What does the Bible actually say about marriage?

marriage

Once we have agreed to allow God to be the authority that He is, and let Him write the moral laws which will ultimately govern us all, we must make every effort to know Him, to know His Word and let Him be God.  The creator of the universe, who will judge us all at the end of time, has given us a beautiful and extensive book by which we can know Him, His character, what He wants out of us, and how we are to live.  Do you not think we should make every effort to know it?  Or do you think He will allow us to plead ignorance at the judgment seat?

Marriage.  When God created the world He spent six days creating the land, the sea, the planets, the animals, the foliage, and lastly He created man and woman.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”  Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.  So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.  The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.  The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

– Gen 2.18-24

This is what theologians call the “created order”.  God created man, and then God paraded all of the animals and living creatures before him to show that there was no other creation like man.  Every living creature had a male and female to procreate, and there was no creature with whom Adam could communicate or reproduce.  Thus, God created a suitable helper, a partner, a compliment:  the woman.  And it is because of this created order that men and women must leave behind their parents when they are ready to marry.  This is a familial structure, the two were made to compliment one another, and the two work together to reproduce.  The two create a family, separate from their parents, the two are now one.  They are two halves that compliment one another to make a whole.

When the Pharisees tried to put Jesus on the spot about divorce, He referenced this created order and the heart of God in marriage:

And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

– Matt 19.2-6

The marital union through Scripture is defined and understood to be between a man and woman.  The Old Testament Law outlined consequences for anything other than sexual relations between a man and woman within the confines of marriage: homosexuality (Lev 18.22), sex with an animal (Lev 18.23), and sex outside of marriage (Lev 18.20).  Marriage was clearly defined from the beginning, and all possible diversions from the definition were clearly defined, judged and dealt with.  This is why Jesus did not have to answer these types of questions about sexuality.  Sometimes people will argue that Jesus did not talk about homosexuality directly, and thus attempt to make an argument from silence that it is acceptable.  But Jesus upheld all of the Law, and that is why the Pharisees (the keepers of the Law) attempted to trick Him up in His keeping and teaching of the Law, namely on divorce and keeping the Sabbath.  They had added traditions and nuances to the Law, and tested Jesus about them.  But Jesus did in fact reference the created order, as we already saw, and therefore to argue that He was silent on the topic is simply wrong.  He assumed that people understood the Law and heart of God, and He endorsed marriage to a stronger covenant than had previously been held.  Some people will also try to say that homosexuality is fine when the two are committed to one another in marriage, that the problem is promiscuity.  But this goes against the created order which God formed and Jesus upheld.

The rest of the New Testament teaches us to value and esteem marriage highly.  Defiling the marriage bed by having sex before marriage, having sex with the same gender, and having sex with a married person are all grievous sins that God will judge.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

– Heb 13.4

Paul teaches husbands and wives how to act within the marital bond in Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Peter 3.  He also teaches us that part of the downward spiral of culture when it has walked away from the authority of Scripture is to give in to unbliblcal sexual desires:

“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

– Rom 1.26-27

Homosexual tendencies are not a new phenomenon.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were marked by homosexuality well before God even gave the Old Testament Law!  This was thousands of years ago.  It is actually from where we get the term sodomy.  Romans and 1 Corinthians also speak of homosexuality as the norm, as well, which was two thousand years ago.  Thus we cannot argue that the Bible is simply out of date or old fashioned.  There is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1.9, 1 Cor 10.13).

This is simply what the Bible says about marriage.  When we come to God for salvation, we must submit to Him as King, as God, as Lord over our lives.  That means that we purposefully and intentionally stop doing the things that God calls sin.  All of us will have many, many things that we must stop partaking in.  For some it will be gossip, for some it will be pride, for some it will be sleeping and living with a boyfriend/girlfriend, and for some it will be homosexuality.  We are not God and we do not get to make the rules.  But God is gracious and redeems us from all walks of life, and from all types of sin.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

– 1 Cor 6.9-11

If you do not believe in the God of the Bible, and if you do not submit to the Bible as your authority, then that is fine.  But the United States government did not create marriage, God did.  And the United States government does not have the ability to rewrite Scripture.  We, as Christians, however, should not try to force the United States government or people who do not submit to Jesus as Lord to act like Christians.  That is futile.  And there is a much bigger issue on the table, and that is their salvation.

Even this will not satisfy.

white house

On Friday, the supreme court justices voted 5-4 to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.  And the nation has been responding all weekend long.  I have barely checked the news and my facebook because it seems to be the only topic about which people are talking.  Happiness.  Celebration.  Anger.  Lamentation.  Lashing out.  Finger pointing.  Almost everyone is responding, and we all need to be able to articulate our positions well.  Most of my heroes have responded, and so much has already been written on the topic that I wondered if I should enter the fray, but there is one facet to this conversation that I fear is being overlooked:  Satisfaction.

