Saturday, December 22, 2012


So much has happened in the past week.  The Newtown shootings are on everyone's mind approaching Christmas.  We live close to the city and our church serves many from that school. Immediately after, I felt really prompted to declare this:

Evil is fighting, and I think I understand the game plan, for out of this tragedy we will place more restrictions on our people driving further division. We will place stronger locks on our doors, furthering the loss of community, and we will further outsource to our government the ugly business of working with the evil people around us. When the only fix to this is to restore our love and community to every person around us. Placing boundaries around ourselves is not the answer for evil will find a way through them. Restoring our love for one another, even, nay especially, those we find challenging, restoring a strong sense of community, and restoring the spiritual strength of God's moral standards is the only solution to these problems. We cannot rely on the government to do these things. Only the Church has the power and source of strength needed to rise above. We must stop the hate, the vitriol, and the obsession with earthly things and live our lives as if we are in a spiritual battle for the lives of individuals, because we are. That is no longer a cliche. Lives are at stake. Wake up church. Work in us, Lord. Start with me.

So far we have seen legislation for more gun control, talk of stronger doors in schools, and more mental health oversight from the government.

I too have, and expect to continue to engage discussions about practical politics, but I do not want to forget the main issue.  Without real community change on a spiritual level, all the politics in the world will not help. We need to keep this as the real front issue.  Fill us Lord, with your Spirit and have us engage in loving your creation.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Love and sin and the Christian church

It would appear (at least by my facebook stream) that gay rights is the leading topic of the day, and that many of my Christian friends have decided that being gay today is basically akin to being black 60 years ago.

The running position is that the Bible does not talk about homosexuality, or that somehow those passages do not apply, and we cannot tell others how to live in this area. In 50 years we will look back and be ashamed that we had said, "We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit" because that sentiment is left to old guys who make great chicken.

We (and I am speaking to Christians at this point) fear, for sake of offending, calling sin, 'sin.'  This fear is justified.  The church is notoriously bad at finding a pet sin and responding really badly to that. If I were gay, I would fear the church. The immorality of not loving our fellow man is absolutely the same as being black 60 years ago and for that the church in general should be ashamed.

If you are reading this and you are gay, then the message I would want you to know is that you deserve to be loved by your fellow man (something Christians have failed at a lot), and the message of the Bible is that you are deeply loved by God, just as you are. His desire is to reveal himself to you and to engage in a relationship with you. If that is intriguing, pick up a Bible. Try starting with the book of John. There are churches where you are welcome.

The rest of this is a theological exercise which is small and unimportant in comparison to that greater truth.

To my fellow Christians, I would propose that this issue of calling sin, 'sin' is of higher importance than we put it.  The ability to simply dismiss a Christian tenant because its no longer popular with our culture is dangerous. Being jerks to people we disagree with is just as dangerous and needs to be addressed (just not in this post.)

There are a few key theological premises in order to continue:

Scripture is authoritative.
Scripture has the ability to define boundaries to our actions that we are then obligated to follow as Christians.

The first is critical, because for many, the idea that scripture is authoritative has fallen out of vogue. We run to our "Spirit lead" thoughts for our basis of morality. We ended up with many Christians on either side of the pendulum.  One side worshiping scripture in place of God, and the other listening only to their own sinful minds attempting to discern the "will of the Spirit." There must be an authoritative foundation on which to build our beliefs and to test the ideas we come up with. That foundation is Scripture. Scripture needs to have been given to us by God, and the contents of it (including Paul's writings) need to be authoritative. Without that, there is no basis for this discussion. You are free to think whatever your heart tells you is right. I don't trust my heart that much.

The second question should be obvious as well, however, there are those who accept the idea of the Bible as an old and outdated book that has no practical meaning to our lives. If that is true, then there is also no basis for the discussion.

Assuming then that in order to have this discussion there must be an agreement that scripture is authoritative and can set moral boundaries (to which crossing them is sin), that leads us to the question of what "sins" are sins, and specifically is homosexuality one of them.

If you really want all the verses, a google search can provide a plethora of verses on the Bible and homosexuality, but I would focus primarily on this passage:
Romans 1:18-32
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
There is so much here to unpack as we see a clear progression.

God gives truth. Man is unrighteous and therefore suppresses the truth.  The truth is plainly obvious, but by not honoring God, they become self focused in their thoughts, and in what they worship. God gives them up to their natural sinful bents (one of which is homosexuality). After so much time, they lose sight of the moral framework God established so much that they start giving approval to those who practice immorality.

