Devotional: Sabbath rest is not optional!

June 25, 2015

The following is a devotional I prepared for our church’s weekly email blast.

On Saturday morning I’m leaving for the Dominican Republic on a mission trip, alongside many of our youth—including two of my kids—and other adult leaders and chaperones.

In my absence, I’ve arranged to have a fellow United Methodist pastor “on call” in case of emergency: Rev. David Brackman of the Mt. Carmel-Lovejoy circuit. Susie has his number. Our church’s own Randy Godbee will be preaching the gospel this Sunday. Based on the rave reviews I hear about Randy’s preaching, I know you’ll enjoy his message!

The point is, the church will be in good hands in my absence. I’m not the least bit concerned about that.

There have been times in my life, however, when I have struggled to get away from “my work”—to leave my work behind and trust that everything will be O.K. in my absence. I suspect I’m not the only one!

Research indicates that we Americans are by far the hardest working people on earth. For example, not only do we possess far fewer vacation days than our Western industrialized counterparts in Europe and Japan, most of us don’t even take all of the days that we’ve been given.

Why? Is it simply because we just love our jobs? Maybe in some cases, although, more likely, many of us feel guilty about being away from work. We feel like we’ll fall behind. We feel insecure. We feel like we’re “irreplaceable.”

But consider the scripture I preached on just last week, 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. Applying Paul’s words to our work, it’s clear that God has called us to do the jobs we do. God is ultimately our boss. We work for him, not merely for human bosses, supervisors, managers, or (in my case) district superintendents and bishops.

And if that’s true, then we need to trust him when he tells us—as he does in his holy Word—that we are not designed to work all the time; we need to take a break. In fact, taking a break from work, which is another way of describing “Sabbath rest,” is our Christian duty.

But here’s the thing: You don’t get to enjoy Sabbath rest only after the work is finished—because, if you haven’t noticed, the work is never finished. And you don’t get to enjoy Sabbath rest only after you’ve tied up every loose end—because, if you haven’t noticed, there are always loose ends that need to be tied up. And you don’t get to enjoy Sabbath rest only after you’ve found other people to handle your work in your absence—because, if you haven’t noticed, no one can do your job as good as you can.

Sabbath rest is not a matter of trusting in ourselves or trusting in other people to get all the work done; it’s a matter of trusting in God alone. Remember: the Lord is in charge our work. And the Lord isn’t a slavedriver. He came to set us free.

So this new summer season is as good a time as any to remind you to take a break! Enjoy vacation! Enjoy Sabbath rest! And to do so guilt-free!


On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 7: God save us from the “red-letter Christians”

June 25, 2015

This is the seventh part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” For links to previous posts on this topic, click here.

Continuing with his post, Rev. Purdue writes:

I wonder can we generally agree that:

  1. Christ frees us from the Old Testament Law. Pork Barbeque is from God! Stoning is evil.
  2. We see some of Paul’s teaching on issues of slavery and women in a new non-literal light. Women are called to preach, despite what the Apostle Paul sometimes says! Slavery is evil.
  3. We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice. Christians follow Christ, and the essential elements of Christianity are found in Christ’s teachings and practice.”

My response: I reject all three points. Let me take them one by one.

1. Purdue asks us to buy into the heretical idea that the Old Testament Law, with its dietary laws and civil penalties, was wrong. But as I argued in my previous post, the Law was exactly right for its time, and as Paul says in Romans, the Law accomplished the purpose for which it was given. Because Christ fulfilled the Law, we Christians are no longer bound by the ceremonial and civil aspects of it. Its ethical imperatives are perfectly good, however, and they remain in effect.

2. He’s confused about the meaning of “literal,” as I’ve said before. We do take Paul’s teaching on women and slavery literally. That’s a question of good exegesis. How these passages apply to us today is a question of good hermeneutics. See this post for more. Why does Purdue think we Christians today are morally superior to St. Paul? Can we have some humility?

