Being Christian In The Era Of “Gay Marriage”

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This post is not a rant about how the country is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s important for the church be aware of the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s recent invention of a constitutional right to gay marriage. These changes will affect how Christians live and engage our society and culture.

The Lord rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees because they could forecast the weather but not discern the signs of the times. I think it behooves us as Jesus’ disciples to be spiritually vigilant.  I hope you find this informative and helpful as you observe the trends in our culture.

Firstly, Christians should understand that the fight over “gay marriage” is over, at least legally. It’s not likely the Court will overturn this decision in the foreseeable future. As far as I can tell there is no desire even among marriage advocates to launch a campaign of resistance similar to abortion. That doesn’t mean, though, that everything is settled.

Christians must prepare to face a society that will become increasingly hostile towards the gospel and the church. We will continue to see efforts to push a biblical worldview and its adherents out of the public square. There may even come a day where churches are directly threatened if they don’t conform to the prevailing view on marriage. This may take the form of a regulation that requires clergy to officiate “gay weddings” or lose their tax-exempt status. The church’s faith and resolve will be tested.

I’ve seen many Christians I know on social media who have rainbows as their profile photo or twitter avatar. At first I was irritated but then I remembered Barna’s research showed that only 19% of born-again believers have a biblical worldview. Maybe this is just a confirmation of that finding. Christians should also be aware that our new moral categories of nice and mean have replaced good and evil. What’s worse than appearing to be offensive? We will be pressured to abandon biblical teachings so that cast a negative light on our family, friends, and colleagues.

As important as the spiritual challenges are I think Christians should also appreciate the constitutional, and legal, ramifications. A decision on marriage is controversial and will grab headlines, I get that. But what’s also disturbing is the Court’s abuse of its own power, which has been a problem for decades. The Supreme Court has long since abandoned the notion that the Constitution’s words mean what say in favor of interpreting the document in light of their own personal beliefs. Well, that puts all of our rights in jeopardy. As Justice Scalia wrote:

Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about mar­riage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Consti­tution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extrav­agant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most im­portant liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.  

This overreach for power on this issue can be repeated on other issues. Being aware of that is the difference between a mature Christian and one who simply gets agitated over “culture wars” issues. It’s about understanding that the courts are one of many fronts in this spiritual war we fight. We contend with spiritual powers and forces as we seek to transform our society with power of the gospel.

Where do we go from here? In one scenario I see the launch of a new culture war that will last for decades. Another possibility is that this all blows over as we discover that there’s no groundswell of gay couples signing up to get married. We will have learned that the notion of gay families as an alternative lifestyle was just good storytelling for a campaign. It’ll probably some combination of the two.

We must ever be vigilant, prayerful, and hopeful. This isn’t the first time in church history that things have gotten worse and we know that our Lord will be victorious in the end.

The future is here and it is pre-modern

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We often hear conservatives (both the political and religious kinds) lament the decline of civilization caused by the abandonment of Judeo-Christian “values.” Every year we witness battles in the culture war over Christmas songs in malls, monuments to the 10 commandments, or students praying at football games. These controversies seem to indicate a growing hostility towards Christianity, if not religion in general. I’d suggest, though, that we have moved well beyond the post-Christian and into the post-secular.

New Age may have ended as a phenomenon of the 1960s and 70s but it ushered in an alternative spirituality that has continued to gain momentum. Yoga, mantras, meditation, and various pantheistic beliefs and practices have become mainstream ideas, accepted without question. The increasing number of Americans who identify as spiritual but not religious is a testament to its success. People have rejected Christianity (the goal of New Age) while avoiding the skepticism of a secular worldview that is hostile to any belief in the supernatural.

Next came the Age of Interfaith Religion with its central belief that there is one truth, which speaks in many tongues. Oprah is probably the most well-known advocate of this view and you can watch an interesting video of her on YouTube arguing with an audience member about whether there is only one way to heaven. This worldview compels us reinterpret our beliefs in light of other religions. No less than the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has said that we must no longer consider sin an operative notion in the modern life. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says that Christians need to get over their antiquated hang-ups about homosexuality:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision. They’re not — at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

See the problem emerging for Christians? We face increasing pressure to change our beliefs to accommodate the prevailing moral beliefs of the culture. For them, it’s not enough to win the debate. They must bring everyone into submission. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened…

Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Romans 1:21,25

Add to this mix a growing unfamiliarity with the Bible and Christianity and my belief is that we are heading into a time not that different from ancient Rome or other pre-Christian societies. I think that the early church will serve as a model of how to engage a culture that views Christianity with belligerent hostility and fear.

