Category Archives: interpretation

Salt and Light vs Cultural Christianity

Below are a couple of intriguing links to religion trends in Great Britain and China.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10770425/David-Cameron-says-Christians-should-be-more-evangelical.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10776023/China-on-course-to-become-worlds-most-Christian-nation-within-15-years.html

Both stories seem hopeful on the surface. A Prime Minister saying Christians should be more evangelical about their faith. He even says he has felt the “healing power of the church.” Then a trend in China where the Statist nation will soon house the most Christians of any country on earth. Wow, so it’s beautiful irony, right?
But if you read on in both stories you begin to see how hard it is for the church to define success. Turns out David Cameron has been all over the map on his previous public statements about the church. He’s struggling right now and facing a surging, more conservative opposition. So it’s hard not to wonder how politically motivated the comments are. Then if you read more, it really unravels. Good schools, social programs, and just enough faith to keep people from being hopeless seems to be the role of the church. Speaking truth to power? (As long as it’s the other guys…) Bearing witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? (Sort of, but mainly just helping make sure other religions aren’t trampled…) What you end up with is pretty close to what the optimist club could provide.
But surely the China story is good news! Well, there are now mega churches in provinces of China. High walls. Cross on top. One more feature…a closed circuit camera suspended directly in front of the pulpit. This is not for live broadcast. These cameras are controlled by the State. They are to directly monitor sermons for “dangerous” content. “They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way. They want to train people to practice in a communist way…the Old Testament book…Daniel…is seen as “very dangerous”…”
This seems pretty compromised.
To be fair, these must be gut-wrenching decisions for churches and pastors and believers to make. Do we work within the framework allowed by the culture in order to protect our level of “influence”/political freedom? Or, do we preach and live the full truth of the gospel, which challenges any and every political system?
The underground church in China has made their choice. Many Christians have left the Church of England to work more boldly for the Kingdom of God. They don’t want to be the religious arm of the State. But it’s not so easy to say that’s the only right choice.
Oh, for the happy day when those Christians who are fully and sacrificially devoted could win enough hearts and minds to eventually go public, joining those who have kept something going in the public realm. But tough questions remain…
It makes me wonder what John Wesley (kicked out of the Church of England for preaching the truth and challenging social norms) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (founding member of the confessing church of resistance to Nazi Germany, who was killed in prison) would want to tell us…

