Friday, October 30, 2015

Guest Post: The Gospel In The Shell by Vilbert Vallance

NOTE: This post was sent to me by my friend, Vilbert. He is Indian and works as a chaplain for the Baptist Hospital in Bangalore. This is a wonderful testimony of how he shared the Gospel with a man who was dying. 

Two days ago I was sitting beside a man who is in his 40’s and a palliative patient. [Similar to hospice care]. He was in good sense, was strong enough to speak, think and even to reflect. I was happy that the whole conversation was in our language, and the setting was a village.

I had to tell him the reality of Heaven and Hell, but I didn’t know how to start and make this important subject simple for him to understand.  Then, I noticed little chicks running across muddy and dusty path in front of his house.

I said, “Look Mr. Narayanapp. Look at those little chicks. If a little chick in the egg were to declare that nothing existed outside the egg, and its mother were to reply, “No. In the outside world there are mountains, flowers, rivers, blue sky”, the little chick might reply “You are talking nonsense. I can’t see any of these things.” But when the shell breaks suddenly, then the little chicken would see his mother was right!

I continued, saying, “It is same with us. We are still in the shell. We see neither heaven or hell. But one day our shell has to break and then we will see.” He kept nodding his head and even started to think. Rather, he started to think deeply by closing his eyes.

I said, “Mr. Narayanappa, you see in the shells the little chick has eyes and wings. That itself is a proof he would be needing those in the future. Eyes are created to see, but since it’s still in the shell, it thinks there is nothing to see. It has wings that are created to fly, but it can’t because it is in a shell.

I said, “In the same way, we have many desires and longings which can never be satisfied here. There must be some way to satisfying them. This opportunity is Eternity. Just like little chick needs to be kept warm as long as he is in the shell, we need to be kept warm. This surety of eternal life is given to us when we confess our sins before the Lord Jesus and invite him to come into our life and heart. He will come and gives us Eternal Life.”

“Look how these little chicks are running with energy, freedom, and a sense of joy all the time,” I said. “They are also aware that their mother is watching them closely. And God watches us when we surrender to Him.

Oh, this made a lot of sense to this man, and I led him to the Lord.

Friday, October 23, 2015


“I think I’m possessed.”

What would you say if your friend, or your spouse, or your child, came to you and confessed that they were possessed?

The word itself conjures up images of horror and unspeakable evil.

Hollywood has filled our minds with countless examples of what it looks like when a human being is possessed by an evil spirit. We hear the demonic voices, we see the twisted faces, and we recoil when objects start flying around the room and people start to levitate.

But when it comes to being possessed by the Holy Spirit, we have very little idea what that looks like. Mainly, because no one has any expectation that a “Holy Possession” is even possible.

Which is unfortunate because the New Testament is filled with examples of Holy Possession, and Jesus and His Apostles go out of their way to explain what it should look like.

Jesus was the first to suggest that His disciples would be possessed by the Holy Spirit:

“He [the Holy Spirit] lives with you and will be in you.” [John 14:17]

This was in fulfillment of the OT prophecies about the New Covenant that God would make with mankind, through His Body [the Church] when He promised:

"I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” [Ezekiel 36:27]

And at Pentecost that’s exactly what God did. He poured out His Spirit on all flesh, just as he promised.

And over and over again Paul emphasizes this reality:

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” [1 Cor. 3:16]

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” [1 Cor. 6:19]

“For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.’” [2 Cor. 6:16]

“Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” [2 Tim. 1:14]

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” [Roman 8:11]

“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” [Romans 8:9]

“For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.” [Col. 1:29]

But what does this all mean?

It means that the very same Holy Presence of Almighty God that once rested over the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple, behind a massive veil, is now alive within you. [Yes, you].

It means that if you are in Christ, then Christ is in you, by His Holy Spirit.  Moment by moment, day by day, with every beat of your heart, Jesus is alive within you – and every single other member of the Body of Christ all over the planet, too.

It means that as you submit to the indwelling Holy Spirit your thoughts become His thoughts, His heart overtakes your heart, and His will overrides your will.

In essence, everyone who is abiding in Christ is possessed by the Spirit of the Living God. This is the only way in which Christ is still alive and at work in the earth today. We are His hands, His feet, His Body.

