Sex Before Marriage

This piece comes by numerous confidential requests. Numerous. You are not alone.

We live in a sexually permissive age.  Your parents grew up in a sexually permissive age.  The gospel was preached throughout the known world in a sexually permissive age.  For all people, of all time, temptations are pretty much the same.  The difficultly in our current, media-driven world, is for Christians to know what is, and is not, acceptable behavior between unmarried people. Let’s start by stating some obvious, if uncomfortable, truths.

It Ain’t About Pregnancy

I have lost count of how many times young people will insist they are virgins because they did not engage in sexual conduct that could result in pregnancy. You can do a lot of sexually pleasurable things without the risk of conception. Meeting the biological definition of virginity does not mean you have never engaged in sexual immorality.  Be honest with yourself and with God.  Then try being honest with your peers.  Insisting you are pure as the driven snow because pregnancy was not possible requires either extraordinary self-deception or a level of naivete that is almost impossible to believe is sincere.

Where’s the Line?

There is a simple question to ask and answer:   “Would we do this in public?”

If the answer is ‘yes’ you can be pretty sure you are staying safe. You can kiss, hug, hold hands, embrace and do many things in public that will not prove an irresistible temptation. If, however, the answer to, “Can we do this in public?”, is ‘no’, then you can be quite certain you’re playing with fire.  No need to pray about whether or not it is sin.  If you can’t do something walking around in the park while families play nearby it is best to save it until after the ring.  If you are not comfortable with your future spouse imagining you in that situation, don’t go there.

Rather than trying to figure out the acceptable parameters in the midst of passionate interaction, determine healthy boundaries before you are in a situation that requires you draw the line.  If you are feeling tempted and tired, go home. Go home alone and send your beloved back to their place, alone, or with an irritatingly present roommate.  Don’t wait until you are exhausted and your judgment is compromised before you decide to call it a night.

What to Do if You Went Too Far

You are defined by the love of God as seen in the face of Jesus Christ, not by your biggest mistakes.  If you went too far, ask forgiveness and start afresh.  Agree with your significant other that you can’t play with fire and expect to be without scars. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is not OK with that, break up.  You might feel you can’t live without them but if the other person loves you and loves the Lord they will respect limits that keep you both safe.

Remember that this is a life-long grace walk.  God’s grace brought you this far. God’s grace will keep you.  Get moving in the right direction and don’t look back.

 

 

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Transgenderism

The topic of ‘transgenderism’ might seem new but it is not. There really is nothing new under the sun because people are remarkably the same in every generation. The only difference is we are talking openly about something that has always existed.  The hurt, pain, and rejection that cause and result from gender identity issues are as old as the fall of humanity.

We are created in God’s image, male and female.  We are created in God’s image even if we identify as transgender. Nothing removes that amazing beauty of being His image bearer.  Gender, like age, is not self-determined. We are born with the chromosomal combination that determines whether we are male or female. We may be content with our gender or consider it the source of deep emotional pain but no external physical modifications will alter the chromosomal combination with which we were born. Transgenderism is self-rejection at the most basic level.

Our Common Brokenness

We all struggle in many ways but Jesus does not distance Himself from us no matter how our brokenness manifests itself in our lives. At Calvary He demonstrated that He values everyone such that He paid the penalty for our sin, provided for our healing and paved the way for our reconciliation to God.  He loves us passionately and chose crucifixion rather than leave us in our broken condition. He made a clear path for us all that we might be restored.  No one is exempt from following that path.

In a world that has grown accustomed to hate speech the greatest lie about those struggling with gender identity issues is to say, “God loves you just like everyone else.  However, your pain and struggles are unique so you have to work it out yourself”.

Ministering to those Dealing with Transgenderism

We are ministers of reconciliation, not debate.  Much has been lost over the years by those who hate evil more than they loved good.  Don’t get caught up discussing things which can only distract from the love of God.  We love others and minister to their deepest needs by focusing on how we are the same not by debating our differences.

