jasonbwatson

April 29, 2015

That makes no sense

In the April 18, 2015 issue of WORLD Magazine Andree Seu Peterson had a column entitled “A class about nothing” which was subtitled “Psychology professor offers intensive case studies of the imaginary.” The premise of her column was the absurdity of a Rutgers University professor “teach[ing] psychology to medical students through reruns of Seinfeld. They analyze Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine for greater insight into narcissism, obsessive-compulsion, and inability to forge meaningful relationships.” Later, Peterson writes, “The Rutgers professor is not merely adducing illustrations; he is studying the episodes like Rommel studying a map of North Africa. He has created a database of every Seinfeld episode and its teaching points, and he assigns two episodes a week.” This may seem silly to some people, and the merits of studying a 1990s sitcom that poked fun at itself for being a show about nothing could surely be debated. Given some of the other college and university course offerings I have heard of, though, this would not, in and of itself, be sufficient fodder for an entire column (or blog post) in my opinion. Peterson apparently did not think so either, because she extrapolated on her shock at the course content to include an attack on the possibilities of learning anything from fiction.

That probably sounds extreme, and I think so too–so I will let Peterson speak for herself. “Does anybody besides me have a problem with this?” she writes. “Is it gauche to point out that Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are sitcom characters? These are not real people. They are made up. They have no true existence. They have no deep-seated motivations, no real histories, no actual upbringings, no formative years.” This is all true, of course. However, the implication that because these four sitcom characters are not real people we cannot learn anything from the show is ludicrous. Peterson has admitted in other columns that she does not watch television–which is certainly fine–so perhaps she has a grudge toward the medium itself that is tainting her position on the teaching power of fiction–in whatever form it may appear. After all, if the fact that Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine “are not real people” means that we cannot learn anything from watching them it would necessarily be true that we cannot learn anything from reading Robinson Crusoe, The Scarlet Letter or any other literary work of fiction. Nor could we learn anything from watching movies that are not based on fact. Theatrical productions resulting a writer’s creative mind would be out, too.

In fact, if Peterson’s point is carried to its extreme, we could learn nothing from the parables of Jesus. There are myriad lessons to be gleaned from the story of the prodigal son or the parable of the sower or the parable of the ten virgins, but guess what? The prodigal son, the sower and the ten virgins were not real people. They had no more true existence, deep-seated motivations, histories or upbringings than Jerry and his pals do. Stories, however, communicate powerfully. My favorite professor in college stressed that history is a narrative. I agree, and I enjoy history because I know it is a story, not just names and dates and places. Racial prejudice comes alive far more in fictional accounts than in reading newspaper accounts of the actions of Klan members and good ol’ boys down south who did everything they could to prevent integration and equal rights for African Americans. I could elaborate at length on the merits of literature and the teachable moments that are created by good fiction, but I think you probably already recognize that.

Peterson elaborates, saying that the closest thing she can think of in the Bible to a professor teaching psychology through the use of Seinfeld episodes is the “dim-witted idol-maker: ‘He cuts down cedars. … He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. … And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”‘ (Isaiah 44:14-17). In a bizarre demonstration of self-delusion, he makes a like–then believes it.” Sadly, Peterson is so far off-base here that it is not even funny. The “dim-witted idol-maker” is taking an inanimate object and ascribing to it knowledge, wisdom and power that it certainly does not have because he just created it out of the same material that he is using for fire wood. To suggest that believing that a god-made-from-logs is the same thing as believing that it is possible to learn life lessons from works of fiction boggles my mind. It may well be one of the most foolish things I have heard in a very long time.

“The Bible is different,” Peterson writes. “Cain, Lot, and Absolom are real people, with real childhoods and real thought processes.” True, those examples are. As already mentioned above, however, the Bible also teaches us with fictional people. “It makes no sense to try to find motives in cardboard facsimiles,” Peterson concludes. This is simply not true. The creative arts–whether literature, sitcoms, feature-length films, plays, visual art such as painting and sculpture–can and do teach us. In fact, the danger is not in suggesting that there are lessons to be learned therein but rather in suggesting that they are harmless and void of influence. It is when we stop realizing that the television shows we watch, the books we read and the movies we view have the power to teach and to influence that we are walking straight into a trap. Such a position grows out of a deep lack of understanding that has potentially life-changing consequences. That is what makes no sense.

