Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On Getting Rid of Marriage Licenses

Marriage licenses have been around since before I was born, so growing up, it seemed to me that a marriage license was just one of those things that people had to get, if they wanted to get married. I didn’t give much thought to why it was required. I remember hearing a story about a preacher who had conducted a wedding and sent the happy couple on their way before he realized he’d forgotten to have them sign the license. So, he chased after them, presumably so they wouldn’t be living in sin. But recent events have made me question, what is the purpose of that piece of paper?

When you think about it, a marriage license serves no purpose in getting people married. The purpose of the marriage license is to prevent people from getting married. The state requires people to have a license to get married, so if a man walks into the office with his sister and says, “We want to get married,” the state says, “no, we don’t issue licenses for that.” Now the reason the state doesn’t issue licenses for that is because they don’t want the man and his sister procreating. Doing that increases the chance of birth defects and isn’t good for the population.

I’m sure you see a problem with that. In spite of the state’s good intentions, many people have gotten away from the belief that fornication and adultery are wrong. On Facebook, I said something about premarital sex being wrong and someone quickly responded, “This is the 21st Century.” Marriage licenses don’t prevent immoral behavior anymore. And though we’re disappointed about the Supreme Court redefining marriage, marriage licenses never prevented homosexuality and we can’t expect that the ruling will increase homosexuality.

When I hear about states considering getting out of the marriage license business altogether, I think that is probably a good idea. That doesn’t mean that marriage can’t happen. What about the man who wants to marry two women? You might ask. Well, that would likely be permitted, but the Supreme Court may have opened the door for that anyway. Besides which, if there is a man out there who wants to marry two women, he’s probably sleeping with two women already. Marriage licenses aren’t doing what they are intended to do.

I’m a little surprised that the rogue Supreme Court justices attached gay “marriage” to the 14th Amendment and not the 1st Amendment. I suppose they were afraid to declare marriage to be a doctrine of the Church, but I’ve often wondered whether the state had any Constitutional right to tell churches who they could and could not marry. The only basis I saw for doing so was that it is beneficial to the State to have strong families. But if we throw out that argument, as the Supreme Court has done, the State has no reason to waste money issuing licenses that prevent no one from getting married.

As far as the State is concerned, marriage is a contract. You don’t have to have a license to enter into most contracts. As far as churches are concerned, marriage is more than that. When you stand before a preacher and say your vows, your vows are not only to the person you are marrying, but you are vowing a vow to God. Whatever the world may allow when it comes to marriage, churches still have a responsibility to uphold the standards for marriage that the Lord has set. It doesn’t require a state issued license for churches to do that. So, let’s go ahead and get rid of marriage licenses that serve no purpose, but as churches, let’s be very selective in the marriages that we choose to bless.

Monday, June 29, 2015

When the Lord Hides the Truth

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of the hashtag #lovewins. We know that love wins, but what does that look like? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not parish but have everlasting life.” That’s what it looks like coming from God, but what does it look like coming from us? Jesus died for the gay man as much as he did for anyone else, but most of us are not called to die or give our family members over to death in order to show our love for the homosexual. What can we do?

Among some of the other posts I’ve seen recently, I saw the video below of Adrian Rogers concerning the most terrifying passage in the Bible.

Must see: One of the Most Terrifying Verses. This short video is almost 3 minutes, but please watch it all. Very powerful from Dr. Rogers.

Posted by Love Worth Finding Ministries on Friday, June 26, 2015

This passage doesn’t apply solely to homosexuality, but it includes it. Think about what it means that God himself has sent strong delusion to people, so they won’t turn from their sin and accept Jesus Christ. We see a similar statement in Romans 1:26, in which God gave people over to their vile affections. It reminds me of a story told in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18, in which he wanted Ahab to fall in battle at Ramothgilead. Many of the host of heaven offered suggestions, but a spirit stood before the Lord and said, “I will persuade him. I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” So the Lord commissioned that spirit to go do that.

I’ve always liked that passage, because it gives us a picture of heaven and how the host of heaven function. But I’ve wondered whether a lying spirit is a servant of the Lord or one of those Satan took with him during his fight for power. In looking at the II Thessalonians 2 passage, it appears this lying spirit may we be from the Lord. Consider also that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart when the children of Israel were preparing to leave Egypt. There are many instances in the Bible in which the Lord caused people to do things that resulted in self destructive behavior, but always because they had already rejected him.

My first thought was, if the Lord has sent strong delusion, then why should I bother with these people? I state my beliefs and they respond by calling me names and criticizing my beliefs. They claim that the Bible and Christianity is the work of men. Though the preponderance of evidence points to the truth of the Bible, they refuse to accept it as true. Isn’t this evidence that the Lord has clouded their mind to hide the truth from them? Nothing I can say will convince them if the Lord has sent delusion or hardened their hearts.

