Misconceptions About Faith

After talking this Sunday about faith and what it means to live a life of faith, I wanted to find out what faith really is. Through the process, I came across an article about the abuse of faith and felt convicted. I wanted to share these not to discourage you, but to help us see where we need to grow in our understanding of faith. Many of these misconceptions came from an article called The (Ab)use of Faith by Jason Dulle.

1. “Faith is not denying reality, it is understanding God can change reality.”

I didn’t think I was prone to denying reality. I’m pretty sure I see reality clearly, for the most part. However, reading further into the explanation for that statement, I realized I have fallen into that way of thinking more than a time or two.

I can feel my sinuses congest and my head begin to throb and proclaim, “I’m not getting sick” to every person who asks how I’m feeling. Does that make me any less sick or any more faithful? It doesn’t change the reality that I am, in fact, getting sick. An example of genuine faith in that moment would be understanding that God can and will strengthen my immune system and prevent the sickness from ever coming to fruition.

2. “Faith is not telling God what we want and then believing hard enough in order to get it.”

Sounds a little like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, doesn’t it? It’s leaving the relationship aspect out of faith. It’s becomes less about a dialogue with our Creator or seeking His will in our situation and more about trying hard enough on our own. “Faith, then becomes hoping for something and praying hard enough and long enough until God gives us what we desire.”

3. Faith is not always reasonable and rational. 

Sometimes it’s easy to rely on our own analyzation, evaluation, and prediction of potential scenarios and attribute it to our faith. Really, we just have a good inkling something is going to happen based on information.

“Some people never seem to have enough faith because they have turned faith into mental gymnastics wherein their will is imposed on God by ‘faith.’ Their lack of faith is not due to the fact that they are not spiritual enough, but because they have not yet given up the reigns of their life to God for Him to guide them and do what is best. What makes faith so difficult is that it demands that we relinquish all confidence in self, which includes our will, and rely solely on God. It demands that we quit trying to ‘make it happen’ and trust God ‘to make it happen’ in His way and in His time.”

 

 

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Blessed Jesus – Leigh Nash

This past Sunday we sang this song for the Offering. It is based on the historic hymn Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us and first appeared in 1836 in a book titled Hymns for the Young.

This version is by the artist Leigh Nash, who is best known as the front runner for the band Sixpence None the Richer (think Kiss Me).

Hope this brightens your Thursday!


You can find the mp3 on iTunes. 

The Olympics & An Amazing Life

I have been glued to the TV every night for the past week. Phelps, Franklin (can you believe she is only 17!), Women’s Gymnastics, Misty May, Oscar Pistorius — the list goes on. If I dare to turn on the TV while I’m getting ready for work, the Today Show mesmerizes me with athlete interviews and updates.

Many of you have also been captivated by the sheer strength and talent of the athletes. It’s such an emotional experience watching Team USA receive the gold–and that’s just watching it on TV thousands of miles away.

Not to be cliche, but this verse comes to mind when watching these games:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” -1 Corinthians 9:24

In the Olympics, only one athlete receives the gold in each event. Though silver and bronze are incredible achievements, the goal is to get the gold. 

Notice that in this verse the writer, Paul, does not simply say, “Get the prize (or gold!).” Instead Paul says, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” It’s not necessarily all about the prize, but the way in which you obtain the prize. The NASB translation says it this way: “Run in such a way that you may win.” The goal is to be victorious, but the focus is on how you will endure in order to win the prize.

Even more interesting is that the “prize” isn’t Salvation, because as we know Salvation is a free gift. The prize is a reward or “wages” for the work accomplished. And even so, it is not for one sole person as it is in the Olympics. It is for all believers.

In this series “An Amazing Life” we’re reminded that the amazing life is available to us right now. As Paul says we are to RUN — not walk, stop, or sit down — towards the prize.  What does that mean for us today? Well, it means we shouldn’t take our days for granted or side idly on the sidelines handing out water bottles (hypothetically). We’re in the race. With the strength of Christ we will endure through the good, the bad, and the messy.

