“This is my body. This is my blood.”

Christianity is more than just a philosophy or a way to live your life. The Gospel is more than simply a theory about the universe and humanity, or an idea to guide you in your actions. It is more than a set of values to live by. The Gospel is news – it is a report about a factual event, and all the implications that flow from the reality of that event. And at the center of that event is a man.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” – John 20:31

 

On the night of his betrayal, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, in an upper room of a home in Jerusalem. Where the house was, why that room, and how that scene looked is something we will never know, and don’t need to. But on that night, Jesus gave his disciples – and us – a priceless treasure.

“As they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’” (Mark 14:22-24).

As the Gospel spread and more people came to faith in Jesus, those early Christians carried on their remembrance of this event, as Jesus had commanded his disciples. Paul wrote at length to the Christians in Corinth about the meaning of this meal, repeating the story and Jesus’ words, so that Christians for all ages would know that when they receive the Lord’s Supper, they are receiving Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins.

But this is unbelievable. It is, in the purest meaning of the word, incredible. When we eat the bread we are somehow also eating Jesus’ body? When we drink the wine we are also somehow drinking Jesus’ blood? Seems quite impossible. There’s no evidence. You can’t test the elements and find proof. There’s no logic. How can Jesus’ body and blood be given so many times to so many people in so many places?

Yet, there are his words. “This is my body. This is my blood.” Do I believe his words?

The foundational event at the center of Christianity is Jesus’ death and resurrection. If Jesus truly died, and if he truly rose to life again, then the implications are infinite. To explore just this one for now, if Jesus truly died and truly rose to life again, then it means that he is, as he said, the Son of God. If he truly died and rose again, then it means that there is nothing of which he is not capable. If Jesus truly died and rose again, then it means that whatever he says, no matter how incredible, is absolutely true.

If Jesus died and rose again, then it means that when I eat the bread and drink the cup, I receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins.

I believe Jesus died and rose again. Why? I could tell you about the empty tomb and the failure of Jesus’ enemies to produce a body or any evidence that he was still dead. I could tell you about the many witnesses who saw him alive again, and the fact they were willing to die for their testimony. I could tell you about the generations of archeologists who have tried to find proof that Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax and have come up empty again and again and again.

But that’s not why I believe. I believe because a thing resounds when it rings true, and this truth echoes in all the empty places inside of me. A beggar doesn’t need proof that the bread that fills his empty stomach is truly food. To put it plainly, my soul needs Jesus, and when I hear these words, I know it, and I believe it.

And with it, I believe Jesus’ words. “This is my body. This is my blood.”

Charlie Hebdo, Mockery, and Honoring God

Two gunmen walked into a French newspaper office and killed 12 people, injuring 11 others, in the name of their God and for his honor. They left the scene declaring their victory, calling out that they had avenged the prophet of God.

Vengeance was needed, you see, for this newspaper had dared to mock their prophet. They had drawn blasphemous cartoons that portrayed Mohammed in a disrespectful manner. Such sacrilege could not be tolerated. The honor of their God and his prophet was at stake.

If you follow the news you already know about all of this, and you’ve seen how some have responded. Some are eager to point out that this is exactly what we can expect from the religion of Islam, that it is, at its heart, a violent religion. Some are trying to be political and claiming the the religion has nothing to do with it, that’s it’s the isolated actions of unhinged extremists. Some stand alongside the cartoonists, voicing support for everyone’s right to  Some simply blame the people at Charlie Hebdo (the French newspaper, ICYMI), saying they brought it on themselves and should have known better.

And what is our response? Do we stand with the tolerant, cautiously reminding everyone that most Muslims are very peaceful and that you can’t judge a whole religion based on the actions of a few? Do we stand with the religious, calling out Islam for the violent religion it is and calling upon God and the great forces of the world to finally mete out justice? Do we stand with the scoffers, clinging to the right to free speech and mockery? Do we stand with the stoics, shrugging our shoulders at the consequences of making choices in a sin-fraught world? Is there anywhere else to stand? In the heat of battle, it hardly seems so.

There is a way to look at all this, though, that helps us ferret through the nonsense and actually find the right place to be. That way of looking at this can be summarized by a simple question, “What honors God?” Maybe we could even expand that question into, “What testifies to the truth, gives glory to God, and promotes the Gospel?”

