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July 3, 2015, 7:38 AM

A Christian Response to Same-Sex Marriage

Eight days before our nation’s 239th birthday, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a five to four vote, announced its decision to override the democratic decision of 31 states that had passed amendments that defined marriage as being only between one man and one woman – most with about a two-thirds majority vote.  All but 17 of those state amendments had been earlier overturned by federal judicial court activism following the Supreme Court declaring the Federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional in June of 2013.  Now the social and political liberal majority of justices on the Supreme Court have invented a right found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution

Following that decision, homosexual and social liberal celebrants were rejoicing and proclaiming, “love wins.”  Many, both Christian and non-Christian leaders recognize the extreme repercussions this ruling has, and have predicted we will quickly see further erosion of our religious liberties and rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The Baptist Press published an article online on Wednesday, July 1 entitled, After gay marriage: next steps for LGBT activists.  This is a much-needed article that warns the naïve that might think the Supreme Court decision has fully satisfied the activists who have been pushing for so-called homosexual “marriage.”  This is just the first step in their campaign for complete and total endorsement of their sinful sexual choices.  So in light of these developments, what is the proper response for God’s people?

We must pray as never before.  Many of us were praying that the Supreme Court Decision would have validated God’s establishment of marriage, or at the least asserted the individual States’ right to define what constitutes marriage.  Yet as believers in Jesus Christ, we really should not be surprised that our spiritually lost society should not chose God’s will!  We often expect the lost to act as Christians, when more often than not believers act more like non-believers in such matters. 

June 30 I received an email from a UTEP student named Crystal.  Here is what she wrote in that email:  “Hello, my name is Crystal (Last Name).  I am a UTEP undergraduate student and president of the (campus organization), an organization on campus.  I am attempting to email every faith leader in El Paso and encouraging every church to embark a season of fasting and praying for the state of our country.  God has seen the rejection of His Word in our society and will bring judgment unless our country repents.  I ask you to encourage your congregation to pray and fast daily for our country. I also want to encourage you to reach out to other churches in our community to hold prayer meetings.  Thank You and God Bless, Crystal (Last Name).”  (Her last name and organization name are withheld to protect her from being identified and made a target because of her faith.)

Crystal is absolutely on target spiritually.  We must earnestly and fervently pray for our nation as never before.  Romans 12:12 admonishes us to be “...continuing instant in prayer.”  In this hour of great need, let us persevere in prayer.  It is that kind of prayer that the Lord has used in the past to turn nations back to Him.  He is able to do that again.  Like Esther (Esth. 4:16), when faced with potential destruction of the people of God, our first resort must be to take to our prayer closets (Matt. 6:6).  Like Nehemiah, when he heard that Jerusalem was broken down, we need to "fast and pray before the God of heaven" (Neh. 1:4-11).  Like Daniel, when he heard of the decree demanding prayer to the king only, we need to kneel before God and pray at various times during the day (Dan. 6:10).  E.M. Bounds wrote, "What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not more organization, or more novel methods, but men mighty in prayer!"  Let us be mighty in prayer!

Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as never before.

While it is absolutely vital that we respond Biblically to the United States Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage, we must be careful to remember that the hope for America has always been and will always be local churches and Christians proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In Mark 16:15 Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”  America needs to hear that Jesus saves!  When people trust Christ as Savior, their lives are changed.  When enough lives are changed, a nation can be changed.  We must "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:14).  It is not helpful to communicate the Gospel of grace in anger; we must be gracious (Col. 4:6), compassionate, and merciful in our witness (Jude 20-23).  Bottom line:  We must keep the main thing the main thing!

We must clarify what we believe the Bible teaches about sexual behavior and the definition of marriage.

In April 2013, our members in business meeting approved an addition to our Constitution and By-Laws what became Article IX:  Statement on Marriage and Sexuality.  This article clearly states, “We believe that the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning and that is marriage sanctioned by God which joins one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture.  Our facilities may not be used for ceremonies joining persons other than in accordance with this definition of marriage.”  It goes on to specifically identify various sexual sin the Bible declares as sinful, and concludes by saying, “We believe that God offers redemption and restoration to all who confess and forsake their sin, seeking His mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  We believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect and dignity.  Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated and are not in accord with scripture nor the doctrines of the church.” 