February 5, 2015

Belonging

It seems I have been reading a lot recently–and not even because of any intention on my part–about the Church. Some of what I have read is good, some of it not so good. All of it has served to generate at least five blog posts-worth of thoughts, ideas and comments in my head. I have scribbled myself a 24-word note outlining what I hope to address in those five posts, so hopefully I will be able to stick with it and crank out all five by the end of next week at the latest.

This first one will on the topic of belonging to a church. Everyone who has accepted Christ belongs to the Church–the universal body of Christ. But what is it about belonging to a local body of believers? Why does that matter–or does it matter?

On January 29, christianitytoday.com posted an interview between Laura Turner and Erin Lane. Lane is a divinity school graduate, pastor’s wife and a program director at the Center for Courage & Renewal. She is also the author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe (IVP, 2014).

When asked why the concept of belonging is so important to the church, Lane said, “We have so many options for connecting with one another and all this pressure to make the most of them. But it’s often the case that the institutions that used to broker these connections—institutions like the church—are losing their influence.” While the church struggles sometimes in handling it, Lane says that one of the major premises of her book (which I have not read), is that “we need to recover some basic practices that remind us of our interdependence.”

That is a crucial point right there–that we are interdependent. That certainly is not what our culture likes to portray, and the idea of needing each other–of needing anyone–is not an overly popular idea. The reality, though, is that God created us for relationships. (Even a relative introvert like myself, who can be perfectly content spending a day alone or driving a thousand miles with someone else in the car without saying a word needs other people!) Try as some of us might, there is simply no denying that need. We may be able to exist without other people, and we may even do it happily for a while, but the long run we would not thrive.

Commenting on this search for belonging, Lane says, “There’s a huge desire to experience belonging in an embodied way. We search for shared interests, like exercise groups—Crossfit, yoga, and Pure Barre. A great deal of belonging is created over food culture and being connoisseurs of things like coffee or beer—for me, it’s cupcakes.” There is nothing wrong with any of that, of course. Lane continues, though: “I worry, though, about whether we’re doing enough to interact with people who don’t inhabit our particular lifestyle enclaves. I don’t see many examples of rich involvement in public spaces that are open to strangers and friends alike. … I think we’re losing some of those rich public spaces where anyone can show up, regardless of fitness or food preferences or economic status and ability to work.” This is what, in Lane’s opinion, makes the church unique. People from all walks of life, all racial and ethnic backgrounds, with diverse hobbies and interests, can come together at church because of their love for God, His Truth and His Church. Nancy Ortberg, in her book Looking for God, describes sitting between two individuals in a church service whose paths would otherwise never cross. One was a high powered attorney and the other a lowly grocery store bagger. If their paths did cross it would have been brief and inconsequential. At church, however, they were on the same playing field; the ground, after all, is level at the foot of the cross.

Lane explains that there are very little things that can be done to encourage and promote a sense of belonging–even as simple as wearing name tags. At a relatively small church where most people know each other than may not be necessary, but it does provide some leveling and it does invite personal interaction. I can remember watching sermons by Michael Youssef at Church of the Apostles in Atlanta and seeing everyone in the (large) congregation wearing name tags. That actually never appealed to me, but that may be because (1) I don’t really like sticking things on my clothes anyway, and (2) sometimes I kinda like being anonymous. As Lane says, though, “There’s something powerful about hearing your name and seeing other people’s names….” I have to agree. I actually make a point to use people’s names often, whether simply saying hello in the hallway or when sending an e-mail. I don’t always do it, but I think I do more often than not. I notice when someone uses my name–and when they don’t. In fact, I remember once being asked, about a church I began attending when I moved to a new town, “what did you like about our church?” I do not know if I had really thought about it before I was asked, but the greeter at the door introduced himself on that first visit and also asked my name. When I went back the next week, he remembered my name–and used it. That struck me.

Lane offers other insights about the importance of church and belonging, including the need to let people be themselves, let people speak freely and a lack of earnestness. Her insights are good. I want to read her book. The bottom line, though, is that we need each other. When we are together with other believers at church we are encouraged. We are challenged. We are sharpened. We may even be convicted. The Bible tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. In other words, we are supposed to go to church! Not because it’s a rule, and not because we will get any bonus points or extra rewards, but because we need each other.

