Posts Tagged faith in action

No Substitution for Truth

A recent announcement by a high profile leader within the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ has rocked our brotherhood. Since the late 1970’s this man has been at the forefront of planting new congregations as well as providing spiritual insight & instruction through articles and speaking engagements for many ministers who serve ‘in the trenches’, even as serving as editor for one of the major publications within the Restoration Movement (RM). His announcement of a lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria was made public via social media outlets and his personal blog. Sadly, this admission included the revelation he is choosing to ‘integrate’ male into female, and has already begun to identify himself as a woman, which is truly heartbreaking as it identifies a desire to intentionally rebel against God’s Word.

Scripture condemns a man denying his masculine traits by participating in feminine behavior, mannerisms, or even dressing as a woman.

A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 22:5, NASB’95

Such condemnation is not simply focussed on a woman putting on a pair of slacks, or even a man wearing a Scottish kilt. Condemnation comes when someone desires to present themselves as a gender other than the gender with which they have been created. Modern culture has enabled the concept of an individual identifying a gender based upon how they feel, or think heir gender ought to be. Such is the case with ‘Gender Dysphoria’.

The coming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes a revision from the forth edition 1. with the new identification of ‘Gender Dysphoria’ (formerly ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ 2.) as follows:

… people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with will be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This diagnosis is a revision of DSM-IV’s criteria for gender identity disorder and is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults. 3.

To be clear, ‘Gender Dysphoria’ encompasses more than simple gender non-conformity as it involves a level of  distress for the person which is clinically recognized as significant. The DSM-IV identified the disorder by a different name (Gender Identity Disorder) and justification for the change in DSM-V is offered as follows:

DSM-5 aims to avoid stigma and ensure clinical care for individuals who see and feel themselves to be a different gender than their assigned gender. It replaces the diagnostic name “gender identity disorder”with “gender dysphoria,” as well as makes other important clarifications in the criteria. 4.

Mental illness often carries a social stigma, and public admission of a mental illness or disorder is not often the path chosen due to the potential social impact upon the person. For some, the impact of public admission is so stressful it compounds the distress already being experienced. Living in a fallen world, racked with illnesses of all manner, we must remind ourselves illness is the enemy the patient, is not. Compassion is called for in such circumstances. Unfortunately, many in today’s culture have confused love and compassion with acceptance of a behavior, and grace has been replaced with ‘tolerance’, a buzz word for complete agreement.

How should Christians respond to those who have embraced ‘lifestyle’ choices which are outside the acceptable boundaries of Scripture?

Truth

First, we must recognize the Scripture as the only rule for acceptable practices. Nothing has changed in God’s expectations for mankind, nor have moral values ‘evolved’ to become more sophisticated or relevant.

Second, it is important to note these ‘choices’ are nothing new, but have been in the world since the beginning. The Old Testament gives account of cultures given to all manner of immorality and the Apostle Paul, as recorded in the New Testament, also lived in a culture saturated with sexual immorality. His disciples ministered in this same cultural context and Paul wrote letters (now contained in the New Testament) to Christians and congregations from within this culture. Yet, led by the Holy Spirit, he never endorsed or tolerated immorality. In fact, the Apostle was very bold in his writing as he called people from a life of sexual immorality to a life of purity in Christ. He called offenders out by name. He referenced specific and public circumstances of immorality. He even called for Christians to pull away from those calling themselves ‘Christian’ and living in unrepentant immorality. None of this made him popular among men.

Modern American culture seems to be very similar to the 1st century culture of Paul’s day. Open promiscuity is the expectation of even the youngest of students. Couples choose to co-habit rather than commit to marriage. Marriage as ‘traditionally’ known is being assaulted by those who desire not simply to ‘redefine’ but to eradicate. Immodesty is so common it has become a powerful tool for advertising. Pornography and all manner of deviant sexual behavior is not only accepted but actually able to leverage penalty upon those who dare to disagree.

Impact of such cultural changes are also bearing upon the Church, and it is not along strictly generational lines. More and more people, identifying themselves as ‘Christian’, find moral boundaries within Scripture as no longer applicable for modern people. In fact, Scripture has endured many assaults from both within and without the walls of the modern Church.

