Abstinence Almost Killed Me!

original photo credit: Jo Naylor via photopin cc
original photo credit: Jo Naylor via photopin cc

Just about every area of U.S. culture these days seems to be inundated with sexuality. Advertising? Saturated with sexual images. Movies? Full of steamy and explicit passion. Sports? Does the term, “wardrobe malfunction”, bring anything to mind?

I personally believe that greed is the primary factor contributing to our sexual saturation. Astute marketers in pursuit of big profits have successfully managed to manipulate our culture to the point that we cannot seem to escape this overemphasis on sex. Our entire society is paying the price.

It’s not that sex has ever been unimportant. Let’s not forget that God was the original designer of the human body. Long before the days of internet porn, the King of the Universe created us as sexual beings. Sex feels good because God made it that way. That, in itself, should tell us something.

The problem is not that God frowns upon sexual activity in principle, but that our cultural norms have transgressed the healthy boundaries designed by our Creator. A river running within its banks can provide immense pleasure and benefit, but let it overflow those boundaries and destruction of all sorts is certain.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc
photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

The fact that Christians now live in the age of grace does not provide a license for us to live according to our world’s standards. The Bible teaches that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-9) and nowhere is this truer than in the world of eros. Can such statements be biblically supported without returning to the legalistic requirements of the Mosaic Law? Absolutely!

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him 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. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:18-25 (NASB)

Thus the marriage covenant was established by God for the benefit of humanity. Unless God clearly communicates a change in His standards, His silence cannot be interpreted as an approval of our cultural standards. Only God has the authority to change a covenant He instituted (Galatians 3:15), and any such changes are clearly established in the Scriptures (e.g. from the Old Covenant to the New). Jesus Himself upheld the standard of marriage (Matthew 19:3-12), as did the Apostle Paul (Titus 1:5-6).

I argue, therefore, that sexual immorality, by New Testament definition, involves sexual activity that occurs outside of the boundaries of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman. The entire Bible has a lot to say about this issue, much of which is unpleasant at best (see http://www.openbible.info/topics/sexual_immorality).

The fact that my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years has nothing to do with my opinion on this matter. Due to our scriptural convictions, I never touched Debi inappropriately during the two years in which we dated prior to our wedding day, although, as a typical red-blooded young male, I felt at times that the abstinence was going to kill me! We understood then, and continue to agree now, that it falls upon humanity to conform itself to God’s design, not vice versa.

photo credit: Joe Hastings via photopin cc
photo credit: Joe Hastings via photopin cc

Sex dominates our culture, I’ll give you that. But sex is also sacred, established by God to celebrate the unity of covenant love in marriage. Those who use an argument of grace in an attempt to nullify God’s design open the floodgates for unclean waters to pollute and destroy the very fabric of society. Or, to use another appropriate metaphor, play with fire and you will get burned. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But the smoldering fires of sin will eventually consume everything they touch. It’s not abstinence that gives sway to death but obedience to sexual passions that lie outside of God’s design.

Have you transgressed the boundaries of God’s design for sexuality? Most of us have at one point or another, and, thankfully, forgiveness is readily available for those who are willing to humble themselves and repent. May our Lord grant us the wisdom and grace to reign over our unhealthy desires–not to indulge them!

Trust Is Sacred

photo credit: Aidan Jones via photopin cc
photo credit: Aidan Jones via photopin cc

The story is worthy of a movie! Fresh from the defeats of Jericho and Ai, Joshua and the Israelites were striking terror in the hearts of all the Canaanites.[1] Most Canaanite kingdoms decided to consolidate their forces, hoping that victory would come in numbers. The Gibeonites, however, settled on a different strategy. Dressed in old, worn out clothes and carrying stale provisions, a group of Gibeonites rode less than twenty miles to the Israelite camp, but told Joshua and his leaders that they had come from a far-off land.

They had heard of God’s greatness, they said, and wanted to make a treaty (sacred covenant) with the Israelites. Somewhat (but not nearly enough) suspicious, Joshua and his men formed a sacred pact with the Gibeonite deceivers. Three days later, the Israelites found out the truth, but it was too late, they had already given their word.

Given the situation, those from a modern Western culture will probably have a difficult time understanding why such a covenant should be honored. Generally, we don’t value or grasp the true significance of trust.