I do not remember where I read or heard this illustration, but it has stuck with me and may be one of the best illustrations of the importance of belonging: charcoal. Yes, charcoal. As in the squarish-looking hunks of black stuff that we bar-b-que enthusiasts squirt with lighter fluid and then set aflame. When they are together, pieces of charcoal generate considerable heat–enough to cook hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken, fish, whatever. (They look pretty too, with their orange-y glow). Next time you’re around a pile of burning charcoal, though, see what happens if you remove one piece and set it off somewhere by itself. Actually, I suspect you know exactly what will happen. That’s what is likely to happen to us, too, if we stay away from church.

September 16, 2014

Better or Worse?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 3:42 pm
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USA Today periodically has a “Your Say” feature in the Opinion section of its web site. The idea is simple–a topic is posted and readers can share their thoughts–have their say–through Facebook and Twitter. Yesterday’s topic was whether churches are changing for better or for worse. The question was posed with this background: “Congregations are becoming more open to gays and lesbians in membership and leadership, according to the National Congregations Study.” As of this morning there were nine comments on the site, though I have no idea how many were submitted. Still, the thoughts contained in these nine are an interesting look at the varying opinions that exist today.

The first comment on the site was this: “This report shows how liberal churches have fallen away from the Scriptures and are accepting the views of the ‘world’ and society rather than the word of God. You cannot bless sin and be blameless.” I would agree with this individual. The increasing acceptance of homosexuals in church membership and leadership is not a movement that has any support in Scripture, meaning it has to be coming from the world. One could debate whether or not the churches are “blessing sin” but the implication is certainly clear, and certainly true–if churches are allowing individuals who are openly embracing a life that is contrary to God’s Word to be members of the church, and even to hold positions of leadership within the church, it is hard to take any position other than endorsement, or at the very least, acceptance.

The second comment came from an individual who had this to say:

Actually, these churches are following what Jesus taught: acceptance, humility and understanding. Perhaps it might behoove the self-righteous, holier-than-thou “Christians” to reflect on their hypocrisy.

One must remember that the Bible, while a good guidebook of moral tales and ethics, was written by many fallible men thousands of years ago, when mores and traditions were much different.

Traditions that were acceptable then are no longer acceptable or relevant because of intelligence and technological advancements.

It is readily evident that the individual who shared this thought is not a Christian–certainly not in any definition of the term that I would accept–because she has an entirely false understanding of what the Bible is. The Bible is not simply a “good guidebook” and it does not contain “moral tales and ethics.” Rather, it contains true accounts of events and teachings. It was written by fallible men, but only insofar as they were the instruments responsible for putting the ink on the paper, so to speak; the words themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Sure, mores and traditions during Bible times are different than mores and traditions now, and there have been technological advancements and perhaps even advances in intelligence (though depending on how one defines this it may be questionable). But homosexuality is neither a more nor a tradition. It is a behavior that is chosen by those who practice it. Whether society deems it more acceptable or not makes no difference at all when examining how the church is changing. Society’s acceptance of, or rejection of, what the Bible teaches must never be the impetus for change within the church, must never be permitted to influence what the church believes, teaches or accepts. (And frankly, technological advancement has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, so that part of the comment is irrelevant).

The third comment echoes what I have said above. Here it is: “Either the Bible is, or it isn’t, the divinely inspired word of God. If it is, then read it and let it change your opinions that don’t match with God’s truth. If you think it isn’t, then find another book to admire, read or pick and choose from.” Bottom line, you either accept the Bible or you reject it; what society thinks, or what mores or traditions have changed, have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.

The next comment: “Christianity is not about a building; it’s about those who follow Christ and his teaching. Although Christ loves everyone, he hates all sin, including homosexuality. There is no gray area.” This is exactly on point, and there is more contained herein that first meets the eye. The initial tendency is to see that this individual holds to the fact that the Bible is true and that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and that has not changed. That’s true. But the comment goes deeper; it implies more so than states that those “churches” that are changing to allow homosexuals to be members or leaders are not really churches in the biblical sense. If these groups of people are not following Christ and His teaching contained in the Bible then they are not really churches in the context the question assumes, or many of these bodies assume for themselves.

