Same-sex Marriage: Living With the New Normal

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Prediction: Same-sex marriage will be the law of the land in all 50 states within the next two to three years.

As evangelical Christians, we live within the tension of the way we would prefer the culture to be and the way that it actually is.

As we pray the way that Jesus told us to pray, that His Kingdom would come and that His will would be done on earth, as it is in Heaven, we also understand that the building of this Kingdom is in process. When Jesus returns, in His glory, He will establish His new world order in all its perfection. Until then, we live and raise our families, and work to build the Kingdom in the midst of a world that is in open rebellion to all things holy. Sin set his ugly foot in the crack of the door opened by Adam and Eve and he has been wedging himself into all things ever since.

***

With that said, it is important that the church prepare itself for a new “normal” as it relates to the civil definition of marriage. Some may accuse me of being fatalistic, of “giving up the fight.”

My response would be twofold: 1) I am not being fatalistic – in fact, I am more hopeful than ever that light will shine in the midst of darkness. I believe Jesus is truly the only answer to all that plagues mankind, and 2) I am not giving up the fight – in fact, I am doubling down. I just don’t think that my fight as a Christian is primarily cultural.

The culture is what it is.

Christians since Jesus have been born into “good” systems of government and “evil” systems of government. Ours is not to whine and complain about our lot, but to take what we have and fight for the souls of our fellow human brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus Christ. To this fight, I am more committed than ever.

***

On the issue of same-sex marriage, I would suggest that this new normal will have certain “fallout” that the church in general and each Christian specifically will need to consider:

  1. The new law will be tested on a religious liberty level. By this I mean that a same-sex couple will intentionally seek to have their wedding performed in a church that they know does not allow for such practices. This will then create a civil case and possibly, in some communities, even a criminal case. I would not speculate here on the outcome of such cases, but only point out that such challenges are coming. Should churches be forced to open their doors to same-sex weddings regardless of religious conviction or face punitive action is yet to be seen but certainly not outside the realm of possibility – recall recent cases involving cake bakers and wedding photographers.
  1. The church may need to consider the issuance of it’s own ‘marriage license.’ For over 200 years, the church in the United States has had the luxury of coopting the civil marriage license as a formal document to recognize Christian marriage. When the civil document and all it represents no longer is sufficient for Christian expression of Holy Matrimony (consider in Arkansas that the terms ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ are being removed in favor of gender neutral terms as an example), then it is time for the church to consider issuing its own documents. So what this would mean practically for a young Christian couple that wants to be married is that they would seek a civil marriage license from their local country court house, just so their marriage can be recognized by the state, but that when their wedding is performed in their church, the church would issue its own separate marriage document signifying this marriage as a Christian marriage defined by Holy Matrimony.
  1. Clergy may face civil-rights violations for not performing same-sex weddings. In the same way that the new law will be tested when it comes to church facility usage, even local pastors may face the scrutiny of a civil rights violation for failing to perform a wedding for a same-sex couple. I know that in Arkansas that it is against the law to perform a wedding unless the credentials of the minister are on file in a county courthouse somewhere in the state. For example, my credentials are on file in the Washington County Courthouse in book H, page 345. Every time I perform a wedding and sign the marriage license I must record the county, book, and page number of my credentials. So does this, on some level, make me an officer of the state? Am I now obligated to perform any legal wedding because of this standing? I don’t know and I am sure no one else does either, but once again, this will be tested.

Why would any same=sex couple want a pastor opposed to same-sex marriage to perform their wedding in the first place? Good question. Why would a couple want a wedding photographer who opposes same-sex marriage to take pictures of their wedding, along with the more intimate pre-wedding photos of the couple embracing, kissing, etc.? As stated, it’s all about testing the new law and about coercion of all those not on board with the new normal.

