Balancing Grace and Truth: Why Christians Need More Compassion and Humility

Jesus was full of grace and truth. We should be as well.

Jesus was full of grace and truth. We should be as well.

Many years ago, a college friend of mine (I’ll call her Lisa) confided to me that she was a single mother. She explained what had happened and how the father had walked away from her and their child. She regretted the choices she made and had asked God for forgiveness. And she chose to keep the baby rather than seek an abortion. As I recall the situation, Lisa’s parents were helping her raise the child, while she completed college. Unfortunately, Lisa’s Christian friends ostracized her and would have nothing to do with her.

At a time she needed Christian friends to help her get her life back on track and get close to the Lord again, the Christian friends she had known deserted her. Why? Because she had a baby out of wedlock. And here’s the irony: She met these Christian friends through a pro-life group that she had been a part of. Her choice to keep the baby was not good enough, however, for these “pro-life” friends.

Lisa’s story is not unique. I know a lot of Christians. And many of them can be downright unpleasant (even cruel), especially when talking about the sins of other people. There are of course degrees of unpleasantness (or cruelty), but in most cases, you can tell who the good guys and gals are by who spends more time helping people vs condemning people.

Please don’t misunderstand. I believe Christians should speak the truth. Christians should call sin “sin.” They shouldn’t obfuscate, redefine, ignore, or disregard the clear teachings of Scripture, and when the time is right and as the Lord leads, they should be bold in proclaiming the truth about sin as well as our accountability to God. Those who know me know I don’t hesitate to write against sin, preach against sin, and counsel people against sin, but….I’m learning that when we lose sight of the fact that people are involved – people who are loved by God and who Jesus died for – well, our focus is completely off.

Jesus Does Not Condemn

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is found in John 8. It’s the story of Jesus facing down the crowd wanting to stone the adulteress woman. Here was a woman caught in the act of adultery. According to the Mosaic Law, her life was forfeit, and the mob wanted her to die. It’s of course interesting that only the woman was brought before Jesus, not the man. Perhaps the man got away or perhaps the crowd was sexist and only cared about punishing the woman. John (the author of the Gospel which contains this episode) doesn’t say, so we’ll set that aside. What we do know is that Jesus wrote something on the ground (John doesn’t say what) and then asked whomever was without sin to cast the first stone. The crowd melted away, and Jesus turned to the woman and asked: “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” The woman, probably both relieved and confused, replied that no one remained. Jesus’ next words are among the most beautiful in the Gospels: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Note that Jesus identifies the woman’s adultery as “sin” and he exhorts her to “sin no more.” That’s the truth. But he also refuses to condemn her (even though he alone had the authority and credibility to do so). That’s the grace part.

Similarly, the Lord is recorded as saying to Nicodemus: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17, KJV). Later in his ministry, Jesus reiterates this very same thought: “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47b). And in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus shows God as a loving, compassionate Father waiting for His wayward child to return home and overjoyed when he does (Luke 15:11-32).

Balancing Truth With Grace, Mercy, and Patience

Yes, there are passages that speak about God’s judgment in the Scriptures. There are plenty in the Old Testament and even in the New Testament (such as Revelation). I’m not saying God is a Supreme Pushover who never raises His voice, never expresses disapproval, and only wants to shower us (regardless of our actions and attitudes) with the proverbial equivalent of cosmic cream puffs. Yes, God is both a God of mercy and judgment. But, that’s my point. God is the Judge. Not you and not me. God.

And yet I’ve met a lot of Christians who try to play God. And frankly they do a poor job of it, because they seem to want to channel the fire-and-brimstone part of God, even though the Bible is abundantly clear that God is a God of great mercy (Psalm 136) who rains down judgment only when He has to and does so even then with great sadness (Ezekiel 18:32) – and only after ample time for the people in question to repent and thus avoid the judgment (Genesis 15:16, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15). God would much rather forgive than punish (II Peter 3:9). Even Jonah understood this, which is why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh (Jonah 4:2). Jonah, like many Christians today, had a much more harsh view of sinners than God did!

I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that there are professing Christians who go to the other extreme and claim that God loves everyone (which is true) and then discourage any talk of sin or God’s judgment (which is bad). If you give people all grace and mercy and no truth, then grace and mercy lose their meaning. You can’t have love, in fact, without truth.

For this article, however, my focus is on those who err on the side of not emphasizing God’s love and grace enough. Christians shouldn’t be eager to take up the pitchforks. We should rather (as the hymn says) “throw out the life line.” The Christian world has far too many critics and too few caregivers.

Loving Sinners as Jesus Does

One of the things that drove Jesus’ critics crazy was our Lord’s habit of eating with sinners. Yet, Jesus spent time (not just little bits here and there, but lots of time) with sinners. Whether we’re talking about prostitutes, corrupt tax collectors, religious hypocrites, or any other type of sinner, Jesus would rather talk with them than denounce them. Did he, at times, denounce people? You bet. But isn’t it interesting that most of his denunciations were of religious leaders? You don’t see Jesus going around condemning prostitutes or adulteresses, even though he certainly did teach that these things were wrong.

