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.

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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.”