Does taking sides against Islam testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? At first glance we might say “yes!” because after all, Islam stands in opposition to the Gospel, does not give Jesus the glory he deserves as the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity, and is not based on the truth of God’s Word. But isn’t there a difference between shouting “Islam is a violent and demonic religion! We need to wipe the Muslims out!” and “There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”? Certainly, there’s a place for standing against falsehood, but if you don’t follow that with the truth, then all you’ve done is told people what you’re against. They’re no better off.

Does taking sides for Islam testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? Believe it or not, there are some Christians who would say “yes!” In the eyes of the world, it seems very loving to say that the Muslim world as a whole is not evil, that those people are our fellow citizens on this earth, and that we need to love and respect them. And wasn’t it Jesus who said not to judge? But the problem here is that if we’re going to honor the true God, we can’t pretend that he loves the religion of Islam. He loves Muslims, yes, but his loving desire is that they come out of Islam, not be supported in it.

Does taking sides with the scoffers testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? I had a conversation with my associate, Tim Smith, this morning about this whole event. “There’s a certain Voltairian mentality,” he said, “that everything – and especially religion – is worth mocking. But the problem with mockery is that it doesn’t help anyone, and it can quite literally get you murdered.” As we talked, we noted that the deeper problem with mockery is that it does nothing to promote the Gospel. I’m not against free speech, but if the line we hold is that there is nothing wrong with mocking Islam, then we’re also holding the line that there’s nothing wrong with mocking Jesus. Maybe we can all agree that Jesus is still God, no matter who mocks him. But do we want to stand with the people who want to mock him?

Does taking sides with the stoics testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? Going back to Tim’s comment, it is true that when you strike at people who will literally kill for their religion, you’re taking your life in your own hands. We’ve seen enough incidents of repercussion for those who criticize Islam that anyone ought to know better at this point. But with this stance comes a certain sort of apathy, doesn’t it? Do we risk forgetting that these were people, with spouses and children and siblings and parents? When I first heard about the incident, my heart sank. I thought about the families whose lives will be forever changed because of this. And it isn’t the same as a soldier or police officer or fireman losing his life; their families learn to accept a certain level of anticipation that any day they could lose their loved one. A newspaper editor doesn’t say goodbye to his family every morning expecting that it might be the last time. Our love for God inspires us to love others, and in love for others, I think we can see that no matter how much they might have brought it on themselves, it is still terrible and grieving that it happened.

Okay, so we can establish that the various responses we’ve seen from the majority of people in the public eye aren’t necessarily responses we would adopt wholesale. So how do we respond? How do we adopt a stance that really does testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel.

I saw this really intriguing comic by Adam4d:

I have to say, he hit the nail on the head when it comes to the disparity that exists between Christianity and Islam. Most Muslims may be very peaceful, but we have to acknowledge that when people take the Quran literally and seriously, the most committed and radical adherents will take up arms and literally engage in holy war. The Quran calls them to do so. Christianity, on the other hand, calls us to be willing to sacrifice everything – up to and including our own lives – for the sake of the Gospel. It never calls on Christians to wage physical war against unbelievers to advance the cause of the Gospel, and throughout history those who have done so in the name of Christ are falsely claiming the name of Christ.

(Note: This is where people will almost always pull out the Old Testament directives God gave to his people to go to war on particular nations. I could spend hours writing about why God directed his people in those ways at those times, but I think the most compelling point to make related to that is that he gave a specific nation specific directions in a specific historical context. These were not open-ended directives to all believers for all time, but limited divine judgments. It’s further interesting to note that God also used foreign nations against Israel at times to discipline them for their idolatry as a nation. In other words, God wasn’t just playing favorites. False religion has always been a problem for him, no matter who engages in it.)

Going back to Adam4d’s comic, I think it actually addresses our question from before. How do I honor God in response to the Charlie Hebdo incident? God calls us to be willing to lay everything on the line for the sake of the Gospel. Yes, that includes my life, if necessary. But think of that as up to and including my life, which then encompasses being ready to let go of everything else as well. See, out of those four main responses we’ve seen, the one I’ve seen from other Christians far and above all the others is to point out that Islam is not a religion of peace, and should be called out for its violence, and on top of that, we’re American and we believe in free speech, and there should be nothing wrong with poking fun at Islam, because it isn’t true anyway. But if I’m called to lay down everything for the sake of the Gospel, doesn’t that include laying down my “right” to be scornful of other religions? Once again, isn’t there a difference between mocking a false religion and preaching the Gospel?

