Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Same-Sex "Marriage" and the Path Between Condemnation and Celebration

A few days ago, Russell Williams, a Southern Baptist pastor, wrote a Facebook post about Kim Davis' jailing. And it has been shared 47,569 times to date. Before I respond, here is the post in its entirety:

Since I am a pastor of a southern Baptist church please allow me to weigh in on the case of Kim Davis, the lady in Kentucky who refuses to issue a marriage licenses to a same sex couple.   
First: This is not a case of the government forcing anyone to violate their religious belief. She is free to quit her job. If she quits her job to honor God surely God would take care of her.   
Second: This is not a case of someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage. If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she should not have been married four different times. If she is worried about her name being affixed to a marriage license that goes against a biblical definition of marriage, she should not have her name on the last three marriage licenses given to her.   
Third: This seems to be a case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the south will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus. 
This is why we are losing.   
This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals.   
Not because we disagree but because we don’t take the bible seriously. If ever there was a case of “he who is without sin cast the first stone”, this is it. If ever there was a “take the log out of your eye” moment, this is it.   
We must stop looking to the government to make America a Christian utopia. Our kingdom is not of this world.   
We must abandon all thoughts of fixing others and let Jesus fix us.   
If we want sanctity of marriage then stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces. That is the way for the church to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage, not by someone martyring their self-righteous self.


Since you are a pastor in the SBC, it is my hope that you are seeking to honor Jesus and uphold His Word in everything you do. You clearly have influence, not just over your flock, but with many more people in the wider world. That's why your recent Facebook post has me so troubled. I am worried that your line of thinking will lead many further away from the heart of God.

You mentioned that Kim Davis is not being forced to violate her religious beliefs. You say that if she has a problem issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she should just quit her job. That is a viable option in my opinion. However, make no mistake. Her religious freedom—and yours and mine—is being violated. It started with bakers and florists, sermon subpoenas in Houston, and now a push for churches to lose their tax-exempt status. Kim Davis lost her freedom (albeit for a few days) because she listened to her conscience rather than the government. It's not because she supposedly broke the law; it's because of her Christian beliefs. Don't believe me? Then explain to me why San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom didn't go to jail. Why not Jerry Brown? Both refused to obey the law when same-sex "marriage" was illegal in California, but neither of them spent time behind bars for their acts of civil disobedience. 

You also wrote that this wasn't about someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage, and then you took what, in my opinion, is an unfair shot at Kim Davis. "If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she would not have been married four different times," you wrote. First off, you should know—or you should have done some research to discover—that Kim's marriage problems occurred before she came to know the Lord. As a born again Christian, she has a clean slate. We ought to be celebrating Jesus' victory in her life, rather than mocking her broken past.

In addition, divorce on its own is not sinful. As a student of the Bible, are you not aware that Jesus permitted divorce for sexual perversion? And that a believing spouse is not bound to her unbelieving husband? This is the classical evangelical view, and though some may disagree, citing more or fewer biblical grounds for divorce, it's not right to simply equate divorce with sin. While divorce is always a tragedy and always the result of someone's sin, it is not in and of itself necessarily sinful. 

You continued to slander Mrs. Davis, saying, "This seems to be the case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the South will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus." Do you have evidence of this devious scheme? Unless you do, I think you owe Kim Davis an apology. 

Mostly, I want to respond to what you said about John 8. You wrote, "This is why we are losing. This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals. Not because we disagree but because we don't take the Bible seriously. If ever there was a case of 'He who is without sin, cast the first stone,' this is it." For a guy who doesn't like to see people throw stones, you have pretty good aim.

Jesus did not condone or celebrate this sin of the woman caught in adultery—the passage to which you alluded. In fact, He called it what it was—sin. But today we are being told that to call homosexual behavior or same-sex "marriage" sin is to be a hate-filled bigot. By codifying same-sex "marriage" in the law books, our government is mandating that we call what is evil "good." And if Jesus wouldn't do that, neither should we. 

I join with you in calling for the church to "stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces." You're right—these are all ways that the church can take a stand for the sanctity of marriage. Maybe I'm not that cynical, but I believe that most real Christians—those who have been born again by an encounter with the risen Son of God—are actively fighting against sin. 

