Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Gospel Response to St. Petersburg's Gay Pride Festival

Reading: Romans 1:18–2:4
This weekend the annual Gay Pride Parade occurs here in St. Petersburg, the home of the largest pride festival in Florida. In an effort to help believers be effective witnesses of the Gospel, I want to take another look at Romans 1 – 2 and examine how the Scriptures answer these questions: Why is homosexual practice increasing? How do we respond to our gay and lesbian friends, family, or co-workers? Why does America increasingly celebrate homosexual practice?
Why is homosexual practice increasing?
Whether homosexuality is increasing or that this perception is the result of greater openness to it, I can't prove one way or the other. However, we can say that this greater openness has provided more opportunity, more pursuit, and therefore increased practice of homosexuality in our nation over the last three decades. Biblically, we should know why this is happening. Romans 1:26-27 speaks to this issue:
26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
The first three words (NIV) are, “Because of this...”; in the ESV, “For this reason...”. Although every sinful behavior will bear bad fruit, or have consequences, the point here is that this behavior is the consequence of something else. The reason women and men exchange or abandon their natural relations and take up unnatural ones is because God has given them over to it. And God gave them over to it because of something — something described in the previous verses.
Romans 1:18-32 states the cause or reason for this four times. First, because people suppress the truth about God as Creator (Romans 1:18-19). Then, because people refuse to glorify God and give Him thanks (Romans 1:21). Third, because people exchanged the glory of God for the lower glory of created things, worshiping them (Romans 1:23). Finally, it is restated in verse 28:
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God [ESV: did not see fit to acknowledge God], so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)
The cultural slide into immorality culminating in people exchanging natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual relations is not the cause of our cultural deterioration, it was caused by a larger cultural deterioration. The root cause is that our culture has exchanged natural worship (meaning the worship we were created for) for unnatural worship (worshiping that which is not God).
How do we respond to gay and lesbian friends, family, or co-workers?
The way many Christians speak about our cultural decay, one might detect fear—fear that God is going to punish our nation because of this immorality. This fear often leads to a sense of panic and even anger. One of the most important implications of what we see in Romans 1 above for the believer is that rather than fearing that God's wrath will come on our nation as a result of homosexuality, we should realize that those practicing homosexuality do so because God has given our culture over to these things already as a result of our rejection of Him at large. This ought to move the heart of any Christian to mercy toward the homosexual, knowing that we too deserve God's judgment. To be a Christian is to be an undeserving object of God's mercy.
Before Christ, we were all given over to disobedience in order that God might have mercy on us in Christ (Romans 11:32). The world stands under God's judgment and is condemned already. But that is not the final word on God's wrath. There is another word available to mankind through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-19). Therefore, we ought first and foremost to live as ambassadors for our King with the message of reconciliation.
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
The disobedience of the homosexual is not the only disobedience which people in this God-rejecting culture are given over to. We read of other ways this “being given over” is manifest:
29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29-31 ESV)
We were all a part of the disobedient culture because we were all idolaters before coming to Christ and therefore objects of wrath (Ephesians 1:1-3). By God's mercy and mercy alone have we escaped from the perverse generation of which we were actively a part (Acts 2:40).
The list of things a god-rejecting culture is given over to also includes heterosexual immorality. According to v. 24, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” This kind of impurity and dishonoring is rampant in the heterosexual community. Most of us are born with a natural inclination toward this kind of impurity, and it is only the grace of God that teaches us to say “no” to this ungodliness (Titus 2:12). Just like the heterosexual, the homosexual may often be born with a natural inclination toward impurity and lust that expresses itself with unnatural relations. But the grace of God can transform us all (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
In Romans 2:1-4, Paul draws a conclusion from what he writes in Romans 1:18-32. This conclusion instructs us how to interact with all sinners who still live under the wrath of God.
1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:1-4)
Paul declares that those who pass judgment on another condemn themselves. How could this be? Because we were all given over to disobedience and under God's wrath. When we view other sinners as less deserving of God's mercy, we show contempt or disregard the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God.
Given the cultural meaning of the word “tolerance” today, I think the NIV's “tolerance” is not the best translation. Today most people think of tolerance in the sense that we must not view anything someone else does as actually being wrong. But that is not what is meant here at all. It may best be translated as the ESV translates is, “forbearance”. It means a holding back or a self-restraint. God is holding back His judgment, giving opportunity for repentance. Why? Because God has made provision for our sin in Jesus Christ. All of us would have suffered the wrath of God if this were not so. So we live in the hope that God will lead others toward this same repentance; we even participate in the process.
Why does America increasingly celebrate homosexual practice?
The Gay Pride festival and parade confirm another truth in Romans 1.
Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)
Our culture is in a massive mudslide toward approval of what is blatantly wrong. Approval of adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. Why? Because we are attempting to cover up our greater sin. We are trying to justify our rejection of God. If we keep calling it “progress” (which makes the assumption that it is good), then we think we can hide the fact that we have exchanged the glory of God for a lie; that though we claim to be wise, we have become fools; that we are returning to paganism and superstition.
Intolerance isn't the only alternative to celebrating homosexuality. I realize that some will believe what I have written is intolerant. But nothing could be further from the truth. I am not interested in threatening, harming, or punishing those who practice these things. I am interested in praying for, befriending, sharing the Gospel with, and treating them like I want to be treated.
Those who object to my writing that these behaviors are wrong also believe I am wrong for saying so. And they too will often say so. They are not being intolerant of me. It is only intolerant when they want to threaten, harm, or punish me for saying so. I hope those who think I am wrong will tolerate (forbear with) me. And yes, I hope to persuade them. But tolerating me doesn't mean you have to agree with me. The essence of tolerating something presumes disagreement from the start. You don't tolerate what you agree with.
As we think of the Gay Pride Festival this weekend, or of any other encounter with the homosexual community, let's pray for those who participate; let's grieve over all the sins of our nation (including our own) which contributed to deserving God's wrath, and let's reach out in mercy to those who are caught up in such sin, hoping for the gift of faith and repentance to be given by the abundant mercy of God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Preach About Heaven? (part 3)

