Sunday, May 3, 2015

ISI 2: In the World, Not Of the World

[This Bible Study starts here.  And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]

Icebreaker Question:
What are some of your all-time favorite movies or books, and why?  Which have made you cry?  And what are some that you dislike the most, and why? 

Open With Prayer

Read Lesson:

            Philippians 3:18-20:  “. . . many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. . . .”

            As Christians, we are citizens of two different worlds – the world (including our own country and society) and God’s Kingdom.  Oftentimes, these worlds are in conflict, such as when it comes to their purposes and goals, what they rely on and consider important, how they define “success,” and how they value people.  So given all of this conflict and difference, how can we as Christians best live out this verse about being in the world but not of it?     

            Let’s break down some of the challenges and differences we face.

            Purposes and Goals:  The world doesn’t have much to offer in this area other than in making the most of their time on this earth.  Maybe leaving a positive legacy, leaving the world a little better than they found it.  And while these are admirable, they fall far short of having an eternal purpose and goal. 

            But as Christians, we believe that this life is not all there is.  The best is yet to come and what we do on earth matters eternally.  We can have an effect on the souls of people and on God’s Kingdom.  God placed us here to find Him and to love Him, to love other people and help them find Him, and to bring God glory.  But we can waste our time and we can blow our witness if we fail to take our God-given responsibilities and purposes seriously.

            What We Rely On:  If someone doesn’t believe in God - in a Greater Being that is watching over us and guiding us - then they do not really have anyone to rely on but themselves or other fallible human beings.  That would be scary to me, to believe that we are left all alone on this earth, with no one to rely on but ourselves. 

            But Christians believe that there is a God who is watching over us and guiding us and holding all things in His hands.  And even though this world is full of problems, we know that He will eventually make all things better and redeem this fallen world.  That should give us incredible hope and strength and the ability to keep going.

            What’s Important:  Success, power, money, sex, companionship, possessions, youth, beauty.  These are things that we all consider important. 

            How about “happiness”?  Don’t most people hold up “happiness” as one of the greatest goals in the world?  But, oh, the problems this can lead to!  And when we combine it with “God just wants us to be happy,” then we put God’s stamp-of-approval on whatever selfish, destructive, immoral thing we want to pursue. 

            But do we have a right to pursue whatever we want that makes us happy?  Does God “just want us to be happy”?  How would a Christian’s answer differ from the world’s?  Is it okay to divorce your spouse to find someone who makes you happier?  How about living together before you are married?  Why not polygamy?  Is that “Christian”?  The Mormons would say so.

            To the world, things like success and money and happiness and sex are “end goals,” the things they work for.  But in and of themselves, these things will not satisfy completely.  They might fill our hands for a moment, but they won’t fill our souls for eternity.

            As Christians, though, we shouldn’t see these things as end goals.  They can definitely be enjoyed for the blessings that they are (in the way God intended), but ultimately we know that what’s really important is that we glorify God with our lives and that we share with others the message about God’s gifts of salvation, love, and healing.  The other things will burn up in the end, but only what we do for God’s glory and His Kingdom will last.  But do we live like these are our true priorities?

                Defining Success:  The world defines success by things like  . . .  how much money you make, how much respect you gain, how many possessions you own, how high you are on the ladder of success, how many people you order around, how popular you are, how beautiful you are, how many people show up at your funeral, etc.  But while these are nice, they are not eternal.  While we might be always remembered and loved by our families and while we might have passed down some lasting accomplishments, soon after we are gone, someone else will move in and fill the void we left in the workplace and use the things we left behind.  We are replaceable in this world.  And someone else will enjoy the things we worked hard to earn. 

            But once again, Christians define success differently.  We do not define it by the things we gain in this world, but by the things we store up in eternity, the work that we do for God’s Kingdom.  Those are the only things we can take with us when we go.  And we are not replaceable in God’s Kingdom.  God wants a relationship with each and every person He made.  We are all just as valuable and cherished as the next person.  And God wants us to bring as many of His wayward children back to Him as possible, because we all matter. 

            But I think the hardest part to deal with is that the true “success” of a Christian is invisible.  We won’t be able to see or know the effects that we have had on eternity until the end.  And this can be discouraging.  Buying a bigger house or a new car is a much more immediate result and an obvious indication that we have done good work.  But I bet we will all be surprised to eventually see our “success” from God’s perspective.  But the questions is: Will we be delightfully surprised or horrified?  

            Value of People: Without a Creator to place value on people and to establish a moral code, we are at the mercy of other people to decide who has value and who doesn’t, who matters and who doesn’t.  And this can (and has) lead to all sorts of horrifying scenarios.

            How do Christians and non-Christians differ in their views of abortion, the right to assisted suicide, the death penalty, the mentally-handicapped or terminally ill or elderly, selective termination of a pregnancy when the baby is handicapped, ethnic cleansing and genocide, acid attacks on women and unfair treatment of women, human trafficking, prostitution, the value of animals compared to people (is a baby bear equal in value to a human baby), racism, sexism, genetic engineering of human life, etc.? 

            Without a belief in a Creator, how does someone develop a worldview and an opinion on these issues?  What do they base their views and “rightness or wrongness” on?

             We Christians know that God values people immensely.  We are made in His image.  We are all worth dying for and are greatly loved, just because God decided we were.  He has placed an eternal value on people, not only giving them eternal souls but the promise that He will eventually redeem all things.  In the end, He will set all things right again and demand justice for all of the wrongs that people seem to be getting away with now.  He will eventually stand up for the poor, the mistreated, the aliens, the orphaned, the weak, and those who are denied justice.  (Of course, He does do this to a certain degree on earth, just not fully and completely until eternity.)

            But until He does so, He calls all believers to stand up for them as His representatives here on earth.  But do we do that?  Or are we more concerned with our “nice, little lives”?  With making a comfortable little place on this earth for ourselves?  With enjoying the pleasures that everyone else gets to enjoy?  Or are we fighting for the people and values that matter to Him?  Do we have His priorities straight? 

Compromising or Grieving?

            Do we grieve for the condition that our world is in and seek to be different and take a stand for God’s truth?  Or do we compromise our faith to “fit in” and to impress the world?              

            In Jeremiah, we read about how Jehudi reads a scroll to the king that Jeremiah gave him.  This scroll is God’s words given to Jeremiah about all the sins of the people and the punishments that God would inflict on them.  It is meant to be a warning, to turn the hearts of the people toward repentance.  And this is how the king responds: 

            “Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire.  The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes. . . . 
            ‘Therefore, this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim king of Judah . . . I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them . . . every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened.’”  (Jeremiah 36:23-24, 30-31)

            What I found interesting – and convicting – is that God was going to punish the attendants to the king.  But they didn’t burn the scroll; the king did.  Shouldn’t the king bear all the blame? 

            Yes, the king was the one responsible for leading the people, for the spiritual tone and practices of the country, and for burning the warnings of the Lord.  But the attendants were responsible for their own apathetic response and their fear of God.  Or lack of it, I should say.

            Instead of worrying about what God thought, they worried about what the king thought.  Instead of fearing God, they fell right in line with the king, mimicking his own indifferent attitude toward God.  They did not take the warnings of the Lord seriously, just as the king didn’t.  They did not grieve over their sins or fear the Lord or feel any conviction or remorse or repentance.  They did not take the truth seriously.  They simply followed the king’s lead.  They blended in with the general spiritual tone of those around them.  And God would hold them accountable for it, even if they were just lowly attendants.

            This message stood out to me because so many of us are “attendants.”  We may not be leaders, but we are part of the group.  Of this world and society.  And I wonder how many of us seek to appease the “leaders” or adopt the group’s attitudes, instead of humbling our hearts before the Lord and doing the right thing according to Him?  How many of us “go along with the group” so that we don’t stand out as weird or “too-holy”?  How many of us compromise our standards or beliefs so that things don’t get uncomfortable for us?  How many of us sit by and watch others “burn” the words of the Lord and destroy the truth because it’s too scary to stand up for it?  How many of us do not feel any conviction anymore when people around us do wrong because we are busy mimicking them?  How many of us have grown lukewarm or have surrounded ourselves with “truth” that tickles our ears or have replaced God with idols of our own making?  How many of us have no real fear of God anymore?   

            “I will punish [them] for their wickedness . . . because they have not listened.”       “[They] showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes.” 

