Monday, May 31, 2010

Questions About Sex

We had a great Sunday yesterday at church.  We usually have less people in attendance over Memorial Day weekend because so many families are traveling, but we were up yesterday - most likely because we were covering the tough topic of sex.  It seems everyone could use some help in maturing in this area of our lives.  Here are some of the many text messages that came in after I preached yesterday and my best attempt at a quick answer...

1) Will we be condemned before God if we have had sex before marriage?  Sex outside of marriage is the same as every other sin in God's economy, meaning that it does bring condemnation and death, but not any more than stealing or lying or gossiping does.  Sin is sin, and the grace of God poured out in the blood of Jesus Christ covers all sin.  Sexual sin is unique (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18) in some of its consequences in our own lives, but it is not unique in its consequence for our relationship with God.  When we trust Jesus as Savior, He saves us from all sin - sexual sin included.  As I said Sunday, sometime the most difficult part of moving beyond our sexual past is forgiving ourselves - in other words, believing that God's forgiveness is real.  Be encouraged - His forgiveness covers all our sin.

2) Does it cause men to struggle with purity when ladies in their life dress immodestly?  The short answer is yes.  The Bible speaks to how women dress in multiple places because women can use their physical beauty as a source of trust (an idol) that they can use to manipulate men and get what they want in life.  Men are attracted to women by sight, and since women are not attracted to men by sight (as much), they can fail to understand and appreciate how their dress can impact men.  All this being said, men cannot wait for all women to begin to dress modestly to have a mental life of purity.  Even if most of the women in our lives dress modestly, there will still be women around us (at the store, the bank, at work) who don't, and we have to develop the discipline of not lusting over those women.

3) Is adultery the only free pass to unforgiveness and divorce?  Jesus said that divorce was acceptable in situations where adultery had been committed, but He didn't say it was best or even desirable.  Divorce never fixes the situation - it simply changes the difficulties that you are dealing with.  I believe that couples can reconcile even after adultery occurs if repentance is sincere and life-change occurs.  Also, everyone needs to recognize that adultery is not a free pass to unforgiveness.  Unforgiveness is deadly to the person holding on the pain and hurt and bitterness, not the person who has hurt us.  Regardless of what someone has done to us (even including adultery), we cannot live with unforgiveness in our hearts.  We must forgive by the power of the Spirit in us.

4) What if you try to confess and talk about your past with your spouse but they don't want to hear it?  This is a great question, and actually, a very common one.  Because most of us bring sexual issues with us into our marriage relationship, we have to be wise about how we handle our past.  In my personal opinion, we need to confess in broad terms what we have done and/or experienced that will impact our sexual relationship in marriage.  However, I don't think we need to confess every detail of everything we've ever done sexually.  That would be unnecessary and painful to our spouse.  Our spouse does need to know if we've been sexually active or if we have struggled with pornography addiction, etc., but they don't need to know that on October 4, 1998, I went out with this person and we made out at the movies.  It is pointless to go into that much detail unless there is something in a specific experience (where sexual abuse or date rape, etc.) that continues to cause you pain and hurt in your sexual relationship with your spouse.

5) What is God's view on homosexuality?  Does God love his gay children as well or are they going to hell?  I am really thankful to be able to attempt an answer to this question.  I know that this is a difficult question for many people either because of their own sexual struggles or because of friends and family who have shared that they are gay.  First, we need to recognize that all people are created in the image of God and given significance and worth and value by God.  Rather than label people based on their sexual desires or orientation, we need to label all people as just people first.  I am not a straight man first.  I am just a man, created and loved by God.  Second, we need to apologize for all the terrible things that people in our tribe have said toward homosexual people.  We have many stupid, unloving people in our tribe who have held signs that have said terrible things like "God hates fags."  I hope and pray for the day that homosexual men and women can forgive us for that and take a new look at Jesus Christ.  Finally, we need to confess that the Bible does say that homosexual activity is outside the will and plan of God.  The Bible doesn't condemn homosexual desire, just like it doesn't condemn heterosexual desire.  The question is what we do with that desire.  If we use our heterosexual desire inside of marriage, then we are honoring God with it.  If we use our heterosexual desire outside of marriage, then we are not honoring God with it.  If someone has homosexual desire, then they are challenged by Scripture to live a celibate life in order to honor God with their desires.  I understand that this is difficult, but all men and women are challenged to submit their sexual desire under the lordship of Jesus, and as best as I can understand Scripture, this is what it means for men and women with homosexual desire.