  1. We will have family who are in same-sex marriages. And this is really, in a large measure, the crux of this post. I am asked all too frequently from fellow believers about how they should deal with gay family members. I doubt there are many believers today who do not personally know someone closely, friend or family, who is gay. For many, it is an intense struggle between their love for God’s standard of morality and their love for the individual. So allow me to frame the discussion in another way…

The book of 1 Corinthians implores believers to “not be deceived” and lists various sinful behavior, among which is homosexuality. The list also includes adultery. So let me ask: How would you process and deal with a family member who cheats on his wife? Some who read this may have actually been in this situation. Some who are reading may even BE former adulterers! The list also includes thieves and drunkards. Have you ever had a family member who was/is an alcoholic? Or ever shoplifted something, maybe even habitually? How did you deal with that in your family? The point? Homosexuality, whether expressed through a same-sex marriage or not, is nothing new to any culture and it is but one perversion of God’s moral code. Perhaps we are equally guilty of down playing some sins while over playing others. Sin is sin. And all people sin.

***

As Christians, we process theologically and practically those who sin in one of two ways depending on who they are in Christ.

If someone in our family is a non-believer, we love them unconditionally and pray for them. We share the love of Christ and His plan for their lives. We call them to repentance of all their sin. In short, lost people act like lost people. We should expect nothing less and treat them as Christ would, family or not.

If someone in our family is a believer and falls into a lifestyle of habitual sin (regardless of the sin), we proclaim God’s judgment for unrepentant sin. God disciplines those who are His. We pray intensely and intentionally for them as we follow the principles of Matthew 18 for confrontation and even exercise church discipline if repentance does not occur. In all of this, we love our family, just like Christ loves even us.

Truth and grace, in perfect balance, filtered through the mind of Christ is what is called for in such a time as this. The stakes are too great. And people, all people, are too precious for anything less.

The Cost of a Life

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55 Million.

That’s the estimated number of children lost to abortion in the United States since the passing of Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973.

And that number does not include the countless number of abortions due to RU-486 (the morning after pill) and other abortifacients.

But 55 million lost babies ought to be enough to make us stop in our tracks and at least consider…the cost.

What is the cost of a life?

***

As the baby-boomer generation retires, as the future of the Social Security program is in jeopardy, one can’t wonder how 55 million more tax payers into the “system” would impact the economy of our struggling nation.

Does that sound cold? Does that sound callous? Unspiritual? Something unexpected from a pastor? What about the moral side of 55 million deaths? And I would dare to bring economics into the equation?

***

But my argument would be simple. The moral travesty of a 55 million person holocaust in our own nation seems to have not phased the sensibilities of the pro-abortion crowd. Since, in my opinion, abortion is driven by selfish motivation on the part of the mother / boyfriend / family, then perhaps appealing to that selfishness will communicate. Nothing strikes closer to home than the ol’ pocket book. Maybe if there is a real threat that “I might not get mine,” when it comes time to retire, that “somebody” needs to be around to “pay my portion,” then perhaps that will change attitudes.

55 million paychecks equate to a lot of tax money. A lot of money in that line item designated FICA aka, Social Security. It’s odd and ironic at the same time that legalized abortion is having an adverse impact on the security of our society.

***

The average cost of an abortion is about $450.

In reality the cost is much higher.

As an advocate for adoption, I find it incredibly hard to digest that a life on one hand is worth $450, but on the other hand it can be $40,000+. At least that’s what it cost our family financially to adopt our PRICELESS daughter.

Yes, something is horribly wrong.

The economics of abortion, however, only offer a hint of something far greater and more costly that is afoot around us all.

Norma McCorvey, the real life “Jane Roe,” for whom the law is named, is today a pro-life advocate dedicated to overturning the very law that bears her name. She explains that her attorneys, “never told me that what I was signing would allow women to come up to me 15, 20 years later and say, ‘Thank you for allowing me to have my five or six abortions. Without you, it wouldn’t have been possible. (They) never mentioned women using abortions as a form of birth control. We talked about truly desperate and needy women, not women already wearing maternity clothes.’”

