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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Cheap versus Costly Grace

It would be wrong to assume that all if not most churches overreact to homosexuality as if it were a landmine, ready to explode. In truth, the churches most influential in our land today seem to have detonated the issue altogether. How? By avoiding it.

Rick Warren, arguably one if not the most powerful Christian leaders in the USA, was recently described in a Time magazine cover story as avoiding ‘sin issues’ like homosexuality for less controversial ones like poverty and AIDS in Africa.

Perhaps the strength of ‘seeker-sensitive’ churches is also its weakness. Gather people on the basis of what is inoffensive, and lay aside the topics that rouse and challenge the Christian consumer. Certainly homosexuality is one, especially if preaching a transformational view for individuals and a cautionary one for those in a culture intent on normalizing homosexuality.

But in the age of ‘gay marriage’, how much longer can churches cease to give a clear and redemptive answer to the question of homosexuality?

A muddled response permeates ‘emergent’ churches—a loose coalition of youthful post-modern believers. In their amazing book, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be: Moody, 2008)), Kluck and De Young expose the persistently ambiguous response of emergent thinkers to homosexuality.

For example, Brian McClaren all but mimics liberal Protestants of the seventies who initiated the still raging battles for same-sex blessings and gay ordination when he says about gay unions: “We are not sure if or where lines are to be drawn…” Another thinker in this arena, Tony Jones, mused: “The very nature of theology is conversation and dialogue, not safeguards and boundaries for historic orthodoxy…”

In the emergent world, an open-ended, ‘who knows?’ approach to those with same-sex attraction symbolize a new generation so committed to tolerance in sexual matters that they have nearly lost the capacity to know and apply biblical truth to them.

Is this not the wrong kind of tolerance for which Jesus judged the Church of Thyatira? Her sin was not out and out blessing of sexual immorality, but rather a tolerance of those in her midst who did, namely Jezebel, ‘who by her teaching misleads my servants into sexual immorality…” (Rev. 2:20). She incurred death upon herself and her children.

Perhaps ‘emergents’ are still reacting to the fundamentalism of their youth in which sex, especially homosexuality, seemed a scapegoat for smug hardliners. To be sure, we have much to repent of. But in our awakening, we read the paper, counsel our friends, look within and discover that the image of God is in shambles. We need help; our gender and sexual selves need fortifying and defense from good Christian theologians.

The gates protecting humanity have been burned in the fire of addiction and perversion. In that mess, none of us are innocents, or solely victims of heavy-handed religion. We are damaged and we do damage simply by being members of an idolatrous culture.

In that way, seeker sensitive, emergent churches are right in drawing people with kindness; they are wrong if they will not answer a culture so messed up it is unsure whether gays should marry.

Grace has meaning only to the degree that we know the truth—the truth that defines God’s intent and boundaries for our broken sexual humanity. We Christian consumers need to hear again the words of Bonhoeffer when he says:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and Incarnate…

We poured out rivers of grace without end, but the call to rigorously follow Christ was seldom heard. What happened to the church whose teaching watched so carefully over the boundary between the church and the world, over costly grace? What happened to Luther’s warnings against a proclamation of the Gospel which made people secure in their godless lives? Cheap grace was very unmerciful to our Protestant church…

Costly grace is the grace that must be sought again and again. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our life, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and it is grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son.”A Testament of Freedom

Honor Marriage for the Good of All. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“O God, forgive us for cheapening grace. Make it costly for us once more. May we Your church awaken to the damage done and dare to offend those who refuse the grace that calls them to arise out of the chaos.”

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Exposing True Lies

I scoured the obituary of the well-known lawyer, a Christian who in the sixties and seventies had successfully defending laws protecting Christianity and prohibiting rights for gays. Had he lived today, he would have fought hard for Prop. 8.

What stunned me was a small note at the end of his story. Toward the end of his life, he had been arrested in a public park for soliciting an undercover male cop.

Have we seen this before? More than we would like to admit: a Republican senator who boasted about family values but could neither stay out of the airport men’s room nor admit he had a homosexual addiction problem once caught; the conservative family man—Ted Haggard—who led the National Association of Evangelicals while fostering a drug-addled relationship with a male prostitute for several years before being exposed.

