The Fence

Once, next to a trail in Yosemite National Park, there was a fence. On the fence was a sign instructing hikers not to cross the fence. On the other side of the fence was the beautiful Merced River. The river’s cool, refreshing waters beckoned visitors to jump in and relax on hot afternoons. However, when park rangers caught people crossing the fence to enjoy the water, they were promptly arrested and jailed.

Hikers began to object to the fence and the oppressive sign forbidding them from fully enjoying the river. They began writing to the park administrator, contacting their senators and house representatives, and protesting at the fence. They argued that the fence was oppressive and discriminatory, and denied citizens their rights. Pro-fence activists argued for the necessity of the fence, claiming the river was dangerous, but were labeled as hateful and likened to slave owners and Nazis. Anti-fence activists demanded that a local pro-fence baker decorate a cake with an anti-fence message and cater an anti-fence rally, and forced the baker out of business for refusing to do so. The media fully supported the fence removal – all except FOX News, which was ridiculed and ignored.

Finally, after several anti-fence activists were arrested for climbing over the fence and jumping into the water, they sued the National Park Service to remove the fence. Eventually, the case went before the Supreme Court, who ruled in a 5-4 vote that the fence was unconstitutional, and the fence was finally removed. Visitors to the park have since been able to fully enjoy the waters of the Merced River in peace, without restriction, ending the reign of the oppressive fence.


Vernal Falls - top

The fence at the top of Vernal Falls

This story isn’t real, but the fence and the river are.

There actually is a fence that separates a trail in Yosemite National Park from the Merced River. There are actual warning signs on the fence telling people not to cross.

On July 19, 2011, three hikers decided to cross the fence to swim in the river. All three died after being swept over the 317-foot high Vernal Falls, just a few yards downstream. They ignored the warnings, and it cost them their lives. You can read the story here.

Sometimes, fences and warning signs are there for our protection, even when we don’t see or understand the danger.

God’s moral law is much like a guardrail with warning signs.

Some people see God’s moral law like a fence designed to keep them from enjoying life. This seems to be especially true when it involves sexual activity. God’s laws forbidding homosexuality, adultery, and other sexual acts, are often seen as outdated and oppressive. The Genesis 2-3 definition of marriage as existing only between one man and one woman – affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6 – is assaulted as outmoded, discriminatory, and unjust. Followers of Christ who are vocal about their support of traditional marriage are labeled as homophobes. The Bible is ridiculed as 051112_1732_GayMarriage5.jpga collection of fairytales written by illiterate goat herders back in the Bronze Age. So, people climb right over the fence of God’s moral law to enjoy the waters of whatever sin they choose, ignoring the warning signs in the Bible and the pleas of Christians to repent.

However, in actuality, God’s moral law is more like a guardrail. There is a grave danger in ignoring God’s instructions and warnings. Often, we know the danger is there, but think we can get close without going over the edge. We think we can handle it. Other times, the danger isn’t obvious, and often, we cannot see it at all. We think God’s warning is unnecessary and obsolete. We think God is a mean, old ogre just trying to keep us from the good things in life. So, we ignore the warnings, only to be swept away by our sin and rebellion against Him.

Why does God call homosexuality an abomination?

Why does God say homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)? Why does Paul call homosexuality “vile passion,” “unnatural,” and “shameful” (Romans 1:26-27)?

In all honesty, I don’t completely know why God warns us that homosexuality is wrong and dangerous. God doesn’t always explain Himself to us. A parent sometimes doesn’t explain to a young child why they shouldn’t do dangerous things, they simple tell them not to do it. A warning sign on a fence sometimes doesn’t go into any explanation; it simply says, “DANGER.” The fact that God put up a warning sign telling us that homosexuality is dangerous is enough for me to believe it. The omniscient God knows better than I do what dangers exist outside my frame of reference.

Although God could have left us completely in the dark regarding homosexuality, He didn’t. The best answer I have found in the Bible is in Ephesians 5:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

According to this passage, marriage was designed by God to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church. In a Christ-centered marriage, the husband is to love only his wife, unconditionally and completely, just as Christ loves the Church. The wife is to forsake all others, and commit herself completely to her husband, as followers of Christ are to commit themselves completely and solely to Christ. To alter the definition of marriage is to blaspheme the relationship between Christ and the Church. Homosexuality and gay marriage are essentially telling Jesus Christ that His love for us isn’t good enough, that we are looking outside of Him for purpose and completeness. This is idolatry and blasphemy, and that’s why God is so offended by it.