This is why Jesus said that it was better for us if he went away, because now that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on every single Christian, all over the world, the power and the presence of Jesus can be experienced by everyone we come into contact with.

We just have to take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, and allow Him to shine through us.

“He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” [1 John 4:4]


"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." [Gal. 2:20]

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Anytime we speak about the extravagant and unending love of God for people, we must always remind ourselves – and one another – just how sinful and undeserving we are of such amazing love.

The danger, of course, is that we might fixate too much on God’s audacious love and not spend enough time meditating on our own worthlessness.

Several authors are guilty of this. For example, people like Philip Yancey, and Brennan Manning tend to go on and on about God’s great love for us, and even seem to emphasize our full acceptance of this love, without balancing these ideas with the truth [which is that we are slimy worms who could never deserve such unmerited grace and love].

For example, here’s what Yancey says about God’s grace:

“God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are.” 

“I would far rather convey grace than explain it.” 

Notice how he makes no mention of our sins? Hmm…

Now, look at what Manning says:

“God loves you exactly as you are, not as you should be, because none of us will ever be as we should be.”

Ok, he does mention our sins but he fails to emphasize how our sinfulness is repulsive to God and how our failures can be a barrier to God’s great love.

As bad as these may be, the worst offender of all is this guy Paul, the Apostle.

Notice what he says about God’s great love:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” [Eph. 3:17-19]

Worse yet, Paul doesn’t follow up this thought about God’s awesome love with any verses about how much we don’t deserve that love. Shameful.

And it gets worse:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:35-39]

Here, Paul not only goes on and on about God’s miraculous and astounding love for us, he even tries to convince us that nothing can separate us from this great love. Really, Paul? Not even our slimy, undeserving sinfulness?

In another epistle, Paul drops casual references to God’s love for us and uses it as motivation for how we should love one another:

“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” [Col. 3:12]

Of course, Paul even went so far as to write an entire chapter about love [see 1 Cor. 13] without ever mentioning how much none of us deserves God’s great love. Talk about a missed opportunity.

The other Apostles are no better. John, for example, who has the gall to call himself “the one the Lord loved” also talks about God’s love for us without the necessary caveats:

“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” [1 John 4:16]

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! [1 John 3:1]

Again, all references to how much we don’t deserve God’s great love are "conveniently" omitted.

The dangerous thing here is that Christians who read this might actually start to forget their filthy sinfulness and begin to focus only on the goodness, and kindness, and graciousness of a God who loves them so much that He would rather die than live without them.

Just imagine what would happen if more and more Christians started to forget what horrible people they are? Sure, they might start to experience more joy in their lives, but they might also start to forget what shame and guilt feel like. 

And then what?

The more Christians start to become aware of God’s unmerited favor and His love that surpasses knowledge, the more they might also start telling others about it, too.

Do we really want to live in a world where the emphasis is on God’s continual, unending love for those who are made in His image? Are we prepared for the consequences of this unbalanced approach to the Gospel, or to life itself?

The implications are almost unbelievable.



Monday, October 19, 2015

My Top 15 Bible Verses

I know a lot of bloggers are posting their own lists of favorite and most influential verses of scripture, so I decided to share my own list.

But of course I couldn’t limit myself just only the Top 10, so here are my Top 15 favorite verses:

  1. “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.” [Luke 4:43]
  2. “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed…For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21]
  3. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  [John 13:34-35]
  4. “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” [1 John 2:6]
  5. “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” [John 13:17]
  6. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things I say?” [Luke 6:46]
  7. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” [Matt. 25:40]
  8. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” [Eph. 3:17-19]
  9. “Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” [John 14:9]
  10. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]
  11. “The LORD your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with his love and will rejoice over you with singing.” [Zeph. 3:17]
  12. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” [1 John 3:1]
  13. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. “ [James 1:2-5]
  14. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” [Eph. 2:10]
  15. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” [John 14:23]

 I could easily make my list 100 verses, but no one has time for that.

What are your favorite verses?

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Love That's Better Than Sex

In our previous post, I shared a promise that God makes to those who are non-heterosexual, that they would be given a name and a monument that is better than sons or daughters in His Church.

