What We Rely On: If someone doesn’t believe in God - in a Greater Being that is watching over us and guiding us - then they do not really have anyone to rely on but themselves or other fallible human beings. That would be scary to me, to believe that we are left all alone on this earth, with no one to rely on but ourselves.
What’s Important: Success, power, money, sex, companionship, possessions, youth, beauty. These are things that we all consider important.
How about “happiness”? Don’t most people hold up “happiness” as one of the greatest goals in the world? But, oh, the problems this can lead to! And when we combine it with “God just wants us to be happy,” then we put God’s stamp-of-approval on whatever selfish, destructive, immoral thing we want to pursue.
But do we have a right to pursue whatever we want that makes us happy? Does God “just want us to be happy”? How would a Christian’s answer differ from the world’s? Is it okay to divorce your spouse to find someone who makes you happier? How about living together before you are married? Why not polygamy? Is that “Christian”? The Mormons would say so.
To the world, things like success and money and happiness and sex are “end goals,” the things they work for. But in and of themselves, these things will not satisfy completely. They might fill our hands for a moment, but they won’t fill our souls for eternity.
As Christians, though, we shouldn’t see these things as end goals. They can definitely be enjoyed for the blessings that they are (in the way God intended), but ultimately we know that what’s really important is that we glorify God with our lives and that we share with others the message about God’s gifts of salvation, love, and healing. The other things will burn up in the end, but only what we do for God’s glory and His Kingdom will last. But do we live like these are our true priorities?
Defining Success: The world defines success by things like . . . how much money you make, how much respect you gain, how many possessions you own, how high you are on the ladder of success, how many people you order around, how popular you are, how beautiful you are, how many people show up at your funeral, etc. But while these are nice, they are not eternal. While we might be always remembered and loved by our families and while we might have passed down some lasting accomplishments, soon after we are gone, someone else will move in and fill the void we left in the workplace and use the things we left behind. We are replaceable in this world. And someone else will enjoy the things we worked hard to earn.
But once again, Christians define success differently. We do not define it by the things we gain in this world, but by the things we store up in eternity, the work that we do for God’s Kingdom. Those are the only things we can take with us when we go. And we are not replaceable in God’s Kingdom. God wants a relationship with each and every person He made. We are all just as valuable and cherished as the next person. And God wants us to bring as many of His wayward children back to Him as possible, because we all matter.
But I think the hardest part to deal with is that the true “success” of a Christian is invisible. We won’t be able to see or know the effects that we have had on eternity until the end. And this can be discouraging. Buying a bigger house or a new car is a much more immediate result and an obvious indication that we have done good work. But I bet we will all be surprised to eventually see our “success” from God’s perspective. But the questions is: Will we be delightfully surprised or horrified?
Value of People: Without a Creator to place value on people and to establish a moral code, we are at the mercy of other people to decide who has value and who doesn’t, who matters and who doesn’t. And this can (and has) lead to all sorts of horrifying scenarios.
How do Christians and non-Christians differ in their views of abortion, the right to assisted suicide, the death penalty, the mentally-handicapped or terminally ill or elderly, selective termination of a pregnancy when the baby is handicapped, ethnic cleansing and genocide, acid attacks on women and unfair treatment of women, human trafficking, prostitution, the value of animals compared to people (is a baby bear equal in value to a human baby), racism, sexism, genetic engineering of human life, etc.?
Without a belief in a Creator, how does someone develop a worldview and an opinion on these issues? What do they base their views and “rightness or wrongness” on?
We Christians know that God values people immensely. We are made in His image. We are all worth dying for and are greatly loved, just because God decided we were. He has placed an eternal value on people, not only giving them eternal souls but the promise that He will eventually redeem all things. In the end, He will set all things right again and demand justice for all of the wrongs that people seem to be getting away with now. He will eventually stand up for the poor, the mistreated, the aliens, the orphaned, the weak, and those who are denied justice. (Of course, He does do this to a certain degree on earth, just not fully and completely until eternity.)
But until He does so, He calls all believers to stand up for them as His representatives here on earth. But do we do that? Or are we more concerned with our “nice, little lives”? With making a comfortable little place on this earth for ourselves? With enjoying the pleasures that everyone else gets to enjoy? Or are we fighting for the people and the values that matter to Him? Do we have His priorities straight?
Compromising or Grieving?
Do we grieve for the condition that our world is in and seek to be different and take a stand for God’s truth? Or do we compromise our faith to “fit in” and to impress the world?
In Jeremiah, we read about how Jehudi reads a scroll to the king that Jeremiah gave him. This scroll is God’s words given to Jeremiah about all the sins of the people and the punishments that God would inflict on them. It is meant to be a warning, to turn the hearts of the people toward repentance. And this is how the king responds:
“Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes. . . .
