I know that some people are especially interested in the bigger details of faith, so I decided to post here my full “Doctrinal Statement.” This is the first post in this series, and it reflects the “short form” of my Doctrinal Statement. If you wish to download my entire Doctrinal Statement in either short form or its more detailed version, I will have those links posted soon. The rest of the posts in this series will be filed under the “What I Believe” category. Continue reading
Colossians 4:5 says this:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
As a pastor who’s got a blog, I’ve been thinking about how this verse relates to blogging. I’ve been blogging for over a year, and I don’t yet have a “manifesto” like this guy on what my blogging policy should be. However, I’ve been prompted this week by some friends to consider it, so I’m thinking through the issues.
As I see it, there are three ways for a pastor (or anyone for that matter) to do a blog.
- Use the blog as a personal journal where you “get naked” (according to a book on blogging by Robert Scoble the guy I linked to above.) in front of your virtual audience and basically share anything and everything. Of course, there is some room for discretion, but in general, it’s your personal journal viewable by the world.
- Use the blog as a “content management system” which basically means you maintain your own online magazine with articles essays and whatnot and use a blog mechanism to manage your content and people’s comments on your content. One example of that is The Resurgence.
- Use the blog as a hodge-podge mix of the two—blogging about whatever seems to come to mind. (I’m not sure it fits, but I’ll link to it anyway.) See Tim Challies’ blog for an example of a blog that attempts to be personal & academic though it weighs more toward the academic side.
As I’ve been around the net a while, it seems to me that the majority of “Gen X” church planters who blog opt for version 3 with a heavy leaning on option 1.
I’ve been using this site as mostly #3 so far. As you can see from my categories on the sidebar, I’ve got sermons, Bible studies, personal journal entries, exposing my own spiritual life, computer issues, and even some posts on internet fraud. You can see it is all over the map like a Christmas tree with every kind of ornament ever invented showing up on it.
In fact, it seems that my posts on self examination and internet fraud are my most popular. Are people even reading my blog to grow spiritually?
So the question I’m asking myself now is this: What kind of web presence should I have? If you have any comments on this, I’d like to read them. Or you can give me a call on my cell at 765-404-0807 to tell me what you think personally. If you want to think this through with me, check out the links I placed above or my links in the sidebar of my .
|What kind of blog helps people grow spiritually?|
Where would the X fall for you?
In my last post in this category, I gave a narrative description of the first 6 books of the Old Testament ending with the death of Joshua. Now, I’m picking up where that post left off.
The key thing to remember for the rest of Jewish history is that the Jews lived in a constant cycle that went something like this:
- The Jews forsake God and his laws for foreign gods and immorality.
- God forsakes the Jews to foreign governments and oppression.
- The people repent and return to God.
- God rescues them.
The Time of the Judges
This cycle of rebellion is especially clear during the 400 years after Joshua and before the first king. It is known as the time of the Judges because there was no central leadership for the Hebrew people. Instead, God led the people through his law and through some key people known as the judges.
The Bible doesn’t give us an exhaustive list of all the judges during those 400 years, but the ones we are told about are significant figures. Here’s a summary of the most notable ones:
- Gideon was a humble man who never thought much of himself. He ambushed the Midianites according to a plan God had given him and conquered them with only 300 Israelite men.
- Deborah was a woman who tried to encourage Barak (a man) to lead the nation into war against their enemies, but Barak wouldn’t go unless she went too.
- Samson is the famous one who had been promised strength from God so long as he maintained a spiritually focused and somewhat ascetic life. He got cocky and hooked up with a foreign spy named Delilah who convinced him to reveal his secret (symbolized by uncut hair). However, at the end of his life, he dramatically pulled an entire building down on his captors killing himself in the process.
God Speaks Again
During the time of the Judges, God hadn’t been speaking much to people, but that changed with the coming of a man named Samuel. Samuel’s mother had promised that if God would bless her with a child, she would dedicate him to the service of the Lord.
God gave her a son, and she kept her promise. After he had been weaned, she took him to the High Priest, Eli, and gave him to the service of the Lord.
One night, God spoke audibly to Samuel, and that began the time of the last judge who was also a prophet.
During Samuel’s leadership, the people demanded a king. God allowed it, and Samuel poured oil on Saul, an act called anointing, to signify that he was the one God had chosen to be the next king. When Samuel anointed Saul, God also sent his Holy Spirit to come upon Saul and empower him for his job as king.
Saul’s time as king was rough, though. During his reign, the nation was consistently harrassed by the Philistines, but Saul never could do anything about it. Saul also simply refused to listen to Samuel and the messages from God that Samuel would deliver. It got so bad, that God actually removed His Spirit from Saul and allowed an evil spirit to come and torment Saul.
It was at this time when we first hear about David, the youngest son of Jesse.
David: A Man After God’s Own Heart
God told Samuel to go and anoint a new king. He had rejected Saul as king and told Samuel that the next king would be selected based on his internal character over any other quality. In fact, God said of David that he was “a man after God’s own heart.”