When I see Christians pontificate from the pulpit or on Facebook or in everyday conversations about how alcoholism, pornography, homosexuality, drug usage, divorce, etc. are awful or terrible or whatever strong adjective they can think of, I cringe. I don’t cringe because I necessarily disagree. I cringe because it’s so easy to condemn sin and so much harder to actually overcome it – or to help someone else overcome it.

Don’t just tell someone what they’re doing is wrong. Tell them God loves them and wants so much better for them. And then help them. Don’t just give them a tract and wipe your hands. Get your hands dirty and help them. That’s where the rubber meets the road on the whole “Love your Neighbor” commandment.

Many years ago, I was moderating a discussion in a Bible study on pornography. One person burst out and said that porn was “disgusting” (true) and that anyone who is at all lured by it or tempted by it is also disgusting (hmmm). Why is it that Christians often compete with one another to see how strong they can condemn a particular sin or someone guilty of it? I agreed with this person that porn is indeed a tragic and (yes) disgusting addiction that is ripping our nation apart, but I also pointed out a couple things that needed to be said.

First, many people have selectively defined porn in order to give themselves a pass while still pointing the finger of condemnation at others. For example, maybe they don’t look at Playboy or a hardcore porn site, but they’ll thumb through Cosmopolitan or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Or maybe they’ll condemn looking at pornographic pictures, but they’ll curl up with a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and enjoy every minute of it. Folks, porn is porn. And as Jesus said, get the beam out of your eye before you go after the speck in your neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:5). Second, even if the person making the condemnation isn’t struggling with porn, where’s the sensitivity and desire to help? I told this person (and those in the group who nodded along with her) that she just discouraged anyone struggling with that sin from coming forward and asking for help with that addiction. Who in the world would want to admit they struggle with a sin that everyone in the group was condemning? Should we call sin “sin”? Absolutely. But there has to be some grace and mercy there. We have to show compassion and understanding for the sinner. Otherwise, we won’t be rescuing people from sin. We’re just thumping our chests and trying to make ourselves feel good because we don’t struggle with that particular sin. We’re like the Pharisee gloating that he’s not the publican (Luke 18:9-14).

There’s no question that Jesus taught virtue and preached against sin. But this wasn’t the extent of his ministry. He took the time to talk with sinners and try to help them. Likewise, how many Christians today take the time to understand the circumstances, dynamics, temptations, and pain which contributed to a person’s sinful choices? Not many. It’s much easier to just condemn the person for their sinful path and then, if we feel like putting in a little extra time, maybe writing a letter to our elected officials to ask for a law against the behavior of the sinner in question. Is that how Jesus did things?

Once again, I understand there’s a time for government involvement, but we are not supposed to outsource the heavy and difficult burdens of Christ’s work to the government. It’s not the government’s job to make us a “Christian nation,” not that we ever were one. A nation-state cannot, in any biblical sense, be “Christian.” That’s an individual thing, and therein lies my point. Christians need to be about the hard work of evangelism and discipleship. We can’t look to the government for that. We can pray and hope the government will keep us safe and protect our religious freedom, but when it comes to the Great Commission, that’s our task.

When it comes to sinners, let’s love and help them. Let’s leave the whole condemnation thing to God. That’s His role (Romans 12:19). Our role is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone (Mark 16:15). And, as we do so, let’s the world see us as loving, humble servants and not arrogant activists with chips on our shoulders.

This of course applies to our fellow Christians as well. Christians should not be in the habit of shooting their wounded (as is the case sadly with many church communities). We need to love one another, encourage one another, and support one another.

Yes, we need to speak the truth, but we need to do so with love (Ephesians 4:15). And yes, we need to stand for truth, but we need to likewise stand for mercy (Proverbs 3:3). And when it comes to judgment, we need to let God be God. When people like Lisa come across our path, we speak the truth and call sin “sin” (as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery), but we also show compassion, forgiveness, and love (as the father of the prodigal son). Our role is to show the grace, patience, and mercy of God through the loving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

**Check out Authentic: Character Traits of a Genuine Christian by Brian Tubbs

Why Did God Allow Polygamy?

If the Bible says sex before or outside of marriage is wrong and God has such high standards when it comes to marriage and sex, then why did God allow polygamy? Whenever the issue of God’s standard for sex and marriage comes up, questions about polygamy are not far behind. It’s difficult for evangelical Christians to point to biblical marriage as a divine standard when some of the most dysfunctional and controversial family arrangements can be found in the Bible. When you’ve got men regarded as heroes of the faith (Abraham, David, Solomon, etc.) having sex with concubines and multiplying wives, it’s understandable that critics of the Bible are going to scoff. And it’s also understandable that sincere Christians will read these biblical accounts and scratch their heads in puzzlement.

God’s Standard for Sex and Marriage

If you want to know God’s standard for anything, look at its origins. This is certainly true with sex and marriage. You won’t find God’s standard for sex and marriage in the lives of God’s people or even in the Mosaic Law (more on that shortly). God’s will on sex and marriage was clearly conveyed at the dawn of the human race as depicted in the Garden of Eden narrative and reaffirmed by Jesus Himself in the New Testament. We see that reaffirmation in the Gospel of Matthew, when the Pharisees pressed Jesus on the subject of divorce.

