The Command to Love Trumps the “Do Not” Commands

I’m preparing to address the men of our church on Saturday about love, intimacy, sexuality, and friendship. It’s an area of deep concern for me as our culture equates intimacy with sex creating a culture where biblical friendship and the call for non-sexual same-sex intimacy (like David and Jonathan’s) has become unattainable. As C.S. Lewis put it, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”

Friends, celebrating, sunset, river bank

When studying this topic, one inevitably comes across the writings of those in the church who have a same-sex attraction but have chosen – out of obedience to God – to remain celibate.  Reading the thoughts of these men has been very rich and helpful for me.  One such man is Wesley Hill, an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. About the topic of same-sex friendship, love, and intimacy he writes, “If we are going to say ‘no’ to gay marriage, we have to provide gay people with human relationships where we offer love, fidelity and mutual support.” I couldn’t agree more.

Hill goes on to say, “The Church in Corinth was one of the most difficult of the Churches founded by the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys. He wrote more to address the problems in Corinth than he addressed to any other Christian community in the ancient world. Much of what he had to say to the Corinthians concerned adherence to the negative precepts of God’s law (including the prohibition of homosexual acts in 1 Corinthians 6:9). However, his letters to the Corinthians also contain perhaps the most moving statement in all Scripture of the primacy of the positive commandment to love.”

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul warns the church that if they don’t love others (enemies and outsiders included), then they are doing and have nothing. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

If we are going to passionately and with great conviction declare that homosexuality is a sin (which it is according to God’s Word), then we as Christ-followers must be the first in line to offer our homosexual friends the kind of deep, passionate, committed, and intimate love the Scriptures call us to give others. We must not just love homosexuals in theory but we must be willing to love them in practice. We must not tell them “no” without offering them the burning “yes” of our friendship, loyalty and love.

The Significance of Palm Sunday

If you’re a part of Foothills Fellowship in Albuquerque, then read this post as it is a bit more specific to our worship environment.

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Palm Sunday is important. It’s the day that we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It’s the beginning of what Christians call, “Holy Week” – a week that began with celebration and ended with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  On that day long ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time.  Many times before, He had entered the city quietly, but this time when He entered, the Jews thought their long awaited Messiah, king, and rescuer had arrived, so they celebrated by cheering, dancing, and yelling out shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest!”  The people were right that Jesus was their Messiah, king, and rescuer, but they were wrong in what His rule, reign, and rescue would look like – and for that, they killed him by the end of the week.

Palm Sunday is profound.  It’s profound because what God did that day by presenting Jesus as King, He does every time God’s people gather together for worship.  This is why our Sunday worship service is SO VITAL to our spiritual lives. The worship of God is the highest purpose of mankind.  It’s the reason for our existence. It’s why we have breath and life.  So, if God presents Jesus as King when His people gather together for worship like He did that first Palm Sunday, then Christians MUST make gathering for worship a priority every week.

Palm Sunday teaches us about how to worship. When Jesus was presented as King on that day, His disciples responded with enthusiastic worship.  Luke 19:37-38 says that “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'”  When we gather, do we come even thinking about rejoicing and praising God with a loud voice?  When God presents His Son as King when we gather every Sunday, are you ready to worship?  When the songs begin, are you ready to sing?  Are you ready to hear the Scripture when it’s read and attentively listen when it’s preached?  And are you ready to go and live for Christ and proclaim His glory when you leave?

May we prepare ourselves for worship every week, and when God presents His Son to us as King, may we be ready to respond enthusiastically, sincerely, and with great joy.

Van Wert, OH

I’m spending the new year in my hometown of Van Wert, OH, and yesterday was a rare sunny day here.  Driving around, I noticed how beautiful some of the buildings were in the sunlight, so I grabbed my camera.  Glad I did, because it’s cloudy again today!  Here are some of the beautiful buildings that make up my hometown.

This is my childhood home where my mom has lived for over 40 years.

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Two blocks down from the house stands the beautiful Brumback library.

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The county courthouse, built in 1874, stands in the center of town.

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Here are a few of the beautiful churches in town.

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There are also beautiful old homes in town like this one…

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When I was a kid, the downtown was full of business and activity. It’s not like it once was, but there it’s still quaint.

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One of the big employers in town is Central Mutual Insurance which boasts a beautiful building and property.

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Recently, a large portion of my old high school was torn down and replaced by a new building outside of town. However, the football stadium built in the early 1900’s still remains and is used in the middle of the town.

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This building is not beautiful, but it is cool. No one believes me when I say that my hometown has a drive-thru convenience store. Well, here it is…

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Christmas Tree Hunt 2015

Our annual Christmas tree hunt tradition continued this year with a trip to the Jemez Mountains with the Smith family.  This tradition started in the early 2000’s when our kids were little, but now our kids bring their kids along.  Here are some pictures from this year’s adventure. You can click on each picture to make them larger.

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NCAA Regional Cross Country Championship

Here are pictures from Taylor’s first home cross country meet of his collegiate career.  He’s already run at Notre Dame and Wisconsin, but this was his first race at New Mexico.  He finished 5th on the team – which is a scoring position.  Not bad for a red shirt freshman! By the way (and mostly for my family!), you can click on each photo to make it larger if you’d like.

Pre-race

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The Race

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We’re Losing Our Brains!

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I carry a large portion of my brain in my pocket – and most likely you do too.   According to a recent European and U.S. study by software security firm Kaspersky Lab, Internet and mobile devices are causing users to store information on devices we once stored in our head. They conclude that losing your phone would be akin to losing your memory.

