Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Love, Sin, and Divorce

With the debate over same sex marriage raging in our country, an accusing finger is being pointed at Christians, and this time it's not the church as a whole, but specifically the Evangelical Church... and this time it seems to be all too true. For in rebuking those who have chosen an immoral lifestyle, whether hetero- or homosexual, many would say we have left ourselves wide open for criticism.

You see, many are so willing to point their fingers at others while excusing their own sin. As has been said before, brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. It is so easy, as Jesus reminded us, to point out the splinter in someone else's eye, while ignoring the 2 x 4 beam in our own eye:

For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:2-5 HCSB)

Let me be clear, sin is sin and there is no excuse for living in it. and this warning comes from the same world that typically doesn't even admit that there is such a concept as sin. Their finger points at the 21st Century church and says that we are just as guilty as anyone else because of the big "D" word... divorce. Here's what I'm saying, when the world points out our sin, we need to take notice. That means no lifestyle should be excused simply because it is prevalent.

Here is the truth. Divorce is tragic. Divorce hurts. Divorce destroys. Divorce is real. Divorce touches way too many lives in the church.

So, since that is the case, we need to know what we believe about divorce. Let's look at what the Bible tells us.

Moses told the children of Israel that they could divorce their wife (see Deuteronomy 24). This way of thinking was actually revolutionary in that culture. For the first time, instead of a woman being kicked out in the street, the man had to actually give her a reason and issue a divorce decree. This in and of itself gave the wife rights never before seen in the ancient near east. Still, the problem was not to offer a good outcome, but, according to Jesus, was the result of a hard heart (see Matthew 19:8).

Jesus went farther and said that the only reason for divorce was for adultery (see Matthew 19). This was a radical departure from His culture, and for most of the last 2 millennia has stood as the overarching reason for justifiable divorce. Remember, Jesus almost lost his step-father, Joseph, over accusations of immorality leveled against His own mother, Mary. Jesus would have known the history of his own birth and all the controversy surrounding it.

The apostle Paul, in dealing with the fledgling church, addressed the problem of being married to a lost man or woman who wanted to leave. His word was, if the unbeliever wants to leave, let them leave (See 1 Corinthians 7). The point is this, when there was a spiritual rift in the marriage that was irreconcilable, the Christian, in showing love, was not to force a lost spouse to live with them. They were given the allowance to release the unbelieving spouse.

This allowance was also seen in the Old Testament (You can read Ezra 10 for yourself here) as the men of Israel had married foreign women who were, by implication, also unbelieving and idolatrous. The Lord was so horrified at the weakness of these men to marry non-Israelite women who followed other gods that He told them to divorce their wives. The lesson was and is obvious, in this one and only case, divorce was not just allowed, but commanded. For just over 100 men, they had to release these wives because of their unlawful marriages. Yet out of all of the exiles, these men were still the exception and not the rule. When it comes to marriage and divorce percentages, out of 42,000 men only 112 or so took this drastic measure. If you're running the numbers, that is only 1/4th of one percent needed to divorce their foreign wives. Statistically, that means 99.75% of the men had remained faithful and had obeyed God. God saw these foreign marriages as unlawful and for these men, the proper solution was "divorce".

Chasing a rabbit here, but that may be where the statistic comes from that 99.99% of husbands and wives that pray together, go to church together, and serve together will stay together. I've always wondered who that .1% are, and there they are in the Bible. My point is, when it comes to people, there will always be exceptions to the rule.

Here's my point, divorce is not unpardonable as some seem to believe. For a believer, there are many times that they are more the victims of divorce rather than instigators of divorce. I have known godly women who have seen their husbands leave them, never to return, in spite of the reconciliation sought or the Christ-like love demonstrated. In defense of the believing church, statistically, those who are conservative, Bible-believing Christ followers are 35% LESS likely to divorce than the rest of society. So, Christ does make a difference (these most recent statistics are in a study researched by sociologists in 2012 and can be found here). This is a far-cry from what I have heard for two decades that the church's divorce rate is the same if not a tick higher than the rest of the world. Thank the Lord for that.

