Wednesday, February 25, 2015

LGBTQI, part four

Here are the links to part one, part two, and part three.  If you have not read them, they provide a critical context for these posts that follow in the series.  Part One is an introduction to this series and gives some important definitions for LGBTQI.  Part Two explores in a more in depth way what I believe the Bible says regarding same sex attraction.  Part Three takes on some of the "word challenges" that defenders of same sex attraction use to provide a Biblical defense for their beliefs.

I find it fitting that today is the day I write part four considering the presentation I saw during lunch.  I attended a meeting of local pastors for this year's National Day of Prayer initiative (Thursday evening May 7 at the Hampton Convention Center).  An organization was there to give a presentation about sex trafficking, The Virginia Beach Justice Initiative.  If you want to make a difference in our region in the fight against sex need to contact them!  There was also a detective there from the Newport New police department, Detective Russ Tinsley, who is devoting his life and career to this fight...they need our help!  I share that because too many of the moral crises our children are facing are because of parents neglecting their children.  I'm not talking about material neglect.  I'm talking about spiritual neglect.

One of the most sacred duties we have as parents is to give our children a moral warehouse, filled with values that help them navigate the complex, dangerous, and even evil that is waiting for them in this world.  If ever there were a verse that speaks to the focus we should have as parents, it is Paul's sentiment toward Timothy as a spiritual father found in 1 Timothy 4:15:16.  If we as Christian parents were to "give our complete attention to these matters...throwing ourselves into our tasks..."  we could give our children great hope and courage as they face the temptations of a fallen, godless society!  When I read passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and again in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 I must ask myself, "Have I given myself completely to the sacred privilege of parenting...have I thrown myself into this task?"  If any part of your past is like mine, I have plenty of experience giving myself completely to destructive behaviors and throwing myself into the tasks of's time to give that same attention to Godliness...especially the work of raising our children!

This biggest mistake I see in parents today is passivity.  There is nothing passive about our society.  The secular, godless society in which we live is inundating our children with values that could not be farther from Scripture.  Vannessa and I are raising our children with great intentionality.  When the world's values are brought to them, there will not be empty shelves in the souls of our kids longing to be filled.  There will be Godly values already there to give them a standard by which to measure everything else that attempts to gain entry into their hearts!  And one of the greatest failures of parents when it comes to the moral warehouse of their children, one the greatest examples of passivity of parents is teaching their children about sexuality.

This is important.  There is a crucial difference between the biology of sex and sexual understanding.  Just because your children might be able to pass an age appropriate test on anatomy and biology does not mean you have successfully parented your children in regards to sexuality.  Vannessa and I have used a series of books that you can find online or at a local Christina bookstore like LifeWay.  If you click on the link I just provided you can navigate that site and find all the books in the series for both boys and girls.  Listen to me.  Your child has been given a certain gender's anatomy by God.  But you as a parent still have work to do to lead your child in identifying emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually with the gender associated with that anatomy!  Their body is going to develop naturally.  For typical children, their bodies do not need any help to function in the way God created it to function sexually.  However, God expects you as a parent to lead your child in properly identifying with that gender.

There is a terrible lie that is being told to parents today, a lie that is even being repeated by medical professionals, professionals in the fields of psychology and counseling, even in academia...that a child should be allowed to decide for themselves a sexual orientation and gender identity.  This lie presupposes that sexual orientation and gender identity is ultimately an outward expression of an inward, natural selection.  Proponents of this view are trying to associate gender identity and sexual orientation with ethnicity.  We will not concede that ground in this fight.  When my child is born with a certain anatomy, there is a sovereign God who has made that decision.  Let's talk about presuppose.  That anatomy given to them by God presupposes a gender and presupposes a sexual orientation!

When my first two children who were born males, I understood that I now had the responsibility as a father to lead them in life to identify with their male gender and lead them in life to have a healthy, Biblical sexual orientation that is instructed by that gender.  The same is true with my last child, who was born female, although Vannessa is the primary champion of that leadership in her life.  As that series of books will help empower you to the earliest possible ages, we began a conversation with our children that never stops.  This conversation is intentionally leading them, teaching them, instructing them, empowering them, and helping them.  We are working to lead them in understanding the sexual functioning of their physical anatomy, how their brain is wired for pleasure in connection with sexual experiences, how God has uniquely designed each gender, and that He has a specific plan for how each gender is to relate to the rest of the world in every way, especially sexually.

