This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Homosexual Marriage and the Christian

            “As the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fadin'. . . . for the times they are a changin’.”  Perhaps no recent cultural trend confirms the prophetic truth of Bob Dylan’s 1963 ballad than the reversal of society’s views regarding homosexual marriage.  The most recent ABC News poll reveals that 58 percent of Americans think that homosexual marriage should be legal.  Less than 10 years ago, only 36 percent of Americans agreed with this idea.  The demographics of this study point to a continued growing embrace of homosexuality as a positive good in the years ahead.  Indeed, the times they are a changin’!  

Our nation’s embrace of homosexual marriage will have growing significant impact upon followers of Jesus and upon God’s church.  Once the definition of marriage is changed in our nation’s laws, the gloves will come off in the abuse of the minority who disagree.  The world will not be content to simply enjoy the newly established legal rights of homosexual marriage.  The world even now demands that everyone celebrate the ideals that it celebrates.  No tolerance will be given for dissenting views . . . not in our children’s schools, not in the workplace, not in government and not in our churches.

            Since faithful disciples of Jesus cannot celebrate anything that our Savior forbids, we can expect to be demonized, berated, threatened, and intimidated for agreeing with God’s Word that marriage is defined by God as a union of one man and one woman in covenant relationship with each other. The church must be ready to be the church in the face of persecution.   We are ordained by God to proclaim His worth amongst people who despise Him.  Jesus told us,  “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. . . In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 15:20; John 16:33)

            In the past three months, I have had three church families ask me the question, “Should a Christian attend a wedding for a homosexual relative?”  This is no longer a question that is hypothetical and can be ignored.  This situation is likely to become more commonplace and produces grievous consequences for family relationships.  For instance, some children threaten to cut off all relationship with his/her parents if they do not attend their wedding to their homosexual partner.            

            This new dilemma creates a pressing emotional tension for God’s people.  We are called to love God first with all our being and to love others even as much as we love ourselves.  Out of love for the person should we attend a homosexual wedding that we do not agree with?  What counsel would you give to parents facing this problem?  
I believe that scripture gives us a clear answer to that question.  Please follow with me through six biblical truths that inform us how we can glorify God in the face of this dilemma

Truth #1:  We are right to humble ourselves before God recognizing our need for His mercy.
  If we are invited to a wedding of a homosexual friend or relative, we rightly resist any self-righteous response that sets us above those who are enslaved to sin.  This invitation helps us to think of God in grace delivering us from the kingdom of darkness and transferring us into the kingdom of His Son.  We are not different from those whose minds and hearts are enslaved to the sin of homosexuality.  Enslaved to sin we once were, and that is where we would presently be apart from Jesus’ saving power.  When we see others bound by sin, we are right to set aside fleshly anger that is rooted in our pride.   Instead, we ask God to help us to repent of our own sins and to possess eyes of compassion for those whose soul is darkened by sin and in need of a Savior.

Truth #2:  We are right to love those who pursue sin.
  God loves sinners and so must we.  We ourselves would not experience God’s love if He did not love us at the very time we pursued our rebellion against Him.  The ground of God’s love toward us is not our obedience toward Him.  The ground of His love for us is His perfect, unchanging nature.  In view of God’s sovereign love for us, we would be wrong to withhold love from another person on the basis of their actions.  Glorifying God in our lives means that we pursue loving those who pursue sin.  We avoid derision, name-calling, and disrespect of those captured in the strong prison of homosexuality.  We pursue goodness, mercy and kindness toward them in demonstration of the Gospel.

Truth #3:  We are right to love God first and foremost.
  We love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Our first priority is to please Him, before we consider how we might please others.  Jesus calls us to give Him preeminence in all things.  God knows that our allegiance to Him may ruin our relationships with others in our physical families.  This is not because we withdraw our love from them, but because they may demand that we choose them over Christ.  Jesus predicted this when he said,  “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Truth #4:  We are right to hate sin in all forms. 
God hates sin and so must we.  God hates sin because sin defies His authority, conceals His beauty and destroys the people whom He created in His image.  Sin robs precious life from all who cling to it.  Our love for those who sin leads us to hate the very thing that is destroying their soul.  Such a one may yearn for us to affirm the goodness of the sin that is destroying them.  But we cannot do that!  Love for them forbids it.