“And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” -Matthew 19:4-6, NKJV

Note that, in responding to the divorce question, the Lord brings the audience back to the beginning to reiterate the foundational principles of marriage itself. Marriage is between one man and one woman. They leave their respective parents’ homes to create their own, and they become “one flesh” before God. And no one is to separate that “one flesh” union.

Polygamy was never part of God’s plan. It wasn’t given by the Father in the Garden of Eden and it wasn’t reaffirmed by the Son during His ministry. Polygamy is and always has been a departure from God’s marriage standard. But, if it’s not His standard, why did God allow polygamy?

“For All Have Sinned”

The Bible declares that there is no one righteous (Romans 3:10) and that “all have sinned” and “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Bible doesn’t simply say that, it shows it. And it shows it graphically. The Bible shows the good, the bad, and the ugly of the human race. And it doesn’t shy away from showing the bad qualities and ugly actions of even those who believed in God and (for the most part) tried to follow Him.

It’s a mistake to conclude that the Bible endorses everything it records. When you read the Bible, you’ll read about murder, torture, rape, genocide, polygamy, slavery, adultery, fornication, gossip, slander, thievery, greed, deception, and much more. George Lucas, I think it was, said that the Bible was the greatest source of plot ideas for a novelist or screenwriter. Soap operas have nothing on the Bible! But remember: not everything contained in the Bible is approved in the Bible.

But, wait, isn’t polygamy in the Mosaic Law? Yes, polygamy is regulated in the Mosaic Law, but a bunch of things are regulated in the Mosaic Law. Divorce was in the Mosaic Law, but Jesus makes clear to the Pharisees that this was only because the people had hardened hearts. It was not because God approved of divorce. The same is true with many other provisions in the Mosaic Law.

Why Does the Bible Allow Polygamy?

The Bible allows polygamy only in the sense that the Bible acknowledges polygamy as it acknowledges so many other sins in its pages. The fact is that polygamy was a common reality in the Ancient Near East. It was part of the context in which the Old Testament was written and it was still practiced, in some cases, even into New Testament times. That was never God’s desire, but it was the reality.

This of course raises the question of whether God allows sin. The answer is that, in some ways, He most certainly does. God allowed David to multiply wives. David married about twenty women. And this was in spite of the Mosaic Law’s prohibition (Leviticus 17:17). God allowed it, but drew the line when David stole another man’s wife, namely Bathsheba.

God likewise allowed Solomon to multiply wives. Solomon didn’t stop at a mere twenty. Solomon took polygamy to a record-breaking art form. Seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines constitutes Solomon’s legacy. This is technically “allowed” in the Bible, but the Bible also tells us that Solomon’s polygamous ways led him away from the Lord and corrupted the entire nation of Israel (I Kings 11:1-13).

What we see in the Bible is that polygamy changed David and Solomon – and not in good ways. It changed their very perspective. It warped their conscience, corrupted their heart, and led them away from the Lord. In David’s case, we see someone who got in the habit of taking what he wanted. When Bathsheba came along, David wasn’t about to let a little thing like marriage (something he had already transgressed and devalued by multiplying wives) get in the way. And with Solomon, one compromise led to another which led to the another. Before long, his heart and his kingdom were completely intertwined with values and cultures God had warned the Israelites against. In both cases, God brought judgment against them – and not only them, but against their families and their nation.

Polygamy is in the Bible because sin is in the Bible. It’s not in the Bible because God is in favor of polygamy. To conclude otherwise is to misread the Bible.

If you found this article interesting, check out “Does God Care About What We Do While Naked?” and “Why is Sex Before Marriage Bad?”

Why is Sex Before Marriage Bad?

Why does God care so much about love, sex, or marriage?

Why does God care so much about love, sex, or marriage?

When you love someone, it’s natural to want to be intimate with that person. Sex with someone you love and care about feels natural and right, and it’s very difficult for people (including people of faith) to understand how God could possibly be against such a loving, intimate act between fully consenting adults. After all, doesn’t God want us to love each other? And doesn’t God want us to be happy?

Sex is Good

Let me open this article by acknowledging what some Christian pastors, leaders, and authors seem reluctant to, and that is: Sex is good. I use the word “good” intentionally, because that’s the word God pronounced as He surveyed His Creation. In fact, after making the earth, the trees, the water, and all the animals, God uses the phrase “not good” when He comments on Man being alone. Read Genesis 1:27-28 and then Genesis 2:18-25. These passages describe the same event (the creation of man and woman). And let’s be clear: There was sex in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. You can’t read those passages (with phrases such as “be fruitful and multiply,” “one flesh,” and “they were both naked and not ashamed”) and conclude otherwise. Not to be crass, but Adam and Eve were having sex well before the serpent came and started talking to Eve about the forbidden fruit. Sex wasn’t the forbidden fruit. Sex was God’s idea. It was His gift to the human race.

