Wednesday, August 11, 2010

DeYoung on Homosexuality

Kevin DeYoung has a very helpful blog post today in light of Prop 8 being struck down. In it he goes through specifics of what Christians should do in response to this. I appreciated his candor and specificity. I think he's right to point out that many times our advice in dealing with homosexuality is vague and not ultimately helpful. I'd encourage anyone to check out this article. One point I really appreciated:

3. We should assume that there are people in our churches right now struggling with same gender attraction. Leaders need to verbalize this (not specific names obviously) in sermon application and in pastoral prayers. We need to convey that the church is a safe place for those fighting this temptation. Second to Jesus Christ and his gospel, those struggling with same gender attraction need gospel community more than anything else.

And actually one more good measure (this one particularly convicting for me):

9. No gay jokes. None. It doesn’t help our witness and they’re not funny. Plus, the more we laugh at sin the more it gets normalized

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Applying God's Sovereignty and Means

My church recently went through 1 and 2 Samuel and I've recently been going through 1 Chronicles in my personal time with God. As the Lord has been teaching me through these portions of scripture, I've noticed something that the Spirit has recently brought conviction about.

My observation is that there are a number of stories where people act in such a way as to bring about a certain result. That result then comes, i.e. the people are successful. Then the text does something perhaps unexpected: it says that God did it. It doesn't say "so such and such happened because the people planned well, tried hard, etc." It just says "such and such happened because God did it." Let me give a few examples:

"And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom." - 2 Sam. 17:14

"and Jehozadak went into exile when the Lord sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar." - 1 Chron. 6:15

"But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and killed the Philistines. And the Lord saved them by a great victory." - 1 Chron. 11:14

"And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations." - 1 Chron. 14:17

In each of these cases, something happens that we could explain without God. We could say Absalom perferred Ahithophel's counsel because Ahithophel was a wise guy and Absalom was prideful. We could say Judah and Jerusalem went into exile because King Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful, dominating, king. We could say Israel defeated the Philistines because they had a better army. We could say the nations feared David because he was killing a bunch of their surrounding nations.

But God does not choose to reveal Himself in that way in scripture. He inspires the writers of scripture to instead ascribe these various events as being done by the Lord Himself. They don't say "God allowed such and such to happen," they say that God Himself did it. How are we to understand this? Another text from 2 Chronicles is helpful here.

"But it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram. For when he came there, he went out with Jehoram to meet Jehu the son of Nimshi, whom the Lord had anointed to destroy the house of Ahab." - 2 Chron. 22:7

Here God ordains both the downfall of Ahaziah and the means through which it happens. God uses means, but is just as sovereign and in control of those as He is the ends. As a result, in any situation we would be right to say that if it happened, God ordained it to happen.

So what does this have to do with real life? Well for me I experienced conviction in the fact that I rarely if ever speak of events in this way. I especially see this come out in the successes of others. For instance, beats me in a sport, has more people in a Bible study, raises more money than I have for their ministry, I'm quick to explain it by "well you know they play more, they're more extroverted, they know more Christians." I'm not saying those things aren't true, it just seems the scriptures might choose to emphasize it differently. I find I hesitate to do so because I don't want to believe that God's plan for my life might not include the same level of "success" as others.

But the fact that everything in my life happens according to God's will is good news, because His will is to conform me to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29), and this is the best thing for me!

Friday, August 6, 2010

What is A Stumbling Block?

If you've been around Christian circles long enough you've undoubtebly heard the term "stumbling block." On the surface the meaning of this term is fairly clear: acting in such a way that you temp another person to sin. Probably the most common example is women dressing modestly in order to not be a "stumbling block" to their Christian brothers. This is certainly a legitimate application of the term and I'm personally thankful to women who observe it as such.

However, I think there is some confusion on how this principle applies in other situations, specifically as it deals with those who have differing convictions. What I mean by that is, one person thinks something is permissible for a Christian and the other doesn't. I've seen this come up in a number of scenarios: drinking, gambling, what movies one watches, what constitutes profane language, the extent of our observance of the law of the land (e.g. speed limit, downloading music), and the list continues. In Biblical times food practices and feast days fell into these categories.

As always the question that should guide our thinking and practice here is "what has God said about it in His Word"? Probably the clearest passage answering the present question is Romans 14. I'd encourage you to read the whole thing or at least have it in front of you as you read my comments on it.

First let's identify the stronger and weaker brothers. Notice the passage is talking about brothers, so we are here discussing relationships between Christians. In verse 2 we see that the weaker brother is the one with stronger, or more strict, convictions (in the case of Romans 14, the one who abstains from meat). This brother could be called weaker either because he has not fully embraced his freedom in the gospel to eat whatever he wants or because actions might cause him to stumble that don't cause others to stumble. So if someone is choosing to abstain from something we are not required to abstain from in scripture, they are the weaker brother.

