Sunday, June 30, 2013

Destroying the Wisdom of the Wise

Obadiah 8 (NKJV)
8 “Will I not in that day,” says the LORD, “Even destroy the wise men from Edom, And understanding from the mountains of Esau?”

This week the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and further advanced the perverse agenda of those who would obliterate all vestiges of Christianity from the laws and institutions of our once great nation.

If you, like me, find yourself scratching your head and wondering, “How in the world did we get here? How is it possible that otherwise intelligent men and women could argue that the Constitution protects the rights of men and women to do that which is perverse and unnatural? Particularly when the Constitution was written by those who would be shocked and appalled by the uses to which the document is being put?” If you find yourself asking these very reasonable questions, let me direct your attention to our text today.

Edom was a people descended from Esau and had shared, like their namesake, in covenantal unfaithfulness. When the Israelites were suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, the Edomites mocked Israel’s suffering and assisted the Babylonians in plundering the land despite the covenant oaths that had joined Edom and Israel together. So God sent the prophet Obadiah to prophesy against Edom and announce the judgment that would fall upon the Edomites. What was the judgment?

“Will I not in that day,” says the LORD, “Even destroy the wise men from Edom, And understanding from the mountains of Esau?

Brothers and sisters, God still rules and reigns in the affairs of men – and the proof of His reign is that we are witnessing this same judgment on our land. Our wise men are being destroyed and understanding is being removed from the ruling centers of the land. Washington D.C. is a den of fools and charlatans. It seems that our leaders can no longer tell a man from a woman – and yet we expect them to calculate our tax burdens and administer justice?

We stand in desperate need of the grace and mercy of God – and the only way that we can expect God to pour out His grace and mercy upon us is if we bow before Him and confess our sin and rebellion against Him. As the Church, our calling is to lead the way in this confession. So today, let us kneel and confess that we have as a people rebelled against God and let us ask Him to have mercy upon us and our nation.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Homosexual Christians?

One of the editors of Touchstone Magazine wrote an excellent article on homosexuality and the Church. Go here to read his thoughts. It is critical that we saturate ourselves in the Word of God and the testimony of the sacraments in the midst of a culture askew.

The Coeur d'Alene Press covered the SCOTUS overthrow of the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this week. One of the things that struck my wife and me after reading the "word on the street" section of the paper was that most people's opposition to homosexuality has been simply a matter of bigotry and tradition - not conviction based on Scripture and the way the Creator has hard-wired the universe. Those quoted simply didn't express any measurable conviction other than, "Hey, whatever they want to do is fine. If the Supreme Court said so it must be okay." As though the Supreme Court is the deity and the things others do have no measurable affect on the rest of society. The doom this spells for us as a people is sobering.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sexuality and "Is" vs. "Ought"

Leviticus 18:3 (NKJV)
3 According to the doings [the sexual practices] of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.

One of the key distinctions that philosphers make in the realm of ethics is between “is” and “ought.” Merely because something “is” the case does not mean that it “ought” to be the case. ‘Is” is merely descriptive not prescriptive; it describes the way things are but not necessarily the way things ought to be.

In recent debates over the matter of sexuality there has been a decided failure to maintain this basic distinction – a distinction which is eminently biblical. We see it reflected in our text today – the Egyptians and Canaanites behaved in certain ways sexually; had sociologists written about their society, they would have described the practices of incest, homosexuality, bestiality, ritual prostitution, etc. All these things were the case. But simply because they were the case doesn’t mean that those practices were right or proper, that they ought to have been. Scripture declares on nearly every page that that which we observe about us in the history of humanity is not necessarily that which ought to be. Jealousy, immorality, theft, murder, covetousness, pride, deceit, self-righteousness, slander – all these things are the case but ought not to be the case – for God created us to be different.

So notice how the argumentation goes – homosexuals find individuals of the same gender attractive; many testify that they experienced this attraction unwillingly, it was simply there. Notice that thus far we’re dealing with what is the case, with description. But suddenly the ground shifts and the homosexual advocate begins to defend something quite different – he begins to reason from is to ought, from description to prescription. Because homosexual attraction is the case, therefore we ought to consider it acceptable behavior.

But this is folly. We do not determine what ought to be the case from what is the case. For example, we take it as a given in Western culture that cannibalism is perverse and unnatural. Thanks to generations of biblical wisdom and common grace, we find the smell of burning human flesh repulsive. What may come as a surprise, however, is that in cannibalistic cultures the shape of the brain changes over time so that the smell of human flesh is actually perceived as pleasant. That which is naturally repulsive comes to be perceived as pleasant. Do we conclude from this that cannibalism is morally acceptable? Absolutely not! Their cultural perversion distorts their very physicality.

The sobering reality of our corruption is this: just as we can become accustomed to the roaring of a train outside our window if we’ve lived beside it long enough, so we can become accustomed to perverse behavior and our sensory faculties can adjust to make such behavior seem acceptable.

So how can we escape? Only by the grace of God and the Word of God. God must give us a new longing to understand what ought to be, a desire to study His Word so that we can learn what ought to be, and then the willingness to change what is so that it conforms to what ought to be. And praise God that by His grace our God-given repulsion to that which is unnatural can return.

So what of us? What of you? What things are the case in your life that you have merely come to accept as normal – not because they ought to be the case, but merely because they are the case? Are there outbursts of anger and wrath? Undercurrents of bitterness and resentment? Displays of disrespect or disobedience? Beware becoming alienated from that which ought to be the case by the ever-presence of what is the case.

