The Zealot

 A shocking little story in Numbers 25 gives us a glimpse into the mind of God. The Israelites were in big trouble for committing sexual sin and worshiping idols. They were doing exactly what God had warned them NOT to do, becoming like the pagans around them. God sent a horrible plague through the camp, which brought the whole nation before God in repentance. Right in the middle of their worship service, one guy swaggered through their meeting with a sleazy girl on his arm, headed to his tent to do exactly what the people of God were repenting for.
Phinehas, great nephew of Moses, was horrified and did something about it. He followed the boldly-sinning pair to their tent and ran his spear through them both. Instead of condemning Phinehas for murder, God praised him for being "zealous with my zeal." God honored him and promised that blessings would follow for generations to come. He also stopped the plague he had sent upon the rest of the people.

So what can we learn from this? The modern notion is that when God sent Jesus, He threw out the whole concept of holiness. Is that what the Bible teaches? Could it be that God is still pleased when we refuse to tolerate boldly sinning people who claim to belong to Him? If the God who never changes was pleased with Phinehas' zeal for God's honor, is he equally pleased when we use the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Eph. 6), to confront boldly-sinning church members?

Seems like we might have this whole tolerance and passive-love thing upside down. We've developed the idea that God honors those who look the other way. We call it love. But the God of Love praised Phinehas for being "zealous with my zeal." What is God zealous about? The righteousness and holiness of His people. When we are zealous for righteousness and holiness--in our own lives as well as the lives of those who profess to be brothers and sisters--scripture is clear that we honor God and he is pleased to honor us.


Idols in the Sanctuary

 When Paul toured Ephesus, he noted that the Ephesians were very religious (Acts 17:22). They had shrines to everything; even one dedicated to The Unknown God. But Paul explained that they were missing the point.  He might say the same thing if he toured our churches today.

Idolatry does not necessarily confine itself to shrines outside the church. Due to an alarming rate of biblical illiteracy, as well as growing Western egocentrism, Christianity has done what the Ephesians did. It has added Jesus to a plethora of other gods, many of which are heavily glossed with spirituality and encased in selected Bible verses. But they are gods, nonetheless.

The most subtle and attractive of these gods can walk arm-in-arm with even those who would most loudly decry their presence. Yet, these impostors waltz right into the church services and out again every Sunday without challenge, often receiving a heaping dose of praise from the very pulpits that spawned them.

Personal well-being and self-worth are attractive gods that have wormed their way into American hearts without apology. We can easily embrace a God who promises health, safety, and comfort. But is it truly Yahweh we worship or is it our own satisfaction? Whose name is really on the gold-plated shrine: God's or ours? Do we really worship the Lord Himself or is it His comforting promises? Romans 1 describes in unflattering terms those who "worship the creature rather than the Creator."

Health and prosperity are twin gods as false as Romulus and Remus, yet they are worshiped to some extent by most evangelicals as though the blessings were Jehovah Himself. They are "claimed," "believed for", and enthusiastically defended, but when adversity or persecution hits with fury, we recoil in disbelief, feeling as though our god has betrayed us. And so it has.

Family is also a god that marches boldly alongside the Real One. We proudly champion this god as though surely the Lord would make an exception to the First Commandment in this case. The homeschooling movement danced perilously close to this shrine without realizing the danger. As attractive as it seems to make a spouse or precious children our whole world, we can easily slide those relationships into first place. We justify the substitution with scarcely a nod at Matthew 10:37 in which Jesus clearly says that if we love anything more than Him we are not worthy of Him.

Idolatry is not always foreign to the church. Its most tantalizing shrines are to those ideals that sound spiritual but are well-disguised substitutes for God Himself. Self loves to cloak itself in religious finery, and if we are not on guard, will replace the Triune Person who alone claims the right to be God.

Gay and Christian? Can it be?

Hi, I`m a lesbian and a Christian. I believe in God. I go to church. I try to do right by Him.  I don`t think God would condemn me to hell because of who I love. Can you explain to me why? I`m not hurting anyone or doing anything wrong... Am I really going to hell?

I can sense the frustration in your question and I hope you hear sincerity and compassion in my answer. Finding truth starts with dismantling some fallacies and inaccuracies buried within your question that you most likely did not realize were there. It is my prayer that as you read this, the truth will begin to illuminate the confusion that has prompted your question.

Illumination begins with challenging some terms you have adopted and by which you have labeled yourself without realizing the full implications of doing so. First, let’s define the term “Christian” as the Bible does. Since no one has the right to define God or His plans except Him, then we have to adhere as closely as possible to what His Word tells us. Scripture says we are all sinners (Romans 3:23, 3:10). According to the Bible, we all deserve hell for our sin and rebellion against God and His righteousness (Romans 6:23). So our condemnation is not based upon whether one sin is worse than another. We are all equal in our depravity and all deserving of God's judgment.

Jesus said, "Wide is the path that leads to destruction and many are on it, but narrow is the path that leads to life and few are they who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). So who are those few who find eternal life? The religious people thought they were surely on the right path. The self-righteous thought they were too. The people with the right pedigree, or the right church membership, or the right set of religious beliefs all thought they were fine. After all, they believed in God, went to church, tried to do right, and were certainly not as bad as some people.

Jesus answered that question when a man named Nicodemus asked Him the same thing. Jesus’ answer was that we must be "born again" (John 3:3). Jesus used that illustration because we all understand birth. In physical birth, a new creature emerges that did not previously exist. A human baby resembles the parents and she immediately begins to grow. As she grows, she looks more and more like them.

