Thursday, December 23, 2021

Swim For the Shore

Several years ago, my family and I were at a family reunion at a lakeside resort in central Texas. Included in the resort were all kinds of activities. One was canoeing. The six of us (my wife, four kids, and me) decided to give it a try – three in one canoe, three in another with my wife and I serving as “captains” of our respective boats. We were a little nervous. The kids were young and neither of us were canoeing experts, but the attendant assured us that this type of canoe was nearly impossible to tip over. Well, you can guess what happened.

The canoe my wife was in tipped over. The water was only waist deep and I sensed no imminent danger, so I yelled out to my drenched wife and kids, “Swim for the shore.” Maybe I should have jumped in (there was no maybe about it in my wife’s mind). But I thought there was no sense me getting all wet as well. Needless to say, it was not one of my proudest moments.

While I was shouting helpful advice I spotted out of the corner of my eye that the attendant had taken notice. He ripped off his shirt, threw off his shoes and dove into the lake, and before you knew it he was there to help my family get safely back to shore.

I shouted advice. The attendant jumped in.

A truth that separates Christianity from every other world religion is that very fact. Other religions have their teachers and prophets shouting advice but only Christianity has God jumping into the lake to save us.

And that is what Christmas is really all about. God jumped in to save us.

The Gospel of John makes the claim that God become flesh in the person of Jesus.  Matthew’s Gospel refers to Jesus as Immanuel - God with us. The distinct declaration of Christianity is that God became one of us to rescue us.

No good advice could help us.

No encouragement could get us to shore.

No effort on our part could save us.

Our only hope was that God, in His mercy and grace, would appear in flesh and blood and carry us safely to shore.

Christmas is the celebration that He did just that. Far away and long-ago God became man in a humble manger in the humble town of Bethlehem. He jumped into our messy world. And we are saved.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Same Sex Marriage by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet - A Review

My, how things change! That is essentially how McDowell and Stonestreet begin their defense of the historic definition of marriage. The two thoughtfully take us through the unprecedented changes we have witnessed in the definition of marriage and the perception of homosexuality. For those of us on the other side of forty, we remember the days when homosexuality was talked about in hushed voices and even when it was listed as a psychological disorder by the American Psychological Association. Not so anymore. “For the high school and college students we work with today – even the most conservative, churchgoing ones - homosexuality is not a far-off issue like it was for us,” they write.

As Christians who hold to the inspiration of scripture the authors call us back to the biblical definition of marriage. While warning against discrimination or hatred to those who disagree, it is still critical to remember that words matter. “Marriage can’t mean everything, or else marriage means nothing,” they claim. They continue, “Excluding same-sex couples from marriage isn’t necessarily an act of animus or hate, any more than it would be to exclude college roommates or elderly, single sisters from marriage. They are excluded because their relationship, though sincerely loving and affectionate, just isn’t marriage. Marriage has a fixed nature, and by definition 'is something only a man and woman can form.’” (This book was written before the Supreme Court Case Obergefell v Hodges which ruled that same-sex couples do have the fundamental right to marriage. Some of the content of the book has to be understood with that in mind).

A substantial part of the book is dedicated to getting back to Scripture and reclaiming the definition of marriage that has been accepted almost unanimously by every culture in every age. They clearly communicate their conclusions using scripture and reason. In essence, we must know what biblical marriage is and understand to some extent why it is what it is and should stay that way.

The authors do a fine job of helping us understand how we got to where we are, primarily through the gay/lesbian’s strategy of presenting themselves as people just like everyone else – not any different than straight people, simply people who love differently. Through music, movies, television, and a carefully orchestrated media blitz homosexuality lost its “edginess”, so to speak, in our culture. I found this chapter in the book very enlightening.

The second part of the book (Part 1 is What Marriage Is and Why Does it Matter and Part 2 is What Can We Do for Marriage) addresses the Christian response to where we find ourselves. Real-life scenarios are discussed to help us live with wisdom in the awkward and difficult situations we may find ourselves in.  (eg., how do I respond to an invitation to a gay wedding?) These are most helpful! Included are more general helpful directions we can take as churches and individuals as we defend the historic view of marriage. Another beneficial feature of this book are the brief but helpful interviews scattered throughout the book with other influential church leaders.