The real reason many people have disdain for Christians is because of the other thing Jesus said that day with the adulterous woman: "Sin no more" (John 8:11). Jesus called her actions "sin." He was calling her to repentance, to put her trust in Him. If Jesus had ignored, tolerated, or celebrated her sin, she might not have paid with her life that day, but she would pay with her eternal soul on Judgment Day. Her only hope was to put her faith in Jesus, so that her sins would be placed upon His shoulders at the cross. That's a message that the world all too often just doesn't want to hear because it means owning up to our sin. There's no such thing as salvation if there's no such thing as guilt.

The scenario you call for—one in which Jesus' disciples don't speak truth into culture, naming sin when they see it and calling sinners to repentance—is not evangelical. It's Amish. What you've inadvertently called for is the retreat of the church from culture and politics. Because if we cannot speak while there is sin in our camp, we will never be able to speak.

There is a middle way between condemnation and celebration. Today, the angry mob that Jesus had to deal with has been replaced by a cheering crowd of gay-rights activists and well-meaning but mistaken Christians who don't want to hurt others' feelings. That actually just makes things all the more difficult. Calling a sinner to repentance can look a lot like condemnation against that backdrop. But love does not want to see someone face an eternity apart from God. That's why Jesus died. And that's why we can never grow numb when our society celebrates something that breaks the Father's heart. Kim Davis understands that, and it is my prayer that you—and the church all across America—would too.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Real Reason Kim Davis Is in Jail

A few weeks ago on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked presidential candidate Ben Carson, "Simple question: Does the Bible have authority over the Constitution?" Carson seemed to stumble for a minute, sensing the trap, and managed to respond with "That's not a simple question. I think probably what you have to do is ask a very specific question about a specific passage of the Bible and a specific portion of the Constitution."
Since Carson couldn't give a straightforward answer, I assume there would be times when, for him, the Constitution would trump the Bible, and vice-versa. But I think he's wrong—about the question not being simple.

What if the Constitution was written in light of Scripture's revelation? What if our Founding Fathers, in their collective genius, designed a form of government that takes into account the nature of man as revealed in the Bible, the created order of the world as given to us by our Creator, and the basic moral framework found, among other places, in the Ten Commandments? If this is the case—as I believe it is—then there will be no conflict between Holy Scripture and the U.S. Constitution, at least not ultimately. That is, unless an oligarchy of nine unelected judges tinkers with it illegally. 

And that was the dilemma facing Kim Davis—and many other local, state, and national officials—beginning just a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court rendered its verdict in Obergefell v. Hodges. With gay "marriage" now the law of the land, Davis would have to choose whether or not she would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or follow her conscience and refuse to do so. In the end, she took a middle road. She stopped giving marriage licenses to everybody—gay or straight. She said she did so to avoid the charge of discrimination. 

Some will say that our Constitution is largely a secular document—with no explicit mention of God save "In the year of our Lord"—but I think our Founders were more savvy than that. By and large, if we take the Constitution as written and amended, there is virtually no conflict between faith in Christ and citizenship, nor between conscience and country. It's not a perfect document—that's why the men who wrote saw fit to allow for amendments—but certainly, followers of Jesus have been able to submit to and defend the Constitution in public office without fear of such a conflict ... until recently. 

Decades ago, the Supreme Court began ignoring the Constitution, though the document is clear: Only Congress has the right and responsibility to write laws. Yet the Supreme Court has seen fit on numerous occasions to bypass the legislative branch of our federal government and decree from on high a new way of life for us all. In recent years, the highest court in the land has found in the Constitution a separation of church and state that goes far beyond the First Amendment, abortion on demand, and now same-sex "marriage." 

And so, Kim Davis found herself required to uphold a law that wasn't a law when she first took office. And for bravely obeying her conscience and defending the actual Constitution—not a fictionalized retelling of it—she lost her freedom. 

Dr. Carson, the next time someone asks you which has higher authority: the Bible or the Constitution, make sure you ask your interviewer to clarify whether he or she means the actual Constitution or this patchwork thing the Supreme Court has seen fit to impose on us. Because if it's the real thing, there's no conflict. And if it's the "new and improved" version, I pray, for all our sakes, you'll cling to your Bible. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What the Duggar Scandal Reveals—Part Two (Unfortunately)

Yesterday was the best day of Josh Duggar's life. I know what you're thinking, but stay with me for a minute.

When I read the news about Duggar's two Ashley Madison accounts and the nearly $1,000 he spent in his attempts to commit adultery, I was angry. Here's an outspoken Christian with a platform, and he's a complete hypocrite. Not only was he part of a hit reality TV series (that was brought down because of revelations that as a teenager he molested five young girls, including two younger sisters), but he was also working for the Family Research Council (again, until the aforementioned molestation incidents came to light).

