Archives For grace

The Apostle Paul: But he [the Lord] said to me,  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Cor. 12:9-10)

J. I. Packer: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).

In a brief video, Packer explains his life of weakness, which is true of all of us, whether we realize it or not, whether we are in the prime of life or towards the end. In it all, the truth remains the same: God’s grace is sufficient for our weakness. How we respond to and live this truth reflects the degree of our sanctification/transformation/spiritual maturity. It is explained in the following way:

For Christians, weakness should be a way of life. Yet most of us try desperately to be sufficient on our own, and we resent our limitations and our needs.

In the video, J.I. Packer, renowned theologian and author of the forthcoming Weakness is the Way, reflects on his experience of weakness, having been hit by a bread truck as a child and now facing the realities of aging.

J. I. Packer has long considered himself a “theologian of and for the church,” writing as a churchman for the church. Packer is personally committed to the corporate life and ministry of the local church, and he writes for God’s people who make up that church. All of us who have read his works have benefited greatly.

Packer is a true ecclesial theologian, and he continues to worship the God he loves and serve the church of Jesus Christ purchased with the blood of Christ, even in his old age! I am grateful!

Jeremy Weber, “California Moves To Pass First State Ban of Gay Conversion Therapy,” Christianity Today politics blog (June 6, 2012):

Here is more news regarding homosexuality, this time as it relates to the law and reparative therapy. As you will read, the Senate has voted to ban therapy that encourages teens to move out of the gay/lesbian life/lifestyle. In England, those professionals who practice reparative therapy have lost their licenses.

The California senate has voted to ban reparative therapy for gay and lesbian teens. The bill, which interestingly enough has been opposed by both the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the California Psychological Association (though for very different reasons), now goes on to the state assembly.

CT has reported how many Christian therapists have abandoned reparative therapy amid broad changes in the ex-gay movement, as well as how Willow Creek Community Church and other groups have ended partnerships with Exodus International.

Practitioners of reparative therapy in the United Kingdom have recently lost their licenses over the disputed practice.

What would you do if you were one of these professionals? What counsel would you give to those professionals in your congregations who are faced with this issue? What will you do as a pastoral counselor? Is this a case of “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; cf. 4: 19-20)?

J. D. Greear, “Homosexuality, Christianity, and the Gospel – Part 4”: (April 23, 2012)

Greear studied at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He presently serves as the Lead Pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. These notes come from the church’s Equip: Leadership Forum done this past March on “Homosexuality and Christianity.”

 Greear addressed this issue by focusing on four questions:

I. What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality?
II. What are the major “objections” to the biblical view?
III. Politically, should the church just stay out of this issue? In other words, should homosexual marriage—even if we are personally against it—be a ‘freedom of conscience’ issue in our culture?
IV. What should the attitude of the Summit Church be toward homosexuality and homosexuals?

He responds to each of these questions on his blog. His last post, his response to the last question, is very good. I find it very helpful. I am including his ten points, along with some key (not all) statements under each of them.

1) The point is not homosexuality; the point is the Lordship of Jesus.
The point is not that homosexuality is a fundamentally worse sin than the others—it isn’t. The point is that Jesus is Lord and is our authority in all areas. We cannot pick and choose which parts of Jesus we surrender to. To follow Jesus means total surrender to His Lordship. Jesus may offend us in this area; He offended previous generations in other areas.

2) Our stance on this issue may be one of the most important tests of faithfulness in our generation.
It takes very little courage, relatively speaking, to decry the evils of racism, the exploitation of women, the greed of Wall Street, or the abuses of power in our culture today. Almost anyone would say “Amen” to that, and you would be praised in the Academy, media, and church alike. Our faithfulness to Jesus is tested by whether we maintain His decrees in things our culture finds offensive.

3) The loss of gender identity has devastating consequences for society.
God designed male and female, and society flourishes only as it lives according to His design.

4) God loves the homosexual.
Jesus died for sinners like you and me. He died to free us from sin’s penalty and power.

5) God doesn’t send people to hell for homosexuality.
Here’s how I know that: He doesn’t send people to heaven for heterosexuality. He sends people to hell for self-righteousness, for thinking that they can save themselves or that they don’t need God. This includes the homosexual who rejects God’s words for his own viewpoint, or the greedy religious person who rejects a life of discipleship to hang onto his riches and reputation (Remember, the Bible talks about greed ten times more than sexual sin!).

