A Lesson I Learned From an Atheist

As a Christian, I often wonder why it is so hard for non-Christians to understand my position on LGBT issues and gay “marriage.” Accusations of hatred and bigotry seem like purposefully inflammatory grenades launched to lure believers into angry responses.

But, I learned something important from a conversation with an atheist in this matter.
I had waded into hostile territory during a Facebook discussion defending the view that homosexuality is sinful, falling short of God’s intent for human sexuality. This, of course set off a string of colorful comments. But, one individual engaged in actual conversation.

What I discovered was that, in his thinking, to say that a person is a sinner condemned is to take joy in the pronouncement. In his mind, heaven-bound saints must look with disdain upon hell-bound rebels. He had no category in his thinking for a Christian looking with compassion upon those he calls sinners, and desiring their rescue.

Perhaps this is the expected fallout from the attention paid to Westboro Baptist Church and their hate-filled protests. But, I believe we, as the church, must undertake some introspection here. How have we responded to homosexuality’s ascent in the public’s consciousness? Have we communicated compassion, or have we been combative?
I have been noticing lately the facial expressions of Christians when the subject of homosexuality is brought up in conversation. The wincing. Looks that communicate disgust. The turned-up noses. Maybe we are self-righteous and judgmental. Perhaps we have forgotten that we were at one time objects of God’s wrath, lost in our sinful rebellion against him.
Homosexuality is sin. Jesus died to conquer sin and save sinners. God saved you and me to be conduits of his grace and mercy. Yes, we stand firm in identifying sin for what it is: rebellion against God. We also identify the sinner as one who is blinded to the all-satisfying glory of the Savior. We feel compassion for the blindness and do all we can to offer the greatest news in the universe.

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The Morality Molecule

“We love because he first loved us.”  1 John 4:19

 

I recently read an article about oxytocin.  This is a neurochemical that researchers are beginning to claim is the basis for morality in human beings.  Numerous tests have been done measuring oxytocin levels in different circumstances.  These tests indicate that when an individual is shown great trust, oxytocin levels rise and the individual displays greater trustworthiness. Likewise, when a person is shown great love or generosity, he/she becomes more loving or generous.  Therefore, the researchers conclude, morality must be a biological function.

There is another possible conclusion.  What if our biology was made to serve spiritual functions?  If God is our creator, and he is, then would it not make sense that he would design us for life with him?

Evidence of this is all over the Bible.

“…as the Lord has forgiven you, you must also forgive.” Colossians 3:13

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:2

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34

God has made us to know his love, his grace, his blessings toward us, then express love, grace, and blessing to those around us.   You see, the key to being more loving isn’t in trying to be more loving.  It is first in knowing ourselves as deeply loved.  If you would be a more forgiving person, seek with all your might to know yourself forgiven.

If we are ever to be a people who humbly spend our lives for the sake of the gospel and the precious souls of people, then we must first see and cherish the truth that Christ humbly spent his life for you and me, specifically and personally.  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” Philippians 2:5-8.

We will become like that upon which we gaze.  If our sights are set on wealth, we will live for greed and consumption.  If our eyes are often turned toward sex, we will be consumed with its pursuit.  But, if we will fix our eyes on Jesus, if we swim in the depths of Scripture, we will see his character increasingly expressed in our attitudes and our actions.

 

Setting Your Mind’s Agenda

“Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Colossians 3:2

 

Have you ever bought something totally unique, only to see the same thing everywhere after your purchase?  There is a biological explanation for this phenomenon.

In the brain stem, there is a network of neurons that makes up the reticular activating system (RAS).  One of the primary functions of the RAS is to serve as a filter so that we are not overwhelmed by all of the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations that constantly bombard us.  The RAS filters out the stimuli that is unnecessary for functioning.  When we notice that “unique” product, the RAS no longer filters it out of our consciousness.  The filter is reset so that we are aware of what was around all along.  We begin to see the product everywhere.

We can use this filtering system to our spiritual advantage.  Each morning we can set our filters to see God at work all around us.  When we start our days in the Scriptures and in prayer, we become aware of God’s activity in our lives, and are much more likely to see his activity in the remainder of the day.