In a previous post, I wrote, "If Josh can be changed, so can anyone. But based on the media's coverage, it seems many would have preferred for him to remain a molester." Well, he may no longer be a child molester, but today he admitted to being a porn addict and "unfaithful" to his wife. And yes, the Internet seems to be quite happy about this development. Josh Duggar was, and is, a fraud. And so, in the minds of many people, Christianity is bogus, and all the people who claim that Jesus brings new life are—like Josh—apparently lying.

Whenever anything like this happens, it's a sad day. Josh's actions have the power to harden many hearts, shut many ears, and close many eyes. That's a tragedy. So yesterday was a bad day, but as I mentioned at the onset of this post, it may just have been the best day of Josh Duggar's life.

Josh didn't become an adulterer yesterday. He's been one ever since he decided in his heart to cheat on his bride. The Ashley Madison reveal only shed light on what was already there. Josh's sin has been exposed—and now he has an opportunity to truly repent, seek help, and recommit his life to Jesus.

Scripture is clear: "Each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12), and "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:10). That's you, me, and everyone else—including Josh Duggar. God already knows every sin we commit and every dirty secret we try to hide. So there's no point in attempting to live a double-life. We will be found out, one way or another, so it's best to come clean before we're standing in front of our Maker.

Josh has been given an opportunity to stop hiding in the darkness, albeit one that he probably didn't want. He has bruised his wife and children, his family, and the body of Christ at large, but he is not without hope. Jesus died for adultery and pornography and child molestation—and loves Josh more than we can know. That's the beauty and power of the gospel: Jesus came to seek and save the lost—hypocrites and those who cheer when hypocrites are found out.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Manger King Release Day: When Christmas Comes in the Summer

There is a Christmas book in my office, a collection of holiday reflections from several bestselling Christian authors. I keep it on my shelf because it was the inspiration for my book, Manger King: Meditations on Christmas and the Gospel of Hope, which releases today.

Well, maybe inspiration isn't the right word. A couple of years ago, I read through the chapters, and with (almost) each one, I became more and more disheartened. It wasn't that the men who wrote the chapters weren't offering inspirational messages, and it wasn't that they were trying to distort the gospel. What troubled me was that these authors got the Christmas story wrong. One relied entirely on the book of Luke without letting Matthew speak when appropriate; another had the wise men arriving at a stable, though the Bible makes no mention of a stable and suggests that the magi arrived some two years after Jesus' birth.

"What's the difference?" you might ask. Of all the narratives in Scripture, the nativity accounts may be the most famous—at least in societies heavily influenced by Christianity. So what does it say about our trust in Scripture—and its reliability—if we can't get the story straight?

So I started writing—25 reflections on the Christmas story, putting all the pieces together as best I could. I let the Bible be my guide and set aside those traditions that, while much loved, just don't reflect the narratives we find in God's Word. In the process, I found that the real Christmas story is better than we could have imagined. God the Father is good, His Son is our only hope, and the Holy Spirit is still at work within and among His people.

As I mentioned, today is the official release date for Manger King. It seems a bit silly to be writing about my Christmas book when the temperature outside is in the mid-90s and most kids haven't even gone back to school yet. But that leads me to one of the wonderful things I discovered about the Christmas story: It's bigger than the Advent season, the month of December, or special church services. The story of Jesus' birth is the hinge-chapter in the grand story of redemption that God has been writing since the beginning of time. It points back to the Old Testament and forward to the New Creation. As such, Christmas is best when it's celebrated all year long.

I hope you'll check out the book. And if you enjoy it, would you do me a favor and tell others about it? And perhaps leave a kind review on Amazon.com or Christianbook.com? I'd sure appreciate it.

Merry Christmas (and try to stay cool)!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Of Life and Light

Some years ago, there was a news story about Melissa Drexler, a girl who gave birth in the bathroom stall while at her senior prom. She then choked her newborn baby boy to death before throwing him away in the trash and returning to the dance floor. I can't imagine a more despicable crime, a more helpless victim, or a more coldblooded killer. For this murder, Drexler received a sentence of 15 years in prison and was paroled after just three.

But I think America owes her an apology. We've legalized the murder of children—as long as they're still in the womb. We've said it's her body, and therefore her choice. And we've championed these "empowered" women who throw away motherhood so they can keep on dancing (at least metaphorically speaking). The only difference between Drexler's actions that prom night and the tens of millions of abortions that have taken place in the United States since 1973 is that Drexler delivered her child before she carried out the death sentence she had preordained for her son.