But need I remind you that our churches should be full of struggling people who have been shown love by those who have also been forgiven? The church is not a sanctuary for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Jesus forgave the woman at the well who had been divorced and re-married so many times that she had gotten sick of marriage and was living with her latest lover. So, what did she do once Jesus forgave her? She ran back to her friends (probably with similar lifestyles) and brought them to Jesus so they could experience the same love and forgiveness the Son of God had offered her (Look at John 4:1-30). So here's what I'm saying, divorce numbers, from the earliest times of the Christian faith, are still probably skewed toward more divorce in the church. Why? Because of the example and command of Jesus to bring broken people to Him for healing of their souls. In our defense, we are ministering in the name and the ways of Jesus by offering forgiveness, love, and acceptance for all who will come.

So Christians, we must love the hurting, the downtrodden, and the broken. We must also live as those who are different from our culture holding up the standards of godliness and morality our Lord and His word so clearly gave us. That is how we can love those who have chosen what is often a precarious and destructive path. We let them see a better way in our lives. It is the way of 1 Corinthians 12:31. That is why our example and lifestyle is so important in this world. It is the way of love. Love for our spouses, our children, our families, our neighbors, our fellow workers and students, and even our enemies. Christians, love. Love is supreme. It is God who demonstrated his own love toward us in that while we were still His enemies, He loved us (Romans 5:10). It is that kind of love that will make a difference in the world. Are you prepared for all that Jesus can do through you once you authentically, deep down love others as Christ does?

Let me close with this, regardless of your past, you can choose today to live free of the destructiveness of sin's ways and choose to follow Christ's way. Jesus Christ offers that same love. Jesus wants you to have hope, peace, and forgiveness, and grace, no matter who you are, nor what you've done. You are the one whom God loves... and there is no exception to that rule.

Pastor Trey Rhodes


Thursday, April 18, 2013

What is the 5k Run or Dye All About? A Hindu Celebration

Run or Dye... I was intrigued. I love color and fun. Looked like both to me. From what I have seen on FaceBook and on the internet in general, I thought to myself, "Looks like a great time." If I could run, I might even register. Soon, I began to see more and more of Run or Dye promotions in cities around the US. Finally, earlier this morning, I saw this promotion on my FaceBook Newsfeed:

So, I clicked on the link to see what it was all about. Hmmmm... looks innocent enough. In my reading through the site, I clicked on the link "BLOG," and here is what I found:

It's no secret that Run or Dye is the world's most colorful fun run. All around the country, Dye Runners are coming together to celebrate life, friendship, and fun in a spectacular fusion of fitness and color.

But did you know that Run or Dye has roots in ancient India?

For centuries, Hindus have held a springtime celebration called Holi. Its exact origins are unknown, but it's believed to have been around since at least 300 BC.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Holi is the Festival of Colors. During the Festival of Colors, people blast each other with powdered cornstarch dye (the same stuff we use at our races!) as a symbol of joy and goodness, and a reminder to throw worries to the wind. Not surprisingly, the Festival of Colors is extremely popular in countries with large Hindu populations, such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. But even in the United States, Hindus and non-Hindus alike come together to celebrate the Festival of Colors... (More Here including a video promotion of Holi).

While I have no problem with celebrations which allow any religion to freely practice theirs, I just want to be clear, that this isn't just a fun day, it's a relgious holiday. It's celebrated by the followers of Vishnu to honor the son of their king of demons, Hiranyakashipu. Here is an explanation I discovered:


According to this belief, Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Vishnu. He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, venomous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu's attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre in the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu's demoness sister, who also could not die because she had a boon preventing her from being burned by fire. Prahlada readily accepted his father's orders, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. (More here from the BBC).

So, before participating in any festival, no matter how fun it looks, I have once again been reminded of the importance of checking things out. As Christ followers, we should be vigilant in our understanding of what we choose to be involved in.

Interestingly enough, this is supposed to be a celebration for unity in a religion that not only practices but typically celebrates division and caste systems. During this one time a year festival, the lowest caste (the untouchables) can be in the presence of the highest caste (the Brahmans) without shame or fear of repercussions.