Immediately after David was anointed, God removed his Spirit from Saul and allowed an evil spirit to torment him. Then, in an ironic turn, David was chosen to be Saul’s musician because when David played his harp, the king’s suffering would be alleviated. While in the palace, David became fast friends with Saul’s son Jonathan and married Saul’s daughter Michal.
During one battle against the Philistines, Saul’s army was taunted by a 9 foot tall giant named Goliath. No one was willing to go one-on-one with him except David who before that moment had been only a shepherd. God helped him defeat Goliath, and the nation began to revere David.
Saul’s jealousy burned against David. He attempted to kill David, and David ran away. Then, for the majority of the rest of his reign, Saul went on a manhunt for David. Meanwhile, David continued to build a makeshift army of men completely loyal to him.
When David finally became king after Saul’s death, the nation flourished into an empire. David conquered the surrounding peoples and led the nation with integrity except for a couple exceptions. His biggest failing was when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his best friends, and then conspired to kill the husband when he discovered the wife was pregnant.
David’s legacy as king boiled down to three things:
- David led the country to a level of military success it would never know again.
- Because of David’s faithfulness, God promised that he would always keep a descendant of David on the throne of His Kingdom.
- God said of David at the end of his life that he had been completely devoted to God throughout his life except for the one incident with Bathsheba.
In a testament to the grace of God, Solomon, David’s second son with Bathsheba, became the next king. Solomon’s reign was one of extreme prosperity. David had conquered nations and signed treaties so that for most of Solomon’s reign tribute was paid to Israel from surrounding nations. On top of that, God made a promise to Solomon that he would be incredibly wise, rich, and long-lived. Finally, during Solomon’s reign, the construction of the First Temple was undertaken and completed.
How the Perfect Creation was Corrupted
Nothing existed except for God, and he decided when everything should begin. He created the world in a flash of light, and built it up piece by piece until it was exactly the way he wanted it, but despite its beauty and greatness, he noticed something was missing, so he created human beings.
God formed his crowning achievement from the dust of the earth and gave the first man and the first woman the first job—to be his representatives throughout the whole world, taking care of all that God had made. He also gave them their first true choice when he told them they were not to eat the fruit from one particular tree. However, disregarding God’s will, they ate it anyway.
The consequences for disobeying God were severe. They lost their innocence, they lost their place in paradise, they lost access to the tree of life and its sustaining power, but most of all, they lost the purity of relationship they had with each other and with God.
From that point on, history is a record of people struggling to have healthy relationships with each other, struggling to find their place in this world, struggling against sickness and death, and most of all struggling with the temptations to do their own thing and disregard God.
(The Bible does not shy away from telling us these struggles in all their graphic detail.)
Noah: Scrap it all and start over!
Adam and Eve had children together, and those children began to populate the earth, but the first two got in a fight over who was better at pleasing God. Cain couldn’t stand the fact that God was more pleased with Abel’s way of worship, so Cain became the first murderer. God banished Cain to be a wanderer, but his descendants were the first to develop cities and civilization.
In those early cities, people did whatever they wanted. They continued to live without regard for God. They became more and more evil. In fact, there was only one family line that maintained the knowledge of God, and by the time Noah was born, God was fed up. He destroyed all people with a great flood, but saved Noah, his family, and many animals by warning him in advance to build the largest sea-going vessel of all time.
When the flood subsided, God made a promise to Noah, that he would never bring flood the earth again. Additionally, he called Noah to a higher standard of living based on the simple fact that blood was sacred. No animal should be eaten with blood still in it, and no innocent human blood should be shed.
Noah’s descendants, however, soon forgot God’s commands to live in humble relationship with him and others. Instead, they tried to build a tower to the heavens to declare their own supremacy on the earth. God, again fed up with their disregard of him, simply caused them all to have different languages. Once they couldn’t communicate, they couldn’t work together, and they dispersed. After all, God had commanded them in the beginning to be his representatives throughout the whole earth and to take care of the whole world. As long as they stayed together in one place, they would only get more and more concerned with themselves and what they were doing. Getting their languages all mixed up was what they needed to finally begin the spread throughout the earth.
Abraham: A Third Beginning
As people began to spread throughout the earth, they continued to live their lives independently from the one who created them. They continued to disregard God, but God never gave up on them. Once again, he identified a single person with whom he could start over. God chose Abram (who later became known as Abraham), and made a “covenant” with him. God entered into a binding agreement with Abraham that was pretty one-sided.
God would bless Abraham with great wealth. God would give Abraham many descendants. God would give Abraham and his descendants a wonderfully fertile land to call their own. God would protect Abraham, and as if that weren’t enough, God would eventually use Abraham and his offspring to bless the entire world!
In return, Abraham had to follow God where he led, obey God’s clear commands, and be circumcised as a sign of the unique arrangement he had with God—each side would make specific sacrifices, but each side would receive great blessings. It would all start with Abraham’s offspring, so God claimed ownership over Abraham’s body.
Abraham proved to be the most faithful of all people up to that point. He had some major failings to be sure, but he developed a close relationship with God that empowered him to take great risks for God.