The addition of this article was not approved unanimously, and some of those who did not vote for it probably did not feel it was necessary.  The Supreme Court decision forcing our nation to condone same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 is the reason this article in our By-Laws is absolutely essential.  It will not prevent our church from being sued by persons who might want to use our facility for a homosexual marriage, but it will make it defensible under the First Amendment because it clearly states our not allowing our facility to be used in that way as part of our deeply held religious beliefs. 

The Supreme Court decision did state in its opinion:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.  The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

Notice, please, that the opinion states we have the right to “advocate … that … same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” but they did not say we have the right to prohibit such ceremonies.  In the immediate hours after the Supreme Court decision was announced, many of the Presidential candidates were asked their reaction.  Both social liberals and conservatives typically responded that religious leaders and organizations have the right under the First Amendment to “think and teach” against same-sex marriage.  Yet I did not see a single quote where any potential candidate stated we have the right to practice those beliefs, even though the First Amendment specifically states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  Already, at least one Christian legal association is advocating that in addition to an article in the By-Laws such as ours, we need to adopt a facilities usage policy that clearly outlines that anyone using our facility be in agreement with our statement of faith (including our article on marriage and sexuality).  Finally,

We must stand for God’s truth, but seek to do so with gentleness and respect, showing Christian love and concern for everyone.

We must remember that homosexual and socially liberal advocates and the “LGBT community” are not our enemy – Satan is!  Every person that is opposed to or living contrary to God’s perfect design expressed in His Word is deeply loved by our Father.  Jesus came to love them and provide the way for all who will receive Him to find forgiveness, transformation spiritually and eternal life.  First Corinthians 6:9-11 says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Sin is what separates every person on earth from God, and homosexuality is only one expression of sin.  It is not any worse than any other sexual sin, nor is it unforgiveable.  First Peter 3:15-16 admonishes us:  “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 

The days, months and even years to come will see Christian business owners and Christian organizations specifically targeted as part of the agenda to further the complete acceptance of and normalization by society of the homosexual, transgender and transvestite way of life.  But we also have Jesus’ promise in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  We don’t seek the persecution or attempt to wear it as a badge of honor, but we recognize that when we stand for Jesus and His word, it will come.  Yet our reward is great in heaven as Jesus said.  Let us always seek to be active and faithful as God leads us. 

Please know that I love you and am praying for you always.

 

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June 2, 2015, 9:46 AM

Walking by Faith

Sometimes you hear church leaders and denominational workers speak about how often in the church setting we use a vocabulary that is unique to Christians, but hard for those not affiliated with the church to understand what we are referring to in our discussions with one another.  The phrase above is one example of this:  “walking by faith.”  In fact, this phrase has been somewhat adopted by society in general.  Usually for someone in our culture to say this, they mean simply that they are moving in the belief that “everything will work out all right.”  What exactly are they placing their “faith” in?  Human nature, luck or some kind of cosmic chance?  Probably each of these or some other type of impersonal, non-explicit force.

Are we like that as believers in Jesus and spiritual children of God?  The phrase in Scripture comes directly out of 2 Corinthians 5:7 where Paul writes, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”  The context of that verse is in a discussion of physical death and the eternal promise we have of our spiritual existence directly in God’s presence following the end of life here on earth.  But is that the only indication in the Bible we have of living a life of trust in God that is spiritually based?  Of course not!

Many passages speak of being led or directed by God through His Holy Spirit.  Acts 13 begins by recording that the church in Antioch was directed by the Holy Spirit to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).  Throughout the book of Acts we read where the believers in Jesus – Peter, John, Paul or even Philip or Stephen were filled with the Holy Spirit and used to do something – sometimes perform a miracle such as healing, or more frequently to speak with boldness and witness about Jesus to someone else.  Sometimes that witnessing was responded to in a wonderful way with the person or persons hearing the message receiving Jesus as Savior.  Other instances the result was turmoil and even trouble for the one witnessing.  Persecution would result from both other believers who were at odds with those being witnessed to (Jewish believers not accepting Gentiles could be saved without conforming to Old Testament regulations) or from non-believers who would respond even violently by causing riots and even stoning the messenger!  Yet even in these instances of harsh response, those being led by God were not deterred!  Can we say the same today?