Gender identity issues or not, we all long to be known and loved, even though we are deeply flawed. Only Jesus can love like that.  Transgender or not, we all must come to the end of ourselves and realize we are powerless to change apart from the grace and mercy of God. The successful businessman who takes pride in his career is no different than the transgender teen trying to find a path in life.  Both are lost and self-deceived apart from the loving grace and healing mercy of Jesus Christ.

We are broken people in a broken world.  Jesus came to heal and restore us and no manifestation of our sin and brokenness is exempt.  We have a testimony that no one can refute,  “Jesus heals our brokenness”. Jesus never shamed the hurting. Shame never transformed anyone but the infinite love and grace of Jesus does.

 

To the Class of 2016

We often talk of commencement as the ‘start of your real life’.  “Real life” is, in some sense, an illusion. Jesus alone is ‘real life’. This short term experience is a corrupt illusion that we mistakenly call ‘life’. It is not going to last forever and is a temporary situation in which we live in decaying mortal bodies in a corrupt world under the prince of darkness. Hence, this will not be a cake walk and this is not about you. This is about the 3.6 billion people on the planet who have no idea who Jesus is.  Time is precious and ‘your time’ does not belong to you.  Also, ‘life’ is not on your side. You might be young, but that doesn’t make it easy.  Accept that reality and purpose to live for that for which you were created and you actually will find there is joy in the journey and much of it.

Yes, things spiritually are at a low ebb. We need a national revival. Young people please be aware you cannot leave the church because you are the church. You leave it, skip it, distance yourself from it, then you destroy that for which Christ Jesus died. I challenge you to show the meaning of radical discipleship. You pick up your cross.  You show you love Jesus enough to work to humble yourself and work for nothing.  He paid for you. I plead with you to be an example to those who are older and burned out.  Set the example again.

I’ve been at life for nearly six decades now and the biggest mistakes people make in their twenties are these: they either suppress God’s voice to do something they really want to do, or they suffer from ‘choice paralysis’ and wrongly suppose they have to make the perfect one right choice for their entire life in their next step. As the saying goes, “You can’t steer a moored ship”.  In six decades of life I have done most everything I have ever thought the Lord might have me do. I just didn’t do them all at once.  But if you have a half dozen choices before you and all are scriptural, choose one and trust the Lord to check you if it wrong.  The chance of birds flying overhead in a formation that says, “Go to Egypt” are not terribly high, but if you can go to Egypt and the Lord has placed it before you, go ahead.

Yes, there will be tears in the days to come. They will not always be tears of weeping for the lost. There will be tears of frustration, of not understanding what the Father is doing. There will be the tears of farewell and tears of loss.  As Michael Card said in one of his songs, ‘there were tears before there was rain’.  The Lord has given you and open door. Walk through it and know that you will not always keep your eyes above the waves, but when you do not, He will grab hold of you.  Now get moving. Redeem the time, for the days are evil.

How to Deal with College Debt – Part 1

The best scenario for those facing college debt is to start dealing with it the moment you take your first loan. If you have graduated and are now trying to decide if it is possible to pay off your loans, while continuing to eat and live indoors, do not panic. There is a way forward. But we’ll start with those who still are in school and can make choices to reduce debt load now.

First and foremost: tithe. Give your tithe and offerings. Tithe off your gross, not your net. Yes, that sounds painful and will feel that way when you start but you will be amazed how God is faithful to bless you. One of the ways to tie up this generation is to be sure they are so self-focused on their personal debt they do not give sacrificially. God honors His Word and He actually will do miraculous things to ensure you meet your obligations if you are responsible. Responsibility means tithing, giving to missions, paying your college and even chipping in for gas when you borrow a car or ask for a ride to work.

Next, fill out the FAFSA using your best “guesstimate” from the previous year and do that at the start of January. When you fill out your taxes go back in and use the “Data Retrieval Tool” which is a box you will check that downloads your filed return into FAFSA. It is to your advantage to fill out the FAFSA early. Just be certain you update and finalize it when your taxes are complete.