Reading: Colossians 1
In the previous two posts on this topic, I began exploring the question, “Why preach about heaven?” My answer is, “for the same reasons that Paul did.” First, I noted that our glorious hope in heaven produces a life of faith and love—the Christian life. Then, in part 2, I explored how Paul teaches us that our glorious hope in heaven sustains a life of faith and hope—the Christian life.
Now, in part 3 I desire to look at how our glorious hope in heaven defines a life of faith and hope—the Christian life. In order to do that, let's look again at Colossians:
Colossians 1:25-29 25I have become [the church's] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
Paul describes our hope of glory in very specific terms. He doesn't spend time describing the wonders of heaven itself as far as the place goes...what it is like, etc. And though there are places in Scripture which make it clear that heaven is more magnificent than the fallen world we are in, that is not what Paul points to here. Paul describes the hope of glory as, “Christ in you”. I believe this is the same thing Paul spoke of to the Galatians when he said, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you...” (Galatians 4:19). Again he speaks of this in Ephesians 4:13 when he desires that we “become mature [same as perfect in Colossians 1:28; complete], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Christ in you,” “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” or “Christ formed in you” all speak of the same thing. Paul's goal in all his ministry was quite clear: that we may present everyone perfect in Christ (Col. 1: 28).
What is our goal? To become just like Jesus. Christ redeemed us to make us like Himself. God sent His Son to save us in order that He might replicate His Son in us! Why? Because He loves His Son! And if that is the goal of Christian ministry (presenting us before God like His Son), then the Christian life, is defined as an on-going pursuit of Christ being formed in us...becoming like Him!
When we preach heaven, we are preaching about that day when we will be just like Him; unhindered by the body of sin. And in the very preaching of that goal we remind ourselves of the glorious desire to be like him, and to put off sin. Our fleshly desires are not the goal; Christ is. His glory far outshines the glory of sin. And this defines how we are to live now while we are on the way to that glorious hope!
John the apostle would agree with this idea that our hope defines our living.
1How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
The goal? The appearing of Christ when we shall be like Him. And of course we are only on the journey because “now we are the children of God” utterly by the grace revealed in the Gospel. But the journey is one of purifying ourselves (by His grace at work in us), just as He is pure. Christ is the glorious hope of the Christian life; Christ defines the Christian life. “Christ is all and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
So this goal of being presented complete or perfect in Christ defined a major portion of what Paul preached: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom...” Paul proclaimed Jesus because Jesus is the Gospel. Paul proclaimed Jesus, because Jesus is the glorious vision that calls us out of ourselves. Paul proclaimed Jesus, because Jesus is the ultimate goal of our inheritance in heaven. Proclaim Jesus and you can't help but bring heaven into the picture; it is where He is.
Why preach about heaven? Because the Gospel points us to that day and as we hold that day up it will produce the Christian life, it will sustain the Christian life, and it will define the Christian life—Christ in you the hope of glory!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Where Did Moses Point Us for Revival?

