There’s nothing like a children’s program to …

kidschoir01I have had the opportunity throughout the years to speak at summer camps and conferences, and almost without exception there is the inevitable end- of- the- week program put on by the children showing what they have learned about Jesus. The children gather in the front to say some memory verses and to sing some special songs they have learned. The average person would probably take a Dramamine at this point if they didn’t have a kid in the program.

However, being an old psychology major in college, I have noticed that the same personality types and behaviors are present no matter what group of kids is performing. There is always the little boy who has no idea what is going on; who is just looking around like he’s a walk-on never having seen any of these people before. There is also the little girl (and it usually is a girl) who knows every verse and every word to the songs, and is singing at the top of her lungs like she is trying out for American Idol. Finally, there is the kid (boy or girl) who while singing, is waving frantically to his/her folks as if they are about ready to go home and leave her/him at camp for the rest of the summer. I love it! Check me out on this the next time you witness a children’s program. These kids are just being who they are; they can’t help it!

John Miller, in his book The Contentious Community, compares the church to a children’s choir singing about Jesus. “Innocence and guile are perched on the edge of the platform, waiting to burst forth in song or shove some unsuspecting freckle-faced being to an ignominious landing three feet below. And it isn’t that Bonnie is innocent and Bobby is full of guile; it is that innocence and guile, the ideal and the real, are coursing through the veins of each.”

My friend Marshall Shelley, in Ministering to Problem People in Your Church (highly recommended), writes “The church, indeed every Christian, is an odd combination of self-sacrificing saint and self-serving sinner. And the church, unlike some social organizations, doesn’t have the luxury of choosing its members; the church is an assembly of all who profess themselves believers. Within that gathering is found a full range of sinner/saint combinations. Ministry is a commitment to care for all members of the body, even those whose breath is tainted with dragon smoke.”

As a pastor, I have learned that much of the unsettledness and criticism that people have of their church come from the issues they are facing in their own lives. The anger we have because we’ve been passed over for that job or because of what’s happening at home often gets redirected at the church. Our feelings of frustration or increasing insignificance due to where we are in life often flashes out when we feel we are not heard or our preferences not honored at church. All this is not to say that the church is perfect, but to hallmark the fact that the church is made up of imperfect people; “innocence and guile, the ideal and the real, are coursing through the veins of each.”

How do I know all this amazing stuff? It is because I too am a unique combo of sinner/saint with the faint odor of dragon breath (ok, maybe not so faint). We pastors need to recognize this and not to play the victim by thinking that we’d be better pastors if we just had better people. George MacLeod said, “I’ve never met a man who wanted to be bad.” This is who we are; this why we have needed the grace of the gospel to save us as well as to sanctify us. It is also why we need one another, though thrown together in an unlikely children’s choir, to help each other sing praises to Jesus and to keep his Word in our hearts.

If I Were Offered A Million Bucks…

a million bucksLet me ask you a question: If someone offered you a million dollars, would you take it? Are you serious? Yep. Of course I’d take it; why wouldn’t I? Well, what would you use it for? I don’t know but I’d find something. One more question: If someone offered you a million pounds of roofing nails, would you take them? Probably not. Why not? I don’t need them, and besides, where would I store them. OK, do you need a million dollars? Well, no, but I think could find a use for it; why do you ask so many stupid questions?

Someone has said that wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. Similarly Socrates is supposed to have said something to the effect that poverty does not consist in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed. Thus it would seem that the best insurance against poverty (and greediness) is to minimize our wants, because it’s human nature to keep wanting more and the more you have, the more you want.

I am not trying to minimize poverty, especially the two-thirds-world kind, but here in America possessions do funny things to us. When we have the basics (shelter, food, clothes, job), we are fairly happy, although we do worry about dealing with emergency situations like getting sick or going to the dentist. However; when our wealth increases, we tend to enjoy our new found status and security for a few months. Then something happens; we get used to having more (the new normal) and any downward deviation makes us feel “poor.” Not only that, but we look around at others (usually not those poorer, but those wealthier) and grow dissatisfied with what we have because our wants have increased. When we get more, we want more. When we want more, it is never quite enough. “Just a little bit more, and then I’ll be happy,” our inner voice says.