Do your “loan homework”. There are resources from little known scholarships, to crowd-source donation websites that can help reduce what you borrow. I will not recommend any particular site but you can find them with a search engine. Do some “smart shopping” to avoid high interest rates. When you do take loans, take the least amount you need at the lowest rate possible. Do not borrow extra money for living expenses beyond room and board. “Board” means meals. Though few Bible colleges are known for extraordinary meals, you paid for those meals so better to eat them then go to Chipotle. Never borrow more than you absolutely must. Trust God and get job to pay for extras or go without. It is good practice for life after school.

Remember that 1098 Form Brother Ed sends you every year? Keep it. It is vital to your financial well-being. Use that to be sure you or your parents take the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Unless you are a higher wage earner, that credit, which ends in December 2017, will be the most advantageous tax credit going to cut down on debt and pay your bills. It is possible to receive up to $2500 per year per student. If you or your family have not taken this credit when you were eligible you can get the money back retroactively by filing an amendment.  The credit can only be taken for four years and is worth $1000 even if you have no taxable income. Would four to ten grand make your life easier? If the answer is yes, ask about this credit.

Take some classes online. Your college probably offers online courses, or you may be able to transfer in credits from a community college. These courses are less expensive and decrease your indebtedness.   Look at ways to shave a semester off your time in school. A bit here and there saves the cost of room and board which is a significant expense. If you want to help your school by spending more time there, consider saving the money and donating it to the school instead.  If you are attending Bible college a large portion of your tuition is covered by donations raised by the school president who is constantly traveling about the country and raising funds so you can get an education.  If you are going to remember someone special at Christmas, drop him a  card.  In fact, thank the entire staff. They are earning less than you think so you can prepare for ministry.  In doing so they are helping to pay for your education.

If you are a senior or have graduated, be of good cheer. Having walked through this with other graduates there is indeed hope. I will post on debt reduction strategies for the graduate tomorrow.

Remember this regarding that mountain of debt: faith and faithfulness will ensure it does not stand in your way.

 

The Supernatural for the Skeptic

So you label yourself a skeptic? If you believe in the scriptures, and you want to serve Jesus, then I am skeptical of your skepticism. I will challenge that label right now.

Noting that every time the music starts Sister Sally shouts and looks like she’s having an attack of appendicitis, does not make you a skeptic. It means you find distraction, distracting. Another famous Pentecostal, Paul, had no tolerance for people disrupting corporate worship. God is a God of order, not to put a leash on the Spirit but a leash on us so we don’t distract from a spontaneous move of the Spirit.  When the Spirit moves there is reverence, not craziness.

You are not a skeptic if you question whether “Miracle Mike’” is always right when he recounts his daily dealings in the supernatural. Mike’s a great guy with great testimony. He is open to the Lord using him. Good for Mike. Many people miss God working through them because they are totally unavailable to be used at all. But Mike is young in the Lord, and being right some of the time, doesn’t make him right all of the time.  So if your Christian dad is dying of cancer and you can’t reconcile it with Mike’s declaration that anything less than total healing is a sign of apostasy, you are not a skeptic. God is perfect, Mike is not.  People err but the scriptures never set us up for false expectations. The Apostle Paul whose handkerchiefs were used in miracles of healing, (Acts 19:2), was forced to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus. Paul fell ill in Galatia (and planted a church while he was at it), faced hunger, shipwreck, and loss. He even despaired of life (2 Cor. 1:8). I trust no one is going to questions his Pentecostal commitment. To be “Pentecostal” is to believe in and use the gifts of the Spirit as they are recorded in scripture: nothing less and nothing more.  We rely on God’s power to work miracles and we rely on God’s power to preserve us in persecution. We know that deliverance takes the form of signs and wonders and we know deliverance is provided when Jesus says,  “my grace is sufficient for you”. (2 Cor. 12:9)

You are not a skeptic to want something real and biblical.  “Real” looks like the scriptures: all of the scriptures, not just the exciting experiences we all want to have. A real experience includes: power and persecution, deliverance and death, triumph and tarrying. It is a balance experienced.