‘Therefore, this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim king of Judah . . . I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them . . . every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened.’” (Jeremiah 36:23-24, 30-31)
What I found interesting – and convicting – is that God was going to punish the attendants to the king. But they didn’t burn the scroll; the king did. Shouldn’t the king bear all the blame?
Yes, the king was the one responsible for leading the people, for the spiritual tone and practices of the country, and for burning the warnings of the Lord. But the attendants were responsible for their own apathetic response and their fear of God. Or lack of it, I should say.
Instead of worrying about what God thought, they worried about what the king thought. Instead of fearing God, they fell right in line with the king, mimicking his own indifferent attitude toward God. They did not take the warnings of the Lord seriously, just as the king didn’t. They did not grieve over their sins or fear the Lord or feel any conviction or remorse or repentance. They did not take the truth seriously. They simply followed the king’s lead. They blended in with the general spiritual tone of those around them. And God would hold them accountable for it, even if they were just lowly attendants.
This message stood out to me because so many of us are “attendants.” We may not be leaders, but we are part of the group. Of this world and society. And I wonder how many of us seek to appease the “leaders” or adopt the group’s attitudes, instead of humbling our hearts before the Lord and doing the right thing according to Him? How many of us “go along with the group” so that we don’t stand out as weird or “too-holy”? How many of us compromise our standards or beliefs so that things don’t get uncomfortable for us? How many of us sit by and watch others “burn” the words of the Lord and destroy the truth because it’s too scary to stand up for it? How many of us do not feel any conviction anymore when people around us do wrong because we are busy mimicking them? How many of us have grown lukewarm or have surrounded ourselves with “truth” that tickles our ears or have replaced God with idols of our own making? How many of us have no real fear of God anymore?
“I will punish [them] for their wickedness . . . because they have not listened.” “[They] showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes.”
Who do you fear more? Who do you seek to please and be like? The people you are around, the group you follow, the social majority? Or the holy God to whom we will all give an accountant for our lives and choices one day? Does your life accurately reflect how much you fear the Lord? Is this comforting to you or convicting? Do you grieve over the condition of our country, our world? Or are you too busy blending in or sampling its delights?
“. . . Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen . . . and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
This is not about Jehoiakim, but the point is that God notices our hearts. If we grieve over immorality or not. If we have a heart set on righteousness or not. If we are any different from the rest of the world or if we are apathetic attendants, unconcerned with the moral climate around us.
We may not be able to do much to change the way our country is going. But we can grieve over it. We can become heartbroken over it, instead of indifferent. We can intercede in prayer for our country. We can pray for revival, starting with our own hearts and families. We can seek righteousness.
Let’s veer off a little in a different direction. One area where I think we are seeing the incredible pressure to compromise on God’s Word is the issue of gay marriage. And I think this is a great example to help us think about how to be “in the world, but not of the world.”
How do we hold to biblical truth in a country that is drifting so far from God’s ways and that is pressuring Christians to fall in line? How do we set ourselves apart and yet love our neighbor? Where is the line between loving our neighbor yet not condoning godless choices? What should a Christian’s response be to gay marriage now that it has become legal in America? (And this can be applied to other sorts of moral dilemmas. Think of other ones and discuss them. And I don’t expect you to agree with everything I say here. I am still formulating my views on this. It’s a work in progress.)
“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short?’” (Numbers 11: 23)
“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
God has not lost control. He is still on the throne. Nor has anyone changed His laws and truths. It bothers me when I hear Christians freaking out and saying, “Man is changing God’s laws! Man is changing God’s laws!” No, we aren’t. Call it what they want, it still doesn’t change the fact that God decided that marriage is between one man and one woman. And God’s laws still stand.
Just because society redefines "marriage" doesn't mean that God has. Just because some churches are going against the Bible and claiming that now certain lifestyles are acceptable doesn't mean that God has.
We who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture do not need to be terrified of or confused about the "changes" that society makes. Because it doesn't really change anything in God’s eyes. We do not need to panic or freak out, acting like the sky is falling and like it’s our responsibility to hold it up, and acting like mere people can actually change His abiding truths.
God's laws still stand, whether someone acknowledges them or not, whether people want to agree with Him or not. And it doesn’t matter how puffed up and proud people get, believing that they have made great "improvements" to God’s truth. His laws still stand. And we will be judged by them in the end.
So we can relax (to a degree), trusting that God is still in control, that He will do a great job of defending Himself and His truths, that He dish out justice in the end, and that we will all answer to Him for our own choices. We will answer to no one else, no one else will answer to us, and we will not be responsible for other people’s choices (unless we had a hand in leading them astray).
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)
I fear that Christians (and “Christians”) in America are so focused on and bothered about the ways that other people fail to live rightly before the Lord that we fail to focus on and be bothered about the ways that we fail to live rightly before the Lord. We are so busy wagging our fingers at others, saying, “No, no, no, don’t do that,” that we are not taking the time to examine our own hearts, to consider if we are seeking righteousness and truly humbling ourselves before Him.
