The Symbol of Marriage

For those blessed enough to live under a rock and never watch/read the news, the latest cultural skirmish is about a law on the books in Indiana that codifies religious freedom.  Supporters of those with ‘alternative sexual preferences’ fear that this law will allow for discrimination against this group of people.  The flashpoint for this harrumph was about a caterer refusing to work for a same-sex wedding.

With that as a backdrop… I read an interesting take on this from a secular source.  The author indicated that the caterer/restaurant in question was being hypocritical because they would not serve at this wedding but they would help out the same-sex marriage by providing food to the couple as they lived out their ‘married lives.’  The author says that the owner protests the symbols of gay marriage but help out the substance or marriage – the day-to-day living together that is married life.

It is amazing how much of God’s law is written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15).  The author is right – the wedding is a symbol of marriage.  I shiver involuntarily when I see a couple spend upwards of $50,000 to get married, yet fail to get any pre-marital counseling or anything else to help them meet the life that follows the ‘I do’, the wedding cake and the honeymoon.

But what we as Christians must know is this:  our marriages are also a symbol – a picture of Christ and His bride (Eph. 5).  Marriage is one of God’s witnesses to an unbelieving world about Himself.  Marriage spans all cultures and eras – a sign that can be clearly seen by all showing how God cares for His people.  Complitarianism – the idea that men and women are different in function but equal in value – is a key idea lost upon the world but is a sorely needed correction to the biases of today.

The battle for ‘same-sex’ marriage was lost by this culture when divorce (which God hates – Mal. 2) was freely available and socially acceptable.  I pray that the church stays true to the symbol and that all of us strive to preserve and care for what God has joined together.  Pray for your marriage and the marriage of others.  Seek to improve marriage as in institution and the individual marriages that you know.  Give grace when possible and give God glory at all times.  Finally – remember that the light will shine brighter as the backdrop gets darker.  (BTW - It will get darker - evens, come Lord Jesus...)

What is Truth?

On December 19th President Obama addressed the Nation concerning gun control in the wake of the horrible events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered.  In his prepared speech he stated that any actions should begin “inside the home and inside our hearts.”  He is correct.  Which makes one wonder, what has changed inside our homes and inside our hearts?  It appears that many no longer obtain the common sense to know that it’s wrong to murder.  Have we lost the ability to raise our children to know good from evil?  For dads to be actively involved in their children's lives, to correct them in child rearing regardless if they are sane or mentally ill?  For us to come alongside parents who have mentally ill children and seek to help them and pray for them?  Our Nation is forgetting what is good and what is evil.  Some of us are old enough to remember a Nation that understood absolute truth.  Tragically, many people have swallowed the "truth is relative" pill and today's culture is the product of that result.  These shooters are making up their own "truth," and why not?  Truth is relative to each person right?  I really don't think most of these people realize that absolute Biblical values within this country have restrained much evil over the years. 

In regards to access to guns, people who are intent on evil do not care how they access a gun, stolen, bought, borrowed, it doesn't matter.  They will obtain them however they want, even if laws make it a little harder, or our Second Amendment right is totally stripped away.  Nor do they even need a gun to do evil.  A man shot and killed 2 people in a Wyoming college two weeks ago with a high-powered bow and arrow.  If people start using those as their choice of weapon will we take those away too? Others have used bombs and various other methods.  I am not saying that some laws or practical limitations on weapons are fruitless, but I also do not believe they are the total solution.  It starts in the heart and the home.  We live in a godless society, and as Christians we need to be doing it better.  Our job is to reclaim the importance of Biblical truth and teach it and practice it in this troubled Nation.  To share the love of Jesus Christ with unrepentant sinners.   We need to be an influence, not passive.  Parents, our homes need to be the place where children are taught what the 10 commandments mean, “you shall not murder.”  On a grander scale, we all need to repent of our sins, humble ourselves, and turn back to God.  He is the only fix to this mess we call our temporary home… the United States of America.

 

Pastor Todd

Are You Different?