            Who do you fear more?  Who do you seek to please and be like?  The people you are around, the group you follow, the social majority?  Or the holy God to whom we will all give an accountant for our lives and choices one day?  Does your life accurately reflect how much you fear the Lord?  Is this comforting to you or convicting?  Do you grieve over the condition of our country, our world?  Or are you too busy blending in or sampling its delights?  

             “. . . Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen . . . and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
            As [Ezekiel] listened, he said to the [other men], “Follow him throughout the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. . . . but do not touch anyone who has the mark. . . .”  (Ezekiel 9:3-6) 
            This is not about Jehoiakim, but the point is that God notices our hearts.  If we grieve over immorality or not.  If we have a heart set on righteousness or not.  If we are any different from the rest of the world or if we are apathetic attendants, unconcerned with the moral climate around us. 

            Psalm 14:2:  “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.”  

            We may not be able to do much to change the way our country is going.  But we can grieve over it.  We can become heartbroken over it, instead of indifferent.  We can intercede in prayer for our country.  We can pray for revival, starting with our own hearts and families.  We can seek righteousness.  

            “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”  (Ezekiel 22:30-31)

             “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares.  If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”  (Jeremiah 5:1) 

            It might not matter much to the world if we grieve over the condition it’s in, if we live the truth out loud and boldly, never compromise or hide our faith, or if we set our hearts on righteousness and humbling ourselves before God.  But it matters to God.  And it affects our eternity and His Kingdom and the spiritual battle and how God deals with our country and how He deals with us when it’s time to pour out punishment on the wicked.  If we are not grieving the immorality in society (and in our own hearts) and the bold ways society is defying God, we are passively supporting it. 

            Do you grieve? 

One Example

            Let’s veer off a little in a different direction.  One area where I think we are seeing the incredible pressure to compromise on God’s Word is the issue of gay marriage.  And I think this is a great example to help us think about how to be “in the world, but not of the world.” 

            How do we hold to biblical truth in a country that is drifting so far from God’s ways and that is pressuring Christians to fall in line?  How do we set ourselves apart and yet love our neighbor?  Where is the line between loving our neighbor yet not condoning godless choices?  What should a Christian’s response be to gay marriage now that it has become legal in America?  (And this can be applied to other sorts of moral dilemmas.  Think of other ones and discuss them.  And I don’t expect you to agree with everything I say here.  I am still formulating my views on this.  It’s a work in progress.) 

1.  For starters, don’t panic!

            “The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short?’”  (Numbers 11:23)

            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)

            God has not lost control.  He is still on the throne.  Nor has anyone changed His laws and truths.  It bothers me when I hear Christians freaking out and saying, “Man is changing God’s laws!  Man is changing God’s laws!”  No, we aren’t.  Call it what they want, it still doesn’t change the fact that God decided that marriage is between one man and one woman.  And God’s laws still stand.   

            Just because society redefines "marriage" doesn't mean that God has.  Just because some churches are going against the Bible and claiming that now certain lifestyles are acceptable doesn't mean that God has. 

            We who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture do not need to be terrified of or confused about the "changes" that society makes.  Because it doesn't really change anything in God’s eyes.  We do not need to panic or freak out, acting like the sky is falling and like it’s our responsibility to hold it up, and acting like mere people can actually change His abiding truths.

            God's laws still stand, whether someone acknowledges them or not, whether people want to agree with Him or not.  And it doesn’t matter how puffed up and proud people get, believing that they have made great "improvements" to God’s truth.  His laws still stand.  And we will be judged by them in the end.

            So we can relax (to a degree), trusting that God is still in control, that He will do a great job of defending Himself and His truths, that He dish out justice in the end, and that we will all answer to Him for our own choices.  We will answer to no one else, no one else will answer to us, and we will not be responsible for other people’s choices (unless we had a hand in leading them astray).

2.  Pray for our country!  Pray for revival!  Seek righteousness and humility before the Lord!

            “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)   

            I fear that Christians (and “Christians”) in America are so focused on and bothered about the ways that other people fail to live rightly before the Lord that we fail to focus on and be bothered about the ways that we fail to live rightly before the Lord.  We are so busy wagging our fingers at others, saying, “No, no, no, don’t do that,” that we are not taking the time to examine our own hearts, to consider if we are seeking righteousness and truly humbling ourselves before Him. 

            We have grown lukewarm, comfortable, and lazy in our spiritual lives.  Enamored with this world instead of being enamored with God.  Focused on our priorities instead of God’s.  Worshipping a God that we created instead of God as He is.  (That way, we don’t have to feel convicted or guilty).  Overlooking sin in our lives but finding it in everyone else’s.  Examining everyone else but ourselves. 

            But we convince ourselves that we are doing okay as long as we are trying to get everyone else to live as God wants them to live.  But sometimes our passionate efforts are just a cover for our lack of passionate heart-devotion to the Lord.  We are so busy doing for the Lord that we fail at truly being with the Lord.   

            But our biggest concern shouldn’t be worldly non-believers who live worldly lives, but the ways that we live worldly lives without being bothered by it.    

            “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.”  (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

            If we started to focus less on how others are living and more on how we are living, and if we focused on truly humbling ourselves before the Lord and on seeking righteousness, we might see a serious revival and God would turn toward us and hear our prayers. 

            Notice what the verse said . . . “If my people, who are called by my name . . .”  This is not a verse for the world, but for believers.

            “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  (1 Peter 3:12)

            Definitely, we need to intercede for our country, to pray for God’s mercy and for revival.  But I think it needs to start with ourselves.  I think if we focused more on humbling ourselves before God and abiding in Him and living Christ as much as we can and seeking His help through prayer, we would have a far greater impact on our country than by trying to fight against society, by trying to change them and to get them to believe as we do.  Because then God would be fighting the battle for us. 

            We will all stand before God and give an account for our lives, not for someone else’s.  So let’s start by examining our own hearts and lives, humbling ourselves before God and seeking righteousness.  And then let’s see what God does.     

3.  Look for open doors and opportunities to take a stand for God’s truth!

            But do not do this if you are not doing the first two things.  No one wants to hear a panicky, haughty Christian preaching about what everyone else is doing wrong and how they should be living their lives, without first having calmed down, taken a look at themselves, and humbled themselves before the Lord. 

            But for those believers who are seeking to be humble before the Lord and who are seeking righteousness in their own lives and who are trusting that God is still in control and that He is listening to our prayers, we also need to be alert for any open doors that God brings for us to share about the hope that is in us and to stand up for His truth in appropriate ways.

            “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”  (1 Peter 3:15)

            We need to get involved in politics, in the public, in conversations, etc., to do what we can to protect our religious freedoms and to stand up for God’s truth in a humble, respectful way.  And we need to be willing to be persecuted for it more and more, if even only just mocked by everyone else. 

            But we always need to share the truth with love and gentleness.  We need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong, but that also shows genuine love for the other person and respect for their right to agree or disagree.  (We don’t have to respect their choice, but we have to respect their right to choose.) 

            Even God has given people the right to agree or disagree with Him.  It doesn’t mean they are right in every way, just that they can rebel against Him if they want to.  (And face the consequences of it someday.)  It is not our job to force others to agree with God’s truth, but it is our job to stand by it firmly in our own lives, to live accordingly, and to uphold it in the face of opposition. 

            And as we seek to stand up for His truth and to protect religious rights, we need to remember that ultimately the battle is the Lord’s.  So we need to be on our knees before Him, asking Him to guide our country, to protect believers and our religious rights, and to show us the ways that we need to think, act, respond, change ourselves, and be involved.

4.  Get to know Scripture deeply.

            It is all-too-easy to be led astray about God’s truth if we don’t really know God’s Word for ourselves.  And this will happen more and more, as more and more churches fall to societal pressure to redefine God’s truths and to cut out sections of Scripture that make them uncomfortable. 

            I’ll be honest here, I really wish I could say that it doesn’t matter who you love – homosexual or heterosexual – as long as you are loved and are loved by someone else.  I know that many homosexuals have faced abuse and heartache, either when they were young and it led to them becoming homosexual or they were mistreated after coming out as homosexuals or they are distressed because they believe they were "born that way" and yet wish they weren't.  And I don’t want to add any more pain or heartache by claiming that homosexuality is against God’s laws. 

            And I would love to be one of those warm, fuzzy, squishy Christians who tells everyone “It’s okay.  We’re all good here.  God is a God of love, and love is the only thing that matters here.”  I would love to not be the “bearer of bad news,” to not have to say anything negative about anyone else’s choices, especially when it comes to something as personal and tender as love. 

