TED Talk: I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left.

What’s it like to grow up within a group of people who exult in demonizing … everyone else? Megan Phelps-Roper shares details of life inside America’s most controversial church and describes how conversations on Twitter were key to her decision to leave it. In this extraordinary talk, she shares her personal experience of extreme polarization, along with some sharp ways we can learn to successfully engage across ideological lines.

Reblog:Homophobia Has No Place in the Church

Article by Nick Roen

“Young man, I appreciate your message, but you need to realize that most gay people are dangerous predators.”

I had just finished sharing about my experience with same-sex attraction (SSA) at a church in the heart of Wisconsin, and an elderly man tracked me down after the service. These were the first words out of his mouth.

I was taken aback and asked him to clarify. It turns out that a gay man made a pass at him many years ago when he was in the military — and it had caused him to view all gay people as sexually aggressive and dangerous. His view of the homosexual community was defined almost exclusively by a single experience — and fear.

I have a fear as well, but my fear is that homophobia is all too common, not just in society, but even within the church. Some may object to my use of the word homophobia. It can sometimes be used as a politically loaded term wielded to silence any and all opposition to same-sex sexual activity. However, this is not the root definition of the term.

Simply put, homophobia means a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people. And while it is not the same as loving, biblical opposition to certain behaviors or beliefs, this fear-based attitude often leads to unhelpful stereotypes, prejudice, and even cruel mistreatment.

So, let’s call a spade a spade. Homophobia exists, and it has no place in the church.

Search Your Heart

No doubt some who feel convicted will push back. “Well, I don’t think that all gay people are dangerous predators, so I’m not homophobic.” However, homophobia can often take subtler, equally sinister forms. For example, homophobia can subtly infiltrate not only our beliefs, but also our reasons for these beliefs. These principles themselves might be correct and godly, but they can be believed for all the wrong reasons.

Honestly consider your own heart in the following examples:

  • Is your belief that same-sex sexual activity is sin based finally on solid biblical exegesis? Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy?
  • Is your opposition to so-called same-sex marriage based on a principled biblical definition of marriage? Or is it more influenced by a fear that same-sex couples might signal the unraveling of comfortable cultural norms and usher in the end of a once-pristine “Judeo-Christian society”? Or maybe your fear is more that one such couple might move in next door, and you might actually be pressured to befriend them?
  • Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians? Or does opposition for you mean that you wish they would just stay away so you aren’t made uncomfortable by their very presence?
  • In standing for Christian sexual ethics, do you encourage and support those SSA believers within the church who are striving to remain faithful to biblical teaching by welcoming them into full participation in church life? Or does standing for biblical sexuality mean that they can come to church, but they can’t grow in influence or serve the body through teaching, and they should probably stay away from the youth group?

Biblical exegesis is a wonderful underpinning for belief, and love is a worthy motive for action. Fear is a horrible reason for both.

It would do us well to humbly examine our hearts to reveal the motives and fears behind our attitudes toward people who identify as “gay.” Happily upholding Christian sexual ethics is not the same as harboring animosity toward an entire group of people simply because you find them yucky.

Love, Not Fear

Instead, Christians — of all people on the planet — must operate not out of fear, but love. We recognize that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and are therefore sacred and worthy of love.

Furthermore, we are called to love with the very love of our Father (Matthew 5:45), which calls us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44–48). Such love casts out fear because it no longer fears God’s judgment and therefore is freed to love with lavishness (1 John 4:18).

Therefore, our comfort, our convenience, our safety, or our perception of our country’s values are no longer valid reasons to operate in any way that is opposed to genuine biblical love. And we love this way because this is exactly how Jesus first loved us (1 John 4:19). He wasn’t threatened or repelled by us; he wasn’t afraid to enter a relationship with us, sinners that we were (and still are), and to even graciously speak the truth about our sin. Instead, he loved us so lavishly that he died for us to present us clean and whole before his Father (Romans 5:6–8).