For an overview of what is at stake in this matter, I highly recommend this work. McDowell and Stonestreet do not exegete the familiar passages we often turn to in defense of traditional marriage, but that is not their intent. There are other books that do a great job at that. What they do is call us back to a biblical understanding of marriage and prepare us to live out that belief faithfully, lovingly, and compassionately.  Both Stonestreet and McDowell are leading and respected evangelical voices in this and other cultural issues Christians must face and they well-deserve our attention.


Thursday, December 09, 2021

Holy Sexuality and the Gospel by Christopher Yuan - A Review

Christopher Yuan enters the discussion on same-sex relationships from a truly unique and personal perspective - a man who has same-sex attraction, has acted on that attraction, has lived as an unbeliever, and yet now holds to the historic Christian position that marriage is a one-man, one-woman, God ordained institution. His life and story add a level of credibility and sincerity that is difficult, if not impossible, to rise to. Yuan is not only an observer, he is a combatant and commands respect as both observers and combatants seek God’s truth on sexuality.

A clarion call of our generation is to understand this teaching leading with compassion. “How can anyone hold to a teaching that marginalizes people?” is a common objection to the historic view. Yuan warns us, “But compassion without wisdom can be careless, even reckless. Wisdom without compassion is useless, even pharisaical. True compassion flows from wisdom, and true wisdom results in compassion – there should be no dichotomy. The real Christian life is built on godly wisdom.” This frames the tone of his book. Where does wisdom lead us and how can we live out that wisdom with compassion?

Wisdom leads us to accept the mystery of same-sex attraction. “I never chose this. I just have to be honest and authentic and accept the truth that I’m gay. This is who I am,” he says. Wisdom leads us to resist the lure of romanticism to the exclusion of reason. “It (romanticism) revered sense over intellect, emotion over reason. (It is) the assumption that humans are inherently good, then human emotions (feelings, affection, desires, etc.) are also inherently good.” He later writes, “We let experience supersede essence – what I feel is who I am. In other words, psychology usurps biology.”

The next order of business for Yuan is to address the question, “Why are our emotions and wisdom at odds with each other?” The simple and yet complex answer to that is The Fall. Sin has infected us all. Adam’s sin has corrupted all humankind to the point that “sin in general feels normal and natural to all of us.”

To break free from sin’s curse we must pursue what Yuan calls “holy sexuality.” “Holy sexuality consists of two paths: chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.” Yuan now moves this discussion to not only the same-sex-attracted but to all of us. The challenge is to understand sin and temptation as it presents itself in all of us.

Yuan ends his book with a challenge to Christians and to the church in particular to creatively, lovingly and compassionately live out the wisdom of scripture as we hold to “holy sexuality.”

I heartily recommend Yuan’s book and would also point to his more biographical account Out of Far Country (which I have not read). Any reservations I have of Holy Sexuality would be Yuan’s teaching of original sin and the importance he places on this doctrine to advance his argument. As presented, I have some objections and would advise the reader to give consideration to other positions on the effect of the Fall.


Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Acorns, acorns everywhere!

I love fall. I love the cooler weather. I love the changing colors. I love football. I love fall with this exception—raking leaves.

I have a big oak tree out in my front hard and it is amazing how many leaves that tree can produce. I was out raking the other day and not only was I amazed at all the leaves but also amazed at all the acorns. So not only do I bag up tons of leaves but also hundreds of acorns. Within each acorn is the potential for another oak tree and as beautiful as the tree is, the last thing I need is more oak trees in my front hard. Every year I scoop up the acorns and for the ones that don’t get scooped up in the fall I find myself pulling up the tiny saplings that begin to burst through the ground in the spring.

This fall as I was picking up all those potential oak trees I thought to myself, “That poor tree. All it wants to do is make more oak trees and here I am foiling its plan.” If trees had feelings I suppose it would be sad.

But you know what? Year after year the oak tree keeps making acorns. In spite of its failure to reproduce it doesn't give up.  Each fall there will be acorns because that is what an oak tree does, whether or not it makes more oak trees. Oak trees make acorns!

Does it sometimes seem to you that all your good deeds, all your invitations to people to come to church, all your love to others—that all of it often produces nothing? Keep on doing those things because that is what we do, regardless of the results. Christians plant seeds!

Even though that old oak tree has never made another oak tree in all these years I do know this—the squirrels love the acorns! I guess those acorns have more than one purpose. Who knows what squirrels in your life are being blessed?


Galatians 6:9 (NIV) —  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV) — Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.