            But really knowing what the Bible says is why I can – why I have to - say that God does not condone homosexuality in the Bible in any way.  It is always spoken of in a negative way, never in a positive or ambiguous way.  While He loves, loves, loves people – heterosexual or homosexual – He does not allow us to change His truth based on how we feel or what we wish was true. 

            [“But wait,” you might say, “what about the fact that most Levitical laws don’t apply anymore?  I mean, we don’t sacrifice animals anymore or have to keep a woman’s head covered.  We wear clothes with more than one kind of fabric.  And in the New Testament, we learn that we don’t have to circumcise anymore and that we can eat pork.  Doesn’t this show that the restriction against homosexuality in Lev. 18:22 shouldn’t apply anymore either?”

            If this is all there is to it then it would stand to reason that the laws against having sex with your close family members or with animals (Lev 18) or that the laws against stealing, lying, practicing sorcery, and defrauding others (Lev 19) shouldn’t apply either.  But would we ever say this? 


            The thing to keep in mind here is that there are three different kinds of laws in Leviticus. 

            There are civil/cultural laws which have to do with Israel at that time, such as owning land, how to treat slaves and animals, etc.  Those laws apply to those people, at that time.

            There are ceremonial laws which have to do with how to properly approach God, how to perform the ceremonies, how to do the things that set Israel apart religiously from its neighbors, etc.  Things like circumcise the boys, don’t eat pork, how to behave in church, sacrificing animals, etc. 

            But these kinds of strict laws are the laws that Jesus came to fulfill.  This is why they don’t apply anymore, why we don’t sacrifice animals for our sins, why we are no longer banned from approaching God if we eat pork, etc.  Because Jesus’ death paid the price.  Tore the curtain.  Made it possible for us to approach God without all the restrictions and formalities.  Jesus fulfilled those laws and they do not necessarily apply anymore.

            And then there are moral laws.  Laws about how God expects everyone of all time to behave and live.  This is where the laws about sexual relations, homosexuality, stealing, lying, sorcery, etc. fall.  And these laws will always apply.    

            How about the 10 commandments?  Would we toss them out just because they are “old” and from a different culture? 

            These moral laws still stand.  Yet it doesn’t mean that we take it in our hands to punish people for these things (i.e. stoning them) because Jesus came to offer grace and forgiveness.  And He is the judge.  He will judge us for our sins.  But don’t be misled, these laws will always stand.]

            God is a God of love, yes.  But He is also a holy and just God who will not let us get away with tampering with His Word.  And it is very clear throughout the whole Bible that God speaks against homosexuality.  And the churches and Christians who are now embracing it are straying from the clear teaching of Scripture.  It might give them major favor with the world, but not with God.  And they will be held accountable for it.

            It is one thing to love and respect other people, regardless of their choices, but it’s another to express approval of things that God does not approve of for the sake of making others feel loved and supported.  While Jesus was always compassionate toward sinful people, He was never accepting of sin.  He took sin seriously. 

            After all, our sin cost Him His life.        

             “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)

            We who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture will probably be outnumbered.  And we might begin to doubt Scripture’s clear truths because there will be a “great number of teachers” who call black “white” and white “black” and who change clear biblical truths into various shades of gray.  And their voices might be loud and convincing. 

            And if we are not in the Word regularly and learning what He says, it will be all-too-easy to backslide as a Christian, to excuse sin, to nibble our way lost, and to begin nodding our heads along with the “great number of teachers” who share their warm, cozy, popular, easy-to-swallow, “feel good” messages. 

             “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3: 16-17, emphasis is mine)    
             “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:15)    

            And we need to remember that reading the Bible is not an item on a “To Do” list, a task to be checked off so that we can get on with our day.  The Bible is God’s heart poured out to us.  An invitation to draw nearer to Him and to get to know Him and ourselves better.  And we will miss out greatly if we treat it lightly, if we fail to really meet Him in the pages. 

            And if we fail to get to know God as He really is in His Word then we will find ourselves substituting our own ideas of who we want Him to be and what we want Him to teach.  We will cut out things from Scripture that we don’t like.  We will end up picking and choosing from the buffet of religious ideas so that we can put together a “religion” that better suits us and what we want, that makes us more popular with the world.    

            And over time, we will drift farther and farther away from Him and from where we should be in our spiritual lives.  And we will mislead others and eventually be held accountable for it. 

            Immerse yourself in God’s Word daily.  Drink from it deeply.  And get to know it well so that you know what you are talking about when it’s time to take a stand for God’s truth.  In love and gentleness, as we are called to do.  As more and more churches begin to tickle the ears of people, telling them what they want to hear, we are going to need Christians who really know what God’s Word says.  And who live it themselves!

            [Please note that I am not speaking out against homosexual people here.  Nor am I “homophobic.”  Quoting the Bible does not mean that someone is “homophobic,” so do not throw that word around to try to stop people from upholding God’s Word.

            (However, yes, there are some homophobic people out there, Christians and non-Christians.  But I do not think there is any real reason to be afraid of homosexuals, unless they are wielding a giant knife and chasing you or something like that.  The homosexual people that I know and that I am related to are pleasant people, not scary at all.  And that’s the thing:  They are people.  And there is no reason to fear other people unless they give you a reason to be afraid.  I’m just sayin’.)

            Anyway, back to my point.  I am not speaking out against homosexual people here.  (The Bible itself does an amazing job of that!)  It’s not my job to judge those outside the church.  I am speaking against the Christians who compromise God’s Word.  And next, I will be speaking against Christians who treat people – homosexuals included – harshly, unfairly, and unlovingly. 

            My focus here is not on admonishing homosexuals or worldly people, but admonishing Christians who are in the wrong.  Yet, I know that it will look like I am trying to cater to both sides and yet criticize both sides, and so, most likely, I will end up offending both sides.  But even if I do offend, I hope that you can see God’s truth in what I am saying, and I hope that I am saying it in a lovingly-firm way.]

5.  And lastly, love others and share God’s grace!

            “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be Sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-31, 35-36)

            We need to love our fellow humans!  We need to be loving when we are sharing truth.  We need to be loving when they disagree.  And we need to be loving when we are mocked, persecuted, and scorned. 

            At the root of it all, we need to be loving.  Because these are the people that God made in His image and that He loved so much that He sent Jesus to die for them, too, so that they might find life in Him.     

            And when it comes to interacting with people who do not hold to God’s Word, we need to remember that God loves all people and wants all people to come to Him.  He is kind to those who hate Him. 

            “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  (Matthew 5:45) 

            And Jesus ate with sinners.  In fact, He preferred the company of sinners to the company of the religious snobs. 

            I don’t think this means that God and Jesus condone the lifestyles and choices of sinners, of the unrighteous.  Providing for them and visiting with them does not translate into agreeing with the way they live.  But it does show that God and Jesus care about sinners and value them as people.  (Thank God!  Because let’s remember that we are all sinners!  We are all in that same boat, regardless of our sin.) 

            Jesus looks beyond a sinner’s lifestyle and choices and sinfulness, and He sees the person deep within.  The person worth getting to know, worth loving, worth forgiving, worth saving.

            This does not mean He overlooks sinfulness or that the unrighteous will not be held accountable for it, but He sees them as more than just their sin.  He sees them – He sees all of us - as people worth dying for, worth rescuing from themselves.  And this includes the homosexual person. 

            Should we believers treat un-believers (should we sinners treat fellow sinners) with any less respect, kindness, grace, or love than that? 

            [Of course, I realize that the dilemma is that calling someone’s lifestyle “sin” sounds like the opposite of being loving.  And sometimes – to sound more loving – we want to back off from that truth, soften it a lot. 

            But while Jesus does call us to love others, it doesn’t mean that we can deny the truth found in Scripture.  His Word and His truth should be our guide for understanding how to love others.  Not the other way around.  Our love for other people should not determine how we view His Word and His truth.   It’s love God first . . . then love others.  And loving Him includes upholding His truth and honoring Him above all.

            A bunch of pastors and Christian authors are changing their position on gay marriage.  They now say that it’s okay.  They even call it holy and God-ordained.  They want to be inclusive and sound loving and not make their gay friends feel bad.  (Yet, how will they feel when they stand before God and give an account for leading their gay friends eternally astray?)

            One of them said that the reason he switched his view is because he wanted to get his head in line with his heart. 

            And that right there is the problem!  He let his feelings dictate what he chose to believe and how he interpreted the Bible.  He let his love for other people shape his love for God and how he lives out his faith.)   