Finally, Christians must be cautious not to isolate themselves from those involved in embracing immorality. Although Scripture cautions not to embrace evil, living as aliens & strangers in the world, we are also expected to live as ‘salt and light’ in a world which desperately needs Christ. Christians must never condone, nor enable immoral behavior, and Scripture is clear in response to a professing Christian who continues, willingly, in such immoral behavior… such a person is to be shut out from fellowship. (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

Our challenge as Christians in modern culture does not lie in the ambiguity of Scriptural instruction on the matter for such ambiguity does not exist. Modern Christians face the same challenge Paul faced in the 1st century… holding to truth, and expressing the love of Christ to those outside truth. While maintaining the delicate balance of love without acceptance of sin, we must condemn immoral behavior, urging repentance by the individual toward restoration.

 

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Faith in the Bleachers

My father was exceptionally athletic. I remember the first time I saw him ice skating and I was amazed at his speed and dexterity on the ice, especially when I attempted the ice for the first time. Oldest of six boys raised in Newfoundland, Canada, my father cut his teeth on a hockey puck, and was no slouch with a baseball either. At one point, dad was even offered an opportunity to play professional hockey, which he turned down because his life plan to become a Catholic priest left no room for hockey. He hung up his skates and donned the habit, entering the monastery. (Obviously, he did not become a priest.)

As I said, my dad was a great athlete… I am not. I was always the kid who liked playing kickball, but loved shooting my bow or a .22 rifle more. In fact, if given an option, I’d rather hunt rabbits or crows than play baseball any day. For me, a quiet day with my bow was valued much higher than a day in a neighboring pasture playing baseball. Let me clarify, I’m not opposed to sports, and enjoy a live baseball or basketball game, and I love watching hockey, but I’m not a fanatic. I liked the idea of sports, but didn’t possess the desire, drive or ability to pursue sports with passion.

For the 2011 season thus far, I’ve watched a grand total of two UK basketball games, both post season tournament play, and one of which (UK -vs- UNC) I recorded on my DVR and missed the final 2 1/2 minutes due to improper programming. (And my life didn’t end for missing the final moments of the game.) I don’t know all the players, and cannot quote their stats, in fact I didn’t even know their standing going into the tournament. But, I would consider myself a UK fan, or at the least a fan of life in the bluegrass state. I confess my heightened interest with UK now in the Final Four, and I will probably be watching the game with UCONN on Saturday night… probably.

While enjoying the game Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think about my dad. I’ve already mentioned his athletic abilities, which were impressive, however this was not what immediately came to mind during the game. For whatever reason, what came to mind about my dad was his intense passion for the Gospel. My dad was one to jump in with both feet in whatever he did, he wasn’t just committed to something… he became what he was committing to. Nothing has ever made an impression upon me like my father’s conversion to Christianity, specifically (redundantly) his commitment to Jesus. When my dad was converted, it was full sail. In fact, mom & dad made their confession of faith together and that night my father was immersed, and in response he immersed my mother. He understood the call of Christ and for the first time, shedding the traditions he had known all his life and embracing Scripture alone, it made perfect sense to him. What he had earlier committed to (with regard to priesthood) left him empty and confused because he was told to teach tradition and not Bible. He told me of many occasions of discipline for reading to children from Scripture, rather than teaching tradition. This disillusionment caused him to leave Catholicism, but he just couldn’t abandon faith. When a young preacher encouraged him to study the Bible, my dad suddenly had a whole new world open up before him and his focus, priorities and purpose was restored.

From the time of my dad’s conversion forward, I cannot remember a single morning when he wasn’t seated at the kitchen table first thing in the morning reading his Bible. My father was consumed with a passion for the Word. At the time, I was not a Christian, although I considered myself a believer. For a number of months my dad faithfully and patiently led a life of faith and witnessed to me as much as was productive to do so. Our minister frequented our home and became a good friend to me and my family. Eventually I began attending services and listening a little closer as it became apparent my father was not participating in a passing fad, but undergoing a transformation of his life and a renewing of his mind.

