Tag Archives: culture

Where Is The Middle Ground?

ropeThis is the question when it comes to sexuality issues for many in the United Methodist Church. For decades our church has wrestled with this question and tried to find the safe place to stand that holds both Scripture and culture together.  I am not writing to those who wish to rehash all of that.

I am writing to the majority of pastors and churches who wish to go on like this issue won’t affect them or their churches, to those who want to keep their heads down and focus on their local church, to those who don’t want to inform their congregations of denominational troubles because of the conflict it will bring.

I am writing to let you know, as politely as I can, the middle ground doesn’t exist anymore. Actually, I doubt it ever did.  We were only made to believe that it did because we were not forced to make a decision.  We could go on doing what we do at the local level and hide our dysfunctional denomination.  We could table the issue, talk in code, manipulate words, ignore the elephant and continue to dialog with a vain hope of discovering middle ground.

There is none.

The culture won’t allow middle ground. Sexuality has become peoples’ identity.  It is the core of who we are.  Our uniqueness, our distinctiveness, our individuality springs from our sexuality.  God made us this way and there is no ability, reason, or need to conform to an ancient standard.  To say otherwise is to deny our rights, our freedom, our God-given being.  We define marriage, parenting, and family in new terms that must be accepted, respected, and taught without question.

The Scriptures won’t allow middle ground either. They are clear about sexuality.  They state that our identity is much grander than our sexuality.  Our identity is found in Christ and He is remaking us into His image.  That process is called sanctification or, as Jesus put it, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Our sexuality has a context that is not to be desecrated or debased.  Throughout Scripture the message is clear: The context is within marriage between a man and a woman.  Anything other is to be left behind.

The church has reached the point of decision because the culture and Scripture do not coexist on this issue. One is right, and therefore, one is wrong. General Conference is only a few months away and again these two positions will clash.  Only this time, there will be no fence to sit on, no place to keep your head down, no middle ground.

The United Methodist Church will be the first large denomination to address this issue since the Supreme Court ruling on June 26th of this year.  Do you think the culture will allow the church to maintain its current position without a fight?  And do you think the news cameras will not be there to cover it?  And do you think your church won’t hear calls of bigotry and intolerance?  And do you think your people will not be confronted on social media by friends and family as to why they belong to a hateful church?  Don’t be fooled.  The culture won’t allow it.

When that happens, which way will you go? It’s the broad road or the narrow way, the rock or the sand, the sheep or the goats, the wheat or the chaff.  The middle ground is gone.  The time for choosing has come.

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Called To Be Strangers We Are

star wars yodaWho wants to be Yoda?  Small in stature and green to boot.  He’s bald and got hobgoblin ears.  Powerful in the force is he, but English syntax is not his strong suit.  Let’s face it, Yoda is strange and nobody wants to be strange.

We really want to fit it.  As much as we might desire to be different from others and express ourselves, we generally express ourselves in the same manner.   I’ve spent most of my adult life working with teenagers.  Now I have two of my own and I can tell you –  standing out is not high on their priority list.  From the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, even what time they show up at an event is about not standing out.  And what is true of teenagers is true of adults.  Adults, though less concerned about their music, are more concerned with opinions and being thought us as “open-minded” and “intelligent”.  I’ve seen grown men and women deny their faith in order to fit in.  Truth be told, I’ve seen churches, even entire denominations give up their Biblical identity just to be part of the crowd.

I’ve read and heard people talk about America being “post-Christian” for about 10 years, but I didn’t really believe it until this past election.  I believe them now.  After watching several denominations take unbiblical stances on marriage and sexuality, remain silent on issues of right and wrong, give way to political correctness, and concede the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, it is no surprise the culture has moved in the direction of paganism in the name of tolerance.  And, unfortunately, many adult Christians have gone right along with the culture in order to fit in.