The Old is New – Hymns Remade

I have discovered a deep appreciation for hymns. Growing up in more of a contemporary environment, hymns help me connect to the past. Amazing Grace gets me every time. Every time I sing that song I feel the heavy presence of Jesus and his beautiful grace over my life.

In worship services, I believe there’s a fine balance between the old and the new. It’s important to keep these hymns close to our heart, but it’s also important to sing a new song to the Lord (Psalm 96:1).

Through the process of selecting worship songs for Sundays, I have come across many wonderful remakes of timeless hymns. Here’s a few I’d love to share with you.


1. Nothing But the Blood – Page CXVI

Download it on iTunes here. 

 

2. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Sufjan Stevens

Download it on iTunes here. 

 

3. In Christ Alone – Owl City

 

4. Leaning on Everlasting Arms/
Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus – David Crowder Band

Download it on iTunes here. 

 

5. How Great Thou Art – Ascend the Hill

Download it on iTunes here. 

Sex vs Sexy and the Sacredness of Life

The other day I posted a portion of a Facebook conversation among some respected theologians concerning what the Bible says about premarital sex. During that online discussion someone mentioned that this was the least “sexy” conversation about sex they had read. Dr. Lawson Stone responded with this beautiful description about what “sex” and “sexy” really is.

“As for “least sexy” conversation, sex is about SO much more than “sexy.” Sex is about helping your wife recover for months from a very difficult delivery of a baby you sort of had something to do with; sex is about loving the wrinkles and grey hair or thinning hair. Sex is about sitting by the bed wishing you could be the one suffering instead of them. Sex is about still feeling off balance when you have to go without your wedding band for some reason. It’s about staying together through times when you don’t feel in love, don’t feel dedicated, don’t feel “committed” but remember that before God and his church you made a promise, a covenant, and you’ll honor it–and discovering that those who keep faith with that formal, so-called legalistic boundary enter a garden of joy known only to those who surrender. “Sexy” in our culture is a sad, pale cartoon made up of too much cleavage, too little self-respect, too much butt-crack and too many tramp-stamps, and over-tight clothes; it testifies to emptiness, a hunger, but not real desire. Lots of energy, but is it really passion? Lots of smoke, but not a fire to light your life, warm your soul and nourish your heart. The eyes of the goddess are painted, but the eye-holes are empty. The courtesan looks alluring, but the heart is stone-cold. As long as we keep chasing “sexy” we’ll never find the real thing. Instead, we get Madonna and Lady Gaga. And we deserve them.” – Lawson Stone

As Christ followers, our foundation of faith is built upon the belief that God is intentional about life, that there is meaning in his creation, and that our life has purpose. If life has meaning then the things we do have meaning. If life is to be cherished, then our relationships are to be cherished. If life is sacred, then don’t waste it. Why do we take one of the most intimate actions in our life and treat it like a pat on the back? Sex isn’t supposed to be locked away never to be used, but neither is it a common commodity so easily to be discarded. Your life and those around you are too wonderful to be treated so casually. Commit to one another, commit to life, and then discover what real sacred love is.

 

 

If you missed Wednesday’s blog, click  Premarital Sex and The Bible.

Thank you to Dr. Lawson Stone for today’s contribution.

Premarital Sex and the Bible

This past Sunday our sermon series  “Strength For the Broken Places” focused on the sin of lust. The common imagery found in pop culture from mop commercials to Viagra, sitcoms to talk shows, is the image of sex.  There is the image sold that to be of value one must be sexual. People no longer look forward to a goodnight kiss, they hope for a night of sensual pleasure.

Is this a surprise? I doubt it. However, within the community of those who claim to be Christ followers I see less and less clarity on the subject of premarital sex and more and more confusion and doubt on what the Old and New Testament have to say on the matter. I was pleased to see that some of my former professors in seminary were having a discussion on Facebook on the topic of premarital sex raised by one of their students.

Because the following words are not my own, I need to take a moment and introduce these theologians and give them credit. At the end of this blog I will provide some links to where you can find out more about them and some of their publications. Please check out the links associated with their names and you will find they are highly respected in their field of study. I have had the pleasure of sitting in lectures with each one of them and found them all engaging, challenging, enlightening, and eye opening. One of these men made the book of Leviticus feel like the Lord of the rings. Simply put, their words carry weight and should not be easily dismissed.

