Oh say, can you see...

The Star-Spangled Banner - this song is our nation's anthem.  The cultural norm for our nation is to stand, hats off, and hand over heart as the anthem is sung and the American flag is presented.  My belief is that this moment is to celebrate the freedoms promised to us by our Constitution, honor those who served and fought to create and protect those freedoms, acknowledge the anthem and flag as national symbols of these freedoms along with the sacrifices required for them, and to celebrate a moment of solidarity with fellow citizens in our shared allegiance to America.

And as we stand, may we not be blind to the present tragedy in America.  As we stand to share in this patriotic moment, the citizens of our nation do not equally share in these sacrosanct freedoms.  The documents and symbols that promise equality are too often betrayed by people and systems who in turn deny access to and conspire to withhold rights that should be inalienable for every citizen.  At every moment in the history of our nation when there was a dire need for an impetus to change, there have been courageous people who at their own peril challenged injustices, oppression, indifference, and deception.  Without disruption, there can be no change.

I am white.  I will never be racially profiled.  I will never fear for my teenaged children to be misunderstood because of the color of their skin.  I will never experience the inescapable reality of minority bias.  I will never fear opportunity not being accessible to me because of my ethnicity.  My "I will never..." list is profoundly longer than the list belonging to a person of color.  My first drafts of this blog failed to understand that as a white person, I don't understand.  Dear friends whom I frequently look to for advice and insight on social issues, especially those involving race, challenged me to not instruct minorities on what they should do.  I should be posturing myself to learn and listen rather than correcting and criticizing.  So here are my questions as I myself strive and seek to better understand specifically what is happening now in the NFL as a microcosm of America.  If I don't stop to learn and listen then I will forever be a victim of my own biases that come with my own ethnicity which is true for me and people of color.

Are those as devoted followers of Christ who are upset and angry over people choosing to not stand for the anthem wrong?  Are those as devoted followers of Christ who are upset and angry over people insisting that the anthem and flag be honored by standing wrong?  Am I wrong in believing that a person who identifies as a Christian is being hypocritical if they are dismissive of the undeniable crisis of social injustice in America?  Am I wrong in believing that a person who identifies as a Christian is being hypocritical if they are dismissive of the undeniable importance for a unifying national identity accompanied by honoring and respecting related cultural norms?  Am I wrong in believing that a choice between patriotism and social justice is a false choice?  What should be the focus of my disruption in an effort to bring about the changes for curing the social ills of injustice?

When Mr. Kaepernick began sitting and eventually kneeling during the National Anthem, did he unintentionally place at odds two sacrosanct ideals?  The Preamble of the Constitution calls for patriotism and social justice.  "We the people...a more perfect union..." are at their very essence statements demanding patriotism.  "...establish justice...insure domestic tranquility...promote the general welfare..." are at their very essence statements demanding social justice.  Why aren't all of us equally disturbed by the well documented injustices against people of color as we are by the disruption of standing in honor of the Anthem and flag?  Are people using the manner of Mr. Kaepernick's protest as a distraction because they refuse to deal with the shame they should be feeling for being complicit in the social injustices that withhold from citizens the promises of the Preamble?  

The very nature of protests are based upon the principle that there are times when a divide is necessary before there can be a more perfect union.  For example, I loved our worship leader's t-shirt recently that simply said "Nah." with the name Rosa Parks below and the date 1955.  The Civil Rights Movement necessitated protest.  And these protests eventually created a shift in our society toward equality and the "all" of liberty and justice grew!  Every protest by heroes of the Civil Rights movement focused on directly disrupting laws and practices that were racist, brutal, deplorable, and shameful.  In my belief, this is why the protests of the Civil Rights movement were so effective.  Through peaceful resistance and disruption, they created an environment where our entire nation could no longer ignore the systemic dehumanization of people of color and overt practices of oppression.  America was forced to see its glaring hypocrisy.

If you aren't watching movies like Selma, The Birth of a Nation, 42, The Express, and the documentary 13th, you aren't trying.  If you aren't following the story of Nate Boyer, Mr. Kaepernick's former teammate, you aren't trying.  If you aren't reading articles by journalists who look different than you, come from a different life experience than you, and have different political affiliations that you...you aren't trying.  If you only get your news from one media outlet, you aren't trying.  If you aren't reaching out to people who have different perspectives on what is presently happening in the NFL, you aren't trying.  You are just polluting the world with lazy opinions like a dripping faucet of toxic waste.  The measure of progress isn't agreement.  A nation can never completely agree.  What we seek is harmony.  Harmony is when diversity is cooperating!  And we will never cooperate until we seek to understand one another...so let's try harder!

What I am learning in my conversations with people, in my watching, in my reading, in my listening...is that disruption and protest is more difficult today than during the Civil Rights movement.  Why?  Because the racism and oppression that predominantly plagues us today is more subtle.  Oppression is evolving.  There was nothing subtle about the segregation of schools.  There was nothing subtle about restrictions on public transportation.  There was nothing subtle about restrooms, water fountains, restaurants, and employment.  What all the despicable hate groups experienced in Charlottesville this year is that prominence fails.  Hate, racism, and bigotry is still rampant in American today because it learned through the Civil Rights movement that prominence is no longer an effective strategy.  Oppression is evolving.  Oppression has become subtle but is still lethal.  And for us to do nothing, to not try to seek it out and utterly destroy it is sin.

Passivity is never the right response to oppression.  Jesus' command to turn the other cheek had nothing to do oppression.  Jesus in His sermon was dealing with the issue of provocation and how to deescalate conflict.  Everything about His life and ministry was a 3 year protest against the exclusivity of the Judaism of His day.  In Isaiah 53 we read in verse seven that Jesus was oppressed and treated harshly but never said a word.  But this is not passivity!  Passivity is doing nothing.  These verses in Isaiah are prophesying about the coming Messiah who we know is Jesus.  When He was led away to the cross, oppressed and treated harshly, He did not resist...but His protest was deafening!  He was not being passive.  This was the most aggressive act in all of history, fighting for us against sin and death and ultimately winning!  The truest form of Christian aggression is fighting relentlessly for the need of another, especially when the person or people for whom we are fighting are powerless themselves.  In August of 2016, this is what I believe Mr. Kaepernick was doing.  He was fighting for people who were powerless themselves.  Before we judge his actions we must first endeavor to understand both his motive and intent.

I will never kneel or sit during the Anthem.  But I am not threatened or offended by Mr. Kaepernick or any other athlete who is kneeling or sitting during the Anthem for the specific purpose of protesting the injustices that plague America.  I do firmly believe that kneeling is a better form of protest.  By kneeling, a person is extending an invitation.  Kneeling for us culturally is the posture of petitioning.  Their kneeling is our fellow citizens extending to us, patriots, an invitation to work harder to root out all forms of injustice in society, both prominent and subtle.  We are being invited to see the Preamble come to full fruition.

Paul in Galatians 6 demands of us that we submit ourselves to the Law of Christ, which expects us to bear each other's burdens.  This command is given because we don't have a natural inclination to take up a burden that does not directly affect us, especially when that burden might be at our own peril.  Is there an application of Galatians 6 in regards to this current societal conflict taking place in the NFL?  If my felt need is to see fewer people harmed by social injustice, then find a way to carry the burden of seeing the anthem and flag honored and respected.  If my felt need is to see the anthem and the flag honored and respected, then find a way to carry the burden of seeing fewer people harmed by social injustice.  The Law of Christ is true, regardless of how counter-intuitive it may feel.  Whatever else needs to be a part of finding harmony in our communities, bearing one another's burdens is undeniably part of that solution.

As many people are already predicting, the momentum these NFL protests garnered will soon sadly be lost.  The NFL will patiently wait before enacting any new policies regarding standing for the Anthem.  Individual teams will be allowed to create their own policies that will reflect the political climate of their respective cities and states.  Teams are businesses and players are ultimately restricted by contracts they signed and the players union they have joined.  The collective bargaining agreement in place clearly defines the scope of authority for the owners, the league, and the players union.  Regardless what some sports journalist seem to believe, freedom of speech has limitations when it comes to employee and employer relationships.  The NFL is a business, the players are employees under contract, the owners are the controlling agents of their company, the league is a contractual affiliation among all the owners, and the players union exists to represent the rights of the employees.  Let's not be naive.  The factor that will continue to direct the final outcome of this conflict will be economics.  At the point either players, owners, and media outlets stand to lose substantial revenue, they will compromise.  And regarding some sports journalists who try to compare prayer in schools with players being required to stand for the Anthem, the Constitution does not deal with religion and patriotism in the same way.  Strong feelings do not equate to a legal precedent.  But even if the momentum is lost there, may it never be lost in us!  The "all" in liberty and justice must become so inclusive that there is no room for exclusivity.

If you are a Christian, you may be asking yourself the wrong question.  The question should not be "Should I stand or kneel for the Anthem?"  The question should be as a devoted follower of Christ, "How can I bear the burden of another, especially if that burden is not my own immediate felt need?"

Pastor Fred 

Monuments

The process by which we effect change is as important as the change itself.  The men and women who founded America understood this.  They knew that a revolution poorly constructed would only lead to replacing one tyrannical government with another, replacing one agent of subjugation an ocean away with a new one next door.

There is now a groundswell of momentum to remove monuments in America that both memorialize and glorify people from history who held abhorrent views on slavery and made substantial effort to sustain the trafficking of human beings for economic gain.  I believe the decisions regarding these monuments should be made by the people whose taxes are being used to maintain them.  Many of these monuments are being maintained by local cities, towns, and communities.  I want local governments to be empowered through the process of elected officials.  And these elected officials should be bound to a legal decision making process.

For example, this quote comes from the City of Newport News' website.  "The City of Newport News is administered by a Council-Manager form of government in which six citizens are elected from three districts...The City Council establishes the City's public policy through resolutions and ordinances, approves proposed programs, and controls the funding of these programs.  City Council is guided by the City Charter; as adopted and approved by the Virginia General Assembly, and by its own rules of procedure, resolutions, and ordinances."  Even if I disagree with an outcome, I am comforted by the process.  To forsake the process so I can gain a more favorable outcome is dangerous.  Eventually the erosion of a legal, democratic process will more consistently victimize every citizen.

Every community should have a process for changing the names of schools, government buildings, streets, parks, etc.  Every community should have a process for deciding how tax dollars should be spent on public property like monuments.  The inherent nature of such a process in and of itself is deeply beneficial for a community because it always involves dialogue with people in a community who have competing views.  When communities are talking, exchanging and debating ideas...civility and restraint tend to displace violence and anger.

The statue at the center of the protests in Charlottesville is of Robert E. Lee.  In 1917, Paul McIntire purchased a city block and donated the property to Charlottesville for the purpose of erecting a statue of Robert E. Lee.  This was the first of four parks Mr. McIntire donated to the city.  This particular park was named Lee Park.  The park's name was changed to Emancipation Park in June of this year, 2017.  The process by which the community decided to change this name and the name of Jackson Park to Justice Park was in accordance with Charlottesville's legal, citizen voiced through elected officials mechanism.  These parks should now have new monuments that reflect their new meanings:  Emancipation and Justice.

My complaint is that Charlottesville will probably not continue this "march" to the University of Virginia.  I call this the bias of economic benefit.  How much of Charlottesville's economy is dependent upon UVA?  Much.  I think it would be fair to say that Thomas Jefferson is both celebrated and gloried there.  How biased is Charlottesville because of the economic benefit they enjoy through UVA?  You might argue that Thomas Jefferson started UVA.  Paul McIntire donated a park for the purpose of erecting a statue.  A park is less controversial because it is less economically important.  Don't misunderstand me.  I'm not saying the statue of Lee should have remained.  I'm saying that every community needs to decide what is best for themselves.  I just find it difficult to applaud a city for removing a statue from a park that now bares the name Emancipation but the park so named is adjacent to a University that bares the name of one of America's most prominent slave owners.

If I lived in Charlottesville, I would have supported changing the park's name and I would have supported removing the Confederate statue to be replaced with a statue that better reflects the vision and values of our future.  But I would also be saying, let's keep going.  Let's not stop here.  You might argue that UVA is a state school.  Fair enough.  But I guarantee you that no change will come to the associated heritage of that University without Charlottesville being the epicenter of and the impetus for that change.

