The Blood of Jesus Saved a Wretch Like Me

Originally posted on Desire Mercy:

You won’t be free until you see the cross of Jesus Christ for what it truly is.   This is why St. Paul said that he desired to know and preach nothing else besides Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  The words of that wonderful hymn are true:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood
Would you o’er evil the victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood

The writer of Hebrews says this about Jesus, our sacrifice:  “He entered once for all in the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscious from dead works to serve the…

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The Choice

This Holy Week we reflect on the final days of Jesus’ ministry leading up to his resurrection from the dead.  We began with the triumphal entry of our Lord, a humble servant King, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as a crowd shouted, “Hosanna!”  We recall his zeal for God’s house as he overturned the tables of money-changers in the temple, chastising them for turning a house of prayer into a den of thieves.  We remember how he spent his time teaching and healing, challenging the religious authorities and being challenged by them, how he shared his last Passover meal intimately with his disciples, washed their feet as an example of the way they were to love one another, and transformed that final meal into a holy commemoration of his self-sacrificial love.  We travel with him and the disciples to the Mount of Olives and down through the Kidron valley and into a garden where he was arrested by guards who were led to him by one of his closest disciples, Judas.  We stand outside of Caiaphas’ house with Peter as he denies his Lord at the same time that he is being condemned by the chief priests.  Soon, and only after Jesus’ has endured much mockery and abuse, we find ourselves in another crowd that is presented with an incredible decision between two men, both named Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas.  Which Jesus would they choose?

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In some older translations the fact that Barabbas, which means the son of Abbas in Hebrew and Aramaic, wasn’t this man’s full name is lost. Apparently some early Christian scribes didn’t care for the name Jesus, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew, “Joshua”, which means the Lord saves, being shared by the convicted, murderous revolutionary who was known as Barabbas.  Nevertheless, many textual critics including the translators of the NRSV and NIV feel confident that Barabbas’ full name included, “Jesus” as well.

So, as Jesus of Nazareth stood there beside Jesus Barabbas, Pilate gave the crowd a stark choice.  One would be condemned to die a shameful death on a Roman cross; the other would be set free. One would be rejected, the other accepted.  As we know the crowd chose to set Jesus Barabbas free They chose a man of war over the prince of peace, a violent revolutionary who would take matters into his own hands over the one who would commend his very life into the hands of God but not before placing the very enemies who had condemned him in the awesome but merciful hands of his Father in heaven.

Barabbas was a warrior who would call down curses on the heads of his hated enemies.  Jesus was a humble servant who would call upon his followers to bless those who cursed them and pray for those who persecuted them and to love all, even those who hated and reviled them. The crowd chose a man of action over a man of prayer, a man of the people over the man of God.  The choice was stark indeed, and the consequences fatal, but more so for Temple and the city of Jerusalem that surrounded it and those in the mold of Barabbas, who would die violently just a few short decades to come, than for Jesus of Nazareth.  Of course it was fatal for Jesus as well, fatal, but not final because God raised him from the dead, vindicating him and all those who would thereafter put their faith in him, as the true Savior and Lord.  The crowd, led by the Jewish religious leaders thought they had pronounced the condemnation on the Nazarene, but in actuality they had pronounced their own, a judgment that would be carried out by the war machine that was the Roman Empire in 70 A.D and completed several decades later.

They made the wrong decision!  They chose the wrong Jesus!  What if we have as well?

In this I’m reminded that the apostle Paul warns about those who preach “another Jesus” (2 Cor 11:4).  This is a Jesus who is different from the one proclaimed by Paul and the other apostles, the earliest followers of Jesus.  It’s a Jesus preached by “super-apostles” as Paul quite sarcastically refers to them. In keeping with the Corinthians’ penchant for worldly wisdom and disdain for “God’s foolishness” (1 Cor 1:18-31), this other Jesus would most certainly be one who would be quite a bit more acceptable and respectable in the eyes of the Greco-Roman world.

Barabbas, in film at least, is quite often depicted as a rather unkempt ruffian, who was more like a rabid mad dog of sorts than someone who might be appointed as secretary of defense.  What if it was really more like the later?

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It’s quite interesting to me that Barabbas is presented to the crowd by a key representative of what Paul calls, “principalities and powers” in Ephesians 6:12, and the crowd inspired by the religious authorities for reasons of political expediency selected him, a more acceptable and respectable Jesus for “the real world,” I suppose.

