Let me tell you a story…
In 2007, I accepted a call to pastor my home church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. This was a “turn around” situation. What had been a major church in the region a generation ago had become a church in steep decline. I remember being overwhelmed as I considered that nearly every facet of church life needed to be addressed.
About a year into my pastorate, I became extremely burdened for the men of the church. To be more specific, I felt a deep conviction that what was missing was a distinct culture of manhood that included ministry to, disciplining of, and mentoring over men. I was convinced that if this once great church was going to rise up and recover its former splendor for the glory of God, then the men of the church needed to rise up and, well, to put it plainly…lead.
But how to kick start a masculine movement? That was my barrier. I’m a pretty simple guy. And when in doubt, I just try to keep it simple. For me, it does not get any simpler than to go back to Jesus. It struck me one day that Jesus preached to the crowd, hung out with a cluster, and went deep with a core group. I also took note as I studied Jesus’ ministry of how so much of what he did was built around one very simple “thing.” What was that one thing?
Yep. Food. Being a man I am certain of this: Men are busy. Men are burdened. Men are overwhelmed at times. A lot of men don’t like church for whatever reason. But listen to me – ALL men are hungry (in more ways than one).
If there is one thing men will prioritize, one thing they will find time to do…make time to do, it is eat
So this became my starting point for biblical mentorship of men.
I know… it doesn’t sound very spiritual, but hang with me. Remember, this is all a part of the story.
So I decided to try something. I issued a call to all the men of the church to come eat lunch with me on Thursdays. I promised two things: ribs and no women. There’s got to be a spiritual tie to Genesis in there somewhere but I will move on!
As I reflected, I took note that we don’t really have much of anything left in the church anymore that is “men only” except for the restroom. We have gender integrated nearly every aspect of church life. Except that the women are REALLY good at having conferences, events, Bible studies, Mom’s Day Out, etc. just for them. Women only. Guys aren’t so good at that. And like I said, men are busy and we tend to isolate ourselves. But…men LOVE to eat.
So what happened? Very quickly and very easily, our Thursdays, men-only lunch exploded. We had men from our church and from outside our church that came each week for great food and a message from some guest that was explicitly man driven. The room was packed with testosterone. It was great!
That became my crowd event.
We then began a Saturday breakfast event. Now breakfast on Saturday is a trickier deal. Men like to sleep if they have a day off, and they really don’t want to miss family time on the weekends either. So we did it, not too early and it did not go long. We would start at 8:00 am and be gone by 9:15 am. I also knew that men who really were seeking “something more” would be the ones that would come. And that’s what we got. Not hundreds, but around 50-70. I would lead a pretty pointed challenge to the guys. A little more “preachy” and in your face.
This was my cluster event.
But now I needed to go really deep. To the core. That was my ultimate goal. But not every man is ready for that. So I didn’t push but just let it happen naturally. I will tell you that out of the two food events above, I began to organically mesh with a smaller group of men. A group where true biblical mentoring could take place.
I targeted these men in two ways. First, one-on-one regular lunch meetings. At this point it was not about the food anymore, but much more about Jesus, discipleship, and manhood, fatherhood, husbandhood, etc. Second, mission experiences. I have a tremendous heart for the Great Commission and missions. My goal was to always go on two trips per year, one international and one national. I would invite those men in my core group to join me. There is something about being “on mission” with another man that takes your walk with Christ and their walk with Christ to a whole new level.
And that’s it. That’s my story. This became the model for how I invested in men. How I mentored and brought men along. Oh, I could tell you of a few other things we did, like our informal men’s only Inferno Club (involving eating a REALLY hot hamburger in order to join), and the Men’s Only Adventure Quest I led to through the canyonlands of Utah, but I think you get the point.
My Bible tells me that Jesus fed 5,000. At another time he fed 4,000. It tells me that he broke bread with sinners and saints alike. That one of the holiest ordinances of the church is based around the breaking of bread, the Lord’s Supper. Jesus used food to break the ice, to meet a fleshy need so that he could meet a spiritual need. He spent three years with 12 men. Three years of breakfasts, lunches, and suppers.
You may not be a pastor with access to hundreds of men. You may be just one man with a few friends. But you are one man with a stomach.