Reading: Deuteronomy 29 – 31
This morning I was reading in Deuteronomy and was struck by just how clearly certain truths of the Gospel were laid out and revealed early in redemptive history. First, the absolute necessity of regeneration if any will be saved, and second, the way in which the Word of God is held up as the source of transforming grace that we need.
In Deuteronomy 29, Moses says something that almost jars our thinking.
2Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them: Your eyes have seen all that the LORD did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. 4But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. (Deuteronomy 29:2-4)
Miracles, signs and wonders demonstrated for the eye to see will never produce regeneration. In fact, the Israelites Moses was speaking to had seen it all (it doesn't get much better than dividing the Red Sea), but they were still utterly dependent upon the LORD to give them spiritual understanding, spiritual sight and hearing.
Jesus spoke of this inability to see to Nicodemus one day (John 3:3). Spiritual seeing and and hearing comes only when the Lord gives us a new inner man, a new heart, or mind and will.1 This is when we are made alive, born-again, or regenerated. We are given God's spirit to live within us. “You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'” (John 3:7)
Ezekiel refers to this:
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
This is something which God does; it is an act of God's sovereign grace. This act is referred to in the next chapter of Deuteronomy as circumcision of the heart; something God promises to do for them after the prophesied exile (which happened centuries later).
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)
The Lord would have to produce the revival that was needed. Miraculous signs and wonders, while certainly are welcome and can be wonderful, can never produce the needed revival. It is funny how in our day miracles, signs and wonders are almost equated with revival, when in fact it can be, as in the case described here in Deuteronomy that they have nothing to do with each other.
But we are told where real revival comes from right here in Deuteronomy. The original audience of Moses' words may have been tempted to say, “We need more miraculous signs if we are really going to obey you Lord.” But the Lord tells them they are to obey “with all your heart and with all your soul.” Where can this kind of obedience must come from?
11Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 13Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" 14No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
The very words of the covenant themselves will carry with them the power we need to obey it. The very Word we have been given carries God's empowering grace to obey it. We don't need to reach into heaven in order to have empowering revival to transform lives. We don't need to travel the world to receive it. No, it is right here in the Word itself. Pursue Christ in the Word; be revived and empowered right here in the Word of God.
Paul quotes these verses from Deuteronomy as describing “the righteousness that is by faith” (Romans 10:6). And he tells us there that what we are looking for when looking for this empowering to obey, this reviving, if you will, is Christ. Christ is the Gospel; believe the Gospel and you will be saved.
Signs and wonders will never do what only the Gospel can. If you are looking for revival look no further than the Gospel.
What about you? Have you associated miracles and revival in a way that causes you to look with our eyes on the horizon rather than on God's word when in need? Let me encourage you to look not up into heaven, or over the sea, but into God's Word in pursuit of Christ.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1The word here is inner in contrast to outer man. Heart is a good translation, but this is not distinction between mind and heart, but rather to say, the unseen part of you...your spiritual person rather than your physical person. 

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Why Preach About Heaven? (part 2)