            This was Solomon’s downfall, too.  In 1 Kings 11, we read that Solomon loved his foreign wives and he held fast to them, even though they worshipped other gods.  And in time - because of their influence and because of his love for them - he began to turn from the One True God toward other gods.  He let his love for other people alter his love for God.  He let his feelings redefine God’s Truth.  (And he didn’t get away with it.  His family reaped the consequences for his actions.)

            But once again, Scripture is so clear on this - all throughout it – that you have to do an awful lot of editing and ignoring to come up with the idea that God approves of homosexuality.         

            But for those of us who are willing to remain true to Scripture, we will have to find a way to balance it with still being loving to all of the people that God loves.  And I’m not sure yet the best way to do that in a culture that is so divided and angry.  I’m not sure yet what’s the best way to live out Scripture while still reaching out to those who have chosen to reject God’s truths. 

            But I do know that we don’t have the option of changing what God says.  We can disagree with the Bible or we can choose to ignore the Bible, but we cannot change the Bible to fit our own ideas.]    

            “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you. . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be Sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-31, 35-36)

            God provides for the unrighteous, just as He does for the righteous, the same kind of basic care.  And we are to give to anyone who asks, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to let them get away with wrong-doing (to a degree and within reason), without retaliation. 

            And yet, we fear that if we are too nice to them or interact with them too much or sell them a wedding cake they ordered from us, it might be construed as supporting their lifestyle and it will encourage the spread of godlessness.

            I don’t know.  Does it?  Will it?  Is the only right answer to refuse to sell them wedding products?  Is that the best way to show that we don’t support gay marriage?  I don’t know. 

            Yes, I support the right of private business owners to refuse to do anything that violates their faith.  But it does make me wonder where all this will end.  Christian cab-drivers refusing to drive a pregnant lesbian to the hospital?  Christian doctors refusing to treat a gay patient?  Refusing to sell craft supplies for a gay engagement party?  Refusing to share a cup of sugar with a gay neighbor who is making dinner for their family? 

            If my unmarried neighbor was moving in with his girlfriend and they needed help getting some furniture into their house, should I say “No, I cannot help you move in together because it’s a sin to live together before you are married”?  Would helping them move furniture mean that I am helping them sin or condoning their choice?  (I am asking this for real, not rhetorically.  Would it?  Because I’m still not sure what to think about all this.)  Should we refuse to sell contraception to unmarried people because they shouldn’t be having sex anyway, according to God’s laws? 

            Are their choices any of our business?  And to what extent, considering that we share a country and that God might discipline a rebellious country?  (Ideally, a country would live according to God’s laws and standards, especially if they want His blessings and don’t want to face His discipline.  But what if that’s not possible?  What’s the next best thing?) 

            How should we treat teen mothers, people who cheat on their taxes, prison inmates, drug addicts, women who have had abortions, etc.?  Do we shun them, too, for fear of looking like we condone their choices and lifestyles?

            Yes, there is a degree to which we have to separate ourselves from the world around us and take a stand against moral decay and blatant sinfulness.  But there is a degree to which we have to get in there, into the mess, to live alongside the people of this world, to treat them with love, kindness, mercy, and grace, and to do all we can to draw them to Christ, even while we disagree with their choices.  And I’m not sure the best way to do that, but there’s got to be a way.  Jesus did it.  And if He could do it, so can we. 

            I wonder – if Jesus were here in the flesh and still a carpenter – if He would sell a gay person some furniture that they wanted to buy for their significant other? 

            I wonder.

            I can’t say for sure what He would do, but I do know that with the woman at the well (John 4), He never told her she was a sinner or scolded her for her lifestyle or pulled back from her or treated her differently than anyone else. 

            Actually, He did treat her differently.  He reached out to her, whereas others probably shamed her (which would explain why she was at the well alone in the middle of the day, instead of going when all the other women went).

            Knowing that she was a broken person in need of healing, He approached her.  He risked breaking social norms by even speaking to her.  But He did not scold or condemn her.  He simply stated the truth that she had five husbands and was now living with a man she was not married to.  He stated the facts about her life and told her that He was the Messiah and offered her everything He had to give – love, salvation, forgiveness.  And then He left it up to her to come to the conclusion that she was living in sin and needed to change. 

            He didn’t make it about a change of behavior, but about a change of the heart first.  Clean the inside of the cup before tackling the outside.  He didn’t force His truths on her or wait till she got her act together to reach out to her in love.  He tried to draw her with simple truth and kindness, instead of turning His back on her or trying to shame her or trying to push her out of her sinful lifestyle. 

            I wonder.

            And the woman caught in adultery in John 8?  The religious leaders wanted to punish her, to give her what her actions deserved.  But Jesus stood up for her.  He gave her back her life instead of applying the required, appropriate penalty.  He stopped the throwing of stones, even though He alone had every right to throw them. 

            It didn’t mean that He condoned her choices (He challenged her to leave her life of sin), although I am sure it might look like that to the religious leaders.  But I think He cared more about where she was going than where she had been.  He cared more about the potential for her to get her life right than He did about what she had done wrong.  He cared more about making sure everyone else minded their own business than He did about “dishing out justice” and impressing the religious snobs.  And He cared more about reaching past her broken, sinful condition and touching her heart and offering her grace, mercy, forgiveness, and healing than He did about the fact that His actions might be interpreted by the religious leaders as supporting or excusing her immorality.

            I fear that we Christians, in an effort to stand firmly on God’s Truth, can fail sometimes at seeing and loving the person behind the sin.  We fail at extending grace, mercy, kindness, and respect because we don’t want to look like we have compromised God’s Word or gone soft on sin.  We slam the door on sinners of various kinds and turn away from them so that it doesn’t look like we agree with their choices.  We throw stones at others, when we should be shielding them from stones. 

            This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t call sin what it is.  After all, remember that Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s life of sin; He challenged her to leave it.  It just means that it’s not our job to dish out punishment for sins or to condemn, criticize, and shun those who sin.  For we are all sinners.  We are all on the same level at the foot of the cross.  We all need grace and mercy and love and forgiveness.  And we need to extend it to others also, to draw them to Christ.  We need to love the person while still upholding God’s truth.     

            People are dying every day in their sin.  And souls are being lost forever.  And here we are . . . fighting over wedding cakes.

            Whereas Jesus would be fighting for their souls.    

            I think that, yes, we need to stand up for the biblical truth that God speaks against homosexuality in the Bible.  But . . . I don’t know . . . do we need to take it further and refuse to sell them a cake or deny them some other product or service because they are violating God’s laws?  Don’t we all violate God’s laws at some point?  Won’t God be the judge of all of us in the end? 

            I don’t know, but I don’t think that we have to be overly concerned that our kindness will look like we are condoning godlessness, for even God shows kindness to all without partiality.  And Jesus stood up for those in sin, reaching out to them in the hopes that they might find something in Him worth believing in and might change the way they are living.  (However, keep in mind that Jesus was compassionate towards sinners who knew they needed help, who felt convicted by their sin, who were reachable ... not towards sinners who were proud of their sin and who were resistant and rebellious.  Big difference!) 

            And besides, God knows our hearts.  He knows whether we are making them a wedding cake because we support their lifestyle (which would be wrong) or if we are making them a wedding cake because that’s what they ordered and because they have a right to buy cake and because we don’t have to judge their reasons for wanting that cake and because we are treating them with the same respect and kindness that we show others and because we are treating them the way that we would like to be treated (which is perfectly acceptable, I think). 

            And on the other hand - to be fair - He knows if our refusal to make them a wedding cake is because we want to do right in His eyes and uphold His standards and honor and glorify Him above all.  And I think that would be fine, too.  In God’s eyes.  Not the world’s, of course. 

            But the point is, I don’t think there’s only one right way to handle this dilemma, only one possible response.  I think there can be many different, godly responses to it.  And we need to listen to how the Lord is guiding us, if ever we face a situation like this. 

            But I do not think that we have to be overly concerned that He might think we are turning against Him if we are kind and generous to everyone, even to those in sin.  Because He is kind and generous to everyone, even to those in sin.  I don’t think we have to worry too much that our kindness might cause godlessness to spread.  It might just be that our kindness causes people to see Jesus in us.

            I remember when the “Gay Olympics” was coming through our town and how people were talking about picketing, holding up signs about how homosexuality is wrong and all that.  But our pastor got up one Sunday and suggested a different idea. 

