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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.

Disposable Prayer, John Wesley, and Dictionaries

PRAYER—Jesus, my Savior, let your love rule my heart without a rival. Let it dispose all my thoughts, words, and works; for then only can I fulfill my duty and your command of loving you with all my heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. Amen. John Wesley*
*Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 1997-1999). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Another beautiful prayer. Life was calling, but I put it on hold and stumbled on some good stuff.  I found in this prayer an interesting possible connection to Thomas a Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ”. Wesley’s use of the word “dispose” here doesn’t mean throw away. It means he’s asking that God’s love would arrange his thoughts in proper order. a Kempis mentions the Latin proverb: Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit. “Man proposes but God disposes” (determines the course of events). The imagery is hard to miss. And I think it demonstrates how Wesley’s devotional life included not only intense prayers and Scripture reading, but also the great devotional writings of Christian history. The thought of God’s holy love rearranging our best thoughts, words, and works so that they more adequately represent God’s will is among the most beautiful images I’ve ever come across in a prayer.
It wouldn’t be possible if Wesley wasn’t deeply engaged in truly trying to live his faith, but also reading widely enough to learn from his faith forefathers. In this case, something made me curious and I found everything I needed to know in the Dictionary attached to the Kindle app on my iPad, where I was reading today’s Ashes to Fire selections! The two meanings of the word dispose and the example of a Kempis’ quotation of the Latin proverb were all there. Just a touch revealed more than I imagined. I just had to press and hold on the word, then click FULL DEFINITION.
How quickly I sometimes move through life and prayer. With that practice there isn’t enough time to allow God to dispose my thoughts, words, and works. But God is gracious and can show us so much more with just a touch. Even dictionaries become luminous sources of inspiration when we listen to those inner promptings and seek more. May His love truly rule our hearts without a rival. And may it lovingly rearrange all that is required to empower us to live in new ways. And as that old Latin proverb implies, it’s the only way we’ll be living in sync with reality. Because God is God after all…

PRAYER—O God, Infinite …

PRAYER—O God, Infinite Goodness, confirm your past mercies to me by enabling me for what remains of my life to be more faithful than I have been up until now to your great command to love as I have been loved. Let me not rest in any external devotion, nor trust in words or sighs or tears. Let me know and feel what it is to love you with all my heart. Amen

John Wesley

Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 1973-1975). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

The Reward of Sharing in the Gospel

Today’s Ashes to Fire reading continued in 1 Corinthians. Paul has established the value of the gospel and the honor due those who proclaim it. But now he gets more personal. He says his great privilege as an apostle is to forego his right to be compensated. He wants to offer the gospel free of charge. This is his reward! There is a secret among mature believers. It is better to give than to receive. Paul was blessed, probably through his Father’s tent-making trade, to supply his needs elsewhere. We don’t know for sure, but if Paul was single this is a little easier to comprehend. But either way it’s a beautiful way of being in the world.
Then he goes on to his larger point. For him, ministry isn’t a career, it’s a way of being in the world. And everyone he meets is someone for whom Christ was raised. He wants everyone, literally “all men”, to walk with Christ. And he’s willing to do anything moral to connect with them. He’s not even worried about the percentages! “That by all means I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22b) it’s worth it to him to give his life to all that some might be saved. And he’s doing this as a believer, not as a clergyman. So it’s a way of living available to us all…
How precious is the gospel to you? How far would you go to see someone experience it? How far out of your comfort zone would you travel to help it be more real and relevant to someone who needs it? Do you see others who are going astray with compassion or judgment? Do you act with gospel compassion every time? Do you believe the same God could help you live that way? Since I do, I’m asking myself these same questions this Ashes to Fire season…
Paul goes on…

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings

1 Corinthians 9:23 NRSV

Ashes to Fire prayer

An example the guides to prayer which are part of the Ashes to Fire devotional book. Let prayers like this ignite the fire of devotion in you…

PRAYER—O Lord, govern my life by your wisdom, so that my soul may always be serving you as you desire, not as I may choose. Do not grant what I ask if it offends your love, which must always be living in me. Let me die to myself, that I may serve you; let me live to you, for you are the true life. Amen. (John Wesley)*

*Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 467-469). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

God’s Grace Has Been Given to You…

1 Corinthians 1:4, 8-9 says “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When I think of grace I think of olympic champions, nice ladies, and forgiveness. One thing all three have in common is a very great power held gently underneath. Grace is not just the unmerited favor of God. It is the power of a risen Savior pulsing through every fully-surrendered follower of Christ.  In this Lenten season it’s not all about weeping over our weakness in the flesh. This Lenten season is about overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil by the grace of God! The power of the Holy Spirit becomes active in every believer from the moment we receive Jesus. That power keeps working in us until we surrender all and a deep transformation takes place. Then that power keeps molding us into the image of Jesus for the rest of our days. Nobody is perfect, before or after encountering this grace. But perfect love is poured out in our lives. And that love can do more than we often think it can. Believe your life can change. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News! John Wesley said it so well:

As soon as the grace of God in the sense of his pardoning love is manifested to our souls, the grace of God as the power of his Spirit is at work within us. And now we can perform, through God, … all things in the light and power of that love. (John Wesley, Sermon 11)

Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 431-433). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Fat Tuesday?