It’s a future that inspires concern but one that should drive us to look to the cross as the symbol of the ultimate victory we have in Jesus.

 

There’s A Blood Moon On The Rise

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The recent “blood moon” that we saw has set off many discussions about the end times, most of which are unproductive. A pastor named Mark Biltz of Washington state believes that this indicates that Jesus will come back in the fall of 2015. John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, has written a book that has given this theory a huge platform. Hagee seems to be more prudent than Harold Camping by remaining vague about what will happen. He says, with Nostradamus-like ambiguity, that the “blood moon” is a sign of important things to come. Even Rick Warren tweeted a picture of the moon with a reference to the prophetic verse in Joel.

Before we proceed we should get the relevant text.

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.

Joel 2:31

Peter also quotes this verse when preaching at Pentecost in Acts 2:14-41.

These “blood moons” are simply lunar eclipses. They’ve happened before and quite frequently, more than three dozen times in the last 100 years. They aren’t omens of the judgment day; just awesome phenomena to watch. When we read scriptures about the moon turning blood red we are looking at something more than just lunar eclipses.

We get some clues about the meaning of Joel’s prophecy from the fact that Peter quotes it in his sermon. Some scholars believe that Peter is interpreting this prophecy as fulfilled at the day of Pentecost. There’s also the question of which day is the “day of the Lord.” Early Bible commentators believed it referred to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It could also refer to the final judgment. Some even think it could be both.

I also have a hypothesis I’d like to throw in, though it is pure speculation. I’d suggest that these heavenly signs could apply to Jesus dying on the cross. We know that there was an earthquake and that the sky went dark at that time. The Father unleashed the wrath of His justice on His Son. In a way, God also judged Israel for rejecting His Messiah. He tore the veil in the Temple and His presence was there no longer.

Everyone will be too busy freaking out to notice the moon turning blood red.

Keep in mind that a red moon (including Revelation 6) usually accompanies catastrophic events. They could be indications during, or after, a calamity has begun. The smoke from a great fire can make the moon appear to be red and so this sign may reference the destruction of war.

That’s one way I know that these lunar eclipses, which are cool to look at, probably aren’t prophetic signs. If they were then it would be a bad time in which some kind of disaster was already taking place. If these blood red moons were the ones prophesied then no one would care because they’d be too busy freaking out to notice.

The other problem with this lunatic theory is that 3 of the 4 eclipses aren’t even visible in Jerusalem, which is a deal-breaker. The prophecy is given to Israel but they can’t even see it.

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

Mark 13:22,23

Jesus told us that no one knows the day or hour so we should ignore anyone who foretells the second coming, no matter how cagey they are about it. The important thing to remember is that believers have no reason to fear because Jesus is victorious. Our responsibility is to be alert and expect the coming of our Lord.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide.

The nation of Rwanda last week commemorated the genocide that took place twenty years ago. Under colonial rule the Tutsi were placed in positions of power. They were the ruling group even though they were the minority. The Hutu were the majority group but were disenfranchised under that system.

It seems the downing of a plane carrying the Rwandan president was the event that set off the killings. President Juvénal Habyarimana belonged to the Hutu group. Hutu militias setup checkpoints and began targeting Tutsi. An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed, about 20% of the country’s population and about 70% of Tutsi. As many as 500,000 women may have been raped during the 100-day genocide and up to 20,000 children were born as a result.

When people speak of evil in the world they talk about it as something that exists some place far away, like Rwanda. The Bible makes it clear that the evil in the world lies within our own hearts and that’s what makes this world such a terrible place. We live in the world where men do not call on the name of the Lord and instead walks his own path. This world is a consequence of sin.

Christians who read their Bible should never fall for the naive notion that we are always making progress towards a brighter future. The only hope we have lies in the coming of our Lord and the manifestation of His glory and kingdom. Only then will evil be eradicated and the creation restored to its pristine condition.

