25 September 2014

Sexuality, Pt 4: God's Design

Part I // Part II // Part III // Part V

Every design can be broken down to its most essential components, based on their functionality.  There is nothing in the natural world that exists without function, even though we might not necessarily be able to identify all the particulars.  Heck, even Target wall art and useless yard-sale nicknacks both serve purposes (albeit not ones that I will tolerate in my house).  Whether we're talking about atoms or appendages, and whether you look at the universe through the lens of creationism or evolutionary theory, it is undeniable that there is functionality in the material world.

The water cycle.  The food chain.  Oxygen.  The sun.

All of these serve a purpose.  All of them are co-dependent in the natural system.  Were one piece to become misaligned, the entire Rube Goldberg would come to a screeching halt.

And speaking of sex...

Maybe it sounds cold, simplified, or ultra-conservative, but human sexuality is also ultimately defined by its functionality, not unlike these other elements of the material world.  Maybe you like to think of sex as a cathartic, spiritual, or social tool, and the biblical mandate sounds restrictive and limiting to your sexual freedom.  Maybe you think that God doesn't care about sexuality.  Maybe you just don't want Him to know what goes on in your bedroom.

Regardless of what we might be prone to think, however, the Bible records God's function and design for human sexuality.  Not unlike the universe operating on its infinitely complex system of ropes and pulleys, one kink in the strings of sexuality can bring the entire system crashing down.

In the Beginning

God originated His plan at creation, a plan that has neither altered over time nor been adapted to make provision for human preference.  You're probably already familiar with the story out of Genesis, but if we're going to discuss the rightness or wrongness of sexuality, we ultimately have to return to its origin in order to determine its purpose and functionality.

In the first chapter of the Bible, the story of creation is abbreviated.  Tim Keller wisely makes the observation that Genesis 1 and 2 together form a literary couplet, much in the same vein as Judges 4 & 5 and Exodus 14 & 15, where "one chapter describes a historical event and the other is a song or a poem about the theological meaning of the event... Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a 'song' about the wonder and meaning of God's creation... [while] Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened" (The Reason for God, p 97).  We can see the poetry infused into the very text.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. 
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Then, Genesis 2 more specifically documents the mode of creation:

7 ...then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil... 15 The Lord God took the man [Adam] and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, 
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

So that's the account.  Now let's discuss the particular elements and their implications.

"The man and his wife" / "male and female he created them"

Not even a dog would suffice as Adam's sidekick.
There are plenty of biblical passages with easy to misunderstand subtext.  Not so here.

God designed the base unit of humanity in a pair: one man, one woman.  One male and one female.

No "helper fit for Adam" was to be found in all of the created world.  God's miraculous act of forming Eve from Adam's rib was not His Plan B or an afterthought.  Instead, the specific delay in creating Adam's helper serves as a very intentional reminder to mankind -- even in the beginning -- that man requires a very specific counterpart, and that no other piece of creation had the necessary functionality to fulfill that role.  Eve was created specifically to supplement Adam, to strengthen him, and was symbolically taken from his side as a picture of the intimate and deeply connected relationship a husband and a wife were intended to share.  He, to nurture, protect, and prefer; she, to support, embolden, and encourage.

This was God's first and only design.

"A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife"

This is the establishment of biblical, God-honoring marriage.  Mankind has continued to utilize this lifestyle throughout history -- as much for love and companionship as for the very survival of the human race.  God gave Adam -- a man who had no earthly parents himself -- the instructions to pass down to his future sons: leave your father and mother (in modern terms, become financially independent of them) and become emotionally, physically, and spiritually joined to your wife, for the rest of your life on earth.

Modern society doesn't place nearly as much emphasis on marriage as did older cultures.  Today, it's widely considered more of a novelty than a practicality.  It's treated as a romantic pastime for people who are in love, which is why the marriage can be so carelessly discarded when it grows old or complicated.

"A much wiser and more mature view of the world," this generation argues, "supports cohabitation and committed relationships.  Marriage as an institution has failed."

Of course, the reality is not that marriage as an institution has failed, but that we as human beings have failed.  With the entrance of sin into the world came individuals and even whole societies that have disregarded and even perverted marriage, the core human relationship, extracting the one quality they found attractive and warping it into something that existed only for the gratification of their lusts.  This type of sexual brokenness was one of the first consequences of the break in fellowship between God and man, and continues to be among the most debilitating and self-destructive human behaviors.  Without marital parameters consecrating sex as a sacred act -- something to be protected and valued by a husband and wife -- the leap to things like homosexuality, bestiality, and rape becomes remarkably short.

However, the fact that deviant sexual behavior has existed in one form or another since the fall of man does not mean that its longevity is evidence of its legitimacy.  Sin's very existence is not proof of its acceptability.  Perhaps our society doesn't consider itself wicked for its wanton sexual escapades, nor for its stunning divorce rate, but the all-knowing God of the universe certainly doesn't lose track.  He is a just God who absolutely does not desire to condemn anyone (2 Pet 3.9); yet for those who refuse to acknowledge His absolute truth, there can only be one, final fate.

Marriage, the holy union of one man and one woman, is the order God established in the beginning.  Its sanctity is just as important today as it was then.  It is not an archaic practice or an empty commitment, and in itself is not a broken institution: to the contrary, its parameters are broken only by the ones who practice it halfheartedly.

"They were not ashamed"

Prior to sin entering the world, Adam and Eve's sexual relationship was perfect.  Their intimacy was characterized by joy, beauty, and innocence.  There was no shame to mar the perfection.  Neither wondered what sex with someone else would be like, nor was there any emotional baggage from previous relationships to cloud their marriage.  There was no fear that the ways in which they were physically engaging were wrong.

Whether our culture wants to admit it or not, sexuality makes an emotional mess of us all.  All intimate acts that do not take place in the confines of a loving, committed marriage ultimately bring only regret.  Maybe not in the moment, but certainly when it's over.  Maybe you regret that it's gone, or maybe you regret that you ever engaged sexually with that person.  Maybe you don't know what you feel, or maybe the shame disguises itself as a type of nostalgia for a past relationship that once meant so much.  But no matter the form it takes, this lack of fulfillment is all part of the same thing.

Adam and Eve knew perfect sexuality, one that was untainted by sin.  That was God's design -- for sex to be a beautiful, enjoyable, and fulfilling expression of mutual love and commitment shared between a husband and a wife.  However, both they and we chose the alternative: the allure of sin, which promises something better, but leads only to all manner of brokenness.

Guilt and shame come with the package of practicing sexuality outside of marriage -- as rightly they should.  And yet, when we begin to acknowledge the wrong that we've done, we find that God offers a forgiveness like no other -- a perfect, once-and-for-all redemption that, while not necessarily eliminating the consequences of our sin, does remove from us the judgment we have earned.

God delights to show mercy to all who come in true repentance.

"Be fruitful and multiply"

Let's be frank.  Sex between a husband and wife is not only for producing children.  Marital intimacy serves many purposes, not the least of which is simple enjoyment shared between husband and wife.  It is an expression of mutual dependence and affection, a beautifully unifying experience, and an emotional type of glue.