This temptation, the temptation to choose a more worldly and acceptable Jesus, never goes away.  Still today Jesus of Nazareth quite often is sold out for one who is appealing to the flesh and the wisdom of this world.  So we’re presented with one who looks more like a Marxist radical (Che-sus anyone?) or one who would definitely vote for the next Ronald Reagan of course, or maybe even one whose apostles are more in tune with the Pauls of Texas and Kentucky than Paul of Tarsus.  Are we more concerned that people follow us as we follow Christ or that they just follow us to the polls and vote like we would? If so we may have sold out Jesus of Nazareth for 30 pieces of silver a long time ago and voted to betray innocent blood with shouts of “crucify him! Crucify him!”

Conformity to this world (Rom 12:2) is strengthened by a Jesus in its own image and after its own heart.  Then when we are presented with a choice, a choice between a Jesus who is patterned after the wisdom and ways of this world verses the Jesus who came from and returned to the very heart of God, who will we choose?  Who have we chosen?  The Jesus who is savior but not Lord?  The Jesus who saves us in our sins? The Jesus who wants to watch us change the world, but can’t change the human heart?  The Jesus who came so that I could get everything I want even if it kills me and sends me to hell, or the one who died so that I can follow in his footsteps and give everything that I have for him?

I know that I made the wrong choice.  How about you?  I’ve been in that crowd and I was conformed to it.  The good news is that even after that crowd rejected him, even after his closest followers betrayed, abandoned, and denied him, while he hung on the cross to which they had him nailed, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 KJV).  God the Father, answered His Son’s prayer in the affirmative, “Yes, for thy sake I will.” He made the choice to forgive.  May we choose to repent and receive God’s forgiveness by accepting his one and only Son for Who He really is.

Father Forgive Them

Schism and the Judgment of God

We Methodists don’t do the judgment of God very well at times.   We often forget that God is intimately involved in our lives, down to the smallest detail and the grayest hair.   We forget that what we have is all from Him and that this Church we serve is His alone while we are mere stewards.   This is not unique to Methodists, of course, but this myopia seems especially apparent, at least to me,  in light of our current debates around schism.

Time and space won’t allow a rehash of all the debate.  But before arguments that our current unity is “untenable,” or wondering what is the biblical argument  for schism, or suggestions that breaking the covenant of our church is bad news, or various prayers for our church,  I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a word before these words which we are missing, one that directs our attention back to the judgment of God.  That word might sound something like this:

Schism is not something which invites God’s judgment.  It is God’s judgment.

My simple observation from reading God’s inspired story about Himself is that schism is God’s judgment, not an invitation for it.   Or to put a finer point on it, the visible, physical schism which happens in our world is a direct result, or judgment upon, our invisible, spiritual schism with God and each other.

Those on the right side of God’s commands have long been reticent of exercising church discipline and those on the wrong side have long been in rebellion, and you and I may insert ourselves on whichever side suits us.   And all of us have the audacity in the midst of  this to call ourselves “United,” the Body and Bride of Christ.   God will not be mocked nor will His Spirit strive with our disobedience forever.

From the beginning this has been a major theme of the story of God with us.  The unity our first parents enjoyed was ruptured when they disobeyed God’s directives, despite their reasoned attempts to circumvent them.   Physical schism was the result of spiritual schism, and they were cast out of the Garden.    We quickly move to Noah and the physical schism of the righteous from the wicked, a result of God’s judgment on the thoughts and intents of man’s hearts (Gen. 6:5).   Babel is next, where God judges the proud hearts of men by scattering them throughout the earth, fracturing their common tongue (Gen. 11).

Three times in Genesis 1-11 alone we find this principle to be true:   Schism is not something which invites God’s judgment, but is God’s judgment!   Later, God will divide up the unfaithful Hebrew people in the wilderness,, allowing most to die – even Moses –  rather than enter the Promised Land.   And again, later, the scattering of Israel because of their idolatry, sending them into exile.  God, in His sovereignty, used even pagan nations like Babylon or Assyria to bring about schism upon His people as a means of judgment.    Listen again to what God has to say to the House of Israel, those with whom He has made covenant:

“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’   (Jeremiah 18).