Prodigal Christianity Part 2

Fitch and Holsclaw seek to describe reality today in North America. One term they talk about a lot is Postmodernity. For 500 years, the West has been fascinated with science and ideas. Logic, proof, and argument have ruled the day. But somewhere along the way people began to tire of this. As I read the early part of the book my memory was jogged. I realized there had been a day I discovered postmodernism. Nobody had ever used that term in my presence. I had never read a book by anyone who knew the term. It was the Spring of 1986 and I was finishing up my freshman philosophy class at the University of Iowa. I was a religion major with vague ministry goals. My own faith was growing quickly after a detour in my middle teen years. Jesus was tremendously real to me. We had to write a final position paper for this philosophy class. Of course, I wrote mine on the “proofs” for the existence of God. I eagerly headed to the Graduate Assistant’s office to pick up my paper and receive my final grade. I was sure I had nailed the paper. Terry smiled and handed me my paper with a B- on it. I frowned. “B-? Why did you give me a B-?”
He said, “I gave you a B- because you didn’t take the other position seriously enough.”
I said, “I don’t take it that seriously because I don’t believe it. I believe God truly exists.”
He said, “Yes, but for the assignment it’s about whether that could be proved.”
“I think I did prove it,” I said. So he took the paper back and looked it over again. He told me that I did as good of a job as anyone has at defending the viewpoint but that the consensus has been that you can’t prove God’s existence. I couldn’t resist, so I asked him if he believed in God. He said, “Not really. I’m sort of an agnostic.” Snappy young fellow as I was, I asked him if his bias might be causing him to downplay my position. Maybe he wasn’t taking ME seriously enough!
Terry smiled again. He said, “I have to admit, I’ve never had a student with such a strong conviction about this before.” And then I knew that our conversation was not an accident. I looked at the clock on the wall. In exactly five minutes the parking meter was going to read: EXPIRED. I also was going to be cutting it close to make it to work on time. But something told me not to go.
Terry, said, “Tim, you have my attention. You seem to have a very deep and personal conviction about God. In the philosophy department they tell us to check our theological hats at the door. (I’ll never forget that phrase.) It’s actually refreshing. Since I haven’t met many people like you, I’d like to hear your story. How are you so certain? How is God so real to you?”
I went down the logical arguments I had covered in the paper. But for each one he was able to come up with some sort of logic that could challenge it. I realized that these answers weren’t all that satisfying to me either. Logic just wasn’t cutting it, but it was mostly what I had heard from others. My mind raced backwards. Although Terry was probably 10 years older than me, just a couple years before I also had been doubting like him. I began to tell him about how things were then.
“Nothing could get through to me for over a year. But along the way I met a girl who had a lot of spiritual questions. Frankly, I found those questions quite irritating at first. She was seeking what I was running away from. But she was so beautiful I wasn’t going anywhere… (Um, shallow, I know but I was 16) Eventually, her seeking awakened my own spiritual center. Something so pure was at work in her. And through her, something began to soften my heart. (By the way she is now my wife!) One night in February 1985, I became aware of a holy presence, something completely “other”. Whatever the past had been, this was the present. I was aware of this holy presence and my own sinful, selfish ways. This holy presence was offering me a fresh start.” I looked Terry right in the eye and said, “I had a personal confrontation with the holiness of God that required a choice.” I could see a path leading toward light if I said yes, but out into darkness if I said, no. I said, yes and my life began to change.

At this point in talking with Terry, I felt like I was on fire. I hadn’t felt so alive since the moment that I was telling him about had first happened. I was now officially late for work but I didn’t care. Terry leaned back and said, “I guess that’s what you’d have to say…”
“Terry, it’s real. Can you feel it? I feel God here  just like I did that day.”
He said, “Tim, I actually believe you. Now that I understand how firmly you believe this I understand what you were saying in the paper. I’m changing your grade to a B+. But more than that you’ve affected me. I shared with you that I’m an agnostic. But I do actually wonder about God. If God is real I’d like to be able to know it like you feel you do. Whenever I get the chance to watch a sunset with my girlfriend, I take a bottle of wine and we think and talk together about ultimate things. I open my heart to the possibility of faith. I promise you that the next time I do that, I’ll be thinking of your story and considering all that you said to me.”
I told him not to wait until then, but to reflect on it anytime it came to mind. He thanked me for taking the time to share my story.
I floated back to my car… I now had two parking tickets and was already 45minutes late for work. I called and explained the odd situation. Miraculously they understood. I couldn’t believe I didn’t lose my job. I was still on fire. At age 18, I knew the purpose of the rest of my life. I also understood that the world had shifted. I wouldn’t know the word postmodern for several years. But I knew people were much more interested in my story than in logical arguments. And I loved hearing more about Terry’s story. Those were precious moments spent with him. I was transformed a bit by the process and Terry was, too. God was at work in a way I hadn’t realized before. And it was more compelling than any religious idea or argument could fully capture. Make no mistake I believe there is truth that will set you free. But from that moment on I knew the truth had to be lived and shared before I could fully know it or be completely free.

