...a weekly devotional

Monday, April 15, 2013

Command With a Promise

Before Jon left I made us both a "countdown jar." I filled the jars with m&m's and a verse for each day. The verses act like a fortune cookie promise for each day we are apart. The verse that he pulled out on the day we said goodbye was Psalm 55:22 - "Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you, He will never allow the righteous to be shaken." I knew then that this season would be difficult, but God would not let it defeat us.

The verse I pulled out of my jar the first day we were apart was Deuteronomy 31:8 - "It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (ESV) As I contemplated this verse I realized an important truth: when God gives us a command, He always links it to a promise of Himself. Here, as well as in Joshua 1, when He tells us not to fear it is because He is with us, He will not leave us, He goes before us and He will fight our battles. He tells us why we can have courage, He does not merely give us a command to "stop worrying dummy!"

This exists all through Scripture when He tells us not to be anxious. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" Matt. 6:34 (NIV). This verse is summarizing a section about worry in which God tells us that we are more valuable to Him than the birds of the air (v. 26) and the lilies in the field (v. 28-30). We can seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and turn from anxiety and fear because the very hairs of our head are numbered by Him. 

We cannot change the difficult and uncomfortable circumstances, but we can control our own attitude and choose to trust and not be afraid.

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows." Luke 12:6-7

1 Image taken from http://thoughtsonbookss.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Controversial Conversation

I feel the need to weigh in on the controversial conversation sweeping our nation in regard to same-sex marriage. I want to first clarify that my intended audience is Bible believing Christians. I am not here to make a suggestion for the Supreme Court or American citizens in general. I speak to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins.

It is no surprise to me that this is a hot political issue because of the non-Christian secular progressive trajectory that our country has been moving toward. What astonishes me is how many Christians are blatantly supportive of same-sex marriage. Every day I come to find more people who are committed Christians changing their facebook status or profile pictures to be voicing favor for same-sex marriage. For our country this is a political issue, which is why laws may very well get passed in favor of same-sex marriage. However, for Christians this is a spiritual issue and one that we should not practice or encourage in others. As I previously noted, for non-Christians, who do not possess a biblical worldview, I am not surprised at all that they practice and embrace this lifestyle. But I am utterly disheartened that so many Christians are not only honoring this lifestyle, but some are even practicing it and using a narrow view of God (as only loving and forgiving) to justify their actions.

The discussion surrounding this issue, especially online, often results in the trading of Bible verses without context, which I see as a human-centered reading of Scripture. The coullousness often seen in online discussion is detrimental for good conversation. It is critical that discussions, this one included, bear in mind the work of Christ throughout Scripture.1

With that in mind, I wanted to share this well developed statement on human sexuality:2
God's revealed Word is the only authoritative and trustworthy norm for proper moral judgments. It affirms that sexual intimacy is designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between one man and one woman. This view of sexuality and marriage is rooted in the Genesis account of creation, reflected in the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself, and is maintained consistently throughout Scriptures. It is a view based on the biblical teaching of monogamy- that God designed sexual union for the purpose of uniting one man and one woman into a permanent, lifelong, one flesh union in the context of marriage. God created two complementary forms of humans, male and female, to bear His image together (Gen. 1:27-28), and ordained that the first human pair were to become one flesh (Gen. 2:23-24). These and other similar passages show that God views sex, procreation and marriage as good, and that male and female are necessary counterparts- differential partners- in a sexual complementarity. Sexual intimacy and the sexual union of intercourse between a man and a woman are intended for a purpose- to join one husband and one wife together into one flesh in the context of marriage (1 Cor. 6:16).  
Our marriages on earth model the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church (Eph. 5:31-33), a melding that the Apostle Paul calls "a profound mystery." This God-initiated oneness, as detailed in Genesis, is clearly recognized and affirmed by Jesus in terms of the marital union of husband and wife (Matt. 19:4-6). Any sexual intimacy outside of marriage violates God's design for marriage, and is thus to be understood as one of the disruptive consequences of the fall (Rom. 1:18-32). 
Thus, God's design for marriage and sexuality is the foundational reason for viewing acts of sexual intimacy between and man and a woman outside of marriage, and any acts of sexual intimacy between to persons of the same sex, as illegitimate moral options for the confessing Christian. Sexual relationship of any kind outside the confines of marriage between one man and one woman are inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture, as understood by Christian churches throughout history. On the other hand, chastity in the form of sexual purity for the unmarried person and chastity in the form of sexual faithfulness in marriage are blessed and affirmed. Therefore, as part of living out a consistent, biblical spirituality, one dedicated to the pursuit of Christ-likeness should refrain from sexual intimacy outside of marriage and to avoid encouraging the same in others. Indeed, whatever one's personal tendencies and desires, the call of Christ on our lives is the same: sexual purity manifest among the married as complete faithfulness and by those who are unmarried by living a chaste life (1 Thess. 4:3-8).
I know there are Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction and other sexual issues. This struggle is intense, genuine, and very real. One such person remarked, "Why would a kind God deprive me of intimacy and love when other Christians get to marry and have sex?"3 It is true that God is kind and loving and desires good things for His children. He accepts us completely and looks on us as purified with the blood of Christ, but when we go on sinning He is deeply grieved. When we excuse, justify, or ignore our sin, we challenge the very essence of the cross. I have also heard the comment, "Why would God make me this way and cause me to struggle like this?" But God is not the author of sin, we are born into sin as a result of the fall. This struggle is not unique. Every Christian struggles with temptations, sexual temptation possibly being the strongest of all. The Bible tells us that temptations are common to man, but that God gives of way of escape, which is to yield to the Spirit and deny the flesh.