That means that sex is hardwired into our very DNA. It’s a part of who we are. It is therefore quite good in God’s eyes and designed to be very natural in our eyes. Somehow, many Christians see sex as “dirty” or as “original sin.” These conceptions of sex are completely contrary to the plain reading of Scripture. Sex is God’s idea. Therefore, it cannot be sinful, so long as it is practiced according to God’s standard. And that brings us to the next issue in this discussion…

God’s Revelation vs Man’s Desires and Wisdom

It’s important that we consider our perspective in approaching this issue. What is more important to us? Understanding God’s revelation and obeying His will and standard OR following on our desires and figuring out life according to our own wisdom and experience. Is it enough that God says something is wrong or do we feel that we can ignore, redefine, or outright disobey what God says.

While I certainly appreciate a Christian yielding to temptation, I’m frankly astonished at how many Christians can look at what the Bible says in black-and-white and then choose to cavalierly disregard it. I wish I had a nickel for every Christian (or I should say professing Christian) who says “It’s not that big of a deal” or “God’s okay with it” or “We’re already essentially married” or (insert similar attempt at justification) even though the plain reading of Scripture says otherwise.

We are, after all, not talking about Bible passages which are difficult to understand. It’s not surprising that people get confused over what the Bible says about the end times or some other complex doctrine or set of prophecies. But when comes to sex, the Bible is pretty clear. For instance, there simply aren’t that many ways to interpret a verse like “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4).

I actually have a lot more respect for a Christian who admits his weaknesses and acknowledges what he’s doing is a sin than I do for a Christian who completely ignores the Bible or (perhaps even worse) tries to redefine the Bible and then claim God is in favor of what he or she is doing. The latter borders on using the Lord’s name in vain and certainly qualifies as bearing false witness of God’s revelation.

Not only are there repeated commands in the Scripture against fornication (sexual immorality), but there are numerous examples of God’s people either respecting sexual boundaries (to their credit) or violating them (to their discredit). Let’s take Mary and Joseph. They were as committed to marriage as a couple in Bible times (or, for that matter, even in our time) could possibly get, but they refrained from sexual relations until after they were fully and officially married.

God’s standard in the Bible is clear: Sex is for marriage. It’s not to be practiced outside of marriage. Period. That is a tough standard, but it’s a clear standard. And it’s a standard to which we are accountable.

What About Sex Scandals in the Church?

The media shower us with stories about Christian pastors, leaders, and public figures who fall into various sex scandals. Not only that but most people know a pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, or Christian parent who cheated on his wife, struggles with a porn addiction, or has in some way fallen short of the biblical standard for sex. It’s understandable that we can get discouraged by these things and it certainly is unfortunate that so many Christian leaders struggle in this area, but it’s ludicrous to argue that their sins somehow undermine the standard itself.

Read this carefully: Bad Christians don’t discredit Christianity, nor do earnest, sincere Christians who fall short of God’s standard. I’ve sat under the preaching of two pastors who (it later came out) were engaged in adulterous affairs. Does that mean that everything these pastors taught was a lie? Hardly. When I hear someone point to the scandals or sins in the church and thus argue that we can or should ignore the Bible, I shake my head at the incredibly stupid reasoning such an “argument” demonstrates. (My wife doesn’t like me to say “stupid” because it’s insulting, but it’s an appropriate adjective here).

It’s absolutely ludicrous for someone to point to someone’s sin (or many people’s sins) and conclude that the standards are then wrong. Does a corrupt lawyer means we all get to ignore the law? Does a corrupt politician mean that we should throw out the Constitution? Does a corrupt police officer mean we should let all criminals run free without consequence?

Christian leaders aren’t the standard for Christianity. Christ is the standard for Christianity. If you can show me that Jesus Christ violated moral standards of right and wrong as laid out by Jehovah God, THEN we can talk about Christianity being undermined. But only then. Otherwise (with all due respect), shut up. I know that’s harsh, but this is one of those “arguments” for which I have ZERO respect.

If God is real and the Bible is accurate, then you must come to grips with what the Bible teaches. No amount of obfuscation or pointing the finger at other sinners (even sinners who profess to be Christian or in Christian leadership) will let you off the hook.

Why is Casual Sex Morally Wrong?

For a Christian, the Bible should be a sufficient answer to any such question. If God is real and the Bible is true, then “Because God says so” should be good enough for us, regardless of our feelings, preferences, temptations, or what not. But, after twelve years in full-time Christian ministry (eight of which now as a pastor), I realize that “Because God says so” is sadly not enough for most professing Christians. It should be, but it’s not. Therefore, I will (against perhaps my better judgment) provide some insight as to why God has set things up the way He has….

In our highly permissive culture today, sex is seen as the ultimate act of self-expression and release. Great sex makes the participants feel wonderful and fully alive, and most people today can’t understand how anyone would be against such a thing.

