Tag Archives: Jesus

Laboring in God’s Word

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“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
John 14:1-14

When you read what Philip said in verse 8 of John 14 does it seem like an unreasonable request? To the contrary, one might conclude that it was commendable. After all, what could be wrong with expressing a desire to see the Father whom Jesus often spoke about? Furthermore, Jesus had just mentioned that He would soon depart to go to the Father’s house and would come back for the disciples to take them there (John 14:1-3). No doubt this peaked the natural curiosity of Philip. What is the Father like? Yet, when we look at the reply of the Lord to Philip it is troubling. Philip was not commended, he was rebuked for his ignorance.

The end of the Lord’s public ministry was near and he did not fully grasp the most vital truth concerning Jesus – the manifestation of His Divine nature, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” Jesus had given proof of His Divine power throughout His ministry. Was it not Philip who said, “we have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write” (John 1:45). This led me to question how well the disciples of Jesus in our day know him? Do they understand all of the necessary truths that reveal the person and work of Christ revealed in God’s Word.

The early church father Jerome said, “to be ignorant of the Scripture is to be ignorant of Christ”. What I learn from the inquiry of Philip and Thomas (John 14:5) is that the duration of our exposure to truth does not guarantee that we are mature in the faith.

Last Sunday I mentioned that we must be hearers and doers of the Word. In Jesus we have the opportunity to overcome the nature of man. We can have the victory over the flesh by learning and applying the words of the truth. The path we are to follow is not the traditions of man, but the truth of the gospel of Christ. Seek His ways and you will find a path where there is no defilement. We must give ourselves to the “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

As far as I can tell the problem of Biblical ignorance is not due to a lack of resources. We have Bible dictionaries, systematic theology books, commentaries, lexicons, study Bibles, Christian internet web sites, books and more books from gifted authors. There is no end to the study aids at our disposal. However, all of these are of no use if we do not utilize them. They are tools to Bible understanding, but tools perform no work unless they are in the hands of the workman.

To study means to labor to discover the correct interpretation of a text. The problem is not ignorance, the problem is laziness and misplaced priorities. Some are like little babes who cannot feed themselves. This crowd is dependent on the spiritual food that comes only from the study others have done. The voice of their favorite Bible teacher has replaced the voice of the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the truth of His inspired Word through diligent personal study. Others are like Martha who was “troubled with many things (Luke 10:41).”

The maddening pace of the modern age is taking a toll on our lives, not only physically, but spiritually. We must learn from the great example set by Mary who “sat at Jesus feet and heard His word” (Luke 10:39). Take time today to sit alone at Jesus feet with your Bible and learn from Him. Consider this thought from the pen of William Whitaker, “God willed to have His truth, so sublime, so heavenly, sought and found with so much labor, the more esteemed by us on that account. For we generally despise and scorn whatever is easily acquired, near at hand, and costs small or no labor. But these things which we find with great toil and much exertion, those, when once we have found them out, we esteem highly and consider their value proportionally greater” – Disputations on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker 1588.


What Defiles a Person

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And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Mark 7:14-23

Last week, I wrote that I would continue my previous post with a follow-up to answer the last question posed to me. My commenter asked: “Regarding Jesus, what do you think Jesus means concerning sexual immorality defiling the heart in Mark 7:20-23? What sexual immorality would He have in mind and how would we know what He meant?”

First of all, you will notice that the verses that I quote above are Mark 7:14-23, not just Mark 7:20-23, because I wanted to present the wider context of what Jesus was saying. What is the key to living a life of truth and purity in Christ? Is it following the traditions of the church? No. Jesus in this section showed that purity in Christianity was not an outward thing but a matter of the heart.

Jesus had just scolded the Pharisees for following their traditions rather than following the word of God. In fact they gave such importance to their traditions that they completely negated the word of God, which was leading people astray. Jesus showed the error of their ways and then went on to correct them.

