Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Few Thoughts for Christians Regarding Homosexual Marriage

Our country is changing rapidly. Change is disconcerting and causes anxiety, whether for the better or worse. I would not presume to tell you what to think about the decision of the Supreme Court legalizing marriage between two people of the same gender. But I will venture to offer you a few observations from the standpoint of the Christian faith and scripture. I offer these in the spirit of open dialogue, not as the final word. In fact, I’m going to purposely make this annoyingly brief so that you have to do the chewing instead of me indulging in pastoral spoon feeding. 

1. The first desire of the Christian is that people come to know Jesus and look to him as Savior and Lord. No law can ever do more than attempt to compel or restrict outward behavior. Laws may more or less embody Judeo-Christian morals, but they do not make a single Christian because they do not change hearts.

2. People make claims about “the entire history of marriage” being one man and one woman. This is clearly not the case, even in our own Bible. Even a couple of the biggies – Abraham & Jacob – didn’t conform to the one man, one woman standard.

3. Arguing for or against laws based on the Bible leads into a dangerous territory, politically speaking. Imagine a USA in the future where people of another religion have become the majority. If you don’t want their religion legally governing your life at that time, then you ought to think twice about wanting your religion to govern their life now. If one wants to argue against marriage for homosexuals in a way that is safe for the future of our republic, the argument had better not be some variation of “God says so” because ISIS is using the same type of argument except that it’s from a different book.

4. Personal liberty is a biblical principle. If there was anyone who ever had good grounds and reasons for forcing his will on others, it is God with respect to mankind. But God offers us freedom of choice. We can turn away from God’s call. We can resist the Holy Spirit.

5. All this being said, Jesus did indicate that God’s design is that marriage be monogamous and heterosexual (see Mark 10).

So, what is a Christian to do? And how is a church to respond? My answer is to continue in love and compassion, not judging other people (Who am I to judge someone else’s servant? Romans 14:4), speaking in love what I believe to be the truth. That’s how we will all grow instead of grouping into enemy camps. According to the Bible, homosexuality is really a symptom of the brokenness of humanity. I have within myself plenty of symptoms of the brokenness of humanity!

Each of us must think through this as a Christian and a citizen of our republic. With regard to my Christian faith as a citizen in a country that values freedom (thank God!), here is the question I feel compelled to ask: I don’t believe homosexuality is of God’s design but why should what I believe be the law of the land any more than what someone else believes?

In addition, I must think through this as a pastor who officiates marriage ceremonies. Here is what I think today. Being a sinner is not near as big a problem as calling sin, “righteous.” Homosexual behavior certainly isn’t the “unforgivable sin” but neither is it, according to the scriptures, something God has blessed. Therefore, I cannot perform a blessing ceremony on a homosexual marriage any more than I could perform a blessing ceremony on a divorce. Both happen. Neither is according to God’s design. But neither makes those involved terrible people. And neither cause me to reject or move away from the people involved because every person is deeply loved by the one I serve and follow, Jesus Christ. My not blessing homosexual marriage is just me following Christ to the best of my ability.

Is there more to say? Of course, tons! It was a split decision by the Supreme Court, 5-4. The dissenting judges offered some compelling arguments against the ruling. As a pastor, I restricted this article to Christian thinking, but there are many other ways to explore this issue as citizens and what this decision might mean in the long-run for our society. Let’s have a beer sometime and talk about it.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Observations & Commentary on Acts Acts 5:12–42

These are some pretty quick notes from my study of this portion of the book of Acts.

v. 12 - Signs and wonders accompany the advance of the Gospel.
Solomon’s portico was a columned covered area around the perimeter of Herod’s Temple.
v. 13 - Perhaps the Jesus followers were incredibly generous but a little too intense for most people?
v. 14 - The growth continues
v. 15 - What do we do with the statement about Peter’s shadow falling on them? Perhaps it is a colloquialism that simply means, “so close Peter could not walk by them.” However, we have other instances of people being healed “indirectly” (for lack of a better word).
In the first instance, there was the woman who touched Jesus’ robe and was healed, as recorded in Luke 8:43-48. Jesus clarified that it wasn’t actually this blessed garment that had cured the lady. Luke 8:48 (ESV)”And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.””