There are many faithful disciples of Jesus who will never escape same-sex attraction in this life. What we believe about the gospel is shown most by what we do when we fall. Our belief in the gospel is not demonstrated by the fact that we never fall, but by what we do when we fall.

6) We should avoid pat, simplistic answers for the “causes” of homosexuality.
Factors that contribute to homosexuality are numerous and complex. . . . being born with a propensity toward something does not establish its morality. . . . Homosexuality is not a “worse” sin than other sins. It is a manifestation of the fallen nature that affects us all. We are born with propensities toward different spiritual maladies and distortions due to our rejection of God. Our natural dispositions, environment, and personal choices make us into the people we become.

7) We speak as redeemed sinners, not saints.
We speak as those who have been rescued from sin’s captivity and condemnation by Jesus. When we understand this we speak with deep humility and without a drop of hostility or triumphalism. We are not waging a war against homosexuals; Jesus fought and won a war against sin and death for homosexuals, and for us, and we now testify to His victory. Jesus lived the life we all should have lived but didn’t, and died the death we were condemned to die.

Christian fellowship is, by definition, a group of redeemed sinners who still struggle with the power of sin in their lives. . . . We have lots of people in leadership in our church who are struggling with selfishness and lusts of various kinds—including me!—as well as many who are struggling with same sex attraction. Jesus receives broken sinners. He built His church upon them. The only ones He turns away are those who insist on being Lord in His place. They are turned away not because of their homosexuality, but because of their defiance of Him.

8 ) Judgmentalism, hatred, and exclusion have no place in our demeanor.
We are to speak with the humility that comes from those who have been themselves saved from God’s rightful judgment, and we are to extend the same love and inclusion toward homosexuals that Jesus has extended to us. 

9) We can and should be friends with people who are homosexuals.
Jesus befriended sinners, starting with us. Thus, we welcome people to our church, and into our lives, who are homosexuals. They are made in the image of God, and they honor us by being willing to be friends with us! While we can’t stand in “Christian fellowship” with someone who openly embraces what we believe put Jesus on the cross (1 Cor 5:1-13), we can love and befriend them.

10) Sexual ethics are not the center of Christianity.
The gospel is. If our teaching on this really bothers you, let me encourage you to punt it for a while. Jesus’ central message was not instruction in sexual ethics; it was saving us from ourselves. Study Jesus. And if you conclude, as I have, that He is Lord, then you can and should surrender to Him in all things He teaches, whether you agree with Him or not. Take time to consider that first. Don’t be diverted by secondary issues.

Sexual mores were not the center of Jesus’ message, and so they are not the center of our ministry, either. The cross and crown of Jesus are the center. Start with His cross, borne for you, and then move your way out from that to the less important matters.

This serves as a good biblical, theological and pastoral model of addressing the issue of homosexuality. What do you find helpful with what Greear has spelled out? With what do you disagree? What needs greater clarity of emphasis? How are you addressing this issue with God’s people? What and how are you teaching them? What are you modeling to them of how to stand firmly on biblical truth while doing so with love? How are you welcoming but not affirming?

Adultery and Homosexuality

Greg Strand – June 3, 2012 Leave a comment

This has been in the news for quite some time now. Andy Stanley preached a sermon the middle of April. It was part of a series on what it means to be a Christian. In this sermon, Stanley addressed the issue of grace and truth (from a reference to Jesus from John 1:14).

Andy Stanley, “Christian: Part 5: When Gracie Met Truthy” (Sermon Preached April 15, 2012; The moral/ethical issue raising questions begins at about 24 minutes)

The people Jesus loved were messy. The way Jesus loved was messy. He ate with tax collectors and talked with adulterers. His disciples struggled and we still struggle today to understand his extraordinary love. In this message, Andy Stanley unwraps the two ingredients that made Jesus’ love revolutionary – the secret of the most irresistible message ever preached.

Al Mohler, “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” (May 1, 2012)

Mohler was one of the first to pick up on this message and addressed both what Stanley said and what he did not say. Here is the essence of Mohler’s concern over Stanley’s message and what he said and did not say.