Abraham’s son Isaac had a son named Jacob, and God changed his name to Israel. He had 12 sons (and a number of daughters too), but two were his favorite. 10 of them ganged up on Joseph and sold him into slavery. He eventually ended up in Egypt. However, his faith in God caused him to be committed to integrity, and God blessed him with great insight as well. Before long, he ended up being the right-hand-man of the king (Pharaoh) of Egypt! In that position, he stockpiled food in preparation for a famine God warned them about.
When the famine came, many people came to Egypt for food, and Joseph’s family ended up moving there after Joseph’s brothers demonstrated their remorse for how they treated him when he was younger. Joseph wisely told them, “What you intended for evil, God meant for good.” It was because of their evil deed that Joseph ended up in Egypt, and it was because of Joseph that Egypt had so much food to go around. What they intended for evil, God meant for good.
Moses: Deliverance from Slavery
A new dynasty of Pharaoh’s came to the throne of Egypt, and they wanted to undo many of the things of the past. This included the nice treatment given to the people of Israel (the Hebrews). Soon, they were considered slaves of the nation and the Pharaoh’s demanded hard labor from them. It got so bad that eventually a Pharaoh ordered that all the Hebrew boys were to be killed to control the population growth of the Hebrews. God spared Moses as a baby by having the Pharaoh’s daughter adopt him as her own.
Moses was raised in the palace but soon became aware of the terrible way the Egyptians were treating his own people. One day, in a fit of rage, he killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew. Ashamed of his deed, he ran into the desert where he met a man who believed in the God who created all things. Moses stayed with Jethro, married one of his daughters and tended his sheep in the desert for 40 years when one day, God spoke to him.
God told Moses that it was time to rescue the Hebrews from their slavery and to fulfill his promise to Abraham about his descendents living in a fertile land they could call their own. With the power of God on his side, then, Moses returned to Egypt and demanded that Pharaoh let the Hebrews leave. Of course, Pharaoh refused, and God sent plague after plague on the people of Egypt until finally Pharaoh relented.
The last plague was different from the others, though. Most of the plagues involved some kind of terrible environmental catastrophe that could have been explained away somehow, but the final plague was undoubtedly supernatural. Every single firstborn male in the entire land of Egypt, including people and livestock, died. However, some were spared. Specifically, God told Moses that if anyone took the blood of a lamb and put it on the top and sides of their front doors, then he would “pass over” that house and spare those inside. Thus, the blood of a lamb was a shield of protection against death.
Pharaoh’s own son died that night, and countless Egyptian families lost loved ones as well. They wanted the Israelites out of there. In fact, they wanted so badly for them to leave, that they sent them off that night with food, supplies, and tons of Egyptian gold and silver.
That’s how, after 400 years of life in Egypt, many of them served in slavery, the Hebrews finally left. All 2 million of them headed out toward the Red Sea and the desert beyond. When they got to the Red Sea, God sent a violent wind to push back the waters and let them pass, but when Pharaoh, who changed his mind, tried to cross with his army, the sea returned to its place and drowned them all.
The Hebrews were completely safe in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. While they were there in the desert, God led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He gave Moses wisdom to handle disputes that arose. He provided water in the most amazing ways, and he even gave them miraculous food. There were quail that flew through regularly for the people to kill and eat, and every morning the ground was covered with an edible white substance the people affectionately called “Manna” which meant, “What is it?”
Sinai: The Covenant
God had made a covenant with Adam and Eve—they were to be his representatives throughout the world, multiply, fill it up, and take care of it. God had made a covenant with Noah—God would never flood the world again, and people would consider all blood to be sacred. God had made a covenant with Abraham—God would bless, and Abraham would obey even to the point of making deeply personal sacrifices. Now, God was making a covenant that would be directly with all the people of Israel.
God had Moses lead the people to the mountain called Sinai, and he descended onto the mountain in a great dark cloud. It looked like a volcano about to erupt in smoke, ash and lava. The people were afraid to go near the mountain, and in fact, God told them not to touch it. Moses, however, was allowed to go up the mountain into the cloud, and it was there that he received the 10 Commandments for the first time.
God himself took two tablets of stone and carved the 10 Commandments onto the two tablets. Moses stayed on the mountain for 40 days and nights while God taught him other rules and laws for how this new society should function.
When Moses came down the mountain, however, he saw that Aaron, his brother, had taken the gold and silver given them by the Egyptians, had fashioned a statue of a calf, and all the people were having a worship party to honor the statue! Moses was disgusted. He threw down the tablets, breaking them to bits, he slaughtered many of the people in righteous anger, and he finally ground up the statue and put the powder into their drinking water. Many more died of illness from the water.
Moses returned to the mountain, where God gave him a second set of tablets, and confirmed once again the laws they were to follow with an added sense of urgency—the people were on thin ice with God. Nevertheless, God prescribed for the people a method by which they could always receive forgiveness for anything they had done and by which they could maintain a healthy relationship with the one who made them.
