Loving God and Loving People

I opened my Twitter Friday morning as my plane landed at LaGuardia in New York and witnessed my newsfeed blow up with the news of the SCOTUS decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Simply put (in case you’ve lived in a hole the last few days) the Court ruled marriage as a fundamental right for all couples, regardless of orientation, gender, or state residence.

On one end, people cheered and applauded the decision as a step of progress for human liberty. On the other end, some Christians bemoaned the decay of morals and our country’s supposed religious foundations. Many just didn’t know what to say.

The ruling should really come as no surprise. The culture has been shifting for quite a while now, and we’re probably at the beginning of a post-Christian America. For better or worse, this is the cultural milieu we are in.

I don’t want to debate about whether homosexual practice is a sin or not. If you believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, then there is no escaping the fact that it prohibits homosexual activity, unless you do some hermeneutical gymnastics. Scripture tells us that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, sin began its destructive ripple, wreaking havoc through all of creation, including a fallen sexual condition. The temptation to be sexually promiscuous for the heterosexual is every bit an evidence of the fall as is the sexual attraction between people of the same sex. God didn’t “make” anyone gay, it is just one of the many ways sin presents itself. But just as the Bible instructs me that obedience to God means sex is to be enjoyed in the confines of marriage with one woman, it instructs us that obedience to God means not engaging in same sex intercourse. It promises us that Jesus offers healing for all of our sexual brokenness and that living in obedience to Him gives us our greatest joy and His ultimate glory. Our sexual ethic is defined by our King Jesus, not our desires or what culture endorses. (Important to note here is that same-sex attraction isn’t anymore sinful than it is sinful for me to be attracted to women. The act is what is sinful, whether it be in the mind (lust) or body, because it is a distortion of the image of God and the union of Christ and the Church. More resources and information will be provided at the end of this article.)

Christians are faced with two challenges in this, the first being that God, in his Word, has expressly forbidden homosexual practice in the Old and New Testaments. This is not a case of us being inconsistent with the commands of the Bible, and contrary to rising popular opinion, the teachings aren’t as ambiguous as proponents of same-sex marriage advocate.

The second is that most of us have friends and loved ones who experience same-sex attraction and struggle through it in a way most of us will never understand. They’ve experienced deep hurt and pain and betrayal and rejection because of their orientation, and it is heartbreaking. They are real people who didn’t just “choose” to be gay.

Most Christians, when faced with these realities, tend to drift toward one of two extremes, both of which are wrong. The first is expressing anger and hatred toward the LGBT community. Bible verses are spit out without love, condemnation is cast, and verbal/physical abuse may occur. There is an insensitivity toward the LGBT community because of a lack of understanding and a gag-reflex because it seems so abnormal. People on this end tend to view homosexual behavior as very high in the hierarchy on the totem pole of sin. They believe they’re being faithful to God and the Bible in calling out sin, but they usually respond without the grace, love, and compassion we’re called to, remembering our own inherent depravity and sinfulness.

The other extreme is being so pulled by compassion that you decide homosexual activity really isn’t that big of a deal. Bible passages are reinterpreted or ignored because they seem outdated. People on this end irresponsibly make the charge that the Old Testament forbids things like eating shrimp and wearing clothes of two materials, which we do, so homosexual practice also must be okay since we’re “ignoring” those other laws. They say Jesus never explicitly taught on homosexuality, so how do we know he wouldn’t approve of it? It is the original trick the serpent used in deceiving Adam and Eve: “Did God really say…?” They begin viewing conservative Christians as bigots and hypocrites, and they do all this because they believe they’re being faithful to a Jesus who does not condemn but calls us to love all people.

Sometimes it seems like you have to pick one extreme and go with that, but I think the tension is actually a good thing! Jesus tells us that all of the law is summed up into these two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We’re called to live in the tension! We love God and what He has revealed to his through His Word, and in light of that, we love His image bearers, however broken they are. Love does not mean we approve everything someone does. It is not loving for my brother to not tell me if something I am doing is hurting me or others.

So what does this look like? It means to stay faithful to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage because God created both and ultimately defines them; they are not merely sociological terms. It means to love the LGBT community in a sacrificial way, listening to them, caring for them. It means that we don’t separate truth and love, but speak the truth in love and in a compassionate, gracious way. It means that our churches should be lights shining in the darkness. Russell Moore may have said it best:

We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life.