When we love in this manner, we expose homophobia for what it really is: pride. It is an attitude that puts beneath us others whose sins and temptations we deem “more depraved” than our own, as we wickedly proclaim with the Pharisee, “Well, at least I don’t struggle with that” (Luke 18:11).

The truth is that sin is sin, temptation is temptation, and “men who have sex with men” is listed right alongside greed, drunkenness, deception, and slander as worthy of exclusion from the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). All equally damnable. Who among us is innocent?

So, let us examine our hearts, identify attitudes of fear and the roots of pride, wherever they exist, and put to death ungodly prejudices that ultimately hinder the truth. In our quest for biblical fidelity, we must not only uphold the truth, but do so in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Biblical love requires that we speak the truth. And when we speak out of homophobia, rather than in love, it is we who are in the wrong.

Read the original article here.

Reblog: What Will Be the Cost to the Church?

By Tim Challies

For months now the question has been in front of me. It has been there in the document I open every day, the document that contains a list of articles to write, and questions to explore. “What will be the cost to the church if young men continue to give themselves to pornography?” What do we, as Christians, stand to lose if so many of our young men continue to spend their teens and twenties in the pursuit of pornographic pleasure?

The question has been on my mind all the more as I’ve begun to scope out a teaching series in Proverbs. Proverbs warns us at many times and in many ways of the “forbidden woman.” This is the woman whose lips drip honey, whose speech is smoother than oil. She is attractive and alluring; she knows just what to say and just what to offer to draw young men after her. And so they follow along behind her, oblivious to the fact that they are following her straight to foolishness, straight to harm, straight to hell.

In days gone by this woman may have been an adulteress or a prostitute. Today she takes the form of pornography. She is calling out to young men, she is offering herself to them, she is displaying all the pleasures she can offer, and they are following along. The Bible is honest and forthright about the cost (Proverbs 5:7-14):

Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.

Read the rest here.

Philippians 3: 12-14

This scripture was read in church this morning and brought me great comfort and reflection to how I live out my Christian life. Even the Apostle Paul knew he hadn’t arrived to completion in his walk with God…

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus…

The sermon was on vision and I appreciated that and want to work on my own personal vision for my future. Find today’s sermon here.

Reblog: 3 Types of Legalism

by RC Sproul

Have you, as a Christian, ever been accused of legalism? That word is often bandied about in the Christian subculture incorrectly. For example, some people might call John a legalist because they view him as narrow-minded. But the term legalism does not refer to narrow-mindedness. In reality, legalism manifests itself in many subtle ways.

Basically, legalism involves abstracting the law of God from its original context. Some people seem to be preoccupied in the Christian life with obeying rules and regulations, and they conceive of Christianity as being a series of do’s and don’ts, cold and deadly set of moral principles. That’s one form of legalism, where one is concerned merely with the keeping of God’s law as an end in itself.

Now, God certainly cares about our following His commandments. Yet there is more to the story that we dare not forget. God gave laws such as the Ten Commandments in the context of the covenant. First, God was gracious. He redeemed His people out of slavery in Egypt and entered into a loving, filial relationship with Israel. Only after that grace-based relationship was established did God begin to define the specific laws that are pleasing to Him. I had a professor in graduate school who said, “The essence of Christian theology is grace, and the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.” The legalist isolates the law from the God who gave the law. He is not so much seeking to obey God or honor Christ as he is to obey rules that are devoid of any personal relationship.

Read the rest here.

Reblog: Rosaria Butterfield: No free passes

From World Magazine

I interviewed Rosaria Butterfield 3½ years ago as her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was coming out and heading toward wide readership. Since then she’s spoken widely throughout the United States and sometimes faced LGBTQ demonstrators displeased with her movement from lesbianism (and a tenured Syracuse professorship in women’s studies) to Christian believer and pastor’s wife. Here are edited excerpts of a new interview before Patrick Henry College students.