There is not a single integrous reading of this scripture that does not take homosexuality and place it into a list of sinful practices that is against God's revealed plan for morality.  There is no way around it.  However! there is also no way around reading this passage and somehow placing homosexuality as some higher form of sin than any other.  Gossips, slanderers, boastful, heartless, ruthless.  These characteristics are equated to the same state of debased mindset as homosexuality.  We cannot therefore treat homosexuality differently than any other sin* without having that be simply our cultural lenses distorting our view of sin.  All sins are equal.

For way too long, we have allowed certain sins to be acceptable, while others are absolutely unacceptable in any form.

Let me illustrate with an example.  I knew a guy once who was a liar. He was deceitful all the time to the point where people defined him as such. He was so comfortable with lying that he did so even when it made no sense to. He taught a Sunday school class. If a gay couple walked into their church it would be a total uproar, but this guy was fine.  His sins were acceptable. Theirs was not.  Both are wrong.

Sin is sin is sin.  We all deal with sin issues in our lives. A Christian recognizes they are sinning and allows the Holy Spirit to convict them, asks forgiveness, and attempts to change the immoral behavior. But when a Christian moves from "I am struggling with this sin" to living freely and openly in that sin, then something has happened. That difference is described in verse 24, 26, and 28 as God giving them up to their sinful desires. At that point, the person is living in unrepentant sin.  Does not matter if that sin is pride, strife, gossip, or homosexuality.

The reaction from other Christians should be the same.

So in order to understand how we should react to a gay person we should use a little golden rule tactic. Pick the sin you are most comfortable with from the list above. For me its envy. I struggle with a fair share of envy, so I can relate. Then ask the following questions:

Can a person be born with a natural bent toward envy?
If a person tells me they struggle with envy, would I feel a visceral reaction to them? How would I respond? Should I love them or hate them.
If I see that a person is envious, should I be disgusted by them, or love them in spite of their sin?
Would a person who is envious visiting my church for the first time feel welcome?
If it was obvious that the person had a serious problem with envy, would we let them serve as leaders?

Now, switch all the envy's to homosexualilty and while I will not tell you how to answer these questions, I can only say your answers must match.

You see, its time to stop picking and choosing our sins, and to get serious about holiness across the board.  That means removing the cultural stigmas of certain sins while getting serious about the lesser sins that we allow to grow in our hearts because we think they are no big deal.

* There is one caveat that sexual sin differs from other sin in that it directly involves the defiling of the Holy Spirit's temple (I Cor 6:18) but this would mean that homosexuality is a sexual sin akin to fornication or pornography, etc. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

One of my favorite pictures

I have some friends, some honest friends, and honest friends are few; 
My pipe of briar, my open fire, A book that's not too new.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Communication has changed, again.

Today I received a fairly frustrated phone call from my mother because we do not return phone calls. Her frustrations are warranted. Its not that we do not return calls as much as it is we never get those messages. This incident is the straw that is breaking a rather large camel back in my mind regarding a topic that I have been dwelling on for a year. Communication has changed, but some are reacting against it as bad.

There are a lot of facets to this. Different forms of communication, different age groups and what they expect, etc. There is way too much material to distill in one blog post (there's a measure of Irony in that statement), but there are a few big themes that need to be addressed.

Also, I want to make sure I am not sounding dismissive or disrespectful of my mother. I love her as much as the day I was brought home. She has had the largest single influence on my life, and I value her. It bothers me that she is frustrated, and partially, this post is an explanation and a plea to get her to understand that our “lack” of communication does not indicate a lack of care and love.

So here goes:

Communication has changed, again.

When humanity moved from oral tradition to written word, we did not end all oral communication. However, when something mattered, there was a realization that written word was a more efficient means of communication and therefore it was adopted as the method of choice. Oral tradition was used either when importance was lower, or when for nostalgic reasons it was preferred. As a part of that change, we created completely new ways of organizing our words. Instead of narratives we could use letters that were previously not able to be done well with oral tradition alone. The use of acrostics and other devises used to help memory were no longer needed. Communication changed.

The same cycle happened when telephones came out. We did not end written communication, but phones became the preferred method for important information. Letters were left for unimportant or nostalgic times, and we created new ways to have conversations via short person to person phone calls.

With the advent of digital communication (encompassing everything from email to facebook to IM), communication has once again found a better form of communication. In order to adopt that communication we need to recognize the deficiencies of telephone communication and change the way we communicate with one another. This is no different than the normal progression of advancement.


The jury is out in some folks minds that this communication is better. If it is not a better form of communication, then this is all moot, and we should all use phones. So why is digital communication better?