The scenario gets even more interesting. A group five Amorite kings hear about this treaty and get seriously angry at the Gibeonites for aligning with Israel. Gathering their armies for war, they begin a vicious assault on the city of Gibeon. Terrified, the Gibonites send an urgent appeal for help to the Israelite camp. And what do they? Even though they had been deceived by the Gibeonites, the Israelites march all night, and—at the risk of their own lives—fight valiantly for the sake of their new allies.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc
photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

Recognizing that Joshua and his men had honored a sacred trust, God fights for the Israelites to the point of causing the sun to stand still in the sky until their enemies had been thoroughly defeated. The thought of it all stretches the limits of one’s rational mind!

The story doesn’t end there, however. About 400 years later, King David is confused as to why God’s chosen people would be in the midst of a 3-year famine.[2] His inquiry nets an unexpected response. God is angry with the nation of Israel because the previous king, Saul, had violated Joshua’s covenant by slaughtering some of the Gibeonite people. Justice is finally served with the execution of 7 of Saul’s descendants and the famine abates.

A covenant is considered sacred in the eyes of God because trust is sacred. A breakdown in trust spells the death knell for any society—and it is a primary reason the U.S. is in moral and economic decline. We don’t trust our government leaders. We don’t trust our corporate leaders. We don’t trust our religious leaders. We don’t trust our spouses. What’s left but to trust ourselves?—and to buy lots of guns and ammunition! When trust erodes, a multitude of people suffer the consequences.

photo credit: Art ~ 4ThGlryOfGod via photopin cc
photo credit: Art ~ 4ThGlryOfGod via photopin cc

Entering a sacred covenant—especially with God—can result in many wonderful blessings. But to break a sacred covenant is to bring terrible curses upon one’s own head—and upon one’s descendants. By trusting the voice of the serpent over the voice of God, Adam & Eve violated a sacred trust and brought terrible curses upon themselves and upon their descendants (Hosea 6:7; Genesis 3:16-19).

Combined with our high treason against the kingdom of heaven, our violation of a sacred covenant means terrible consequences. As God said, the entire human race is now under a death sentence. Due to our cultural differences, we may struggle to grasp certain aspects of the sacredness of trust, but it is up to us to seek out an understanding of God’s ways. In the end, the real surprise of the Old Testament is not that God would judge nations, but that He would spare even one person—let alone an entire nation—from his or her deserved judgment.

[1] For the complete story, please read Joshua 9:1-10:15

The Glorious Sweet Corn of August

You’ll find it there sitting in a corner of Hoss’s parking lot on most days in August. I speak of an old maroon pickup truck with wooden side boards and a green shaded canopy over the bed—a bed piled high with fresh, recently picked sweet corn. Occasionally, “Silver Queen” is the offering of the day, but I prefer the “Butter-N-Sugar”. A little wooden sign on or near the truck read’s “Himmel’s”, and I must say that I find it to be the standard by which all sweet corn is measured. In fact, after writing this I may need to stop and buy a dozen on my way home from the office.

What makes Himmel’s corn so special? Its delicious flavor! When we eat other corn on the cob we can’t help but compare it to Himmel’s and rarely does it measure up. But that, of course, is our own family opinion and, in all honesty, what we think matters very little in the grand scheme of the universe.

When we speak of glory, we find one standard that rises above all others—the glory of God. There is something so mystically amazing about God that even those who don’t believe in Him want to be like Him. His majesty intoxicates us, His power makes us tremble, His love leaves us filled with an almost confusing sense of warmth. How can He be so high and mighty and powerful, and yet so lovingly embrace our human frailty and waywardness?

Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden, naked and yet unashamed. Fear of vulnerability was not something that even entered their minds. And yet, after eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, they immediately found themselves naked, ashamed and very much afraid. What had changed?

While in covenant relationship with God, they had been clothed in His glory. It is like our moon being clothed in the glory of the sun. But its beauty fades when the sun’s direct rays no longer fall on the moon’s surface. In the same way, the human quest for independence has left us with a painful glory deficiency. Almost instinctively, our souls know the taste of glory, longing to return to the majesty that once was. But separation from our Creator means only darkness, serving only to intensify our craving for signficance.