This is what I think Jesus would say to the person caught engaging in homosexual behavior: I think Jesus would look into their eyes in love and compassion and say, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

Christians, let us be the church. Let us be identified as those who love God and love His people.

Here are some further resources:

Why the Church Should Neither Cave nor Panic About the Decision on Gay Marriage – Russell Moore

Reaction to the Supreme Court Ruling – ERLC

5 Biblical Responses to Homosexuality – Sam Allberry (Sam is a minster who experiences sam-sex attraction, but because of his love for Jesus, remains celibate.)

Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency – Tim Keller

Is God Anti-Gay? – Sam Allberry (book)

Is Same Sex Attraction a Sin? – Sermon

Something Greater Than Marriage – Rosario Butterfield and Christopher Yuan

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving the Rainbow Flag – TGC

Review of “God and the Gay Christian” – Tim Keller

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Why the ‘Indian Church’ Should Not Die

Several weeks ago, my friend Charles Samuel wrote a thought-provoking article with the provocative title, “The ‘Indian Church’ Must Die,” and the response was nothing short of incredible. People whole-heartedly agreed, vehemently disagreed, or sat somewhere in the middle. Some were just upset with the title. This post is not a rebuttal to Charles’ post because as a product of the “Indian Church,” I agree with most of the sentiments in what he conveyed. This is about recasting the vision of the local Indian church for the glory of Christ.

The main idea behind Charles’ article was this: there is something dangerous and unhealthy about an ethnocentric church that solely exists to promote an ethnic ideal. Here’s what we mean by “ethnocentrism”: it is when an ethnic identity, heritage, values, or even church, sees other ethnic identities, cultures, or churches as inferior to their own. It is when there is more talk about traditions and the way forefathers did something than about what Christ has done and the implications of the gospel.

For our purposes, ethnocentrism is when a church’s identity and purpose is primarily found in its ethnic culture, and Christ and what he has done in his death and resurrection is secondary.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus, was given in a cultural context, and it will always be so, but it was never confined to a cultural identity. Whenever we present the gospel to someone, it will always be within the medium of the context of culture, whether it be Indian or American or hipster or conservative or urban or affluent culture. Culture isn’t a bad thing: it’s what you naturally get when you have multiple people together who share some characteristics.

The gospel was also given in an ethnic context, but it was never confined to an ethnic identity. In fact, the Bible promises a day when every ethnos (Greek word for ethnic people groups) will worship Christ as King. The book of Revelation has a glorious vision of this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number,from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

 

Revelation tells us that a day is coming when every believer of Jesus, regardless of where or when they were born, will worship Christ together. Until then, we continue to meet in ethnic and multi-ethnic congregations, working to continue making disciples of all nations. Ethnic churches aren’t bad! But ethnocentric churches are dangerous and a distortion of what the gospel calls us to.

We can argue about how insular Indian churches can be, but instead I want to talk about how they can be used to accomplish the picture we see in Revelation 7.

The Indian church in America is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t. Indian churches know the language, customs, and traditions that new immigrants from India are familiar with. They eat a lot of the same food, hold many of the same values, and can identify with Indian immigrants in a  way that most other organizations can’t. South Asian Christians in America know what it’s like to move to a new country full of promises, and to feel a little lost and overwhelmed. They know how reassuring it is to find comfort in befriending other Indian immigrants because they’ve done it too.

To my Malayalee churches: there are lost Malayalees in America that don’t know Jesus! Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, apathetic. Malayalees that understand the Malayalam spoken and sung in Keralite churches. Malayalees that enjoy eating South Indian food offered at weekly home meetings. Malayalees that are looking for community and recognizable culture in a culture that is far different than the one they know. Lost Malaylees that, apart from the grace of God in saving them, will be eternally separated from God. And this is true of all the Indian cultural groups. Of every culture and ethnos.

What if we reached out to our immigrant neighbor or coworker or friend? What if we invited them into our homes and lives? What if our Indian churches didn’t lose their ethnic identity or traditions or language, but used them to actively pursue the growing Indian immigrant community? What if we realized that God has sovereignly placed us in our city and around the people we know, not to be an inward-focused holy huddle, but to be an outward-focused catalyst of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What if we realized that the Church exists primarily to glorify Christ and spread the gospel?