This is the cultural landscape I believe Fitch and Holsclaw are talking about in their book- Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. This post-Christendom Far Country is logically frustrating for Christians. But we can navigate through this territory without losing our way. In fact, as Fitch says, God has already gone before us as we travel. He is already there, already at work in others’ lives. It was good to be reminded of these events as I read these compelling early chapters…

Prodigal Christianity Part 1

The new book by Fitch & Holsclaw is called Prodigal Christianity. It uses Luke’s Prodigal Parables (Luke 15) as a metaphor for Christian ministry in a postmodern world. I attended a conversation about the book at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. The authors presented a brief outline of the text and then took questions from those present. (Yes, I asked a question…)
The book presents 10 Signposts for the Missional Frontier and shares 7 Behaviors the church should engage in as we navigate these signposts. Certain chapters look like they will be very exciting. David Fitch has been part of the missional church conversation for a long time. Like me, he found some really good energy in the early Emergent conversations as well. However, the last several years have seen the Emergent group head off in directions which are no longer satisfying. In so many of those models, the church and the gospel seem to collapse into Postmodernism. There’s no good news and no reason for the church to gather. So Fitch has come back to the Missional term as more descriptive. He believes strongly in the church as the place where the Spirit is most active. The community formed there is God’s agent of change in our world. I couldn’t agree more. Fitch also rejects the extreme neo-reformed overreaction to Emergent and other groups. These folks have locked down the gospel so tightly, they’ve reduced it to a particular view of the atonement which is a fairly recent arrival in church history. The gospel is bigger than this. It’s more than a set of religious beliefs to be argued. It is an experience, a way of life, a vision of justice, an agent of healing, and a transforming journey. For Fitch, this is a journey into what he calls the Far Country. As best I can tell the Far Country is a metaphor for this postmodern, post-Christendom world many North Americans find ourselves in. A world where fewer and fewer people give automatic authority to the Bible, to the Church, or to Christian positions on social issues. Christians have tended to just get absorbed into the Far Country, leaving the gospel behind, or have built enclaves where we hide out from the world until Jesus shows up to beam us up.
I like how Fitch doesn’t want us to accept either one of those. Like the Prodigal God who leaves the 99 sheep, sweeps the whole house, and looks longingly for the return of his son, we can choose to “Go” like Jesus taught us to. But our “going” will look differently since we’re in the Far Country and not 1957 Churched America. I like the questions Fitch is asking at the beginning of this book. I like that Ecclesiology (what we think about the Church) is at the forefront of how he’s doing theology. It’s the lens through which he understands the gospel and how to live it out. So, preaching and the sacraments are central to his theology and missional outlook. I love great theological conversations. But this is a piece that has been absent for some time… I’m excited to dive in, with no imagination that I won’t find lots to disagree with along the way. But the Holy Spirit spoke to me at that gathering that there are some important things in this conversation which will speak directly to me and my church community as we also navigate uncharted territory in our culture…
Fitch is a CMA pastor (Wesleyan denomination similar to my own Nazarenes) teaching at a Baptist Seminary, who has Anabaptist leanings in how he views community, justice, and discernment. Now that’s a lively mix. I’m also a pastor who teaches at a Christian university and enjoys dialogue. I’m intrigued to read on…

A new kind of love…

I feel challenged to continue to understand and live out our ministry in the world as defined by the Gospel and the Missio Dei (mission of God), not by every cultural debate and divide. Regardless of any Supreme Court decision, how will the church embody God’s righteous reign in and for the world? Jesus is Lord, not any political or cultural mindset. Both justice and righteousness matter intensely to God. Like Jesus we take our stand with and among real people where they live. But we actually kneel, submitting to God’s kingdom, confessing our own shortcomings as we profess a clear faith in God and enter into loving relationship with our neighbor. We cannot compromise God’s revealed vision of morality (but must confess that we, too, have failed) and we dare not compromise God’s revealed vision of love (even as we admit that we have in the past).
Jesus on the cross was demonstrating the incredible power of a new kind of love. Violently abused, he suffered for the sins of others. Tortured by an ancient military Empire, he suffered with conquered and marginalized people everywhere. Hanging on the cross he asked the Father God to forgive his enemies, for they did not understand what they were doing. Can we rightly live with anything else in our hearts?
In this week Christians call Holy, as we remember Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, may we join Jesus’ continuing mission to embody the righteous rule of our loving God. May that be a surprising sign in our world of something better yet to come…
www.discovernewhope.org