Dr. Jerry Walls, Ph.D., Notre Dame.  Author, speaker, and professor of Philosophy.

Dr. Ben Witheringtom III, Ph.D., University of Durham in England. Author, speaker, and professor of New Testament and Biblical Studies.

Dr. Bill Arnold, Ph.D.,  Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Author, speaker, and professor of Old testament and Biblical Studies.

Dr. Lawson Stone,Ph.D., Yale University. Author, speaker, and professor of Old testament and Biblical Studies.

IS PREMARITAL SEX REALLY A SIN?

Dr. Jerry Walls:

Recently, one of my students raised some fascinating questions that more and more people today seem to be asking, namely, whether premarital sex is really a sin, and whether the Bible is really clear on the matter. Here is how he posed the question:

Student:

“I will qualify this to say that my girlfriend and I aren’t doing anything; however, we were both fairly surprised to discover that the “sex in marriage only” thing is not really there. Everyone talks about it, but I have as of yet been unable to find it. It’s a particular area of interest for me, because if the popular Christian notion of abstinence is wrong, we have been mentally and emotionally abusing quite literally millions of people.

”In the Old Testament, sex before marriage *leads* to marriage (Exodus 22:16). In the New Testament, we mistranslate the word “porneos” as “fornication,” which we take to mean sex before marriage, whereas this is clearly not the case. The Bible uses the same word talking about reasons for leaving a marriage, which sex with a woman besides your wife is clearly not premarital sex.

”Most sites and sources I have found say that verses prohibiting “sexual immorality” are talking about sex before marriage, but the argument here is circular. What is sexual immorality? Sex before marriage. Why is sex before marriage immoral? Because the Bible prohibits sexual immorality.

”My aim is not to say that we should all just go off and have sex with whomever we please, but the supposed Biblical prescription simply isn’t there, and I’ve done a good deal of research and asked some very knowledgeable people.”

Dr. Jerry Wall’s response:
Not being a biblical scholar myself, I consulted some of my good friends who are, indeed, all of them, are distinguished and well published. They are: Ben Witherington, Bill Arnold, and Lawson Stone, all of Asbury Seminary. I found their comments insightful and very helpful, and given the large interest in these issues and their importance, I thought others might benefit from them as well, so I have pasted them below.

Here is what Dr. Ben Witherington III had to say:

As ought to be clear from 1 Cor. 7 virginity in a woman was highly valued before marriage. In that text she is called both the betrothed and a virgin. In early Jewish law if you had sex with a woman you were considered married to her or you had shamed her. See the story of Mary and Joseph. Porneia can refer to all sorts of sexual sin including deflowering a virgin. What that whole discussion by your student ignores is: firstly there was no dating or physical intimacy prior to an arranged marriage in the vast majority of cases. The notion of dating etc. doesn’t exist in Jesus and Paul’s world. Second honor and shame cultures placed a high value on sexual purity. Notice how prostitutes were stigmatized. Women were mainly blamed for sexual immorality. Finally Jesus gave his disciples two choices in Mt. 19 fidelity in heterosexual marriage or being a eunuch! This means no sex outside marriage.

Here is what Dr. Bill Arnold had to say:

On the NT, see what BW3 said. 🙂

For the OT side of things, it’s interesting that the only text your student interlocutor mentions is the Book of the Covenant stipulation that a man who seduces a virgin should pay her bride-price and make her his wife (Exod 22:16). What the student fails to observe is that the premise of this legal stipulation is that the man has, in fact, gotten the process reversed. He should have negotiated the bride-price, then married her, then had intercourse. The point of the law, as with many other laws in the Book of the Covenant, is that he has willfully done something wrong and must now make amends. The text the student is citing in your discussion actually supports your position, and not his.

By the way, although perhaps not directly related to the question of premarital sex, the single most neglected datum from the OT related to marriage is Gen 2:24-25. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this text would become controversial in our day, but it elevates the idea of heterogeneous marriage between one male and one female, regardless of how we conceptualize a state-defined and sanctioned certificate of marriage. The biblical concept is clear enough.

