Friday, October 31, 2014

Is This a Gift From God?

Apple CEO Tim Cook will go down in history as having said, "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me." For those of us who have studied the Bible, that statement raises our hackles. How dare he say such a thing? Clearly, the Bible says that God is opposed to homosexuality and God doesn’t disagree with his word, so it can’t be a gift from God.

When we look a little closer at what Tim Cook is saying, he says that his experience as a practicing homosexual has given him a better understanding of the experience that minorities have had. I think we all can agree that being able to see things from the perspective of other people is a good thing. I expect that the good Tim Cook has gotten from his experiences, mixed with his belief that he was born homosexual, is why he is attributing this as a gift from God. (We need not debate whether he was born with same sex attraction or not because the truth is complicated and in the grand scheme of things, it does matter. Are we all not born with a desire to eat? And yet, God calls gluttony a sin.) Many people have the idea that if a good thing comes from something, then the thing it came from must be a gift from God.

Let’s look at an example we can better understand. Suppose a woman is raped and as a result she is impregnated. Nine months later, a precious child is born into the world. By the logic that Tim Cook is using, the rape is a gift from God because it produced something good. Of course, this is ridiculous. We know what Romans 8:28 says. That doesn’t mean all things are good, but God is able to use the bad things to bring good things into our lives. So, it shouldn’t be hard to believe that Tim Cook’s experiences with dealing with bad choices has given him the ability to better understand people who have been dealing with similar situations by no choice of their own. This is similar to saying that the drug addict who chose to take drugs has an understanding of children who became drug addicts in their mother’s womb.

As we consider this, we might want to consider whether some of the other things people call gifts from God are truly gifts. I’ve often heard about “the gift of singleness” as being a gift from God and I’ve said that it is the gift that no one wants. It is based on 1 Corinthians 7:7-8. But it seems like people (usually married people) have to work very hard when they try to explain how singleness is a gift. To me, it seems more likely that the ability to handle singleness is the gift, while singleness itself is not. That’s not to say there aren’t things to value about being single. As Paul pointed out, a single person has more freedom to focus on the things of God. If I, as a single person, want to stay up all night working on something, I don’t have a wife coming in and asking, “When are you coming to bed?” If someone calls and asks for my help, I don’t have to say, “My wife has made plans.” In the situation the Corinthians had asked Paul about, it appears that singleness was ideal, but that doesn’t mean that it is ideal right now.

Why would I say that? Well, because there was a reason why God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” It is a lot easier to explain why that is true than it is to explain why singleness is a gift. It isn’t good to spend too much time alone with your thoughts. They tend to fester into things they ought not to be. It isn’t good to have no one you can confide in. A several years ago, something happened at church. I don’t remember what it was, but it didn’t go my way. It may have occurred in a committee meeting or something and afterward I said something about it to another church member who was aware of what was happening. As far as I was concerned, I just needed to vent. I made my comment and went on about my business. But a short time later, someone in the church leadership (fortunately, I don’t remember who) took me aside to talk to me, because they’d heard, “Timothy’s upset.” So now, I had to explain my position on this thing that I was ready to put behind me and forget. After that, I had to listen as they talked about it. Had I been married, my comments would’ve likely been made to my wife on the way home from church or at the dinner table. She would’ve either helped me see where I was wrong or we would’ve come to a mutual agreement that there was nothing that could be done about it and it would’ve been over. Lesson learned. It is not for singles to vent, if you don’t want people to worry you’re about to leave the church.

Consider the Proverb, “The blessings of the Lord maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it.” (Proverbs 10:22) We should not feel compelled to call things that bring sorrow a gift of God. God is able to use those things to bring us good things, and that is a gift in itself, but the things that bring sorrow into our lives are not gifts from God.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

8 Things Your Pastor Will Never Tell You About the Bible (Or some such nonsense)

Disturbing is the only word I have for it. I stumbled across an article written by an atheist who is a former Methodist minister. It listed several things that the author says your pastor won’t tell you about the Bible. Things like “Unlike Luke and Matthew, Paul didn’t believe in the virgin birth of Jesus.” Really?! Where did this guy get that? He gets it from Romans 1:3-4. The rest were of a similar nature, so let’s look at this one and not waste our time on the rest.

Consider what Paul is saying in Romans 1:3-4. “Declared to be the Son of God…by the resurrection of the dead.” Amazing! You tell me; which more clearly reveals that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was born to a woman who knew no man or that he rose from the dead? That fact that the resurrection of the dead is mentioned here is not evidence that Paul didn’t believe in the virgin birth. If Paul didn’t, then why did Luke? Luke was one of Paul’s closest friends and traveling companions. Based on what we know of Paul, if Luke was teaching something that Paul believed was heresy, they would’ve had a falling out.

What I find disturbing is that atheists are grasping at reasons not to believe the Bible. If this were any other book and they found something that didn’t quite match up from one chapter to the next, they would dismiss it as a simple mistake and accept that it didn’t invalidate the primary truth of the book. The Bible is different because they can’t find stuff like that. Instead, they have to fabricate things by taking verses out of context or by drawing upon assumptions that aren’t supported by the events.

I wish there was something we could do to wake them up and show them what they are doing. If they could just see how weak their arguments are. But they don’t see. Until the Holy Spirit shines his light into their hearts, they won’t be able to see. And the bad thing is that some have had the opportunity to see, but they have rejected God. I pray that it is not too late for them.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Didn't the Lord Say...?

"Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded…?”