Nothing new under the sun. On the one hand, truthful men, who on the other hand never faced and dealt with profound conflicts of desire in their own lives.

Such is the divide in many conservative Christian communities, both spiritual and political. Their high truth quotient is not matched by the reality that truthful people have problems that require the merciful care of the community.

That involves grace, and much space for everyone involved to admit how deep and painful and shameful homosexuality is. Not out there in the godless world but in here, the Bible-believing congregation where beloved men and women face that conflict of desire daily. And if they don’t face it daily before spouses, and friends, and pastors, guess what? They will act it out in hotel rooms, airport stalls, and public parks.

Maybe the very churches that most support Proposition 8 also perpetuate the myth that the problem isn’t ours, the Church’s. That is a lie. Homosexual tendencies are equal opportunities offenders. A tendency may not be sin, but in many of these conservative communities there still exists little room to say: ‘Hey, I am in conflict. Help me!’

Rich in truth, these communities remain oblivious to the veins of brokenness that lie beneath their ordered biblical world. That very split then fuels an ordinate disdain for homosexuality. It is the same conflict that undergirds the gay community: knowing something is wrong, not admitting it, and then coping with the conflict by asserting their ‘rightness.’

The difference with the conservative church? We do have truth on our side—the unchanging design of the Creator. What many of these communities lack is their need for a Redeemer, right where they hurt. And nothing hurts more than the admission of how painful and deep homosexual tendencies are amid the believing community.

Yet that is where redemption begins: an admission of broken ground, dirt capable of drinking in rain from heaven. Blind eyes, yet critical and squinting, finally opened to the truth of what is going on: Jesus descending into this family’s disordered life!

No other way to real order, real healing, the raising up, in fits and starts, of the true image of God in our midst. It transforms truth for conservatives from law on page or ballot to an earthy, full-bodied miracle of God’s mercy.

If the aforementioned figures in the conservative world would have held fast to their convictions while dealing openly with their weaknesses, we would not only be spared countless scandals, we would have an unshakable message of truth tempered by mercy.

First a message for the conservative church culture: a courageous model for our young people of how to actually face and walk with dignity out of homosexuality. Then for the gay community: ‘Jesus provides a kinder, gentler way. For all who seek that Way, let us walk it together.’

Perhaps our political convictions would be less shrill and self-satisfied, our declarations tempered by the truth of our own dependency on grace. That would strengthen our witness of God’s holiness and design. It would please the Lord.

Honor Marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with Me.” (Rev. 3: 17-22)

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Nature Revolts: Consequences of Gay Marriage

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  (Pr. 14:34)

‘Gay marriage’ is serious business. More than protecting gays from cruel and unusual punishment, it celebrates them. It is the ultimate expression of normalizing homosexuality in any culture. In so doing, ‘gay marriage’ breaks natural boundaries.

That breakdown is costly for any culture that upholds ‘gay marriage’.

I am conservative in ascribing ‘judgment’ to any land due to its poor political decisions. But one thing I know. There is a consequence to sin. It does not go well for any land that shakes its fist at the Creator. Simply put, creation revolts. The moral ozone layer breaks down and affords little protection to the created.

I shuddered at the video clip of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom as he strutted around City Hall after the Supreme Court decision last May. (He was the man who orchestrated ‘gay marriage’ in CA—by marrying gays illegally in Feb. 2003, several of whom in turn went before the liberal CA Supreme Court in May 2008.) Newsom orchestrated the whole thing. That is his boast. He announced with supreme arrogance that his ‘gay marriage’ victory in CA was unstoppable—that it would go throughout the world.

My spirit trembled as I thought of the consequences of this ‘victory’ upon CA. I considered her offering to the world thus far—the exports of Hollywood and the sexual ‘diversity’ of San Francisco. These two great port cities have celebrated and mass-produced images of perversion that have permeated the earth. And seduced it. I recall my friend Greg commented on the profound impact ‘Brokeback Mountain ‘ had on his country, Indonesia; in its western romanticism, the film seduced the nation and broke its natural boundaries.