“Customer Announcement: We Have A Lost Child In The Culture”

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Are young people fleeing from the church?

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church. When I hear that anywhere between 45% and 75% of young people who grew up in the church leave by the end of their first year in college it only supports my concern that there’s an exodus of young people.

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church.

Having come across a few articles now that push back against this narrative I’m more skeptical and curious. And this is to my shame because I studied economics in college and I, of all people, should know that data doesn’t automatically give you the big picture. In fact, many researchers have looked at the data and have come to a different conclusion.

Bradley Wright pulls the data from the General Social Survey on those who identify as Evangelicals by age. The chart he produces shows that the percentage of people who are Evangelicals rises during the 1970s and declines in the 1990s, most sharply for the 18-29 age group. Today we are back to the same levels as the early 70s.

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Bradley also looks at how many Americans are Evangelicals or “Born-again” Christians. (As a pedantic side note I’d say that “born-again” and Christian are synonymous. If you’re not born again you’re not a Christian, but I digress). It hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. There is a decline in religious affiliation (and a rise in the un-affiliated, or “nones”) but that is mostly affecting nominal mainline Christians and Evangelicals.

Ed Stetzer has also analyzed the data and does not believe it supports a pessimistic view. In commenting on the Pew Forum’s 2012 study which showed a rise in the number of people who have no religious affiliation (the “nones”), he said this:

The reality is that evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years, however there is still great cause for concern here– and for action.

Conservative churches and institutions are holding up better but they still face challenges as more Americans move away from a biblical worldview, including church-going, Bible-reading Christians. There has been a growing movement of “New Calvinists” which has produced organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together 4 The Gospel. Daniel Darling mentions that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary enrolls more students into their Masters of Divinity program than any other similar school.

The church has always thrived in hostile environments and will continue to do so. Jesus did say that He will build His church. I think we can take this as an opportunity to preach the gospel and show the stark contrasts between the cultural and biblical perspectives. If only a few more believers behaved as if they were confident that they are already victorious then we’d see some amazing changes take place.

What Marcus Luttrell Teaches Us About Suffering

The story behind the film Lone Survivor teaches us a lot about how to deal with suffering. In that tense exchange in the interview Marcus Lutrell elucidates a very rare perspective on tragedy which Jake Tapper clearly doesn’t understand. In a sense, they are both representatives of two different viewpoints.

Under the pessimistic view all suffering is vain and is reflection of the vanity of life. For these people it represents the fatal flaw in any theistic worldview. Suffering does nothing but make our lives miserable and if there is a loving God then He’d never let it come into existence, much less eliminate it.

Luttrell made a very important point when he said that they didn’t question their mission and purpose just because an operation went sideways on them. They were in a combat zone doing a dangerous job and that was par for the course. More importantly, they were highly trained and eager to successfully complete the mission. SEALs are intense competitors and they thrive under incredible stress and pain.

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The rest of us can learn to shape our expectations based on their perspective. I believe much of our struggles are based on our expectations about what God owes us. It’s easy to say “Amen” when the preacher says to put our complete trust in God as our provider but when something near and dear to us is taken away we get desperate. We feel entitled to certain level of well-being and we see our faith as a means to maintain it.

Jesus offers us a simpler, but more empowering, view of life. He teaches us to look to God for our needs and be content and thankful that He has supplied them all. Life is not about material wealth (Luke 12:15) but about living by every word of God. When you have this perspective you’re not likely to get entangled with the cares of this life. You’re not likely to be consumed with a desire for more.

This biblical perspective also informs us that this life is full of troubles (John 16:33) and that we should not be surprised when bad things happen to us. Followers of Christ do not get immunity from pain and suffering. They do get the grace that enables them to be of good cheer in the midst of sorrow.

We know that tragedy can and will strike us at some point. We also know that God is able to sustain through every tribulation. If we keep things in perspective then we will not forget the goodness of the Lord towards us and His everlasting mercy. It’s important to always remember that because such gratitude shows us how to properly understand the hard times we endure. When you can praise and worship God in those times then you know you have succeeded.

What Does God Think Of The Minimum Wage?

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You’ve probably heard about the “living wage” in the minimum wage debate but you probably don’t know what it means. If you do know what it means then it’s likely that no one else defines it the way you do.