Tucked away in Proverbs 30 is a very insightful section (v.7-16) in relationship to money and possessions. The writer prays that God would keep him from two things: “Remove from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty or riches, [but] feed me with the food that is needful for me… lest I be full and deny you…lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” Perhaps it was this section of Proverbs that influenced Paul to write “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Phil 4:11) Then the writer of Proverbs goes on to say, “The leech has two daughters; Give and Give. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’; Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough.’”

Paul learned to be content because whether he was facing want or plenty he was able to say, “Enough.” He learned the secret of contentment because he knew that he “could do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) If anyone had offered Paul a million bucks, I think he would have said, “No, thank you. I have enough.”

Over the next two Sundays, we have challenged the folks in our church to pick one of those Sundays to tithe a portion of their pay for that week or two-week period. We have committed ourselves to raise $25,000 worth of food for Children’s Hunger Fund that we will pack into 2000 boxes as a part of our worship service on March 2. It is also our desire to develop a team of people who will deliver this food over the next several months to folks in our community who are in need, thereby building a relationship with them.

When I tithe, I acknowledge that whatever I have (including what I do not give) belongs to the Lord. Additionally, tithing puts a gun to my greed and allows me to draw a line in the sand and say, “Enough, Lord, I have enough; I trust you for my needs and ask you to muzzle my wants so that others may experience your generosity though me.”

The Day the Vortex Wobbled…

polar vortexEarly this week, the Chicago area experienced abnormally cold weather that had a significant impact on the schedules, schools, and safety of millions. We learned that the villain was something most of us had never heard of before, the Polar Vortex (or the Arctic Oscillation). “It is a circulation of strong winds that normally surround the northern pole in a counterclockwise direction; a polar low-pressure system. These winds are of sufficient velocity to keep the bitter cold air locked and loaded over the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.” On occasion, this vortex can slow down and become distorted and dip much farther south than you would normally find it, which is exactly what happened this week. I like how one meteorologist pictured it when he said that the polar vortex “wobbled.” He explained that usually it spins around the North Pole region like a top; and just like a top that begins to slow down wobbles, so the vortex wobbled.

I know that most people do not think like this, but it got me thinking about my life. What kind of negative impact do I have when I wobble? I am not describing my physical walk (hopefully I am not wobbling yet), but my spiritual walk. I think of when Aaron wobbled and made a golden calf which led Israel into idolatry; when Moses wobbled and struck the rock for water instead of speaking to it as God commanded and was kept from entering the Promised Land; when David wobbled that night on his rooftop when he saw Bathsheba taking a bath and which led to adultery and murder, or when he wobbled and took the census and caused a plague of punishment to fall on Israel; when Joash wobbled into unfaithfulness at the death of his trusted counselor Jehoiada and then killed the prophet sent to warn him of his disobedience; when Gehazi wobbled and took the reward from Naaman that Elisha refused, and then lied about it and became a leper.

I could keep on with this litany of wobbles, but I need to make application to myself. I know when the velocity of my love for God slows down and I become distracted by things other than God’s Word and my desire to apply it to my life— it is then I begin to wobble. My love grows cold and I have the potential of being a negative impact on others. I know when that happens and can feel it in my soul. It is at that precise point I need to do something and not let the wobble continue. The most important thing I can do is to preach the gospel to myself. It drives me to repentance (not penance) and to the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. Do not misunderstand— I am not saying that I become a Christian all over again. What I am saying is that for the wobbling Christian, repentance and belief in the gospel is in the present tense. The same gospel that saves us is the same gospel that sanctifies us. The repentant heart is the sign of new life and the blood of Jesus Christ “cleanses us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

So are you wobbling? Do something about it lest you become a hazard to yourself and others around you. Repent and believe the gospel!