Photo by Crystian Cruz – CC BY-ND 2.0

We see the quest for glory no matter where we turn. From the ditch digger boasting about his thick callouses, to the bank executive relishing her position of power and influence, to the athlete sacrificing his body for the sake of a championship ring, human life is all about the pursuit of glory. When the quest for glory fails, doom and depression take root. But even when we think it succeeds, the effect is only short-term. Soon the glory fades and we find ourselves grasping for more. Like a junkie driven in mindless obedience to his drug cravings, we’re addicted to our glory fix, often without realizing its captivating influence. We will get our glory one way or another lest we die in shame.

The problem, however, lies not in our perceived failure or success. Because, you see, no measure of human glory can ever begin to attain to the glory which emanates from God. How many of us approach perfection? How many have limitless power? How many possess never-ending beauty? How many serve the world with love so pure?

The glory of God is indeed our goal, but we fail so miserably in this quest that we’ve taken to comparing ourselves to one another. Those who run faster and jump higher and think harder and look better are the ones lauded for their greatness. But the comparisons are all in vain. In fact, they are deadly.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I don’t see this statement referring to two separate concepts, but rather only one. In other words, I believe Paul was saying, “all who seek to attain to the glory of God completely miss the mark, falling woefully short of His perfect majesty.” This is where sin finds its root—in the prideful attitude of the heart seeking to be like God apart from God. But unlike our friendly banter about which sweet corn tastes the best, the standard of God’s glory is entirely unattainable. Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep most from continuing to try.

Photo by DavidDennisPhotos.com – CC BY-SA 2.0

The true freedom of the Christian faith lies in giving up this exhausting quest. By admitting that the full extent of our own glory amounts only to darkness, we position ourselves through the cross of Christ to be restored to a right relationship with Him. Drawing near to Him in love and faith, His glory clothes the dark, naked soul. And once again, like in the beginning of time, life is ever so sweet.

What Does the Bible Say?

Photo by RoganJosh - morgueFile

This blog series and the ensuing conversations have centered around the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality. We’ve had some interesting dialogue about a lot of issues, but this discussion can in no way be complete without taking into account a Biblical perspective. After all, apart from the Bible, Christianity means almost nothing.

I’ve read (and reread) passages of Scripture that deal with homosexuality. I’ve poured over commentaries and studied word meanings from the original languages. I’ve tediously worked my way through uninspiring books on the subject. I’ve visited various websites to gain additional perspective. I’ve listened to people from the gay community share their painful struggles. I’ve even turned my attention to representatives from the LGBT camp who explained what the Bible really says about homosexuality.

Because of the high stakes involved, I can’t just accept verbatim what leaders from either camp proclaim. I want to make absolutely sure that I find God’s heart on this issue.

However, the deeper I dig into the Scriptures (doing my best to allow the text to speak for itself), the more I find myself an advocate of traditional marriage. When I examine the Biblical arguments in opposition, I find generally unsound methods of interpretation.

Without going into a deeper analysis of any specific text, I want to present in a small nutshell the summation of my perspective on this critical issue.

Mankind’s relationship with God is based upon a series of covenants which only God has the authority to institute and change (Galatians 3:15). Historically, every time God made a change in covenant He communicated both the reality and the terms of that change in a very clear manner.

The Law of Moses, for example, was integral to a specific covenant between God and man. The 613 commandments found in the Law of Moses were intended to last only until the establishment of the New Covenant (unless they were somehow reaffirmed). By His lifestyle, sacrificial death, and resurrection power, Jesus fulfilled the Law and established the New Covenant. The old system of rule-based righteousness was no longer necessary. This is all quite clear in the Scriptures.

Photo by balleyne - CC BY-SA 2.0

When God created Adam, He expressed the need for man to have an intimate companion, and so He created Eve. God then established the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24-25).

Regardless of what mankind has done through the ages, God has never changed the terms of the marriage covenant. Instead, the marriage covenant between one man and one woman is affirmed more than once under both the Old and New Covenants (Mark 10:2-9). From a Biblical perspective, sexual immorality constitutes any type of sexual activity outside of the bounds of the marriage covenant between two individuals of the opposite sex.

