Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finally Some Good News on the Marriage Front

This past November the people of California spoke loudly concerning the topic of marriage. Through the passage of Proposition 8, the voters in California affirmed that they wanted the State of California to recognize only those marriages between a man and a woman. In other words, they accepted the traditional definition of marriage. Yesterday, perhaps to the surprise of many, including this writer, the Supreme Court of the State of California upheld the results of the passage of Proposition 8. But, that same Supreme Court also recognized the legitimacy of some 18,000 same-sex marriages which had taken place. I believe the decision of the Court will be appealed now to the United States Supreme Court.

We are living in a society today that has thrown out most of the social mores which I grew up to value as important. Integrity - now is replaced with "look out for yourself." Truth - now means what I believe to be true, even if no one else does. Family - now means a collection of people, usually adults and children, who choose to live together. Marriage - now refers to a relationship between two consenting adults, be they male and female, just female, or just male.

But the biblical definition of marriage has not changed. One of the first statements voiced by God in the Bible concerns marriage: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Jesus later affirmed this biblical definition in His discussion concerning marriage and divorce (see Matthew 19:1-12). Furthermore, I believe the purpose for marriage was to populate the earth: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number..." (Genesis 1:27-28a). Now it is a biological impossibility for either two women or two men to produce a child. Let me say that once again: It is impossible for two women or two men to produce a child. Can't be done! To produce a child requires both a man and a woman.

Now I believe the Bible affirms a pleasurable side to marriage. Just read the Song of Solomon or some of the Proverbs. But those pleasures are reserved only for a man and a woman who are united in marriage. The Bible is even more specific in its prohibition of homosexuality. Yes, I know most of those texts are in the Old Testament, but what does a person do with Romans 1:18-32? With 1 Corinthians 6:9-11? Notice Paul's use of the word "were" in that passage. That implies a change of character.

Perhaps the issue of marriage has become a more pressing ethical issue than abortion these days. I do applaud the California Supreme Court for their resolute stand yesterday. And I do applaud states where a marriage amendment has been added to state constitutions. May all states soon have such amendments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Washington Confrontation with Eternal Consequences

This has been a very interesting week for those of us who follow closely what God is doing in the Middle East. Certainly, not given the media coverage that was warranted, was the visit this week of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House. In many of the major US daily papers, coverage was relegated to the inside pages and to only a column or two; while most television news outlets buried the story deep within their newscasts, choosing to focus upon the automobile industry and new emission standards and the credit card reform.

As one would guess, two agenda items dominated the discussions between the Prime Minister and our President: what to do with a nuclear Iran, and how to create a two-state solution with the Palestinians. On the subject of Iran, President Obama said that he favored increasing international sanctions against Iran, primarily in limiting and taxing Iranian imports of gasoline and other fuels (seems the Iranians have the oil but do not know how to refine it). He said that he would give the Iranians until the end of the year to dismantle their nuclear capabilities, but the way he expressed it really leaves the threat open-ended. Meanwhile, Israel sits with a target on its back. Will Israel do a pre-emptive strike as it did against Egypt and Syria in 1967? They certainly are preparing for such a strike. The Israeli Air Force has been doing practice runs from Israel to Gibraltar and back, even doing in air refueling. That is the distance to Iran. And the Israeli Army is deploying a new anti-missile shield to protect them from missiles launched from Iran. [Just this morning, May 20, the Iranians successfully launched a missile capable of delivering a warhead some 2000 miles, meaning that all of Israel and our Middle East military bases would be vulnerable.]

On the second issue, that of the "two-state solution," President Obama said that this was the only way to insure peace in the Middle East. And pressure is now being applied to Israel to yield to this solution. In addition, the European Union, Russia, and now China have joined in singing that same song. The Israeli Prime Minister is not biting on that hook. I believe he has some strong reservations about how the Palestinians would govern themselves. And this is not without evidence, just witness what has happened in Gaza. His solution is to help develop the Palestinians through economic means and through other forms of service. Yes, the Palestinians need to govern themselves; and they are doing that today in Jericho, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and in other predominately Arab communities. Many Palestinians do not want to live under Palestinian rule; they, too, have seen what has happened in Gaza.

The Prime Minister leaves today, I believe, having stood his ground with the President. I believe he has the support of the majority of the Israeli people. Yes, dialogue needs to continue between Israel and each of her neighbors. What is needed is a peace, not a peaceful truce.

It behooves us, as Christians, to continue praying for the peace of Jerusalem. Real peace is coming in the person of the Messiah Jesus Christ. Oh may He come soon!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Change - Part of Life

"Change" - this seems to be the watchword of our times. It definitely was the theme of the last presidential election. Now we are getting the change we voted for. Change - is the subliminal thought behind every television, magazine, or billboard ad. Change from Coke to Pepsi; from Pizza Hut to Domino's; from Chevy to Ford. Change - is a part of life.