What does all this mean to me as a follower of Jesus?

Vernal Falls from another angle

Vernal Falls from another angle

One of the arguments I keep hearing is that as a heterosexual married Christian, the gay marriage issue doesn’t affect me at all, so I should just keep out of it. Yes, it’s true that the legalization of gay marriage won’t change my marriage in the slightest. True, but irrelevant. Someone jumping over a guardrail to play in a river just upstream from a 317-foot high waterfall doesn’t affect the hiker who stays on the correct side of the fence, but that doesn’t mean the hiker shouldn’t do everything in his power to convince the person in the river to get out.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I know the Bible is true. The Bible clearly warns that homosexuality is sin, and that marriage is between one man and one woman. It also warns that disregarding God’s law leads to eternal separation from God in a place of eternal suffering called Hell. Love demands that I warn people what God has said. Love demands that I cannot support the legalization and acceptance of something that God finds completely offensive.

I’m sorry most people can’t see it, but gay marriage has nothing to do with Godly love. It has everything to do with defying God. God said no, and people have said yes. Defying God is like jumping over a guardrail into a raging river above a plunging waterfall. It means certain catastrophe. Love demands that I try to convince people to flee from the danger, into the arms of the loving God who gave His only Son to save us from our stupidity and sin.

I guess that’s what it all comes down to. People will either take God at His word, or they won’t. It’s been that way since the serpent deceived Eve. However, Love demands that followers of Christ warn others about the reality of sin.

Comments are welcome, as long as they are civil.

Thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling on Gay Marriage

Gay Marriage BarsThis past Friday, the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Time will tell, but I believe that this ruling, along with Roe v. Wade, and a few others, will lead to the eventual downfall of the United States. Judgement Day is coming, and I believe God’s judgement has already begun.

How should Bible-believing Christians respond?

First, Christians must reject hatred of homosexuals and their supporters. We must hate sin, but show the love of Christ to sinners. It’s easy to forget that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We need to understand that not all who claim to be Christian are actually born-again followers of Jesus Christ, and that many saved Christians are spiritually immature, and are easily deceived by Satan’s lies. We need to remember that we, too, still sin, and we, too, need to seek forgiveness daily from our Lord and Savior for the sins we still commit. We need to “remove the plank” from our own eyes before we try to “remove the speck” from someone else’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5). The Bible 070812_0138_pushingpeop1clearly teaches homosexual activity as sin, describing it as an abomination. Followers of Christ must not compromise this truth. However, we must also not compromise Christ’s love. Christ-followers need to speak the truth, in love. We can use the issue as a means to open discussion to share the Gospel with the lost.

I’ve been a bit dismayed by the number of self-professing Christians who have come out on social media as supporting gay marriage. Dismayed, but generally not surprised, although some of the individuals have been a bit surprising. There are many people who profess Christianity, but who don’t actually know Jesus, and the issue of gay marriage seems to be rooting a lot of them out. This is not to say that someone who supports gay marriage is necessarily unsaved, but it certainly has brought a lot of the pretenders out into the open, and shown the spiritual immaturity and confusion of many who profess to follow Christ.

What is Marriage?

Perhaps Christ-followers need to understand how marriage is actually defined. There are two kinds:

  1. Biblical Marriage: Christian marriage was created by God, and is described in Genesis 1 and 2, and affirmed elsewhere in the Bible. Biblical marriage is between one man and one women – both being believers – and lasts a lifetime. Each leaves father and mother, and cleaves to the other. The purpose of a Biblical covenant marriage is to imitate redemptive covenant between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). This definition has been ordained by God since the beginning of creation, and will never change.
  2. State Marriage: This form of marriage is a contractual status given by secular governing bodies for legal purposes. The definition of what constitutes state marriage will change as the culture changes, and legal challenges force it to change.

The first kind of marriage is a covenant between Believers, approved by God. The second is a secular legal status.

weddingThe difference between these two kinds of marriage illustrates how, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are no longer part of this world. We are no longer to define ourselves and our beliefs according to the opinions of men, but according to the Word of God.

Those who have never placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ cannot understand the things of God. They cannot comprehend their own sin. They do not have the Holy Spirit in their lives to guide them. We cannot expect them to act in a godly manner, because the truth is not in them (John 8:31-32). We should not be shocked or surprised that gay marriage is apparently now the law of the land; it’s completely consistent for lost people to embrace all sorts of sin.

A Question Regarding Bible-Believing Pastors

Is it time for Bible-believing pastors to give up their state approved licenses to marry?