The point here is not to say the Church and Israel are one and the same.   It is to say that we fooling ourselves if we think that the current fracturing of our church is somehow taking God by surprise or is something we can stop if we would just pray for unity without an equal if not greater call for repentance.  God was clear to Jeremiah, as but one example, that those who are praying for peace have missed the point completely, and are the false prophets in the land.   He warns against those “who trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” (Jer. 7:4).   If God would not spare His holy Temple who are we to think God would spare the United Methodist Church?    Those who would say we must not allow schism for this will hurt God’s witness in the world I have to ask: Have you seen what God allowed to happen to His witness with Israel?  With the Temple?    God seems to care less about what the pagan world thinks of our institutional church unity than we do, particularly when that unity comes at the expense of our fidelity to Him.  

schism

We have not even considered here the words of Jesus, who said he came not to bring peace on earth but division (Luke 12:51).   Of course, these words come in the context of judgment and an exhortation for his hearers to interpret the times.     Are we interpreting the times?   Or have we so watered-down the sovereignty and judgment of God that we think that this talk of schism has come to Him as a surprise and He is somewhere distant, wringing His hands in hopes that we get this thing figured out so as to protect His witness?

The work of God in the universe rests upon our ability to maintain our cross and flame logo and pension funds?  God, make us humble!

“For it is time for judgment to begin in the household of God,” Saint Peter writes (1 Peter 4:17).   What might this judgment look like if it is not what we are already seeing? Our current talk of schism is not something which might invite God’s judgment of us, but is God’s judgment upon us.    Our only response to judgment  is to admit we have lost our way and repent.  The only course of action for a people who are witnessing fracture in God’s House is to acknowledge that this is judgment, not politics, and our only course of action is to allow our hearts to grow even harder or to repent and cry out to God for mercy.    Perhaps if we do this He will relent.  Perhaps not.   But whether we find ourselves united or in exile, above all else,  may we be found once again faithful.      

 

 

Progressive Christianity and the loss of a moral center

At this time three years ago I was somewhat famous.   After writing a blog piece about how I no longer believed in hell I was released by the United Methodist church I was serving as a student pastor.  My incessant blogging on matters which sought to build my public platform blinded me to the fact that I had a church full of flesh-and-blood people, real people versus pixel amens, who were losing faith in their shepherd with every word I typed.

My exit from the church gave me everything I thought I had wanted.  I was invited to do all sorts of radio and TV interviews, was part of a documentary called Hellbound? (don’t ask me if it’s any good, as I haven’t seen it), and got to rub shoulders with all the Christian celebrities I had grown to admire.

Being asked to speak at various Progressive, edgy, Christian conferences and camps introduced me to a community where I felt welcomed and at home.  I felt I had been abandoned by my evangelical or conservative family but had found a new one. A new “tribe.”

I thought it was so cool and refreshing to be part of a new “church” family who didn’t judge me for my beliefs or for what I did.  Having grown up in the holiness tradition with what I perceived to be nothing but rules and regulations it was quite liberating to now drink it up with various Christian authors and bloggers while at a Christian conference.  And no one seemed to mind.   It was cool to be part of an emerging Jesus movement which celebrated one of it’s prominent leaders choosing to live with his girlfriend and not marry until all gay persons had the same right.   We would laugh when I drew the dreaded first slot of the day to speak (9AM) at one conference because, we joked, most of the attendees would be hung-over and still in bed.   The crude language and joking which happened around the camp-fire outside the Patheos RV (famous for making “Patheos Punch”) late into the night reminded me of my Navy days where nothing was edited, nor sacred.

Morality

I had grown up believing that a large part of being a Christian was practicing self-control, being mindful of the words I spoke, taking care of the thoughts I had and that what I did with my body mattered.    But within progressive Christianity I found a tribe of people who followed Jesus yet didn’t expect anything of me nor question anything I said, thought, or did.

These festivals were like high-school parties I attended as a youth but with the addition of booths to visit during the day where we learned about how to build water wells in Africa or how conservatives are harming gay people.   We had a religion where Jesus cared deeply about the social sins of our day but not about the moral vapidness of our own hearts.  The former we judged ruthlessly, to judge the latter was sinful.

Even as I type this I marvel that this was so.   I have often wondered, looking back, what an alien visiting our planet would make of the Christian faith had it landed at one of these “Christian” conferences, or some other party, I mean, convention.   I’ve concluded that they would walk away thinking we looked like every other person on earth absorbed with themselves and their desires with the only difference being we’d been well trained at numbing our conscience by blogging that love wins or by telling ourselves we are defending the real Jesus.