Jesus and Paul affirm that those who are “eunuchs for  the sake of the Kingdom” are partakers of this promise if they remain celibate and devote themselves to the concerns of Christ.

But where does that leave the lonely disciple who longs for physical love?

Whether gay or straight, those who are single and celibate in the Body of Christ must wrestle with a very real need to love and to be loved by others.

Jesus knows this. He already knows what we need before we ask, and so He has a plan to address this need. What Jesus has in mind involves a complete redefinition of family and friendship.

“Who are my mother and sisters and brothers?”, Jesus asks.

Are they not those who love Him and put His words into practice?

In his ekklesia, everyone finds a safe place to be who they are, without shame. In the Body of Christ, everyone finds a friend who will lay down their life for them. In the Church that Jesus builds, everyone discovers a house full of mothers, brothers, and sisters who all embrace them, welcome them, and love them – not only in words, but in action and in truth.

The community of Christ is designed to provide everyone with a family that won’t forsake them; with brothers and sisters who will bear one another’s burdens; with deep friendships that are stronger than death, and better than a wife or husband, or sons or daughters.

In the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Father has promised that everyone – especially those who are alone – will be cherished, and valued, and profoundly loved.

Granted, not every church fellowship has fully realized this yet.

But when the church fails to do this, everyone suffers. Not only the single and celibate, but those who are married suffer, too. Because everyone in the Body of Christ is intended to be welcomed, and at home, and embraced, and loved.

In the Jewish culture there is a concept of “Shalom” that extends to include everyone in the community. If there is even one person who does not enjoy “shalom” – which means having the food, clothing, shelter, warmth, and love, that every human being requires – then none of us has “shalom”.

In the Body of Christ, we are meant to ensure that everyone in our community is loved. Jesus commanded us to love one another. Paul told us to bear one another's burdens. John told us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

If one of us in the Church doesn't have love, then none of us really has it.

"If anyone....sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." - 1 John 3:17]

This means loving one another as Christ has loved us. It means opening our homes if need be. It means sacrificing our free time. It means sharing our meals, and our hearts, and our money, and anything else that is necessary to meet the needs of everyone in our Church family.

If we don’t live in His love, and experience His love, and share His love freely among those within His Body, how can we call ourselves the children of a God who is love?


IMAGE CREDIT: Scott Laumann



Wednesday, October 14, 2015


When God established rules for who could – and who could not – enter into or serve within the Tabernacle, and later the Temple of God, He made a curious prohibition against those who were castrated, or who “had their testicles crushed”. [See Lev. 21:20]

These people are more commonly referred to in the Scriptures as “eunuchs”.

Later, through the prophet Isaiah, God made these eunuchs a promise:

“Let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” [Isaiah 56:3-7]

This promise to give these people, who were formerly outcast, a place of honor in God’s House was never fulfilled under the Old Covenant.  

So, was this promise left unfulfilled? Not at all.

When Jesus is responding to the Pharisees regarding divorce, his disciples throw up their hands in exasperation after hearing Him say that a man may not divorce his wife other than for the sin of adultery. They exclaim, “Why even get married, then?” To which Jesus replies:

“Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” [Matthew 19:11-12]

Curiously, Jesus seems to make a statement that he realizes will be difficult for His disciples to wrap their minds around. “Tuck this one in your back pocket for now,” he seems to say. “This won’t make any sense to you now, but later on this concept will become more clear.”

What is a eunuch? Is it simply someone who has no interest in the opposite sex? Or in marriage? Is it someone who has no functional genitalia [as in Lev.21:20]? What is the difference between a eunuch who is “born that way” and those who are “made eunuchs by men” and “those who made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom”?

Jesus bookends this statement with the warning: “Not all men can accept this. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Whatever a eunuch might be, we see that the promise made by Isaiah is still in effect. Jesus honors those who are eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. In the context of his dialog with the Pharisees and the Disciples, Jesus seems to place the emphasis on those eunuchs who choose not to marry – not to participate in the normative practices of the culture – but who instead devote themselves totally to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.

Keep in mind that, in Jewish culture, a woman had no value apart from child-birth. A man without male children was a disgrace and most likely cursed by God. Even the “Chosen” status of the Children of Israel was tied to giving birth to the Messiah. How could anyone choose to disengage from that most natural and holy endeavors as being married and having children?