I’m not really sure what the answer is to this question.

One of the biggest legal challenges for pastors and churches that will probably come out of the Supreme Court decision will be the legal status of churches that refuse to perform homosexual marriages. One possible solution would be for pastors to voluntarily give up their licensure to perform legally recognized weddings.

Do we really need the secular state to recognize a practice in the church that it can never understand?

Biblical marriage is from God, not from the state. Back in the day, churches performed weddings and recognized marriages long before governments issued legal documents and recognized status. This wouldn’t stop Christians from registering with the government later to get legal status and tax benefits. Biblical marriage is like baptism or ordination. A baptism does not need to be recognized or registered with the secular government, nor does ordination. Most ordained pastors do register in order to gain certain legal benefits, but it’s not required. Why should Christians be required to register marriages? And, why should pastors be required to be licensed by the government to perform a Biblical practice?

I wholeheartedly agree that it is sin for people to live together and have sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage. But, which definition of marriage applies? For the follower of Jesus Christ, it’s only God’s definition that matters, not the secular definition.

Something to think about. Comments are welcome, as long as they are kept civil.

 

Thanks to Steve Ham for the Facebook post that inspired this post!

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Background

My daughter Stacey and I are planning to go on a short-term mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in NSM2015LOGOretinasouthwest South Dakota this August. The trip will be with about 20 other people from my church, Fairfield First Baptist, and is through Next Step Ministries. This is the first in a series of blogs I’ll be writing about the trip.

Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, and located in Oglala Lakota County (formerly Shannon County), South Dakota, which is the poorest county in the United States. Some statistics:

  • Pine Ridge has 8 times the United States rate of diabetes.
  • The alcoholism rate is estimated as high as 80%.
  • The median income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
  • The unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is approximately 83-85%, and can be higher during the winter months.
  • About 97% of the population lives below Federal poverty levels.
  • 1 in 4 infants is born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects.
  • The suicide rate is more than twice the national rate.
  • Teen suicides occur at a rate of 4 times the national rate.
  • School drop-out rate is over 70%.
  • Teacher turnover is 800% that of the U.S. national average.
  • Infant mortality is three times the national rate.
  • Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.
  • There are an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (a home which may only have two to three rooms).  Some larger homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.
  • Over-all, 59% of the Reservation homes are substandard.
  • Over 33% of the Reservation homes lack basic water and sewage systems.
  • 39% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.
  • At least 4,000 new homes are needed on the Reservation in order to combat the homeless situation.

History

LakotaThe Oglala are one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota tribe, who along with the Nakota and Dakota, comprise the Great Sioux Nation. Prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806, the Lakota had little contact with non-indigenous people, other than a few traders. At one time, the Lakota controlled a vast area of the Great Plains, including parts of Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

In 1851, the United States government negotiated the first Fort Laramie Treaty with the Lakota and several other tribes in order to secure the safety of travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Indians were to receive an annuity in the amount of fifty thousand dollars for fifty years. The U.S. Senate promptly adjusted the compensation from fifty to ten years, then failed to actually deliver most of the commodities promised as payment, and did not enforce other treaty provisions.

In response, the Lakota and others attacked settlers, causing public pressure on the US Army to punish them. A series of battles between the Lakota and the U.S. Army followed.

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie ended this war. The treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation, which comprised the entire western half of South Dakota, including the Black Hills. The Black Hills were (and are still) considered sacred by the Lakota. The treaty provided for hunting privileges in areas of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota until the buffalo were gone, as well as for schools, clothing, blankets, and food rations. It also called for land allotments to be made to individual Indians.

SiouxreservationmapWhen gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1872, the U.S. government refused to enforce provisions of the 1868 treaty keeping miners out.

Despite the fact that the 1868 treaty required that ¾ of all adult Lakota males had to approve any land deals, and that the Lakota overwhelmingly refused to sign the new treaty, the U.S. Congress ratified Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, which cut off all rations for the Lakota until they ceded the Black Hills to the United States, effectively stealing the Black Hills from the Lakota.

The government also began the systematic destruction of the buffalo herds that the Lakota relied on for food and shelter. This forced the Lakota onto the reservations in order to receive food allotments, or to starve. Once on the reservations, the government again ignored treaty provisions by reducing food allotments, causing widespread illness and death due to malnutrition.

