Category Archives: Theology

WHAT NOAH TEACHES US ABOUT EASTER, AND ABOUT OURSELVES

noah_ark_01Most recently I invited Bill Watson, Criswell College’s Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Research, to Mission Dorado Baptist Church to preach our Palm Sunday service. Bill is a two time graduate of the Criswell College and is working on his PhD at the University of Texas in Dallas.

Bill preached on Noah, which wasn’t inspired by the recent movie of the same name. It was inspired by Easter, a holiday on which the church celebrates our great hope–the resurrection. His message was simple: The story of Noah teaches us that we are all really messed up and that, without the resurrection, we will always be messed up.

I imagine you’re asking, “How in the world does the Flood teach us about the resurrection?”

Bill’s take on Noah suggests that Noah is a second Adam, not to be confused with Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). As the second Adam, the story of Noah is a second story of creation. In fact, it’s astounding how much the story parallels the creation story in Genesis 1. Consider these parallels:

  • The darkness in Genesis 1:2 parallels the sure darkness from the rain clouds in Genesis 7:17.
  • The dry land appearing in Genesis 1:10 parallels the tops of the mountains becoming visible in Genesis 8:5.
  • The vegetation sprouting in Genesis 1:11 parallels the freshly picked olive leaf in the dove’s beak in Genesis 8:11.
  • God’s first command to Noah after leaving the ark parallels his first command to Adam, which is to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28; 9:1).

There is little doubt that there are striking parallels between the stories. When reviewed more intimately, the order is even the same. But the question still remains, “How does this teach us about Easter?”

In short, Bill argues that the story of Noah reveals the tragedy that Adam’s sin in Eden impacted mankind so deeply that even Noah, the sole man on earth who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” was still incapable of overcoming it (Gen 6:8). The story reveals that even when God started over with the very best among us that creation was still doomed. Consider what Noah did upon leaving the ark:

“Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Gen 9:20-21).

Like Adam, Noah ate fruit in a forbidden way and then became ashamed through nakedness. And like Adam, Noah failed to live up to God’s standards. And we should learn that, if given the same opportunity, we too would fail.

This is where the message of Easter comes in. Peter writes that the “present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire” (1 Pt 3:7a). The backdrop of this statement is Noah’s Flood, teaching that in the same way that God destroyed the ungodly in Noah’s day, so will God destroy the ungodly on the Lord’s Day.

” … kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (1 Pt 3:7b)

The only difference is that when God walks these proverbial Noahs out onto the earth, of which you and I through Jesus (our ark) are part, that we don’t have to worry about messing up in the way Adam and Noah did. We don’t have to worry about following in the footsteps of the first or second Adam. This is because we will, at this point, have followed in the footsteps of our last Adam, the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Noah teaches us that, apart from Jesus, although we may find favor in God’s eyes, without the resurrection we are doomed. Without Jesus we can’t help but follow in the footsteps of our ancestral Adams. We will always fail. But with Jesus we can not only make it through the Flood, we can succeed after it.

Bill’s sermon was phenomenal, and I encourage you to take 30 minutes to listen to it as you prepare to celebrate the resurrection this Sunday: Bill Watson’s The Story of Noah.

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THE UNBIBLICAL CALLING OF THE PASTOR

dr_pepper_logo_288x288How would you respond if asked, “What does Dr. Pepper taste like?” It’s hard to answer, because Dr. Pepper’s taste is the result of a blend, a marvelous blend mind you, of 23 flavors. And while the blend of flavors for this “DP” is outright amazing, there is another “DP” whose blend of flavors is downright stressing. I’m talking about what I like to call the “Deacon-Pastor,” a completely fabricated term, but a totally realistic thing, although it shouldn’t be.

You’re probably asking, “What is a Deacon-Pastor?” A “Deacon-Pastor” is an unbiblical hybrid position that merges the biblical responsibilities of the deacon and the pastor. The result is an expectation for the pastor to perform the responsibilities of both the pastor and the deacon, but often results in him not being able to do either.

Unlike Dr. Pepper, this is a dangerous concoction of flavors.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DEACON

The “deacon” is first found in Acts 6, when a complaint arose in the church over the neglect of widows in the daily serving of food. The twelve disciples called the church together and requested that they select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who could be put in charge of the task.

And thus the deacon was created, or at least the proto-type. In fact, the English phrase translated “serve tables” in Greek is diakonia, which is the same word used in 1 Timothy 3 for the English word translated “deacon.”

What’s interesting about the Acts 6 episode is that a strong distinction is made between the responsibilities of the twelve disciples and the seven men of good reputation. Of course the twelve disciples aren’t suggesting that they are better than the seven men of good reputation, only that they have a different responsibility, one that should not be jeopardized.

The responsibility is clearly laid out in their response to the complainers: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The word “desirable” implies that it wasn’t “proper” or “right” that they sacrifice their study time to serve tables. It’s almost as if the very thought of adding extra “flavors,” regardless of their importance, is morally wrong for the early church pastor. While it’s obvious that both studying God’s Word and serving tables are important, the response highlights the disciples’ calling to focus on God’s Word, and, for fear of diluting that, it wasn’t wise to to even consider doing both. So they delegated the responsibility to a newly formed role–the deacon. And if this isn’t clear enough, after implementing the deacon role, they said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).

In other words, the disciples emphasized their God-ordained responsibility both before and after their command to create deacons.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PASTOR

The disciples were essentially the pastors of the early church, and thus the modern day pastor’s primary responsibility is biblically outlined as “praying and studying God’s Word.” And, likewise, the deacon’s primary responsibility is outlined too, which is to serve the needs of the congregation, especially the widows.

One focuses on the spiritual and the other on the physical. Together, both needs are met, the latter delegated so that the pastor’s responsibilities aren’t threatened.

But somehow, somewhere, the church reverted back to pre-Acts 6 and started expecting its pastors to wear a myriad of ecumenical hats. On top of prayer and studying for sermons, (and note that “sermons” is plural), the pastor is expected to do things like visit hospitals, homes, nursing homes, cast visions, implement new ministries, develop missional strategies, and sometimes even water the flowers.

This isn’t to say, of course, that a pastor shouldn’t visit. And it’s certainly not to say that he is too good to water the flowers (I’ve been there). By all means, a pastor ought to do these things if necessary. It is to say, however, that the expectation of doing this on a daily and weekly basis is, for the pastor, biblically unwarranted. And perhaps even egregiously sinful. Yet, many churches expect their pastors to do just that. It might even be in their job descriptions.

Biblically, there are certain “flavors” that belong to things like the deacon ministry, not the pastoral ministry. This frees the pastor to seek the Lord through prayer and study, instead of tying him down to what might well be described as public relations. One focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of the church, while the other focuses on meeting the physical needs. Both are good, but the pastor is called to do the former over the latter. Demanding that he do both is like adding uncomplimentary flavors to God’s recipe for the pastor.

TOO MANY FLAVORS

The unbiblical “Deacon-Pastor” is, I believe, one of the greatest reasons for pastoral burnout. One source cites that 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of their job, and that upwards of 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout. 