Nevertheless, while sex is quite natural, feels great, and can provide certain health benefits, it also carries risks and emotional baggage. God designed sex to be as much emotional as it is physical. And He made it to be fully intimate, which means it is biologically an act of complete sharing. An intelligent reader will see where this is going. Something so emotional and so comprehensive and complete in its sharing as sex opens up significant health risks and can create major emotional problems if it’s practiced casually and shared with multiple people. Can someone sear their conscience and thus minimize that emotional baggage? Yes and no. They can, but in doing so, they change fundamentally who they are as a person. And that takes them even further away from God’s desire for their life.

Why is Sex Before Marriage a Big Deal?

Fortunately, most professing Christians understand that God never endorses selfishness and He’s not happy or pleased with what casual sex has done to our culture and society. They understand that God intended sex to be an intimate act between loving, committed adults. Accordingly, a majority of professing Christians seem to accept that casual sex is sinful, but the marriage requirement seems administrative and arbitrary to them. Once a loving commitment is made, most professing Christians don’t see how a ring, ceremony, and/or piece of paper should be factors in expressing their love to one another.

If I were to ask you whether self-discipline is an important part of a loving relationship, what would you say? Let’s agree that sex between loving partners is good and natural, but can we also agree that integrity, discipline, and commitment are essential components of a quality relationship?  And, if you’re a Christian, can I also ask you to agree that mutual submission to a Higher Authority is likewise a good thing for a relationship?

It’s understandable that loving partners want to be together sexually. This article isn’t trying to deny this, but the Bible is very clear on priorities and a proper sequence. When two people get married, they are each making a lifelong commitment to one another and also to God Himself. God intends for sex to be His gift to such a committed relationship. When couples start engaging in sex before such a formal, official, and lifelong commitment is made, they are putting the cart before the horse.

God’s relationship with the couple is more important than the husband’s relationship with the wife or vice versa. This is why the Bible even says there are appropriate times for married couples to refrain from sex and instead focus on fasting and prayer (I Corinthians 7:5), though it’s only to be for a short time. The reason is that it’s important for each partner in the marriage to refocus on God. We are to love God first before we love others in our life (Mark 12:30-31) and the test of our love to God is that we obey Him (John 14:15).

Do You (Really) Believe in and Love God?

And this brings us to the fundamental question of all: Do you really believe in and love God? When a couple that professes to be Christian engages in regular sexual relations before marriage, I can’t help but wonder whether that couple truly believes in God. And if they do, do they really love Him?

The currency of love is sacrifice. If you say you love someone but are not willing to sacrifice, you can’t really say you love them. Stop and think about that principle. If you say you love your partner but you’re not willing to sacrifice any of your time, desires, or agenda for that person, do you really love him or her? And the same question is at work when it comes to our relationship with God.

God is asking that couples make a sacrifice. He’s asking that couples put their sexual desires on the altar and wait on Him. Sex will be there for the married couple. It’s God’s gift to that couple, and it’s His desire that they enjoy His gift to them. But it’s a gift that God wants them to wait to unwrap.

It is appropriate here for me to say that the decision on how long to wait is sometimes one in which we put ourselves in an unnecessarily painful dilemma. In Bible times, couples didn’t wait until their late 20s or early 30s (or even later) to get married. Men and women married as teenagers. And this remained more or less the practice, even in western societies, up until the 1700s and 1800s. Even in the 20th century, it was not uncommon for people to marry in their late teens. My mom, for example, married at age 19.

Unfortunately, we’re now asking (even expecting and demanding) that couples wait until after college (and sometimes after they get out of college and “establish” themselves) before getting married. Asking someone to wait until they are 30 is indeed an incredibly tough thing, especially when that person is in a committed relationship for several years.

I don’t have an easy answer to this dilemma, because our society has allowed itself to get structured in such a way that waiting to get married makes financial sense. But, remember what Paul says in the Bible: “It’s better to get married than to burn [with lust].”

Waiting until everything is “perfect” before getting married is, in my humble opinion, a fool’s errand. It’s like waiting to have kids until you’re “perfectly ready.” You should certainly wait until you’re married to have children, but no married couple is perfectly ready when that bundle of joy arrives – and, let’s be honest, that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun! The same principle applies with marriage.

But if you’re in a committed relationship and are choosing to wait several years to get married, understand that that is YOUR choice. Don’t get mad at God for His standard. You are the one putting yourself in that situation and you should accept that there will be consequences. And if you truly believe in God and love Him, you’ll accept His call to patience and delayed gratification. You’ll trust Him and you’ll obey Him – and your marriage will be better for it.

Please understand that this article isn’t targeted to anyone in particular. I could throw a rock in any direction from where I’m sitting and it would land on someone who has fallen short of God’s standard of sexual purity. And, guess what? I wouldn’t even have to throw a rock. All I have to do is look in the mirror. In the course of my life, I’ve not always made choices which glorified God, but I’m not the standard. Neither are you. It’s God’s standard. Not ours.

God’s standards are high and they are tough. But they are what is best – not only for His Kingdom but for us as well. The good news is that, even if you’ve fallen short of God’s standard, God is able and willing to forgive you. I’m not asking that you beat yourself up over your weaknesses and failures. I’m in no position to beat anyone up. All I’m saying is don’t ignore God or try to redefine what He has said. Instead, ask His forgiveness for any wrongdoing and ask Him for help to do better. Commit yourself to Him.