The Dawes Act of 1887 forced the Lakota to divide the Reservation land into allotments for individual Indians, and to sell off “excess” lands to white settlers. It was designed to force the Lakota to become “civilized” by becoming farmers and abandoning traditional tribal structures and traditions. However, because the land was unsuitable for farming, and due to severe drought, the Lakota were reduced to near starvation.

In 1890, in part due to the desperation of the Lakota people, a religious movement known as the Ghost Dance arose. It was believed that the dance would reunite the Lakota with spirits of their dead ancestors, make the whites leave, and bring unity, prosperity, and peace. Unfortunately, many white settlers felt threatened by the movement, fearing it would lead to a new round of war with the Indians. The military was called in. On December 15, 1890, 40 Indian policemen tried to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, a supporter of the Ghost Dance, killing him in the process. After Sitting Bull’s death, about 200 members of his followers, fled and joined Chief Spotted Elk, and attempted to travel to Pine Ridge for protection. On the way, they were met by a 7th Cavalry detachment under Major Samuel M. Whitside. On December 29, 1890, while camped next to Wounded Knee Creek, the military attempted to disarm the Indians. After a scuffle, a shot was fired, then the military opened fire on the Indians. A massacre ensued. In less than an hour, at least 150 Lakota men, women, and children had been killed, and many more wounded. Some estimates put the total casualties (dead and wounded) at around 300 of the approximately 350 Indians in Spotted Elk’s group. Many of the women and children fled into a nearby ravine, where they were systematically hunted down and shot. The Wounded Knee Massacre effectively ended all Lakota hopes of a return to the pre-reservation way of life.

Religion on Pine Ridge Reservation

Approximately 46% of the residents on Pine Ridge Reservation are affiliated with a religious congregation. Nearly half of those are affiliated with the Catholic Church, and a little over a quarter are affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The rest are spread between various evangelical churches, mainline Protestant churches, and a smattering of others.

The Oglala Lakota are very spiritual people. Although not affiliated with a church, most hold to some variation of traditional Lakota beliefs, and many affiliated with churches combine some traditional beliefs with their Christian beliefs.

According to Lakota tradition, the Lakota were given their culture by a sacred person, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who gave the people the sacred pipe along with a promise to teach them the ceremonies and standards for living as a united tribe. This pipe links the Lakota to their relatives the buffalo, who would give their very lives to sustain their kin.

The Lakota language has no word for religion. The sacred are not restricted to certain times, places, or activities – the Lakota held and many continue to hold that all is sacred. Religious revelation through personal quest, dreams, and visions remains an important part of their dynamic belief system. Lakota religion teaches that everything has a spirit, and many Lakota worship the spirits. The Great Spirit is the most powerful of all – the traditional Lakota God.

There are many Christian organizations that do mission work on Pine Ridge. Most center around building projects and other ways of trying to improve the living conditions on the Reservation. Many of the Oglala appreciate the work these groups do, but many others have a deep opposition to Christianity and Christians. Many feel they have been stripped of everything they once had, and that their traditional religious beliefs are all they have left. Others resent that religion, especially Catholic and Episcopalian churches, was shoved down their throats in the deliberate attempts to “civilize” them by forcing them to give up their traditional ways.

Why this matters

Pine RidgeBecause I will be spending a week in August on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a missionary, I felt it was critical that I learn as much as possible about the people I will be ministering to. The Gospel isn’t about changing culture; it’s about introducing people to Jesus Christ. Part of evangelism involves understanding the people being evangelized in order to be able to present the Gospel message in a relevant way. The message doesn’t change, but how it’s presented must be tailored to fit the understanding of those with whom it’s being shared. Part of always being ready to give a defense of the Gospel to everyone who asks us about it (1 Peter 3:15) is to anticipate the probable objections to the Gospel that a particular group might raise, and to prepare Biblically-solid answers.

In Lakota culture, one must earn the right to be heard. The way to earn that right is by building relationships, and relationships are built through understanding and trust. At this point, my goals for the trip are: 1) help improve someone’s life through building projects; 2) build relationships through service and friendship; and 3) when given the opportunity to be heard, present the Gospel in a way that it can be understood and received. My hope is that the preparation, study, and prayer I have undertaken will allow me to have an impact on someone’s life with the Gospel.

There is great spiritual warfare on the Reservation. The worship of spirits opens the door to demonic activity. Many of the suicides at Pine Ridge have been directly attributed to bad “spirits” telling people to kill themselves. Please pray for the Lakota people on Pine Ridge Reservation, and for the Christians (both natives and non-natives) working to spread the Gospel and improve living conditions.

The righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

It Only Takes One Mistake

Bad choices – even a single bad choice – can lead to death and destruction.

