Responding to Gay Marriage

gayandlesbianAwhile ago I wrote a piece that that went crazy. In case you missed it, you can find it here… LGBT: It’s All or Nothing. If you didn’t think this was an important issue… clearly, it is. For those who are interested, I thought we could dig down a bit today. This is a re-post that contains years of my own study and thought on the issue. Not coincidentally, several of the responses that follow are from friends of mine who happen to be gay. Grab a cup of coffee. This will take a minute.

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The very unusual length of this post (at least by my standards) demonstrates the complexity of this issue. I have friends who think this is a simple discussion. I would challenge you to re-think your position.

Clearly this is a topic that is super-charged with opinion and emotion… within the church and in the greater community. The left would say love and acceptance is the way of Jesus. All the while the right would point out the texts on the topic that seem to deal merely with condemnation.

I prefer a sandwich approach to the discussions. Admittedly this is more than a little corny. But I think you’ll see where I’m trying to go with this. While a Truth Sandwich certainly sounds best to my lofty view of Scripture, instead I have chosen the Love Sandwich from the spirit of Ephesians 4:15.

Allow me to develop the sandwich analogy a bit. You’ve probably had a sandwich that was mostly bread. Not so tasty, right? Why not? It’s not really what a sandwich is made for. Bread is good. Necessary for a diet even. But a sandwich implies that there is something else in between the slices of bread. In fact, we name it a _______ sandwich. What goes in the blank depends on your vegetarian/meatetarian inclinations. But the point is the same. The sandwich is known for what is in the middle.

In developing my position on the gay and lesbian discussion from a Christian perspective, I am seeking to be thoroughly biblical and surrounded – on both sides actually – by truth. However, what I want to be known for in this discussion is by what is in the middle. I want even my truth to be flavored by the love. Hence, the Love Sandwich.

Here are a few other cursory reasons:

1. most gays and lesbians are already familiar with the truth as the Bible states it
2. most gays and lesbians have not experienced much (if any) Christian love
3. while the truth may set you free, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance

For starters when I began full-time Christian ministry 17 years ago I had zero friends who I was sure were gay or lesbian. That was my fault and part of the culture I was raised in. It’s not that I didn’t have any gay people around me growing up… I did. I just didn’t want or know how to relate to them. So I ignored that part of their reality and put my friendship with them mostly off limits… at least for that phase of my life. In the last few years I have been able to renew some of those friendships and begin to right some of those wrongs.

When you have friends who are gay and lesbian it takes the conversation to a whole new level. In fact until I started reaching out to people who are gay and lesbian, I’m not sure I really thought about it all that much.  When you start to listen, you hear their stories of the hatred and bigotry they have had to endure. And while the Matthew Shepard story may sound like an extreme, most gay and lesbian people have experienced vitriolic hatred that is similar in kind. They almost daily endure denigrating speech and mistreatment. It was from this place that I began to really think about what it meant to have a truly Christian perspective related to the gay and lesbian discussion.

So what does it mean to have a truly Christian perspective? Here’s how I have begun to digest it. Typically I hate lists for several reasons. Among them is that people almost always take them to be all-inclusive… even if the list-er says they’re not. The only reason I have chosen to use a list format here is to show the division and separation of items in my thinking. I have chosen to use a somewhat chronological approach. In other words, I generally think of the things mentioned here in this order…

1. I know there are some ultimate conclusions that I am going to have to draw from the data that I am able to mine from the Scriptures.

2. I know that I don’t know what it means or feels like to be gay.

3. I know that the gay and lesbian communities have, generally speaking, been treated horribly by the evangelical church.

4. I know that God created man in His image and as such all human beings have equal value… that is a truly pro-life position.

5. I know that the Scriptures have, at times, confusing and at other times, silent messages about gay and lesbian issues.

6. I know that the Scriptures ultimately seem to disapprove of same-gendered sexual relations in similar fashion to the way it disapproves of inappropriate heterosexual relationships  – i.e. (but not limited to) adultery.

7. I choose to live with this tension and maintain loving friendships with gay and lesbian friends… whether or not they ever become not gay.

8. I do so based on the teaching of Jesus. Because I am a follower of Jesus I do not believe that someone’s choices/persuasions/propensities give me an excuse to bad-mouth, slander or do anything but love every person made in His image.