Reminded of the depth of our sinfulness and the way we excuse what we do wrong, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The "Secular" State

I penned a response to the Spokesman's criticisms of my stance against the recent legislation in Coeur d'Alene that publicly legitimizes various abnormal sexual practices and penalizes those who oppose them. You can find the response here.

The point that I've endeavored to make is that if "anti-discrimination" is really what the law is about, then certainly the boundaries of the law should be expanded. The testimony from the LGBT community typically states, "I've felt so ostracized within the community; I've had to endure the stigma of being engaged in unacceptable behavior; this shouldn't be the case." It is routinely an appeal to pity. But that same type of argumentation can be used for those who practice other sexual abnormalities.

My point in all this is that there is no such thing as the "secular" state. All states enforce and sanction morality - law by its very nature is enforced morality. The only question is which morality will be enforced. But because so many, even so many Christians, have bought into the lie of the "secular" state, when these moral questions arise for consideration they have no framework within which to address the issue. How can I enforce my personal moral convictions on others?

There are a couple things to keep in mind when asking this question: first, these are not "personal moral convictions" but the moral law of the universe woven into the fabric of the world and of humans in particular by our Creator. We can spurn these laws but we do so at our peril. Second, it is important to distinguish, as Scripture does, between sins and crimes. Not all sinful actions are criminal actions. Hence, "enforcing morality" does not mean that police would be perusing the neighborhood looking for all those who call their brother, "Raca!" (Mt 5:21ff) As Christians we should be quite comfortable leaving the judgment of sins to God while upholding the necessity of a society that criminalizes behavior God Himself judges to be such. Some sins are criminal: murder, theft, adultery, perjury, kidnapping, etc. They destroy the very fabric of society and invite God's judgment.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The "F" Word and Homosexuality

Seems the Associate Editor of the Spokesman Review has taken umbrage with my opposition to homosexuality. He's even issued the low-blow of labeling me (gasp!) a "fundamentalist". Wow - didn't see that one coming. "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"

For those seeking a refreshing, winsome, biblically grounded and compassionate look at homosexuality, let me encourage you to read Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into the Christian Faith. Mrs. Butterfield was a tenured professor at Syracuse University and a public spokesman for the LBGT community - until she was converted to the Christian faith. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

You Shall Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43–48 (NKJV)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Much has happened in the past week in our little community. I tried to prepare us as a congregation to face this issue some months ago by preaching on the topic of homosexuality and explaining what God has to say about the matter. No doubt there is more that could have been said and more that can be said, but at least we learned a little.

But a bit of fire has erupted this week over this issue and it is fitting for us to remember how we are to respond when folks criticize us for standing for the truth. It is ever easy to take things personally and forget that in defending the truth we’re not defending ourselves but the truth. And because we’re defending the truth, we can rest in the knowledge that God is His own best Defender. He will vindicate His Name and demonstrate to all nations that He is the Lord.

In the meantime, our calling is to imitate His grace and mercy by showing kindness to those who persecute us or say all kinds of evil against us. While standing courageously for the truth and speaking it frankly, we are to look for ways to bless and extend grace to our persecutors. Why? Because this is the way God acts toward his enemies day by day. And if God extends grace, ought not we?

We must beware the lure of moralism and defensiveness; we must ever remember the grace and mercy that God has extended to us and so extend it to others. At no time will that be more challenging than when we are being persecuted or slandered for the Name of Christ. But we can do it, we can extend grace and mercy even to those who persecute and slander us, because we know that God has promised to bless us as we do so – no gracious word, no good deed, no turning of the other cheek will go unnoticed. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And this type of faith manifesting itself in love is precisely what the Apostles modeled for us when they were persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for preaching Christ – they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name (Acts 5:41b).

But often we respond to the criticisms and slanders of others not by giving a blessing but by giving an insult instead. Rather than returning good for evil, we return evil for evil. But this is not the way of our Lord Christ, nor is it the way that God will work to bring the nations to bow before Christ and acknowledge Him to be Lord of all. So let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that He would enable us to give a blessing instead.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Plea for Adulterers

My letter to the editor appeared in today's Coeur d'Alene Press if you're interested. If you'd like to read it on their webpage you can go here. I've also pasted it below:

Letter to the Editor
June 7, 2013

A Plea for the Adulterer

Tuesday night the Coeur d’Alene City Council passed by a vote of 5 to 1 legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered in the matters of employment, housing, and pubic accommodations. I am disappointed that this legislation just doesn’t go far enough. I write a plea for the adulterer.

It seems hard that in this day and age of sexual freedom and liberation that the adulterer is still castigated with some public stigma. After all, we all know how challenging marriage is and particularly how challenging it is for men to remain sexually committed to just one woman. Currently there is no legislation that forbids employers from discriminating against the adulterer or guarantees hotel rooms for late night liaisons.

Just imagine the personal trauma faced by the adulterer when he enters the hotel with his hot new babe in tow. There at the welcome desk is the owner of the hotel – a next-door neighbor of the adulterer who happens to have a conscience. The neighbor gazes at the man and his babe and, recognizing neither wife nor daughter, summarily refuses to give them a room for the night. What’s more, he gives the adulterer a sound verbal lashing. So what’s the adulterer to do? There aren’t any laws that protect him from such humiliation and injury. This just isn’t fair.

After all, he and his hot mama are consenting adults; what right does this hotel owner have to refuse to give them a room? Perhaps the Coeur d’Alene City Council will come to the rescue on their white horses. In one fell swoop they can rescue the world from discrimination by championing the cause of the adulterer. After all, if there is nothing natural or honorable in the arena of sexuality, then why not take up my plea?

Stuart W. Bryan
Trinity Church