The Indian church in America should live because she is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t.

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In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to the body of Christ, and individuals as members of the body. In a very real way, the whole Church universal is the body of Christ as well, and different congregations are members of this body. If one member suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part hurts, everyone hurts.

The Indian church, for all her flaws, is part of this body of Christ, and there are parts that aren’t functioning well. But what if, instead of cutting this dysfunctional part off, Christ redeemed it and made it new and whole and functioning?

What we need is not amputation. We need healing, and thankfully, Jesus is pretty good at that.

 

 

Photo courtesy of ©Sten Dueland under the Creative Commons License 2.0

race and reconciliation

The world is broken.

On the eve of our annual holiday of celebrating what we’re thankful for, our country lies divided over what has transpired in Ferguson, Missouri. In August, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer, which prompted riots in the city, and outrage around the nation. Last night, a grand jury decided to not indict officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death, and the tension in America is palpable.

I don’t want to enter into a debate of guilt or innocence or safety or facts. I wasn’t there and I don’t know every single fact about the case. My heart is heavy and breaks for both sides. What I do know is that this is not the only situation where there has been an outcry of racial injustice. Being a brown man, I am certainly not a stranger to racism. But even then, I had always assumed that if you don’t give people a reason to distrust you, you’ll be fine.

And then I began having conversations with my black friends about how they often get pulled over while driving and questioned. Frisked and treated gruffly, sometimes shoved against their cars — without citation. Suspiciously eyed and accused of shoplifting when walking through stores. These friends aren’t thugs, they look and talk a lot like me! And strangely, these are not conversations I’ve ever had with my Indian, Asian, or white friends. I get “randomly” screened a lot at airports, but I’ve never been pulled over for suspicion of possession. I’ve driven many a late night and I’ve never had a cop ask me why I’m driving around this neighborhood this late at night. .

This is not an accusation of police officers; on the contrary, I am incredibly grateful to the men and women who daily put their lives on the line so that the rest of us can live in safety. What they do is something we all take for granted, and I thank them. I also do not think most white people are racist; most of the white men and women I know have shown me otherwise.

What I am saying is that everyone’s experience of “freedom and justice for all”  has certainly not been the same. We’re all viewing these situations differently because we’re all viewing these situations through the lenses of our own experiences. And our own experiences are very different. That is something we need to address.

Black people are often accused of turning everything into a race issue. Most of the rest of us don’t understand because we haven’t been subjected to systemic prejudice the way our black brothers and sisters have. Most of us don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t trust a civil servant because most of us have never had a reason to not trust a civil servant. We don’t want to talk about racism because we want to think we’ve moved past it. Clearly we have not.

The frightening thing is that most of us may not actually have racist thoughts or biases… and yet still choose to walk on the other side of the road by failing to acknowledge or ignoring the beaten and bruised Samaritan in the street. Ignoring our hurting brothers and sisters is not loving our neighbors as ourselves.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

So how do Christians respond to this? I think the first step is to speak less, and to listen more. Instead of looking to CNN, Fox News, or Facebook for perspectives and “facts,” let’s engage people in dialogue. Instead of ranting about justice or lack of justice, pick up the phone. Ask your black friends why they’re so hurt by what’s gone on in Ferguson. Listen to their stories of their experiences of being colored in America. Ask yourself why communities are rioting and why people are mourning. Observe the pain, and ask why?

This is not just an issue of “facts”. Uncovering “facts” will not heal wounds because these wounds are emotional wounds, and they have their context in each person’s story. Healing begins when we sit side by side with our hurting brothers and sisters and understand where they’re coming from. Healing begins when we come along side them and mourn with them and pray with them and advocate for them. Christians, we must step in.

Let’s pray for the family of the victim. They’re hurting in so many ways. Let’s pray for those who feel betrayed by the justice system. And we must also pray for the officer and his family. They may be in danger for a long time, and for the rest of his life, Officer Wilson has to live with the fact that he killed someone. Let’s pray for healing and safety for them.