   "Do not love the world or anything in the world." 1 John 2:15 

   "Many of the distinctions separating Christian conduct from worldly conduct have been challenged if not altogether undermined.  Even the words worldly and worldliness have, within a generation, lost most of their traditional meaning." (James Hunter) The distinctions that were once very clear to previous generations have been blurred and altered to the point that Christians are in crisis. 

    "Today, the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world."  (C.J. Mahaney)  The church and individual Christians are decaying from within because we've dropped our guard against worldliness.

    Are the lines between Christian conduct and worldly conduct blurry in your mind?  Let me put it another way.  Is your lifestyle different from that of the non-Christian?  Question - If someone were given two reports detailing your conversations, Internet activity, manner of dress, music on your iPod, TV and movie habits, hobbies, leisure time, finances, thoughts, language, attitudes, plans for the future and a non-Christians, would they be able to tell them apart.  If the difference is hard to detect, you might be in danger of drifting down the deserter's path with Demas (See previous post - 2 Timothy 4:10)

    God has given you a warning sign in 1 John 2:15, "Do not love the world or anything in the world."  Warnings are not legalistic restrictions from a God who doesn't want what is best for us.  Warnings are His expressions of His love for us.  He gives them for our good, to protect us from sin and its consequences.

    What is this world that we are not to love?  It's not the world that God created and called 'very good' in Genesis 1:31.  It's the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God.  The world God forbids us to love is the fallen world that is diametrically opposed to Him and His Son Jesus Christ.  Every day we make choices whether we realize it or not, between love for a world that opposes God and love for Jesus Christ.

    Worldliness is choosing the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God.  Worldliness is choosing to gratify and exalt yourself over finding your pleasure in Him.  It rejects His good and right rule and replaces it with our own. It exalts our opinions above God's truth.  "Worldliness is human nature without God." (Joel Beeke)

   Questions for you to ponder: What dominates your mind and stirs your heart?  Is it discontentment with you life? Wanting something you don't have?  Do you long for more power, pleasure or prosperity?  Do you covet the esteem and crave the approval of others? Are you afraid of being rejected for your Christian faith?  Or, do you deeply want to grow in godliness, becoming more like Jesus Christ and bring honor and glory the Lord through your life?

    These are tough questions, but necessary if you're going to discover whether you have been infected with the spiritual disease of worldliness.  More to come...

Cut and Paste Living

Have you ever heard of the Jefferson Bible?  Thomas Jefferson, or second president literally cut and pasted his own personal Bible, taking only those verses that he liked.  It was a book he was comfortable with. 

            Hell didn’t make it.  Anything supernatural, no.  God’s wrath against sin, absolutely not.  As a Christian I am appalled by the thought of someone creating their own Bible by omitting whatever they don’t like.

            And then I thought about how often I have ignored portions of God’s Word.  Guilty!  Here’s a verse that was brought to my attention recently that I think many of us try to ignore in one way or another.  Simple yet piercing if you really try to apply it.  “Do not love the world or anything in the world”  (1 John 2:15). 

            This verse is pointed, “Do not love the world”.  It’s also broad, “or anything in the world.”  It’s aimed at many of my desires, yet I’ve never memorized it or felt like I needed it in my battle against sin.  I’ve read it many times yet many more times I’ve lived like it wasn’t in my Bible.

            How does a Christian know if they are worldly?  Are you immune to worldliness?  If we ignore this command, we are not just guilty of making our own Bible; we’re in peril of being seduced by a fallen world that is diametrically opposed to God.  We are all at risk!

            The Apostle Paul described someone who was in love with the world and what happened to him.  He was a companion of Paul’s and helped him spread the gospel.  He stood by Paul during his first imprisonment.  Yet, listen to what said about him in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me.”

            What happened? I’m sure he didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to bail out. Before he deserted, he drifted away from his first love, Christ. You know someone like Demas, don’t you, someone who burned brightly for a time and then slowly turned away from the faith.