Traditional catechisms verbalize well for us the purpose of man:

To know God and enjoy Him forever.

Jesus said it like this,

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

 – John 10.10

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes unto the Father except through me.”

 – John 14.6

Jesus boldly and unashamedly proclaimed to the world that He came some that we can have full, satisfying life, and that He is the only way to have that satisfying life.  People are searching for satisfaction and fulfillment, Jesus proclaims that we can only find it in Him, yet we search the world for pleasures:  entertainment, relationships, toys, meaning in life through helping others, sex, food, etc.  I live in a city which has a remarkably, and abnormally large single’s population, and many of those singles are frantically looking for a spouse.  Even within the church, there is a sense that life is incomplete without a spouse, and the married people within the church unfortunately have a tendency to encourage that worldview.  This is such a problem, in fact, that many people choose their church based on the number of singles who attend.  We would never consider joining a church that had few singles, because the dating pool would be so small!

So here were are in a [church] culture that has taught us we need to be married, being single is a curse, we do not know how to involve and relate to single people, and silently teaching people that they are incomplete without a spouse.  And at the same time we are seeing a multiplying number of openly homosexual people in our world and even in our churches.  So is it any surprise, then, that they would think a sexual and even marital relationship will complete and fulfill them?

The core of the problem is simple:  God did not create us for a spouse.  He created us for Himself.  If anyone enters into a marital relationship looking for satisfaction and fulfillment, they will be looking to receive from their spouse what only God can give.  They will be disappointed, they will think that they have failed, and they will spend the rest of their life wondering what happened, going to counseling and marriage conferences trying to make it better, or they will divorce and look for that “soul mate” who does not exist.  It is only when we find our satisfaction, meaning and fulfillment in Christ that we can have full marriages.

The homosexual community has pushed to have the right to legally marry and be viewed by employers, healthcare companies and the world as a married couple.  Having an unbiblical view of marriage, they cannot enter into a marital relationship having found peace and satisfaction in God first.  In short, they will be disappointed.  Some will stick it out to the end and some will move on to look for something else that will satisfy, and this is where the Church must be ready to respond.

First of all, we must remember that people need Jesus.  We have all sinned, and no matter the type or depth of our sin, if we do not come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation, there is absolutely no benefit to fighting sinful tendencies.  In short, we should not waste our time trying to convince someone that the Bible teaches marriage between a man and a woman if someone does not believe in Jesus:  the conversation is moot.  Until we are able to agree that God is the authority and that Scripture is His truth, it does not matter what the Scripture says, quite frankly.  Because even if we do an exhaustive study on marriage and the will of God, if the second party is convinced that the Bible does in fact teach heterosexual marriage but does not know Jesus, we have done him no benefit.  He needs to know Jesus first.

Secondly, we must remember that we all have walked in sin, and when we came to Christ for salvation, we all had to lay down those sins of temptation.  Perhaps yours was not homosexuality, but Scripture says that those who covet (those who get jealous and want what other people have) will not be allowed into Heaven.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, noreffeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

 – 1 Cor 6.9-11

We all were looking for something to satisfy our lusts until we met Jesus.  Some might have the same inclination and you, and others will have different drives than you.  Jesus can redeem and forgive them all.  When people realize that their lifestyles are not fulfilling them, we must be ready to point them to Jesus:  the life.

Lastly, we must stand firm on the truth.  If we stand in silence, then we will in essence give affirmation.  After, and only after someone has come to Christ for salvation do we begin the work of accountability and dying to sin.  When people come to Jesus we have to make Him the Lord of our lives:  He is in charge.  He gets the final say.

“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

 – Rom 10.9

You will only be saved by allowing Jesus to have the final say.  And we can know what God has to say from reading His Word, the Bible.  Therefore, once Jesus is made Lord, we being teaching people how to read the Bible, understand it and apply it.  God says that people who are jealous will not enter the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, we must fight jealousy.  God also says that people who practice homosexuality will not enter the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, we must fight homosexual urges.  God also says that drunkards, and people who have sex outside of marriage, and people who hate others will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.  Therefore we must not get drunk, we must not have sex outside of marriage and we must love one another.  Not to earn salvation, but to prove ourselves to have made Jesus the Lord of our lives.  If He is not Lord, then we are not saved.  And for Him to be Lord, we have to do what He says.  But we will all fail along the way, so we walk in grace to help people (and ourselves) recognize their tendencies and fight them.