So, go ye therefore and feast!
After four years I was able to return to Tanzania leading a mission team from the Cross Church School of Ministry.
And now we are back…
Returning from Africa is always harderthan the trip over. I suppose it’s a combination of fatigue from the mission and jet lag. I find myself waking up at about 2:00 in the morning for a few days. It usually takes about 5-6 days to feel completely “normal.” But this trip, like the others I have led, was a massive blessing and so worth time, expense, and effort.
The fledgling church in the Pare Mountains of Chome is flourishing.
Pastor Fanuel is leading well and the church has purchased land and in the process fashioning and firing hundreds of mud bricks to build the church’s first real building (they’ve been meeting under a tent for the past five years). Pastor Fanuel also has BIG plans. Plans that include building a second structure – a Bible training school.
He wants the Pare Mountains to be ground zero for pastoral training for next generation leaders. And he launched this vision with the arrival of our mission team. Pastor Fanuel planned the timing of our mission trip to coincide with his first ever pastoral training seminar.
When we arrived we discovered he had invited other pastors across other evangelical denominations to come to the Pare Mountains for a week of encouragement and training on leadership. There were even two brothers from as far away as Zambia who had come to help him teach as well.
I marvel at God’s design and mind.
The Cross Church School of Ministry is all about leadership training for next gen leaders. As such, our team was more than prepared to step into this task. So our days were dominated with worship, preaching, and teaching over 40 people. The two women on our team were able to provide encouragement to the women, children, and teenage girls of the community and church.
As with all mission trips, there is more to say than can be written. We had our share of fun and inside stories (what happens in Africa, stays in Africa!). But one of the greatest personal joys of this particular trip was that my 18-year-old daughter was able to join us. God has a call on Madison’s life to missions. She has had some extraordinary opportunities for a young lady her age to work out that calling, but a trip to Africa was a penult mum experience. It’s a hard trip. Not for the faint at heart. The travel is LONG. The food is different. The living conditions third world (we had two days with no running water at all and one day with no power). But my “little girl” (can I still call her that?) rose to the occasion and went far beyond pulling her own weight as a team member. I sat in pride as she shared publically with the church her calling and encouraged them. Yes, I am a proud father.
And so we are back home now.
Back from Africa.
But my thoughts, prayers, and a portion of my heart remain with Pastor Fanuel and the brothers and sisters of the Pare.
I’m going back to Africa.
I had the remarkable privilege to lead two mission trips to Tanzania in the summers of 2009 and 2010. My good friend, Scott Ward, served as an IMB missionary in Tanzania for three years and was the first person to connect me to what God is doing among the people group known as the Pare (pronounced “par-ay”). During the three years that Scott lived in Tanzania with his family, he worked with the Pare people through an indigenous pastor named Fanuel Kiroka. Fanuel is one of the most remarkable brothers I have ever met. He knows multiple languages, is trained theologically, and had prayed for over 20 years that God would send someone to help him reach his people who live in the remote Pare Mountains of Tanzania.
Then God sent Scott Ward. And through a series of divine leadings, I made my own trip to Tanzania. During those years, I was able to witness (from a distance and up close) the explosion of a church planting movement in the Pare. Pastor Fanuel began to seed multiple preaching points throughout the mountain region and to place in each one a pastor who Fanuel had personally discipled.
I had the distinct honor of preaching in two of these churches and doing numerous evangelical presentations as we hiked the mountains, going from one mud-brick home to another. We prayed for the sick and demon possessed (yes, I said demon-possessed), and even interacted with the local witch doctor. We saw people saved and baptized. These were two amazing mission experiences that have fundamentally shaped my theology as a pastor and missionary.
I remember when I flew away from Tanzania in 2010 that I might never go back.
It was just a feeling I had. After going two years in a row I just knew that God was saying, “It’s time to go to some other places now.” And so I have. Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, plus several North American cities, all focusing on Great Commission expansion.
But now I am going back. God has opened the door. Through the Cross Church School of Ministry, of which I am co-founder and president, we will be taking a group of seven (including myself) back to the Pare Mountains of Tanzania and back to Pastor Fanuel. What a joy it was to reconnect with him via text messaging, if you can believe that. What a thrill it was to tell him I was going to be able to return and for him to embrace us with enthusiasm. And so next week we are off.