3. God save us from the “red-letter Christians”! I don’t use the word heresy lightly. But as with Point 1, Purdue veers closely to antinomian Marcionism, which really is one of the Big Ones.

Purdue writes: “We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice.” How to respond?

First, Jesus doesn’t mention lots of things! Not a direct word from him about incest, bestiality, polygamy, slavery, polyamory, or pederasty, for instance. Does that mean these sins are open to discussion, too? On what basis wouldn’t they be? I’m guessing Purdue would argue against at least some of these practices by citing the principles underlying Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. But as I’ve already argued, here and here, it’s on the basis of these same principles that Jesus rules out homosexual practice.

Second, if Purdue really follows this “red-letter” standard, on what basis does he affirm gay marriage? As I pointed out earlier, he agrees with me that Jesus’ words about marriage in Matthew 19/Mark 10 affirm only heterosexual marriage, yet gay marriage is still on the table for him because, after all, Jesus and the Bible don’t mention it. In other words, because the Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, Purdue can say, “The Bible doesn’t condemn it.” Pure sophistry, as I said earlier. The Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, because the definition of marriage rules it out.

No… if Purdue is right that we can only practice what is “mentioned directly by Jesus Christ,” then we can’t affirm gay marriage. Jesus’ “silence” on gay marriage rules out gay marriage. (I’m not endorsing Purdue’s argument, I’m only showing that he’s contradicting himself.)

Third, as I’ve said in response to Rev. Wade Griffith’s sermon, it’s theologically troubling to assert that Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexual practice. Why? Because within 20 or 30 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ—inspired the apostle Paul to write what he wrote about it in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. Moreover, this same Spirit guided the authors of the Old Testament.

Or didn’t he? This is why the debate in the United Methodist Church about LGBT issues always comes back to the authority of scripture. The orthodox understanding of the inspiration of scripture rules out the privileging of Jesus’ “red letter” words over other parts of scripture.

I’ll say more on Purdue’s blog post later.


Sermon 06-14-15: “Saving Others”

June 24, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

In today’s scripture, Paul applies Jesus’ teaching about divorce to a new situation: new Christian converts who are married to unbelieving spouses. What should they do? In answering this question, Paul speaks to three problems in our contemporary culture all at once: divorce, nominal, or “cultural,” Christianity, and the need for evangelism.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 7:8-16

Matt Chandler is the pastor of Village Church, a 6,000-member megachurch in Dallas. He and his church were recently subject to some very bad publicity. See, when you join Village Church, you agree to become part of a fellowship that, unlike us Methodists, has very strict membership policies—policies that discipline church members for breaking them. Recently, a member of the church, a newly wed woman named Karen Hinkley, filed for an annulment of her marriage, under Texas law, without consulting the church first. According to church law, she was supposed to have gone through a reconciliation process with her husband, under the guidance of counselors at the church, before getting divorced. Hinkley refused, and the church put her “under discipline,” whatever that means.

matt_chandler

Matt Chandler, pastor of Village Church.

The problem is, Ms. Hinkley had decided to annul her marriage because she had just found out that her husband had been hiding a decade-long habit of viewing child pornography! He admitted to being a pedophile, although he claims he never abused a child. Let’s hope!

Nearly everyone can plainly see that Ms. Hinkley was justified in filing for the annulment, which is why the church got the bad publicity. And Matt Chandler and the church leaders also see that now. They confessed that they made a sinful decision to discipline her, and they apologized. She accepted their apology. Read the rest of this entry »


Truth is true whether or not you believe in it

June 23, 2015

the-good-thing-about-science

Yesterday, a Facebook friend of mind posted a picture of his new T-shirt, which had this quote from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on it. To which I replied:

degrasse_tyson_shirt


McKnight: the witness of Emanuel A.M.E. and the Amish

June 22, 2015

As Scot McKnight says, the same spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, is at work in the lives of Emanuel’s victims’ families as was at work in the Amish who forgave the murderer of their schoolchildren. As I preached yesterday, Emanuel A.M.E. faces a heartbreaking “assignment” from God (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:17) right now. As Peggy Noonan points out in the linked article from the Wall Street Journal, it’s clear that they’re going to handle it just fine.

