Love… Without Approval

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It seems that as I attempt to keep my finger on the pulse of America’s cultural heartbeat in regards to the topic of same-sex marriage, most social media posts and the overwhelming majority of news publications seem to agree that if you don’t whole-heartedly embrace, support, approve of, and celebrate public homosexuality and gay marriage, you are nothing more than a closed-minded bigot who probably needs to do the world a favor and be euthanized. (That sound a little harsh? Just read the news and scroll through some social media, and you’ll see that was actually a pretty light rendering of some stuff being said.) Before I even begin writing about this topic again though, I realize that many people won’t understand how homosexuality is seen through the Christian worldview, or care to understand. We will be labeled as intolerant bigots by our current culture, but hopefully we continue to strive to live in such a way as to make those accusations false.

The media spotlight has transitioned from “leave us alone” to “bake us a cake.” The desire of “just get out of our way,” has (for some) become “take our picture.” The same-sex marriage issue has become a judicial juggernaut; currently seventeen states recognize same-sex unions, with citizens in Idaho, Kentucky, and other states strongly petitioning the courts to extend that number. This political climate has prompted legislatures in Kansas, Arizona, and other states to advance unwieldy bills that seek to balance a newly-acquired right to marriage against the rights of others to follow their religious or moral consciences. The big question is no longer whether same-sex couples may marry, but whether a baker may refuse to sell them a wedding cake on the strength of his religious or moral conscience, without risking a lawsuit.

It seemed common sense to many in the past that you wouldn’t seek out a Jewish butcher to provide bacon-wrapped shellfish for your big party, but today the insensitivity of that request appears to be attributed to the Jewish butcher. While everyone is arguing over cake, pictures, flowers, clothing, and buildings, the media distracts us from the core philosophical issue: if we lose the ability to respect that people can only go as far as their consciences will allow them, then we risk becoming caught up in an even worse illusion, imagining hate where none exists, equating compelled behavior with authentic love, and losing sight of the fact that sharing another’s burdens sometimes means that we walk the extra mile on one challenging road, and they walk it on the next. Everyone spares a bit of their time for the sake of another. This is how love travels.

Would we really try to make the claim that Jesus approved of sin, or simply accepted people as they were with no desire to see them grow more in faith? Can we find a single place in Scripture where Jesus says what the tax collectors do to support the Roman army is good and right, and a behavior to be respected and emulated? Did Jesus ever help Zacchaeus shake down a guy for the taxes he owed? (Hint: no, He did not.) In the Gospels, Jesus never tells sinners not to worry about any sin in their lives and just go on about their business as they please because He loves them.

We could jokingly ask ourselves WWJD? And maybe after some speculation we’d even come to the conclusion that while Jesus was a carpenter and might not have been the most affluent wedding decorator, He would have baked the cake, arranged the flowers, snapped the pictures, and then built some lovely cabinets for the newlyweds’ new home. I mean hey, He might have even provided some quality wine for a wedding, it wouldn’t be the first time after all. But could we honestly follow that all the way through to Jesus officiating the wedding? Every time Jesus ever mentioned marriage He talked about a man and a woman; He quoted from the Old Testament and observed it as law. (Quick sidebar: the argument from silence that Jesus never outright stated that homosexuality is wrong, so He wasn’t really against it is more than a bit far-fetched. A proper understanding of both the Son of God and of Scripture should lead us to conclude that it ultimately would not matter if Jesus ever explicitly taught on homosexuality for Him to disagree with it. Second, that though we have no record of Him using the specific words “homosexual” or “homosexuality,” it is dishonest at best to say that He did not teach on the subject itself.) Jesus said that He came to give life and give it to the full. Jesus told people their sins were forgiven, go and sin no more. It seems a lot more like Jesus would say, “It’s ok to not be okay, but it’s not ok to stay there.”

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 5:43-48, 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37; Romans 13:8-14; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). I don’t find any commands in Scripture that support the idea of refusing to sell or provide goods and services to people who aren’t Christians. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples, “Listen guys, you all need to love your neighbor, but only if your neighbor believes the same things you believe, has the same color of skin as you, has the ability to repay you for any help you provide, and has a giant ichthus prominently displayed on his camel…”

The parable of the Good Samaritan would be a good place to being to read for some guidance (Luke 10:25-37). However, this particular issue becomes complicated in that the goods and services are so tied to the celebration of what God calls sin. There really isn’t a perfect definitive yes or no answer on this topic. Yet, when considering whether you should help contribute to a same-sex marriage ceremony, let alone attend one, you should probably ask yourself these questions: Have you earnestly spent time in prayer about it? Do you feel the Holy Spirit leading you in a certain direction? Do you believe you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth of the Gospel? Will attending the ceremony enable you to continue to be a Gospel presence in the life of your friend(s)/family? If so, then perhaps you should go. On the other hand… are you merely afraid of telling the truth about how you view same-sex marriage? Are you nervous about the consequences of certain people knowing what you believe? If so, then this might be a time to respectfully decline the invitation, and explain why out of genuine love.

“Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.” – Tim Keller

Jesus observed the law and fulfilled the law. He did not throw the law away, for the sake of love. For the sake of love, He threw Himself away. That’s another counter-intuitive lesson Christ gave to us, as we all proceed together, slouching toward “tolerance” and carrying our consciences along the way (Romans 13:8-14).

Again, when we try to explain how we view homosexuality, we should focus on the beauty of the gospel and love found in Christ; not stand there listing out rules and regulations in which to live by, while waving a Bible around in the air. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done. We need to do our best to display authentic love to our neighbors; all of them. Because love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. The more we love any that are not as we are, the less we love as men and the more as God. Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor [are weary] and are heavy laden [burdened], and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus assumes that, left to ourselves, we are weighed down. Life out of sync with God does that to us. But as we come to Jesus we find rest. Not just rest in the sense of a lazy weekend afternoon or a long sleep-in on a day off work. Jesus means something far deeper: rest in a sense of things with God being the way they’re meant to be. Rest in the sense of living along the grain of who we really are and how God wants us to live. Rest in the sense of being able truly to flourish as the people God made us to be.

If we were to ask, well then, is God anti-gay? No, not exactly. But He is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from Him and for ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-10). He’s anti-that guy, whatever that guy looks like in each of our lives. But because He is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to Himself.

So, back to the issue of whether or not we should celebrate and champion legislation passed to more easily enable that which we believe to be wrong according to God’s Word. First, we should always remember that you can NEVER legislate morality. Yet, even with that being acknowledged, I’m fairly certain we should not applaud certain liberties, even when congruent with the ideals of our country and constitution. Christians should never celebrate or find pleasure in the destruction of someone’s flesh.

Our LBGTQ brothers and sisters are made in the image of God, and they are all entitled to all of the rights due every other human being. The Jim Crow laws comparison may be an effective talking point, but it has no basis in fact. Racism is obviously a sin. It denies the humanity of human beings; the Gospel elevates their worth. As servants of the Gospel we have no choice but to fight persistently for a culture that enables every human being to experience the abundant life God promises. Racism is a hindrance to that life, as is homosexuality. (Even if society disagrees with these beliefs, Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Christ and His love is not silent.) The tragic irony is that proponents of no-holds-barred sexuality are condemning others to a life of bondage. Our conviction should be that we ought not to have any part in forging the slavers’ chains. We can appreciate the freedom’s our governments afford us, but when those freedom’s make it easier to openly mock God, I don’t believe they should be openly celebrated.

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Recommended Basketball Media

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Some recommended basketball movies and documentaries:

The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend (1:30, G)
• Hoosiers (1:54, PG)
• Glory Road (1:58, PG)
The Dream Team (1:07, TV-PG)
• Finding Forrester (2:16, PG-13)
30 for 30 – Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks (1:08, TV-PG)
• 30 for 30 – 40 Minutes of Hell (1:08, TV-PG)
• 30 for 30 – Survive and Advance (1:08, TV-PG)
Jump Shot – History (6:33, PG)

Some recommended basketball training videos:

Stronger Team Basketball Drills
Pistol Pete’s Homework Basketball: Dribbling
Pistol Pete’s Homework Basketball: Ball-Handling
Pistol Pete’s Homework Basketball: Passing
Pistol Pete’s Homework Basketball: Shooting

*** to be revised and updated later.

Saint Valentine’s Day

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Today is Valentine’s Day… and after taking a quick look through some social media, it appears that the majority of posts today which reference the holiday are actually negative. Maybe this is actually the most polarizing holiday of our year? For some it can be a very fun and exciting day of expressing your love, for skeptics it is just way too commercialized and insincere (darn you Hallmark, you and your $5+ pieces of folded paper with hearts and cheesy poems), and for some singles it is a lonely reminder of something they feel is missing in their lives…

As for my wife and me, we have chosen not to let the commercialization of this holiday affect our view on the day. (By the way, are there even any holidays left in America that haven’t been tainted to some degree by consumerism?) The viewpoint that it’s just some day where Hallmark, florists, and chocolate makers manipulate the masses to churn some revenue is pessimistic and ignorant at best. To make the case that displays of love, gifts, cards, flowers, affection, etc. should be spontaneous and truly heartfelt, not dictated to be shown on a specific day seems nice until you think about it more. Should we just embrace full spontaneity and toss out birthday celebrations, anniversaries, Christmas, etc?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still spontaneous in showing love to my wife, that should always play a part. And I have never been big on “celebrating” Valentine’s Day or seen it as a mandated holiday to be observed. However, I believe there are some beautiful redeeming qualities in this holiday, and most holidays for that matter. Instead of solely focusing or dwelling on the negative aspects that accompany certain days of the year, Kat and I like to reflect on what elements of the holiday point us to our truest, greatest love: Jesus Christ.

There is plenty to enjoy and savor on Valentine’s Day; and it is a great thing for husbands to bring out the bouquet of roses, the box of chocolates, make a home cooked feast, book a romantic dinner reservation, or whatever romantic gestures that remind your spouse you love them! But alas – maybe the skeptics (and Valentine’s Day haters) will appreciate this part – what about tomorrow?