The three most important books I have ever read that have helped me prepare as a father to raise my two sons are Raising A Modern Day Knight and Sex, Men, and God and Wild at Heart.  I'm sure there are some great resources out there too for young ladies but because I have unique responsibilities to my boys, I am sharing those if you have sons.  If you just try to wing it, you will fail your children.  You are not going to like me for this next reference but I believe it with all my heart.  If you have children in your home that are waiting for you to lead them, read Mark 9:42.  God knows your neck size...may the outcome of that knowledge be to crowning of your neck with accolades from on high because you became the champion of parenting your children well!

A quick word of caution.  As you begin this work of leading your child in both gender identity and sexual orientation, make sure you are not teaching your children the same broken, biased, falsehoods that you have gathered in life that have little or no basis in Scripture.  Read these books I recommended, reach out to other Godly men and women who themselves have raised their children well.  Look for families where there is visible fruit of Godly excellence!  For example, just because your son is naturally tender, intensely creative, and especially sensitive...doesn't make him any less masculine!  Make sure your understanding of masculinity and femininity are soundly grounded...if you have doubts, get help!  There are also amazing Christian counseling services in your area.  They exist for more than just people in crisis.  They are a great resource for families who simply want to go from healthy to healthier!  For Hampton Roads, we have Genesis Counseling and Christian Psychotherapy.  I recommend them both!  You should also find a church home that has thriving children and youth ministries where your children have the opportunity to be immersed in communities of people who are seeking a Biblical understanding of both gender and sexuality.  Of course if you are looking for a church like that...I know where you can find one... City Life!

There are many forms of neglect.  And passivity in parenting when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation is one of the most common forms of neglect I have seen in families during my 15 years of pastoral ministry.  Don't be that family!

Pastor Fred

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LGBTQI, part three

Words.  Our way of articulating thoughts and feelings.  I choose a word I feel best expresses my thought and feeling and trust that the word is both recognizable to you and that we share a common meaning for that word.  This is why communication in person, face to face is so important because it allows one to ask clarifying questions, benefit from body language, observe facial expressions, and work to ensure that what was intended to be communicated was accurately received.

With the Bible, not only are we dealing with an ancient manuscript from an ancient culture that was written using ancient languages, I can't Facebook message the Apostle Paul and ask, "What did you mean when you said...?"  However, I believe we can still have a great confidence in dealing with understanding the Bible.  That is another blog for another time and also there are many resources out there when it comes to reliability of Scripture apologetics.  If that topic interests you, I would recommend the HCSB Apologetics Study Bible and also Church History In Plain Language by Bruce Shelley.  Those are two great resources regarding whether or not the texts we have today reliably represent what was originally written.  In addition, we have the benefit of centuries of scholarship which has produced reliable traditions of hermeneutical disciplines, meaning the science of Biblical interpretation.  We are not, as some would have you believe, stumbling around in the dark hoping to chance upon a reliable conclusion.

For me, one of many longstanding principles of Biblical interpretation is that we must interpret the Bible in light of itself.  If my rendering of a certain text brings me in conflict with another text, the problem is not with the text.  The problem is with my interpretation!  I must keep studying, praying, researching...until my interpretation can be completely complimentary to all other texts.

Arsenokoites.  There is much controversy around this word.  In the New American Standard Bible, this word is translated into English as "homosexual."  We only find this word used twice in all of Scripture and both times it is by Paul.  The first reference is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and the second is 1 Timothy 1:9-10.  This word comes from the Greek "arsen" which means male and "koites" which literally means bed but is also used in Scripture to mean marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4) and sex (Romans 13:13).  The other interesting fact is that there is no record of this word ever being used except by Paul in these two instances.  It appears that Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit created this word.  What was Paul trying to communicate?  I have read convincing arguments from both sides.  I'm sure as you research, you too will find many opinions.  But because we interpret the Bible in light of itself, is there anywhere else in Scripture that speaks to homosexuality, especially by Paul?

