Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Christians Changing Culture

Tomorrow the Supreme Court is expected to rule on California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, These rulings could dramatically affect gay rights and the definition of marriage. To the gay community it could mean a) the sanctioning of the marriage union by society, b) the ability to access the legal benefits which are currently afforded to those who are married over those who are not married, in a common law marriage or in a civil union, and c) having the 14th amendment upheld for US citizens who are gay and lesbian. To the evangelical community it could mean a) the breakdown or the upholding of their moral view of marriage being only between a man and a woman, b) the loss or the upholding of the 1st Amendment allowing places of worship to practice their interpretation of their holy text without legal penalty, and c) the legal protection for private citizens, companies and corporations to conduct business and issue benefits guided by their moral conscience and beliefs without penalty. It is a battleground pitting two sides with drastically different views who are likely never to concede firmly held convictions. The ruling will be a win for one side and a loss for the other with the war ever continuing to wage.

I believe if anything is going to change in this ever escalating war, the change must occur within the Christian community. I agree with Andrew Marin who said, "Evangelicals, and conservative Christians in general, need to let go of the same-sex marriage fight and invest in figuring out how to love like Jesus regardless of what system is in place." Jesus and his early followers did not change society or culture by fighting a political war against the laws and rulers of the day. Rather they brought about change by loving those around them. Christians know they cannot change themselves on the inside. They believe that in order to change, they must first yield to Jesus in an unconditional surrender thus allowing Jesus to make changes to their hearts. It is hypocritical to think the change can be brought to society and culture through law without surrender to Jesus. It is time to stop fighting society and laws and start fighting for the change of souls by loving others and leading them to surrender their lives to Jesus. This surrender is not brought about by coercion or argument. It is brought about by loving as Jesus loved, by being a witness and example. It is brought about by sharing the truth of God's word and his love expressed to all in his word. God is calling all to be reconciled to himself through a loving relationship with Jesus. This includes those within the gay community.

Jesus believes in absolute moral law. He wrote the law. Christians need not give up convictions nor belief in the perfect law of love. Christians need to live by that law of love. Christians are called to love and serve society around them. Christians are to be both an example of God's moral law of love and a voice calling others to yield to that law of love by first surrendering to God not by changing hearts nor behavior first. Changing of hearts begins by surrendering to God's unconditional love. Change of behavior follows a change of heart. To dictate or demand change in society through law, coercion or force is backwards to the way in which Jesus brings change and will ultimately fail.

Christians have realized their own moral failure and know they stand under condemnation. They understand the only way to be saved from condemnation and wrath is to accept the full payment of the penalty offered by Jesus. In doing so, they are morally purified by God and set on a course for change. Christians desire to love as God loves them, but understand they are incapable of such love. Christians yield to God to allow God's love to permeate their hearts and pour out to God and others. Christians should not, therefore, demand change in others that they know themselves to be incapable of doing.

If Christians desire to uphold the sanctity of marriage it cannot be done by fighting society's definition of marriage. It must be done by strengthening and valuing their own marriage. Christians need to focus on their own family. Christians need to love their spouse and children well. Christians need to endure difficulties in their own marriage, yield to God, and allow God to change and improve their own hearts and marriage. A Christian marriage is one in which both partners yield to Jesus, help each other conform to his image, and love each other well putting the needs of the other ahead of their own. Christians do need to redefine marriage. The definition of marriage is not a means to individual happiness where a partner is meeting the individual's needs. The definition of marriage is a covenant promise to God to sacrifice an individual's needs and desires for the betterment of the spouse so both with grow in love for God and each other. A marriage is a picture of the union of Jesus to his bride, the church. Jesus united with his bride by sacrificing his life for his spouse. He did not seek his own happiness and pleasure but rather the needs of his spouse. The sanctity of marriage will be upheld as Christians sacrifice their own desires for the betterment of their spouse. The sanctity of marriage will be upheld as Christians yield to and grow in the love of God. The sanctity of marriage will be upheld as Christians love their spouse and children well.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What is Christianity?

I recently read an article expressing concern about the political influence and power the "Christian right." Christianity today is viewed more as a political power opposed to gay rights, women's rights, and abortion. Yet the term Christian originally meant a follower of Christ. A follower of Christ meant one who is trying to be like Jesus. Jesus was not a political figure. He did not oppose government or policy. His greatest opposition was to the religious political powers of the time. He opposed hypocritical religious leaders who laid heavy legalistic, moralistic burdens on their followers. He opposed powerful religious people who vied for political power and influence.  

Jesus never condemned people as his followers do today. He accepted people, forgave people and loved them as they were. He certainly wanted and encouraged people to change but not by demand or coercion but rather by showing love and grace. 

After Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and his followers received the Holy Spirit, people were drawn to Jesus by his followers. It was not a forced conversion. People simply saw how the followers of  "the Way" were loving each other, giving to each other and helping the community. Followers of Jesus shared wealth and material possessions. Followers of Jesus helped the poor. Followers of Jesus accepted people of both genders, all races and all economic status as equals. It was love that marked the Christian. Today it seems the Christians are branded as haters. Christians are seen as hating the political left, gay people, abortionists, the poor and women. Jesus must be weeping to see how his named is marred by the very people who claim to follow him and his example of love and grace.

