A birthday poem for my wife


From opposite sides of the world we met
Two strangers on a road
Neither taking a second glance at the other
Until the day our paths unexpectantly crossed
Then everything changed.

Mischievously planned by the closest of friends
In good faith (it must be added) and submersed in prayer
HE was in it, from the beginning
The timing impeccable, his fingerprints untraceable
Our lives would never be the same.

I saw you, standing there
Listening intently, conversing wisely
With those who sought your counsel and care
“What is this?” I asked myself, “here’s something I never saw before”
Women such as these, I know, are rare.

I was betwixt, my heart and head in a mix
My life was surrendered to another
“For you, my Master, I have given my life
This cannot possibly be in the plan – can it?
“Never more so,” was his answer.

Love of my life
You have befriended me, loved me and served me
You have counselled me, cared for me and taught me
To act wisely and care deeply
He has beautifully used you to shape and perfect me.

Everyday with you brings joy
Talking together, walking together
Resting together, waking together
Our lives are so intertwined
I hardly can imagine life without you.

For all the years that have been
As well as those to come
Times of sorrow and sadness as well as joy and gladness
I give thanks to my God for you.
Happy birthday, my love.

I met Francelle during my first year of Seminary training.  We were asked to head up a new bible study for our Young Adults ministry.  It started purely as a working relationship (set up by our Pastor and his wife) and then changed as God drew us closer and closer together.  The third verse describes the night that I was watching Francelle from the other side of the room, conversing with some young women.  That was the moment I was first drawn to her, and have continued to be drawn, ever since. 

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I am a Child of God

Among the many wonderful benefits of our salvation, none is more uplifting and assuring than the doctrine of adoption.  It brings comfort to the most troubled and distressed soul.

Adoption is the gracious and loving act of God where he takes children of Adam – those who are sinners by nature and by choice, and He brings them into His household, into his family, and grants to them all the legal entitlements of being a child of God.

There are a number of passages in the Scripture that teach adoption; one of the clearest is in Galatians chapter 4 verses 4-7:

“When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.”

Notice how the entire Godhead is at work here.  The Father chooses us for adoption.  Ephesians 1:5 tells us that, He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will”.  The Son goes to the cross and redeems us and secures our adoption legally.  And then the Spirit comes and indwells us and assures us that we are God’s children, so that we cry out “Abba Father.”   The result is we are no longer slaves but sons.

It all seems too good to be true doesn’t it?  Like a fairy-tale.  But it’s not a fairy-tale. It’s the story of every Christian in every age.  From slavery to Sonship through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Every Christian is a rags to riches story.

Don’t you find this truth to be absolutely marvellous?  John the Apostle thought it was.  He exclaims in 1 John 3:1:

“See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him.”

Notice his astonishment – “See what great love!” (or “Behold, what manner of love”).  He’s amazed, astounded, and stunned over the fact that God’s love would be so great as to make him – a rebellious sinner, a son in God’s own family.

Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon on adoption and this is what he says:

“A man, when he adopts a child sometimes is moved by its extraordinary beauty, or at other times by its intelligent manners and winning disposition. But, beloved, when God passed by the field in which we were lying, he saw no tears in our eyes till he put them there himself; he saw no contrition in us until he had given us repentance; and there was no beauty in us that could induce him to adopt us — on the contrary, we were everything that was repulsive; and if he had said, when he passed by, ‘You are cursed, be lost forever,‘ it would have been nothing but what we might have expected from a God who had been so long provoked, and whose majesty had been so terribly insulted.

 But no; he found a rebellious child, a filthy, frightful, ugly child; he took it to his bosom, and said, ‘You who are dirty, you are comely in my eyes through my son Jesus; unworthy though you are, yet I cover you with his robe, and in thy brother’s garments I accept you;’ and taking us, all unholy and unclean, just as we were, he took us to be his—his children, his forever.”

Christian, do you grasp the astonishing and astounding reality of your adoption?

Adoption is not a recent or modern invention.  It has been around for centuries.  Paul’s readers would have been very familiar with it.  Adoption was a legal act in Roman times and it was taken very seriously.  The adopted sons enjoyed the same privileges as natural born sons.  According to the Roman law the adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family.  He got a new father and he became the heir of his new father’s estate.  He became co-heir with the other sons in the family.  The old life was completely wiped out.  All debts were cancelled, and he was absolutely the son of his new father.

Paul tells us that this is what God has done for us. We were sons and daughters of Adam.  We inherited his sin and guilt.  God took us out of that family and adopted us into His new family.  We have been completely released of all responsibility and debts of sin because Jesus paid the debt in full.  And we inherit everything that Jesus inherits.  All that is his is now ours.

Adoption applied

The implications of this doctrine of adoption in our Christian lives are rich and profound.  I would like to offer three of them.

1. Intimacy with the Father

Intimacy is what we experience when we feel when we really know and are known by another person.   An intimate friend is someone we feel very close to; they know us at a deep level.  When intimacy is damaged or broken, there is a feeling of distancing with that person.