Even this will not satisfy.  Only  Jesus can satisfy.  If you are looking for fulfillment in anything else, you will be disappointed.  And marriage is one of the biggest eye openers to this reality.  People disappoint.  All people.  Only God will bring joy and peace.  So let us boldly and unashamedly offer this gift to a hurting world.  Let’s not get caught up on the secondary issues, but let’s point people to Jesus first.  Then, after they have come to Him for salvation, let us diligently seek the word and help one another grow in maturity in Christ – putting away the sin and flesh and putting on Christ.

Why me?

why-me11

If you are alive, you have gone through some sort of crisis in your life.  And chances are high that somewhere during the suffering of this crisis you asked the question, “Why me?”.  I was sixteen years and one week old when I got my driver’s license – as the law in Indiana required.  I drove myself to Cross Country practice, and some of my girlfriends had invited me to come out for the soccer team, so I left the high school (where cross country practice took place) and drove out to the county elementary school (which I had not attended, and to which I had never driven), and I accidentally drove past the school.  I continued driving looking for an optimal place to turn around and eventually I came up to a gas station.  Wanting to turn left on the cross street so that I could turn around in the gas station parking lot, I came to a complete stop.  At the same time a woman had stopped on the cross street to my right.  Remembering from driver’s ed that the car to the right at an intersection has the right of way, I waited for her to go first as we had stopped at the same time.  My street did not have a stop sign, however, and therefore I had the right of way.  She waved me on, and without looking back, I started to turn left.  There was a van coming straight at me, speeding excessively, and she T-boned my huge Ford Taurus, spinning us both and knocking me out briefly.  When I came to, and when I processed what had happened, I immediately started praying, “God, no!”  And then, “God, why me?”  and lastly, “God, why didn’t you let me die?!”  You see, my father had promised that if I ever wrecked his car, that I would not drive again until I was 18 or until I had bought my own car.  And this happened the very first day that I had my driver’s license.  And my father was a very strict man.  I would have preferred to go home to Heaven then to suffer the consequences of my mistake.

Now, looking back on everything, it was a minor thing – even though my family still gives me a hard time.  (I am now fifteen years accident free, thank you very much!)  But in the moment, my world had come to an end.  I despaired of life.  And I spent many years paying off that mistake.

The tragedy of the “Why me?” question.

Having the immediate response asking “Why me” to tragedy, to a mistake, to anything is detrimental to our souls.  It is a black hole into which our culture is being sucked – or is willfully pursuing – that will destroy us.  Why?  Because at it’s core is pride and a false understanding of reality.  At the core it says, I am a good person and I do not deserve this.  It elevates self, it looks past everyone else, and it fosters entitlement.

In this world there will be suffering for everyone.  Even if you are born as royalty and your every whim is catered, there will come a day when a parent or friend dies.  There will come a day when something does not go how you planned it, or wanted it. You will fall down, you will wreck your daddy’s car, you will break something.  The entire religious system called Buddhism is built on the statement and belief that “All of life is suffering”, and the goal of the religion is to remove one’s self from bondage to this world and therefore escape suffering.

The Bible teaches us that life on earth is vanity, marked by suffering, and chasing after the wind:

“I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.”

– Ecc 1.14

If you do not know from your own experience that there is suffering in this life, then come back once you have realized it, I will not spend any more time trying to convince you that there is.

But what about entitlement and our response to suffering?  Our culture wants to believe and tries to convince us that “You deserve to be happy“.  We continue to make and upgrade products that make our lives easier.  We have convinced ourselves that education will enlighten us and elevate us and give us the opportunity to work the job that we want in order to make lots of money, change the world, and be happy.  But as soon as we graduate college we realize that there are few jobs out there and that everyone has the same education, so now we are highly educated self-declared elitists who are unwilling to work for our success, and become depressed when life is hard and we have to work a job that we hate.  I want to be unique, I want to be creative, I want to change the world, and I want to get rich doing it.  But then it does not happen and we bemoan our existence shaking our hands at God, or the universe, or society and say, “Why me?”.  I don’t deserve this.  I did everything right.

But when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, and when we allow the Bible to be the authority over our lives, we realize that this worldview is deeply flawed.  Jesus promised us that in this world there would be much suffering, and He was our forerunner and example of how to endure suffering:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

And not only is there suffering promised just by the very nature of being alive, but Jesus promised us that the world would hate us because it hated Him first, and that we would suffer persecution because of His name.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.18-20

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

– 2 Tim 3.12

We need to first and foremost change our mindset.  We will encounter suffering, and if we want to be like Jesus, if we want to be saved, we are guaranteed that the world will hate us and persecute us.  Do we deserve to be happy?  Nope, not by the world’s standards.  But God will use our suffering to make us holy.  If we have this mindset when we enter into a trial, we will no longer ask, “Why me?”, but we will seek the Lord’s direction through it.  Scripture teaches us that we actually find favor with God when we suffer unjustly and handle it well:

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

– 1 Peter 2.19-24

We were actually called to suffer.  We are not so intrinsically good and pure that we should be kept from suffering.  God uses suffering to test us, to refine us, and to make us holy (Rom 5, James 1).  So if you are walking through a trial today, instead of getting defensive, instead of questioning God, turn to Him and rejoice.  Trust Him.  Follow Him through the trial.  Ask Him what His plan is, ask Him for the strength to suffer well and follow the example of Jesus.  Praise Him that He is refining your faith and giving you an opportunity to grow.  Stop asking, “Why me”, and start asking, “How can I glorify you through this?”

