Friday, January 19, 2018

How To Articulate A Christian Worldview In 4 Easy Steps:

Sharing a Christian world view is as simple as 1,2,3,4:

One God. We worship one, personal, knowable, holy God. There are not two gods or ten gods or ten million gods, only one. He has always been and will always be. He is not a product of our mind or imagination. He really exists and we can know him because he has spoken to us in his word.

Two kinds of being. We are not gods. God is not found in the trees or the wind or in us. He created the universe and cares for all that he has made, but he is distinct from his creation. The story of the world is not about being released from the illusion of our existence or discovering the god within. The story is about God, the people he made, and how the creatures can learn to delight in, trust in, and obey their Creator.

Three persons. The one God exists eternally in three persons. The Father is God. The Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is God. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, is also God. And yet these three—equal in glory, rank, and power—are three persons. The doctrine of the Trinity helps explain how there can be true unity and diversity in our world. It also shows that our God is a relational God.

For us. Something happened in history that changed the world. The Son of God came into the world as a man, perfectly obeyed his Father, fulfilled Israel’s purpose, succeeded where Adam failed, and began the process of reversing the curse. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. He rose again from the dead on the third day. By faith in him our sins can be forgiven and we can be assured of living forever with God and one day being raised from the dead like Christ.

Obviously, this doesn’t say everything that needs to be said about the Bible or Christianity. But I find it to be a helpful way to get a handle on some of the most important distinctives of a Christian worldview. Feel free to steal it and use it for yourself. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4.

Don't live to EARN, Live to HONOR:

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." 1 Timothy 4:1–3

Based on chapter one of 1 Timothy, these teachers went beyond merely teaching these personal and cultural preferences. They went on to seemingly argue that by keeping these laws you maintained a right relationship with God. In other words, Christ was sufficient to get you into a right relationship with God, but after that, you had to keep the law in order to maintain a right relationship with God.  As a result, some within the congregation are falling away from true faith and committing themselves to false teachings. The spiritual influence of these teachers is wooing them away from God. The teachers in Ephesus were teaching that Jesus saved you, but now it was necessary to follow these rules to maintain your salvation and be super-spiritual.

Are there certain activities we are called to avoid? Absolutely.
Are there certain pleasures we are called to be exempt from? Yes.
Are there certain actions that are sinful for the believer? You bet.
Are there certain times where you personally may be led by God to restrict your freedoms and not partake in good things? Certainly.

However, Paul’s point is that we do not preach a gospel that says it’s free to get in, but you have to work to stay there.

The gospel is the good news that Jesus died to forgive me from all sin - past, present, and future. The gospel frees us from the requirements of the law so that we can live for Jesus, not in order to earn salvation, but from a heart that is appreciative of the salvation provided.

With that in mind, here are three things to remember as we seek to live in gospel freedom.

Don’t let someone else speak for Jesus. 

Examine what others tell you about Jesus against the Bible.

We must not impose our personal convictions on everyone. 

There are times when God may call you personally to give up some things. Maybe God does call you to a life of singleness or to fast for a season or to give up a type of food forever. So long as you are not doing it to “earn” salvation, but to “honor” Jesus in accordance to how he is leading you, no problem. But, my friends, all to often we place burdens on people and imposes our personal convictions on everyone else as if everyone has to do these things to be obedient.

I’ve seen it so many times. Church can’t have drums. You can’t wear hats in church. You have to wear your Sunday best for Jesus. You can’t dance, etc. Now, if these things are causing problems for someone else, the Bible tells us out of a love for that other person, we should let it go. What I am talking about is a tendency of the church to impose extra-biblical requirements on others and then check marking that those who meet these rules are “godly.”

We must practice “gospel-of-grace living.” 

We must live as if Christ and his work are real. The battle has already been one. I’ve been redeemed. I live as a person freed from sin, guilt, and shame. I have a new order, a new direction, a new Savior, a new hope, and a new future. My works are not sufficient, but Christ’s work is. I now seek to live in a way that serves as a pillar, exalting the glorious truth of the gospel that Jesus comes to save sinners just like me. I seek then to honor Christ because of what he has already purchased for me. This doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t have expectations for his people. He certainly does, but fulfilling these expectations does not secure salvation; it merely show a submissive and appreciative spirit that has trusted in Christ.

My friends, let us be a church that savors, promotes, and clings to grace. If we understand the judgment we deserved, the judgment Jesus bore, and the grace he offers, we will want to live a life that honors such sacrifice. Jesus doesn’t offer a list of demands for acceptance, but extends grace that transforms. Don’t live to earn, that’s a false gospel. Live to honor out of a heart that has been flooded by grace.