A couple that is fully committed to their faith in God and that loves God with both their hearts will be a solid and happy couple in the long run. If you want God’s blessing on your marriage, accept God’s authority on your relationship. And your marriage will be blessed beyond measure.

**If you found this interesting, check out “Does God Care About What We Do While Naked?” and “Why Did God Allow Polygamy?”

Why Do We Have Presidents Day? In Reality…We Shouldn’t!

Happy Presidents DayToday is the third Monday in February. By federal law and most state laws, it is a holiday. And most people refer to that holiday as Presidents Day (or President’s Day or Presidents’ Day – most places can’t agree on whether to place the apostrophe or where). For the last several years, I’ve “campaigned” (you might say) on the Internet, among my family and friends, and even in the workplace a time or two, to get people to recognize the true meaning of this holiday – and I’ve been the butt of more than a few jokes or the cause of several eye rolls because of it. Why, people wonder, should I make such a big deal out of a little thing? I hope this article will explain why.

Why Do We Have Presidents Day? 

The reality is that this holiday, called Presidents Day by most people, was originally designated by Congress to honor George Washington. And the U.S. government still calls the holiday by its proper name. Then, in the 1960s, things got confusing. Actually, you could say that about a LOT of things in the 1960s. But it was certainly the case with George Washington’s Birthday.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act, passed in 1968, amended the federal holiday provisions of the United States Code to move certain holidays to Mondays. Prior to that unfortunate Act, our country actually celebrated holidays on the days we were intending to honor. Among the holidays moved was Washington’s Birthday (originally observed on his Gregorian calendar birthdate of February 22). This marked the beginning of the decline and fall of George Washington in America.

The Fall of George Washington

Most of my friends, family, and acquaintances think that I’m being ridiculous for making a big deal about this, but it’s an irrefutable fact that the spotlight moved off of George Washington when the Monday Holiday Act was passed. Most Americans today see the holiday as a recognition of all our Presidents, to the extent they even care about its meaning. For most of us, it’s just a day off from work.

When I look at America today, I see a nation full of people who have become more self-centered, relativistic, cynical, and confused. I see a nation which has allowed the traditional, nuclear family to disintegrate and which has more or less completely devalued, and in some cases, outright deconstructed, the principles and values upon which it was founded. And we’ve either forced our heroes off their pedestals or allowed them to fade into the twilight.

The United States has never been a perfect nation and we’ve never had flawless saints in the corridors of national leadership. But we have had great men and women who, in spite of their sins and failures, dedicated their lives to noble causes greater than themselves. We have had men and women who, by virtue of their principles, self-discipline, and willingness to sacrifice, have risen to the genuine and authentic status of heroes and role models. And, of that group of heroes, none is more worthy of the title in America’s history as George Washington.

Wait! That Sounds Like Hero Worship!

George Washington was not perfect. He was a sinner — just like you and me. In his early years, he was an opportunist focused on achieving wealth and fame. For many years, he was infatuated with and flirted with his best friend’s wife. He was a slave owner who, prior to the Revolutionary War, bought and sold slaves with few (if any) pangs of conscience. And, for pretty much all his life, he struggled with a temper that sometimes got the best of him. Yes, Washington was not perfect. He was a sinner. And he knew this. It’s why he recognized his need for Divine Providence and the awareness of his sins probably played into his reluctance to publicly take Communion. But in every area with which he struggled, he refused to surrender to his base passions. He fought his sins and, at the end of his life, came out on top.

George Washington was not a perfect man, but he was most certainly a great one.

George Washington was not a perfect man, but he was most certainly a great one.

Yes, he was a slave owner most of his life, but his writings and public positions demonstrate a fundamental change in perspective on that issue following the Revolutionary War. Washington grew to detest slavery. Following the war, he refused to buy or sell any more slaves (a decision which financially hurt him and the Mount Vernon estate), allowed his slaves to marry (contrary to Virginia law) and would not break up slave families. After his presidency, he allowed some of his slaves to go free. And, at the end of his life, provided for the release of the remainder of his slaves – and continued financial support for many of them. He also supported moving the United States in the direction of a more industrialized and commercialized economy, which would undermine the demand for slavery. This is one of the things that made him support the Federalist Party instead of fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. In fact, Jefferson records a conversation in which Washington admitted he would side with the Northern States against the South, should the two sides ever come to blows over slavery. Could Washington have done more? Yes. No hero is perfect. I wish he would’ve done more, but I can appreciate and respect that he was headed in the right direction on this issue. And that he risked (and, to an extent, paid) economic, social, and political costs for his admittedly mild (but still commendable) stance against slavery.

As for his adulterous infatuations, there’s no evidence he ever acted on his feelings for Sally Fairfax. The historical record indicates he respected her marriage to his best friend and neighbor, George Fairfax. Instead, Washington gave his love and affection to Martha Custis. Were there economic considerations at play in this marriage? Perhaps so, but friends and family profess that George and Martha Washington enjoyed an authentic, stable and genuinely happy marriage. Again, Washington triumphed over his passions and committed himself to what was right.