6) Finally, what can we say about David and the OT kings who had all those wives?  Is God okay with multiples wives?  Another great question!  From the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis 2), God set up marriage to be between one woman and one man for life.  When Jesus and Paul speak to the issue of marriage, they go back to Genesis 2 to show that God's design and intention for marriage has never changed.  Within this bigger biblical narrative, we can see that David and the other OT kings were outside of God's plan by taking on multiple wives.  In fact, the Scriptures never glorify what they did or tell us to follow their example.  Rather, the text tells us that it was their multiple wives that led their hearts astray from the heart of God.  As they added wives from different lands who worshiped different gods, they brought idols into their homes, and their allegiance to their many wives eventually led them astray spiritually.  Instead of exalting what they did, the Bible tells that what they did was foolish and did great damage to them personally and the nation of Israel.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Letters Topic #2: Sex

As we continue in our Letters series this Sunday, we are going to speak to the issue of sexual purity.  As we continue to address challenges to our spiritual maturity, we must confront the ongoing temptation that comes from sexual sin.  There are many ways to talk about this issue, but as I have prepared for Sunday morning, let me surface three reasons that I believe everyone needs good teaching and helpful accountability to make progress in our personal purity.

First, our culture presents conflicting messages about sexuality because individuals are conflicted about their own sexuality.  Without a biblical worldview to give us some kind of standards with regards to sex, we have to figure out our own boundaries with sex.  Very few people believe that all kinds of sex are okay, but no one seems to agree about where the healthy boundaries exist or even should exist.  Add this cultural confusion to the fact that all teens are confused about their sexuality (remember how you felt when your sexual desires first started to blossom?) and we have a recipe for disaster.  On top of this, many parents feel like they are handicapped to speak clearly and with conviction to their children about sex because of the way they have handled their own sexuality.  Simply put: we need to be able to think clearly about sexuality and have some kind of objective authority to establish healthy boundaries.

Second, sexual sin is unique in its impact.  The apostle Paul says something to this effect in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he separates sexual sin from other forms of sin.  While all sin offends God and brings distance in our relationship with Him, sexual sin is unique in its impact on the human soul and the human body.  Much has been written about the impact of promiscuous sexual activity on the body (disease, pregnancy, etc.), but little has been written about the impact of sexual sin on the soul.  This is the main focus of the Bible - we cannot separate our bodies from our souls and think that what we do with our bodies has no impact on our souls - it absolutely does.  In fact, the Bible gives us a very high view of sex - saying that it has the power to bring two people together and make them one new flesh.  When the Bible talks about this, it is speaking beyond the physical union to the spiritual union that occurs.  We must be careful that we don't abuse the gift of sex in our lives because it impacts our souls, not just our bodies.

Finally, sexual desire is powerful.  Everyone knows this, and yet (like the money discussion last week) so few of us get honest with other people about our sexual desires and struggles with sexual temptation.  Why is this so?  I think very few of us (especially men) want to admit that our sexual desires are as strong as they are or that we struggle with knowing what to do with them.  Every time men share about sexual temptation, there is immediate compassion and connection over the issue because all men can relate.  Yet, it seems like those conversations are slow to occur.  Additionally, I think it is important for women to talk openly about their struggles with sexuality and sexual sin.  Just because men are more likely to be aroused by sight does not mean that women are free from the temptation to abuse the gift of their sexuality.  If we are not careful, we will assume that we have our sexual desires mastered only to find ourselves giving in to sexual temptation once again.  Sexual activity is pleasurable, and the human desire to be sexually active is strong.  As we get honest, we can more adequately deal with the truth.

