Saturday, June 27, 2015

3 Things to Remember About the Church and the Gay Marriage Ruling - Part 1

I'm hesitant to pollute the FB waves with even more commentary on the recent Supreme Court decision to make Gay Marriage legal.  However, posts at the far ends of the spectrum compel me to voice my position. This may be partly so that I know where I stand personally, then can verbalize it to others as they ask me. It is also so that I will quit yelling at my FB screen from reactionary scares my children when I do that.

So here goes round one...and as with much good practical theology and doctrinal position, is subject to change.

1. Marriage still belongs to God and the Church will go on.  It's interesting to me that the Church was birthed in Greece and Roman culture. Our New Testament was fuel to a movement called Christianity in cultures where marriage and sex were practiced outside of God's instructions and commandments. Still, the Church thrived, people came to Christ and sought lives that honored the God in which they served and worshiped. The United States is not accustomed  to being a culture that is post-modern to Christianity, and it scares us to death.  There are cultures around the globe where the framework of marriage and sexual relations is foreign to our "Christian values." Missionaries can attest to this.  Still, marriage is an institute of God. There is no shortage of values and practices in life where the "created" don't honor the "Creator." Even we heterosexual protectors of marriage and family values have our own kinks in the armor of following Christ. Still, it all belongs to God and this is His story in the will end the way He wants it to.  We must not be scared that God has lost control.

2. We are instructed to NOT judge those outside the Church for homosexuality.  Paul, in writing a letter to a church within a culture that practiced sexual relations outside of the boundaries of God's instruction, instructed them to refrain from judging.  1 Corinthians 5:9-11 says: When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. 11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people...

We don't seem to think the country is crumbling because of these issues.
(I don't see many Christians today refusing to associate with those in the Church that practice abuse on their family, cheating on taxes and the such, or seem to worship other things than God...hmmm)

A good question I was asked by someone I respect very much:  "Do you believe homosexuality is really a sin?"  My answer:  "Yes".  So is my battle with wanting more cars, nice stuff, judgement of other people, etc...  

For those of us who use the Bible as a guide to know God's desires and wishes for life, it is very hard to skip over Romans 1:26-27 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men,... 

If you don't use the Bible as guide, then I can certainly understand why we disagree....but I love you just as much. 

3. God's love is not dependent on how someone acts.  Boy, do we love to preach about grace! Salvation by faith and not works is the proud flag flown for decades by fundamental evangelicalism (right below the American flag). Excuse my pointed frustration, as you can sense in my writing, but I'm am fed up with Christian knowledge that falls short of being lived out when relationships get hard. When we put our love on a restricted basis, available only when someone acts the way we want, we are communicating an incorrect Gospel. God loves us in spite of our life activity...does He want us to transform and change? Absolutely, but that is a process of loving relationship with God and, more importantly, with loving community (Christians). It's no wonder we Christians are seen as the most judgmental group in America today.  If we want America to be Christian, maybe we need to start acting Christian first! 

I'm sure there is more to come. With each FB post I read, instead of yelling, I'll add a sequel to this post.

This ends part 1... I feel better

Thursday, December 25, 2014

I Don't Like Brussel Sprouts!

So I'm not a big fan of Brussel Sprouts.  No, I didn't come from one of those homes where my mom made me clean my plate, no matter what awful green vegetable was on it, but I was exposed to many different foods and expected to at least "try it." Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn't. Dinner usually looked like having some foods I liked, some foods my brother liked, some we didn't...and so we lived with a mixture of favorites and unfavorites all the time. If there was something on our plate like, say Brussel Sprouts, we just tried one and left the others there. And so we knew that there would always be things we didn't like so much at dinner...that was ok.

I find myself concerned that the American Church is unable to live with Brussel Sprouts...

In my sixteen years of doing ministry, I've found that there really is no perfect church, no perfect congregation, no perfect church leadership team. Still, our successful consumer culture has created what has been termed by some, the "Cafeteria Church", (which goes well with my metaphor of Brussel Sprouts). The typical church-goer is going to a church because of what that church brings to their personal life. The teaching, the worship, the children's program, the youth or more things "fit" what they need in a season of life. I totally understand this as I have preferences also, but I've learned that a self-focused church attendance misses critical things for our Christian journey.