As we’ve already noted, that promise in Isaiah to eunuchs being granted a “monument and a name better than sons and daughters” was never fulfilled in the Old Covenant “House of God”, but it was certainly fulfilled in the New Covenant “House of God”, which is the ekklesia, or Body of Christ.

Who was the first non-Jewish convert baptized into the new Temple of God? A eunuch from Ethiopa. [See Acts 8:27]

When the evangelist Philip met this man he was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. Imagine this eunuch’s surprise after his baptism when he, no doubt, continued on reading in the scroll and discovered the promise of God to him - and to every other eunuch - a few chapters later in Isaiah 56:3-7.

Who else has made themselves a eunuch for the Kingdom of God?

Well, Jesus, for one. He abandoned his identity as a potential husband or a father, in the natural sense, to embrace the title of Bridegroom for a people who would become his Bride through faith in Him.

Paul was also a “eunuch for the Kingdom” who remained celibate for the sake of the Gospel, and urged others to do the same:

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. . . But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried…is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-33]

What of those who embrace their natural identity and who become fathers and mothers, or husbands and wives? Those labels will vanish and fade away in the age to come:

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” – Jesus [Matt. 22:30]

But for those who do embrace this calling to become eunuchs for the Kingdom, there is a promise that is eternal and that will never be taken away.

Jesus gives us three categories of eunuchs: Those who were “born that way”, those who “were made that way by men” and those who “are eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom”.

Eunuchs who are “made that way by men” are undoubtedly those who were castrated. This tells us that the Ethiopian eunuch, and the eunuch who lived and served in the Temple [see 2 Kings 23:11] were both “born that way from their mother’s womb”.  How do we know this? Because if they had been “made that way by men” [i.e. “castrated”] then they wouldn’t have been admitted into the Temple, according to the prohibition commanded in Leviticus 21:20.

So, what does it mean to be someone who is a eunuch “from their mother’s womb”? Many believe that this would be a reference to what we would call someone with a same-sex attraction. Why? Because these people did not exhibit what would have been seen as a “normative” sexual orientation. They were men without passion for women, and women without interest in taking a husband and bearing children as most women would be expected to do. At a minimum, these enuchs are “non-heterosexuals” who do not have any interest in fulfilling their culturally accepted gender roles.

The third category that Jesus mentions is someone for whom the expected sexual norms and usual gender roles do not apply. Furthermore, it is someone who has embraced a new identity in Christ to become a eunuch for the Kingdom.

This is what Jesus did. It’s what Paul the Apostle did and urged others to do. 

What greater calling can there be than to become, like Jesus our Lord and the Apostle Paul, one of the eunuch’s for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

Granted, not everyone is “born this way” and few of us are “made this way by men”, but there are several who do not value traditional marriage as much as others do. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Christians for whom the traditional role of husband or wife, or mother or father, is not an option. Whether by sexual attraction or by lack of opportunity, these men and women are on the outside of the cultural norms and sexual identities that our society has imposed upon them.

Rather than endure the shame that is often tied to this classification, these people are among an elite tribe of human beings who have been given a promise, and a monument, and an everlasting name that will be, in the House of God, one of honor and of high esteem. Our Lord Himself has identified with them and stands beside them as one who is on the outside of normative cultural expectations for gender and sexuality and identity.

I know that many who are Gay and Christian want nothing more than to find another person to share their life with. This is a common, human desire. My hope is to share another possibility that they might consider embracing – a promise from God to step into a place of exceptional service for their Lord and King.

As much as we might not want to believe it, celibacy is not a death sentence. For many in the Kingdom of God, it is a high calling and a position of great honor.

Is there anyone, today, who has abandoned their normative cultural – and natural – identity as a husband or a wife? If so, they may now embrace the example of Jesus and of Paul the Apostle who served as “eunuchs for the Kingdom” and experienced the promise of God through the prophet Isaiah to receive a “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters” and “an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

Let those who can receive it, receive it.