The argument came up over the washing of hands before eating. This was a tradition the Pharisees were teaching and were annoyed because the disciples of Jesus were not following their tradition. In showing the error of their argument, Jesus said to all the people that, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.” (Verses 14-15)

A person is not defiled by eating without washing their hands, at least not in the sight of God. A person is defiled when they behave poorly towards their fellow man. Real defilement is a matter of behavior not food. When someone behaves badly towards another they are showing a lack of respect and of love for that person. The basis of both the old and new covenants is love. So when a person acts in opposition to love, they are defiled for they are not acting in accordance with the nature and the will of God.

To eat with unwashed hands could make you sick physically, but it will neither commend nor cause your rejection before God. He does not care whether we wash our hands to eat or not. The old saying that “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” is completely wrong. What will cause you to be defiled is anger, wrath, malice, evil behavior, fornication, licentiousness, adultery, murder, deceit and so on. These are the true blots and blemishes on the character of man.

The application of what Jesus is saying goes far beyond the issue of what foods we eat. The same principle applies to the music we listen to, the beverages we drink, the movies or tv shows we watch, the books we read etc. There is nothing external to you that will defile you because sinful corruption and defilement comes from the human heart. Your goal should not be just to rigidly and ritualistically avoid all the things external to you that you consider unclean and unrighteous. Your goal should primarily be to surrender your heart to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your heart, transform your motives, and transform your desires so that your heart no longer desires to sin but desires to obey God and live a life of purity. Do not think that by avoiding all the “unclean” foods, drinks, places, or activities that you will automatically be clean and righteous. It would be a tragedy if you spent your life, like the Pharisees, completely preoccupied with all the external issues but never dealing with your internal heart issues.

So nothing outside of a person corrupts him/her, does that mean we’re free to eat, drink, watch, read anything we want anytime we want? Be careful. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul addressed this issue by saying, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” So in a sense, barring any explicit Biblical commands to the contrary, yes we are free to “do anything.” However, it is not always constructive or beneficial to “do anything.” For example, a Christian who is a recovering alcoholic has the freedom to drink alcohol, but it probably would not be beneficial for him/her to do so. Jesus’ proclamation that nothing outside of a person makes him/her unclean and unrighteous is not meant to be used by you as an excuse to simply do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, and however you want.

Remember, the root issue is your heart. If a person is pursuing sinful behavior, it is not because something external to that person caused them to become sinful, but is because their human flesh wants to sin in that way. Your sin isn’t a result of something outside of you; it is a result of your human heart and flesh wanting to be in rebellion against God. Read through that list of sinful vices Jesus listed, keeping in mind his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount that even looking at a woman lustfully is adultery, or that even being angry can be as bad as murder. After reading that list ask yourself, “Which of these/how many of these have I committed in the past day? Week? Month? Year?” How have you attempted to overcome those sinful behaviors? Simply avoiding external things and abiding to external rules is not enough to defeat your sin. You need Jesus. You need your heart to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Instead of simply trying to correct your behavior, continually be surrendering you heart over to Jesus, and continually be seeking to have your heart, desires, and motivations conformed to the will of God. Only with a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit will you be able to experience true victory over sin.

Though the question from my commenter explicitly asked to address what Jesus meant by “sexual immorality,” I find the complete context to be more beneficial to study than two words near the end of the passage. However, I do want to address this because I think it is important for LGBT Christians to understand. Sex outside of marriage, i.e. rape, fornication, and adultery, is clearly defined as sin, as are the lustful thoughts that go with them, even without the act, as Jesus states in the Sermon on the Mount. However, that being said, when different places forbid LGBT marriages, they take that away from us. We are denied the right to be married and have a fulfilling and loving relationship within the confines of marriage. Furthermore, homosexuality as a sin is a tradition of man and is not upheld by a true reading of the scripture of the New Testament. Those who condemn homosexuality are no better than the Pharisees that Jesus corrects. As was pointed out in our study of the Book of James, we must be hearers and doers of the Word.