Their relationship with God would be based on three things, the Prophet, the Priest, and the Sacrificial System. The Prophet would spend time in God’s presence and hear his words for the people. Then he would speak to the people for God and let them know what God expected of them. The Sacrificial System would enable people to pay God back for the sins they had committed, to receive forgiveness from him, and to re-enact his saving grace when the angel of death passed over their homes back in Egypt. They would present an animal, perfect in every way, to the Priest who would kill it, spill its blood onto the altar, and then burn the carcass up. The blood was sacred, and the holiness of innocent blood was enough to wash away the sins of people and make them right again with God. The Priest was there to make sure everything was done the way God wanted it to, but more than that, he was the one who would take the blood from the sacrifice, and go into the presence of God himself to present the blood. It was an elaborate system, but the people knew clearly that their relationship with God was always based on the Prophet, the Priest, and the Sacrifice.
Aaron, despite his major mistake at the foot of Sinai, would be the first High Priest.
Kadesh: So Close, and Yet So Far
They soon reached the southern border of the land God had promised to Abraham a hundred generations before. Moses sent 12 spies northward to scope out the land, but when they came back, only two spies (Caleb and Joshua) actually believed God would help them take possession of the land. The others were too overwhelmed with the size and circumstances of the existing population, and spoke against heading into the land.
The people complained. No one wanted to go into the land God had promised, so God, once again angered by the rebelliousness of his people ordered them to spend another 40 years in the desert so all the rebellious people could die off and their children would be able to enter the land.
40 years later, though, Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were still alive and they brought the people back to the border of the land of promise. In one final speech to the people, Moses reminded them all of the amazing history of their relationship with God. Moses spoke of the promise to Abraham, the time in Egypt, the miraculous escape, the Laws of God, and the land before them. He prophesied of a day when God would raise up another prophet like himself, and then he handed the people over to their new leader, Joshua. Moses, however, went up onto a mountain overlooking the promised land. He died there, and God himself buried the body.
Joshua, down below, prepared to lead the people into the land they had been promised centuries before.
Joshua: Entering the Land
Of all the people who came out of Egypt, all had died in the desert. Joshua and Caleb were the only two who had seen the miracles of Egypt, endured the wanderings in the desert, and were going to enter the land promised to Abraham. Leading these hardhearted people was a daunting task for someone as old as Joshua, but at the beginning of his leadership, God spoke to him:
No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. — Joshua 1:5-6
With confidence that comes from knowing the presence of the Lord, Joshua led the people to invade the land of Canaan. God told them it was time to bring judgment on all the people who had been living in the land and worshiping other gods. He told his people to go throughout the land and completely eliminate all the people who were living there. It seems awfully vicious of God to ruthlessly kill so many people, but then again, this was only the second time since Noah’s Flood that God had brought judgment on a large group of people by killing them, and it was the only time that God told his people to go on the offensive against another group of people.
They first went up against Jericho, a city with a very formidable wall. In response to a message from God, Joshua led the people to march around the city and make a lot of noise for a week, and on the final day, they marched so much and made so much noise that the walls crumbled to the ground! Everything in the city was destroyed except the family of a former prostitute who had helped out the people of Israel because she feared God.
Aachan, however, stole some of the riches that he saw and hid them in his tent. For that disobedience, God did not help the Israelites in their next battle and they were soundly beaten. Aachan’s sin was then discovered, so he and his family were immediately stoned to death.
The rest of the conquest went pretty well under Joshua’s leadership. The land was divided into 12 units, and different family groups were given some of the land with a few exceptions. The descendents of Levi (Levites) were given the job of managing the religious system of the land, so as priests, they were given no land of their own. God himself would be their inheritance. Since the Levites had no land, Joseph’s descendents were split in two and each half-tribe was given a unit of land.
Once they entered the land and had gotten relatively settled, Joshua, at the end of his life, gathered the people together and once again reconfirmed the covenant they had with God to obey him and to receive his blessings. He culminated his speech with one of the most climactic sayings in the Bible:
“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” — Joshua 24:15
As I have spoken with people about the Bible, I find more and more that people aren’t really familiar with the “plot” or the overall story of the Bible. Therefore, I’m going to try to go through the entire story of the Bible in a very brief overview fashion. The challenge is that I don’t want to leave anything out, but I want to make sure I’m not spending too much time on less essential things. To that end. I hope to actually split this up into two projects. One will be my brief commentary on each book of the Bible—that will help me feel like I’m covering everything in enough detail. The second will be my narrative summary of the whole Bible. Read More on this Topic
I’m not sure how this is going to work, so I’ll just get started.
If you subscribe to my blog by email, this is the only post you’ll be getting about this project. If you want to read my posts on the Bible, you will need to visit my site regularly, subscribe by rss, or update your email settings through the link in your email.
In the living room of my in-laws’ home I watched an episode of Law and Order that I haven’t seen before, and it bothered me quite a bit.
The victim was a young man who had tried unsuccessfully to “recover” from homosexuality through the counseling and support of a religious group called Regenesis. One of the supporters of the organization was a local doctor who had been promoting research that homosexuality was a reversible condition.