We have grown lukewarm, comfortable, and lazy in our spiritual lives. Enamored with this world instead of being enamored with God. Focused on our priorities instead of God’s. Worshipping a God that we created instead of God as He is. (That way, we don’t have to feel convicted or guilty). Overlooking sin in our lives but finding it in everyone else’s. Examining everyone else but ourselves.
But we convince ourselves that we are doing okay as long as we are trying to get everyone else to live as God wants them to live. But sometimes our passionate efforts are just a cover for our lack of passionate heart-devotion to the Lord. We are so busy doing for the Lord that we fail at truly being with the Lord.
But our biggest concern shouldn’t be worldly non-believers who live worldly lives, but the ways that we live worldly lives without being bothered by it.
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13)
If we started to focus less on how others are living and more on how we are living, and if we focused on truly humbling ourselves before the Lord and on seeking righteousness, we might see a serious revival and God would turn toward us and hear our prayers.
Notice what the verse said . . . “If my people, who are called by my name . . .” This is not a verse for the world, but for believers.
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12)
Definitely, we need to intercede for our country, to pray for God’s mercy and for revival. But I think it needs to start with ourselves. I think if we focused more on humbling ourselves before God and abiding in Him and living Christ as much as we can and seeking His help through prayer, we would have a far greater impact on our country than by trying to fight against society, by trying to change them and to get them to believe as we do. Because then God would be fighting the battle for us.
We will all stand before God and give an account for our lives, not for someone else’s. So let’s start by examining our own hearts and lives, humbling ourselves before God and seeking righteousness. And then let’s see what God does.
But do not do this if you are not doing the first two things. No one wants to hear a panicky, haughty Christian preaching about what everyone else is doing wrong and how they should be living their lives, without first having calmed down, taken a look at themselves, and humbled themselves before the Lord.
But for those believers who are seeking to be humble before the Lord and who are seeking righteousness in their own lives and who are trusting that God is still in control and that He is listening to our prayers, we also need to be alert for any open doors that God brings for us to share about the hope that is in us and to stand up for His truth in appropriate ways.
“Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
We need to get involved in politics, in the public, in conversations, etc., to do what we can to protect our religious freedoms and to stand up for God’s truth in a humble, respectful way. And we need to be willing to be persecuted for it more and more, if even only just mocked by everyone else.
But we always need to share the truth with love and gentleness. We need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong, but that also shows genuine love for the other person and respect for their right to agree or disagree. (We don’t have to respect their choice, but we have to respect their right to choose.)
Even God has given people the right to agree or disagree with Him. It doesn’t mean they are right in every way, just that they can rebel against Him if they want to. (And face the consequences of it someday.) It is not our job to force others to agree with God’s truth, but it is our job to stand by it firmly in our own lives, to live accordingly, and to uphold it in the face of opposition.
And as we seek to stand up for His truth and to protect religious rights, we need to remember that ultimately the battle is the Lord’s. So we need to be on our knees before Him, asking Him to guide our country, to protect believers and our religious rights, and to show us the ways that we need to think, act, respond, change ourselves, and be involved.
It is all-too-easy to be led astray about God’s truth if we don’t really know God’s Word for ourselves. And this will happen more and more, as more and more churches fall to societal pressure to redefine God’s truths and to cut out sections of Scripture that make them uncomfortable.
I’ll be honest here, I really wish I could say that it doesn’t matter who you love – homosexual or heterosexual – as long as you are loved and are loved by someone else. I know that many homosexuals have faced abuse and heartache, either when they were young and it led to them becoming homosexual or they were mistreated after coming out as homosexuals or they are distressed because they believe they were "born that way" and yet wish they weren't. And I don’t want to add any more pain or heartache by claiming that homosexuality is against God’s laws.
And I would love to be one of those warm, fuzzy, squishy Christians who tells everyone “It’s okay. We’re all good here. God is a God of love, and love is the only thing that matters here.” I would love to not be the “bearer of bad news,” to not have to say anything negative about anyone else’s choices, especially when it comes to something as personal and tender as love.
But really knowing what the Bible says is why I can – why I have to - say that God does not condone homosexuality in the Bible in any way. It is always spoken of in a negative way, never in a positive or ambiguous way. While He loves, loves, loves people – heterosexual or homosexual – He does not allow us to change His truth based on how we feel or what we wish was true.
If this is all there is to it then it would stand to reason that the laws against having sex with your close family members or with animals (Lev 18) or that the laws against stealing, lying, practicing sorcery, and defrauding others (Lev 19) shouldn’t apply either. But would we ever say this?