This isn’t merely an illustration.  In Psalm 5, David prays for deliverance from enemies, oppression and distraction.  In verse 3 he says, “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”  In the midst of difficulty and distraction, David begins his day seeking God, and spends the rest of the day watching for him.  He sets his filter for awareness of God’s activity.

Let your biology serve your spirituality.  Don’t let distractions hi-jack your mind when you awake.  Be proactive in setting the agenda for your thoughts each day.

The Lord’s Prayer and Our Prayers, Part 2

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

James 4:3

 

In teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus spends the first half of his prayer focused on asking God to make his glory known.  Previously, I thought that after this, Jesus then teaches us to turn our attention to daily concerns.  He tells us to pray,

 

“Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.”

Matthew 6:11-13

 

I have come to see these requests, not as a second set of requests independent of the first, but as extensions of the first set.  In other words, after recognizing that this life is all about God’s glory and praying for his glory to be revealed, our attitude toward our daily needs should change.  We should pray differently about the concerns of our lives.

 

First, knowing that God is a loving Father should assure us that he cares about the matters we face.  Additionally, knowing that he is the all-powerful, sovereign king should give us confidence that he is more than able to take care of his children.

 

Second, if our desire is for the glory of God, then the motive in our prayers for daily concerns completely changes.  Instead of praying, “God give us this day our daily bread because we are hungry,” perhaps we would pray, “God magnify your glory in providing for your children.”  Rather than asking God to forgive us our debts so that we may be absolved or our guilt, maybe we would pray, “God display the glory of your grace in forgiving our sin and extend your grace through us to others.”  Instead of asking God to lead us not into temptation that complicates our lives and brings difficulty, maybe we would pray, “God, glorify your name in making your victory over sin and Satan visible in our lives.”

 

Prayer for God to make himself known in our world is not separate from prayer for God’s intervention in our daily concerns.  God intends to make himself known in our world as he cares for his children.  Our greatest need in life, the only true and lasting satisfaction for the human heart, is the glory of God.

 

The Lord’s Prayer and Our Prayers, Part 1

 

“Pray then like this:

‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

 Matthew 6:9

 

I have been thinking about prayer a lot lately.  Partly because of the weakness of my own prayer life, and partly because of the consequential nature of this election season.

In reflecting on prayer, I went back to Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6.  I have looked at this prayer as being divided into two sections.  The first section is prayer for God’s kingdom to come and for obedience to his will.  The second section is about praying for our daily needs.

This is not wrong, but I have come to think a little differently.

Jesus’ first prayer request is that God’s name would be honored.  This is a necessary request because the central issue in humanity’s fallenness is the refusal to honor God.  Romans 1:18-21 says,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and

unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown

it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine

nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in

the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  For although

they knew God, they did not honor him as God, or give thanks to him, but

they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

 

Jesus’ first petition is that God would be recognized in his rightful place.

 

The second request in this prayer is that God’s kingdom would be realized in our world.  We live in a now/not yet reality.  God certainly reigns over all things.  The coming of Jesus was the coming of God’s kingdom.  But, we know that God’s kingdom is not fully realized.  Jesus prays that God would bring the “not yet” kingdom to our world.

 

Jesus’ third request is that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.  He prayed that God would be obeyed by people like he is obeyed by angels.  This means not merely occasionally and dutifully, but consistently and joyfully.

 

If I were to summarize Jesus’ prayer to this point, I would say that Jesus teaches us to pray that God would make his glory known.

 

I write as one confronted by Jesus’ emphasis in his teaching on prayer.  I too often pray about my issues, my sins, my difficulties before taking the time to recognize that God is a loving Father/King.  All of life is about him.  It is first God’s honor, God’s kingdom, God’s will that ultimately matters.  I exist to see, to proclaim, and to display his glory in honoring, hoping in, and obeying him.  Yet I often pray as though God exists to make sure that my life is easy, comfortable, and pain-free.

 

I wonder how many prayer meetings in churches across this nation follow Jesus’ pattern in prayer and spend significant time praying toward the same ends as Jesus.  Is it possible that revival and awakening tarries because we have ignored Jesus’ priority in prayer?