You’ve previously spoken of your fascinating conversion, so I won’t ask about it today: Folks can read excerpts of our interview in WORLD (March 23, 2013) or watch it on YouTube, as more than 120,000 people have. Let’s talk about what’s happened since: What were you thinking when you first saw demonstrators? Wow: This is the world I helped create through my earlier teaching, and I don’t get a free pass. I know the Lord has forgiven and delivered me, and given me joy in a life that I never could have imagined living before—but I did this. I taught thousands of students to despise the Bible. The blood is on my hands.

read the rest here.

Reblog: The Heart of Hospitality

by Christina Fox

A friend recently thanked me for the hospitality I had extended to him and his family over the years. Feeling uncomfortable with the compliment, I responded, “Actually, it’s my husband you need to thank. I learned it from him.” I think my comment surprised him. Perhaps because it seemed as though I’ve always had a heart for hospitality.

The truth is, for a long time hospitality was hard for me. I often thought that hospitality was something you only did when you were prepared and had all your ducks in a row. I thought that my home needed to be a certain size and my cooking skills up to a certain level. And just like Martha in Luke 10, I often stressed over the details of hospitality. I focused on whether there were enough chairs for everyone to sit on, each person’s unique dietary needs were met, and that the living room was spotless and the pillows lined up neatly on couch.

What I’ve learned from watching my husband seek out the lonely and invite them into our home is that biblical hospitality has nothing to do with those things. Rather, the heart of hospitality is about sharing our lives for the sake of others, just as Christ did for us.

Biblical Hospitality

There’s a difference between hospitality we see on the cover of magazines or on interior design shows on television and the hospitality described in Scripture. Biblical hospitality isn’t about details but about the gospel. It isn’t just for those who can bake, but for all of us. It’s not about receiving compliments but about giving to others. It’s about much more than a meal or a comfortable place to lay one’s head. The heart of hospitality is about sharing the greatest treasure we have, Jesus Christ.

Four things to remember about hospitality:

Read the rest here.

Reblog: Why Single Is Not the Same as Lonely

by theGospelCoalition

It was the kind of e-mail that breaks your heart.

A friend of mine, who lives too far away, contacted me to say he was struggling to understand how the cost of singleness as a Christian could possibly be worth it. As far as he could see, an illicit relationship would be “the only possible way for me to enjoy the relational intimacy I’ve dreamt of my entire life.” He concluded, “I cannot imagine the shell of a life I would live without somebody standing by my side.” In the light of this deficit of intimacy, could singleness ever be worth it?

My friend isn’t alone. In my own church family, one of the biggest causes of people drifting away from Christ has been entering into illicit relationships, especially single Christian women with unbelieving men. For many of them, the assumption was that life as a single just wasn’t viable. They needed intimacy.

It has become an unquestioned assumption today: Singleness (at least godly singleness) and intimacy are alternatives. A choice to be celibate is a choice to be alone. No wonder for so many this seems too much to bear. Can we really expect someone to live without romantic hope? It sounds so unfair.

Marriage and Celibacy

Lightstock

The Bible is clear that we choose between marriage and celibacy. In Matthew 19, Jesus upholds and expounds God’s blueprint for marriage found in Genesis 1 and 2: Marriage is between a man and a woman, and is designed to be for life. The disciples balk a little at this: “If such is the case between a man and his wife, it is better not to marry” (v. 10). But Jesus responds by talking to them about the life of the eunuch. The implication is plain: The only godly alternative to marriage is celibacy.

Read the rest here.

 

TED Talk: Leslie Morgan Steiner: Why domestic violence victims don’t leave

Leslie Morgan Steiner was in “crazy love” — that is, madly in love with a man who routinely abused her and threatened her life. Steiner tells the dark story of her relationship, correcting misconceptions many people hold about victims of domestic violence, and explaining how we can all help break the silence. (Filmed at TEDxRainier.)

Reblog: The Power of Public Prayer in the Church

by Kent Hughes and from Westminster Theological Seminary

Our public prayers in our corporate worship services have a massive impact on the prayer lives of God’s people, in that such prayers teach the church how to approach our transcendent but immanent God. They also bring power to our churches. The immense importance of the corporate prayers of the body of Christ rests on Scripture’s direct accounts of the power wrought by such prayers and the apostolic dependence on the prayers of the church.