The thing to keep in mind here is that there are three different kinds of laws in Leviticus.
There are civil/cultural laws which have to do with Israel at that time, such as owning land, how to treat slaves and animals, etc. Those laws apply to those people, at that time.
There are ceremonial laws which have to do with how to properly approach God, how to perform the ceremonies, how to do the things that set Israel apart religiously from its neighbors, etc. Things like circumcise the boys, don’t eat pork, how to behave in church, sacrificing animals, etc.
But these kinds of strict laws are the laws that Jesus came to fulfill. This is why they don’t apply anymore, why we don’t sacrifice animals for our sins, why we are no longer banned from approaching God if we eat pork, etc. Because Jesus’ death paid the price. Tore the curtain. Made it possible for us to approach God without all the restrictions and formalities. Jesus fulfilled those laws and they do not necessarily apply anymore.
And then there are moral laws. Laws about how God expects everyone of all time to behave and live. This is where the laws about sexual relations, homosexuality, stealing, lying, sorcery, etc. fall. And these laws will always apply.
How about the 10 commandments? Would we toss them out just because they are “old” and from a different culture?
These moral laws still stand. Yet it doesn’t mean that we take it in our hands to punish people for these things (i.e. stoning them) because Jesus came to offer grace and forgiveness. And He is the judge. He will judge us for our sins. But don’t be misled, these laws will always stand.]
It is one thing to love and respect other people, regardless of their choices, but it’s another to express approval of things that God does not approve of for the sake of making others feel loved and supported. While Jesus was always compassionate toward sinful people, He was never accepting of sin. He took sin seriously.
After all, our sin cost Him His life.
We who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture will probably be outnumbered. And we might begin to doubt Scripture’s clear truths because there will be a “great number of teachers” who call black “white” and white “black” and who change clear biblical truths into various shades of gray. And their voices might be loud and convincing.
And if we are not in the Word regularly and learning what He says, it will be all-too-easy to backslide as a Christian, to excuse sin, to nibble our way lost, and to begin nodding our heads along with the “great number of teachers” who share their warm, cozy, popular, easy-to-swallow, “feel good” messages.
And we need to remember that reading the Bible is not an item on a “To Do” list, a task to be checked off so that we can get on with our day. The Bible is God’s heart poured out to us. An invitation to draw nearer to Him and to get to know Him and ourselves better. And we will miss out greatly if we treat it lightly, if we fail to really meet Him in the pages.
And if we fail to get to know God as He really is in His Word then we will find ourselves substituting our own ideas of who we want Him to be and what we want Him to teach. We will cut out things from Scripture that we don’t like. We will end up picking and choosing from the buffet of religious ideas so that we can put together a “religion” that better suits us and what we want, that makes us more popular with the world.
And over time, we will drift farther and farther away from Him and from where we should be in our spiritual lives. And we will mislead others and eventually be held accountable for it.
Immerse yourself in God’s Word daily. Drink from it deeply. And get to know it well so that you know what you are talking about when it’s time to take a stand for God’s truth. In love and gentleness, as we are called to do. As more and more churches begin to tickle the ears of people, telling them what they want to hear, we are going to need Christians who really know what God’s Word says. And who live it themselves!
[Please note that I am not speaking out against homosexual people here. Nor am I “homophobic.” Quoting the Bible does not mean that someone is “homophobic,” so do not throw that word around to try to stop people from upholding God’s Word.
(However, yes, there are some homophobic people out there, Christians and non-Christians. But I do not think there is any real reason to be afraid of homosexuals, unless they are wielding a giant knife and chasing you or something like that. The homosexual people that I know and that I am related to are pleasant people, not scary at all. And that’s the thing: They are people. And there is no reason to fear other people unless they give you a reason to be afraid. I’m just sayin’.)
Anyway, back to my point. I am not speaking out against homosexual people here. (The Bible itself does an amazing job of speaking against homosexuality.) It’s not my job to judge those outside the church. I am speaking against the Christians who compromise God’s Word. And next, I will be speaking against Christians who treat people – homosexuals included – harshly, unfairly, and unlovingly.
My focus here is not on admonishing homosexuals or worldly people, but admonishing Christians who are in the wrong. Yet, I know that it will look like I am trying to cater to both sides and yet criticize both sides, and so, most likely, I will end up offending both sides. But even if I do offend, I hope that you can see God’s truth in what I am saying, and I hope that I am saying it in a lovingly-firm way.]
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be Sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-31, 35-36)
We need to love our fellow humans! We need to be loving when we are sharing truth. We need to be loving when they disagree. And we need to be loving when we are mocked, persecuted, and scorned.
At the root of it all, we need to be loving. Because these are the people that God made in His image and that He loved so much that He sent Jesus to die for them, too, so that they might find life in Him.