Thursday, October 08, 2015


My most recent blogpost received a comment that asked, “So, is it ok to be gay and Christian?”
I think that’s a very good question. I will do my best to provide an answer.
First of all, I’ve been studying this topic for over a year now. It’s something I’ve held off writing about until I was quite certain I could speak about it with integrity.
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you already know that I’m no stranger to controversy. But this topic, unlike any other, is more volatile than anything I’ve ever written about before.
I’ve lost friends and relationships with other Christians over issues like hierarchy in the Church, the Priesthood of All Believers, Christian Non-Violence and the different views of Hell, to name a few.
But taking a position on the issue of Homosexuality has the potential to damage many relationships that I hold most dear, including members of our family.
At one point I nearly backed off completely. But then I felt I heard the Holy Spirit remind me that my calling is not to minimize my own suffering but to help alleviate the suffering of others.
So, here we go.
At one time I took the words of Paul at face value, especially when it came to verses where he forbids a woman to teach, or when he condemns homosexual activity.
But then something happened. First, my friend Jon Zens wrote a book called “What’s With Paul and Women?” which went directly to those passages where it appeared that Paul was clearly against women teaching men, or even speaking out loud in the assembly, and exposed our bad English translations, our lack of understanding the culture of that day, and years of bias against the subject matter.
What emerged was a better understanding of what Paul was actually saying, and better yet, WHY he was saying it.
For me, the topic of homosexuality has taken a similar path. As I’ve gone back to re-examine those passages where Paul certainly appears to condemn homosexuality I’ve begun to notice almost exactly the same pattern as what emerged in the issue of women in church leadership: The Greek words usually translated by our modern Bibles as “Homosexuals” don’t actually correlate to what we would call homosexuality today; There is a cultural phenomenon at work that most never incorporate; and there is a bias against homosexuality that is quite apparent once you consider all the perspectives that have been intentionally silenced over the years.
I’ll do my best to unpack all of that for you in the next few blog articles.
For the record: I am not gay. No one in my immediate family is gay. I am not taking a stand against the traditional view of homosexuality based on any emotional imperative or personal agenda.
On the contrary, I am laying my head on this chopping block because I believe that the Christian church has used these few verses as a weapon to marginalize and condemn an entire group of people who should be welcomed into the Body of Christ as brothers and sisters.
I know I will take the hit for saying this. I’m saying it anyway. And I hope to back it up with some very solid Biblical exegesis and relevant insight.
Back to our friend’s question: “So, is it ok to be gay and Christian?”
I would say that, if you define being “gay” as having a same-sex attraction [and only an attraction, not moving further into lust or fornication], then yes, it is ok to be a Christian who is attracted to someone of the same sex.
How can I say this?
Because being attracted to someone, in itself, isn’t a sin. The Bible never suggests anything otherwise.
I know that some take the words of Jesus about “looking at a woman to lust after her” as being equal to adultery, but what Jesus was referring to was exactly what he said: lustful thoughts, not default attractions, are equal to adultery. We’ve not committed the sin when we simply experience an attraction to another person. We sin when we allow our lusts to take over and our thoughts become carnal and/or we act on those lustful desires and physically engage in fornication.
But what about those verses you mentioned where Paul seems to very clearly condemn homosexuals?
Let’s take a look at those now.
Starting with Roman chapter 1, let’s look at what Paul has to say:
 “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…” [Romans 1:24-28]
Honestly, I don’t believe there is any reason to believe that what Paul is describing here is analogous to what we would refer to as homosexuality today.
There are plenty of others who agree with me on this. For example, first century Christian,  Aristides and second century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr.
Aristides, who lived just 70 years after the Apostle Paul, taught that the issue Paul was addressing in Romans 1 was idolatry and sexual worship of false gods. In the second century, Justin Martyr also affirmed this interpretation of the passage.
Those aren’t exactly “liberal” Christian sources. These brothers aren’t alone, either. People like Bible Commentary expert Matthew Henry, Scottish evangelist Robert Haldane, and orthodox Calvinist, Charles Hodge also agree that what Paul is referring to in Romans 1 is a condemnation of pagan sexual temple practices of prostitution.
See for yourself:
"In Isaiah's time it (idolatry) abounded, witness the abominable idolatries of Ahaz (which some think are particularly referred to here - Isaiah 57) and of Manasseh. They were dotingly fond of their idols, were inflamed with them, as those that burn in unlawful unnatural lusts [Romans 1:27]. They were mad upon their idols [Jeremiah 50:38]. They inflamed themselves with them by their violent passions in the worship of them, as those of Baal's prophets that leaped upon the altar, and cut themselves [1 Kings 18:26,28]. Justly therefore were they given up to their own hearts' lusts.” – Matthew Henry [From Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah 57]
“The reasons why Paul refers in the first instance to the sins of uncleanness, in illustration and proof of the degradation of the heathen, probably were, that those sins are always intimately connected with idolatry, forming at times even a part of the service rendered to the false gods." – Charles Hodge [From “A Commentary on Romans”, by Charles Hodge, 1983 reprint (first published in 1835), Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, p. 41.] 
"The Apostle having awfully depicted the magnitude of Pagan wickedness, and having shown that their ungodliness in abandoning the worship of the true God was the reason why they had been abandoned to their lusts, here descends into particulars, for the purpose of showing to what horrible excesses God had permitted them to proceed.
"This was necessary, to prove how odious in the sight of God is the crime of idolatry. Its recompense was this fearful abandonment. It was also necessary, in order to give a just idea of human corruption, as evinced in its monstrous enormities when allowed to take its course, and also in order to exhibit to believers a living proof of the depth of the evil from which God had delivered them; and, finally, to prove the falsity of the Pagan religion since, so far from preventing such excesses, it even incited and conducted men to their commission." – Robert Haldane [From “Commentary on Romans” by Robert Haldane, 1835.]
If you doubt this assessment, I invite you to go back and to re-read Romans chapter one, from the beginning. What you’ll observe is a progression in Paul’s argument that begins with a condemnation of pagan idol worship and ends with a description of what that worship involves and how God punishes those who engage in the practice.