A friend whose critical thinking always challenges me to be more disciplined in my process of reason asked why then do we esteem people from Scripture who owned slaves?  Does that make us hypocritical?  Let's try this by comparison.  If you picked up your child from Sunday School, Kid's Church, Bible Study, etc...and realized they were challenged to emulate Robert E. Lee as a church going, God fearing man, you might take issue with that.  But if their lesson was on Abraham, I dare say no parent would have a moment of hesitation.  Are we hypocritical to esteem men and women in the Bible who owned slaves?  My initial answer to my friend was a lazy response.  I said we should be inspired to mirror their virtues and learn to avoid their vices.  Would that be enough of a defense if my sermon this weekend was extolling the virtues of Jefferson Davis?  Clearly no.  But why then is it acceptable for Abraham and other Biblical historical figures to be honored?

I believe the canonization of Scripture was directed by the hand of God.  The New Testament as we know it today was ratified at the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.  The books we find in the Old Testament were already widely accepted by then.  These were not the arbitrary decisions of men in my belief but men acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to validate the sacredness of certain books/letters and hold them esteemed above all other writings.  This was already the widely held view of Christian churches in the world at that time.  The Council of Carthage was affirming what the Holy Spirit had already revealed to Christian leaders in local churches.

This is at the center of why we esteem people like Abraham and others in spite of their human failings, some of the most egregious of which was human trafficking for economic gain and sexual pleasure.  God has the sovereign right to choose the people He wants to put forward for humanity to esteem.  He made those choices through the canonization of Scripture.  While they are historical figures, they hold a place in history unlike in any other.  They are not only in world history, they were chosen by God to be part of the Biblical narrative.  So yes, we do strive to mirror their virtues and avoid their vices.  However, the reason celebrating these historical figures is not hypocritical for Christians is because they are the people the Creator of the Universe chose to be our examples in spite of their human failings.  As a pastor, I must be cautious and discerning of the people in history I encourage my congregation to emulate.  But the people in history who are also part of the Biblical narrative, God has already approved of their use for teaching and instruction.

But for the record, if I had to choose one person/human in Scripture for a statue, I'm choosing the little boy who gave his lunch to feed the masses.  There are few moments in Scripture as innocent and faith filled as that moment.  If his heart were more frequently found in ours, there would be no hate in our cities.

Pastor Fred



I Hate Catholics

Some should be executed, others imprisoned, most punished in some fashion and Catholicism as a religious practice should be abolished.  And if you do not share this sentiment then through your ignorance or indifference, you are propagating hate and injustice!

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day on August 24/25 of 1572 inspired the murder of thousands of French Huguenots not just in France but throughout all of Europe.  For the next two hundred years, my family suffered at the hands of hatred...torture, rape, imprisonment, murder...a conspiracy to dehumanize all Protestants perpetrated by Catholics with the aid and support of the French government and The Vatican.  The situation was in such despair that Abraham Michaux, born in 1672 of Sedan France, fled to Amsterdam Holland in 1690 with his father Jacob Michaux.  King Louis XIV of France continued the godless destruction of the Protestant church, causing thousands of refugees to seek asylum elsewhere in Europe.  Abraham Michaux appears on a the Dutch Reformed Church roster of January 28, 1691.  A the age of 20, Abraham married Susanna Rochet at this same church.  They met while working at a gauze and lace factory.  Susanna had her own harrowing tale of fleeing France years earlier.  Her family hid her in a barrel aboard a ship in order to smuggle her out of France and into Holland.  (facts taken from an historical genealogy blog)

My family, by the grace of God, was able to flee such horrific persecution and through a land grant from England, arrive in the New World to help settle the frontier.  Our family received 574 acres in what is today Powhatan County.  (I'm still a littler bitter all that James River water front property didn't make its way to me!)  We lived in Stafford County for a period of time after arriving here until 1705 when we settled in what was then known as Manakin Towne where our 574 acre land grant was located.  (facts taken from same blog referenced above)

There are still the remains of an Episcopal chapel there in what eventually became known as Michaux, Virginia.  A family cemetery plot is just down the road from the chapel overlooking the James River.  I have visited there many times, even taken my family to stand on this ground that is sacred to me still today because that is the beginning of my heritage in America.  My children are the tenth generation of Michauxs to live in this beloved Country.  There is a family Bible beautifully preserved in the archival collection at Union Theological Seminary.  I was allowed to spend time with this family Bible several years ago.  The feeling of gently turning its pages created in me a profound appreciation for the legacy that has come to me through centuries to cherish God's Word and worship Him fully.  Many names were written in its margins as this Bible not only served as a source of spiritual nourishment but also a proud family genealogy.

Here is another wonderful piece of Michaux history in Virginia...taken from a plaque placed at that little Episcopal Church.  The plaque was erected in 1937 and states, "This tablet is dedicated to the memory of Abraham Michaux and Susanne Rochet Michaux...their heroic spirit, their loyalty to truth, their fidelity to Christ we treasure as our richest heritage."  France was robbed of the contribution these citizens could have made because of hate and prejudice.  But thank God for Romans 8:28 and His promise of ultimate goodness in every circumstance!

By now I trust you have realized that I don't hate Catholics, that I have no ill will toward Catholics individually or Catholicism as a Christian religion.  Those opening sentiments were what could have been my emotional heritage.  I wonder if Jacob Michaux could have said that?  I wonder if Abraham Michaux or his wife Susanna could have said that?  Possibly their Christian character was strong enough to withstand such sentiments I shared in the opening of this blog?  But my suspicion is their humanity would have prevailed given the atrocities they most certainly witnessed first hand of the brutality of Catholics in France in the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries.  But which generation was the first generation to choose to forgive?  Which generation was the first generation to not make this hatred part of the emotional heritage given to their children?  If I were able to step back in time and observe the attitude of my ancestors, who would be the turning point?

So here comes the irony.  My family left France because of barbarous acts.  I wonder how may of my ancestors became guilty of such acts against Native Americans...against Blacks.  I find it terribly sobering and highly probable that persons in my family became the "Catholics" they abhorred.  Meaning, there are families here in Virginia and elsewhere whose heritage of hatred doesn't trace itself back to a religion or a political entity...but to my family name.  They suffered at the hands of Michauxs.

I'm inspired to share this blog today because few people in this life don't have a heritage of hate working through their family.  The question becomes whether or not I am willing to be the person in history who decides that a different heritage is going to be gifted to the next generation.  For some, this challenge is much more difficult because their persecution, their suffered injustice is not historical, on the contrary, it is devastatingly present.  I know for me, not only am I committed to teaching my children the sacred virtue of being forgiving, I am also praying, talking, asking, studying, reading, and striving to determine how God is asking me to help route out injustices that are taking place today, here in my city and beyond.

Who were the people in France who sat idly by while thousand of Huguenots were killed?  Citizenship means that I not only fight to preserve equality that serves me but equality that serves all.

Pastor Fred
 

Fear

Fear.  This is one of the most prevalent words in conversations leading up to and following Tuesday’s Presidential election.  My hope is that people who do not share the same fears will not belittle or disparage the fears of others.  Fear is one of God’s great gifts to humanity.  And that idea may be foreign to too many Christians.

Some of you are already quoting 2 Timothy1:7.  That’s not prophetic…just predictable!  Let’s talk about this wonderful verse.  I like to start with the last word in the verse, a wonderful Greek word, “sophronismos.”  I like this word because there is only one appearance in all of Scripture and this is the solo performance in 2 Timothy!  Some translations choose sound mind, others use discipline, while another is sound judgment.  The best would be to combine them all.  My spirit when renewed by the Holy Spirit should transform my mind in a way that is Biblically sound leading to self-discipline and good judgment.  I should be characterized by this description as a devoted follower of Jesus.  Now, let’s read the verse.  Paul says to Timothy “spirit” not “emotion.”  Too many people misuse this verse to demean an emotion that should be present in us all.  While I should not be characterized as a fearful person, fear as an emotion must be present in an emotionally healthy Christian at proper times.  When “sophronismos” is a word that best describes me, I am able to experience the emotion of fear without emotions taking control of my life and becoming the shaping force and influence on my spirit.

So if someone talks about their fears related to this election, spend time listening before you bludgeon them with a verse that was given to us to inspire…not wound.  Especially if you are the one needing some correction, in regards to how we should cherish fear.

Might I share some examples?  We readily acknowledge the importance of the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 15:33, Revelation 15:4).  My capacity for fear was created by God and is vital; take for example Jesus admonition in Luke 12:4-5.  People like to restate “fear” in these texts as “respect” but that is not what the Holy Spirit chose.  Don’t edit the Holy Spirit!  Is respect a component of healthy fear?  Most certainly, but that does not change the essence of fear…it is to be afraid!  And as long as that feeling of being afraid remains a healthy emotion, it will not displace the virtues of courage and faith.  My capacity for diverse emotions is evidence of emotional health.  And my strength of character (that “sophronismos life”) becomes the boundary that keeps those emotions from becoming spiritual traits.

So if fear is necessary in my relationship with God, are there other applications where fear should be embraced?  Yes!  Fear saves lives.  When I am unsafe, the emotion of fear is an alarm that prompts protective action.  I would like to suggest to you that fear is also an indispensable facet of choosing political leaders.  If you suppress healthy fear in others, you are a dealer in shame.  And if you are devoted follower of Christ, you should be ashamed of your shaming!

This is a time for people to talk about their fears.  Last night I met with a new friend to talk about our fears.  His fears are different than my fears.  And my fears are not more important than his fears, neither his relative to mine.  I must seek to understand the fears of others if I expect others to value mine.  If you can’t accept that Christians were legitimately divided at the polls on Tuesday, then you are part of the problem that divides this nation.  You are a person that is belittling the fears of others.  You are a person that is a shame dealer.  My fears are always going to be more present in my life than your fears.  That is the nature of fear.  We are not able to manufacture emotion.  But, as you have heard me say many times, right feelings follow right actions (Matthew 6:21).  If you don’t understand the fears of others, put in the time to talk with them, hear their story, ask questions, reflect, ponder, contemplate their feelings!

The progress we need in this nation should start with The Church.  And that progress will begin when people who have divergent fears begin to feel the fears of others because their right actions led to shared feelings.  So do me a favor, don’t reach for 2 Timothy 1:7 prematurely.  Let Romans12:15 reach you.  I believe this verse in not just limited to the emotions of joy and sorrow.  I believe this is a fill in the blank text.  I believe this verse is about emotions.  In fact, when I look back to the beginning of this chapter, I find a command that my mind should be renewed!  That sounds like a “sophronismos life” to me!  Paul, in one of the most celebrated doctrinal books of the New Testament, is making a demand of all Christians that emotional empathy is the minimum!  Emotional empathy expects me to have an appropriate, gracious, understanding response to the feelings of others.  Romans 12 tells us we should actually share in their emotion, regardless of whether or not we share in their circumstance.

So this is my question to you…if you voted for Donald Trump, have you found some people who did not that you can sit with and ask them about the fears that helped to motivate their decision?  If you voted for Hillary Clinton, have you found some people who did not that you can sit with and ask them about the fears that helped to motivate their decision?  If you don’t know anyone who voted differently than yourself, you are intellectually and emotionally isolated!  Next, here comes your prayer.  Ask God to help you experience Romans 12:15.  We need to feel one another’s fears.

Be all about that “sophronismos life!”

Pastor Fred

 

 

 

Divergent - Politics of 2016

Frustrated, disappointed, angry, sad, and embarrassed are all words that best describe my reaction to the 2016 Presidential race.  I am not speaking of any candidate in particular nor any one political party.  These feelings are the result of what I believe to be the root of the dissension and frustration in the entire elective process.

In 2014, the first in a book series by Veronica Roth became a successful film at the box office -- Divergent.  Her blog describes Divergent this way:  "In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives..."  If you have read the books or seen the movies you know that once an adolescent chooses a certain faction, they must serve that virtue for the remainder of their lives.  For example, if I am Amity, I will never be allowed to work or serve in any role that is assigned to the faction or class of Erudite.  What makes these fictional stories so compelling is the contrast to our society where we celebrate and cherish our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as so courageously penned in our Declaration of Independence.  America is a great nation because we champion the right of self-determination...unless we are talking about politics.

One of the distinctive differences between the Republican and Democratic primary process is the presence of super-delegates in the Democratic Party.  Both parties are well into their respective primaries whereby citizens in each state have the opportunity to vote for their candidate of choice.  In an effort to simplify this process, think of it this way.  The number of votes a candidate receives correlates into points.  The Republican candidate must amass a total of 1237 and the Democratic candidate 2383.  These points are called delegates because they are actual people.