That’s what children of God experience in their relationship with God the Father.  They are intimate with him and he with them.  There is a deep sense of closeness, of being known, and of love for each other.

I am a father of four children.  I have very fond memories of going into their rooms when they were asleep.  I would look down upon them, as see them sleeping peacefully.  I would look at their faces and a great sense of love and affection for that child would well up in my heart.  Well, I am certain the Father looks down upon his children and experiences that same kind of affection for us.  He loves us.  He adores us.  We are his children.

2. Trust in the Father

Children are very trusting – have you noticed that?  Sometimes they are too trusting!  Sadly, as they grow older, they grow less and less trusting of their parents and anyone else for that matter.  Your heavenly father wants you to be like a child, trusting him with everything.  I know that’s hard.  We want to be in control.  We struggle handing over the wheel of our lives to someone else.

Your heavenly father can be trusted with every detail of your life – no matter how insignificant or small.  “Look at the birds,” Jesus said, “they don’t sow or reap or gather into barns (like you do), yet your heavenly father feeds them.  Aren’t you worth more than they?”  He cares for birds.  Dum birds.  You are more important to him than a dumb bird.  So trust him.  Stop fretting and trust him.  Don’t lose sleep over a bill you can’t pay, or someone you can’t change or a problem you can’t fix.  Trust him.  He’s got the whole world in his hands.  He can handle your problems.  Trust him.

3. Love for the Father’s family

Not only do we become sons and daughters of the living God.  We become brothers and sisters of each other.  You know how it is with your earthly brothers and sisters.  They can be a bit of a pain at times, can’t they?  But you still love them.  You love them because they are family.  And so, it is in the family of God.

The Christians that are in your life – the one’s you sit beside in church on Sunday or work alongside – they are not simply friends and acquaintances.  They are your family.  Jesus calls you to love them and serve them and encourage them.  He calls you to pray for them and watch out for them.  And that means each and every one of them; not just the ones you like!  When you care for them and serve them and show kindness towards them and forgive them when they wrong us, your heavenly Father smiles down upon you.  For in the same way you show love to them, you show love to him also.

Conclusion

The Father loves you.  It can sound so trite, can’t it?  But it’s not.  He loves you.  He has proven his love by sending his own Son to redeem you.  He has doubly proved it by then sending his Spirit to indwell you and place his stamp on you.

Who am I?  I am a child of God.  I have been adopted into God’s family.  He says to me, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

This is my identity.  And this is my destiny.

This post was based on a sermon called I am a Child of God.  It is part of a series on the Christian’s identity that we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

Five Unforgettable Days


When I boarded the plane in Nelson on Saturday heading to a Student Life conference, I did so with mixed feelings.  There was a sense of excitement about what God was going to do in the lives of those I would be ministering to.  But there was also a sense of anxiety: How would I be received? Would the content of my messages be suitable for my hearers?  Would I be able to connect with them?  By the second day those fears had faded.  By the third day they had disappeared altogether.  On the final day, I didn’t want to leave.

The conference was in Queenstown (I know, suffering for the Lord – right?).  I’ve never been to Queenstown in the winter and I have to say, it’s worth it.  The views are breath-taking.  The camp was positioned right on the lake front with 360⁰ views of mountains, towering above us on all sides.  Each morning I would walk out of the dining room on to the balcony of the camp building and gaze at the awesome scene in front of me.

Those mountains – formidable, beautiful, immovable, and majestic, just like the One who made them.  Wonder turned to worship as I gazed at them.  I was reminded how insignificant and small I was, compared with the great I AM.  It was good tonic for the soul before stepping before a crowd who will be attentive to my every word.  Preachers are always prone to growing big heads.  The mountains helped to put things in perspective.

Let me tell you a little about Student Life.  Student life (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) operates on six of our university campuses – Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago.  Their mission is “to turn lost students into Christ-centred labourers.”  From what I saw over those five days, they are right on target.

There were around 80 students attending, all at different stages of their study and their Christian journey.  Each year that a student attends a conference, they are part of a training track where they are equipped to share their faith, grow in their relationship with God, disciple new believes and then in their final year of study, learn how to live and speak for Jesus in the workplace.

Once my job was done (speaking at the morning session), I jumped into one of these tracks to see what they do.  I was suitably impressed.  By the time a student has finished university, they are fully equipped to make disciples and have likely been on at least one or two summer missions.  They learn that life is not about making lots of money and being successful in their careers.  It’s about serving Christ and reaching the lost.  If we could replicate this kind of equipping in the lives of those who attend our local churches, it would turn the world upside down.

I was also impressed with the caliber of the staff.  After finishing their degree and completing their training, a student can apply to be a staff member.  They raise their own financial support and work on campus full-time.  I know the pressures of full-time ministry.  I’m a pastor.  But I don’t have to raise my own financial support.  And I don’t lose a third of my congregation every year.  Nor do I wear myself out silly, staying up to all hours of the night talking with students who don’t understand the meaning or need for sleep.  I  take my hat off to these leaders.  Their reward is in heaven.