Reading:  Colossians 1   
In the previous post, we began exploring the question, “Why preach about heaven?” My answer is, “for the same reasons that Paul did.” First, I noted that a glorious hope in heaven produces a life of faith and love, or, to say it another way, the Christian life grows out of a glorious hope in heaven.
Now, I want to explore how Paul teaches us that a glorious hope in heaven will sustain a life of faith and hope—the Christian life. We see this first in Paul's prayer for the Colossians.
11May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14)
While it is clear here that the power for our endurance and patience with joy in the midst of trial is God's Spirit Who strengthens us will all power according to His glorious might, it is also clear that the reason for that endurance and patience with joy is that the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Just as the Savior, for the joy set before Him endured the cross despising its shame, so we for the joy of heaven set before us will find reason for enduring. The destination makes the journey worth it. This is one of the wonderful truths vivified in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Christian, in the story, sets out for the celestial city. However, he finds that the journey is fraught with danger and difficulty. He must remember the destination, and from what he is fleeing. We too must remember our destination, and from what we are fleeing.
A few verses later, Paul restates some of these things in teaching form rather than in his prayer: We have not only been qualified to share in the inheritance (vs. 12); we have also been delivered from the domain (control, power, sphere) of darkness. How? Through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ Jesus.
21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
We were alienated from God and were His enemies. God reconciled us through Christ's death on the cross, in order that we would be presented holy in His sight—if we continue in the faith. We must continue in the faith. This will require endurance and patience. Yet notice how he describes this endurance, “established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” In order to continue in the faith, established and firm, we must hold on to the hope which the Gospel holds out to us.
If the Gospel held out to us is all about earth, and not about heaven, there is no real hope held out to us. Hence we would be unable to hold on to it. However, the biblical Gospel holds out an eternal inheritance as our hope. Take it; hold on to it, an allow it to fill you with joy as you endure dangers and difficulties in the walk of faith. And trust in the power of God by His Spirit to empower it.
Not only does our glorious hope in heaven produce the Christian life, is also sustains the Christian life. In the next post on this topic, I want to explore how our hope in heaven is the real motivation for Christian ministry.
To be continued...
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why preach about heaven? (part 1)

Reading: Colossians 1

It would seem, in many circles, that heaven is out of vogue. In fact, if one preaches about heaven a lot he might well be accused of preaching a “pie in the sky” message, or be warned that if we are so heavenly-minded, we will be of no earthly good. We could analyze why this is—everything from the materialism of our culture by which our own thinking is affected far more than we know, to the prosperity we enjoy that makes it difficult to not want to stay here. In this brief devotion, I will rather speak to the question, “Should we preach heaven?” or, if we are the congregation, “Should our pastors be focusing our attention on heaven?” and, if so, “Why?”
My answer to the first two questions is a resounding, “Yes!” Now, as for why, I would say, “For the same reasons that Paul did.” And to expand on that, let's turn to his epistle to the Colossians.
When discussing heavenly-mindedness, one usually thinks of Colossians 3:1-2. However, these verses are not the first or most significant mention of heaven in this letter. They are merely another clear and specific reference to the place and role of hope in the life of the church. Chapter one is loaded with references to heaven and what it reveals about the importance of preaching heaven is valuable.
A glorious hope in heaven produces a life of faith and love.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— 5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth. (Colossians 1:3-6)
The Colossians had a hope which was demonstrated by their faith in Christ in such a way that Paul and his team had heard about it from others. Their hope was producing the Christian life in them. It was producing a life of faith in Christ and love for the saints. This tells me that there are activities which hope produces in our lives, in addition to love. It changes how we make decisions; it alters what is important to us; it makes us generous people. And both faith and love were springing forth in their lives from the hope that was stored up in them. Hope they had heard about in the word of truth, the Gospel.
First, this tells me that the Gospel we preach ought to have a focus on heaven more than on earth. In other words, the Gospel is about your best life then, not your best life now. The Gospel Paul preached spoke much about heaven and therefore informed people of the hope that is stored up for them in heaven.
Second, we see that the Gospel explains God's grace. When the Colossians heard the Gospel they understood God's grace in all its truth. Not everyone who hears the Gospel understands God's grace in all its truth, for it requires supernatural help to do so. However, no one will understand God's grace from the Gospel unless the gospel actually explains God's grace. Paul's Gospel described the grace of God. Paul was regularly preaching and exploring the cross of Christ as the central demonstration of the grace of God.
Third, the Christian life springs from the hope produced by the Gospel. Initially, as I saw this description, I thought of a diving board: Hope is the diving board, the Gospel of grace is the fulcrum, or base on which the board is supported and pivots. As we walk in view of this Gospel hope, we spring forth lives of faith and love. Good picture, but not the right picture for this verse.
The picture of springing forth in this context is that of a plant shooting forth from a seed, and busting through the soil. The Gospel of God's grace plants seeds of hope in our souls, hope because our sins are forgiven and God is our Father, and heaven is a sure hope. And that hope, when it germinates in the soul, springs forth lives that are lived in faith and hope. So, a glorious hope in heaven produces a life of faith and love.
To be continued...
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,