But does that mean there is no hope and we should just give up? Is this the “sin unto death?” I don’t believe so, or we wouldn’t see homosexuals being saved. We do see some sin in the Bible that resulted in a quick death. Ananias and Sapphira died when they lied to the Holy Spirit about their gift to the church. Some men who opposed Moses were killed when they tried to do the priestly duties. A man died when he touched the Ark of the Covenant. Herod was killed by an angel when he allowed people to describe him as a god. In these cases, I don’t think there’s a thing we could’ve done, but the homosexuals are still alive for a reason.

I think back to the story of Moses when the Lord looked at the wickedness of Israel and was ready to kill them all and let the promise be fulfilled through Moses. Moses pleaded with the Lord to not destroy those people and the Lord changed what he was going to do. Now, let’s consider what that means in the current situation. The Lord is sending strong delusion to not only the people involved in homosexuality, but the people involved in many other sins across our nation. Because of that strong delusion, they will not accept Christ. But if we pray for these people, it may well be that the Lord will remove the strong delusion. Our prayers, just like the prayers of Moses, can change the mind of God. The thing that is missing is the prayers of righteous men and women. Your prayers are more important than you realize.

Remember the stoning of Stephen? The man we know as Paul was there. The people stopped their ears, because they didn’t want to be persuaded by his preaching. But Stephen, with his dying breath prayed a prayer, “Lord, charge not this sin against them.” Had it not been for that prayer, Paul may have never had another opportunity to accept Christ. The Lord is sending strong delusion, but our prayers can convince him to turn that delusion into persuasion.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Now That "Marriage" Has Been Stolen

Sadly, the US Supreme Court has passed down a ruling that redefines what the government calls marriage to include same sex unions. Because of their ruling, the state governments are now required to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, no matter how opposed to this the residents of those states may be. This is disturbing, but it isn’t unexpected. The homosexual movement has eroded values in America, even among the people of God. How can we expect the US Supreme Court to have better values than we do?

But what are we to make of this? As Christians we must remember that though it is now legal for same sex couples to commit to each other in so called “marriage,” this is not a marriage that is recognized by God. Nowhere in the Bible will you find any reference to people obtaining a license from the Government to marry. I don’t know when that started, but it doesn’t appear that a license is required for a marriage to be valid. Since a license isn’t required for a marriage to be valid, neither can a license validate a marriage that God doesn’t recognize as valid. In other words, homosexual unions are no more valid marriages now than they were before the Supreme Court redefined marriage.

So, what is required for marriage? Is it that two people stand before a preacher and he marries them? It would seem that this isn’t the case. We don’t see that happening in the Bible either. At its heart, marriage is a contract. The two people involved are committing to each other and to God that they are going to fulfill their responsibilities to each other and to their children, for life. But before you ask why that can’t be true of a homosexual union, consider that there are significant differences between men and women. God designed the family in such a way that these difference come together in such a way that a family can accomplish greater things than the individuals alone can accomplish. This doesn’t happen within homosexual unions, because half the puzzle is missing. The union ends up with too much of some things and not enough of others.

Given that the Supreme Court has stolen the word for marriage, it would be nice if we had another word that specifically referred to the union of a man and a woman, committed for life. We need people to realize that when we are talking about marriage, we aren’t talking about just any union between two people, but we are referring to this special, godly union between a man and a woman.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Should Women Be Deacons?

In preparation for an upcoming Sunday school lesson, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what the Bible has to say about deacons. It actually has far less to say than I would like. Primarily, there is Acts 6, which some people debate whether it is about deacons or not and 1 Timothy 3. One of the big debates is whether 1 Timothy 3:11 is referring to the wives of deacons or to women deacons. The word that is translated as “their wives” could also be translated as “women,” so there is some thought that Paul is giving qualifications for three distinct groups, pastors, deacons, and deaconesses.

First, let’s be clear that the Bible makes it clear that women should not be preachers. Not only does 1 Timothy 3 talk about pastors being the husband of one wife, 1 Timothy 2:12 declares, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Since one of the qualifications of a pastor is to be able to teach, it would be impossible for a woman to fulfill the role of pastor and abide by 1 Timothy 2:12.

But what about deacons? Deacons have no requirement to teach men or to teach at all, so 1 Timothy 2:12 doesn’t come into the discussion. In Acts 6, the church was instructed to select seven men, but that doesn’t necessarily rule out the selection of women later, only that men were to be selected at that time. Besides which, some people see Acts 6 as the selection of a board of elders. Then there is Romans 16:1, where Phebe is called a servant (deacon) of the church.