An Open Letter To Pornography

Note: I received this letter from a woman named Jennifer. I thought this was great and wanted to share it with all of you. Hopefully this will help those of you who are either struggling with a porn addiction or married to a person who is.

Dear Pornography,

I never personally knew you – it was my husband who introduced us

First in a Fitness magazine, then in the rejection of my touch

I always smelled your stench

My own hands released the buttons of my wedding gown

An occasion meant for the fingers of my groom

That hotel pillow was not fluffed enough to carry the weight of my tears

With skewed intimacy as your weapon, you robbed us of connection

My husband a perfect victim

An involuntary organ donor, you extracted his heart

Before raping the beauty of our sex, you claim it was consensual

Yet your memories often tainted the sacred of our sheets

Much like the photos that polluted the memory of his phone

His eyelids had been branded

Visions of you are what he saw – your silhouette between us

Two souls God designed to be one, more detached than ever before

You were number three

The woman on the side yet you lived inside our home

Call it a silent affair

A quiet addiction whose dealer is mobile – his crack house inside your pocket

Pornography

Your business is booming

40 million Americans devoted to you

You yield more revenue than the NBA, MLB, and NFL combined

Yet we don’t attribute it to sex slavery – we say, “It’s only done online”

So 50% of marriages are breaking while 50 Shades of Grey is breaking box office records

While little boys are taught that your affects are natural, recreational

You are not Xbox

You get them while they’re young

I worry for my future son

Defenseless consumers whose innocence you breach

Unlocking doors of their minds too narrow to be opened

My husband was one of them

He met you at 12 he’s now 1 of 200,000

Young men who are led by older brothers and peers

On expeditions of images through pornhub and smartphones

An encourager of secrets, you often hide in the dark

A monster under beds only your snarl goes unheard

Pornography

You’ve taught me I’m not beautiful unless I am porn

That you are a war and men are your casualty

Naked women on screens now gunshots to my ears

I am your veteran

I thought prayer would act as antidote to his illness

But the fine print never told him that your side effects are lethal

Silent killer of relationships

Your fingerprints were found on the body bag of our marriage

Pornography

I always knew I smelled your stench

It still lingers through the hallways of my heart

Sincerely
Jennifer

Tough Questions: Can Porn Be Good For Couples To Watch Together:

When I began to write this blog about whether couples can watch porn together responsibly all I had was questions.

Questions like:

– Does it make you compare yourself and/or your partner to the actors on screen? How does that affect your self-esteem? Theirs?

– Surely if a couple is watching together, at least there is openness and no secret porn viewing, right? Isn’t that good?

– Couldn’t it give ideas for sex that might spark a great sex life?

– What does watching together actually entail? Just watching? Mutual masturbation? Having sex at the same time?

– Can some couples watch porn and it be okay? Only if both are in agreement? If they can, who are we to disagree? Is there a difference between that and welcoming someone else in physically?

– What about a couple whose experience has been that porn has been helpful? How can we argue against that? Does experience trump what the Bible says about sexuality or vice versa

– Or is it okay for a couple to watch porn together as long as they aren’t Christian?

But then I realized I was asking the wrong set of questions completely.

One of the issues the Church has had with sex (and there are many) is that we are so worried about what is right and what is wrong that we have sucked all the fun right out of it by telling people what is acceptable and what is not.

We’ve taken all the spontaneity out of sex by making up all kinds of rules.

Christians don’t know how to have sex, and we need a new discussion on sex that takes it outside of the bedroom.

Is sex just about two people coming together physically (pun most definitely intended) or is it an outpouring of their love?

Does it start with sex itself or is sex the result of a deeper expression?

We typically take a strange approach to sex in the church where we are cautious of anything that involves our bodies or that feels good, while simultaneously neglecting the spiritual side of sex. Which is why, when the questions around sex focus mainly on the physical at the expense of the spiritual or emotional, we lose out on a deeper intimacy. Something that could be the key to unbelievable sex. And yes, I’m fully aware of how much this sounds like the title of a cringe worthy Christian sex book.

“It’s easy to take off your clothes and have sex. People do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked.”

This is truly great foreplay. When it starts outside the bedroom and takes place in all the little interactions you have with someone. How you respect their dreams, how you consider their needs before your own, when you are vulnerable about your deepest, darkest fears or desires, when you tell them how you are truly feeling, and in those small looks to each other where words aren’t required.