However, sex is also the vehicle of human reproduction.  That's Health 101, right?  Simplistic though it may be, it's still worth mentioning because the push for homosexual "rights" is essentially a denial of the importance of continuing the species.

"Don't be ridiculous," some would say.  "That's taking it too far."

Well, at its root, homosexuality claims, "I want sex only the way I want it."  And from a purely physiological standpoint, same-sex intimacy cannot produce offspring.  Sure, same-sex couples can adopt, or they can utilize modern medicine and surrogate mothers or sperm donors to crudely construct a family for themselves.  However, because that type of devised parenthood does not occur naturally, and because that is not the way God intended for the family to be structured, it is a strong indicator that the practice of homosexuality not only lacks functionality but also goes completely against the system's design.

"You did NOT just make that joke."
Again, sex is not only for making babies.  Not every couple will want children, and not every couple will be able to have children.  God's directive to Adam and Eve was much more purposeful because they were the only human beings on the planet at that point in history.  However, just because the earth is fully populated in the modern era, and just because we've got what we think are new and updated ideas about sex, doesn't mean that God's design should be forgone.

That would be *ahem* to throw out the baby with the bathwater.


Maybe it seems like I've shifted gears a little bit, but in the modern era, any discussion of God's design for sex will inevitably lead to the issue of homosexuality.  Pardon my bluntness, but there really isn't any room for argument on the matter when it comes to having an accurate biblical perspective.  Just as the pursuit of intimate heterosexual relationships outside of marriage is sinful, so also is the practice of homosexuality.

I feel that a caveat is necessary here.

Please understand, my goal with the remainder of this post is not to attack homosexuality, to lambast those who practice or sympathize with it, or to add to the argumentative noise of the internet.  However, the truth of the Bible is absolute, and it will offend people when it rubs up against their divergent choices.  Jesus told the masses that He didn't come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10.34) -- not because He desired to infuriate the world, but because they would inevitably be infuriated by His personal challenge to their sinful lifestyles.  With this post, I don't in any way intend to be militant, aggressive, or angry.  I'm a sinner in need of grace, just like every other person in this world.  It has been my goal throughout writing this series to accurately portray biblical sexuality and share truth in a constructive and understanding way -- not to hurl accusations or to elevate my personal opinion to the same level as the Word of God.

Bearing that in mind, remember -- as I stated in part two of this series -- that the contemporary push for marriage equality is not just a harmless desire for the right to personal sexual expression.  Maybe on the surface the gay agenda is just an innocent quest for individuality, but its pursuit to achieve a new label -- a label handed down by the legal system that not only legitimizes but also promotes their lifestyle -- is an attempt to crack the shell of God's moral law.

That makes it not just an issue of sex.  It's a rejection of absolute truth.

The homosexual community doesn't like that aspect of biblical rationality.  They don't like moral absolutes or one-way-to-heaven theology because they want to dissect the Word and enable one tiny violation.  Just one can't be damning, can it?  However, as the Bible attests, the way to enter heaven is through the narrow gate (Matt 7.13).  Just as the rich man must leave his wealth behind, because he can't carry it into heaven with him, so also the man who makes his identity his sexual preference must shed his lustful activities, because his gratification profits nothing in the light of eternity.

Maybe that sounds unfair.  "I was born this way," the homosexual man would say, "I can't help it."

The truth is, we are all born in sin.  We were all born "this way."

Contrary to what many conservative Christians might think, the Bible actually supports the modern hypothesis of genetic predisposition, because it teaches me that I am born into sin (Psa 51.5) -- both spiritually and physically (in other words, genetically).  So yes, homosexual tendency probably does find its root in a malformed gene or hormone imbalance -- not unlike every other sin humans have tendencies to commit.  Yet even still, that doesn't excuse me from my own culpability.  In other words, genetics are no more an excuse for the way I am than a difficult home life is.  I'm still every bit responsible for the sins I commit, whether I point the finger at my genetic makeup or my family.

Even as a believer, sexual sin was a struggle for me all my dating life, and it was hard to stop.  However, just because it was hard to overcome the temptation doesn't mean I had the right to claim I was born that way and continue.  Just because it was my flesh's inclination to pursue sex doesn't mean I was morally excused to float in my carnality instead of swimming upstream.  Therefore, even if my genes do predetermine my propensity to sin in a sexual manner, that doesn't mean I have a get-out-of-jail-free card.  In the same way, the man whose genes predetermine his addictive behavior doesn't have the liberty to abuse alcohol and live his life in a drunken, angry stupor.

Whatever our struggle, we're still held to the same standard of holiness as is the rest of the human race.  We either meet that standard through the person of Jesus Christ or we fall short of it.  The beauty of the Scriptures is that He enables me to lay aside my predisposition to sin -- an enslavement to which I'd be completely broken without Him.  The blood of Christ enables me to rise above my inherent genetic weaknesses and become a new creation in Him.  If we refuse to acknowledge this fact, then sure -- we truly can't help ourselves.  We remain slaves to our sin, dead in our trespasses, and willfully ignorant of salvation.  But if we genuinely desire to know God and to pursue lives with meaning, then we will be willing to look past our weaknesses and accept His divine help to overcome them.

Frankly, the "this is just the way I am" argument seems so defeatist to me.  "I can't help it," this perspective claims, ultimately (if unintentionally) implying that homosexuality is nothing more than a genetic weakness, and one that cannot be overcome.

Who wants to live a life where all that I am and can be is predetermined by a genetic factor?

Who wants to live a life where I can't help who I am, so I'll not even try to change?

Wouldn't a more invigorating existence be to rise above what we are?  By the way, Christ enables us to do that.

Keep in mind, though, that our desire for sinful things isn't an indication that our wants are "natural" -- only that our hearts, as John Calvin astutely proclaimed, are wicked idol factories.  We wrongfully think that things besides a loving God and His basic laws will satisfy our cravings, and make idols out of them.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that what we want is our right, that what we want is perfectly acceptable, and that no one has the right to tell us it's wrong.  Anything we place in greater prominence to God and His law becomes an idol -- anything we choose to worship instead of Him.  Whether that's sex or money or something else entirely, it is the very definition of sin.

That being said, has homosexuality become the "cardinal sin" of our decade?  Unfortunately, yes.

All sins are equal in God's eyes.  Being guilty of one is to be guilty of them all (Jas 2.10), and homosexuality is no different.

However, if the gay community feel especially targeted by the church, it is because they are the only group in recent history that has so radically attempted to justify its sinfulness via legality.  Their pursuit of total political, social, and religious validation of their lifestyle is an attempt to eliminate their own spiritual culpability.  What they perceive as a type of civil oppression is millennia of cultural rejection coming to a head.  As previously stated, perversions of sexuality have existed since the fall of man, and while countless individuals have engaged in them, these types of sex acts have always been regarded by the larger community as deviations from the natural order and ostracized.  Only in this modern era, the age of moral relativism, has the drive for recognition made the practice of homosexuality a culture of its own.