I'm excited to preach on this important topic this Sunday.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments ahead of Sunday's sermon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Questions About Giving

For those of you who attended our services last Sunday, you know that we re-introduced the feature where people in the audience could text-message in their questions after the sermon for a short Q&A.  We haven't tried the text-message questions in a while, but when we know that we will be preaching on a topic that stirs a lot of interest and passionate debate, we want to make this feature available.  As I mentioned last week on my blog, I preached on money last Sunday and took questions after each service.  We received 5 questions after first service and 11 after second service.  Because I couldn't answer them all during the short Q&A session on Sunday, I wanted to answer a few of the questions here on my blog.  Here were three questions that I thought were very thought provoking...

Question #1: We are considering purchasing a new home.  It is not a necessity, but we do feel like we could use the extra space.  Obviously, this purchase will require us to spend extra money that we could give away.  How do you know when spending money on non-necessities is okay and when it is sinful/greedy?  This is a great question because it is a question that we all face every day - how do we know if it is okay to spend money on stuff that we don't really need but that we just want to buy?  I think two principles are in play in this discussion.  First, we need to make sure that giving is first in our budget before we make these kind of decisions.  If we can't give as we sense God is leading us to give because of our spending too much (like on a new house), then we should reconsider.  However, if we pray about how much our family should give away, we give that money away first in our budget, and we still have the margin left in our budget to get the new house, then we can probably move forward.  This leads to the second principle - don't make large purchases in isolation.  Buying a new house is a much bigger decision than buying a new pair of jeans.  When we are making large financial decisions, we need to make sure that we are getting good counsel from others around us who are wise financial stewards.  We tend to do this with every other decision that we make, but for some reason, we don't seek good counsel on financial purchases.  God's Word shows us that we need to find the counsel of the wise if we want to be wise - especially when it comes to how we handle money.

Question #2: I disagree with one of the points in your sermon about God not needing our money.  Without our money, there could be no church, and without the church, how could you reach people?  This is another great question, and one that I am glad to have the chance to respond to in detail.  In my sermon, I made the point from Psalm 50:9-12 that God doesn't ask us to give because he needs our money, but rather because he wants our hearts.  The Scripture says that God owns everything anyway, so we are, theologically speaking, simply giving God back His own stuff.  That being said, the question does raise the tension of how would the church operate without our giving.  Two answers to this important question - first, though God doesn't need the money we give (He can work without our resources), He does choose to use our giving in other people's lives.  In my mind, this is another evidence of God's amazing grace - the fact that my giving not only changes my heart, but can be used by God to impact another life as well.  Second of all, the question assumes that God needs the American form of church (large worship gatherings in public places with professional ministers) in order to reach people.  In fact, in many places in the world, God is using small house churches without professional clergy to rapidly take the gospel to millions of people.  In other words, God shows us globally that His Spirit can move even when great financial resources are not available.  In fact, I would argue historically that God's Spirit moves in the most profound ways among the poor.

Question #3: In the Old Testament, the Bible teaches that we should bring the whole tithe to the church, but in the NT, aren't we free to give the tithe to other places besides the church if it is helping to fulfill our mission?  If we are still giving to God, does it really matter where it goes?  Another great and common question that I encounter.  As I said on Sunday morning, I believe that we are under grace in the New Testament, and we have freedom to follow the Holy Spirit in our giving.  I don't believe that we are limit our giving to 10%, and that our giving should only be given to the local church.  I don't read the Bible to teach that the local church is the same as the "storehouse" referenced in Malachi 3, for example.  The people of the Old Testament were told very specifically what to do with their tithe, but I believe that we have freedom to follow the Spirit in our giving as NT believers.  This means that we can give to our local church, our local pregnancy center, our local college ministry, and missionaries around the world.  However, I would caution in one area.  The NT speaks of the fact that we should support those who teach us the Bible and feed us spiritually (see 1 Timothy 5:16-18), so I believe that we should be giving regularly and generously to the local congregation that is supporting us and equipping us in our walk with Christ.  In fact, one the blessings of being part of a community of faith and giving regularly to that local congregation is that you can be confident that your giving is supporting that local church and other ministries in the city and around the world that your local church is supporting.  In this way, giving to a local church is a very powerful way to impact the world for the cause of Christ.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Letters Topic #1: Money