Suffice it to say that many churches are decorated with the tread marks of burnt out pastors.

Pastors are often hired with the expectation of performing all of the ecumenical roles laid out in Scripture, although Scripture clearly details that even the twelve disciples–the guys that walked and talked with Jesus–were incapable of such a feat.

These guys could cast out demons and heal the lame, but they couldn’t serve tables alongside their prayer and Bible study.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the church that cultivates this mentality, it’s also sometimes, of all people, the pastor. Many pastors turn Acts 6 upside down by choosing to focus on everything else besides prayer and Bible study, such as chasing ambulances or honing leadership skills, both of which are good, but secondary things.

If the pastor says it’s okay to dilute prayer and study in exchange for serving tables, then we can’t blame the church when they expect the same.

As a pastor, I must confess that I find myself the most profitable whenever the church cultivates an environment for me to spend more time in prayer and in God’s Word. I’m less stressed, less overwhelmed, and, more importantly, I’m able to do precisely what I’ve been called to do, which is preach the word.

This is, as the old adage says, the epitome of quality over quantity, and it’s a far more refreshing beverage!

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HOW YOUR MARRIAGE CAN TEACH PEOPLE ABOUT EASTER

wedding-rings-setYou likely know the story: God caused a “deep sleep” to fall on Adam and then took one of his ribs and fashioned Eve out of it (Genesis 2:21-22). There is an incredible typology embedded into this event about the true message of Easter. 

The sleep in which Adam enters is well described as a metaphorical death. Adam didn’t physically die, but his “deep sleep” made it appear as if he did. It was symbolic of it. The idea, therefore, is that Eve was able, and only able, to live because Adam, in a sense, died.

His “deep sleep” foreshadows the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf.

Christ died on the cross and was pierced in his side for his bride (John 19:33-37); Adam “died” and was pierced in his side for his bride. Like Jesus, Adam gave of himself so that his bride could live. And similar to Jesus, Adam rose from his “death” to live again with his bride.

But the message doesn’t stop here. Immediately after this event Moses writes:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

The term “one flesh” has permanence. It suggests marriage is designed to last a lifetime, which is an incredibly important notion.

There is a theological concept called “the perseverance of the saints” that conveys this thought well. This doctrine teaches that “once saved, always saved.” This is to say that, once a person has been “married” to Jesus, that Jesus will never divorce him. This is because, once a person accepts Jesus, he and Jesus are like “one flesh.” And like literal flesh, it cannot be divided. In Ephesians 5:32 Paul says that this idea of “one flesh” is a “great mystery” and that he is speaking about “Christ and the church.”

This conveys how a marriage, when functioning properly, can serve as a testimony for the gospel.

So marriage represents more than a lifelong earthly relationship between a husband and a wife. It illustrates God’s everlasting relationship with the church, a relationship that nothing can divide.

Paul writes:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

Not long ago a woman in our church lost her wedding ring, which she had for more than 50 years, and was understandably devastated. She found it, but she could have easily gone down the street and purchased a new one. Losing the ring, for this woman, meant losing the testimony of her marriage. While losing it held no affect on the union of her marriage, it was important because it testified of her marriage in a way that no other ring could.

By itself, marriage is an amazing institution. But we cannot forget what it represents.

We should value the meaning of marriage as a testimony of God and his people. When a husband sacrificially loves his bride, that bride is empowered to live for her husband. And this love points upward to what Easter Sunday is all about—a sacrificial love brought about by a savior named Jesus Christ for his bride the church.

And this is a “ring” that can never be lost!

Clearly, this is why divorce so devastates. Divorce is more than a piece of paper allowing you to legally separate from your spouse. It completely destroys God’s witness. It communicates the exact opposite of God’s relationship with his church. It tells the world that there are things that can separate God’s love from his bride instead of the biblical truth that there aren’t.

God has had every reason to divorce mankind. He instead decides to unconditionally and sacrificially love us. This is well showcased after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden, when he took an innocent animal, slayed it, and used its skin to cover their shame, which, like Adam’s proverbial death, points towards Jesus—the Resurrection and the Life.

Have a wonderful Easter.

 —This article is adapted from my book “Marital Roles” (978-1481151238).

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THREE QUESTIONS I’M ASKING MYSELF AFTER WORLD VISION’S REVERSED DECISION

WorldVision-LogoIt’s been a busy week for World Vision. On Monday, March 24, they announced a new policy that would allow “gay Christians” in legal “same-sex marriages” to be employed with their organization. And on Wednesday, March 26, they announced that the policy had been reversed.

World Vision’s policy matters to a lot of people. I happen to be one of these people. First, the organization is one of the largest and most established Christian charitable organizations in the world. And second, it’s one through which I have sponsored a child for many years. Therefore, any policy change of this magnitude will undoubtedly impact my decision to either continue or discontinue my partnership with the organization.

Ultimately these events have forced me to ask three questions concerning World Vision. They are listed below, with some insights into each. My hope is that they provide some kind of aid in how we view the organization from here on out.

CAN I STILL TRUST WORLD VISION?

World Vision’s Statement of Faith includes, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” This is perhaps why the original policy change was so confounding. The word “infallible” is one of the most profound ways of affirming the Bible, and those who usually use it tend to be on the more conservative side of Christianity.

Thus, a policy change that is vehemently against the Word of God by an organization that claims it as infallible is absolutely astounding. And, in my opinion, lends reason for concern. Even after the reversal.

This morning, on my way to work, I listened to a radio program that discussed some of the behind-the-scenes events leading up to the original policy change. The hosts detailed how this was a decision that was discussed for years, and one that was prayed over constantly. In short, the leadership felt that God’s hand was in it. Richard Stearns and the Board of Directors were, according to the CT article, “overwhelmingly in favor” of the policy change.

This means that the current leadership of World Vision, in some capacity, probably does not view Scripture as “infallible,” at least in the same way a conservative Christian might, which is that it is “incapable of making mistakes or being wrong.” This is extremely important because it reveals the philosophical mindset of the organization’s leaders’ view of Scripture.

In the very least, it’s safe to say that they were willing to overlook their beliefs for the sake of cultural unity, which, one might argue, threatens the integrity of their beliefs.

God’s Word didn’t change on Tuesday, March 25. That is, the single day in between the policy change and the policy change reversal didn’t include an event in which God edited his Word. It was the same before the change, during the change, and after the change, which begs the question, “Why did World Vision renege on their original policy change?”

One can’t help but consider that it was because of pressure. According to Christianity Today, World Vision lost thousands of sponsorships after their initial announcement. Moreover, Christian bands like Casting Crowns, according to one radio broadcast, were ready to dissociate themselves from the organization if the policy change remained in tact.

These are huge hits that undoubtedly threatened the future of the organization. While it’s true that some actually enhanced their support of the organization because of the change, one cannot deny how hard it would have been on World Vision to lose platforms like a Casting Crowns concert.