Recently, a coworker and friend was sentenced to several years in prison for killing a man in a drunk-driving accident.

Brian (not his real name) left work a little after 10:30 one night a few days before Christmas, and stopped by a bar for a few beers and a few games of pool. After having more than just a few beers, he got in his car to go home. On the way, he hit another car, pushing it into oncoming traffic. The driver of the car he hit died; Brian nearly died as well.

Brian had no criminal history prior to this incident. He’s a quiet, laid back, hard-working guy in his late twenties. The closest he’d ever come to a brush with the law was a ticket for an expired tag on his license plate. Because he made one mistake – one very bad decision – a man is dead, and a family has been shattered by the loss of a husband and father. Brian’s life has been ruined as well, and his own family has been devastated.

As much as I grieve for the victim and his family, I was hoping the judge would go easy on Brian. After all, he’s a good guy, with a nearly perfect driving record up until the accident. He made a single bad decision. He’s apologized, and is truly sorry for the mistake he made. Surely, the judge could take into consideration all the good Brian has done in his life, and let him off easy.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that for the judge to go easy on Brian, maybe giving him probation and community service, would be unjust. Brian’s actions that night cost a man his life. Brian’s one bad choice overrides all of the good he had done in his life; he deserved the sentence he received. Justice demanded that the judge send Brian to prison.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize, it’s much the same with us and God.

Most people do more good stuff than bad. Most of us wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone else. We do a lot of good things for other people. Sure, we make mistakes, but we do a lot more good than bad. And, most of us haven’t killed anyone. Surely, when we die, and face God for judgement, a loving God will look at the good and the bad, and the good will outweigh the bad, and He will let us into Heaven, especially if we’re really sorry and apologize.

Really?

Much like in Brian’s case, one bad choice makes all the difference.

God is not only loving; He is also holy and just. God’s holiness demands that the standard for goodness is perfection. And, God’s perfect justice demands punishment for anything short of perfection. As it says in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” A single sin condemns a person to an eternity separated from God.

Many of my readers are probably thinking, “But that’s not fair! How can a single sin outweigh a lifetime of good?”

How can Brian’s one bad choice outweigh all the good things he has done?

Doing good things does not erase the bad things we do. Apologizing, feeling remorse, and promising not to sin again does not erase the guilt. No matter how many good things I’ve done in my life, I still deserve to be punished for the things I am guilty of. And,it’s not just one thing I’ve done wrong; over the course of my life, I’ve done thousands of things wrong, maybe even millions.

Also, it’s not just other people I’ve sinned against; it’s God Himself, my Creator, that I’ve offended. It’s one thing to sin against another person; it’s quite another to sin against God.

Here’s an analogy: If I shove a random stranger on the street, I could be charged with a misdemeanor assault charge. However, if I shove a police officer, I’ve now committed a felony. Why the difference? It’s due to the police officer’s position of authority over me. It is a greater offense to shove a police officer, because the officer has been placed in a position of authority. And, the greater the authority, the greater the offense. Shoving an everyday citizen is a misdemeanor, and shoving a police officer is a felony. And, if I were to shove the President of the United States, the penalty would be much greater than for shoving a police officer, because the President’s authority is much greater.

When I sin against God, I am guilty of committing an offense against an infinite authority. A single offense outweighs all the good stuff I’ve done for God, because God is infinitely just and infinitely holy. And, I’ve committed a lot more than one offense. Therefore, the penalty is an infinite penalty – eternal damnation.

Thankfully, in addition to being infinitely holy and infinitely just, God is also infinitely loving. God’s justice demands payment for sin. In His infinite love, God has provided an alternative to paying for sin ourselves – He has given us Jesus Christ.

Each of us is guilty of rebellion against God. Each of us has violated the perfect standard required by the perfect God, Who stands in infinite authority over us. Yet, because He loves us infinitely, God has given us his only Son, Jesus Christ, as a substitute. Jesus Christ has taken my sin upon Himself, and paid the penalty on my behalf. Because I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior, the penalty for my sin has already been paid. My guilt has been erased. God no longer holds me eternally responsible for the offenses I’ve committed against Him. It’s not because of anything good I’ve done to deserve God’s forgiveness, but in spite of the fact that I deserve nothing. Just as there is nothing my friend Brian can do to deserve being let off without punishment, there is nothing I can do to deserve God’s forgiveness. Yet, God offers forgiveness freely, through the blood of His precious Son, Jesus Christ. I have received God’s forgiveness, not because of anything good I’ve done, but simply because I chose to receive the Gift. God makes the same offer to everyone. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

A just judge could not simply set Brian free, and the family of his victim may never forgive him. However, God offers Brian – and every other person on earth – freedom and forgiveness. I pray that Brian seeks forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ. I pray that God uses this horrific tragedy to reach Brian with His love, mercy, and grace, and that Brian comes to know God in a personal and intimate manner through Jesus Christ. I also pray God’s peace and healing on the victim’s family, and that they would also come to know Jesus.