The UK -vs- UNC game Sunday night, began at 5PM, and our evening services are at 6:00PM. For some congregations, and some Christians, this would pose a very real dilemma… which shall I choose, to stay home with the HD quality programming of NCAA tournament play or participate in the assembly? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with watching a ballgame per se, so long as it does not impose upon my ability to edify another Christian, or impede my availability to His Word. Some would argue attendance on a Sunday evening as unnecessary, especially if they faithfully attend morning services. Perhaps, but I do tend to believe such thinking reveals something about us. Allow me to illustrate my point.

My wife is my best friend and I enjoy her company, so much so that I am often distracted by thoughts of her through the day and truly long to be with her again. When we have to be apart, it is bearable only in the thought we will be together again and our commitment to one another remains strong in spite of the temporary separation. I cannot imagine “skipping out” on an opportunity to be with her, even if it should only be for a brief while. My wife trusts me and knows me better than any other person alive. Such trust strengthens our relationship through difficulties or challenges. Therefore, should I choose to go out with friends, or some other activity within the bounds of our vows, my wife would be OK and have no doubts or concerns. Concerns could creep in, however, should I choose to neglect her, or avoid her, show less passion or become apathetic toward being with her. Love for my wife constrains me to prioritize my activities and interests in such a manner as to build her up and strengthen our marriage. Again, so long as my priorities remain in cooperation with my vows to my wife, everything is good.

Similarly, Christian faith requires commitment and priority, it demands cooperation of action and words.

Empty stadium seats with a man alone

James mentions faith and action, a faith which transcends the lip service of shallow “belief only” and bears the grit of substance. Such faith is evidenced by action. Recently, I was referred to as “zealous”, a comment intended to be taken as a punch. In context, it was an argumentum ad hominem employed to silence my disagreement with a prospective change to a city ordinance. Its implication being I am limited in my view and “close minded”. I, however, have an advocate which speaks for me… my actions.

How does this relate to the NCAA tournament? I guess it just got me to thinking of an opportunity to share the Gospel. No doubt, Monday morning was filled with a number of conversations about the game. What a wonderful opportunity Christians have when asked about the game to “open the door” by sharing they didn’t watch the game on live TV because they were occupied by something more exciting… participation in worshiping God. I firmly believe our convictions bear out in our actions, and as a Christian I never want to fail in assembling with the body of Christ if at all possible.

As a preacher, I get teased quite a lot about the length of my sermons. There are always a few jokes about cancelling or shortening services when a big game is on, accompanied by a wink & laughter. Here at Union City, it is understood comments about sermon length which are intended to jibe me a little are not to be taken seriously. Our attendance Sunday night made me very proud of our congregation and my opportunity to serve such a spiritually focused group. Granted, most folks didn’t linger long following the service, however, they were active and present and would never have considered skipping out of the assembly for any reason short of illness or another serious family concern. They chose to participate in the assembly, enjoy opportunity to commune with one another and to increase their faith by studying Scripture. No wonder I thought about my father upon seeing such a strong attendance.

I love assembling with the saints!

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Relief is on the way

Recent images from the Haitian earthquake have stirred memories of the needs I saw first hand while serving on a short term mission trip in Haiti. In 1989, the Church I was serving (Fairview Christian Church, Foster KY) partnered with the Rappahannok Church of Christ (Virginia) to provide assistance to a missionary we jointly supported. Leontes (Leon) D’Orleans is a native Haitian and graduate of Cinncinati Bible College (now Cincinnati Christian university) who has an impressive and infectious love for the Lord.

In preparation for the trip, each of us had to have a series of shots, followed by taking medication to prevent Malaria. I did very well with the shots, but the Malaria medication made me sicker than a dog as we were leaving for the airport… I had to make a couple ‘stops’ on the way, if you catch what I mean. Our team in Cincinnati boarded the plane, which lost an engine about 5 minutes into our flight, causing a nightmarish delay & potentially killing our effort to go. Fortunately, we split up & were able to catch individual flights, ultimately joining again for the single flight into Haiti. All this while I was running through airports with my new friend Bill Fudge trying to keep my physical composure so as not to repeat any of the fun activity I experienced on the car ride to the airport. We made the flight, and our delayed arrival into Haiti was without further issue.