I would covet your prayers. Each of my last two trips were unique, one from another. And while on one level I know what to expect, I also know this trip will be wholly its own.
I invite you to come along for the journey. I will be attempting (if cell phone service allows) to upload Twitter updates…and maybe a few pics as well.
The church I pastored for seven years in Fort Smith, Arkansas, had a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition of benevolence. Each year, the week prior to Thanksgiving Day, we would give the needy of our community a full-bird turkey and a box of food – everything a family of 6+ would need to prepare their own Thanksgiving feast.
Our event involved a community Thanksgiving worship celebration where the Gospel was presented and people saved and baptized. Following the worship service, the distribution of the food would take place in the church’s gym. Hundreds of church members engaged to welcome our community guests. This included walking with them to their cars to carry and load the food. The event was a holiday highlight for all involved.
But a curious thing began go happen a few years into the event.
One story I heard went something like this: A couple of church members were helping carry a guest’s turkey feast, not to their car, but to their apartment. They lived within a couple of blocks from the church. When they arrived, the volunteers were shocked to see another turkey and box of food from one of our earlier services sitting on the kitchen table! They said nothing, of course, but left disillusioned. Then there were stories of members carrying food out to nice cars. I mean REALLY nice, newer model SUV kind of cars. And guests chatting away on iPhones while picking up their benevolence Thanksgiving meal. Oh, these were by no means the majority of our guests, or even close to it, but just enough to leave a sour taste in the mouth and cause one to perhaps re-think the sacrifice to provide the blessing.
Not wanting to see the whole program derail just a few years into its inception, I called a volunteer meeting the following year prior to the big event. I met the criticism head-on and referenced Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.
Let me ask you, the reader, to consider: As lunch was being passed out, a FREE lunch mind you, and as the endless baskets of fish and loaves were flowing through the crowd, don’t you imagine that at least one person snuck a little extra under their tunic to take home? Or maybe it was more than just a little extra. And maybe it was more than just one person. In fact, I wonder really how much the situation bred perhaps hundreds to “take advantage” of the situation. We are, after all, talking about human “sinful” nature. Even for people who lived 2,000 years ago. But this did not stop Jesus from feeding the hungry. In fact, in another instance he feed 4,000 more.
It was Jesus who also told us that “the poor you will always have with you….”
For a good Jew listening to that statement, they would be reminded of the Old Testament teaching from the 15th chapter of Deuteronomy on taking care of those who live in a state of poverty:
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’.”
Notice that as much as the command to take care of the poor is present and clear, so equally, if not more so, is the exhortation to meet the needs of the poor with a pure heart.
Or as the Law states, when you give, “you shall not harden your heart.”
Why does God go out of his way to speak to the attitude of our hearts when giving to the poor? I believe it is because God knows that it is the nature of our heart to:
- Be stingy,
- To judge the condition of the poor,
- And to question the motive of the poor.
My point is this:
- People end up in a state of poverty because of many reasons, not merely laziness,
- And some people will seek to take advantage of those who seek to give,
- But since there will always be the poor among us,
- And since God has a heart for the poor (Ps. 35:10),
- And since he has called us to care for the poor among us, regardless of their motive or why they ended up in poverty,
- We should care for the poor with a cheerful and uncondemning heart.
It’s really as simple as that.
Some have drawn a mistaken dichotomy between social justice issues and the evangelization of the lost, as if the church must pick between the two.
And many churches do pick. Some have sacrificed evangelism for social causes. Some social causes for evangelism. Both kinds of churches face extinction because neither will grow in today’s religious climate. All the surveys and studies tell us this.
But it does not have to be an either / or proposition. In fact, Jesus lived out a both / and ministry.
He fed 5,000 people – then he preached the Kingdom to them.
And so should we….
Note: This coming Sunday, October 12, is World Hunger Sunday. Every 5 seconds someone in this world dies of starvation and enters eternity. May this be totally unacceptable to the Church of Jesus Christ. Please consider giving a gift this week to aid in the relief of world hunger. A wonderful organization is Baptist Global Relief.
The United States is at war…again.