This puts porn to shame.

If you want to have sex with your spouse every night but aren’t willing to take the time to be vulnerable with them throughout the day, then it’s not surprising that sex can become stale, something to fear and something to get anxious about.

So is sex a physical act or a spiritual one?

Yes.

We shouldn’t wait until we have no clothes on to shake things up in the bedroom.

It should be happening in the normal, seemingly mundane moments of our lives with someone we have committed to traveling this life with.

Which brings us perfectly back to the question of whether couples can watch porn together.

I would not recommend it.

I know that there are many people who are reading this where porn has crept in and is sucking the life out of you and your marriage. Porn is something that we return to time and time again to medicate some buried pain that we don’t want to deal with.

If you’re using sex to heal a physical wound in your marriage then you’ve misunderstood what sex is about.

If you’re using sex to heal an emotional wound then you aren’t getting to enjoy sex as much as you should.

So because of our discomfort with anything remotely sexy, Christians have often been accused of hating sex or for being prudes, but understanding that sex is more than merely physical can change everything.

If we begin with the physical, then it is more likely to grow stale or boring. But if we realize that in our marriage we are free to be real in front of each other and there is no pretense, we allow ourselves the grace to be patient and honest with each other. Which breeds intimacy. Which, guess what? Should breed a sex life that is natural and focused on no one else but each other.

This isn’t stripping sex of its fun, it’s making it even more fun than we could ever hope.

So much fun, in fact, that you simply stop searching for ways to fix it or make it better because it’s too good to be true.

But instead, it’s very, very real.

And very, very good.

4 Biblical Truths To Help Fight Sexual Temptation

While all believers in Christ have been declared righteous in Jesus and are no longer under God’s just condemnation (Rom. 8:1-2), the power and influence of all sinful desires are not always removed at the moment of conversion. Christians will be tempted throughout the course of their life (Matt. 6:13). Such temptations will include the inclination to abandon and exchange God’s good design for sex for the sexual brokenness offered by the world. Yet, God’s Word promises a means of escaping and resisting temptation, even temptations related to homosexuality.

The following truths represent a survey of biblical steps to help those who struggle with temptations to sexual sins:

1. Contemplate God’s good design for sex

Genesis 2:15-25 and 3:1-11 reveal God’s design for marriage from the beginning. The marriage relationship of a husband and a wife is fundamentally a covenantal relationship. Two become one, both physiologically and emotionally. Sex originates in this covenantal context, consummating the verbal commitment of husband and wife in a complementary physical union. As designed by God, sex is intended to be enjoyed in shameless, heterosexual marital monogamy. Yet, as sin entered the world, God’s good designed was broken and distorted. As we fight the broken temptations that this world offers us, we must think deeply about God’s intention for sex.

2. Consider God’s call to sexual purity

The fear of falling into temptation can be paralyzing to a believer and lead to a refusal to fight the good fight.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Paul points the people to holiness in sexual morality. The first point that he makes is that the believers in Thessalonica ought to “abstain from sexual immorality,” which essentially consist of any sexual thought or action outside of the context of a heterosexual, monogamous marriage. Whether it is pornography, premarital sex, extramarital sex or any other host of sexual perversion outside of God’s plan in marriage, the Christian is to abstain, to flee from sexual immorality. God’s call to sexual purity is not intended to deprive a person of joy or satisfaction, but rather, to preserve the goodness of sex in light of its divine intention. When God calls us away from sexual immorality, he is calling us to something better! As followers of Christ, we must fight to trust in the goodness of God’s call over against the siren calls of sexual immorality.

3. Count on God’s provision in temptation

First Corinthians 10:12-13 makes it clear that Christians are not exempt from serious temptations. Paul is well aware of such temptations in his churches, especially sexual temptations. Paul, however, is confident that God is more than able to aid those who are fighting temptation. The fear of falling into temptation can be paralyzing to a believer and lead to a refusal to fight the good fight. Yet, God’s Word promises that he is faithful to aid us, even when we are tempted. Christians, thus, must count on God’s provision, believing that he who is in them is greater than he who is in the world.

