October 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis demonstrates why it was needed. Yesterday, the Pope declared that “condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out. And [it] is, of itself, contrary to the Gospel, because it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.”
While it is true that human life is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, it is also true, based on the Bible, that God laid the foundations of capital punishment exactly because life is sacred to Him. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This was part of a series of God’s commands to Noah and his descendants establishing the foundations of human government.
Later, Israel also applied the death penalty to sins other than murder, which nations are free to do and we are now free to debate. The big picture shows that God often showed mercy when capital punishment was due, and ultimately we all deserve death as those are the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). The Gospel is in fact based on this premise, and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romand 5:8).
It’s important to know that God’s “eye for an eye” authority has been given to government, not individuals. From Rome, we read this: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For qthere is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for she is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:1-4)
The Pope didn’t expressly say that God did not institute capital punishment. But to say that it is now wrong in every case is a contradiction to God’s word, and even conflicts with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church up until yesterday. Even the latest 1997 catechism on the subject morally permitted the death penalty in “cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity.”
Clearly it wasn’t God’s word that changed over the millennia, but our own. Mankind established his own authority alongside God’s revealed word, and inevitably the two will not agree. This was the root of the problem Luther saw 500 years ago and the reason he saw fit to remind the Roman Catholic authorities that by Scripture Alone (“Sola Scriptura”) we know God’s infallible and unchanging rule of faith and practice.
September 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
One of the kids from our neighborhood got married two weeks ago, and I had the privilege of officiating her wedding. Her family was in celebration mode, dancing together at the reception. The bride’s brother had double the reason to be joyful as he and his girlfriend were expecting a child any day.
Five days later, this family was together again when it came time to have the baby. But this time they were together to grieve. The baby didn’t survive the delivery, and the parents had asked me to join them at the hospital to pray for them. This afternoon I officiated this baby’s funeral. What a difference a few days can make.This contrast brought to my mind a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, where King Solomon writes his observations about life and its ups and downs:
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance. …”
There are 10 other pairs of seasons contrasted in this chapter, but those four lines stood out to me as a picture of how life goes sometimes. We often go back and forth from a time of dancing to a time of grieving, or from a time of laughter to a time of tears.
For sure, dancing together gives us strength when we have to grieve together, and laughing together helps us through the times we have to cry together. But it seems much harder to experience such extremes when they occur in such close proximity to one another, almost immediately plunging from one of life’s happiest occasions, a wedding, to this unimaginable depths of losing a child.
We can always expect seed time and harvest to be several months apart. But what do we do when the time to be born and a time to die are virtually the same moment? When we don’t have a lifetime of photos to look at and memories to share? What do we do then?
I think we should look for hope. We need something to look forward to, and something that will last.
Ecclesiastes 3 continues… “What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
In that last verse we learn that “God has planted eternity in the human heart.” It’s interesting that we often talk about “forever” as if we have some kind of experience with it, like it’s a normal part of our lives, but it isn’t. We often say “I’ll love you forever,” but no one on earth has experienced forever. While stuck at a long traffic light we might in frustration declare that it’s taking an “eternity”, yet we’ve never seen eternity. Buzz Lightyear says he’s going “to infinity and beyond,” but isn’t infinity theoretical? We can’t count to or even calculate infinity with math. We can’t really even imagine it. The best we can do is get a little closer to it.
Maybe we think and talk so much about an eternity we’ve never experienced because God “planted eternity in the human heart” to give us hope that there is more to life than this life and its misery. If we think about eternity, we can perhaps imagine ourselves in it.
Solomon wrote in chapter 7, that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” In this way, a funeral is better than a party because it’s where we contemplate eternity and how we might spend ours.
The best outcome in times like this is that thoughts about eternity give us hope. Hope that this family will see their child who died in infancy. We can take comfort in knowing this child is in heaven with His Creator. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” King David had this confidence about his own son, who had died before birth. “I will go to him,” he said. John Newton (the author of the hymn Amazing Grace) said, “I cannot grieve the death of infants. How many storms do they escape! Nor can I doubt, in my private judgment, that they are included in the election of grace.” I believe the Bible teaches that young children are included in this grace.
Where we spend our eternity depends on where we put our hope today.
The parents of this little boy, his aunts and uncles, and grandparents, all had other plans for him. Death was never part of God’s plan for us either. Death was foreign to His original creation, but mankind ushered this curse into the world through sin.
God could have left us alone in our sin, but He loved us too much in spite of it. Instead, in an act of amazing grace, God gave up His own Son who went willingly to the cross, suffering to pay for the sin that we all struggle with and see the effects of in creation. It is through faith in Jesus Christ, that we have that hope of an eternity with Him and others who rest in His loving arms.
We can’t see the full scope of God’s plan, or why God, the author of life, allow some children to leave us so soon. But we can know God’s plan of salvation, and through a relationship with Christ, look forward to a reunions with the the departed. This is the best hope we have in light of the reality of death.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 tells us that “when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, this saying will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We’re told in Revelation 21 that one day God will make all things new, and the new creation will not include death. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” Hope in Christ means there will once again be a time to dance, a time that will not end.
At the very end of Ecclesiastes, 12 chapters in, Solomon ends with his conclusion about the meaning of life. He discovers that it isn’t worth living without God. All is meaningless without God at the center. Of all the projects Solomon undertook to find satisfaction, He only knew satisfaction in knowing God. And God has given us His Son, to satisfy all that’s wrong with the world.
We can’t bring stillborn sons or daughters back, but we can go to them. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”
Jesus was acquainted with grief, and suffered the cross on our behalf. He knows what we are going through, and He promises to go through it with us. And through faith in Jesus Christ, you can look forward to an eternity with Him.
A week ago The New York Times ran a story in the middle of Hurricane Irma and in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, showing how storms can destroy just about everything except faith. Storms instead strengthen our faith. Following a group from various churches doing disaster cleanup, The Times seemed surprised that, in crisis, the church does what the church is supposed to do.
Untimely death isn’t God’s fault, but God has the power to stop it, and sometimes He doesn’t. As Ecclesiastes tells us, human beings can’t know or see the full plan of God, otherwise we would be God. But we can trust Him because we know He is good, and our faith will grow stronger in the storm. Then, instead of shaking an angry fist toward heaven, we can put our hands to work on earth, helping our neighbor through tragedy, and putting our arms around them.
My prayer for this couple who lost their baby boy, and for you if you’re in a similar situation, is that you would feel the hands and arms of family and supportive friends and neighbors, and above all the comfort of God’s strong hand of love. God’s hand is outstretched with the free gift of eternal hope found only by faith in Jesus Christ, because “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) If you know Him, you have hope—the forever kind—and assurance that the time to dance will come again.
• Related post: Grief, Joy and God
September 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
I recently had the privilege of marrying a young couple, and after editing some personal details, decided to post the message I delivered during the ceremony here. The objective was to communicate a Biblical perspective on marriage and, of course, the Gospel. Both are gifts of God that require clarification in these times.
What is marriage?
Did you ever stop to wonder why we have this ceremony where a man and a woman are united in front of a bunch of people and there’s music and flowers and a party afterwards? Isn’t it curious that notwithstanding some differences in tradition, everywhere around the world, every culture throughout all human history has embraced marriage, this joining of a man and a woman in an exclusive and lifelong commitment as a fundamental unit of society, which has proven itself to be the best way to raise a family? Where did this idea come from?
It so happens that marriage wasn’t the invention of any country or government or religion or church, but human beings received marriage as a gift from God. At creation, God gave the first man Adam to the first woman Eve, and said what God has joined together, let no one separate. Marriage is God’s gift to us.
How do we respond to getting a gift? Well, it depends on the gift, doesn’t it? Some gifts we don’t like or end up using. Some of the gifts you get for your wedding may end up in storage, re-gifted for the next wedding you attend, or end up listed on Des Moines Swap for $15. Anyone have a gift like this in mind?
But what about the good gifts? You know what I mean. That prized thing that gets used and enjoyed and cherished for a long time, you take care of, and you wouldn’t give it up for anything. On your thank you note to the giver you include an extra paragraph spilling onto the back of the note expressing your gratefulness for the gift and how you use it all the time!
The wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 18 tells us that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and receives favor from the LORD.” When I’m feeling poetic and remember my own blessings, I refer to my wife Amy as my “good thing.” Consider marriage as a good thing, and a gift from God.
Not very long ago, I did a Facebook poll asking people to post what their favorite wedding gifts were. The top 3 types of gifts were cash (popular with the guys), non-stick cookware, and personal, sentimental type gifts like a drawing, painting, or hand-made quilt. Marriage, in a sense, is like cash. It’s highly valuable, basic and foundational to society. Like non-stick cookware, it’s a reliable gift you keep and care for and it’s a daily part of your life. And like those priceless sentimental gifts, marriage is something you cherish, create memories with and you won’t give up for anything.
One thing you do with a good gift is try to understand it and how best to use it. What was God trying to tell us with the gift of marriage? That it’s the ultimate expression of love between a man and a woman and the best way to bring up the next generation for the good of society? That’s true, but there’s more to it, something eternal: Marriage is also intended to be a picture of the love and commitment Jesus Christ has for us.
It wasn’t long after that first man and woman were joined in marriage that through their pride and disobedience, sin came into the world and stained everything. But even then, God had a plan to redeem us from sin. The God we take these vows before today is one of truth and justice, so He must judge sin, but He’s also a God of love and grace, and He stands ready to forgive anyone who accepts His free gift.
What was that gift? John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This freedom through Jesus is a gift, not something we can earn or buy or even register for. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…”
Bad gifts will come and go, but recognize the rare and precious good gift when you see it. James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that every good gift comes from above. God has given us much, hasn’t He? There is also the gift of each other. I know [Groom] considers [Bride] a gift, and [Bride] says the same about [Groom]. And they both agree that any children resulting from this union are a precious gift from God too. You also have the gift of lifelong friends here today who have loved and supported you, and each of you have the gift of a new family to be a part of. And about your marriage, the gift of God we celebrate here today: Use it, enjoy it, cherish it, take care of it, be thankful for it, and don’t give it up for anything. And finally, may the gift of eternal freedom in Christ guide your perspective in all of these other gifts.
That’s my hope for each invited guest here today. Jesus comes where He is invited. [Bride] and [Groom] have both invited Christ into their marriage, and into their individual lives. He wants to be in yours too.
Closing Prayer: Our God and heavenly Father, giver of life and breath and everything else, we thank you for the gift of marriage, and your many blessing bestowed upon us. As the truine God and Creator of the universe, you have made us in your image to seek and value relationships. As we witness this wonderful relationship solemnized in marriage, may we seek your face above all, by the extension of Your love and grace, “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” paying the ultimate price to unite us to Yourself. We pray for [Bride] and [Groom] in their marriage, that You would in Your Spirit strengthen them as husband and wife and parents, and teach them to continually rely on You. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
August 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
The Bible’s antidote for racism (and other bad ideas)
The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 signaled the end of Adolf Hitler’s poisonous ideas about “superior” and “inferior races” of humanity. But the recent displays of white nationalism resurging from relative dormancy in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us that evil persists in a fallen world. In America, we can’t put our own racist history to rest when it’s still so pervasive in our culture.
In the Bible we read about divisions of race and ethnicity, Jews and Gentiles, about women and children often viewed as property, and the enslavement of foreigners and those viewed as inferior. None of this was part of God’s good creation. While Scripture describes racism, sexism, and supremacism, it prescribes a solution through understanding who we really are.
First, we are all one race: mankind. All human beings are descendants of Adam and Eve (who, contrary to popular depictions, were likely not white). Genetically or taxonomically, there are no differences that provide a rational basis for ranking people by physical characteristics like skin color.
Secondly, we are all image-bearers of our Creator. As descendants of Adam and Eve, every human being—man, woman, child-—is made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and therefore equal in inherent dignity and value. By Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had sinned, and it wasn’t long before racial discrimination was conceived as sin spread to all mankind.
Thirdly, and consequently, we are all sinners for whom Christ died. Because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we have more in common than we like to admit. But the good news is that God loves us all so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin, so that through faith in Christ we are saved (John 3:16). This offer is available to everyone. From God’s perspective, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Far from condoning racism, the Bible is an invitation to freedom for those Romans 6 describes as “slaves to sin.” From liberating Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus) to Paul’s message that it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free…” (Galatians 5:1), God is clearly for freedom and equality and against sinful notions of human superiority and inferiority.
“Monkeys are superior to men in this: when a monkey looks into a mirror, he sees a monkey.” (Malcolm de Chazal)
Racial differences are artificial, idealized by people seeking to control other people. If we choose to see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us—one beloved yet fallen race of God’s image-bearers for whom Christ died to redeem—we can see there is no room for racism and a lot more room for love.
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)
(Related post: Why Racism Shouldn’t Exist)
August 9, 2017 § Leave a comment
From USA TODAY Tech: “The universe as we know it shouldn’t exist. Unlocking the reasons why may depend on once again striking gold in a mine buried a mile underground in rural South Dakota. … Scientists believe equal parts of matter and antimatter should have been created during the formation of the universe. But that didn’t happen, and no one knows why. Instead, the visible universe is dominated by matter. Neutrinos may be the reason why… Over the next 10 years, workers will remove more than 870,000 tons of rock and install a four-story high, 70,000-ton neutrino detector… The project will cost more than $1 billion, but scientists hope the payoff from about 12 million neutrinos per second passing through the detector will be far larger, tantamount to striking gold on a universal scale.”(1)
The fact that there seems to be more matter than antimatter in the universe has baffled secular scientists, but only because of Materialistic or Naturalistic presuppositions, assuming that matter and nature is all there is, and that you are an accident.
From Physics.org: “One would expect the Big Bang to produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter, and, since the two annihilate one another on contact, this should have led to a universe with no particles, filled only with radiation. This problem can be solved if there exists some process that favours matter over antimatter, leading to the excess that we see today.”(2)
Is there “some sort of process that favours matter over antimatter”? Christians believe there is a Creator who favours a certain kind of matter—us, and the universe He created to point us toward Him.
A physics community driven by the assumptions of Materialism will continue to dig for answers, this time going underground in a 10-year $1 billion search. We may discover great things in the process, but for the answer to why this universe exists, we can dig into God’s revealed Word and find it now for free:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) …God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see… He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17) The heavens proclaim the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)
An undirected, undesigned “Big Bang” should not have resulted in this universe. But this universe is exactly what we should expect if God created it.
“Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD,
and you will gain knowledge of God.”
1) Lackey, Katharine. “Secrets of the Universe May Lie in an Old Gold Mine in South Dakota.” USA Today. Gannett Company, 09 August 2017. Web. Accessed 09 August 2017 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/science/2017/08/09/secrets-universe-may-lie-old-gold-mine-south-dakota/534457001/)
2) Physics in Society. “Why Is There More Matter than Antimatter?” Physics.org. IOP Publishers, Web. Accessed 09 August 2017 (http://www.physics.org/article-questions.asp?id=121)
July 27, 2017 § 1 Comment
An EarthSky report(1) tells us “Northwestern researchers found that up to half of the matter in our Milky Way galaxy may come from distant galaxies. As a result, each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter. That is, atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and so on in our bodies may be created not just by stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, but by stars in far-flung galaxies.”
Put another way, we are the result of ejected gas (Ew!) from exploding stars in a galaxy far, far away. Carl Sagan famously said “we are made of star-stuff” in 1973, but the idea that we are made of the same basic elements as the rest of the cosmos has been talked about by astronomers since the 1920s.(2)
And that’s accurate, according to the Bible.
Genesis 2:7a tells us that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground…”, and indeed the 11 basic elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc.) found in the human body are also found in the top layers of the earth. They are not just earth elements, but they can also be found in the stars.
Where God’s Word differs from Naturalistic Cosmology is not the what but the how. “God formed man” out the same stuff which He created to fill the universe. Why not? That we are beings formed by an all-knowing and personal Creator, who loves us and also wrote us into His grand story, means we have purpose and value. Beings accidentally formed by “far-flung” star farts can have no real purpose or value. Unless you’re on purpose, you can’t have purpose. A purposeful creation isn’t true because it’s a happy thought; it’s a happy thought because it’s true.
I think regardless of theistic or atheistic belief, we all know better. Most people, even after contemplating that we are merely chemical accidents still live as if human beings have intrinsic value and dignity and rights and purpose. After all, people high on Naturalism or Materialism aren’t particularly depressed or suicidal due to the logical conclusion that life has no real meaning. Carl Sagan even romanticized the brute fact that we are just materials from space: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”(2)
Why do we hang onto this idea of lasting purpose?
There was more to God’s creation of man than forming his body from the elemental “dust”. The second half of the above verse (Genesis 2:7b) says, “…and (God) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Those common particles of physical substance landing on earth didn’t make us alive. There is no conclusive evidence that life can arise from non-life, especially from natural and undirected processes. Far-flung atoms sticking together cannot make a living thing, much less a rational, moral, self-aware living thing. Only God can do that, as He did when He breathed life into Adam.
At the same time, “man became a living soul.” We are alive and we are more than biology; We are body, soul, and spirit—image-bearers (Genesis 1:27) of a triune God gifted with clues of an eternal dimension (Ecclesiaste 3:11) and knowledge of a Creator, which we sometimes suppress (Romans 1:18), along with His moral law written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). I think it’s the soul that yearns to know that we are more than just far-flung “stuff”, and that there is more to our existence than a temporal and purposeless life.
1. Byrd, Deborah. “We Are Galaxy Stuff” EarthSky. July 27, 2017 http://earthsky.org/space/origins-extragalactic-star-galaxy-stuff-galactic-winds
2. “We Are Made of Star-Stuff.” Quote Investigator. Garson O’Toole. June 22, 2013 http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/06/22/starstuff
July 14, 2017 § 2 Comments
Toward the end of a bike trail in Colorado Springs, I came upon an unexpected hill. During the exhausting climb, I noticed two women had set up a table displaying free Jehovah’s Witness material partway up the hill. I took the opportunity to stop and have a wonderful, Gospel-centered conversation with them—in my head 2 minutes after I rode past. I have also had great evangelical encounters with various atheists and agnostics, unfortunately many more in my head than in real life.
I’m not an extrovert, so a witnessing encounter (and robust social engagement in general) is not always easy for me. I recently have defended the deity of Christ in real-life conversation with some JWs at my house, so I had no particular fear of the two ladies on the hill—I just wasn’t about to stop in the middle of a hill (note to evangelists in public parks: set up at the top), and on top of that I had been-there-done-that with Watchtower propaganda. Maybe I should have at least stopped and said hello.
Have you ever had great talks with non-believers about Jesus in your head after you part company? Whether it’s because of nerves, or fear of rejection, or lack of confidence in your own knowledge of your faith, I think it’s probably a pretty common thing to pass up on these opportunities.
While we (and I mean ‘I’) need to set aside fear and rely on the Spirit of God to help in such situations, the mental conversations later (often occurring in the shower, for some odd reason) can serve as valuable training ground for the next real-life opportunity.
Here’s another conversation you didn’t have, but Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver, CO, did have with hosts on The View recently. On the spot, Jack actually did a very good job of defending his much-maligned decision not to design and create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a case that the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear. Jack says that everyone is welcome in his store, but he won’t make a cake for every event. He calmly and consistently defended the Biblical view of marriage and his Constitutional right to live out his faith in the public square. He was joined by his lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who also does a great job of clarifying the case and its implications for every American.
Since we can learn from this conversation, imagine if you were in that hotseat surrounded by liberal talkshow hosts-turned-theologians, under the lights and cameras and studio audience cued to applaud after each progressive talking point. If you could freeze frame life for a few minutes to think about your answer (in lieu of thinking about it after the show), how would you respond to these questions?
Relax, you’re not in Jack’s spotlight, but one day you may be in a different one with your family, neighbor, boss, or a judge. Take some time to watch the segment yourself here. Below are the main questions thrown at Jack, and while his answers were good for on-the-spot responses, I’ll offer answers from an apologetic perspective, being safely out of the spotlight with plenty of time to process.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?
The theologian on the far right (her chair, not her political position) asked Jack: “If it violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple… do you then, when a straight couple comes in, do you ask them if they’ve had a child out of wedlock, if they’ve had premarital sex? Where do you draw the line, because those all could be deemed ‘sinful’ (she throws up her air quotes) to someone who’s religious as well.”
The only reason anyone talks about Jesus was because “sin” is a real thing and the whole reason He came. Jesus died to redeem us from sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross.
But the issue here is not the sins of the couple, but that Jack is being forced to in effect join in the artistic celebration of something against his religious beliefs and stamp his name on the entire project. The line is drawn exactly where he drew it. Jack’s concern is not over whether a couple is sinning in some way, but the consequences of compromising his beliefs by his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony. If anything, the marriage of a man and woman who are already having sex has a redemptive aspect to it in that the couple would no longer be sinning sexually, and would be providing a stronger foundation for any child that resulted. But the reason Jack refused is because he objects to the event in question.
WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE?
The theologian in the chair to the left (our left) of the first theologian: “One thing that’s always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it, and I was raised in the church, and it says, you know, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,’ but also says, ‘Don’t judge others.’ We’re not the final judgment. It also says ‘love thy neighbor.’ There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality, which ones to go with? Because in my mind, whether you believe it or not, and you should definitely not marry a man… but if someone else does, it’s not my place to judge them because God will…”
“The Bible says not to judge” is a frequent declaration by cherry-pickers. It’s found in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NIV)
In context, Jesus is condemning hypocrisy (don’t point the finger of judgment at others if you’re doing the same thing yourself), not the discernment between right and wrong behavior. We know there is a correct way to judge, because Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in John 7:24 to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
So to the question, “How do you reconcile which message to ‘go with’?”, the answer is study. Approach the Bible as you would any other book you want to understand and practice sound exegesis rather than pulling bits of verses out of context. Read, rather than read into. When we do, well see that Jesus was both love and truth, and there is no contradiction between “judge rightly” and “love your neighbor.”
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
The theologian to Jack’s right says, “I know that you’re a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low and the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think Jesus would have said, ‘I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway?’ Do you think that would have had a more powerful testimony?” To which the theologian on the far left adds with conviction, “Jesus would have baked the cake!”
Jack rightly responds that Jesus would not bake the cake. We don’t have to guess what Jesus would say and do when we can read what He said and did. We know Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, where He affirms God’s design for marriage from Genesis 1:27: “‘Haven’t you read… 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.'” (Mat. 19:4-6)
Supposing Jesus would have said, “I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway” assumes that love doesn’t mean we tell others the truth. We, made in God’s image, often try to remake Jesus in our own image and imagine God as love but not truth (at least the truth we find inconvenient). But as Jesus displayed, He is both. Jesus indeed did share a table with sinners, and as Jack proves, you can sit at a table with those who believe very differently without them hating or suing each other. But by compromising our beliefs and joining in the celebration of an event that defies God’s design for marriage, we are not loving anyone, but rather propagating a lie. That is actually hateful.
JUST BAKE THE CAKE!
The conversation turns from theological to legal at this point, with Kristen politely shooting down a slippery slope argument and clarifying that an assault on Jack’s religious liberty affects everyone regardless of their belief. But not before the theologian 2nd from the left puts this challenge to Jack: “Lower courts have found that you’ve discriminated against this couple, but you’re taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just bake the cake?”
It’s always easier for those without a certain deeply held conviction to suggest those who do simply give it up when the going gets rough. But that’s not how Christianity has ever worked. Still, it’s an appropriate question to consider while we aren’t on the spot, can we compromise on this front while loving God and neighbor? Are we prepared to answer, while we can have the conversation safely in our heads, before we will eventually be asked, “Why not just bake the cake?”
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23)