Not Growing…Not Normal

growth timeThis past week I read the incredible story of Brooke Greenberg, a 20-year-old who never developed beyond the toddler stage. She passed away last Thursday, having had the body and cognitive function of a 1-year-old. She didn’t grow after the age of 5 — and basically, she no longer aged. She may have been the only person in the world who suffered from a rare genetic disease, so rare in fact that it is called Syndrome X. (http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/brooke-greenberg-20-old-8220-toddler-8217-8221-185100345.html)

The scientific community looks at Brooke’s death far different than the family. Dr. Eric Schadt, director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology said “Brooke Greenberg, even after her sad passing, may help to reveal answers to one of the major mysteries in human biology: Why do we age and is there any way to slow or suspend the aging process?” While such a statement might give the family some comfort to think their daughter’s death might be helpful to someone else, they are still suffering the pangs of grief and sadness. This was not supposed to happen. Brooke stayed a toddler for 20 years being fed baby food.

When I read this article I immediately thought of the Christian life and the erratic development of many people in their faith. We know that spiritual growth is the norm and is greatly encouraged throughout the New Testament: grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus…let your roots go down deep into Christ…just as you are doing, do more and more…until we all attain mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Christian growth is not a work or a performance; it is a natural outgrowth of the work of God’s justifying grace.

Our evangelical heritage has taught us well of the centrality of the gospel and the work of Christ in the salvation of our souls. It has also taught us the importance of Bible knowledge and of evangelism and missions. This is indeed a precious heritage. However, it has left us with the sense that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to grow us as we read the Bible, pray, and go to church; that spiritual growth will just happen automatically. We do not hear much emphasis on the fact that we must cooperate with the Spirit in our sanctification because it smacks of works and performance and not of grace. We tend to look at the gospel, with its emphasis on repentance and faith, as being appropriate only for beginning of our Christian lives and fail to realize that the gospel is also the vehicle for our Christian growth in holiness.

The result is that many leave the evangelical church because they are hungry for God. They move to the more liturgical and contemplative Christian denominations and some even to syncretized eastern religious practices. However some evangelicals are also realizing that discipleship is more than just missions and evangelism, it is about being with Jesus and being shaped or formed into his likeness. I met with a group of old friends last week who have been together for two years worshipping Jesus, studying Scripture, and holding each other accountable for their intentional spiritual development as Christ-followers.

Look at the Old Testament and the great spiritual revivals used of God in lives of his people through Elijah, Hezekiah, Josiah; the seasons of refreshing through Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross; the amazing impact of the Reformation in Western Europe; the First and Second Great Awakening in the American Colonies, the Prayer Revival of 1858, the Welch Revival of the early twentieth-century. We should be reading these things and praying that God would do the same thing again in our lives and churches. Then we should set about the task of intentionally developing our own spiritual lives. Growth requires an open heart and mind to God’s Spirit; our willingness needs to be followed up by our actions. So, where will you begin? How will you conform to Christ’s image by being with him this week? I think you should ask him that; and maybe in the next few weeks I can give you some helpful direction. You see, I desire to grow too and not have Syndrome X characterize my spiritual life.

Homosexuality and the Bible 5

bible-lightMany a Christian man or woman who has struggled in secret with their sexual identity has read a book or a pamphlet, or heard a pastor teach on a new understanding of God’s perspective affirming homosexuality. Understandably, this has brought great freedom and relief to many of these strugglers. This newfound freedom has led them to share their discovery with others in the evangelical community often finding a response that is interpreted as unwelcoming and unenlightened. Therefore, a proper understanding of what the Bible says is of utmost importance to how we live as followers of Jesus regardless of what our culture advocates.

Having just returned jet-lagged from a wonderful trip to Australia, I want to deal with the last two passages of Scripture which have been reinterpreted to claim the Bible’s support (lack of condemnation) of the homosexual lifestyle. Let’s look at the traditional interpretation, the reappraisal, and an appraisal of the reappraisal of these passages: 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10.

Traditional View: Paul was very clear that those who continued in a settled course of willful disobedience, as defined by various sinful activities, would not be accepted into the Kingdom of God. This includes homosexuals as well as heterosexual offenders, the idolatrous, thieves, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. These passages also teach that such sins were represented in the backgrounds of some who were Christ-followers in the 1st century Church.