In Jesus we have the opportunity to overcome the nature of man. We can have the victory over the flesh by learning and applying the words of the truth. The path we are to follow is not the traditions of man, but the truth of the gospel of Christ. Seek His ways and you will find a path where there is no defilement.


Questions and Answers

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A church of Christ minister emailed me a few weeks ago with some question regarding my posts about gay Christians and my views about the Church of Christ. In his comment, he stated:

I found your site interesting to come across. There certainly should be a place of discourse about homosexuality. I am a minister in the Church of Christ, and I do find that all sexual behavior outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful and contrary to Christ’s words. I do know that many Christians can struggle with difficulties that make them feel on the edges of their church and faith to which I can relate. I think we can help each other. I do have some questions that I hope you can consider and respond.

In his comment and his subsequent email, he asked a number of questions which I will endeavor to answer. In my first email to him, I wrote:

I have struggled for many years to try and understand why God created me in a way that I do not have an attraction to the opposite sex, but an attraction to my own sex. I once asked myself if God made a mistake, but God does not make mistakes, therefore he had a purpose in the way he created me and those like me. I prayed and meditated. I read the Bible, searching for meanings of passages that were difficult to understand, even though some stated that their meaning was very clear and simple. God guided me in that study, as he guides me throughout life. I came to understand and believe that God created me the way I am, that the verses about homosexuality do not pertain to true love between human beings of the same sex, but as perverse sexual acts that are contrary to the teachings of Christ and the worship of Christ.

In what I have read of your views on homosexuality, which I plan to take a closer look to, you equate homosexuality with sexual practices only. Homosexuality is not all about sex. I can be a homosexual and still not engage in sexual practices. There are many who do. However, we are judged by our perceived sexual lifestyle. I am not denying that I have never fornicated, but I have also sought forgiveness for my prior indiscretions.

In his response, he asked how I knew I was born homosexual. While it is true that most people do not develop sexual attraction until puberty, there is more to being homosexual than sex. Though I won’t claim that I was always aware of my homosexuality, it is more because I did not understand. I had no concept of homosexuality, but I certainly knew that I was different. Most homosexuals felt the same way growing up. Most of us did not have the same interests as other boys. I preferred to play with the girls when growing up. I never enjoyed playing sports, though my parents forced me to. So you might ask, how I came to understand my sexuality. It was not easy. When sexual interests began in puberty, it was an attraction to boys not girls. My dreams and fantasies were about boys. Though I tried to think of girls in the same way, it did not arouse me. It took a lot of internal wrestling to come to terms with my sexuality.

Some of the other questions my commenter had that I would like to address:

What do you think it would be like to be a Christian without the desires of homosexuality? How would life be any better?

If I were not homosexual, then I would not have struggled with coming to terms with being gay and Christian. My parents would not worry about me because their concept of Christianity believes that I am damned to hell. In ways, life would be better, but I am the way God created me. I firmly believe that God created me as a homosexual and guided my strong Christian faith because he had a purpose for me. We all have trials and temptations. God tests our faith, as he did Job and Abraham, and so many others. James 1:2-4 says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” However, being homosexual strengthens my faith, not lessens it, and I take joy in that, just as God commands.

With many Christians struggling with temptations of sexual immorality, did you ever see yourself as enslaved your homosexual desires as sin?

Before I studied the scriptures and understood the true meanings of its words, yes, I did feel that I was enslaved by my homosexuality and sin. However, when I studied the true meanings of the words, with faith that God was guiding my study, I came to believe differently. I will not repeat this journey, but instead I urge you to go back and read my post “Abusus Non Tollit Usum.”

Do you still think that sexual desires can be deceptive and entice someone to sin (Jas. 1:14-15, 1 John 2:15-17)?

Yes, I do believe that sexual desire, as well as all other desires of this world, can entice someone to sin. However, this is universal, and does not pertain to homosexuals alone, but to all Christians regardless of their sexuality. When we take verses and place a sexual meaning to them, especially when it has such a wider meaning, then we are perverting the Word of God.