So what is the Christian thing to do? Most of us have been content to arrive at a position that we feel can make us right before God. While there are plenty of theological difficulties with that approach, allow me in closing to address the practical problem. If all we do is identify what we think God’s mind is on this issue (which by itself is a pretty hefty claim), I believe we fall short because it fails to offer any solutions regarding how we treat those who do not agree with our findings for whatever reason.

I challenge all of us who follow Jesus to have a thoroughly thought-through and equally biblical, practical perspective.

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Death With Dignity, Suicide, or Something Else?

Brittany MaynardThe beginning and end of this discussion should be charity, sorrow, and grief. A young woman just a few years older than my oldest daughter is dead. Her husband, family, and those that loved her are grieving. Instead of trying to win an argument, perhaps that knowledge should drive our discussions ahead of our own personal opinions. May we write and speak as if each of them is reading and listening.

The Absolutes of Scripture
For most of us that are trying to follow Jesus, the Bible is our go-to and our safety. When an issue arises within culture we immediately ask, “What does the Bible say?” There are certainly hosts of times when the answer to that question deals sufficiently with the cultural issue at hand, so we apply the Bible to our lives accordingly. Is it sufficient to only allow others to tell us what they think the Bible says about certain issues? These often well-meaning individuals could not be more wrong in terms of “truths” they claim the Bible teaches. What do we do when the Bible does not speak definitively?

When Scripture Isn’t Obvious
I am thankful to have grown up in a context that valued the authority of Scripture. In large part because of that, I do too. However, much of the way Scripture was handled in my upbringing was like this… I approach the Bible with a list of issues in hand and I try to find a verse that seems to deal with said issue. This often lead(s) to poor exegesis and/or dangerous eisegesis. Instead of forcing a text to speak to something it simply does not, it gives us credibility to admit that Scripture is simply not obvious when it is not.

When Scripture Is Silent
Thankfully there is never a point at which we are left directionless. I often draw perspective on issues where the Scripture is silent from the whole of Scripture and its attitudinal propensity. I ask myself questions like, “Do my personal thoughts and feelings line up with principles found in Scripture?” “Do my thoughts and ideas about said topic find any conflict (variance) with principles found in Scripture?”

Death With Dignity
This is a difficult and two-pronged discussion. The first part, death is always certain and final. Few people would debate that. But that second word… dignity. What is dignity as it relates to death? Ask a dozen people and you may hear nearly that many answers. Is dignity a reasonable expectation when it is attached to death? In the United States alone around two and a half million people die every year. 100% of them are dead. I doubt that a significant portion of them (or their families, for that matter) would say that they died with dignity. Another blogger and I recently disagreed about her assertion that death is beautiful. And while I understand that there are instances where death is a relief to seemingly endless cycles of pain, it is its finality that decries any beauty it may have. The Scripture even speaks of death as the last enemy. I’m not sure it’s meant to be very dignified.

A Christian Response to Death With Dignity
Is it possible that Christians can come to different conclusions on this issue? Personally, I believe that because I don’t get to decide when I show up (birth), I don’t think it is my decision when I check out (death). Are there exceptions? Probably. Respect the difficulty surrounding other’s realities regarding end-of-life decisions. Be honest (intellectually and verbally) about what the Scripture does and does not say on the subject.

The Noah Movie: Storytelling

NoahLet’s begin where the Book does…

5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

Genesis 6:5-7 KJV

Let’s allow the movie to begin where it desires to as well (these are the first words at the top of the movie’s website)…

The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.

 Since its March 28th release (and before, really) I have had the advantage (and in some cases, disadvantage) of reading many passionate reviews… all before I had seen the movie. I was reminded that some of us actually read reviews to decide whether or not we will go to the theater to see a movie. So reviews have their place. As usual, I come to this evaluation process from a bit of a different angle. For the last 20+ yrs. I have been a professional storyteller. You may look at my resume and wonder why a pastor would call himself that, but that’s exactly what we who deliver sermons are doing… we are telling and retelling the stories found in the Scriptures.

If you were/are looking to the Noah movie to retell the story word-for-word as the Scripture does, I am nearly certain that you will walk away as many have… disappointed. However, most of us who attend Christian churches would be equally disappointed if we showed up to a worship service and the sermon for the day was solely the reading of Scripture. We want to know some perspective. How does that text apply to my life? What am I supposed to do or be because of what the Scripture teaches? I think this movie does both masterfully. Here a few of the high points that stood out to me:

  • total ownership of why God was destroying the earth… the wickedness of man… sin
  • acknowledging God as Creator
  • even enumerating the very acts of creation day by day
  • showing Noah as the righteous yet fallen human that he was
  • even the weird stuff (you already have your list) does not diminish the power of the story

So even if you don’t end up liking the movie, let’s be the ones that are known for what we are for instead of what we are against. May this retelling of the story of Noah cause audiences to consider the greatness and grace of our God.