And when it comes to interacting with people who do not hold to God’s Word, we need to remember that God loves all people and wants all people to come to Him. He is kind to those who hate Him.
“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)
And Jesus ate with sinners. In fact, He preferred the company of sinners to the company of the religious snobs.
I don’t think this means that God and Jesus condone the lifestyles and choices of sinners, of the unrighteous. Providing for them and visiting with them does not translate into agreeing with the way they live. But it does show that God and Jesus care about sinners and value them as people. (Thank God! Because let’s remember that we are all sinners! We are all in that same boat, regardless of our sin.)
Jesus looks beyond a sinner’s lifestyle and choices and sinfulness, and He sees the person deep within. The person worth getting to know, worth loving, worth forgiving, worth saving.
This does not mean He overlooks sinfulness or that the unrighteous will not be held accountable for it, but He sees them as more than just their sin. He sees them – He sees all of us - as people worth dying for, worth rescuing from themselves. And this includes the homosexual person.
Should we believers treat un-believers (should we sinners treat fellow sinners) with any less respect, kindness, grace, or love than that?
[Of course, I realize that the dilemma is that calling someone’s lifestyle “sin” sounds like the opposite of being loving. And sometimes – to sound more loving – we want to back off from that truth, soften it a lot.
But while Jesus does call us to love others, it doesn’t mean that we can deny the truth found in Scripture. His Word and His truth should be our guide for understanding how to love others. Not the other way around. Our love for other people should not determine how we view His Word and His truth. It’s love God first . . . then love others. And loving Him includes upholding His truth and honoring Him above all.
A bunch of pastors and Christian authors are changing their position on gay marriage. They now say that it’s okay. They even call it holy and God-ordained. They want to be inclusive and sound loving and not make their gay friends feel bad. (Yet, how will they feel when they stand before God and give an account for leading their gay friends eternally astray?)
One of them said that the reason he switched his view is because he wanted to get his head in line with his heart.
And that right there is the problem! He let his feelings dictate what he chose to believe and how he interpreted the Bible. He let his love for other people shape his love for God and how he lives out his faith.
This was Solomon’s downfall, too. In 1 Kings 11, we read that Solomon loved his foreign wives and he held fast to them, even though they worshipped other gods. And in time - because of their influence and because of his love for them - he began to turn from the One True God toward other gods. He let his love for other people alter his love for God. He let his feelings redefine God’s Truth. (And he didn’t get away with it. His family reaped the consequences for his actions.)
But once again, Scripture is so clear on this - all throughout it – that you have to do an awful lot of editing and ignoring to come up with the idea that God approves of homosexuality.
But for those of us who are willing to remain true to Scripture, we will have to find a way to balance it with still being loving to all of the people that God loves. And I’m not sure yet the best way to do that in a culture that is so divided and angry. I’m not sure yet what’s the best way to live out Scripture while still reaching out to those who have chosen to reject God’s truths.
But I do know that we don’t have the option of changing what God says. We can disagree with the Bible or we can choose to ignore the Bible, but we cannot change the Bible to fit our own ideas.]
God provides for the unrighteous, just as He does for the righteous, the same kind of basic care. And we are to give to anyone who asks, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to let them get away with wrong-doing (to a degree and within reason), without retaliation.
And yet, we fear that if we are too nice to them or interact with them too much or sell them a wedding cake they ordered from us, it might be construed as supporting their lifestyle and it will encourage the spread of godlessness.
I don’t know. Does it? Will it? Is the only right answer to refuse to sell them wedding products? Is that the best way to show that we don’t support gay marriage? I don’t know.
Yes, I support the right of private business owners to refuse to do anything that violates their faith. But it does make me wonder where all this will end. Christian cab-drivers refusing to drive a pregnant lesbian to the hospital? Christian doctors refusing to treat a gay patient? Refusing to sell craft supplies for a gay engagement party? Refusing to share a cup of sugar with a gay neighbor who is making dinner for their family?
If my unmarried neighbor was moving in with his girlfriend and they needed help getting some furniture into their house, should I say “No, I cannot help you move in together because it’s a sin to live together before you are married”? Would helping them move furniture mean that I am helping them sin or condoning their choice? (I am asking this for real, not rhetorically. Would it? Because I’m still not sure what to think about all this.) Should we refuse to sell contraception to unmarried people because they shouldn’t be having sex anyway, according to God’s laws?
Are their choices any of our business? To what extent, considering that we share a country and that God might discipline a rebellious country? (Ideally, a country would live according to God’s laws and standards, especially if they want His blessings and don’t want to face His discipline. But what if that’s not possible? What’s the next best thing?)
How should we treat teen mothers, people who cheat on their taxes, prison inmates, drug addicts, women who have had abortions, etc.? Do we shun them, too, for fear of looking like we condone their choices and lifestyles?