In fact, the current generation views the homosexual agenda as a matter on par with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  From that long-in-coming social upheaval, the world finally recognized that the color of a man's skin shouldn't determine his status or rank him according to old-world notions of racial hierarchy.  Similarly, the homosexual community argues, the rest of the world should finally pull its head out of its keister and recognize their right to every civic privilege that heterosexual people enjoy.

Frankly, I find it insulting that the homosexual community liken their struggle for recognition to African Americans' life-or-death battle for equal rights -- and I'm not even black.  The Civil Rights movement wasn't about legalizing a sinful practice, it was about abolishing one.  Furthermore, a man doesn't have the choice to not be black or to not be white, though either can certainly embrace their racial identity as something God has specifically designed.  However, a man does have the choice whether he will pursue the biblical notion of sexuality or a worldly one -- regardless of what temptations he might experience.  What the Civil Rights movement ultimately taught the world was that the color of a man's skin doesn't make him a sinner.  What the Bible teaches, on the other hand, is that being a human does, and that no matter what justifying labels we slap on our sinful behaviors, they are still condemning.

Though they might cry victim and insist that they have done nothing morally wrong, the homosexual rights crusade doesn't have the same footing to stand upon as did the Civil Rights movement.  We can look again at the Genesis account where God created Adam and Eve specifically male and female, with the intent to harmonically and cooperatively fill social and spiritual roles.  We can look at the modern-day pharisees' favorite passage in Romans 1, where Paul explicitly states that homosexuality is an abomination and an abandonment of the "natural affections" God intended.  No matter which way you slice it, if you claim to have an accurate, biblical understanding of sexual immorality, then you must recognize homosexuality as simply another aspect of the broken nature of this world -- not unlike the racism against which Martin Luther King Jr. fought, a cause for which he would ultimately give his life, in order to see it finally abolished.

This type of hatred is the result of a malformed understanding
of grace, and is every bit as despicable to God as the practice
these individuals are condemning.
Now, have the methods of opposing marriage equality employed by the church been fair, respectful, and pleasing to God?

Certainly not all of them.

Certainly not all of them.

Though the core principle that homosexuality is a sin is 100% biblical, Christendom's manner of conveying that truth has often been equally as sinful.  I am deeply distressed by the church at large's stance toward homosexuality, and moved for a community of individuals who desperately need to hear the love, forgiveness, and regeneration of Christ proclaimed -- not just His judgment.  As bearers of the truth of God, we have a tremendous responsibility to communicate in love that life-changing knowledge to the gay population.  Such a message of grace is most palatable when it is presented to sinners by sinners.  Let's never forget that we're imperfect also, restored to favor with God only by the blood of Jesus Christ -- which we did not deserve -- and that the truth we bear is not our own.

Problems Inherent to Homosexuality

Homosexuality is not a functional application of sex.  It is a misuse of God's design for human intimacy.  It ignores His intent for family structure and denies the opportunity and privilege of natural procreation.  Furthermore, it is fraught with philosophical and logistical problems, separate entirely from the fact that human anatomy itself is not conducive to the homosexual act.

For starters, homosexuality can't be considered evolutionary.  In addition to going against the Bible, it also contradicts Darwinism.  You might be of the impression that afore-mentioned scientific developments are evolution in motion -- that our new ability to perform sex change operations and grow organs and babies in petri dishes is the process of our species evolving into a superior form, and that homosexuality is just one result of nature's inevitable course.  However, the undergirding principle of evolutionary theory is natural selection, or the survival of the fittest -- the preservation of the essential (the functional) in order to develop into the superior.  Without natural reproduction, the theoretical evolutionary process breaks down entirely.

Homosexuality is therefore not evolutionary.  It's devolutionary.

Another problem inherent to homosexuality is that its practice weakens potential same-sex friendships.  For the same reason it is difficult (I would argue near impossible) for a man to be close friends with a woman without creating romantic attachment, it is difficult for gay men or women to have any type of mutually encouraging, spiritually uplifting relationship that isn't at least vaguely tainted by sexual tension.  The Bible prescribes discipleship-based relationships between members of the same gender for the sake of encouraging one another in godly living.   It's why there are men's Bible studies and women's Bible studies: to specifically tackle struggles and challenges inherent to gender -- many of which involve relationships with the opposite gender.  That endeavor would be completely undermined by romantic connection.  Therefore, SSA throws a wrench into the whole concept.

Homosexuality is also problematic to our modern culture because, through its aggressive push for legal recognition, it has opened the door for other deviant sexual behaviors to achieve the same type of legitimization.  For example, though pedophilia is still considered a psychiatric disorder, it has more recently been described as a "disorder of sexual preference, phenomenologically similar to a heterosexual or homosexual sexual orientation because it emerges before or during puberty, and because it is stable over time" (Brian L. Cutler, Encyclopedia of Psychology and Law).  Still illegal, perhaps, but now labeled as something slightly less harmful -- something slightly more sympathetic.  The fact that something like homosexuality -- something once universally considered a deviant sexual behavior -- is now vying for recognition as a legitimate practice means that other deviant sexual behaviors are equally in the running for that type of recognition.

Maybe that seems unfair.  I'm certainly not saying homosexuality is the same thing as pedophilia.  However, I don't think their conjunction in this regard is an illogical stretch.  If both homosexuality and pedophilia are violations of God's design for sex, then the legitimization of one is the opportunity for the other.

Jesus requires His followers to do hard things

You've probably been told by the internet, the TV, and even wayward pastors alike that you can be a vibrant part of the church, love God, and still keep your homosexual lifestyle.  You've probably been told that God loves you as you are and that Biblical judgment of sexual sins is for those who don't love God, or for those who are unfaithful to their sexual partners.

This all sounds fantastic to a world that desires no absolute truth: live your life how you want, with a flexible moral code that feels like complete absolution, under the twinkling eye of a "favorite uncle" type of god who allows you to be your own person and make your messes, but still slips you candy at the dinner table.  That notion of "god" makes Him out to be a spineless entity with no real power to help -- a god completely undeserving of our time, dependance, or adoration.

On the other hand, a God who controls the universe, who sustains life and exists beyond full human comprehension, who insists on His absolute law and His absolute glory because He is the rightful, supreme being, yet who made a way for us to have an intimate relationship with Him by sacrificing His Son on our behalf...

That's a God worth believing in.  That is the God of the Bible.

Make no mistake about this: if you are in a homosexual relationship, neither your life nor your actions can be pleasing to that type of God.  That's not because your sin is worse than any others.  The same standard applies to anyone who lies, steals, or sins sexually with members of the opposite sex.  We can't claim to love God and yet continue in sin.  Mistakes are one thing; habitual, lifestyle-based sinning is another.  The God of the Bible requires righteousness of His followers: in order to follow Him, we must take up a cross and walk in His footsteps.  Grace is free to all, but costly to those who choose it.  In order to become like Christ, we must give up our notions about how life should be, the sinful desires that we want to pursue, and our selfish philosophies about what we deserve.

