowledge that we need God’s forgiveness, and we also confess that as we realize how much we need it, we are ready to release any bitterness or grudge or debt we have or hold against anyone else.

And lead us not into temptation.  This is our prayer for protective guidance.  We know how easily we can be swayed and led astray from the will of our good God, and we ask that he would protect us from that deception of the flesh and trickery of the world and Satan. 

It is such a short, succinct prayer/outline.  May I challenge you to join me in praying through it every day?

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hearing God’s Voice

Language can be a tricky thing, especially for Christians.  One prime example is when we talk about hearing God speak.  I think I could say without fear of contradiction that true Christians want to know that we have heard God speak to us.  Don’t you?  I know that I do.  My own understanding of Scripture indicates that God has and does at times reveal things to people.  He just does.  It’s not new Scripture, and it’s not for everyone in all times.  But it can happen.

Yet you and I know that it doesn’t happen all that often.  Most of us don’t have a daily, two-way, audible conversation with the Lord.  Most of us want it, though. 

Try this thought exercise.  What if I could say to you, “Tomorrow when you wake up, I want you to get up and pray for 5 minutes, and then just wait and you will hear the voice of God.  He will speak to you.”  Would you do it?  My guess is that you would be up, praying, and listening.

Well, I can say this to you, and it will happen.  Only, it will not be an audible voice, and it will happen if you will read the Bible after you pray.  You see, God is not silent, he has been speaking for thousands of years in words you can read, and his Spirit will empower to communicate his truth to you.  If you do not believe this, then you do not believe in its fullness 2 Tim. 3:16-17.  Scripture is God “breathing out” words that will make you adequate for every task you face.  Yes, there may be moments where he uses other means to speak to us, but none of them is more important or supersedes the Scriptures.

Any takers?

Published in: on December 2, 2008 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Give Up or Get Going?

The last few weeks’ sermons from Mark 8 and 9 have been pretty intense in their applications.  After all, Jesus was confronting head on the mistaken assumptions his disciples made about the kind of Messiah he was, the kind of kingdom they would experience, and the path they would have to choose–“…deny [your]self, take up [your] cross, and follow me.”  As we considered together last week the ramifications of this call to our own lives, the “disconnect” that exists between the average Christian life and what Jesus expects became both clear and disturbing for many of us.  Afterwards, a number of people, young and old, remarked that it can be discouraging to think deeply about how we fail to deny our own ambitions, die to ourselves, and follow Jesus. 

I took a few moments on Sunday night to follow up on this, and I wanted to repeat it for those who might not have been there, so here goes…

Listening to Jesus’ call and realizing we are not there can lead to one of two responses.  The first is to give up, but frankly that is the path of unbelief.  Shrinking back from following undermines our assurance and may testify to lack of true faith.

The second is the path Paul takes.  Now, in my mind there is no one more qualified to say, “I have denied my own ambitions, died to self, and followed the path of suffering that Jesus walked,” than Paul was.  By the time he writes Philippians, he is is jail for preaching the gospel.  He testifies, in ch. 3, that he has, in fact, followed this path, counting everything he once valued as nothing to gain Christ.  But he goes on to say that he hasn’t mastered this–he doesn’t consider himself “perfect” or complete in this.  Instead, he lets go of the  past, and presses on to better following after God’s call upward and onward.

If Paul could feel that he hadn’t gotten it all right yet, but had to keep pressing on, then I have hope and encouragement that this should be my response.  I cannot wallow in regret, nor should I revel in past victories.  Instead I need to keep pressing on.  The measure of my faithfulness is always taken in the present.  The same is true for all of us.

Let’s make sure not to give up.  Let’s think deeply about where our lives are not being lived on the threefold path described at the end of Mark 8.  And then let’s call upon God’s Spirit to enable us to change–one aspect or area at a time perhaps–so that we prove to be true followers of Jesus.

Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Mini Mid Week Series

For the next two weeks, I’ll be taking some time in our midweek prayer service to talk about (and lead us in praying about) the biblical concept of peacemaking–not in terms of global conflict, but in terms of personal relationships.   While I don’t normally do this kind of thing, I thought that it might be timely for us to consider how to be agents of reconciliation and how to avoid giving offense and dealing with it if we have offended someone.  So, join me if you are free for these next two weeks, Wednesday night at 6:45 p.m. in Moffat Hall

Published in: on September 4, 2008 at 2:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Should Christians Sue Christian Organizations?

Many of us were informed recently that a former professor at Cedarville is suing the University over his termination.  He has also named at least one individual in the lawsuit as well, a university employee.  The situation surrounding the termination has been one filled with controversy for over a year, and has been the subject of news reports, blogs, etc.

[This follows the actions of a Wheaton College tenured professor, who quit rather than share the reasons for his divorce from his wife with the school’s authorities, as their community standards covenant would require.  He has gone to the media to air his grievances and is questioning the ethics and legality of such inquiries, giving Wheaton a sharp public rebuke in the process.  People are wondering if legal action will follow.] 

I will not comment on the termination’s merits or procedure.  As a teaching moment, however, let me take this sad occasion to remind all of our flock here at Grace that it is never appropriate for Christians to sue fellow Christians.  Further, I believe it would be a “legal fiction” to try and say that suing a Christian-owned non-profit corporation is allowable because it is a corporation, not an individual.

The most pertinent scripture to guide us is found in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, where Paul rebukes believers for taking their grievances before “the unrighteous” rather than believers.  He says that this action brings shame on those who pursue it.  He says that Christians should be able to solve their disagreements within the Christian community–the church.  I know that this would be the local church initially, but what if the problem affects more than a local congregation?  The pattern of the council of Jerusalem might suggest that in such a dispute a number of affected and concerned churches or a group of neutral believers could be called together, to function in some ways as the council in Acts 15 did–weighing issues and offering a solution.  

To my knowledge, the Bible-believing churches or associations that have been directly or indirectly affected have not been asked to mediate in this situation, and I am unaware if any of the national Christian reconciliation ministries have been consulted either.  These would be means available to uphold the spirit and letter of our text in the present difficulty.

Further, Paul tells the Corinthians that it would be better to be wronged than to take brothers and sisters to court to get one’s rights.   Our belief that God is in control of all things, including evil done to us (see Genesis 50:20) allows us to suffer wrong as our Lord modeled while entrusting ourselves to the care of a loving and sovereign God.  While I recognize that when sued we may be required to defend ourselves, the Scriptures do not justify taking legal action against a brother.

What about the issue of suing Christian owned and operated corporations?  The text still applies, since the corporation is, in fact, a collection of Christians in its governors, its employees, and its constiuents–all of whom are negatively impacted by the action.  This really becomes a distinction without a difference.  If the courts render a punitive judgment against a Christian corporation, it is the Christians who own it, who work for it, and who make use of it that will suffer the consequences.  So the person suing winds up injuring lots of people, not just one or two. 

This is a sad case, and not one where, as I have said before, fault and wrong rests only on one side.  However, biblical principles must govern the actions of Christians, even when those principles mean that we will suffer a wrong done by another Christian that is unjust, unfair, and would certainly be overturned by a court if we sued.  We should seek reconciliation, mediation, and if agreeable, arbitration by believers.  We should submit ourselves, individually or corporately, to such avenues if we are wronged or someone believes we have wronged them.  If that is not available to us, however, we stand close to our Savior, who experienced far worse and sets the example for us.  We should never give those in the world the excuse that believers can’t really live out the call of the gospel as a reason to mock our Lord or His teaching. 

Let’s pray that this particular matter can be resolved biblically, outside of the legal system, to glory of the Savior who grieves over wrongs done to any of His children in any situation.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 3:29 pm  Comments (3)  

Losing Faith?