Reinterpretation: The issue here is the translation of two Greek words used by Paul. In NKJV Bible, the first word is homosexuals (KJV- effeminate, NIV-male prostitutes, catamites) and the second is sodomites (KJV- abusers of themselves with mankind, NIV-homosexual offenders). In the Greek we have malakos and arsenokoites. The literal meaning of malakos is soft or effeminate and arseno (male) koites (coitus) is a male who goes to bed with a male. Paul coined this last phrase, it is never used anywhere else in Greek literature, so if he had meant homosexuality as we know it today he would have used an already existing word for it. Instead he created a word that most likely refers to male prostitution. Therefore, this word describes lustful, unloving, uncommitted sexual relationships not the permanent, loving, same sex relationships that we know especially among Christians.

Thus the Bible is silent about homosexual orientation and only speaks about perverted heterosexual activity; people who go against their nature engaging either as active or passive partners in abusive or idolatrous same sex activities. Thus Paul’s statement in 1 Cor.6:11 that there were some in the church who had been saved out of this lifestyle should not be construed as a proof text that a homosexual orientation can be healed or given the power of abstinence. This would be placing people back under the law and not under grace. Instead, we should understand this verse to mean that the homosexual convert “must certainly learn to cease from unloving abuses of sexuality, as heterosexuals must; and all of us must struggle against idolatry and the other manifestations of the ego nature” (Scanzoni, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? p, 71).

Appraisal: Paul coined 179 terms in the NT in order to communicate God’s truth to a pagan culture. However, this term arsenokoites is derived from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Note the two passages that we already discussed from Leviticus: meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gyniakos– do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman (Leviticus 18:22); hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos– if a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman (Leviticus 20:13). Therefore, when Paul used the word he did in 1 Tim. 1:10 and 1 Cor.6:10, he took it right from a passage in the Old Testament that forbids homosexual behavior in any form, whether idolatrous or otherwise.

In 1 Tim. 1:10 we also see an application of the Ten Commandments to the Christian life and places homosexual behavior next to the general term for immortality (porneia) as offending the 7th commandment— “you shall not commit adultery.” The hope that Paul holds out in 1 Cor.6:11 must also be understood from this perspective. Some of the saints in Corinth had been saved out of various sinful conditions. Certainly homosexuality was not at the top of the list as if it were the biggest sin, nor was it at the end of the list as though it were the smallest. The most reasonable implication is that there were some former homosexuals represented in that congregation. So there is hope! (Note that in the next chapter Paul writes that in view of the immanent persecution of the Church, it was better to remain celibate. However, if one could not avoid fornication then marriage was recommended. He does not mention the homosexual alternative as an option.)

This is the end of my 5-part series. If you have questions, let me know and I will try to address them (anonymously) in a later blog. If any of you are church leaders and would like a copy of our church’s pastoral position paper on Homosexuality and the Church, email me (dmcdowell@commfell.org) and I will send you an electronic copy.

Homosexuality and the Bible 4

bible-light G’day Mate! Greetings from “Down Under.” The next text that has been reinterpreted by those who claim the Bible does not forbid homosexuality is ROMANS 1:26, 27. This is a key passage to a New Testament understanding. Let us see how it has been traditionally interpreted, how it has been reinterpreted, and then appraise the reinterpretation.

Traditional View: Paul is describing the pagan world in their refusal to acknowledge the being and character of the invisible God. In judgment, God lets them go, which means He turns them over to the futility of their minds and hearts. When a culture’s view of God is distorted this is reflected in the perversion of that culture’s sexuality. Thus Paul portrays homosexuality as a symptom of a fallen culture and an example of the abandonment of natural sexual relations between males and females created by God.

Reinterpretation: The main argument here is not that Paul is describing true homosexuals (inversion) but rather heterosexuals who act in a homosexual way and therefore against their nature (perversion). I quote one Christian author, “What Paul seems to be emphasizing here is that persons who are heterosexual by nature have not only exchanged the true God for a false one, but have also exchanged their ability to relate to the opposite sex by indulging in homosexual behavior that is not natural to them” (Ramey and Mollenkott pp.65, 66). By comparison, then, this passage is not speaking about “true” homosexuals who act according to their nature and therefore cannot be used to condemn “true” homosexuality.

Appraisal: There is nothing in the text or in the cultural background of his day that would suggest that Paul even recognized such a distinction between a “true” and a “false” homosexual, between exploitive homosexual relations (such as pederasty) and loving ones (between consenting adults). In fact, among the Greeks there was a distinction made between pederasty and adult homosexual relationships. The former was looked down upon and the latter accepted. But in the Roman world of Paul, both were considered scandalous and severely criticized.