Barak gets a bad rap. For one thing, people tend to forget who he is and what he did. (Admittedly, he did bring that on himself.) People are more likely to remember Deborah than Barak, and they certainly can’t forget the actions of Jael when she killed Barak’s enemy, Sisera. We tend to think of Barak as the judge with weak faith, if we remember he was a judge at all, since he wouldn’t go into battle unless Deborah went with him. But when we look at the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:32, it is Barak (not Deborah, not Jael) who is held up as our example of faithfulness. It makes me think that we should look a little closer at Barak.

In reading Judges 4:4-7, it appears that the Lord had already spoken to Barak, in some way, before Deborah called for him. It doesn’t tell us how the Lord spoke. It may have been through a prophet or an angel, it may have been that the Lord spoke directly to Barak, but the Lord had spoken and Barak knew the will of the Lord. How like us. How often we know the Lord’s will, but we ignore it.

How do we know that the Lord had already spoken? Because Deborah used the words “Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded?” She wasn’t telling Barak something he didn’t know, but she was reminding him of his duty. That’s part of why we fail to see the faithfulness of Barak. Somewhere inside of us, we know that we shouldn’t have to be reminded to do what the Lord has asked us to do. If I miss church one Sunday, I shouldn’t need someone to call me to remind me that I should’ve been at church. If I make a commitment to the church or one of the church leaders to perform a certain task, I shouldn’t need someone to remind me of what I’ve committed to do. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t remind people of their commitments. God takes it very seriously when we don’t honor our promises to him, so our reminding someone to honor their commitments may save them from chastening from the Lord. I see this as the role that Deborah played.

But Barak wouldn’t go without Deborah. On one hand, I get this. One of the things I struggle with is serving the Lord alone. More often than not, I don’t have a choice. But Barak didn’t really have the same situation as I do. For me, even though I would rather have someone help me, it is easier to do things alone than to go find someone who isn’t busy with their families. For Barak, even if Deborah hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have been alone. He was leading 10,000 men into battle. Barak may have thought that he would get out of going because Deborah wouldn’t go. But she did go, and because she did, Barak lost the honor of being the one to kill Sisera.

Where is the faith of Barak? He stood on Mount Tabor and Sisera positioned his host and his 900 chariots. We don’t know how many foot soldiers Sisera was leading, but 900 chariots is a lot, when you consider that Judges 5:15 tells us that Barak was on foot. Think about that. Barak, on foot, led 10,000 men against an army with 900 iron chariots and likely, superior numbers of foot soldiers. Barak had some courage to face a situation in which the enemy had better technology and outnumbered Barak’s army. The thing that makes it faith is that Barak did it because the Lord told him he would succeed. Yes, it took some prompting, but Barak had some faith.

So, Barak should serve as our example and as a warning. Barak is our example in that he trusted the Lord and led the army according to the instructions the Lord gave him. He is a warning to us, because like Barak, when we rely on people to hold our hand or to goad us into doing what we know the Lord has told us to do, we won’t receive the complete blessing that the Lord intends for us to receive for completing the task. Someone else will receive the recognition. Someone else will receive the reward. If we want to receive what the Lord has in store for us, we had better honor our commitments and do what the Lord has asked us to do without the Lord having to send someone to remind us.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

When you see one, you see several. And since I’m on a committee that is the first line of defense against creating a similar situation at our church, I’m paying even closer attention than I normally would. I find it both disturbing and bothersome as I think about what we need to do to prevent it from happening to us.

Two days ago, Travis Reed was convicted of fondling a boy. As if that isn’t disturbing enough, Travis Reed was one of the youth workers at his church. About a day earlier, Derek Hutter, a youth minister at another church was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. I’ll leave it to the courts to decide whether he actually did it or not. (I actually find it just as disturbing that it is possible for a youth worker to be falsely accused.) But I think we can say that we’ve seen enough of these situations to realize that it is possible that he is guilty. What I really want to know is, how can we avoid hiring people like this?

There are some similarities between these two guys. They are both in their thirties. They are both married. They both have one child. In the Travis Reed trial, sixteen character witnesses testified on his behalf. I’m not sure if Derek Hutter will have the same level of support, but he has worked at a number of different churches. I mention these things because they give the appearance of the type of men people expect would make good youth ministers. In their thirties, so old enough to be an authority figure, but not so old that they can’t do things with the youth. Married, so they have no reason to look for sexual gratification elsewhere. Have a child, so their marriage must be a happy one. Well-liked by the people who know him.

But that’s only what we see on the outside. What we really need to consider is what was happening in secret. That’s difficult, because these are things that they may have been hiding from their spouses as well. One youth testified that Travis Reed had looked up his shorts during a mixed martial arts class at the church. I don’t know if anyone from the church was made aware of that when it happened, but that should have raised a red flag.

Derek Hutter appears to have had porn on his computer and he is also accused of online solicitation of a minor. It’s easier to do something with that than an accusation of looking up someone’s shorts. I remember making up some stuff when I was a kid because I knew it would get someone else in trouble. It was nothing of this nature, but kids don’t always tell the truth. We don’t want to ignore what they say, but there are some things that are hard to prove one way or the other. Ironically, things done in the virtual world are more tangible. People who are addicted to porn have trouble limiting when they look at it. If they are looking at it at home, they’re probably looking at it on their computers at church. If they are sending e-mails with their church funded e-mail accounts, they risk and administrator spotting what they’re doing.

While church should certainly try to avoid hiring someone who has a sexual interest in boys or who is addicted to porn, I think there are things churches can do to help prevent things from happening if someone makes it through the initial filter. An open door policy for all who work with youth and children is a good start, but there needs to be more. That open door needs to exist outside the church building as well and it should extend to electronic communication between the youth worker and the student. And when it comes to church assets, such as computers and e-mail accounts, there is value in allowing a trusted third party to have open access to this information.