Kim Davis, Marriage Licenses and Taking a Stand

September 22, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

In case you are unfamiliar with who Kim Davis is and what the controversy is, here is a brief primer. She is a County Clerk in Kentucky.  One of her primary roles is issuing marriage licenses.  When the Supreme Court declared that gay marriage was legal, she refused to issue the licenses.  Ultimately she was sent to jail for not following the law and doing the job she was elected to do.  For more information, go anywhere on the internet and you will find an article about it.

A few interesting (to me) notes on this controversy before we get to the actual content of the post.

1) Kim Davis is a Democrat.  I don’t mention this to take a shot at Democrats. I mention it because it’s ironic. (Wait. Is that the right use for the word ironic? I’m not sure I know any more.)

2) Has there ever been a more bizarre use of the song Eye of the Tiger than for her post-jail rally?  I can’t imagine there is. The beach running scene from Rocky III is more awkward but they played the Rocky theme during that.

3) The fact that she has been married multiple times is essentially irrelevant from a Christian perspective.  She was not a Christian when she got divorced.  She became a Christian and her values changed.  That doesn’t make her a hypocrite.  It makes her someone who recognized her own sin, repented and wants to live differently. I suppose you can bring it up to be ironic. (???)  But it is irrelevant to her character now.  We have all changed and grown.  She has repented for what she was and wants to be something different.  The question becomes, is that different thing a good thing?

This leads to my larger point.   It would seem, that we, and by we I mean everyone, do not have the ability to process this well.  As with most issues, we are incredibly shallow in our reasoning.  This leads the two camps to dig their heels in even further and continue to not listen and understand one another.  You have Christians on the one hand who don’t know how to live well in a world that does not share their values and you have non-Christians who refuse to try and see the world through the lenses of an evangelical Christian.  Evangelicals are simply foes to be vanquished.  My role as a pastor, and the percentage of people that read this blog dictates that I address primarily the first group, but there is something for everyone.

The primary shallow way that we evaluate this is based on whether we agree with her on the issue of gay marriage.  If we agree, then anything she does to take a stand is good.  If I disagree with her, anything she does to take a stand is wrong.  We need to open ourselves up to the idea that you can do the right thing for the wrong cause, and you can do the wrong thing for the right cause.  Deciding that you agree/disagree with her on the issue of gay marriage only tells you what you believe about her motivation not whether or not what she did was right.

So then, how do you decide if what she did/is doing is the right thing?  She essentially had 3 basic options.

1) Continue to do her job. She puts her name on marriage licenses even though she does not believe that all of the marriages are honoring to God.

2) Resign from her job. She no longer believes that she can do her job without violating her deeply held convictions, so she resigns and lets someone else do it.

3) Take a stand (the option that she took). She refuses to issue the licenses because she believes that it is wrong, and tries to prevent anyone from being able to issue those licenses.

Are any of those necessarily wrong? Are any of them universally always right?  I believe the answer to both of those are no.  The situations that you will find yourself in are complex and there often are competing values in place.  It takes wisdom, discernment and prayer to determine what the right way to go is.

Sometimes it is #1.  You need to choose to unconditionally love the people who are doing something you disapprove of.  Cross-cultural missionaries do this all the time.  They are invited to a religious festival or service of a different religion.  They choose to go because they want to build a relationship and are willing to be a part because love for the person trumps the desire to not participate in something that is distasteful in some way.  I have participated in services for other religions and spent a lot of time praying for the people I was with.  I have a friend who photographed a wedding that he/she didn’t believe was honoring to God.  Again, because they valued the relationship with the people.  This is not compromising truth.  This is choosing to love someone rather than trying to tell non-Christians that they should behave like Christians.

Sometimes it is # 2.  You are being asked to do something at your work that you do not believe honors God.  So you quit.  You don’t really have any ability or desire to fight the system and so you quietly step aside.  This is not necessarily cowardly.  You work for a company that practices shady ethics and you tell your boss that you won’t do it and you quit before he fires you.  You are taking a stand but in a different way.