You may well remember the images of the Amish after the senseless slaughter of the children at school — offering compassion to the shooter’s family and making it clear that they would not seek revenge. The same spirit of the Amish, which is the Spirit of Jesus, the cross, and the way of life of those who follow Jesus, is seen now in the witness of the Christians of African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston…


Sermon 05-31-15: “Sex and Marriage”

June 18, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

One slander against the apostle Paul, often repeated even by Christians, is that Paul was anti-women, anti-sex, and even—except as a concession to the weakness of human nature—anti-marriage. Today’s scripture is one of the main texts used to make that case, unfortunately. In this sermon, I argue that Paul is none of those things. He affirms marriage, mutuality between man and woman, and frequent sex as an indispensible component of healthy marriage. 

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 7:1-7

[To listen to this sermon on the go, right-click here to download an MP3 version of it.]

All right, who here can spell the word “scherenschnitte”? How about “nunatak”? Those were, of course, the two winning words in this year’s Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, which ended in a tie last week, for the second straight year. My son Townshend, who hardly needs an excuse to watch more ESPN, kept me up to date on the action as it unfolded.

spelling_bee

Now I say this as someone who takes pride in being a good speller, but… how useful is it to spend hours upon hours every day, as these contestants do, learning how to spell obscure words? Especially when we have auto-correct… and spell-check… and when Google is always a click or two away?

Why devote so much time to something that isn’t much of a problem anymore? Yet in today’s scripture we have something that presents a daily challenge to all of us—that can be a huge potential problem for all of us—that is incredibly important to all of us. Yet we mostly never talk about it—or I should say, we don’t talk about it in appropriate ways. We let our popular culture talk about it. We let our movies talk about it—our TV shows, our music, our books, our favorite websites talk about it.

I’m referring to S-E-X—sex, sexuality, being sexually faithful in marriage, being sexually faithful in singleness. Read the rest of this entry »


On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 6: Our relationship to the Old Testament

June 18, 2015

This is the sixth part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” Read Part 5 and previous posts by clicking here.

In previous posts, I challenged several points that Rev. Purdue raised in his blog post: Jesus’ alleged “silence” on homosexual practice, the meaning of Jesus’ words about marriage and eunuchs in Matthew 19, the reliability of Bible translations, Paul’s words about homosexual practice, and the false analogy between slavery and women in ministry and homosexual practice.

In the next part of his article, while Purdue concedes that the Old Testament Law condemns homosexual practice, he says we Christians are no longer bound to obey it. He writes:

The OT Holiness code condemns homosexual practice. We must not leave the conversation there, for the OT also prescribes death for those who commit homosexual acts. Can we cling to the OT condemnation while rejecting the prescribed prescription that lies alongside it? (Leviticus 20:13) Are we theologically consistent if we assert that the OT is literally right about homosexuality but wrong about the penalty for it? Are we hoping to be literal and figurative inside the same passage?

“Are we theologically consistent if we assert that the OT is literally right about homosexuality but wrong about the penalty for it?”

Two points: We’re not asserting that the Old Testament is “literally” right about one thing and wrong about the other. As he did in his discussion of slavery and women in ministry, he’s once again asserting that the Bible is wrong. I don’t say that. The church doesn’t say that. Both aspects of the Law—the ethical mandate and its penalty for breaking it—were right in the time before Christ, during that period when Israel was a theocracy and then a monarchy. Jesus fulfills the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law. These no longer apply today.

Besides, Purdue practically answers his own question about theological consistency by referring to Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11.

We already unite in a grace-filled interpretation of any punishment for adulterers, blasphemers, parent cursers, Sabbath breakers, parent cursers, idol worshippers, and others the OT commands us to stone to death! (Leviticus 20:9-16) Why do we reject stoning? We reject the law on stoning, because Jesus proclaimed “you without sin cast the first stone”! (John 8)

Do we still consider adultery, blaspheming, parent-cursing, Sabbath-breaking, and idolatry sins? Does Jesus still consider adultery a sin even as he rejects the penalty for it? Of course! As he tells the woman, “Go and sin no more.”