Some would argue the war that began on September 11, 2001, never ended. But nevertheless, the war has surely entered a new phase as the United States is back in Iraq, and for the first time, our military forces are now in Syria.
The tipping point for the new offensive seems to have been the devilish beheading of American and British journalists posted in high definition video on the internet by ISIL (also known as ISIS or IS). The sentiments of the western world have demanded a result, and so, regardless of the politics, the bombs have begun to drop.
So what does God think about this current war against the forces of radical Islam?
More specifically, what would Jesus say about the matter were He walking among us today? Would He advocate the launch of Tomahawk missiles on ISIL targets?
It’s a legitimate question for two reasons. First, as Christians, we are followers of Christ. That means that in our conduct and character we seek to imitate the mind and actions of Christ. Second, in a very real sense, the church, as represented by followers of Jesus, is the embodiment of Christ’s presence on earth. That means that the church should have an opinion, and more, the church should speak to all issues, even, and especially now, the issue of war.
The Christian pacifist argues from the position of non-resistance to aggression and evil.
Most notably the Sermon on the Mount is referenced as the ideal response. In Matthew 5, Jesus explains:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
This is certainly an important passage of Scripture as Jesus teaches us how to live among those who would do us harm. In seminary, my professors would have a saying when approaching biblical interpretation, “Context is king.” Meaning that the context of any given passage of Scripture is vital to its accurate understanding. In the case of the above passage, it should to be pointed out that Jesus is commenting on an Old Testament Law. In fact, he quotes the law that appears each in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. But Jesus does not quote the whole law, just enough of it to jog the memories of the hearer. When Jesus says, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” the listener would harken back to the whole context of the Old Testament teaching. In the case of the Leviticus passage, which you can read for yourself in Leviticus 24, the context is that of a man who has broken one of the 10 Commandments by cursing God’s name. Up until that moment the people had the Law but they did not have any consequences for breaking the Law. So God lays down a list of consequences. The operating principle being that a punishment should match the crime. So if someone punches you in the face, yours is not to bash his or her head in with a baseball bat. That is not “and eye for an eye.”
Coming back to Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues with an interesting statement:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”
The reason this is interesting is because Jesus is quoting for sure, but not entirely from the Old Testament Law. Yes, the Law says that we should love our neighbor. But nowhere does it say that we should hate our enemies. Yet Jesus claims that this, hating ones enemy, is what has been passed down from one hearer to the next.
So if the idea of hating ones enemies is not in the Law, then where does it come from?
Very simply – from the heart of man.
You see, it is in the heart of man to want to “get even,” to want revenge. We are so bent this way that we will even take something as pure as the Word of God and add to it. Pervert it, actually, to say things it never was intended to say. Things like, we should hate our enemies.
So Jesus comes along and provides a corrective and a better way to live one with another.
And that’s an important statement for our discussion today. Jesus is speaking, I believe, about individual conduct toward other individuals. What He is not speaking to is how a community or a nation should conduct itself in the face of evil and injustice. Nations and countries, you see, have a responsibility that individuals do not.
In all that Jesus teaches in the Gospels, He also was the one that told us we should “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” This verse found in Mark 12 is usually quoted in the context of taxes and tithing, but the over arching principle Jesus is speaking to is that national authorities do have legitimate authority to which we should submit.
Further, Paul provides clear help for all believers in Romans 13:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
By this we know and can affirm:
- Bad people should fear rulers of nations, because,
- The rulers of nations are God’s servants. Imperfect for sure but the best God has to work with for restoring justice in a world gone awry. Therefore,
- Rulers of nations carry the “sword” for God. Or in the case of our contemporary culture, laser guided missiles.
While “getting even” and revenge is in the heart of man, JUSTICE, is in the heart of God. So when the unmitigated black wind of ISIL sweeps across the Middle East, it is incumbent upon the rulers of nations to seek justice and defend the innocent.
The early church father, Augustine, wrote of four conditions in which it is right to go to war. These have been passed down through early church catechisms and have become known as the Just War Theory:
- The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
- All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
- There must be serious prospects of success.
- The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
When one considers the evil and the threat of ISIL…
When one considers conditions that would lead the Kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to join in like mind with France and the United States…
Surely we have a common threat to peace and justice that must be stopped by means of war.
