Sunday, June 28, 2015

Word of the Day: Love

  Three phrases I hear over and over again, "God is love", "Love your neighbor" and "Don't judge me" (or some variation of these).  I've heard these phrases slung at me or the Church when it comes to divorce and remarriage, to sexual relationships outside of marriage, to drug use, to worshiping other gods, worshiping no god and on and on.  With the latest, tragic ruling by the Supreme Court, I'm hearing these phrases used in relation to "gay marriage" and homosexuality in general.  In this post I want to focus on the word "love".

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Me:  I believe the Bible is the Word of God and in it God says homosexuality is a sin.
Them: That isn't very loving and God says to love your neighbor.  Why aren't you practicing what you preach?


Them: God is love.  I don't believe God would ever send a homosexual couple living in a monogamous, loving relationship to hell (Apparently, according to these people, he will send unmarried homosexuals to Hell).

[Note that I hear these arguments from those claiming to be Christian as much as I hear them from anyone else]

Since the accusation of not being loving is coming from those who are attempting to use the Bible to defend their position or counter mine I think it only fair that we use the Bible's definition of love (even if you don't think you are quoting the Bible it is important for you to understand my definition nonetheless.  This is the definition the Bible and the Church uses and it is the one I will be using whenever we talk about love).  So here you go:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ESV)

The first thing to note is that love, as the Bible describes it, is an action.  It is something we do or, in some cases, refrain from doing.  In short, love is not an emotion.  Because of this confusion I typically find the word "love" used like a crowbar with which to beat someone over the head in order to stop any meaningful dialog. You made me feel bad therefore you are unloving.  You have told me something that has hurt my feelings therefore you hate me.  But this isn't love at all.  This is merely blind emotionalism.  Although love can be emotional, emotion does not equate to love.

The second thing to note from the above biblical definition is that, among other things, love rejoices in the truth. Love that doesn't tell the truth isn't love.

If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that experience teaches us this very thing;  that love is a something we do or refrain from doing and not an emotion and that we show love by being truthful and honest with one another.

For instance, although we were disciplined as children do we honestly believe our parents always felt good about it (I realize not everyone came from a good home, but work with me here)? We certainly didn't feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they disciplined us and I don't always feel all cheery when I discipline my children. Yet our parents still loved us.  Nothing speaks of a lack of love louder than a parent who refuses to discipline their child.

How about when you or a friend or family member were told by the doctor that the diagnosis was cancer?  Are we to believe the doctor was so twisted that he actually enjoyed that pronouncement? Of course not. No one, when told by the doctor that they have cancer, screams "You are such a hater!  If you loved me you wouldn't say such things!"  Just like our parents, he knows it will hurt and that we won't feel good about the diagnosis, but he also understands he has a responsibility to tell the truth.  I could go on and on with examples, but I think these two are sufficient to demonstrate that we already know love, true love, (not the false, sappy, Hollywood stuff) is honest and doesn't always feel good.

Sometimes we do and say things, not because they feel good, but because they need to be done or said.  We do and say them because we love the other person and, in a mature relationship, the other person will understand that what is being said or done is a function of true love even if neither party feels so good about it at the time.

So with this definition of love in mind let me ask you to pretend with me.  I'm not trying to trick you into agreeing with me or anything, just to pretend for a few moments.  Ok?  Here we go:  Let's pretend for the moment that because the bible everywhere, from Genesis to Revelations (those are the first and last books in the bible, for those not in the know) expresses marriage as the union of a man and a woman and nothing else; that this is what God intended for marriage.  That when God, the prophets, the apostles and Jesus himself speak of marriage as only including a man with a woman, that this means God never intended anything else (I know, you may not like that, but we are pretending here).  Let's further pretend that when the Bible condemns homosexuality (which it clearly does) that it isn't a mistake, or a cultural thing, but that God really means what he says and says what he means.  Finally, let us pretend that when God says those who practice homosexuality will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven that it also means they will spend a mournful, terrible, lonely eternity in a place called Hell.