God absolutely does accept you just as you are, weaknesses, failures, and all.  But He is not content to leave you that way.

You might say, "You've never struggled with same-sex attraction, so this is all easy for you to say."  And you'd be right.  However, I have my own temptations to overcome -- temptations that have been difficult to let go of, sins that have felt like "no big deal" and "my right" to take.  It's hard to overcome personal weakness.  It's especially hard to overcome sexual sin.  However, with the strength God supplies, it is not only possible, but also truly fulfilling to find our satisfaction ultimately in Him and Him alone.

We can't follow Him if we insist on keeping our pet sins with us.  Heterosexual or homosexual, we need to recognize that God requires obedience from His followers -- not because that's what saves us, but because that obedience is the evidence that He has saved us.  To lay down our sinful desires is to demonstrate that our true desire is -- above all else -- to love and to glorify Him with our lifestyles.

Yes, it's hard.  But it's functional.  And He is fulfilling.  This is what we were beautifully designed to do.

Ephesians 3.20: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

17 September 2014

Miracles, Evolution, and Faith

The debate between scientific and religious communities on the function of the natural world is ultimately not a disagreement on biological processes.  It is a disagreement on worldview.  It is a debate between those who believe in a Designer and those who purport philosophical naturalism -- that is, the belief that everything has a natural (as opposed to super-natural) cause and organic life is solely the product of random forces.  Even non-religious scientists recognize the problems inherent to this view.  Furthermore, faith does not deny scientific reason, nor does it completely deny evolutionary theory.  However, it does deny a worldview that says, in sum, "None of this matters because it is all the result of chance."

I've written previously about faith as a worldview and the legitimacy of traditional, conservative beliefs.  I also intend to write a more extensive post on the topic of scientific reasoning.  For now, however, I wanted to briefly share something that I found immensely encouraging.

For those who wrestle with this debate, for those who have doubts about Jesus, or for those who have difficulty rationalizing scientific reasoning with the miracles of the Bible, the following passage from Timothy Keller's The Reason for God is a wise and precious analysis of God's operation in the natural world.
In Matthew 28, we are told that the apostles met the risen Jesus on a mountainside in Galilee.  "When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted" (verse 17).  That is a remarkable admission.  Here is the author of an early Christian document telling us that some of the founders of Christianity couldn't believe the miracle of the resurrection, even when they were looking straight at him with their eyes and touching him with their hands.  There is no other reason for this to be in the account unless it really happened.
This passage shows us several things.  It is a warning not to think that only we modern, scientific people have to struggle with the idea of the miraculous, while ancient, more primitive people did not.  The apostles responded like any group of modern people -- some believed their eyes and some didn't.  It is also an encouragement to patience.  All the apostles ended up as great leaders in the church, but some had a lot more trouble believing than others.
The most instructive thing about this text is, however, what it says about the purpose of Biblical miracles.  [They are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts.] They lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder.  Jesus' miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce.  You never see him say something like: "See that tree over there?  Watch me make it burst into flames!"  Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead.  Why?  We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order.  The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it.  Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken.  His miracles are not just proof that he has power, but are also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power.
Jesus' miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts -- a promise that the world we all want is coming.

Come, Lord Jesus.

11 September 2014

Sexuality, Pt. 3: Dating

Part I // Part II // Part IV // Part V

In a back edition of Reader's Digest, Glenn Cunningham -- the great American athlete and miler -- recounted the following story:
Africa's Victoria Falls produces a cloud of mist that is often heavy enough to impair visibility. While I was walking the path that skirts the gorge into which the Zambezi River tumbles, I noticed a sign on the rim but could not make it out. Not wanting to miss whatever it might be noting, I slithered and slid through the mud out to the very brink only to read the message: "Danger! Crumbling Edge."
To a frightening degree, I think this is how Christians in the modern era handle dating.  We get lost in the cloud of emotion and expectations, knowing all the while that there's a crumbling edge somewhere nearby but never really sure how many steps away it is.  Even though we're trying to keep an eye out -- trying to keep ourselves informed by the biblical principles of love, purity, and holiness -- we often discover ourselves on brink of falling into the chasm below before we even realize the imminence of the danger.

Sexuality in dating is pandemic.  The general sentiment of the modern age is "try it before you buy it" -- that is, if there even is any intention of "buying" at all.  There are a number of things wrong with that sentiment, not the least of which is the fact that it elevates sexuality to the principle element of love and relational connectivity.  An even bigger problem, however, is that it frontloads a complete lack of trust into the relationship, building earthworks of emotional suspicion that are ultimately debilitating.

In the famous wedding passage, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul talks about love "believing all things" and "hoping all things."  In other words, biblical love is the type that believes and hopes the best of the other individual -- it doesn't assume or presume wrongdoing or malcontent.  It chooses instead to look past the other person's faults, believing in his or her character, and trusting in the legitimacy of his or her reciprocal love.

"That's foolish," the world says.  "How do you know you can really trust that person?"

"Everybody lies."
Well, if we want to be philosophical about it, you can't.  Not really.  Let's be honest: we can only know what's in our own hearts, and even then we often have the nasty tendency to deceive ourselves.  But that doesn't mean we should treat relationships as lost causes, adopting a House-ian, misanthropic outlook and assume the worst in everybody.  Biblically, we recognize the faults inherent in every human being and extend the same type of grace to them that we ourselves have received.

Furthermore, the whole point of dating is to get to know the other person's character -- to begin to know who he or she truly is.  There are so many dimensions to this kind of relational exploration, but "sexual chemistry" doesn't need to be part of the equation.  It shouldn't be.  Sexuality is a wonderful voyage of discovery, but it is best experienced for the first time with your spouse.  Marriage is the appropriate place for sexual intimacy.  Dating, on the other hand, is the opportunity to learn about the person in whom you're romantically vested, to determine whether or not he or she is the type of individual who could help you to become more like Jesus Christ.  Dating is the opportunity to compare interests and backgrounds, to know where each other is strong and where each other is weak, and determine if your mutual interest is something that can grow into a God-honoring love, that can be mutually edifying.  If that is how we approach dating, then the details of sex and the importance of "chemistry" become not nearly as important as our culture makes them out to be.

In other words, you don't need to know how good the other person is in bed to have a meaningful, lasting relationship.  Sex is best experienced the way God intended it: in the protective confines of a committed marriage.

Dating is not the time or the place for that level of intimacy.

Before I go on, please don't take this post as a criticism of dating.  It's not intended to be.  It's also not a followup to Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye (a book I've never even read).  It is, however, a caution to teenagers, college students, and single adults alike who claim the name of Christ, yet find themselves drowning in a sea of cultural expectations, sex-drenched media portrayals of love and relationships, and horribly failed dating attempts.

It's a warning that there's a dangerous, crumbling edge somewhere out there in that murk.

