Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I love Guitar Hero. Ok, you got me, I can't play it. But I love watching it. I'm a total classic rock nerd. But some of the "satanic" stereotypes of rock and roll are overplayed in that game. If it's not the demon on steroids playing bass, it's the inflatable devil ripped right from Spinal Tap. So I thought a Christian version of the game would be pretty cool. Except that I can't think of any really rockin' Christian music. Sure, the game has P.O.D. and Thousand Foot Krutch, but also tobyMac, really? There are some I haven't heard of, of course (darn you XM radio for cutting The Torch station!) so one of my coworkers humored me and let me listen to his Pillar playlist on his MP3 player. Hmmm, not bad. But not Skynyrd or Rush.
Maybe I need to embrace this more. There are tons of products that are geared away from the World and I'm a sucker for what the major media cranks out. And who knows, maybe I'd be better trying to shred a Kutless lick instead of trying to imitate Hendrix.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
And that fact makes those kettles even more important in 'keeping the Christ in Christmas'. Those anonymous bell-ringers shine Christ's light brighter than I ever could. That's because as a church, their ministry extends beyond Christmas. Watch the second video- the 1901 San Francisco Earthquake, Third World disaster relief, soup kitchens- these have nothing to do with Christmas the holiday, but have everything to do with spirit of Christmas. What about your own personal ministry? Opportunities abound for charity during the holiday season- Toys for Tots, Angel Trees, Adopt-a-family, hosting Christmas dinners for the needy, serving at soup kitchens- in fact it's well known that charitable giving and volunteerism increases during the holidays. But what about the rest of the year? The needy that you feed this week will still be needy six months from now. But does your personal ministry reach out then as much as now?
Charity always, ministry to all. That is the spirit of Christmas, and is not limited by a calendar. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive with no mention of when or how. If you're giving to the needy this Christmas, or serving in some way, use the opportunity to turn it into something consistent that continues throughout the year.
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35)
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Can you relate? Do you feel hurried, stressed, overwhelmed? Do you wish there was just one more week before Christmas? I do. But then I'm a lot like Martha, who in Luke 10 is described as being "distracted by all the preparations that [have] to be made." (Luke 10:40) But then we forget what we're preparing for. Yes, we want Christmas to be memorable for our children and we want them to have everything they asked Santa for (within reason). We want to be warm and hospitable towards our family and friends. But what about "the reason for the season?" What about Jesus?
Are we reflecting Christ when we lose our patience at the store? Do we show the love of Jesus to our children when we lose our temper as they try to get into every present that's already been wrapped and hunt for the ones that aren't? Are we really being a witness to our families when what's most important to us is getting everything done?
I write this for myself. My wife reminded me this morning that we needed to take time and get into God's word, lean on Him in our stress, and not be overwhelmed with our "to dos". I need to be more like Mary, who knew that "only one thing was needed." (Luke 10:42)
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)
Thursday, December 18, 2008
My first post went over the all too often poor examples of marriage in the Bible. I made the case that just because the examples aren't what we'd call today "traditional marriage" doesn't mean that we should discard the Biblical commands regarding marriage. I also defended these same commands against the argument of cultural relevancy- that the rules were for the time, and don't apply to us today.
My last post then went to define marriage both civilly and religiously using examples from the Bible for each. I left with the conclusion that because of the nature of the sacrament of Marriage, that there can be no Biblical justification for gay marriage.
Yet the author, Lisa Miller, makes the claim that, "scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be married - and a number of excellent reasons why they should." I already pointed out that scriptures actually do give us good reasons why gays and lesbians should not be married, but now I want to look at why you could make the argument that scriptures do, in fact, give many reasons why they should.
- Old versus New Covenant
That's not to say there's not wisdom in those laws. These laws were written thousands of years before we understood disease and bacteria, yet there were laws about isolating contagious lesions, avoiding coming in contact with blood, not eating animals that died because of disease, not eating scavenger birds (also an abomination), or pork that we know today carries trichinosis.