Paul would have called us “carnal” Christians.   Had he done so at any of of these conferences,  (or perhaps at some of our Annual Conferences?), we would have called him an old stick-in-the-mud, a relic from a church world which we, with our enlightenment, have been liberated.  If Paul, or Jesus for that matter, walked into our party and used words like “repent,” or “sin,” or “holiness,” without attaching them to social evils (those things out there) but to our own hearts and minds, he would be called a Pharisee and blamed for the millenial evacuation of the church (which isn’t true, by the way).

I am convinced of this one truth:  That anyone who is in Christ is a NEW creation (2 Cor. 5:17)!   True Christians are not and never have been decent people gathering together around a common mission to transform the world but dead sinners made alive by the mercy of God.  They gather to learn how to walk in the paths of righteousness and holiness, putting off their old self and putting on a new one, thus bringing glory to God.    While this certainly will include digging water wells in Africa it also includes being made new and clean by the living water of Christ, transforming our hearts and minds in holiness.

And yet, this moral apathy, or rather, outright disdain towards personal morality, is rampant in Christian circles today.    So much so that the “new life” which the gospel promises to produce in those who truly know Jesus is hardly recognizable nor different from the lives of pagans.   In our rush to divorce ourselves from any vestiges of fundamentalism we have stampeded over the cliff of moral relativism.  Where is our moral center?

While I was deep in my own addiction to pornography and sex I found solace in this “tribe” because they did not judge me.  But solace is not salvation, and I needed to be saved, not assuaged.   My reason for distrusting the progressive movement both within our own denomination and the greater Church is not only because I find it mushy in matters of biblical authority but also, and perhaps especially, because I find it lacking an authoritative word calling me and the world out of our moral malaise.   I long for a church that once more remembers, as Karen Booth reminds us, to blush.   But what I want matters far less than what I believe the Holy Spirit wants.   Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.   Spin the word holiness however you like, but it must never be divorced from personal morality, and always must consist of a clear contrast between those who have put on the “new man” and those who are still deluded by the old.

Therefore, be imitators of God…sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:1-5).

Dear God, forgive us for thinking that what we say, what we think, and what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter to You.  Help restore our moral compass. Prick our hearts and reawaken our minds so that we would be sensitive again to the wickedness within us so that we would be once more driven to pursue holiness, without which we will not see You.  Amen.    

Demand Repentance

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If it were in my power to do so, I would require every pastor (and every Christian, for that matter), to work through this book.  I have a box full of them in my office which I give out like hotcakes.  I was introduced to it while at Pure Life Ministries, but it did more for me than just help deliver my heart and mind from sexual sin.   It re-awakened in me a love for God’s holy words and forced me to contend with it’s place of authority in my life.

When I first began the 24 week study I mocked it.  The simplicity with which is took me through scripture passages which addressed particular issues each week (biblical submission, overcoming self, controlling the tongue, repenting of double-mindedness, and so on), seemed trivial and felt like proof-texting.    I was a seminary trained pastor for crying out loud, studied in Greek and biblical theology from many of the great teachers of our time, and now here I was being told to look up a passage, say, 1 Peter 2:18-23, and then answer questions like,

What finds favor with God? (verses 19-20)

What example did Christ leave us to follow? (verses 21-24)

Or I was asked to read 2 Cor. 7:6-16 and count the number of times Paul uses the words “sorry,” sorrow” or “sorrowful.”    According to verse 10, what is the ultimate end of only having worldly sorrow?

What sort of simple, quaky stuff was this?  I felt like I was back in VBS again.   I was led to page after page of God’s Word to find answers to questions I had long forgotten to ask or care about.   And for this Duke Divinity educated pastor and theologian, it saved my life.  The words of God captivated me, and turned me around, transforming my mind and heart in a way I was not expecting nor thought I needed.

My pride blinded me to my need for repentance.   To daily “turn again” and seek the One who is willing and able to take my brokenness and make me holy.   Prior to this walk I was convinced that I could see.  I was like the Pharisees in John 9 who asked incredulously of Jesus, “Are we also blind?”   Hiding behind my theological ideas about God kept me blind to the God I presumed to know much about but didn’t know at all.   I had been trained how to tell people about God but I was incapable of finding him myself.