Regarding Jesus, what do you think Jesus means concerning sexual immorality defiling the heart in Mark 7:20-23? What sexual immorality would He have in mind and how would we know what He meant?

This was the last of the questions asked, and I think I deserves a post of its own, so I will continue this next Sunday.

Thank you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and may God bless us to live in His love.


The Prayer of Faith

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Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:13-20

James ends his epistle with a discussion on prayer. Prayer is communication or communion with God. It can be a petition or an appeal to Him confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness. It can be conversation with Him giving Him praise for showering us with blessings.

It can be an outpouring of thanksgiving from the innermost part of our heart. It can be a request for help or assistance for us or for someone else. It is talking to our Heavenly Father just as we talk to people around us.

Sometimes when we pray to God, we might think that He is not listening because we do not get immediate response or answer to our prayer. The Old Testament tells us that David was praying to God for help because his enemies were fighting with him, but he felt his prayer was not being heard. David said, “When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother” (Psalm 35: 13, 14).

God does hear each and every one of our prayers; however, some of them are denied for reasons we do not understand. Maybe the timing is bad or the request can be met in a better and more beneficial way. We must realize that we do not always know what is good for us.

It would be wonderful and our life would be so simple and non-stressful if we could only accept God’s answers the way children do. If we could only have the faith of a child and accept when we don’t get our way, through faith, believe God has something better.

There are times we pray for ourselves and there are times we pray for other people. We are not being selfish when we pray for ourselves. God knows our needs and He knows our wants. These two things don’t always match and many times our wants are not good for us, therefore, we don’t get what we ask for.

Should we stop praying when we don’t get results as we think we should? Are we to believe in our heart that God is not listening; He doesn’t care, the request is too small or too big, we are not worthy, or we are asking for the impossible?

The truth is that we should never stop praying just because our prayer is not answered on the first go-around. God is always listening and in fact He knows what we are going to ask for even before we ask. He cares about every facet of our life and nothing is too small or too big.

Since He created us, we are His child and He cares for us just as we as earthly parents care for our children. We should never be concerned that our request or prayer is impossible because “….with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Some people feel that it is not proper for them to pray for themselves. They believe that it is a selfish act so they ask others to pray for them or to keep them in their prayers. James penned these words: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (James 5:13). People face different mountains of suffering. One could be suffering from a sickness or an illness of some nature. The physical body could be hurting or the mind could be confused.

James goes on to say, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (v. 13). As a child of God, we are blessed in many ways. First of all, God has given us the breath of life. He keeps our heart beating 24 hours each day. He has given us an earthly family who loves us and cares for us. We have food to eat, clothes to wear, a shelter in which to live, a means of earning a living, numerous material things to enjoy, and a Savior who loves us so much He took all of our sins and placed them at the foot of the Cross.

All of us have been sick at one time or another, but how many times have we called the elders of the church? James said, “Is anyone among you sick? Let Him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). People should request the services of the minister when they are in need. In some churches, the minister and the elders will respond to a call from the sick person. It is the duty of the sick person to notify the church of their condition so that they can be placed on the prayer list and prayed for during the service or prayer meeting.

James says, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” You might ask about the “prayer of faith” as to what it means. Prayer is talking intimately with God and “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). It is mandatory that the person praying and the person being prayed for have a lively faith.

Faith in itself does not heal, but it is God who does the healing. Our prayers are the beginning of the healing process. God waits for our prayers which are asked “….in the name of the Lord” (v. 14) before he steps in to take care of our requests. He answers our prayers according to His will.

James goes on to tell us that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (v. 16). Who is a righteous man? The word righteous indicates that the man is honest, good, upright and honorable in the sight of Almighty God.