Sometimes it is #3.  Sometimes the right thing to do is to stand in the face of injustice, immorality or evil and say that this will not stand.  You would rather face significant consequences than let something go.  Most injustices in the world are resolved initially because someone took a stand and refused to let injustice stand.  The civil rights movement is full of such people like MLK Jr and Rosa Parks.  Choosing this doesn’t mean that you crave attention or fame or that you are simply a troublemaker.  You believe your cause is just so you will do anything to fight for it.

“Wait. Did you just compare Kim Davis to Rosa Parks?”  (Rereads last paragraph) Nope, I didn’t.  I just used it as an example of when taking a stand against the law is admirable.  Whether or not what she did is admirable or right is still the question. “It’s the law of the land! How can she do this?”  The law she is fighting became law, because people refused to accept the status quo.  What she is doing is the same, at least in her mind.  However, in choosing #3, you have to be ready to face the consequences.  If you’re going to, for what you believe to be a noble cause, break the law, then be prepared to go to jail, pay a fine or whatever.

Her going to jail doesn’t mean that Christianity is now illegal, a bit of hyperbole from some aspiring presidential candidates.  It means that to work in government, you will sometimes be put in situations where you will be asked to do something inconsistent with your values.  That’s not just true in government jobs but other jobs as well and with friends.  It can happen a lot.  We live in a world and a country that does not share Christian values. (I don’t believe that it ever did, but that is a controversial post for another day.)  We have to decide what kind of people we are going to be in that reality.  How will we show the world that we love them and also point them to the truth of who God is and his gospel?

It’s not always going to be clear cut and obvious.  It is far easier to judge someone else’s decision than to wrestle with the decisions that you face and will have to face. To answer the question you are wanting me to answer, I wouldn’t have done what she did.  First, I’d never be county clerk.  Second, if I were, I would have been putting my name on lots of marriage licenses for marriages that were not honoring to God before gay marriage became legal, what’s a few more?  I would either have done number #1 and just prayed for every person and couple that came into my office, or #2 and I would have quietly and, hopefully without fanfare, step aside.

Regardless, it’s not an easy answer to a simple question and when we make it that we oversimplify life and what it means to follow God.  When do we show grace and when do we take a stand?  This is an important, deep question that we need to wrestle with, one that makes a huge difference not only in our lives but in the lives of the people that God has called us to reach.

So, what would you have done?

Ashley Madison and Josh Duggar: When Christians Fall

August 25, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Allow me to be the next person to weigh in on Ashley Madison and Josh Duggar. In the early days of the original controversy, there were 3 types of thoughts.  1. Grace and forgiveness 2. Judgment and condemnation 3. Some kind of innovative 3rd way position.  In part 2 (hopefully of 2) of the controversy, all we have is #2.  People are taking this opportunity of his public failing of his wife to criticize and condemn a lifestyle that they always thought was a little weird but made good television.  We stand on a high horse and declare that he deserved it.  We “other” the discussion and distance ourselves from it and make ourselves feel better.  We make a conscious decision to do what we almost always do, which is to believe that we have nothing to learn from this.  “They” have these problems.  I don’t.

As always, we choose to not learn the right lessons.  We choose to speak loudly about the lessons that other people should learn.  We fail to do the hard but necessary work to ask what I need to learn from this.

(Disclaimers: It’s difficult to talk about this when they are local.  I’ve met them. I know people that legitimately know them.  They are real people where I live. Second, I believe that my condemnation of molestation and adultery are a matter of the public record. Nothing I say here should be considered “giving him a pass” or “normalizing” his sin.  However, I have no stone to throw, certainly not publicly. It’s not my place. Why I don’t is one of the points of this post.)