The Power of Public Prayer

The book of Acts tells us that it was after a mighty corporate prayer for boldness (Acts 4:24–30) that “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (v. 31). Acts also recounts how the church’s corporate prayers brought deliverance for the imprisoned apostle Peter. The manacled apostle felt an angel tap him on the side, heard his chains rattle to the ground, and saw the iron prison gate automatically open for him (12:7–10). After Peter collected himself and went to the house of Mary, he found the church praying for him (v. 12).

There is mighty power when the church comes together for focused, corporate prayer. . .when the people are truly engaged and praying in concert, great grace is poured out.

The same thing happened to Pastor Zebedayo Idu, who, having been imprisoned by a Marxist dictator (who had given orders for his immediate execution), suddenly found himself free and on the street due to a “mechanical” malfunction. As he ran back to his village, he glanced into the church, where he saw his congregation united in fervent intercession for him.

The apostle Paul’s intimate knowledge of the power of corporate prayer prompted him to conclude his teaching on spiritual warfare with the ringing challenge for his readers to take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the spirit, with all prayer and supplication . . . for all the saints” (Eph. 6:17b–18). And then, very significantly, Paul asked for the church’s prayer for himself, adding, “And [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (v. 19).

There is mighty power when the church comes together for focused, corporate prayer, because when the prayers are not perfunctory but thought through, and when the people are truly engaged and praying in concert, great grace is poured out on world mission, local evangelism, national leaders, the preaching of the Word, the sanctification of God’s people, and the ill and grieving.

Preparing for Public Prayer

Preparation for public prayer requires preparation of the heart and of the head. Preparation of prayers apart from the heart may result in accuracy and eloquence, but of a frigid sort. Preparation of the heart is indispensable, but apart from some thought, prayers may be pious and vacuous. Pulpit prayer requires a melding of both types of preparation.

Preparing Your Spirit

The public prayers of the pastor must be a reflection of his private prayer; public prayer must flow from our communion and intercession with God in secret. Congregational prayers can be theologically precise and beautiful but hollow if they are not rooted in the heart and practice of the pastor.

The takeaways for those of us who are charged with leading in corporate prayer are significant:

  • We must be pastors who have deep, regular, private communion with God.
  • The emotion that we express in public prayer must be consonant with the feeling that we express in private prayer. We must be real.
  • Apart from personal, family, and confidential matters, the things that we pray for in public must be consistent with the things we have been praying for in private. Our private prayer burdens should inform our public prayer burdens.
  • We must be utterly engaged in our prayers, so that God fills our horizons, not our “audience.”
  • We must ask God to work in our hearts first those things that we would like worked in the hearts of our people.
  • We must go “prayed up” and prepared when we stand before God’s people to lead them in prayer.

We are saying that thought-through public prayers will enrich and elevate public worship and the prayer life of the congregation.

Preparing Your Prayers

When we speak of “preparing prayers,” we are not referring to set prayers that are sometimes used for invocation or confession, but prayers that the pastor may compose for any part of corporate worship, including invocations and confessions.

First, we must understand how not to pray, a negative that must certainly inform the subject of preparation. Significantly, just before Jesus told his disciples how they ought to pray, giving them the example of the Lord’s Prayer, he told them how they ought not to pray: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matt. 6:7). Jesus warned against two kinds of prayers: those full of empty phrases (today’s pious, vacuous jargon) and lengthy prayers (inflated by such empty jargon). This is not an argument against extemporaneous prayer, but a warning to take care as to the words and content of our prayers. This can best be done by writing out our prayers.

At this point, readers may think that we are down on extemporaneous prayers in public worship. We are not. If we are Spirit-filled Christians, our waking hours are filled with extemporaneous prayer, and not just before meals and meetings. As pastors, we may be called on to offer extemporaneous prayer several times a day. In this sense, extemporaneous prayer is a barometer of spiritual health. It can even be said that at times an extemporaneous prayer is the height of spiritual expression and heartfelt devotion.