No man or woman is perfect “….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but Jesus made it possible for us to talk to God and ask for forgiveness. A righteous person who has sinned will ask for forgiveness either privately or publicly. A righteous person reflects the image of his Creator. God can and will work through a righteous person and bring about marvelous happenings.


Patience Is Suffering

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

James 5:7-12

So many of the situations that we find in life are endurable because we know what their end will be. We need to be patient, patient for the Lord. As a gay Christian this is not something that is going to be easy. We get persecuted for what we believe, some places we are ridiculed for our beliefs, and others, heterosexual Christians or LGBT non-believers reject us for our beliefs. But, we must stand firm!

Waiting is hard.

In the black nights of suffering, when ominous clouds come in from the west, it’s hard to know whether those clouds bring nourishing rain or devastating tornado that destroys a all in its path. We have no way of knowing how long we’ll be suffering from a disaster or how long our heart will ache.

Some might question why Job is given to us as a second example of patience since he did impatiently demand that God explain his sufferings to him (for example, Job 6). But Job is an excellent paradigm for us because though he questioned God, he never gave up his faith. Also, if Job is our example we can see that even the most patient of God’s servants will not be perfect until they are glorified. Finally, because Job was one of the first to anticipate the final judgment, he serves as an example for us who also await that day (Job 19:25–26).

We need to love one another, stop talking negatively about one another. Watch our tongues because what we say usually is what is in our hearts. We shouldn’t be speaking with hate, condemnation, gossiping just to tear some one else down.

We need to stand for the Lord, let others see Him in us! No matter what the consequences we need to be bringing others to Him and not making others start thinking that if that is what a ‘Christian’ is like then what’s the point?

Just do our best to remember that we shouldn’t have to ‘swear’ about these things…simply say Yes or No. That we are followers of Jesus because He has died for our sins and if we believe and have repented for our sins He will give us eternal life! This is why we follow. No arguing with others about it, no ‘swearing’ about it. Just let it be…Yes or No.

P.S. I apologize for the late post. It’s been an incredibly busy weekend, and I did not have computer access until just now.


Boasting About Tomorrow

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Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”-yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James 4:13-17
 
There is so much depth to these five verses. In the big picture, do we include God in all of our plans? Do we include him in our career or educational plans? Do we pray about the path He wants us to take?  When we make plans and exclude God, no matter what the plans are, it is as if we are boasting in our own abilities.
 
Verses 13 and 14 refer to making future plans for prosperity without consulting God. Even if the plans are honorable and righteous, God may have other ideas. Our lives are but a blink of God’s eye, “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” God wants us to consult with Him for all plans.
 
I plan ahead.  If I do not have the next step or two thought out before I get to them, I feel behind and unorganized.  However, God does not work this way.  Ever since I gave Him full rights to my life, I cannot seem to plan anything too far in advance.  He is the ultimate schedule shifter.  James notes, “you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”  I have to remind myself of this.  Life throws sudden changes at you.  Yes, I still plan ahead to the best of my ability, but I now make flexible plans instead of rigid ones.  This is one way I submit my life to God, by giving Him free reign to jumble my schedule.  In the end, I trust God has a better idea of what I should do with my life than I do since He sees the entire picture.
 
I remind myself that God has a plan for me in my prayers.  I begin by asking God to forgive me of my sins, then I ask Him to guide me down the path He has chosen for me before asking Him to bless my family and friends.  I pray for guidance down the path God has chosen for me, because I know it is not an easy path.  In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
 
I’ve learned to use verse 15 in all planning. “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” There is so much each of us wants to do with what time we have left in our lives, right? Personally, I would love to travel to Europe again, write a book, get in better shape, and be healthier. With each thing I want do to, I pray about it and say, “Lord, if it is Your will that I do this, then I will do it.”
 
Psalm 37:4 states: Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. This is a Scripture of hope.  We think, “I love the Lord and so He will give me whatever my heart desires.” That sounds great and all, but what about this:  if we love the Lord and become very close and intimate with Him, very soon His desires become the desire of our hearts. Ask the Lord if your desire is His will and you may find that His will truly becomes your desire.
 