At each party's convention this summer, every state will send delegates/representatives to select a candidate that will run for the office of President.  And while both party's rules vary, the expectation is that these delegates will vote at the convention based on how their state voted in the primary.  For example, in Virginia's primary, Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by approximately 65% to 35%.  So she was assigned 62 delegates and Sanders was assigned 33 delegates from Virginia.  If both candidates are still in the race by the Democratic convention, those delegates will vote for their assigned candidate.  The Republican party operates in a similar fashion.  However, if there were two candidates still in the Republican race at the time of the convention, the only delegates who are allowed to vote are those sent by the states.  And those delegates sent by the states vote according to results determined solely by the voters.  However, if there is more than one ballot, then the rules begin to change so that a candidate can ultimately be selected.  But the first ballot is clear, delegates sent by states represent the will of the people as expressed through their vote in the individual state primaries.

So back to super-delegates.  If you are interested in a more complete history of super-delegates you can see this article by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  There are 712 super-delegates.  These individuals are major elected officials, notable party figures, and select leaders of organizations affiliated with the Democratic National Convention (definitions by Becca Stanek).  Their support is not dictated by the voters.  They are allowed to choose which Democratic candidate to support.  Now you have to decide which process you prefer.  For me, I always want a process that has the opportunity to be determined solely by the outcome of voters.

The former Democratic Governor of North Carolina Jim Hunt said the following in November of 1981, "We must also give our convention more flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and, in cases where the voters’ mandate is less than clear, to make a reasoned choice."  I'm not sure how the voters' mandate can be anything but clear.  People vote and margins are based on math and a winner is declared.  Really what Governor Hunt was saying is that sometimes the voter is not savvy enough to pick the right candidate and we the political elite must step in to protect the general public from themselves.  Is it possible for no single candidate to gain enough delegates to be selected?  It is certainly possible in the Republican Party.  In that case, there are rules that guide the process forward so a candidate can be selected.  But what the Democratic Party has done through the creation of super-delegates is to never give the voters of their party an opportunity to express a clear mandate.  

We have factions.  They are not formalized factions like Veronica Roth's novels but they exist and they are powerful influences in our society.  And I believe one of those factions is the faction of the political elite.  The presence of super-delegates is a clear example.  712 of the 2383 delegates that choose the Democratic candidate for the President of the United States are not bound by the vote of citizens.  This concerns me.  The will of the people can be thwarted.  As of this morning, Hillary Clinton has earned 1,716 delegates through the voting of citizens.  Bernie Sanders has earned 1,433 delegates through the voting of citizens.  So when you hear news outlets continue to report that it is mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination for his party, doesn't that surprise you?  The will of the people has yet to be determined.  In an article by Huffington Post yesterday, Bernie Sanders has won 19 of 25 State primaries/caucuses and is only a few hundred thousand votes behind in the popular vote which is a small margin given how many votes have been cast.  Both he and Hillary Clinton are tied in National polls for their party.  But super-delegates swing heavily in her favor, people who are not bound by the will of voters.

I am equally concerned for the Republican Party.  There are no super-delegates in the Republican Party.  But there is a faction of political elites that should be equally disturbing to us.  When former Presidents and their families publicly state they will not support the candidate chosen by the people at the polls, they are the political elite.  When candidates who ran but lost publicly state they will not support the candidate chosen by the people at the polls, they are the political elite.  When elected officials publicly state they will not support the candidate chosen by the people at the polls, they are the political elite.  Oh they are going to say it violates their conscience or their position is because of their personal integrity...they lie.  They are the political elite.  They are a part of the class of people in our society who have been controlling the political process for decades.  And now someone who is not part of their "faction" is trespassing.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  Their withholding of support has nothing to do with character.  They are spoiled elites who are pouting about their loss of control or they are political candidates posturing in a way they believe better positions them for future elections...or both!

Regardless of how you may feel about any of the candidates in this year's Presidential race, champion and protect the foundation of our political system...a free elective process whereby the will of the people is expressed at the polls.  Do not support the political elites who seek to control outcomes and derail the will of voters.  Be wise and recognize when media outlets who are supposed to be journalists stop reporting the narrative and begin creating their own narrative.  Don't be naive.  Both conservative and liberal media outlets are pushing an agenda and that agenda is the profitability of their respective brands.  In addition, many of them are just as much a part of this "faction" of the political elites as the candidates themselves.

I'm for a faction free world.  I don't want to live in Veronica Roth's dystopian society.  May we never stop being these people, which people?  "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Pastor Fred

Jesus' Costume

I read a post to FB this morning that has inspired me to share an apologetic on why I believe Halloween for Christians is something to consider.  I think that if Jesus were here in bodily form, He would be out there with us.  Besides, He likes the whole idea of costumes...remember that one time He came into the world dressed like a person?  How great was that!  And then when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration and Peter, James, and John saw Him without His costume...what a day!  I'm convinced too His teaching about what goes into our mouths doesn't defile us.  I wish I had better Bible knowledge as a child...I would have shared that text with my parents on Halloween and Easter when they said I couldn't have any more candy!

The post I read had a great point.  Let's stop comparing Christians celebrating Halloween with Christmas and Easter.  Those aren't fair comparisons.  I agree.  Although many Christian holidays have pagan influences, Christmas and Easter are now fully Christian.  There are no other two holidays more sacred to Christians than Jesus' birth and His resurrection.  Even if their origins have to own some fault for pagan assimilation, today those holidays have one focus for us as devoted followers of Jesus...Him!  We cannot let the history that is behind us rob us of the opportunity we have to make the history that is before us!  And the history that is before us is desperate for devoted followers of Jesus to glorify His name!  From someone who has been in pastoral ministry since 1999, people turn their attention to God on those two holidays!  I know the Holy Spirit is always working in every life to bring them to Jesus and those two holidays create moments for His seeds to find good soil!

I believe people's reluctance to celebrate whatever you want to call 10/31 is born out of two streams of thought.  The first is that it violates someone's conscience.  I understand that.  We all need to understand that.  Scripture is clear in it's division of sin.  There are moral issues.  Those things that are wrong for all people for all time, without exception.  There are matters of conscience which are things that are wrong for one person but not for someone else.  The Apostle Paul used certain dietary restrictions as an example of this.  Then there are forgoing liberties.  This is where the Apostle Paul, on more than one occasion, talks about our need as Christians to forgo liberties if in exercising that liberty we may cause another to stumble in temptation.  For example, if you are having dinner with a recovering alcoholic, you should not have that favorite glass of wine with your meal.  This is the first reason there is conflict with Halloween, in two ways.  The first way is found in the name used.  We don't avoid the use of "Halloween" because we are ashamed of our activities.  We don't use that name because we don't want to unnecessarily offend.  This isn't being politically correct or white washing our sin...it's being sensitive to others which quite frankly needs to be more abundant in the Christian community!  The second way is that people who don't celebrate Halloween because it violates their conscience need to be respected, honored, and celebrated.  But those same people need to stop trying to justify their abstaining by making this a moral issue.  I have a definition of unity I like to teach.  Unity is when absolute commonalities transcend relative dissimilarities.  We need to agree on absolutes and hold them in common.  We also need to agree on what is relative and embrace how we are dissimilar.  When we force those things that are relative (matters of conscience and forgoing liberties) into the category of morality, we create legalism.  When we force those things that are absolute into the category of relative, we create permissiveness.  If you have come out of a background of the occult, some sort of satan worship, or used to get falling down drunk and stupid on Halloween and celebrating that day now in any way, even if your celebration now is wholesome, creates a feeling of conviction in your heart then most certainly, respect your conscience!

This post I read today also used comparison like orgies or naked group dancing around a fire...all pagan practices.  That we would not do those things and defend them as Christians.  No we wouldn't. I prefer to do my naked fire dancing in private...just kidding!  I can't even dance clothed!  But just in the same way you don't like unfair comparisons like with Christmas and Easter, neither do we.  All those examples in and of themselves are immoral.  Sex outside of marriage, sexual immodesty...all of those are wrong regardless of the reason.  Halloween for Christians who are celebrating community, having fun as a family, reaching out to their neighbors, using it to tell people about Jesus like we do at City Life...those are all virtuous, noble Christian actions.  Just because other people are using this night to celebrate evil does not undermine why we are celebrating.  Just because it is historically evil also does not taint the virtuous reasons we celebrate today.  If anything, because other people are using this night to celebrate evil is all the more reason we should be out there celebrating righteousness and life fully devoted to Jesus!  Those comparisons are born out of a need for people who have a legitimate matter of conscience objection but want to press it inappropriately into the category of morality.

Okay, here is the second stream of thought among Christians about Halloween.  As I was reading the Bible this morning, I found myself in Luke 14.  The chapter begins with Jesus healing on the Sabbath much to the anger of the religious leaders there.  These conflicts with Jesus and the religious establishment were related to what is referred to as traditions of the elders.  These were restrictions that were not specifically called for in the Mosaic Law but were born out of rabbinical interpretation. For example, because working was prohibited in the Sabbath, a person with a tooth ache could not rinse their mouth with vinegar and spit it out because that would be practicing medicine and is working.  You could however rinse and swallow because that fell under the category of eating.  There were limits on how far you could walk...which is why you find in Scripture the phrase "a Sabbath days journey" to communicate distance...people of Jesus' day knew how far that would be, based on these traditional restrictions.  Jesus' frustration with the religious establishment was that they viewed God as a God who took pleasure in denial.  This same view point gave birth to the failed experiment of Monasticism.  Does God have boundaries...yes!  But His boundaries are only for the purpose of releasing us into more liberty!  Wasn't it Jesus who said in John 10 that He came so we could have life to the fullest possible measure?  Many Christians today find an unhealthy fulfillment in denial.  I'm all for denial that is virtuous.  But I would humbly suggest that many of the people who feel the need to take hard stance against Christian families having fun tonight in an effort to honor God would have complained about Jesus violating the traditional Sabbath, not following washing rituals, parties He attended, and disciples He chose.  Liberty is a celebrated virtue of Christianity and one that we must not lose.

I hope this helps bring some clarity to why people can't seem to agree on this issue.  We don't need to agree...that is a beautiful aspect of the Christian faith that makes Jesus so very different from the rest!

Pastor Fred

My Mind Didn't Change (part 3)

This is the third and final post for this series.  I hope that it has accomplished two things:  inspired you to read and study the view points of those with whom you disagree and has equipped you with knowledge to better understand the serious cultural changes happening in society with regards to marriage and sexuality.  Thank you for reading and if this topic interests you then please take the time to read through the LGBTI series which is a much more exhaustive look at this subject.  (You can find that series as you continue to scroll.)

I want to address two other parts of Gushee's book.  They are both found in the chapter entitled Creation, Sexual Orientation and God's Will.  On my iPad (horizontal) the first is on pages 298 and 299.  He sites again the percentage of people who identify with the LGBTQI community as being 3.4 to 5 percent of the population.  Then, he fairly estimates this number to be 2 percent if we remove bisexual and what he refers to as "some measure of sexual-orientation fluidity."  His point is that 2 percent of the population who long for romantic relationships, meaningful life partnership, are denied this basic human need by those of us who believe Scripture prohibits same gender romantic relationships.  Listen to this quote from Gushee, "These phenomena, embodied by real people, exist.  How are we to integrate these stubborn facts with Scripture, while responding compassionately to the real human beings in front of us?"

I find that quote terribly troubling.  The suggestion is that because people are at odds with Scripture then some sort of accommodation should be made.  What?  Isn't that the nature of Scripture?  We submit our lives to the text!  Gushee is clever.  He knows to blatantly suggest such a thing would be borderline heresy so what does he do?  He points out that mankind has a proven history of misinterpreting the Bible.  One, he rightly reminds us that people used to believe the earth was at the center of our planetary system and inappropriately used Scripture to support their claim.  His second example is less certain.  I think old earth vs. new earth is still a debate that is evenly championed in the Christian community.  But Gushee offers this as another example, suggesting that the earth is billions of years old and that Christians have inappropriately used the Bible to suggest otherwise.  His point?  Our interpretation of Scripture has been flawed and could very well be flawed with the issue of a Biblical prohibition against same gender romantic relationships.

This is my concern with his comparison.  The Bible is not given to us for scientific purposes.  Do I believe in the historicity of Scripture, yes.  Do I believe the Bible will never contradict valid scientific conclusions, yes.  But these two examples used by Gushee are not prominent themes taken up by Scripture.  Where are the texts that God provides in Scripture that speak to a direct prohibition against anyone who will not accept a heliocentric planetary system?  Where are the texts that speak to a direct prohibition against anyone who will not accept an old earth point of view?  They don't exist, because my scientific conclusions do not affect my relationship with God but my moral practice most certainly does!  Scripture has a plentiful collection of texts that speaks directly to sexuality and marriage.