Life is really lived out in the little moments. Day by day, all the little things are what makes up the overwhelming majority of your life. Today, if celebrated, should be an overflow of deep love present in your relationship and the big moments should be a compacted reflection of the little moments. We should remember why we love, and then love to our fullest. Any time we have an opportunity to go big and show it in a special way (even if it includes using a godforsaken Hallmark card), why not?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1st John 4:7-21 (ESV)

America, the Ignorant

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By now, most of us have probably seen, or at least heard about the (for some stupid reason) controversial new Coke commercial…

The media seems to do their best to keep the majority of its viewers ignorant of truly important issues, but we as a society seem to be perfectly capable of remaining willfully ignorant and distracting ourselves without too much help from the “news.” After all, Samuel Coolridge (1772 -1834) predicted that in the future, the West would suffer from a culture wide phenomenon of ‘idiocy of the will.’ It appears that Mr. Coolridge was pretty spot on in his prediction.

One of the most recent incidences of mass idiocy was the harsh, wide-spread racist reaction to the Coca-Cola commercial that ran during this year’s Super Bowl. In the midst of this mess, I think there are people who are racist, and then I think there are people who are just ignorant. Not to say that racist people aren’t ignorant. But there are people who are racist who aren’t quite sure why they are, or where exactly that came from. They have been taught, brought up, and discipled poorly. It’s not entirely their heart; they just haven’t been informed.

Article after article was shared about the responses on social media: HuffPost, NY Daily, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, USA Today, CNN, etc…

As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ has broken down the walls of hostility, has restored and established peace, and there is now one race; not two, or three, or four, etc. However, there is still widespread racism in this country, and it isn’t all Anglo… there is even intra-race racism still prevalent today. It’s this silly, “I am better than you. I am more valuable than you. I have more worth than you” idea. It is a dehumanization of another person and another group of people. That’s the essence of racism. In fact, every genocide that has ever occurred, almost all injustice that has ever been wrought, has been birthed out of this idea: “We are superior to… we are better than… we are more deserving… by birth.” What did you do? You were born. You contributed, you earned nothing. How does that make you superior? Simply that you were born?

It is very foolish to go on pretending that we are all born with equal footing, and if we would just exert the same amount of energy we could all end up at the same place. You are not viewing the world correctly if that’s how you see it. I’m sorry if that comes as a shock, but if you believe you’ve gotten to where you are because of your hard work and unearned privileges didn’t play a significant role in it, you’re not seeing the world correctly. This in no way discredits your hard work, skillful planning, and diligent effort in achieving goals you’ve set, but we must all admit that a great deal of our opportunities came about regardless of ourselves.

We really need to stop deluding ourselves into believing we are better than anyone else by some kind of birth-right. Can anyone honestly say that they devised how their frame would be formed in the womb? If they’d grow up to be big, strong, and athletic? If they’d be inclined towards having good health? Has anyone decided at the moment of conception if they’d be raised in a palace, or in poverty? Did anyone reading this decide as an embryo whether their parents would love them well and provide for them? Did any of us choose the place or the hour of where we were born? Anybody work really hard to control or influence any of these factors? Think with me then, what can any of us truly claim? Not a thing really. We didn’t even choose our own name! Really, just consider this: can any of us recall a single thing that is not a gift in this life? When we honestly give credit where credit is due, we see that everything is grace after all. Our skin tone, hair and eye color, height, age, language(s) learned, nationality, etc. is honesty all outside of our complete control. We are all beggars, called to be good stewards of what we have been given by grace.

Something else that specifically Christians need to understand is that God, as the triune three-in-one Being, created humans in His image as persons-in-relation; forever confronted with differences among them. Widespread sameness, the failure to recognize differences, therefore does not capture God’s heart for creation and His communitarian nature. Diversity is at the core of a relational creation that glorifies God. Differences honor God in that they make for better relationships – and better humans.

As humans create culture – filling, subduing, and ruling the world according to God’s Genesis mandate, they form social groups around cultural commonalities. Like the value-laden work involved in male-female relationships, crossing cultural barriers not only sharpens but also beautifies. God’s creativity explodes in and through cultural expression. Diversity, in all its forms, not only makes people more like God in developing relationships but also opens up a life of joy and worship. So we should appreciate many beautiful and redemptive things about this Coca-Cola commercial, and not respond ignorantly by exploding with hateful cultural-homogeneous desiring ridiculousness.

We should embrace, respect, and celebrate the truth spoken by Katie Bayne, president of North America Brands, Coca-Cola, when she said, “With ‘It’s Beautiful,’ we are simply showing that America is beautiful, and Coke is for everyone…. ‘It’s Beautiful’ is exactly what Coca-Cola is all about: celebrating the diversity that makes this country great and the fact that anyone can thrive here and be happy. We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American.” (Bayne’s quotes were taken from the Coca-Cola Company article on the ad: ‘It’s Beautiful’: Coke Debuts Inspiring Ad During Super Bowl)

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Recommended Sermon:

Prayer (Part 3) – Racial Reconciliation by Matt Chandler

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