Got all that? Now remember, I'm not asking you to pretend the Bible says all of that.  It clearly does, regardless what you've been told. I would be glad to show you someday, but that isn't the point of this article, so moving on.  I am asking you to pretend that you agree with my assessment of what the Bible says concerning marriage and homosexuality.  If what the Bible is saying is true (and it is saying that), would it be love or hate if I refused to tell you what the Bible clearly says?  Would it be love or hate if I knew that what the Bible says is true, but instead chose to tell you nothing.  Or worse yet, to tell you something contrary to what I know is clearly revealed in Scripture?

Let me put it in different terms.  I know the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong.  I know that the Bible clearly, unequivocally states that marriage is between a man and a women.  I know that by opening my mouth and merely assenting to what the Bible says is the truth on this subject I will potentially lose relationships with friends and family whom I care deeply about.  I know that in the future expressing what I see as the clear biblical teaching on this subject will quite possibly cost me more than just my friendships.  When I, with all of this in mind, tell you what the Bible teaches is it love or hate?  Even if you don't agree with my assessment, am I telling you what I am out of love or hate?  I am not asking if I am feeling love or hate.  Love is not an emotion. I am asking you if I am doing love or hate.

You can accuse me of being a fanatic. You can accuse me of being crazy (wouldn't be the first or last time). You can accuse me of being wrong, thickheaded and stubborn.  You can accuse me of a whole lot of things.  But the one thing you simply cannot accuse me of in this instance is being unloving.

When I tell you what the Bible says it may make you feel bad or angry or frustrated.  But that does not mean I am not loving you. Trust me when I tell you that when I take time out of my day to share with you something I believe to be of the most utmost importance concerning your welfare, all the while knowing the price it will cost me, I am doing it out of love.  Otherwise I simply wouldn't do it.

It is a fact that some people are just hateful and many don't show love the way they should (myself included).  I know there are people out there who are simply haters.  They want to hurt people and force their views down the throats of other people just to make themselves feel better.  This includes people in the Church as well as the LGBT communities.  But that isn't what I'm talking about here.  I love my friends and family, and because of that love I must share the truth of God's Word with them.

To do anything less truly would be unloving.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

When the time comes to call it

A couple of news items were brought to my attention this past week.  But they all have somewhat of a similar theme to them.  The first was the news of Tony Campolo's coming out of the closet, sort of speak. He has come to the shocking conclusion (not really that shocking) that the Church should be more welcoming to gays and gay marriage.  You can read his statement here.

Shortly after that David Neff, a former editor of Christianity Today, came out in support of Tony's statements.  To which the current editor-in-chief of CT, Mark Galli, offered a very well written and thoughtful rebuttal (here). Yet, as much as I loved his rebuttal he closed with a very odd statement:

"We’ll be sad, but we won’t panic or despair. Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them."

I'll comment more on this in a moment.

Finally, on the same day as Tony's statement an article appeared in the New York Times titled, "Evangelicals open door to debate on gay rights" in which we learn that Matthew Vines, an ardent proponent of gay marriage and the inclusion of gays in the Christian community, himself claiming to be a Christian, is meeting with evangelical leaders in order to open the door to amicable debate on the subject.

In this article I was struck by one line in particular:

During the closing prayer, Mr. Sontag laid his hand on Mr. Vines’s back. Mr. Kaltenbach called Mr. Vines a “brother in Christ.”

This is where I would like to tie everything together.  What the CT article and the NYT article have in common is that they both introduce us to people who seem to be very confused as to what the biblical response should be towards people claiming to be Christians and yet do or teach very unbiblical things. In case you can't figure it out let me state it plainly: Expel the wicked brother from among you (1 Corinthians 5:13 NIV).

I agree that we need to reach out to unbelievers and even invite them into our churches so that they may, by any means possible, hear the life changing, soul saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And we should do this regardless of their sin.  However we are not dealing with unbelievers here.  We are dealing with those who claim to be followers of Christ.  Yet the Church and leaders within the Church who should know better are continually patting these people on the back and basically telling them that everything is O.k. and that God loves them just the way they are.