Shouldn’t I be ready to let go of anything else as well? Like letting go of my self-righteous criticism of others, so that my hypocrisy doesn’t get in the way of my preaching of the Gospel. Like letting go of my need to be liked by being relevant and political, so that my tolerance and relativism doesn’t get in the way of my preaching the Gospel. Like letting go of my mockery of others in the name of free speech, so that my arrogance doesn’t get in the way of my preaching the Gospel. Like letting go of my blasé, karmic approach to life, so that my apathy doesn’t get in the way of my preaching of the Gospel.

In the end, that’s the real answer to the question. How do I testify to the truth, give glory to God, and promote the Gospel? By saying what is true: Jesus, the Savior from sin, is the only true peacemaker between God and man. No other religious philosophy preaches or achieves true peace. By giving glory to God: Jesus said that when we honor him, we honor the Father (John 5:22-23). Jesus is the true God and the only Savior. By promoting the Gospel: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). The question is the answer. Nothing else matters. We do this when we respond to this incident with compassion for the victims, with boldness for the truth, and with a clear message of our own hope.  Let everything else go, and lay it on the line for the Gospel.

50 Shades of Real Intimacy

This post is addressing the book and soon-to-be released film 50 Shades of Grey. At the end of the post I want to point to something better – a variety of resources for Christian couples who want to enhance their intimacy and sex lives. If you don’t know what 50 Shades of Grey is, or simply don’t care one bit about it, feel free to skip ahead to the resources.

Let’s think of this in a somewhat stark and blunt way. I always feel a good blunt description helps put things in perspective once in a while. Would you rather: a) read a poorly written book about fictional characters engaging in unmarried sex that involves use of force, bondage, and abuse, OR b) read a book aimed at developing godly sexual maturity and intimacy?

I suspect that the average person would look at the first description and naturally shy away. Which is why I’m completely baffled by the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. 100 million copies sold, mostly to women. An entire trilogy of books. And now a movie. And it was originally a Twilight fan-fiction!

On second thought, no, I’m not baffled by it. Not in the least. It is nothing else than a testament to the pernicious nature of sin that all it takes to justify what is essentially pornography, dress it up as literature, and sweep millions of people into it. Including Christians.

That’s the part that’s most frustrating to me – there are Christian women who I know personally who have posted on Facebook about reading it. There are self-professed Christians who have come to the book’s defense when someone criticizes it. Many have tried to justify its gratuitous use of sexual description by claiming that it has a really good storyline (which, from what I’ve heard, is simply not true). But even were that the case, does that really justify it? Try to make the same argument for a movie that has dozens of graphic sex scenes.

What is it that makes this thing so compelling to people? I think one particular woman – Lindsay Marks Harold – hits the nail on the head when she says this:

I think women gravitate to 50 Shades of Grey (and other similar erotica) because they haven’t embraced the proper roles in sex and marriage. Feminism has taught them that they can never, ever, in any fashion submit to a man…unless it’s during sex, if that sort of thing is their cup of tea. Anything goes in the bedroom. Feminism told them that it’s degrading to be a stay-at-home mom or to submit to a husband or to want a lot of children. They should never have sex with their husbands unless they feel like it. They should never let a man make decisions for their family. But having a stranger use and abuse you sexually? Well, that’s empowering, don’t ya know.

She goes on in her blog post about this to point out that our culture has also convinced men that being masculine is bad, which only leaves a void in the lives of many women who want a man to be masculine in the bedroom. The fantasy of a strong and dominating man is attractive because it fills that void, but sin twists and warps that desire into fascination with the idea of dominance.

This is what it all comes down to – sin has twisted and warped the perfect thing God intended with his creation of male and female and the sexual relationship. God’s intended design was that a man would be a man, strong and protective and assertive, eager to initiate the sexual relationship with his wife, and that she would be warm and open and responsive to him. That this was the design is evident in Scripture as well as in psychology and anatomy. But the presence of sin has disrupted the process, leaving us frustrated, lonely, and addicted to that which is harmful to us.

In the end, the only real solution to this is Jesus. It is his love, his cross, his power that redeems us and our sexuality from the messed up world around us. I think it would be very hard to have a deep devotional life and also deeply enjoy reading something like 50 Shades of Grey, because when you see how much Jesus loves, values, and demonstrates love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, 50 Shades becomes nothing more than a pale imitation of true intimacy. Those who know the spiritual intimacy of Christ will long for a reflection of that kind of intimacy in marriage.