So, as I began to look at this passage again, I started to wonder if what Paul was focused on here was anything at all like what we would refer to as homosexuality today.

Now let’s look at 1 Corinthians 6. This is where things get a lot more interesting.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.”  [1 Cor. 6:9, ESV]
This seems pretty much a slam-dunk, doesn’t it? How can we argue with this? Well, once you start to examine the Greek you’ll begin to see a few problems.
First, the word translated here as “homosexuals” is from the Greek word "arseno-koitai". This is a word that most NT scholars would say Paul invented. In other words, we don’t exactly know what it means because it’s a compound word made out of two different Greek words which are forced together. Paul never explains or defines this word for us. It literally means “Man” and “To Bed” which our  modern English NT translators have wrongly rendered as “homosexuals”.
That term first appeared in our modern English translations in the Amplified Bible back in 1958.
Bibles translated earlier than 1958 render the verse like this:
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (malakoi), nor abusers of themselves with mankind, (arsenokoites)" [1 Cor 6:9, KJV]
As you can see above, the King James Version did not contain the word “homosexuals”. Only later translations and editions changed the word to “homosexuals”
Keep in mind that this shift in the translation came not from better, more convincing scholarship, but from cultural shifts within the Christian church.
Let’s look at these two words in a little more detail.
The Greek word “malakoi”, which is the plural of malakos, and the Greek word “arseno-koitai” are both used in 1 Cor 6:9.
First we’ll examine the word “Arseno-koitai”. As we said, many New Testament scholars have argued that Paul invented the compound word himself, since it cannot be found in any other writings of the time to refer to same-sex attraction or relationships.
There were over a dozen other words which Paul could have used if what he wanted to refer to was your everyday, ordinary homosexuality. I won’t go into the list of words, but there are plenty of other terms for same-sex intercourse in the Greek language that Paul left out of his epistle.
Why did he do that? We don’t know. But for whatever reason, Paul instead, chose to use an unfamiliar compound word  – "arseno-koitai" – which is never used in any extant Greek literature with our modern meaning of homosexual.
“Arseno-koitai” is used only once more in the Bible, [1 Timothy 1:10], and Paul never defines its meaning for us.
Are you ready for a big surprise? This next detail might just resolve the mystery of Paul’s invented word for us.
There was a very well-respected Jewish teacher who lived during the lifetime of both Jesus and Paul the Apostle. His name was Philo.  He was one of the most widely read Jewish intellectuals in the first century.
It’s no secret that Paul was highly educated as a Pharisee under Gamaliel. We know because of the works he quoted that Paul also read other philosophers and thinkers of his day. He most certainly would have been well-versed with someone like Philo who, no doubt, held great influence over the Pharisees and Rabbis living in first century Jerusalem.
Here’s what’s most fascinating about Philo. In his commentary on Leviticus 18:22, he argues that what Moses was condemning was shrine prostitution, and he specifically used the term “arseno-koitai”.
Wait. What?
That’s right. It seems that Paul did not invent this compound word. Philo did. And when Philo used the term, he used it to refer to the practice of pagan temple prostitution.
Now, let’s look at the other word that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 6, “Malakoi”.
The word “malakoi” occurs four times, in three verses in the New Testament. In Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25, Jesus uses the word to refer to soft clothing.Jesus never used the word in reference to homosexuality.
The best translation of the word into English is “effeminate”, not “homosexual”.
 In the first century, this term is normally used as an epithet against heterosexual men. As in, “You punch like a girl” or “Don’t cry like a girl”.  The word is never used to refer to someone who is homosexual. It is always used to describe a heterosexual male whose behavior is more feminine, or soft, than male.
 Plato, for example, in his “Republic”, wrote famously that too much music made a man soft [malakoi], and feeble; unfit for battleHe did not argue that it made him a homosexual.
 Aristotle also warned about the dangers of men becoming too soft [malakoi] by over-indulging in pleasures rather than balancing out their lives with acts of physical and mental discipline. Again, he was also not saying that lack of exercise or hard work might make someone turn gay.
Even Josephus, the first century Jewish historian [and contemporary of Jesus and Paul] used the term “malakos” to describe men who were weak and soft through lack of courage in battle. [See “Wars of The Jews” ,7:338; and “Antiquities of The Jews”, 5:246; 10:194.]
Want to know what’ even more interesting about how first century people understood this term? It turns out that “malakoi” was most often used in reference to men who shaved daily and had no beards. These were often ridiculed and accused of wanting to look like women with clean-shaven faces.