Romans 1:18-27 is a key text for us.  This text was also authored by Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit.  He plainly states that the desire of same sex attraction is both unnatural and is a degrading passion.  He goes further to say that the acts resulting from these desires are indecent.  Now some will argue that Paul's only motivation here is to remind people not to judge.  If you continue reading, this is how he begins the second chapter.  But this is a poor rendering of text.  The prohibition is not against declaring the sinfulness of homosexuality but rather being critical of others when the one being critical is practicing these same sins.  In fact, Paul goes on to say in verse three of chapter two that God's judgment is unavoidable and this statement is clearly directed towards those who are guilty of these desires and acts as well as those who are being critical when they themselves are equally guilty of these desires and acts.

We also have Leviticus 18.  Remember, the Mosaic Law is divided into three divisions:  ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law.  I think one would be hard pressed to make a convincing argument that Leviticus 18 is anything but moral law.  The ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law are time bound.  The civil aspects of the Mosaic Law are time bound.  The moral aspects of the Mosaic Law are timeless.  What in this list are we saying, "Oh wow, that really doesn't apply to today?"  What part of that text would lead one to say, "I'm perfectly fine with someone being a devoted follower of Jesus and practicing..."  There is a self-evidencing quality of this text being moral in nature.

In addition, we know that sexual immorality is a matter that God gives special attention towards.  In Acts 15 when the first century church was working to understand what aspects of Judaism would be required of Jesus followers, one of the matters that received special mention was sexual immorality.  God is not passive when it comes to sin, any sin, especially sin that is sexual in nature.

So back to arsenokoites.  Even without these two texts in question where Paul uses the word arsenokoites, with what we have read in Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, the Bible has a very clear prohibition against same sex attraction and same sex acts.  For me personally, I do believe arsenokoites is what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, not to confuse but on the contrary, to make clear.  There were other words Paul could have employed but he did not.  And my belief is that the Holy Spirit is inspiring Paul to form a word that traces it roots directly back to the Leviticus 18 prohibition.  Leviticus 18 specially uses the phrase "you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female."  This is why Paul took "arsen" and "koites" and joined them together.  It is the perfect word to now articulate the Leviticus 18 moral law prohibition against same sex male sexual desire and acts.  Paul then goes on to expound upon this prohibition in Romans 1 to include same sex female desire and acts.  But if you cannot agree with me on my position regarding arsenokoites, Leviticus 18 and Romans 1 are surely enough by themselves.

Let us not forget either the uniqueness of sexual experiences.  Sexual sin carries a unique consequence.  We are taught in 1 Corinthians 6 that when we have sexual experiences with other people, there is a joining together with that person that is more than just physical.  That union is spiritual.  Some may argue incorrectly that the prohibition is primarily against sex with prostitutes.  Prostitution is merely the application.  The emphasis of the text is sex outside of marriage.  This text reminds us to understand that sex is not just a natural exchange between two biological entities as some in the secular world would have us believe.  Sex is sacred.  Sex is created by God for many reasons, but as we have already discussed, it was always first a means of consummating a life long covenant of marriage between one man and one women, enabling them to experience a unity that is unlike any other measure of intimacy found in the world.

Do not fall prey to a convincing voice that there is ambiguity in Scripture when it comes to same sex attraction and same sex acts.  And do not let people convince you that just because the Bible is an ancient document it has lost its relevance to our contemporary world.  Don't confuse God being timeless with Him being old and out of touch.  He is perfect and is ever leading us into the fullness of life both here and forever!

And still yet another warning.  If you take these thoughts of mine and use them to justify uncaring, disrespectful, and unloving attitudes and actions towards people who are struggling with these desires and practices, shame on you!  The purpose of this series is not to degrade anyone.  The purpose of this series is to help, to heal, to inspire, to reveal.  I believe God's Word gives life, even when it convicts, even when it corrects, even when it threatens judgment...God's heart is always to save us.  Does not God's own Word say that His desire is that none should perish and all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)?  May our hearts also be toward others, all others, a hope for being reconciled to God!