Enjoyed some quality time with Drey, the leader of Student Life in Otago. Drey became a Christian during his first year at Uni through a student outreach.

They do experience however, a measure of reward here on the earth.  It comes in the form of life – new spiritual life.  And if you are a follower of Jesus, you know that nothing is more thrilling and more exhilarating than seeing people come to faith.  There were a number of students attending this conference who were not Christians.  They were part of what they call the “explorers track.” While the others were in training sessions, they were learning all about the Christian faith.  On the second day, one of them gave her life to Christ.  On my last day, while waiting for my flight at the airport, I received a phone call from one of the staff members: three more students had just committed their lives to Christ.

I don’t get to see this sort of thing in my church.  Conversions are (sadly) few and require an immense amount of patience and hard work.  I’m not saying the leaders at Student Life don’t work hard.  They do.  It’s just that the people they are working with are young men and women in their prime who are making life-altering decisions.  You couldn’t catch them at a better time.  Four young individuals, who were previously bound for eternal separation with God, have now become children of God.  Heaven rejoices.  And so do I.

I’ll never forget these five days.  I’ve never bonded with a group so quickly in such a brief period of time.  I feel as if part of me was left there and I have taken part of them back home with me.  Thanks Enoch and the leadership team for inviting me.  May God continue to use your ministry to bring more people into his heavenly kingdom and may many more young men and women be equipped for serving the Saviour and seeking the lost.

Who am I?


Who are you?  What is it about you that defines you?  Is it your job or career?  Is it your role as a parent or wife?  Or is it some great achievement you have attained in life?  How you answer this is important because it will tell you something about the way you understand yourself.  It will tell you about your identity.

Some find their identity in their career.  Work is not just a means to an end.  It is their end.  That’s what they live for.  Others find their identity in relationships.  They view themselves as someone’s wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend.  Some find their identity in their possessions.  Others find their identity in their sexual orientation.

For the Christian, none of those things have a bearing on their true identity.  When you go to the bible, you never find Paul or James or Peter identifying themselves by their job title or who they are related to or what they own or by their sexual orientation.  They use an entirely different set of self-designations.  These designations, which reveal the Christian’s true identity, have become lost in the church today.

I am in Christ

Foundational to your new identity as a Christian is this truth: you are in Christ.  The term “in Christ” is one of the Apostle Paul’s favourite expressions.  He uses it more than 160 times in his letters in the New Testament.  The term “Christian” in comparison, is only found three times in the bible, twice by Luke in the book of Acts and other by the Apostle Peter – never by Paul.  So, we know this an important concept.  He doesn’t want us to miss it.

So what does it mean to be in Christ?  Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.  To be in Christ does not mean to be ‘inside’ Christ as a person is inside a house, or tools are kept inside a toolbox.  It is not a matter of physical location.  It is a spiritual reality.  “In Christ” is Paul’s shorthand for our union Christ.  Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, defines union with Christ as, “that intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.”

You say, “I’m still having difficulty getting my head around this.  It’s not like being in a room or a house and it’s not like belonging to a club or an association.  Then what is it?”  The answer is it’s the opposite of being “in Adam”.

Christ, the Second Adam

In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul says this: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

Note the two key expressions here – “in Adam” verses “in Christ.”  When God looks over all humanity he places every single man and woman into one of two categories: those who are “in Adam” and those who are “in Christ.”  There is no third category.  Those who are “in Adam” – those who have Adam as their representative head, will die.  Those who are “in Christ – those who have Jesus as their representative head, will live.  This is the idea that Paul develops in Romans chapter 5:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

God placed Adam in the garden and gave him specific instructions not to eat from a certain tree.  If he did he would die.  He disobeyed, and so did Eve.  They both ate and guess what?  They both died.  The first death was spiritual and instantaneous.  Their relationship with God was broken – cut off.  Eventually they died physically.  But here’s the catch: Adam was no ordinary man.  God appointed Adam to represent the entire human race.  What he did affected us all.

So when Paul writes in verse 12, “in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned,” he is referring, not to our individual sins but to the fact that we were united to Adam as our representative head.  When Adam sinned, we all sinned.  And we all suffer the consequences of his sin.  Look also at verse 18 – Paul is saying the same thing:

“So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone…” (Romans 5:18)

And again, in verse 19,

“For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…” (Romans 5:19) 

In answer to the question “Who am I?”, we would all have to say therefore, “I am a sinner.”  That is how God identifies me.  I was made a sinner through Adam.

You say, “Well that’s just not fair.  I never asked for Adam to be my representative head!”  No, and I didn’t ask for the Queen to be the head of our State and I didn’t ask Steve Hanson to be the coach for our national rugby team.  But that’s the way it is.

