Friday, June 26, 2015

Love Wins, But Not At the Expense of Truth

Today the Supreme Court redefined marriage.  That's what the news says anyway.  For those who believe in a sovereign Lord of the Universe who is the Creator and Definer of all life and existence, we know that humans can never redefine what God has defined.  Humans can only move dangerously away from the truth.

During the arguments before the Supreme Court, one primary issue that was raised a few times by Justice Kennedy was the issue of whether marriage bestows dignity upon participants.  According to Kennedy's logic, marriage bestows dignity upon individuals and ennobles them. All people deserve dignity, no matter their sexual orientation, and that dignity is protected under the 14th Amendment. Therefore, we must allow homosexual couples to "marry," thereby bestowing dignity upon them.

The opposing lawyer argued that marriage does not bestow dignity, but rather the main purpose of marriage is centered around procreation. While I agree that this is a central purpose of marriage (not the central purpose of marriage), I believe this was a wrong move, both strategically and rationally.

Here's why: It's clear to all that marriage is a dignified institution, and those who participate in it are thereby ennobled.  So denying this runs contrary to something that's readily apparent and deeply embedded in each of us. However, the thing that makes marriage a dignified institution is not simply that we say someone is married and, "Boom!" they receive dignity from that declaration.  Rather, marriage is a dignified institution because of it's very nature--because of what it is.  Let me elaborate.

First, marriage is dignified because at its core, marriage is the bringing together of two profoundly different and complementary individuals to become one, so that synergistically they are more complete together than they ever were apart. Genesis 2:24 says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." It's this unity in diversity that makes marriage the glorious, dignified institution that it is. And our differences extend to the very core of our being, biologically, psychologically, and even spiritually. Our gender is essential to our being. In fact, in heaven, I will not be married, but I will be male. And same-sex couples cannot experience marriage and the dignity that it confers because they are not profoundly different and complementary. They are same-sex, homo--not hetero--sexuals. As Kevin DeYoung said,
The promotion and legal recognition of homosexual unions is not in the interest of the common good. That may sound benighted, if not bigoted. But we must say it in love: codifying the indistinguishability of gender will not make for the "peace of the city." It rubs against the grain of the universe, and when you rub against the grain of divine design you're bound to get splinters. Or worse. The society which says sex is up to your own definition and the family unit is utterly fungible is not a society that serves its children, its women, or its own long term well being.
Second, and most importantly, marriage is a dignified institution because it was a established by God to picture His relationship with His people. Ephesians 5:31-32 quotes Genesis saying, "'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery-- but I am talking about Christ and the church." So a marriage between a man and woman profoundly pictures the gospel--the good news about Jesus. When a man sacrificially loves his wife, he pictures God's sacrificial love for us. And when a woman lovingly submits to and responds to her husband, she pictures the churches obedience and love to God. Marriage explains the gospel and the gospel explains marriage. And when we distort this by calling something same-sex "marriage" that is not marriage we only muddle people's thinking and diminish the sacredness and dignity of marriage within our culture.

Some have countered that allowing same-sex couples to marry will not take any rights away from heterosexual couples. I suspect that ultimately this will prove to be false, but more importantly this misses the larger point: When we call something "marriage" that in reality is not marriage this will inevitably lead to the erosion of the institution of marriage in our culture, and thus the erosion of a central picture of God's relationship to His people. And so our entire culture will be spiritually hurt and further bankrupted by this muddled thinking. This is why Isaiah 5:20 says, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"

Some will condemn the things that I am saying as hateful and prejudiced, but that's not my heart.  In fact, if what I'm saying is true (and I believe it is), then that means that the most loving thing we can do is lovingly stand up for the truth. Those who have put their faith in Jesus are not being gracious when they capitulate on the truth. Understand this: grace is only gracious when it is not offered at the expense of the truth. That's why Paul wrote that, "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor 13:6). If we really believe in Jesus, then that means that we really believe that He knows what He's talking about, whether He's addressing sexual ethics or any other subject. And so if we have faith in Jesus, then we will agree with Him that homosexual behavior is sinful, deviant, and ultimately leads down a dark path that will rob people of their joy and love. Ultimately, this sin stands in between people and their Creator Who loves them deeply, and if they don't repent they will be separated from God forever. To not tell the truth about this is the opposite of loving.