4. Celebrate God’s grace in Christ Jesus

The gospel of Jesus Christ specializes in taking the sexually immoral, the idolater, the homosexual, the thief, the greedy person, the drunk, the reviler and the swindler and making them into citizens of the Kingdom of God who have been washed, who have been sanctified, who have been justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). While it is true that temptation is a common experience for all people, there is real hope in Jesus Christ. Though you fall, by the grace of God, the blood of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit, you may stand up again. Do not believe the lie that God loves you less when you have fallen into temptation. For while our sin does grieve our gracious God, he is faithful and just to forgive all who confess and repent of their sin and trust Jesus for salvation.

In sum, temptation is common to all people. Even Jesus himself was tempted, though he never sinned. Being tempted is not necessarily sinful, but it is very dangerous. This is true even for temptations related to same-sex attraction. Sin threatens to distort God’s good gift of sex in marriage while leading us away from the knowledge of God. Thankfully, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have not only been forgiven of the penalty of sin, but we are also being progressively set free from the power of sin while looking forward to the day when we will be forever freed from its presence. This is true for those who struggle with heterosexual sins and homosexual sins. Christ came to die for all sinners, not simply a particular class or type of sin. Therefore, any who would trust in him possess an unshakeable hope for the future and a promise of escape from temptation in the present through Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tough Question: Is Recreational Marijuana Use A Sin?:

Last week, the Today show did a number of segments on recreational marijuana use around America.

Occasionally in CREW we will do a "free for all" question and answer segment in which the students can ask me questions concerning anything. The discussion always starts off slow but quickly will gain steam as students begin asking questions. I have found that the question of recreational marijuana use in States where marijuana is legal has begun to become a question I need to be answering.

Americans across the nation are beginning to examine questions related to the use of marijuana. For Christians, one of the most pertinent questions is whether the recreational use of marijuana is sinful.

Although many Christians consider the answer to the question to be rather straightforward, it can be helpful to examine the reasoning process that allows us to determine how biblical principles can be applied to this issue.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT MARIJUANA?
Like abortion, nuclear weapons, and many other modern controversies, the Bible does not specifically mention marijuana. However, some defenders of marijuana do appeal to the Bible—indeed, to the very first chapter—to make their case:

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Gen. 1:29)

Since marijuana is indeed a seed-bearing plant we can legitimately consider whether God gave it to us for “food.” Before we do that, though, we should note how this claim undercuts the most popular form of recreational marijuana use: smoking. There are no other foods—even smoked salmon—that we consume by smoking them. So this defense can only apply to using marijuana that can be constituted as food and consumed in an edible.

Presumably, no one adds marijuana to brownies because it improves their flavor. The reason to add this particular plant to foodstuffs is because of its effect on senses other than taste. However, let's assume that someone really does enjoy and gain some nourishment from eating marijuana leaves. Would that be a sin?

ANALOGICAL REASONING AND THE BIBLE
To provide an answer rooted in Scripture and Christian ethics we must use analogical reasoning. In his essay “The Place of Scripture in Christian Ethics,” James Gustafson states the commonly accepted method of scriptural analogy:

Those actions of persons and groups are to be judged morally wrong which are similar to actions that are judged to be wrong or against God's will under similar circumstances in Scripture, or are discordant with actions judged to be right or in accord with God's will in Scripture.

While this may seem rather obvious, it raises the question of how we determine whether an action or circumstance is similar to an action judged to be wrong in Scripture. Legal scholar Cass Sunstein explains how we apply analogical reasoning:

This kind of thinking has a simple structure: (1) A has characteristic X; (2) B shares that characteristic; (3) A also has characteristic Y; (4) Because A and B share characteristic X, we conclude what is not yet known, that B shares characteristic Y as well.

Is there an analogical action that is judged to be wrong or against God's will that similar to the recreational use of marijuana? Indeed, there is a clear example that is mentioned frequently in the Bible: drunkenness. (At the end of this article are several scriptural references to drunkenness and sobriety.) Drunkenness in the Bible is the state of being intoxicated by alcohol.

A (Intoxication by alcohol ingestion) has characteristic X (produces a psychoactive affect, that is, affects brain function, resulting in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior.) B (Intoxication by marijuana ingestion) shares that characteristic; Because A and B share characteristic X, we conclude what is not yet known, that B shares characteristic Y (is an action that is judged to be against God's will, i.e., is sinful).

Reasoning by analogy, we can determine that since it is sinful to become intoxicated by alcohol, it is sinful to become intoxicated by marijuana.

WHAT CONSTITUTES INTOXICATION?
The analogical argument against recreational marijuana use appears rather incontrovertible. However, the Bible prohibits drunkenness, it does not prohibit all uses of alcohol—even those for recreational purposes. A person can consume small quantities of alcohol without any intention of becoming intoxicated. Can a person consume small quantities of marijuana without any intention of becoming intoxicated?