The message was insightful and winsome, and Andy Stanley is a master communicator. Early in the message he spoke of homosexuals in attendance, mentioning that some had shared with him that they had come to North Point because they were tired of messages in gay-affirming churches that did nothing but affirm homosexuality.

Then, in the most intense part of his message, Stanley told the congregation an account meant to illustrate his message. He told of a couple with a young daughter who divorced when the wife discovered that the husband was in a sexual relationship with another man. The woman then insisted that her former husband and his gay partner move to another congregation. They did move, but to another North Point location, where they volunteered together as part of a “host team.” The woman later told Andy Stanley that her former husband and his partner were now involved as volunteers in the other congregational location.

The story took a strange turn when Stanley then explained that he had learned that the former husband’s gay partner was still married. Stanley then explained that the partner was actually committing adultery, and that the adultery was incompatible with his service on a host team. Stanley told the two men that they could not serve on the host team so long as the one man was still married. He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.

He concluded by telling of Christ’s death for sinners and told the congregation that Jesus does not condemn them, even if they cannot or do not leave their life of sin.

Declaring the death of Christ as atonement for sin is orthodox Christianity and this declaration is essential to the Gospel of Christ. The problem was that Stanley never mentioned faith or repentance — which are equally essential to the Gospel. There is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but this defines those who have acted in repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). As for those who are not in Christ, they stand condemned already (John 3:18).

The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality. Stanley clearly and repeatedly stressed the sin of adultery, but then left the reality of the homosexual relationship between the two men unaddressed as sin. To the contrary, he seemed to normalize their relationship. They would be allowed to serve on the host team if both were divorced. The moral status of their relationship seemed to be questioned only in terms of adultery, with no moral judgment on their homosexuality.

Denny Burk, “The Relevant Queries for Andy Stanley” (May 1, 2012)

Burk agreed with Mohler and his concerns and followed with three questions for Stanley.

1. Do you believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is sin? Do you agree with the Bible?
2. Are practicing homosexuals allowed to become members of your church? Would you baptize a practicing homosexual?
3. Are practicing homosexuals allowed any positions of leadership or responsibility in your church? If so, what positions?

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Andy Stanley Sermon Illustration on Homosexuality Prompts Backlash,” Christianity Today (May 3 [Web-only], 2012)

Anugrah Kumar, “Andy Stanley Avoids Gay Issue in Last Sermon of Controversial Series,” The Christian Post (May 6, 2012)

Scot McKnight. “Andy Stanley, Right and Good” (May 7, 2012)

McKnight concludes that what Stanley said and the manner in which we said it, and what he did not way, was “right and good.” Additionally, he concludes that critics of Stanley, viz. Mohler and Burk, have unfairly placed him on a slippery slope based on what he did not say. They, according to McKnight, engaged in the worst reading/hearing of Stanley, not the best. In response, McKnight used an illustration of Jesus and the Pharisees.

This whole story reminds me of two stories about Jesus and his Pharisee critics, two stories when he befriended those whom the others thought unacceptable.

Denny Burk: “Update on the Stanley Conversation” (May 7, 2012)

In this post, Burk replies to McKnight, acknowledges that this is as much about ecclesiology and how one views membership and discipline as it is about the moral status of homosexuality, and he points to North Point’s “student ministry volunteer application” that does address “sexual behavior.”

Andrew Marin, “Andy Stanley, Al Mohler, and Homosexuality,” Out of Ur (May 8, 2012)

Marin has this to say about Stanley’s message:

Stanley illustrated a story of a wife, husband and daughter in his church—where the husband cheated with another man who eventually became his partner—and the journey for each of the participants. The reality of this family’s new tension-filled dynamic illustrated for Stanley the tension between grace and truth in the Christian faith.

Here is his conclusion about Mohler, who was the first to take issue with Stanley’s message:

It should not be a surprise that Mohler took a hardline stand against Stanley’s nuanced message of tension.

Mohler’s worldview leads him to take the role of a moral watchdog within Christendom to anchor and promote conservative social, theological, and political ethics in an ever-trending liberal Western society.