Avoid the Acceptable Error Zone

Unfortunately, the normal response to human error is human error. Frustrated in Pentecostal churches many seek safety by settling in the “evangelically acceptable error zone”.  If you attend a church where the worship music is straight up Hillsong and the preaching is expository, you are safe and can grow in the Lord. Just get comfortable ignoring large portions of scripture that explicitly instruct us regarding the Baptism of the Spirit and the corporate gifts. People can convince themselves this is OK because they’ll tell you, “We’re still open to the gifts”. This is code for, “We’re actually ambivalent toward the gifts but if  a rushing mighty wind sweeps through the building and we burst into glossolalia, we promise to hold a board meeting to consider incorporating gifts into our church culture”. *  Disregarding scripture is wrong no matter what form of error we choose. Chaotic meetings where people draw attention to themselves leaving no room for the Spirit to move are meetings where we’re disregarding scripture.** Ignoring the gifts of the Spirit is also willful disobedience to scripture. Could we consider another alternative, radical though it may be?

A Radical Alternative

“Follow the directions”.

Yeah. You saw it there in black and white. What if we read scripture and follow the directions?

A “real” experience should look like the scriptural model.  A good Pentecostal church is one where the preaching is meaty and the gifts are freely used. Gifts don’t interrupt the service but follow the flow of what the Lord is doing. I know this can happen because the Bible tells us what our gatherings should look like.  I was saved in an environment where the gifts were used properly, people were saved weekly, and the services were beautiful, moving and always in order. (In 8 years of revival, everyone was healed but not a single person was slain in the Spirit).  I was not afraid to bring an unsaved friend to church for fear the service might be crazy.  Anyone who drew attention to themselves was quietly invited to step outside where the deacons gave instruction.  Only once did I bring a friend who refused to return. Her reason: “God was in there and I don’t want God running my life. I want to run it myself”. She could sense God’s powerful presence.

Labeling yourself a critic is destructive to you and the Body of Christ. There is no “opt out” clause from membership in the Body of Christ. The best choice is to choose to become a “full gospel” Christian, where “full gospel” means you commit yourself to actively pursue all God has promised in His Word.  It also means you refuse to ignore any part of  God’s Word just because it stretches your comfort level.  You might not want to “seek the best gifts” but you will because it is a command. (I Cor. 12:31). By choosing to be a “full gospel” Christian, you can bring health to the Body of Christ, and restore joy to your own soul. We can’t afford to ignore anything the Lord said we need.  Lay down that skeptical label, pick up the scriptures and walk the truths of scripture, just as scripture tells us to.

We, God’s people, need revival. Let’s commit to live a New Testament life style, corporately and individually.  If we follow Him on good days and on days when we’re perplexed in the depths of our souls, will will see the glory of God.  The best cure for skepticism, is to follow God’s instructions and encourage others to do the same.

  • * AG churches that do not teach on or encourage the use of the gifts are not Pentecostal.
    ** “Pentecostal” churches that ignore Paul’s teaching on proper use of the gifts are also being unscriptural.

Next: Paying off your college debts   www.vanaria.org

All Do Not Speak In Tongues

In 1 Cor. 12:30 Paul asks a rhetorical question, “Do all speak in tongues?” Remarkably, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree that the answer to that question is “No, they do not”. In the context of Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians 12, where the context is spiritual gifts as they are used in a church setting, everyone agrees that not all speak in tongues. Regardless of your starting point, it’s universally agreed that if everyone speaks in tongues out loud at the same time we have one messy confusing church gathering.

Likewise, as to the context of I Corinthians 12-14, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree: Paul is discussing the use of gifts of the Holy Spirit in a church setting. The areas where people do not agree focus on two major questions: “Did the gifts cease when the canon came into being?” and “Is speaking in tongues in a church setting, the same as speaking in tongues in one’s private prayer life?”

How Important Is This?

Being a planner, I struggled with the issue of tongues and gifts for a long time. Prior to becoming a Pentecostal minister, I struggled with “the initial physical evidence” for a long time. So if you struggle with this, you have company. You have questions that deserve answers and the scriptures have those answers.