Church of England: No to Female Bishops

Many are wrongly framing the controversy in the Church of England as liberal (pro-women) vs conservative (anti-women) or Bible (anti-women) vs culture (pro-women). In fact, the Scriptures themselves have far more to say in favor of women than many realize. And cultures have tended to hold women back, while Christians have often been the ones elevating them based on the Bible.
Many conservatives, who believe Christianity to be a revealed religion, based on the fully inspired Scriptures, support women in leadership on biblical grounds. We simply consider EVERY relevant passage, not just one. Christians were the first to elevate women. It got them in trouble with the pagans (contrary to popular opinion). Paul himself wrote strongly about our equality before God. Whatever the often controversial Timothy and Corinthian passages are referring to, they don’t trump everything else the Scriptures say. Most of the energy behind hindering women from using their spiritual gifts in leadership is based around giving a single passage the first and last word in the debate. Good interpretation has to be in context and in light of all the New Testament says. I respect people on all sides of the issue. But a lot of people don’t seem to know all the evidence.
Here are just a few key passages for biblical conservatives who support female leaders…

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17, 18 NIV)
Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. (Acts 21:8, 9 NIV)

This passage implies mutually held appreciation for female servant-leaders between Paul and the Roman believers:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:3-7 NIV)

More passages not making value-distinctions between the important leadership contributions of women and men in the early church…
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 NIV)
Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. (Colossians 4:15 ESV)
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14 ESV)
Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:15 ESV)
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2, 3 ESV)

At the very least these passages indicate Paul saw women as equally valuable, not only theologically, but as partners in ministry. If women prophesied in the early church, they clearly were teaching and also therefore not always silent in church. The question of the meaning of “have authority over” in the Timothy passage becomes a focal point. But in light of all Paul and Peter wrote there’s plenty of room to support leadership based on spiritual giftedness rather than gender. And it seems in certain regions Paul operated with culturally-conditioned methods based on needs and human resources.
Regardless of your conclusion, please make your decision based on more than one New Testament passage… And let’s not falsely label each other as biblical vs cultural.

Aw, shucks…Neutrinos now respecting the speed limit!

Just another reason we can’t hitch our faith to0 tightly the posts of archaeology or science. Last year, scientists reported that tiny neutrinos (sub-atomic particles) sent from CERN to Gran Sasso had arrived faster than the speed of light! This implied all kinds of mind-blowing possibilities about the universe. I even thought it might have some relevance toward N.T. Wright’s view of eschatology (described in Surprised by Hope) and the body of the Risen Jesus passing through walls, etc…
They presented the research, which has been peer reviewed and not duplicated. The differences have been attributed to not plugging in a cable properly. (Isn’t that always the problem?) I still think we may some day make amazing discoveries along the lines of Colossians 1:15-20 “…in Him all things hold together…” But that day will have to wait. And truth is, science is not capable of proving faith at all. A saving relationship with the divine will always require a leap of faith! To be changed, we must trust. And we can only come to trust by the Grace of a loving God empowering us to do so.
For those who haven’t already read the Press Release from this summer, I have included the text below…

Neutrinos sent from CERN to Gran Sasso respect the cosmic speed limit

At the 25th International Conference on Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics in Kyoto today, CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci presented results on the time of flight of neutrinos from CERN to the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory on behalf of four experiments situated at Gran Sasso. The four, Borexino, ICARUS, LVD and OPERA all measure a neutrino time of flight consistent with the speed of light. This is at odds with a measurement that the OPERA collaboration put up for scrutiny last September, indicating that the original OPERA measurement can be attributed to a faulty element of the experiment’s fibre optic timing system.