Next week will begin the vital conversation about parents leading their children on a journey of gender identification and sexuality.

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

LGBTQI, part two

If you are just joining the conversation, here are two previous posts you should consider reading first.  These will give you some much needed background.  You Be The Judge and LGBTQI, part one

This post which is part two in the series is inspired by a conversation I had recently with a dear friend.  He asked about my statement in part one regarding same sex attraction being a sin even when nothing is done to act on that desire.  Here are some more thoughts on that matter.

There is an important phrase at the end of Galatians chapter five verse 23, just after the listing of the fruits of the Spirit... "against such things there is no law."  My opportunity in my human experience as a devoted follower of Jesus is to see those things against which there is no prohibition flourish and those things against which there is a prohibition diminish.

My life is filled with compulsory feelings, feelings I am not choosing, feelings and desires that are attached to my humanity...I don't wake up every day and say, "I think I am going to be self-centered today."  That comes without trying.  How did I get that way?  I agreed that there is a nature/nurture tandem effect always shaping every life.  However, the depravity of mankind is a baseline Christian doctrine.  My humanity as a natural, instinctive, not needing any nurturing into all things prohibited will always lead me away from Godliness.  Then, when you add the nurturing component, it exasperates my already fragile condition.  But even without any nurturing, my nature is flawed enough on its own.

I think all people tend to have varying degrees of compulsory feelings "against which things there ARE laws."  When someone declares they were born into same sex attraction, they are inappropriately attributing their fallen nature to God.  God created people with a will, yes.  But that will was given to us to choose righteousness.  That will was given to us to exercise dominion over our lives and over every compulsory feeling that is not God honoring.  God said to Cain that sin is always crouching at the door desiring to have us and we must master that temptation (Genesis 4:7).  Self dominion is a vital part of this life.  This is why one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.

Self-dominion means you are choosing to not act on a compulsion that you know is not God honoring.  I applaud those who have same sex attraction but acknowledge the Biblical prohibition against same sex marriage and the prohibition against sex outside of marriage and therefore choose a life of celibacy.  My humble caution to people whose lives are described by this circumstance is be careful not to identify with that desire.  For a person to say, "I am gay but I am choosing a life of celibacy because I believe the Bible prohibits same sex marriage and sex outside of marriage," is attaching your identity to a part of your human nature that is in rebellion against God.  Sex was created by God to be enjoyed only by a man and woman in marriage.  Therefore sexual attraction that is same gender is sin.  Why, because the only way to fulfill that desire is to commit a sin.  I cannot say that because my desire is a result of my human condition it is not sin.  That is the very nature of humanity...we are effortless sin factories!  Every person has desires that are the result of the human condition.  Some of those desires are shared by all people, some shared by many, some shared by few, etc.

When I say same sex attraction is sin, it is not to condemn or to be insensitive.  Everyone person who has made a vow of devotion to Christ has desires that are sinful, desires they did not choose, desires that are a result of their own fallen nature.  I have desires that are sin. I don't walk around stuck in shame, stuck in self loathing...I understand that this is the battle of my existence.  My life before being a Christian was ugly, steeped in hedonism.  I understand what it means to fight unGodly desire.  Guess what...those desires don't disappear.  Now one can argue that I have it easier because I am married so my sexual appetite has an outlet.  But that is a myth.  That doesn't cause unhealthy desires to disappear.  Ask any Christian counselor how many patients they have who are married but are battling sinful compulsions that are sexual in nature?  But I must not identify myself with the part of my humanity that desires that which God calls sin.  I identify with being a new creation, ever moving forward in my journey of transformation.  I love Hebrews 10:14... "by one sacrifice God made perfect those who are being made holy!"  I choose to identify with the "perfection" I will never fully attain.  The "perfection" purchased for me by Jesus' death on the cross.  My responsibility is to now learn to work with a reliance on grace to achieve ever increasing measures of holiness knowing that I can succeed where Cain failed.  I can with the power of God's Spirit in me as a devoted follower of Jesus rule over the temptation that is always crouching outside the door of my will.