Don't go over it.  In fact, don't get anywhere close to it.

That, of course, can seem tricky at first glance, because there are no explicit "rules" in the Bible when it comes to dating.  In that regard, we have to remember who the Bible was written to (the Old Testament to ancient Israel, and the New to the early church) at the same time we remember who it was written for (all men of all eras now and to come).  Neither ancient Israelite culture nor those who lived during the early church age practiced any form of dating, which is why the Bible doesn't mention it.  However, there are principles that the Bible does teach that should govern the way we conduct ourselves in all manner of relationships, not the least of which is dating.

And by the way, while it might be silent on issues specific to a dating culture, the Bible is not silent on the fact that sex belongs in marriage (just in case you thought or hoped it was).  Paul says that anyone who can't control his or her sexual urges should find a spouse rather than burn with lust (1 Cor 7.9), and in Genesis 29, Jacob's abstention from sexual relations with Rachel prior to their wedding showcases the God-given manner of waiting until marriage.  Under Old Testament law, men who violated virgins were expected to marry them (Ex 22.16Deut 22.29), and a woman was expected to be a virgin when she married (Deut 22.13-21).  While we are no longer under Old Testament law in the sense that we must follow all its rules and regulations, the principle of holiness that undergirded them remains our standard of living.  Furthermore, God designed the sexual relationship to be exclusive (Song 2.16Deut 22.22-30) and requires that the marriage bed should not only be honored but also remain unstained by any worldly immorality (Heb 13.4), and marital infidelity is condemned throughout the Scriptures (Prov 5.157:1-5; 10-11).

If there is any standalone passage that seems to me like an illuminating beacon, shining through the mist of how to conduct one's self in a dating relationship, it's Paul's encouragement to Timothy that young men should treat sisters in Christ as though they are literally siblings, in a manner of utmost purity (1 Tim 5.1).  And what is biblical purity, but to love God above all else, and to be self-controlled, disciplined, and untainted by worldly influence (Titus 2.12; Jas 1.27)?  If that is how we should conduct ourselves in general, then it is how we should conduct ourselves in dating relationships.  In other words, if you wouldn't touch, address, or look at your sister the way you do your girlfriend, or if you find that you have a difficult time controlling your sexual impulses around her, both are good indicators that your dating behavior has reached the crumbling edge and is dangerously close to plummeting into the pit of sexual immorality -- if you haven't already fallen in.

Another lighthouse in the murk is 1 Corinthians 13 itself.  If love is to be exercised without selfishness as Paul claims -- without "seeking its own" (13.5) -- then we can logically conclude that any act of sexuality outside of marriage is a form of seeking one's own.  In our flesh, we are always going to selfishly desire personal gratification, but that doesn't mean we have to succumb to that drive.  We can choose instead to value the other person's good.  To act out on my inappropriate sexual desires is to say, "I care more about my own desire than I do about your integrity."  On the other hand, if we were to show honor the way the Bible commands (Rom 12.10), we would treat everyone -- especially our significant others -- with purity, genuinely valuing holiness in ourselves and in others the way God does.

The bottom line here is that sexual immorality is not just a minor issue.  Sex outside of marriage isn't "no big deal."  The sin of lust, which Jesus equated to the act of immorality itself (Matt 5.28), is the type of sin that can affect any walk of life, and it will utterly consume and destroy everything in your life if left unaddressed (Job 31.12).  Therefore, the biblical principles -- "rules," if you will -- that we impose upon ourselves as believers aren't there to keep us from having fun or expressing our individuality as the world might think.  They're there to protect us from the inevitable consequences of sexual immorality.

I was an English student, so I like to think about things through a literary lens.  In that regard, I find it helpful to consider sexual immorality via the five journalistic W's and the H.

The who (not the band) might be less obvious than it seems.  The who could be your significant other, your casual date, or your friend with whom "it's complicated."  The who is anyone with whom you are sexually active who is not legally married to you.  That also includes any kind of sexual intimacy with a member of the same gender.  SSA is as expressly sinful in the Bible as pre-marital sex.  Either instance is taking sex out of the context of biblical marriage and applying it to an unhealthy, unwholesome, and ultimately self-seeking relationship.

The what/why is simply the act of sexual gratification.  What am I looking for when I begin to look at or touch a woman inappropriately?  I'm looking to satisfy a desire.  Why am I doing that?  Because my hormones and my emotions are telling me it's the natural thing to do.  Whether she initiates it or I do, one of us is lusting and choosing to act upon it, thereby forcing the other to refuse or succumb to the sin as well.

The where/when together are the key qualitative factor, naturally informing the others.  We know that sexuality in marriage is not only biblically permissible, but also fully encouraged by God as an act of love between a husband and a wife.  Therefore, the where/when of sexual immorality is any type of sexual activity that takes place outside those parameters.  By the way, that also includes the period of engagement, because the marriage is not legal until the certificate has been signed -- even though the couple is committed to one another and nearing the wedding.  If that's where you are currently, don't trip up at the finish line.  The experience is worth the wait.

Considering the parameters of where and when sexuality is acceptable, the how is hopefully almost irrelevant, because any sexual activity outside of the where/when (marriage) is immoral.  The how list might as well be an umbrella that includes any and all expressions of sexuality: things like masturbation, making out, and oral sex, though they might not be intercourse per se, are not off the hook.  I don't mean to be explicit, but in our flesh, we tend to draw subjective lines that are capable of satisfying both a personal sense of propriety as well as sinful desires, all the while obscuring the truth.  "Well, yes," we admit, "I did do that...  But I didn't do that."  In God's eyes, it's all the same -- whether we "go all the way" or only get to "second base."

Frankly, if you have to ask the question "How far is too far?" then you probably shouldn’t be pursuing a dating relationship.  That question communicates that you are less concerned with honoring God than you are with getting what you want out of the relationship.  On the other hand, if you choose to pursue biblical purity, then you will honor your date by valuing his or her holiness.  Couples who struggle with sexual temptation, but who want to glorify God through their relationship, can ask two broad questions when it comes to their dating choices: "Where do our minds go?" and "Where do our hands go?"  Maybe that seems juvenile, but these questions can apply to issues like "Do we kiss goodnight?" or "Where is a safe place to go on a date?"  The details will look different for each couples, because temptation varies.  For some couples, a kiss goodnight and holding hands on a date are perfectly innocent expressions of affection, but for another couple those same actions immediately lead elsewhere.  Regardless of your specific tendency, the objective should always be to remove temptation -- to flee from it, as the Bible prescribes (2 Tim 2.22; 1 Cor 6.18).  If we are really concerned with living pure, Christ-honoring lives, then we should be willing to give up goodnight kisses and hand holding in order to preserve our sexual integrity.

No matter what your specific sexual temptation is, don't tolerate it.  For that matter, don't tolerate another temptation that might lead to that temptation.  To do so is to create gateways for deeper sinful behaviors and debilitating habits to form that will utterly turn your relationship and your faith inside out.