The idea is that workers need wages to support their families and only the government can mandate. Increasing the minimum wage will combat the inequality that God condemns in the scriptures. Christians, in particular, will make passionate arguments that appeal to our desire to help those less fortunate.

But does the Bible support this notion of a living wage? Is it really the kind thing to do? Why are we forced to choose between doing something, even if it may not work, and doing nothing?

Those who argue for a minimum/living wage will quote passages of Scripture such as James 5, Deuteronomy 24, Amos 8, and so on. In these verses, and many others, you will see that God is concerned with justice for the poor, needy, and vulnerable. He especially condemns the rich landowners who don’t pay their workers. What we don’t see is any guidance regarding the minimum wage.

The idea of the living wage sounds simple enough but how do you determine the amount? It’s easy to see how much the cost of living changes as you move from San Francisco to Omaha, Nebraska but you can also see it drop if you move an hour east of San Francisco to the Central Valley. A minimum wage in large states is difficult to do, to say nothing of a national wage.

To make things even more difficult we have to consider that no two workers are the same and so any given wage may support one worker but not another. A worker who has a wife and children will need a higher wage than someone who is single and childless. Someone who has a poor credit history may also need a higher wage to pay off debts. How can you mandate one wage that will work for everyone?

Another shortcoming is that minimum wage increases do not help the poor because the majority of poor Americans do not have jobs. This is the reason why most economists do not view this policy as an effective weapon against poverty. The 28 states that raised their minimum wage above the federal level between 2003 and 2007 did not reduce the level of poverty.

When I worked as a security guard for a year I started out making minimum wage ($8/hr) and a year later I was at a different company making $11.40/hr. I wasn’t a statistical anomaly. This happens all the time. We all know that no one ends up where they started and it would raise questions to hear of someone stuck in such a job. A normal life includes such hard beginnings and rites of passage whether it is work, college, or even marriage. What matters more than our current circumstances is the possibility of improving them.

Good intentions can lead to bad consequences. A proper understanding of the Bible teaches us to be concerned about justice for the poor and vulnerable but also compels us to recognize the complexity of the issue of wages that goes beyond simplistic prescriptions. To avoid God’s judgment we have to make decisions based on the right motives. There’s no law Congress could write that can compel us to love our neighbor.

Is Sarah Palin A Christmas Tree Idolator?

This post isn’t about Sara Palin, it’s about biblical illiteracy. Joy Reid is filling in for Ed Schultz the day after Christmas and is calling Palin out for hypocrisy regarding Christmas trees. She (mistakenly) reads Jeremiah 10:10 and draws the conclusion that Christmas trees are unbiblical.

For one thing, that wasn’t Jeremiah 10:10, but 10:3-5. It seems as if she delegates the research to someone else. If you’re going to make a tongue-in-cheek attack on someone you should probably pay attention to detail so you don’t look dumb.

The main problem, though, is that her interpretation is flawed. God is encouraging His people not to be afraid of their idolatrous enemies. The false gods cannot do anything to them because they are not real and have no power.

There are Christians who object to the whole practice involving Christmas trees because of their pagan connections but it is impossible to connect the practice with the idol worship described in Jeremiah 10. The idolators in the text cut down the trees to get the wood which they would fashion into all kinds of idols and decorate it with gold, silver, etc. The Christmas tree is a symbol because it is green even in the winter. That’s the way God created it so Christians should have no problem using it to express biblical truths simply because pagans pour their own meaning into it.

My impression is that she is cherry-picking verses in order to criticize Palin. Whatever the reason, she is reading something foreign into the text, which is called eisegesis. We want to draw the meaning out of the text (exegesis) in order to understand what we are reading. We certainly don’t want to use the text as a pretext to advance an agenda or preserve our prejudices.

Those who abuse the scriptures, in my belief, will face an especially harsh judgment. It is a very severe responsibility to handle the word of God that brings with it accountability. We want to make sure that we have all the tools we need to use it effectively. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3 the proper understanding of the word will help us fulfill our ultimate purpose in life.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Why The Minimum Wage Can’t Be Biblical

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At the risk of being simplistic I would say that the argument in favor of raising the minimum wage is that it alleviates poverty and fosters an opportunity society. The main problem with this is that it is demonstrably false.