Washington’s temper was volcanic, but he (for the most part) reined it in and channeled it appropriately. Prayer, study, writing, hard work, and an extraordinary level of personal discipline were the tools he used to bring his temper into line.

And as for his desire for fame and fortune, he conquered those as well. It’s true that George Washington was ambitious, and his early years saw him acting somewhat selfishly. But as he grew, he channeled his ambition more toward cultivating a reputation of nobility and character. And, along those lines, Washington showed himself willing to make great personal sacrifice for others. Not only was he brave under enemy fire, but he stayed with his men through all their hardships during the war (only once making a brief trip to Mount Vernon, while his army was en route to Yorktown toward the end of the war). This was in contrast with many of the other officers who took leave time, especially during the winter months, to be with their families. Washington remained with his ill-fed, ill-equipped army, sending out letters to governors, congressmen, and businessmen asking for more help and support for his troops. The Continental Army veterans never forgot Washington’s faithfulness to them, and they adored Martha Washington who would spend her winters with her husband in camp – and would, with the other wives, sew blankets and gloves for the men. Martha was so loved by these hardened soldiers that they, as veterans, gave her a personal escort to the capital when she joined her husband in New York following his inauguration as President.

George Washington was the truly indispensable man in American history.

George Washington was the truly indispensable man in American history.

The Legacy of George Washington

Without George Washington, the American Continental Army would not have stayed together or prevailed over the mighty British Empire in the Revolutionary War. Yes, he lost more battles than he won, but his tenacity, creativity, bravery, and personal charisma literally carried the army (and the nation) through the war. Without Washington, the army would’ve likely rebelled against Congress at the war’s end, but Washington put a stop to that (at Newburgh most dramatically, but in many other smaller ways as well). Without Washington, the newly independent colonies (if they would’ve somehow miraculously defeated the British to win independence without him) would’ve likely fallen into a dictatorship or set up a new monarch. A lesser man leading the Continental Army would’ve surely seized such power, but not Washington. He flatly refused the suggestion and insisted on civilian leadership, even surrendering his sword and commission to Congress in December 1783. Without Washington, the Constitutional Convention would not have happened and there would’ve been no replacement of the Articles of Confederation. Without Washington, the new nation would’ve failed right out of the gate, but with his wise, calm, and disciplined hand at the helm as its first President, the foundation was laid for not only America’s survival but its prosperity. And without Washington, a precedent quite possibly would’ve been laid for lifetime Presidents. Instead, Washington set the tone by retiring after two terms.

I’m only scratching the surface. The above paragraph could as well be a book! Washington did so much for America — so many things we take for granted every day. The fact is that no man, not even Abraham Lincoln (who I also greatly admire) did as much quantitatively or qualitatively for the United States as George Washington. Without George Washington, there would not be a United States of America today. And even if some kind of nation-state going by that name had muddled its way out of the 1700s without a Washington, it never would’ve achieved the health, vitality, and greatness that it did. And Lincoln himself would agree with all that, as you’ll see from the Lincoln quote I will close this article with.

Why We Should Restore Washington’s Birthday

Yet now, we can’t even have a holiday designated exclusively to the father of our country. After all he’s done, we’d prefer the convenience of a three-day weekend than to actually make sure Washington’s legacy is not forgotten. The truth is that a nation which no longer appreciates or recognizes the contributions of George Washington is truly unworthy of Washington. Far be it from me to agree with James Buchanan, one of America’s worst Presidents (if not the worst), but he was right when he said this: “When the birthday of Washington shall be forgotten, liberty will have perished from the earth!”

And that’s why I care about this! And, frankly, it’s why you should care as well. We have become a nation unworthy of George Washington. We are unworthy of a President or national leader who exemplifies self-discipline, personal sacrifice, bravery, integrity, moral character, and patriotism. We wouldn’t even recognize such a person today, much less elect him or her to high office. We are far too shallow, self-absorbed, and relativistic for such a great man as Washington.

And why? Because we’ve allowed ourselves to forget what heroes are and we’ve become so self-infatuated that we don’t even care! Many Americans don’t even believe in heroes anymore, unless we’re talking about athletes or Hollywood stars. And while most Americans will pay lip service to the concept of our men and women in uniform being “heroes,” the fact that most Americans care more about and spend more time following and obsessing over the likes of Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber says otherwise.

The United States will not find its way back to greatness unless and until it reaffirms its commitment to the principles and values of the Declaration of Independence and the noble qualities of heroes like Washington. It is for this reason that I believe Presidents Day should be forgotten and Washington’s Birthday should be resurrected.

Congress should repeal the Monday Holiday Act or at least remove Washington’s Birthday from it – and thus restore the holiday back to Washington’s actual birthday. By doing so, it will force Americans to appreciate why they get February 22 off instead of just another generic, 3-day weekend.

To those of my readers who believe we should also honor Abraham Lincoln, I agree. But the idea that Lincoln is honored by having Presidents Day instead of Washington’s Birthday is frankly ludicrous! It’s in fact laughable. If you want to accomplish that, then call it Washington-Lincoln Day and not Presidents Day. But the best way to honor both men is to give each their own holiday – Washington on February 22 and Lincoln on February 12. Honor the men on their actual birthdays.