Sadly, what we miss is the necessary ingredient of COMMUNITY. what I mean by community is not just gathering on Sundays, but developing deep relationships with other believers. Relationships that go beyond the surface and involve knowing the unattractive issues in our life. This type of community takes time, and investment. Theologians like Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who shaped much of our current thinking, have written in summary that Christian community is a necessary part of becoming a mature Christ follower. I tend to agree.

Today, the disturbing trend is that many Christ-followers do not hold community as a least not above personal preferences.  If something goes wrong relationally in the church, they just pickup and leave, there's always another church down the road. I don't mean to sound overly critical, but I believe this is a massive blow to the Church in America, as well as our own journey with Christ. For us to be formed into the image of Christ, we must stick it out with each other. Those uncomfortable relationships will help transform us. Those disagreements with leadership or programming, when talked through, become the laboratory of forgiveness and understanding. We become more like Jesus by leaning in to the broken relational issues we face, rather than running from them.

Yes, sometimes it means enduring worship that isn't your favorite, or teaching that isn't what you'd pick...but when the community is your primary value, then God will use you in other people's lives and they will be used in yours. You become "part of the Body."  Heard that idea before somewhere? (hint: 1 Corinthians 12)

I'm saddened when I hear someone leave our church...not when they feel called to another ministry, but when they leave over preferences or relational differences. Community falls way down the list of priorities....down where Brussel Sprouts reside. Without community ("Communal Unity"), the Church is weaker, which the enemy loves. Without community we cannot mature and grow. My personal belief is that there is no such thing as a "personal relationship with Christ." We've done people a dis-service by coining that term in America. It must be a community relationship with Jesus...because that is where we are changed and transformed. That's probably why community is so prevalent in Scripture. That's why we're called "a Body of Christ."

So when you look at your church and see Brussel Sprouts, just try one. If you don't like it, just leave the rest on your plate....don't go looking for a new cafeteria...they really are all the same in that some of their food choices are good, some not so good. Don't let community become a byproduct of attendance at a church, make community a Christian value you strive and fight for.  In the end, you'll be a better Christ-follower for it, and the church will be blessed by your long-suffering investment in relationships!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Disappointing Title - "The Gospel, Homosexuality & The Future of Marriage"

I'm really taking a risk with this post...I realize that. Let me make a statement from the start. I'm putting in bold letters hoping you hear my voice clearly:

- I believe that the Bible is authoritative and teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

I recently received an email that really disturbed me. It was an advertisement for the ERLC upcoming conference in October.  The ERLC is the "Ethics & Religious Liberties Conference" of the Southern Baptist Convention. (I want to add here that I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church).  What disturbed me was the title of the conference: The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.

Here is their opening paragraph:
Are you and your church prepared for the moral revolution surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage happening across America? While human sexuality and social institutions are being redefined before our very eyes, the Bible presents marriage as an unchanging picture of the gospel through the union of one man and one woman. The gospel announces that the story of Jesus is greater than the sum total of our sexual desires.

Hoping that I made my theological stance clear above before going further, what bothers me is that the conference seems to be drawing the battles lines. There is a protectionist stance suggested, even if not intended, by throngs of fundamentalist Christians, gathering to "get their ducks in a row" in preparation for the "coming revolution." I'm praying that this conference is less aggressive than it appears. I so respect some of the speakers and in fact, know a couple of them personally and regard them highly.

Here's my rub...while I understand the feelings behind why these brothers and sisters believe that marriage needs to be protected, The Gospel does NOT need to be protected.  In fact, the Gospel is precisely for Gays and Lesbians, as well as for us. There is no protectionist agenda, no law of the land, no outcry from the Temple that is going to transform people's lives.  It only comes from The Gospel and relationship with Jesus Christ. will we be able to share this Gospel (good news) with those that need this transformation, if we're on a battlefield?

A person I respect made an interesting comment recently regarding gays and lesbians, in regard to fundamental Christian families.  He said that it was interesting that in Muslim countries, if a child chooses Christianity, they are ostracized from their family and friends.  This intelligent millennial went on to observe that in Christian homes here in America, if a child says they are gay or lesbian, they are ostracized also. His view, whether you agree or not, was that we Christians are just as closed minded as Muslims, just as judgmental. Something's wrong here...