To answer the question we must determine the average quantity of the drug—alcohol or marijuana—needed to produce the impaired state.

For alcohol, the unit of measure is the “standard drink,” that is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons). A standard drink is conventionally defined as the alcohol content of 12 ounces of 5 percent-alcohol beer or 5 ounces of 12 percent-alcohol wine or an ounce and half (a shot) of 40 percent-alcohol (80-proof) spirits (hard liquor). In most U.S. states, the legally defined level of intoxication typically occurs, depending on pacing, after four drinks for an average-sized woman or five for an average-sized man.

For marijuana, however, a much lower dosage is needed to induce a state of intoxication. Studies show that intoxication occurs at the ingestion of less than 7 mg of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). That is approximately the equivalent to four puffs of a marijuana cigarette.

If the purpose of consuming the marijuana was for nourishment and taste, we would need to eat only an amount that would not cause the intoxicating effect – about 200 mg of marijuana leaves. In theory, then, it could be possible to ingest marijuana with no sinful intentions. But of course, in almost all cases, the recreational use of marijuana is done with the intention of achieving some level of intoxication. And if the intent of the recreational use of marijuana is to achieve some level of intoxication, then it is clearly a sinful motive and action.

A SAMPLING OF BIBLE VERSES RELATED TO DRUNKENNESS AND SOBRIETY:
Ephesians 5:18 — “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, . . .”

Galatians 5:21 — “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

1 Peter 5:8 — “Be sober-minded; be watchful.”

1 Corinthians 6:10 — “Nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Proverbs 23:20-21 — “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.”

Proverbs 23:29-35 — “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.”

Isaiah 5:11 — “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them!”

Hosea 4:11 — “Whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding.”

1 Corinthians 5:11 — “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”

Isaiah 28:7 — “These also reel with wine and stagger with strong drink; the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are swallowed by wine, they stagger with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment.”

Matthew 24:48-49 — “But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards . . .”

January 2018 Newsletter


For Parents on the Go:
1) Skiing, Snowboarding and Tubing at Snowflex in Lynchburg, Virginia. Saturday, January 13th. We will be leaving the church at 8:00 am. Cost: $35 plus lunch money. All students who are going will need to fill out a release form and bring a valid ID.

2) Superbowl Party: Sunday, February 4th in CREW. Cost: one side dish or dessert.

3) Wednesday Nights we will be starting a new series examining The Apostles Creed. We will be breaking it down into sections and discussing what Christians believe and why they believe it. Our prayer is that the students would walk away from the series better understanding their faith.

4) Sunday Mornings we will be starting a new series examining the Old Testament prophets and sharing what it looks like to be a voice for God in a changing culture.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.-Lamentations 3:22-23

Dear Parents,

I love New Years! The excitement of beginning afresh washes over me every year and I look forward to the clock striking midnight and starting a new year. As Christians we don't have to wait for a new year to start over with God; His mercies are new every day.

God's mercies are new every morning because each day only has enough mercy in it for that day.

This is why we tend to despair when we think that we may have to bear tomorrow's load on today's resources. God wants us to know. We won't. Today's mercies are for today's troubles. Tomorrow's mercies are for tomorrow's troubles.

Sometimes we wonder if we will have the mercy to stand in terrible testing. Yes, we will. Peter says, "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Peter 4:14). When the reviling comes the Spirit of glory comes. It happened for Stephen as he was being stoned. It will happen for you. When the Spirit and the glory are needed they will come.

The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God's mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow's burdens. You are given mercies today for today's troubles.

Tomorrow the mercies will be new. "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9).

I am learning everyday (I realize I don't know completely yet, but I am learning) how difficult being a parent is. I find myself apologizing to my parents for the way I treated them. Parents we can be thankful that God's mercies are new in 2016. When we make mistakes as parents God's mercies will be new. When we lose our temper and speak harshly to our children we can remember that God's mercies are new. When we look on social media and feel we don't measure up to all those "perfect" parents we can remember that God's mercies are new. Parents, take comfort today that God's mercies are new and fresh for all of us everyday and every year.

I don't know what awaits us in 2018 but I do know that God's mercies will be new and fresh. I know that the same God who sustained us in 2017 will sustain us in 2018 and that is why I look forward with eager anticipation to a brand new year.

Reaching, Teaching, and Releasing,

Pastor T Welch