Being honest, it takes a lot hermeneutic gymnastics to explain away the gifts of the Spirit. That is extremely inconvenient for those of us who like predictable things. While we love to sing that God is alive, we seem rather shocked that He has this plan to to actively participate in church gatherings. However, the Lord deemed the gifts so important that He devoted a great deal of scripture to instructing His people in the proper use of them. None of us want to lay claim to arrogance, but if the Lord God instructs us in the gifts so that His church might be healthy, who are we to say, “We have no need of them”? We cannot read Galatians 3, Romans 12, or these chapters in 1 Corinthians and escape the fact that a “normal church experience” as Christ intended church to be “normal” was meant to include the use of gifts of the Spirit. I can think of nowhere else in all of the New Testament where Christians are so eager to explain away three chapters of scripture.

Being stuck with the truth that “Gee, there’s a lot in there on gifts”, I had to work through the issues. People often enthusiastically point out that tongues are not that important because if we speak with tongues and have not love, we are like an annoying gong. This leads me to ask, “If we don’t speak in tongues and act like a loveless jerk, are we any less annoying?” Chapter 13 does not exist to belittle the gifts but to remind us they do not trump the fruit of the Spirit. By the time we get to I Cor. 13:10, we have to be grasping at straws to take the Greek word for “mature/perfect” and decide for this time and this time only in scripture, it really means “the authoritative canon of scripture”. It takes more faith to come up with that explanation and ignore three chapters of scripture than to simply read the text for what is says.

Unfortunately when I read the text I realize something that requires change on my part. We are living with far less than Jesus offers His church and we are so comfortable living with so little, we find it easier to justify our ease than to seek what we lack. We find church predictable and boring because we are by nature, predictable and boring. We’ve left so little room for God to move, and are terribly afraid of the consequences if He does. Yet we hold in our hands a very clear New Testament model of what a healthy church should look like.

Putting Tongues in Place

My first hurdle, personally, was to determine if Paul spoke about tongues as “a prayer language”  that was distinct from the gift of tongues used to edify the church. In I Cor. 14. Paul explains why speaking in tongues in church without interpretation is counterproductive. He also teaches us the following concerning tongues:

Speaking in tongues is a form of speaking to God, by the power of God and it is a mystery (vs.2) that strengthens the person who is praying (vs. 3)  Paul states his strong desires that everyone speak in tongues (vs. 5)* and boasts that he personally speaks in tongues more than everyone (vs.18). Tongues are a sign for “unbelievers” (vs. 22) and an expected part of church gatherings (vs. 26). The only limit he gives is that no more than two or three messages in tongues with interpretation should occur per meeting, so everyone in the church has a chance to contribute using his or her corporate gift. (vs. 27). Even as Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of orderly worship, he says clearly “don’t forbid speaking in tongues” (vs. 39).

The Big “But”

My original question was why anyone would think of tongues as “private prayer language” that was not one and the same as the gift listed in Chapter 12.   (If Paul could have made paragraph breaks, used HTML and inserted emoticons, a lot of things would be easier to understand. Just saying….)  The truth that praying in tongues privately, should not be confused with the gift of tongues spoken in a corporate setting as prompted by the Holy Spirit, is the very reason Paul had to write chapter 14.  He spends so much time explaining the difference, that  I nearly missed the glaringly obvious “but“. Paul’s boasts how much he spoke in tongues, privately,  and the very next phrase is “But in church …”

Right there in front of me Paul made a distinction between speaking in tongues privately and speaking in tongues in church. Oops. In fact, he spent much of the chapter parsing the two that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. So there I was, willing to consider that “mature/perfect” (I Cor. 13:10) might somehow be contorted to mean “the authoritative canon of scripture” yet I was overlooking a conjunction of contrast with an unmistakable meaning: “but”.  Why?  Because like most people I am tempted to harmonize my experience with scripture so I am comfortable with my lack.  The real problem most of us have with scripture surrounding the gifts is they point out our church experience lacks what scripture says should be normative.  That should not cause us to reinterpret scripture. It should cause us to earnestly seek that which we lack.

I had studied myself into a corner:  Paul did indeed distinguish between praying in tongues privately and the gift of tongues as a sign to unbelievers. Like it or not, I had to dig deeper and so this series will continue….