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity…

– 1 Tim 1.8-9

Dear Musician: Don’t choose your church based on an opening on the music team.

church

OK, so I realize that this is a bit of a targeted issue, but it is widely applicable.  The core of the issue is simply,

How should we choose a church?

First of all, let me point out the glorious and remarkable reality that we, in the west, live in a unique time historically and even in the world today in that we have an overwhelming abundance of churches from which to choose.  Small town USA has a church on every corner – sometimes more – and even big city USA, even though some would have us believe are abandoning the faith, are also marked by churches every few blocks.  I live in Denver Colorado, a notoriously “unchurched” city, and a Google search alone returns pages upon pages of churches that are big enough to have websites.  In my four mile commute to work every day, I pass six churches.

But that is another topic for another day.

So, when you live in a city that has thousands of churches, when there are many in your neighborhood community, and when there are niche churches of all types that cater to age, demographic, race, interests, secondary and tertiary doctrines, the task of finding a church can be overwhelming.  And quite frankly, we as believers have terrible decision-making skills on the topic.  So how should we choose a church?

Step #1:  Pray.  Pray, pray, pray.  Scripture teaches us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5.17).  When you are looking for a community amongst whom you will worship God, with whom you desire to serve God, and from whom you want to learn and grow in your relationship with God, should it not be common sense that we begin the search by asking God for His direction and will?  God’s will is our sanctification:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

It will often be that we grow, that we become more holy, that we are sanctified when we are outside of our comfort zones and when we walk in faith and not by sight.  If we go out looking for a church that is comfortable and that makes us happy, we might be limiting God in the things that He has for us to do and the things which He wants to teach us.  Ask God where He wants you to go to church.  And follow Him.  He might open unfathomable doors.

Step #2:  Get a doctrinal statement.  Most churches are denominationally affiliated and will be able to give you a comprehensive outline of what they believe, point by point.  If the church is not affiliated, and even some who are affiliated, more often than not the elders will have drafted a statement of belief.  This is extremely important, and should be your first consideration after prayer.  If the church cannot verbalize to you, both in writing and in conversation, what they believe – then you are placing yourself in an extremely dangerous situation.  If there is no defined doctrine, then there is no accountability for any teacher, for any Sunday School worker instructing your children, for missionaries on the field, or even for the pastoral staff.  This is how churches are led astray, form rifts, split, and abandon the faith.  If half of the church believes that you have to be baptized to be saved, and the other half believes that baptism is just a symbol, what do you tell the person who just came to faith last week?  If half of your church believes that God is sovereign over evil and the other half believes that God is only reactionary and “fixes” bad things to make good come out of them, how will you walk through a crisis together?  If some believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and others believe that there could be many roads to salvation, how can you reach out to your community?

You must agree on the foundational doctrines of the faith.  If you do not yet know what you believe, then get a handful of doctrinal statements and read the Scriptures that they quote, line them up against other churches, pray, seek counsel, get some books, invest some time and grow!

When you get a doctrinal statement, examine it and determine if this is a statement to which you can submit.  Chances are high that there might be a secondary or tertiary doctrines over which you might disagree, but one that is not worth causing a fuss over.  For instance, Southern Baptists are notoriously divided over the topic of the rapture:  Will it happen before the tribulation or after?  This is not a primary doctrine because it does not have any bearing on salvation or how the church functions, and while it can be fun to discuss and consider, it does not impact how we minister to the lost or how we function as a body.  I believe that the rapture will come after the tribulation, but I have joyfully set under pastors who believe the opposite.

We are commanded to submit to our leaders in the Church, and they are given authority over us and will give an account to God for our souls, our obedience, and our maturity.  We get to choose them, but they do have a profound Spiritual authority over us once we join the church.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

– Heb 13.17

Step 3:  Examine the fruit of the Church.  God has given us one primary command:  to make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.28-10).  Is this church making disciples?  Are they reaching out?  Are people coming to faith?  (You can observe this by noting if there are any baptisms happening.)  Are people learning the Scriptures?  How to pray?  Growing closer to God?  Learning to obey and holding one another accountable?  Is the Sunday service intentionally praising and honoring God?