Personally, I am thankful that the policy change was reversed. And I’m grateful for the brokenness expressed by Richard Stearns in doing so. But I cannot help but be concerned with what appears to be a pragmatic decision, in both of the policy changes. Pragmatism is a philosophy that stresses the practical outcome as the primary criterion of determining truth. Therefore, if World Vision acted pragmatically to reverse their decision, then it reveals a dangerous philosophical element within their leadership. If the leadership is willing to change their minds from pressure on one side, then who is to say that they won’t change it from pressure on the other side?

Our faithfulness ought to be to the Lord. And the aim of our faithfulness is discovered through his Word. World Vision claims that they view it as infallible, but it seems that they were willing to ignore that conviction in their original decision, and even perhaps in their latter conviction. Both seemed to have been made because of what people said, not because of what God said.

It is important to note that I am not suggesting that World Vision reversed their decision because of pressure. I am simply pointing out that the leadership, through this event, might have revealed some dangerous philosophical tenets that should cause us to be concerned for how they might function in the future.

For this reason alone, I would be lying if I said that my trust in World Vision hasn’t waned.

CAN I STILL ENDORSE WORLD VISION?

In short, I don’t know. This is a question that I am asking, but one that I have yet to answer. As of now, my wife and I still have a child sponsorship through World Vision. We agreed that we would forego that sponsorship after reading about the original policy change. There are plenty of organizations that offer the same opportunity without the unbiblical affirmation. Now that the policy has been reversed, I’m not sure if I should continue or discontinue my relationship with World Vision.

I do know two things, however.

First, I know that children will gratuitously suffer. As Trevin Wax writes, “Children will suffer. Needlessly.” Damage has been done, and some of it is irreparable.

Second, I know that anyone who desires to forego their relationship with World Vision is not, as one social media commentator says, “minions of Satan.” As followers of Jesus, we are accountable to God for how we handle our resources. Sponsoring a child in an unfortunate situation is a good thing. And it’s a good thing that World Vision gives us the opportunity to do that. But a policy that affirms an unbiblical lifestyle in what is considered a biblical organization says a lot about the organization’s philosophy.

I want to help children, but I also want to do so in the right way.

World Vision will have to answer to God with how they handle their business. And I will have to answer to God with how I handle mine. While I grieve that I might forego my child sponsorship with World Vision, I also know that I am liable to God with who and what I support.

My advice is to endorse child sponsorship, and to do it with an organization with which you have no qualms. That organization might be World Vision, but it also might intentionally not be World Vision. Fortunately, there are a variety of organizations out there that offer the opportunity to spiritually and physically help kids in need.

CAN I FORGIVE WORLD VISION?

Absolutely.

It is a rare thing for a professional organization, like World Vision, to essentially act so unprofessional. It reveals that even the best of us mess up. And sometimes it can be on the public stage. As Christians, we have the opportunity to respond either the right way or the wrong way. If we choose to respond the wrong way, then we are guilty of ungodly behavior, just as much as World Vision was on Monday.

I am grateful that World Vision reversed their policy change decision, even if I do have concerns as to why they did it. At the end of the day, they are a conservative Christian organization that helps people, and does so because of the love of Jesus.

Richard Stearns asked for our forgiveness. As Christians, we ought to give it. This doesn’t mean that we need to support a child through World Vision, or even continue to do so if we have been. It means that they acknowledged their mistake and asked for forgiveness, and now we have the option of giving it.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that our resources go to organizations that advance the true and unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the vision Jesus had for the world, and the vision that we, as followers of Jesus, ought to have as well.

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SON OF GOD MOVIE: A REVIEWED PREVIEW

Son of God movieThe movie Son of God arrives in theaters this Friday. And, like any Christian movie, it’s caught the church’s gaze. The major question surrounding this movie is, “Is it accurate?” That is, does it accurately portray the Jesus found in the scriptures.

As far as I can tell, the movie is an expansion of the television series, The Bible, a series I happened to watch. It’s also a series I happened to review. Since the movie is essentially an expansion of the television series, I imagine that a review of Part Four of The Bible (the part that concerns Jesus) might provide insight into answering the question as to if Son of God accurately portrays the Son of God.

Thus, here is my reviewed preview of the Son of God movie, based on the Son of God in The Bible television series, as compared to the Bible:

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“Change the world,” a caucasian Jesus answers, in a slightly British accent.

This is how Part Three of The History Channel’s The Bible ends. But The History Channel seems to have a different perception of what “changing the world” means than Jesus. This is revealed not by what is included in Part Four of the series, but in what is left out. And what’s worse, The Bible did not leave important scenes from the Bible out; it left important moments out of the important scenes, essentially reformatting the original context of the events.

Leaving key moments out of Jesus’ life would have been bad, but including the key moments and ignoring their crucial elements might be worse.

Consider these two portrayals from Part Four of The Bible.

THE LAST SUPPER AND JESUS AS THE ONLY WAY

In The Bible’s Last Supper scene, Jesus shares with the disciples that this will be his final meal with them. Naturally, this births fear and sorrow for a group of men who have grown very close to their Messiah.

Jesus quotes John 14:1-6, telling his disciples, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in God, trust in me also. You know the way to where I am going.”

“We don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?” a balding Thomas declares.

Jesus replies, “I am the way. The truth. And the life.”

And then he stops.

But there is a very important line missing from Jesus’ monologue in The Bible included in the actual Bible. This line is, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

Of the various verses in scripture that reveal that Jesus is the only way to the Father, this one is arguably the clearest. Therefore, if a producer of a series on the Bible wants to accurately depict Jesus’ mission to “change the world,” including a scene dialoguing John 14:1-6 is a great way to start, but leaving out the final portion of the passage leaves the biblically immature audience they are supposedly targeting, well, biblically immature.

Jesus is not just the “way, truth, and life,” but the “only way, truth, and life.”

THE LAST SUPPER AND THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

In the same Last Supper scene, Jesus takes the bread and says, “This is my body.” He then takes a cup after pouring wine into it and says, “This is my blood.” He closes by saying, “Remember me by doing this.” These are all included in the Last Supper accounts detailed in the scriptures, but The Bible leaves out another line that reveals how Jesus “changed the world.” This line is, “which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).

There is an old adage that captures why this line is important:

Jesus didn’t come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

To give The Bible the benefit of the doubt, there is a scene depicted from Matthew 9:1-8 in the early portion of Part Four where Jesus heals a paralytic. Jesus met both the physical and spiritual needs of the man, telling him both “Get up and walk” and “Your sins are forgiven.”

The reason the inclusion of the line is important in the Last Supper, however, is because it is directly connected to his death. Jesus didn’t come just to cure the physical ailments that plague mankind; he came to cure the spiritual ailment that plagues mankind. This ailment is sin and the penalty is death. Therefore, forgiveness of sins cannot come without death, the very thing Jesus references at the Last Supper.

While The Bible reveals that Jesus dies, it doesn’t necessarily reveal why Jesus dies.

This is the meaning behind Paul’s statement that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Jesus didn’t die to inspire bad people to be good, make lame men walk, and put people’s ears back on. He died to make dead people live.