So for Christians who live in a culture that is increasingly normalizing and institutionalizing sinful behavior, let me offer five suggestions:
  1. Recognize that our hope is not in this world.  We should not feel despondent because this world is moving away from the truth. Indeed, we should expect it and expect the persecution that will accompany this. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also" (John 15:18-20). This world is not our home, and we need to remember that (Phil 3:20, John 17:15-16).
  2. Continue to uphold the picture of God's relationship to His people through biblical marriage. Christians need to uphold biblical marriage. This means that we need to be aware of what the Bible teaches about marriage, divorce and remarriage, and we must strive in our personal lives to make our marriages a clear reflection of God's relationship to His people. We must be clear that biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship. Marriage is about something bigger and more important than personal happiness (though great personal happiness is a byproduct of biblical marriage), and Christians need to understand and embrace this reality. I highly recommend the book, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller in this regard.
  3. Understand what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. Christians need to be equipped to speak about homosexuality with intelligence and respect. For those who seek to be equipped in this way, Kevin DeYoung's book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? is a great place to start.
  4. Be careful to reinforce the truth with our speech. Because marriage is defined by God, there is no such thing as so-called "same-sex marriage." This is a fiction that we should not reinforce with our words. For this reason, I don't think we should use the terms "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage." I think in our everyday discourse, we should say "so-called gay marriage" or "so-called same-sex marriage." To use these terms only reinforces a fiction that is harming those who are engaged in it, which will make it more difficult and confusing for them should they repent.
  5. Embody both love and truth to this world that desperately needs both. We must not capitulate on the truth. But we also must be gracious and loving. Jesus is "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), and Paul exhorts us to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15). We must love others deeply, and recognize that homosexual behavior is the result of a deep brokenness of the soul. We must be ready for same-sex couples and the refugees of this sexual revolution to come into our churches and to have strategies for how we'll lovingly share the truth with them, counsel them, and walk with them as they seek to live out the truth. As a friend of mine said,
Wrestling with any form of a gender identity issue is taxing on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Struggles with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, isolation, and self-worth are all too common among those who grapple with such feelings. But, as I also know from personal experience, it is possible to struggle with gender identity issues and still live a faithful Christian life. But I have only been able to do that through knowing and experiencing both the love and the truth of Jesus Christ. And the truth is that the homosexual or transgender actions and lifestyles are sinful and God has made his attitude clear on these subjects (See Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:5). Such actions will only lead a person down a dark, dangerous, and sometimes deadly path because they do not line up with God’s intended purposes for sexuality. However, this should not diminish our kindness or affection in any capacity for people struggling with these temptations or even those who live such lifestyles out in the open. Our God and Father in heaven loves them, and because he loves them, he desires for them to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). By coming to a knowledge of the truth, they may also come to be obedient to his will in order to live a holy and pure life before him (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Christians, if we want to love those in the LGBTQ community, we have to both stand for the Truth of God’s Word and offer Grace to those who struggle with or live in that lifestyle. Only then will our love be complete and in line with God’s perfect will.
Let's resolve to love others without compromising the truth. "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor 13:6).

Friday, February 13, 2015

How To Love Someone

Paul Tripp recently posted a blog on love in which he lists 23 things that love is.  In many ways, his list could be seen as an application and exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
I don't know of many people who could read this list without being convicted:

23 Things That Love Is
  1. LOVE IS... being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of others without impatience or anger.
  2. LOVE IS... actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward another while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
  3. LOVE IS... making a daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
  4. LOVE IS... being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding.
  5. LOVE IS... being more committed to unity and understanding than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.
  6. LOVE IS... a making a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.
  7. LOVE IS... being willing, when confronted by another, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.
  8. LOVE IS... making a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to another is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient.
  9. LOVE IS... being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged, but looking for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.
  10. LOVE IS... being a good student of another, looking for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support them as they carry it, or encourage them along the way.
  11. LOVE IS... being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the relational problems you face, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.
  12. LOVE IS... being willing to always ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
  13. LOVE IS... recognizing the high value of trust in a relationship and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.
  14. LOVE IS... speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack the other person’s character or assault their intelligence.
  15. LOVE IS... being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt the other person into giving you what you want or doing something your way.
  16. LOVE IS... being unwilling to ask another person to be the source of your identity, meaning, and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of theirs.
  17. LOVE IS... the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a spouse, parent, neighbor, etc.
  18. LOVE IS... a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your relationships.
  19. LOVE IS... staying faithful to your commitment to treat another with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when the other person doesn’t seem deserving or is unwilling to reciprocate.
  20. LOVE IS... the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of a relationship without asking for anything in return or using your sacrifices to place the other person in your debt.
  21. LOVE IS... being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm a relationship, hurt the other person, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
  22. LOVE IS... refusing to be self-focused or demanding, but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
  23. LOVE IS... daily admitting to yourself, the other person, and God that you are unable to be driven by a cruciform love without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Morning Mercies

This year I've decided to read a new devotional book along with my regular Bible reading. I've chosen the book, New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. The title of this book is based on one of my favorite passages of Scripture:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  
-Lamentations 3:21-25
Below is an excerpt from the introduction that was deeply encouraging to me. I hope it encourages you as we begin 2015!

Now, I have to be honest here—I didn’t write this devotional just for you. No, I wrote it for myself as well. There is no reality, principle, observation, truth, command, encouragement, exhortation, or rebuke in this devotional that I don’t desperately need myself. I’m like you; familiarity causes me not to treasure the gospel of Jesus Christ as I should. As the themes of grace get more and more familiar and common, they don’t capture my attention and awe as they once did. When amazing realities of the gospel quit commanding your attention, your awe, and your worship, other things in your life will capture your attention instead. When you quit celebrating grace, you begin to forget how much you need grace, and when you forget how much you need grace, you quit seeking the rescue and strength that only grace can give. This means you begin to see yourself as more righteous, strong, and wise than you actually are, and in so doing, you set yourself up for trouble.

So this devotional is a call for you and me to remember. It’s a call to remember the horrible disaster of sin. It’s a call to remember Jesus, who stood in our place. It’s a call to remember the righteousness that is his gift. It’s call to remember the transforming power of the grace you and I couldn’t have earned. It’s a call to remember the destiny that is guaranteed to all of God’s blood-purchased children. It’s a call to remember his sovereignty and his glory. It’s a call to remember that remembering is spiritual war; even for this we need grace.

The title of this devotional is not only a reference to the way the Bible talks about God’s grace (Lam. 3:22–23), but also an allusion to a famous hymn that I think we should sing every day.
“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
One of the stunning realities of the Christian life is that in a world where everything is in some state of decay, God’s mercies never grow old. They never run out. They never are ill timed. They never dry up. They never grow weak. They never get weary. They never fail to meet the need. They never disappoint. They never, ever fail, because they really are new every morning. Formfitted for the challenges, disappointments, sufferings, temptations, and struggles with sin within and without are the mercies of our Lord. Sometimes they are:
Awe-inspiring mercies
Rebuking mercies
Strengthening mercies
Hope-giving mercies
Heart-exposing mercies
Rescuing mercies
Transforming mercies
Forgiving mercies
Provision-making mercies
Uncomfortable mercies
Glory-revealing mercies
Truth-illumining mercies
Courage-giving mercies.
God’s mercies don’t come in one color; no, they come in every shade of every color of the rainbow of his grace. God’s mercies are not the sound of one instrument; no, they sound the note of every instrument of his grace. God’s mercy is general; all of his children bask in his mercy. God’s mercy is specific; each child receives the mercy that is designed for his or her particular moment of need. God’s mercy is predictable; it is the fountain that never stops flowing. God’s mercy is unpredictable; it comes to us in surprising forms. God’s mercy is a radical theology, but it is more than a theology; it is life to all who believe. God’s mercy is ultimate comfort, but it is also a call to a brand-new way of living. God’s mercy really does change everything forever, for all upon whom this mercy is bestowed....