Not every use of the word that is translated as deacon is referring to the office of a deacon in the church. So calling Phebe a deacon may or may not be referring to her serving in that office. Most other uses of the word are clearly not referring to the office of deacon. Given what little the Bible tells us about the office of deacon, I think we have to look at the 1 Timothy 3 passage to get the answer, since it is the passage that most clearly defines the office.

Let’s suppose that Paul intended to give qualifications for three different groups. First, there is the long list of qualifications for a pastor. He then moves into those of deacons, but separates male deacons from female deacons. For men, he says that they must be grave, not double tongued, not drunkards, not greedy, hold the mystery of faith in pure conscience, proven, blameless, one woman men, and rule their house well. But for the women he says they must be grave, not slanderers, sober, and faithful in all things. How do we explain this much shorter list for the women. If the women he is talking about are intended to do the same task as the men, then why give them a separate list of qualifications? Some might argue that the women must meet the same qualifications as men. If that is the case then the men deacons must also meet the qualifications of a pastor, since the same likewise that would link the women’s qualifications to that of the men would like the deacons qualifications to the pastors’. Since that isn’t the case, then the qualifications for women are less stringent than those of the men. For example, a female deacon doesn’t have to be proven and how she rules her house doesn’t matter. If it matters for men, why doesn’t it matter for women?

It appears to me that the better explanation is that the translators got it right. He isn’t setting up an office of deaconesses here, but he is talking about the wives of deacons. Why should it matter what the deacons wives are like? Because when a Christian wife is submissive to her husband, she serves right beside him. Suppose a deacon is carrying out the classic task of deacons, which is to carry food to widows. Don’t you think he might take his wife along with him? Perhaps not every time, but part of the time. Don’t you think he and his wife will discuss the situation he finds there?

Even though the role of a deacon is not the type of leadership role some people have made it out to be, it is still a leadership role within the church. A deacon serves, but he also leads others in service. In church work, I believe the Lord intends for men to take on that role, so I don’t believe that the Lord intends for women to be deacons.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Service of Deacons

While looking for information about deacons, I became quite frustrated, because there are many different views about what deacons are and what the Lord intended for them to do. But after reading the Bible for myself and referring to guys like J.E. Cobb, Russell Moore, Steve Lemke, and of course, Jim Henry, I began to settle on an explanation that seems to make sense with what we see in scripture.

A Deacon is a Servant

The word deacon itself means “servant”, so it is obvious that a deacon is a servant. Some have said that the pastors are the leaders of the church and the deacons are the servants of the church. While that seems to make sense when looking at the meaning of the words, it seems a little lacking when we look at the events laid out for us in scripture. For one thing, pastors are also supposed to be servants. Jesus is a servant. All of the saints are servants. But there is an office in the church that we call a deacon. All deacons are servants, but not all servants are deacons. So, saying a deacon is a servant is just the beginning of understanding deacons. We need to know how they serve.

A Deacon is Ordained

The first deacons were chosen in Acts 6. A problem had arisen with the Greek widows not getting enough food, to which the apostles responded by saying, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve (diakoneo) tables.” So, they ask the church to select seven men that they could appoint to this business. They laid hands on them, ordaining them to handle this situation with the widows. These men were set apart for this task.

A Deacon is Qualified

More than once we see qualifications for deacons. In Acts 6:3, the men chosen were to be “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives us an even longer list. In fact, the list Paul gives is very similar to the one he gives for pastors, except pastors must be able to teach. The qualifications tell us something about the job deacons are given. A deacon isn’t required to teach, or Paul would’ve included that in the list, but the qualifications are of a more significant nature than what would be required for someone serving tables.

A Deacon Leads in Service

I believe it is consistent with scripture to say that the office of deacon is a leadership position, but his is a different type of leadership than the leadership we see from a pastor. A pastor stands before us each week and leads us in the study of scripture, as wells as instructs us on the things we ought to be doing as individuals and as a church to fulfill the mission that Jesus has laid out for us. Deacons lead by serving and by enlisting others to help him. There are some deacons who have very little to say, who never teach a class, and rarely stand in front of the congregation, but people see them hard at work and by seeing them serving, they know how they ought to serve.