            He said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if, instead of picketing, we showed the love of Christ by handing out bottles of water to the participants?”  I thought that was so beautiful.  It didn’t have anything to do with condoning or supporting their lifestyle, but with loving them and being kind to them, in Jesus’s name. 

            Of course, something like that walks a dangerously thin line between showing Jesus’ love and looking like we are supporting their lifestyle (which would confuse those watching us), so it would have to be balanced somehow with God’s truth, maybe by making little Bibles available for the taking or by offering to pray with (or silently praying for) each person that takes a water-bottle or just by giving an honest answer when asked a question about our faith.  We don’t have to force truth on people, but we do have to share it and stand firmly on it ourselves. 

            For one reason or other, we never did end up passing out bottles of water.  But I still loved that our pastor had a different response than “Let’s go hold up signs condemning those gay people for how sinful they are!”  Honestly, I can't imagine that Jesus would be holding up signs either.  I tell ya, if there was someone there with a sign every time we all sinned, we would always have a sign waving in our faces, reminding us of how we break God’s laws.

            We are called to spread the truth in love and gentleness.  But sometimes we focus more on truth than love (the angry, fist-waving sign-holders).  And sometimes we focus more on love than truth (the churches who are editing God’s Word to please the people).  But there is a balance there somewhere, a way to share the truth while still being loving.  And that is when people will see Jesus in us. 

            I don’t know how I would handle the “pass out or don’t pass out water bottles” dilemma or the “sell or don’t sell them a wedding cake” conundrum.  I really don’t.  (And of course, I am not just talking about or picking on Gay Olympic picketers or wedding cake-makers, but I am using these as examples of all the different ways we Christians have to discern the line between loving our neighbor yet not condoning their lifestyle.) 

            But as I said, I don’t know if there is just one “right” way to handle it.  Scripture does not spell out how to balance “love your neighbor” and “have nothing to do with godlessness.”  So it will probably look different for each person. 

            Maybe for one Christian, it means selling regular cakes to gay people but not wedding cakes.  Maybe for another, it’s okay to sell wedding cakes because gay people have a right to buy cake, too.  Maybe for one, it’s okay to sell cakes but not to write any pro-homosexual messages on it that the customer orders.  Maybe one Christian will take a stand and say “No” and risk legal repercussions.  Maybe one will do their job without moral qualms.  And maybe one will change their policies or close up shop in order to not have to do anything that violates their faith. 

            And once again, let me stress that I do think private businesses should have the right to politely refuse to do anything that violates their values, to say “I can’t help you with that, but here is the name of someone who can.”  And I think business owners who have faced persecution and penalties for saying “No, I can’t do that because of my faith” will be blessed by God for their faithfulness and find reward in heaven. 

            Take time to pray over it, if ever you face a situation like that.  There is a line for each person, a balance.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you to know where that line is for you. 

            We need to live the Word in our own lives, stand up for His truth, and do our best to draw – not push – other people into the kingdom of God, being living examples of His love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, and grace.

            “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  (2 Peter 3:11-14)    

[Update: I take it back.  I don't think Christians should be okay with making wedding cakes for gay weddings for this reason alone.  Those on the "other side" are making it impossible to cooperate or to be tolerant of each other.  If they don't get their way, they sue and slander and tear you down and get you fired and destroy your business.  All because they couldn't handle being told "no".  You give them an inch, they take a mile.  You appear weak, they attack you more.  You try to be accommodating, they take and take and take and never give anything back.  And I think it's best to not give any ground to bullies or to appease them in any way!  If we do not demand our right to say "no" and exercise our right to say "no" then we will easily lose our right to say "no."  And society needs to know that we won't tolerate that.  They have taken their stands against the Lord and now they are seeking to destroy those who stand for Him.  And now is the time to be bold, to lovingly but firmly stand for Truth and for our rights.  I wish we could all just co-exist, but that's not possible when "the other side" wants to wipe you out!]


            As long as we are looking at differences between Christians and the world, there is one more issue to consider: persecution.  The more different we look from the world and the more “black-and-white” our beliefs, the more hated and persecuted we will be.  And this shouldn’t surprise us. 

            John 15:18-19:  (Jesus’ words) “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.” 

            In America, we are fortunate to not usually face violent persecution.  But more and more, (especially in the legal system, the school system, and the workplace) we are facing more and more hostility towards our beliefs and our right to live out our beliefs.  Kids are being harassed at school for wearing crosses, bringing Bibles, writing papers about Jesus, or saying “God bless America” over the loud speaker.  Business owners are facing legal troubles for running their private businesses according to their biblical convictions.  Laws are being made to silence Christian viewpoints.  And someday, we may find that even quoting certain Bible verses has become a “hate crime.”   

            I think one of the biggest problems we face in society today is the idea of “tolerance.”  In our society (and this really, REALLY bugs me), we have completely misconstrued what tolerance is.  In our day and age, if you do anything less than fully accept, support, and condone someone else’s choices and views, they cry out, “Intolerance!  Intolerance!  You offended me!  Intolerance!” 

            The labels of “intolerance” and “you offended me” are being used as clubs to beat others - especially Christians or those with strong moral views about right and wrong - into agreeing with questionable, controversial, and immoral choices/beliefs.  To make them ashamed of their differing viewpoints and to shut them up.  Which is especially damaging now that “intolerance” and “being offended” are becoming the basis for lawsuits. 

            But this is not what tolerance is.  Tolerance is not about forcing others to agree with our way of believing, whether it’s the world forcing Christians to agree with them or Christians forcing others to see things our way.  Tolerance is about agreeing to disagree.  It’s accepting that someone else can make up their own mind about something and that we can keep our own views about something, and yet we can still live alongside each other.  (As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.) 

            The way I see it, God has built into all of us the ability to choose Him or to choose against Him.  He allows us to obey or disobey, to see things His way or not.  This does not mean that all choices are equal in His sight or that all are right and acceptable.  It just means that God gave us the right to sin or to live according to His standards. 

            Tolerance is accepting responsibility for our choices and letting others accept responsibility for theirs, knowing that we will all stand before God someday to give account for them.  God will judge in the end, and we will all face the result of our decisions.

            Christians should not bash people over the head with the Bible or force them to abide by God’s laws.  In fact, sometimes people are offended by us for real reasons, because of the unkind ways we treat them.  Of course, we need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong.  But we also need to show respect for other people’s right to agree or disagree.  And we need to love!  But it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to work in other people’s hearts and to call them to faith or to correct a bad choice or belief.

            I think that when we are sharing God’s truth with the world, we should do it in such a way that they say, “I don’t agree with them and I don’t like what they are saying, but they say it with such respect, love, and gentleness that I just can’t be mad at them.”

            [And if I may say something here to those who feel it’s their job to force God’s truth on others, screaming out Bible verses at people, fighting with them over truth, speaking up about God’s truth to a hostile crowd:  It’s not always your job to do that.  Remember what Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 10:14: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”  What He is saying is that if someone refuses to listen to the truth, let them have their way.  Hand them over to their own hardness.  Do not try to force them to hear you or to agree with you.  Let them have the right to be resistant and to ignore the truth.

            I think this is good advice for many of us in this culture nowadays, especially for those who are making themselves into targets for speaking the truth.  You don’t need to step into any traps that the world lays for you or to make yourself a target for those who are just waiting to lash out at God’s truth.  “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”  (Matthew 7:6)  This is Jesus Himself telling us that we don’t need to share His truth with people who only want to tear it and us to shreds. 

            Most Americans know what the Bible says about certain issues, and they don’t want to hear us hammering them with biblical truth anymore.  Talk to those who will listen.  Give answers to those who ask questions.  Live your life in a way that reflects Jesus to others.  But leave those who want to be resistant to God’s truth alone.  They will be responsible for their own hardness, and He will deal with them later.]        

            And on the other hand, society should not force Christians to hide or to go against their faith  They should not force them to deny what the Bible says.  I mean, seriously . . . would they pull that junk with any other faith out there?  Would they force people of other faiths to deny what their holy writings say in order to please society or force them to violate their values?  Of course not.  They only do this with Christians.  And yet they call themselves "tolerant" and "open-minded" and "accepting."  Hypocrites.

            I really wish we could all do a better job of tolerating each other more.

            But as I said, as Christians start to look more and more different and to set themselves apart from the values of the world, we will be hated more and persecuted more.  (And if the world is loving you too much, you should ask yourself if you are faithfully following the Lord and the Word?  Sometimes you can tell the spiritual maturity and faithfulness of other Christians - especially those in the public eye - by how much the world loves and celebrates them.)