Is this a small step on the path to restoring our heritage and heroes – and reversing our slide into shallow, relativistic worthlessness? You bet. It’s more like a tiny step – or to switch metaphors, a small pebble being dropped in an ocean. But, maybe, just maybe, when Washington’s Birthday is restored to its rightful place of prominence and our nation gets back to honoring the father of our country, then kids will ask their parents or teachers: “Why do we celebrate Washington’s Birthday?” And maybe when our young boys and girls hear about the contributions of Washington, a man who more than any other is truly indispensable to the very existence (let alone greatness) of the United States, maybe we’ll see that turnaround we desperately need.

Allow me to close by quoting our 16th President, who spoke to the legacy of George Washington far more eloquently than I ever could…

“Washington is the mightiest name on earth. . . To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in its naked deathless splendor, leave it shining on.” -Abraham Lincoln

The Death of ‘Snake Salvation’ Star Jamie Coots Demonstrates the Dangers of the False Doctrine of Snake Handling

Snake handling preacher Jamie Coots dies from a snake bite (image taken from National Geographic's Snake Salvation website)

Snake handling preacher Jamie Coots dies from a snake bite (image taken from National Geographic’s Snake Salvation website)

Jamie Coots, a star of National Geographic‘s reality show “Snake Salvation,” died Saturday, February 15, from a snake bite. According to reports, Coots was bitten by the venomous snake at the Middlesboro, Kentucky-based Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name. Coots refused medical attention and passed away shortly thereafter in his home.

Obviously, the first reaction of anyone on hearing news such as this should be to show appropriate grief and consideration to Pastor Coots’ family and friends. My heart truly does go out to them during this time of loss. It is, however, appropriate to reflect on the Pentecostal doctrines and practices which led to this very preventable tragedy.

As was the case with Coots, many Pentecostal Christians have embraced the idea that Christians can and should handle snakes as a demonstration of their faith in the power and promises of Jesus Christ. This belief has led to the premature death of many people as well as disturbing, darkly comical, situations where professing Christians hunt and trap poisonous snakes for “worship” and violate state and local laws in the transportation and handling of venomous snakes. And it’s turned Christianity, or at least this particular Pentecostal branch of Christianity, into an easily caricatured laughing-stock. And it’s all very sad.

The genesis of this false and dangerous doctrine is found in the concluding verses of the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus says the following to His disciples: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18, NKJV).

Let me first acknowledge that some scholars question whether verses 9-20 belong in the Gospel of Mark, since they do not appear in the earliest manuscript copies. I personally believe that they do belong in Mark – something which I can elaborate on in future posts. But I need to at least acknowledge that their inclusion is a matter of dispute in some Christian and most scholarly circles, and thus is an aspect to the debate over the doctrine and practice of snake handling.

Assuming (as I do) that Mark 16:9-20 are appropriately included in the biblical canon, it nevertheless displays sloppy exegesis to conclude from verses 17 and 18 that Jesus is directing all of those who believe in Him to take up snakes to demonstrate their faith. If that were Jesus’ intention, then both literary and logical consistency would require (not encourage, but require) all of Jesus’ followers to likewise cast out demons, speak in tongues, heal the sick, and…drink poison!

Fortunately, Jesus is NOT telling His followers that they all must do these things. He’s saying that these signs (casting out demons, speaking in tongues, healing the sick, and immunity to poison) will be evident in the work of His followers (or at least, the apostles and perhaps other first-century followers of Christ taking part in the apostles’ work). And that leads us to the importance of context in miracles and the promise of miracles.

The context of miracles (as well as the promise of miracles) is more important than the miracles themselves. When one studies the Bible, one sees the miracles always have a context. And the context that frequently recurs in Scripture is that “signs and wonders” (miracles) accompany and thus validate new revelation from God. Prophets and apostles were empowered by God to perform these miraculous feats as a way of demonstrating that God was behind their ministry and thus affirming their authority to bring His revelation. Thus, Jesus’ words were not intended to apply to all His followers, but to those followers who were bringing His revelation.

Lest you think I’m engaged in some kind of mental gymnastics or that I’m twisting Jesus’ words, look at verse 20 of Mark 16. The Gospel concludes by saying: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20, NKJV). The explanation of the meaning of Mark 16 is found within Mark 16! If one takes the time to read the entire passage, rather than simply a couple verses in the passage, Jesus’ intent becomes much clearer.

If you want an example of how snake handling specifically played out in those “accompanying signs,” read the account of Paul being bit by a snake while in the course of his ministry (Acts 28:3). No harm came to Paul, because God protected him. But God was not sanctioning Paul to start a snake-handling ministry! And God isn’t calling anyone today to start a snake-handling ministry either.

We are not called to intentionally flirt with or dance with danger as a means to show the world our faith. The danger will come in the natural course of our serving God. We are not called to be showmen. We are called to be faithful servants, bringing honor to God and not ourselves.