Here is what Dr. Lawson Stone had to say:

The student’s claim that in the OT it appears that, rather than sex being confined to marriage, it “leads to” marriage involves a number of errors, misinterpretations, and blind spots resulting from not hearing the OT in its own setting and voice.

The fact in the OT is that a marriage was seen as naturally being “real” when sexual intercourse took place because sexual intercourse is the actual physical and emotional uniting of the man and woman. So Paul even warns that casual sex with a prostitute still fuses the “john” to the prostitute as one flesh.

The world of the OT was a patriarchal society based on land and agricultural production. In such societies, and definitely in the world of the OT, the title to the land follows the male line of descent. In such cultures it is unthinkable that they would be indifferent to being as certain as possible who the father of a child was. This is the economic basis (there are other bases, of course) for demanding a woman be a virgin when she marries, since her children have the legal right of to inherit the family property only if they are of her husband’s descent, or are adopted or otherwise claimed by the husband. Likewise, a man who sired children outside of marriage created a confusing legal situation regarding land title and inheritance. In the OT, the land as the promised gift of Yahweh is the concrete center, the focus of God’s revelation and Israel’s faith. Given that in the OT the land was promised to Israel by Yahweh in perpetuity, and that this promise would be negated if through improper marriage or begetting, the land ended up in the wrong hands, the OT writers clearly would not sanction sexual activity except in the confines of a public, exclusive, permanent covenant between the man and woman: marriage.

Cultures such as that seen in the OT will closely regulate sexual intercourse and limit it to marriage. The key point, here, is not just the agricultural one, but the fact that sexual activity exists in a weave of life, relationships, economics and community. Marriage recognizes this. Moderns, however, only think of sex as an act of pleasurable intimacy between the man and woman. They have no notion of sex as an act embedded (pun intended!) in the social matrix, economic life, and trans-generational history of their community, to which they are accountable for all their actions. The idea that extramarital sex is fine is only imaginable in the post-sexual revolution world of not just easy contraception and abortion, but a world in which no particular significance for society as a whole attaches to sex. In modern life, we don’t really have “intercourse” in the full sense of that word–we just copulate.

Exegetically, the appeal to Exodus 22:16 can’t be interpreted as friendly to premarital sex merely because it only demands marriage or, alternatively, levies a fine. The Hebrew term translated “seduce” (NASB) is crucial. The Hebrew פתה patah means “entice, seduce, persuade with hypocritical appeal, take (someone) for a fool, persuade by flattery, etc.” and the related noun is the word often used for the (morally censured) fool in Proverbs. If sex prior to marriage was legitimate, the law certainly would not describe it with a Hebrew term uniformly used for illicit persuasion? So this was not just a guy and girl who naturally consummated their relationship on the way to getting married; the man “made a fool” of the girl. Nothing good there. This is why the law also provides for the possibility that her father will not allow the man to marry her, since he clearly cannot be trusted.

A second point on Exodus 22:16 is the penalty, which means the man has in fact seized a privilege to which he was not legally entitled, took what was not legally his. He must therefore either marry the woman or, if the (wise!) father doesn’t want to marry his daughter off to a fornicating seducer, a monetary penalty is levied. Clearly this text has no idea of justifying or legitimizing any kind of sexual intercourse prior to marriage, but is a sanction enforcing marriage as the only setting for sexual union.

For what it is worth, I have for 35+ years informally looked for solid evidence of any culture that does not regulate sexual behavior in terms of marriage, and so far have not found one unless you count late 20th century USA. If one exists I would like to know about it. Of course Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa tried to claim this in one culture, but her research was subsequently shown not just to be in error, but to be false.

It is true, and important, to agree, that fornication is not punished as severely as adultery in the OT. From this we cannot conclude that fornication is somehow “okay” but adultery is wrong. Even though a less heinous offense, it clearly remains a serious sin. Christians today, especially younger ones, have trouble with the idea of a scale of moral offense. They will claim that some sin, usually sexual, is “just as bad” as some other sin, often economic. They tend to think all “sins” are the same, based on a skewed reading of some of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount. They also assume that since there are no degrees of “lostness” that there are therefore no degrees of moral offensiveness in various sins. This of course is incoherent. Sound moral reasoning and scripture clearly show that different sinful actions cause differing levels of harm. The fact that adultery draws the death penalty and fornication does not still doesn’t change the fact that it’s seen as a very serious sin.