I also pray that if you, my reader, have not yet found forgiveness and mercy from God through Jesus Christ, that you would seek Him, and come to know Him in a personal, intimate way. It’s as simple as acknowledging before Him that you’ve sinned against Him, believing that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died to pay for your sin and take your sins from you, and receiving His forgiveness. You can then begin an incredible journey of getting to know the Creator of the universe, and of becoming more like Him.

It only takes one mistake to deserve Hell. It only takes one choice to receive forgiveness. Make that choice today.

You Shall Not Commit Adultery

The Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. You shall not kill/murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet

The Seventh Commandment simply says: “You shall not commit Adultery” (Exodus 20:14 NKJV).

What is “adultery?”

Strictly speaking, adultery is a sexual relationship between a married person and someone other than his or her spouse.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands the definition: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” According to Jesus, any man (married, or not) who looks at a woman (married, or not) and thinks about having sex with her, is just as guilty of adultery as the married man who actually does have sex with a woman other than his wife. Although not specifically stated here, the opposite is presumed true as well: A woman who lusts after a man is guilty of adultery as well.

Using Jesus’ definition, almost every person past the age of puberty is guilty of adultery. It is the very rare individual who has never lusted after someone to whom they are not married.

 adultery_Bible

What about other sexual sins?

In addition to adultery, both the Old and New Testaments describe many examples of sexual sins, including (but not limited to):

Additionally, there are a number of New Testament passages warning against the sin of πορνείᾳ, which is translated in various English versions as fornication, unchastity, or sexual immorality. According to Strong’s Concordance, πορνείᾳ – pronounced (por-ni’-ah) – is “a selling off (surrendering) of sexual purity; promiscuity of any (every) type.” πορνείᾳ is the root word for the English word “pornography.” Essentially, πορνείᾳ includes all sexual acts outside of Biblical marriage.

How does the Bible define Marriage?

The basic definition of marriage is found in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus reiterated this basic definition in Mark 10:6-8:

But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.

Both Genesis 2:24 and Jesus define marriage as being between one man and one woman. wedding

What about polygamy? The Old Testament certainly records many instances of polygamous marriages, including Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon. However, in each of these cases, polygamous marriages caused serious consequences. Although there are a handful of Old Testament verses that can be interpreted to endorse or even require polygamous marriage, these same verses have also been interpreted to refer to successive marriages, rather than concurrent ones. Regardless of the interpretation of these verses, marrying multiple wives is not in harmony with God’s design for marriage from the beginning.

The same can be said for divorce. There are several Old Testament passages describing procedures for divorce. However, in the same passage from Mark 10, Jesus states that the law allows for divorce because of the hardness of the human heart (verse 5), and that ““Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (verses 11-12). Again, divorce is clearly not part of God’s design for marriage.

Homosexual marriage is never mentioned in Scripture. However, since the Bible speaks clearly about the sin of homosexuality, and since Jesus defined marriage in terms on one man and one woman, gay marriage is clearly not part of the Biblical design for marriage.

A Christian Response

The Biblical definition for marriage is one man and one woman for life. Divorce, polygamy, and gay marriage are sin, and not part of God’s design. However, all of these are practiced in our culture, even among professing Christians. How should Christians respond?

First, we must not compromise the truth of God’s Word. We need to acknowledge that all sexual relations outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage are sin.  As Christians, we must never compromise the truth of God’s Word. speaking-truth-love

Second, we also need to remember that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). By Jesus’ definition, almost every adult is guilty of sexual sin. Christians have no right to judge the sin of others if they do not recognize and repent of their own sin. Just because I haven’t actually had a sexual relationship outside of marriage, I’ve certainly thought about it, so according to Jesus, I’m also guilty. I’ve certainly also committed many other kinds of sin. Christians have no business looking down on the sins of others, just because they haven’t committed those particular sins. We have more than enough sins of our own, without adding hypocrisy to the list.