The time has come for the church to remember who we are and what we are called to be.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

God has always made His people distinct so that they would be different from the culture around them.  The Bible has a word for being set apart for God.  The word is “holy.”  Fitting in with the world has never been an option.  In fact, a sure sign that you are missing it, is that you go right along with the world.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Jesus said his disciples were in the world, but not of it.  I am afraid we have forgotten who we are.  And by forgetting our set apart nature, Christians have failed to be salt and light in this world.  We have failed to declare the truth about who God is and live by His Holy Spirit.  That is why the culture around us is deteriorating exponentially. 

After Peter writes this resume for  Christians, in the next breath he says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…”  He just called us Yoda.  People should be looking at Christians like we are from another planet.  They should see in us a holiness that is not from these parts.  Any concept of doing what the world does in order to fit in is at odds with being a Christian.  It’s time for each of us to examine ourselves.    Are we trying to fit in with the culture around us?  Are we, in order to fit in, sacrificing our identity and denying our Lord?  James, 4:4 asks, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God?”  Have we forgotten who God has called us to be?

I believe we are living in a time where the difference between following Christ and and fitting in with the norms of the culture will be stark.  Issues and life choices are going to be light and darkness.  Fitting in for Christians is not an option any longer.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” 

Even in Star Wars, Yoda is strange.  Have you ever noticed another Yoda?  There are plenty of Ewoks, Wookies, humans, droids, but Yodas?  Aliens and strangers called to be we are.

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What Happens In December Stays In December

chrsitmas boxesI asked in my last post why our culture celebrates the birth of Jesus when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

I believe the answer is simple.  We do this because we live compartmentalized lives.  We have separate boxes for all the areas of our lives.  “This is my box for work, my box for home, friends, hobbies, church, etc.  We can move in and out of our boxes without any thought as to whether they are congruent.  There doesn’t need to be consistency from one sphere of life to another.  In fact, one box doesn’t even have to effect another.  We keep our lives divided up, nice and neat.  Much like the apps on a smart phone.  We’ll just open one when we need it and close it when we don’t.  To go one step further, we’ll take what we like of one compartment, and leave what we don’t like.  

We do that with Jesus.  We take Him out of the box for December, but as soon as January comes around – back in the box He goes.  What happens in December stays in December.

Reminds me of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby when he says, Dear baby Jesus“I like the baby Jesus.  You can pray to the bearded Jesus or the teenage Jesus if you want.  But I prefer the baby Jesus.”  Our culture prefers the baby Jesus.  We bring Him out once a year and place Him in the manger.  The baby Jesus is a good reminder that we need peace on earth and good will toward men.  We light a few candles, sing some familiar hymns, and then we put Jesus back in the box so we can get on with our lives.  We’ve visited our Jesus compartment for the year, now we can put Him away.  Yep, Away In A Manager: the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.  And we like it that way.

The culture likes Jesus that way because the baby Jesus does not require anything from us except a few oohs and awhhs and perhaps 60 minutes in a crowded church service on Christmas Eve.

The prophet Isaiah is one of the first to see who the Messiah is and he doesn’t compartmentalize Him.    In 9:6-7 he writes, For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end,  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

We like to hear that a child is born and a son is given.  And we love the names that He will be called.  They have a nice ring to them.  Especially when Handel sets them to music.  This is the Jesus we celebrate. 

But what’s this stuff about the government being on His shoulders?  Isn’t mentioning Jesus and government in the same sentence a violation of the constitution?  What’s the deal about His government increasing without end?  He is going to rule and establish justice and righteousness forever.  That sounds oppressive.  

Isaiah is letting us know there is no compartment box that is left untouched by Jesus.  No part of your life, my life, all of life that Jesus will not order and establish.  His rule and reign will continue to increase and spread.  He is King over the whole world.  Everything will be under His government and peace.  Jesus will order and establish judgment and justice in this world forever, without end.  God is zealous to make it so.

But the world and individuals in it are not so zealous.  We want His peace to increase without end, but not His government.  The problem with that is it’s a CH100000package deal.  The peace is a result of His government.  But the world does not want Jesus in charge.  A baby Jesus, no problem.  It’s very Hallmark. Wrap it up, put a bow on it, we’ll take it.  But a King increasing his reign without end, I’m sorry but that’s not going to work for us.  We like being in charge.