Step 4:  Ask God if this is where He wants you.  And now we start getting into the nitty gritty.  Let me tell you a brief overview of my story.  I started playing the piano and singing in choirs when I was little tiny.  I put in the hours, I loved it.  When I was in the eight grade my church formed a youth band and I was the pianist/keyboardist.  I had to learn to play by ear and by chord charts.  The band played weekly for the youth and quickly began playing for “big church” as well.  In college I studied performance piano, played the piano and sang for the weekly Campus Crusade meetings and also for my church.  Then I moved to Louisville, KY to go to seminary.  There are two realities that became abundantly clear when I began looking for a church in this new city:  1) pianists are a dime a dozen, and 2) there are a lot of good churches out there.  I was tempted to look for a church that needed a pianist, because I play the piano.  That’s what I do.  I also had taught small groups, children’s Sunday School, helped with youth, led mission trips, and all that jazz, but I play the piano.  That was my primary identifier.

Here’s the deal.  God has given us all gifts and unique abilities to serve Him.  Some people play instruments, some people cook food, some people teach, and some people run Vacation Bible School.  The avenues for ministry and serving God are countless.  But when you take your “Spiritual gift test” and put yourself in a silo with the attitude, “This is what I do”, then you limit yourself, you quench the Holy Spirit, you get in a rut and have an inward focus that will not (and can not) grow.  God might want to use you to play the piano, but He might also want to use you to greet and welcome new comers.  He might want to push you and have you teach.  He might want to get you way out of your comfort zone and send you as a missionary!  Many missionaries do not get to go to church.  And when they plant a healthy church, nationals are preaching and playing the piano, not the missionary!

So when you are considering a church, do not say to yourself, “This is what I do, and if I cannot do it here, then I’m out”.

Consider this, also, that with any leadership position, a healthy and wise church will take the time to vet would-be leaders to make sure that they are people who should be in a position of authority and leadership.  I knew a church that would pay non-believers to play on the music team.  This is a travesty and should not be.  Sunday music is first and only about worshiping God.  We should bring our absolute best to lay on the altar of worship, which means we should practice and come with skilled musicianship.  But we do not sacrifice the heart for quality of sound.  People who are on the stage are positioned there to lead the congregation in musical praise to God.  If those people are not praising God, then they most likely will not lead others to praise God.  And if those people do not even know God, then they cannot lead others to praise God.  If a musician is playing for his own glory, we – as a Church – should never allow them on stage.

And the music leader at a church, along with the senior pastor and elders, will need time to get to know you and examine your heart in your desire to play an instrument (or teach a Sunday School, or go on a mission trip, or whatever).  There is a mutual onus here:  You must test the church and its leadership to examine their heart and commitment to God, to worship, to making disciples, and they must test yours.

Step 5:  Die to yourself.  While there are many amazing benefits that we will reap in joining and becoming active in a Church, it is not ultimately about me or you.  It is about glorifying God and making disciples.  Part of discipleship (well, most of discipleship) is training people up.  If you play the piano (or teach Sunday School, or lead the prayer committee), you do best to train up others to take your place.  A disciple-maker works himself out of a job.  He trains people who will go out and train others (2 Tim 2.2).  Now, this is not as easily applied to musicians as to most other places of service within the church, but the heart is one of humility.  Is there someone else who would like to play the piano?  Then let them.  Take turns.  Whatever.  If you have to play the piano (or whatever your niche is), then you are not worshiping God.  You are worshiping yourself.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Step 6:  Commit.  Once you are confident that the Lord has led you to a church, then commit.  Give it your all.  There will be difficult seasons, times of Spiritual drought, and times of discouragement.  And this is where we, as Americans, crash and fail.  The minute someone hurts our feelings or we do not like something the preacher said, then we go out to find ourselves a new church.  If we do not submit ourselves to leadership, then we will not grow.  Perseverance through the difficult times is what proves us as believers!  Press in, and “be the change that you want to see”.

On Church Leaders and Affairs, Part II

judas

Yesterday I reflected on the reality that pastors, church leaders and missionaries are human, are elevated to a position of authority and are thus tempted and tested more intensely than lay Christians, and I encouraged Christians to remember that our faith is not in our leaders but in Christ.  I suggested that if someone else’s (anyone else’s) failure or apostasy causes us to doubt or abandon the faith then our faith is in the wrong person.  It is on this point that I want to reflect more deeply today.

What if you happen to be married to the pastor, church leader or missionary who is unfaithful?  Or what if someone in the church hurts you personally and deeply?  How do doubt and faith balance out when it is in our own homes?