She is not the only victim of the abortion industry. Countless women carry deep and massive scars of remorse and guilt over children that they have lost…at their own hands. These are the forgotten victims of abortion. Millions of women. Millions of mothers.

And the cost goes up.

***

Statistically speaking at least 33% of all women in the United States will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45. This means that sitting in our churches are women…MANY women, who cringe inside and die all over again every time abortion is railed against from the pulpit.

These are our sisters in Christ.

And they suffer in the pew right next to us… in silence. Because no one knows that when they were a teenager, they snuck away to a clinic in the next county to have things “taken care of.” No one ever bothered to tell them of the cost of that life. The true cost that demands payment each and every day.

Should the church champion the pro-life cause? Absolutely. But more than ever we must realize that the grace of Christ covers all sin. That there is healing for all wounds. And that because of Jesus, mother and child can be together again.

What exactly is the cost of life? More than we ever imagined or were told.

Just ask Jesus, he knows….

Jesus Is Not Surprised

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I had lunch recently with a great friend and fellow Christ follower, Mike Jones. Mike helps me with the Bible class I teach on Sunday’s at Cross Church called Sola Scriptura. He along with another great couple take care of the details of managing a class with a roster of 200 folks so that I can concentrate on teaching God’s Word.

It was Mike’s idea for me to begin our fall teaching series tackling the great cultural issues that the church in USAmerica are facing today. And so last Sunday we kicked things off by looking at what the Bible says about legalized marijuana. Yeah, you heard me correctly, a Bible lecture, on Sunday morning, on marijuana.

 

When I was called to the ministry 30 years ago it was never on my radar that the church would ever be called upon to provide clear teaching on whether or not it was okay to smoke a joint.

 

And THAT, dear reader illustrates the landscape of today’s culture in our nation as compared to less than a generation ago.

 ***

During our time together on Sunday, I reminisced about the “good ‘ol days” of the culture wars of our past. When I was a kid growing up I can remember going to church camp in July and NOT being allowed to wear shorts. Can you imagine such a thing today?!

A term that causes all sorts of weird images among today’s young people, but which harkens back to the days of “no short pants allowed” is the term “mixed bathing.” This refers to, of course, boys and girls not being allowed to swim in a pool together. That was a “no-no” back in the day.

 

I remember when things like dancing and listening to secular music were big deals.

 

Oh, how far we have come. The fact that we chuckle when mentioning these icons of the long ago cultural fixations of the church serves to prove the point.

***

Now we have much more serious issues to discuss in church. Such as:

Will we allow our buildings to be used for a same-sex wedding?

Or will we ban a transgender person from using the rest room in the foyer of his/her choice regardless of body parts with which they were born?

Or, yes, if marijuana is legalized in our state, is it then a sin to smoke a joint while watching Monday Night Football?

 ***

I would say that most Christians 40 years of age and older are, at times, shocked and dismayed at how the culture has changed and many struggle to know how the church should react. So let me make a very clear statement, the same statement I made in to my class on Sunday…

Jesus is not shocked and dismayed.

In fact, Jesus is not surprised by any of what he sees happening in our nation or around the world. Sad, yes. Surprised, no.

And as a church, we must remember that the times we live in today, are in so many ways, not unlike what life would have been like for the first century church in the moral context of the Roman Empire. One need only study the depravity of ancient Corinth and then read Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church to understand that we face nothing today that is new.

So, I will say it again…

Jesus is not surprised.

As followers of Jesus, neither should we be. Our task as His followers is not so much cultural as it is Kingdom centered. Jesus is about the business of building His new Kingdom. One on earth that is the same as the one in heaven. We are His ambassadors ushering in and building that Kingdom.

Remember that light shines the brightest when it is the darkest.

Great Awakenings – Part 3: The Revival of 1857-58

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Once again, a generation passed away after the Second Great Awakening and once again America slipped into a deep moral decline.  The country was severely divided over the issue of slavery.  And prosperity reigned, as, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, it was easier to make money than ever before.