There is a bit more to the leadership of a deacon than just being an example. Consider what we see in Acts. Yes, we see Stephen and Philip serving as examples with Stephen working wonders and miracles and eventually being the first martyr, after preaching one of the most powerful sermons preached by anyone, much more a deacon. Then there is Philip who followed the leading of the Holy Spirit to evangelize the world outside of Jerusalem. How great it would be to see people follow their example! But look also at the situation the deacons were first given to handle. Some people assume that they must have started carrying food to the houses of the widows and that solved the problem. If it had been a small church, that might be what they would’ve done, but this was a church of about 20,000 members and the Grecian widows probably numbered into the hundreds. The size of the problem tells us that a more likely scenario is that these seven well respected, spirit filled, wise men put their heads together to figure out a way to distribute the food that was equitable, and though they may have been part of the distribution process, they probably enlisted other people to help them carry out the task. A deacon’s job is to serve by doing, but it is also to find someone else, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Come help me do this.” By doing that, he helping other church members become the servants that the Lord has called them to be.

A Deacon Solves Problems

There is no evidence that suggests the first deacons were told how to solve the problem. That’s why they needed to be men of wisdom. They were given a problem to solve and they solved it. Deacons today should seek to solve problems. Sometimes it’ll be a problem someone asks them to solve. Sometimes, they’ll see the problem before anyone else, so they might just solve it and move forward, or they might tell the other deacons about it and the group of deacons will deal with it.

A Deacon is an Assistant to the Pastor

The deacons and the pastor or pastors should be partners in ministry. The service of a deacon should free the pastor to focus on his high priority things related to his church and his family. But a deacon might also go with the pastor while the pastor is out visiting members of the congregation. Taking a deacon along is one way to avoid rumors and false allegations when his work takes him into the home of a woman. In some cases, the deacon will know the person the pastor is visiting better than the pastor knows them and having the deacon there can help facilitate communication.

A Deacon May Handle the Church’s Money

I don’t know that this is always the case, but Acts 6 makes a good case for deacons being the church treasurers. In Acts 6, the bulk of what the church’s money was going for was to buy food. If the deacons were responsible for the distribution of the food, it is logical to assume that they had access to the money so they could go buy food. That doesn’t mean that a deacon has any more right than any other member to decide how the church’s money should be spent, but once the decision is made, it is reasonable to expect that the deacons will be given responsibility to carry out that decision.

A Deacon Handles Temporal Affairs of the Church

The cleanest way to draw a line between the responsibilities of a pastor and those of the deacons is to say that the pastor handles spiritual things and the deacons handle temporal things. Now some temporal things are heavily influenced by spiritual things, so we can’t leave the pastor completely out of the work of the deacons, but by handling the temporal things, the deacons free the pastor to focus on teaching the church. Rather than taking time away from sermon preparation to fix something or to go mow the lawn of an invalid church member, the pastor can call on a deacon and ask him to take care of it. Of course, as I mentioned before, the deacon may tap someone else on the shoulder to do the actual work, but the pastor doesn’t have to worry about the details.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

How I Lost Weight

I’ve lost weight. To date, I’ve lost 54 pounds and will probably lose a total of 60 before I call it quits. When you do something like this, you don’t realize how much you’ve changed until people start asking questions. I think I’d lost about 30 pounds when I first heard someone say, “You’ve lost a little bit of weight, haven’t you?” But now, the questions are more along the lines of, “What have you been doing to lose the weight?” It’s a good question, but I don’t think people are asking the question they really should be asking. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me tell you what I did to lose weight.

What I Did to Lose Weight

Simply put, what I did was I ate fewer calories than what I burned. The fact is, it takes more work to maintain or gain weight than what it does to lose it. People who have struggled with their weight find that hard to believe, it is true. Your body is a calorie burning machine. Let’s suppose you weigh 200 pounds. If you did nothing but sleep all day, you would burn 1936 calories. There are 3500 calories per pound of fat, so if you don’t replace those calories, you will lose a pound every 1.8 days or 3.8 pounds per week. That’s with you sleeping all day. What could be easier?

No, I didn’t lose weight by sleeping all day. Instead, I reduced the amount of calories I eat. I used an app called MyFitnessPal that gives me a calorie goal for the day that is based on how much I want to lose per week, my typical activity, and my weight. It has an extensive database of foods so I can log how much I’m eating each day. But I’ve also been riding my bicycle. I wouldn’t have to ride my bicycle. As I stated before, I could lose weight while sleeping, but my daily calorie goal is 1600 calories and that is very low. When I ride my bicycle twenty miles, I add 500 calories to my goal, so I get to eat 2100 calories instead. It really is a simple as that.

The More Important Question

If weight loss is so simple, then we might wonder why people struggle with their weight. And that brings us back to the question that people should be asking me. “How did you get so fat in the first place?”