There are two things that have been on my heart as I have been processing all of the controversy surrounding Josh Duggar (3 if you count the sheer lack of compassion and understanding given to his wife and kids, but that’s a blog post for someone else.)  These issues have more to do with me and us than him.  The first issue that has been on my heart is that your sin will find you out.  You may believe that you are keeping it hidden, and you may be for a little while.  However, your sin will find you.  Maybe not today or tomorrow or even this year, but it always catches up with you.  This pattern has been repeated way too many times over the years.  Consider how many public Christians have fallen in tremendously awful ways over the years.  Someone rises to prominence but the whole time they are hiding some sin.  The pressure of their fame increases the pressure which makes the sin worse, which makes them try to hide it even more.  Then the light shines on it.  They are exposed and they fall.

For every “famous” Christian that this happens to, there are thousands of regular people following the same pattern.  It doesn’t show up in your Facebook feed, but it shows up in family courts all over the world, families being destroyed because of a secret sin.  We are no different.  If you have a sin that you are hiding, the light will find you.  God loves you too much to allow you to continue to destroy yourself in private.  He wants you to be free from sin.

So if this is you, make the decision to let someone know.  Ask someone for help.  Put a little light on it, before it happens to you.  Surround yourself with help.  Your sin will either find you or you can humbly take it to people.  Either way, when it comes to light, you are going to need people to come around you and help you and restore you.

This leads to the second thought. Be careful how you talk and act toward others.  When you see the sin of others, how do you respond? Do you respond with compassion and hope or anger and judgment?  In the often misunderstood and misused passage about judgment, Jesus says this:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

So, the way that you judge is how you will be judged.  If I see someone in sin and I say, “That’s not good.  You should stop. How can I help you?” I can expect that is how someone will judge me when it is my turn.  If I angrily condemn people, I should expect to be angrily condemned when it is my turn.  Again, don’t be fooled.  Your turn is coming. When your sin is discovered, people will respond to you the way that you have responded to people.

Why has the response to Josh Duggar not been compassionate? It seems pretty clear that he has some deep rooted sexual issues that messed him up as a kid and continue to this day.  Why is there not a call for helping him deal with whatever these deep issues are?  The reason is that he never seemed to show the same compassion.  In his role with the Family Research Council, he said and behaved in ways that made many people feel strongly condemned.  He didn’t show compassion and grace.  When it was his turn, he put out public statements asking for compassion and grace, and very little was to be found.  He is reaping what he sowed.

When my time comes (and no I don’t have an Ashley Madison account and I have never cheated on my wife) and some sin of mine is exposed (I do sin though.  Both publicly and privately), I want the people who know me to love me and help restore me.  How can I be sure that will happen? By doing the same for people now.  Sin is real and destructive.  I do no one any favors by not calling sin what it is.  However, I also do no one a favor, including me, by raining down condemnation either.

So that is why I have no stone to throw.  It is why when stories like this (and worse) come into my office, I offer love, prayers and help. I don’t tell them what they did is ok, but I also don’t literally or figuratively throw stones.  Instead I try to offer the same compassion of Jesus who said “sin no more” and offered the love and help to people to make that command a reality.

Bible Stories! Sanitized for Your Protection

January 24, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Have you ever read through Genesis?  Have you ever read through Genesis with your kids?  You will see the stories differently, I assure you.  You will recognize that some of these stories are terrible (Explanation:  What the people do is terrible).

My 11 year old daughter came to me the other day, eyes big, shaking her head.  What had she just read?  The story of Lot and his daughters in the cave.  “I’m not sure I know that one.”  Let’s just say it’s about a guy and his two daughters.  The two daughters have a large quantity of alcohol and a plan for carrying on the family name.

My 14 year old after reading the story of Noah has two questions.  What did Noah’s son do that was so wrong and why is that story in the Bible?  “I’m not sure I know that one either.”  This is the end of the story of Noah, where he grows a vineyard, gets drunk and passes out drunk and naked in his tent.  One of his sons sees it, tells the brothers and Noah finds out and gets mad.

If you are not familiar with one or both of those stories, then you are a victim of what I will now call Bible Sanitization.  We pretend certain stories aren’t in there and we take famous stories and clean them up.  Many of you may believe that Jonah was happy when Nineveh repented.  He may still be mad about it for all we know.