It's part of human nature to be frustrated by rules like that.  When I was a teenager, I didn't want to hear adults' warnings that my emotional and physical closeness to my girlfriend was both dangerous and inappropriate.  In our flesh, we see rules as limitations on how we are to proceed -- lines that say "here, but no further."  The prideful spirit within us, the voice that says "I know what's best for me," and "Give me the chance to figure it out myself!" doesn't want to recognize the wisdom in parameters.  It sees moral guidelines only as restrictive.

Moral Relativism 101

It's ironic, then, that we enjoy games at all.  Games have rules.  There's an objective, something you must do to achieve it, and something you can't do if you want to achieve it.  The same goes for biblical guidelines: there's an objective (holiness, a life of undefiled worship before the Father), and we have parameters on how to achieve that.  If we follow the rules, we "win."  If we don't, we "lose."  To play tic-tac-toe outside the box is to make the game itself illegitimate.  Therefore, instead of feeling restricted by biblical morality, we should recognize that the path of righteousness that God requires of His followers is the very constitution of emotional health and spiritual stability.  Peter T. Forsyth, the Scottish theologian, made the great observation that the "first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master." It is only by finding our Master -- by willingly placing ourselves under His wise and completely reasonable rules -- that we may also obtain spiritual freedom in Christ.

In his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller gives the following account:
A friend of C. S. Lewis's was once asked, "Is it easy to love God?" and he replied, "It is easy to those who do it."  That is not as paradoxical as it sounds.  When you fall deeply in love, you want to please the beloved.  You don't wait for the person to ask you to do something for her.  You eagerly research and learn every little thing that brings her pleasure.  Then you get it for her, even if it costs you money or great inconvenience.  "Your wish is my command," you feel -- and it doesn't feel oppressive at all...  For a Christian, it's the same with Jesus.  The love of Christ constrains.  Once you realize how Jesus changed for you and gave himself for you, you aren't afraid of giving up your freedom and therefore finding your freedom in him.
Salvation by grace is a narrow concept, yes.  There is only one way to heaven.  It's God's way or no way at all.  However, the rules that the Bible imposes on followers of Christ are not about limitation.  They're about freedom -- freedom from a life in which it is impossible to please God and impossible to escape from sin.  That's why we are no longer subject to Old Testament law, which was about limitations: Mosaic law (essentially Leviticus through Deuteronomy) was a series of rules that were impossible for the Jews to keep completely, and the point was to demonstrate that they needed God -- not to show them the way of morality that would get them to heaven.  By contrast, the "rules" that New Testament believers follow aren't intended to show us our failures: they're about holiness, and they're a natural byproduct of being a true Child of God.

We are constrained by Christ so that we may be free in Him.

The bottom line, according to the Scriptures, is that there is no freedom apart from Jesus.  Without Him, we are slaves to wickedness.  The Bible describes our previous condition as a type of death -- death in our sinful trespasses (Eph 2.1).  We can't choose not to do bad things.  That's the idea behind Isaiah's equivocating man's good works to bloody menstrual rags (Isa 64.6).  Even the most generous philanthropist acts more to assuage a sense of moral obligation rather than simply out of the goodness of his heart.

In a recent blog post entitled, The Gospel vs. Moralism, Scott Sauls beautifully delineates between moralism (or "religion") -- a toxic deviation from the gospel -- and the gospel itself, describing the former as the practice in which an individual "tend[s] to do the right things but for all the wrong reasons," whose "joy and gratitude about Jesus’ love is less... a motivator than a desire to feel superior to others, to ease guilty consciences with good works, or to somehow impress God."  Only the Spirit can decipher man's intentions, of course, but it is absolutely true that the illusion of morality in the world is merely that -- an illusion.  Why?  Because, as Sauls goes on to say, "We are all much worse off than we think."

There is no goodness in the heart that does not belong to Christ.

For that matter, there is no true joy in the heart that does not belong to Christ.

None of that is intended to sound pessimistic.  It's intended to be realistic.  With God, we are free to love and to serve, to live for righteousness and no longer for our own selfish wants.  Without Him, we are inconceivably wicked.  That is why we must submit ourselves to the "rules" of New Testament living -- not because we need to fulfill a moral obligation, but because our hearts should yearn to love Christ with the sum total of our being.

He doesn't require hands to do His bidding.  He requires hearts to fellowship with Him and give Him glory.

Keep that in mind as you pursue a dating relationship.  The goal of dating isn't just to find a soulmate.  The goal is to love Christ through the God-ordained blessing of loving another human being.

If you are dating or are in a serious relationship, be aware that your infatuation for your significant can easily supersede your love for God.  Don't ever be completely alone with your date, and don't allow your relationship to become a hindrance to your other friendships.  Get reliable accountability -- not just for physical temptation, but also for the emotional temptation to treat your significant other as though he/she is already your spouse.  The appropriate time for that will come later.  Be faithful, be compassionately honest, and be willing to end the relationship if it ceases to be glorifying to God.  Be sure to spend time apart -- at least as much if not more than you do together.  Always encourage one another.

If you are a teenager and your parents don't allow you to date, be thankful for their protection and honor their wish.  I know that sounds unfair, and you most likely have a serious crush on someone whom you'd like to be dating.  Trust that God has given you parents for your training in righteousness and for your protection.  They know firsthand the dangers of dating -- they've been there, and they want to protect you from temptation.  That's a good thing.  It's not that they don't trust you.  And even in the supremely unlikely event that they truly don't trust you, then frankly you've proven to them by your choices that you can't be trusted.  This is still a good scenario even then, because they are keeping you from certain failure.  Either way, your parents are not just trying to keep you from being happy.  They are concerned with your spiritual well-being.  Now, while you're single, is the perfect time to practice submission to their authority, to learn the spiritual discipline of patience, and to devote your heart more fully to God alone.

Whoever you are, don't for a moment think you are strong enough to handle the temptations inherent to dating.  If we think we stand, we need to pause to consider before we fall (1 Cor 10.12).

Remember, there's a crumbling edge out there in the murk.  It will always be there.  But if you cling to biblical purity more than your perceived emotional "needs," you never have to go anywhere near it.

If you love Christ above all else and walk in His footprints, He will guide you safely around the chasm.

Reviews, Pt. 4

Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9

Next on the playlist!

Here are the album reviews I've written since the beginning of August.  Clicking on the album covers will take you to the band's music where you can listen to and/or download the album in full.  The hyperlinks will take you to my reviews.

Let me know what you think!


Ghost Town Riot - Ghost Town Riot (Seattle)

Ghost Town Riot is a catchy, intense, and well-written album.  The band have a good sound, strong dynamic concepts, and deeply thoughtful music that doesn’t fit any conventional pop/rock mold.
A Formal Horse - A Formal Horse EP (UK)

A Formal Horse come with gusto as well as instrumental proficiency, offering a final product that does not disappoint.  This EP is their debut showing: a small collection of their ambitious work to date.
In the Presence of Wolves - Thalassas (New Jersey)

Thalassas is a fantastic debut album, combining vivaciousness with thoughtfulness, and melody with technical proficiency.  It’s young and fresh, and hints at the quality of releases yet to come.