Along the way, the show took a few cheap shots at moral conservatives. Here are the two things that offended me the most:
- They connected the concepts of “Regenesis” and homosexual “recovery” to the attitudes of the vicious anti-gay religious protesters such as the infamous “God Hates Fags” pastor Fred Phelps. In so doing, they were trying to say that whether your methods are “acceptable” or not, a negative perspective of homosexuality in any sense is “unacceptable.” It’s the basic TV belief that tolerance is paramount (of course, the exception to this rule is that we must be intolerant of the intolerant).
- They directly attacked the efforts (not the research or the results as much) of the homosexual recovery agencies. In fact, they basically said that it was stupid for anyone to think a homosexual could “change.” I think they presented the “Regenesis” group in a good light but then quickly tore them down as being just as unaccepting, bigoted, and irrational as the Fred Phelps types.
I’m offended by these things because I feel they are dealing with a religious / moral issue as if it were a rational one. They are downplaying the heart of love many Christians have for homosexuals if it is ever combined with a belief that homosexuality is, as the Bible claims, an unnatural behavior. They are basically saying that people have to be idiots, bigots, or something worse to think that homosexuals can change or even control themselves.
I for one, have a higher view of both God and people than that. Yes, I unashamedly believe that people can change. I am a sin-aholic. My body is addicted to so many sins that I can’t even get into it all here. But I am undoubtedly addicted to sin. However, an amazing thing is true for me. My love for God oftens outpaces my desire to sin. There have been times in my life when I have been strongly tempted to sin but have instead resisted and claimed the promise God gives me—resist the devil and he will flee from you!
My point is simply this: We are all sinners. Each of us struggles with different sins with different levels of consequences in this present world. So what if the jury is still out on the present-day consequences of homosexual behavior? The jury is still out on the present-day consequences of coveting too! But that’s why God didn’t tell us to decide these things based on a jury. He’s simply told us what he wants, and we need to find our place in his will as we are set free from sin by the power of the cross and bound to righteousness by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
I’d love to hear your comments on this one. Is there recovery for homosexual people? Do you know anyone? Have you experienced it yourself? Please write some thoughts and help me make this blog entry a helpful one for others too.
Theological Question #2
One of the most foundationally important issues when it comes to any religious or theological belief system is the understanding of where the authority for one’s belief originates. Catholics look to the traditions and history of the church, but Protestants (and more specifically, Evangelicals) recognize the Bible as the sole authority for matters of faith. Here are a few key reasons I personally believe in the complete authority of Scripture over every other human or institution.
This is the my answer to the first of the “24 Theological Questions”
The central theme of the Bible is God’s work at creating for himself a unified family of people who worship and love him. He does this despite the repeated efforts of people to run away. In theological terms, the story of the Bible is Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Re-Creation.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is unbelievable. There is a wide deal of speculation that this may be the worst disaster ever to hit the United States both in terms of human lives and also in terms of property damage. Roughly 20,000 people are missing, and the death toll is already estimated to be in the thousands.
Certainly, in terms of human lives lost, the tsunami that hit southeast Asia last December was a much larger tragedy even than Katrina.
However, I was astounded this morning as I had my Bible Time to read Psalm 29. I was so profoundly impacted by the Psalm, that I’m just going to quote the whole thing here…
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
11 The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.
I have read this passage before, but I have never fully understood it until today. The passage begins with a call to all the mighty ones to give God the glory that he deserves and to worship him with the acknowledgement that his holiness is splendid!
Then, the next major section of the Psalm (vv. 3-9) describe how God’s voice is like thunder that crashes and rolls and breaks trees and makes mountains jump and even shakes the land.
Up until that point, I simply thought that the Psalm was a metaphor for how powerful God is and how much his name is worthy of worship. However, when I got to the end of the Psalm, that all changed!
Verse 10 makes a remarkable shift. It says, “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood.”
I thought that David was writing about God’s voice being like thunder, but if that is the case, then where does the “flood” concept come in? Suddenly it hit me. David must have just experienced a dramatic and powerful thunderstorm before writing this Psalm. It was more than a metaphor, it was something he had experienced. He saw a storm and a flood and is using them to make a point.
I was really shocked at the timing of this verse in my life. Just last night, I allowed myself the time to watch a news broadcast about Katrina and the aftermath of the hurricane and how most of New Orleans is under 10 feet of water! Then, this morning I read how God is “enthroned over the flood.” What an amazing thing to think!
Now, at this time, many people are asking that if God is really in charge of the world and he really is King forever as the Psalm says, then why did he allow such a tragedy to happen. I’ve explained elsewhere that even though that question is so personally powerful and even though that question has been thoroughly explored by myself and others more intelligent than I, it still is an inappropriate question. By that I mean that the question misses the point. The question focuses on the tragedy and not to possibility.
David had just encountered a tragedy, and he uses it to teach three important lessons:
- God is the power, the force, and the “voice” behind the thunderstorm, and the storm is just a small illustration of his incredible power (vv. 3-10).
- God’s name is to be worshiped and honored as we acknowledge his incredible power (vv. 1-2).
- Most importantly of all, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
These are the lessons to learn from the storm: The God who reigns supreme and has power greater than Hurricane Katrina, is the God we worship and the one who gives us strength. Knowing about God’s strength, knowing that God is our God, and knowing that he will give us his strength… That brings peace.