            So often we’re ignorant of the signs and symptoms of worldliness because a person can carry on looking on the outside like everything is great while slowly eroding away on the inside. Maybe he or she is still in church but on the inside not really excited to be there.  Maybe they sing worship song but without any real affection.  Listen to the sermon but without any conviction.  Spiritual growth wanes as they hear the truth but don’t apply it to themselves. 

            A love for the things of the world crowds out the love for Christ. A love for the world begins in your soul and it causes a subtle shift from the things of Christ to the things of the world.  In this way, the person who was once captivated by Christ, over time is taken captive by sin.  A slippery slope.

            So, are you on the downward slide? Sadly, many Christians are unaware of the peril they are in because they have ignored verses like 1 John 2:15, and become desensitized to the clear and present danger of worldliness.

            More reflections on this to come from my reading: Worldliness – Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World,  Edited by C.J. Mahaney

Movie ratings

I hope all of you that came out to the Bible Chapel’s showing of the movie Courageous had a great night.  My family did – we thought it was an awesome movie!  While I enjoyed the cinemaphotography, the ending where men were challenged to serve their families was absolutely the best part of the movie.

The very beginning threw me for a surprise, though – a PG-13 rating.  Now I am not going to say that the movie did not have moments of violence and talked about drugs – after all, when you discuss sin, some unpleasant details usually follow, even in Scripture.  No, what threw me was the realization that my 12- and 10-year old children would not be allowed to see this movie in a theater without an adult, yet other movies that are far less redeeming lack that filter.

We need to have filters on out entertainment.  The question, Christian, is what filter do you use?  Do you use the world’s filter of G, PG, etc.?  Or do you do the hard work of digging into the media, analyzing the content against the Bible, and use that – along with your knowledge of your family – to make entertainment decisions?  The latter requires much more work, but brings about much bigger blessings – kinda the theme of Courageous, no?

KS

P.S. – A resource my family uses to help with these decisions is http://www.pluggedin.com/ by Focus on the Family – give it a try!

Strategic Living

Well, Christmas is over and 2012 has begun.  Many people are sad that their decorations have been boxed up until next December.  I am not – my feelings toward Christmas are much more ambivalent.  I enjoy the songs, the Story and the giving spirit that seems to flourish at the end of the year, not to mention the food!  The focus of stuff – material possessions – does not me feeling jolly on December 25th.

I don’t know about you, but I suspect that your house is like mine – you have too much stuff.  I have more clothes than I can use in a month, yet I keep getting more.  Same with movies, books, etc.  There is a part of me that just wants to pitch it all and not have to deal with it – especially on a day when I have to tend to dirty and/or broken stuff that clogs my ‘to-do’ list like leaves in a rain gutter.

Just getting rid of things, though, is not the answer.  My stuff can distract me from the battle that is raging all around – the battle for souls.  A better question that Randy Alcorn asks is this – Does my stuff work towards Christ’s Kingdom or not?  As a soldier of Christ, is this item a strategic necessity or a liability?  Sometimes that book I want will help me grow in Christ; other times that movie ticket will leave me further from His purposes.  This dinner out or vacation might be just the R&R a soldier needs; that 4th dinner out this week might be draining away money better spent (or given away!) somewhere else.

I hope and pray that your checkbook in 2012 will reflect strategic living choices.  Please pray for me that my checkbook will reflect the same.

KS

(For a great resource on this topic, click here.)

Halloween?

Halloween: What’s a Christian to Do?

by John Rysdyk

            The contemporary Christian often finds Halloween an uncomfortable topic.  Some want to blackball it all together because of the evil often associated with it, while others are reluctant to give up what is still a cherished childhood memory.  How should a Christian respond to this holiday known as Halloween?

            If we are to come to a conviction on the issue, some history of this particular day is needful.  It may surprise you that the celebration we know today as Halloween is actually a combination of pagan, Christian, and civil traditions.  Yet, the truth is, I could say that of almost every holiday.

