marriage today in the church and society

“Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matthew 19

Eugene Peterson, one of the very best Christian writers in my lifetime, himself a pastor had an interesting exchange in the past few days in which he seemed to affirm same sex marriage, and then immediately retracted that, and clarified his position. See this interesting post from Christianity Today.

My own position is to side with what scripture up front seems to make clear both in regard to marriage, and same sex relationships, or homosexuality. Of course scripture itself is nuanced, and challenging on some levels, and always must be read in light of its fulfillment in Christ. That said, it seems pretty clear why the traditional view not only holds strong with most Christian denominations and traditions, but surely will remain so in generations to come. Perhaps what might change is how people who have same sex attraction are received into the church, although that probably varies from church to church now.

Denominations and churches which accept and practice same sex weddings, and ordain those who are thus “married” I have seen, either argue that scripture itself leaves room for “covenant” gay sexual relationship, that when scripture does address this subject the few times it does, it is referring to something else altogether. I have read the arguments myself, and find them less than convincing in comparison to traditional teaching and interpretation of scripture. Or there are those “Christian” leaders who simply question Biblical teaching, even at times suggesting that the resurrection of Christ can be taken either literally or metaphorically, in others words that one can be a Christian without believing Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection. While I disagree, I can respect the former, but not the latter.

I think it’s a tragedy when whole groups are ostracized by the church, and now I’m thinking of the LGBT group. But any church, or Christian who doesn’t hold an affirming view of such relationships, will be seen as attacking the person. I doubt that enough work is being done to reach out to these people. At the very least they should know that they’re loved, and welcomed. I’m not sure myself just how to address this, though I think I know what my tentative suggestion might be. But I would want to be part of a group of men and women prayerfully deliberating on that.

As to my own view for society, I say that the church should not try to dictate what the state wants to do. The state, or government is not the church, and can’t be held to the church’s standards. Nor should the church be forced by the state to adopt the state’s standards. So I would hold to a separation of church and state, at the same time hoping that the church’s influence through the gospel might rub off on the state. But never at the expense of compromising the church’s own complete allegiance to Christ and the gospel.

It is quite a challenging and hot topic today, a sea change having taken place in society, with some impact on some churches. It’s simply a new time for the church to learn to live in a culture which doesn’t define marriage in strictly a traditional way. The church will continue on, but hopefully with new insight in helping those who feel rejected by the only one who can change any of us, and receives us all.

King Jesus: “the truth” which divides

Love and truth go together in scripture. One is not legitimate without the other. But the fact is that in our society and culture what that means differs from scripture. Their truth is told from their narrative which draws the line on moral judgments only in terms which most any society would agree is right and good. Largely speaking our modernist, postmodernist culture is becoming more and more relativist meaning there are theoretically no absolutes. What might be true for you (as in working for you) may not be true for me. Truth at large depends on what society thinks. And indeed there is a legal precedent for that. One of the United States Supreme Court Justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. believed that laws are strictly speaking determined by society, even (from what I remember reading elsewhere) from what a majority thinks. And that judges make decisions on law from the directive of the United States Constitution in terms of what that constitution was based on as well, “common law.” And that there is no law from any deity that must be upheld. Most of the judges of his day generally followed that principle whether or not they agreed in all the details, and that directive up to the present time generally seems to remain in play.

Our response as those who are of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is necessarily in terms of God’s will in Jesus. But it is also in terms of the people we want to reach in love with the gospel. Paul became all things to all people that by all possible means he might save some (the wording of scripture). And he did that for the sake of the gospel and the blessing that comes from it.

The harsh reality is that no matter what we in Jesus say it will be judged as hard, insensitive, unaccepting, intolerance — unloving. Instead of dropping the truth on people before they’re ready, we may need to prayerfully do other things so that by God’s grace and Spirit in and through Jesus, their hearts might be prepared to receive and accept it. The basic truth which will not sit well in our society is that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. That no one can come to the Father, to God apart from him.