Surely CA has already foreshadowed in part what John the Apostle describes in Rev. 17 as the Prostitute Queen of Babylon from whom “all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The Kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries…In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as a queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn…” (Rev. 17:3, 7)

Oblivious to her adulteries, the breaking of natural boundaries, California risks the consequences. Isaiah warns in Ch. 30: “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance but not by My Spirit, heaping sin upon sin” (v.1)…

“This sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. It will break in pieces like pottery, shattering so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from the hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.” (vs. 13, 14)

I believe that creation is already warning CA. A friend of mine who works for the Department of Public Works in San Francisco described what happened to the city during Newsom’s first round of same-sex weddings in Feb. 2003:

“About one hour or so after the ceremonies started, a storm of major proportions arose unexpectedly. We had an enormous amount of rainfall, so much so that the sewer system failed. Manhole covers were shot into the air by 6-foot water spouts, and there was major flooding. Trees, power-lines, property and infrastructure sustained major damage by the storm that dumped rain at about one-foot an hour.”

More seriously, just a week or so after the Supreme Court decision last May, “the single largest fire event in CA history” (NY Times) was initiated by a flurry of lightning bolts that struck CA wilderness just inland from San Francisco. The fire raged uncontained throughout the summer.

Today all eyes are on CA. Will she restrain herself in this hour? Will the righteous in the land arise and curb her excesses? I tremble as I consider the global impact CA’s ‘gay marriage’ decision will have. I tremble even further as I consider the possible destruction she could incur for her strutting about on the world stage like Gavin Newsom. Like a Prostitute Queen.

Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“O God have mercy on this land You love. Rouse the saints in this hour, O God. Honor the repentance of those who know what is being loosed in the state. Open our eyes to her global influence, to what is being exported throughout the world! May the blood not be on our hands! Honor our turning back to You on behalf of CA. Cancel the blight of ‘gay marriage’ in this land. In wrath, remember mercy.”

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God Honors Righteousness in the Land

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Pr.14:34)

When we uphold marriage, we uphold His image and the boundaries that protect that image. As we have seen, marriage represents Him in the duality of male and female. Boundaries that protect marriage guard the integrity of that whole image, as well as the children produced by it.

We are a people in a particular place and land. To protect marriage where we live is to guard righteousness in the land. When we uphold marriage on behalf of the state or nation we live in, we honor His righteousness. God in turn honors His righteousness by blessing the land. God and His righteousness exalt that state or nation.

Loving what God loves about marriage, honoring His image in the land—this is something that results from reverencing God, from possessing something akin to a holy fear of honoring what He honors.

I spoke with a bright man yesterday about why he supported gay marriage. He spoke eloquently about the rights of gay people and why after all they should not have the same rights as straights, etc. I realized that for all his justice rap, he had absolutely no fear of God. God did not figure in at all. As far as he was concerned, God and His desire for people were wholly immaterial to the debate.

Christians do not have that option. We have a holy awareness of God’s image—how He has chosen to represent Himself–and an equally holy fear of God when that image is tampered with by mere humans. I am grateful for that fear; I take seriously the biblical witness that God hates the violation of His image through homosexual behavior.

On many occasions it was not mercy that prevented me from violating His image—it was holy fear. I respect God’s design and the way that design protects all living. I respect Him; I respect His righteousness and in turn His hatred for the effects of my sin upon others more than I delight in sin’s pleasures.

For me or for any mere created being to cross sacred lines undercuts righteousness in the land. Similarly, to honor those lines that guard His image honors God and His righteousness in the land. I can say joyfully with the Psalmist: “You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your Name”! (Ps 62:5)

God has given that fear and righteousness to His people, that we might honor Him in the land. He in turn blesses the land. Many in the land may not know Him yet. But they benefit (even though they may protest against it) from the decisions of God’s people to preserve what is godly in the land. All citizens benefit from God blessing the land.

“I will listen to what God the Lord will say: He promises peace to His people, but let them not return to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in the land…The Lord will indeed give what is good, and the land will yield its harvest.” (Ps 85: 8, 9, 12)

I represent God and His righteousness where I live. I will thus seek to stand for righteousness there. In the land. I shall seek to preserve what is just and true, e.g. marriage, while initiating new advances of His justice and compassion in that land.