Yes, there is a degree to which we have to separate ourselves from the world around us and take a stand against moral decay and blatant sinfulness. But there is a degree to which we have to get in there, into the mess, to live alongside the people of this world, to treat them with love, kindness, mercy, and grace, and to do all we can to draw them to Christ, even while we disagree with their choices. And I’m not sure the best way to do that, but there’s got to be a way. Jesus did it. And if He could do it, so can we.
I can’t say for sure what He would do, but I do know that with the woman at the well (John 4), He never told her she was a sinner or scolded her for her lifestyle or pulled back from her or treated her differently than anyone else.
Actually, He did treat her differently. He reached out to her, whereas others probably shamed her (which would explain why she was at the well alone in the middle of the day, instead of going when all the other women went).
Knowing that she was a broken person in need of healing, He approached her. He risked breaking social norms by even speaking to her. But He did not scold or condemn her. He simply stated the truth that she had five husbands and was now living with a man she was not married to. He stated the facts about her life and told her that He was the Messiah and offered her everything He had to give – love, salvation, forgiveness. And then He left it up to her to come to the conclusion that she was living in sin and needed to change.
He didn’t make it about a change of behavior, but about a change of the heart first. Clean the inside of the cup before tackling the outside. He didn’t force His truths on her or wait till she got her act together to reach out to her in love. He tried to draw her with simple truth and kindness, instead of turning His back on her or trying to shame her or trying to push her out of her sinful lifestyle.
And the woman caught in adultery in John 8? The religious leaders wanted to punish her, to give her what her actions deserved. But Jesus stood up for her. He gave her back her life instead of applying the required, appropriate penalty. He stopped the throwing of stones, even though He alone had every right to throw them.
It didn’t mean that He condoned her choices (He challenged her to leave her life of sin), although I am sure it might look like that to the religious leaders. But I think He cared more about where she was going than where she had been. He cared more about the potential for her to get her life right than He did about what she had done wrong. He cared more about making sure everyone else minded their own business than He did about “dishing out justice” and impressing the religious snobs. And He cared more about reaching past her broken, sinful condition and touching her heart and offering her grace, mercy, forgiveness, and healing than He did about the fact that His actions might be interpreted by the religious leaders as supporting or excusing her immorality.
I fear that we Christians, in an effort to stand firmly on God’s Truth, can fail sometimes at seeing and loving the person behind the sin. We fail at extending grace, mercy, kindness, and respect because we don’t want to look like we have compromised God’s Word or gone soft on sin. We slam the door on sinners of various kinds and turn away from them so that it doesn’t look like we agree with their choices. We throw stones at others, when we should be shielding them from stones.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t call sin what it is. After all, remember that Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s life of sin; He challenged her to leave it. It just means that it’s not our job to dish out punishment for sins or to condemn, criticize, and shun those who sin. For we are all sinners. We are all on the same level at the foot of the cross. We all need grace and mercy and love and forgiveness. And we need to extend it to others also, to draw them to Christ. We need to love the person while still upholding God’s truth.
People are dying every day in their sin. And souls are being lost forever. And here we are . . . fighting over wedding cakes.
Whereas Jesus would be fighting for their souls.
I think that, yes, we need to stand up for the biblical truth that God speaks against homosexuality in the Bible. But . . . I don’t know . . . do we need to take it further and refuse to sell them a cake or deny them some other product or service because they are violating God’s laws? Don’t we all violate God’s laws at some point? Won’t God be the judge of all of us in the end?
I don’t know, but I don’t think that we have to be overly concerned that our kindness will look like we are condoning godlessness, for even God shows kindness to all without partiality. And Jesus stood up for those in sin, reaching out to them in the hopes that they might find something in Him worth believing in and might change the way they are living.
And besides, God knows our hearts. He knows whether we are making them a wedding cake because we support their lifestyle (which would be wrong) or if we are making them a wedding cake because that’s what they ordered and because they have a right to buy cake and because we don’t have to judge their reasons for wanting that cake and because we are treating them with the same respect and kindness that we show others and because we are treating them the way that we would like to be treated (which is perfectly acceptable, I think).
And on the other hand - to be fair - He knows if our refusal to make them a wedding cake is because we want to do right in His eyes and uphold His standards and honor and glorify Him above all. And I think that would be fine, too. In God’s eyes. Not the world’s, of course.
But the point is, I don’t think there’s only one right way to handle this dilemma, only one possible response. I think there can be many different, godly responses to it. And we need to listen to how the Lord is guiding us, if ever we face a situation like this.
But I do not think that we have to be overly concerned that He might think we are turning against Him if we are kind and generous to everyone, even to those in sin. Because He is kind and generous to everyone, even to those in sin. I don’t think we have to worry too much that our kindness might cause godlessness to spread. It might just be that our kindness causes people to see Jesus in us.