So do we throw those laws out? Not if they're affirmed in the New Covenant. I already noted that Jesus explicitly defined marriage, affirming the Genesis account of a man leaving his family and becoming one with his wife. But Jesus never explicitly discussed homosexuality. Paul, on the other hand, does. In Romans, Paul describes how the sinful nature has driven those who have chosen to reject God and explicitly calls out homosexuality:
Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Rom 1:26-27)
It's worth pointing out after quoting this, that Ms Miller notes that the Anchor Bible Dictionary comments that the Bible never refers to sex between women. Yet the above passage does exactly that. She wants to use that reference to claim that the "unnatural relations" described above don't necessarily mean monogamous homosexuality. I've heard this argument elsewhere. Either it's claimed that this scripture refers to homosexual prostitution related to pagan ceremonies, or that it refers to homosexual acts between heterosexuals (that's a tough one to prove since homosexuality, as our culture defines it today, is never defined in the Bible).
She goes on in her argument that Paul's condemnation is "really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery." Funny, those words could be used to define the culture around homosexuality today. But she quotes the scholar Neil Elliott who argues that Paul is referring specifically to the Roman emperors Nero and Caligula and that the condemnation isn't against someone who commits any of these acts individually, but rather those who commit these acts collectively. Uh, huh. I won't quote it here for space, but read the first chapter of Romans and tell me honestly if you can reach the same conclusion. Besides, Paul can't be referring to specific people in this passage. This passage sets up the definition of our sinful nature and our shared need for salvation. If this only applied to Nero and Caligula, then I guess he's writing the whole book of Romans just so those two can be saved. I wonder then why he talks about Mosaic Law since neither of them were Jews. Hmmm.
- David and Jonathan
It's an old argument that David and Jonathan had something else going on than just fighting along side one another. The quote "he loved him as he loved himself" shows up a couple of times in 1 Samuel 18 and again in 20 referring to Jonathan's affection for David. However, isn't that phrase just a re-wording of the Golden Rule? And is it that uncommon for two people who share battle to develop a kinship that words cannot describe? Ask a veteran of WWII if they "loved" any of their fellow soldiers in this way and I'll bet you'd get a unanimous response. Besides, there's nothing wrong, or even unexpected, for men to have bonds with other men that seem to go beyond the bond these men have with the opposite sex. Think about drinking buddies, bowling night, Monday Night Football, paintball, MMA, and so on and so on. There's just something about bonding with the same sex and it has nothing to do with sexuality. Women have it too- gossip, fashion, scrapbooking, etc. You can then relate to David's feelings upon hearing his best friend had died. "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."
- The Gospel of Inclusion
Perhaps the strongest case for permitting homosexuality is the inclusion preached by both Jesus and Paul. It is often pointed out that Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery in John 8. That is then used as a blanket example that Jesus does not condemn sin. Yet that ignores the ending of the story where Jesus explicitly tells the woman, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (Jn 8:11)
Paul wrote, "there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ" (Gal 3:28). Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann is quoted in the article using this scripture to support gay marriage. I guess if we're neither male nor female, then it doesn't matter who we marry. But again, that is contrary to the sacrament of marriage, as described earlier. In addition, that also takes that quote out of context because Paul is relating that the New Covenant applies to all, not just Jews, and that supersedes the Jewish customs of circumcision and diet.
Yes, the Gospel of Jesus is inclusive. He did not tolerate sin however, and neither did Paul. "What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!" (Rom 6:1-2) "But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature." (Gal 5:13) God's grace that comes from Jesus' death on the cross is the Gospel of inclusion. Jesus died for all, and that includes homosexuals. But he also called on all of us to repent of our sinful nature, whatever that may be. There is no religious case for gay marriage, and to argue that there is ignores much of the Bible and reads meaning into verses that isn't there. But in order to refute that, you need to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Pt 3:15-16)
Sunday, December 14, 2008
- The definition of marriage
If the Biblical definitions of marriage are culturally outdated (Ms Miller calls them "throwaway lines"), and the teachings of Jesus are reduced to good advice, then how do we define marriage? Ms Miller would argue that we cannot rely on the Bible for our definition since neither Jesus nor the Bible as a whole "explicitly define marriage as between one man and one woman." Although she quotes where the Bible does, in fact, define marriage: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Gen 2:24, Mt 19:5, Mk 10:7, Eph 5:31) If this doesn't define marriage as between a man and a woman, then I don't know what does. But Ms Miller makes the strong statement that, "scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married- and a number of excellent reasons why they should." Yet, I failed to see these numbers of excellent reasons. Instead I only saw justifications and reading meaning into the text that isn't there.