My final point is found on page 311 of this same chapter (iPad horizontal).  Listen to this appalling quote.  "If we live in a Genesis 3 world, and not a Genesis 1-2 world, this undoubtedly means that everyone's sexuality is sinful, broken and disordered, just like everything else about us."  I find this disturbing because of his misuse of truth.  Yes.  We are all broken and sinful, saved by God's grace alone.  But to use this truth as permission giving for people to not bring their sexuality into submission to Biblical boundaries is inexcusable.  He says later that "no one's sexually is innocent."  We are not innocent in any way.  But forgiveness is not permission to abandon all efforts to Biblical conformity.  He is suggesting that because every person his flawed, no one should challenge the lifestyle of another...good thing the Apostle Paul didn't read this book or most of the New Testament would be missing!

I do have one partial praise for Gushee.  He does hold firm on the Biblical mandate that all sexual relationships should only be within a covenantal marriage.  My disappointment is clearly that he believes marriage does not have to be between one man and one woman.  But I am glad to see that he does not give permission for promiscuity.  However, if I were to apply all his arguments for permitting same gender romantic relationships against his position for "covenantal-marriage ethics" he would have to yield that ground.  Once you undermine the authority of Scripture and the divine authorship of Scripture, you have lost all moral foundation.  This is where Gushee leads us.

I hope this series has been meaningful, informative, and inspiring...keep reading!

Pastor Fred

My Mind Didn't Change (part two)

My comments on David Gushee's book "Changing Our Mind" continues with chapter four, entitled "What Exactly Is The Issue."  When reading books of this genre, one must be vigilant in identifying false choices.  Authors, all of us, tend to frame the debate in a way that serves our conclusions.  Sometimes these efforts are blatant and other times they are more subtle.

Early on this chapter, Gushee calls the viewpoint I hold as the "historic heterosexual norm" while referring to the alternative view that he holds as "...research and mental health efforts..." meaning that mine is based on a mere tradition born out of undue human influence and his is strongly scientific.  There is also a subtle accusation in his remarks that traditional gender roles are responsible for excesses like chauvinism.  That is the equivalent of saying that the institution of marriage is responsible for the sin of adultery.  Ludicrous.

This chapter also acknowledges that according to several studies in the U.S. the LGBTQI community only make up about 3.4 to 5 percent of the total population.  Does anyone else find this figure staggering?  How could such a small percent of people effect such cultural change in our society?  I am not trying to marginalize anyone or condone the degradation of anyone.  I believe everyone should be treated with respect, even if their view is different than mine on matters I classify as divisive doctrines.  My opinion is that they were successful because The Church over the last several decades has vilified people in the LGTBQI community instead of lovingly opposing their viewpoint.  Our response however because we failed in love must not be to make up for our sin by now extending permission.

Probably the most appalling statement by Gushee in this chapter is that he says the "ex-gay" movement has been a total failure.  This is another strategy employed by authors, to be overly dismissive of a contrary point in hopes of not having to address the opposition's point of view.  Gushee is either guilty of exaggeration or arrogance.  Neither alternative is noble.  All of the "research and clinical results" he frequently sites are only telling us what we already know.  Humanity has from the beginning of time suffered from the desire to self-direct.  Let me try and distill Gushee's premise into this statement:  because people continue to demonstrate a deep desire and longing for a life in regards to self determination with gender identification and same gender romantic, sexual relationships, we should doubt our understanding of Scripture's teaching on these matters.  I'm all for questioning and studying.  But let's not be surprised that humanity resists Scripture's boundaries.  If I am uncomfortable with conclusions that are divisive and conclusive then I am going to be uncomfortable with the idea of a sovereign God and an authoritative Scripture.

So Gushee in his books begins to call in question various texts that are central in this debate.  Because of this, I question whether or not he believes in the doctrine of a sovereign God and an authoritative Scripture.  I say that because of he begins to systematically undermine the texts that I would use to loving show God is opposed to someone rejecting the gender He assigned them and someone who wants to have same gender romantic and sexual relationships.  And one way people have always tried to minimize texts in Scripture that inconveniently oppose their point of view is to suggest that those particular texts are not from God but rather the insertion of a human influence.  If we are going to wrestle with the interpretation of Scripture, let's dance!  This is healthy.  This is edifying.  This helps everyone.  But if you begin by saying "God didn't write that" then there is nothing more to debate.  If you want to have a conversation that starts with, "What did God mean when He said..." then let's have that conversation.  But Gushee can't start there!  Why?  Because Gushee knows these texts do not lack clarity of intent.  So he must attack the credibility of the source.

Now the question of the whether or not all Scripture is divinely inspired is worthy of an entire series of its own.  I believe all Scripture is divinely inspired and God in His sovereignty was able to give us the Bible He intended for us to have.  I know that is a terribly oversimplified response but I wanted you to know where I stand on the authority of Scripture.  So not only do his comments in chapter four give me pause but also in chapter 14.  He makes this statement in reference to the creation account we so cherish in Genesis, "In Genesis 1-11, a primeval prehistory, the authors/editors both borrowed from and subverted their neighbor's creation stories, while adding new elements, to paint a theological picture of creation, human origins, marriage and family life..."    He goes on to say that "most scholars" agree that Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25 are two different creation accounts "interwoven by an editor."  Wow...really?

I have to admit.  If I had found those statements earlier in this book, I would not have survived its reading.  God is the author of Scripture.  Do we find similar accounts of creation in other cultures?  Yes!  Read Don Richardson's book "Eternity In Their Hearts."  The fact that these similarities exist is not a foregone conclusion that Genesis was borrowed but rather the realization that God as being the author of creation was somehow divinely revealed to other cultures as a confirmation of the accounts in Scripture we so deeply cherish.  Why?  Because as Mr. Richardson concludes, this positions these cultures to embrace the Gospel because they could relate to its origin!    And how about Gushee's opinion he presents as fact in regards to Genesis chapter one and two.  To say "most scholars" agree with him is irresponsible.  Maybe most of the "scholars" he knows!  I would say Christianity is about evenly split on that issue.  This is another example of being dismissive to avoid debating the real facts.  But the most disconcerting remark by Gushee for me is his use of the word "editor."  He is calling into question the divine authorship of certain Biblical texts.  This has always been the argument of people who want to undermine the texts that are inconveniently exclusive and divisive on issues and matters that oppose their point of view.

Be cautious of the conclusions of anyone who will not concede to the divine authorship of Scripture and the authority Scripture should hold over our lives.

I'm looking forward to continuing this series next week!

Pastor Fred

My Mind Didn't Change (part one)

I am beginning a new series with this post.  At the recommendation of dear friend, I purchased and read a book by the author David P. Gushee entitled "Changing Our Mind."  I guess you can deduce from the title of this series that my mind didn't change.  Gushee chronicles for his readers how his own mind changed in regards to whether or not the Bible specifically forbids same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex.  He offers many well prepared arguments and he shares what is clearly an extensive research project to try and bring his readers to the same "paradigm leap" that he himself has made.

I don't doubt his sincerity, his belief in his own convictions, or his academic prowess.  I did however find his conclusions to be misplaced and his arguments at times to be poorly constructed.  Maybe I am just intellectually obtuse.  I will leave those conclusions to you!  I do recommend the book because I believe we must be diligent in reading the views of those we oppose.  We must not be intellectually lazy, especially with issues that are shaping our culture.

I think the best way to approach this review of sorts is to simply share my perspective on bookmarks and highlights I made as I was reading...to offer, if I may, a running commentary.  If you have questions about sections to which I did not respond in this series, feel free to communicate those questions and I will do my best to respond.  Some highlights and bookmarks I may group together and others I may address individually.

The first comes from chapter two entitled Our Moment: A Church With A Problem.  Let me say I agree, that any church has a problem if they are mean spirited, hateful, and dismissive.  Or, as the author later shares in chapter twenty, has contempt for anyone in the LGBT community.  We must find our way forward in the path of Christ which is to speak the truth in love.  As I shared in a recent sermon reflecting on the text in John 1:14, our words too must be full of both grace and truth.  Grace without truth is flattery and truth without grace is an accusation.  Unfortunately the author is right in his observation that too many churches historically have lacked grace in sharing the truth of their convictions.

It will be difficult for me to give you a page number because I read this book on my iPad and iPhone!  This is towards the end of the chapter referenced above and he writes, "...the Church at least can demonstrate the capacity to live in community with each other even if we find full agreement impossible on this question."  I categorically disagree with the conclusion that a church must be inclusive in order to be gracious.  If a church feels that a matter of lifestyle is immoral and that conclusion is reached through an honest and clear process of Biblical interpretation, then a church should not be condemned if that said moral boundary is taught and is used to bring accountability to those who willing attend.

I will speak to our church specifically.  I wrote a series on this blog entitle LGBTQI that details my position on many of the issues addressed by Gushee in his book.  These are also the beliefs we teach at our church (City Life).  These are the beliefs we use in caring for people who have questions.  Our weekend worship services are open to anyone, whether they agree with us or not.  But in order for people to become a member or if people are going to serve in ministry we seek some agreement on issues of morality and a willingness to begin to take steps to align their lives with those beliefs.

There must be allowance for divisive doctrines.  I have a definition I teach for unity.  Unity is when absolute commonalities transcend relative dissimilarities.  Gushee would prefer churches to categorize same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex issues in the category of "relative" meaning lets give people the freedom to believe what they choose.  He would say we can be dissimilar on these issues and because they are relative (up to the person) let's not sacrifice unity.  I would argue however that the belief in a Biblical prohibition against same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex is an absolute and requires common acceptance, agreement by everyone.  If we place every belief in the category of "absolute" then we create an unBiblical, legalistic environment.  However, if we place every believe in the category of "relative" then we create an unBiblical environment of permissiveness.

If Gushee has any divisive beliefs, meaning that there is any doctrine he holds that he believes should be a requirement for someone to join a church in which he held a position of spiritual authority, then he must champion every church's right to hold divisive doctrines.  He is being hypocritical to imply that a church is uncaring if they believe in a Biblical prohibition against same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex and holds that belief as a divisive doctrine.  Exclusivity is a necessary component of Christianity.  Exclusivity makes us nervous, understandably so.  Excluding others has been a tragic part of history in a manifold of circumstances.  But we cannot let the abuse of others delegitimize the fair and honorable use of exclusion.  Unless Gushee is a Universalist, he must acknowledge that exclusion is a necessary aspect of the Christian experience.  If he is a Universalist, then I should be writing a blog about his heresy.

Looking forward to exploring this book in greater detail with you!

Pastor Fred

 

Don Lemon

A few times each week when I come home from the office, I find a snack to enjoy before dinner and jump back and forth between Wolf Blitzer on CNN and SportsCenter on ESPN.  Yesterday I was sitting at our kitchen table and the story on CNN was the release of Kim Davis who is the the Rowland County clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for contempt of court in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.  Don Lemon, a CNN anchor, was a guest on Wolf Blitzer's show to offer his opinion on this story.

Now, I know some of you are curious as to why I am watching CNN and not another news network.  Let's talk about that.  If you only watch programming that agrees with your point of view politically and socially, you will become what many cable news shows are already...close minded, unteachable, arrogant, contentious, and obtuse.  I want to understand what other people think, convictions and values they have that oppose mine.  Not only does this help me discover my own blind spots but prepares me when I have the opportunity to converse with people who differ from me on varying political and social issues.  Trust me.  Once people who differ from you realize you have made an honest effort to understand their point of view, they will be much more likely to listen to your beliefs.

I am also irritated by shows, regardless of the network, that exist solely because controversy sells.  Please don't be naive about both conservative and liberal programs regarding how they use conflict to boost ratings.  Ratings equate to advertising dollars and all of these programs are businesses seeking a profit.  I'm not implying that none of them are sincere journalists.  But if the show you are watching tends to portray every other person on the planet who disagrees with them as an idiot...you may be at risk of becoming one!  Have an appetite for learning.  Have a grace for people who disagree with you.  Have a heart of humility that recognizes we all have biases.  Have a passion for what you believe that is always tempered by respect for others.  (And as a side note, especially with the upcoming Presidential election, look for voices in the political landscape that are intelligently calm and have a reputation for fair play.  Let me give you two of my favorites:  Chuck Todd and David Gergen.  The world sorely misses Tim Russert..what a treasure he was to the world of news and politics.)