            Are you ready for the persecution?  Are you strong enough in your convictions to take a stand?  To be called names and criticized harshly, when all you are trying to do is be faithful to the Lord?  How do we balance love with truth?  How do we balance sharing God’s message and exposing the “fruitless deeds of darkness” with people’s free will and their right to decide for themselves?  How do we gracefully bear with opposition and persecution and yet firmly stand our ground?  Do you know the Word well enough to know what stand to take?  If you don’t, it will be all too easy to compromise, to sit back and watch the scroll being burned, to buy into the “tickle your ears” messages.

            Christians, get ready! 

            So how do we balance the two things – being in the world and yet not of the world?  Being part of God’s Kingdom while residents on earth?  Living among “scroll-burners” without compromising our faith?  Loving our neighbor without encouraging godlessness?  Being gracious while calling sin “sin”?  Maintaining a strong faith while living in a world where people water down the Gospel and attack those who stand up for God’s Truth, and where fellow Christians are growing lukewarm, lazy, and comfortable?   

            Do we live in remembrance that we are aliens on this earth, passing through for a short time?  That there is a Holy God watching all we do and that one day we will give an account to Him for what we did or what we failed to do?  And how can we live in such a way as to draw others to God, without repelling them by acting “better or superior” and without compromising our values and blending in with them? 

[If you want to read more about this, here are some posts I wrote years after writing this Bible study (you will have to come up with your own questions on these to ask each other):  "How Christians Are Led Into Accepting Homosexuality" ... "Why Are Christians Apologizing For The Truth" ... "Jesus Wasn't Always 'Nice'" ... "Why do Christians make such a big deal out of certain issues?" ...  "God is love, but love is NOT a god!" (which includes a snippet of this Bible study that we will get into in a later lesson).]

Bible Verses:
2 Timothy 3:12:  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . .”

Matthew 10:14, 16:  “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. . . .  I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Colossians 3:2:  “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Romans 12:1-2:  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

1 Corinthians 9:20-22:  “. . . To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” 

Ephesians 5:11: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

Questions (some of these questions sound similar, but just go with it):

1.  Does this topic bring up any questions or thoughts in your mind?  Any other Bible verses? 

2.  How do you think society views Christians and Christianity?  Have you heard any opinions about Christians in general?  Why might they see us this way? 

3.  What are some other differences between the world and God’s Kingdom?  Why does society, in general, despise God’s rules and Christianity?  And how is society trying to force Christians to “fall in line” with everyone else? 

4.  What are some areas where Christians might be sitting by and watching people “burn the scroll”?  In what areas and ways are we Christians sinking into apathy and lukewarm-ness, or compromising our faith and the Truth, or failing to take a stand, or failing to share our faith?  Why are we doing this?  Who might we be tempted to impress or please, leading us to do something we know we shouldn’t do?  What can we do about all this?  Examples?

5.  How do you define “tolerance”?  How is the world getting the idea of tolerance wrong?  How is it getting it right?  How are Christians getting it wrong and right?  And how do you think it should be lived out? 

6.  What about “moral relativity” - about defining morality and "right and wrong" however we want and changing it as we see fit, instead of believing that God has defined morality and "right and wrong" and that it's unchangeable?  In what ways might “moral relativity” be good and in what ways might it be bad?  What effect does moral relativity have on us, our country, and the Christian faith?  (And what are some of God's most important values, the ones we should be upholding above all?  What are some things that we think He values that He really doesn't value as much as we think He does?) 

7.  If you were in front of a crowd of people and they asked you if and why you really thought Jesus was the only way to heaven - when so many other people have different beliefs about God and morality and heaven - what would you say?  How do you think they would respond?  Do you have personal examples of this? 
            [If you are feeling brave, role-play this in your group, letting one person share and defend their faith while the others challenge and criticize their beliefs.  If you choose to try this, how did it feel to defend your faith against attacks?  Easy or hard?  Scary?  Confusing?
            And here are a couple questions to consider:
            Is it harder sometimes to believe in, talk about, and stand up for Jesus than it is to believe in, talk about, and stand up for God?  If so, why?
            And why is it so important to get a clear understanding of Jesus, instead of just settling for a good understanding of God?  Why does Jesus make all the difference?]

8.  In what ways and about what things might we Christians be too intolerant?  Are there times that we need to just relax, to “live and let live,” or to be more accommodating?  How about times we are too tolerant?  Are we allowed to take a stand and say “No, I won’t agree to that” or “That’s pushing it too far”?  Can you think of examples?
            For example, take the issue of our country wanting to remove the name of God from every public thing or to consider it offensive to say “Merry Christmas.”  Should we be concerned about that and fight against it?
            What about the other extreme where Christians wanted to boycott Starbucks for not putting a more “Jesus-oriented” design on their Christmas cups?  Is it proper for a Christian to demand that the world appeases them in something like that? 
            Or how about the issue of trans-gender rights?  How should we respond if we are asked to accommodate a trans-gender individual in a way that affects us personally, such as showering next to them at the gym or being assigned a room in college with a trans-gender individual or having one become the leader of your child’s girl’s or boy’s club?  Should we say anything?  Or should it not matter? 
            Should we respond to people who have had medical procedures to change their gender differently from those who haven’t had any treatment but just claim that they feel like the other gender on the inside?  Where is the line?  What about if they came to Christ after changing their gender? 
            How should you respond if you are asked to affirm the way someone feels when it clearly goes against biological reality, such as if a white male says that he feels like an Asian woman and if you don’t treat him like an Asian woman then you are discriminating against him and he will sue you?  Does biological reality even matter anymore or carry any weight?  Should it?
            Is it okay for a Christian cake-maker to make wedding cakes for gay weddings?  What about forcing them to write “pro-homosexual” messages on a cake if that is what the person ordered?  Or should they have the right to refuse?  What if they were asked to decorate a cake with Buddha or write pro-Muslim messages or write “Witches are great!” for a Halloween cake or “Congratulations on your divorce” or “Congratulations on moving in with your boyfriend”?  Where is the line?  What would you do if it were you? 
            And remember that the door swings both ways.  Should we expect atheist cake-makers to write Christian messages on their cakes for us?  Should homosexual cake-makers be forced to write anti-homosexual messages?  Should pro-choice people be forced to write “Abortion is murder” on a cake?  Is it right to force anyone to write something they cannot stand behind?  Or is it “just a job” and we should just do it? 
            Where is the line between letting someone live and believe as they want, but not being required to agree with them or accommodate their beliefs?  Between doing your job but not having to violate your religious values? 
            I am asking this hypothetically because I don’t really have answers.  I have not been in these situations before.  And I know these scenarios might sound silly, but it’s getting more and more real.  So it could very well hit close to home someday.  Think of other situations you might face and how a Christian might respond.
            [My answer:  I am going to look only at the issue of making wedding cakes for gay weddings (which I looked at in the lesson) or having to write messages on a cake that go against our views. 
            (But let me say first that I think the Starbucks situation is terrible.  What are Christians doing getting all demanding, whiney, and indignant like that?  Acting like a secular business should accommodate our views?  Not cool!  And what a way to repel people from Christ!) 
            While I cannot say for sure what I would do since I have never been in these situations, I think that I might draw my line this way:
            I think (think!) I would be okay making a wedding cake for a gay wedding because it’s not my job to judge their reason for wanting that cake or to be concerned about what they do with it.  And I am not necessarily supporting their marriage.  I am just supporting their right to buy cake. 
            But I would not be comfortable writing messages on a cake that go against my beliefs.  I would not want to see those words in my handwriting.  It’s one thing to hand a product off and to let the person decide how to use it, but it’s another to have a hand in promoting a message that violates my values. 
            And, of course, many Christians would say that making a wedding cake for a gay wedding promotes a message that goes against our values, and that’s why they couldn’t do it in good conscience.  And I understand and agree with that, too. 
            (I also think there’s a difference between just giving them a product and having to be there yourself as the wedding photographer, for example.  It wouldn’t feel right to have to stand there and say nothing when they say “Can anyone show just cause why these two should not be wedded in holy matrimony?  Speak now or forever hold your peace.”  (If they even say that anymore.)  Maybe gay people should consider not having a Christian wedding photographer, if they don’t want to risk someone speaking up.)   
            While I do think we have to be careful to not promote ungodly things, I also think that it’s not our job to force society to adopt God’s views or to live by them.  We are all accountable to God for how we violate His laws.  So He will deal with those who have tampered with His Word and His laws.  We just have to worry about living out His truths in our own life, not about making others do it. 
            Of course, we should be willing to take necessary stands against injustices and other issues we should be fighting for, but does this mean that we should deny people the right to buy a cake because we don’t agree with their reasons for wanting that cake?  I don’t know. 
            But I do think that’s a slippery slope.  What if they ordered a regular cake but were going to use it for a gay wedding?  What if they wanted a wedding cake for an event that wasn’t a wedding?  What if someone wants a cake to celebrate an affair or a divorce?  Where do we draw the line?  Do we have to have people fill out forms, informing us of whether they are gay or straight and how they intend to use the product we sell?  Maybe it’s best in this case to extend a little grace, to look at the wedding cake as “just a cake,” instead of as a “moral statement.”  I don’t know. 
            However, I do think that private businesses – and people in general - should have a right to not do anything that violates their faith.  I do not want to live in a totalitarian nation, where the government maintains tight control over our choices and where we are not allowed to exercise our rights to live according to our values. 
            So a cake-maker – Christian, atheist, homosexual, pro-choice, pro-life, or whatever - should be allowed to politely say “No” and to redirect the customer to someone else who can help.  The cake-maker is not trying to discriminate; they are just trying their best to live out their values and to not violate their deeply-held beliefs. 
            I think this is the kind of issue that we could all be a little more tolerant about, letting people live according to their values and beliefs, knowing that we will all stand before God someday (not before me and not before you) and give an account for them. 
            (Maybe the solution for the “message on the cake” dilemma would be to change your policy from writing whatever the customer wants to offering a pre-set list of phrases they can choose from.  That way, everyone has the same options.) 
            Christian cake-makers (and others like them) have my sympathy.  They are in a tough spot and I do not envy the hard choices they might have to make.  God bless them!]