The other day a Methodist pastor accused me of sounding Pharisaical because he thought my statement on Facebook, “Reconciliation without repentance breeds religion without relationship” sounded like I was demanding repentance.   I make no apologies other than to say I am sorry I merely sounded like I am demanding repentance.  I want it to be clear that I am.  Always.  Not just in others but in myself.   Calling people to repent is the major thrust of Jesus’ ministry.   It’s the first word of any good preaching and ought to be the last.    Jesus said that all of heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents.   Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!  Repent, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19-20).   Jesus commanded that it would be repentance for the forgiveness of sins that will be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47).    God’s kindness towards us is meant to lead us towards, wait for it….repentance! (Rom. 2:4).   So if anyone should think that demanding repentance sounds Pharisaic I have just one word for you:  Repent!

I believe God wants to pour out His Spirit on our Methodist churches but it will not happen so long as we think we can be united without repentance.   It is a broken and contrite heart that God will not despise (Psalm 51:17).    John Wesley saw the importance of repentance for not only the sinner who does not yet know God but for the believers who do.   He has this to say to Asbury, Coke and others,

You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most. It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance.

And this:

Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three,—that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness.

And lest we take ourselves off the hook by making repentance a clarion call to social change only, Wesley reminds us that,

repentance frequently means an inward change, a change of mind from sin to holiness (John Wesley, The Repentance of Believers, Vol.1, Sermon 14,I.15).

I want to known as a pastor who demands repentance in the same way I would demand the starving to eat.   Without this wonderful gift of being awakened to our sinful state and our need for grace, we are left dead in our sin and blinded to the truth of God’s word.   The more I preach it the more I see my own need for it, and the more I see others coming alive to Christ.   May God open our eyes and save us from the delusion we are under as both individuals and as a church which would suggest we can be of one mind, or do anything which pleases God, without repentance

God, in your mercy, grant us godly sorrow – sorrow for how we have sinned against you and you only, sorrow for how we have neglected your words and your commands, sorrow over our disobedience, sorrow over our prideful hearts, sorrow for the ways in which we minimize your word to approve our desires, sorrow over our disunity – which brings repentance leading us to life. Amen.

 

 

 

What to Do When You End Up with Snake Eyes

As I strolled out on to the back porch at my Mom and Dad’s old farm house and turned to head down the steps into the yard I looked up at the bird feeder that was hanging from one of the rafters, there was no bird there looking at me, but there was a snake. It was a big snake and it and I were gazing directly into each other’s eyes with less than a foot between us. But not for long! There was no romantic spark for either one of us so it didn’t take me long get to the bottom of those six steps. Lickety-split, I was gone!

After I checked my drawers, and I’m not talking about the ones in the kitchen, I ran to the shed and grabbed a hoe. With it I pulled the snake from the rafters and shortened its life span by a few inches, if you know what I mean.

John Wesley often insisted in various sermons that one should “flee from sin as from the face of a serpent.” This was actually a quote from an apocryphal Jewish wisdom text called Ecclesasticus or Sirach, which Protestants had deemed non-canonical but useful for study and devotion. The full verse reads, “Flee from sin as from a snake; for if you approach sin, it will bite you. Its teeth are lion’s teeth and can destroy human lives (Sirach 21:2 NRSV). Wesley wasn’t one to downplay sin, and he certainly didn’t encourage anyone to get cozy with it. No one in their right mind would if they knew the deadly snake that it is.

Sin, however, usually doesn’t reveal itself for what it is until its prey is firmly within its grasp, slowly being choked to an eternal death apart from the presence of God, leaving ecclesial and societal destruction in its wake. The Bible tells us that the evil comes in the guise of something good, something mesmerizingly beautiful, and something appealing to one’s pride, lust, and greed. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul, there chastising the Corinthians for their tolerance of those who preach a different Jesus, teach a different spirit, and proclaim a different gospel (v. 4), warns that the ministers of Satan, those often lauded as “super apostles” (v.5), masquerade as ministers of righteousness as Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (v. 13-14). In other words, sin and Satan may not really look bad, even though they really are bad, very bad.

angel-of-light

2 Peter 2 warns that these prophets entice unstable people through desires of the flesh, lust and greed, and promise “freedom” while they themselves are slaves to their own pride and sinful passions. Jude as well warns of those who pervert grace into an excuse for licentiousness, self-indulgence. Both Peter and Jude also tell us that in some way they also end up denying the one true God and the redemption he has wrought in Jesus Christ, perhaps by relativistic syncretism and a disdain for atonement theology. Yet somehow they have a way of making it all sound harmless, good even, something enjoyable and a source of wisdom. Such is the deceitful and ultimately deadly nature of sin as Paul highlights in Roman 7:11, and it all starts with a little whisper. “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1). It all begins with a questioning of what God has said. Then it quickly moves to a flat out denial of the seriousness of the consequences for disobedience to God’s commands, “You will not die.”