The Bible stands strongly against all types of sexual immorality (Hebrews 13:4), but primarily because of what it stands for. In addition to being the best design for healthy societies, the marriage covenant stands a metaphor for our union with Christ (Ephesians 5:31-32). In other words, sex is sacred because of the sacred nature of our relationship with God.

In more than one passage the Bible equates sexual immorality with idolatry. Both are violations of fidelity to unchangeable covenants—covenants established by God Himself.

Sexual purity has nothing to do with picking and choosing which of the 613 Old Covenant laws we want to enforce. Instead, the terms of our covenant relationships transcend Old Covenant law. Both idolatry and sexual immorality stand as critical issues in the New Testament as well as the Old (please read Acts 15:1-29).

I realize that this perspective is grossly out of step with our cultural norms, but I contend that our culture is accountable to God—not the other way around. We all have fallen desires, many of which are sexual; and I am so thankful for the resurrection power of the cross to help us overcome!

I once heard of sex being compared to a beautiful, majestic river. As long as that river stays within its banks, it remains an exciting source of joy and life. But if that water overflows its boundaries, the resulting devastation can be foul and deadly! By God’s wise and loving decree, the boundaries of sexual relationships are to fall within the banks of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman. We may not totally understand God’s design, but we put ourselves in grave danger trying to conform it to our desires!

Let the River Flow

I suppose it began about 10 years ago. Several evangelical campus ministries at Indiana University of PA (IUP) loosely organized into what we call The River – many streams fed by one Spirit, flowing together with one heart and one mission. I believe in this concept so much that we named our ministry center the River House.

In launching Search for Me Ministries I’ve had to back off from my direct involvement with college students at IUP, but the heavenly Father certainly had plans that weren’t on my radar screen. And so I’ve stayed involved with The River, doing what I can to help network, support and encourage those who are on the front lines of college ministry at IUP.

Several of us have met together over the past couple years at our River House for prayer and this year we’re excited to have some new folks on board (as an answer to our prayers). Recently we kicked off the school-year with a luncheon and what an excellent time we all had together!

Our mission is universal, flowing from the Great Commission.

18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

Our call is not to make converts or even denominationalites—we’re here as the covenant family of God to make disciples for His kingdom.

In spite of being a relatively unknown, secular state school, IUP has a rich legacy of lives that have been touched and transformed by Christ, people who have gone out to make an impact in our world.

I have former classmates from IUP who pastor large churches and lead national organizations. Former students from ours and other IUP ministries are making an impact for the kingdom both here and abroad. But regardless if the footprint is large or relatively small, they all matter. Each disciple, whether a ministry leader or a stay at home mom, has the potential to powerfully influence the lives of many others.

Our disciples must be disciples of Christ first and foremost. We are not here to build our own kingdoms, but to advance His. This is perhaps one of the greatest errors of the church through the years. As organizations we often display the same sense of self-centeredness that we would despise in the lives of our members. All too often we fall prey to the slithering hiss of the serpent, seeking to build our own kingdoms, unrighteously judging our brothers and sisters and competing against those who share our mission. Aren’t these all identity issues?

It was our Lord Himself who said that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:24). One primary reason that the church is losing the battle for our culture is that we are a kingdom divided (John 13:34-35). Why are we so quick to ignore this reality? We don’t have to morph into one organization, but we do need to be of one heart and one Spirit.

I’m not just talking about unity for the sake of unity. We are a brother and sisterhood in Christ. It’s not what we’re trying to be. It’s who we already are. If we will simply be who we are, who knows what our God will do?

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.” Psalm 133 (NASB)

All of our programs, all of our outreaches, all of our hard work, mean relatively little unless God blesses. As we walk in covenant unity the life of God begins to permeate our ministries and our mission field.

Let the river flow!

What Will You Do for Your Body? (Implications – Part III)

Photo by Nina Matthews Photography - CC By 2.0
Photo by Clarita - morgueFile

You’ve seen it on TV! “Buy Product X and you’ll be beautiful forever! After all, it’s your only body and you are worth it!” In our culture physical beauty constitutes the highest form of personhood.

While cultural norms may be vainly twisted, our physical bodies are obviously important—something we find to be painfully true when they don’t work as designed. For example, there are literally dozens of autoimmune disorders (most of which I can’t pronounce and all of which sound horribly painful) in which the human body actually attacks itself .