Truth #5:  We are right to proclaim the Gospel as God’s instrument for life transformation. 
The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who do not believe, but for us who are being saved it is God’s power to rescue us from every form of sin that enslaves us.  While many scoff at the idea that a person who identifies as a homosexual can be changed, God has rescued many from this sin and continues to offer a life transformation to those who believe in His Son.  The Gospel offers living hope for the soul that is aching from the guilt, bondage and shame of sin. 

Truth #6:  We are right to avoid the sin of sacrilege.
  Sacrilege is the violation or misuse of anything that is consecrated to God.  In the scripture, we see God responding with holy zeal against sins that involved sacrilege.  When Aaron led Israel to worship God by using a golden calf, the Lord said to Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”  Moses interceded for the people, but 3000 people died for participating in this sacrilege. When Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire in the worship of God, God struck them both dead. Well-intentioned Uzzah died when he touched the ark of the covenant because he violated the holiness of this sacred piece.   In the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira and Simon Magnus are illustrations of the fearful response of God to the sin of sacrilege. 
A wedding is a worship service in which we call upon God to bless a couple as He unites them together as husband and wife.  A marriage between two of the same sex asks God to bless a union that is an open rejection of His creative purposes for them.  This kind of marriage misuses a sacred gift from God and distorts the image of God that marriage is designed to reflect.  For this reason, such a service is a sacrilege.  Thus it is wrong and harmful for us to attend.   I believe that we invite God’s displeasure upon our lives when we do not consider first the honor of His name, especially in relationship to ceremonies of worship.

Our world is growing darker with sin.  The King is not long in returning.  Let us remain faithful to Him even as it becomes more costly for us to do so.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Planning and Tracking a Budget

We had a great time over the weekend discussing some principles of stewardship. In several sessions, we talked about budgeting. Below, I've listed some of the steps involved in planning and tracking a budget and provided some sample illustrations.

Is budgeting a biblical principle? I would hesitate to say that failure to budget is a sin. Instead, it seems better to say that budgeting helps me be faithful. When one has been entrusted with as many earthly resources as we have, it is hard for me to imagine how one can be faithful as a steward without budgeting.

In Luke 16:10-12, Jesus instructs us, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

For those who are interested, here are the steps I laid out regarding budgeting. One does not necessarily need to follow them sequentially. I’ll try to supply a few examples for some of these steps.

Step 1: Pray

Step 2: Ponder

In this step, we ask ourselves questions such as: What are the biblical principles concerning money? Where am I doing well? Where do I need to improve?

Step 3: Preview

In this step, we ask questions about the future, humbly recognizing that only God knows the future with certainty: What does the year hold (weekly, monthly, yearly expenses)? What are our goals for the year? For five years? For twenty-five years? What are our long-term needs? Where did we fail in the past year?

Example: Here’s a list of some of the things we’ve listed when compiling a list like this (not necessarily in order of importance!):

Building Fund
Life Insurance
Piano Lessons
Water Bill
House repair
Five Points
Date Night
Car Savings
Car Repair
Car Insurance

Step 4: Priorities

That's quite an aggressive list! Obviously, not all of those things will be able to be funded to the degree I might find ideal. In this step, we ask these questions: What are the most important things to spend money on in light of step 3? How will we implement biblical principles?

Example: I laid out a (long) list of things that my family needs/wants to be spending on or saving money for. As I look through the list, I realize my finances are inadequate to meet all of these goals.

I prioritize the list according to Biblical principles. Tithe, mortgage, food, clothing, and insurance are at the top of the list. The big-screen t.v. falls to the bottom of the list. 

