Tuesday, January 31, 2006

sex as worship

Last night, John Mangrum did an incredible job speaking of the beauty of sex. If you were not there to hear it, I strongly suggest you download it here and take the time to listen to it. In this message, John also talked about sex as an expression of marital oneness which is an expression of worship.

I have a friend who got married a few years ago. When he came back from his honeymoon, he was telling me during those beautiful times of intimacy (uh, I mean, during sex), he was actually thinking to himself - this is glorifying to God...

My friend is actually a little bizarre, I have to admit. I don't think I've ever thought those thoughts while in the throws of passion. However, the thought is very true. The apostle Paul says that whatever we do - eating, drinking, working, studying and even sex - should be done for the glory of God.

If you heard John Mangrum's message on Sunday night, he affirmed this incredible truth. Many early church fathers missed this, viewing sex as something base and ignoble. However, the biblical picture is quite different. Sex is somethign beautiful, something noble, something that is glorifying to God. In that sense, sex is an act of worship.

When a man and a woman engage each other in loving sex, the Bible says that they become one flesh. The two become one, and in so doing reflect something of the Godhead. In the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are united in perfect oneness. There is diversity, but unity - Unity in diversity. So, in marriage and specifically in sex, there is diversity (two individuals), and yet also unity (they become one). Our understanding of God would be greatly diminished, I believe, had God not given us this beautiful picture of his internal relationship with himself.

Sex is an awesome gift, and as with every gift God has given us, we are called to trace the gift back to the giver and give him thanks and honor.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

third point of clarification

Ok, there is at least one more point that I want to clarify. I had intended to talk about the process of deciding to marry someone in particular. I had said that we should not get caught up in trying to find "the one". The pool of options is large (not unlimited, but large). The pool of potential spouses is large, but is limited to those who are in the Lord (Christians). Within this pool, we are called to make wise decisions and are free to marry who we want (1 Cor 7:39).

How did I make the decision to ask Lynn to marry me? Well, at first, I thought she was attractive (that is a grand understatement). I knew she was a believer and committed to Christ (probably more so than myself at that point). She seemed fun and I thought I would like to get to know her more. I wasn't thinking marriage to Lynn at that point, but I was thinking marriage was a possibility in the next few years. I was looking for a wife, not a date, not a kissing buddy.

We went out on our first date, and despite the fact that my ex-girlfriend was our waitress, the date went well. We liked each other. We continued to date and at no point was there anything I saw that would keep me from marrying her, if she would have me.

We continued to date and get to know each other for two years. After graduation, there was a lot of life to sort out - where was I going to seminary, what direction of ministry was I going to pursue, and where was my relationship with Lynn going.

At this point, I prayed a lot. I didn't pray "God show me", but "God, give me wisdom. Open my eyes to things that my affections might be blinding me to." I really don't know what we expect when we pray "God, show me". Do we want lightning or a what? I'm not trying to mock anyone, except myself, cause I've prayed that many times.

As I was praying for wisdom and clear eyes to see with, I also was trying to envision my life with Lynn in it and my life without her in it. It was abundantly clear to me that I much preferred my life with Lynn. I wanted to get married to her, so I asked. She said yes because she wanted to get married to me.

I don't want to make it sound cold and calculated. A large part of why I wanted to marry Lynn and she wanted to marry me was because God had given us a deep love for one another. Our hearts were bound to each other. This played an enormous, though not all important, role in the decision making process. (It is possible for you heart to latch onto something that is unhealthy or sinful, hence the biblical warning to "guard you heart").

So, that was how I met and dated and married Lynn. It was fun. Glad I ain't there any more! Sorry.

second point of clarification

Well, as I said, I'm using the website to clarify some issues I raised but didn't settle well. One of those issues was singleness and the gift of singleness. How do you know if you are called to be single?

Well, to begin with, are you single? If so, then for now, you are called to be single. Actually, you are called to live faithfully as a single person. How do you know if this is a lifelong calling? Frankly, you don't.

Often we want to know what the future holds - whether we will remain single, who we will marry, where we will settle, etc. God has not promised to tell us the future and and does not make a habit out of it. Things will unfold according to his will, but there are aspects of his will that he has revealed in his word (referred to as his prescribed will), and aspects that we do not know until we look back at them in hindsight (referred to often as his secret or sovereign will, see Deut 29:29).

To push further into this and offer some practical thought, let me say that if you desire to be married and are finding the single a life a struggle, singleness probably isn't for you. To be content in a state of chastity requires a gift from God. If you dont' have that gift, it would probably mean that you should stay open to marraige. Notice I said stay open to it. Getting married isn't the goal of your life when you are single - serving and glorifying God is! Don't make changing you status the goal, make spreading the kingdom and living for God the goal. I think that is one of the main points of 1 Corinthians 7.