This is clear in the Bible, but not in The Bible.

This is why his body was broken and his blood was shed. Jesus is our substitutionary atonement for the wages that we had earned through our sins. He paid it in our steads, and in so doing he “changed the world” (but probably with more of a Hebrew dialect).

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Finally, I want to add that I find myself a little concerned with Hollywood’s recent fascination with Christianity (some upcoming movies include: Noah, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real, etc.; and this is not to say that even these are all biblically accurate). I would like to applaud the attempt at what I would hope are biblical and wholesome movies, but I’m afraid that the Bible might serve as a mere catalyst to make money and that, in the long run, Christianity might be more harmed than helped in the process. Time will tell, to be sure.

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TEN TIPS TO SHARING YOUR TESTIMONY

TestimonyBlog

Everyone has a story. And everyone who has trusted in Christ has the best story, one that’s worth telling.

Many believers, however, are a bit timid when it comes to sharing their stories. You might be one of these timid believers. This is, perhaps, because your story’s details are somewhat of a discombobulated collection of experiences floating, like an astronaut in space, around your mind. It’s all there, but you just can’t seem to get it in order.

Thankfully we have beautiful examples of a testimony’s composition in Scripture. Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa, for one, serves as a noteworthy tool to teach us how we can share our stories with the lost.

The following includes ten tips to formatting your story, based on Paul’s experience in the latter chapters of Acts. I encourage you to read the corresponding passages to obtain the full intention of these tips:

1. Be Confident (25:23-27): The world treats Christians like second-class citizens. Anyone who believes in God is unscientific and archaic in his beliefs. However, Acts 25:23-27 reveals that faith in Jesus is a justified belief. The Roman government, although in disagreement, counted Paul’s beliefs as warranted. Paul was confident in what he believed, and we should be too. He was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom 1:16).

2. Be Respectful (26:1-3): Christians unfortunately have a reputation of being disrespectful to those that disagree with us, especially when the disagreement is over one of our pet peeve sins (homosexuality, for example). However, Paul shows us in Acts 26:1-3 that we ought to be respectful to our audience.

3. Be Transparent (26:4-5, 9-11): Paul didn’t hold back any details of his past. He was open and honest about his sin and how it separated him from God. He was, quite plainly, an enemy of God, as we all were before salvation. This is an important portion of your story. People need to grasp the full notion of sin, and the best way to do that is to explain how you too needed God’s saving grace.

4. Be Honest About Your Intentions (26:6-8): Sometimes Christians are guilty of building pseudo-relationships. That is, we don’t really care about getting to know someone, only making them our project. This is unbiblical. Paul was open and honest about why he wanted to talk to the Roman officials.

5. Talk About Meeting Jesus (26:9-18): This tip isn’t to be confused with #7, which is an explicit explanation of the gospel. It’s the opportunity to talk about how you met Jesus. It’s an opportunity to show the person that Jesus isn’t some mythical, fictional character, but our living Savior.

6. Talk About Experiencing Persecution (26:19-21): In sharing your story, it’s important to share the full story, which includes the reality of persecution. Christianity isn’t a life free from problems. Paul was clear in explaining this and we should be too.

7. Explain the Gospel (26:20b, 22-23): The explicit and clear announcement of the gospel ought to be part of your testimony. No one should be able to walk away after hearing your story without knowing that Jesus is the only answer to sin. This includes his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, as Paul so eloquently illustrates in his testimony before Agrippa.

8. Invite to Believe (26:24-28): I can’t express how important an invitation is to me personally.  It was the invitation that provided an opportunity for me to respond to God’s calling. An invitation is an extremely important part of telling your story. Paul illustrates this for us in passionately pleading to Agrippa to believe in Jesus. And we read that Agrippa was just about persuaded by the end of the experience!

9. Accept Their Response (26:29): It’s important to know that you can’t save someone. Only God can do that. Your job isn’t to save people; it’s to be faithful. Paul didn’t argue with Agrippa for not immediately accepting Christ. He left it up to God.

10. Accept the Consequences (26:30-32): Sometimes there are consequences for sharing your faith. For Paul it was imprisonment. Thankfully we don’t have to worry about that. Yet. But there might be other consequences for sharing your faith, such as the loss of friendships or even the loss of relationships with family. It might even go further, such as discipline at your job or at your school. Paul was willing to die in order that the highest officials in the Roman government would hear.

These are but ten tips we can learn from Paul’s testimony to Agrippa. What other tips do you find in Scripture? What have you found to be effective when sharing your personal story?

A SOUTHERN BAPTIST PASTOR INTERVIEWS A HOMOSEXUAL

imagesIt was in sixth grade that I met Matt. He had moved to my hometown of Mabank, Texas from Colorado Springs. We met in band and became friends. We weren’t the best of friends, but we were more than acquaintances. Although we now live on opposite sides of the nation, through the magic of social networking we have been able to keep in touch. We regularly dialogue through both public and private channels about the cultural mood concerning homosexuality.

Matt is a homosexual, which, because of my Christian faith, is a lifestyle with which I vehemently disagree. And Matt knows this. Matt knows that I don’t agree with him and I know that Matt doesn’t agree with me. But we choose to share our opinions openly and respectfully, which is the intent of this blog.

I recently asked Matt if he would be alright if I interviewed him about his lifestyle. Matt was kind enough to oblige. The motivation behind this is inspired by comments I often read from Christians against homosexuality. Unfortunately, many Christians handle the situation poorly. While it’s okay to be outspoken against it, (and I believe Christians should be free to share their biblical convictions), it’s not okay for that outspokenness to present itself in hatred. Paul writes, “If I speak … but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

Needless to say, there is a lot of gratuitously loud noise on today’s social networks.

The following is the interview I conducted with Matt. I typed out the questions and sent them to him. Some of the information is also from follow up conversations. Each question includes Matt’s answer and some include my response, if it calls for it. You will notice that these are in blue.

I hope that anyone who has an opinion about homosexuality sees the respect that Matt and I have for one another in our disagreements, and that that respect is contagious as we continue to debate the issue in the public square.

PERSONAL QUESTIONS

When did you first think that you were gay?

I began to suspect something was different about myself probably in eighth grade. I remember always wondering why the guys around me seemed so interested in pursuing girls.

Are you currently in a homosexual relationship?

Yes I am. I have been seeing the same guy since I was twenty two years old. We met in college and have been together ever since. He even followed me across the country to a new job. Both of our families have met and actually rather like each other. I was really surprised by that. My Dad is someone I would charitably describe as a “Tea Party Republication”, but he has honestly shocked me with his acceptance of who I am and even the guy I am with.

What kind of social pressures did you experience in “coming out?”

My coming out was kind of an accident. I was twenty and in college and, I won’t bore you with the details, but my parents figured it out and initially we didn’t talk for 3 months. When we did start talking again, it was mostly my mom and I. My dad and I had a very strained relationship the first few years, but now everything is more or less the way I would imagine a regular person’s relationship with their parents is. I can’t honestly say, but I would like to believe that I am glad it happened the way it did, because I am not sure when I would have built up the courage to talk to them about it. Probably not until well into my twenties.