While I totally believe that homosexuality is a sin, I also believe greed, gluttony, gossip, slander, lust and many other vices are sins as well, yet we don't have large conferences about protecting our lives from  those. We sweep the seemingly smaller issues under the rugs of our homes and choose to vocalize our disapproval of someone's sinful life in homosexuality.

Somewhere in that Bible we carry, it talks about logs and well, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 becomes an interesting part of this discussion.

I am in turmoil over our society's acceptance of same-sex marriage.  I believe it is a sinful lifestyle that God did not ordain, and even speaks against. I really wrestle, as a pastor, with how the church should deal with this rising bent of our culture. Yet, I love the individuals in this life style, just like I love my friends caught in other sins. So what will turn society toward God? I don't think it is a "Great Wall of China" approach to The Gospel.  What will turn society toward God, is showing the love of God ourselves, in person (I think Jesus even commissioned us to do that). Without face to face conversation, we remain adversaries.  It's hard to hear The Gospel over the sounds of cannons and muskets.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Crossroads of Closeness with God

It's the day after our community, and the high school in our neighborhood, mourn the loss of two senior high students from a fatal car crash. Another student still in the hospital and the driver, 17 years old, in jail possibly facing charges of manslaughter.

Students praying at Palmer
Ridge High School.
This morning I awoke to news reports, tweets and Facebook posts about the crash and the resulting coming together of our community....many being teens in our church who had played on teams with the boys or knew them personally. A cross has been erected with flowers being added by the hour at the crash site. At Palmer Ridge High School, the normal 10-12 students praying at the flagpole was increased by a multiple of 10. We opened our church yesterday so students could come and make some sense of their loss and possibly of God. One of our pastors is today meeting with the soccer team, which one of the boys played on with his son.

Tragedy brings us to a crossroads.  It's a place where anger, sorrow, questions and hope meet to seek an answer and new path. It is an opportunity to reengage a closeness with God that was waining, or possibly non-existent.

I wonder if God doesn't use these tragedies purposely to remind us of many things...
   our humanity
   the thin balance between life and death
   community and our need of each other
   his existence

As we seek answers in the midst of tragedies, God is at the crossroads, waiting patiently for our inquiries. His answers are not always what we want to hear, but if we will settle our souls within the story and hope of His eternity, we can find the strength to pick ourselves up and move on. We will find purpose again and learn from our trials.

James writes to, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whoever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish it works so that you can be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-3) Whether we like it or not, tragedy breeds maturity.  The fruit of maturity is an increasing hope, not in the safety of life, but in an eternity with our Creator.

And so, this tragedy yesterday in our community reminds me to do one thing...stay close to my God and find hope in Him. As we pray and mourn with these families and our community, may God's closeness become apparent to them as they stand at the crossroads looking for answers, along with all of us.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Constant Source of Grace

Every day, if following Christ closely, we are stretched beyond ourselves and beyond the grace we have within us. Whether relationships, weight of life, or simply pace of living, the peace of our souls is tested and pushed aside.

My reading for today from Valley of Vision spoke to this constant tug-of-war with grace:

O what blessedness accompanies devotion,
     when under all the trials that weary me,
                              the cares that corrode me,
                              the fears that disturb me,
                              the infirmities that oppress me,
I can come to Thee in my need,
     and feel peace beyond understanding!
And here thy saints encourage my hope;
     they were once poor and are now rich,
                              bound and are now free,
                              tried and are now victorious.
Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess,
     but not more than is found in thee,
     the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells.
                                   from: Valley of Vision, A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

When life is heavy or relationships are a struggle, move closer to God (devotion) and fine the grace needed to move ahead...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Forgiven Much...Worship Much"

This past week I encountered two quotes that gave some perspective on least for my own engagement on Sunday mornings.  That's right, sometimes this Worship Leader doesn't always feel like singing or leading worship on Sundays. My feelings don't always fit with the songs I've picked or the topic for that morning. Sound familiar to you as well?

Travis Ryan, a gifted worship leader and songwriter tweeted the following last week, "Worship Leaders, instead of starting your service with 'How do I feel', ask 'What do I know?'."