Then there is the curious incident of Paul’s clothes even bringing with them the power to heal:

Acts 19:11–12 (ESV)
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

What do we make of this? It seems like magic. I think the best we can do is that God sometimes honors our limping, halting, misdirected reaching out in faith because it is still faith looking ultimately to God through his servants and, in some cases, through the shadow of his servants or the handkerchiefs. As with so much we will read in Acts, this is descriptive, not prescriptive. God is gracious. Isaiah 32:3 - “A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

v. 16 - Word of the Apostles’ power to heal is spreading.

vv. 17-18 - The same cast of characters, including the aristocratic Sadducee party utilized their power to attempt to put a stop to this Jesus movement.

Jesus predicted this. “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21:12 (ESV))

What is this “public prison” and why does Luke specify this?

The previous imprisonment was recorded this way:
Acts 4:3 (ESV) And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

The word for “custody” or “prison” is the same word in both 4:3 and the text in question, but Luke adds the adjective, “public” or “common.”

Perhaps they were kept under guard in a room in the Temple during their first imprisonment owing to the fact that they weren’t really criminals but just men teaching something they might be threatened out of teaching. But, since they clearly did not listen to the orders of the High Priest the first time, they were thrown in the much nastier public prison, with all the types of prisoners you would expect to find.

vv. 19-21a

vv. 21b-23

vv. 24 - What would you do?

vv. 25

vv. 26 - They brought them back in, but not y force. Again, fear of the people. A riot meant trouble for the religious leaders. They wanted to keep their nice position, their life, their power, so now there is a balancing act.

vv. 27-29 - The set up is the same as the previous time they are questioned. By the statement of the High Priest questioning Peter and John, it seems that Peter’s preaching was not pulling punches but laying Jesus’ orchestrated crucifixion at the feet of the religious leaders.

vv. 29-32 - In their reply to the religious leaders, they still are not pulling punches: “…whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.”

God made him leader and Savior, say the Apostles to the leaders! :)

Further, the Apostles claim that the Holy Spirit, the Wind of God from before the beginning of the world, has been a witness to this and, indeed, this Spirit has been given to those who follow Jesus. Understand that the Apostles were not only accusing these leaders of having Jesus crucified, they are also denying their legitimacy before God, their years of training, piety and devotion (such as it was… let’s not be too hard on those below the highest levels and outside the family of the High Priest.)

v. 33 - Righteous indignation! Ananias and his cronies had different reasons that the lower priests for their outrage, but they could all agree on one thing: these men must be stopped!

vv. 34-39 - A Pharisees stands up to offer some wisdom. Remember that while the Pharisees were against Jesus, they seem to be more truth-seeking. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night representing a group of Pharisees who were trying to figure Jesus out. (see John 3) The Sadducees rejected life after death and the whole spiritual realm while the Pharisees believed in angels, demons, life after death and judgment by God.

This Pharisee is a teacher who held enough respect to command the attention of the council when he stood up and ordered that the prisoners be taken from the room before he offer his counsel. This wise man, Gamaliel, recounted the history of several so-called messiahs and how their movement dissipated after their death. Based on this history, Gamaliel’s advice is to leave this movement alone. Either it will die of its own accord. Or this is of God, in which case a) you can’t win and b) you will be fighting against God.
The council took his advice, at least for a little while. One of his students did not see eye-to-eye with him. Saul of Tarsus would expend considerable effort trying to stamp out the Jesus movement before Jesus himself appeared to Saul who would later become Paul.

v. 40 Evidently the others didn’t completely buy into Gamaliel’s view.

v. 41 This just makes me think. What does it make you think?

v. 42 Evidently, for a while, the council took Gamaliel’s advice and left them alone.