We want to win others to the faith. What can attract them? Simply seeing Jesus. Jesus for who he is, God’s revelation in him. That is what we all need, what our neighbors need. But Jesus himself will be the dividing line until kingdom come, when the kingdom of God will become the rule of life on earth when King Jesus returns. Jesus is the good shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep and searches for the lost sheep. He is the gate through which the sheep enter into abundant, eternal life. Some will receive that, sadly others not.

And so love and truth are found in Jesus. Jesus, by his life and teachings, death and resurrection, ascension and pouring out of the Spirit with the promise of his return, brings us back to God’s will in which we reign under God’s rule. A rule by which we in King Jesus live in the life of the Spirit. As we seek to live in and live out the gospel as a witness, as it is proclaimed to the world.

we need all of scripture

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In this day and age not only is the knowledge of scripture waning among the faithful it seems, but the Book is not being appreciated for what it really is: the written word of God. Certain parts are out of style, or maybe we should say parts everywhere, or why not just say the entire Book? It doesn’t fit our fancy, just isn’t in with the spirit of the times.

This thought came home anew and afresh to me in listening to what I think is a powerful testimony of a lesbian coming to faith, well worth the listen. She wrestled through all of scripture. And over time. And the Lord met her there.

Of course I don’t believe we’re to live in the past. We in Jesus live in God’s kingdom and in that new reality here and now and for this day as God’s resurrection people in and through Jesus and his cross. We don’t go back to the old covenant. Nor do we live in the culture in and to which the new covenant was written. This book is the best I’ve read in helping us begin to think through that. Nevertheless we need every line, every thought that comes out of every part of scripture, everything given, all of it. Picking and choosing will not do.

All of it is in there for a reason. Parts of it I dislike. But those parts often either mirror the sin that can take hold and destroy, or my own sin in some way affecting my reading of it in ways I can’t or maybe never will fully comprehend this side of glory, though it’s probably good to work on that.

I like the idea of reading scripture, especially out loud which scripture itself advocates. I’ve done that a number of times (though not out loud, except perhaps in my mind), but mostly I’ve listened and continue to listen to it being read- in recent years from The Bible Experience. I have to keep listening, try to listen well, and grow in that, but in this way I’m pushed through the entire Book over and over again. Along with that we need serious Bible study and prayerful Bible reading (Lectio Divina). The only thing I’ve done relatively well is to listen to it being read, although I think it is too often in spite of myself, wandering thoughts and not paying close enough attention (becoming aware of this, I’m trying to do better), and yet enough of it getting through to me to make some difference.

We in Jesus have been aptly called “people of the Book.” As long as it is not a book we worship, but the God revealed in Christ we read of in the pages of that Book, we remain among the faithful. We look to the Spirit to help us as continue in God’s word together in and through Jesus for the world.

Lois Tverberg on the restoration of “the picture of Jesus that the gospel writers first gave us”

In 1977, Pinn Barcilon won the assignment of a lifetime when she was asked to lead the restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, one of the most well-known images of all time. But the renowned Italian art conservator could hardly imagine how nerve-wracking the next twenty-three years would be.

The centuries hadn’t been kind to the mural that da Vinci completed on a monastery wall in Milan, Italy, in 1498. Always the experimenter, Leonardo had reformulated his paints in a way that proved to be unstable, so that the paint began flaking off even before his death. And even though his mural was immediately hailed as a masterpiece, it was left unprotected from pollution and humidity. When Barcilon began her restoration, five hundred years of dust, mold, and candle soot had darkened the iconic work almost to the point of invisibility.

The real challenge for her team, however, was to undo the disastrous attempts at restoration that had begun back in the 1700s. Heavy coats of varnish, glue, and wax had been brushed on, each of them hastening the darkening process.  Worst of all, hack amateurs had painted over da Vinci’s work time and again, rendering its images distorted, brushing out details they didn’t understand, and filling in gaps with their own interpretations.