Here’s the simple truth: if entities calling themselves churches are changing in any way that is causing them to stray from the Bible, they are changing for the worse. When churches fail to change with the mores and traditions of the culture and choose instead to remain steadfast on the Truth of Scripture, regardless of how popular such a stand is not, that is not only for the better, it is the best. “Truth” and “change” are incompatible notions. If God’s Word is Truth, and God’s Word never changes, there is no room for change regarding the Truth within the church.

August 28, 2014

An Open Letter to My Friend

Recently, a young man who graduated from the school where I serve announced that he is gay. It is no secret to anyone who has read this blog that I affirm the Bible’s teaching that homosexuality is a sin. This young man and I have exchanged some messages on the subject and he seems, for now, to be set in his new “beliefs.”

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Dear friend,

You know that I believe that the Bible means exactly what it says when it calls homosexuality an abomination. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 use this word for homosexual acts in the King James, New King James, New American Standard, Young’s Literal Translation and English Standard versions of the Bible. The New International Version, Holman Christian Standard and New Living Translation translate the word as “detestable.” The Voice uses that word, too. Here is how The Living Bible presents Leviticus 18:22: “Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin.” The Contemporary English Version says, “It is disgusting for a man to have sex with another man” and The Message says, “Don’t have sex with a man as one does with a woman. That is abhorrent.” There really is no alternative explanation for what these verses mean. Some have suggested that the homosexual acts being referred to were commonly part of the worship of idols and that the prohibition against homosexuality was really a condemnation of idolatry and not of homosexuality, but this is, at best, a stretch. What it really is is an attempt by those who want to find biblical justification for their choices to find a way of interpreting Scripture that allows them to do what they want. The Bible states very clearly in many places that idolatry is a sin. If God was intending to condemn idolatry only in these passages in Leviticus He would have done so. Instead, He chose to address homosexuality precisely because that was the behavior He wanted to address.

Other attempts to say that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality include the assertion that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality Himself. While that is true, there are many things that Jesus never specifically mentioned that are still sinful. If you look through your Bible or a concordance you are not going to find anywhere that Jesus used the words abortion, euthanasia, pornography or cocaine, either. Yet there are clear instances of Jesus’ teaching that address the sanctity of life, sexual immorality and the fact that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. In Mark 7 Jesus clearly condemns all forms of sexual immorality and said that sexual immorality is but one behavior that defiles a person. Really, the list of behaviors in Mark 7:20-23 could include homosexuality in several of them. Sexual immorality, of course, but also “evil thoughts,” “adultery,” “coveting,” “wickedness,” “sensuality,” “pride” and “foolishness.” I could elaborate on how homosexuality fits into each of these, and maybe I will do that sometime.

Paul includes homosexuality in I Corinthians 6 when he presents a list of behaviors that are not pleasing to God. While there is an effort among some to suggest that Paul is referring specifically to either male prostitutes or to men who kept boys for the purpose of homosexual sex, the Greek word refers to passive and active partners in consensual homosexual sex.

In Romans 1 Paul calls homosexuality a shameless act and says that homosexual behavior is contrary to that which is natural, meaning that it violates God’s intentional design for humans. (This, by the way, would be why homosexuality falls into the category of “foolishness” above). Paul addresses homosexuality again in I Timothy 1:8-10. Not only does he specifically name homosexuality in addition to the broader category of sexual immorality, he states that such behavior is “contrary to sound doctrine.”

You suggested that I watch Matthew Vines’ video entitled The Gay Debate because, you said, he presents “a different view, and one that is actually very logical.” The problem here is two fold. One, if it is a different view than what God Himself has given us in His Word, it cannot be right. If it contradicts what the Bible says it is necessarily wrong. The second problem is very similar in that it is not possible for something that contradicts the Bible to be logical. There may be ways of creating an understanding of things that seems to be logical but it will all be based on falsehood, meaning that it cannot withstand scrutiny or serious examination. I should perhaps mention as well that there is nothing logical about homosexuality; there is no way to explain it that makes any logical sense.

You go on to state that being gay is not a choice. “It is not my choice who I am attracted to,” you wrote. “It just like the color of one’s eyes, it is unchangeable.” This is an erroneous assertion, as well, and one that I have addressed many times in this space so I will not go into it again now. If you want to know what I think about it, it is not hard to find. I will keep it very succinct and simply say this–even if who you are attracted to is the way you were born, engaging in homosexual acts is still a choice. (Please note my emphasis on “if,” because I do not agree with that position at all; I am simply stating that even if that position were accepted, the behavior itself is still optional).