“Although this result isn’t as exciting as some would have liked,” said Bertolucci, “it is what we all expected deep down. The story captured the public imagination, and has given people the opportunity to see the scientific method in action – an unexpected result was put up for scrutiny, thoroughly investigated and resolved in part thanks to collaboration between normally competing experiments. That’s how science moves forward.”

In another development reported in Kyoto, the OPERA experiment showed evidence for the appearance of a second tau-neutrino in the CERN muon-neutrino beam, this is an important step towards understanding the science of neutrino oscillations.

Contact:

CERN Press Office, press.office@cern.ch

via CERN Press Release.

Update: Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Authenticity Questioned By Scholars

Well, the more we know the less we know. Scholars in ever widening circles are questioning the authenticity of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ wife, which appears to be a late forgery using quotes from the Gospel of Thomas. The ethical questions abound beginning with the “owner” desiring to sell the document. I agree with those who wonder why we didn’t learn of this document while it was still in Egypt if it’s legitimate.

Karen King reveals her bias against logic when she states:

Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried, although there is no reliable historical evidence to support that, King said.

via Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Authenticity Questioned By Scholars.

The more accurate statement is that no reliable evidence exists to suggest that Jesus was married. It’s clear some scholars want Jesus to have been married for a variety of reasons. We keep hearing of bone boxes and tiny fragments which always turn out to have little value. If Jesus was married it would have been a big deal and any children would have been celebrities of divine status. In short, we would know. Those who claim it would be a theological problem therefore it would have been covered up are wrong. If Jesus was going to be a manufactured and managed image he would look more like the Gnostic image of a god only seeming to be present on earth. The twisted logic that produces a married Jesus from a Coptic gnostic fragment boggles my mind. The biblical gospels have a fully human Jesus with a functioning body and close relationships. Even after the resurrection he eats and gives and receives touch. The early church insisted that people remember he was in a physical body and fully human. If any gospel was going to have Jesus married it would have been the  canonical gospels. But he most likely wasn’t because despite mentioning all this other normal human relationship stuff, they don’t mention it. If you can accept that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, what’s the stretch to say he had children? The medieval Roman church might have had a reason to support celibate clergy through a celibate Jesus, but that was a later development. The unmarried Jesus had already been with us for centuries.
To summarize: I don’t think Jesus was married to an individual woman. I think he has always been married to his mission and to God’s people, the church. He blessed marriage and affirmed it as a celebration of the miracle of life. I don’t think I believe that because the church has something to hide. There is nothing simple about the Trinity or Christology. A married Jesus would be no more difficult to teach than many other difficult doctrines. As usual, we project our cultural dilemmas onto the ancient world and ancient texts. I don’t even think the likely forged text is actually saying Jesus had an earthly, physical wife for reasons I explained last time. One has to supply a lot of missing letters to come up with that! But gnostics had a much greater theological motive for having a celibate Jesus than orthodox believers did. Their motive simply seems to be telling the truth. He wasn’t married.
In this case, ironically, it doesn’t seem to be the church that has something to hide…

Jesus Has a Wife (or at least a bride…)

Newly revealed Coptic fragment has Jesus making reference to ‘my wife’ – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

The 4 Century Coptic fragment pictured above has been in the news the last few days. Coptics are Egyptian Christians who have been known for slightly different theology than most Western and Eastern Christian Traditions. All the attention is swirling around the idea that this is representing a discovery that early Coptic Christians believed Jesus was married on earth. What amazes me is the silence on the fact that we know for sure Jesus did in fact have a wife (and still does!)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
(Ephesians 5:25–32 NIV)

Intertwined in Paul’s discussion of husbands and wives is Christ as husband to the Church. That the two become one and Christ lays down his life for her. It’s a metaphor for the loving relationship God has not only with individuals but with the church as a whole.