But she does bring up a good point that marriage has two definitions- civil and religious. Let's look at each.
- Civil marriage
The article does well to spell out the civil benefits to marriage, none of which by the way are denied where there are "Civil Unions". And the only Biblical references to civil marriage are related to dowries and divorce laws. Neither of which are good examples. Dowries were common at the time (and for a few more centuries) but are rare now. (I know I'm contradicting myself on the argument of cultural relevancy, but I'll go into this more when I talk about the Old Covenant.) Yet our Biblical definition of marriage is of the man leaving his family, contrary to the custom of a dowry and even contrary to our current convention of the wife taking the husband's name. As for divorce, it was never meant to be an easy option, and definitely not "no fault" as it's legally argued today. In fact, Jesus had to correct the current practice of divorce because it strayed from its original intent. And I can't help but agree the author that we, as Christians, don't exactly set the bar high with our own marriages. But I don't think that means we should have no say in the matter.
- Religious marriage
This one is hard to define Biblically, especially since good examples are few and far between. So we need to look beyond example and look at the theology of marriage. Ms Miller calls it the "frustrating, semantic question," which I certainly agree. She goes on and asks, "should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are?" What's important here, is how you choose to define 'sacrament'. (And I admit in advance, that I am as far as you can get from a seminary student.) If you're Catholic, there are seven sacraments during which (and I can't think of a better way to put this) something supernatural happens. More generally, sacraments are earthly attempts to participate in spiritual 'mysteries'. This eliminates Holy Order, Anointing of the Sick, and Last Rights which leaves us with Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage.
For the sake of this argument, I'll lump Confirmation in with Baptism. Each of these are physical rights, or ceremonies, that reflect spiritual realities that are beyond (easy) explanation, hence, a mystery. In the case of Baptism, this is a physical act that represents our spiritual transformation as being 'born again' (reference Romans 6:3-4 among others). (I'll spare the baptism for salvation argument.) For Marriage, the physical relationship between a husband and wife reflects the relationship between Jesus and his church. Ms Miller defines it where "two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them." This is a great definition, except that it intentionally leaves out genders for the sake of her argument. But Ephesians 5 specifically relate the role of the husband to Christ (sacrificial, providing) and the wife to the Church (submission and respect). In gay marriage, there is no husband and wife, so the definition breaks down and the sacrament can't reflect the spiritual truth of Jesus and the Church.
So from this I the case can be made that there is no Biblical justification for gay marriage, in the religious sense. A case could be made however for gay marriage in the civil sense, or at least you can't make a clear-cut case against it. But there's still more to the story- the relationship between David and Johnathan, Old vs New Covenant, and both Jesus and Paul preaching about inclusion. I'll cover those next time.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The portal, On Faith, has several responses to this article from authors, ministers, rabbis, and theologians. For a balanced and reasoned response, I recommend reading Susan Jacoby’s and Irwin Kula’s. I read Al Mohler’s first, expecting to agree with his case. But I think he glossed over the arguments and as several comments noted, he also cherry-picked his use of scriptures to justify his position. Truth is, both sides are cherry-picking, and neither acknowledges the broader theological implications of gay marriage.
In an effort to avoid cherry-picking myself, I’m going to address “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” point by point. In advance though, I need to define my own ground rules. I’m not a Sunday pew-filler, or a cafeteria Christian. Nor am I a literalist fundi, or a Bible-thumper. I do believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but that doesn’t mean I take it all as literal (for example, see this post from one of the primary debates). I also hold to the scripture that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb 13:8) And that "the word of the Lord stands forever." (1 Pt 1:25, Is 40:6-8) Most importantly, I believe the underlying purpose of the entirety of the Bible is to relate God’s attempt to have a heart-felt relationship with his creation. Because of that, I don’t look at it as a set of rules, or of ancient anecdotes, but instead of a comprehensive history of the relationship between Him and his people.