The recent undercover videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing the dismemberment and sale of baby parts in recent weeks has me thinking that, again, we've just found a new disgusting yet natural outcome of Roe v. Wade. And Planned Parenthood really isn't to blame.

The Supreme Court decreed from on high that a baby growing in her mother's womb has no rights, no protections, and no expectation of quarter. So why not sell the unborn child's parts like cuts of meat over a butcher counter? Why not haggle for the best price like a used car salesman? And why not figure out a way to squeeze the most government funding and profit out of the endeavor?

Of course, I'm being facetious. Abortion is both diabolical and disgusting, no matter how folks on the left try to sanitize it with spin. Drexler should have received a penalty appropriate for her crime. Planned Parenthood should be defunded, shut down, and investigated—and in a more just world, its leadership and medical staff tried for murder.

In Ephesians, Paul writes, "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them ... Everything exposed by light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light" (5:11, 13 NIV). Abortion is the ultimate deed of darkness. The procedure is performed behind closed doors. The child's life is snuffed out while still unseen in her mother's womb. The visit to the clinic is often done in secret. Even the Supreme Court's justification for abortion comes from a so-called constitutional right to privacy. Darkness, darkness, and more darkness.

But then God began to shine a light. In the late 1970s, sonograms became commonplace in the U.S., and for the first time, a mother and father could see their beautiful child growing, hear her strong heart beating, and take home a picture of their baby—months before their due date. With more technology came more light, and the miracle of life inside the womb became more spellbinding.

And in recent weeks, the light of hidden-camera revelations from the mouths of Planned Parenthood executives have made the darkness of abortion that much more visible. Abortion needs to stop—not only because it's an evil and despicable act, but because I'm afraid for the soul of our nation and the judgment of God if we, having been given so much light, choose to trudge back into the darkness.

We have a choice: We can either choose light or choose darkness.

If we choose to remain in the light, we must put an end to the murder of unborn children—either through a constitutional amendment, a new Supreme Court decision, or by electing brave men and women to the legislative and executive branches of government who will stand for life and set aside Roe v. Wade.

But if we choose to scuttle back into the night, will there be anything we consider too evil for our society? Any deed so dark that it can no longer be permitted? I'm afraid of what we'll become.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Everyone out of the Closet

"Everything has changed and nothing has changed." That's how Rev. Al Mohler began his response to today's Supreme Court's decision on gay "marriage," which legalized the practice in all 50 states. Mohler was referring to the culture divide at large, but his statement could just as well apply to the coming divide within the church.

Until today, it's been relatively easy for Christian leaders to avoid the discussion of gay "marriage" and homosexual practice in general. Remember Obama's second inaugural, when Louie Giglio was asked to give the closing benediction prayer? Critics blasted the pastor, but they had to go back to the mid-1990s to find a sermon where he preached on homosexual sin. Although Giglio's primary audience consists of college students—an age group that (statistically) struggles with sexual liberality and experimentation—he didn't preach on the topic in 20 years. And then there's Andy Stanley. He's one of the world's greatest communicators, but he can't seem to give a straight answer on this particular topic.

I'm not trying to single anyone out. (Honestly, because they don't talk about their views much, I don't know where either Louie or Andy currently stands.) But the days of ambiguity and question dodging are essentially over. The Supreme Court has forced every Christian, but especially pastors and well-known Christian leaders, to face the issue head on. Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. 

Nothing has changed. The Bible remains clear on homosexual relationships: 

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable (Lev. 18:22). 

But at the beginning of creation, God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh (Mark 10:6-8).  

Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:26-28). 

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Some writers and theologians have performed exegetical gymnastics to explain away these texts and others, but their efforts do not change the plain meaning of these passages, nor do they add a single positive mention of homosexual activity to the Bible. Love it or hate it, God's Word is crystal clear about His intentions for sex and marriage.

Regardless of what an oligarchy of misguided lawyers decided today, marriage is still the union of one man and one woman. The Supreme Court can no more redefine marriage than they can adjust the laws of thermodynamics.

Everything has changed. With new legal protections, gay "marriage" advocates have tipped the scales in the national struggle to find the balance between religious freedom and gay rights. And it seems there won't be a "balance" at all. Unless something changes soon, preaching and teaching certain portions of the Bible will be considered hate speech. (It already is in some places.) And Christian schools and colleges will come under fire for upholding biblical values. (That one's happened, too.) Make no mistake: Every Christian leader will be asked about their stance on gay "marriage." And ambiguous niceties just won't be enough.