Christians who are caught in the snare of sexual sin need grace and truth to be able to repent of those sins and be restored to fellowship with Jesus Christ. If married, both the one adulterer and their spouse need compassion and Godly counsel in order to heal the relationship. If in an unbiblical relationship, they need to separate, in accordance to God’s Word, and need to repent of sin.

In the case of non-believers, what they need is the grace of Jesus Christ, not hate from Christians. Christians can, and must, truly hate the sin, but love the sinner. All non-Christians, regardless of whatever sin they may be involved in, need to understand they are sinners, but that Jesus Christ offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin for those who repent and turn to Him.

The following quote has been attributed to both Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and Pastor Rick Warren (I think Warren is the actual source):

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

Christians must stand firm on the truth of God’s Word in regards to sexual sin, but at the same time, must demonstrate Christ-like grace and compassion toward sinners. Our goal must be to allow God to work through us to lead sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

I Hate Tomatoes

I hate tomatoes, both yellow and red.

If I got them at school, I would give them to Fred.

I like them in ketchup; I like them in soup,

But plain old tomatoes? I rather eat poop.

My parents, they like them; my brother does, too.

Instead of tomatoes, I’d rather eat glue.


I originally wrote this in the fourth grade, circa 1971-72. My teacher made me change the word “poop” to “goop.” I’ve changed it back.

IHateTomatoes

Is Christianity a Religion?

Several weeks ago, I asked the question, “Is Atheism a Religion?” My conclusion was that “Atheism is not a religion, per se, but almost all Atheists practice a non-theistic kind of religion. Atheist religion is generally not an institutionalized system or organization, but usually more of a personal set of non-theistic religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”

Today I will tackle the question of whether Christianity is a religion. It is my contention that there are, in fact, two distinct forms of Christianity: one form that is a religion, not different from any other religion, and another that is much more than just a religion.

What is religion?

In order to answer the question, it is necessary to first define exactly what religion is.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, religion is:

1 a :  the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>

b (1) :  the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) :  commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2 :  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

3 archaic :  scrupulous conformity :  conscientiousness

4 :  a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

In my discussion of Atheism, I identified 8 common traits of religions:

  1. Religions have narratives or texts.
  2. Religions have doctrines.
  3. Religions have faith.
  4. Religion is a source of purpose and meaning.
  5. Religions have rituals.
  6. Religions use symbols.
  7. Religion provides social construct.
  8. Religions proselytize.

Religion is both a set of beliefs about God and a set of practices based on those beliefs. The more religious a person is, the more fervently the set of beliefs and practices is followed.

Two kinds of Christianity

Here we come to the crux of the question: Is Christianity a religion, or is it something more?

I contend that there are, in fact, two distinct kinds of Christianity. There is a form of Christianity that is clearly religion. Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Protestantism, and Fundamentalism are all religions. They are all sets of beliefs with accompanying behaviors and practices. Even Christians who are not a part of any organized church or denomination ultimately have a religion. They have a personal set of beliefs and practices.

There is another form of Christianity, however, that goes far beyond the definition of a religion. Consider this passage from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John:

22 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”

Verse 27 emphasizes the relationship between Jesus and His followers:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

This goes beyond simply knowing about Jesus; a true follower of Jesus Christ actually knows Him.

I know a lot about the President of the United States. I see him on television and in my Facebook newsfeed nearly every day. I know what he says, and who he is. However, I cannot say I know him. We’ve never even met in person, and even if we had, he wouldn’t remember me from any of the hundreds of thousands of other people he’s met. Compare that to the relationship I have with my wife and kids. I live with them, and I talk with them regularly. I actually know them quite well, and they know me quite well. We have individual, close connections .

So it is with those who truly follow Jesus. We don’t just know about Jesus, we know Him personally. He knows us personally. We don’t just follow a religion; we follow a person that we have actually met, with whom we have a personal relationship.

Consider also these verses from Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Notice that it isn’t the religious people that enter heaven – it’s those who do the will of the Father and whom Jesus knows. What is the “will of the Father?” In the context of the passage, it’s certainly not being religious. Jesus repeatedly saves his harshest criticism for the most religious people in His culture. The will of God is that people would know Him.

How are the two kinds of Christianity different from each other?

Let me give my answer from personal experience. I grew up as a religious Christian. I was in a church service nearly every Sunday. My entire family was active in the church; my dad sang in the choir, and my mom was the Sunday KnowtheAuthorSchool Superintendent. I was active in the youth group – president, my senior year – and went to church camp every summer. I knew a lot about the Bible, God, and Jesus. I participated in fundraisers to help the poor, vacation Bible school, and Bible study classes. Although I knew I did some bad things, I believed my goodness outweighed the bad. I believed, God is love; he accepts us as we are, warts and all.

