There has been a lot written about Paul’s words to the church in Rome as he summarizes the history of the human race. While some thinkers see this scripture as pertaining solely to Gentile culture, others see it more broadly as the way all cultures have failed to recognize God, the creator of the world and the judge of all unrighteousness, and that is the position I find myself prone to take. The reason for a more broad approach is because I think a reader of the Old Testament can easily see that idolatry and dehumanization was just as prevalent in Israel as it was in the surrounding “pagan” kingdoms. In fact, Old Testament scholars point out that at any given time in the history of Israel, monotheistic loyalty to Yahweh was never fully established, and the chasing after other gods was a reality present throughout the history of the wilderness wanderings, the time of the Judges, and the monarchy…not to mention a cited reason for the fall of Israel and then Judah, Northern and Southern kingdoms, once divided.
So, Paul addresses the scene that has played out amongst all nations; and particularly, the downward spiral from the intended and godly purpose of humanity to what we have made of ourselves. Of particular interest to us today is the notion of natural and unnatural relationships cited in this text which leads us to a discussion of human sexuality, sexual freedom, and homosexuality. Here is the text of Romans from the NLT:
Romans 1:24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
Needless to say, this text is extremely controversial and has been used to condemn homosexuals, to contrast the type of homosexuality practiced today from ancient practices, and to particularly condemn those who switch back and forth from heterosexual practices to homosexual practices. Yet, what we need to do when studying a text like this is to remember that Paul was addressing the particular situation in Rome, and after extracting the principles and lessons that he wanted to communicate there, we can properly move from the ancient world into ours in an effort to understand what this text means in our contemporary world.
An aspect of this text I want to point out is that Paul is not speaking of individual choices nor individual behaviors nor individual morality. Paul is speaking about a culture of idolatry in humanity at large. This is to say that Paul is not interested in case study or a small scale sample, he has seized on the human condition of worshipping the wrong things and being deceived to think that that worship of lesser beings would bring about the same ends as the worship of God.
For Paul, this worship of lesser things has resulted in a damaged relationship to God, each other, and the creation as a whole. Particularly, Paul cites the sexual practices that were currently happening in Roman pagan culture as a direct result of inaccurate worship. Humanity has “traded the truth of God for a lie” and in so doing they have treated each other’s bodies as objects to be explored and exploited. This argument is “that the existence of homosexual practice in a culture is a sign that that culture as a whole has been worshipping idols and that its God-given male-and-female order is being fractured as a result.” (NT Wright, Romans, New Interpreter’s Bible, p.435)
While it is evident that Paul regards homosexual practice as a dangerous distortion of God’s intentions for sex and sexuality, and while we might agree or disagree with Paul given what we have studied about human sexuality and psychology; what we cannot do is simply sidestep this passage when it comes to Christian ethics and what it says about culture and accepted practices of sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual to be inclusive, in any given culture. However, if we are going to take the citation of homosexuality seriously in the passage above, then we must also head the warning against innate moral superiority that is coming in the next section of scripture starting in Romans 2. That is to say, while some participate in dehumanizing behaviors through “shameful desires of the heart,” others stand aloof to these practices as if they are outside the widespread problem of sin…as if only “those” people sin and “we” do not. Paul finds this to be complete nonsense and a type of unrighteousness that is just as damaging to the human condition. (So, Paul would categorize any attempt to condemn and hurt a homosexual for being such alongside the very practice of homosexuality—“falling short of God’s glory”)
A phrase that gets special attention is at the end of verse 27, “They suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.” While some commentators will point to modern sexually transmitted diseases or even make mention of AIDS in this context, I don’t think Paul had any specific disease in mind. Paul is making reference to the fact that the end of sin is DEATH. I think that becomes clear in the following paragraph and even later in Romans where Paul would assert that sin pays you in death…(“the wages of sin is death” - Romans 6:23). I think it is also telling that Paul, along with other Jewish thinkers would see DEATH as a separation and isolation from God, from each other, and from creation (or the natural world) and less of an event at the end of a life. So, in the second paragraph of our text above, we see God hand them over yet again, showing a growing separation between God and humanity. We see examples of relationships being torn apart in the actions associated with… sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip…and even the “disobeying of parents.” Again, we see this as a result of idolatry, moving to dehumanizing behaviors that then play out in our relationships… As it pertains to the natural world and creation, Paul would argue that men were made to naturally fit with women and that women were designed by God to naturally fit with men. And therefore, what we have is, “DEATH” and the process of dying that started when humanity decided to not worship God or even give him thanks, and they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused…
I want to end with some questions for us to ponder:
As I continue to read the little book on the Holy Spirit by Lois Malcolm, I am challenged to think about the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of the church, and in my personal faith, love and hope.