These may have been Coptic Christians, but they were Christians which means they first of all valued the earliest writings of the faith. Even the Gnostic gospels essentially appear to be devotional reflections on the more authoritative accounts. So the first thought of any historian or interpreter should be to compare the language with that of the New Testament. So it would seem his mentioning of a wife and dwelling with her would be building on this biblical image of the Bride of Christ being the Church. Since this is a much later work for a unique group, I suppose anything is possible. But why not start with the most obvious connection? Maybe because you desire controversy?
And it’s not just the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with images of Israel as the LORD’s spouse. Hosea and other prophets use this image repeatedly. So there is strong evidence to support what I’m suggesting.
It’s always fascinating and interesting to discover ancient documents. But the simplest connections and explanations are usually the best in my view… So let’s live into the reality of the church, God’s people, living as the bride of Christ. Let’s walk closely with God and live together in harmony as we work and worship and anticipate the great day of His appearing!

Sex, Sin, and Christian Public Discourse

The recent explosive arguments on sexuality in our culture are polarizing. Issues like contraception and same-sex marriage have brought a lot of harsh rhetoric from all sides. None of it is helpful. CNN’s Belief Blog has put out some of the most biased posts I’ve seen. My most recent attempt at a comment about the National Day of Prayer was not allowed, but dozens of slanderous and obscene anti-Christian attacks by atheists were all allowed unedited. Equally bad and more deeply saddening have been Christian attacks on other Christians of different opinions and on non-believers. If we don’t have love, we have nothing in the Christian community. We should be wise in our comments, which need to be “full of grace, seasoned with salt.” We should not further victimize members of marginalized communities like LGBT with angry mean words. But neither should we leave an ambiguous picture to our children of what loving, biblical Christians believe. Our morally conservative Christian children also face a confusing and harsh world, increasingly unwelcoming of their lifestyle and convictions.
So, my views are as follows:
I begin with a quick look at biblical passages in this debate.
Genesis 19 shows God condemning certain violence and all illicit sexuality, most specifically male homosexual and heterosexual rape. Not a definitive passage on homosexuality, but hardly supportive of it either.
Leviticus 18:22 calls the mutual homosexual male sex act an abomination. While Leviticus has quite a few strange and unique laws, this one is in a list of bedrock prohibitions which protect family relationships and the sanctity of sexuality. It cannot be dismissed without undermining sexual purity. (Leviticus 20:13 is similar)
Romans 1:26-27 condemns all illicit lustfully-inflamed sexual activity, specifically highlighting lustful homosexual acts among men and women as unnatural and provoking judgment. This would also cover orgies, all sex outside marriage, and even selfish unbridled lust within marriage-using another person purely for one’s own pleasure.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 presents the most complete image I would like to put forward. It clearly identifies homosexual offenders as wicked. But it also lists more common sins like greed, drunkenness, heterosexual immorality, and even slander as worthy of the same judgement by God.
Yet, it goes on to say that many righteous believers used to live this way, but now have been cleansed and sanctified by the Spirit in the name of Jesus. Therefore none are beyond God’s saving. This is the Radical Optimism of Grace we Nazarenes believe in. God can and will transform every repentant, fully-surrendered life. But slander is just as bad as homosexuality, so some of the so-called Christian response this week will fall under judgment apart from such repentance.
The post-modern idea of same-sex marriage is interesting, but in my view cannot overcome these biblical statements for believers. So, I’m against same-sex marriage and would probably vote against any bill proposing to support it. Yet I’d be careful about voting in favor of legislation to ban it which I deemed to be carelessly or unjustly written. We live in a free society. One which I seek to influence in biblical ways, but one which I refuse to rail angrily against at every turn. I respect the laws of the land unless they attempt to force me to go against my Christian conscience. Then I would seek peaceful and respectful methods to overturn such laws and consider nonviolent protest if called for. My highest goal, however is to win hearts and minds to Christ. Biblical prohibitions are mainly for believers. Reaching more people with love’s transforming message is more important, and in the long run more effective, than publicly arguing our beliefs.
On the contraception issue I’m thankful to Robbie Bender http://lovelifeministry.blogspot.com/2012/05/trouble-with-onan.html for pulling me into deeper reflection on this issue than I’ve done in a while. There is a great discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/RobbieBender1/posts/263828007049689?comment_id=1211118&notif_t=like .   I will say that Genesis 38 has a plethora of potential applications for believers. It speaks to the intimate nature of marriage and highlights perhaps dozens of ways even married Christians can by their selfishness, deceit, and lust get sex wrong. I don’t think it could be used to oppose contraception mutually agreed to by both spouses for practical reasons. But perhaps it does contradict the unthinking use of contraception as a means to avoid praying about God’s will for children in a marriage. If it separates us from considering God’s will that’s not good. But if, after prayer, Christians conclude together that it “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” then it seems more supportable. But I have respect for Christians who take another view and don’t think anyone should be forced to use it, nor should laws force Christians to pay for it.
Sexual clarity is being lost. Sexual purity matters more than we may sometimes remember in this pluralistic society. Yet I want to support these views with gentleness and respect, for the sake of how the world views Christ and his church. Let’s be humble admitting all of us were lost in sin before God saved us. Even now, none of us have achieved absolute perfection. But then lets be bold in clarifying truth and grace to our kids. Don’t cave or be silent on key moral issues!
So repenting of our own sin, let’s love all people, introduce them to Jesus, teach them to follow Him, and together seek to build a society that better reflects His Kingdom of truth and grace! We can stand firm without forgetting to love even our enemies.