Well, today is a famous date on the Christian calendar. Unfortunately it’s highly misunderstood. Typically, people say this is the day Christians are supposed to act like pagans and lose themselves in fleshly indulgences. Seriously? While it may be an awesome excuse for a party, it couldn’t be further from the truth. These “festivals” are not really in line with Scripture in any way. The most likely Christian origin of Fat Tuesday was that rich or fatty foods were not to be in the homes of Christians during Lent, a season of fasting and special devotion. So any rich foods that couldn’t survive for 40 days had to be consumed in order to not be wasted. So people would feast, usually at home, clearing out the pantry for Lent.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”
(Romans 14:17 ESV)
But for biblical Christians our focus shouldn’t be on food. Today, as everyday, our focus should be on life in the Spirit. Shrove (repentance/absolution) Tuesday is a more fruitful path. Take a moral and spiritual inventory. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of any areas where closer obedience is required. Commit these areas to God and prepare to focus on spiritual growth for the Lenten season beginning to tomorrow. We all need renewal. Don’t just give up vices for Lent. Be done with them. Period. From the ashes of defeat could rise a burning fire of devotion to God above all.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, reminding us we came from dust and we have an appointment with death. This life is not about fleshly indulgences. Whenever we lean on fleshly pleasures or human will, we fail. God’s grace (love, forgiveness, spiritual power) alone can save us. God’s grace alone (through prayer, Bible, worship, communion, holy hanging out, sharing your faith, serving others, etc…) can fuel a Christian life that overcomes.
Tomorrow we’re beginning a journey called Ashes to Fire. Today, identify those places of disobedience and defeat. We’ll be asking God to breathe on these ashes, that we may rise in the power of the Spirit. Apart from God we have only death. With God true life is given. Real change. Deep joy. Peace. That’s what God will bring to those who seek him.
Join us at 7pm Feb 22, 2012 at NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene

So what areas of life need attention? Where is Jesus calling you to “cut the fat” in your spiritual journey? Are you headed toward righteousness, peace, and joy or is a detour necessary? Let God supply the power. Give it all to God and learn how to obey all the way from Ashes (Feb 22) to Fire! (May 27) Join thousands of Christians on a journey of transformation!

Grace for Today

Ever get stuck in the mud, wheels spinning? Mud is yesterday’s treasures and worries eroded by time back to the dust from which we came. When our thoughts are drifting back, we fail to be fully present to today, the only day we can change. The Good Old Days weren’t as great as we thought. The bad old days weren’t as bad as we feared because we’re still here. Still living. But are we fully alive?
Every morning the mercies of God are new. Grace for today. It’s not enough to cover our preoccupation with the past. God’s plan is for us to give yesterday to Him and receive grace. Just enough grace for today. Today. Drop everything and embrace what God has for you today. Celebrate the past. Grieve the losses. But live in today. Let God put His Spirit in you, healing, restoring, and beginning a new work called today. Get on with living. So many others need to be set free. Embrace God’s mission of letting your light shine right where you are. In serving others your past will be fully redeemed for their benefit and your healing. Today.
(I’m indebted to Nooma #17 Today) you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tQ82LSSeZ0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

John Wesley, Prayer, and Holiness–Part 4

Finally, I’m getting back to this series of posts… John Wesley’s Prayer Book gives guidelines for worship and devotion. I’ve been sharing how it is surprising in many ways. And I think it has major implications for the life of prayer and for holiness.
1. Worship and Prayer need structure–it’s rather surprising how free church-oriented so many of Wesley’s followers are today. Empty formalism helps no one. But neither does empty informalism! The Psalms show us the ancient patterns of worship and devotion. We do well when we let them guide us today, whether our worship is contemporary or traditional.

2. Prayer and Holiness go hand-in-hand. You can’t really have a rich experience of one without the other. You can’t really be devoted to God without spending a certain amount of time in prayer daily. Prayers of devotion cannot simply be laundry lists of requests. (more on this later) The life of holiness flows out of the life of prayer.

