Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Other LGBT Community

This will be a brief post about something that has been on my mind for a bit.

First, let us define our terms.  I am referring to LGBT, gay, or lesbian as anyone who has same sex attraction as a prominent feature of their daily life.

There is a march that has long since been underway in our world and especially within our country to not only guard against mistreatment of gay and lesbian folk, but quite honestly, to shame any who would not whole heartedly embrace homosexual sex as being seen as simply an alternative to heterosexual sex.  This movement largely has taken place in secular environments of pop culture, legal settings, and studies within various scientific disciplines(genetics, brain function, etc.).

 However, it has also been and is being fought within the church.  It is not as though I argue for a strict separation between these two worlds.  They obviously overlap in all sorts of ways within our daily lives, but there are some extremely important distinctions that need to be made.

We, in the church, as I understand,are charged with, among other things, faithfully communicating to our generation the gospel and all that it entails.  The scriptures are generally viewed as being a primary,and for Protestants, THE primary source of authoritative information for us to acquire and faithfully communicate in regards to the gospel.  My "thing" that has been nagging at me is simply this.  Many within the church have taken it upon themselves to decide that homosexuality is not inherently sinful before God.  It is my belief that the vast majority do so in an effort to show that God is loving and is not seeking to condemn people who are struggling so intensely with deeply real and personal feelings and attractions that are many times unrelenting.  Let me quote Rosaria Butterfield Champagne here who says, "People of God, please know that you are not more merciful than God."
Who is she, and why should you care what she says about this?  She is currently a believer who is married to a Presbyterian minister.  She is also an author who has written among other things, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  She WAS an English professor at Syracuse who was a radical feminist who had lived in committed lesbian relationships for many years prior to her rather unorthodox conversion story(shared in the book above).  I invoke her story not because she is the ONLY person allowed to speak about this issue.  I know that she is not.  However, her voice and those like hers are, I would argue, the MOST under represented voices within the current discussion about LGBT issues.  In other words, have you, Christian, ever considered that there are people within your own church or social group who are currently living with same sex attraction but have chosen not to make that known?  Have you considered that the reason they have not made it known is not because they are secretly engaging in homosexual sex and in homosexual relationships but BECAUSE they have those attractions and have determined that to remain faithful means to deny the fulfillment of these desires??  Have you considered that when you choose, in your mercy, to seek to affirm homosexuality as mentioned above, you are also impacting these fellow believers who have chosen to live their life based on their genuinely held convictions about truth rather than allowing their desires to be the ultimate deciding factor?  God is the most merciful being in the universe.  Perhaps we should spend more time squaring our understanding of that with his prohibition regarding homosexual sex.   Or perhaps you don't really believe that.  Perhaps you believe you are more merciful than God.  This is directed to those WITHIN the community professing belief in Christ.  I am also posting a link a video below that will make this point far better than  I am able to make it.   Thank you.



Please watch


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Talk amongst yourselves.....If God knew, then why?

In the last couple of months, both of my kids have asked me variations on this question at completely different times and completely independent of the other knowing about it.  Basically, the question goes something like this. 

"Dad, if God knew that Adam and Eve/humans were going to choose sin and all this evil was going to happen in the world, why did he still choose to make them?" or "Why didn't he stop it from happening the way it did in the garden?" 

I gave responses and part of my responses included that we have to acknowledge that some of these questions are not things that we have answers to right now.  However, I did try to give some thoughts to them.  I am curious what your thoughts are....I will probably throw my answers in toward the end, but you know the drill.  Please participate on facebook in the comments section of the link and I will transfer all answers back to the blog when we are done talking about it.  Hoping for some good interaction. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Romans 1-4 Intro to God and Salvation Stuff

First, some external things to consider about Romans.  It is the one place that we know for certain, Paul had not visited yet at the time he wrote the letter(Colossians may also be an example.  We are not sure.).  This may be one of the reason for one of the defining characteristics of Romans.  Unlike the other letters, it does not really spend much time on specific issues going on within the church, but it is known instead to be a very thorough explanation of many of the foundational truths regarding our Christian faith.  Because of this, it also serves as a great introduction to the later material in the New Testament.