            The beginnings of Halloween go back more than two thousand years.  A people called the Celts lived in what are now Ireland, Great Britain, and France.  Among the Celtic people was an elite intellectual class known as the Druids, who served as religious priests, judges, lawmakers, and scientists.  They celebrated a number of elaborate pagan religious festivals.  Chief among these was the Fire Festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-een) observed at harvest time to mark the Celtic New Year.

            The Celts believed that on this night the barrier between the natural world and the supernatural was removed, and the spirits of the dead were able to move freely among human beings.  On this night it was believed that Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans who could only escape by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves.

            In response to this pagan ritual and tradition, the church decided to offer and alternative and they invited people to celebrate Halloween.  Chrysostom tells us that as early as the fourth century, the Eastern Church celebrated a May festival that honored believers who had died.  This festival became known as “All Saints Day” or “All Hallows Day.” The night before the celebration was commonly referred to as “All Hallows Eve” or “Halloween.” On that night, the church gathered for a sacred time of worship, prayer, and testimony.  In 835 AD the church moved this day of celebration to November 1st, in order to replace the observance of Samhain.  They believed that this was a unique opportunity to declare how the Lord God can truly change one’s life.  So while the neighbors were fearfully dodging the evil spirits sent by Samhain, Christians were rejoicing in their rich heritage, a heritage that proclaimed that Christ had conquered both evil and death.  Let’s remember that our celebrations of victory in Christ are always set against the dark background of the overwhelming evil that made the cross necessary.

            Now, although pagan and church history adds light to our understanding, there are still some traditions in the U.S. that seem unique to this holiday, especially that of “trick-or-treating.”  This custom is thoroughly American in origin.  In the traditions of North America, Halloween had become an occasion for pranks and mischief.  Vandals would wander through the night, soaping windows, overturning outhouses, and pulling gates from their hinges.  These pranks were playfully said to be the work of witches and ghosts, but by the 1920’s the joke wasn’t funny anymore.  To counteract Halloween vandalism, community clubs like the Boy Scouts began to organize alternatives that were safe and fun.  Children were encouraged to go door-to-door and receive treats from homeowners and merchants, in hopes that the mere presence of so many people out in the streets would keep the troublemakers away. By the 1930s, the practice was popular nationwide and young voices crying, “Trick or treat!” were echoing through neighborhood streets.  In this way, a combination of pagan, Christian, and civic elements formed the Halloween celebration we know today.

            So in light of all this information, it is time to come back to our initial question: How should a Christian respond to this holiday known as Halloween? It is my personal opinion that the ancient Christians thought out their strategy quite well.  “All Hallow’s Eve” can be a ripe time of communicating Christ’s power over death and evil.  In fact, I think it’s quite interesting that the Reformation began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.  It was his proclamation to the Catholic Church that salvation was by faith in Christ alone and that the Scriptures, not popes and councils, are the standard for Christian faith and behavior.

            In my opinion, October 31, is a day Christians can and should celebrate.  Maybe as one church in Fairfax Virginia does, we should also have an “All Saints Party” for children with costumes of Bible Characters and heroes of the faith.  I’ve heard of other churches having Reformation parties.  Children need to learn their Christian heritage and Halloween may be great day to do that!

            Why allow Halloween to be a pagan holiday in commemoration for the powers of darkness? Why not instead fill the church with light and celebrate the victory of Jesus over darkness? Let’s make it a day that we celebrate our salvation through faith in Christ alone and honor the godly saints who lived before us and gave us faithful examples to follow.

 

 

Culture: Receive, Reject, Redeem

The other day I was sitting at Kaladi Brothers enjoying some studying time with a coconut mocha frappe. As I sit it any coffee shop, it is quite interesting to observe this cultural epicenter of our society. Culture in general fascinates me and it is likely one of the interests that God gave me for mission work.

As believers we are called to live in this world for the spread of Jesus’ fame. We are called to be in the world, but not to live for the world. Right? Question…How are we to influence this world for the spread of Jesus’ fame? As you look through Scripture, we read about Jesus’ highly relational attention to people. We see Jesus living in the culture of that day and confronting it with the truth of His Father. We also read about Paul’s sensitivity to the differing cultural worlds surrounding him throughout each town he traveled. As we further read and examine the Scriptural letters in the New Testament, we see a redeemed people living in a real world, wrestling with the same issue we wrestle with today: living in our world/culture for the spread of Jesus’ fame in an effective and yet holy way.