Also, realize that we may need to grow into the gift of singleness. I mean that it might not be easy at first; in fact, as you release your dreams of the wife/husband and kids and all that entails, it may be a struggle at first. That's natural. Someone gifted at teaching still finds the first time they teach difficult. They grow into the gift.

Notice also that it was not a matter of right vs. wrong if you decide to marry or stay single. It is an issue of Christian liberty and making wise choices. If you desire to get married, go ahead says Paul. If you burn with passion, it's probably wise - go ahead and get married. If no opportunities for marriage avail themselves, then live single, live faithfully, and serve the Lord with all your might, not being burdened by the anxieties family life brings with it.

There are benefits and drawbacks to singleness and to marriage. God has given us the freedom to choose which state we will live in, but also calls us to choose wisely.

first point of clarification

Ok, so the good news is I don't think I have to retract anything I said last night at Connexion. At least, not yet. I do, however, feel as though I should clarify some things, and the first thing that I want to clarify is that I am not opposed to courting...

I really don't have an issue if someone wants to court, or even if someone want to make the case that courting is a wiser method of finding a future spouse than is dating. However, I do get all riled up when someone tries to argue that courting is the biblical model. What distrurbed me about the article I shared last night, and several others like it, wasn't their conclusion, but how they arrived there. (The article is called "What Does a Biblical Relationship Look Like". Even the title implies that if you aren't courting, you're not biblical.)

I believe that the author of the article, Scott Croft, sets up a false dichotomy. Actually, he sets up several: dating is selfish while courting is selfless. Dating is done under no authority while courting is done under the authority of the girls parent or church. Modern dating is all about finding the one for me while courting is about being the one for her and God. Wow, put like that, who would ever date. But it doesn't need to be like that! Dating can be done for the glory of God, it can be done under authority, and it can be as selfless as courting or marriage. Watch out for false dichotomies - they are misleading.

Also, I found the use and misuse of Scripture rather annoying in this article. To argue for courting from Number 30:3-16 is exegetically dishonest. To say that we should follow the example of Solomon as recorded in the Song of Solomon confuses two categories of Scriptural material - descriptive vs. prescriptive. Certainly we must obey the commands of Scripture. When God says, "love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor", these are prescriptive commands. However, the Bible also contains a lot of narrative material which simply describes the times, events, places, etc. Actually, they don't just tell us about any old things or any old place - they tell us about the activity of God in his creation and among his people. There is a lot to be gleaned from these sections of Scripture; however, we must be careful not to fall into a "monkey-see-monkey-do" mode of reading our Bibles. There is a lot we are not suppose to imitate because it was blatantly sinful (i.e. taking seven hundred wives, as Solomon did). In addition, there is a lot of narrative material on which the Biblical authors don't make any kind of moral comment, they simply describe. In the words of Gordon Fee, "Unless Scripture explicitely tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way".

The final thing that I mentioned but didn't say much about is just some downright misleading and poorly thought through comments that have been made. In another online article Nathan Bailey writes, "They [biblical parents] did not arrange the marriage without the childrens' consent although they were certainly involved in the arrangments". This is awful. Off the top of my head I can think of two cases where spouses were picked for children completely without the children's input. Abraham sends his servant to go find a wife for Isaac. The servant returns with Rebekah and they are married immediately (Gen 24). Caleb offers his daughter in marriage to whomever would capture the city of Kiriath-sepher (Joshua 15:16). Oops!

I don't mean to beat up on those who have chosen courtship over dating. That is a valid option. So is dating. I don't want to come down hard on courtship, but on the idea that it is the only valid option for someone trying to be biblical. That seems to be very legalistic and diminishes the freedom we have in Christ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

how do we treat sin in those who don't treasure Christ

An interesting tangant came up at the leadership retreat when we were talking about friends. We spent a lot of time talking about our Christian friends, and then spent some time talking about our relationships with those who don't treasure Christ and are not believers. A comment was made that we passed completely over, but it got me thinking later. Someone said that we have to be careful not to impose our morality on our non Christian friends, that we shouldn't hold them to the same standard we hold ourselves and other brothers and sisters in Christ too. That made me ask myself, "Why?"...

Several years ago I sat in a church and heard the pastor give the usual "if this isn't your home church, don't feel any obligation to participate in the given of tithes and offerings". Certainly those who go to other churches shouldn't feel compelled to give when visiting somewhere else; however, what about those who don't go anwhere? It got me thinking, "Is the person's money who doesn't go to church their's, or is God's? Does God relieve people of the obligation to obey him because they don't go to church (or even because they dont' believe in him). Are they relieved of the obligation to be good stewards of their money, or the obligation to be appreciative of the gifts he has given them" Obviously, I answered those questions with a resounding, if someone perplexed, "No".