So, we're starting a new series this week at church called Letters.  The idea is simple: the NT writers wrote letters (hence the name) to churches throughout the ancient world to encourage them in their faith and to speak to specific issues that they were facing.  Over the next five weeks at church, we are going to speak to five issues that our church-leaders repeatedly confront as we are discipling others to become more like Jesus Christ.  The first topic we will address? Money!

Interestingly enough, Jesus talks about money more than he does any other topic.  One of the reasons I think he warns us repeatedly about greed and building our treasure here on earth is because greed is so hard for us to see it in ourselves.  In other words, even though we are wealthier than 95% of the world, we can always find someone who makes more money than we do and spends more than we do and therefore convince ourselves that we are not greedy or consumed with materialism.  But can we be honest for one minute?  We all struggle with being generous people.  With so many options to spend our money on, we can always think of a good reason to buy that new gadget, get the new car, buy the newer, bigger house.  I'm not throwing stones - I'm right there with you! 

You would think that because we are the most prosperous people in the world, we would be the most generous.  But all the research shows that people give less money as they become more prosperous.  This report from 2007 shows that the poor gave about twice as much as the rich in percentage terms.  How can this be?  I think the reality is that the more we make, the more we think we deserve to enjoy in life.  And when we buy into that line of thinking, it is harder for us to part with our money.  We begin to consider what other things we could do with the money if we didn't give any.  Think about it this way: if I give 10% of $100, that's only $10.  What can you really do with $10?  But if I give away 10% of $100,000, that's $10,000.  I could do a lot with $10,000 (for myself) - maybe a great vacation or a upgrade on my house or a great new car.  But what we fail to realize is that the first person only has $90 to live on, while the second has $90,000.

My dad used to always say (and still does): it doesn't matter how much you make, you can always find a way to spend it.  In other words, we are never at a loss of things we think we need to buy.  I would add my corollary to his nugget of wisdom: if you don't give first, you won't give at all.  Because we find ways to spend what we have, we have to give first.  Generosity must become a first-place discipline in our lives.  We can learn to live on whatever we have, so let's learn to give to God first and to live on the rest.

Any thoughts?

Celebrate Life!

We had an awesome day yesterday at church as we looked at the question of what it means for a local community of Christ-followers to celebrate the value of every human life.  The Christian tradition stands on the theological foundation of the imago dei (image of God) to declare that every person has worth and value because every person is made in God's image.  We teach our preschool kids that "God made me," but many times as adults we have not given time to thinking through the implications of this powerful doctrine.  Yesterday at church, we talked about three organizations that we partner with who are demonstrating the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ through their care of the most vulnerable around us.  If you missed the message (which included all three interviews), you can catch it on our website this week.  Here's who we talked to...

Caring for the unborn (by loving on expecting moms):
Agape Pregnancy Resource Center
Many of you took a baby-bottle from their table on Sunday (we are collecting change in them to help fund their amazing work in downtown Round Rock).  They are due on Father's Day.

Caring for the orphan (through foster-care & adoption):
Arrow Family Ministries
Arrow does their orientation to the foster and adoption process on the first Tuesday of each month at their Round Rock offices.  The next orientation is June 1st!
We announced Sunday that we were launching our own fund with a great ministry called ABBA Fund, which helps prospective adoptive families get loans to cover adoption costs.  We are also participating in a marathon in October (called Chosen: Marathon For Adoption).  We had 30 runners sign up on Sunday!

Caring for the poor (through international sponsorship):
Compassion International
Compassion is a wonderful international agency that works in over 25 countries.  Barie and I have sponsored a Compassion child for 10 years, and we were excited to see many families pick up packets on Sunday.

I am blessed to lead a congregation of people who are so giving.  Thanks for everyone who helped out on this special Sunday!