In a chapter entitled, “The Spirit Creates Faith” Lois explains the freedom the Spirit gives us to live the life of Christ. I want to share with you a couple quotes and allow you to simmer on them a bit.
“We do not lose our unique individual identities when we enter into Christ’s life; we do not become Christ. Rather, we become more fully ourselves. Christ’s life-giving Spirit gives us the power to deal with destructive patterns in our lives—patterns that keep us trapped in destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—so that we can be all that God has created us to be, so that we can, by faith, step into the possibilities God would have for us. Where destructive patterns in our lives have abounded, now grace can abound all the more!” (56)
Here’s why I like this--I get the feeling that a current trend in Christianity is that we know a lot about different personalities and then seem to prefer particular ones over others. We have expectations of how men and how women should be (and act)…and in the call to be more like Jesus, we need to be careful not to place our personality preferences on others. We are to walk in the way of Jesus Christ, but we are also to truly be more ourselves and to learn to appreciate who we are in Christ. While the destructive patterns need to cease, introverts filled with the Spirit and extroverts filled with the Spirit may both seek Jesus and do so in ways that are unique! I could go on…but my point is that in being a Christian…you don’t have to fit a “mold,” you are free to live in the Spirit’s guidance of your individual identity! That is a great thought, especially as I (or you) live out my (or your) faith prompted by the Spirit’s work!
A second thought from the book is this:
“Thus, with faith comes profound self-love. Through the Spirit’s power, we are able to love ourselves—and accept even those parts of us we are most ashamed or guilty about—precisely because God knows and loves every part of us. Indeed, it is only when we re no longer so buttressed by the incessant demands of our own fears and desires—when we can actually become an integrated rather than a divided self—that we can truly attend to what others need, that we can truly attend to their interests and not merely to our own.” (59)
Here’s why I like this--I think many people learn to hate a part of themselves, and I think some Christian circles teach this self-hate as way of dealing with sin and making sure that a believer will not return to that sin; thus returning to shame and guilt and all things evil. Yet, how wonderful is the love of God that declares “I love all of You” including the deepest and darkest places of our hearts, minds, and souls. And this love, instead of making us fearful and embarrassed, provides us with freedom from the very sin curse we participate in…and in so doing we are accepted into the family of God. I also like to think that as we are made whole by the Spirit, we join with other people who are made whole by the Spirit and then we have a group of people joining together to make the world whole by the Spirit…and that group is called the church. And it is the church in which we can attend to the needs and interests of others. The opposite of this approach is the all too familiar consumer approach to church…I will sell the good parts about myself and I will only be a part of the church if it serves my needs. This type of faith doesn’t end with “profound self love” and “attending to the needs of others.” Only the Spirit does that!
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon exploring the different generations and what they add to the church. One sweet person asked me to share this information with them in a different form that could be accessed, so I’m going to do it here. I hope this is helpful and while there is good research behind these statements, they are not meant to be comprehensive, but more summery statements that spur further conversation.
A cultural generation, defined, is "a cohort of people whose youth was shaped by a particular set of events and trends. Because of these shared experiences, cultural generations develop similar values and approaches toward life.”
GI or Greatest Generation was born between 1901-1926 and were children during the WWI generation, fighters in WWII, and young in the Great Depression…GIs are important to the church because they have a strong work ethic and the wisdom of many life experiences. They know what community is and how to build a strong one.
The Mature or Silent Generation was born between 1927-1945 and were children through years of suffocating conformity, but also during the postwar happiness: Peace! Jobs! Suburbs! Television! Rock 'n Roll! Cars! Silents are important to the church because they tend to be team players who are loyal to organizations. They have a huge knowledge legacy and a strong work ethic.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946-1964 and are usually split up into two sets: The save-the-world revolutionaries of the '60s and '70s; and the party-hardy career climbers (Yuppies) of the ‘70s/'80s. Baby Boomers are important to the church because they tend to be optimistic and driven by success. Boomers excel in tackling issues and finding solutions.