We are saying that thought-through public prayers will enrich and elevate public worship and the prayer life of the congregation. In fact, preparation often provides the ground for remarkable extemporaneous prayers. And because of this, we pastors should embrace the discipline of writing out our prayers.

Years ago, in the Princeton days of Miller, it was noted that Rev. John Gillies, a visiting Scottish preacher, prayed with remarkable pastoral grace and depth. When asked why that was, after demurring, he explained that if there was anything in his public prayer different from the prayers of others, it was due, “under God,” to the fact that in the first ten years of his ministry he never wrote a sermon “without writing a prayer, in part or in whole, corresponding with it in its general strain.” This kind of discipline pours grace on the gathered worship of the church.

Having made the case for the discipline of writing out our prayers for public worship, we are not suggesting that those prayers be read verbatim. They can be used as “security blankets” in making sure that we pastors stay on target. They can even be reduced to suggestive outlines or their contours committed to memory. In any case, they must be internalized so that they come from the depths of our hearts with much affection. Likewise, the set prayers and prayers of confession must never be “said,” but prayed with the full engagement of our minds and hearts. Our people can sense the difference.

Find the original post here.

Reblog: The Family Idols

From: FEEDING ON CHRIST

One of the more important aspects of the book of Genesis is the way in which the Holy Spirit lays bare the inner motives and desires that drive the actions of the members of the patriarchal family. The cameos of the men and women of the covenant family set out, in stark contrast, the antithesis between living life in the flesh and living life in the Spirit, by human effort or by divine promise–by works or by faith. In short, we find, in the patriarchal narratives, the seemingly insatiable quest for safety and satisfaction–interestingly, the very things that God graciously pledged to give Abraham by faith in the coming Christ (Gen. 15:1).

In the patriarchal family we see the father of the faithful handing his wife off to a powerful king (twice!) in order to gain security (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:2). We find him taking his wife’s handmaiden to himself in order to attempt to gain, by human effort, the satisfaction promised by the Covenant God (Gen. 16). We find this same principle at work in the life of his son, Isaac, when he also lied about his wife to protect himself (Gen. 26:7); and again when he chose to show partiality to Esau–the son of Isaac’s flesh who seemed to embody what he wished were true of himself (Gen. 25:28). Additionally, we see it in Jacob seeking to gain the birthright by con-artistry and deception (Gen. 25:29-34; 27:1-29)–another attempt to work for the blessing of God.

While all of these acts are meant to draw our attention to the fact that the promises of God can only be received by faith in the Redeemer, they also warn us about the heart-idolatry that manifested itself in the lives of the patriarchs…even as it often does in our own lives. The essence of this idolatry was seen in the members of the covenant family seeking to find protection and fulfillment in themselves or in their closest of relations rather than in the living God of promise.

This family idolatry is preeminently seen in Leah seeking to win the love of her husband by having children for him and in her sister, Rachel, putting herself in competition with her in order to find satisfaction and fulfillment in bearing children (Gen. 30:1).

In his excellent book on the lives of Isaac and Jacob, Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace, Iain Duguid draws out of the Rachel-Leah saga the fact that idolatry lay at the heart of both women’s race to have children. He writes:

“This is the essence of idolatry: someone or something other than the living God is occupying the God-shaped space at the core of our being. We were created as worshiping beings, people whose meaning and purpose cannot be derived from ourselves but must come from outside us. There is always someone or something other than ourselves on which we have hung our whole identity or self-worth. If we turn our backs on the true God, we inevitably attempt to fill that void with something else. Whatever we must have instead of, or as well as, the God of the Bible, if life is to have meaning for us—that is our idol. For you, it may be health, comfort, wealth, control, the affection of a particular individual, or any of a thousand and one things. Whatever it is, it is an idol. Idols, however, ultimately never satisfy. In reality, a deep relationship with God and God alone is all we need to possess life in all its fullness (see Ps. 27:4–5).”1

This serves as a warning for those of us in the church today. We, no different than they, have hearts that are conditioned and bent toward giving our time, energy and affection to created things and persons–even to those who are our closest of relatives in the home–rather than to the living and true God. The perniciousness of this idolatry is seen in the fact that we can even make idols of our spouse or children in the name of being a good husband or wife, father or mother–all the while justifying our idolatry as if we are doing it as unto the Lord. Throughout the Genesis narrative, the men and women of the patriarchal home are constantly appealing to the name of the God of the covenant while acting with sinful and idolatrous motives (Gen. 27:20; 30:6; 30:13).