POLITICAL QUESTIONS

What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?

This sounds so cliché, but my thoughts on same-sex marriage have greatly evolved since I first started hearing about it back in the mid-2000s. At first, I was staunchly against it, and I think a large part of that had to do with my upbringing in the church. I wasn’t, and nor am I now, against people receiving the same benefits and entitlements that marriage brings to everyone. But I was against the idea of calling it “marriage” because I felt that was reserved fully for straight people and the church. But that was back then, and this is now. I am not what you would call an activist for same-sex marriage, but I do believe now that if gay people want to get married, then they should be able too. Again, I can’t stress this enough, I really just believe that everyone should have access to the benefits that marriage provides, not the name or the title. I am sure my fellow gays won’t like hearing that, but it’s just the way I feel about the issue.

Author’s Note: Many of my thoughts concerning this question can be found in this blog: The Meaning of Equality.

Would you say that today’s homosexual movement is on par with the 1960′s civil rights movement?

Yes, most particularly with the Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967), which invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Today, we draw inspiration from that time period, to fight for what we believe should be afforded to us to be treated as equals in the eyes of the law. People today think it’s crazy that blacks and whites couldn’t get married up until forty-odd years ago, but during that time period it was a punishable offense with jail time involved.

Author’s Note: I believe that by the time I am a grandparent that it will be unbelievable that homosexuals could not marry one another, and that by the time my kids are parents that people will be amazed that marijuana was at one time considered an illegal drug, and that by the time they are grandparents that people will be amazed that polygamy was once outlawed.

What would you say to someone who argues for things like bigamy, polygamy, and incestry in marriage (as an expansion of same-sex marriage)?

I think bigamy already occurs today and has been occurring for a long time. Certainly not on any level with large amounts of numbers or data to back it up. But you always hear the story about the man with another family in the next town over.

The problem with polygamy is that it almost always means one man with multiple wives. And when that happens you take away a wife from some other man. So in a polygamous society, you would have all these young, unmarried men who are unhappy with no wives. Same-sex marriage changes none of that, it leads us as a society away from that. Gay people just want the ability to marry someone instead of no one.

Incest is something that is just wrong on so many levels as it is, it’s not even really worth arguing over.

Author’s Note: I can see what Matt is saying in this, but I find it to be pragmatic. And I think pragmatism is a poor way to make decisions, although we all make decisions based on this philosophy everyday!

For example, would polygamy then be okay if we can manufacture a society where there are no unhappy unmarried men? What if the ratio of women to men was such that every man could easily have ten wives?

The point is that the issue runs deeper than mathematics.

Do you believe that there would be any psychological affects to a child reared in a home with same-sex parents (not having the traditional male and female examples)?

I don’t think there are any major drawbacks to a child being raised in a home by two same-sex parents as opposed to a traditional family set. In this modern age, children are raised by single dads, single moms, aunts, uncles and extended family. I think as long as all parties involved really love the child, then it will turn out alright.

Author’s Note: I believe that one of the biggest problems of our day is that a large amount of children are raised in homes without a stable mother and father. I have the opportunity to counsel many individuals and I can, nearly 100% of the time, trace the issue back to the lack of a father in the home.

RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS

Do you adhere to any faith religion?

I grew up Methodist, but just sort of stopped going once I graduated high school. I think even in high school I wasn’t really into church anymore, but it was definitely the place where all my friends went and it was a good place to socialize. I do believe that something or someone exists and had something to do with where we are in the universe today. I would say that I loosely identify myself as a Christian, but more like an agnostic one.

Author’s Note: I would say that it’s oxymoronic to be an “agnostic Christian,” although I can say that I know where Matt is coming from. His upbringing leads him to hold beliefs that are rooted in Christianity, but what he believes is not best described as Christianity. He has become agnostic, which means that he doesn’t really know what he believes, although he is still affected by what he learned during his time in the church.

What do you believe the Bible says about homosexuality?

I am not a connoisseur of the Bible, so all I can really say is that I know it’s mentioned a few times, but never directly by Jesus. I did, however, find this awesome article on the Huffington Post website which sums it up much more eloquently then I can: What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality?

Author’s Note: The author of this article begins by suggesting that homosexuality is not as big of an issue as modern day Christians make it, because it is addressed relatively little in comparison to other issues in Scripture. But this is like saying that prostate cancer isn’t as big of a deal as breast cancer because it doesn’t have as big of an awareness month, one that prompts NFL players to wear hot pink highlighted uniforms and people to wear faddy bracelets.

The fact is that it is discussed in Scripture, (homosexuality that is), which makes it important. And when it is discussed, it is identified as sinful. The reason it isn’t discussed more is, arguably, because of the culture in which the Bible was written, specifically the New Testament Gospels. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that homosexuality wasn’t as big of an issue in ancient Jerusalem, the holiest place in the world at that time and the place that Jesus performed most of his ministry and made most of his claims, as it is today. Rape isn’t densely refuted by Jesus either, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong.

Thus the statement, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so it must be okay” is a weak and misguided argument.

It is also important to know that Jesus essentially did talk about homosexuality. The Bible describes him as the “Word of God made flesh” (John 1:14), and so anything that is included in Scripture is verified by Jesus. He was the living embodiment of every word of every claim of the Bible. And so if the Bible speaks against homosexuality even once, then Jesus essentially, by virtue of his nature, talked about it.

As for the rest of his article, he seems to argue from ignorance. That is, his argument is, “I’ve personally polled some scholars and commentaries and some of them say that we can’t really know the context of these passages that include language forbidding homosexuality. So, we shouldn’t forbid it without knowing the cultural implications of the day.”

This is a poor reason to refute something out of hand. He is taking shaky evidence and making what he believes is an irrefutable claim. That’s poor debate etiquette. 

Do you believe that people are born gay (is it a choice or a predisposition)?

This is honestly a tough question for me to answer. I think everyone is born with certain traits amplified and/or dampened down due to conditions in the womb/external environment, so I can’t say for certain that it’s a predisposition. At the same time, I am fairly confident in saying that it’s not a choice either. I guess I would need to see more research on the matter before I committed to saying it’s a predisposition.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin (1 Cor 6:9), and therefore those that believe Scripture are simply trusting what it says. With that said, Scripture also says that sin is a “predisposition” (Rom 5). It’s something every person is born with. And as a predisposition, everybody has a “decision” to either act on it or not. Some act on it by lying. Others act on it by stealing. And some act on it by planting a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s a predisposition to which every person is subjected. Thus, since Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin, (and since it speaks of sin as a predisposition), it is not unreasonable to say that homosexuality is the fruit of a decision rooted in a predisposed, sinful nature.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s okay. We would never, for example, suggest that rape is okay. No one could reasonably say, “Aw, leave that guy assaulting that woman alone. Stop trying to rewire his predisposition with your personal preferences. He can’t help himself.” This isn’t to say that homosexuality is on par with rape, only that a sin is a sin, and the tiniest sin is enough to separate man from God.