Generation X, commonly called the Latch Key Kids, was born between 1965-1980 and grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents. Often they would go home from school to an empty house. Gen X is important to the church because they thrive in situations that minimize rules and maximize flexibility and participation. They value feedback and are looking for meaning in their service/work.
Generation Y or Millennials were born between 1981-2000 and they prefer digital literacy, and have never known a world without computers! They get all their information and most of their socialization from the Internet. Millennials are important the the church because they are self-confident and achievement-oriented. Technology has surrounded them from birth, and they are more techno-savvy than any previous generation.
Generation Z or the “Boomlets” were born between 2001-Present and the number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation. They don't understand the world without technology. Boomlets are important to the church because they supply us with hope, future-orientation, and such joy as we watch them grow.
A Church that upholds the notion of the family of God should desire to incorporate each generation, in their life stage, into participation in the life of faith. The church must affirm that, “We will all listen to each other with deep love, humility, and the desire to grow in our relationship with God, our understanding of Scripture, and our experience of oneness in Christ.
I do believe this is the last post for the Summer 2017 Blog Tour, I hope you have enjoyed the posts and have been challenged by them. Scott Johnson has written this word, and it is another challenging thought about how God is glorifying when we trust and put our faith in Him.
Change is terrifying. Whether its work, school, marriage, or grocery store layouts, change is never fun. When our congregation at Crosspointe Church of Christ faced the fact that we were a hospice church, a church on life support, and we had to move. Fast. Over 10 years our attendance had decreased by two-thirds.
Through a long, agonizing series of events, we begin to seek God's direction. Where did He want us to move next? We had several congregational meetings that only gave us confirmation that things were bad. We either had to seek out a resurrection or pull the plug. There were no other options. Change had to come.
We had less than a month before we had a final meeting with the entire church to reveal what was next. Taking the church off life support was not an option. So we were relaunching. We were moving to a new mission. I was asked to craft it. I was hopeless. So I sat down to write.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table one night. I couldn't think. I couldn't pray. I was beyond frustrated and angry. As I watched the laptop cursor blink, as I stared into the white screen, I gave up. I quit. I stopped. I walked out.
I went out onto the back porch and looked at the sky and begin talking to God. I told Him how tired I was. I told Him how discouraged and angry I had become. I told Him that I was sick of it. I told him I quit. And then I told Him that if He had any ideas, I'd love to know them.
And then I hit a watershed moment in my life. I said, "God, you've got to show up or Crosspointe isn't going to make it. She's your body. You created her. You know what you have in store for us. We give up. I give up. Please, give me your vision."
I stood there in the silence for a while. And then it happened. God put something into my heart and brain that ignited a fire in my bones.
He brought this Scripture to mind:
"I will restore to you the year that the swarming locust has eaten..." (Joel 2:25a, ESV)
What God brought forth that night has completely re-forged Crosspointe. Sunday we had our first progress meeting since the relaunch one year ago. In that year I've seen our members step out in ways I never dreamed possible. I've seen more generosity, kindness, and boldness than I ever thought we'd muster. You can follow what this has looked like in the daily life of Crosspointe on my blog https://oldesoultheology.com/.
The years eaten away by the destroyer...have slowly begun to be restored.
God's people at Crosspointe had the audacity to trust in the God who breathed out the stars... and step out onto the waves. We're not there yet, but exercising our faith has grown it exponentially.
“We're trusting, Lord. We know you'll deliver us. We believe, but help our unbelief.”Wherever you find yourself in your walk with God, ask the question: What is holding me back from completely trusting Him? What's my obstacle? And then pray...and kick it right down. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
Scott has been on both sides of the fence: life without Jesus and life with Jesus. He wouldn’t go back for anything. As a former drug addict, he has a passion for sharing Jesus with the world. He graduated from Ohio Valley University in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Texts. He has been in full-time ministry since 2007 and served two churches in that time. Scott is the Senior Minister at Crosspointe Church of Christ in Franklin, Ohio. He resides in Middletown, Ohio with his wife and their two children. He loves to play guitar, drink coffee, help people, and enjoy his family
My husband, Mike walked down Maiden Alley toward the Ohio River with his young friend. As he walked with his arm around twelve-year old DeShawn he asked, “DeShawn, when Jesus was on trial, Pilate kept asking if he was a King? Jesus told him, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’, but finally admitted he is the King. That’s what I’m going to ask you. Do you believe Jesus is the King?” DeShawn answered, “Yes, Mr. Mike. I do.” They continued to walk down to the bank of the Ohio River. About 40 people from The Rivers Church followed them.