Make no mistake about it, illicit sex is at the top of Satan’s devious device list, which is why you see warnings about it in virtually every New Testaments vice list, and he has perverted it masterfully to deceive the Church and to corrupt society. Undoubtedly, here is where some will not only object, but stop listening altogether. They will move on to someone who will tell them that it’s not really that big of a deal. Sex is a private matter after all, and there are much bigger fish to fry, like poverty. False dichotomy is one of Satan’s most potent wands in his dastardly bag of tricks. He gets us to separate things that are meant to be held together, Grace from faith, faith from works, love of God from love of neighbor, to name a few. In the case of sex he separates the private act from its very public ramifications.

It becomes quite public, however, when two young men enter into mortal combat by the lockers in the hallway when rumors begin to spread that someone’s girlfriend has been cheating on him. What goes on behind closed doors becomes all too public when a motel room becomes a crime scene after a jilted lover turns murderer. Just go give blood or go to your county health clinic for a doctor’s appointment, and you’ll find out real quickly, that your private life is a matter of public health and safety. Once when I was between jobs, I went to the county health clinic to get treatment for an infection. The questionnaire I had to fill out made it quite obvious that my sex life wasn’t as private as it’s made out to be, and it also became quite obvious that any sexual activity outside of chastity or monogamy between one man and one woman is considerably risky. Is it really a private matter when you consider single mothers who are raising their children without their father, if they’re even sure who the father is, and if they do know quite often he’s referred to simply as the sperm donor? What about these kids? Is the emotional distress and hardship, and yes even the poverty and many times imprisonment all that “private”? How is it private when tax payers end up footing the bill for abortions, the vast majority of which are performed as a means of birth-control, and then end up having to go to the Supreme Court to keep from having their first amendment rights infringed? Doesn’t sound private to me! Moreover, a person may view pornography in the “privacy” of their own home, but the people on the other side of the camera aren’t being very private and I would say are actually being manipulated and exploited very publically. And some of us know all too well how publically and destructively it can affect our lives and the relationships that matter most. It doesn’t seem all that private when I’m standing in line at the grocery counter and have to divert my child’s eyes from the scantily clad women on the magazine cover offering “the 10 best ways to please him in bed”. Moreover, the debate over homosexuality, with the legislation and the lawsuits and Supreme Court decisions, not to mention the very public “pride” parades, has taught us anything, it should have taught us that sex is not just a private matter. It has very, very public ramifications, and the propaganda of the sexual revolution despite all its promises of freedom has brought incredible bondage and destruction that is anything but private.

It started out small, with just an innocent little whisper challenging the integrity of God’s word. Questioning its meaning is one thing, but rebelling against its authority is another. Rebellion is made all the easier by the lie regarding the consequences of it. “It not that big of a deal.” Sin isn’t really deadly after all.” “You just misunderstood; this really isn’t bad at all.” We buy into the lie that sex is our own “private” sex toy rather than the good gift of God to be used according to His instructions. We find ourselves mesmerized by the attraction, the glimmer of beautiful eyes, oblivious to the reality that behind those lying eyes is actually snake eyes, indicating that this is anything but your lucky day. The Church is always tempted to try to catch the eye of a watching and leery world through compromise, but all we will end up with is snake eyes (See Karen Booth’s book “Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution). For a while, for some, it may feel like a match made in heaven, but in the end all will know that they were sleeping with the enemy all along. Nevertheless, we don’t have to be fooled, because we don’t have to be ignorant of the enemy’s devices.

snake in the grass

Instead of being lured into getting cozy with the enemy, the desires of the flesh that wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and our churches, flee from them as from the face of a deadly serpent, and take up your cross and the sword of the Spirit and “put to death” those things that seek to rob us of abundant life with God, beginning with sexual immorality (Colossians 3:5).

What World Vision and the UMC have in common

This week, World Vision announced an employment policy change which will allow them to hire people who are in legal, same-sex marriages.   World Vision is a Christian, faith-based charity, in the top 10 of the largest charities in America,  helping millions of children around the world.   President Richard Stearns explains that the rationale for this decision had nothing to do with outside pressure but was in keeping with their practice of deferring to churches on theological matters.  Regarding homosexuality, Stearns states,

 The church is divided on this issue. And we are not the local church. We are an operational organization uniting Christians around a common mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ.