When Israel was being formed into a nation God, their God, gave the following commandment:

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you."

(Deuteronomy 13:6-11 ESV)

Was God being mean?  No. God knew how dangerous it was for his chosen people to flirt with sin. The history of Israel should be enough to silence any doubt. Would it be tough?  You can't read the above words without realizing that it would indeed be tough.  Perhaps this is part of the reason Israel, for the most part, ignored this command. Choosing between God and everyone and everything else continues to be tough.  Sometimes that choice is the hardest choice we will ever make.

Obviously we aren't suppose to be killing people today. We are to love our neighbor and do as much as we possible can to see them enter the Kingdom.  But the above passage underscores two points that have never changed.  Sin must be dealt with in the life of the Church and that dealing will not always be easy.  In fact, most of the time it won't be easy. In fact, it may seem, at the time, so cruel that it can be likened to killing our brother or sister.

In the New Testament church there are two reasons for expelling the wicked brother or sister.  The first reason is so that somehow they will be saved (1 Cor. 5:5). Perhaps they will see what they've done is wrong.  Perhaps they will dive so deep into their sin that they will suddenly come to a realization of how far they've fallen and call out to God for rescue.  God only knows.  But the second reason, which I believe is even more important than the first, is mentioned above. It is so that "all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you". It is so the Church will be protected.  To ignore God's process for dealing with sin within the camp is to put the Church in great peril.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that we are simply seeing Israel's sin repeated in the modern church.  The way God has called us too is too difficult so we have thrown out his rules and made up some of our own.

Chesterton once famously wrote, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

Perhaps in our day and age we could amend that quote to say, "it has been found difficult and dropped".

It is time the Church got serious about the issue of sin in her midst.  Just as in Israel's history we too are seeing that to put this off, for whatever well-intentioned reasons we may have for doing it, the end results are disastrous.  

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Prophet

An interesting article appeared in the NYT recently titled "The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion" by Clyde Haberman.  It is eye opening not because it points out that the myth of the population explosion is just that, a myth.  I knew that already (and hopefully you did too).  It was, and still is, the favorite cudgel of pro-abortion advocates, chemical companies selling GMO's, pesticides and birth control and apocalyptic environmentalists, doomsayers and prophets.  But it is all bunk.  Turns out humans aren't so easily extinguished after all.

[I guess an argument could be made that all the fear mongering caused a lot of changes that were for the positive.  At least for the humanists.  If you call the murdering millions of babies while making food so cheap and plentiful that those who are left are dying off from diseases related to rampant obesity "positive".]

What really caught my eye in the article was the coverage of the originator of the population explosion myth, Paul Ehlrich. He made a number of dark prophecies, including mass starvation, 65 million of which would be Americans.  He predicted the demise of England and India. So desperate was the situation that in the 1970's he said that the end would come within the next fifteen years.

It doesn't take an overly observant person to see that by any definition Mr. Ehlrich got a couple of things wrong. In fact, he pretty much wasn't even in the ballpark.  So bad were his predictions that if he lived in the Old Testament we would have God's permission to stone him.  Oh, ok, so he wasn't claiming to speak for God.  So stoning's out.  But if he had said "Thus says the Lord!" we could stone him. If we lived in the Old Testament.  Which we don't.  So still no stoning.

Anyway, two things to point out.  First, Mr. Ehlrich claims that his predictions were not wrong, just misunderstood by the uninitiated (i.e., you and I - the nonprofessional schmucks on the street).  And second, people are still listening to him.  The reason I find these two things interesting is that many Christians today treat the modern day "prophets" in the Church the exact same way.

According to Scripture when a prophet who is claiming to speak from God is wrong, either because what he predicted never comes to past, or he attempts to lead others away from God, then this person is a false prophet and should be killed. Allow me to quote two of these passages in full:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.  (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 ESV)

Here the question isn't whether or not the "prophet" can actually do prophety things.  He (or she) can. But these prophet has an agenda.  He wishes to lead others away from Christ to follow other gods. The point here isn't about serving false gods (although that is a point, just not the major one) but that he will attempt to lead a rebellion against the one true God so that the people live in a way that God hasn't commanded them.