[Update: I said it earlier, but I repeat ... I take it back.  I don't think Christians should be okay with making wedding cakes for gay weddings for this reason alone.  Those on the "other side" are making it impossible to cooperate or to be tolerant of each other.  If they don't get their way, they sue and slander and tear you down and get you fired and destroy your business.  All because they couldn't handle being told "no".  You give them an inch, they take a mile.  And I think it's best to not give any ground to bullies or to appease them in any way!  They have taken their stands against the Lord and now they are seeking to destroy those who stand for Him.  I wish we could all just co-exist, but that's not possible when "the other side" wants to wipe you out!]  

9.  When it comes to situations like these, is there a line that we can agree should not be crossed?  A point when it has gone “too far”?  And what are some moral, biblical guidelines we can operate by when making decisions like these, when deciding where the line should be drawn?

10.  I briefly explored the issue of gay marriage.  What are some wrong ways Christians respond to this issue?  Right ways? 

11.  How should we be treating gay people, in general?  How do we treat them wrongly?  How can we balance truth and love, showing them love while still holding to what the Bible says?  Can we have friendships with homosexual people, and to what extant?  When does it become unhealthy or ungodly?

            [Update: The reason my attitude shifted about the wedding cakes is because I wrote the original lesson when gay marriage was just becoming legal, and I was still under the delusion that we could all "get along" and share this space.  They would do their thing, and we would do ours.  They would have their beliefs, and we would have ours.  However, since then, there has been a strong, violent opposition to Christian beliefs and rights.  They have pushed us to fight back and to dig in our heels, or risk losing all our rights.  They do not want to try to compromise.  They want to destroy.  And this requires a different response.  And add to that the issues of radical feminism and gender-identity, and we are reaching a whole new level of insane.  A whole new level of persecution, especially with churches and "Christians" falling away from clear, biblical truth.  How do we navigate this?  How can we balance the way we treat individual people with the way we treat the groups of people who are attacking our rights and freedoms?  It is a messy, messy dilemma.  That's why I don't mind presenting two seemingly opposing views in this lesson.  It's not a clear-cut, easily answered dilemma.]   

12.  What was Jesus’ purpose and reason for spending time with sinners?  Was it just to “be friends” or were there other motives for forming relationships with sinners?  How can His example be our guide when forming friendships with unbelievers?  (Is there a difference in how we should act toward your average unbeliever and towards staunch, resistant unbelievers who are on the attack?)  

13.  Can there be “gay Christians”?
            [I think that genuine Christians can struggle with all sorts of sins, even sins from a previous lifestyle, from before they became a Christian.  So I think that there will be Christians who will still struggle with homosexual urges.  And they need to seek the Lord’s help in dealing with those urges.  And they need repent and to be shown grace when they fall.  Because we all still struggle with sin.  However, I do not think that Christians can embrace homosexuality.  They cannot mesh the two in harmony, acting as though it is acceptable to be a Christian who practices homosexuality.  And I think the Bible is very clear about that.]   

14.  1 Corinthians 5:9-12 tells us to not associate with immoral people.  But Paul explains that he is not referring to the immoral people of the world but to anyone who calls himself a believer yet who is “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.  With such a man do not even eat.”  And then Paul says, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.” 
            Is there a difference in how we should treat “believers” living in immorality and unbelievers living in immorality?  How do we as Christians get this wrong or backwards?    

15.  What can we learn from Jesus’ example of how He treated the woman at the well and the one caught in adultery?  How can we apply it to life?  Examples?

16.  Can you think of other examples of how we might emphasize truth over love?  Love over truth?  Can you think of other issues where Christians need to consider how to respond, how to balance loving their neighbor yet not condoning godlessness?  Have you had any experiences with this, how did you handle it, and what was the result? 

17.  What are some of the “tickle the ears” messages that some churches are sharing?  What causes many Christians to conform to the world and compromise their faith and buy into “tickle the ears” teachings, despite God’s warnings not to?  What is the danger in this and how can we fight it or stand against it?     

18.  Earlier, I wrote:
            “We have grown lukewarm, comfortable, and lazy in our spiritual lives.  Enamored with this world instead of being enamored with God.  Focused on our priorities instead of God’s.  Worshipping a God that we created instead of God as He is.  (That way, we don’t have to feel convicted or guilty).  Overlooking sin in our lives but finding it in everyone else’s.  Examining everyone else but ourselves. 
            But we convince ourselves that we are doing okay as long as we are trying to get everyone else to live as God wants them to live.  But sometimes our passionate efforts are just a cover for our lack of passionate heart-devotion to the Lord.  We are so busy doing for the Lord that we fail at truly being with the Lord.   
            But our biggest concern shouldn’t be worldly non-believers who live worldly lives, but the ways that we live worldly lives without being bothered by it.”
            What do you think I mean by all this and do you have any thoughts about it?    

19.  In what ways might a Christian be persecuted for their faith?  Examples from life?  What are some godly ways we can respond? 

20.  Can you think of examples of when we cry “persecution” but it’s really not persecution and we are just being overly sensitive or easily offended?  How might this affect people’s views of Christianity and Christians?

21.  Can you think of examples of persecution that we need to just tolerate and examples of when we should “fight back”?  Have you experienced any persecution or hostility because of your faith?  Have you ever had the chance to stand up in the face of hostility, opposition, or unfairness?  What happened?

22.  Have you met anyone or heard of anyone who has faced hostility and condemnation from Christians?  What effect can this have on an unbeliever?

23.  Do we have a responsibility to chastise/correct unbelievers for their immoral behavior or to report people when they do wrong?  How about to challenge other believers for their immoral behavior or to point out their sins?  If so, in what kinds of situations should we do it, how should we do it, and what are wrong ways to do it?

24.  When should we intervene or interfere in someone else’s life or decisions?  When should we mind our own business?  Examples?  Do Christians tend to intervene too much or not enough?  In right ways or in wrong ways?

25.  Why does it seem so easy (you see this a lot in the Old Testament) for one generation that honors God to be replaced by the next generation that rejects Him, even after God performs wonders and miracles for the previous generation?  Why is God so quickly forgotten?  And what can we learn from this?  Is there an answer for this disintegration of faith?   

26.  Is it our responsibility to “push” God’s truth on people who don’t want it?  In a society that already knows what the Bible says and yet deliberately ignores it, should we keep trying to push God’s truth on them and fight to bring back God’s standards and morals . . . or should we hand them over to their rebellious decisions and “shake the dust from our feet”?  Where is the balance, especially given that people do not want to hear it and that Christians are being persecuted for taking a godly stand?