So, if you’re sitting here reading this and saying, “Yeah, but I kinda like that book (or others like it)!” Here’s my advice: spend more time with the Gospel. Sink into what it means to know Jesus and his love for you. Dig into his death and resurrection, and then keep digging into all the riches the Word has to offer.

Now, if you’re already sick and tired of what the world has to offer, but you want to some guidance when it comes to enhancing your sexual relationship in a godly way, here are some resources that I consider worth checking out:

  • Sheet Music by Kevin Leman: Dr. Leman is a fabulous writer. He’s funny, he easy to read, and he’s incredibly practical. I’ve enjoyed all of his books. In this one he addresses many of the issues that married couples tend to face in their sexual relationship, but does so in a way that is so easy to read and grasp.
  • The Song of SolomonYeah, reading the Bible is kind of a no-brainer here, but specifically the Song makes it evident that God is no prude. It is a good encouragement to be romantic.
  • The Marriage BedA website put together by a Christian couple seeking to help other Christian couples develop deeper sexual intimacy and overcome the many obstacles sin puts in the way. It contains dozens of helpful articles, tastefully written and (mostly) Biblically based.
  • For Women Only and For Men Only by Jeff and Shaunti Feldhaun: While these books aren’t primarily about sex, they shed light on a lot of the issues between men and women, most of which do contribute in some way to the sexual relationship.
  • Mars and Venus in the Bedroom by John Gray: All of the books in John Gray’s landmark series are worth reading. While they generalize a lot about the nature of men and women, for many couples the things he says hold true. This one addresses the differences between men and women in the bedroom.
  • The Gift of Sex by Cliff and Joyce Penner: The authors are Christian and the book addresses sexuality from a Biblical perspective. It is a bit more clinical than others, which can be both good and bad. If couples are trying to address issues relating to physical or psychological issues, this one might be especially useful.
  • Laugh Your Way to a Better MarriageThis is a video series presented by a pastor about how men’s and women’s brains operate differently, and how it impacts everything from dealing with stress to how we approach sex. Funny, insightful, and just plain entertaining, it’s well worth watching. Pro-tip: you can find most, if not all of it, on youtube.
  • Covenant SpiceThere is nothing wrong with a husband and wife acquiring products once in a while to assist their sexual relationship, especially when trying to overcome specific challenges. But it is hard to get those products without being exposed to all kinds of shameful advertising. The folks at Covenant Spice are Christians who wanted to help other Christians by offering an online shop without the smutty ads and images. They ship stuff in discrete packaging and are very respectful of the intimacy that exists in marriage. ‘
  • Hot, Holy and HumorousThis is a blog run by a Christian woman who wants to encourage other women (and men too) in god-pleasing sexual intimacy. I have often found her stuff to be some of the best written available online.

 

 

 

In the Beginning: A theological look at homosexuality

It’s Thursday, time for some theology.

The same-sex marriage debate continues to be a big one in our society. It would seem that same-sex marriage is a part of our society for the foreseeable future, and we’re now wrestling as a people with who should be impacted by that and what kind of impact it should have. Christian business owners are being confronted with discrimination suits when they don’t provide the same services to gay and lesbian couples as they do to heterosexual couples. Celebrities arouse great furor when they express their beliefs about the issue. Recently a very well known blogger received a scathing email from a college professor for his insistence that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the only correct form of marriage.

It has been said that the progression of sin is that first it asks to be ignored, then to be tolerated, then to be vindicated, then to be promoted. The last few years have seen our country vindicating homosexuality, but of course, that is not enough. It is now incumbent on all to hold up homosexuality as being just as good and valid as heterosexual marriage. This puts pressure on Christians who have both an internal drive and a Biblical mandate to not simply believe and keep that belief to themselves, but to speak about what the Bible actually says. Indeed, some have buckled under the pressure and either keep silent, or even silently acquiesce that same-sex couples should be recognized along with married couples. There are even those making claims that the Bible doesn’t actually speak against homosexuality at all. (<—Note the lack of citations or proofs offered for his claims in that article).

So while any theologian worth his salt should be able to point out that the Bible really does condemn homosexuality, at the encouragement from a friend I’m going to take a stab at talking about why any use of our sexuality outside of a marriage covenant between a man and a woman is contrary to God’s will.

Continue reading “In the Beginning: A theological look at homosexuality”