Paul seems to lay out well what he perceives to be his mission in verses 4,5, and 6 of chapter 1.

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ

We will return to that at the end of these posts.  Romans 1 proceeds to point out the sad story of humanity and how it refuses to acknowledge God as the one true God.  There is, of course, the well known statements regarding homosexuality in chapter 1.  I'm not going to camp out here except to point out an interesting thing that I noticed.  In verse 24, notice the word therefore, and in verse 26 the phrase for this reason, and in verse 28 and since they did not.  These words and phrases tell us that it was because they refused to acknowledge God as God that these things came upon them.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

My point in pointing this out is not to single out these individual people, but it is rather to point out that it seems to me that when we uncouple from the most basic linchpin of reality, other extremely fundamental linchpins will inevitably follow such as who we are designed by God to be attracted to and, as is increasingly seen in our culture, the very idea of there being self evident identity attached to gender. It is as though a tether has snapped and we are adrift. Certainly, the ongoing reality that we are all too familiar with deserves a post of its own, but today is not that day.

In chapter 2, Paul goes on to zig when you thought he might zag.  Just as he points out the tragedy of unrepentant, fallen humanity, he points to self-righteous judges.  The key I believe in understanding this and many of Paul's switches back and forth is to anticipate what people are thinking as they read his letter.  For instance, you can hear religious leaders cheering him on as his reaches his crescendo in chapter 1 and then he silences them (and everyone) in chapter 2.  The crucial point here to me is that it is incredibly easy to be deluded into thinking that just because you have some profound insights into morality, spirituality, and God that you are officially in some "other" category from the masses.  Knowing and living it out are two very different things.  Paul makes it clear that we are ALL in the category of chapter 1. This is the first distinction Paul makes. Those who know compared with those who do, even in some cases when they have limited knowledge.  So what good is it to "know"?  Oh, says Paul, it makes a big difference, BUT, at the end of the day...

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
                                                                               3:10-18

 As Paul progresses in chapter 3, he makes it clear that even people who are genuinely trying to do good and right will never be good enough or right enough in and of themselves because we are all at our core fallen, corrupted, and rebels.  However, there is a way to be made right with God.........Paul just needs to take some time here, and it WILL get revisited again later, that the way is NOT BY WORKS OF THE LAW  (works of the law simply refers to earning salvation by being a good enough follower of the law).

Once again in chapter 4, Paul anticipates an objection of someone asking, "Well what about all that stuff with God interacting with Abraham and setting the stage for the whole covenant thing??  Are you just blowing that off?"

It is at this point that Paul masterfully USES the very accounts in scripture to point out that the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures actually is the very thing that points to the righteousness that God provides.  He and other New Testament writers use this technique many times to make it clear that, not only are we not to "blow off" the Old Testament, but it is the very place we can often find the greatest clarity and be awe struck by the genius nature of the God of the universe's plan to save whosoever will.

More to come...
 


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Revisiting the Why

I feel the need to express what the main reasons are that I write this blog.

First, allow me to voice what I believe can be some understandably wrong ideas about what I am trying to do or why I am writing it. 

I do not want to give people the impression that I am not struggling with my own issues.  There are many things that I discuss on this blog specifically because writing about them helps me to think more carefully and clearly about stuff that I am struggling with.  When I state what I am in the process of learning from Scriptures or life in general, it is not intended to give an impression of great scholarly study (have you read my blog), but it is to show that even a truck driver can access deep and powerful truths within the Bible and by the help of the Holy Spirit throughout every day life.  Therefore, if I, the truck driver, can access these insights, anyone can.  Or...more specifically, you can. 