Do you think, from what you know about Christianity, that a person can be a Christian and live an openly homosexual lifestyle?

I think it is possible for someone to be Christian and a homosexual at the same time, yes. God created everyone the way they are for a reason, and whatever that reason is, only God knows. It’s impossible for me to say it’s a sin, because so many things that we do today are. Our culture and society is vastly different than the one that is written and talked about in the Bible. I think someone’s relationship with God, is just that. Their relationship. It isn’t up to you or I to pass judgement on the way they reach out to God.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): It is interesting that someone would desire to remain associated to Christianity if he also desires to refute some of its basic claims. I say this not against Matt, but to many celebrities, such as Macklemore, who attempt to do so.

There is an old illustration that describes this well. The illustration details a repair man replacing the parts of his boat. After purchasing the boat he begins to replace its every component. He switches out the motor, the hull, the deck, and the seats. Before long, there is no original element left of the boat.

Is it the same boat?

No.

Likewise, when one switches out all of the original components to Christianity, as determined by God primarily through the Bible, it is no longer Christianity.

Is there anything else that you would like to say or add that wasn’t included in this interview?

I just want to say that there will never be a time, no matter what happens, that I would actively hate someone for the beliefs they hold, or the religion that they practice. We are all immensely more complicated than these few social issues that bring out the worst in some people.

I will always be willing to rationally discuss and debate anything with someone as long as I am afforded the same courtesy. Which is why I like you so much Jared!  You are one of the few people I am still friends with where we don’t get into some heated screaming match over who’s right and who’s wrong.

Author’s Note: I believe that Matt is on to something here, and that even those that disagree with his lifestyle can learn from it. Christians should never actively hate people because they disagree with them. This is both counterproductive and unchristian. Jesus never hated those that disagreed with him. In fact, while hanging on the cross, he prayed for them. We may believe that they are separated from God, but hating them doesn’t advance the gospel. Our job is to share the truth, to share it in love, and to hope that God uses our efforts to save them and lead them to eternal life in Christ.

Final Note: I usually put the phrase “same sex marriage” in quotations, because I believe the term to be oxymoronic. That is, I believe it is on par with saying, “squared circle.” In this interview the term shows up from time to time without the quotations because it is included in Matt’s answers, and he doesn’t view it that way.

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SHOULD YOU COME TO GOD “JUST AS YOU ARE?”

christian-tattoo-on-wristThe phrase “come as you are” is one that is synonymous with the Christian faith. It’s a phrase that’s heralded to the downtrodden, the prodigal, and the lost. It’s one that suggests, “It doesn’t matter where you have been or what you have done, because Jesus accepts you ‘just as you are.’” Thus, it’s a highly appealing phrase because it provides a great hope for those who feel as though they are beyond repair.

It’s a wonderful statement. But it only tells half of the story.

When we view the phrase from a biblical framework, there are a few conclusions to which we can come:

WE DON’T NECESSARILY COME, BUT ARE FOUND JUST AS WE ARE

Paul writes in Romans 5:12,

Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

This essentially means that everyone is conceived and born into this world as sinners, separated from God. This is what most refer to as “original sin.” This idea of original sin is advanced in Romans 3:10 when Paul says that our sin leaves us utterly depraved, with no desire to search for God. This means that before God we are “just as we are,” which is hopelessly lost. This also means that the phrase “come just as you are” is a bit misleading because although those who come to God through Jesus all come “just as we are,” we really don’t come at all.

It is instead God who comes.

In the Garden of Eden He walked in the cool of the day to find Adam and Eve after they had sinned (Genesis 3:8).

At the Tower of Babel he came down when we disobeyed His command to spread out and fill the earth (Genesis 11).

And he ultimately came when he sent his Son Jesus to die in our steads because we were lost in our sin (John 3:16).

God has been coming and finding us just as we are since the beginning of time. And he always finds us “just as we are.”

BEFORE WE COME JUST AS WE ARE FOR WORSHIP, WE MUST ADJUST WHAT WE ARE

The most popular use of “coming just as you are” is used in the context of worship and not salvation. It’s not difficult to find a worship song that includes the phrase. The idea of such songs is that, regardless of how you spent your week, you can still “come as you are before your God.”

This, however, can be a very dangerous endeavor.

Consider for a moment a couple named Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). The couple sold a piece of land but held back a portion of the funds in their offering to God. The text says that the result was that Ananias “fell down and breathed his last” (Acts 5:5). Sapphira suffered the same fate (Acts 5:10).

Ananias and Sapphira didn’t die because they didn’t give God their entire paycheck. They died because they essentially came before God unprepared for worship (i.e., they “came just as they were”).

The context of their sin is seen in Acts 4 when the church was of “one heart and soul” and not “one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (32). Ananias and Sapphira wanted others to think that they were part of this one heart and soul, but didn’t actually want to be of the one heart and soul.

They “came just as they were,” and it was the death of them.

The Old Testament conveys the same message. The High Priest, prior to worship, needed to offer up sacrifices “for his own sins and then for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 7:27). The idea is that instead of coming to God just as he was, he prepared himself to stand before the presence of God.

Before we “come just as we are before our God,” we should examine ourselves in order that we may come before God for worship.

WE SHOULD COME JUST AS WE ARE, BUT EXPECT TO BE CHANGED

We live in what many call the “post-modern” world. The post-modern mindset questions the very idea of truth, suggesting that it doesn’t exist. This tends to breed compromise and tolerance. All beliefs are welcomed, accepted, and meaningful, but no single belief takes precedence over another. In other words, Jesus may work for one person, but not for another, and that is okay.

This worldview, however, simply does not jive logically, especially with the faith that we call Christianity. Jesus claimed to be “the way.” Thus he is either “the way” or not “the way,” but he cannot be “a way.”

Although this is the case, there are some who attempt to combine post-modernism and Christianity, which results in half-truths like, “come just as you are.” The phrase sounds welcoming and forgiving, but it isn’t necessarily biblical because it is an incomplete sentence.

A better way of stating the phrase would be, “Come just as you are, but expect to be changed!”

COME AS YOU REALLY ARE

In the book, Jim and Casper Go to Church, (a book in which a believer and non-believer travel the nation visiting and evaluating churches), Jim and Casper visit a church in Portland, Oregon called “The Bridge.” The title of the chapter is, Come As You Really Are.

The chapter is about how “The Bridge” is a church designed for those who have become disenchanted with the “normal” way of doing church, and so it accepts the “outcasts” who can come as they “really are,” as opposed to the rest of us who come, I’m assuming, as we “really aren’t.”

These “outcasts” have tattoos, smoke at the entryway, and talk during the “sermon,” among other things. Jim and Casper seem to really like this church because it accepts people “just as they are,” while other churches allegedly use the phrase without truly meaning it.

The problem with this is that becoming a follower of Jesus is more than just “being who you are,” because “being who you are” means being a wretched sinner. Being “who you are” means that, although you identify your shortcomings, you are okay with them because, well, “it’s just who I am.”