The gospel message is hidden by the view of Christianity as a political power and the poor example of those who claim to follow Jesus and yet condemn others. The gospel was and is good news. The gospel does not condemn. People are already condemned by their own conscience and sense of guilt. The Holy Spirit is doing his job of convicting people of their guilt. We are all guilty of not loving ourselves, others or God perfectly. We know this in our heart of hearts. We know that if we stood before a perfect, holy and just God, we would be condemned and deservingly so. The gospel is simply that we can be forgiven of our wrongs, be set free from condemnation and reconciled to the God who longs to love us and embrace us as his own children. That forgiveness is available because Jesus was condemned on our behalf. He paid the penalty for our wrongs, the penalty of death that we deserve. We are all condemned to hell. It is not that gays and abortionists are condemned over all others or are under some special condemnation. We are all condemned. It doesn't matter if we are gay, straight, pro life, pro choice, conservative, liberal, male or female. We are all equally condemned.  The only way out of condemnation for all of us is faith in the sacrifice and love of Jesus. Believing that he died and rose from the dead proving he was very God is the only way to receive forgiveness for our wrongs.

Christianity is not a religion. It is not a political force. It is not an exclusive club. It is not a moral institution. It is not even the means by which we may be saved from condemnation. A real Christian is someone who has surrendered to Jesus and is trying to follow him and his way of love and grace. A Christian understands grace and the forgiveness is a gift from God. A Christian is not perfect. A Christian does many, many things wrong and contrary to the teachings and examples of Jesus. A Christian is simply forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus. In other words, a Christian is not condemned for wrongs committed but believes the condemnation was paid by Jesus who is very God. It is this acceptance of love from God that motivates a Christian to follow God's perfect law of love. Though a Christian often fails, the Christian does not rely on success or failure but rather on the grace and love of God. 

Yes, Christians should be agents of change in the world but not through political force, coercion or condemnation of others.  Christians should be the change, the example, the way. As followers of Jesus, Christians should seek to love others not condemn others. Christians should change the world through acts of kindness and love as his Jesus' original followers did 2000 years ago. 

No one can change on their own including Christians. Christians rely on the Holy Spirit to change them from the inside out. Christians don't expect to change on their own. Why should Christians expect the world to conform to a holy standard which they themselves cannot conform without the Holy Spirit? Anyone can changes external behavior through will power but no one except God can change the heart. Only as God draws a soul to Jesus and that soul surrenders to Jesus can the Holy Spirit be received and begin to change the person. Change will not happen by politics, by laws, or by effort. Change will happen as a person is drawn to the love of Jesus, receives forgiveness and the power to be changed by the Holy Spirit.

What is a Christian? A Christian is someone who has received forgiveness by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf. A Christian is someone who follows Jesus and is like Jesus not by personal effort but by reliance on the Holy Spirit. A Christian is someone who brings change to the family, the church, the community, the nation and the world through examples and acts of love and charity. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

From Zero to Fifty

On June 22nd 2013, my parents will be celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. I am engaged to be married for the first time in my life. As I look to them for an example of how to have a successful and happy marriage, one thing stands out: commitment. My parents made a vow that they have kept for fifty years. That kind of commitment is truly golden and rare.

I have many friends who come  from a broken home. Either their parents divorced or they had an absent father. I had neither. My parents never considered divorce and my father was always present. My parent's attended athletic and cultural events where their kids were participants. They continue to do so for their grandkids. My parents took us out for dinner one on one. This was not an easy task since there were  five of us. My parents took us camping for a month of vacation for several years during our childhood. Cell phones and laptops didn't exist, so we were without a phone or any connection to the outside world. We had each other and nature. That time bonded us as a family.

I am engaged to a woman who lives overseas.I have not been able to touch her now for eleven months. We've communicated nearly every day via Skype so we can at least see and hear each other. We've done a Bible study every time we've talked. We pray together every time. During this long waiting process, we are learning the meaning of commitment. Not being able to touch or do activities together is very difficult. We only have time of conversation, sharing videos and playing online games. We've endured many delays in obtaining a visa for her so we can marry. We've tried unsuccessfully to buy a house. It is difficult only to shop for a house over the internet. I can visit the home, but my fiancee cannot. We've endured the hardship of trying to sell a home in a buyers market. We've had to make life changing financial decisions together. Though all this we remain committed to each other. We are committed to love one another. This love is not just a high feeling. Our love from the beginning has been a commitment to show love in action.

I feel very blessed to have parents who have remained committed and faithful to one another for fifty years. I am blessed to find a woman who is committed to loving me for fifty years or more should we live that long. I, too, and committed to her for life. I know it is our commitment to each other and to God that will keep our love and marriage strong for our entire lifetime.

I am not naive enough to think that our marriage will be without difficulties. My parents certainly endured trying and difficult times. Raising five children was not easy. My dad had to make difficult choices to give up things like business travel, golf and fishing so he could spend time with family. My mom endured times of sadness. Each child presented our own unique form of difficulties. I know it was not easy for my parents, but they remained faithful to God, their kids and each other.

My fiancee and I are starting at zero years and have an example of fifty years to follow. I am so blessed and thankful that I have such a fine example of love, commitment and faith to follow.