Don Lemon.  I was shocked to hear him compare Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin and do not support same sex marriage (regardless of what the Supreme Court has ruled) to racist whites of the pre-civil rights movement era.  Not only is he wrong but he is being hypocritical.  Mr. Lemon is black and he is gay.  I am white and not gay so I will never be able to fully understand the bigotry that he has personally suffered in his lifetime.  I am sorry for the pain he has endured because of hateful, thoughtless, uncaring people.  I have listened to Mr. Lemon on many occasions expressing what I perceived as his frustrations with Christians who are unwilling to talk about the complexity of LGBTQI issues.  I am frustrated by this as well!  That is why I took the time to write the five part series on this blog entitle LGBTQI.  Mr. Lemon, your comments on Wolf Blitzer's show last night postured you as the mirror image of those Christians who are uninformed and intellectually lazy.  You categorized every Christian view against homosexuality as being the result of poor exegesis and faulty hermeneutics.  Your laughable justification was to quote a fictional character from a former network television show, West Wing.  No one can disagree that Aaron Sorkin is a creative genius but unless I am mistaken, he has not formal training in theology.  You might want to find some better sources if you intend to lecture us on the proper practices of Biblical interpretation.

In addition, your comparison of Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin and oppose gay marriage to racist pre-civlil rights movement era bigots is appalling.  I do not know one thoughtful Christian who believes people who are gay should be marginalized in our society, should be segregated, should be beaten and lynched, should be made to drink from different fountains, use different rest rooms, and sit at the back of the bus, not have the opportunity to hold positions of leadership in government, should not have the opportunity for employment as long as Christian doctrines are not a legal right for disqualification, should be made to feel unloved by God and devalued by people.  I have no doubt people who profess Christianity are guilty of these tragic sentiments but those people sadden God with their sin of hatred and misrepresentation of Christ.

If you want to read a thoughtful response to what I believe should be a Christian's position on LGBTQI issues then I invite you to read the five part series on this blog.  Please stop categorizing every person who disagrees with you as a thoughtless, ignorant, hypocrite.  I trust you would not appreciate being labeled that way which is why if find it so confusing that you postured as such yesterday with  your comments.

Pastor Fred

LGBTQI, part five

Well, here we are, the final post in this series.  I hope that you have found this series educational, inspiring, thought provoking, and challenging.  These are complex issues, matters that we must not ignore.  One of the words I like to use to describe the Bible is courageous.  We have a collection of sacred teachings from God that courageously explores all matters of life and eternity.  If we are mandated by God to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), then we should be well prepared to address all manner of questions that are posed by a world that may be curious, suspicious, or even contentious.  And there are few questions that are as pressing today as those relating to sexuality.

This final posting in the series is dealing with the complex question of how should Christians respond to the fact that children are born with chromosomal and genetic abnormalities that result in problems with hormones, genital formation, and puberty.  Much of my reading came from various sources, some of which were:  National Library of Medicine & National Institute of Health and Genetics Home Reference.

Let's cover some rudimentary facts about genetics.  Every human cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes so 46 total.  And each chromosome contains hundreds to thousands of genes.  Normally, one in each pair of chromosomes comes from one parent and the other in each pair of chromosomes comes from the other parent.  22 pairs are non-sexual but the 23rd pair is the sex chromosome.  This is part of the genius of God...redundancy.  If something is corrupted, the body can rely on the matching chromosome in the pair.  Chances of genetic disorders are higher among close family members of an isolated population because there is a much higher chance of two abnormalities in the same pair.  That's why that whole idea of kissing cousins being a bad idea is in fact a bad idea! I'm sure much of this explanation is an over-simplification but my efforts here are just to lay some groundwork, not teach extensively on genetics.  Gender is determined when this 23rd pair known as the sex chromosome is paired as either an X from the mother and an X from the father resulting in a female or an X from the mother and a Y from the father resulting in a male.  Therefore, to be a female this 23rd pair is XX and to be a male this 23rd pair is XY.

As Christians, we are creationists.  Often the conversation about creationism occurs at a macro level regarding the earth and the universe...but it also occurs at a micro level and instructs our beliefs about humanity specifically.  We know that Adam and Eve were genetically perfect because everything that God created in the beginning was perfect.  Imperfection entered the world as a result of sin.  Perfection can only be attained again in Heaven, never again in this earth.  Jesus of course was perfect because His father is God.  The imperfections that entered the world through sin includes chromosomal and genetic abnormalities.  A person who does not believe in God can posture themselves in a way to argue that what we as creationists call an abnormality could in fact be an evolution event.  Or at the very least, they may argue that natural selection has chosen this child to be unique.

This next statement is in no way intended to be insensitive or in any way devalue another person.  Every person, regardless of whatever chromosome or genetic challenges they face are precious to me and most certainly to God.  I say that because my view is that any chromosomal or genetic abnormality is an example of a flawed human condition.  We are all flawed.  We are all vulnerable.  We are living in a natural world that was created perfect but is now imperfect.  And we are vulnerable to those imperfections, especially when it comes to our biology.  Every one of these conditions is appropriately described as an abnormality, disorder, condition, syndrome, and other medical terms that intend to convey a biological flaw.  A biological flaw is not permission, never permission to devalue someone...not ever!  But if in our efforts to value them as a person we ignore the reality of their situation, we create an environment that risks permissiveness.  Advocates of LGBTQI point to these instances of chromosomal and genetic abnormalities as evidence that a person does not choose their sexual orientation thus making gender identification a personal choice.  Make no mistake.  A child born with an chromosomal or genetic abnormality that affects their sexuality is going to face many obstacle in life.  The parents at birth have what seem to be impossible decisions to make.  These children are going to need a lifetime of support as well as their families.  But we are not helping our world or that family by trying to normalize their condition.  And therein lies the problem with so much of society.  There is a false sense of acceptance that comes from our attempts to normalize that which God calls broken.  We are all broken.  We all have varying degrees of brokenness.  For some, that brokenness extends to their physical bodies, including chromosomal and genetic abnormalities.

Let's look a few together.  Again, these are cursory explanations of what can be very complicated conditions.  One is Klinefelter Syndrome.  This results in a child being born with an extra X chromosome.  So they are XXY instead of the normal XY.  This can result in undersized male genitalia causing abnormally low levels of testosterone.  This can lead to breast formation in boys during puberty as well as other complications during puberty.  Another is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.  This child is also born genetically male but is unable to respond to certain male sex hormones (androgens).  They will have mostly female genitalia but signs of both.  Surgery attempts to remove any signs of male genitalia and typically these children are raised female with no uterus and thus will be infertile.  There is Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia which is further divided into classical (more severe) and non-classical.  This occurs when the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys produce excessive androgens.  This can cause ambiguous external genitalia, early onset puberty, pre-mature growth spurts that cause no growth later in life leading to small stature.  This is just to name a few.

In my reading I also tried to find some solid data on statistics relating to frequency.  I found such a wide range depending on the source that I didn't feel confident in any of the data.  Except I was confident in this one conclusion, that all the data on all the chromosomal and genetic abnormalities could be clearly categorized as atypical, not normal.  Do I think that in time the frequency of these instances could increase?  Yes.  The farther away time moves from Eden, the more imperfections such as chromosomal and genetic abnormalities will manifest.  This again is why being a creationist is hope giving.  I don't want this world and the human race as it is to continue on forever!  The New Heaven and the New Earth awaits everyone who has made a vow of devotion to Jesus and there are no imperfections there!

If you are parent to a child who has one of these conditions, my encouragement to you is to seek help, get support, find a loving church community that is willing to walk with you on this journey!  If you live in the Hampton Roads area...City Life will be such a church to you!

Pastor Fred


LGBTQI, part four

If you have not read the previous posts, they provide a critical context for these posts that follow in the series.  Part One is an introduction to this series and gives some important definitions for LGBTQI.  Part Two explores in a more in depth way what I believe the Bible says regarding same sex attraction.  Part Three takes on some of the "word challenges" that defenders of same sex attraction use to provide a Biblical defense for their beliefs.

I find it fitting that today is the day I write part four considering the presentation I saw during lunch.  I attended a meeting of local pastors for this year's National Day of Prayer initiative (Thursday evening May 7 at the Hampton Convention Center).  An organization was there to give a presentation about sex trafficking, The Virginia Beach Justice Initiative.  If you want to make a difference in our region in the fight against sex trafficking...you need to contact them!  There was also a detective there from the Newport New police department, Detective Russ Tinsley, who is devoting his life and career to this fight...they need our help!  I share that because too many of the moral crises our children are facing are because of parents neglecting their children.  I'm not talking about material neglect.  I'm talking about spiritual neglect.

One of the most sacred duties we have as parents is to give our children a moral warehouse, filled with values that help them navigate the complex, dangerous, and even evil that is waiting for them in this world.  If ever there were a verse that speaks to the focus we should have as parents, it is Paul's sentiment toward Timothy as a spiritual father found in 1 Timothy 4:15:16.  If we as Christian parents were to "give our complete attention to these matters...throwing ourselves into our tasks..."  we could give our children great hope and courage as they face the temptations of a fallen, godless society!  When I read passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and again in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 I must ask myself, "Have I given myself completely to the sacred privilege of parenting...have I thrown myself into this task?"  If any part of your past is like mine, I have plenty of experience giving myself completely to destructive behaviors and throwing myself into the tasks of hedonism...it's time to give that same attention to Godliness...especially the work of raising our children!

This biggest mistake I see in parents today is passivity.  There is nothing passive about our society.  The secular, godless society in which we live is inundating our children with values that could not be farther from Scripture.  Vannessa and I are raising our children with great intentionality.  When the world's values are brought to them, there will not be empty shelves in the souls of our kids longing to be filled.  There will be Godly values already there to give them a standard by which to measure everything else that attempts to gain entry into their hearts!  And one of the greatest failures of parents when it comes to the moral warehouse of their children, one the greatest examples of passivity of parents is teaching their children about sexuality.

This is important.  There is a crucial difference between the biology of sex and sexual understanding.  Just because your children might be able to pass an age appropriate test on anatomy and biology does not mean you have successfully parented your children in regards to sexuality.  Vannessa and I have used a series of books that you can find online or at a local Christina bookstore like LifeWay.  If you click on the link I just provided you can navigate that site and find all the books in the series for both boys and girls.  Listen to me.  Your child has been given a certain gender's anatomy by God.  But you as a parent still have work to do to lead your child in identifying emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually with the gender associated with that anatomy!  Their body is going to develop naturally.  For typical children, their bodies do not need any help to function in the way God created it to function sexually.  However, God expects you as a parent to lead your child in properly identifying with that gender.

There is a terrible lie that is being told to parents today, a lie that is even being repeated by medical professionals, professionals in the fields of psychology and counseling, even in academia...that a child should be allowed to decide for themselves a sexual orientation and gender identity.  This lie presupposes that sexual orientation and gender identity is ultimately an outward expression of an inward, natural selection.  Proponents of this view are trying to associate gender identity and sexual orientation with ethnicity.  We will not concede that ground in this fight.  When my child is born with a certain anatomy, there is a sovereign God who has made that decision.  Let's talk about presuppose.  That anatomy given to them by God presupposes a gender and presupposes a sexual orientation!

When my first two children who were born males, I understood that I now had the responsibility as a father to lead them in life to identify with their male gender and lead them in life to have a healthy, Biblical sexual orientation that is instructed by that gender.  The same is true with my last child, who was born female, although Vannessa is the primary champion of that leadership in her life.  As that series of books will help empower you to do...at the earliest possible ages, we began a conversation with our children that never stops.  This conversation is intentionally leading them, teaching them, instructing them, empowering them, and helping them.  We are working to lead them in understanding the sexual functioning of their physical anatomy, how their brain is wired for pleasure in connection with sexual experiences, how God has uniquely designed each gender, and that He has a specific plan for how each gender is to relate to the rest of the world in every way, especially sexually.

The three most important books I have ever read that have helped me prepare as a father to raise my two sons are Raising A Modern Day Knight and Sex, Men, and God and Wild at Heart.  I'm sure there are some great resources out there too for young ladies but because I have unique responsibilities to my boys, I am sharing those if you have sons.  If you just try to wing it, you will fail your children.  You are not going to like me for this next reference but I believe it with all my heart.  If you have children in your home that are waiting for you to lead them, read Mark 9:42.  God knows your neck size...may the outcome of that knowledge be to crowning of your neck with accolades from on high because you became the champion of parenting your children well!

A quick word of caution.  As you begin this work of leading your child in both gender identity and sexual orientation, make sure you are not teaching your children the same broken, biased, falsehoods that you have gathered in life that have little or no basis in Scripture.  Read these books I recommended, reach out to other Godly men and women who themselves have raised their children well.  Look for families where there is visible fruit of Godly excellence!  For example, just because your son is naturally tender, intensely creative, and especially sensitive...doesn't make him any less masculine!  Make sure your understanding of masculinity and femininity are soundly grounded...if you have doubts, get help!  There are also amazing Christian counseling services in your area.  They exist for more than just people in crisis.  They are a great resource for families who simply want to go from healthy to healthier!  For Hampton Roads, we have Genesis Counseling and Christian Psychotherapy.  I recommend them both!  You should also find a church home that has thriving children and youth ministries where your children have the opportunity to be immersed in communities of people who are seeking a Biblical understanding of both gender and sexuality.  Of course if you are looking for a church like that...I know where you can find one... City Life!