But God calls us to leave our sinful ways behind and to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Granted, this takes time. It is not expected (or even possible) that we immediately become a perfect person upon becoming a Christian, but there is a process that should begin to take place in us called sanctification. This process does not mean that an individual is not saved if he has a tattoo, smokes, or talks during the sermon (to cite the list included in Jim and Casper’s book). It does mean, however, that when a person becomes a follower of Jesus that he begins to act more like Jesus. And Jesus lived contrary to the world.

Coming just as you are is essentially impossible, but by the grace of God He finds you where you are, changes your heart, and calls you to become something holy.

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THREE WAYS I’VE LEARNED TO RESPOND TO ANTAGONISTS

argueThere is an episode on the comedy sitcom The King of Queens, in which Carrie Heffernan is shunned from every nail salon in the neighborhood because of her poor attitude towards her manicurist. As it turns out, the nail salons are in cahoots with one another, and whenever she angrily leaves one they fax her picture to the others to make sure that no other salon has to unwittingly inherit her antagonistic behavior.

This is a funny picture, to be sure, but I cannot help but sometimes wish that churches had a likeminded network when it comes to antagonistic church members. And by “antagonistic church members,” I mean those whose sole job in life, it seems, is to cause grief for their pastoral leaders.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Heb 13:17).

I have served as a pastor in Southern Baptist churches since 2003, and in the span of these years I have had the privilege of pastoring three different churches. Unfortunately I have encountered antagonists in every single one of them. I’m convinced that every church has their village antagonist(s), which inspires me to consider how I have learned to deal with them over the years.

The following includes a summary of what I have learned, along with a few insights into each thought.

HURRY TO TRUTH

It’s not unusual to have arguments with people. And it’s especially not unusual to have arguments with people in the church. The church harnesses one of the two most vitriolic topics in the cosmos–religion. The other is politics. Even Paul, one of our great apostolic fathers, had a “sharp disagreement” with Barnabas, one that caused them to “separate from one another” (Acts 15:39).

Some arguments can be healthy, but others can be harmful. Unfortunately, many of the arguments that take place in church are harmful because they include individuals manipulating theological truth for personal gain. And sometimes theological truth is ignored altogether.

This is why, when facing an antagonist, the first thing every pastor ought to do is “hurry to truth.” This is a phrase developed from one of Paul’s letters to Timothy. He writes,

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).

The word “diligent” means “to hurry.” And Paul’s advice to Timothy is to “hurry towards the word of truth.” In so doing there is no need to be “ashamed.”

Thus, some of the best advice a pastor can have to combat an antagonist is to “hurry towards truth.” Even if rumors and lies are spread by the antagonist, the pastor, so long as he hurries toward truth, can stand before God unashamed.

And there will be rumors and lies spread by an antagonist, about a pastor, throughout the course of his ministry.

In the same passage Paul details what it looks like to not hurry to truth. This is good advice for both the pastor and antagonist, but in my experience the content could easily be used as the mantra of antagonistic behavior. He describes how some engage in “worldly and empty chatter,” which leads to “further ungodliness” (16). He also says that such talk spreads like “gangrene.” Gangrene is a disease describing the death of body tissue.

Thus, antagonistic behavior, the kind that manifests itself in lies, can be likened to a disease that kills the tissue of the body of Christ [1].

And this is usually the primary goal of an antagonist. He might not articulate his desires in this way, but his goal is to have things his way, and he’ll gladly antagonize the pastor and church to get it.

The most important thing I have learned throughout the course of my ministry is to hurry towards truth, even if that truth is unpopular, and even if it upsets some. The pastor’s job is not to please men, but to please God, and sometimes the two aren’t compatible.

BE SILENT (BUT NOT COWARDLY)

In one of my former pastorates there was a man who had a resume of antagonizing pastors. If there were a club, he would have been the uncontested chairman. A day rarely went by when I didn’t hear from him concerning his discontentment with me, or hear from someone else about how he was discontent with me.

One evening I overheard him in the office next door to mine grumbling about me. Being inexperienced in this situation, I reacted the only way I knew how, which was by defending myself and arguing with him.

This made things worse.

If I could go back, I would not have handled the situation this way. It was unprofessional and unbecoming. When I look at Scripture, I never see Jesus handling antagonists this way. Jesus was gracious, kind, loving, and edifying. He did combat antagonists, but not the way I did. I was more concerned with defending my honor. Jesus was always concerned with defending the Father’s honor; He was concerned with defending truth.

I have learned that, sometimes, one of the best things that I can do to combat an antagonist is to be silent. And this is really only possible if I have hurried to truth. This means that if I have done everything in my power to be able to stand unashamed before the Lord, and an antagonist is still antagonizing me, then it’s not my job to defend myself. My job is to speak the truth, to speak it in love, and to honor the Lord. This is what Jesus did. And he did it at the most agonizing moment of his life, when the world antagonized him because of his messianic proclamation.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth (Is 53:7).

Jesus didn’t need to defend his honor. He had the Father to do that. In a few days he would be raised from the dead and in that day the antagonists would know that he spoke the truth.

I believe that pastors should follow this example.

This of course is not to say that our antagonism is on par with Jesus’ death and resurrection. But it is to say that, so long as we speak truth, that sometimes being “silent before our shearers” is best, because God will expose everything for what it is.

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:13).

And silence, the kind discussed here, should not be confused with cowardliness. By every means a pastor ought to confront issues, and confront them at their core. The silence suggested here is the kind that comes after the right things have been done, and when there is nothing left that can be done.

PRAY FOR, LOVE ON, AND HELP (IF POSSIBLE)

I would be remiss if I did not mention this final method of dealing with antagonists. At the end of the day, an antagonist is a human being who needs God’s grace and forgiveness just like the rest of us. He might not even be aware of his antagonism. In fact, he usually isn’t. And this is a very sad thing.

Unfortunately, in my experience an antagonist isn’t interested in considering that he might be the one in the wrong [2].

Pastors ought to pray for those that antagonize and have a history of antagonizing the church. They ought to commit the individual to prayer and find ways to love him and help him, if possible, instead of ways to get rid of him. Unfortunately a repeat antagonizer is nearly always impossible to work with. I’ve come into churches and identified an antagonist before he antagonized me, (although he had already antagonized others).  I did my best to work with such individuals and plug them in, but, true to form, they eventually showed their true colors.

Still, it’s unfair to hold a man guilty before a crime and a pastor’s prayers, love, and help might be what is needed, even after the antagonism, to help the antagonist become a viable and productive member of the church.

We are all broken people and we all have our shortcomings before the Lord. The goal should always be reconciliation and redemption. This is something a pastor can potentially accomplish with an antagonist when exercising the right amount of love, patience, and forgiveness.

[1] It is important to note that the context of this particular passage has to do specifically with lies concerning the resurrection of Christ. This blog seeks to employ the general concern that Paul seems to be suggesting in the letter concerning theological manipulation. While the context has to do with the resurrection of Jesus, I don’t think it is unreasonable to also use this passage to detail the various lies one can create concerning other issues too. This, in my estimation, is the height of “empty chatter.”
[2] And when a pastor is the one in the wrong, he ought to willingly admit it and seek forgiveness too.