Now, before I close, I need to state that I am a sinner, too. We all are. Scripture is also explicitly clear about that! I do not believe that there are categories or levels of sin. When I sin through choices I make my sin is just as offensive to God as yours is. I don’t think homosexual behavior is more offensive than lying, stealing, gossiping, coveting or heterosexual sex outside of marriage. One thing that I think is often different in the case of homosexuals, and that I see right now in your own actions, is a decision to proclaim to the world that you are embracing that sin and asking everyone else to accept it. If I were to announce to everyone that I have decided that stealing things I want is an uncontrollable urge I have and is just the way God made me I would fully expect to be taken to task. If I were to embrace a decision to engage in extramarital sex and ask all of my friends and acquaintances to accept that decision, I would expect them to not only refuse to do so, but to call me repentance for my behavior. When you announce that you have made a conscious decision to live a life of sin you are in a dangerous position. You are also sending out a plea for anyone who really loves you to share the Truth with you in love in an effort to bring you back to the straight and narrow.

No one should wish you ill or harm, no one is pleasing God by calling you names or issuing threats. But no one who loves God and loves you can also let you persist in this choice without trying to bring you back to the Truth. We love you too much to do that.

June 24, 2014

Ruining the Beauty of God’s Creation

One of the beautiful realities about truth is that it is timeless. Sure, some truths are circumstantial and those will change as circumstances change. For example, last year it was true that my daughter was in fifth grade. Next year that will not be true. Those are circumstantial truths. Absolute truth, though, is unchanging (hence the use of “absolute”). God’s truth is absolute and therefore anyone writing or speaking about God’s truth is also presenting timeless truth–truth that will be just as true, just as accurate and just as relevant days, years, decades and even centuries after it was written or spoken.

More than ten years ago Ravi Zacharias wrote a book entitled Recapture the Wonder. On page 36 of the hardcover version of that book Zacharias wrote, “Anyone who thinks he or she can place the boundaries arbitrarily will either destroy the enchantment of life or else wear him- or herself into exhaustion. God’s commands are there to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around. Implementing that truth in our lives keeps us from losing the wonder.”

Because Zacharias was writing about absolute truth that statement is still accurate today. Yet, we live in a world that wholeheartedly embraces the idea of placing boundaries arbitrarily–moving them whenever convenient or desirable, or even eliminating them altogether. We see this perhaps most clearly in the area of sexual behavior. There is an ongoing effort to shift or erase all God-given boundaries of sexual behavior, including God’s design for marriage (between one man and one woman), God’s design for sex (between a married man and woman) and God’s design for gender (male or female, as He created each individual). Much as they may claim to be thrilled with their behavioral choices I believe that many of those individuals who champion this boundary realignment, and/or who live their lives based on the realignment, have in fact destroyed the enchantment of life and are working themselves into exhaustion. They put so much effort into trying to convince the world that their redefinition of what God created is normal and acceptable that they cannot possibly be enchanted by life any longer.

When anyone can, with a few clicks of the mouse, see any manner of sexual activity and perversion imaginable it is nearly impossible for there to be any wonder left about sex as God designed it. When the world embraces the idea of doing whatever feels good or desirable at the moment there can be no sense of enchantment remaining.

The inside flap of Zacharias’ book includes this statement: “Our sense of wonder is a blessing from God, given so that we would be continually amazed at His beauty and creation. But for many of us, our wonder has diminished through the years, and we doubt that we’ll ever be able to experience the overwhelming sense of awe we once had as children.” I would suggest that no small part of the reason for that is that, unlike children who are discovering the world for the first time and are enchanted with each new discovery, we adults are, collectively, seeking to eliminate anything that might be undiscovered or secret or private.

Imagine, for example, if the most beautiful sunrise, or sunset, you have ever seen was available every day, any time you want to see it–and to anyone in the world, not just you. The beauty of that sunrise or sunset would begin to fade. It would gradually become less special, less awe-inspiring, less desirable. It could easily become commonplace, ho-hum or boring. That is what the world is doing, or attempting to do, to God’s design for mankind. This effort to eliminate the special, the private–the sacred, even–is painfully obvious when it comes to sex but is evident in many other areas as well.