Are we afraid of walking by faith; of being obedient to do as God instructs?  It is our nature to seek the safe and easy way that will not place as at odds with others or expose us to possible ridicule or accusation of our acting irrationally.  Sometimes, the worst pressure we can experience comes from within rather than without.  We are so self-conscious that we have convinced ourselves that God, while able to save us spiritually and grant us eternal life, is somehow limited and unable to direct us in how we interact with others.  Perhaps that is when we need to remind ourselves of what the prophet Samuel said to King Saul when he had disobeyed God’s direction in not fulfilling his assigned mission.  “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

God has not commanded us to be successful as people might evaluate success.  But He has commanded us to be faithful and obedient.  Here is a great verse to memorize and ask God to help you apply personally in your life.  Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21).  Do you love Jesus?  If you do, then you will be loved by God the Father as you faithfully seek to keep Jesus’ commands.  What are those commands?  Jesus summed all the commands up into two we are very familiar with.  Some refer to them as the Great Commandment:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).  If we live out these commands in a way that is visible in how we deal with others, we shall truly be “walking by faith.”  Will you join me in seeking to do this?  Let’s walk together!

 

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May 29, 2015, 10:01 AM

Trust and Obey

The familiar old gospel song says, “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way!  Let us do His good will; He abides with us still and with all who will trust and obey.”  Then the chorus admonishes us, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  It’s well known and loved by many, but do we stop to think about what we sing?  In Amazing Grace:  366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions we read the background of this song:

In 1886 Daniel B. Towner, director of the music department at Moody Bible Institute, was leading the music for evangelist D. L. Moody’s series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts.  A young man rose to give a testimony, saying, “I am not quite sure — but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.”  Mr. Towner jotted down this statement and sent it to the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister and later a teacher at Moody, who wrote the present five stanzas.  Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 88.

How are you and I like that young man testifying at that meeting almost 130 years ago?  Today, more than perhaps at any time in our lives, trends and opinions and what our society emphasizes make our world less and less certain.  Can we say as he did, “I am not quite sure – but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey”? 

 

Many today speak about faith without thinking.  They imply if we simply “have faith” everything will eventually work out.  But many never identify the basis for such “faith.”  In the church, we often do the same.  We quote 2 Corinthians 5:7 where it says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  But how do we do that?  We need to understand that faith is much more than an emotional response to God, but an action to be implemented in our daily lives.  That is why, especially from a spiritual standpoint, a primary synonym for faith is the word “trust.”  If we genuinely have faith in God, we will trust that what He has promised He will do.  But we must make that trust a personal application by letting our faith – our trust in God – be reflected in our behavior every single day!  If we trust God, we will actually obey God. 

To trust and obey God means that every area of my life is to be given to God out of a love for Him.  I spend time in reading the Bible because I want to draw close to the Father and know His heart and plan for me.  I serve Him in ministry to others because I desire them to experience what I have received from the Lord in peace, security and spiritual well-being.  I give financially to God’s work through our church because of how God has blessed me and continues to provide for me daily.  Let me encourage you to let your faith – your trust in God – be exhibited in your behavior as well.  We will be faithful in witnessing, participating in meeting needs of those around us and giving of ourselves as God’s instruments in every way:  our time, our treasure and our talents.  Our prayer needs to be, “Use me more fully today, Lord, than I allowed you to do through me yesterday!”  Will you join with me? 

