Tag Archives: New Testament

Agape and Optimism

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Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32

There are many people in this world who only look at the negatives of religion. They consider religion to be exclusive, not inclusive. They dwell on what not to do, instead of what should be done. Some of these same people are religious, others are not. However, this view of Christianity is as far from my belief as possible. This is a pessimistic view of religion, and as someone who decided years ago that a positive attitude is far greater than a negative attitude, I look to a far more optimistic view of Christianity.

The two verses above are just two of many examples in the Bible that shows the optimistic view of Christianity. More than anything, I believe in the inclusiveness of Christianity. God loves us all, and we are told that we should love all. This type of love is called agape. Agape often translated “unconditional love”, is one of the Koine Greek words translated into English as love, one which became particularly appropriated in Christian theology as the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man.

Although the word agape does not have specific religious connotation, the word has been used by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including biblical authors and Christian authors. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia (an affection that could denote friendship, brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection) and eros, an affection of a sexual nature. The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another (also see kenosis). When 1 John 4:8 says “God is love,” the Greek New Testament uses the word agape to describe God’s love.

Anyone who proclaims that Christianity is a negative religion and focuses only on what not to do, need look only at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-7:27) to be proven wrong. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) are enough in themselves to show the positive nature of what Christianity should be:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If more people would follow the teachings of Jesus Christ instead of focusing on the negatives, then I honestly and wholeheartedly believe that the world would be a better place.


God’s Will

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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

The other day, I was reading an article by Ben Liebing on the blog Thought Catalog called “3 Things Christians Could Learn From Muslims.” The thing is this is an argument that I’ve made before, but I had five reasons. Liebing lists his three: 1) Prayer, 2) The Abaya, and 3) Insh’allah. I will explain these further in a moment, but it wanted to remind my readers who may not be familiar with the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam are the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to Islam. The Five Pillars consist of: 1) Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, 2) Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day, 3) Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy, 4) Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan, and 5) Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca. Liebing’s three things are pretty basic. As Christians, we should take prayer more seriously instead of using it as a last resort. Second, the abaya, the long, flowing, usually all-black robes or coverings worn by the women, are an example of modesty. I agree with his point that often in the West, women and girls tend to dress in what I consider scandalous fashion. I see it each day at school when girls come in with skirts, dresses, or shorts that are entirely too short, or shirts that are entirely too low cut. I, personally, believe in more modest dress. That doesn’t mean, women, or men for that matter, should be covered from head to toe, but there should be a judgement of decency involved. The last point, I will cover later in the post, because it is my main point. To switch gears a bit, I have often told my Christian friends and relatives who harp on the zealous and fundamentalist behavior often shown by the media of Muslims that there are things we can learn about Islam. We can merely look at the Five Pillars to realize that Christians are not so different than Muslims (both claim the same religious heritage and God). The Shahadah is a statement of faith: “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The first of the Ten Commandments is “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3). Furthermore, the New Testament tells us that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. So our own statement of faith is that God is the one true God who “…so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18). The other four Pillars can be more succinctly applied. Salat is the instruction to pray five times a day. Most Christians do this as well, or at least should: we pray as we wake up, give thanks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and pray before bed at night. We also pray five times a day. Zakat is giving alms to the poor, something that Jesus instructs us to do in the Sermon on the Mount: “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4). The last two Pillars are not commanded of us by God, but many Christians feel it shows their faith. We do not fast during the month of Ramadan, but many Christians fast during Lent or at other times of the year. Furthermore, everyone who I have known who traveled on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land has returned with a new and renewed sense of faith. Those are all my reasons for things we should learn from the Islamic faith, but I think Leibing’s third reason is an important one: Insh’allah. Insh’allah is Arabic for “if God is willing.” This a topic that I discussed before when I was studying the Book of James, therefore the rest of this post will be rehashing something I’ve already written about on this blog. However, as I celebrated my 36 birthday yesterday, and “God willing” will celebrate many more, I think it is important to remember that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). Because God wills it, our lives are possible and we should thank him each day for our lives, our friends, and our families. There is so much depth to James 4:13-17 to remind us of just what God wills. 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. James chapter 4, 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. In verses 16-17, James reminds 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. With this post, I hope I make one important point: we can learn from others. If our religious hubris follows only what we are told by our preachers and religious leaders, then we are occasionally going to follow false teachers. If we look at the universality of religions around the world we will see that there are certain basic tenets applied by all. A comparison of the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions should strengthen our faith for all three have the basic foundation that God is our ultimate guide and He is our foundation. We should allow His love to shine through us each day.


Thanksgiving

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Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100

Thankfulness in God’s Word is a major theme throughout the Bible. But, the actual first official ceremony of Thanksgiving in the Bible is listed in Leviticus 7:11-15. “And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning.” God ordained a practice of specific instructions to show gratitude. Clearly, gratitude is the door that opens peace in our hearts. God’s design for mankind is that giving thanks means receiving peace. Giving thanks in the Bible is the formula to peace because when we are truly thankful to God, we are expressing our trust in Him.

The theme of thanks in the Bible continues from the commanded thanksgiving sacrifices to the beautifully written Psalms of praise and thanks to our Lord. “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1) And, Thanksgiving in the Bible continues to be practiced with Christ, giving thanks at the Lord’s supper. Paul wrote many times of his gratitude to Christ and for his gratitude to the followers of Christ. “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” (Philemon 1:4)

To celebrate a day of thanks is to take a day and clearly honor God in praise for the enormous blessings He has bestowed upon us. As Thanksgiving facts reveal a Biblical foundation, we know that this holiday must have more to do with honoring God than any other fact. When we look back at history, thanksgiving in the Bible, and the celebration that first took place in this country, we find that God’s people are to turn their hearts to Him, thanking Him for all things in all circumstances. Perhaps one of the most quoted scriptures in the New Testament says it best. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Let us not only be thankful only one day a year but celebrate the greatness of our God with thanks everyday! I have realized in the last months or so, just how thankful I am to God for all that he has done for me. I thank Him for my family. I thank Him for my friends, new and old. I thank Him for my wonderful neighbors. I thank Him for this blog and the many people he has brought into my life because of it. I’m thankful to those people for sharing with me their hopes and dreams and allowing me to share mine. I thank Him for the many blessings he has bestowed on me. I thank God for his wisdom and for showing me, and all of us, His infinite love. I feel truly blessed, and I thank God for His bounty of blessings. It’s not just one day of the year, I am thankful to God each and every day.


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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