What we need to do is return to the truth that the boundaries, “God’s commands,” have been given to us “to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around.” If the human body and sexual behavior was supposed to be open and available for anyone to see God never would have created clothing for Adam and Eve after they sinned. If sex was supposed to be whenever, wherever and with whomever, God never would have given instruction that the man and the woman were to cleave to one another and enjoy sex within the boundaries of their marriage. If sex between men or between women was perfectly acceptable God never would have called it an abomination or referred to it as abandoning the “natural” relationship between men and women. We have allowed Satan to delude us into thinking that by throwing back the curtain and openly celebrating and flaunting any and all varieties of behavior we are in fact celebrating and enjoying life. Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are we destroying the wonder and enchantment we are in fact ruining the beauty of God’s creation.

March 27, 2014

Blurred Vision

On March 24 Christianity Today ran an article in which World Vision made clear that it is now hiring homosexual Christians in legal gay marriages. Interestingly, the charity’s policy against sex outside of marriage is still a rule.

World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns granted CT an exclusive interview in which he explained the policy change. According to the article, “Stearns asserts that the ‘very narrow policy change’ should be viewed by others as ‘symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.’ He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.”

Before I go any further I need to stop right here and state that very few things I have read or heard recently trouble me so much as someone simultaneously stating that abandoning a long-standing policy that is consistent with the Bible is a “very narrow policy change” and that this change is “symbolic…of [Christian] unity.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This “narrow policy change” rests on the belief that what the Bible makes clear about homosexuality and marriage is not correct or, at the very least, has been traditionally misunderstood. It is not possible to pursue Christian unity by redefining the Bible.

Franklin Graham, in a statement on the World Vision decision, said, “World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.” Graham is exactly right; you cannot unify the church by embracing sin!

The CT article continues, “In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently ‘tearing churches apart’ over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.” I read that to mean that Stearns hopes that Christians will ignore World Vision’s trampling of one part of Scripture in order to join forces in adhering to another part of it. The reality is, of course, that that makes no sense. After all, if what the Bible teaches about homosexuality or marriage need not be adhered to why should its teachings on caring for the poor stir me to action?

Stearns stated that the policy change is nothing more than that. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.” Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Stearns. A decision to hire and accept individuals who are living a life that is contrary to what the Bible teaches absolutely is an affirmation of that choice–whether you say it is or not.

Because of World Vision’s size–it had revenue of more than $1 billion last year–and the scope of its ministries, “other Christian organizations look to World Vision for leadership on defending faith hiring practices,” Christianity Today reported. That is true…and scary. When one of the largest Christian charities in the world accepts this kind of compromise it will surely lead other ministries to consider doing the same.

For that reason it is imperative that churches, parachurch organizations and other ministries, as well as individual believers, take a stand for biblical truth and against the compromise of World Vision. Franklin Graham is but one evangelical leader who was quick to denounce the decision. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission issued a statement that included this observation:

But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth.

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

John Piper said this: “This is a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition – and therefore, the cross – and because it sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor.” Piper goes on to highlight the idiocy of the stated position of World Vision:

When World Vision says, “We cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” here is the side they do, in fact, jump onto: We forbid fornication and adultery as acceptable lifestyles among our employees (which they do), but we will not forbid the regular practice of homosexual intercourse. To presume that this position is not “jumping into the fight on one side or the other” is fanciful.

There are no doubt many other individuals and groups that have issued and will issue similar statements affirming the biblical position on marriage and challenging the foolishness of the World Vision position. When they do we must echo a hearty “Amen!” and join in their willingness to stand on the wall to defend the truth.

Russell Moore concluded his statement by suggesting that a refusal to stand firm for the Scripture, a refusal to call sin sin and to also share the Bible’s message of forgiveness is nothing more than “empowering darkness.” May we never be guilty of empowering darkness. May we, instead, follow the exhortation of Paul to the church at Ephesus when he wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11, ESV).

December 19, 2012

“We can’t tolerate this anymore”

If you were watching Sunday night football this past Sunday you were taken from the game to President Obama speaking at a prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That is the only way I happened to see it. I am sure, though, that other channels too showed the speech, and the full text of the address is available on washingtonpost.com (as well as many other sites I am sure). If you pay much attention to politics in America than you were probably as surprised as my wife and I were to hear how frequently and apparently-sincerely the President quoted Scripture and referred to God and even Jesus. Indeed right off the bat, immediately after the obligatory nod to the governor, the families, the first responders and guests, Mr. Obama quoted 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. In their entirety. He did not provide the reference, but he did say, “Scripture tells us” before reciting them.