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MACKLEMORE AND THE TOP THREE REASONS TO SUPPORT HOMOSEXUALITY

1-macklemoregayThis is a rendition of a blog originally posted in July of 2013.

Last night on the Grammys, Macklemore sang his culturally beloved song, “Same Love.” This song is essentially written as a mantra against those who oppose homosexuality, specifically as it relates to “same-sex marriage.” It’s also become somewhat of a mascot song for those that support homosexuality. Macklemore, according to his own lyrics, isn’t gay, but he is put out with those who oppose it.

The song includes three verses that make bold proclamations concerning homosexuality, summarizing three of the most common reasons to support it. Each is listed below with a few insights into each, suggesting how they are misguided.

1. HOMOSEXUALITY CAN’T BE CURED, ESPECIALLY BY RELIGION

The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision,
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing God, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago

Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin (1 Cor 6:9), and therefore those that believe Scripture are simply trusting what it says. With that said, Scripture also says that sin is, and Macklemore agrees, a “predisposition” (Rom 5). It’s something every person is born with. And as a predisposition, everybody has a “decision” to either act on it or not. Some act on it by lying. Others act on it by stealing. And some act on it by planting a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s a predisposition to which every person is subjected. Thus, since Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin, (and since it speaks of sin as a predisposition), it is not unreasonable to say that homosexuality is the fruit of a decision rooted in a predisposed, sinful nature.

But this, contrary to Macklemore’s rap, doesn’t mean that it’s okay. We would never, for example, suggest that rape is okay. No one could reasonably say, “Aw, leave that guy assaulting that woman alone. Stop trying to rewire his predisposition with your personal preferences. He can’t help himself.”

Macklemore is perhaps correct in suggesting that “right wing conservatives think . . . it can be cured with religion,” but right wing conservatives who think this way are wrong. Sin cannot be cured by religion. Sin can only be cured by Jesus. And while the organized worship of Jesus is in fact “religion,” it’s not organized worship that cures sin. The Bible certainly doesn’t speak of “religion” as “rewiring” our sinful natures. It speaks of Jesus as making us a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). There is a big difference. We aren’t even the same machine after he gets ahold of us and we therefore can’t be “rewired.” The old “wires” aren’t even there anymore.

But God “loves all his children,” right? That’s what the Bible says, is it not? Actually, no. It says quite the opposite. While God indeed loves people, all people are not his “children.” Only those that claim Jesus as Lord–and believe everything that comes along with this claim–are considered his “adopted children.” The Bible records Jesus, God’s Son, telling a group of unsaved individuals that their “father” is “the devil” (John 8:44).

In other words, God is not their father and they are not his children.

2. SOCIALLY, “GAY IS THE NEW BLACK”

It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins
It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!
Live on and be yourself

Here, Macklemore essentially says that “gay is the new black,” meaning, that those who oppose homosexual behavior are on par with those who opposed the abolition of slavery. But I don’t see signs in restaurant bathrooms and over water fountains for “homosexuals” and “straights.” I don’t see schools for “homosexuals” and schools for “straights.” I don’t see straight people forcing homosexuals to sit in the back of the bus. In fact, I see quite the opposite.

Ryan Anderson for example, a proponent for traditional marriage, was interviewed (or attacked) on Piers Morgan’s show for his beliefs. Piers and Suze Orman (a lesbian) both sat at the central table whereas Mr. Anderson had to sit with the audience. No doubt this was because of his stance on “same-sex marriage.”

Christians, at least those with the right state of mind, aren’t telling homosexuals that they have to sit at the back of the bus. They are standing up for biblical rights as dictated by Scripture.

Macklemore suggests that everybody deserves human rights, to which a Christian should agree. Everybody deserves basic human “rights.” But Macklemore, along with countless other “left wing liberals” (to parallel his title), misunderstand what a human “right” is. Marriage, for example, isn’t a human “right” so much as it is a God ordained institution (Gen 2) to which one can be privy if he abides by God’s standards. And God defines marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.

To make it anything else is to alter the very meaning of the word, forcing it to become something entirely different. We might as well call walking, running, say that 2+2=5, or remove other standards like the unlawfulness of incest or polygamy.

Redefining marriage is to take a God-designed institution and manipulate it into something that we want it to be. It’s telling God that we don’t want him, but we do want his ideas so that we can manipulate them into things that fit our personal preferences. We are throwing out the baby and the bath water, filling the tub up with something else, then calling it the same thing.

3. ANYONE WHO OPPOSES HOMOSEXUAL LOVE IS A HATE MONGER

When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned

The most curious element to Macklemore’s song is its citation of the Christian faith. It is baffling that someone would associate himself with Christianity, as Macklemore does, if that person denies all of its claims.

There is an old illustration that describes this well. The illustration details a repair man replacing the parts of his boat. After purchasing the boat he begins to replace its every component. He switches out the motor, the hull, the deck, and the seats. Before long, there is no original element left of the boat.

Is it the same boat?

No.

Likewise, when one switches out all of the original components to Christianity, as determined by God primarily through the Bible, it is no longer Christianity. And Macklemore’s statements that the Bible is merely a “book written thirty-five hundred years ago” hints to his feelings that his contemporary thoughts override its ageless truths.

The context of Macklemore’s rap suggests that anything that might hurt someone’s feelings is considered “hate,” and this is not “anointed.” But what if we turned around the line? What if a “right wing conservative” suggested that it was hateful to force one’s homosexual agenda upon him? Why can it only be a one-way street? Would this not be the homosexuals employing the “hate that caused war” onto us? Isn’t that what Piers and Suze did to Ryan during their interview?

But what if the initial “haters” weren’t “hating” at all? What if there was a good explanation for why they believed the way they did about homosexuality?

One of the clearest passages in Scripture describing homosexuality as a deadly sin is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Paul writes, “Do not be deceived; homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a way of saying that homosexuality is contradictory to God’s standards and that it is evidence of a life that has not been redeemed by Jesus. The result is no inheritance of God’s kingdom, or no eternal life in what most call “Heaven.” Thus, if you claim any association with the God of the Holy Scriptures then you must abide by this standard, otherwise you are building a new boat.

This is an important verse because it reveals the devastating reality of the sin of homosexuality. I don’t oppose homosexuality because I am a stubborn-minded bigot who is simply regurgitating my environmental conditioning. I oppose homosexuality because God opposes homosexuality. I also oppose it because, according to Scripture, it is a lifestyle that reveals that one has not been redeemed by Jesus, and this lack of redemption will ultimately result in an eternity separated from God. And I don’t wish that upon anyone.

Now, if I may, a rap of my own:

Jesus is the best and I’ll tell you why
He came to earth to live and then to die
For you and me because we were lost
God sent his only son to die on the cross*

*Stolen from a VBS rhyme from when I was like seven.

Further Reading:
What Macklemore Got Wrong … And Right by Denny Burk

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