However, as a college freshman, I realized that this wasn’t enough. Although I knew a lot about Jesus, I didn’t know Jesus. And, though I was mostly a good person, I still sinned, and sin separates us from God – it prevents us from knowing Him. I discovered that God is not only a God of love, He is also the God of holiness, justice, and truth. It was then that I changed from the first kind of religious Christianity to the second kind – relationship Christianity. I repented of my sin, and from trying to earn my way to Heaven. I acknowledged that Jesus is God; that He died for my sin, and rose again. And I committed my life to follow Him. God then did an amazing thing. He forgave my sin, and He restored my relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit tool up residence in my heart (2 Corinthians 1:22). I now not only knew about Jesus – I actually came to know Him in a personal way.

This is the difference between the two kinds of Christianity: The first is a religion, no different from any other religion. It has a holy book, doctrine, faith, rituals, and symbols, like any other religion. Religious Christianity provides social construct and purpose and meaning, as do all religions. Faithful religious Christians proselytize, as do the faithful from all other religions. And, like all other religions, religious Christianity does nothing to restore the relationship with God that has been lost because of human sin. It acknowledges that Jesus paid the penalty for sin on the cross, but does nothing to activate that forgiveness in anyone’s life. It’s sort of like starving to death while looking at a table full of food. Food does no good, unless one actually ingests it. That’s what relationship Christianity is all about: ingesting and applying the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ, and beginning a relationship with Him. Yes, those who have a relationship with Jesus also have the Bible, doctrine, and faith. Yes, our relationship with Jesus is the source of our social construct, purpose, and meaning. We proselytize, and although for many of us, rituals and symbols aren’t especially important, we still have them. The key difference is that these things aren’t the foundation – our relationship with Jesus is the foundation.

RelationshipnotreligionIs Christianity a religion? It depends on which kind of Christianity being discussed. It has been claimed that, “Christianity isn’t a religion – it’s a relationship.” I only partially agree with this. A better way of stating this would be, “True Christianity isn’t just a religion – it’s a relationship.” Much of what people know as Christianity is a religion, and is ultimately no different from any other religion. It makes people feel good, and act a certain way, but cannot restore a relationship with God. The other kind of Christianity is a relationship with God, through the blood of Jesus Christ. This second kind of Christianity still has most of the marks of religion, but is much, much more than just a religion. Religious Christianity is based on trying to make one’s self acceptable to God, which cannot be done, and ultimately leads to death and Hell. Relationship Christianity is based on what Jesus did, not what we do. We become acceptable before God because Jesus took our sin on Himself. Relationship Christianity restores our connection with our Creator, and leads to eternal life, not Hell.

Application

What difference does this make? It makes all the difference in the world! If you are a religious Christian – you have the doctrine, faith, rituals, and symbols, etc., but you don’t know Jesus personally – your sins are not forgiven, and you have not had your relationship with God restored. You are headed for Hell. You need to repent of your religiosity, acknowledge that you cannot make yourself acceptable to God, and receive forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ. Head knowledge is not the same as a relationship. Religion makes people feel good, but leads to Hell. Stop having faith in religion, and place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. If you profess another religion, or no religion at all, you also need Jesus. You may have a wonderful life, but in the end, you will spend eternity separated from God in Hell, unless you turn to Jesus.

jesus_talkingIf you know Jesus already, you probably already understand this distinction. Make sure you keep your heart and mind focused on Jesus, not on all the religious stuff that accompanies faith in Jesus. Sure, the “religious” stuff, like reading your Bible, trying to do what is right, giving to the poor, and regularly attending corporate worship are important, they are no substitute for developing your relationship with Jesus. When you share your faith in Jesus with others, they will often think Christianity is no different from any other religion. In a sense, they are right – most of what they have seen is the religious Christianity, not relationship Christianity. Make the distinction between Christianity the religion and Christianity the relationship. Both exist, but only one leads to eternal life.

One final thought: the two kinds of Christianity are usually mixed together in any given church or denomination. That is, in most solid, Bible-believing churches, there are some that don’t actually know Jesus, along with those that do. There are also Christians who truly know Jesus in some very religious churches. Knowing Jesus isn’t a matter of whether one belongs to the right or wrong denomination or church.

If you want to know more about knowing Jesus, leave a comment, or send me a message. I’d love to tell you more.

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