Unfortunately, this relates too well to our discussion of church unity. In Romans 12:5, the Apostle Paul writes: “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (NASB)

Do we see the connection? Any body that attacks itself is sick! As Christians we are covenant members of the Body of Christ with all other true believers. When we judge and attack one another, we are judging and attacking Christ and even our own selves! As awesome as the blessings of covenant relationships can be, the curses for violating covenant are horribly painful, far reaching and inescapable. Such issues of unhealth don’t simply go away by ignoring them. And how can we look to God for healing, if it is His Body that we are attacking?

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’

In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord . . . For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 (NASB)

What does it mean to “drink the cup in an unworthy manner”? I’m sure that several answers could be given, but first and foremost we need to realize that a judgmental attitude towards our brothers and sisters in Christ is anti-love. Don’t be deceived!  The Holy Spirit is terribly grieved (Ephesians 4:30) when we do or say anything detrimental to our fellow members of His Body.

More and more I am coming to realize that God takes this love one another stuff terribly seriously. We like to think that He understands of our malice toward others and that He winks at our judgmental attitudes, but the hard truth is that He does not. Jesus was unbending in commanding us to love each other—something emphasized quite strongly in 1 John. If we want to be in harmony with God, harmony with one another is non-negotiable.

So much of our hard work continues in vain because of our spiritual autoimmune disorder. Just as life is released through covenant-based, love-inspired unity, so death finds it form when we violate the unity of the Spirit. The western Church abounds in valuable resources, but we will be constantly plagued by spiritual decay until we learn how to properly judge our own Christian Body. If, however, we can learn to truly love and honor one another, there is no limit to what God will do in and through us!

What will you do for His Body?

What Does Real Love Look Like?

Photo by Kevin Connors - morgueFile

Have you ever wondered what real love looks like? I’ll bet you know for sure what it doesn’t look like!

When queried about the greatest commandment, Jesus was quick to reply that loving one’s neighbor as  one’s self was a close second to loving God with all of one’s heart. Admittedly, this type of love has a few loopholes. Some of us don’t seem to like ourselves very well. There certainly is no scarcity of self-condemnation among Christians these days. And so with only a little manipulation we’ve managed to translate “love your neighbor as yourself” into “just do the best you can in being nice to others.” This, of course, is doable most of the time—that is unless I dislike the other person or I have a bad hair day—at which time God graciously winks at my failure, because after all, nobody’s perfect.

But then, just after His betrayal by Judas, Jesus went and upped the stakes!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (NASB)

Either Jesus didn’t have bad hair days or He didn’t allow them to influence His attitudes and actions. Jesus always loved others. No loopholes! The truth is that real love isn’t interested in loopholes even if they do exist.

Something tells me that most people tend to view a covenant as a super-glued commitment. We may dislike each other, but we signed on the dotted line and so we’re in this together come hell or high water. Such a perspective totally misses the essence of a God-inspired covenantal relationship. Real love is what makes a Biblical covenant work.

Long before he became the king of Israel, David entered into a covenant with Jonathan, the actual heir to Saul’s throne. God knit their hearts together and Jonathan was willing to surrender his right to the kingship because he recognized God’s call on David’s life.

Photo Courtesy of the Mephibosheth Foundation (http://mephibo.org/)

Years later, after Saul and Jonathan had died in battle, David asked, “Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Samuel 9:1 (NASB)

David found Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son who had nothing to offer the king except possible competition for his throne. Rather than kill the potential competitor as kings are wont to do, David lifted Mephiboseth out of the mouth of shame (the probable meaning of his name) to a place of highest honor and treated him as one of his own sons.

The Hebrew word translated as “kindness” is chesed, which has no good equivalent in English. In addition to kindness, various versions translate it as love, mercy, faithfulness, lovingkindness, steadfast love, faithful love and unfailing love.

Chesed is a real, devoted love based on a prior relationship; a love that forever looks for opportunities to help and to bless. David’s covenant love for Jonathan led him to seek out and honor Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.

Where did David get this type of love? He was shown it by his heavenly Father! Chesed permeates the Old Testament, and in most cases, refers to God’s love for His covenant children—a love that never fails and never fades—and most certainly—a love without loopholes. It’s this type of Gorilla Glue love that Jesus calls us to show to our brothers and sisters in Christ.