But here’s the good news: what Adam ruined, Christ reclaimed.  What Adam lost, Christ restored.  That is why Jesus is called the second or last Adam.  The first Adam turned from the Father in a garden; the last Adam turned to the Father in a garden.  The first Adam substituted himself for God; the last Adam substituted himself for sinners.  The first Adam sinned beside a tree; the last Adam bore our sin on a tree.  The first Adam died as a sinner; the last Adam died for sinners.

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “It isn’t fair that Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, came to die for the sin of humankind. I don’t want to be represented by Christ.”  Yes, Adam sank our spiritual ship, but God has thrown a life-preserver to us.  His name is Jesus.  What Adam did was the worst thing that ever happened, but what Christ did was the best thing that ever happened.

To be ‘’in Christ’’ therefore is to trust in him in such a way that we are united to him in the all his saving acts.  When he died on that cross, I died with him.  When he was buried, I was buried.  And when he rose to new life, I rose to life with him.  The day I put my trust in Christ, my union with Adam was severed.  He ceased from being my representative head.  I formed a brand union with Christ, who became my new representative head.

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

Consider these words from John Wesley’s great hymn, “And Can it Be?”

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold, I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own

You see there in line 3, Wesley is talking about representative headship.  He’s talking about being united with Christ.  This is not “deeper theology” for spiritual elites.  This is fundamental to the gospel.  And it’s crucial to understanding our identity as a Christian.

As a Christian, you are not defined by what you do – your job or your career.  You are not defined by your possessions – the things you own.  You are not defined by your role as a wife or mother or a husband or a father.  Nor are you defined by your successes or your failures in this world.  When God looks at you, he sees none of these things.  When God looks at you, he sees who you are in Christ.

  • You are chosen (Eph 1:4)
  • You are redeemed (Eph 1:5)
  • You are loved (1 John 3:1)
  • You are forgiven (Eph 1:7)
  • You are a son or daughter of the living God (Eph 1:5)
  • You are a saint (Eph 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 2:1)
  • You are dead to sin (Rom 6:11)
  • You are spiritually alive (Rom 6:11)
  • You are Christ’s friend (John 15:15)
  • You are God’s workmanship, created in Christ for good works (Eph 2:10)
  • You are a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)
  • You are a co-heir with Christ (Rom 8:17)
  • You are chosen (1 Peter 2:4)
  • You are called (Gal 5:13)
  • You are the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)
  • You are the light of the world (Matt 5:14-15; Phil 2:15)
  • You are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17)
  • You are an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5:20)
  • You are God’s prized possession (1 Pet 2:9)

Don’t listen to what the word tells you who you are.  And don’t let the devil start telling you who you are.  Let God tell you who you are.  It will free you in a thousand ways.

This post was based on a sermon called I am in Christ.  It is part of a series on the Christian’s identity that we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

 

 

 

Dissonance


Last Sunday at Grace was a difficult day for me.  Later I learned that I was not alone.  It was a difficult morning for a number of people on the worship team.  Things just didn’t sync.  There were sounds made as well as words spoken that didn’t harmonize.

There’s a word for this kind of phenomenon.  It’s called dissonance.

Dissonance is when you have musical chords that contain acoustic frequencies that interfere with one another and set our nerves on edge.  The result is a kind of jarring.  Listeners with a musical ear will pick it up.  Those who don’t might not.

Driving away from church on Sunday I sensed a deep unrest within.  There was something about the morning that wasn’t right.  There was a spiritual dissonance.  Even before the service started our team was unsettled.  Our Service Leader tried leading us into an extended time of prayer.  Suddenly, one of the fold-back speakers exploded (at least that what it sounded like).  Everyone jumped, setting us more on edge.  Prayers were short and lacked heart.  There were long periods of silence.  One or two people shuffled their feet.

Dissonance.

And I had a part in it.  I was speaking on the glorious reality of being united “in Christ.”  There were two places in that message where I went off script.  Once when I was encouraging our people to look at their bibles while I was reading the text.  I spoke too roughly and harshly.  My tone was out.  I was exhorting them to do something good, but not in the right way.

Dissonance.

In the second occasion, I was drawing their attention to the words of a great hymn by Charles Wesley.  Many of the great hymns of the past are filled with profound spiritual truth about the gospel – unlike much of our modern worship music.  This fact has always been an irritation for me and this irritation was vocalized, rather vividly, right there on the spot.  I had a mini-rant about the superficiality of modern worship songs.  It was unscripted, a little too forceful and it didn’t fit with the rest of the message.  Unsurprisingly, it irked one or two of our musicians.  One took offense and wrote to me about it the next day.

I had no doubt that Satan had a hand in this.  He has an aversion to harmony, particularly among God’s people.  He uses all the tricks he can think of to bring about discord, disagreement, dissension and disturbance.  He stirs up feelings of unease and agitation over every little thing (and big thing).  He’ll use feedback speakers and human speakers.  He’ll use kids crying and tea cups dropping.  He’ll use anything he can to cause disruption of what God intends to do in and through his people, which is to bring them into a closer and fuller and richer relationship with himself and each other.