If this is what Paul had in mind in 1 Cor. 6:9, then the reference is more about cultural norms of the day – which is similar to what Paul writes about when he condemns short hair on women and long hair on men and calls this “unnatural” or “against nature”.
“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” [1 Cor. 11:14-16]
Is a man with a clean-shaven face an abomination before God? Is he going against his own nature? Or is this an example of First Century cultural norms being equated with God’s eternal purpose?
I think these are worthwhile questions to explore. I also think that the conclusions that many Christians have accepted today are seriously lacking in the necessary study and critical thinking required to justify many of our attitudes towards those with same-sex attractions.
If this were a court of law, I believe that the evidence above is certainly enough to warrant a reasonable doubt about the true meaning of these passages we often use to condemn people who are not like us.
As I said before, I think this topic is very similar to doctrines like Hell and Women in Ministry. At one time you and I might have read the scriptures and said, “It says right here…” without knowing that what we were reading was:
A) Not exactly what was said in the actual Greek
B) Lacking historical background information regarding the culture of those people and
C) Unduly influenced by NT translators who had a bias towards the subject matter
In conclusion, here’s what I’m saying – People who experience a same-sex attraction are not condemned by God. Many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They should be embraced and welcome into the Body of Christ, regardless of who they feel any attraction to. In fact, their attraction to Christ as Lord and Savior is the only one we should take into consideration at all.
Hopefully, we could all agree that as ambassadors of Christ we need to love homosexuals and share the love of Jesus with them rather than attack and condemn them.
Maybe you don’t agree? I don’t know. But for me the Christian’s job is to share and show the love of Jesus to everyone – regardless of their struggle with sin – and allow the Holy Spirit to A) Convict people of their sins and B) Transform them into the image of Christ. Neither of those is the job of the Christian, and therefore, not my job either.
This means that we shouldn’t expect a homosexual [or an alcoholic, or a drug addict, etc.] to “stop sinning” before we agree to fellowship with them, or befriend them, or welcome them into the Body of Christ.
For me, the alcoholic metaphor is an apt one. Most Christians would agree that someone who is an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic. We wouldn’t expect them to stop being an alcoholic, or even to stop thinking about taking a drink, before we welcomed them into the Body of Christ. In fact, we might agree that being in fellowship with other Christians might actually help this person to overcome their addictions and to receive the grace and mercy of God as they seek to follow Jesus.
I would trade the term “alcoholic” for “homosexual” in that paragraph above without any reservation.