In all of this, one thing is certain: the problem is sin. The solution is the gospel. All of us (black, white, Indian, Asian, Latino) are broken people capable of incredible evil. Michael Brown was broken with sin. Wilson is broken with sin. You and I are broken with sin. The only thing that can ultimately fix us is the gospel of Jesus Christ that we all so desperately need. Not laws, not anger, not punishments, not education, not government. Let’s remember that as we talk about Ferguson and how to move forward. Let us be a people who seek the repentance, love, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation that are all possible in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel and Rest

It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself getting busier and busier as I began taking on more responsibilities and duties. It came to the point where I had organized my day from the moment I got up till the wee hours I laid down with “good” activities: full time school, a couple jobs, church roles, small group leading, and trying to be a good big brother/tutor on the side. My days were packed as I ran around from one commitment to the next, trying to juggle and maximize my time. I felt that I was honoring God by utilizing my entire day and week with these things that were seemingly good, Christ-honoring things. When people asked me how my day was going or would invite me to some event, I would respond, “Sorry, I don’t have time” as I listed off my to-do list for the day. And I found that I was kind of proud as I described my busy-ness! I was consumed with staying “productive” and I didn’t have time for rest! Rest was a luxury that was defined as a free Saturday afternoon once or twice a month. It took a friend lovingly calling me out on the pride of busy-ness for me to realize this issue I was struggling with: I was defining myself by what I did and accomplished! Don’t you hate it when your friends do that?

Maybe your weeks aren’t as hectic as mine were at that time, but they’re also probably not that far off. We in the 21st century are consumed with productivity and doing. We fill our Google calendars with various activities and are constantly checking our smartphones for emails, texts, and Facebook updates. Time is money and we want the best bang for our buck. Who has time for downtime? We tend to push prayer, Scripture study, and Christian fellowship out of our lives because there are just so much more seemingly important and pressing things that we need to do with our time.

Jesus was a pretty busy guy. The Gospels say that sometimes He couldn’t go somewhere because crowds would clamor to see and hear Him. Some estimates say that at the height of His ministry, Jesus had well over 10,000 people following Him. He was once so tired that He slept on a ship through a furious storm at sea, until His frightened disciples woke Him up. If anyone was busy, it was the Son of God. But even in the bustle of teaching, healing, and performing various miracles, He would find time to get away and be alone. He would pray to His Father and be strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. He would often commune with some of His close disciples. Jesus understood His need for rest!

The gospel of Jesus that is pronounced in Scripture is that He is the promised Messiah and that in His life, death, and resurrection, He has removed the guilt and wrath due for our sin. God now looks at us and sees Jesus, and we are counted righteous. As Christians, the gospel tells us that we have been freed from every bondage, including the shackles of defining ourselves by the world’s standards. The world looks at how much you’ve accomplished and achieved and then assigns your worth. But we’re not loved by God because we’ve maximized our time or done so much, but because of Jesus! We can rest in Jesus’ work! We’re free from idols of work, school, relationships and ministry to live life as we were intended to, as God’s image bearers. God thought that this idea of rest was so important that He gave His people the gift of Sabbath when He was establishing His covenant to the Israelites. Jesus tells us that that man was not created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was created for man! (Mark 2:27) It wasn’t given as a burden to bear but for our benefit and well being, so that we would show the world the attributes of the Creator God.

Rest is not a synonym for sloth or laziness, but an opportunity to press into Christ and grow in Him. It is an opportunity to pray to the Father and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. It is an opportunity to grow in Christian community and encourage one another. By refusing to do so, we are showing that we don’t really believe Jesus and His sufficiency. We are displaying to the world that we can do it on our own, by the strap of our boots and the sweat of our brow. But let it not be so! When life gets hectic let us not rely on our own strength, but trust in Jesus.

Jesus was daily with people who labored heavily under the burden of a foreign (Roman) rule and unfair taxes, of poverty and trying to make a living, of disease and death. To these very people he offered:

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29

It wasn’t just a suggestion, it was a refreshing and gladdening invitation to people who struggled not only with sin, but with the weight and worries of life.

Are you tired? Weak? Burnt out? Busy? Stressed? Over-worked? Does your schedule rule your life? Run to Jesus Christ. Find your rest in Him.