 

I hope you do not hear me say that our daily concerns don’t matter.  This is not what I am saying. God is concerned about our daily lives, as evidenced by the second half of Jesus’ prayer.   But, I have had a massive shift in how I pray for these concerns.  Please allow me to explain in my next post.

Birthday Girl

She would have been thirteen today.  Yep.  We would have had a teenager in the house.

I have been more reflective and emotional about Karis Rose this weekend than I have been for awhile.  I wonder what she would have looked like today.  I wonder what she would have requested for her birthday dinner.  I wonder if she would still let me kiss her goodnight.

I miss her, and I never really got to know her.

Karis was stillborn at 38-and-a-half weeks.  There were no indications that anything was wrong.  We went to the doctor for our regular late-pregnancy check-up.  He listened for the heartbeat.  Then he sent us to the ultrasound room.  We were still smiling.  He looked up and simply said, “I’m sorry.”

My wife and I had never felt devastation like this, and have not since.  We would later learn that 70-75 percent of marriages do not survive the death of a child.

I would like to tell you that we survived by running to Jesus and drawing strength from him.  But that would not be true.  We woke up.  We cried.  Sometimes we ate, but more often, we just didn’t feel like eating.  We wondered why.  We doubted God’s presence.  And we cried some more.

Over time, we began to see that God answered every prayer we had offered for Karis.  We prayed that she would be a girl of grace and beauty.  She certainly was a beautiful girl with curly black hair.  Prayer answered.  Many people heard the gospel at the hospital and at her funeral.  Friends set up a scholarship fund in her name for short term missionaries.  God used her for the sharing of his grace.  Prayer answered.  Most importantly, we prayed that Karis would know Jesus and love him dearly.  She is enjoying the privilege of seeing him face to face, even as I write.  Prayer answered.

We also had dear friends and family who loved us well during this time.  Our church family was a constant conduit of God’s love for us.

Seeing these things helped to get us off of the couch and rejoin the living.  We didn’t run to Jesus, but he did run to us.  He is good!

Ichabod

 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

1 Samuel 4:19-22

 

The Israelites had engaged the Philistines in battle and lost.  As they evaluated what went wrong, Israel’s leaders decided they would take the Ark of the Covenant into a rematch with the Philistines.  The ark was the symbol of God’s presence among the Israelites.  They were certain that carrying this box would ensure their victory.

However, there is a vast difference between symbol and substance.  Not only did God not give Israel victory, but the Philistines carried away the ark to their homeland.

Eli was Israel’s judge at this time.  A messenger came to him and told of Israel’s defeat.  The messenger said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured” (1 Samuel 4:17).  The Bible says that upon hearing that the ark had been captured, Eli fell over in his chair and died.

It wasn’t the news of the death of his sons that brought about Eli’s death.  It was the capture of the ark.

Eli’s daughter-in-law was getting ready to give birth to a son.  What should have been a celebratory occasion was met with mourning over the news of the ark’s capture.  She named her son Ichabod, which means, “the glory has departed.”

It is striking to me that in the midst of life and death, God’s glory was the central concern.

In Jesus’ model prayer, he instructed his disciples to pray for the centrality of God.  “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).  Only after praying for God to be honored as God does Jesus move on to daily concerns.

Only in the brilliant light of God’s glory may life be seen in its proper perspective.  When he is the glorious center of all things, my issues are pushed to the periphery.  I see that he is a loving Father who is intimately involved in the life of his children.  I also see that he is the sovereign One, ruling over his creation to his own good ends.

When he is the glorious center of all things, my issues are pushed to the periphery.  I see that he is a loving Father who is intimately involved in the life of his children.  I also see that he is the sovereign One, ruling over his creation to his own good ends.

As I reflect upon my prayer life, it is painfully obvious that I have neglected this petition.  Yes.  I have wanted God to be honored, for his glory to be known.  But, my most earnest prayers have been centered around my life, my circumstances, my struggles.  The insanity of this is that the glory of God is the answer to all of these things.  His glory is the only true and lasting satisfaction for the human heart.  My greatest need, the church’s greatest need, our nation’s greatest need, our world’s greatest need is the glory of God.  May God put it on the heart of his church to pray accordingly.