HOWEVER: That doesn't mean that I view homosexuality as a sin. It simply means that I would encourage Christians to extend the same grace to those who are gay as they do to those who might struggle with addictions.
Thanks for taking the time to wrestle through this with me.

Friday, October 02, 2015


One thing I love about Jesus is that he always found a way to subvert and undermine everyone’s comfort zone.

The Good Samaritan is a great example of that. When Jesus makes the hero of the parable a Samaritan, he puts every Jewish listener on the defensive.

Not only didn’t Jews like Samaritans, they considered them heretics and socially unacceptable. No Jew in Jesus’ day would have ever invited a Samaritan over for dinner, or allowed them to enter the Temple, or spent any time praying for, or alongside, a Samaritan.

Yet in Jesus’ parable the Samaritan is the one who shows kindness and mercy and love to the Jewish man who is found beaten on the side of the road. Masterfully, Jesus urges everyone to “go and do likewise” which would mean acting like a Samaritan and identifying with them as other human beings who are worthy of love and compassion.

Keep in mind, when Jesus used Samaritans in his parable, he wasn't endorsing their religion or their lifestyle. Instead, he was hoping to upset the negative stereotypes surrounding them. He wanted to challenge the idea that their bad theology made it acceptable for the Jews to hate them and treat them as less than human.

I recently heard a real-life Samaritan story. It had the same effect on me as I’m sure Jesus’ parable had on his audience that day.

Are you ready to hear something that might pull you out of your comfort zone?

This is a true story.

Here we go:

One night two Christian women stepped into the swimming pool which was outside their motel room.

They met another woman at the pool. This woman had rejected God. She had a can of beer in her hand and she stood at the other end of the pool with her husband.

One of the two Christian women began to talk with this woman who was far from God. She asked the woman with the beer can a question: “Is it ok if my wife and I are close in the pool?”

The two Christian women were gay.

The woman with the beer, who was far from God, said, "Well, I don't have to ask anybody for permission to hold my husband's hand and here y'all have been together 16 years. I think it sucks that you have to ask anyone that".

The Christian woman explained that she just didn’t want to offend anyone. “We understand that people get offended by our love,” she said. “They think it's perversion, that we're demonized, in rebellion against God. Others are afraid that we will convert their children by infecting them somehow.”

The woman with the beer, who was far from God, began to weep for these two gay women. She began to share her story with them. She told them about how she had been raised Catholic but had fallen away from the Church. She called herself an agnostic.

“You have shown more grace and love for us than most Christians ever have,” said the Christian woman, who was gay.

Then the two Christian women began to talk to her about Jesus. They told her that Jesus wasn’t like those who had heaped shame upon them. They talked about how Jesus saw everyone as beautiful and dearly loved. They asked her if she wanted to know Jesus in a personal way.

The woman with the beer thought that she had to accept the God of those judgmental Christians or become agnostic. She never knew there was another way.

For the first time in her life, this woman received the news that there was a God who loved her; a God that had nothing to do with any religion.

There, in that motel swimming pool, these two Christian women found common ground with an agnostic woman who was far from God.

Strangely enough, what had united these women together was an awareness that those Christians who had been cruel to the two lesbians and the Christians who had misrepresented the love of God to the agnostic, weren’t really acting like Jesus at all.

Eventually, one of the two Christian women told the woman with the beer something profound. She said, "The God you wanted to believe in has been there all along."

"I have never thought of it that way", the woman with the beer said, and as they continued to talk the woman just kept on repeating it over and over again. "I have never thought of it that way."

Before they left, the two Christians were able to give her some resources and pray with her.

That night, in the swimming pool, these two Christian women had loved this woman, and her husband, back to life. 

Where other Christians, who were straight, had failed to show the love of Jesus to this agnostic woman, these two women had demonstrated the love of Jesus and pointed her towards the Kingdom of God.

Go now, therefore, and do likewise.


*Special thanks to my friend P.K. Langley for her permission to re-tell her story here.