27.  What does it mean to “set your mind on things above”?  What kind of effect should this have on a believer’s life?

28.  How can we live as “sacrifices”?  Does being a “living sacrifice” mean that we will always have the kind of life that we want to have?  Do you feel that you are living as a sacrifice in any area or have you seen any examples of this? 

29.  What are the “patterns of this world,” and in what ways do Christians (in general) conform to them and live in the world too much?  How about for you personally (but you don’t have to share this out loud)? 
            [I think the “patterns of this world” are any ways that take us further from God, that miss the mark for His best plan for us.  Looking out for ourselves instead of bearing each other’s burdens.  Seeking fulfillment in things, achievements, other people, beauty, money, etc.  Getting even instead of forgiving.  Premarital relations instead of committing to keep sex within marriage.  Placing our “needs” and “rights” as a top priority, instead of considering what’s best for the family/society and what God wants us to do.  Moral relativism.  Replacing God’s Truth with things that tickle our ears. 
            Christians can easily conform to the patterns of this world, especially in a day and age of relativism, when we are not supposed to say that anything is “right” or “wrong.”  And in an effort to make everyone feel comfortable about themselves and to not “pass judgment” on anyone else, Christians have slid into allowing themselves to do the same kinds of things that the world is doing.  After all, if we can’t tell the world what’s “right” or “wrong” then we don’t want anyone else to define it for us either.  And before you know it, we start to consider the Bible’s standards of “right” and “wrong” as oppressive, outdated, and relative. 
            This is a scary thing.  Because it means we’ve lost sight of who God really is – of His love and justness and holiness.  We are “living it up while we can” and forgetting that we will pay for it in eternity.  And we will someday have to stand before a holy God and give account for our lives.  And for believers, this means giving an account for why we wasted our life and our opportunity to build His Kingdom.
            Anyway, I’m getting off track here.  But I think we Christians conform to the patterns of this world in many ways.  We set our focus on finding the newest, bigger, and better toy or house or car.  We fight to climb the ladder of success, too, placing our value in the way the world sees us.  We get enamored with attention and recognition and praise from others, and so we seek more of it.  We favor the pretty and the successful over the less beautiful and the down-and-out.  We worry more about our appearance than the condition of our heart and spirit.  We consider the value of something or someone by what we can get out of them, by what they do for us.  We forget how much we have been forgiven by God, and so we fail to forgive others, acting as though it’s our right to hold grudges or to get even.  We parents have been taught to chase our dreams, even if it’s not best for the family, because we must “Put ourselves first and be happy and fulfilled.  After all, this is what is best for the kids anyway . . . to see Mom and Dad fulfilling their dreams.”  We have placed the pursuit of “happiness” over pursuing holiness, contentment, and joy.  We discard spouses that don’t make us happy.  We have sex outside of marriage because monogamy is old-fashioned.  We want to lead in our lives, not follow the ancient directives of some stuffy Bible.  We want to be served, not serve.  We demand that our needs be met, instead of seeking to meet other people’s needs.
            I could go on, but I won’t.  These are just some ways that we look just like the world.]      

30.  How can we be “transformed by the renewing of our mind”?  (Note that this doesn’t just happen to you.  It is a command to be transformed.)
            [Our minds get transformed only when we want them to be, when we allow the Holy Spirit to purify our hearts and minds, to show us where we are going wrong, and to fill us with God’s biblical Truths.  But we have to allow it, to want it.  We decide if we want to open the door to God or not, to the work of the Holy Spirit or not.  And this happens when we decide that we want God and His ways and His truths more than we want our own ways and what the world has to offer.  True transformation comes when we respond to the Holy Spirit’s calls and convictions, when we immerse ourselves in the truths of the Bible, and when we seek righteousness above our own ideas and desires.  It takes time.  In fact, it’s a life-long process.  But every obedient step toward God and righteousness is a step in the right direction.]

31.  What do you think it means when it says that we will be able to “test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will”?  And why should this matter to us?
            [I think it refers to His individual plans for us and His general plans for mankind.  If we have the mind of Christ, we will be able to listen better to His guidance along the way in our own lives.  We will have His heart for people and we will put His agenda above ours.  And we will understand better what is and isn’t acceptable for a child of God. 
            I think finding His Will isn’t so much about figuring out the next, big step we are supposed to take (although that is part of it sometimes), but it’s about listening to Him as we walk.  If we are centered on Him daily, He will guide us as we go.  And we will find ourselves in His Will, walking in the ways He wants us to walk and working for His Kingdom and His people.              And this should matter to us because if we are not doing His Work, we are doing work that will burn up in the end.  What a waste of a life and opportunity!]    

32.  Discuss what it means to “become all things to all men.”  How can this be practically applied to our lives?  Think of examples?  Are there people who we shouldn’t be applying this verse to, who we shouldn’t seek to “become all things” to?  Are there those who we fail to “become all things to” that we should be?   
            [I think this means to reach out to all people in whatever ways we can, without compromising our godliness and integrity.  We should not consider ourselves above anyone else or consider anyone unreachable, outside of the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness.   We are all on the same level at the foot of the cross.  And so we can humbly connect with the broken and sinful and un-lovely as much as we can the successful, pretty, and powerful.   
            In interacting with everyone, we should remember that we are representatives of Jesus’s love and forgiveness and holiness.  When they see us, they should see someone who cares about them as people, who considers them lovable and forgivable, who maintains solid convictions of right and wrong and God’s truth, and who wants the best for other people, eternally and on earth.  This is just one way to apply this principle to our lives.]   

33.  What does it mean to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness”? 
            [We should not compromise our integrity and righteousness in any way, nor dabble with unrighteousness and sin.  We should not allow ourselves to be bullied into “moral relativism.”  We do not have to go out there and bash everyone on the head with Bibles, but we need to maintain strong convictions, stay firmly rooted in the Bible, and reach out to those in need of God’s forgiveness and love without compromising ourselves or condemning others.]

34.  How can we balance “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness” with “become all things to all men”?  (Think of some practical, everyday examples or examples from your own life.)  When does “become all things to all men” slide into being unhealthy or ungodly?  And how can we protect ourselves from that? 

35.  What does this verse mean and how does it apply to us: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”?

36.  Our goal is to draw other people from the world to God’s Kingdom.  But at what point does “sharing our faith with others” become “pushing our faith on others”?  What are some ways that Christians can end up repelling people?  And how can we prevent that from happening? 
            [Critical, condemning attitudes.  Acting like we are better.  Acting like no one else has the right to believe differently.  Hating the sinner along with the sin.  Imitating the world and looking just like them.  Hypocrisy.  Failing to live out what we preach.  Not knowing why we believe what we do.  And many more. 
            We need to be aware of how we come across to others.  We need to know if we are getting lax in our spiritual life and if we are looking like the world.  We need to understand our faith more and have real reasons for why we believe in Jesus and the Bible.  We need to understand who God says He is and who we are, from His Word.  We need to remember that ultimately God gave us all the right to choose Him or not; so while we need to be witnesses for Him to anyone who wants to listen, it’s not our job to force our beliefs on people who don’t want it.  Our job is to be representatives of God’s truth, love, mercy, and grace; it’s the Spirit’s job to bring about change in a person’s heart.  And we need to remember that we are all sinners.  We are all broken, hurting people who have fallen far short of God’s holiness.  We are all in desperate need of God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.  No one but God can look down on anyone.  And no one but God sits on the throne.] 

37.  If someone truly grieves over the condition of a fallen world, how might it be evident in their life?  How about those who are not grieving over the condition of the world?  What might cause one Christian to grieve and another to not?

38.  “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”  (Ezekiel 22:30-31)
             “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares.  If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”  (Jeremiah 5:1) 
            Do these verses have any relevance to us today?  Do you think God still looks for righteous people to “stand in the gap” for the nation?  If so, what effect should this have on us (Christians) and on our lives?

39.  How can we best balance standing up for biblical standards with tolerating someone else’s freedom?  When and about what social or legal issues should we step in and fight for what’s godly (and how), and when should we step back and tolerate what others choose to do?    

40.  What does it mean to “fear the Lord”?  (Look up verses on it.)  What are indications that we are fearing Him and indications that we are not fearing Him?  And what effect does it have on us, on our spiritual life, and our country?

41.  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15) 
            Discuss this verse and its implications for Christians and for our country.     

42.  In what ways might the verses in this lesson apply to you specifically?  In what ways are you living them out?  In what ways do you need to do better at living them out?

43.  How would you describe the best way to share your faith and live it out, in this world and in your own corner of the world?