Not only is the minimum wage evil but it’s also stupid, and neither are biblical. It is an evil means to a righteous end which is to say that it is counterproductive. Christians need to get beyond the emotions and evaluate these issues with a clear head lest we do damage in the name of helping people.

Thomas Sowell, an economist with the Hoover Institution, has spent decades illustrating the consequences of stage-one thinking. It is where you do not think about the effects of a proposed solution to a problem beyond the immediate consequences. The minimum wage issue is a perfect example of this and it is especially problematic when Christians support such a law.

One of the basic principles of economics is that people tend to buy less of something at higher prices and more of it at lower prices. For some unexplained reason we are to believe that employers, the consumers in the labor market, will hire more labor as its price increases. If we are trying to help the poor then I do not see what is compassionate about making it harder for them to find a job.

The advocates for the minimum wage forget, if they ever knew, that you can legislate higher prices for labor but you cannot legislate higher productivity. That would be analogous to proposing a law setting a minimum price of gas at $10/gallon and expecting to see higher gas mileage. Goods and services don’t become more valuable simply because the law requires higher prices.

It is tragic to see the effects of government intervention in the black community. In the immediate years after World War II the unemployment rate among black teens, around 10%, was slightly less than it was among white teenagers. Since 1970, the unemployment rate for black teens has only dropped below 30% for a couple of years. Young black men between the ages of 18-25 are prime candidates for prison, especially when they have a lot of idle time on their hands and numerous bad influences.

Most advocates seem to be unaware of the history of minimum wage. In the U.S. and other countries, including Canada, South Africa, and Australia, the law was used as a means of excluding racial minorities to protect a privilege group. It made it difficult to hire Japanese workers who were willing to work for relatively lower wages in British Columbia, or blacks in South Africa.

Christians should know that the minimum wage can be used as a weapon of discrimination and ask themselves who is being excluded today. If people in the past saw this is a means of oppressing people then we have to ask if it is having the same effects today.

Pricing labor so high that it makes finding a job difficult is not the best way to help the poor. It keeps people out of the labor force at precisely the time they need to develop experience so that they can find better paying jobs later in life. No one ever got rich on a minimum wage job. It is condescending and cruel to tell people that they should expect to do no better. We can be more compassionate than that.

Phil Roberston And Hipster Christianity Don’t Mix

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The most important thing I’ve learned from the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality is that there is a cultural divide in the church between the urban and the rural. I think that this divide explains the criticism coming from Christians, even more so than disagreements over what he said.

The most common objection is that Phil’s confrontational style was offensive and not Christ-like. It runs afoul of the hipster approach to evangelism that sees unbelievers as people who are suffering because they don’t know that God loves them. For Christians to judge their lifestyle as sinful, in their view, brings condemnation down on their heads and pushes them away from God when we need to attract people to Him.

This relates to another complaint from Christians that this controversy is a distraction. They tell us that we need to focus on meeting the physical needs of the poor and those who are in need. For the hipster, evangelism is about sponsoring children in sub-Saharan Africa or handing out soup and sandwiches to homeless people downtown. Stirring up controversy is counterproductive to sharing the gospel.

We can easily answer these objections but the telling observation is that the Christian critics are simply embarrassed by Phil. The hipster Christian lives a very modern lifestyle, socially-conscious, passionate, and ambitious. He buys fair-trade coffee and the rest of his paleo-diet groceries at Trader Joe’s. Phil is far from that: crass, country, redneck, and patriarchal.

In the church there is an infatuation with urban culture and ministry. Urban is genuine and real whereas suburban and rural is fake. Urban ministry is where the real work of evangelism is taking place. It’s the wave of the future. Phil Robertson is history.

So like so many other fads, this fascination with urban culture will also pass. Too many Christians forget, or don’t understand, that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. They miss that in their frustration with all the attention the issue attracts. Jesus did not come to set up soup kitchens. His message called us to repentance at the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. It is about the reconciliation between God and man and the liberation from the bondage of sin.

To his credit, Phil is fighting the battle by speaking what the Bible says about sin when so many other Christians are doing nothing. What’s worse is that some Christians sit back and judge how he fights while they make no effort themselves, and that’s the real problem.