During the First and Second Great Awakenings, revival came from Britain and moved to America.  But the Revival of 1857-58 would start in America and jump the Atlantic to land in Europe.  The world was indeed changing and the influence of our young nation was taking hold across the globe.

The Revival of 1857-58 began in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people. 

The location was in downtown New York City and the person was a simple businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier.  He would be led by the Holy Spirit to start a lunchtime prayer meeting in the upper room of his Dutch Reformed Church.

  • Six people showed up at that first prayer meeting.
  • Fourteen showed up the next week.
  • Then 23.
  • Then it was decided that they should meet everyday over lunch for prayer.
  • By March of 1858, every church and every public hall in downtown New York was filled with people praying.
  • It was said that the hunger for prayer was so strong that the people preferred services of prayer over preaching.

***

The great student and professor of revival J. Edwin Orr described the Revival of 1857-58 this way…

“a reporter with horse and buggy” he explained, “(was sent) racing round the prayer meetings to see how many men were praying. In one hour he could get to only twelve meetings, but he counted 6,100 men attending.

Then a landslide of prayer began, which overflowed to the churches in the evenings. People began to be converted, ten thousand a week in New York City alone. The movement spread throughout New England, the church bells bringing people to prayer at eight in the morning, twelve noon, and six in the evening. The revival raced up the Hudson and down the Mohawk, where the Baptists, for example, had so many people to baptize that they went down to the river, cut a big hole in the ice, and baptized them in the cold water.

When the revival reached Chicago, a young shoe salesman went to the superintendent of the Plymouth Congregational Church, and asked if he might teach Sunday School. The superintendent said, ‘I am sorry, young fellow. I have sixteen teachers too many, but I will put you on the waiting list.’

The young man insisted, ‘I want to do something just now.’

‘Well, start a class.’ He was told.

‘How do I start a class?’ he asked.

‘Get some boys off the street but don’t bring them here. Take them out into the country and after a month you will have control of them, so bring them in. They will be your class.’

He took them to a beach on Lake Michigan and he taught them Bible verses and Bible games. Then he took them to the Plymouth Congregational Church. The name of that young man was Dwight Lyman Moody, and that was the beginning of a ministry that lasted forty years.

Trinity Episcopal Church in Chicago had 121 members in 1857; but by 1860 it had 1,400 members. That was typical of the churches. More than a million people were converted to God in one year out of a population of thirty million.”

***

After 1858, the revival would jump the Atlantic and would spark other revivals across England and Europe.  One of the most noted of these was the famous Welsh Revival.

The love song of the Welsh Revival was an early 19th century hymn called “Here Is Love.” The lyrics in the third verse beautifully describe the Supernatural movement of God during a Spiritual Awakening. “Grace and love, like mighty rivers, 
Poured incessant from above,
 And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
 Kissed a guilty world in love.”

 

Great Awakenings – Part 2: The Second Great Awakening

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In just one generation a nation can slide from Spiritual Awakening into spiritual darkness. 

That’s how long it took for the impact of the First Great Awakening to fade into distant memory.  Most people do not realize it, but following the Revolutionary War and the founding of our nation, the moral fabric of our new republic began to tear.  Drunkenness abounded.  Out of a national population of five million, 300,00 people were confirmed drunks and we were burying 15,000 of them a year.  Bank robberies were a daily occurrence and for the first time, women were afraid to venture out at night for fear of assault.

The situation within the church was grave as the Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining.  The Baptists had proclaimed that they had fallen into a “wintry season.”  One Congregational church pastored by the Rev. Samuel Shepherd in Massachusetts, declared that they had not seen one convert in 16 years.   The Lutherans were so bad off that they were investigating a merger with the Episcopalians.  All this while the Episcopal Bishop of New York quit to seek other employment because it had been so long since he had confirmed even one person.  The Presbyterians who were not any better off cried out against the ungodliness of the nation.