Now I’m not suggesting that we put Ehud the left handed assassin who kills the really fat guy in the preschool rotation, but I am suggesting that we do damage when we ignore the “worst” parts of the Bible.  The Bible is not a story of a bunch of perfect heroes that we should idolize.  It is the story of one hero worth idolizing and a bunch of people just like us.  We see the best of them and the worst of them.

If we only know the best, we can believe that God will only use perfect or close to perfect people.  Men like Gideon who bravely fought an army with just 300 guys, trumpets and clay pots.  I mean, giant scaredy cats like Gideon who had to see not one but two miracles before he would do it, destroyed idols at night so no one would know and after his great battle led the people to idol worship.

When you read the Bible, you see an accurate picture of people, imperfect, sinful people, like the adulterer, murderer king who God said was “a man after his own heart.”  You also see an accurate picture of the devastating nature of sin and the effects that it can have on you and your family and ultimately your world.

We don’t need a watered-down Bible or a sanitized view of the world.  We need reality.  We need to have an honest view of ourselves, then we can understand the depths and power of God’s grace.  Then he can use us to do incredible things for him in the world, like Peter the guy who curses at people for accusing him of knowing Jesus.

Forgiveness is Never Free

This last Sunday we talked about the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and the very touchy, but incredibly important issue of forgiveness. (Listen here.) In the parable, a king forgives a servant a ridiculous large debt, millions and millions of dollars.   This servant in turn goes out finds somebody that owes him a few thousand dollars, chokes him and throws him in jail.  (no smartalecs, it wasn’t dollars.  I know that this was in Israel in the first century.  Where did you learn to be an obnoxious nitpicker like that?  From me?  Oh, well, um, let’s continue)  The king hears of this and throws the first servant in jail for being ungrateful.

The point that Jesus is making is that since we have been forgiven so much by God, we can only forgive other people.  The debt that we had was so large, to not forgive someone else a smaller debt, would be ungrateful.

As I was getting ready for this sermon, I was finishing up a book called Prodigal God.  Highly, highly recommend it.  The author, Tim Keller, said something that stuck with me and repeated on Sunday–forgiveness is never free.  Someone pays.  If you owe me $100, someone will pay that.  Either you will pay me back or I will eat the loss, paying for it myself.

Similarly, if someone hurts me emotionally, wounds me, someone will pay.  I can choose not to forgive and make them pay for it by the way that I treat them, until they hurt like I hurt.  Or I can forgive them and I’m the one that deals with the hurt and pain.  I choose not to pass it back to them.

If you owe me $100, and I say, no problem, just pay me back $10 a month for 10 months, that’s not forgiveness. That’s a payment plan.  If you hurt me, and I am mean to you, cold to you for a season until I get past it and then “forgive” you, that’s not forgiveness either.  That’s a payment plan.

This is one of the reasons why forgiveness is so hard.  Someone still has to pay.  We are making the decision that we will pay.  I will take the hurt and pain and there will be no payback.  That’s easily described but not easily done.

Circling back to the parable, this is where what Jesus said is so helpful.  If God has forgiven us so great a debt, a debt that Jesus himself paid for us (remember, forgiveness isn’t free), then I just had millions of dollars wiped off my account.  I have lot of money to give back.  You and I are good.  I have experienced so much forgiveness, I cannot help but pass that on.

When I am reminded of the hurt, I don’t think about how I can get them to pay me back.  I’m reminded that I said that I would pay.  Then I’m reminded of the One who paid so much for me.  Then I can pass that forgiveness.

It’s not easy, because it’s not free.  It can become easier when we remember the forgiveness we’ve been given.

Grace, Fear and Our “Rights” Guest Post by Brian Hirschy

September 10, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Brian is a new friend of mine.  He is a cultural photographer that lives in Tibet and a Grover.