What then should be our attitude towards one another? To put the matter simply, the one who feels freedom to engage in something that the other is abstaining in should not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains should not judge the one who doesn't (v. 3). This is because we've both been accepted by God and He is our judge (v. 4). We should each do what we do because we are convinced in our minds it is right, and we should do it as unto the Lord (v. 5-6). We shouldn't abstain or not abstain to please others, but because we feel it is what God has called us to do.

If that describes our attitude, what should our actions look like towards one another? In this section of the passage (v. 13ff), Paul addresses mainly the "stronger" brother. He is the one Paul associates himself with (since Paul feels the freedom to eat any food), and he is the one at risk of being a stumbling block. Paul basically says they should not partake of the thing the weaker brother is abstaining from if they are in close contact with the weaker brother (v. 15-16, 19-20).
The reasons given are:
  • so that our conduct will not be spoken of as evil (v. 16)
  • the kingdom of God isn't in it (i.e. loving people is a bigger deal than abstaining from these things) (v. 17)
  • it is the peaceful and mutually upbuilding option (v. 19)
  • if we cause a brother to be tempted towards doing the thing he feels God has called him not do, we are tempting him to act out of step with faith, and anything that does not proceed from faith is sin (v. 23, in other words to do the thing he is abstaining from is "unclean for him" (v. 14))

To my mind this text gives us very clear guidelines in how to approach these issues: For those with the more strict convictions (the abstainers), don't judge those who don't abstain. For those with the looser convictions, don't despise those who do abstain. Futher, don't carry out the action the other abstains from in such a way that they might be tempted to go against their convictions.

A quick example of what I mean: I drink. I believe drunkenness is a sin (cf. Eph. 5:18), but I think God gave alcohol for a good purpose (cf. Psalm 104:15) and when used in moderation it is ok. Hardcore Southern Baptists disagree with me. When I am around them or influencing them in some way scripture commands me to abstain from alcohol so as not to be a stumbling block to them.

A note in closing: I want to be very clear that I don't think everyone in the Christian community agrees with what I've just summarized. I hear much more of something to this effect: "If you abstain from the thing the other person is abstaining from, what you're saying is that we don't have freedom in the gospel. This either supports legalism or at least looks legalistic to non-believers. It is therefore a barrier to the gospel." Given the clarity of Paul's thought in Romans 14, the case is just the opposite. Paul sees NOT abstaining when around an abstainer as the real barrier to the gospel, and Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Quick Reflection on God's Sovereignty

I was hiking/camping the other day and also attended a church where one of the people speaking shared about his love for the outdoors. I can relate to that. I love being outside and seeing God's creation. I feel like many Christians share this passion. It makes sense, especially when you consider the various places in scripture where God is praised for his creation (e.g. Ps 8, 19, 104). There is even some sense in which creation reveals who God is (Rom. 1:19-20).

In many cases this love for the outdoors and seeing God's glory in creation is viewed over against something like a city. There we see buildings, cars, computers etc. but not the beauty of a mountain. As I was thinking about this I started to wonder why we make this distinction.

It's probably because we see the earth (the "natural" parts of it) as created by God and buildings as created by man. However I don't know how significant this distinction is. Everything that exists exists because God willed it to exist. God then brings about His desired ends through the use of means. In creating what we see today and call beautiful (for instance, a mountain) it seems God used the means of erosion, weather, soil science, etc. This is what makes science intelligible.

Now what about a skyscraper in New York? Well, God must have willed its existence or else it wouldn't be there. This time the means he used were people. The difference here is that people are ethical agents, and sometimes their motives for building can be wrong, whereas erosion doesn't have a motive. So there are buildings that God doesn't like (e.g. tower of Bable, cf. Gen. 11), but on the other hand I think we should see beautiful buildings as a product of God's will and should still be able to look at it and see that it too sings of God's glory (Ps. 19:1-2). I think a skyscraper shows God's creativity and power as well as a mountain, for if God were not creative where would man (created in God's image) have gotten the capacity to make such a thing?

A few questions still remain in my mind. 1. Did God really use means when he created the world? In Genesis 1 it seems He just spoke and things were. It seems creation was miraculous in that sense, whereas buildings are not. But if God did not use means then seeing mountains as a result of erosion etc. doesn't make sense, yet that's what science tells us. I may be wading into deeper water here (e.g. evolution, age of the earth, etc.)

I'd love any comments on this one.