- Cost of the Tsunami to fisheries in Sri Lanka: > $520 Million
- US Government aid promised to victims of Hurricane Katrina: > $10 Billion
- Knowing that the Almighty will give us strength: Priceless
I just completed my series of messages on the Bible (see sermon series Shhhh! God’s Talking) and during the series I spent a good amount of time dealing with tough questions of the Bible and tough questions about the faith, but one of the toughest questions that I had to deal with is God’s take on homosexuality.
Actually, I wasn’t able to give it the time it deserves in the brief message or two I was able to address it, so I thought I would go into a little more detail here on my blog.
During my senior year of college, one of my best friends sat me down to talk with me one night. I listened to him tell me how that he had struggled his whole life with a strange desire to be with other men. He flirted with girls and dated a lot, but never wanted to get close to any of them. Instead, he always wanted to be close with another guy. He confessed to me that night that he was a homosexual.
Within the next five years of my life, four other friends of mine shared the same basic story with me. I was regularly heartbroken to hear the stories about the struggles my friends had with their feelings, their desires to do what is right, and in one case a strong belief that God hated him.
I’ve spoken with men dealing with homosexuality. I’ve cried with them. I’ve engaged them on deeply spiritual issues.
I’ve also read books about it, done research, and cried some on my own. I’m not fully qualified to give the world’s best answer to this issue. But it is on my heart, and I think I have something worthwhile to say anyway.
What’s the authority?
When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, we have to realize that apart from some spiritual authority, there is almost no practical way that any discussion can be anything more than the sharing of opinions. However, we also have to realize that among those who accept the Bible as their spiritual authority, there are differing points of view. What I want to do is approach the issue from two sides to do justice to both arguments.
Before I do, though, I want to say that I will not be wasting my time trying to refute the extremists. I completely disagree with the fellow who runs the “God Hates Fags” website and “ministry.” However, I also completely disagree with the majority of the homosexual lobby. There are clearly extremes on both sides of the issue, but there are also people who are really trying to find some middle ground. Those are the people I want to address.
Two Approaches to the Bible
On the one side of the argument, you have people who believe that the Bible clearly teaches a prohibition against homosexuality. Not only is this the most traditional view of the teaching of the Bible, but it is also the one that seems to take the Bible with the more “literal” of interpretations. Here are the key points they generally make:
- The Bible clearly outlaws all forms of sexual interaction except for that between a husband and a wife.
- The key passages relating to this are Leviticus 18:22-23 and Romans 1:26-27 where sexual relationships between men and men are put in parallel to sexual relationships between women and animals.
However, there are those who argue that the Bible makes room for those who practice homosexual monogamy akin to heterosexual monogamy. Usually, their reasons are these:
- There is no passage in the Bible that talks about wholesome, loving, monogamous homosexuality.
- Sexual orientation is not chosen. Your sexual orientation is just who you are. Therefore, homosexuals are “naturally” homosexual. When Paul mentions homosexuality, he was talking about either temple prostitution or pedophilia or perhaps heterosexual men having sexual relations with other heterosexual men. Two heterosexual men engaging in sexual activity would be acting “against their nature” but two homosexual men doing so would be acting in accord with their nature.
Now, I can understand the approach of those who believe homosexuality should be accepted; but I cannot agree with their conclusions. In fact, I feel that their arguments in support of the acceptance of modern day homosexuality are weak for the following reasons.
- Homosexual monogamy is not discussed in the Bible because God never addressed homosexual love from a “relationship” or “commitment” aspect. God only addressed the physical sexual act. In fact, there is never any prohibition in the Bible about men loving other men. The prohibition is focused on the physical act.
- Homosexuality, however powerful of an innate feeling it may be, is not natural according to either God’s design in Creation or God’s revealed will for human beings.
- Loving, homosexual monogamy is largely a myth. There are exceptions to this, but the majority of homosexuality is practiced with high levels of promiscuity.
What is love?
Homosexuality is not an easy issue to deal with today because there is no doubt that the people who call themselves homosexual have strong internal feelings that they have experienced in most cases “all their lives.” Additionally, they often have discovered those feelings most profoundly in the relationship with one key individual who has sparked a real sense of love within them. There can be no denying their sexual urges or their feelings of love. Therefore, if God is love, and if “that’s the way he made them,” shouldn’t they be allowed to live out that love? Why would God be so cruel as to give them desires that can never be lived out? As a result of that kind of thinking, a large number of people who believe in the Bible want to warmly accept homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, and those are the people who seem to be showing the most love—those are the people who seem to be “acting Christianly.”
Is that really love, though? Let me give an extreme example to illustrate my point. Every individual on earth has extremely powerful urges within them to drink. The infant’s first experience of love comes from drinking her mother’s milk. Thirst is more powerful than hunger. There can be no denying that the urge to drink is powerful and universal.