In the newest issue of Mission Frontiers, Dr. Ralph Winter cites an alarming statistic in the first of a number of articles on losing one’s faith. He writes, “Nowhere, in fact, is this catastrophe more obvious than in the United States. Here, estimates are that 75% of teenagers in Evangelical homes will lose their faith after high school. One denominational study says 85%.”

I cannot find the documentation for these statistics, but Dr. Winter is not one given to making up statistics out of thin air. If even close, this should give all of us in evangelical, Bible believing and teaching churches something to think about. Later, he mentions a number of currently prominent debunkers of faith who were once considered one of us. He includes:
Hector Avalos, former Pentecostal minister, now Professor of religious studies at Iowa and an avowed secular humanist, and author of The End of Biblical Studies.
Bart Ehrman, Moody and Wheaton grad, whose latest book is God’s Problem, How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer.
John Marks, former Young Life staffer, author of Reasons to Believe, a book that concluded there were none.

A succeeding article by Dr. Ruth Tucker reflects on the factors that led former missionaries and pastors to give up their faith, and it makes for depressing reading indeed. One take away from the article: you cannot argue someone back to faith any more than you could argue them into faith originally. Any “restoration” takes the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Is this new news? In fact, it is not. Ever since John wrote his first epistle, there have been those “who went out from us” but were not really part of us, even though they looked and talked the part.

But what is it that causes the majority of evangelical young people in the U.S. to abandon their faith after high school, with only a minority seeming to return after wandering in the world’s “wilderness” for a number of years? Theologically we can go back and forth about election. We might wonder if families have failed to “train up a child in the way he should go,” but then again some of the wanderers have brothers and sisters who don’t stray.  The children in our Awana programs, Sunday schools, and youth groups rarely leave them saying that they are not “saved,” yet nationally three out of four will not be following Jesus a few years past high school.

What might we do?  For starters, remember the parable of the seed and soils that we studied in Mark 4.  If we learn anything there, it is that salvation is a process that has a definite beginning, yet only can be seen to be taking place as fruit appears.  Perhaps if we were less insistent that our children were saved, we would be more careful to encourage them to continue to seek Christ, to look at their lives, and even examine themselves to see if they are in the faith as they grow older. 

We might also remember that Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go…”) is a proverb that describes reality, but not a guarantee in all cases.  Our best efforts as believing parents do not assure us that our children will trust the Lord.

Third, we might be much more intentional about training our children and young people in the Scriptures at a deeper level, wrestling with questions like the existence of evil sometime before a crisis or tragedy occurs.  Teaching freshmen at Cedarville University, I must say that I am appalled at the lack of general Bible knowledge of many of my students who come from Christian homes and evangelical churches.  Worse, they not only lack Bible facts, they have no theology–a coherent system of biblical thought that helps them know how to think about questions that come to them. 

Published in: on May 28, 2008 at 12:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Week of Prayer

In my “State of the Church” sermon, I shared that one of the priorities I hoped to promote in 2008 is finding new venues and ways for us to experience corporate prayer.  Current programs and practices are not wrong or deficient–but they are not currently mobilizing many of our members. 

One step we will take is to set aside specific times for specific prayer, seeking to follow biblical models found in both Old and New Testaments.  A first opportunity will be during the last week of February, when we will set aside times throughout the week to allow us to pray specifically for one big thing:  the salvation of people around us.

In Acts 12, the church gathered for one subject prayer meetings.  In that case, it was Peter’s deliverance from prison.  Short version of the outcome–it worked.  In Acts 4, they had already seen this, when they prayed for boldness in the face of opposition.  It had worked then, too.

There is certainly reason for us to gather to pray for lots of matters and concerns, and we are used to that.  Perhaps, though, we need to get used to persistence about one thing.  In trying to decide where to start, I thought about another of my concerns for us–that we need to see conversions in our midst.  Our baptisms most often reflect conversions that took place much earlier, and adult conversions especially have been rare of late.