Read the rest here.

Reblog: What Pastors Can Do about the Gender Neutral Bathroom Controversy

by SamRainer.com

Last Thursday the New York Times broke a story that the Obama administration would issue a directive for every public school in the nation allowing bathroom access based on self-identity of gender. It’s a huge story with sweeping consequences.

I don’t often weigh in on political issues. One reason is the purpose of this blog, which is helping leaders in established churches, not bantering on politics. As a pastor, I have people in my congregation with various political views. I’m not afraid to preach issues, but I try not to stir up needless political controversy in my church. However, on this issue, I must speak.

When I was in high school, I played basketball. I identified as a superior player, perhaps six foot eight inches with a slam dunk similar to Vince Carter. In reality, I’m six inches shorter, and my rare dunks looked more like an albatross taking off.

Identity can be detached from reality.

What if a rich person identified as poor and claimed she no longer needed to pay taxes? You might say, “That’s a financial reality. She can’t do that.” But what is the philosophical difference between a financial reality and a biological one?

What if a white person wanted to identify as a black person in order to claim the black experience? It’s already happened, and there was uproar. Rightly so. But what is the philosophical difference between an ethnic reality and a biological one?

What if a young teen wanted to identify as a senior citizen and claim the right to vote prematurely? What’s the philosophical difference between a geriatric reality and a biological one?

What if a dying person wanted to identify as healthy and gain access to life insurance shortly before passing? What’s the philosophical difference between a reality of physical fitness and a biological one of gender?

This identity madness must stop. You don’t get to choose who you are. God made you exactly the way He wants you. And you are beautiful as God made you. You can no more choose your gender identity than you can choose your wealth, ethnicity, age, or health.

So what is a pastor to do? Let me offer some recommendations.

  • Don’t ignore the issue. It’s not going away. Most of your people are paying attention to this issue. It affects everyone. I addressed it from the pulpit on Sunday. Why? It’s a major cultural issue that’s at the front of everyone’s mind. Pastors are called by God to teach their congregations. All churches deserve an answer from their pastors on this issue.
  • Teach with clarity, not nuance. Go right to the heart of the issue and address it biblically and clearly. Don’t hide behind big words or fuzzy nuances. Tell your people exactly what you expect them to believe on this issue. If news reports contain more facts about gender identity than your sermon, then you’re not preaching. You’re dancing.
  • Display a genuine concern for people who identify as transgender. Jesus loves them, and so should you. Crude jokes and snarky sermon soundbites won’t solve the problem. We should care for anyone struggling with gender identity issues. You can put a stake in the ground on this issue while at the same time exhibiting love for hurting and confused people. Truth and love are two sides of the same coin. God’s truth compels us to love others. And to love others, you don’t have to compromise the truth.
  • Give practical advice. The theological foundation is important, but your people likely want to know what to do. I’ve counseled transgender people, as well as their family members. I’m sure I will have many questions from church members if public schools in our community abide by the Obama administration’s directives. Both truth and love require action. You need to help people take practical next steps.
  • Don’t make unnecessary enemies. Stay focused on the gospel. We’re not fighting against flesh and blood. Your neighbor is not your enemy, even the transgender one.

Our culture is changing at an incredibly fast pace. Like a machine running at full capacity 24/7, we can’t keep moving this fast without lots of things breaking. And by “things,” I mean actual people. Broken people need the gospel. We’ve got work to do. The mission of God doesn’t advance by bellyaching.