Also, understand this, I struggle with sin. I have shared some personal info about this, and I have been working through how to share a bit more of my personal story, but I just want to make it clear that another conclusion that should not be reached because of my uber willingness to focus almost exclusively on spiritual and Scriptural topics is that I am therefore implying that I do not struggle with sin.  This entire post makes me uncomfortable because of the degree to which the word "I" has been used.  It is not my intention to craft this blog as a voice for only my insights but I also want to spotlight others including the thoughts of any who frequent the blog. I have, however, felt a push to give my thoughts some context.  That context will be a few posts that are forthcoming regarding the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful about my life up until this point.  In these posts, I will spend some time exploring my past, important people in my life, and my present.  I bring this up now to say that if you are under the impression that I am seeking to point to myself as someone who is "holier than thou" and a faker, you are free to hold to that opinion but please know that I know who I am, and a crucial part of who I am is who I was.  God is unbelievably gracious in dealing with my failings now, but what really blows me away is how gracious He is at not bringing up my past nose dives.  That being said, one of the biggest things that sobers me up when I am feeling a bit "holier than whomever" is a short remembrance of who I am when I am not even trying to follow Christ.  I promise you it ain't pretty.  Just know that I know how profoundly screwed up I was, and I also know that I am still struggling with sin.  Just because I don't make this blog into a full on national enquirer expose on "Dennis--What Crap did he do and What Crap is he doing even now!",  doesn't mean I am not aware of that.  This is not Jerry Springer; I ain't Catholic, and you are not my priest. 

OK, enough of that. 

Why am I writing this?

1. It helps me to sort through my thoughts more carefully and clearly when I sit down and actually write about it.  Writing about it officially puts it "out there" for all to see and therefore, writing about it is a way to push my self to think more carefully and express my thoughts more concisely.  This helps me when I am later talking about some things because I already have my mental ducks in a row....at least, on a few things.  :)

2.  I want to give some of these posts as a gift to my kids.  It will be sort of like a snap shot of how I saw the world at the time when I was writing the given post, and by the time they are old enough to care, it will be a snap shot from quite some time ago.  (I did my first blog post two months before Ella was born.)  I am hoping it will give them something concrete to consider as they themselves are sorting through some of these same issues.

3.  I want those closest to me to have a way to know my thoughts.  Myndall is the primary person in this category, but I/we have also been blessed with an incredibly large number of family that we are close to and an amazing array of friends who I cannot and would not want to imagine living life without.  However, life is insanity and slow, meaningful chats over a cup of coffee happens far too infrequently for any of us(including Myndall and I).  Therefore, this is a way to have a more continuous meaningful conversation in spite of the insanity.  I will still probably be drinking coffee.  You may imbibe the beverage of your choice.  :)



That's pretty much it. 

Smooches and sunshine

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Caring More, Carrying More

Been thinking lately about love, caring, and what it truly is.  We all know some of the distinctions.  I love hot dogs, my dogs, my kids, and my wife.  Yet each "love" mentioned is a very different concept than the other "love" mentioned in that sentence.  Thankfully.  :)

However, I am going to go ahead and assume that these differences are already grasped by the vast majority of my audience and will thus move on to some other thoughts. 

Would you say that true love is sacrifice?  Would you say that true love gives?  Me too....but....,
I have recently come across some scripture that has challenged me even in this.  Sort of.

First Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the love chapter in the Bible.  Paul transitions into this chapter at the end of chapter 12 by saying, "...And I will show you a still more excellent way."  Jesus uses the concepts of "loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength," and "loving your neighbour as yourself" as ways to encapsulate "all the law and the prophets" or that there thing we call the entire Old Testament basically!  We had better be sure we seek to clearly understand what was being spoken of if this idea can carry that kind of all encompassing expression.

What got the most recent bout of deeper thinking about this is found in verse 3 of I Corinthians 13.

"If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Wait...what!? 

The love in the Bible is not a love that is ever accurately represented by a single act.  This may indeed be a final act that expresses with amazing force the love that captured the heart of the one who gave it all away, but love is about living "a more excellent way."  I have struggled with trying to teach my kids what a short definition of the word repentance is, but I finally settled on "turning from living a self-centered life to a life that is Jesus centered."  This is connected to this strange verse within first Corinthians also.  We are being called to LIVE more excellently. 