LOVE Is the Fruit of the Spirit

1 lovePerhaps the most sought after and illusive word in the English language is love. Musicians pine for it. Authors write about it. In many ways we all long to experience it in its truest form. But what is love? Is it a relationship… a feeling… an action or attitude? The answer is likely… yes! Even (especially) Christians have desired to un-define and re-define this overused and misunderstood word. So, what of it? In what way(s) should our lives be characterized by this emotion and/or attitude?

In the near future I would like to take the words of 1 Corinthians 13 and more carefully analyze the far-reaching implications of love. For this post let’s focus on love as a general, overarching attitude. It is my opinion that there is no singular defining characteristic that has more ability to affect people than love. In John 13, Jesus said as much, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

I have a little sticker on the outside of my laptop that has been a huge conversation starter (particularly in Starbucks). It simply says, “love wins”. Just this past week a smiley young man stopped by my table on his way out the door and said, “I definitely like this God better than the one that was presented to me in church as I was growing up.” He went on to tell me that he was re-reading Rob Bell’s book entitled Love Wins. And while there is some great stuff in that offering, there are also some very dangerous assumptions. In fact, this is part of the discussion about love. Is love (as a concept) all warm and fuzzy and kittens and bunnies and, in the end, everybody gets in?… speaking of heaven.

Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” I would contend that the same is true in reverse. It works equally well with your assumptions about the nature of love.

The love that the Bible talks about defies our human understanding. The love of the Scriptures walks two miles when someone demands that you walk one. Bible love marries a prostitute because God says this will give people far from me a picture of how much I care for them. The love acted out in the pages of the Bible is unlike any modern version that we can write. It is beyond. It transcends reason. It is other.

So, as a friend asked me recently as I was suggesting this kind of love in a tough situation, “How would this flesh out?” I think it’s only fair to talk about biblical love in the spirit of what the Scriptures say. This is where it gets frustrating for many people. I think we hear a word like love and want to open a holy dictionary and find out what fits into that word and what does not. I am increasingly certain that it rarely works that way. Instead Bible love is demonstrating the spirit of Jesus in and around the circumstances of life.

It may mean being the good Samaritan. It may mean speaking a hard truth (like Jonah did). I am convinced that as we seek to follow Jesus, the way of love will most often be the way of humility. This fits both “sides” of the discussion. If I am bringing a hard truth because of love… I do it humbly and gently. If I am coming with encouragement or grace I do it with humility… realizing that in and of myself, I have nothing to give. This is in keeping with the spirit and attitude of biblical love.

Who Is God?

god-touches-adamMuch has been written and said about this One named God. In His name beautiful things have been done and ugly wars have been fought. He is credited with the creation of worlds and children. Many people have received instructions about life that they claim came from this God. Who is He… really? How can we definitively know what He is like and maybe more importantly, what He wants us to be like?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. It seems to me that especially when we draw near to things that are clearly out of our control we are prone to look to this God. In times of terrorism we have asked God to “bless America”. Weddings, funerals, baby dedications… many of these events invite God to preside (or so we say/pray). My family and I are in a time like that even now and I have been searching for this kind of help from God.

There are many comforts to be found in knowing and believing the Scriptures. It is the journal of God. I can read it to discover realities about God. There is a place to uncover mysteries that are greater than my understanding. So I went to this book – the Bible – to see some of the ways that God dealt with people. I decided to start in Genesis… the book of beginnings. The things I have learned and been reminded of about God are too many to print. Allow me to share a few:

  • God is creative… it’s always been that way
  • God made people to be together
  • God knows everything about everything
  • God made people in His image
  • God loves protecting people
  • God reluctantly punishes people
  • God is merciful
  • God says hard things too… He’s probably the only One who ever should
  • God knows what is in people’s hearts… He’s probably the only One who ever could
  • God keeps all of His promises… He’s probably the only One who ever will

There are so many other things. These are just a few of the high points of the first few chapters. God’s history is clear in the pages of His Word. His present and future are equally clear as He continues to act and move in the lives of real people and their circumstances.