Verses 16-17 remind us that boasting in our arrogance is evil, and goes on to say that if we know the right thing to do and fail to do it, we are sinning.  If the Lord places something upon your heart, and you do something else instead, verse 17 tells us that it is sin.  In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul writes, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
 
Boast in the Lord and proclaim to everyone: “My God has blessed me abundantly, and He directs my path.”  In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” There is satisfaction in doing God’s will. To actually do good is filling food. The more we eat the keener our appetite becomes. Dissatisfaction is a sure sign that we are not eagerly doing the will of God. It is a symptom of spiritual immaturity. The only way to discover the point of Christ’s teaching is to practice it. The only way to godly contentment is to hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony

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I came across a link to this on Dan in OKC and decide it was probably worth reading. After reading the blog post from Rachel Held Evans, I wanted to share it with my readers as well. Tell me what you think.

…Or divorce, or gossip, or slavery, or head coverings, or Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, or the “abomination” of eating shellfish and the hell-worthy sin of calling other people idiots.

Then we need a little context.

Then we need a little grace.

Then we need a little room to disagree.

I got to thinking about this after I was criticized last week for my post about loving gay kids unconditionally. Some folks were very upset that I had the audacity write an entire blog post about putting a stop to LGBT bullying without including a Bible-based condemnation of LGBT people, or at least a theological discussion around the issue of homosexuality and Scripture.

Bible verses were quoted.  Open letters were written. End Times predictions were made.  Pillows in my home were thrown record distances.

It’s funny. Yesterday, in Sunday Superlatives, I included a quote from Mark Twain in which he referred to a snake oil salesman as an “idiot,” but no one left an angry comment warning me of hell based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:22 that “if you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court; and if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

Nor did anyone raise any biblical objections regarding gluttony a few weeks ago when I casually mentioned overdosing on Sweet Frog frozen yogurt (strawberry, with a pile of chocolate chips, Oreo crumbs, and chocolate animal crackers on top, if you must know), or about materialism when I shared pictures of our new car. (Hey, for some people, a brand new Honda Civic is pretty flashy.)

And in spite of the flood of emails I get each week condemning my support of women in ministry, I’ve never received so much as an open letter criticizing my refusal to wear a head covering, even though my Web site is full of photographic evidence of what the apostle Paul calls a “disgrace” in 1 Corinthians 11:6.

We may laugh at these examples or dismiss them silly, but the biblical language employed in these contexts is actually pretty strong: eating shellfish is an abomination, a bare head is a disgrace, gossips will not inherit the kingdom of God, careless words are punishable by hell, guys who leer at women should gouge out their eyes.

Heck, you could make a pretty good biblical case for gluttony being a “lifestyle sin” that has been normalized by our culture of “Supersized” portions and overflowing buffet lines, starting with passages like Philippians 3:19 (“their god is their belly”), Psalm 78: 18 (“they tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved”), Proverbs 23:20 (“be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat”), Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”), or better yet, Ezekiel 16:49 (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”)

Yet you don’t see weigh-ins preceding baptisms or people holding “God Hates Gluttons” signs outside the den of iniquity that is Ryan’s Steakhouse.

And we haven’t even touched on materialism, or the fact that on the day I stuffed my face with froyo, 30,000 kids died from preventable diseases and many more went hungry. 

It seems the more ubiquitous the biblical violation, the more invisible it becomes.

So why do so many Christians focus on the so-called “clobber verses” related to homosexuality while ignoring “clobber verses” related to gluttony or greed, head coverings or divorce?  Why is homosexuality the great biblical debate of this decade and not slavery, (as it once was) or the increasing problem of materialism and inequity? Why do so many advocate making gay marriage illegal but not divorce, when Jesus never referenced the former but spoke quite negatively about the latter?