Spiritual birth is the same. Birth pangs begin when we recognize that we are hopeless sinners, undeserving of God’s mercy. We understand that He sent his own Son to take the punishment our sin deserves so that we could be forgiven. We recognize that it was for our salvation that He was raised from the dead so that we would no longer have to be mastered and enslaved by the very sins that He died for.

But this recognizing is not salvation. Neither the awareness of truth nor the mental appreciation for it is salvation. The outward display of Christian activity is not salvation. Jesus was clear what it takes to become His follower. He said, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Like 9:23). That cross he referred to is the death of our fleshly nature--the part of us that likes to sin. If we want Him, we have to be willing to let Him replace our old self with a new one. We have to have a total change of mind about our own sin and who is boss. The bible calls that “repentance.” Without true heart repentance, we cannot be saved. We don't earn this gift from God. Our good deeds do not impress Him. The new birth is a divine paradox: a free gift that costs us everything we are. Only a change of heart and a change of ownership grant us entrance into God’s family.

So the first question you must answer is this: “Have I truly been born again?” Many people make the same mistake that the religious people of Jesus’ day did. But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; all things have become new.” Scripture requires that we examine our lives, not our ideology, and ask ourselves this question: "When did I become a new creature? At what point did my life, my desires, and my perspective switch from my own way to God’s way?" If no such change has occurred, then most likely no new birth occurred either. In that case, then no sin is worse than another, because we stand condemned before God already.

The second fallacy we need to address is your self-designation as “lesbian.” Satan cons many people into identifying themselves by only one aspect of their fleshly natures. To define yourself by your sexual temptations is like someone else saying, "Hi. I am a kleptomaniac. That is who I am and you need to accept it.” Or, “Hi, I want the world to define me by my overwhelming desire to lie.” Or another saying, “The most important fact about my identity is that I am a cutter. I'm not hurting anybody, so I don't see why it matters how much harm I inflict upon my body.” When we begin to define ourselves by our sin, we have fallen into Satan’s trap and are totally missing the truth.

The truth as God defines it is this: We are all human beings created in the image of God for His glory and pleasure (Colossians 1:16). Since we are His creation, He knows best how our lives should be lived. The Designer also wrote the instruction manual. He created each of us as either male or female. He also designed sexuality and placed healthy restrictions on its use. Electricity is a good and powerful invention, if it is used correctly. Used wrongly, it can destroy. 

Sexuality is a sacred thing, the design of God. He alone can define its use. The Bible is clear that sex was created to be enjoyed between one man and one woman who are in a covenant marriage until one of them dies (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:8). Any use of sexuality outside those parameters constitutes abuse of God’s gift. “Abuse” is the use of something or someone in ways for which they were not designed. The Bible calls this sin. Adultery, premarital sex, pornography, and homosexual relations are all outside God’s design, which makes them sin.

When we give our lives to Christ and enter the kingdom of God, we transfer ownership of everything to Him. That’s what the Bible means when it says that we are saved by making Jesus LORD of our lives (Romans 10:9). We no longer have the right to defy His stated will for us. Our lives belong to Him and lour goal is to glorify Jesus, not please ourselves. Self-worship is what earns us God’s judgment in the first place. We cannot worship self and God at the same time. He does not share His throne.
If you have spent any time in the scriptures, then you know that homosexual behavior is condemned all the way through the Bible (Leviticus 20:13; Jude 1:17). Probably the strongest warning is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” 
The people who will not inherit the kingdom of God are those whose lives are defined by their sin choices. Temptation is not a sin. Same sex attraction is not a sin. Acting on it is. Lust in your heart is (Matthew 5:28). Every evil thing listed in this verse starts in the heart as a temptation. God is warning us that if we allow those things to become who we are by acting on them, we cannot also be followers of Jesus Christ. We cannot follow both sin and Jesus. They are going in opposite directions.

Some people will argue at this point that they “were born this way” and, therefore, acting on those urges is unavoidable. They justify their sin by convincing themselves that God must have made them this way, so why not indulge. The truth is that there is no medical evidence whatsoever that anyone HAS to sin. We are all born with a sin nature. We all have different weaknesses and temptations. For some men, remaining faithful to one wife feels impossible. A man may argue that his sexual needs are not being fully met and, therefore, he should have the freedom to sleep with other women in an open marriage. Even if his wife agrees to it, adultery is just as sinful. Sin is not always about hurting someone else according to our standards. Sin is about violating God’s standards.
An alcoholic fights tremendous urges to drink. But when he gives his life to Christ, his desire changes and he now wants to do whatever necessary to curb those sinful impulses. More than gratifying his flesh, he wants to remain faithful to Jesus, who warns against drunkenness (Galatians 5:21; 1 Peter 4:30).  Jesus said, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
 This was a rather long response because your question deserves a complete answer. The questions as you stated them could not be accurately answered in that form because they were based on some false assumptions. I encourage you to let God take an honest look into your heart, not through the screen of self-justification, but with an honest desire to know Him. God loves you. He designed you for Himself. No amount of self-gratification is as satisfying as a life totally submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ. I urge you to tune out the world's opinion of who God is and what He says and let His word speak for itself.


Open and Shut Case

I wonder why we ever adopted the posture of folding our hands when we pray. 

Maybe it was started by mothers of fidgety preschoolers, and we kept it when we grew up. Unfortunately, that posture often reflects the attitude we bring when we come before God. Many times we approach God with fists clenched, clinging tightly to what we consider ours: our rights, our pride, our relationships, or our dreams.

True worship, true prayer, comes with open hands. Whatever we cannot place in those open hands and offer to God is the source of our problems. What we refuse to offer Him fully will be the very thing that keeps us from being all God created us to be.

Maybe that's why God wants us to lift our hands in worship. He wants us to notice that when we try to lift closed hands... they are fists!