Remember this: budgeting isn't just about asking if this is something you can afford. Often, I can afford something that simply isn't the best use of God's money.  

Step 5: Plan

Now we begin the planning stage. Based on when you are paid, determine what you need to save from each paycheck for all the expenses you laid out. Keep your own money whenever you can. Seek the counsel of others

Example: I get paid twice a month. For simplicity’s sake, let’s pretend that my take home pay is $1,100 per paycheck. I take all of the things on my above list and determine how much I will need to save for each item. Imagine my car insurance is $600 a year. This means each paycheck, I put back $50.
Here’s a vastly shortened example of my pretend budget (the real one would be longer, in an excel spreadsheet, and therefore much cooler looking):

Tithe: $110
Missions: $50
Mortgage: $200
Utilities: $100
Etc., Etc.: $640

Step 6: Pursue

·         By God’s grace, pursue the plan you’ve put in place. Make sure there is a mechanism in place to track your plan and follow through with it. Be flexible and willing to change the plan as needed.

I think a key element of budgeting is putting a system in place to track how we’re doing on following our budget. Here’s a simplified example of what I do, based upon the budget example above.

Every paycheck, the money is placed in our bank account. So, in our example above, let’s pretend that the beginning balance of our account, on January 1, was $0. On January 15, I deposit $1,100. Now, the balance is $1,100. My bank account would simply say something like:

First Savings Bank, Daniel’s balance: $1000.

But that’s very deceptive. I’ve already divided that money and planned for it in my budget. How do I track it? Personally, I use an excel spreadsheet. I design it so that as I read across a row horizontally, I can see how much is in each category of my budget. 

Here’s a sample spreadsheet with an explanation below:

Let me walk through what’s taking place in the chart above. After I make that deposit on January 15, now my balance is $1,100. The spreadsheet, as you read across it horizontally, shows me where that money has been allotted.

On January 30, I make another deposit. Again, entering those amounts in the spreadsheet shows me how that money has been divided among the categories I had in my budget.

The tricky part is when the bills are paid. We take every expenditure and assign it a category in the spreadsheet. After paying the bills, I am able to track how closely the budget is tracking what I’m actually doing with my money.

I try not to make changes too quickly as I budget. In the chart, I notice that I have excess money in utilities and a negative number in missions. Overall, I have a surplus in my account, so I’m not worried yet. I track spending over the next few months to see what patterns develop. My car insurance category is going to look great…until the bill comes due!

So...that's what our family does to see how closely our spending and saving is matching what we budgeted. I'd be interested if anyone else has other resources that they'd be willing to share.

By His Grace,


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Do We Have to Keep Talking About Rob Bell?

…and, do we have to keep talking about homosexuality?

Good strategists know that an important aspect to winning a battle is to pick the terms on which the battle takes place. Unfortunately for Christians, we sometimes don't have that luxury. We often find ourselves forced to fight battles on terrain that we might not choose, talking about things that are not our favorite topics. We are forced to respond quickly to things that are hard to communicate in quick sound bytes.

Personally, I’m tired of talking about Rob Bell. I’m tired of talking about homosexuality. But this week, both of those topics have come front and center once again. And, whether we like it or not, it is important for the church to continue to face the issues the world demands we address.

For those who don't know, Rob Bell, former pastor at Mars Hill, recently expressed his support for same-sex marriage. I posted a few comments on a blog post that was asking whether or not we can engage in civil dialogue with Rob Bell. This is what I first posted:
If we believe that practicing a homosexual lifestyle is sinful, then there are going to be times we must break fellowship with those who disagree (e.g., Rom 1:32; 1 Cor 5:1-2). Sexual sins of all kinds are so damaging for those we love. In a sexualized culture in which any kind of deviation from God’s design is celebrated (divorce, pornography, homosexuality), may we, the Bride of Christ, clearly and lovingly call people to a better, more joyful path of obedience. 
The conversation on the blog continued and I sensed a false, emerging: will we embrace the good in Bell or will we insist on name calling? Here’s what I wrote, addressing one post in particular:

There is still a place to disagree without ugliness. Your example of area churches is good. There are issues like eschatology, baptism, ecclesiology where strong disagreements exist, yet we enjoy sweet fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ 
It seems that your more specific lament is: can Rob Bell still “be in the club”? Or do we throw him aside due to _____________ (fill in the blank: position on hell, homosexuality, being too cool for school). 
I think we’d all agree that there are those who articulate some truth but, by their rejection of other core, biblical truths, force us to conclude that they have fallen into the category “false teacher.” For example, let’s take the other end of the extreme. The people who are part of Westboro Baptist articulate, by their words, the gospel message. But because of their failure to have any understanding of how to rightly apply that gospel message, it is clear that they are not part of the true church. We don’t ask: “Is there still room to glean the good stuff from Westboro without all the name calling?” Their “ministry” demonstrates a blatant rejection of the character of God and lack of submission to His word. 
My opinion is that Rob Bell sometimes asks really great and challenging questions about how to relate to the culture in which we live. But after asking those questions he: (a) fails to provide any concrete, orthodox answers, or (b) attacks those who are offering orthodox answers, or (c) provides answers that are heretical/play with the edges of heresy), or (d) some combination of the above.
And while Bell’s ministry does well at sometimes exposing the ways in which the evangelical church has replaced true submission to God’s Word with submission to modernism, his ministry seems to replace submission to God’s Word with submission to a post-modern mentality. 
So what are we to do with that? Glean the good? Sure, by all means. But Bell seems to be loudly proclaiming to all who are still listening that he doesn’t want to remain a part of the church. 
Do we need to keep talking about Rob Bell? Sadly, yes. But my hope is that as we talk about Rob Bell we can expand the conversation to the Gospel…to the Good News that God’s plan for one’s life is glorious and that the obedience He calls us to is not burdensome but a blessing.

By His Grace,


Saturday, March 2, 2013

How should we observe Lent? - By Pastor Art Georges

Lent is a period of time, approximately 40 days, prior to the observance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Beyond the repeated significance of 40 day periods in biblical history, the Lenten season stretches that same length in order to remember the period of time, following His baptism, that Jesus spent in the Judean wilderness, being tempted and approved, at the beginning of His public ministry.  Corresponding to that, Lent is marked off as a time of preparing the heart to observe His death and resurrection. 

Part of one’s preparation during the Lenten observance is accomplished through self-denial in some way, be it through abstaining from certain favorite foods, caffeinated beverages, even activities that are enjoyed as part of one’s normal lifestyle.  Many who may have observed Lent in a former time of their life recall giving up meat on Fridays and substituting with fish in its place (by direction, not choice!).  Abstinence of something is performed in an attempt to identify with the self-denial that Jesus exercised during His wilderness testing. 
Many of the Christian denominations that resulted from the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s did not continue the practice of Lent.  The objection to continuing Lent was rooted in the belief that the observance had become ritualistic rather than heart-felt.  The Reformers believed Lent was more about the Roman Catholic Church’s control over its people than about preparing to remember Christ’s victorious sacrifice.  Martin Luther cautioned against Lent’s practice of abstaining from foods to gain favor with God.  John Calvin labeled Lent as a “superstitious observance”.  Both were former priests of the Roman Catholic Church.
So, considering that there are worthy concepts of self-denial, and identification with Jesus bound up in the celebration of Lent, how can we prepare our hearts for the Resurrection celebration without becoming routine, ritualistic, and superstition? 

I believe the best answer to that question is found in not being seasonal with respect to observing the death and resurrection of our Savior.  When we slip into a seasonal observance of Christ’s reason for coming, we risk minimizing the importance of His death and resurrection for the 325 remaining days in the “church calendar”.  The Apostle Paul had a year-round application of Christ’s death and victory over death in his behalf, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).