However, there are some people in this world who have extremely powerful urges within them to consume alcohol as that drink. There are powerful biological forces that are driving them to pursue the buzz brought on by alcohol. They have great friendships that have developed around alcohol. However, it is ruining their lives. Take a person like that, and it isn’t hard to imagine that those who love that person the most are also the ones who will confront him with the inappropriateness of his behavior and maybe even stage an “intervention.” Through counseling and support, that person may be able to defeat the biological urges and even the memory of past experiences for the sake of greater good.
Likewise, one might say that all human beings have a powerful internal drive to experience sex. The problem is that while most people have their sexual drive attuned to members of the opposite gender, there are some who feel that attraction toward members of the same gender. If the analogy with alcoholism holds, then those who most love the homosexual will be the ones to confront the homosexual with the inappropriateness of his behavior.
So then, does the analogy with alcoholism hold? In order for the analogy to hold, two things must be true:
- Homosexuality must be an unnatural and damaging behavior.
- Homosexuality must be a mindset that can be controlled or at least managed.
Homosexuality is unnatural and damaging
Regarding #1, the clearest teaching of the Bible is that homosexual behavior is both unnatural and damaging—Romans 1:26-27 & 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul argues that those who engage in homosexual activity (again note that it is not those who are tempted with homosexual feelings, but those who become “offenders” by indulging those feelings) will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s a pretty strong claim. Of course, those who use this verse to point fingers at homosexuals should be sure to read the context where Paul also says that greed, slander, and drunkenness are also things that will disqualify a person from heaven!
Now, there are those who will say that homosexuality as practiced today is “natural” and “wholesome;” however, if the Creator calls it unnatural, then it’s unnatural, and if it might land someone in eternal punishment, that seems to be damaging. If nothing else, doing something that is outside of God’s will is clearly going to be something that causes spiritual damage to a person’s soul.
Homosexuality can be controlled or modified
Regarding #2, all sexual behavior can be controlled. Ascetic monks, of course have been doing it for centuries, but throughout human history, there are countless examples of men and women who have restrained themselves from indulging their sexual desires until their wedding dates or in fact for their whole lives. Controlling sexual behavior is clearly possible. This does not guarantee that the desires can ever be changed although there is a significant body of evidence developing that supports both the claim that homosexuality is not based in biology alone but also in environmental and social aspects of a person’s early childhood and also the claim that homosexual tendencies can actually be lessened or even reversed through sensitive psychological counseling! There are a number of well-documented cases where just such a reversal has taken place.
If I had the time, I would review my old research and do new research to grab some of the best cases and make them available here, but a quick Google search should reveal a number. Try looking up “testimony of a former homosexual” and see what that gets you. You might also want to check out Focus on the Family to see the research they have on the topic.
As it stands now, these are just my thoughts on the matter. I don’t have an academic paper to which I can refer you, but I do have the Bible and my own logical thinking. I’d love to interact with you about this more. Just post a comment below, and let’s start the conversation.
I noticed at this fellow’s blog that there is some awareness among Christians that the BGC is “endorsing” open theism. Here’s a quick link to the blog that clued me in.
I just have to quickly respond to that. First of all, if you don’t know what open theism is, you can go to www.gregboyd.com and find out. I’m not really endorsing his site, so you’ll notice there is no link to it.
Anyway, as a pastor in the BGC and a friend to many members of the national leadership including the President and his wife, I want to say a quick comment as well. The Open Theism “debate” and the tolerance of it is in practical terms limited to one individual who used to be a professor at Bethel Seminary. In fact, Greg Boyd no longer teaches at Bethel.
The BGC as a whole, however, has openly rejected the openness view of God…
I quote from the bgcworld.org website.
“Be it resolved that we, the delegates of the Baptist General Conference (who are also the delegates of Bethel College and Seminary) affirm that God’s knowledge of all past, present and future events is exhaustive; and, we also believe that the “openness” view of God’s foreknowledge is contrary to our fellowship’s historic understanding of God’s omniscience.”
For the last two hours, I have been sitting here in my office pondering an issue that will form the basis for what I feel is going to be my most controversial message to date that I’ve given in my current church. That’s right, I plan on Sunday to deal with the issue of women in ministry and the relevance of gender roles in the context of church leadership.
This has been a very important issue in the context of our church for at least the last 20 years or so. I’ve known about it since my very first face to face conversation with any church member here. I still recall my first interview with the “Pastoral Search Committee” back in the fall of 2000.
There I sat with my wife and 9 month old son facing a room full of people who were set to evaluate me and my qualifications for ministry in this church. The chair of the committee asked the first question:
We have a lot of women in leadership in our church. How well do you think you would be able to work with women in leadership?
In my innocence and ignorance of the true meaning of that question, I declared that I have no problem with women in leadership, but that I have been known to have relational problems with a certain type of woman that frequently rises to a position of leadership—particularly, I had and still have an issue with anyone who becomes a leader to accomplish a particular self-serving agenda, and I personally have encountered a number of agenda-wielding people in positions of leadership. Honestly, I am more at ease dealing with strong-willed agenda-wielding men than with women who share that same personality type.