It is God’s land. The land is not the church, nor the new earth as it will be under Jesus’ ultimate rule. But the earth must still give an answer to God and His righteousness. Those who know Him must give that answer loud and clear on behalf of marriage.

Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Whenever life becomes oppressive, we just leap into the air with a bold kick and soar relieved into the ‘eternal fields’. We leap over the present. We disdain the earth; we are better than it…We cannot stand it, because the earth is stronger than we and we want to be better than the evil earth. So we extricate ourselves from it…However Christ does not lead us in a religious flight from the world to other worlds beyond; rather, He gives us back to the earth as its loyal children.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom.

‘Father, renew our vision of Your righteousness and how marriage is one expression of that righteousness. Grant us holy fear for what You love and for what You don’t. Empower us to stand on behalf of You image and the boundaries that protect it.

May You be exalted by Your people as we arise in this hour to honor marriage.

As a result, may You and Your righteousness be exalted in the land.’

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Restraint and Refuge

As our culture embraces perversion as normal, we as the church must provide a sure path for those seeking the better way. That involves clear teaching on God’s design and redemption for those with same-sex attraction; more practically, it means opening our arms and hearts. The church must become the refuge for gays plucked from the fire. We must grant them a fighting chance to become reoriented around Jesus.

“Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people” (Is. 57:14)…”I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth” (Is. 42:16)…And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way.”

(Is. 35:8)

God is using the gay marriage crisis. He wants to wake up the church to what is going on in the culture. He alerts us so that we can be ready to receive those He is calling off the path of destruction and onto His sure ground. We know we must restrain wickedness through the likes of Proposition 8. Will we also be a refuge for those plucked out of that wickedness?

Cindy, a female minister in a large urban center, was ready. She received Living Waters training and was about to start a group in her church. A woman high on drugs named Kate, alongside her lesbian lover, stumbled into a night meeting at the church. As a teen she had been abused for years by a high-ranking public official; the legal battle that ensued destroyed her young faith. She sought refuge in chemicals and same-sex sensuality. But she wanted Jesus.

Her lover wasn’t serious about the ‘God-thing’. But Kate was. She was embraced by the church, transformed by what God did through Living Waters (she needed a couple of rounds!), set boundaries with friends who did not support her commitment to holiness, and eventually became a dynamic minister in her own right.

God wants His little ones back! The church as a loving home can be snatched from one temporarily. But Jesus never stops reaching. He does so through wise and merciful saints like Cindy, who have made the church a refuge for those in transition.

Cindy looks for those seeking the better way. The prophet Joel describes them as:“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. The day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14) We fast and pray, then look out for those in the ‘valley.’

Many have been embraced by the gay community but know that they are not yet home. Home for them lies in Jesus and His design for their lives. No amount of sensual and emotional solidarity with one’s own gender can fill that void. Only a community founded on Jesus can establish those in the ‘valley’ on sure ground.

The day of the Lord is a day of judgment, a dark hour for those who have turned away from Jesus. Joel writes that “the sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars will no longer shine. The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble.” (v.15, 16a)

A land given over to perversion invites God’s judgment. Unredeemed darkness in the creation provokes the Creator. It provoked Him so much that He (Father and Son) endured agony to win us back. Before the final judgment, He implores those in the valley to return to Himself, to secure refuge under the shadow of His cross.

“But the Lord will be a refuge for His people, a stronghold for His own…” (Joel 3:16b)

Will we, the church, become that refuge, a welcoming community of that cross? The ‘Kates’ of this world have no other hope. In their hearts, they already know that only Jesus can secure them in love. Let us seek to embody that love as the people of Christ. Multitudes depend on us to be that living, welcoming refuge.

So we seek to restrain wickedness while offering refuge for those turning from it.

Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Father, open our eyes to the multitude in the valley of decision. Help us to hear their cries and see their need, their supreme need for communion with You. And let us become that refuge, a living fortress endued with love more powerful than the seduction of this age. Make us a stronghold of mercy that liberates those captive by ungodly fear, shame, and perversion.”

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