Then, something happened.  We saw someone come to our offices a few weeks back and ask how to follow Christ.  Then we had a high school student profess faith in Christ.  And then another one.  Then the child of a newcomer to our church (who has yet to profess Christ) trusted the Lord in Awana.  That is four professions of faith in less than a month. 

We need to thank God for this, but I think He is also reminding us that He has more around us to save.  As he told Paul when they still were not saved, he may be telling us, “…I have many people in this city who are my people.”  All of us know unsaved people.  And all of us know that we can do more to encourage them toward Christ.  One of those actions is prayer on their behalf.  That is what we are going to do during the final week of February.

We will be posting a schedule of times throughout the week where someone will be available at the church to lead a 45 minute time of prayer.  We will gather, a list will be shared (and added to if need be), and we will pray.  No singing, no offerings, no message–just concerted prayer together for people, by name, who need the Lord.  We will pray for those we know and those we don’t.  We will pray for our church’s specific outreaches to some of these people.  We will pray for us to be aware of opportunities to speak to them and show the love of Christ to them.

Then, we will work, wait, and watch to see how God responds to the prayers we have prayed. 

Details will follow, but prepare your hearts now!

Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

The Strong, the Weak, and the Carnal

This past Sunday I tried to lay out, in our discussion of submission to one another, how mutual submission works in cases of strong and weak believers in the context of Romans 14-15.  The basic principles were:

1.  The strong bear with the failings of the weak (14:1).  This means that those who are mature will recognize weak, immature expressions of faith, and will love these believers by not purposely disregarding the concerns of the weak.  If a strong believer is in the presence of a weak believer who thinks Christians cannot eat meat or drink wine (the two are the examples of “weak” beliefs in 14:21), then the strong will not eat meat or drink wine in their presence, nor will they argue with them about their opinions–these are not important issues over which to cause division in the body.

This passage leads to two further principles that I tried to make clear:

2.  The weak do not recognize that they are weak, but believe that they are holding to that which the Lord (through the Bible in our case) teaches.  That is what is meant when it says “he believes” these things in 14:2.  They may, in fact, believe that they are standing for the truth of Scripture and not see themselves as weak, but strong!

3.  If a person recognizes that his or her view is not required by Scripture, but then seeks to force that view on others, he is not acting as a weak brother, but as a carnal one.  “Carnal” means “of the flesh” as opposed to “of the Spirit, and activity that promotes self will is carnality.  In this case, someone is making his own preference a requirement for other believers.  And the Bible condemns making the opinions or precepts of men equal in authority to the word of God (Matthew 15:1-9). 

What I have just described is one basic distinction between biblical Christianity and legalism.  Take meat eating as an example.  The Bible clearly allows it, but a life long vegetarian may have been taught the belief that meat eating is a sin.  When that person comes to Christ, he may still carry his anti-meat bias with him.  You or I (as stronger and more mature in our understanding of Scripture) can love him practically by not making that an issue with him and not eating meat in his presence.  We may still eat meat privately.  If he were to ask me point blank, “do you eat meat,” I would tell the truth, and I would also seek to help him understand that I do so only because the Bible allows it and seems to bless it:  seen in Genesis 9:3, the allowance of meat in the Law, and the declaring of all foods clean through Christ’s words in the gospels and Peter’s vision in Acts.  To help him grow, I would even consider saying, “I’ll tell you what.  I won’t eat meat while the two of us look at Scripture to see if we can come to a clear understanding of what is allowed and not allowed by God.” 

Let’s say that he came to understand that the Scripture does not prohibit meat eating, but he still doesn’t feel right about it.  First, he should not violate his own conscience in the matter (Rom 14:5, 23).  Second, he should not judge those who eat meat without guilt (Rom. 14:3-4, 13).  As long as he can do this, there is no problem.