"We all stand together as persons created in God's image, and we all kneel together as broken persons who need God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ."4 As Christians of course we all fall into sin and temptation, but we are called to wage war against the flesh and grow in our submission to the Spirit. It is not up to us to pick and choose the sins that we deem more or less important. That is why the majority of Scripture talks about the fact that since we are children of God we must live like it in purity and holiness. This is not a priciple that ever changed. In the Old Testament the heart of the Law that God gave to Israel was, "you shall be holy because I Am holy" (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, etc.). The New Testament reiterates this clearly that we are no longer slaves but sons (Gal. 4:7) and we should not make a mockery of grace (Rom 6:1-2), but that we should actively pusue holiness in our daily living (1 Pet. 1:15, Heb. 12:14, Rom. 12:1-2, etc.). I am not talking about leagalism, but the process of sanctification for believers which is something God takes very seriously. It is not a matter of our salvation or acceptance before God, but that of a growing relationship with our Father Who bought us with the sacrifice of His only Son.

How dare we go on sinning and turn our heads away from the sins of fellow believers. Should we love our sinning brother, absolutely! There is deep wisdom in the phrase "hate the sin, love the sinner." Loving a sinning brother does not mean condoning sin. Christ Himself was a friend of sinners, but He still told them to go and sin no more. We are told to confront the sin of our fellow Christian in love, and that process must always remain a balance of grace and truth.

The political upheaval in our country is messy. Towards our non-believing friend we should be an example of Christlikeness and love. Which means practicing biblical purity and holiness, caring for them with the love of Christ, and engaging in compassionate conversation. Should we expect non-Christians to live by biblical morality, no. Should we sit idlely by, no. My call is for Christians to be the example in living out biblical morality, to be the salt and light in our dark world. The truth of God's revealed Word should be our guide, not the ever changing moral compass of our lost society. Towards Christians who struggle with sexual sin, we should journey alongside them, seek to understand their individual unique story, and embrace them knowing that they know the love and forgiveness of God in ways we may never comprehend. But we should also be modeling and encouraging daily victory over temptation and growth in Christ-likeness and holiness, knowing that freedom from the power of sin begins with God's work of illuminating sin. "My dear children, I write these things to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father- Jesus Christ the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1 NIV).

1 Adapted quote from Dr. Barry Correy, Chapel Message May 18, 2012.
2 Excerpt from Biola University's Statement on Human Sexuality
3 As a Christian I practiced chastity up until the point I was married at age 28. Now I daily choose fidelity to my husband because that is the biblical principle. Were I still single, and never to marry, I would continue to practice chastity in obedience to God. This is the lifestyle that we should be personally practicing and encouraging in other Christians.
4 B. Correy, Chapel Message 5.18.12.
5 Image taken from dreamstime.com