So, would Jesus order military strikes against ISIL? I suppose, in a way, by ordaining the rulers of the earth’s nations and commissioning them with maintaining peace and order on this planet that we all share, He already has.
Time Magazine made a few waves this summer when they released the June cover image of Laverne Cox with the cover title, The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.
Laverne Cox, the woman, is in reality, Roderick Cox, the man. Except that Roderick Cox did not “feel” like a man and made the decision to become a “woman.” As Laverne Cox, she became the first openly transgender person last year to ever be nominated for an Emmy in her role on the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black.
Additionally, the attention of America was drawn this summer to the story of Ryland Whittington, the seven-year-old little girl who didn’t feel like a little girl. And thus her parents have allowed her the choice of becoming a boy. At age seven.
Such stories grab our attention. The talk shows capitalize, calling in gender therapists and child psychologists to explain to us the in’s and out’s of how such a thing happens. The goal, of course, is to normalize the whole transgender issue as just another expression of self in an ever-growing diverse and celebrated culture.
The whole issue of sexual identity has been thrust onto center stage with this and the same-sex marriage wave that is sweeping our nation. In all of this the church must speak.
Where does God stand on the whole sexual identity issue?
He must have an opinion.
After all He is the Creator, right?
The most foundational text speaking to God’s creative order related to sexual identity is found in the book of Genesis. Which makes sense, as it is the book of “beginnings.”
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Most commentaries focus on the “image of God” portion of this verse as if here lays the real “umph” of the text. Even I wrote a whole book dissecting the “image of God” picture in Genesis. But given the turn of our culture, what once may have been considered the “throw away” part of the text has now become immensely profound.
This along with additional biblical texts help us form a clear biblical theology of sexual identity. One that is desperately needed today by men and women who struggle with feelings that perhaps they were born with the wrong physical parts.
- God is sovereign over sexuality and does not make mistakes. This is an important starting point. As Creator, God is sovereign. He is in control, as opposed to things being “out of His control.” His sovereignty applies to all of His creation, even sexual identity. To claim anything else is to undermine God and to claim that God, indeed, does make mistakes.
- Sexual identity is, therefore, not a choice but an assignment. To be more clear, you are a man or a woman because God chose you to be that way. There is nothing about you that is an accident or a mistake. And regardless of how you “feel” or what you may “want” your identity as a man or a woman cannot be changed, even with surgery. To God you will always and forever be a “he” or a “she.”
- Submitting to God’s choice of sexual identity is the beginning point of submitting to His sovereign plan for your whole life. And this is where the rubber meets the road. Since the beginning of time (Garden of Eden) there has been a struggle between the will of Mankind and the will of God. The biblical ethic drawn all the way out teaches that God has a perfect plan for each and every individual life. That plan has a starting point. The starting point is when you are conceived in God’s mind, then in a womb, and then born into this world…as a male or a female. The rest of your story in life will flow from this. By usurping God’s sovereignty over sexual identity, an individual proclaims: 1) God made a mistake, 2) I will correct the mistake, 3) Therefore I am my own god. Such a path can never lead to true happiness and joy. The statistics bear this out. In one Swedish study, transgender people who experienced gender reassignment surgery, instead of being made whole and happy, were in fact 20 times more likely to commit suicide. The path to true happiness and wholeness in life begins with submitting to God’s will and plan for life. And that begins with accepting yourself for the way you were created…. “male and female He created them.”
- Masculinity and femininity are expressed along a varied spectrum inspired by God. There is no one “kind” of man or one “kind” of woman. The biblical record beautifully depicts masculinity and femininity across a wide spectrum. You have the beauty of Queen Esther and the ruggedness of Judge Deborah. You have the machismo of Esau alongside “mama’s boy” Jacob. Within the framework of a biblical theology of sexual identity, statements like, “I just don’t feel like a man/woman,” don’t make any sense at all. Feelings have nothing to do with sexual identity. You are what you are. Love of the arts or of sports has nothing to do with being a man or a woman.
Under this theological framework, we are free to be and feel and love, as the man or woman we were created by God to be, all under the sovereign reign of a perfect God who loves us all and desires nothing but the best for His creation.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.