James is key too.  Chapter 1:14-15 talks about how sin begins as desire.  I fear people try to make a false distinction between desire and lust that for them becomes inappropriately permission giving.  I have read or heard people say that same sex attraction that never becomes lustful and only remains as a desire is not yet sin.  I only see one definition of lust in Scripture...lust is simply an unhealthy desire.  And James inspired by the Holy Spirit gives us clear warning of what can happen if we do not see the danger of such desires.

Next week I am going to tackle the controversy surrounding the word "arsenokoites" which is found in only two texts:  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.  In the New American Standard translation, this word is translated as "homosexual" in both instances.  There is no record of this word in other ancient non-Biblical writings.  So with Paul using this word twice and apparently having created this word, there is much conjecture over what Paul actually intended to say...but that's for next week!  I will also be writing in the coming weeks regarding a parent's sacred responsibility to lead their children in both a Godly journey of gender identification and understanding personal sexuality.  In addition, we will get to pressing questions about genital deformity at birth as well as chromosomal disorders.

A word of caution.  This series is not to be used as permission to further hateful feelings or comments.  I am writing this series so we as Christians can better understand what God expects of us when we ourselves struggle as such, how to respond when pressed with questions about our views on this pressing issue, and how to engage in loving conversations with our own family members who may find these posts intensely personal.  If ever I use someone else's condition to treat them in an unloving way...well, you should read John's three epistles.  He has some choice words for you!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

LGBTQI, part one

If you haven't read the prequel to this post, let me invite you to take a few minutes to read You Be The Judge.  I think that will help you understand my heart toward complex issues such as sexual and gender identity as they relate to Scripture.

Let's begin by defining that acronym.  My understanding of that acronym comes from many sources, including trusted friends and lots of reading.  One article as of recent was by Steven Petrow who writes for The Washington Post who explains the addition of "Q" and also "I."  As a disclaimer, there is always a risk to classifying people, it can be terribly insensitive.  It is however a necessary evil at times to avoid misunderstandings while communicating about complex issues.  My use of these terms is for the purpose of clarification.  I'm confident that my explanation of the acronym will meet with little if any resistance.  However, I understand that the definitions I suggest for each word may not be your definitions.  But for the sake of these articles, I want people to be clear about my definition when I use one these words.

Lesbian - a woman who was born with a typical female body, typical female genetics, and is romantically attracted to other women and not men.

Gay - a man who was born with a typical male body, typical male genetics, and is romantically attracted to other men and not women.

Bisexual - each of the above but are romantically attracted to both men and women.

Transgender - a woman or man who is born with a typical body corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth and have typical genetics corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth but they identify with the opposite gender.

Questions or Queer - depending on who you ask...this can mean a person who is questioning their gender identity and/or their romantic attraction.  There is also a growing number of people in the LGBT community who are reclaiming the term "queer" as a catchall term for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Intersex - is a person whose physical body and genetic makeup are at odds with each other.  I will be defining some of these conditions in a later article.  But as an example, according to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, the Klinefelter Syndrome affects about 1 in 1,000 births.  It is a chromosome condition.  Males will have an extra X chromosome.  So instead of being XY they are XXY.  This can result in undersized testes which in turn results in low levels of testosterone.  During puberty, males may develop breasts, the process of puberty may be incomplete, and other similar complications.  When a person's physical body and genetic makeup are in conflict, some very serious and complex issues arise.

I do not yet know how many articles will be in this series.  But I believe people of faith who are devoted followers of Jesus who trust in the authority of Scripture need to engage this dialogue that is happening in our society.  I want to do my part, as a personal conviction, as a father of three precious children, and also as a spiritual leader for our church, The City Life Church.

Genesis matters.  This is the beginning of humanity.  This is also the beginning of what I believe to be the cornerstone of all things Christian, the sovereignty of God.  Everything I believe about life and eternity comes from the Scriptures that a sovereign God has given to humanity to govern us.  Genesis is the story of God's creation of mankind and demonstrates His right to rule over us.  In Greg Gilbert's book What Is The Gospel, he tells us that sin is ultimately one simple thing, denying God's right to rule our lives.  What you believe about the authority of Scripture and the sovereignty of God matters, especially in this conversation about gender identity and romantic attraction.  If my view of this life is purely from a human point of view, then I am free to seek whatever course of living that brings fulfillment to me as long as that journey does not harm others.  But the moment I submit to the authority of Scripture and acknowledge the sovereignty of God, I am now compelled to understand what God expects of me, regardless of my current condition and the changes that may demand.