Paul uses words for men and women that emphasize gender (arsenes, theleias) and shows he is not talking about a sexual orientation, but rather that which is biologically natural. So Paul’s statement that homosexual practice is against nature doesn’t mean against one’s natural orientation, but rather against the intention of the Creator. After all, the context speaks of creation and God’s invisible attributes being revealed in what He has made. As Emil Brunner said in his Commentary to the Romans (Westminster Press, pp. 18, 19), “The most natural and basic relationship among men is that of the sexes for in this way God gives life to everyone.”

{An aside: could the sinful practices listed in v. 29, 30 be justified if those who did them naturally committed them? Some think that “against nature” means contrary to the world of nature and they cite the fact that there is homosexuality found among the animal kingdom. But Scripture teaches that nature is distorted and in turmoil because of sin. Also, what animals do should not be a template for human behavior since we have been created in God’s image.}

Next week: 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10

Homosexuality and the Bible 3

bible-lightFor the last several weeks I have been writing on the subject of the Bible and Homosexuality. This study is for Christians who believe that the Bible is God’s Word and who desire to submit to its authority. Thus our main concern isn’t whether a person can be born again and gay, but whether the homosexual lifestyle is right or wrong from a biblical perspective. The issue isn’t whether gay Christians can worship God, but whether that experience is based upon Spirit and Truth. The issue isn’t whether a gay Christian couple can have a monogamous relationship, but whether that relationship conforms to the Word of God. The issue isn’t whether gay Christians can change, but whether we are all willing to be obedient to God whether He changes us or not.

Let’s look at our next passage and state how it has been traditionally interpreted, see how it has been reinterpreted, and the assess the reinterpretation: LEVITICUS 18:22; 20:13

Traditional Interpretation: This section of Scripture deals with unlawful sexual relationships and the punishment of such sin within the Covenant community. Homosexual relationships are included in this list of those activities which were an abomination to God and punishable by death.

Reinterpretation: In a pamphlet published by the Metropolitan Community Church, Homosexuality: Not a Sin, Not a Sickness, it says that the Hebrew word for abomination found in Leviticus is usually associated with idolatrous practices. Therefore, the issue addressed in these verses wasn’t homosexuality per se but the idolatrous practices of the surrounding nations that included homosexual and heterosexual prostitution. So what was being called abominable and punishable by death was not the kind of homosexual relationships we see today but those practiced as a part of idol worship.

Another interpretation along this same line essentially says, that the prohibition here against homosexuality is a part of the ceremonial law having to do with ritual uncleanness. It is to be treated on the same level as the prohibition against having sex with a woman during her period, the eating of uncooked meat, and the ritual uncleanness of a man who has a wet dream, etc.

Appraisal: Let me take the last interpretation first: It is true that there are many things in this section of Leviticus which were part of the Ceremonial Law and are no longer in effect since they prefigured the grace of God in Jesus Christ. He is the One who would in his own obedience and death make us clean from the inside out; “The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13, 14). However, we understand that the prohibition of homosexual activity is part of the moral law (not ceremonial) because it is included in the context with other sins of a definitive moral nature e.g. incest (18:6-17), bigamy (18:18), adultery (18:20), child sacrifice (18:21), bestiality (18:23). Another reason why we believe that the prohibition against homosexuality is a part of the moral law is that it is repeated in the New Testament, whereas the ceremonial law is not (Rom.1:26, 27; 1 Cor.6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). As to the practice of the death penalty for the sin of homosexuality (or any of the others just mentioned), it has been served by Christ. Even Christ himself doesn’t enforce it on the woman caught in adultery.

As to the interpretation which considers that the type of homosexuality mentioned in Leviticus a form of idolatrous practice and not what we have today: the word for abomination (toevah) is not always used to describe idolatrous practices. Prov. 6:16-19 “These six things doth the Lord hate; yea seven are an abomination unto him…a proud look, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, swift feet in running towards mischief, a false witness which speaks lie, and he who sows discord among the brethren.” So, if these practices mentioned in Leviticus 18 are condemned because of their association with idolatry, then could we say that these same practices are acceptable if committed apart from idolatry? I don’t think any serious interpreter of Scripture would ever allow that incest; adultery, child sacrifice and bestiality could ever be permissible. Therefore, contextually, why should homosexuality be permissible?

Next week: ROMANS 1:26, 27

Homosexuality and the Bible 2

bible-lightLast week I mentioned that during the last 35 years, there has been a growing movement within the evangelical community to affirm the homosexual lifestyle. This movement has gained momentum from the increasing acceptance of homosexuality within our own culture. There has been an appeal to Scripture and a reinterpretation of some passages traditionally used to condemn homosexual activity. Since a proper understanding of what the Bible says is of utmost importance to how we live as followers of Jesus, regardless of what our culture advocates, it is essential that we interpret the Scriptures properly.

Over the next few weeks, I would like to look at some of the major passages of the Bible concerning homosexuality. I would like to show how these passages have been traditionally understood within the evangelical church, then how they have been reinterpreted to affirm the homosexual lifestyle. Finally I would like to respond accordingly with an appraisal. You will need your Bible to look up these passages for yourself. The next text is GENESIS 19:1-10:

Traditional View: The men of Sodom were trying to gain a sexual encounter with the men (angels) who came to visit Lot. This narrative has been so identified with homosexuality that the term sodomy has been commonly used to describe homosexual activity. Sodom was subsequently destroyed as a judgment against such perversity.

Reinterpretation: This passage does not even speak of homosexuality. Rather, Sodom was overthrown because of its “inhospitality” to strangers. Lot violated the custom of the city by entertaining guests without the permission of the village elders. Therefore, these men who came to Lot’s door were merely trying to find out the identity of the visitors. The word “to know” in verse five does not necessarily have sexual overtones. The Hebrew word yada is used 943 times in the Old Testament, only fourteen of those times does the term carry a sexual meaning. Elsewhere it is translated “to get acquainted with, to have knowledge of.” The judgment of God against Sodom is mentioned in the rest of Scripture for things other than homosexuality—i.e., pride, lack of concern for the poor, lying and adultery (Ezek.16:49; Jer.23:14).

Appraisal: Here we need a lesson in the three important aspects of biblical interpretation: context, content and correlation. First, in order to study the context you need to ask questions of the text: Why was Lot horrified that the strangers wanted to stay overnight in the town square? Why did Lot tell the men of Sodom, “please do not act wickedly” if all they wanted to do was to meet the strangers? Why did Lot offer his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom to rape? Why were the men of Sodom struck blind by the angels?

Second, as we look at the content we notice the term yada and see that it is used twelve times in Genesis and ten of those times it denotes sexual intercourse. In fact, just two verses after the men asked Lot to bring out the strangers so they might “know” them, Lot offered his daughters who had never “known” a man. So, the text seems to be saying that what we have is not so much an issue of inhospitality as much as a threat of homosexual rape.

Third, once you interpret the context and content of a passage you move to see how it stacks up with the rest of Scripture- how your interpretation correlates. We conclude that just because homosexuality was not the only sin for which Sodom was judged does not mean it wasn’t one of the sins that led to its destruction. It is true that Ezek.16:49 and Jer.23:14 mention such sins as adultery, lying, arrogance, lack of concern for the poor and needy. However, Ezek. 16:50, 2 Peter 2:7; Jude 7 mention “detestable things, sensual conduct, gross immorality and abomination.” So we conclude that the city was not destroyed only for the sin of homosexuality, but we can easily see that homosexuality was just one thread in the sinful tapestry of Sodom that merited God’s judgment, especially since they refused repentance.

Next week: LEVITICUS 18:22; 20:13

Homosexuality and the Bible – 1

bible-lightDuring the last 35 years, there has been a growing movement within the evangelical community to affirm the homosexual lifestyle. This movement has gained momentum from the increasing acceptance of homosexuality within our own culture. Note the most recent acceptance of a homosexuality-affirming group at Fuller Theological Seminary. There has been an appeal to the Scripture and a reinterpretation of some of the passages traditionally used to condemn homosexual activity.