After months of photographing every square centimeter of the painting’s surface and analyzing it using state-of-the-art technology, Barcilon’s team members finally began their work. Then, for over twenty years they hunched over microscopes, painstakingly scraping away five hundred years of grime and overpainting. On a good day, one postage stamp’s  worth of the image would emerge. In 1999, when da Vinci’s brushstrokes were finally revealed, her team’s meticulous, mind-numbing labor found its reward. Barcilon called it a “slow, severe conquest, which, flake after flake, day after day, millimeter after millimeter, fragment after fragment, gave back a reading of the dimensions, of the expressive and chromatic intensity that we thought was lost forever.”

Gloomy shadows banished; a well-lit banquet hall emerged. Peter’s beard and nose were free of the clumsy weight that later retouchings had given them. Matthew sported blond hair, not black. Thomas gained a left hand. Andrew’s expression was transformed—he was no longer sullen, but astonished. And Jesus’ face glowed with new light after the dingy repaintings had been removed.

The essence of the scene remained unchanged. Da Vinci had depicted the fateful scene at the moment Jesus revealed one of his disciples would soon betray him. But after centuries of murky obscurity, restoration had brought to light the original beauty of the artist’s masterful portrayal  of the facial expression and body language of Christ and his disciples.

Just as modern technology enabled Barcilon to reveal da Vinci’s original strokes, in recent decades scholars have gained new tools to restore the picture of Jesus that the gospel writers first gave us. In just the past fifty years, we have seen more advances in biblical archaeology and in the discovery of ancient texts than in all the centuries since the time of Jesus. As dingy accretions of history are cleared away,  vivid details of Jesus’ life and culture are emerging….

….Leonardo da Vinci’s….masterpiece has influenced the Christian imagination of Jesus’ fateful last evening more than any other, yet it is culturally wrong in every detail. In the background are windows looking out on a sunny mid-afternoon scene, whereas the Passover meal always took place at night. And of course the faces of Jesus and the disciples are pale-faced Europeans, not Semitic. Most telling is what is on the table. Lacking are the essential elements of the Passover celebration, including the lamb and unleavened bread. In their place is a puffy loaf of bread, when leavening is strictly forbidden during the week of Passover, and a shockingly unkosher plate of grilled eels garnished with orange slices!

Of course da Vinci’s goal was to portray the disciples’ reactions at that critical moment, and he does so with brilliant technique and emotive depth. But by not including the elements of Passover, a feast that celebrated God’s redemption and brimmed over with messianic expectations, we miss the fact that Jesus was powerfully proclaiming himself as the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises. Jesus uses the symbols of Passover to point toward his coming atonement to redeem those who believed in him and to inaugurate a “new covenant” for the forgiveness of sin.

Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, 15,16,22.

different cultures

Sometimes one can be lost or confounded, either not knowing or misunderstanding due to the different culture they are in. There are many cultures at various levels. Some on what we might call macro levels representing people groups such as American natives, and others on micro levels within those groups, such as the academics. Each people group for the most part is likely to have some of the same subgroups such as the formally educated, and those who are not.

I think it helps us immensely to understand the difference in these cultures so that we won’t be lost, and perhaps may even be able to contribute something. To those who don’t know the Lord, sharing our faith in him, for example. For those in academic pursuit, learning to appreciate what they’re about so we can learn from them, and perhaps join in, in our limited way.

Paul said he became all things to all people that he might win to Christ as many as possible. Paul was willing to identify with them and their way of life as long as while doing so, he was able to follow Christ. In fact this was a part of his following the Lord, to better understand people. So that he could identify with them as fully as possible, even as Jesus fully identified with humans in the incarnation, and with those he was sent to.

We often can misunderstand or take something personally when it has little or nothing to do with us, but is simply due to the culture we’re interacting with. I like to interact a bit with academics, to take one example from my own life. But I’m not an academic. So I need to remember that. I still want to participate in it, acknowledging my own limitations, and not expecting to be received on a level with them. After all, they’ve read the books (and journals). I haven’t.

We all have our place, and it is unique. In that sense each of us lives within a distinct culture. One does well not to measure others by themselves, as we read elsewhere. However the one culture we are to become steeped in is what might be called the Jesus culture. Yes, we each have our distinct place or uniqueness in that. But that is the culture in which we’re to grow and live. A culture which is inclusive in the sense of reaching out and inviting in all others. As we accept them in love unconditionally. Learning to understand and appreciate their worlds, so that they might come to understand and enter the way in Jesus.

the culture wars

Last evening I watched a deeply disturbing, troubling, but I think insightful documentary, regardless of which side you’re on in the creation/evolution debate. I don’t like to frame it that way since I am an evangelical Christian who believes the Bible is the word of God, and that God is indeed the Creator of heaven and earth. But I also accept evolution. Most of the time I lay low on this, knowing the ire, even contempt that can come against those who hold this view. I know the other side too can experience that, though I think it often is more in terms of incredulity as people are astounded by the lack of science, or how the book of God in nature, called general revelation, is not accepted on its own terms. Of course in the end all truth is God’s truth. The heart of that truth is the good news of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. All of scripture for the Christian is fulfilled, and therefore seen in light of this gospel.

Here is the blog of a website of an organization committed to the Christian faith, working through the issues of faith and science.

I can’t identify with today’s culture wars. I just don’t line up on the Christian side, even though I’m not on the other side. In issue after issue I find myself questioning our stance in reference to following Jesus, and to truth itself. That being said, the world would consider me a conservative Christian. And I would not be surprised to see some serious issues coming to a head over our faith in the coming days in reference to law and society. I can only hope that freedom will remain for us to live by the dictates of our conscience in accordance with our faith.

In the meantime, I think we need to stay in the word and prayer in community in Jesus, to the goal of fulfilling our missional calling to the world. What that looks like with reference to the hot button issues of today we pray will be Jesus-like. And true to God’s calling and the truth as it is in Jesus.

being informed

John R. W. Stott in his book, Between Two Worlds, believes in part that the pastor’s task in preparation for preaching involves both reading the Bible and the newspaper. Of course nowadays that would mean tuning into the media where it is, which for me now is isolated to NPR and the internet. I remember in that book that he and a group I think of other pastors would sometimes go to movies together, and then afterward talk about what they had seen. They were trying to understand their present time and culture, so as to know what the church should do in fulfilling the mission of God in Jesus.

It’s interesting how I seem to go through various cycles in my life in this, going in and out in keeping up with the news in any sort of depth (beyond the headlines). Probably getting surfeited and then burned out during our increasingly long election cycles, and possibly due to imbibing the spirit of pessimism and cynicism characteristic of our times. But I’m more and more convinced that we need to try to stay informed about the world to which we are sent in Jesus. This needs to involve some sort of discipline in our lives in practice, which means engagement in this media only for a period of time overall, so that our time in the word, in prayer, and in other disciplines to which we are called (in general, and unique to us) will not be crowded out.

At the same time we need to remember as my friend Allan Bevere has pointed out, that the real world and the actions of God in his kingdom are found in and out from the church, the community of God in Jesus,  not in the world order, nor in and out from the current super power, the United States. Yet while Jesus’ kingdom, as he said, is not from (and in that sense of origin, of) this world and its system, it is present in the world for the world.

So while we’re to think through issues in current speak within the framework of the discussions at hand, we need to keep bringing all of that into the light of the kingdom of God come and present in Jesus. And immerse all of that in prayer and in our study of God’s word. With the questions: How should we the people of God then live? What is God doing and how do we figure in that work? In terms of us together as God’s people in Jesus and especially so out from our local churches each with unique callings within the general calling.

So in all of this, as John R.W. Stott so aptly wrote of in the above mentioned book, let’s endeavor to be led by God’s Spirit together in mission in a world in which the politics of Jesus from the good news of God in him in God’s grace and kingdom, can speak and act in God’s transforming power, so that others may believe and the salt and light which we are as God’s community in Jesus, may have its impact on the world.