Rights, Rights, Rights
As Americans, we are seriously bent on “our rights.”  Having rights, and furthermore actually valuing those rights, has undoubtedly made America into a great nation of freedom.  I am very thankful for my constitutional rights. That being said, in America, does this Pastor have the right to burn the Koran – Absolutely. No doubt about it. As a Christian, however, he certainly does NOT. Christian requirements are different, are they not?
Furthermore, I consistently hear Christians (everywhere) talking about “security” and often even confusing Americana w/ the teachings of the Bible and how we have Government given rights. To this we need to ask the question – who is sovereign over America? Who protects it? Who decides if we as a nation prosper or not? Heck, who even decided to let us exist? Is it God or is it the constitutionally given rights we so value?
We are required to give up so many of our rights as followers of Christ. Our reaction to things like this should not be through the “I’m an American” lens, but rather through the “Im a disciple of Jesus” lens. He never guarantees safety, lack of trouble, or even that we wouldn’t have to interact with people who violently disagree with our faith. We think that because radical Islamic countries burn the Bible almost daily that we have the right to return the favor. We continue to think it’s not FAIR that we don’t ‘overreact’ like many Muslim nations when they do so. We think it’s unfair that because they will overreact, our constitutional rights as American’s have been trampled on.  It’s not fair that they can burn the Bible but we can’t burn the Koran.  Fair sucks – it’s not fair that Jesus had to die for all of us idiots. Our rights, even the ones defended by the Constitution, went out the window when we were redeemed and now we are slaves to righteousness.
Fear is a tricky thing.  Fear comes when we aren’t confident in the Lords promises or our true identity in Him – when we aren’t focused on him. Fear is what is happening in New York right now, sparked by what we believe our ‘rights’ to be. Fear is what is happening in Florida right now. The belief that we must to strike back at radical muslims is only derivative of a lack of understanding of God’s sovereignty and a denial that His promises are true. Everyone in the world paint themselves as tolerant people, but how many of us get on an airplane and see an arabic looking person and the thought runs through our mind, ‘Oh crap! It’s a terrorist” or at least watch the person carefully.
Let me give you another example. Where I live I’m fully allowed to enter the mosque and DEBATE the tenants of Islam, PEACEFULLY and in a civilized manner. No one has tried to cut my face off at a mosque that has more than 300,000 members. I’ve even been able to talk regularly to the imam of the mosques in a Godly manner and he fully realizes that we follow Jesus. Most of us don’t realize that the Koran ACTUALLY teaches that true believers are those who seek the truth and are willing to be peaceful in all things – Muslims, according to the Koran, are supposed to, before anything else, be described as people of peace. Furthermore, the Koran speaks very highly of followers of Jesus and that they are to NOT be persecuted in several different passages.  Yes, their are verses that speak severely towards those who wage war against Islam and that everyone should become a Muslim.  These passages are what cause splits among the Muslim religion, but my point is that we in general are acting out of fear and true ignorance of these verses.
Yet, our churches get really uncomfortable when someone of another faith is among our congregation or even someone who is different that then general makeup of the congregation joins us. We are fearful of this Muslim Community Center – whose written agenda is to promote inter-faith conversation and cultural understanding. We are fearful that, “What if it’s just a safe haven for Muslim extremists?!”   We are fearful that to enter into a conversation about who God is and then who Jesus is with a Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist will only challenge our faith in ways we don’t want to be challenged really – we in effect deny the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and our own.  We so often refuse to even know what the Koran says because we are fearful and not confident that Jesus is who He said He is. Please, please don’t hear a universalist message here – God says that there is NO gospel but the gospel and that those outside of it are outside of Him. However, He also said to love those different than you – even those who make you fearful, persecute you, and are dead set against you.  Love those who blew up the Twin Towers.  Love those who would even want to kill your children. How does this NOT describe how we are to react even to Muslim Extremists.
It’s easy to strip the humanity from a group of people we have never met. Heck, it’s easy to strip humanity from those you even LOVE.  For example, I know their are eskimos somewhere in Alaska, but until I mean one, they will remain what I saw in a book in the 3rd grade. Like I’ve mentioned on my blog, my neighbors are muslim, I have many friends who are Muslim, the guy whose giving me a ride to the airport on Wednesday is a Muslim who knows I’m a Christian and gosh darn it, he still likes me!
We forget the message of Christ was not one of earthly power or where we are on the religious/spiritual food chain. We must remember that these are people that GOD sovereignly choice to create and put on this earth, without asking you, and we are called to love them the best we can with how God only enables us to do. The Word is clear that ANYTHING we do outside of that is sin.
What the dude said
This Pastor has stated, verbally, that he is standing up against the ‘radical sect of Islam’ stating that we will no longer bow our knees to them and no longer live in fear.  What?!  Where’s THAT in the Bible?? How easy is it to insert “We will NO LONGER turn the other cheek! We will no longer bow one on knee!” Seriously, what does the Word say about this? In NO uncertain terms it says this: love them, pray for them, turn the other cheek, give them your tunic (Luke 6). If this pastor hears God’s voice, like Luke says true believers do, he is a SLAVE to these things.  Slave = no rights. As an America, I deeply defend his right to do such a thing, as a Christian I strongly state that the Word says he does not.
Like has mentioned several times before, we by now means can expect people to react Godly who are not redeemed – this includes Americans and Muslim nations alike. We cannot expect non-believers to react with grace because it ONLY comes from the Father. Whether the burning happens or not, grace MUST abound and we must ask God to give us the ability to show that grace to both Radical Muslims as well as a man that is set on burning something he fears.
As you might have gathered, my perspective on living in a largely Muslim community in a communist nation vastly impacts my opinion on these things. But please hear this – the Muslims I know are people that are literally trying to get by in life yet.  Trying to make ends meet.  Are worried about there children… yet we more often than not, in our hearts, tend to group them together (I speak of myself in these things).