What I found interesting, in the days following, was that an equal number of people were greatly encouraged by the morning and sensed that God spoke to them from his Word in a powerful and real way.  Those of us in ministry can be heartened by that.  Despite the enemy’s tactics; despite his meddling and interfering causing distraction, disruption and discord, God’s Spirit is at work bringing about beauty, unity and coherence.

So, we might say, heaven’s harmony overcomes the devil’s dissonance.  The Spirit of God wins out over the spirits of the evil one.  Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

There is still a lesson here for me (as well as for all of us).  I need to be on guard.  I need to stay alert, spiritually speaking.  I am prone to pride and self-promotion.  I am passionate about the truth, but that same passion can easily manifest itself in the flesh.  I must guard my heart.  I must also listen carefully to my critics – there will always be some element of truth in what they say.

Finally, I must remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).  Therefore, I must take up the armour of God, fasten my belt and take a stand.

Here’s hoping this Sunday I will be better prepared.  And so might you.

Homosexuality and the Church

A massive shift has taken place in our culture over the past decades regarding homosexuality – from condemnation to tolerance, from tolerance to acceptance, from acceptance to approval and from approval to full endorsement.  Today, those who support the LGBT movement are considered enlightened, progressive, open-minded, and inclusive.  Those who dare say anything against it are considered unloving, intolerant, narrow-minded, and bigoted.

That places Christians in a difficult position.  Traditionally the church has understood that the bible teaches homosexuality is sin.  That doesn’t wash very well in our modern, progressive society.  For this reason, many Christians are rethinking their beliefs about the issue.  In 2015 Time magazine published an article entitled, “How Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage.”  Support for gay marriage has increased by double digits over the past decade; the fastest change is among younger evangelicals.  Their support for gay marriage jumped from 20% in 2003 to 42% in 2014.  We’re seeing a similar shift is taking place here in New Zealand.  Last month, Anglican bishops at a synod in Wellington voted in favour of blessing couples in committed same-sex relationships.  Discussions like this are taking place in the Presbyterian church.  Many churches are taking a softer position on the issue or seeking some kind of “third way” option.

To make matters more confusing, vigorous attempts are being made by Christians in the LGBT camp to reinterpret the passages in Scripture that directly address homosexuality.  They claim many of the Old Testament passages are obsolete, that Paul and the early church leaders weren’t as enlightened with regard to sexual orientation as we are today, and all prohibitions against homosexual behaviour refer only to orgies, rape and paedophilia – not loving, consensual relationships.

We need clarity on this issue.  We need clarity for the sake of God’s church, we need clarity for the sake of the gospel, and we need clarity for the sake of those who are living openly gay lifestyles.  Is homosexual activity a sin or something that God blesses, or is it something else?  We’ll look firstly at what the Bible has to say on the subject, then we will consider some of the objections that are raised, and I’ll wind up with a few concluding remarks.

There are five passages in the Bible that speak directly address homosexuality: Genesis 2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6.  I will deal with what I think are the three most controversial passages.

Genesis 2:21-25

God’s plan for the human race involves two people coming together, a man and a woman to form a one-flesh union.  This union is called marriage.  The argument, from the revisionists, is this is not restricted to a man and woman.  The same intimacy, companionship and sharing of life can take place between two men and two women.  God’s purpose for this union, is companionship.  That does not require two people from the opposite sex.  Gay couples make wonderful companions.

That may be true, but this misses what is clearly stated in the text: Eve is not only Adam’s companion, but his opposite.  She is the same, yet she is also very different – physically, genetically, and psychologically.  In the one-flesh union of a man and woman you have a fitting, a connecting, and a uniting that cannot be simulated with a same-sex couple no matter how hard you try.

Furthermore, this interpretation overlooks another divine purpose for marriage: procreation.  God created the man and the woman, so he could bring them together to reproduce (Genesis 1:28).  Marriage, by definition, is a union which produces children.  Homosexual unions by their very nature cannot fulfil this procreative purpose.

Thirdly, it overlooks another very important purpose for marriage: a picture of symbol of Christ and his church.  This is spelled out for us in Ephesians 5:31-32:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

Marriage is intended to reflect a heavenly marriage between Christ and his people.  We, his people, are referred to in Scripture as his bride.  A union of two men or two women cannot reflect a union of Christ and his bride.

Romans 1

Paul’s aim in Romans chapter 1 is to lay a case that every single person in the world is guilty before a holy God and in need of salvation.  God has revealed himself clearly in creation but instead of acknowledging God people suppress the truth and makes three exchanges:

  1. They exchange the glory of God for the foolishness of idolatry (v.23)
  2. They exchange the truth of God for a lie (v.24)
  3. They give up natural relations with members of the opposite sex for relations with those of the same sex (vv.26-27)

It is this third exchange that is under consideration for this subject.  Here’s the text in question:

“For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.” (Romans 1:26–27)

If we follow Paul’s logic, when people reject God, they find themselves craving what they are not naturally designed to do.  They exchange God’s natural design for sex and sexual intimacy for what is unnatural.  Sex is turned into something God didn’t design for it (bear in mind Paul is speaking not so much to individuals as society as a whole.  This is what happens when an entire people group turn away from God.  Individuals get caught up in it).