I reflect upon the many changes that have taken place in my lifetime. We have gone from steam powered locomotives to diesel trains to hardly any trains at all. (I remember, as a boy, we used to go down to the local train station on the weekends to watch the trains come in; and when the first diesel came through town, it was a celebration). We have gone from propeller driven airplanes to jets to jumbo-planes capable of carrying hundreds of people to rockets taking people deep into space. We have gone from a telephone system where you went through a live operator, whom you got to know, to rotary dialing, then to touch-tone dialing, and now to a phone that will give you news, weather, and sports. There are times when I feel like I have been victimized by change. I want things to stay the least for a few hours anyway.

Our society has changed. Social mores that were once held in high esteem are now passe. What was once considered to be wrong is now acceptable behavior. Words that I grew up knowing to mean one thing, now mean something entirely different; think how the word "gay" has changed.

And we have experienced change in our churches. Worship styles have changed. Pastoral ministry has changed. And even community life within the church has changed. I have to be honest, there are times when I feel like I am on the "outside looking in." This is not the church that I grew up in.

And so I scream, at least once or twice a week, if not more often, "Is there someplace where I can go where change is put on the back shelf, at least for a while?" I then turn to the Bible and find solace in the familiar, yet never-changing stories it provides. Every time, David always defeats Goliath. Every time, Jesus always raises Lazarus from the dead. Every time, Easter always follows Good Friday. The truths of the Scripture never change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. My understanding of Him may change and, hopefully does change; but He never changes.

Change - I guess it is something we just continue to live with. It probably will not slow down, and I probably will never keep up. I'll leave that for my grandchildren. But I can rest upon the unchanging character of God and let Him be my Rock in the midst of changing times.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How Then Can We Live?

I have had the privilege this past year of spending my devotional time in the book of Ezekiel. I have read it through dozens of times, and I believe I am finally getting a handle on the significant teachings of the book - not an easy task, I can assure you.

This morning, as I was reading through a selected group of chapters in preparation for a discussion I would be leading on them this evening, God spoke to my heart through a question found in Ezekiel 33:10 - "How then can we live?" Immediately, I was reminded of a book Dr. Francis Schaeffer published back in 1976 whose titled echoed that very question - How Should We Then Live?

Dr. Schaeffer's book was a great study of the rise and decline of Western culture and thought. At the time of its publication, it was a prophetic message aimed at helping the Western world understand why its collapse seemed imminent. It still is a book that should be read and studied for its truths have not diminished with the passage of nearly 30 years. In fact, they have only become more pronounced.

The context for the question in Ezekiel 33 is very interesting. For over 10 years the prophet has been sounding the alarm concerning the consequences of sinful behavior on the part of Judah and, for the most part, it has fallen upon deaf ears. Yet Ezekiel has faithfully acted as the watchman on the wall. Suddenly the people begin to respond: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them" (Ezekiel 33:10). This is the first statement in the book where the people begin to take ownership that the problems they are experiencing come from their own sinfulness. Yet that very ownership brings them to the point of despair: "How then can we live?"

As I have shared in many previous articles, sin always has consequences. And the most devastating consequence is death. Remember Paul's words to the Roman believers: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:23). And I don't believe that death is always just a personal consequence; I believe cultures can die because of sin as well. I believe the Jewish leaders in Ezekiel's day came to understand that the very culture of Judaism was in danger of dying because of their sinful habits. Could the hand of God's judgment be stayed? Was it still possible to turn the nation around?

Now what I found most intriguing was God's response, found in the very next verse: "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?'" "How then can we live?" The answer: "Turn from your wicked ways and find new life in God, who is life itself."

I find two truths in this text: First, healing of a nation, a culture, a civilization can only occur when people realize their sinful behavior and then take ownership of their own actions. No more blaming someone else. No more playing the role of a victim. No more waiting for someone else to take the initiative. (Is our nation taking ownership of its sinful choices? Not only is there the flaunting of sinful choices openly, but Congress seems poised to enact legislation making any discussion of the sinfulness of those choices a violation of law.) Second, healing of a nation, a culture, a civilization can only occur when people cry out to God and accept His solution for the problems that confront them. No more depending upon a government solution. No more waiting for a government bailout.

In the light of being in a world whose moral and ethical values seem to be spiralling downward, how then can we live? We find significance and real life in Christ Jesus Himself. He will give us a new heart and a new spirit. And, perhaps, just perhaps, our nation can be saved.