The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court at the time, John Marshall, wrote that the church in America “was too far gone to ever be redeemed.”  And people such as the likes of Voltaire and Thomas Paine declared that, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.” 

***

But it all began to change in 1792 as a Second Great Awakening descended upon our nation.

What happened?  Well, remember Jonathan Edwards?  The great preacher of the First Great Awakening?  He had written a little book in 1741 entitled, “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of all God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.”  Yes, that was the title!  This little book which was a call to EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER was re-discovered and then republished by a Scottish minister named John Erskine.

And a movement was sparked…

***

In Europe, men like Williams Carey, Andrew Fuller, and John Sutcliffe began a Union of Prayer across all sects of Christianity.

The church in America had its back against the wall.  So in New England, a Baptist pastor and man of prayer named Isaac Backus issued an urgent plea and a call to prayer for revival across denominational lines.  Like their brothers in Britain, a network of prayer meetings was formed which set aside the first Monday of every month to pray.

And then revival came!

***

But this spiritual awakening hit a wall when it arrived in the “frontier country” of Kentucky.  The outmost edge of our young nation was a lawless and irreligious land.  In this setting, one lone pastor, a godly man of prayer named James McGready, joined the call to monthly prayer…but he took it one step further.  McGready called for WEEKLY Saturday night prayer for the Sunday services the following day.  And then again he called for prayer on Sunday mornings prior to worship.

And then… one Sunday morning revival spontaneously broke out when 11,000 people came to church!

The Second Great Awakening had arrived and swept the nation.

***

It was out of this Second Great Awakening that the modern missionary movement was born, abolition of slavery was promoted, education for all was championed, as well as numerous other social justice causes.

It was obvious to the people of this movement that their only defense; their only righteousness; their only hope was Jesus. Oh God, show us today of our desperate need for You.

Great Awakenings Part 1 – The First Great Awakening

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When we talk about a Great Awakening in America most people don’t even know what that means.

It has been so long since our nation has felt the kindle of revival’s fire that we’ve lost our sense of even knowing what to look for.

So today, I want to take you back…back to the beginning of our nation’s spiritual foundation. And this beginning takes back to a point in time before we were even a nation, when we were still an outpost of the British Empire.

***

The First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s. Before the Revolutionary War. Before the Declaration of Independence. Before the Constitution. The church in America and Europe had fallen into a slump. A movement known today as The Enlightenment had infected the spiritual senses of both nations like a disease. Logic and reason trumped spiritual experience and reliance on God. Science as god was on the rise and the prevailing view was that it alone contained all the answers to mankind’s questions.

At this point of spiritual desperation within the church, three men were raised to prominence by the hand of God.

***

Within the colonies of New England a preacher named Jonathan Edwards became a voice crying in the wilderness. Edwards preached for a decade, fervently calling people to a personal experience with God.   He also appealed for unity among all Christians regardless of denomination or spiritual background. His was a message of salvation by faith alone in God and not of works. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of Jonathan Edwards as I will come back to him in part 2 of this blog series.

***

Another man called forth by God was George Whitefield. This British pastor became known as the Great Itinerant because he preached more than 18,000 sermons crossing the Atlantic between England and America multiple times. He was, without a doubt, the most famous preacher of his generation throughout the American Colonies. Everywhere Whitefield preached, mass media covered his every word and crowds would converge. The evangelical movement known as Methodism grew out of his ministry and served to shape the spiritual climate of America.

***

A final figure that rose to prominence and marked the First Great Awakening was John Wesley. This itinerant preacher from England boldly proclaimed the Word of God for 65 years and was the architect of the evangelical revivals of the 18th century.   It is estimated that John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles on horseback during his ministry as he preached over 40,000 sermons and wrote 233 books. Together with his brother, Charles Wesley, he penned 9,000 hymns. John Wesley became one of the great church planters of his century leaving behind 750 preachers in England and 350 in America.