I read an article today in Bedlam Magazine (if you aren't reading and listening to other sources that you know disagree with you, you aren't understanding the greater world in which you live) that contained the following quote, "One theological tenet guides every suggestion we’ve made: all people are created in the image of God and have a fundamental dignity as children of God. What are you willing to give to proclaim that LGBT people have dignity? How bold are you willing to be?"  There is a problem with that statement.  They use the words "theological tenet" and then say all people are God's children.  This is fundamentally wrong.  Do I believe all people are entitled to dignity?  Yes!  They are entitled to dignity because they are part of humanity.  No person however becomes a child of God until they are born into God's family through a vow of devotion to Jesus.  This is plainly laid out for us in John chapter one and John chapter three.  I believe every person is part of God's creation but not His family.

I share that distinction because when a person makes a vow of devotion to Jesus, that vow must include embracing the authority of Scripture and the sovereignty of God.  I do not expect people who have not made a vow of devotion to Jesus to live according to Scripture or under the conviction of God's right to govern their lives.  But if you have made a vow of devotion to Jesus, Scripture is your authority and God is your sovereign...Genesis matters.

Genesis also matters because God creates gender in the garden.  Humanity is defined as male and female.  God assigned gender.  This is part of His sovereign right.  Not only did He assign gender in the creation of humanity but He gave man and woman the ability to procreate in a way that continues the assignment of gender throughout all of history.  Birth gender is a continuation of His sovereignty. We will take up later in this series the question of birth deformities and chromosomal syndromes.  But those are the exception.  The vast majority of births produce a child with a typical male or female body and a typical male or female genetic make up.  When as a Christian I am able to see my gender as an extension of the sovereignty of God, stemming from His very first creation of Adam and Eve, I should feel bound to carry forward God's expectations of me as a man or woman.  Those expectations are found in the Book He gave His children to understand His intentions about gender roles and romantic attraction, Scripture.

As Andrew Comiskey points out in his book Strength In Weakness, sex was given to humanity first and foremost to consummate a lifelong marriage covenant between a man and a woman.  The pleasure of sex and the usefulness of sex for procreation have always been secondary.  God created sex.  He has the right to tell His children how sex is to be enjoyed.  I am concerned about the emphasis that is being given to celibacy in regards LGBTQI issues.  As Christians, celibacy is a clear expectation in Scripture until a Christian is ready to enter into a Scriptural basis for marriage, one man and one woman for a lifetime.  To say that there is nothing wrong with same sex attraction as long as one does not act on that attraction through a sex act and respects the boundary of celibacy disregards all of what Scripture has to say about gender.  Gender is important because Genesis matters!  Same sex attraction for a Christian is a sin because it violates God's plan for the genders He created.

I will never support the legalization of marriage between same gendered people because I believe this violates one of the most sacred Biblical traditions that exists in the world today.  I am for limited government.  I'm not naive.  I understand that the freedoms others have to pursue a life I believe is contrary to Scripture matters to me.  Those freedoms are a basis of liberty that protects my right to live a life in pursuit of Scripture.  But when those laws begin to encroach on sacred religious foundations, Christians should and must raise their voice in objection.  I do not believe that anything regarding LGBTQI that is between consenting adults and does not harm people should be illegal.  But when those in the LGBTQI community want to redefine sacred religious traditions like marriage that have long since been protected by law, I am going to protest.  I want people in the LGBTQI community to feel safe.  I want them to be respected.  I want them to have the same sense of dignity that all people should have.  And I want them to expect fervent, respectful resistance when they organize in any effort to take terms like marriage and redefine them outside the boundaries of Scripture.  And any person claiming to be a Christian should expect fair, honest, respectful challenges about their lifestyle choices when a fellow Christian believes those lifestyles to be in conflict with Scripture.

Genesis matters...

Pastor Fred