Flying Colors - Second Nature (US)

Second Nature, Flying Colors’ sophomore release, is representative of everything the band does well.  Its balladic, singable songs are also technical and complex, characterized both by their boldness and their uplifting refrains.  This is one of 2014’s definitive releases.
The Pineapple Thief - Magnolia (UK)

Magnolia, The Pineapple Thief’s 10th studio release, is an album complex enough to be progressive, but simple enough to be accessible, and warrants a number of listens to truly appreciate its well-constructed layers.

09 September 2014

Sexuality, Pt 2: Sexuality ≠ Identity

Part I // Part III // Part IV // Part V

In an article entitled "The Complexity of Identity: 'Who Am I?'," Beverly Tatum of the White Privilege Conference, a racial equality coalition, expressed the problem of self-identifying in the following words:

The concept of identity is a complex one, shaped by individual characteristics, family dynamics, historical factors, and social and political contexts. 
Who am I?
The answer depends in large part on who the world around me says I am.  Who do my parents say I am?  Who do my peers say I am?  What message is reflected back to me in the faces and voices of my teachers, my neighbors, store clerks?  What do I learn from the media about myself?  How am I represented in the cultural images around me? Or am I missing from the picture altogether? 
As social scientist Charles Cooley pointed out long ago, other people are the mirror in which we see ourselves.  This "looking glass self" is not a flat one-dimensional reflection, but multidimensional.  How one's racial identity is experienced will be mediated by other dimensions of one-self: male or female; young or old; wealthy, middle-class, or poor; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or heterosexual; able-bodied or with disabilities; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist.
What has my social context been?  Was I surrounded by people like myself, or was I part of a minority in my community?  Did I grow up speaking standard English at home or another language or dialect?  Did I live in a rural county, an urban neighborhood, a sprawling suburb, or on a reservation?
Who I am (or say I am) is a product of these and many other factors.
Tatum's thesis involves a complex number of interconnected dynamics -- race, economic status, geographical location, interpersonal and familial relationships, gender, sexuality, age, and more.  All of these are factors in personal identity, and the vast quantity of variables contributes to the struggle individuals undergo to figure out exactly who they are.  Ironically, the vast majority of these factors are external to the individual: the so-called "looking glass self" that the environment provides is completely independent of the image we try to create for ourselves.  Though we might try, we can't truly change our race, age, gender, or familial relationships.  In other words, many elements of our identities are pre-determined, not options we get to pick before we spawn.

The sexual revolution of the 1960's -- the push for "free love" and open, unrestricted sexuality -- elevated sexuality to the forefront of personal identity.  The push against a conservative cultural temperature was a statement of individuality -- a rebellion against what were considered repressive social norms in an attempt to indulge sexual passions without shame.  Because our culture wanted (and still wants) to exert control over their sexual practices (by "liberating" them), and simultaneously wants to feel connected to one another, they were quick to make sexual preference the key factor in self-identification.  Furthermore, because sexuality involves intimacy and vulnerability, it's a voluntary type of self-exposure that we should have the right to control -- how we want, when we want.  In the individual expression of sexuality, our culture wants control over personal identity.  Therefore, they make their sexual preference synonymous with who they are as individuals.

Unsurprisingly, that perspective is not biblical.  In fact, Paul builds his argument about believers being conformed to the image of Christ -- e.g. finding their identity in Him -- in the midst of a discussion on sexual immorality.  Even in the era of the early church, promiscuity and deviant sexual behaviors were a means by which people chose to identify themselves, and so Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 6 addresses the issue at its core, leaving no room for the "my sexual preference is my identity" argument to remain.  In fact, Paul insists that we should "flee sexual immorality," not only because it directly violates biblical commands, but also because it is against the very character of Christ -- the image, or the identity, to which believers should be conformed.  If we claim the name of Christ, then we are no longer our own -- we are bought with a price, and therefore must glorify our Father, choosing to be defined no longer by the world's parameters but by His.

If we are conformed to the image of Christ, then our behavior and our desires will look like His.

Our sexual activities should be defined by who we are in Him, not define who we are.

Paul further discusses our identity in Christ in Romans 8.  There, not only does he outline the compassion of a God who understands and helps us in our weaknesses, extending to us the strength to overcome all the temptations and sufferings set before us, but he also promises the future glory of eternity with Christ.  We are joint-heirs with Him, Paul reminds the believer, destined to judge angels, and redeemed (literally "bought back") from our slavery to sin and restored to a life of purity, honor, and eternal security.

In other words, we have been saved to so much more than sexual "freedoms."

Our identity is found in so much more than just our sexuality.

This conversation is perhaps most applicable to the homosexual community, who define themselves principally by their sexual preference.  A good friend of mine brought to my attention how ironic it is that individuals who stand for marriage equality were willing a few months back to trade their profile pictures on Facebook for a big equals sign.  It's ironic because, as the homosexual community pushes for their identity to be recognized, they are willing to hide their own faces for the cause.  They are willing to cover their physical, emotional, and spiritual identities with their sexual preference.  "This is who we are, get over it," is the principle sentiment of the gay community, which is as much a response to pharisaical bigotry as it is a militant front, and as much a statement of indifference to outside opinion as it is a cloak to cover the shame.  Regardless of the reasoning, to say "I'm a homosexual and this is who I choose to be" is ultimately a surrendering of individual identity for the sake of picking up a banner.  I understand that sexual preference is the issue that's being contested, but to wear homosexuality like a badge is to eclipse the sun with the moon.  It is elevating sexual preference to the single defining feature of identity.

On one hand, the gay community's tenacious defense of their sexual liberty is admirable.  On the other hand, the defensiveness that goes into their stance -- the sneer they wear to prove themselves bulletproof in their convictions -- speaks of the concealed nature of the sin in their hearts.  What they refuse to recognize is that covering their sinful actions with the approving stamp of legal sanction doesn't change the fact that what they desire is biblically wrong.

That being said, I won't victimize, vilify, or vindicate the gay community.  They need Jesus just like I do.  Furthermore, both Christians and homosexuals alike have been at fault throughout the course of this 40+ year debate, and both have proven time and again to be more noble than the other.  Would that self-proclaimed "Christians" were more adamant about the truth of Christ being proclaimed than about getting to throw the first stone.  However, the root issue of homosexuality is fundamentally misunderstood by both parties involved.  To the homosexual, the gay agenda is a personal application of social equality; to many Christians, the gay agenda is contrary to their sense of religious and social stability, a sin expressly condemned by the Bible, and one punishable by death in ancient Jewish culture (Lev 20.13).  Both perspectives ultimately miss the mark, because the gay agenda, so much more than being an innocent quest for individuality, is really a rejection of absolute truth.