When it comes to how we respond to sinful attitudes and behaviors in our non Christian friends, I have two thought: First, God has not relieved people of their obligations to obey. We are not holding people to our standards. Ever. That would be Pharisaical. However, God's standard is what we are bound to, and what binds all people - whether believer or not. Eventually, everyone will be called to give an account of how they lived up to God's standard.

My second thought is that holding people to the same standard God holds us to is actually an act of love. By holding people to that standard I mean calling sin what it is and confronting it - in believing brothers and sisters and nonbelieving friends as well. The goal is not to judge or condemn, but to restore to fellowship with God. Out of love we confront sin in our brothers and sisters because it dishonors God and because it hinders them from enjoying their best treausre, their greatest satisfaction and joy to the fullest. The same is true of our nonbelieving friends. Until they understand the weight and seriousness of their sin, they will not be inclined to seek or accept grace. And without grace, they will never experience the relationship with God that will bring them joy and satisfaction. All the sinful pleasures they pursue are just shadows of the true pleasure they crave. So out of love, we do hold our friends to God's standard and call them out on their sin - gently, and tearfully of course. We do so because love seeks the greatest good for the loved, and their greatest good is a relationship with God

Every once in a while, I find myself arguing a position I don't necessary like at the gut level. This is one of those times. I'm interested in your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Sunday night I read from Hebrews 12:1-2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (ESV). There was an amazing tie in from Hebrews 11 that I didn't have time to draw our attention too...

The "Great Cloud of Witnesses" includes men like Abel, Abraham, Moses, David and others, who lived by faith. These men encourage us to lay aside every hinderance and sin and run with perseverance the race that God has made.

One of the witnesses, Moses, is particularly encouraging in light of what we were talking about Sunday night - the radical life transforming change that comes from beholding the beauty of God in Christ. It is a transformation that frees us from sin, conforms us to the image of Christ, and enables us to persevere to the end.

Look at Hebrews 11:24-27, "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible." (ESV).

I didn't see this until late last week, but the connections are amazing. Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh. Yet, when he was grown up he left behind the wealth of Egypt and all the sensual pleasures that accompanied being a prince and chose to be mistreated with the people of God. Notice that it refers to the fleeting pleasure of sin. The author of Hebrews isn't naive - he knows there is a certain pleasure in sin. Yet, he also sees the greater truth that this pleasure is fleeting. It only lasts for a moment (even if you enjoy it for a lifetime, what is that compared to eternity).

He goes on to say that all the treasures of Egypt don't stack up to the "reproach of Christ". Again, doesn't this seem ridiculous. To choose the abuse of Christ (not that he is the one abusing, but we suffer the same abuse he did) over the wealth and ease and comfort of life in the palace is foolishness to the nth degree in the minds of this materialistic world. How did Moses suffer the abuse of Christ when Christ didn't appear on the stage of world history for thousands of years? Well, that's another blog for another day, but let me say that it seems the Bible portrays all the sufferings of God's people throughout the ages as somehow being a part of Christ's sufferings.

Why did Moses choose the abuse of Christ, the scorn of beign one of God's people over the wealth of Egypt? Because, as the author points out, he was "looking to the reward". One commentator makes the point that this verb is a very active and deliberate verb meaning to look away from one thing and to another. Moses chose not to look at the wealth of Egypt but rather to look to the rewards offered for being counted as one of God's people. What are these rewards? One could say it was Promised Land, but Moses never actually entered it. I think it is more likely that the author of Hebrews has in mind the spiritual rewards - rewards that are more enduring rather than fleeting.

There is one more connection - one crucial and beautiful one. Remember, Moses was "looking to the reward". Now look back at v. 27. He endured the anger of the kind "as seeing him who is invisible". There is a kind of paradox in this - Moses was seeing the one who was invisible. But, that is the nature of faith according to v. 1. The connection between these two verses is what I want you to see. He was "looking to the reward" in v. 26 and then in v. 27 it says that he was "seeing him who is invisible". He was looking unto God, the one who is invisible, as his reward! Seeing this enabled him to chose God and even the reproach of God's people and the abuse of Christ over the fleeting pleasures of sin. Seeing this enabled him to endure the hardship and the wrath of the king. He knew his treasure. He beheld it by faith and it changed him, turning him into a fool for Christ.

Oh how important is beholding the beauty of Christ, the glory of God in the face of Christ, to the Christian life.