I also want to throw out a couple quotes from On Faith that also helps set the tone:
“Faith-based arguments on behalf of gay marriage actually give aid and comfort to the sort of right-wing religious groups… because they legitimize the idea that religious belief is a proper test for determining legal rights.” –Susan Jacoby from On Faith
“There is a difference between what the Bible prescribes and what it describes.” –Leith Anderson from On Faith
“Here is the sad truth about the unimportant, uninteresting, irrelevant, add no value and unfortunately polarizing and divisive way in which religion and scripture is used in contemporary culture. Everyone simply brings their religious views and their scriptural passages to prove, legitimate, and affirm their already held political and psychological positions. This is religion as apologetics and proof texting.” Which, he later says, “basically makes contemporary religion a whore for political positions whether liberal or conservative.” -Irwin Kuls from On Faith
All that said, I humbly submit my takes on the points Lisa Miller makes in the article. This ran long, so I'm going to split it up.
- The Old Testament Example
Lisa Miller opens up by giving the examples of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon as a case of the Bible not endorsing what we consider today to be "traditional marriage". Each were polygamists and in some cases were deliberately unfaithful. But as the quote above notes, just because it's described, doesn't mean it's permitted. In fact, the polygamy of David led directly to his struggles with his sons and Solomon's willingness to marry for political gain compromised Israel's spirituality and ultimately resulted in the country's split. There are more examples than can be counted of God's people not obeying God's Law. She tries to turn the argument around when she uses the cases of Moses and Esther who disobeyed God's law against marrying foreigners as examples of breaking convention that ultimately benefited the greater community. But these cases are the exception, not the rule, as there are several books in the Bible dedicated to the poor examples of Israel's kings who, more often than not, disobeyed these rules on marriage.
- The New Testament Example
Just because Jesus wasn't married doesn't mean that he didn't value marriage. Remember his first miracle was at a wedding (I don't believe in coincidences in the Bible) and also that an angel had to intervene to convince Joseph to marry his pregnant fiance, Mary (so marriage was obviously important to someone). And Jesus' statements "against" family (Mk 3:31-35, Lk 9:57-62) were really to stress the importance of the spiritual over the temporal.
As for Paul, it is argued whether he actually was married at one time. But despite that, why would he speak so strongly against marriage in only one of his letters (1 Corinthians) yet give explicit instructions regarding marriage in several (1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy) if he was opposed to it? Any an examination of what Paul writes about marriage (beyond what Ms Miller limits to 1 Corinthians 7) affirms, not denies, traditional marriage.
- The cultural example
Ms Miller asks who in this day and age would "turn to the Bible as a how-to script?" But isn't that what every couple who is married in a church does? Isn't there a sermon, or a brief message, or at least an invocation in every religious marriage ceremony that uses the Bible as a guideline for marriage? And I also know from personal experience that some denominations recommend The Song of Songs (or Solomon, depending on your translation) as honeymoon reading.
She later comments that, "the Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours." This is a common argument for everything from gay marriage to ordaining women and even including the abolition of slavery. But think about what this statement implies. It is essentially saying that since our world is so far removed from what God intended, that God's word is irrelevant today. But if we are striving to do God's will and seeking a relationship with him, shouldn't the opposite be true? Shouldn't we long for the world to be as God intended and shape our lives to conform to that? (This is different than forcing others to conform, which is a fundamental difference from the Religious Right.)
This is sobering, considering how far our world today as strayed from God's ideal. Gay marriage aside, regardless of denomination, liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or casual, it's hard to argue that our culture isn't overly materialistic (you can't argue recent headlines), sexual (turn on prime-time TV, or listen to popular music), and selfish (do you know your neighbors by name). Does that mean we should just throw out the Bible altogether? From Ms Miller's argument, we might as well.
More to come later....
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
I was part of the wedding party for one of my best friends and his reception was downtown. We had to park in a parking structure across from the reception site. As we were getting ready to cross the street we saw a parade coming our way. It was a Saturday in the summertime, so it could’ve been anything. We rushed as fast as we could to cross the street before the ‘parade’ passed by. As we did so, the crowd gathered opened up in cheers. You see, the parade was a march for gay rights and a group of guys in tuxedos obviously were taking part in the march for the sake of gay-marriage. Um, no.