There are many forms of neglect.  And passivity in parenting when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation is one of the most common forms of neglect I have seen in families during my 15 years of pastoral ministry.  Don't be that family!

Pastor Fred



 

LGBTQI, part three

Words.  Our way of articulating thoughts and feelings.  I choose a word I feel best expresses my thought and feeling and trust that the word is both recognizable to you and that we share a common meaning for that word.  This is why communication in person, face to face is so important because it allows one to ask clarifying questions, benefit from body language, observe facial expressions, and work to ensure that what was intended to be communicated was accurately received.

With the Bible, not only are we dealing with an ancient manuscript from an ancient culture that was written using ancient languages, I can't Facebook message the Apostle Paul and ask, "What did you mean when you said...?"  However, I believe we can still have a great confidence in dealing with understanding the Bible.  That is another blog for another time and also there are many resources out there when it comes to reliability of Scripture apologetics.  If that topic interests you, I would recommend the HCSB Apologetics Study Bible and also Church History In Plain Language by Bruce Shelley.  Those are two great resources regarding whether or not the texts we have today reliably represent what was originally written.  In addition, we have the benefit of centuries of scholarship which has produced reliable traditions of hermeneutical disciplines, meaning the science of Biblical interpretation.  We are not, as some would have you believe, stumbling around in the dark hoping to chance upon a reliable conclusion.

For me, one of many longstanding principles of Biblical interpretation is that we must interpret the Bible in light of itself.  If my rendering of a certain text brings me in conflict with another text, the problem is not with the text.  The problem is with my interpretation!  I must keep studying, praying, researching...until my interpretation can be completely complimentary to all other texts.

Arsenokoites.  There is much controversy around this word.  In the New American Standard Bible, this word is translated into English as "homosexual."  We only find this word used twice in all of Scripture and both times it is by Paul.  The first reference is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and the second is 1 Timothy 1:9-10.  This word comes from the Greek "arsen" which means male and "koites" which literally means bed but is also used in Scripture to mean marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4) and sex (Romans 13:13).  The other interesting fact is that there is no record of this word ever being used except by Paul in these two instances.  It appears that Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit created this word.  What was Paul trying to communicate?  I have read convincing arguments from both sides.  I'm sure as you research, you too will find many opinions.  But because we interpret the Bible in light of itself, is there anywhere else in Scripture that speaks to homosexuality, especially by Paul?

Romans 1:18-27 is a key text for us.  This text was also authored by Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit.  He plainly states that the desire of same sex attraction is both unnatural and is a degrading passion.  He goes further to say that the acts resulting from these desires are indecent.  Now some will argue that Paul's only motivation here is to remind people not to judge.  If you continue reading, this is how he begins the second chapter.  But this is a poor rendering of text.  The prohibition is not against declaring the sinfulness of homosexuality but rather being critical of others when the one being critical is practicing these same sins.  In fact, Paul goes on to say in verse three of chapter two that God's judgment is unavoidable and this statement is clearly directed towards those who are guilty of these desires and acts as well as those who are being critical when they themselves are equally guilty of these desires and acts.

We also have Leviticus 18.  Remember, the Mosaic Law is divided into three divisions:  ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law.  I think one would be hard pressed to make a convincing argument that Leviticus 18 is anything but moral law.  The ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law are time bound.  The civil aspects of the Mosaic Law are time bound.  The moral aspects of the Mosaic Law are timeless.  What in this list are we saying, "Oh wow, that really doesn't apply to today?"  What part of that text would lead one to say, "I'm perfectly fine with someone being a devoted follower of Jesus and practicing..."  There is a self-evidencing quality of this text being moral in nature.

In addition, we know that sexual immorality is a matter that God gives special attention towards.  In Acts 15 when the first century church was working to understand what aspects of Judaism would be required of Jesus followers, one of the matters that received special mention was sexual immorality.  God is not passive when it comes to sin, any sin, especially sin that is sexual in nature.

So back to arsenokoites.  Even without these two texts in question where Paul uses the word arsenokoites, with what we have read in Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, the Bible has a very clear prohibition against same sex attraction and same sex acts.  For me personally, I do believe arsenokoites is what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, not to confuse but on the contrary, to make clear.  There were other words Paul could have employed but he did not.  And my belief is that the Holy Spirit is inspiring Paul to form a word that traces it roots directly back to the Leviticus 18 prohibition.  Leviticus 18 specially uses the phrase "you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female."  This is why Paul took "arsen" and "koites" and joined them together.  It is the perfect word to now articulate the Leviticus 18 moral law prohibition against same sex male sexual desire and acts.  Paul then goes on to expound upon this prohibition in Romans 1 to include same sex female desire and acts.  But if you cannot agree with me on my position regarding arsenokoites, Leviticus 18 and Romans 1 are surely enough by themselves.

Let us not forget either the uniqueness of sexual experiences.  Sexual sin carries a unique consequence.  We are taught in 1 Corinthians 6 that when we have sexual experiences with other people, there is a joining together with that person that is more than just physical.  That union is spiritual.  Some may argue incorrectly that the prohibition is primarily against sex with prostitutes.  Prostitution is merely the application.  The emphasis of the text is sex outside of marriage.  This text reminds us to understand that sex is not just a natural exchange between two biological entities as some in the secular world would have us believe.  Sex is sacred.  Sex is created by God for many reasons, but as we have already discussed, it was always first a means of consummating a life long covenant of marriage between one man and one women, enabling them to experience a unity that is unlike any other measure of intimacy found in the world.

Do not fall prey to a convincing voice that there is ambiguity in Scripture when it comes to same sex attraction and same sex acts.  And do not let people convince you that just because the Bible is an ancient document it has lost its relevance to our contemporary world.  Don't confuse God being timeless with Him being old and out of touch.  He is perfect and is ever leading us into the fullness of life both here and forever!

And still yet another warning.  If you take these thoughts of mine and use them to justify uncaring, disrespectful, and unloving attitudes and actions towards people who are struggling with these desires and practices, shame on you!  The purpose of this series is not to degrade anyone.  The purpose of this series is to help, to heal, to inspire, to reveal.  I believe God's Word gives life, even when it convicts, even when it corrects, even when it threatens judgment...God's heart is always to save us.  Does not God's own Word say that His desire is that none should perish and all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)?  May our hearts also be toward others, all others, a hope for being reconciled to God!

Next week will begin the vital conversation about parents leading their children on a journey of gender identification and sexuality.

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Fred


LGBTQI, part two

If you are just joining the conversation, there are two previous posts you should consider reading first.  These will give you some much needed background.  You Be The Judge and LGBTQI, part one can be found as you continue to scroll.

This post which is part two in the series is inspired by a conversation I had recently with a dear friend.  He asked about my statement in part one regarding same sex attraction being a sin even when nothing is done to act on that desire.  Here are some more thoughts on that matter.

There is an important phrase at the end of Galatians chapter five verse 23, just after the listing of the fruits of the Spirit... "against such things there is no law."  My opportunity in my human experience as a devoted follower of Jesus is to see those things against which there is no prohibition flourish and those things against which there is a prohibition diminish.

My life is filled with compulsory feelings, feelings I am not choosing, feelings and desires that are attached to my humanity...I don't wake up every day and say, "I think I am going to be self-centered today."  That comes without trying.  How did I get that way?  I agreed that there is a nature/nurture tandem effect always shaping every life.  However, the depravity of mankind is a baseline Christian doctrine.  My humanity as a natural, instinctive, not needing any nurturing into all things prohibited will always lead me away from Godliness.  Then, when you add the nurturing component, it exasperates my already fragile condition.  But even without any nurturing, my nature is flawed enough on its own.

I think all people tend to have varying degrees of compulsory feelings "against which things there ARE laws."  When someone declares they were born into same sex attraction, they are inappropriately attributing their fallen nature to God.  God created people with a will, yes.  But that will was given to us to choose righteousness.  That will was given to us to exercise dominion over our lives and over every compulsory feeling that is not God honoring.  God said to Cain that sin is always crouching at the door desiring to have us and we must master that temptation (Genesis 4:7).  Self dominion is a vital part of this life.  This is why one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.

Self-dominion means you are choosing to not act on a compulsion that you know is not God honoring.  I applaud those who have same sex attraction but acknowledge the Biblical prohibition against same sex marriage and the prohibition against sex outside of marriage and therefore choose a life of celibacy.  My humble caution to people whose lives are described by this circumstance is be careful not to identify with that desire.  For a person to say, "I am gay but I am choosing a life of celibacy because I believe the Bible prohibits same sex marriage and sex outside of marriage," is attaching your identity to a part of your human nature that is in rebellion against God.  Sex was created by God to be enjoyed only by a man and woman in marriage.  Therefore sexual attraction that is same gender is sin.  Why, because the only way to fulfill that desire is to commit a sin.  I cannot say that because my desire is a result of my human condition it is not sin.  That is the very nature of humanity...we are effortless sin factories!  Every person has desires that are the result of the human condition.  Some of those desires are shared by all people, some shared by many, some shared by few, etc.

When I say same sex attraction is sin, it is not to condemn or to be insensitive.  Everyone person who has made a vow of devotion to Christ has desires that are sinful, desires they did not choose, desires that are a result of their own fallen nature.  I have desires that are sin. I don't walk around stuck in shame, stuck in self loathing...I understand that this is the battle of my existence.  My life before being a Christian was ugly, steeped in hedonism.  I understand what it means to fight unGodly desire.  Guess what...those desires don't disappear.  Now one can argue that I have it easier because I am married so my sexual appetite has an outlet.  But that is a myth.  That doesn't cause unhealthy desires to disappear.  Ask any Christian counselor how many patients they have who are married but are battling sinful compulsions that are sexual in nature?  But I must not identify myself with the part of my humanity that desires that which God calls sin.  I identify with being a new creation, ever moving forward in my journey of transformation.  I love Hebrews 10:14... "by one sacrifice God made perfect those who are being made holy!"  I choose to identify with the "perfection" I will never fully attain.  The "perfection" purchased for me by Jesus' death on the cross.  My responsibility is to now learn to work with a reliance on grace to achieve ever increasing measures of holiness knowing that I can succeed where Cain failed.  I can with the power of God's Spirit in me as a devoted follower of Jesus rule over the temptation that is always crouching outside the door of my will.

James is key too.  Chapter 1:14-15 talks about how sin begins as desire.  I fear people try to make a false distinction between desire and lust that for them becomes inappropriately permission giving.  I have read or heard people say that same sex attraction that never becomes lustful and only remains as a desire is not yet sin.  I only see one definition of lust in Scripture...lust is simply an unhealthy desire.  And James inspired by the Holy Spirit gives us clear warning of what can happen if we do not see the danger of such desires.

 

Next week I am going to tackle the controversy surrounding the word "arsenokoites" which is found in only two texts:  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.  In the New American Standard translation, this word is translated as "homosexual" in both instances.  There is no record of this word in other ancient non-Biblical writings.  So with Paul using this word twice and apparently having created this word, there is much conjecture over what Paul actually intended to say...but that's for next week!  I will also be writing in the coming weeks regarding a parent's sacred responsibility to lead their children in both a Godly journey of gender identification and understanding personal sexuality.  In addition, we will get to pressing questions about genital deformity at birth as well as chromosomal disorders.

 

A word of caution.  This series is not to be used as permission to further hateful feelings or comments.  I am writing this series so we as Christians can better understand what God expects of us when we ourselves struggle as such, how to respond when pressed with questions about our views on this pressing issue, and how to engage in loving conversations with our own family members who may find these posts intensely personal.  If ever I use someone else's condition to treat them in an unloving way...well, you should read John's three epistles.  He has some choice words for you!

 

Pastor Fred

LGBTQI, part one

If you haven't read the prequel to this post, let me invite you to take a few minutes to read You Be The Judge.  I think that will help you understand my heart toward complex issues such as sexual and gender identity as they relate to Scripture.

Let's begin by defining that acronym.  My understanding of that acronym comes from many sources, including trusted friends and lots of reading.  One article as of recent was by Steven Petrow who writes for The Washington Post who explains the addition of "Q" and also "I."  As a disclaimer, there is always a risk to classifying people, it can be terribly insensitive.  It is however a necessary evil at times to avoid misunderstandings while communicating about complex issues.  My use of these terms is for the purpose of clarification.  I'm confident that my explanation of the acronym will meet with little if any resistance.  However, I understand that the definitions I suggest for each word may not be your definitions.  But for the sake of these articles, I want people to be clear about my definition when I use one these words.

Lesbian - a woman who was born with a typical female body, typical female genetics, and is romantically attracted to other women and not men.

Gay - a man who was born with a typical male body, typical male genetics, and is romantically attracted to other men and not women.

Bisexual - each of the above but are romantically attracted to both men and women.

Transgender - a woman or man who is born with a typical body corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth and have typical genetics corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth but they identify with the opposite gender.

Questions or Queer - depending on who you ask...this can mean a person who is questioning their gender identity and/or their romantic attraction.  There is also a growing number of people in the LGBT community who are reclaiming the term "queer" as a catchall term for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Intersex - is a person whose physical body and genetic makeup are at odds with each other.  I will be defining some of these conditions in a later article.  But as an example, according to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, the Klinefelter Syndrome affects about 1 in 1,000 births.  It is a chromosome condition.  Males will have an extra X chromosome.  So instead of being XY they are XXY.  This can result in undersized testes which in turn results in low levels of testosterone.  During puberty, males may develop breasts, the process of puberty may be incomplete, and other similar complications.  When a person's physical body and genetic makeup are in conflict, some very serious and complex issues arise.

I do not yet know how many articles will be in this series.  But I believe people of faith who are devoted followers of Jesus who trust in the authority of Scripture need to engage this dialogue that is happening in our society.  I want to do my part, as a personal conviction, as a father of three precious children, and also as a spiritual leader for our church, The City Life Church.

Genesis matters.  This is the beginning of humanity.  This is also the beginning of what I believe to be the cornerstone of all things Christian, the sovereignty of God.  Everything I believe about life and eternity comes from the Scriptures that a sovereign God has given to humanity to govern us.  Genesis is the story of God's creation of mankind and demonstrates His right to rule over us.  In Greg Gilbert's book What Is The Gospel, he tells us that sin is ultimately one simple thing, denying God's right to rule our lives.  What you believe about the authority of Scripture and the sovereignty of God matters, especially in this conversation about gender identity and romantic attraction.  If my view of this life is purely from a human point of view, then I am free to seek whatever course of living that brings fulfillment to me as long as that journey does not harm others.  But the moment I submit to the authority of Scripture and acknowledge the sovereignty of God, I am now compelled to understand what God expects of me, regardless of my current condition and the changes that may demand.

I read an article today in Bedlam Magazine (if you aren't reading and listening to other sources that you know disagree with you, you aren't understanding the greater world in which you live) that contained the following quote, "One theological tenet guides every suggestion we’ve made: all people are created in the image of God and have a fundamental dignity as children of God. What are you willing to give to proclaim that LGBT people have dignity? How bold are you willing to be?"  There is a problem with that statement.  They use the words "theological tenet" and then say all people are God's children.  This is fundamentally wrong.  Do I believe all people are entitled to dignity?  Yes!  They are entitled to dignity because they are part of humanity.  No person however becomes a child of God until they are born into God's family through a vow of devotion to Jesus.  This is plainly laid out for us in John chapter one and John chapter three.  I believe every person is part of God's creation but not His family.

I share that distinction because when a person makes a vow of devotion to Jesus, that vow must include embracing the authority of Scripture and the sovereignty of God.  I do not expect people who have not made a vow of devotion to Jesus to live according to Scripture or under the conviction of God's right to govern their lives.  But if you have made a vow of devotion to Jesus, Scripture is your authority and God is your sovereign...Genesis matters.

Genesis also matters because God creates gender in the garden.  Humanity is defined as male and female.  God assigned gender.  This is part of His sovereign right.  Not only did He assign gender in the creation of humanity but He gave man and woman the ability to procreate in a way that continues the assignment of gender throughout all of history.  Birth gender is a continuation of His sovereignty. We will take up later in this series the question of birth deformities and chromosomal syndromes.  But those are the exception.  The vast majority of births produce a child with a typical male or female body and a typical male or female genetic make up.  When as a Christian I am able to see my gender as an extension of the sovereignty of God, stemming from His very first creation of Adam and Eve, I should feel bound to carry forward God's expectations of me as a man or woman.  Those expectations are found in the Book He gave His children to understand His intentions about gender roles and romantic attraction, Scripture.

As Andrew Comiskey points out in his book Strength In Weakness, sex was given to humanity first and foremost to consummate a lifelong marriage covenant between a man and a woman.  The pleasure of sex and the usefulness of sex for procreation have always been secondary.  God created sex.  He has the right to tell His children how sex is to be enjoyed.  I am concerned about the emphasis that is being given to celibacy in regards LGBTQI issues.  As Christians, celibacy is a clear expectation in Scripture until a Christian is ready to enter into a Scriptural basis for marriage, one man and one woman for a lifetime.  To say that there is nothing wrong with same sex attraction as long as one does not act on that attraction through a sex act and respects the boundary of celibacy disregards all of what Scripture has to say about gender.  Gender is important because Genesis matters!  Same sex attraction for a Christian is a sin because it violates God's plan for the genders He created.

I will never support the legalization of marriage between same gendered people because I believe this violates one of the most sacred Biblical traditions that exists in the world today.  I am for limited government.  I'm not naive.  I understand that the freedoms others have to pursue a life I believe is contrary to Scripture matters to me.  Those freedoms are a basis of liberty that protects my right to live a life in pursuit of Scripture.  But when those laws begin to encroach on sacred religious foundations, Christians should and must raise their voice in objection.  I do not believe that anything regarding LGBTQI that is between consenting adults and does not harm people should be illegal.  But when those in the LGBTQI community want to redefine sacred religious traditions like marriage that have long since been protected by law, I am going to protest.  I want people in the LGBTQI community to feel safe.  I want them to be respected.  I want them to have the same sense of dignity that all people should have.  And I want them to expect fervent, respectful resistance when they organize in any effort to take terms like marriage and redefine them outside the boundaries of Scripture.  And any person claiming to be a Christian should expect fair, honest, respectful challenges about their lifestyle choices when a fellow Christian believes those lifestyles to be in conflict with Scripture.

Genesis matters...

Pastor Fred


 

You Be The Judge

In the same way a lack of cultural diversity in churches today is troubling, an over prevalence of person specific judgments is equally problematic.  I'm going to give some context first...then I want to define what I mean when I use the phrase "person specific judgments."

The Bible couldn't be more clear with lists of sin.  In fact, I want to give three of them to you now.  The lists that follow come from the New International Version but I would suggest you reference several translations just as I have done, including the King James, New King James, New Living Translation, New American Standard, and Phillips.  The texts are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 4:31, and Ephesians 5:1-5.  Now there are many texts throughout Scripture that speak directly to specific sins.  I have chosen these because they all conclude with a strong warning.  The warning is that those guilty of these sins will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.  Ephesians 4:31 is listed as a separate link but is part of a larger discourse that Paul continues in chapter five.

The warning could not be stronger.  God is saying these sinners WILL NOT enter Heaven.  I understand that there are many exegetical approaches to interpreting these texts.  You will have to decide for yourself which you embrace.  As Earl Palmer famously says, "The leanest interpretation is the best interpretation."  What is the leanest interpretation here...people whose lives are characterized by these sins do not have the hope of Heaven.  Does that feel terribly judgmental to you?

Let's first look at the lists...

1 Corinthians 6:9-10:  wrongdoers, sexually immoral, idolaters, men who have sex with men, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers

Galatians 5:19-21:  sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies

Ephesians 4:31-5:5:  bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice, sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talking, and course joking

A few questions.  Do you know anyone in your church who has a problem with selfish ambition?  How about course joking?  Anyone in your family struggling with envy?  What about some people in your small group who are bitter?  Know any Christians dealing with anger, discord, or greed?  How many of these sins have you committed in the last month?

I have been in vocational ministry since 1999.  I'm old.  So this next statement is born out of 15 years of pastoral ministry.  I have found that most people have a list of sins that they feel are the most despicable.  That list tends to also be sins for which they feel no temptation and have never been guilty of committing since becoming a Christian.  You should do this now.  Read those lists and write down the ones that are the most troubling to you that you have never committed since having made a vow of devotion to Jesus and feel no temptation towards now as a Christian.  My experience has also been that these people are perfectly fine agreeing that the individuals who do those things will not go to Heaven.  These same people will argue that if those individuals claim to be Christians, they must not be or else they would not commit those sins!  Have you every had that conversation with someone?

Here is something else I have observed.  People's opinions about who goes to Heaven based on that list changes when people in their family, especially their children fall prey to certain sins.  Someone may find one particular sin troubling and since becoming a Christian have not committed that sin and feel no temptation toward that sin but now their son or daughter does...or a grandchild.  My observation of families for the last 15 years a pastor is that they become super proficient sin list editors!

Some theologically astute people are going to state that this list only applies to people who have never made a vow of devotion to Jesus.  That Paul, the author of all three of these texts is giving us a detailed description of people who have rejected Christ.  I agree with that position, so long as it accepts the complexity that exists when there is a person who professes having made a genuine vow of devotion to Jesus and whose life is still characterized by one or several of these sins.

Let me give you an example.  At your church this weekend there is a husband, Bob, who makes a vow of devotion to Jesus, it is sincere, genuine, everyone is celebrating, praise God!  And for the next three weeks and the foreseeable future this same husband flies into a fit of rage every day he comes home from work just as he has done for the last ten years.  Are you willing to say Bob is going to hell?

What about a young couple, Paul and Nancy, who are engaged to be married in three months.  This Saturday night they both respond to an invitation at your church to make a vow of devotion to Jesus, it is genuine, real, authentic, praise God!  They keep living together and continue in their sexual relationship.  Are you willing to say Paul and Nancy are both going to hell?

You have been praying for Harold to come to church for years.  Finally this weekend he accepts.  His whole family attends.  The message is just for him it seems.  During the last song, his whole family is at the front in tears praying with the pastor...Praise God!  Harold becomes one of the most active members of the church for the rest of his life.  What you didn't know is that Harold had a life long secret addiction to pornography.  Are you willing to say Harold is going to hell?

I could keep going...creating scenario after scenario with every one of those sins.  I understand.  If those sins are in my past and I have made a vow of devotion to Jesus, I am forgiven.  On the contrary, if I have rejected Christ because I would prefer a lifestyle that He forbids, I myself have chosen hell over Heaven.

If I have made a vow of devotion to Jesus and am struggling to overcome a sin, fighting, getting help, failing some but having victories other days...then I have found most people are comfortable saying this is just part of the journey of sanctification.  It takes some time to break free for some people...of course those people are Heaven bound.  That is what I believe.

But what about the person who becomes a Christian but has not yet embraced the conviction of certain changes in various areas of their lives?  What do you believe?  What do I believe?  I believe that we need to understand the difference between teaching conditions and judging people.

I believe churches would be the places of healing and acceptance God intended if we focused more on teaching the condition and less on judging the person.  I'm not suggesting that we abandon accountability.  But Biblical accountability requires relationship.  And relationships will not form apart from acceptance.  This is the culture of City Life.  We say that every person, regardless of their lifestyle, regardless of their life circumstance, regardless of their struggles, their past, their present...they are family from the first hello.  And when they are at church, in small groups...they are going to hear strong messages that teach the whole Bible, including the three texts above.  And we must always remember that our motivation for teaching the condition is to bring liberty to the person!  We also have a very structured approach to how and when people can get involved in volunteer ministry.  We are strategic about not wanting people to misunderstand our acceptance of them as a person for an affirmation of their lifestyle.

But one thing we aren't doing, is judging that person.  What does that mean?  To judge means to condemn.  Do we discern?  Yes.  Do we assess?  Yes.  Do we form opinions?  Yes.  Do we judge them in that we categorically believe they are going to hell if any of these sins listed above characterize their life even though they claim to be a Christian?  Certainly not.  Only God knows their heart.

I think we are all going to be surprised by some of the people we find in Heaven and some we do not...You Be The Judge.

Pastor Fred

I'm Uptight White

As many of you already know, on November 24th, my Dad crossed over to glory.  And one of the ways we have celebrated his life together as a family is through watching some 8mm home movies, no sound, mostly black and white but also a few in color.  We hang a sheet on the wall and use this 1940's Revere projector that we found in a little consignment shop (Red Feathered Nest) here in Newport News.  The best $30 I may have ever spent!