The other passage gives us another test of a false prophet:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV)

Here if what they speak does not come to pass they are a false prophet.  How easy is that?

Sadly, we know from Scripture that Israel indeed succumbed to these false prophets. From what we read in the New Testament things got little better in this regard (See 1 Corinthians 11 and 12 and Galatians for starters). When Paul was with the church at Ephesus he gave the following ominous warning:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore be alert….” (Acts 20 29-31a)

Yet we see that at some point people claiming to be apostles were busy leading the church at Corinth away from sound doctrine. Paul's concern was the same as it should be for all pastors/elders in the Church and, I believe, the very concern God had for his people and the reason behind the words quoted above in Deuteronomy:

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 11:2-3 ESV)

The reason false prophets are treated so harshly isn't because they are necessarily evil.  Yes, under the adamic curse we are all evil and presuming to speak for God or leading people away from God are sins, but what I mean is these passages aren't making judgements upon the personalities of the false prophets.  In other words, they may be genuinely nice people.  False prophets come in all shapes and sizes.  When reading the Law or the Old Testament as a whole, we tend to read in a very binary fashion.  The people doing wrong are evil, demonic, green-eyed, greasy, drooling, skulking characters that reek of badness.  Only a dolt would miss these people standing in a crowd of truly nice people (like ourselves).

I can't really tell you what a false prophet looked like in ancient Israel or even in the New Testament Church.  However, I believe I might not be too far off base in assuming that people back then were very much like people today.  That is, really nice people do really bad things with very good intentions.  They rarely wake up one morning and declare, "Today I shall become a false prophet, say things in God's name that aren't really from God and lead God's people astray.  But first some coffee!".   Oh, I'm sure some false prophets truly are green-eyed, drooling, skulking characters, but I'm going to guess that quite a many of them are very, very nice people.

But that isn't the point.  God isn't telling us that false prophets are despicable people and that we probably wouldn't want to hang out with them anyway.  He is telling us that these people are wrong and that ultimately they will lead God's people away from him and because of this they are quite dangerous. They are so dangerous, in fact, that under the Law they were to be put to death. In short, they were not to be tolerated.

When it comes down to it the Israelite's situation was like the New Testament Church's situation which is like our current situation.  There are many people out there calling themselves "prophets" who are leading people astray.  Some are teaching overtly false doctrine.  Others are presuming to speak for the Lord. Some are making predictions that aren't coming true.  And what is the Church's response?

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV)

Yep.  We tolerate it.  We make excuses, we explain away the "mistakes", we ignore the motives, we justify the false teachings, we read their books, we watch their shows, we listen to their sermons.  We say things like, "Prophets today can't be held to the same standard as prophets back then. We need to give room for growth and grace".  We do everything but hold people to a biblical standard of behavior; a standard God laid down.  

It is time believers and especially those who are leaders start "killing" the prophets.  No, I don't mean literally killing them.  I mean we stop tolerating them.  We point them out for what they are:  false. But let me give a fair word of warning here. There are a number of reasons false prophets are able to continue doing what they do.  Let me give you two of them.  First, they sound good.  They mix just enough truth in with the false so that it sounds like it really is from God.  So if you stand up to them you will appear to be fighting God.  Second, they are typically nice people (as mentioned above).  So you will almost always come off sounding like a meany. You can do everything humanly possible to be as nice as possible, but in the end you will look like the bad guy.  Let's face it, killing always seems kinda mean, even if done for the right reasons.

There has been a pattern repeated throughout history and it will be no different for us today as it was for those who have come before.  It goes something like this:  False prophet shows up.  God's man condemns false prophet.  People put to death God's man.  Bleak, yes.  But sometimes, when no one expects it, God's people actually listen and turn out the false prophet, stop listening to the lies, and turn back to worship their God in spirit and truth.  No, really, it happens.  It really, truly does.