Shortly thereafter Mr. Obama said, “Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.” After outlining the brave actions of teachers and students alike, naming the teachers who lost their lives and even sharing what the simultaneously touching and funny account of one student offering to lead the way out because he knows karate, and commending the town for their the President said, “This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.”

Mr. Obama was wise to draw from Scripture during such a time of intense grief and inexplicable tragedy. After all, when confronted with the reality of man’s inhumanity to man, where else is there to go for comfort? Relativism offers nothing even remotely comforting. Saying, “that’s just part of life” is not a good way to win friends and influence people. The truth is that when tragedies like the one in Newtown take place humans everywhere shift their attention to God. Some look to Him in anger, some with genuine perplexity, and many with sorrow that is seeking consolation. There is a part of every human that knows that God is there, and that only is He is big enough to wrap His arms around these situations and provide, if not easy-to-understand answers, at least a refuge and a safe place.

Unfortunately Mr. Obama strayed some as his comments continued. He said, “We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.” I agree; absolutely. Immediately thereafter, though, he said, “We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.” I agree as well that there are many times when it is difficult to discern God’s plans, individually and corporately. It is difficult even for those who diligently seek Him. But in the middle of this conversation Mr. Obama used these as examples of what we humans strive for: “wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort.” Sadly, he is not off the mark. Is it any wonder, though, that we have trouble discerning God’s plan when we spend our time focused on making more money, accumulating more toys and/or building a following for ourselves?

It is then that Mr. Obama misses the target completely, though. After citing Scripture and making reference to God’s plans, the President said, “There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other.” At least he did not go so far as to say that there is nothing that we can be sure of. But if the love of a parent for a child is the only thing that we can be sure of, we are in trouble. What hope can we have in that? After all, I doubt a day goes by that we cannot find a story of a parent committing horrible offenses against a child. I do not doubt for one moment that the parents of the children who died in Newtown loved their children and will miss them terribly. I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing. I cannot, though, find comfort in the statement that the only thing we can be sure of is a parent’s love.

Taken as a whole, I thought that the President’s comments were heartfelt and appropriate. For most of the speech he spoke as a father far more than he did as a politician. And I do not want to use Newtown as an instrument for any agenda. But the President’s remarks serve only to reinforce the fact that Mike Huckabee was right; we cannot expect to teach morality and accountability and responsibility without God any more than we can hope to comfort those who grieve without God. Why is the latter okay but the former is a violation of religious freedom?

Mr. Obama wants to put an end to these tragedies. “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

He is right. It will not happen though until we realize, collectively, that we will have to continually comfort grieving hearts if we never try to reach the hearts of those who would commit horrific acts…and attempts to do that without God will continue to be futile. Bringing God and His morality back into the discussion…that is the change we need.

April 18, 2012

Taking a Stand

Actor and former teen-heart throb Kirk Cameron has been in the news a lot lately, and most of it has been in the form of attacks on Cameron for his stand on the issue of homosexuality.

Cameron has a new documentary, Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure, in which Cameron addresses the founding of America and the decline of the nation, which he directly attributes to a turning away from those founding principles. I have not seen the film, so I am going by what I have read about it in articles and reviews. Apparently, though, the film has nothing to do with those issues for which he has been in the news, and according to Cameron himself, “never alludes to such hot-button topics.” The controversy stems from Cameron’s appearance on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight in early March.

Morgan asked Cameron about homosexuality, abortion and other so-called social issues during the interview rather than talking much about the documentary. Morgan’s approach, in my opinion, was a result of Rick Santorum’s prominence in the GOP presidential race at the time and his focus on such issues, combined with the general tendency of the liberal media to seek out opportunities to attack Christian beliefs that are consistent with Scripture.

When asked about homosexuality, Cameron told Morgan, that homosexuality is “unnatural” and that it is “ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” That should not come as any surprise to anyone who (1) is familiar with biblical teaching, or (2) expects a Christian to stand by his beliefs. Cameron made the point in the aftermath of the interview and resulting frenzy that there should have been nothing surprising about his answers. Rather, he said, “the only thing that would have been surprising is if I had not answered the way I did. That would have been more newsworthy than what I said” (WORLD, April 7, 2012, p. 61).