The revisionist argument is Paul has ungodly homosexual activity in mind.  He’s talking about those who abuse their homosexual preference, who are not satisfied with a long-term, loving relationship and instead lust after new experiences.  The word “unnatural” (ESV “contrary to nature”) however, was used in Paul’s day for any and all homosexual activity.  Plato, Philo and Josephus all used it this way as did the Stoic philosophers.  It’s a hard push to make this text say anything other than what on the surface (as well as underneath), seems obvious.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

“Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.”

In these verses Paul describes the kinds of people who – unless they repent, will be excluded from the kingdom of God.  Included in this group are homosexuals – males who have sex with males.  You see the stakes a high here.  The eternal destiny of souls hangs in the balance on this one.

Here again the revisionists step in and say this is not referring to committed, consensual, and loving same-sex relationships.  This is referring to homosexual rape and prostitution.  But the terms that Paul uses are so very clear.  Literally the words translate “bedders of men” or “those who take males to bed” and “being yielded to touch” or “being passive in a same-sex relationship.”  Paul couldn’t be clearer.  He is addressing both active and passive partners in homosexual sex.

At this point it is likely that a few objections are thrown up.  I’ll cover two of the main ones.

Objection #1:  It’s not my fault I’m gay, I was born that way.

You’ve probably heard of the “gay gene” that was discovered in the early ‘90’s.  It was never substantiated.  Recently, the American Psychological Association publication made an admission that there’s no homosexual “gene”:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.

That is not to say that someone with same-sex attraction woke up one day and decided that they might start having feelings for people of the same sex.  What it is saying is no one is born homosexual.  You might have a predisposition toward same-sex attraction.  But that doesn’t mean you are hardwired to be homosexual.

We all have predispositions toward things – some of them being undesirable.  It might be a predisposition toward anger and rage or depression or binge-drinking or some kind of addiction.  But does that mean you must act on every one of them?  No, we also have the power of choice.  And sure, the choice not to drink will be more difficult for the person who is prone to binge-drinking than the one who is not.  But it’s a choice that can be made.  Imagine if everyone acted on every impulse and predisposition – what a mess our world would be!

Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian who became a Christian chose, in obedience to Christ, to renounce a homosexual lifestyle and is now married with children.  Ed Shaw is an Anglican minister in Bristol, England.  He experienced same-sex attraction since he was young.  In obedience to Christ he has embraced a life of what he calls “hope-filled celibacy.”  Is he still tempted?  Sure he is, just as anyone who is attracted to the opposite sex is tempted.  Ed says he doesn’t allow his desires or sexual orientation to define him.  It’s his identity in Christ that defines him.

Both Rosaria and Ed have made choices to deny self and follow Christ.  One is happily married and the other happily single.  The problem is our world has given sex this exalted status as if that is where we find our purpose and our identity and our fulfillment.  All sexual impulses should be acted on.  If you don’t, you are not being true to yourself.  Well Jesus is the fullest example of what it means to be human, and he never had sex.  Is it really wrong therefore, to say to our Christian brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction, you don’t need to follow through on those desires?  That there are alternatives; one’s in which God promises blessing and fulfillment?

Objection #2:  Surely a same-sex relationship is pleasing to God if it’s committed and faithful?

A promiscuous gay lifestyle with multiple partners and one-night stands is one thing, but what about two people who love each other and are faithful?  Surely that is OK.  It’s a compelling argument.  But you could say the same thing regarding a young unmarried couple who are sleeping together, or a husband who leaves his wife for another woman.  “He’s much happier now.  He loves her and they are committed.”  Does that make it right?

It’s possible in many areas of life, to demonstrated good qualities while doing something wrong.  Sam Allberry remarks on this matter, “Activity that is faithful and committed is no more permissible in God’s eyes than activity that’s promiscuous and unfaithful.”  Not if God has forbidden it.

Conclusion

Let me say a few words by way of summary and conclusion:

Firstly, as Christians, whenever we find that the Scriptures clash with our culture (or even our desires), it is not Scripture that should change We should change.  Because the bible is God’s Word.  Scripture, not our culture or our desires, has the final word.  God is not a kill-joy.  He knows what he is doing.  His prohibitions and promises are intended for a greater joy.  When God says “no” to something, it is because he intends a better “yes.”

Secondly, we need to stand together against all kinds of hate and bigotry.  Homophobia has no place in our culture and it should equally have no place in God’s church.  We must treat people of the gay community with love and respect.  They are people made in the image of God.  They are individuals for whom Christ died.  Let’s love them into the kingdom.