Huh? One time a year? That's a far cry from the words of Paul who wrote clearly that we are to have no divisions:

So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, Good News Bible)

Then, when the Corinthians were trying to separate into their little groups to worship the Lord as rich, poor, young, old, and other man-made distinctions, he upbraided them by writing these words:

that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there is rivalry among you. Is Christ divided? (1 Corinthians 1:10, 11, 13 HCSB)

So, as I think of what we as Christ followers are called to be, I am reminded once again of the words of Jesus who told us clearly to love one another as He has loved us (John 15:9). While Holi celebrates one day a year of love for everyone, Christ followers, in distinct contrast to a caste system which divides, live a life of love that changes everything about us as well as how we daily respond to those around us. I Corinthians 13 reminds us that no matter how religious we are or how busy we are or even how much we sacrifice, if we don't love, we are wasting our lives. God is love. Everything that happens to us has to be placed against the backdrop of God's love. What does that kind of love look like? The Cross!

So, next time you want to take part in something that makes you feel better about yourself, think about how much God loves you. It is because of His love that we can now love one another. That is reason to celebrate!

Pastor Trey Rhodes

For a comparison chart of Christianity to Hinduism, feel free to look at and download this Interfaith Evangelism Comparitive Belief Chart PDF from NAMB.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Victory Though Death

Once again, we are being told that fewer people believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ than ever before:

A new poll released by Rasmussen Reports says that 64% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, down from 77% just a year ago. (Poll: Americans Believing In The Resurrection Drops To 64%)

I have to ask, is it any wonder? The attacks are relentless. The rhetoric has been turned up a notch. Nearly every thing people watch on the History Channel and the like have documentaries (really, documentaries? You've got to be kidding!) that share all the reasons why Jesus could not have risen with almost no one giving an opposing opinion. And we are even being told that it doesn't matter to the Christian if Jesus rose from the dead or not as long as you just believe in Him (cue the theologians that are understudies of men like Rudolf Bultmann).

So, as we celebrate the resurrection every single Sunday, my heart is overjoyed to experience the victorious feeling of Christ rising from the dead. It is an absolute certainty that we worship and serve a living Savior! I believe because I trust the facts published and affirmed that Jesus actually rose from the dead, both historically and physically.

However, in the midst of that euphoria, we must remember that the Cross was where the victory took place. It is the resurrection that affirms that victory. You see, you can't have resurrection without a death, and you can't have death without resurrection. Without both, neither are valid.

Here's what I'm talking about. If you go to the tombs of Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammed, they are all still there. For thousands of years, archeologists and explorers have tried to find the bones of Jesus in a tomb, but there are no bones in His tomb. They are simply not there. Think about it, when they find the tomb of Jesus, which was a borrowed tomb, by the way, why would Jesus' name be on it anyway? Don't you think that it would've said Joseph of Arimathea or the like? The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. No one, including the disciples, could've stolen His body. Think about the Romans, they couldn't have cared less. The Jewish leaders didn't want the body to be missing. And the disciples? Are you kidding me? Every single one of them gave their lives for Christ. Had they stolen the body, they would have gladly recanted and claimed it all to be fallacy. Why do they want to find Jesus' bones? Because, they know, better than most Christians, that without an empty tomb, we are miserable and "still in our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17). The resurrection is a house of cards that would fall, if it were possible, once the bones of Jesus were found. The empty tomb assures that our sins have really been forgiven once we each trust Jesus as our Personal Savior.

So as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, remember that the victory that took place was on the cross and was assured by the empty tomb. We can never think that it was at the cross we faced defeat and the resurrection was where we received the victory. It is the resurrection that proves that my forgiveness happened because Jesus is now risen from the dead, just as He said. And that is why Satan and his minions have attempted throughout the centuries to try and deceive people into believing the resurrection never took place.

The apostle Paul puts it all together for us in chapter 10 when he writes in verse 9

"if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you'll be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation."

The resurrection and the death of Christ are permanently and completely bound together to tell us all that both are necessary for our salvation... for our forgiveness... that we might know true victory in Jesus Christ.

So my challenge to you is to glory and boast in the cross. Celebrate the resurrection because now you can know for sure that your sins can be forgiven if you will trust and ask the Father today. That's what Easter is all about.

Pastor Trey Rhodes

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