Initially Morgan said that Cameron had been “brave” and “honest to what he believed,” according to the Huffington Post. But when Cameron expressed during an interview on FOX that he was blindsided by Morgan’s questions since he had been told that the interview would be about his new documentary, Morgan took offense and retaliated through Twitter, tweeting that Cameron was “moaning” and “whining” and accusing Morgan of “stitching him up” on the issue. One tweet said, “So I’ll let others decide if he was stitched up…or just a bigot.” That was followed by Morgan’s final tweet on the issue: “I respect his religious beliefs – just don’t respect his use of bigoted, inflammatory language re homosexuality.”

Hmmmm… Let’s see. There seems to be a contradiction there somewhere. Piers Morgan respects Kirk Cameron for speaking out for his religious beliefs, and for staying true to them, but he thinks that in so doing Cameron was bigoted and inflammatory? I don’t see how it could be both ways. After all, there is not really any less-direct or less-offensive way to say what Cameron said, is there? I suppose he could have simply said that he believes it is a sin and left it at that, but that would not really change the message. And I think that it is relevant to point out that Cameron did not launch into an attack on homosexuals or use the platform of Morgan’s international audience to advance his convictions; he merely answered Morgan’s question.

What we have here is yet another prime example of the intolerance of those who so loudly preach tolerance. Apparently tolerance means tolerating just about any position, belief or idea other than those held by Christians and taught by the Bible. After all, there were no loud cries of inflammatory language against those who spoke out against Cameron after his interview. Herndon Graddick, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said that Cameron’s comments cause “gay youth and victims of bullying” to “truly suffer,” and said that Cameron said that homosexuals were detrimental to civilization. (What he said, of course, is that homosexual behavior is detrimental to civilization). Roseanne Barr went much further, tweeting, “Kirk or Kurt or whatever Cameron is an accomplice to murder with his hate speech.” GLAAD launched a petition called, “Tell Kirk Cameron It’s Time to Finally Grow Up.” Notice the implication–having a conviction that is contrary to what the media or the noisy masses say is okay is considered juvenile and immature.

This issue also serves to highlight the growing tendency of liberal churches and liberal Christians (and I do not mean “liberal” in the left-wing political sense) to compromise on, and even ignore, biblical teaching. Entire denominations have, of course, now sanctioned homosexual marriage and allow homosexual clergy. Outspoken individuals professing to be Christians are lauded for saying that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality and that God created homosexuals that way. The problem is, the Bible clearly does not teach that. Why would our culture embrace those who claim to believe something and then deny part of what it is that they claim to believe? It is easy-believism. Believe the parts we like, leave out the parts we don’t. That way we can feel good about ourselves and still do what makes us feel good.

A case in point, unfortunately, is actress and singer Kristen Chenoweth. She is a professing Christian, but is also a support of gay and lesbian rights, and she says there is no contradiction between those two things. How does she explain that? By claiming that homosexuality is not a choice, but is actually how God makes some people. “If it was a sin to be short, what would I do? Well I’d be right on the hell bus,” she has said (Chenoweth stands 4’11”). “I don’t believe God makes mistakes, and that includes a person’s sexuality.” I have addressed this issue in previous posts so I will not elaborate other than to point out again that there is a definite and important difference between physical attributes over which people have no choice and they cannot change (height or race, for example) and behaviors over which people do have a choice, even if you believe they were born with a predisposition toward such behavior.

Here is a comment from Chenoweth, posted on Flordia Agenda’s web site (Florida Agenda is an LGBT newspaper): “Even as a young child, I thought, ‘Why is being gay bad?’ I didn’t understand it. So I asked my grandma, who is the best Christian I ever knew. I’d say, ‘what about my friend Denny: he’s gay, is he going to hell?’ She told me, ‘I read the Bible like I eat fish. I take the meat that serves me well but I don’t choke on the bone.'”

The problem is, the hard teachings of Scripture, those that are contrary to what we may like or want them to say, are not bones in the sense that Chenoweth’s grandmother used that analogy. Fish bones are not intended to be eaten. The Scripture, however, is intended to be read and understood–eaten and digested, if you will–in it’s entirety. Not just the parts that taste good.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” That little three-letter word at the beginning makes all the difference. Not some…but ALL.

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