Upon landing, 2 things immediately struck me. First, the smell. It was overwhelming, and a smell I shall never forget. Following the devastating flood of 1997 throughout our region of Kentucky, I relived a little of that memory while assisting in the cleanup of our camp & property of some townsfolk living in Falmouth, KY. I remember reading about the Biblical location of the Valley of Hinnom, a place where open fires of human waste, garbage & the bodies of the impoverished deceased were a daily event outside Jerusalem… “surely, this was similar to what Jesus was talking about” was the thought rushing through my mind, via my nostrils. The second impression was of the ‘guards’ posted by the Haitian government at the airport. They were dressed in rag-tag ‘uniforms’ and possessed weapons which dated from the pre WWII era.

Leon met us at the airport… his huge smile was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen all day. We were travel worn, but excited to hug Leon & begin our work. Our lodging was generous… far above the Haitian standard of living… and we were offered a meal of fried chicken that night. I could not eat, partially due to illness and partially due to the poverty all around me… it was staggering.

Cite Soliel is translated to mean “City of the Sun”. I have seen the light of their sun, and it outshines that of many in the American Church, which has become shaded by stained glass and the trappings of material possessions and inward focused programs.

We were there to offer assistance in constructing a building for the Church that Leon served as minister, and provide them with encouragement, instruction & resources in developing a Christian School & proper leadership within the Church. The Church was in Cite Soliel, a slum of Port Au Prince and only a short distance from the capitol city. The next day, we loaded up in ‘Tap Taps’ (Haitian taxis) and headed to the work site… The smell, the heat & the stupid malaria medication once again put me in a humble position of prayer upon stepping off of the Tap Tap. I spent the next morning lying prone in my room, trying to regain from the dehydration & illness which held me so tightly.

The remainder of my time in Haiti was so life changing. I thought I knew what poverty looked like, but I was face to face, hand in hand with the ‘least of these’ whom Jesus spoke of. I listened with shock as Leon described a husband and father eating only 1 meal every other day in order to provide enough for his children to eat a single meal every day. Child mortality was shocking and the life expectancy of the Haitian people rivaled nothing I had ever seen or heard before. Yet, I celebrated & worshiped with my fellow Christians from Haiti & was so struck by their joy & generosity. The Church is alive & well in Haiti!

Amid the poverty & oppression, the death and hopelessness of this life, the Christians of Haiti shine with a light of Jesus that goes beyond the temporal sufferings of this world.

Leon has endured many sufferings in his commitment to Jesus. Possessing a keen mind & very sharp intellect, Leon has been offered a number of ministry opportunities here in the US, yet he maintained his single minded vision of serving the Lord in his own country. Leon’s wife, Jackie, was kidnapped & held for ransom some years ago… he has suffered illness & poverty, lack of resources, exploitation by the government & threats from those opposed to the Church, yet, the Church of around 100 has grown now to well over 1000. Leon has helped the Church establish a Christian school, and has founded a network of support for hundreds of orphans to receive food, clothing, shelter, education & love in a Christian environment.

Cite Soliel is translated to mean “City of the Sun”. I have seen the light of their sun, and it outshines that of many in the American Church, which has become shaded by stained glass and the trappings of material possessions and inward focused programs. Amid the poverty & oppression, the death and hopelessness of this life, the Christians of Haiti shine with a light of Jesus that goes beyond the temporal sufferings of this world. So much so, that they continue to sacrifice in order to send young men to the US to attend Bible College and receive training to serve as evangelists & missionaries.

My point in all of this? Haiti needed assistance before the earthquake, and they certainly need it now. Our congregation is currently planning a special offering on Superbowl Sunday and we will send that donation, earmarked for use as Haitian earthquake relief, through I.D.E.S. (International Disaster Emergency Service) because 100% of the funds go to the effort. Many other groups eat up large amounts with their overhead, and we have a long standing relationship of trust with I.D.E.S. which confirms their responsible handling of such matters. Please pray for the Haitian people, and those presently providing relief to them. Your role in providing relief cannot be underestimated, and I’d encourage your prayerful consideration in our efforts on their behalf.

For a little additional reading, you may want to check out the following article:
Busted: 5 Myths of Disaster Relief

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