While there are certainly important hermeneutical and cultural issues at play, I can’t help but wonder if something more nefarious is also at work.  I can’t help but wonder if biblical condemnation is often a numbers game.

Though it affects more of us than we tend to realize, statistically, homosexuality affects far fewer of us than gluttony, materialism, or divorce. And as Jesus pointed out so often in his ministry, we like to focus on the biblical violations (real or perceived) of the minority rather than our own.  

In short, we like to gang up.  We like to fashion weapons out of the verses that affect us the least and then “clobber” the minority with them. Or better yet, conjure up some saccharine language about speaking the truth in love before breaking out our spec-removing tweezers to help get our minds off of these uncomfortable logs in our own eyes.

We see this in the story of the religious leaders who ganged up on the woman caught in adultery. She was such an easy target: a woman, probably poor, disempowered, and charged with the go-to favorite of the self-righteous—sexual sin.   When they brought her to Jesus, they were using her as an example to test him, to see how “biblical” his response to her would be. (See Deuteronomy 22:23-14.)  Jesus knelt down and scribbled in the sand before saying, “He who is without sin can cast the first stone.” They dropped their stones.

While self-righteousness avoidance certainly affects our selective literalism , we also have good reasons for not condemning one another for the more ubiquitous biblical violations (again, real or perceived) in our culture.

It’s hard for me to flatly condemn divorce, for example, when I know of several women whose lives, and the lives of their children, may have been saved by it, or when I hear from people who tell me they would have rather come from a broken home than grown up in one. We have a natural revulsion to the idea of checking people’s BMI before accepting them into the Church, especially when obesity is not necessarily reflective of gluttony (often, in this country, it is a result of poverty), and when we know from our own experiences or the experiences of those we love that an unhealthy weight can result from a variety of factors—from genetics to psychological components—and when some of our favorite people in the world (or when we ourselves) wrestle with a complicated relationship with food, whether it’s through overeating or under-eating.  

Again, it’s a numbers game. It’s hard to “other” the people we know and love the most. It’s become a cliché, but everything changes when it’s your brother or sister who gets divorced, when it’s your son or daughter who is gay, when it’s your best friend who struggles with addiction, when it’s your husband or wife asking some good questions about Christianity you never thought about before.  Our relationships have a tendency to destroy our categories, to melt black and white into gray, and I don’t think God is disappointed or threatened by this. I think God expects it. It happened to Peter when he encountered Corneilus and Philip when he encountered the Ehtiopian eunuch. Suddenly it became a lot harder to label your friends “unclean” or “unworthy.” 

 After all, when God became flesh and lived among us, the religious accused him of hanging out with “sinners” (even gluttons!) never realizing that this was the whole point, that there were only “sinners” to hang out with.

Of course, all of this raises questions about when it’s right or wrong to “call out” sin, and I confess I’m no good at sorting that out. I’m as hypocritical as the next person, judgmental of those I deem judgmental, self-righteous, indulgent, a gossip, too careless with my words, too quick to get angry at certain people with certain theological views, too easily seduced by money and notoriety and…my favorite things in the whole entire world…AWARDSI LISTS! ACCOLADES!

I too need reminding that, for all my big talk about a “Christocentric hermeneutic,” more often than not, I’m following a “Rachelcentric hermeneutic” when I read the Bible, complete with my own biases, preferences, insecurities, and opinions guiding how I “pick and choose.” (Oh I can wield every Bible verse that challenges Calvinism like a knife, but I’d rather not talk about how I’m actually applying the Sermon on the Mount to my life or what I really think about enemy-love.) 

Should we stop discussing which biblical instructions apply today and how we ought to apply them? Certainly not. Should we remain silent when the vulnerable are oppressed and exploited or when injustice and immorality pervades our culture? No. Do we abandon our convictions about what the Bible says is sin? No, not even when we disagree on that. Are rhetorical questions overused in blog posts? Yes.