Jonathan Edwards.

George Whitefield.

John Wesley.

The First Great Awakening.

As we consider the current spiritual state of our land today , crying out to God to awaken us again, one can’t help but wonder:

What if we had God called men like this among us today?

Men who would go wherever, and preach whenever, to whoever. Boldly and without compromise.

Oh, that God would Open Up the Heavens and show us His glory once again. To awaken all of us and to call forth some of us to carry the torch of the Next Great Awakening.

Let the Fire Fall

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I have never witnessed a great movement of God. Oh, I’ve heard about such awakenings but they have always seemed the stuff of a long ago time.

I grew up in church attending the yearly revival meetings that were religiously scheduled in the fall and spring. When I was a kid these revivals started on Sunday and lasted the week. By the time I was a teenager the, now once a year, revival was a four-day affair running from Sunday through Wednesday. I was actually saved at one such revival meeting in the spring of 1984. By the time I was in college many churches had moved to the “one day revival” format, which was usually a very special Sunday. Today, you don’t hear much about revivals anymore and my kids have never attended one.

I also grew up in a time when every couple of years a “crusade” would roll through town.

These larger revival type meetings were designed to cross church and denominational lines and were held on neutral ground. A well-known preacher of the day would come to town and it was a BIG deal. I can still remember when Bailey Smith would draw a packed arena at Harper Stadium in my hometown of Fort Smith. When I was 16, God moved in my life in a powerful way one evening of that crusade. I had a deep and significant moment of rededication to God’s call on my life.

But all of these kinds of meetings have gone the way of history. The reason is fairly simple

People quit coming.

Period.

***

Revivals and crusades became a part of the church calendar and were held as a matter of rote. Sure, they served to build the body and people usually were saved, but I can say, looking back, that I never witnessed a move of God such that it spread like wildfire. Without exception, when the last scheduled meeting was held, the revival/crusade was packed up and things went back to business as usual around the church or around town.

As I sit in the middle-years of my life, I find myself more and more longing to see, just once, a move of God so significant, so profound, that it literally shapes the landscape and culture of our world.

***

Today, a book is being released by Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid. I was privileged to receive an advance copy of Firefall 2.0 about a month ago. It has blessed me mightily. As I have been a part of two major prayer gatherings of pastors this year led by Dr. Ronnie Floyd, my heart has been attuned to spiritual awakening in a new way.

Firefall 2.0 has come at the perfect time.

I truly sense that God is doing something in the hearts of pastors and laypeople. There is a growing longing to see God move. A growing sense that only in a move of God will our nation and culture find healing. No politician or political party can deliver this to us.

And so what McDow and Reid have done are a few things:

  • They have reminded us. We forget so easily. God constantly was telling the Israelites that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was His way of reminding His people of who He was in their past, and is in their present, and what He will be about doing in the future
  • They tie the distant past to the immediate past. In part one of Firefall 2.0, McDow traces the great moving hand of God through the text of the Scripture itself. Reid reveals the touch of God through the course of modernity in part two. Together, the reader sees the continuity of God’s involvement in the course of human affairs throughout all of history. The reader is left with the distinct impression that God is not far and in fact, poised to do something new and fresh, perhaps, very soon.
  • They deliver to us a sense of expectancy. McDow and Reid write from a strong desire to see God move yet again. As Reid says, “During revival, we recapture the wonder of God.” I love that line. Spiritual awakening is not about me or my church or even my city. Spiritual awakening is about God. Plain and simple. It is about a recovery of the preeminence of God Himself over all of His creation and the worship of His creation back to Him.

***

Much has been said and written about the demise of the church in western culture, about the reorientation of mores and values.

It is so easy to come away thinking that we have slipped too far. That we have moved beyond even the hand of God. But this is not so! Reid’s exposition of the modern moves of God from the First Great Awakening though the Jesus Movement informs and inspires.

We are not too far-gone.

In fact, we may be just in the right place for the next great awakening.

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