Last, but probably most fundamental: sexual identity and conduct is wired directly into the central reality of human existence in the image of God. In Genesis 1, we have no explicit explanation for what the “image of God” actually means except for the fact that in one verse, a quasi-poetic passage puts in parallelism “in the image of God created he him (Adam); male and female created he them.” By paralleling “image of God” with “male and female” and by using the word “create” twice (not used often in Genesis 1 btw) the writer clearly exalts human sexuality to a central place in human nature and links it to humanity being in God’s image. This declares human sexuality to be sacred territory. Likewise, in Genesis 2, while the animals presumably were made with sexual natures for reproduction, the whole story stresses the peculiarity of human sexual differentiation, involving a kind of dialectic of sameness and difference, a “helping/saving” relationship. Tellingly, Genesis 2 makes no mention of reproduction in connection with human sexuality. The stress falls entirely on partnership and intimacy. This is why the Bible treats sexual sin as qualitatively different from other sins. Sexual sin alone is used as a metaphor for idolatry/apostasy. No other sin is regularly used in that way. Just as apostasy/idolatry tear at the core fabric of humans in relationship with God, so sexual sin tears at the very fabric of human intra-/inter-personal relating. Not even oppression of the poor, horrible sin that it is, is used as a metaphor for apostasy, but sexual sin is.

One powerful illustration of this centrality of sexuality is in the “holiness code” of Leviticus. Most people find Leviticus 19:1-20:9 to be a very lofty moral statement. It contains some of the most elevated ethical teaching in the entire OT, including the “second” commandment. But it is bracketed both fore and aft with a series of forbidden sexual relations. Lev. 18:1-30 speaks of prohibited sexual relations as the cause of the land “vomiting them out.” Then at the other end of the holiness code is Leviticus 20:10-21 we find yet another such series. The point there is that the social and personal integrity called for in Lev 19:1-20:9 is not possible if sexual integrity does not exist. Sexuality is the strategic entry into the most intimate center of human truthfulness and fidelity.

This is just a sampling; as a colleague of mine likes to say at the end of class sessions, “Much more could be said!”

__________

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see this dialogue on Facebook and even more grateful that each of these professors care enough to take the time to write about this subject and gave me permission to re-print their dialogue. Over the next few days, I will share a few more post from this discussion that I believe you will find helpful and wonderful.

Click the Professors Names below for links to some of their books and writings:

Dr. Bill Arnold

Dr. Lawson Stone

Dr. Jerry Walls

Dr. Ben Witherington III

Losing To Win

News station WDTN of Ohio reported a story earlier this month of a high school track meet where a great act of kindness was done.

Meghan Vogel, a 17-year-old was set to come in last place after just winning a previous race. She didn’t have to be last. She was quickly catching up to a girl whose body had dehydrated and had taken a fall. Meghan, instead of avoiding last place and running past the girl, helped carry Arden McMath to the finish line and boosted her competitor across the line ahead of herself.  See the full story and video here.

Is this not part of the picture of the Gospel of Christ? Too often we Christians feel we are in last place regarding respect in the community. We feel hobbled by poor characterizations in the news and entertainment. In the process of us trying to gain traction we end up walking over the broken and tripping on the lost. We forget that the mission of the Christian life is not to get to Heaven and shout at everyone and gloat, “See?! We were right and you were wrong!!” The people who offend us are the mission. The broken and lost are the mission. In Christ there is no need for us to step over anyone. Our life’s worth is not defined by the ideas of success and champions of this world, but simply in the fact that we belong to Christ. If that be the case, then we can stop along the way, consider the value of others, and lift them up, even our competitors, so that they may not loose but have life.

Meghan Vogel was a winner even before she began this race.  She was not a winner because she won some visual victory filled with medals and public accolades. She was a winner because on her way to the finish line she lost so that someone else didn’t.

Philippians 2:1-11

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.