Mike and DeShawn stood right at the edge of the river and Mike asked the young man if he was ready for Jesus to be King of his life? This is a kid that only a year and a half before was so rude and disrespectful that he would often be sent home from our Tuesday night outreach ministry and here he stood in the Ohio River ready to put on Christ. DeShawn came up out of that water to applause and tears from a church family that is a glimpse of what heaven is going to look like.
The Rivers Church began on Sunday, December 18th at 10:02 a.m. at Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah, Kentucky, a half block from where the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers converge. From its outset, it has been our goal to be racially integrated, ethnically diverse, and outreach focused. Nones, Dones, and the next generation are our targets. Our ministry team spent time praying, talking, studying, and then praying some more about the vision for a church that could open doors for all people to hear the gospel in a post Christian culture.
Why 10:02 a.m.? Our gathering time is based on Luke 10:2- “...The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers.” At The Rivers Church, we’ve based our lives on the truth of the gospel -- we know that the gospel is the best message in town that everyone needs to hear but Christians have made it harder and harder for people to hear the message because we’ve often lost our focus. We are convinced that if we go to where the people are, like Jesus said, and if we love them and love each other, then the gospel will do the rest.
Only God could have assembled the ministry team at The Rivers Church. This is what we’ve got- My husband Mike Moore is a trial attorney and was an elder for 5 years at an old established wealthy church. He also is a fantastic preacher. (I know I’m a little biased.)
Tyrell Grant is a former rap producer drug dealer who became a Christian and quickly decided he wanted to be an evangelist. He went to school and got a preaching degree. His wife, Marquita is a preacher’s kid with an early childhood degree who leads our children’s ministry.
Cornelius Edwards is a wonderfully gifted worship minister. Before he joined our work he traveled from his home base in Atlanta all over the country to lead worship at special events. Check out his music on iTunes and YouTube. His wife Soyini has an awesome voice as well and was willing to leave her job at CNN because she believed in this vision of what church could be. She has an innate sense as to what people need and ministers to many already!
Lyle Sinkey is a former meth addict who is an outdoorsman and preacher. He just finished up a contract with Duck Commander where he was a videographer.He and his wife Kelly joined our team to minister in the areas of addiction recovery and marriage.
Finally, there’s me. I’m a former homeschooling mom and wife who was raised going tochurch.I lead our women’s ministry and make some pretty delicious communion bread.
The Rivers Church is a group of believers that are trying to live with our faith unshackled. Only Cornelius is a paid staff member. Soyini recently started her own business. Lyle and Kelly are raising their support like U.S. missionaries. Mike maintains a full law practice and I’m his office manager.Tyrell and Marquita run a daycare and Tyrell is also a blogger/tech guy.
We don’t have a building and it is our intention to never have one. Our rent at the theatre annually is the equivalent of one month’s utility bills at our former church. We’re trying to keep it simple. We use Mike’s Law office for small group Bible studies offered to the community. Tyrell and Marquita lead a small group in their home weekly. We have an outreach ministry that ministers to low income at risk children that meets at a shelter at the park. All of our gatherings are intergenerational. Families serve together. We’ve worshipped at the Farmer’s Market pavilion and will have worship this fall right at the river.
Martin Luther King Jr. said this in Letter From Birmingham Jail, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”
Dr. King spoke truth in 1963 and it is even more true in 2017. Young people don’t care what you know about Jesus until they see how you love like Jesus. My teenage daughters invited their seventeen year old friend to worship with us. When worship was over, I asked her what she thought. Her answer let me know that we are headed in the right direction. She said with lots of excitement, “I love this! At the end, I just felt like I needed to go around the room and hug everyone. You can feel the love.”
I think we’re on the right path.
Follow us on Social Media Contacts at:
Facebook: The Rivers Church @TheRiversPaducah
Ginger Moore is a 47 year old reluctant church planter, who just celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary. She’s the mom of a 17 year old daughter and an 18 year old daughter who are so proud and excited to be a part of the work. Her theme verse for the year has been 2 Timothy 2:13- "When we are faithless, he is faithful for he can not deny himself." God has been so very good and faithful as we have planted this church and he has brought the increase.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.