Independence

It’s Independence Day weekend, 2014, as this is being written.  It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in America.  The Supreme Court handed down three decisions that have caused quite a stir.  One of them, related to the free exercise of religion, probably has caused the most public outcry.

The case, if you’re not aware off it, relates to the relatively new federal government mandate that businesses of a certain size must provide contraception under their health insurance offerings, without a copay.

A few privately-held businesses run by Christians–most notably craft store chain Hobby Lobby–pushed back.  Out of 20 contraceptives mandated by the federal government, four of them can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.  The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, consider that abortion and didn’t want to provide those particular contraceptives as a matter of religious conviction and conscience.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, sided with Hobby Lobby.

Many of those who disagreed with the ruling went from complaining about the ruling and the Court to attacking the Green family personally.  I suspect that is an emotional reaction to feeling helpless, like their world is out of their control.  Trolling around on social media, I even saw one person say that the ruling had ruined his holiday weekend.

Interestingly, the very same “Roberts Court” made a related decision only two years ago, also in a 5-4 split.  In that case in 2012, the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as “Obamacare”, was upheld.  The folks upset now were dancing in the streets then.

If you follow politics, then you know this is par for the course.  Every two years, or four years, or eight years, fortunes change for both sides.  The political tide ebbs, and it flows, and sometimes floods.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been making my way through one of the Great Courses–recordings of college courses by excellent professors.  This one is about the history of freedom.  The course starts in 490 BC, at the Battle of Marathon.  From there, the lecturer takes the listener to the society of ancient Greece–which seemed to have many of our same problems and applied some of our same solutions (or perhaps more accurately, we apply some of their solutions).

My take-away?  Nearly 2500 years later, we still can’t get it right.  The world is still a mess.  American culture is still rife with strife.

For the Christian, we realize we are citizens of two kingdoms–an earthly one and an eternal one.  The earthly one will not last.  That fact matters, because it can lead us to a healthier perspective.

It reminds us to ensure we’re not investing in this earthly one too much–though we are called, for sure, to invest in it some.  For example, we care for the poor and fight for justice not because it’s our innate political drive, but because God says to (e.g., Psalm 41:1; Proverbs 19:17, 22:22; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10).  We are not called to keep our faith out of the public forum–we are called to apply our faith in public and not hide that we do it (Matthew 5:16).

But we also remember that Jesus says wars will continue, nations will continue to fight one another, and natural disasters will come (Matthew 24:6-14).

What then is our hope?  It is our faith, though not in a religious movement, but in the One who saves us, who sustains us.  Jesus is the way to salvation (John 14:6).  He gives us his Word to guide us in this age and into the one to come.  He sends us the Holy Spirit to teach us and to empower us to live in this age.

And, we are reminded that this age will terminate.  One day, there will be a good government.  But it won’t be a human one.  It will be led by Jesus (Matthew 25:31-32; Revelation 11:15-18).

Jesus reminds us to look to him:  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Christ is a fixed point in a world that never stops changing.  As the old hymn goes,

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

That is true independence.

That God May Be Glorified

As I write this, a hot-button topic in America, perhaps as never before, is same-sex marriage.  The larger issue of acceptance of homosexuality has bubbled to the surface of public discourse.  President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage.  Perhaps as a result of his leadership, a seismic shift in public opinion has occurred over the last year, with polls showing that a majority of Americans now support gay marriage.

The fire continues to be stoked.  Recently Phil Robertson, patriarch of the family in the television series Duck Dynasty, made some coarse but direct statements about homosexuality.  As of this writing, the network airing the program has “suspended” Robertson over the comments and the future of the show is in question.

For the Christian who accepts the entirety of God’s Word as inspired, homosexual behavior is clearly condemned.  It is not really fair, though, to isolate this form of sexuality; God’s Word condemns every other form of sexual activity outside the bounds of one man – one woman marriage.

Most are aware of the of the clear prohibitions against the various forms of sexual sin that are spelled out in almost humorous detail in Leviticus in the Old Testament.  There is no ambiguity in the New Testament, either.  First, Jesus only supported one man – one woman marriage:

Have you not read that he [God] who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6)

This devastates the argument by same-sex marriage supporters that Jesus was silent on the issue of gay marriage.  He didn’t need to directly comment on any aberrant form of marriage; he affirmed the only acceptable form of biblical marriage.  All else was implicitly prohibited and unsupported.

Further implicit evidence is offered by Paul in describing the qualifications of those who lead the church.  Speaking of elders (or bishops) and deacons, they are to be men who are husbands of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).  Clearly, they are not husbands of another husband or wives of another wife.

Perhaps most importantly, Paul writes that marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:28-33).  In the context of this passage, marriage is again presented as between one man and one woman.  Marriage has a deeper meaning beyond the day to day physical–or legal–relationship.

With the issue of same-sex marriage so clearly put to rest, a glaring question still remains:  what about the gay people?  Are they born that way?  I don’t know.  But frankly, that is not the issue.

We all face struggles of some kind.  Is it really any different for a man to be drawn to another man than for a man to be drawn to a woman who is not his wife*?  Both these men must decide if they are to follow their own physical passions or if they are to follow God.  They are to decide if their own glory takes precedence over the glory of God.  Jesus says,

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  (Matthew 16:24)

We should not concern ourselves with what a celebrity thinks about our sexual lives, or more broadly, our morality.  We should not care what a television network thinks, nor should we fret over the opinions of talking heads in media outlets.  No, we should care what God thinks.  He is sovereign, not them.  He is the one whom we will see when we pass away.  He is the Judge.

I urge my fellow Christians to be unafraid to state the exceptionally clear biblical truth that God only endorses one man – one woman marriage.  But in that process let us not forget that the core issue is to love and glorify God.  Let us live our lives, and encourage others to live theirs, so that God may be glorified.

—–

* Interestingly, in Old Testament Israel, the punishment for both adultery and homosexuality was death (Leviticus 20:10,13).  In the New Testament Paul writes that, among others, neither adulterers nor homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Sexual sin is not limited to homosexuality; there’s plenty of room for heterosexual sin as well.