Time and time again, Stearns, along with many of World Vision’s vocal supporters, are wanting us all to “focus on the mission.”    The mission is all the matters.  It’s all about the kids.  

world vision

In this way World Vision reminds me of the United Methodist Church, or at least many of her members.  Regarding homosexuality, many are saying we need to move on and simply focus on our mission.   The mission is all that matters.  It’s all about making disciples for the transformation of the world.

In both cases, World Vision and the UMC, the mission is all-important, all-consuming, all-encompassing, and anything perceived to threaten that mission needs to just go away, please.  Even if that anything brings into question our fidelity to God.  The mission is all that matters.

While helping kids and making disciples is good, there is a missing ingredient in all of this which has me troubled.    Where is the call to be faithful and obedient to God?

It seems as though both World Vision and the UMC have taken to a form of Deism.   Deism, simply put, is the idea that God is “out there” but not very concerned with us “down here.”   He isn’t invested in our daily lives nor cares how we run them.  Deists believe that God can only be known through reason and the observation of nature and not through revelation or miracle.   As Deists, it’s easy to see how a Church and a Para-Church can assume that the decisions they make about what is right and what is wrong with regards to ordination or hiring or marrying are best resolved by looking at the world in front of us.  The God above us doesn’t care.

Of course, this presumption is repeatedly turned upside down throughout all of Scripture, God’s inspired revelation of Himself to us.   God, we are told time and time again, is omnipresent – everywhere – and desires our obedience to Him more than our sacrifices or good works.   When King Saul, for example, was all about the mission of destroying God’s enemies, he did what he thought best and paid dearly for it.   When Samuel confronted him, Saul replied, “But I did listen to the Lord!  He sent me on a mission, and I went!” (1 Sam. 15:20).   But God was sorry he had made him king because of Saul’s disobedience.   Half-way obeying God is still disobedience.

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams (1 Sam. 15:22).

God wanted Saul to carry out the mission and obey His commands.  To do the former and not the latter does not please God.

Jesus models this dual service – to both God and mission –  over and over again.  When his mission could have been accomplished sooner, uniting all the world under his authority if he would only worship Satan, Jesus dismissed this easier, broad path in favor of serving God alone (Matt. 4:10).    When he could have run from the cross, avoiding it’s pain and shame in favor of calling down an army of angels to vindicate him, he chose instead the will of his Father over his own.  And to those who would come to him saying, “Lord, Lord,” while pointing to their mighty works, their mission, as proof of their love for him, they will be surprised to hear, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” because they lost sight of doing the will of his Father in Heaven (Matt. 7:21-23).

The mission is important, but even more important is obeying God’s commands and going about the mission in a way that brings Him honor and glory.  Where is our fear of God?

As for World Vision and the UMC, I think we need to continue helping the kids and making disciples.   For me, personally, if I were currently sponsoring a child with WV I would continue to do so.   My sponsored child would not be punished for the lack of fear displayed by a President and his board.   And my local church, the Methodist Christians I am honored to serve as pastor, will continue to receive my best care and attention so long as God calls me here in spite of the lack of fear displayed by many of our bishops and leaders.

World Vision’s decision, however, does shine a spotlight, I believe, on our Deistic mindset in both church and para-church and we must repent of this.   For far too long we have gone about the mission, assuming God will bless our charities and our churches without giving much thought to whether or not God is pleased with us.   We have made an idol of the second greatest commandment while ignoring the first.    Rather than a call from our bishops for “deep listening” of one another over this matter that divides us why not call for some “deep crying out to God”?   Why not call us to our knees, to seek God’s face and His will in all of this?  Where are the calls to mourn and to fast and to pray?   Where is the humility under-girding every decision we as a church or a para-church make, where it is made known by our public statements that we trust and hope this or that honors God and His commands above all else and that we are seeking His approval alone?

To close, I commend to you John Piper’s words on the matter of World Vision. He reminds me that God is watching, and will not bless that which ignores or defies His commands.   We may very well carry on our mission like Deists, pretending the mission is all that matters, but we cannot then pretend God is pleased and is going to bless our efforts.   That would be the height of arrogance.     Piper writes,

You cannot undermine biblical authority, and trivialize perdition and its blood-bought remedy, and expect to maintain a vibrant spiritual base. It isn’t going to happen.

Lord, have mercy on us.