I knew enough about myself at the time to describe that honestly, and I’m continuing to struggle through some personal issues regarding how I relate to strong-willed people; however, I had no idea that the issue of women in leadership touched so many deep chords in the environment of NWBC. Within my first 12 months here, I unknowingly alienated two strong-willed women (the worship leader and my secretary / church moderator). Then, in the next 6 months, as we began to discuss some of those issues and as my “complementarian” theology began to come out in those discussions, a few more people became fearful of the direction in which I would be taking the church, and a couple more families left.
I was completely surprised at the intensity with which this topic was received by members with whom I thought I had a good relationship.
As a result, I have intentionally avoided the topic of women in ministry as much as possible over the past four years. Now, however, in my most recent series of messages Shhhh! God’s Talking, I have been dealing with specific questions raised by members of the congregation regarding the teaching of the Bible. I have already dealt with a number of difficult questions, and this week will be my concluding message in the series, but that means I finally have to deal with this one question that I’ve been avoiding for some time.
Wish me luck! (But prayers would be more helpful!)
The Bible is the single most accurate ancient document in existence today! Now that’s a big claim! Nevertheless, it’s true. The Bible is spiritually reliable, historically reliable, textually reliable, and reliable in many other ways too. In this message, I try to explain exactly why we can know it is so trustworthy.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day 2005, and I preached a message on three women in the beginning of the gospel of Luke—Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. While I was preparing for the message; though, God helped me to understand something that I had never really seen before. There are no unplanned pregnancies.
This was a profound thought to me, but consider with me why I can make such a claim based on the teaching of the Bible.
- Elizabeth, and many other women in the Bible were barren until it was God’s time to give them a very special child (Luke 1:5-25)
- The Bible teaches us that God is ultimately behind everything that happens.
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
- The Savior of the World came into being as an unexpected pregnancy.
We can so often think of the events of this world as if they are all up to the whims of human beings. Even Christians and other religious people can easily forget that there is another will at work in this world. It is God’s will, and his will is ultimately what will happen.
Now of course, there are always the questions of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and I’ll address that in more detail at another time, but one question we can address is this: if God is always in control, and if God’s plans are the ones that always succeed, then from God’s perspective, there are no unplanned pregnancies, so what about…. (fill in the blank with your own “unplanned” pregnancy idea).
God has a plan for every baby.
I know there are many times when a woman gets pregnant without actually planning to be pregnant, but that doesn’t make the baby unplanned. I believe that God has a plan for every single baby. Here are my reasons:
I have 2 parents. I have 4 grandparents. I have 8 great-grandparents. I have 16 great-great-grandparents. They have 32 parents. They have 64 parents. They have 128 parents. They have 256! If I consider only the past 20 generations of my family tree, I have over two million total parents! Here’s my point. Out of two million parents, I am certain that at least one of those pregnancies was “unexpected” by the parents involved. And yet, the Bible tells me that God has a purpose for my life. Therefore, if God has a purpose for my life, then God had a plan to bring that particular baby into the world at that particular time so that someday, he could work out his purpose for me!
If I believe that I have a purpose and that God has a plan for my life, then I must believe that every single pregnancy in my family tree was planned by God.
Additionally, I’m a white man descended from European blood, and back in the middle ages, there was a great deal of warfare and barbarism going on in Europe. In fact, I can almost guarantee that one of my moms in my family tree got pregnant with a child as the result of an abusive situation or perhaps even a rape.
What does all this mean? Biblically, every child has a purpose and no child is unplanned—consider that the Savior of the world chose to be born as an unexpected pregnancy! Practically, I have a purpose for my being here, but I don’t have the right to claim that any other child doesn’t.
But what about…
Let me cut to the chase. Let’s deal with some terrible examples.
You tell me about any pregnancy. I know there are some “trouble” issues when it comes to issues of abortion, so let’s consider the worst possible situations a mom could be placed in.
- A woman is raped and becomes pregnant.
- A woman becomes pregnant and the baby is threatening the mother’s life.
- A woman is pregnant and the doctors have determined that the baby has severe deformities that will diminish that child’s “quality of life” severely.
I claim that in each case, God can still have a purpose and a plan for that baby.
- Perhaps the baby is in the womb of the raped woman because God wants to give her something beautiful out of the tragedy.
- Perhaps God wants to teach someone about the beauty of forgiveness.
- Perhaps God wants to teach someone about unconditional love.
- Perhaps God allows for an ectopic pregnancy today to prevent ovarian cancer in the future.
Now, I believe that there are some biblical grounds for terminating a pregnancy in the rare case of a mom’s life being severely threatened as in an ectopic pregnancy, but in every other case, I think it’s time for us to realize that there are no unplanned pregnancies, and we should let God’s plan work itself out until it becomes clear what it was or we can ask him ourselves face to face.
Never forget Jesus
More than anything, our God is a God who turns terrible evil into glorious good. After all, he is the one that brought forgiveness to the world through the tragic and evil crucifixion of Jesus.
The next time you encounter a situation that seems evil to you, ask God to give you patience and wisdom to someday see the good he will bring out of it.
The next time you encounter a woman who is debating abortion, encourage her to trust in a God who has a plan for her and for her unborn baby.
Nothing surprises him.