In fact, Purdue makes the same mistake that good old Horus makes in the following video, “Horus Reads the Internet”:

Purdue concludes this section on the Old Testament by saying,

In 100 years will we Christians come to see today’s hotly contested issue in the same way we see stoning, slavery, kosher foods, or women’s rights?

This is, as I’ve shown, the wrong question. Given his own logic, he should instead ask,

In 100 years, will we Christians come to see today’s hotly contested issue in the same way we see adultery, idolatry, blasphemy, parent-cursing, and Sabbath-breaking?

I hope so!


Billy Graham on Vinyl, Part 10: “The Signs of the Time, the End of the World, the Second Coming”

June 17, 2015

Billy Graham Record

In honor of Billy Graham, a hero of mine, I’m digitizing some of his sermons from long out-of-print records and making them available as MP3s. This sermon is found on an LP called Billy Graham Crusade in Miniature from 1969 (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, BG-3345).

Billy Graham Record 02

This sermon, from a Crusade he preached in New York City in 1969, is the third in this Billy Graham series on the Second Coming, each one essentially different from the others. Here he refers to the nuclear arms race, racial tensions, student unrest, and scientific pessimism, combined with the “almost frantic quest for pleasure and having a good time” as the “shadow of the possibility of the destruction of the human race. And so the human race stands at this moment on the brink, on the threshold. Many of our leaders don’t know the answer.”

Now there are three elements even in modern theology… there is pessimism. Harry Emerson Fosdick was a pastor in this city for many years. In his sunset years he said this: “If one’s thinking is dominated by the gigantic events of our generation, we cannot avoid despair.” So we have a theology of despair. We have a theology of activism. And we have a theology of hope. I belong to that group that has a theology of hope, because my hope is not centered in this world, or in what man is going to do or not going to do. My hope is centered in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who the Bible says is going to come back some day and straighten the whole mess out. That’s our hope: in Christ!

Like Graham, I also belong to the group that has a theology of hope. I take no consolation in signs of “progress.” I’m not overly concerned with bleak headlines. The world will get worse before it gets better. But when it gets better, it will be unimaginably good.

Detail from back of the record sleeve.

Detail from back of the record sleeve.

Right-click here to download an MP3 version of this sermon.

Click here for the previous post in this series, which includes links to the other sermons.


Behold the left wing of the United Methodist Church!

June 15, 2015

Glutton for punishment that I am, apparently, I sometimes interact with fellow United Methodist clergy from around the country on the UMC clergy Facebook page. Last Saturday, I participated in a lengthy comment thread about “evangelical left” leader Tony Campolo’s alleged change of heart on the LGBT issue. In a statement that surprised no one, Campolo now says that homosexual behavior isn’t inherently sinful.

One outspoken progressive colleague (whom I haven’t met, although we’ve argued online often enough) accused me of “eisegesis” in my traditional interpretation of scripture regarding sexuality. (Eisegesis means reading something into the text that isn’t there.)

By the logic of my college’s argument, however, if I’m misinterpreting scripture regarding homosexual practice, I’m also misinterpreting passages related to other sexual sin, including adultery, fornication, and lust. So I asked him repeatedly to clarify himself: are these other sexual sins in the Bible not really sinful? Does Jesus himself have a problem with sexual sin, however much we may disagree on what this category includes?

Here is the most interesting part of the exchange. (I’ve removed his name and photo, not because this clergy page isn’t public—it’s open for all the world to see—but because I believe he ought to be ashamed of himself, and I don’t want to pile on.)

He begins by telling me that he’s “inviting [me] to examine [myself] and [my] assumptions.”

clergy_facebook

At that point, one United Methodist “concern troll” posted the following:

This isn’t conferencing. This appears to be about winning points for one’s side. Where’s the listening? The attention to making sure all are understood and respected?