I remember when the “Gay Olympics” was coming through our town and how people were talking about picketing, holding up signs about how homosexuality is wrong and all that. But our pastor got up one Sunday and suggested a different idea.
He said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if, instead of picketing, we showed the love of Christ by handing out bottles of water to the participants?” I thought that was so beautiful. It didn’t have anything to do with condoning or supporting their lifestyle, but with loving them and being kind to them, in Jesus’s name.
Of course, something like that walks a dangerously thin line between showing Jesus’ love and looking like we are supporting their lifestyle (which would confuse those watching us), so it would have to be balanced somehow with God’s truth, maybe by making little Bibles available for the taking or by offering to pray with (or silently praying for) each person that takes a water-bottle or just by giving an honest answer when asked a question about our faith. We don’t have to force truth on people, but we do have to share it and stand firmly on it ourselves.
For one reason or other, we never did end up passing out bottles of water. But I still loved that our pastor had a different response than “Let’s go hold up signs condemning those gay people for how sinful they are!” Honestly, I can't imagine that Jesus would be holding up signs either. I tell ya, if there was someone there with a sign every time we all sinned, we would always have a sign waving in our faces, reminding us of how we break God’s laws.
We are called to spread the truth in love and gentleness. But sometimes we focus more on truth than love (the angry, fist-waving sign-holders). And sometimes we focus more on love than truth (the churches who are editing God’s Word to please the people). But there is a balance there somewhere, a way to share the truth while still being loving. And that is when people will see Jesus in us.
But as I said, I don’t know if there is just one “right” way to handle it. Scripture does not spell out how to balance “love your neighbor” and “have nothing to do with godlessness.” So it will probably look different for each person.
Maybe for one Christian, it means selling regular cakes to gay people but not wedding cakes. Maybe for another, it’s okay to sell wedding cakes because gay people have a right to buy cake, too. Maybe for one, it’s okay to sell cakes but not to write any pro-homosexual messages on it that the customer orders. Maybe one Christian will take a stand and say “No” and risk legal repercussions. Maybe one will do their job without moral qualms. And maybe one will change their policies or close up shop in order to not have to do anything that violates their faith.
And once again, let me stress that I do think private businesses should have the right to politely refuse to do anything that violates their values, to say “I can’t help you with that, but here is the name of someone who can.” And I think business owners who have faced persecution and penalties for saying “No, I can’t do that because of my faith” will be blessed by God for their faithfulness and find reward in heaven.
Take time to pray over it, if ever you face a situation like that. There is a line for each person, a balance. Let the Holy Spirit guide you to know where that line is for you.
We need to live the Word in our own lives, stand up for His truth, and do our best to draw – not push – other people into the kingdom of God, being living examples of His love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, and grace.
“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:11-14)
[Update: I take it back. I don't think Christians should be okay with making wedding cakes for gay weddings for this reason alone. Those on the "other side" are making it impossible to cooperate or to be tolerant of each other. If they don't get their way, they sue and slander and tear you down and get you fired and destroy your business. All because they couldn't handle being told "no". You give them an inch, they take a mile. You appear weak, they attack you more. You try to accommodate them, they take and take and take and never give anything back. And I think it's best to not give any ground to bullies or to appease them in any way! If we do not demand our right to say "no" and exercise our right to say "no" then we will easily lose our right to say "no." And society needs to know that we won't tolerate that! They have taken their stands against the Lord and now they are seeking to destroy those who stand for Him. And it's time for us to be bold and strong, to lovingly but firmly stand for Truth and for our rights. I wish we could all just co-exist, but that's not possible when "the other side" wants to wipe you out!]
As long as we are looking at differences between Christians and the world, there is one more issue to consider: persecution. The more different we look from the world and the more “black-and-white” our beliefs, the more hated and persecuted we will be. And this shouldn’t surprise us.
John 15:18-19: (Jesus’ words) “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
In America, we are fortunate to not usually face violent persecution. But more and more, (especially in the legal system, the school system, and the workplace) we are facing more and more hostility towards our beliefs and our right to live out our beliefs. Kids are being harassed at school for wearing crosses, bringing Bibles, writing papers about Jesus, or saying “God bless America” over the loud speaker. Business owners are facing legal troubles for running their private businesses according to their biblical convictions. Laws are being made to silence Christian viewpoints. And someday, we may find that even quoting certain Bible verses has become a “hate crime.”
I think one of the biggest problems we face in society today is the idea of “tolerance.” In our society (and this really, REALLY bugs me), we have completely misconstrued what tolerance is. In our day and age, if you do anything less than fully accept, support, and condone someone else’s choices and views, they cry out, “Intolerance! Intolerance! You offended me! Intolerance!”