This projector produces a little 6 inch square image on that sheet.  But the clarity is amazing...the hum of that projector, all those memories, us huddled together, pure nostalgia!  And there is Dad...so young, so full of life, so happy to be with his family!  And the second time through our favorites, both my brother and I noticed something we had never seen before.  In one of the frames, there was some footage Dad putting up his first mailbox at the house they built in 1965, the house where I grew up, the house where he died, the house our family still calls home.  And right there on the flag you raise to let the mailman know there are letters to be mailed...a small confederate flag.  What?  That wasn't on there when I was growing up...and as a child, we loved watching these home movies...never noticed that before.  And the more I reflect on that image of that flag on that mailbox, the more I smile.  Why?  Because it's just another reminder of how Jesus changes people.  If you knew my Dad, expecting something like that on his mailbox, impossible!  And just in case there is some Southern historian readying their comments in defense of that flag...my Dad was born in 1933 and history was not his passion.  He grew up in a rural, white South...and back then, that flag on your mailbox had nothing to do with history.  But Jesus changes people!  And I'm so glad he changed my Dad and now that spiritual heritage is passed to me.  That spiritual heritage demands two questions:  how is Jesus changing me and am I doing the work of passing that spiritual heritage to my children?  I want to talk about that first question.

I'm uptight white.  What does that mean?  Back when Vannessa and I lived in the inner city of Richmond, I had the privilege of taking some post graduate classes to help prepare for my vocation in the ministry.  I chose the seminary at Virginia Union for two reasons.  One, they offered a program where all classes were Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.  Second, this was a black college and a black seminary.  I wanted to be in an environment where I would be challenged in my view about social equality, social justice, multiculturalism, diversity, and especially my Christian views that had been shaped in a very white world.  It was an amazing experience!  One of my classes talked specifically about cultural norms and how they varied from one ethnicity to the other.  He talked about how in the black community, relationships transcended everything.  Being on time was far less important than begin present.  Meaning, if you had a schedule that day but ran into a friend you hadn't seen in years, you stop.  You are late for everything else the rest of the day.  People matter more than schedules.  Now of course there are always exceptions, but generally speaking, for white culture, it is all about efficiency.  If that had been me, I would have pretended not to see them so as not to mess up my schedule then Facebook stalk them later when I had time to say hello!  I'm uptight white!  The class continued giving basic generalizations about different ethnicities to help us as pastors better relate to our diverse communities and hopefully diverse congregations.

At our church, City Life, we talk openly about wanting to be a diverse church.  But I wonder sometimes if people really mean that?  I think what lots of people mean is that they like the idea of different colored people worshipping together...as long as they can adjust to who we are culturally.  We want to look collectively like a rainbow on the outside but secretly desire being collectively monochromatic on the inside.

We had the awesome privilege of inviting someone to join our staff last year.  Our church continues to grow which requires expanding staff roles.  We were ready to hire a Director of Creative Arts who would also be our primary worship leader.  We did not set out with any strategic goal of broadening the ethnic diversity of our church but that is exactly what happened.  We hired Chris House.  Love him!  Vannessa and I attended his wedding to the lovely Shanicka Vail...now House...in Atlanta last weekend.  The wedding was scheduled for 5pm that Saturday.  Earlier that day, you know what Vannessa and I did?  We drove to the venue that morning to make sure we had good directions, paid attention to traffic patterns, had alternative routes in case of traffic...we are uptight white!  Saturday afternoon...we promptly arrived at 4:30.  There was one other person there.  By 5...there were maybe 10.  People were still pouring in at 5:30.  The wedding didn't start until 6.  We both had to get up to use the bathroom twice before the ceremony even started!  And I loved every minute!  I started thinking of that class years ago...it's not about a schedule Fred, it's about people, about relationship, about loving people deeply, about spontaneous conversations...the schedule only exists to serve the meaningfulness of people's lives.  I'm so glad I'm on Chris' and Shanicka's team...I have so much to learn from them!

But that cultural exchange goes both ways.  I've had the opportunity to be with Chris on a few occasions when he is inviting people to visit City Life.  And when that person is black, this what Chris says, "Hey, you should come visit my church, the service only lasts for 90 minutes."  The response, "WHAAAAAAT?  And it's Christian?"  Cultures need one another, but not in the sense that we need to change each other.  If there are excesses, then sure, let's temper one another.  But diversity brings inexplicable beauty to our world...let's protect that!

So if a church is going to be truly diverse, it needs to be open to cultural shifts.  And part of that cultural shift needs to be asking more questions than we are offering opinions.  I'm an avid reader of Facebook.  You learn a lot about people there.  That's really helpful when you are their pastor!  And with everything that is happening in our great, beloved Country right now, I think we would all be better served to ask some questions before we offer opinions.  If you have some strong opinions about Ferguson...if you have some strong opinions about the Eric Garner tragedy...find someone you respect who you know has different views than yourself, buy them lunch and ask some questions...you know who would do that...Jesus.  Have you ever noticed how much time He spent with people who were ethnically different from Himself?  Now you might say, "Fred, He didn't do that to learn from anyone."  That is true, but He most certainly did meet with them to affirm them, to celebrate them, to offer acceptance when everyone else who shared His views and His culture only offered rejection, ridicule, and contempt.  How about the Samaritan woman at the well, how about the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit, how about the Roman Centurion whose servant was sick?

I'm uptight white...Jesus change me.  I don't want to walk past people who need to know they matter just because my routine matters too much to me!  I don't want to start on time when being delayed means someone was cared for!  I don't want to end on time when being over-due means more people were awakened to a living God and His great love!  I've never had a mailbox like that one my Dad once had...but I'm not so naive to think that my heart is pure of any subtle biases and prejudices.  Jesus change me!  JESUS CHANGE ME!

I know you see me Dad!  As the Apostle Paul said, oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory!  He is changing me Dad...just like you taught me...and as long as I have breath, I'm teaching my children.  I have a spiritual heritage.  I have an eternal purpose.

Oh, and by the way, church tomorrow might not start until 6...and go to 10...

Pastor Fred

Profanity, part two


This is the second part of some thoughts I have on profanity, asking the question, "What makes us cringe?"  And, "When would Jesus cringe?"  (WWJC)  You can view part one here:  Profanity, part one

There is also the Biblical principle of whatever we allow to be planted in our lives will produce fruit (look in Galatians 6). Meaning, that the profanity that comes from another isn't just hurting them, it harms us. We should be cringing because by subjecting ourselves to profanity there is a planting taking place in our lives in a spiritual sense. Now follow me here, in Genesis the principal of producing after one's own kind was established. Meaning that an apple tree creates apples and only apples. In the same way, if we continually subject ourselves to profane language from others, what kind of fruit do you think it will produce in us: profane thoughts, profane language, all things profane. Fertile soils nurtures everything that is planted within. We are spiritually fertile; what kinds of seeds are we accepting?

What about laziness and ignorance? Does the Bible treat them as spiritual issues? I think in reading the book of Proverbs, one would be hard pressed to make an argument otherwise. Why is this relevant? Because profanity, in my opinion, is usually a result of one or the other. It is a matter if ignorance when we look to profanity to express feeling and thoughts that are larger or inconsistent with the vocabulary we have developed. We search for words, find none, reach for an expletive and move on to the next word. They are intellectual gap fillers. Reading, learning, conversation, contemplation, etc. all contribute to a growing vocabulary. We should all be committed to expelling ignorance from our lives, especially in the area of expression.

What about laziness? That is when we have a sufficient vocabulary to express whatever we may be feeling or thinking yet out of laziness, a poor intellectual work ethic, we reach for an expletive because it takes less mental effort than searching for the right words. Do you know people who only use profanity when they are tired, angry, frustrated...? When we are emotionally weary, intellectual laziness sets in and the expletives roll. Are we cringing yet, is He, WWJC?

Now, I'm not suggesting that we all deputize ourselves and become the profanity police. Remember, if our response to the people around us is judgmental, self-righteous, and arrogant then we will be causing them to cringe, the great cringe exchange! If it is a stranger, chances are praying for them quietly in the moment is your best response. If my children are being subjected to it then maybe I will kindly ask them to be mindful of the children that are present, and always I use it to talk to my children about how there are words we don't use and why. If we know them, instead of coming down on them, why not say something like this, "Could I share something with you I learned recently about words?" No one likes to be judged, but I have seldom met a person who is not willing to have a gracious, caring conversation.

In closing, remember, you can control most of what comes into your life, and certainly, you have complete control over what you are putting in the lives of others.

WWJC?

Pastor Fred

Profanity, part one

Our family recently spent $100 on an investment that is going to pay dividends to our lives forever!  The TV Guardian is a device that you can connect to your television and dvd player that mutes expletives.  There are various settings you can choose to determine the strictness.  Whether you have children in your home or not, this device will bring great liberty to your family's media based entertainment!  The following blog is a re-post from 2008 that I am going to divide into two parts but speaks to why I believe guarding what we hear is an essential discipline as devoted followers of Christ.


Do you have a cringe? You know, that internal reaction we have at the moment we encounter something we deem inappropriate. Think for a minute, when do you cringe? Is it when you see a parent reacting in anger to his/her child instead of bringing instruction with grace? Is it when you see on the news a minority suffering injustice because of prejudice? I would hope all of us cringe at least in the face of the most egregious offenses we often have the occasion to observe.

But, how sensitive is our cringe? Does it take something most all of society would agree as being egregious to trigger our cringe? I want my cringe to react in concert with Jesus' cringe. We've all heard of the popular WWJD (what would Jesus do)...I am askingWWJC (when would Jesus cringe)? For example, we are watching some form of media: movie, television, on the web, and something sensual occurs, something suggestive, do we cringe...WWJC? We are with friends and someone begins to tell a joke that demeans another ethnicity, do we cringe...WWJC? We are listening...music, media, comedian, friend, stranger...and the expletives come, profane words are used, do we cringe...WWJC?

I would like to suggest that one reason we should be cringing at profanity is because Proverbs tells us that "we eat from the fruit of our lips..." (I'm leaving the reference out in hopes that you'll do some digging yourself to find it, do a word search for fruit and lips and see what you can find in Proverbs). In a spiritual sense, we consume the words we speak. Angry people stay angry in part because they are feasting on angry words continually. Desperate people stay desperate in part because they are feasting on desperate words continually. You can keep that list going...now, certainly I am not suggesting that if we only change our words, we immediately change our disposition. However, I am saying with confidence that our disposition will not change without a change in our words. It is a key part. So much of our physical world was created by God to teach us about our spiritual life. Think of the impact the kinds of food you eat has on your physical well being. Why should the words we "eat" be any different? They aren't. We consume them spiritually and they either bring healthy nourishment or destructive effects.

How, does this relate to our cringe? We should be cringing because of what that person is doing to themselves. When we subject ourselves to a person spewing expletives, we are watching a person poisoning themselves; it is spiritually self-destructive behavior. Do you think Jesus cringes at that? Do we?

Part Two Tomorrow!

Pastor Fred

Psalm 119:1-88

Psalm 119 is most commonly known for being the longest chapter in the Bible...but it is also one of the most creatively poetic.  The psalm is an alphabetical acrostic, consisting of twenty two stanzas, eight verses each (The Expositor's Bible Commentary).  Each of the twenty two stanzas correlate to one of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  And within each stanza, there are eight lines with each line beginning with the corresponding letter.  Simply, there are 22 divisions of this psalm, each division has eight lines.  If we were using the English alphabet, all eight lines of the first stanza would begin with "A" and each of the remaining stanza's eight lines would follow this pattern with the next letter in the alphabet.  This pattern escapes us obviously because we are reading an English translation.

I would like to suggest however that the psalm's structure is not just to be creative.  I believe it is instructive.  There is supposed to be an order to life, a living symmetry.  In fact, the poetic structure of the psalm is in keeping with its theme...a life structured around the wisdom of God found in His Word.  There are eight different words used for God's law in this psalm:  law, word, laws, statues, commands, decrees, precepts, and promise.  This is a great study, digging around in the meaning of each!  This is not redundancy but rather emphasis.  Symmetry is defined as the quality of being made up of exactly similar parts facing each other or around an axis.  Every part of my life is supposed to be facing, centered around the wisdom of God's instruction, my eternal axis!

In reading the first 88 verses today, I am fixated on one verse, 35.  "Make we walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found."  If your orientation to Christianity is trying to do the right things so you avoid punishment, you miss the heart of God.  We pursue righteousness not to avoid punishment but rather to reach hard for the depth of fulfillment in life that can only come from embracing "the way" of God (sounds like a great idea for a blog title!).  His every yes and every no is motivated by having our best interest at heart...can you trust Him?

Pastor Fred