The events that are happening in America right now truly truly tear my heart to pieces. I’ve watched hateful things be spewed all over the place, and more often than not come out of the mouths of Christians. We are allowed to understand what peoples believes are we should not be fearful of them as well.

Even if EVERY SINGLE muslim was an extremist, the Word of God is clear that we are to still not retaliate, still love them, still bless them.

You keep quoting that parable. I do not think it means what you think it means.

December 3, 2009 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There is a well-used Christian expression (I really love Christian expressions, if by love you mean get highly annoyed by) that comes from a parable in Matthew 20, the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  Read here. In this parable, Jesus talks about a vineyard owner who is hiring people to work for him.  He hires people first thing in the morning and agrees to pay them a day’s wage (a denarius).  He keeps going back throughout the day, hiring more people, but he doesn’t say what he will pay those who only work part of the day.  Finally he goes back at the end of the day with only one hour left to work, or “the 11th hour.” (There’s our expression)  He tells them that he will pay them what is fair.

After the day is over, he starts paying everyone.  Starting with those who only worked an hour, the owner ends up paying everyone the same amount–a full day’s wage. The men who worked the whole day were outraged that they got paid the same as those who worked an hour.  The landowner’s response is like a punch in the face:

‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

The parable is referring to people who come into God’s kingdom.  When many of us quote this, we think of it in terms of when you came to faith.  So someone who comes to faith in the “11th hour” is someone who follows Christ at the end of their life.  The application of the parable then is for those of us who came to faith earlier to not be resentful of those who find God later. “Berrrnnnn”(That’s onomatopoeia for loud annoying game show buzzer sound)

Jesus is talking to the Pharisee’s.  Jewish people are the one’s who have been in the vineyard all day.  People new to the kingdom–the Church, Gentiles are the ones who come in at the end.  That’s you.  Regardless of when you came to faith, you are one who has come in at the 11th hour.  The payment that you have received for your time in God’s vineyard is way more than you deserve.  That is why it is referred to as gift (Romans 6:23).  Nothing you have done merits or earns the favor and gift of eternal life that God offers.

If you start identifying yourself with the people who have been working in the field all day, you can fall into the trap of the Pharisees where you begin to believe that you have earned God’s favor.  You haven’t.  It is a generous gift from a loving God.