So we got to the reception, and the Evangelist who ministered the wedding was holding the door for us with his right hand while his left clutched a Bible. As the crowd passed and they saw the Word in his hand, they began to shout obscenities towards him and some even started throwing things at him. Then a gentleman came up to us with a video camera and asked him about his thoughts regarding homosexuality. In my mind, I was itching for a fight, but the brother responded by simply saying that we should love the homosexual community just as much as Jesus does and not treat them any differently because “we all sin and fall short of the Glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) The cameraman jumped on this opportunity to pontificate about the sins of homosexuality. This guy claimed to be a Christian! I figured from his arguments that he was possibly part of Fred Phelps church, but I didn’t see a counter demonstration.
He argued that we should not tolerate sin and should be vocal against it. The evangelist countered by pointing out that we should condemn sin, not the sinner and reach out to others with love. The cameraman responded with the example of Jesus’ harsh words regarding sin and that he wasn’t afraid to get under others’ skin. But the example he used was where Jesus was speaking out against the religious hypocrites in the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (Matthew 23) and a better example would be how Jesus reached out to the woman at the well (John 4) or the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11). The cameraman then tried to use the example of Jesus losing his temper in the Temple courts (Jn 2:12-17). But again, his righteous indignation was against the religious legalists and those taking advantage of others.
Eventually the cameraman ran out of examples and arguments, thanked the Evangelist for his time, and walked away. This brother earned a new level of respect from me, and humbled me in my attitudes and willingness to fight instead of reason. This was a perfect example of “be[ing] prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)
But sometimes persecution in this country can turn violent. Take the case of the recent "riot" in the Castro District of San Francisco. If you haven't seen the video or heard Bill O'Reilly rant on about it, the story goes that a group of Christians who weekly reach out in the Castro District were "assaulted" by a larger group of gays about a month ago. The girl heading it up was hit with her own Bible, knocked down and kicked repeatedly, and I guess hot coffee was also poured on others. The videos don't capture the incident, but instead follow the group as they're being led out of the area by police escort.
So is this what the Culture War has become? Should we expect violence in response to the Gospel of Jesus? Instead of asking, "what would Jesus do?" in this circumstance, I ask "what would you do?" How would you go about sharing the Gospel in a predominantly gay community right after the passage of Proposition 8? How would you fight on this front in the Culture War?
The girl, Christine Cloud, was on a local talk station recently and the host opened it up for calls of encouragement and support or questions about the incident. One gentleman called and asked exactly what their form of evangelism was there, since in the video it doesn't look like they're acting Christ-like. I'm not sure what he was talking about since I don't see any actual interactions with the Christian group. But the host turned the question around by asking what he'd do, if he was a Christian at all. Pretty insulting if you ask me. But the gentleman responded much like I would.
He encouraged those reaching out in such an area to live there and let their light shine, not to street-preach or cause confrontation, but to invite others into their homes and practice hospitality, express love instead of condemnation, and let their lives reflect the Gospel. Sound doctrine if you ask me, and this group did just that. They were singing Amazing Grace when they were assaulted, not street preaching and the girl lives near the area, has friends there, and frequents the coffee place where this all happened.
So in this battle, it sounds like the Christian group was fighting fair, so to speak. But the other side? Police were required to get the group out of the area. The mob repeatedly tried to push past the police, disrespecting their authority, and hundreds followed the group out chanting, "shame on you!" Shame on them? Really? If you watch the full video, you even see someone trying to overturn a car. Shame on who?
On this particular front in the Culture War, the only effective weapon is the love of Jesus. The video bears out the hostile party. Could things have been handled differently? Hard to say without being there, but the Christians handled the aftermath correctly. They turned the other cheek. The girl even refused to press charges and offered forgiveness. Contrast that with the curses from the mob.
Truth is, something like this is unlikely to happen to Average Joe Christian (no relation to Joe the Plumber). But we should look at it as an example of a compassionate ministry turning the other cheek.
For the "official" story from the ministry, you can go here.
Friday, December 05, 2008
That's right, it's peak season in the Culture War, where we'll be bombarded with headlines about Christmas trees being taken out of airports, Nativity scenes being stolen, and renewed calls to "keep Christ in Christmas." So I'll be doing a series of posts regarding the Culture War and how we should fight it.
The Culture War has many fronts: