Saturday, February 22, 2014

All Around the Web - February 22, 2014

Canon and Culture - Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?
My conclusion is that if sexual orientation is one’s enduring pattern of sexual attraction, then the Bible teaches both same-sex behavior and same-sex orientation to be sinful.[9] If this is true, there are numerous pastoral implications. I will mention just two:

1. This truth ought to inform how brothers and sisters in Christ wage war against same-sex attraction. Sin is not merely what we do. It is also who we are. As so many of our confessions have it, we are sinners by nature and by choice.[10] All of us are born with an orientation toward sin in all its varieties. Homosexual orientation is but one manifestation of our common experience of indwelling sin—indeed of the mind set on the flesh (Rom. 7:23; 8:7).  For that reason, the Bible teaches us to war against both the root and the fruit of sin. In this case, homosexual orientation is the root, and homosexual behavior is the fruit. The Spirit of God aims to transform both (Rom. 8:13).

If same-sex attraction were morally benign, there would be no reason to repent of it. But the Bible never treats sexual attraction to the same sex as a morally neutral state. Jesus says all sexual immorality is fundamentally a matter of the heart. Thus it will not do simply to avoid same sex behavior. The ordinary means of grace must be aimed at the heart as well. Prayer, the preaching of the word, and the fellowship of the saints must all be aimed at the Holy Spirit’s renewal of the inner man (2 Cor. 4:16). It is to be a spiritual transformation that puts to death the deeds of the body by a daily renewal of the mind (Rom. 8:13; 12:2). As John Owen has famously said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”[11]

This is not to say that Christians who experience same-sex attraction will necessarily be freed from those desires completely in this life. Many such Christians report partial or complete changes in their orientation after conversion—sometimes all at once, but more often over a period of months and years. But those cases are not the norm. There are a great many who also report ongoing struggles with same-sex attraction.[12] But that does not lessen the responsibility for them to fight those desires as long as they persist, no matter how natural those desires may feel.

Wesley Hill is a Christian who experiences persistent same-sex attraction, and he describes his struggle in such terms. He writes,
For me and other gay people, even when we’re not willfully cultivating desire, we know that when attraction does come… it will be attraction to someone of the same sex. And in those moments, it feels as though there is no desire that isn’t lust, no attraction that isn’t illicit… Every attraction I experience, before I ever get to intentional, willful, indulgent desire, seems bent, broken, misshapen.[13]
Wesley goes on to describe his experience as a daily struggle against indwelling sin. His sexual orientation, therefore, is an occasion for vigilant repentance and renewal through the Holy Spirit:
My homosexuality, my exclusive attraction to other men, my grief over it and my repentance, my halting effort to live fittingly in the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit—gradually I am learning not to view all of these things as confirmations of my rank corruption and hypocrisy. I am instead, slowly but surely, learning to view that journey—of struggle, failure, repentance, restoration, renewal in joy, and persevering, agonized obedience—as what it looks like for the Holy Spirit to be transforming me on the basis of Christ’s cross and his Easter morning triumph over death.[14]
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit can bring about this kind of transformation in anyone—even if such progress is not experienced by everyone in precisely the same measure. As the apostle Paul writes, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom 6:17).

2. This truth ought to strengthen our love and compassion for brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction. For many of them, same sex attraction is something they have experienced for as long as they can remember. There is no obvious pathology for their attractions. The attractions are what they are even though they may be quite unwelcome. It is naïve to think that these people are all outside of the church. No, they are among us. They are us. They have been baptized, have been attending the Lord’s Table with us, and have been fighting the good fight in what is sometimes a very lonely struggle. They believe what the Bible says about their sexuality, but their struggle is nevertheless difficult.

Is your church the kind of place that would be safe for these dear brothers and sisters to come forward to find friendship and community? Does your church have its arms wide open to them to come alongside them, to receive them, and to strengthen them? Jesus said that the world would know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). One of the ways that we show love for one another is by bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Can you bear this burden with your brothers and sisters who are in this fight? Is your church ready to offer help and encouragement to these saints for whom Christ died? If not, then something is deeply amiss. For Jesus has loved us to the uttermost, and he calls us to do the same (John 13:34).

Pastor's Today - Keep Soldiering Forward
Iʼve seen many pastors on the brink of quitting ministry or heading for nervous breakdowns because they had been emotionally beaten down by the constant voice of critics around them. If it is not you, it may be one day. If it is you, or someone you know, I want to serve as the protective arm that comes flying against your chest as mom slams the brakes, and offer a few thoughts which have helped me.
  1. Donʼt let your critics blind you to the fruit God is producing through your ministry. There will always be critics. It is said that for every ten fans, there will be one critic. For every hundred fans, ten critics, and so on. So it should not surprise us when critics surface. It is okay to listen to your critics. Seek to learn. But it is not okay to let critics blind you from what God is doing through your labor. Yes, kindly receive criticism, but keep your eyes on the fruit God is bearing through your ministry.
  2. Recognize that the price of leadership is having people constantly evaluating your decisions. One reality of leadership is people often think they know better than you. You have the difficult task of making hard decisions and living with the consequences. Others simply critique the decision without knowing all the variables that led to it. Leadership is hard. You must remember these things come with making decisions. Donʼt let it discourage you. Leaders must have thick skin and soft hearts. We must never let those two reverse.
  3. Remember your calling and why you do what you do. Most can describe the events that led them into ministry. Most, if not all of you, would describe a call from God. That is my recollection. Considering that fact, listen to Paulʼs charge to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:3-4 HCSB), “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the recruiter.” Paul tells Timothy to suffer as a good soldier of Christ. He reminds him not to get caught up in all the affairs of civilian life, but to have one focus: pleasing his recruiter.

Ordinary Pastor - Calvinism is Popular But it is Not Sexy.
I recently visited with a friend who is in his mid 60′s and has pastored Reformed Baptist churches for decades. He talked to me about how encouraged he is about the resurgence of Calvinism in the church today, particularly among the young people. He cited the preaching, the books being published, the websites, and the conferences. With glistening eyes he said, “Back in the 80′s when we’d go to Banner (of Truth) conferences we would never have imagined a day like this in our lifetime.”

We are living in something of an ecclesiological bizzaro world where Calvinism is wildly popular. But I want to make a distinction: Calvinism is popular but it is not sexy. Just because something is enjoying appeal among an admittedly increasing amount of people does not mean it is universally appealing.

The public finds our preaching repulsively archaic. You know the way Jonathan Edwards is treated in the history classes? That’s how they think of us. Who can forget the recent article in the NY Times featuring Mark Dever, Colin Hansen and others about this resurgence? The writer’s words were not that flowery:
The acronym (TULIP) summarizes John Calvin’s so-called doctrines of grace, with their emphasis on sinfulness and predestination. The T is for man’s Total Depravity. The U is for Unconditional Election, which means that God has already decided who will be saved, without regard to any condition in them, or anything they can do to earn their salvation.
The acronym gets no cheerier from there. (source)

The Gospel Coalition - What Not to Say to Someone Whose Suffering

Tim ChalliesWriting Checks to Mel Gibson
In late 2003 and early 2004, we were told that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was going to change the world. We saw breathless slogans like, “perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years.” Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life had made him a household name, predicted “a spiritual tsunami” would hit when the film released. When he saw this tsunami coming, he planned a two-week preaching series leading up to the movie’s release, booked 47 theatre screens so members of his church could attend with their lost friends, invited a long list of celebrities and billionaires to a premier showing, and prepared a three-week small group curriculum for follow-up. He claimed that his church rode this tsunami to incredible results: “Over 600 unchurched community leaders attended our VIP showing; 892 friends of members were saved during the two-week sermon series. Over 600 new small groups were formed, and our average attendance increased by 3,000.”
It is hard to overestimate the buzz, the excitement, and the anticipation prior to The Passion. Do you remember it? I do.

Back in 2004, I was a member of a Southern Baptist church that tried to ride the Passion wave by mimicking just about everything Rick Warren did. The pastors raised tens of thousands of dollars from the congregation, then bought movie passes, booked theaters, distributed tickets, formed small groups, bought Warren’s follow-up curriculum, and waited to transform the city. Giving away the tickets was the easy part—people gladly accepted free movie passes to the film everyone was talking about. All the tickets went, but as far as I know, not a single person—not even one—came to any of the follow-up studies. No one was saved. Nothing happened. All the time, energy and resources gained nothing.

In the film’s aftermath George Barna got to work and found that the results we saw were far more typical than what Warren reported. “Among the most startling outcomes is the apparent absence of a direct evangelistic impact by the movie. Less than one-tenth of one percent of those who saw the film stated that they made a profession of faith or accepted Jesus Christ as their savior in reaction to the film’s content.” Either The Passion was not actually a great opportunity for evangelism, or most churches botched it.

Kiss cam.

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