(This post was part of a devotional put together by Sam Chacko and LOFT Church in Richardson, TX. To access previous devotionals, please go to http://www.samandannchacko.com/ )

Can I Get a Witness?

If you grew up attending an evangelical Christian church, you probably heard of the need to share the gospel. The need for conversions. The need to save a wicked world.

And so maybe you passed out Christian literature or tracts as a youth group. The “here, take this piece of paper and I’ll leave you alone” approach. Or maybe you invited your friends out to a meeting where a big-name preacher was speaking. Or invited them to a concert. Or just plumb shared your faith and trust in Jesus.

If you’re anything like me, the last approach is the most terrifying. It’s uncomfortable, seems confrontational, and in our every-man-is-an-island Western way of thinking, offensive. Why would you tell someone else how to live if they’ve already found a way that “works” for them? Why tell someone that they’re missing someone named Jesus in their lives if they seem to be living just fine without Him? It doesn’t help that we see abuses of evangelism all around us. Hateful speech, picketing, “fundamentalists”.

And so when confronted with Scripture that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations,” and “faith comes from hearing and hearing the Word of God,” I try to pray my way out of it.

“God, please drop an opportunity into my lap. Let this random person ask me a specific question about Christ or my faith. And help me not look like an idiot.”

I’ve been going through the book of Acts in the Bible, and last week I ran across an intriguing story: the apostle Paul is giving his defense before King Agrippa, who is King of Judea, great grandson of Herod the Great… The Herod who tried to kill baby Jesus. Also a part of the audience is Agrippa’s sister, Bernice, and Festus, who is the Roman procurator for Judea. So there are some pretty hefty, influential, powerful people in the room. And Paul tells of his conversion and subsequent ministry. He knows Agrippa is familiar with Jewish law, history and custom, and he has also heard of Jesus and this Messiah’s movement. And then Paul puts Agrippa on the spot, calling him out on not being ignorant of these things. And then you’ll find these intriguing two verses in Acts 26:

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am — except for these chains.” (verses 28-29)

The King pokes fun at Paul’s brazenness, and Paul does not flinch.

Agrippa: “Are you kidding me? Paul, do you really think your story is going to make me follow Jesus? You’ve hardly been in front of me for 10 minutes!”

Paul: “Yup. However long it takes. I’ve got all night.”

He admits openly that he is not ashamed of Christ, and he wishes that everyone would be as passionate and zealous for Christ and spreading the gospel as he is.

Think about it: Paul is looking like a fool, a fanatic before these polished dignitaries. He’s traveling and telling everyone about a guy that came back to life. He’s suffered imprisonment, torture, abuse, ridicule, and much more. And he’s a smart guy, not just some random fisherman with a delusion. He knows how people must perceive him, pitying him in his chains. And that does not deter him. To the point of death, to the point of people saying he has lost his mind (verse 24), he’s calling others to join him in following this Jesus.

How does that fit into our view of Christianity? Into our view of evangelism? Paul is saying not just that Agrippa and all in the room believe in a story. He prays that they are just as moved and passionate about spreading this life changing news. This news that Jesus saves! That He has come for the world!

Not to sit back and keep living their ordinary lives. But to be radically transformed!

Do we have that view of Christ? Has our conversion made that lasting of an impact?

“Look, I don’t care how much time it takes. Whether now, or down the line, I pray that you guys would become Christians like me, except the whole prison part of course.”

Our hope, as Christians, should be that all become followers of Christ! Not just in name, but in life and deed. We do this with “help that comes from God” (verse 22). We truly are weak, but Christ is strong.

I pray that we would all strive toward that goal, of all being zealous for Christ. That the Holy Spirit would awaken that passion in us and work in the hearts of those we come into contact with. That every word and deed in our lives, every encounter, would involve showing the supremacy of Christ. That we would not balk at frustrations or persecution, but press on in the strength of Christ, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and the help of the Father. However long it takes, that the world would know the beauty and salvation of the Son of God.

The good news is not that in Christ we can be better people. The good news is that in Christ, we are made new. In Christ, we get to show the world what God is really like.

At work. At school. In the car. At home. In the church. In the ghetto. In the prison. In the palace. In America. In the third-world country. With our friends. At the sports event. At the social event. In your neighborhood. To the stranger.

So… Can I get a true witness?