"Not true," a member of that community might say, "we just want to have sex the way we want."  And maybe that's true on the surface, but the fact that they push for a new label -- a label handed down by the legal system that not only legitimizes but also promotes the homosexual lifestyle -- is an attempt to crack the shell of God's moral law.  It's itemizing, sure, and doesn't seem like it should be that big of a deal, but our God deals in absolutes.  The one who violates one command is guilty of violating them all (Jas 2.10).  Furthermore, the one who chooses to follow Christ must leave everything behind and take up a cross of his own.  There is no halfway with God, and there are no loopholes.  In fact, the only loophole in the Scriptures is the one Christ Himself provided: the way of escape from sin and death, a fate to which we were absolutely condemned without Him.

Our culture -- especially the homosexual community -- doesn't like that aspect of biblical rationality.  They don't like moral absolutes or one-way-to-heaven theology, because they want to dissect the Word and enable one tiny violation.  Just one can't be damning, can it?  However, as the Bible attests, the way to enter heaven is through the narrow gate (Matt 12.13).  Just as the rich man must leave his wealth behind because he can't carry it into heaven with him, so also the man who makes his identity his sexual preference must shed his lustful activities, because his gratification profits nothing in the light of eternity.

Maybe that sounds unfair.  "I was born this way," the homosexual man would say, "I can't help it."

The truth is, we are all born in sin.  We were all born that way.

Sexual sin was a struggle for me all my dating life, and it was hard to stop.  However, just because it was hard to overcome the temptation doesn't mean I had the right to claim I was born that way and continue.  Just because it was my flesh's inclination to pursue sex doesn't mean I was morally excused to float in my carnality instead of swimming upstream.  Even if my genes predetermine my propensity to sin in a sexual manner doesn't mean that I have a get-out-of-jail-free card.  I'm still held to the same standard of holiness as is the human race.  We either meet that standard through the person of Jesus Christ, or we fall short of it.

What I love so much about God's mercy -- aside from the fact that He always extends mercy before exacting judgment -- is the fact that, through it, He doesn't leave us alone.  He doesn't save us from sin and then leave us to fight our own uphill battles by our own strength and initiative.  Christ doesn't ask us to do anything we can't accomplish in His power, or to ever fight a battle on our own (Matt 19.26; 2 Cor 13.41 Cor 10.13).

So, is overcoming a sexual sin hard -- especially homosexuality?  Yes.  Is it impossible?  No.  Not with the strength God supplies.

I love the statement Phil Moser, the teaching pastor at my church, has made on a number of occasions:
"God will not protect you from something He can perfect you through."
The God of this universe certainly welcomes all to come to Him -- just as they are.  But He is a holy God who commands holiness from His followers.  Therefore, though He welcomes you in your brokenness, He is not content to leave you that way.  If you truly give Him your life, He will begin working on it -- shaping you into the identity of a joint-heir with His Son, a redeemed and justified follower of Jesus.  However, that requires humility on our part, and -- above all -- obedience through the difficult tasks that are required of us.  God might not protect us from a temptation to which we are prone, because He wants us to learn to value Him more than we value that sinful craving.  He might not remove a painful trial from your life, because He wants you to consciously rely more upon Him -- instead of merely living on autopilot.  The world lives on autopilot, doing what seems right and navigating unconsciously by the way they feel.  We, however, are no longer conformed to the way this world operates, Paul attests, but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12.2).  Every day, the true believer is transformed to be a little less like the world and a little more like Christ.

That is why my identity is so much bigger than my sexuality.  As believers in Christ, we shouldn't be labeling ourselves according to the type of sex we enjoy, because a). there is only one prescribed sexual practice in God's Word -- in the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman -- and b). because, frankly, sex isn't all there is to this life.  When I reduce who I am to my sexual preference, all of a sudden I'm defined by my libido.  I'm no longer a man of many facets, but a man who identifies principally with my own pleasure and my own selfishness.  Furthermore, by that mode of thinking, what I like determines who I am -- I don't determine what I like.  I'm even less in control of my identity by that rationality than I am when I choose to conform myself to the image of Christ.

Who I truly am -- who I've been saved by grace to become -- is so much bigger than my sexuality, or any other one individual factor.  We can't eliminate any of the things from Tatum's list: race, geography, likes/interests, skills, and etcetera are all parts of the whole -- all contributing factors to our sum total identity.  And the beauty of this list of factors is that God has given mankind plenty of opportunity to self-identify.  He has given us different interests and placed us in different families with different backgrounds and heritages.  We are each fearfully and wonderfully unique, handmade and hand-held by a God who values beauty and creativity (Psa 139.14).

The notion that personal identity should rightly be fluid seems more problematic than freeing to me.  Sure, my roles throughout my lifetime will change, and maybe my interests, pastimes, and preferences will change, but that doesn't necessarily mean the composite whole of who I am needs to radically shift.  I don't want to go through life wondering when the next set of circumstances will alter how I look at myself.  The core of who I am should be the independent component of personal identity.  The peripheral things should be the leaves and branches on the tree, not the trunk or the roots.  Important, yes; vital, certainly; but not irreplaceable should they change.  I lose who I am if I allow the peripheral elements of my identity to define the core.

I know that's supposed to be an opera singer on the end... but I still
choose to believe I'll have the opportunity to be a viking someday.

In its pursuit-based lifestyle of always desiring more, better, and different, our culture envies the chameleon his ability to change skin.  Americans want to reserve the right to alter who they are -- to be free to redefine themselves on a whim.  And to some extent, adaptivity isn't necessarily a bad wish.  Biblical redemption itself is all about personal change.  Broadening and shaping ourselves via the guidance of Scripture is essential for the same reason pruning is necessary to the health of the tree.  The bottom line, however, is that my comprehensive identity should remain stable even if my circumstances change.  Just because I lose my job or hit my thirtieth birthday shouldn't mean I begin to doubt who I am.

My identity in Christ should be unshakeable, informing the peripheral details of who I choose to be -- not the other way around.

I love verse 11 from Psalm 86, which says, "Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name."  The Bible speaks into the fact that we have so many divided loyalties in this world -- so many different factors pulling us in so many directions that we often feel torn as to who we are and what we're supposed to be doing.  It can make us feel hopeless.  That's why the psalmist prays to God, "Unite my heart," recognizing that He alone is the One capable of consolidating all the messy, complicated pieces of our messy, complicated lives.  He unites the hearts of His followers upon one singular, wholehearted pursuit.

To me, that's worthy of a sigh of relief.  The fact that God is in control of all the details means that I don't have to be.  If I can be content to allow Him to perform His work as the Master Potter, shaping me into the identity He desires for me, then my path is clear and my purpose is undivided.  Maybe the work set before me is not "easy," but I do know that it is far easier than continuing to drag around the burden of my own sinfulness (Matt 11.29), and that living for Christ is more fruitful and fulfilling than an empty and never-ending pursuit of temporary happiness (Ecc 1.17).

"Come to me, all who are weary and burdened," Christ says, knowing firsthand the weight of living in a world of constant motion, bereavement, and crushing frustration.  Find your identity, your hope, and your value in me, He promises, "And I will give you rest."