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March 25, 2015, 10:19 AM

The Worth of the Word

As I write this, most in our congregation at Skyline Baptist are in the final week of reading through the New Testament together in our Community Bible Experience.  As we read through the book of Revelation, we are struggling with some of the striking imagery that is characteristic of apocalyptic literature.  This same week the latest edition of the Christian community newspaper, The Messenger, included a question asked of Christian leaders that also relates to what many find difficult passages of Scripture:  “I’m perplexed about the sections that are all the so and so begat so and so; and all the listings of the lineages.  I feel guilty when I read this because to me it is boring – and also, I do not see how that pertains to my life and how I can make those passages apply to my life.”  The person asking the question concluded by asking, “Is it considered sinful of me that I find these areas boring and hard to follow?”

I won’t repeat here the answer I or other pastors gave in that edition (you can read this edition of The Messenger online at https://hismessenger.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/march-26-issue.pdf).  The emphasis I want to bring is what I hope those who have read through the New Testament during this eight week reading campaign we just finished have discovered:  God’s word is indeed “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  The person posing the question in the newspaper stressed he or she has been told every part of the Bible is pertinent to our everyday lives, and one should read daily and determine how to apply the passages read that day to one’s life. 

While God regularly brings to light incredible principles in His word that have immediate application to us personally today, often the impact of God’s word is strongest in just understanding better the heart, character and nature of God as we spend time with Him.  Yes, we do need to seek what God would say to us in any given section of His word.  But I suggest that perhaps the greater benefit is simply entering into God’s presence and spending time there.  My wife, Darlene and I have a very deep love for each other that has grown over the years of our marriage.  We simply enjoy being together, even if we are each involved in separate tasks.  We just love being in the same room together even if someone looking on would not be able to say we were interacting with one another.  It is the same with approaching God through prayer and the reading of Scripture.  Enjoy being in the Father’s presence.  Bask in His love and rest in His sovereignty.  And then, when He does apply a passage of His word to your life in a special way, you can rejoice even more that your loving, personal heavenly Father shared with you in a particular way.

Over the next several weeks on Wednesday evenings we’re going to be looking at various structures or tools you can use as you seek to read the Bible daily.  Please join us as we explore how to draw close to God on a personal basis.  Thank you for the privilege of serving the Lord with you. 

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March 3, 2015, 11:10 AM

The Demand for Disciples

 

We all live in a society and culture that places demands on us at every turn.  It becomes a jusggling act to balance the demands of family, work, friends and even those of authorities in our society.  Then there are the demands we feel even God has placed on us!  If you are serious about your relationship with God you soon realize that the burden placed on those who are identified as followers of Jesus (those we would call disciples) is to live continuously changed lives because of the difference that faith in Christ has brought.

Our problem today is that we pack our lives so full with a variety of activity that we tend to quickly relegate certain aspects or components of our activity to set times only.  We dedicate a certain period each week to work, recreation, family and yes, even spiritual emphases.  If we can keep all these (and other demands) in the right balance, we feel we are pretty successful; maintaining a well-rounded existence.  But like the circus juggler, we find it increasingly more difficult to add another ball into the act, and we become more and more likely to drop several!  What often happens is that what should be a vital quality of life gets pushed off into mere religious activity. 

Spiritual things are not just a part of our multifaceted lives; it is who and what we are!  God created us as spiritual beings.  We were created in His spiritual image and designed to live forever in relationship and fellowship with our Creator.  Yet that relationship must begin and be developed right now in our busy lives here on earth.  We begin our spiritual relationship by trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin, and we develop that relationship by spending time with God – talking with Him, receiving from Him and simply enjoying being in His presence. 

The most natural way to do this is to hear God speak through His written word.  It is to hear more than lofty sounding rhetoric in the words of the Bible; it is to hear the voice of a personal, loving God speaking to us through historical interaction with humanity over the course of centuries and listening to the lessons He has for us personally, today.  Being a disciple is more than taking on a label of one who has made a commitment to God through Jesus.  It is more than going through a set of religious duties by attending church once or twice a week or even spending time reading the Bible.  It is letting God so fill you as to change how you approach every aspect of every day.  It is discovering the most precious part of the day and the most fulfilling activity you can be engaged in is sharing with others what God means to you and what He is doing in your life right now. 

Will you be willing to meet the demands of discipleship?  Will you allow God to direct you daily?  If you will, then you will discover the joy that motivated Paul and others to be the disciples that changed their world.


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