First of all, there are two types of people who will fall into these life-altering sins:  those who are saved and will repent, and those who are not saved and will not repent.  Since it is impossible for us to truly see the heart of another human being, sometimes there will be people in the Church who say they are Christians – who may even think they are Christians, but they have never been pushed to the point of true testing and true conviction.  A person can sin – and can sin greatly – when he is a believer, but when He does sin the Holy Spirit will convict him, he will confess his sin, he will repent of it (stop doing it and change), and he will seek the help of the Lord and other believers to help him walk in holiness.  But those who are not truly saved will cherish a sin more than they love God or desire salvation.  When they are pushed to the point of decision to obey God or embrace their sin, they will choose the sin.

There are pastors who have affairs and will repent, will seek the help of accountability partners and friends to root out all temptation from their hearts, who will confess to their spouses and churches and who will grow.  There are also pastors who have affairs and choose the affair, the pornography, the new lifestyle over their faith.  They might appear repentant, they might say the right words – but that is often only because they have been caught.  Usually, however, they choose the sin and throw everything else away.  When the rubber hits the road, they love their sin more than they love God and/or their spouses.

God’s response and our response to these two types is very different.  Consider Peter – one of the greatest evangelists and church planters in history – and Judas – the disciple who was damned for his betrayal.  They both walked with Jesus for three years.  They both preformed miracles in his name.  They both learned from Jesus intimately, and at the end, they both denied Jesus.

Judas:

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.  From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.

– Matt 26.14-16

Peter:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”  But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”  When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”  A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.”  Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.

– Matt 26.69-74

Both Judas and Peter regretted what they had done:

Judas:

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!”  And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

– Matt 27.3-5

Peter:

And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

– Matt 26.75

And lest we pick on these two too critically, let us remember that all of the disciples were scattered and fell away on that night:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’

– Matt 26.31

What was the response of God and the result of these two failures?  Judas was damned, and Peter – just a few months later – began the very first Church planting movement.

Judas:

“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

– Matt 26.24

Peter:

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

– Matt 16.18

The Church is commanded to respond in the same way to leaders and non leaders who fall into sin.  If someone is unwilling to repent, Jesus taught us that we should kick them out of the Church and declare them unbelievers (Matt 18.15-18).  If someone is willing to repent, then we restore them gently, understanding that we are all capable of sin – both small and great.

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

– Gal 6.1

When it is within your home, if your own spouse cheats on you, Scripture gives very clear instruction.  I have written on this extensively here:  Is Divorce A Sin?  But, can we doubt in those situations?  Doubting is natural and a part of the faith journey.  We will all walk through season of doubt and questioning.  And some of those seasons will be stirred up because of the failure of those people we value and establish in our lives as teachers, guides, friends and spouses.  John the Baptist was, according to Jesus, the greatest man to ever live (Matt 11.11), and when he was facing death at the hands of Herod, he doubted Jesus and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the real deal.  Jesus responded gently, kindly and with compassion:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:  the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.  And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

– Matt 11.4-6

Jesus will meet us in our moments of doubt and struggle when we turn to Him honestly and beg Him to reveal Himself to us.  If we try to test Him out of unbelief, He will not respond, and our wicked hearts will be revealed as unbelieving.  But when those difficult times come, when our spouses cheat on us, when our pastors fall, when someone to whom we looked for Spiritual guidance proves himself to not be a believer, Jesus will comfort us and walk us through it.  Being hurt, struggling to forgive, and doubting are a natural response to being hurt on such a deep level.  But our faith is proven by our response:  do we turn to Jesus, or do we become calloused and jaded?  Do we press into the Word, or do we throw it all away?

Can God use someone who has fallen so greatly?  Absolutely.  The greatest sin is to deny Jesus, and Peter did that three times.  And within months He was leading the first and only movement.  He was the point man, the main preacher.  1 Timothy does give us clear qualifications for church leaders, and they are mostly character assessments.  Can someone who recently had an affair be of good reputation?  That is for your church leadership to decide.  But we do see the example of Peter as God immediately forgiving and restoring Him.  King David took advantage of a married woman, got her pregnant, tried to cover it up, and when he was unable to had her husband murdered and married her.  After all of this, God called him a “man after his own heart”.  One is not forever ruined for sinning.  He must repent, however.  One can be revealed as a nonbeliever for his choice of sin over God.

So while the structures of God for such situations are outlined in Scripture to teach us how to handle them, that does not mean that our emotions and responses will not be confused.  It is a difficult thing to see someone abandon God, their families, and/or the church.  And while God will give grace to forgive, to restore, or to remove such a one from the church, it will be confusing and difficult to understand.  This is why we must turn to God, we must focus on Him, we must cling to Him, and we must put our faith fully and only in Jesus Christ and the cross.