One helpful paradigm I stumbled across a couple years ago goes like this: 1. Receive 2. Reject 3. Redeem. As we peer at culture and our responsibility to live in it as redeemed mankind fashioned in God’s now sanctifying image, how do we flesh this out in a Jesus-honoring and balanced way? This 3-point paradigm I believe helps in this process. Like Jesus, Paul, the other apostles, and the early church, we must develop a God-centered lens from which we peer at our cultural world.

There are always aspects of culture that we can receive, enjoy, and adapt. Although apart from God’s provision we are utterly marred in sin, humanity’s God-given expressions of culture have beautiful traces of our Creator. We must learn to develop eyes to see these visible traces of God’s creation reflected in culture.

Likewise, there will inevitably be many aspects of culture that are evidences of humanity’s depravity. These must obviously be rejected. God has chosen, called, and saved us out of this deprave world to live as salt and light. There are many examples of even believers who wrongly contextualize their lives and the Gospel in culturally compromised ways.

Finally, these rejected aspects of fallen culture must ultimately be pointed toward redemption. Every deprave and rejected aspect of culture can be pointed toward redemption in light of Jesus and the Gospel’s implications for us His people, the church.

So my question, How are you looking at our world, our culture? How are you receiving and adapting to some aspects of culture? Are you properly discerning in this area? How are you rejecting aspects of culture? Are you properly discerned in this area? Have you compromised in this area? How are you pointing toward the cross, toward redemption, in our fallen world? Do you recognize this as part of your calling as a Christian?

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As I sit in a coffee shop, I am observing culture. Coffee shops really are incredible epicenters in our cultural world today, at least in Western America (though I think it probably extends beyond just here). By studying in this environment occasionally, I get to see the continual flow of all kinds of people on their morning routine. Another observation... coffee shops are places where people love to hang out to study (like me) or places that simply foster a great environment for hanging out with friends. This is an interesting aspect of culture.

Similarly, many movie theaters reveal similar observations about culture. We could undoubtedly make many good and bad observations about culture from observing a typical movie theater.

Another obvious aspect to culture and values is observed in dress styles and how people choose to portray themselves in public. What does this tell you about some potentially good or bad observations of our culture?

Take any of these simple examples and apply them to numerous other scenarios…the grocery store, the home improvement store, any random restaurant, the outdoors (fishing, hunting), etc… What aspects of culture do you see from these different places?

Think for a moment about television. There are many aspects, good and bad, that we can observe from television, movies, and media in general. What kind of cultural agenda does today’s television and movies try to push? What are some good and bad observations we could make about our media?

Music is another great example. What type of music does our culture uphold as “accepted?” Why is that? What kind of lyrics are used in today’s music? What topics are referred to in music today? What are some good and bad observations we could draw out from music in our culture?

Maybe somewhat related to some other examples previously listed above, what type of places and times of the day do people gather for fun? Why do cities have such a big focus on nightlife? What age group of people are found hanging out together and when and where do they hang out? Why is that? What observations could we make?

And our examples could continue indefinitely!

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As we learn to look at culture with attentive lenses filtered by the Gospel, we will begin seeing culture as a gift from our Creator God, but something also in dire need of redemption! How do you look at the culture around you? What are aspects of culture right now that you are enjoying? What are aspects right now that you are rejecting? How then are you seeking to point toward redemption in those rejected aspects of our marred culture?

These are I believe important Biblical principles for us to implement. As I stated, I have found this 3-point paradigm particularly helpful. It’s so easy to roll through life, either living in our own little world, missing opportunities to reach our culture for Jesus, or sometimes even living in culturally compromised ways. May we learn to develop Jesus-centered cultural lenses as we seek to live for the spread of His fame in our world!

Grace,
Derek