I’ve been saying this for some time.  When I don’t know the answer to something, I reach for my phone and say, “Let me check my external brain.”  Gone are the days of memorizing facts, quotes, ideas, concepts, or even things as simple as phone numbers.

More than half of European adults surveyed could not remember their children’s mobile phone numbers and needed to consult their smartphone and 1 in 3 could not recite their partner’s mobile number. Across all 6,000 respondents, 57% could not remember the phone number of their place of work. 91% of Americans are dependent on the Internet and devices to remember things, and consider them as an extension of their brain.   Among 16-24s, more than half said their smartphone holds all the information they need to remember.

But what happens to our brains when we stop memorizing and rely on an external device to remember?  After while, wouldn’t we begin to display the same forgetfulness as those suffering from dementia – if not for our phones?  Will our brains atrophy like unused muscles do?

Even more troublesome would be the consequence of not following a major principle of the Christian faith as articulated by King David when he declared, “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”

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Hiding God’s Word in our hearts (minds) will help us to avoid sinful thought patterns and sinful actions.  The opposite then must be true that NOT hiding God’s Word in our minds will result in sinful thinking and sinful actions.  And while there are tons of Bible apps out there, nothing on or about our smart phones can help us with this.  As Christians, we must discipline ourselves to fill our minds with God’s Word.  Our smart phones just won’t cut it on this one.

Random Thought Thursday: July 16, 2015

President Obama is being treated unfairly by the news media.

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Ok.  Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain why I feel the need to defend the president.  I watched his press conference yesterday on the nuclear agreement he and other countries signed with Iran.  He made a good case for why he agreed to it, and his critics are making a good case why he shouldn’t have.  I have my opinions about this, but that’s not the point of this post.

In addition to being concerned about a rouge nation like Iran having a nuclear weapon, I’m very concerned about the 4 Americans being held as prisoners there, especially American Pastor Saaed Abedini who is being held because of his Christian faith.  So, I watched the news conference, and sure enough, a question about the 4 prisoners was brought up to the president…and this is when things got ugly.

CBS News’ Unfair Question

During the conference, CBS News’ Major Garrett asked the president this question: “Can you tell the country sir why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscious of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?”

It was apparent that the president was annoyed by the question – not just about the words – but about the tone of the reporter’s question.  And I was too.  To insinuate that the president is “content” with these 4 prisoners being in Iran is unfair.  He is not, and his composed response was a far calmer response than I would have given.

The president responded, “I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better.” Then Obama reminded everyone at the conference and viewers that he has met with families of some of the Americans held in Iranian custody, and that his administration is “working diligently to try to get them out.”

Obama explained why tying the release of the Americans to the nuclear deal would not have been an ideal plan, and it made sense to me.  He said, “Nobody’s content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try and get them out. Now, if the question is ‘why we did not tie the [nuclear] negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, ‘you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.'”

Even Pastor Saaed’s Wife Agrees

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In an interview by Leonardo Blair of the Christian Post,  Naghmeh Abedini, Pastor Saaed’s wife, said that she supported the president’s decision saying it “makes sense” and that she knew all along that her husband’s release would not have been a part of the deal and she also made it clear that she never asked that her husband’s release be a part of the nuclear deal.

She said, “I’ve never asked for Saeed to be part of the deal but I’ve hoped that on the sidelines that his release would have been secured as we still have some leverage with the Iranian government and that has been my hope that his release would have been secured even on the sidelines.”

Fox News Not So Fair and Balanced

Despite the president’s explanation and Naghmeh Abedini’s words, Fox News published an opinion piece by Jay Sekulow entitled: Iran deal: Obama leaves Pastor Saeed, Other Americans Behind.  In it he writes, “The worst case scenario has happened. The Obama administration has signed a deal with Iran – a deal that failed to secure the freedom of American Pastor Saeed Abedini and other Americans who remain imprisoned in Iran. It is unconscionable that the United States would ink a deal and leave Americans behind. But that’s exactly what has occurred.”

Really?  He’s leaving them behind? That’s nonsense.

At the press conference yesterday, Obama said, “That’s why those issues (the prisoners and the nuclear deal) are not connected, but we are working every single day to try and get them out and won’t stop until they are out and rejoined with their families.”

Naghmeh Abedini confirmed this.  She said, “I know they (U.S. diplomats) have also been talking to the Iranian government on the sidelines. Again, it does make sense that he was not part of the deal but I was hoping on the sidelines as they were reaching a deal they were also securing the release of Saeed and the other Americans. But his explanation does make sense. I’ve never wanted my husband to be part of having to give up something, our government and the rest of the world, for their release. And I didn’t want that to be used as part of the deal.”

Why does this bother me?

I’m not a huge fan of the president – nor have a been a huge fan of any president for that matter.  Politics are messy, and truth is hard to find within politics.  There’s so much gridlock and posturing that I’m pretty skeptical and cynical when it comes to politics – especially politics on a national level. So, why go to the hassle of writing this – especially when politics and pastoring are not a good mix?  Because on the issue of Pastor Saaed and the other 3 prisoners, President Obama is being treated unfairly.

I have read how many presidents from the past were ripped up by Americans being held hostage on their watch.  I know that Jimmy Carter was consumed with grief about the Iranian hostages during his presidency, and I believe that President Obama is no different. Sadly, many people will simply watch or read the unfair and hateful things that news outlets like CBS, Fox, and others are saying about the president on this issue and believe it.

But on this one, will you please give President Obama the benefit of the doubt that he actually does want to secure the release of these men – not just because of the political gain it may win him but simply because he’s a human who is genuinely concerned for the welfare of these lives?  And will you please continue to pray for him and for the diplomats that are working to secure the release of these 4 men.  May God bring these men home safely and soon.

On life, learning, love, and laughter.