I think that what Paul is referring to in verse 3 is that even something like giving away all your possessions or your life can represent an act that is at its core devoid of love because it can represent an act that was sort of a method to "buy your way into heaven."  If this sound improbable or extreme, that is only because you have been hanging out with us Western softies for far too long.  If you will look carefully around the world, you will see within Islam, Hinduism, and other various religious cultures, people engaging in horrific acts either toward themselves or those around them for the very reason of attaining entrance into heaven/paradise/moksha or whatever.  In other words, it is still at its core still very much works based salvation which is not salvation at all. 

OK, so what is love according to the Bible...the kind that Paul speaks of and that Jesus points to as representation of the entire law and prophets?

Here are some thoughts, but I confess they are almost certainly not exhaustive about the topic.

Love is a transforming power within us that is transforming us from the inside out.
Love has at its core an awareness of being loved in a way that breaks us and sets us free to cry out in joy and thankfulness.
Love pushes us to care about others.  (this is a major point I will come back to)
Love is pretty much the kryptonite to self-centered living.  The two will not live indefinitely within the same heart. Eventually, one will win out over the other.
Love is patient, kind, not arrogant, rude, does not envy, is not resentful. 
Love is a way of recognizing both where your walk with God is, and where it needs to go.

Now to come full circle back to the title of this here rambling little post, I will toss out a couple of thoughts.  Love is never, ever, ever to be a means by which we seek to GAIN the love and salvation from our Father.  However, if we truly place our faith in the salvation accomplished by Jesus for us on the cross, love(as described above) should be an expected outflow of that faith.  I got four simple steps to finish out. 

1.  If you have not already repented(see above definition) and trusted in Jesus to save you, pray now and do so.

2.  Read and study the Bible prayerfully for yourself to see if I am representing this correctly. 

3.  If you find yourself either now or in the future not possessing the fruit of love I have described within this post, simply admit that to God and cry out to Him to change your heart and your life.  DO NOT seek to pretend to be something that you are not.....but also....DO NOT think that just because you have fallen short of the goal, you are somehow alone.  I can assure you, if no one else will acknowledge such failings, I most certainly will.

4.  As you continue to learn and be taught. LIVE AND BE TRAINED.  The difference between teaching and training is simple.  Teaching is head knowledge.  Training is hands on learning.  One simple example of taking the head knowledge and allowing God to morph it into a part of who you are is caring more.

 Self-centered Dennis-- cannot take even one more burden onto himself.  He's got his hands full.  You got your problems.  I got mine, and good luck with that.

Jesus-centered Dennis--still doesn't always get the warm fuzzies about caring about you and your troubles but I start taking your burdens onto myself by trying to pray for you.  I feel the emotional weight of your problems and I cry out to God for you.  Perhaps I am even able to give you some material support or help in some other way.  Caring more = carrying more! 

Was I wrong to think that I cannot take even one more burden onto myself?  Nope.  But when I choose to do it anyway, God gives me the capacity to carry it.  Think of what this accomplishes! 

It pushes me away from self-centeredness, it forces me to be dependant on God, it improves my relationships with people whom I pray for because they become much more three dimensional to me, it helps the person I prayed for and possibly helped in some other way and points them to Christ.  This is just one example of how we can be transformed as we allow ourselves to be TRAINED and not just TAUGHT by the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. 

And always feel free to revisit #3, I know I do.    :)




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Acts Part 5 (Chapters 21-28)

The final years of the thirty year narrative of Acts finds its focus on what I refer to as Paul's fourth and final missionary journey.  In Acts 20:16, we see that Paul is seeking to put the pedal to the metal because he desires to arrive in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost.  A side note to consider is how the earliest and final chapters of Acts both begin on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem roughly 25 years apart.  I think it is worthwhile to notice and perhaps contrast the differences.  Leaders were the primary persecutors in the early years when Peter first proclaims the gospel, but it is much more of a rejection by the masses by the time Paul proclaims it.

Paul knew what was coming his way.  From an uninformed view, these final chapters seem to detail a sad and tragic ending for Paul.  He is first nearly killed by an angry mob who reject his proclamation.  He is questioned before a corrupt leadership within Jerusalem.  Next, he appears before two corrupt Roman officials and a local king.  Finally, he barely survives a shipwreck to arrive in Rome imprisoned and awaiting his day before Caesar to state his case.  Not spoken of within Acts, but widely accepted as history, is the fact that at some point within the next few years, Paul is executed in Rome. 