The labels of “intolerance” and “you offended me” are being used as clubs to beat others - especially Christians or those with strong moral views about right and wrong - into agreeing with questionable, controversial, and immoral choices/beliefs. To make them ashamed of their differing viewpoints and to shut them up. Which is especially damaging now that “intolerance” and “being offended” are becoming the basis for lawsuits.
But this is not what tolerance is. Tolerance is not about forcing others to agree with our way of believing, whether it’s the world forcing Christians to agree with them or Christians forcing others to see things our way. Tolerance is about agreeing to disagree. It’s accepting that someone else can make up their own mind about something and that we can keep our own views about something, and yet we can still live alongside each other. (As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.)
The way I see it, God has built into all of us the ability to choose Him or to choose against Him. He allows us to obey or disobey, to see things His way or not. This does not mean that all choices are equal in His sight or that all are right and acceptable. It just means that God gave us the right to sin or to live according to His standards.
Tolerance is accepting responsibility for our choices and letting others accept responsibility for theirs, knowing that we will all stand before God someday to give account for them. God will judge in the end, and we will all face the result of our decisions.
Christians should not bash people over the head with the Bible or force them to abide by God’s laws. In fact, sometimes people are offended by us for real reasons, because of the unkind ways we treat them. Of course, we need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong. But we also need to show respect for other people’s right to agree or disagree. And we need to love! But it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to work in other people’s hearts and to call them to faith or to correct a bad choice or belief.
I think that when we are sharing God’s truth with the world, we should do it in such a way that they say, “I don’t agree with them and I don’t like what they are saying, but they say it with such respect, love, and gentleness that I just can’t be mad at them.”
[And if I may say something here to those who feel it’s their job to force God’s truth on others, screaming out Bible verses at people, fighting with them over truth, speaking up about God’s truth to a hostile crowd: It’s not always your job to do that. Remember what Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 10:14: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” What He is saying is that if someone refuses to listen to the truth, let them have their way. Hand them over to their own hardness. Do not try to force them to hear you or to agree with you. Let them have the right to be resistant and to ignore the truth.
I think this is good advice for many of us in this culture nowadays, especially for those who are making themselves into targets for speaking the truth. You don’t need to step into any traps that the world lays for you or to make yourself a target for those who are just waiting to lash out at God’s truth. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) This is Jesus Himself telling us that we don’t need to share His truth with people who only want to tear it and us to shreds.
Most Americans know what the Bible says about certain issues, and they don’t want to hear us hammering them with biblical truth anymore. Talk to those who will listen. Give answers to those who ask questions. Live your life in a way that reflects Jesus to others. But leave those who want to be resistant to God’s truth alone. They will be responsible for their own hardness, and He will deal with them later.]
And on the other hand, society should not force Christians to hide or to go against their faith. They should not force them to deny what the Bible says. I mean, seriously . . . would they pull that junk with any other faith out there? Would they force people of other faiths to deny what their holy writings say in order to please society or force them to violate their faith's values? Of course not. They only do this with Christians. And yet they call themselves "tolerant" and "open-minded" and "accepting." Hypocrites.
I really wish we could all do a better job of tolerating each other more.
But as I said, as Christians start to look more and more different and to set themselves apart from the values of the world, we will be hated more and persecuted more. (And if the world is loving you too much, you should ask yourself if you are being faithful to the Lord and the Word. Sometimes you can tell the level of spiritual maturity and faithfulness of other Christians - especially those in the public eye - by how much the world loves and celebrates them.)
Are you ready for the persecution? Are you strong enough in your convictions to take a stand? To be called names and criticized harshly, even though all you are doing is trying to be faithful to the Lord? How do we balance love with truth? How do we balance sharing God’s message and exposing the “fruitless deeds of darkness” with people’s free will and their right to decide for themselves? How do we gracefully bear with opposition and persecution and yet firmly stand our ground? Do you know the Word well enough to know what stand to take? If you don’t, it will be all too easy to compromise, to sit back and watch the scroll being burned, to buy into the “tickle your ears” messages.
Christians, get ready!
So how do we balance the two things – being in the world and yet not of the world? Being part of God’s Kingdom while residents on earth? Living among “scroll-burners” without compromising our faith? Loving our neighbor without encouraging godlessness? Being gracious while calling sin “sin”? Maintaining a strong faith while living in a world where people water down the Gospel and attack those who stand up for God’s Truth, and where fellow Christians are growing lukewarm, lazy, and comfortable?
Do we live in remembrance that we are aliens on this earth, passing through for a short time? That there is a Holy God watching all we do and that one day we will give an account to Him for what we did or what we failed to do? And how can we live in such a way as to draw others to God, without repelling them by acting “better or superior” and without compromising our values and blending in with them?
19. In what ways might a Christian be persecuted for their faith? Examples from life? What are some godly ways we can respond?
44. In what ways does this section challenge you? And are there any other thoughts or questions that you want to add?