It isn’t a question many people dare ask, but the answer is probably more useful than knowing how a person lost weight. You see, I used to be the weight I am now. When I first moved to Texas, I was at this weight and I maintained this weight for several years. Of course, I also have many friends who have never seen me at this weight before. It seems odd, but some of my friends have forgotten what I looked like before, but I’ve felt like I was this weight the whole time. How did I manage to get so fat?

Before I lost weight this time, I don’t think I could’ve answered that, but now I think I can. I keep finding things that make it clear. This morning, for example, I bought a package of cookies at Target. These are the gourmet cookies, that are basically like homemade cookies but they’re sold in the store. There are six to a package. I didn’t bother to look at the calorie count until I got home. One cookie is 220 calories. So, that means that there are 1320 calories per package. That’s almost my whole daily allotment of calories and is more than half of the calories I would need to maintain my current weight. I’ve been known to buy a package like that and consume the whole thing within 24 hours. Then there’s macaroni and cheese. I used to make it with two handfuls of macaroni. At some point, I started making it with three. Then there’s the vending machine. At one time, my snacks were an apple I carried to work in my lunch cooler. At some point, I started eating 600 calorie honey buns out of the vending machines, and if two dropped out, I would eat both of them.

You see the pattern. I got fat because I was eating more than I realized. Combine that with lack of exercise and it only gets worse. We can talk about eating fewer calories than we burn as the way to lose weight, that is true, but the most important thing is awareness. I gained weight when I allowed myself to become unaware of the fact that I was eating too much and I lost weight when I became aware that I was eating too much.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bro. Deacon, Go Take Care of It

The sermon topic on Sunday was “The Qualifications of a Deacon.” I’ve been discussing the topic for the whole of my post-adolescent life, but it takes on a different meaning now that I am a deacon, rather than just a student of the Word. But more than the qualifications of deacon, I find that I am more interested in the role of deacons. I’ve been given this responsibility and I want to fulfill that responsibility the best I can, without overstepping my authority and without leaving anything out.

Interestingly, though the office of deacon is important enough for Paul to state detailed qualifications in his letter to Timothy, the Bible doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what the deacons are supposed to do. There are many different ideas, from deacons only serving tables, to being pastors in training, to being the ones responsible for making decisions for the church.

Aside from knowing that the word deacon could also be translated as the word servant, if there is anywhere in the Bible that tells us what a deacon does, it is Acts 6:1-7, and perhaps the verses after that as well. But some scholars question whether these men were deacons. I believe they were. We might also consider the work of the priests and the Levites in the old testament, as it appears to be a similar work structure, though Jesus’ sacrifice put an end to much of their tasks.

Some people might point to the task the original deacons were given and say, “See? They were just supposed to wait tables.” But let’s think about this. The first church had many thousands of people. When you consider that McDonald’s hires one person for every 144 customers per day, we would expect these men to be able to serve 1000 meals per day, if that’s what they were doing. So, I don’t buy the “they were just waiting tables” theory.

It would be speculation on my part to say how they solved the problem of the Grecian widows going hungry. But my impression of this passage is that the Apostles, who were near overwhelmed with the work they needed to do, laid their hands on these guys and said, “Go take care of it.”

From what I have seen of deacons I respect and from what I see in this passage, that seems like the most important job of a deacon. “Go take care of it.” A pastor has a great responsibility to his church and is often the first person people call when they need help, or they need someone to listen, or they have problem, or someone is causing a problem. It is part of the job, but a pastor’s primary responsibility is to preach the Word as the Lord intends for it to be preached. If a pastor is pulled in too many directions, his sermons will suffer. A pastor needs people he can call and say, “Go take care of it.” Once he puts the phone down, he should be able to push whatever “it” is to the back of his mind and go back to preparing his sermon, or spending quality time with his family, or whatever, because he knows that someone else is figuring out what needs to be done and taking action.

I’m not opposed to deacons meetings. They serve their purpose. For all I know, the seven original deacons may have had a meeting and discussed how to solve the problem with the daily distribution before they recruited some people to help with it. But when I see what Stephen and Philip did in the passage following their selection as deacons, what I see is two men who are actively involved in taking care of it without needing someone to tell them what to do.

Not every deacon is going to be a gifted preacher like Stephen and Philip. Every church has different needs at different times and different deacons are gifted in different things. There’s a leak flooding a bathroom? Go take care of it. A member needs a visit? Go take care of it. The pastor can’t find a preacher to fill in on short notice? Go take care of it. A member is about to have the electricity shut of? Go take care of it. A church member is grumbling and causing trouble? Go take care of it. The widows are going hungry? Go take care of it. Someone needs someone to tell them how to be saved? Go take care of it. Whether working as a group or independently, whether doing it themselves or recruiting others, the responsibility of a deacon is to go take care of it.