Toward an Evangelical Earth Day

 

Greening for God: Evangelicals Learn to Love Earth Day – Atlantic Mobile.

Above is a link shared by my geologist friend, Chuck Carrigan. I have to admit that as a very young Christian I went along with conservatives who marginalized the environmental cause. We were confusing “this world is not my home” (the world = whole fallen human enterprise with the will to power, sex, and money driving the daily engine) with “Christians should be unbridled consumers of God’s creation because soon I’ll be raptured out of here”. Up to that point I was unaware of Romans 8:19-23 and not considering how many biblical passages celebrate the glory and beauty of God’s creation. Oddly enough, we loved to use Romans 1:20 as an indictment against “sinners” (=people with different sin problems than me) because God made his invisible qualities evident in creation. Yet we ignored this on the positive side of considering God’s work sacred. The whole of creation is essentially presented as a temple in Genesis, built as an ideal environment in which we could walk with and worship God. How could the same people who sang In the Garden reject the care of that garden?

That was then. But knowing what we know about best practices for interpreting the Bible and being confronted with expanding environmental disasters and reaping the harvest of indifference how can so many still persist? I’m shocked that any Christian leader would say Christians are to “usecreation”! Obviously we shouldn’t worship creation. No biblical command could be clearer. But stewardship of all the resources and gifts God has given us, including creation, is mature worship of the Father. Genesis 1:28ff and 2:8-15 make it clear that “fill the earth and subdue it” and “have dominion over…” did not mean abuse it. God is our King. We are created a little lower than the angels to reflect His image in His world. Does God abuse and use up His subjects? No true King would. I’m out of space to share more biblical insights…

If Earth Day was started by pagans it’s to our shame. We should’ve been first to the party, but we’re showing up late. Yet we can redeem this celebration in fully Christian, biblical ways. In the season of Easter, when we celebrate Jesus as the first fruits of the resurrection, which will mean the redemption of the entire created order and our physical bodies, let us give thanks to Father for His fantastic planet. Let us confess that our fallenness has distorted it and our indifference has neglected it. It’s not our highest duty, but on our way to loving God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves, even as we are going into all the world to make disciples, let us teach them to obey every command, even the one to care for creation.

It’s a very small thing. But the children of our congregation are leading us in a paper drive this Sunday. As a response to worship we’ll march out and try to fill our paper recycling bin. One little act of stewardship. But I think the Father will be smiling because through it we seek to honor Him.

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