This is a bad day for America. I mourn the fact that my son Jonah will grow up in a country very different than the one in which I grew up. I lament the loss of influence the church will have on our culture. And I am worried that if we don't change course, God will continue to remove His blessings from our land.

But in all that, I actually do see one positive development—at least in the long term. The issue of homosexual sin speaks loudly to how we view Scripture. It is impossible to uphold the authority of the Bible in any real sense if we ignore its clear teaching on this basic issue. The Supreme Court's ruling today had an unintended effect: It will soon become very clear which pastors, Bible teachers, and Christian celebrities are standing on the Word of God.

Jesus said, "But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand" (Matt. 7:26). God's Word is a strong foundation, and how one views Scripture lies at the core of one's faith. A storm is coming. It seems we're about to find out who's on the sand and who's on the Rock.

So let's all come out of the closet. Let's all show our cards. It's no longer possible to be double-minded—the Bible has something to say about that anyway—so stand and be counted. At least then, we'll know who desires to be yielded to the Lord—and who is being tossed about by the waves of public opinion.

A little more honesty in the church is a good thing. It smells like Jesus.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

What the Duggar Scandal Reveals

Imagine a teenager in the 1930s, an active member of the Hitler Youth program in Germany. He buys into the false gospel of Aryanism and pledges his undying allegiance to Adolf Hitler. He's even been seen killing small animals for fun without a twinge of guilt or remorse. He's caught the eye of his counselors and superiors—he seems a prime candidate for a leadership position in the Nazi movement when he grows older.

But then something happens.

The young man is convicted by the Spirit of God. He mourns over his sin, and he turns from it in repentance. Years later, he is not a Nazi. Instead, he's leading a resistance movement to topple the Third Reich and restore Germany to Christian values.

If ever there was a wonderful example of a life redeemed and good conquering over evil, his story is it. Of course, whether this young man's rebirth is celebrated or criticized would largely depend on one's perspective. If the young man were ridiculed in the press, it might be an indication that the paper or its editor has socialist sympathies. 

Now fast-forward 80 years and think about Josh Duggar. Here is a man who, as a teenager, did horrible things. There is no excuse that can erase his evil deeds. It doesn't take a hero in the press to denounce those actions as villainous. Everyone but the most feral of sexual predators would agree with that sentiment. Even Josh himself recognizes the seriousness of his crime.

But things have changed. Josh is no longer in the Hitler Youth ... er, no longer committing sexual sins—and he hasn't for many years. He's a happily married man with small children of his own. Until recently, he worked for the Family Research Council—an organization that promotes pro-marriage and pro-life issues from a Christian perspective. In essence, Josh worked for the resistance, lobbying for stronger marriages and families, and the safety of children. 

Josh's story is a win for the good guys, but the way it's being reported, you'd think he was prowling elementary schools, looking for little girls to touch. So why the outrage? Is it because the Duggar family didn't come out and tell the world on their show? Is it because Josh wasn't prosecuted? I don't think so. I think the outrage is more telling than all that. 

Many in our culture don't like the Duggars. They didn't like them before this scandal, and they won't like them long after it's over. The Duggars let God decide how many kids they'd have—19. They homeschool. They believe in chaperoned courtship. They don't let their kids hold hands with their boyfriends/girlfriends until they're engaged. They believe the Bible is the Word of God. And they love Jesus. 

There it is: Jesus. The great Divider of history and humanity. And I think He's to blame for all the hatred headed Josh's way. 

Walking with Jesus invariably means trying to live the kind of life that pleases God. That means saying no to certain behaviors, certain activities, and certain elements of our culture. And when a watching world believes there should be no rules and nothing off limits, Christians look like judgmental bigots—just ask your local Christian baker. 

So the world cheers with Josh Duggar's fall. Hypocrites! At last, proof that one of them is just like us! They're no better than anyone else! But the Duggars never claimed to be better than anyone else, only to be sinners saved by the grace of Jesus. Josh's life displays that kind of grace in vibrant colors. 

Christians ought to be different than other folks, but not because we're better. It's because we've been forgiven. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV, emphasis added).

If Josh can be changed, so can anyone. But based on the media's coverage, it seems many would have preferred for him to remain a molester. And that makes me wonder: In the great battle of history between good and evil, which side are they're really on?