Its guaranteed. When you initiate a phone call you have an at best 50% chance of getting through to the person. That number is significantly lower as we increase the complexity of our lives. For me to take a phone call, I need to be physically near the phone and not already engaged with another person in conversation. This is a shift as in days past, when the phone rang, you stopped what you were doing and answered the phone. The world was constantly being interrupted by the Bell. Why? Why would we constantly interrupt our day when the phone rang? Because the message on the other line might not be accessible to us again if we did not answer right then! This is why answering machines were so fascinating to people. It allowed for a freedom that at least if we were not near the phone, the message would be received. It added a guarantee that the message would be heard at some point. This is at the heart of why email is so much better. It is guaranteed even more efficiently than phone call/voice mail.

Its Efficient. Digital communication allows you to initiate a communication when it is convenient (like phone calls) which allows the other person to receive and respond to that communication when it is convenient(unlike phone calls). This increases efficiency on both ends as the person initiating the communication is guaranteed it will be received at the first possible time, and the receiving person is not disturbed half way through a thought or conversation. Business know this. Even when you want to initiate a phone call, we send an email to ask the other party to setup a time that is convenient. People know this. Our phones were not good enough, we had to add text messages and email to the phone. The most ironic part of today was that I received the transcript of my mom's voice mail via email before I ever received the voice mail!


Facebook, twitter, and blogs are amazing. They implement all that we just discussed on a macro scale. I get to log on when it is convenient to me and get updates on the people I follow. I have an amazing case study in my own family. I have two teenage neices and two teenage nephews. One each from two siblings. One is regularly on facebook, and one is not. In order for me to get a good understanding of the happenings of their respective lives, I need to find out what they like and dislike. I need to know every day what they are doing, and even how they are feeling about what they are doing. What is their dreams, who are their friends, etc. See where this is going? I get this every single day with one set. If I were to do this for the other set, I would need to call them every day, but we just said phone communication is inefficient and inconvenient. Lets put this into real mathmatical terms. I check facebook about 20 times a day. 15 of those are about 20 seconds where I read statuses and get quick updates. About 5 of those, I spend about 1 minute actually responding to a status update or two. Add in there once a day where I find a link from someone that I read which helps me understand that person better. So being generous, lets say I spend 10-15 minutes a day actually on facebook reading statuses hearing people's communications, and responding. From this time I know my neice likes All Star Weekend, Dr. Suess, and Anime. I know she cares about inner beauty more than but not exclusive of outer beauty. I know when she is down and when she is happy. I can normally infer when a boy is involved with either emotion.

Of my 250+ friends on facebook, the alrogithms assume I care about 25 or so, because I know this level of detail on about that many people. That is 15 minutes that I get to choose to understand 25 people. Imagine all of them were calling me every time I heard a cool new song or saw a sale on star wars cookie cutters or just watched the coolest trailer for The Lorax'. Now imagine they had to call all 200 of their friends! That's what it was like 20 years ago.

For my other set that I uncle, I normally try to call my sister every so often. We do not always connect because of the way phones work. When we do connect, we normally try to get an update on all the family since we are finally connected. Those updates coupled with less facebook updates give me a pretty good overview of where they are and what is going on in their lives, but I definitely feel more connected with the facebook family with less effort - and we almost NEVER call.

Kids these days...

The argument I hear from so many older folks is that kids can't communicate. The same kids that carry 4 conversations at a time via facebook, text, chat, or IRC or are connected to 1000 friends and follow another 1000 tweeters somehow do not know how to communicate. What is true is that they are not great at communicating the way you do.

That is like the great story teller commenting that the author writing on paper can't communicate. Or when telephones came out, the art of writing a letter dropped significantly. Further, holding people accountable for how well they return phone calls today is like holding a person accountable for how well of a letter writer a person was when they could call, or how good of a story teller they were when they could write. The world is moving on to a better form of communication, and we cannot (or should not) expect people to be good at communicating poorly after they have tasted the better way.

For us, we have chosen to use the modern tools to communicate efficiently. If you try to call us, there is a small chance we will answer, but generally, we will not. This should not be seen as a failure to communicate or a lack of love or concern, but instead that we have chosen to make ourselves available on other, better ways of communicating. We will eventually check voice mails and return phone calls, but not nearly as quickly as we will respond to efficient means of communication.


In the case of an emergency, would you call or write a letter? The logic stays the same. In this age, sending an email or writing on my wall on facebook is the new phone call. It is far more likely to be received.

I love my family. Both those that choose to communicate primarily via phone or via facebook. I hate the fact that our choosing to communicate via newer means may lead to the impression that we do not care to communicate.  That is not the case at all!