3. The genius of Wesley’s plan was the balance between extempore and prescribed prayers. However, perhaps a bit more structure to the daily plan would be helpful.

4. The Book of Common Prayer, or something like it, gives a serviceable model for prayer, Bible reading, and holiness. A lot of Wesley’s views on holiness and sanctification came from prayers and Scripture readings in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). By having morning prayer, noontime prayer, evening prayer, and compline (bedtime prayer) it lays out a way to stay in communion with God throughout the day. It’s setup as the Daily Office and includes a plan to regularly read through the Bible along with one’s prayers. It offers a very complete vision of prayer. If one just mindlessly reads through it in monotone, it probably won’t edify very much. But if one seeks to make these prayers (most of which come from the psalms and other Scriptures) one’s own, by praying them slowly and meaningfully, great things can happen. One learns how to truly give thanks to God. One learns how to humbly come before God, acknowledging our human frailty and God’s glory. One learns how to praise God in a very full way. Then, when it’s time to ask God for your needs, you’ve set a better atmosphere and probably put yourself in a better mindset.

The Daily Office Readings get you through the Scriptures regularly. The earliest versions of the BCP had a rigorous program. A 7 day or 30 day pattern of reading all the Psalms as prayers. A 1 year plan to read the whole Bible. Modern versions have a 7 week plan for reading the Psalms, an annual plan for the New Testament and 2 year plan for the Old Testament.

You don’t have to use the BCP. Here is my recommendation for a nice combo plan of prayer and regular Bible reading. First, find a method and pace of Bible reading you can reasonably maintain. http://www.YouVersion.com has a boatload of possible plans. Then set aside time every morning and evening for prayer and Bible reading. (About 15-30 min each time). Pray through the equivalent of about 5 Psalms per day. Pray them as your prayers. Then offer up your thanksgivings and supplications(requests) to God from your heart. Then read through about 2/3 of your daily reading plan in the morning, about 1/3 at night. A couple times each week block out more time. Read the Scriptures slowly and out loud. Sit in silence and listen for God’s leading. Read again, really listening. Now make note of anything you hear God saying. If it’s unusual in nature, be sure to share with mature friends or a pastor, asking for feedback. Usually God will be encouraging you in your faith, drawing you deeper into holiness and helping guide you through decisions. Of course, whenever you’re facing big decisions have your church family praying with you and supporting you. Don’t try to fly solo.

Sanctification is a crisis and a process. We’re purified in an instant, but matured in character over time. In a very practical sense we get our holiness from time spent with God. God will use this twice-a-day pattern to help form you into a holy person over time. You can add brief times of prayer at noon and bedtime to keep you tuned in to God. Prayers of devotion help our hearts to be strangely warmed on a regular basis.
We are also formed by practicing our faith in community. Acts of service then allow that grace to make a difference in the world.

So there you have it: John Wesley, Prayer, and Holiness. There’s a lot more to be said, but there’s already a lot here to be lived. In classic Wesleyan fashion, let’s live it together for a while and then reflect on it more!

Grace and Peace,
Tim

John Wesley, Prayer, and Holiness—Part 3

I’ve been posting about the surprising guidelines John Wesley gave to his North American ordained elders in 1784. At the ripe old age of 81 Wesley was harvesting a lifetime of prayer, ministry, and theological reflection.
For Sunday worship he prescribed an only slightly adapted Book of Common Prayer service for Sunday morning and evening. When I discovered this, I was shocked and then assumed he would encourage people to pray the Daily Office at home during the week. But no! Again, surprisingly his guideline was: “…reading the litany only on Wednesdays and Fridays, and praying extempore on all other days.”
By “the litany” he must mean The Great Litany, a nearly comprehensive call and response prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. This is no “now I lay me down to sleep.” It is an all-encompassing prayer, covering a very complete list of needs personal, congregational, even national and international. It can take 15 minutes or more to pray through if you do it with feeling.
I was barely even aware of the litany, so he got me again! Evidently we can gather that the guided prayers twice on the Lord’s Day would provide a template for extempore prayer in the week. But to make sure they weren’t just praying for Aunt Susie’s stubbed toe and a sickly donkey, The Great Litany gave scope and perspective on what Kingdom Praying can be. Yet, church folk and preachers would not just rely on prescribed prayers (a valuable discipline in themselves), but would develop the discipline of forming prayers from the heart. Like a personal trainer of the Spirit, Wesley was providing a balanced discipline, leaving room for the Spirit’s leading, but grounding people in the prayer life of the Psalms. Hmmmmmm…
There’s a lot to reflect on here, especially in light of holiness. You guessed it, that will have to wait for my next post!

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