Both Mr Wesley and Paul might describe this as unprofitable conversation.

I can only imagine what “Mr Wesley” and Paul would say about my colleague’s viewpoint! What does Paul say of those in the Galatian church who were telling Gentiles that they must first get circumcised in order to become Christian?

As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

How “unprofitable” on Paul’s part!


St. Paul on divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7

June 12, 2015
FullSizeRender

Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians is a treasure trove.

As I’ve been preaching my way through Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Gordon Fee’s New International Commentary on 1 Corinthians, from Eerdmans, has been a treasure trove of insights. One example is his commentary on chapter 7, in which Paul applies Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce, along with his own pastoral judgment, to an issue that was as commonplace in ancient Corinth as it is in much of the world today: divorce and remarriage.

As Fee points out, the questions that Paul’s people were asking about divorce and remarriage are not at all the same questions that we ask. Some Christians in Corinth were seeking divorce—not in order to get remarried later on, or even to remove themselves from domestic strife—but to be single, celibate, and unhindered in their devotion to the Lord. (As if we had that problem today!)

Some Corinthians believed that marriage and sex were obstacles in their relationship with God, so they wanted to remove them entirely. As Paul says, quoting one of their slogans back to them: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”

In my last sermon (which I’ll post soon), I showed that Paul rejects this slogan without qualification. Even if husband and wife take a break from conjugal relations in order to commit themselves to prayer, for instance, it should only be for a brief period. It’s also likely that some of the Corinthians who were getting divorced were the same ones soliciting prostitutes in chapter 6. For most people, Paul argues, the temptations to sexual immorality associated with remaining single and celibate are too great.

So, Paul says, don’t get divorced, at least in most cases. He is aware of Jesus’ strict teaching on the subject (see verse 10) and applies it to a situation that Jesus doesn’t address: an unbelieving spouse wants to divorce the believer. Paul says in that situation, the believer shouldn’t work to reconcile the relationship. The believer, in that case, is free to divorce.

But is that believer then free to remarry? The Catholic Church has interpreted it that way. My ESV Study Bible notes interpret it that way. Most Protestant churches… well, you know their sad story of unconditional permissiveness on the subject. This so-called exception to Jesus’ strict teaching is often called the “Pauline privilege.” One can divorce and remarry not only in the case of sexual immorality (as most interpreters have Jesus saying), but also when one has an unbelieving spouse who wants divorce.

Then, in a daring feat of hermeneutical gymnastics, we apply this privilege of remarriage to many other situations that neither Jesus nor Paul describes.

I now agree with Dr. Fee, however, that Paul isn’t addressing remarriage in this passage—at all. To not be “enslaved,” for Paul, means to not be bound to reconcile the marriage, not to be free to remarry. As Fee says, it isn’t that Paul rules out remarriage in such cases, it’s just that he doesn’t refer to it.

Remember: the Corinthians aren’t interested in remarrying—that’s our contemporary question, not theirs. They want to get divorced and stay divorced in order to serve the Lord unencumbered.

So where does that leave us on the vexing question of remarriage? Two things need to be pointed out, Fee says:

First, Paul does not speak to the question of remarriage at all. If that is one’s concern, then it must be wrestled with in the much larger context of Scripture; and the answer is not clear-cut. In many cases such marriages are clearly redemptive. Even if it is not the ideal situation, God still redeems our fallenness, whether it be individuals or broken marriages. On the other hand, there is nothing redemptive in remarriage that is simply an excuse for legalized lust. Second, the real point of the passage needs to be given a fair hearing. When a married man or woman hears and responds to the call of the gospel but the wife or husband does not—at least at the same time—let the new believer consider the spouse sanctified, that is, also set apart for he gospel. And then let the believer so live that in due time they might “save” their wife or husband. That at least is the Good News this passage sets before the world.[†]

† Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 338-9.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 182 other followers