BUT, if he says, “I know the Bible may allow it, but it is cruel, and it is unhealthy, and people get high cholesterol and clogged arteries from it and die, so it’s wrong and no Christian should consider themselves free to do it,” then there is a problem.  Our friend is now making his opinions (valid though some may be) binding on others’ behavior without having Scriptural authority to do so.  And that is sin against brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let me go further and give a real life example we have faced here. 

This strong/weak/carnal issue relates to why some have a problem with me related to my beliefs about consuming alcohol.  I do not drink alcohol.  It has never been my practice, and I have made the decision that it will not be my practice to do so.  Further, I believe that our culture has shown an addictive pattern that has meant we often find ourselves enslaved to things that do not enslave people in other cultures to the same extent.  I know that many Christians and non Christians might have a problem with seeing me, as a pastor, drink alcohol.  And I know that if I never drink, I never run the risk of drunkenness.  These are my personal choices and practices through which I believe I can best honor God in this matter.  These are also the point of view from which I have counseled others and raised my children.

But the Bible does not forbid the use of all alcohol.  Drinking wine was standard practice in Bible times, and that wine contained alcohol (A simple word study will show that the same word for “wine” is used where Jesus turned water into it, and we are told not to be drunk with it.  “New wine,” a term used in Acts 2 to describe the accusation against the apostles at Pentecost, obviously was also alcoholic, as they were being labeled as babbling as you would when under the influence.  Those who have tried to teach that Bible characters drank only grape juice have no historical or linguistic support).  The Bible condemns drunkenness, warns against strong drink, and says that those who linger long over wine are fools.  Overuse and abuse of wine is a sin, but wine is also spoken of positively in biblical descriptions of joy, feasting, and blessing (we saw that in Ecclesiastes, and a quick concordance check using the word “wine” will prove it further).  So it cannot be maintained that drinking alcohol is sin.  If someone points to 19th century temperance preachers as having justifications for teetotalism as the only biblical view, I would respond that preachers have often erred based on cultural situations.  Temperance preachers were a historical phenomenon among Christians in America and England, arising when drunkenness was a national crisis.  Such preaching did not emerge among Christians in Europe at the same time, or in Africa and Asia as Christianity took root there.  And some 19th century preachers gave biblical justification for American slavery before the Civil War and denying women the right to vote near the turn of the century.

So, I cannot teach that the Bible forbids alcohol, nor can I prove from Scripture that using alcohol makes one unable to hold membership in the local church.  As you know, when I became pastor I asked the deacons to remove that prohibition from our membership application, and they did so.

Now I have been accused by some (and they have said it to me personally) of “promoting drinking alcohol.”  I reject that claim, for I have never promoted it.  One person told me that I must believe that I could sit in in a casino in Vegas with a cocktail and glorify God.  Now, that conjures up a very strange picture of me in the mind, but at no time could anything I have said or done ever be interpreted in that way by any fair assessment.

What I do promote is this:  we should allow believers, strong or weak, to make choices about their behaviors based on the clear teaching of the Word of God, as they understand it.  We who are stronger will lovingly help the true weak toward maturity.  In those cases where they progress slowly, those of us who are stronger will submit to their weakness by limiting our own personal freedom in order to demonstrate our maturity and our desire to maintain harmony in the body.  We will call “sin” whatever the Bible calls “sin.”  We will allow those who choose to abstain from biblically permissible items or activities to do so to God’s glory, and those who choose not to abstain from them to also do so to God’s glory.  One group will not judge the other.  That is the heart of Romans 14, and it is the heart of Jesus.   As a church, we will be careful about not trying to force one side or the other of such choices upon the whole body–those who choose to abstain will not find it hard to do so here, and those who choose not to abstain will not find it hard to exercise their personal freedom.  We will let the Holy Spirit and the Word of God be the convicting and directing agents in these matters.

Published in: on October 3, 2007 at 4:32 pm  Comments (4)