On Church Leaders and Affairs

tullian-tchividjian

Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, made the news yesterday by resigning from his role as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  He publicly announced that his wife had been involved in an affair and his response was to seek comfort in the arms of another woman and had his own affair.  It is sad that this story is all-too-familiar.  We have all been either in, or are friends with someone who attended a church whose pastor or someone from the leadership fell because of sexual immorality.  We have almost grown accustomed to hearing about infidelity and adultery in the political and secular world, and more and more the Church is giving in to the same temptations.

There are a few things that we must keep in mind when we walk through such a tragedy in our own church or lives.  The first and primary truth to which we must always cling is the fact that our hope and our assurance is in Jesus Christ.  Scripture teaches us that we should have mentors, we should have heroes, and we should even imitate the fore fathers of the faith.  But Paul warns the Corinthian church about the dangers of aligning one’s self too closely to a teacher or preacher, and his fundamental argument is this:

“Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

– 1 Cor 1.13

Paul’s entire mission was to point people to Jesus.  He was confident enough in His faith, in His convictions and in His obedience that He told people to imitate him, but only to the extent that they glorified God and worshiped Jesus.

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

– 1 Cor 11.1

Jesus is God.  He will not fail.  He cannot fail.  He has already completed the work of atonement and everyone who is found in Jesus will find redemption and have eternal life.  Jesus alone is our life.  He alone is the way.  He alone can save, and He will not disappoint.

The second thing that we need to remember and consider as we process such a situation is that even fallen pastors cannot hurt Jesus’ reputation.  Have you ever heard someone bemoan circumstances saying, “[this situation] is hurting the church’s reputation”?  The reality is that Jesus never failed and never will fail, and thus His reputation is spotless.  We cannot bring shame upon Him.  We certainly can grieve the Holy Spirit by our disobedience and selfishness (Eph 4.30), but His reputation and glory is not contingent upon us.  And we, as Christians, whether we live perfect lives or utterly depraved lives, will not cause salvation in another.  Sometimes we deceive ourselves to think that if we are holy enough, if we love the world enough, if we this right or if we never do that, we will attract people to God and the Church.

Sure, we might attract them to Church, but being attracted to Church does not in any way equate to salvation.  A person is saved by getting face to face with Jesus, confessing their sins, trusting Jesus for salvation and walking with Jesus in His power and by His Spirit – leaving sin behind.  My success or my failure cannot and will not take someone to that encounter with Jesus, and my success or failure cannot usurp that encounter with Jesus.  This is why Paul said,

“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…”

– Phil 1.18

People can, according to the Bible, preach the Gospel with wrong motives and not to the glory of God.  But this is a good thing, because even if the messenger is wicked, the message is still of God.

In short, we will all have seasons of success and we will all have seasons of temptations.  Some of us will fall into private, not-world-shattering sins, and some of us will be the proverbial bull in a china shop.  Some of us, who are teaching and preaching, are Christians and some are not.  But God uses people in all seasons and in all circumstances to get His news out and to draw people to Himself.  Paul (or your favorite pastor or teacher) was not crucified for you, and if a man’s failure causes you to doubt or abandon your faith, you had faith in the wrong person.

The third truth to which we must be true is the terrifying teaching that those who take positions of leadership within the Church 1) will be held to a higher standard, 2) will have to give an account for the sheep over whom they have been appointed as leaders, and 3) will be attacked more intentionally by the enemy.

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

– James 3.1

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

– Heb 13.17

This is why Scripture gives us clear guidelines to consider when deciding if one should be appointed to leadership within the Church.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

– 1 Tim 3.1-7

Almost all of these points are aspects of character.  He must be of good reputation within and without the Church.  He must not be a new convert.  Maturity comes with time and understanding.  If someone has not had the time to learn how to fight sin and apply Scripture to his own life, he cannot teach another how to fight sin and apply Scripture to his life.  If someone has not learned the Scriptures and understands doctrine, theology, and how the Bible fits together, how can he teach another?  He must also be able to teach.  This is often an overlooked qualification, but it is included in Scripture that we should intentionally test and approve our leaders by their ability to teach.

We, as the church, are not able to see the depths of another’s heart, but we are instructed to inspect the fruit and examine to see if someone has proven himself worthy, capable and called to the ministry.  And even still, a man is still a man, and even if he has a good reputation, is not a recent convert, and has most of the Bible memorized, he can still fail.  He can still prove to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He can still be proven a false prophet.