Thirdly, let’s always remember that the real issue is not whether we are gay or straight.  The real issue is whether we are willing to surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Christ.  The key issue isn’t whether we’re LGBT or straight or anything else. The real problem is that we’re proud, and that we want to be autonomous rather than submissive to God.  The answer, for us all, is repentance and faith.

And that’s where we need to begin – first with ourselves, each and every day, and then with others.  The real issue is what are we doing with Jesus.  That’s always the no.1 issue.  That’s what keeps people from the Kingdom of God.  And it’s what keeps all of us from a life of fulfilment, blessing and abundant joy.

This post was based on a sermon on Homosexuality in the Church.  It is part of a Hot Topics series we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here. (our apologies: the first 12 min of recording is poor in quality). You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.

Here is a video I showed to our congregation the morning I gave this message.  It is from Rosaria Butterfield (whom I referred to earlier) on what most surprised her about Christians when she became one.  It’s really worth your watch.

 

Evolution v. Creation

The evolution/creation controversy has been going on for the past 200 years and shows no signs of letting up.  There is no end to the number of books and literature written on the subject and the debates between leading atheists and Christians always guarantee a packed house.

You’ll often hear the issue is one of science v. religion.  That’s incorrect.  It’s an issue of theism v. atheism.  This is not a clash between the bible and biology.  It’s a collision of two worldviews or two belief systems.  Darwin’s theory of evolution is just that – a theory.  It’s a belief system, in the same way that Christianity is a belief system.

So, let’s take some time to compare these two belief systems by placing them side by side.  We’ll start with evolution.

Evolution

The simple definition of evolution is change over time.  A sapling changes as it grows into a tree.  A baby changes into a toddler.  When used in this sense, evolution is not a problem for the Christian.

A second definition of evolution is the process where minor changes take place in an organism or species.  We call that micro-evolution.  This might better be called variation, or adaptation, but the changes are “horizontal” in effect, not “vertical”, from one species into another.  Again, this fits perfectly with a world that God created.

The third definition of evolution is macro-evolutionThe theory is, given enough change and time, one species could develop new body parts and become an entirely new organism.  Over millions of years, earwigs become elephants.  This is the evolution that Darwin proposed in his Origin of Species.

Many refinements were made to Darwin’s theory over the years; the most notable being Johann Mendel and his discoveries in the field of genetics and gene mutation.  The result was Neo-Darwinism, a theory that is still taught in classrooms in schools today.  Simply put, Neo-Darwinism teaches that all living things on earth evolved from a single source and driven by genetic mutation and natural selection gave rise, without any divine intervention or guidance, to all the various life forms on earth.  Scientists now had an explanation for the origin of life that didn’t involve God.  Or so they thought.

New discoveries have been made in the field of genetics.  We now know that mutations in genes are harmful.  Many diseases are caused by, or contributed to, by faulty genes.  Because mutations tend to be harmful, our bodies work hard to correct them before the cell can copy them.  The mechanisms of nature, then, work hard against mutation.

Neo-Darwinism also cannot explain the origin of life.  It presumes the existence of reproducing organisms.  Attempts have been made to calculate the probability of random chance causing these basic chemicals to form into the complex chemicals found in living organisms.  The probability of such an event is in the order of 1 in 10⁴⁰⁰⁰⁰⁰.  In other words, not very likely!

There’s a basic axiom of biology and it goes like this: life only arises from life.  No biologist today would dare say that you can get life from anything other than life.  You cannot get living matter from non-living matter.  Something or someone started it all.  And that leads us to the opposing theory for the origin of life: Creation.

Creation

The bible teaches that God created the universe ex nihilo – out of nothing, using no pre-existing materials.  Hebrews 11:3 says that:

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

All Christians believe that God created the universe ex nihilo.  The sticking point is over how long God took to complete creation.  Christians fall into one of two camps – the Young Earth Creationists (YEC) and the Old Earth Creationists (OEC).  So let’s have brief look at the alternate views.  Not one of these is without its problems.

The 24-hour theory

This is the oldest and most traditional of interpretations.  It states that the Hebrew word yom – day (day 1, day 2, day 3 etc.) refers to a 24-hour period, or a solar day.  The claim is whenever the word day (yom) is used with a number, it always refers to a 24-hour day.  Another line of support is the Sabbath law laid down in Exodus 20.  Moses’ argument is God worked six days and then rested on the seventh day, therefore man must aslo rest on the seventh day.  That commandment loses all its meaning if Genesis 1 does not refer to a 24-hour period.

There are two main problems however.  The first is a massive amount of activity you have to push into day 6, with Adam naming all the animals being one of them.  The entire animal kingdom, including birds and insects, in one 24-hour day?  Some are doubtful.  The other problem is the geological and cosmological evidence (namely the distance of the stars and the speed of light) work against the universe being created in six 24-hour days.