Thus many a Christian man or woman who has struggled in secret with their sexual identity has read a book or a pamphlet, or heard a pastor teach on a new understanding of God’s perspective affirming homosexuality. Understandably, this has brought great freedom and relief to many of these strugglers. This newfound freedom has led them to share their discovery with others in the evangelical community often finding a response that is interpreted as unwelcoming and unenlightened. Therefore, a proper understanding of what the Bible says is of utmost importance to how we live as followers of Jesus regardless of what our culture advocates.

Over the next few blogs, I would like to look at some of the major passages of Scripture concerning homosexuality. I do not desire to be controversial, but simply appeal to Biblical thinking. I would like to show how these passages have been traditionally understood within the evangelical church, then how they have been reinterpreted to affirm the homosexual lifestyle, and finally I would like to respond accordingly with an appraisal. You will need your Bible to look up these passages for yourself. The first is GENESIS 1:27, 28; 2:18-24.

The Traditional View: This passage reveals God’s intention for human sexual relationships, which is limited to a heterosexual relationship within the context of marriage.

Reinterpretation: This passage does not forbid homosexual partnerships, it just doesn’t refer to them because a gay couple in the context of the Creation story could not fulfill the ordinance to be fruitful and multiply. However, this passage can’t be interpreted as a model for all relationships because there are so many exceptions: what about a childless heterosexual couple, what about a couple who cannot have sexual intercourse, what about a monogamous homosexual couple?

Appraisal: This Creation model for human sexual relationships is not only mentioned here but throughout the Old and New Testaments, which should give us a clue as to its normalcy. While it is true that other forms of sexual relationships like polygamy and concubinage (the cohabitation of people who are not legally married) were accommodated for and allowed by God for a time, not so with any form of homosexual relationship. Only the heterosexual relationship is consistently upheld as the ideal and a very picture of God’s relationship with Israel and Christ’s relationship to the Church. Not once in Scripture is the homosexual relationship mentioned in positive or even neutral terms.

While it is true that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, this argument from silence leads nowhere as if Jesus tacitly approved but just didn’t mention it. Our Lord Jesus always spoke about sexuality in the context of God’s created purpose of uniting male and female in a complimentary relationship. He taught that heterosexual union in the context of marriage was the norm for divinely intended sexual behavior. Thus, just because a couple is childless or physically incapable of consummating their marriage does not make them any less married. Remember it was the partnership of marriage that God created at the beginning, not babies. And it is this life-long partnership between a man and woman that is a shadowy replica of Christ’s relationship to his Church.

Next Week: Genesis 19:1-10

Mister Rogers and the Marathon Bombings

misterrogersneighborhood

This past Monday there were two pressure-cooker bombs that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon killing three and injuring 170, some severely. There was a quote making its way around social media; a quote from Mister Rogers from years ago: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Boston is not the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but we did see the helpers, didn’t we? We saw people running toward the devastation; rushing to help in any way they could.

It was a great illustration of what Jesus meant when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. You know the story. Did you ever notice the subtle twist in the answer that Jesus gave to the teacher of the Law who asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” After telling the compelling story, Jesus answered the question by asking another one; “Which…do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  The emphasis went from who is my neighbor to whose neighbor are you? In other words, it is not about you and your relationship to the person, but about them and their need. Thus as a follower of Christ, my neighborhood is wherever I am and my neighbor is to whomever I show mercy.  

The other day, I was walking a few blocks from my home and saw a very frail old woman (even older than me) in a house coat and slippers in her front yard. She had a shovel and was trying to dig a hole (I assumed) in which to plant a flower. I said good morning and she didn’t answer, but looked at me with a mixture of desperation and fear. I kept walking, trying to process what I saw and thinking that if I had stopped to help her she might have freaked out. Suddenly it hit me; I was justifying myself by trying to figure out whether she was my neighbor and capable of receiving my help. In reality, I was her neighbor by virtue of the fact that I saw she needed help. So I circled back and found that she had collapsed… just kidding. I found that she was just going into her house, so I walked home realizing that I had missed an opportunity to show mercy.  

The “helpers” in Boston may have hesitated because of fear, but they rushed back into devastation because there was a need in the “neighborhood.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”