God gives us instructions and qualifications to help weed out some of would-be teachers and leaders who have wrong motives or would lead the Church astray.  God also gives us warnings that would sober anyone who has a grasp on eternity to enter into a leadership position carefully and with much caution.  Are you ready to give an account to God for how you led and taught another?  Are you prepared to give an account of another’s soul and Spiritual growth?  If not, then you better not step into a leadership role.  But even if you do take that role, and fall – or even if your pastor or church leader falls, we should remember our foundation and our hope, and that is the cross.

People screw up.  Pastors are not perfect.  But Jesus is.  We should have heroes, we should have pastors, we should have mentors, but let’s keep them in their rightful spot.  Only Jesus was crucified for us.  Only Jesus saves us.  And only Jesus saves others.  So when we invite people to Church, when we invite people to the faith, let’s no invite them to hear a pastor, let’s invite them to meet Jesus.  Sin happens.  And when it happens, let’s restore those who have fallen with a spirit of humility and gentleness, because we should be concerned about one another’s souls and eternity.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

– Gal 6.1

Are the Charleston 9 martyrs?

matryr

Just twenty-four hours after the breaking news of the tragic shooting of nine people at the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, America is responding – like we always do.  Reactions are all across the board.  Some are saying that America will not respond enough:  if this were a foreigner attacking us we would be at war.  Some are angry that when white people go on killing sprees we usually label it as a mental disorder instead of racism.  And some – as notable as Fox’s “Fox and Friends” – are calling it an attack on faith and labeling the nine as martyrs, and declaring this an attack on Christianity.  And it is on this point that I want to remain.

Last week, the story of Lee Rickman, a staff member at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, NC made minor news reports.  While on a mission trip to Jamaica there was a freakish accident where a tree branch fell and killed Rickman and injured another teacher.  Was Rickman a martyr?  Were these nine in Charleston martyrs because they were shot during a Bible study?

A martyr is someone who dies because of their faith.  Merriam-Webster gives this full definition:

n:  a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion

An undeniable story of martyrdom of which we are all aware is that of Cassie Bernell, the student at Columbine High School who was radically saved during a weekend retreat with her youth group and became a dynamic witness at her school.  When Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold burst into the library that morning, they asked her to her face, “Do you believe in God?” and after a pause, knowing it would cost her her life, she said, “Yes, I believe in God”.  Because of that answer, she was shot and killed.  Cassie’s brother found Philippians 3.10-11 hand written on her desk, with the simple question written in response, “Is your Jesus worth dying for?”.  This is a martyr:  when someone confronts another because of his faith, and the faithful one chooses death in order to not deny their faith.

If someone is involved in a tragic accident while on the mission field or in service to God, this is not a martyr.  If someone contracts a disease or is even killed because of other motives on the mission field or in service to God, this is not a martyr.  Perhaps these people would be willing to die for their faith, but that is just simply not the catalyst for their deaths.  Why does this matter?  It matters because there is a special role that martyrs play in eternity:

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

– Rev 6.9-10

Those who have been martyred have a special place in awaiting the End of the Age, underneath of the altar of Heaven, eagerly anticipating the day that their deaths would be avenged.  Jesus is the eternal judge and will render to every single person according to His deeds.  We, as Christians, are commanded to not take revenge because it is God’s place to take vengeance against sin.

Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.’

– Deut 32.35

And thus, we can endure, even to the point of death, trusting that God will avenge our suffering in the end.  But only those who suffered the ultimate price – physical death – will have that special place before the throne awaiting the final day.  Revelation also teaches that those who were martyred will play a substantial role of reigning during the Thousand Years:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.

– Rev 20.4-5

Revelation is full of prophecy that is yet unclear as to how it will occur, but this passage is clear that there will be more than one resurrection and the first resurrection is specifically for those who were martyred.

Now, let us return to the Charleston shooting.  It is reported that while he was murdering these nine people, Dylan Roof said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you are taking over our country. And you have to go.” His Facebook profile also featured a photo of him wearing a jacket with patches of the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and the white-ruled colony of Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe.  These markers reveal that this terrible tragedy was the result of a hate crime – racism.  Not faith.  If it were the case that Dylan targeted these people and gave them an option to live by denying Jesus, then they would be martyrs.  Otherwise, they are victims of a terrible, racist agenda.

It is not my intention to minimize the tragedy here.  Racism is a very serious problem in our country, and people are being targeted and murdered on both sides for no reason.  Roof deserves every level of punishment that our government can serve.  But let us be careful not to blur the lines of what happened and apply extra levels of hatred, discrimination and expectation on the situation.  Your circumstances do not make you a martyr, unless you die because of your witness for Christ.  An accident, a disease, a murder for other reason are a tragedy, but they are not martyrdom.  Let us reflect on the measures of faith that those who gave their all have left for us to remember.  Let us follow in their footsteps, being willing to suffer to the point of death, and let us proclaim Christ boldly.