The gap theory

The gap theory (also known as the ruin-restoration theory) states there is an unknown gap of time between the first two verses of Genesis.  In this “gap”, Satan rebelled causing God to pronounce judgement upon the once perfect earth.  It is this judgement that brought about the conditions described in verse 2 (formless and void; darkness over the earth).  Then in verse 3 God began to transform the earth from a chaotic state to a perfect state.

The gap theory was very popular in the early 19th century when geologists were finding “undeniable evidence” that the earth was billions of years old.  Here was a theory that could fit with that, while still refuting evolution.  The major problem with this view is there is no mention of a gap anywhere in Scripture, nor of God judging the world when Satan fell.

The day-age theory

This theory states the word ‘day’ refers to lengthy periods of time lasting thousands to millions of years.  So each day represents a “day” of undetermined length.  Astronomers have argued for years that it takes a certain amount of time for light to travel a certain distance.  Based on the distance of the stars from the earth, the stars we see today must have been formed billions of years ago.  Thus, the age of the earth must be at least that.

The framework theory

The week of Genesis 1 is a literary device to describe the splendour of creation.  The text is not intended to say anything about how long creation took.  The framework view emphasises the pattern of two triads of days. Days 1-3 describe God’s forming of three distinct spheres – the heavens, the waters and the land whilst Days 4-6 describe the filling of these three spheres – by sun and moon, birds and fish and land animals respectively.  The strongest argument against the framework view is the whole of Genesis 1 suggests a chronological sequence of events, not a literary framework.

Theistic evolution

Theistic evolution or Evolutionary Creationism (the preferred terminology by this group), is an attempt to merge Darwinian evolutionary theory with Creation.  It’s leading proponent, is Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project and also a professing Christian.  In his book The Language of God, Collins states that the theory of neo‐Darwinian evolution cannot rationally be doubted by any educated person.  He believes God created the universe 13.7 billion years ago and established natural laws to govern it.  Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.

What about Adam and Eve?  Adam was a Neolithic farmer who lived 8-10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region.  God chose “Adam” to import his divine image upon him.  Genesis 2 speaks of God breathing into Adam’s nostril “the breath of life.”  At that moment, Adam was transformed from being merely a Homo Sapien into being a Homo divinus.  Adam now reflected the imago dei (the image of God) and enjoyed a conscious, loving relationship with God.

Now there are some serious problems with this view.

  1. Firstly, “theistic evolution” is a contradiction in terms. Evolution, as understood by the scientific community is a purposeless, random process that did not have man in view. You cannot have “purposeless purpose.” If God “guides” this process, it is not evolution.
  2. Secondly, there appears to be a concerted effort here to accommodate the bible to fit prevailing scientific theories.  It’s the proverbial tail wagging the dog.  Start with a scientific conclusion and then make the bible fit it.
  3. Thirdly, it seems to be completely out of step with the Bible’s description of man’s creation in Genesis 2:7 – “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.”  That does not sound like God worked through billions of years of evolution in order to find a being that was worthy of being “breathed into.”
  4. Fourthly, Genesis 1:24 says that God made the beasts of the field according to their own kinds. That seems to imply that God was involved in the direct making of the species of beasts and birds and fish.
  5. Finally, there is the problem of death.  If there has been billions of years of life and death and carnage, how do you make sense of Romans 5:12, that “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin?”  Death, according to Paul, is the direct result of the fall in sin which happened in a man.  Therefore there is no allowance for billions of years of death in the world leading up to man.

Conclusion

Samuel Emadi posted a helpful article on The Gospel Coalition where he gave seven nonnegotiables in Genesis 1-2 that cannot be compromised if we are to maintain the integrity of the gospel:[1]

  1. God created the world ex nihilo.
  2. God is distinct from his creation (Creator/creature distinction).
  3. God created the world good.
  4. God created the world for his glory.
  5. God specially created Adam and Eve who both bear God’s image.
  6. Adam and Eve are humanity’s first parents.
  7. Adam and Eve are historical figures who really did disobey God in time and space history in the Garden of Eden.

Points 5-7 all deal with the historicity of Adam.  While Christians might have disagreement on the chronology of Genesis 1, the historical truth of Genesis 2-3 is not up for discussion.  Without the special creation of Adam and Eve as God’s image bearers, we lose our identity.  Without a shared parentage, we lose the notion that every human being, regardless of race and ethnicity, is part of a big family.  And without the historical fall of Adam (Point 7), we lose the doctrine of original sin and the Adam-Christ typology.

We can argue all we like about the days in Genesis 1 and the age of the earth.  But when we turn the page to Genesis 2 and 3, there is no argument.  Those are first-order doctrines.

They cannot be compromised, for any reason.

[1] Samuel Emadi, Theological Triage and the Doctrine of Creation: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/theological-triage-and-the-doctrine-of-creation/

This post was based on a sermon on Evolution v. Creation.  It is part of a Hot Topics series we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here. (our apologies: the first 12 min of recording is poor in quality). You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.