But it’s good to remind ourselves now and then that just as Southern slaveholders had a vested interest in interpreting Colossians 3:22 literally, so we tend to “pick and choose” to our own advantage. 

And when we make separate categories for the “real sinners,” when we reduce our fellow human beings to theological issues up for constant debate who cannot even be told they are loved without qualifiers, when our hermeneutic conveniently renders others the problem and us the heroes, maybe it’s time to sit across a table and get to know one another a little better, to break up some categories and make some new friends. Maybe it’s time to drop our stones for a while and pass the bread.

…healthy, whole grain, organic bread, of course.


Warning Against Worldliness

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What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
 
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
 
James 4:1-12
 
When was the last time you heard a sermon warning against worldliness? I suspect for most believers it would have been a very long time indeed. There are several reasons for this. Likely it is because we are in fact very worldly, and we don’t like to speak to our particular sins, so we just drift along. Also, you are particularly unlikely to hear a sermon, or in this case read a Bible study, about worldliness and gay Christians.  First of all, most of us would start squirming in our chairs.  My first thought would be, “This can’t be good.”  The reason for this is that as gay Christians most of our naysayers consider homosexuality to be a sin of worldliness.  That as gay Christians, we want to sin, be a part of this hedonistic culture, and call ourselves Christians.  But I hope that if you are one of those who regularly follow my Sunday posts, then you will know that is not the message I will deliver here.  I write these posts as both Bible studies and as a way to deliver the truth.  Therefore, I want to study this passage in a way that brings to light the kind of worldliness that applies to LGBT Christians.
 
There is also another reason Christians don’t tend to dwell on worldliness. We have tended to misunderstand what the warnings against worldliness actually mean, and/or have quite distorted the actual biblical teaching on this. That is, we have often thought that worldliness means having nothing to do with this material world altogether.  Or, as LGBT Christians we have been branded as worldly people because too many people believe that homosexuality is a choice.  The truth is, as I believe it (and I do believe that God helped me understand this after much prayer and meditation), God created us to be gay.  He had a purpose for us.  Whatever, that purpose is, we cannot deny God for creating us or leading us down this path.  We are all God’s children and have his undying and eternal love.
 
James is not the only one to warn about worldliness.
John: 1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
 
Paul: Ephesians 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
In the text from James above, these verses make me think of the person who tries to live in both the world and in the kingdom. It can’t be done. Living in the kingdom means the Spirit dwells within us, and God reigns over us. It must be all or nothing. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Therefor, ask yourself to describe you in one word.  What would you say?  If you are worldly, then your answer might be your profession or an adjective describing how you feel or act, but truthfully, the answer should be very simple: Christian.  Whatever else you are, however else you might describe yourself, it is being a Christian that should come first.
 
James finishes this section of scripture we are examining with a warning about verbally attacking or slandering our brother. When we do this, we are not only attacking, but judging his character. In doing so, we are speaking out against and judging the law. Think about it. We are to love our Lord God with all of our heart, soul, strength and might; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we speak against our brother, we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and might as well throw the whole commandment out the window.

…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God…. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” Romans 12:2, 9

As believers, we are not of the world. Worldliness is not a kingdom attribute.
 
If you’re wondering if a behavior or activity is worldly, ask yourself these questions:
  • Does this activity, thing, pursuit take my heart away from God?
  • Does it sabotage my communion with God and my walk in the Spirit?
  • Does it undermine or seek to displace my relationship to Christ as the power of my life?
  • Does it attempt (is it designed) to do so?
  • Does it feed the self-centered, appetite-driven, God-hating part of me called the flesh?
  • Does it inflame my desire to disobey God’s commands?
  • Does it produce pride, contention, immorality, or any other behavior contrary to the love of God and the love of others?
  • Does it lure me into obsession with what is earthbound and temporal versus what is heavenly and eternal?
In John 18, Jesus answers Pilate by repeating this phrase twice:  My kingdom is not of this world.
 
If you follow Jesus, then your kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is not of this world.
 

 


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