Next Time: I Skinned My Shin on a Honda
*(The words “wish” or “could” are not in Greek, so adding them to English sounds like it would really great if people could speak in tongues but it is not actually possible. If Paul wanted to express wishful thinking,  he would have used the subjunctive. Instead, Paul used the indicative form.  Paul is expressing a strong desire that everyone speak in tongues, not to frustrate people who have not done so, or make them feel bad,  but to encourage them to keep seeking.)

The Great “Who Is”

Sundays come and go. We sing to the Nameless “You”. We sing of being ravished by love, wanting to shout it out, jump, freedom (x7), and other nice things that happen to us. We don’t sing using the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of the Son of God who shed His blood to ransom us back, nor the Holy Spirit who indwells us. We do not sing of the sin from which we are blood-washed, the joy of salvation by the grace of God Incarnate. Often I think we should just rename it “we-ship” since we focus on our feelings, thoughts, reactions and how well it is going for us. Today, a pastor friend expressed her feelings after a morning of service saying, “I was singing like Jesus is my boyfriend”.

I laughed but with a heavy heart. Neither of us were raised with any Bible knowledge but as the Bible says, through the “foolishness of preaching” and the proclamation of Christ in song, we were changed. I’m a 10 years + older than my friend and hymns were not our chosen genre (think Crosby, Stills and Nash for me and she’s so young I don’t know) but as much as we joked about tunes in 9/8 time, we sensed God’s Spirit’s present when the church sang about Jesus, the Lord Almighty, the Maker of the Universe, the Son of God Incarnate who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, music has modernized and we are glad for it. But we did not need to stop singing truth. Our God has a Name and His Name still makes my heart soar. We actually can sing “This I Believe” and we should.

NEWSFLASH: WE ARE NOT UNITARIANS

Unitarians have no name for God. They are lovely people who believe that it is possible but not mandatory that there exists a Nameless Great Gender Neutral Someone/thing/force who can’t really be known except as we/you/me/they/he/she/ze/e* perceives said Being. Unitarian optimists hope, in the wishful sense, that when someone dies they go to a better place. Unitarian pessimists just let people live on forever in their hearts. There is no assurance of anything since nothing can be known. They normally meet in very nice landmark churches with rainbow flags out front. They are not more welcoming than we are, but the one thing they firmly believe is that should A Great Who-Is exist then He/She/It welcomes you to that house of faith (or doubt) depending on your faith or faithless orientation.

Their music is as pallid as their belief: God has no name.

Our God Has a Name

Our God has a Name. We should sing it. We should proclaim it. We should shout it from the roof tops. We live in a post-Christian era when people simply cannot be expected to guess their way into the gospel. They don’t need to guess if we spend our services proclaiming Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are called to ascribe worth to Him. It is not a 45 minute sing-a-long led by a coach who tells us how to act like we are blessed. We don’t need to pretend if God is really there. We need to sing the truth and proclaim it clearly and with the joy that truth still resonates within my heart 40 years after I first heard it.

As my friend shared, she spoke of a teen, for whom time on earth would seem quite limited. He came to church for hope. When she asked him the subject of the songs, he replied that he presumed the songs were about God but had no clear idea they were about Jesus. Forty-five minutes of what might have been joyous song-filled proclamation of Christ, gave way to “singing like it was to a boyfriend” and this young man still had no clear hope.

Young People Change This

Each of us is called to reach our generation and train the next. I can’t sing or write like I am 20-something. Someone 20-something can and must create music that sings the unashamed, unabashed truth that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. If He is not lifted up we and all who hear us will be bored to numbness. Don’t blame your pastor or worship leader. Fix it. Write songs worthy of the Son of God. Stop rolling the dice with visitors. Stop rolling the dice outside the church with other people’s souls. We are saved by One who deserves that we sing with beauty and power and promise. When a lost person meets you he or she should not leave without hope. May we always be ready to share the only name given among men by which we might be saved: The Name of Jesus.

*ze/e are new alternatives that a famous university is providing so students can choose their own pronouns

(Yes, I will pick up on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I just had to get this out of my system).