The difference between the above version which sounds like the ending to a Greek tragedy, and the insights we are given as we read through chapters 21-28 allow us to see things quite differently.  Paul, as stated earlier, knew something like this would happen.  He even learns in Acts 23:11, years before he leaves, that God intends for him to proclaim his message in Rome.  We see God protecting him and those around him every step of the way.  We see God providing for his needs again and again, sometimes miraculously.  In Acts 20:18-24, Paul states the single greatest thing that transforms the final years of his life.  From the outside Greco-Roman (worldly/unbelieving) world, his ending affirms a sort of sad inevitable tragedy that seems in their minds to undermine the hope he claimed to have.  However, in verse 24, Paul opens up to the leaders of Ephesus and us the key to seeing his final days with clarity.



"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

Also, in the letter(written while he was imprisoned in Rome) to the church of Philippi, Paul writes,

"I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."  Philippians 1:12-14

and

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  Philippians 1:21







Sunday, March 27, 2016

Acts Part 4 (Chapters 15-20)

The shift of proclaiming the gospel to the gentiles has its first major push back over the issue of circumcision.  A group commonly referred to as the circumcision party, also referred to as Pharisees in chapter 15 verse 5, begins teaching to the gentiles that have embraced Christ through faith that they must be circumcised.  Paul and Barnabas initially argue with them, but it is wisely decided to resolve the dispute by travelling to Jerusalem and holding what becomes known as the Jerusalem Council.  The decision in Jerusalem by a meeting of the elder leaders of authority, including James the brother of Jesus and Peter, is found in verse 9, "...having cleansed their hearts by faith," and verse 11, "...we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."

The leaders from Jerusalem send out a list of four things to abstain from, and there is a reference to synagogues located in many different ancient cities.  This seems to point to some practical considerations.  We are not bound by the Mosaic covenant, but there are still many things we can and should learn from the old testament to more fully grasp our new covenant.  Paul and Barnabas return with the leaders judgment regarding circumcision.

There is an intense argument that takes place upon their return between Paul and Barnabas about whether to take John Mark with them on a second missionary journey which causes them to part ways with Barnabas and John Mark going to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas going north through Syria and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean into modern day Turkey.  This break causes me mixed feelings because it seems so tragic for such great friends and men of God to be divided by passionate disagreement, but in a strange way, it comforts me to know that they are just humans like us and that God can obviously use flawed humans in such a powerful way.

Anyhoo, Paul sets off with Silas and soon meets a young man named Timothy who becomes like a son to Paul (we see this in the  letters to Timothy from Paul, first and second Timothy, found later in the Bible).  They go off on more missionary journeys revisiting some cities and spreading the gospel to some new locations.  Paul visits and stays in many of the cities he later writes to.  These letters become preserved for our benefit.  We see him in Philippi in Acts 16:12, in Thessalonica in 17:1, and in Galatia, which is an entire region rather than a city, in 16:6.  We see Paul stay in Corinth for over a year and a half in chapter 18.  He visits Ephesus more than once in chapters 18 and 19, and in Acts 20:31, he mentions having spent three years there.  A more exhaustive look at all three of Paul's missionary journeys would no doubt be fruitful, but I am primarily going to simply point out that by the end of the 50's A.D., Paul and others have truly spread the gospel throughout the Roman empire and beyond.  This can be seen not only through the narrative of Acts itself, but by how, in the later chapters, people react in ways that show they are aware of the disciples and Christ and Christians.  Compare the Jewish leaders response to invite Paul to speak in the synagogue in Acts 13:15 to the response Paul gets from Jewish leaders in the Temple in Acts 21:28, "....Men of Israel, help!  This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people(Jews) and the law and this place(Temple)..."

The final push of the gospel's reach "to the ends of the earth" begins with Paul and Barnabas in chapter 13 and is still going on today.  Paul's "final missionary journey" will be with an armed guard and increasingly, his audience will be those with greater and greater authority.