Have you ever had this thought: “I don’t want Jesus to be in charge of all my compartments.  He can have a few, but not all.  This is my kingdom, not His.  If I take Jesus out of the box and allow His government to increase with no end in my life, I will have to live differently.  I will have to surrender control.  He wants to be King over all of me without end?  That’s asking too much.”  And so, back in the box Jesus goes.

However, there are big problems with putting Jesus away with the Christmas decorations.  What do you think some might be?

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Christmas: Why the Big Deal?

christmas_christ_mangerAs a pastor, I have a confession.  I’ve been a bit confused about Christmas.  Why is this event such a big deal in our culture?  Why have stores been ready for this since mid-October?  Why are streets decorated with lights, houses have live trees inside, people are wearing tacky sweaters?  Why do kids get out of school for 2 weeks?  Why are radio stations playing that awful Paul McCartney song over and over?  What is all the fuss about?

I could understand if it was about a fat man in a red suit with flying reindeer breaking and entering all over the world in one night leaving gifts and eating cookies.  That would warrant a fuss in our culture for sure.  But even if it was, what would inspire that plump person to such activity? 

I get that we celebrate Christmas because it is the birth of Jesus.  But why is our culture so willing to celebrate the birth of a man they exclude, separate from, and ignore for the rest of the year?  That is what I’m confused about.  Why does our culture celebrate someone being born when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

We don’t mention him in public settings.  We don’t mention him at work.  We certainly don’t bring Him up in a school.  And God forbid, we talk about Him in the same breath as the government. 

I’d love to hear some answers if you have them.

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The Open-Minded Deception

Have you considered what it means to be “open-minded”?  How does this virtue in our culture relate to being a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Does the Scripture call us to be open-minded?  Most people want to be thought of as an open-minded person willing to accept or entertain new ideas from anyone at anytime.  But practically, how does an open-minded person say with integrity, “Jesus is Lord”?  How can they stand firm in the faith and be accepting of ideas and doctrines that are contrary to Scripture?

The Scripture talks about the mind and has specific things it is suppose to do.  We are to love the Lord with all our mind.  We are to have our mind renewed so that we can be transformed and different from the world.  We are to put on the mind of Christ.  And we are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus Christ. 

But if I am open-minded, how do I take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus Christ?  I cannot make my thoughts obedient to Christ if they go against what He teaches in His Word.  Those are the very thoughts I must make obedient.  The only way is to allow Jesus to have the final say.  It is His opinion on the matter that becomes the truth and authority I live by.  He is the standard and nothing can compromise it.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians with this very concern when he says, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”  (2 Cor. 11:2-4)

There is plenty of teaching in the church that asks for open-mindedness.  Redefining marriage and sexual purity are two of the biggest we face in our culture.  But I am afraid that we are being deceived and led astray by this so-called virtue.  Several churches have accepted a different gospel than the one preached in the Scriptures.

To be “open-minded” is really to be double-minded, or even triple-minded.  It is to hold a position that is really no position at all.  There is no place to stand.  James warns that those who are double-minded are like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  They are unstable in all they do (James 1:6-8).  That is a great picture of what it is like living by every new fad, ideology, or progressive doctrine that comes along.

Please don’t get the wrong idea.  I love to hear new ideas, perspectives, and thoughts.  We need to consider, evaluate and weigh all kinds of options.  However, for a disciple, each one must submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

If a Christian is not open-minded does that make him close-minded?  No, it makes him single-minded with a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. He is one who believes the Word of God and submits to its authority, especially with his mind.  This disciple has a mature and persevering faith no longer tossed by changing doctrines, theologies, ideologies, or fads.  He hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice.  The Word of God that stands forever becomes his rock.  That man built his house on the Rock.  And his house will stand. 

This is a hard word because it is not what the world so readily accepts.  Perhaps that is a good sign we are on the right path as disciples.  I encourage you to look at your thoughts on this subject and check out the Scriptures.  Are you standing firm in the faith or do you put up with a different gospel easily enough?  Every thought is to be made obedient to Christ.

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