Marin then contrasted Stanley and Mohler:

Using that filter I can grasp Mohler’s point about sin not being mentioned in relation to the gay relationship in Stanley’s illustration. Mohler has the expectation that every time homosexuality is mentioned, “sin” must be reiterated (you know, just in case there are any doubts). Since the progressive and LGBT movements are at the crux of cultural trends opposing strong conservatives like Mohler, when one of his own doesn’t unequivocally reaffirm his understanding of orthodoxy, even if that was not meant to be the point of the sermon, he must respond. In his mind, not taking this opportunity to label homosexuality sin leaves Stanley and other nondenominational megachurch pastors on the road toward liberalism. Yet my experience has shown Mohler’s assumption of a “slippery slope” is a theology-based academic construct much more than a functioning real-life theology of engagement.

To suggest that Stanley was attempting to normalize homosexuality by not speaking of the sin of same-sex sexual acts, as Mohler suggested, is to miss the point of Stanley’s sermon. Stanley focused on what it means to live in the tension of sin being present in the world and yet still follow as best as one can in the Way of Jesus. There is no better example of this in contemporary society than the complicated, broken, mixed family Stanley profiled—wife, boyfriend, daughter, ex-husband and his partner.

This whole exchange is worthwhile to read.

Here are a number of brief observations:

  1. There are cultural issues that are pressing against the Christian faith.
  2. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage is one of those key moral issues that is one of the leading cultural issues.
  3. It is imperative that Christians and the Church stand firmly on all the truth, and yet also specifically address those moral and cultural issues that are the specific pressure points against the truth and the Christian faith.
  4. Since culture consists of the mores of a people, and since people are not neutral spiritually/morally, there are issues to which the culture ways “yes” that the church, based on truth, must say “no.” Because liberal theology regularly accommodates Scripture to the culture and the mores of the people, they often say “yes” to these sorts of things. As Evangelicals, Scripture is not to be accommodated because if it is it is compromised.
  5. There are differences among Evangelicals in how we are to engage culture and how we are to communicate the truth to this culture.
  6. On these moral pressure points, both speaking and not speaking speak volumes. If homosexuality is addressed as sin, there are those who will claim that that is all that is being spoken about as sin and we have a single note to our message. If homosexuality is not addressed as sin, it may mean that one denies it is sin but it may mean that one is not addressing the full implications of this sin at this point in one’s statement, writing or message.
  7. Though the moral sin must be addressed, it ought to be addressed in a broader category of sins. In this case of human sexuality, homosexuality is sin. But so is fornication and adultery, and many other sins.
  8. As the moral issues of the day are addressed, it must be done from within the foundation and framework of the gospel.  The issue must neither become nor supplant the gospel.

What do you observe? What would you add? How do you stand on the truth of God’s Word, equip and model for God’s people how to do that, and engage in culture, specifically on this point?

In mid-April in Seattle the National High School Journalism Conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association (JEA) and the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) held their annual Convention, “Journalism on the Edge.”  Dan Savage was invited to give the keynote address on the topic of bullying.

Though the intent was to address the important issue of bullying, what those in attendance received was a model of how to bully. It was sad. Savage began the It Gets Better Project two years ago, which encourages young people struggling with same-sex attraction to embrace homosexuality now, with the assurance that it will get better as they get older. He used this lecture as a bully-pulpit to attack Christians and the Bible.

If you watch the video, be forewarned – it does contain some questionable language.

Savage shortly after this bullying tirade at this anti-bullying lecture apologized if he “hurt anyone’s feelings,” but it was stated sarcastically and was another model, this time of an unapologetic apology.

Here are some of the responses to Savage’s message.

Karla Dial, “Students Walk Out on Dan Savage,” CitizenLink (April 18, 2012)

Joe Carter, “Anti-Bullying Speaker Attacks Bible, Christian Teens” (April 30, 2012)

Denny Burk, “Who is Dan Savage?” (April 30, 2012)

Eric Metaxas, “A Savage Attack: Redefining Bullying,” Breakpoint (May 8, 2012)

I conclude with two brief thoughts.

First, this is as blatant an example of the “intolerance of tolerance” as you will hear.

Second, how we respond is critical. We are too often tempted to respond in the same manner, and we feel justified in doing so. But we must not. This does not mean we do not respond. This does not mean we do not stand firmly on truth over against both what Savage said and the manner in which he said it. What this means is that we respond in truth and we respond in the manner of having been transformed by that gospel truth. Or with Jesus as our example as the One who is full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14), we seek, by the power and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to live and respond in like manner – full of grace and truth.