So what do we know? I mean, let's face it, I don't always feel like waking up on Sunday and singing songs or sitting through a message.  I don't always want to put on my happy face and engage my church community.  There may be things happening in my life that I don't want to be transparent about, which leads to a lack of desire to engage God in worship, singing, prayer or learning.

So if we followed Travis's advice, which I think it right on the mark, we would ask, "Instead of following how I feel, what do I know?"  I pondered this statement for a few days and found my answer as I listened to Bill Hybels during the opening talk of the 2014 Global Leadership Summit. Bill made a statement that immediately answered Travis's tweet, at least for me.  Bill said, "Forgiven Much...Worship Much."  That was the resounding answer to "What do I know?"

It sounds obvious but often doesn't live itself out as obvious, but we don't want to worship just because of how we feel.  We worship because God is worthy and because we have been forgiven much! When I think over my life and the things that still haunt me, the things I'm still trying to improve, and how God gives me the grace that I need on that journey, I'm given a reason to worship no matter how I feel. I live within the safety of His forgiveness...forever!  Forgiven Much...Worship Much.

I encourage you to not disengage from your faith community when life is hard or your feelings don't follow the Sunday songs or message. Be there and engage God because of what He's done for you, not because of your feelings. You are forgiven much, so worship much!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places...

The title of this blog was a song made famous by country music singer Johnny Lee and was also part of the soundtrack of the movie URBAN COWBOY (now I'm showing my age:).  It is hauntingly biblical in it's premise, which I'm sure was not Johnny's intent.  Yet this searching for love, approval and happiness finds real meaning not only in hit songs but also in scripture and in our very lives...each and every one of us.

Refining trials of life are meant to do one thing, I am now convinced; to revalue the idols of our life and put them in their proper position and perspective.  God does not want any believer to place more value on their happiness, success, relationships, love, etc....than on Him.  If you look at most stories throughout scripture, there is usually a problem with an idol in someone's life.

We can build an idol out of anything, or anyone.  We can strive for happiness more than God, for love more than God, for success more than God, for great kids more than God...the list goes on.  I've recently come to learn and realize that even your closest relationships, the ones you thought you couldn't live without, easily become idols.  Once they are seen for what they's much easier to live a life of what my friend and counselor, Ken Curry, calls "Holy Indifference."  Our focus should always be on what God is wanting and how we work out our story and journey with Him, no matter what deserts or trials come about.  When pain takes our focus off of God and onto what we need to feel better, we've created an idol.....a little god that makes us feel better than the BIG GOD that is letting us walk thru the desert.

It's also interesting that we like to move from one idol to the next, so that life feels better to us.  When one god is "not being a very good god."  There's always another one to take it's place...and we are so good and finding them!  My own hope is to replace the idols that pop up their ugly heads with one true thing that I can rely on and worship.....Yaweh Himself.  Other small idols will make me feel better for a while, but ultimately leave me feeling empty and still searching.

I recently made a list of my idols.  I tried to be brutally honest with myself and with God.  He has certainly refined my outlook on life and my desire to love Him first above anything else in life.  I feel like I'm on a path toward understanding Job...where losing anything can result in just worshiping Him.  It is a process we all want love, acceptance and affirmation from life and from those around us.  Still, we must keep those in perspective, not as idols, but as blessings.

Timothy Keller in his book, Counterfeit Gods, has a great definition of an idol that goes something like,  "when a blessing of life becomes the thing that is the focus of life, it becomes an idol."  Abraham had to be willing to kill his ultimate blessing, Isaac.  Isaac had become an idol in Abraham's heart and God knew it, so he asked him to sacrifice it.  Just when God knew that Abraham was willing to obey God above holding on to his blessing/son, God did not require death of the idol, just removal from Abraham's heart.  At that time, God was first in Abraham's life.  Abraham's example is what we must also do with all the relationships and blessings of stuff in our life....put it on the altar, draw the knife and start the killing of it.  Perhaps God will will save it from death, perhaps not.  But the point is not whether we keep the blessing or not, it's whether we keep God first or not.

This removing of idols is not a pleasant journey to be on, but one that delivers the promises of James 1 where the perseverance of following God brings about a maturity of faith.  That is a promise worth keeping my eyes fixed to!