Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Donne On The Incarnation
from titusonenine

Twas much,

that man was
made like God before,
But that God should
be like man
much more.

–John Donne.

(icon on the right from the holy nativity convent)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Other Works By Hanna Cherian Varghese

The Angelic Announcement.

The Nativity Scene.

This work on the shepherds reaction to the angelic announcemnet is in batik.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


A Very Happy And Blessed Christmas To All Our Beloved Readers!

May The Lord Bless You With A Special Work of Grace This Christmas.

The painting on the right captures the angelic announcement of our Lord's birth to the shepherds. The artist is a Malaysian - Hanna Cherian Varghese.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


There's a lot of action in the streets. I now understand why our Lord, Paul and people like Wesley attracted crowds in non- religious places. It's a fascinating experience and you get to meet all sorts personalities. I sense that there is a tremendous hunger for spiritual truth in Bolivia; many know that there must be something more to life;lets not forget the walking wounded who need Jesus's love. Friends, the harvest is plentiful!!

The other day I was invited to speak to a group of Bolivian adults who were learning English. I relished the idea of sharing the gospel with them; they were all, "to my disappointment", christians except for one lady; she shared her feelings of loneliness during the Christmas service. Someone suggested that she seek prayer from me. She was not against the idea. So I prayed for her; She felt better after the prayer and thanked me profusely; time prevented her from staying on; it was getting late. She told me of her intention to get counsel at our church.

A few days later I met up with a guy who wanted to sell me berries and raspberries. I began to share with him the gospel; his smile and responses convinced me that I was speaking to a Christian. He was very happy to meet up with a fellow believer. He began telling me his story and showed me a crumpled tract given to him by someone with lots of enthusiasm. It was a Jehovah Witness tract! I shared with him the differences between JW's and Christians. He gave me a quizzical look at first and then joined in with lots of questions and comments. He thanked me profusely for the time we had together and gave me the tract. It was a great session! I also bought some of his berries; they were huge, juicy, red and delicious.

Yesterday the cab driver who picked me up at town was a backslidden Christian. He was so keen on sharing his woes with me that he drove slowly, hoping that he would have the time to tell me his whole story. We then decided to stop at a corner; he stopped his engine and poured his heart out. His wife had left him and his 5 year old daughter to start a new life in Spain (quite common these days in Bolivia). To complicate matters he was thinking of starting a relationship with someone he had just met. He was confused and did not know what to do because his wife in Spain was sending him mixed messages about her intent to return to Bolivia. He was looking for clear directions. I gave him a few pointers: the Lord had sovereignly arranged our meeting, he must forgive his wife, he needed to seek the Lord first, clarity over the situation would surface; he needed to make a wise decision that would honor the Lord.

I prayed for him, invited him to our services and gave him my card. He was very grateful and did not want to charge me the taxi fare. I insisted that he keep the money. He smiled and drove away.

Lord, grant us the courage to be your instruments in a lost world!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Book Review: Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf

This is probably one of the best books I've read!

Volf's "Exclusion and Embrace" was written during the internecine wars and "ethnic cleansing" in former Yugoslavia. His basic point is that emphasis on ethnic identity promotes exclusion and forces one to differentiate and exclude oneself from the "other". He argues for differentiation not at the expense of inclusion. According to him exclusion is the root of the problem in communal warfare. His solution is Christ's embrace of the "other" on the Cross. This emphasis on the Cross in the introduction sets the stage for Volf as he fleshes out his ideas in book. The language can be technical at times especially for the untrained eye; Volf interacts with secular writers like Eduard Said, Nieztche etc.

One of Volf's major contributions in this book is the idea that liberating the victim from the oppressor is not enough. The victim must also "embrace" and forgive the oppressor if he is to be free from the oppression. Christ as the supreme victim or scapegoat is the best example of this principle; he embraced his enemies on the cross. Liberating the oppressed without a strategy to embrace the oppresor can predispose the victim to resent and hate his oppressor. Volf has probably seen some of this in his homeland, Yugoslavia. Hence the assertion that liberation needs to include the restoration of the oppressor. How does this work in the real world? He seems to be advocating pacifism; Volf later clarifies his position and gives a tour de force in the last chapter of the book.

The last chapter Violence and Peace is passionate and probably the most engaging in the book. Volf does a superb job of expositing the christian view of non violence within the backdrop of sorting out the apparent contradiction between Christ, the willing lamb of God, of the Gospels and Christ, the fiery judge seated on the white horse, of Revelations executing judgement. A non violent approach according to him only makes sense if unrepentant oppressors are judged by the Christ of the Revelations. Temporal non violence only makes sense if evil is finally judged. An embrace assumes that parties in conflict are willing to mutually forgive each other. If the oppressor however refuses the embrace of the oppressed then judgement rightly awaits him or her. The Biblical texts take into consideration such an outcome. This healthy dose of realism acts a counter weight to some of the idealism in the earlier chapters. Seldom have I read such passion for God's judgement from an academic theologian.

Volf's work has helped me gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding inter ethnic feuds and the regional conflicts of Bolivia within a christian perspective. The chapter on Gender Identity was interesting but not very meaty. The one on Oppression and Justice is a classic and should be read by all would be reformers.

I heartily recommend this book!

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I dunno know what to say...we've just joined the ranks of:

Bill & Melinda Gates, Bono (2005) - I wish I had Bill's money and Bono's gumption.

Mikhail Gobarchev (1989) - History, unlike Russia, will be kinder to Gobarchev.

Pope John Paul 2 (1994) - John Paul was courageous. He recognised Luther as a son of the church and asked forgiveness from the protestant community.

Mandela, De Klerk, Rabin and Arafat (1993) - Mandela is a hero; history cornered De Klerk; Rabin like many a great visionary was killed; Arafat a father figure to his people had no more cards left to play.

Ayatollah Khomeini (1979) - He's dead (sigh of relief)

The Endangered Earth (1988) - Huh?...the earth is a person?..when did that happen!

Would TIME have chosen Jesus as their Person Of The Year in AD33?

Saturday, December 16, 2006



NEARLY 500,000 TURN UP AT THE CABILDO IN SANTA CRUZ (photo on the right).

They came from just about everywhere: isolated provinces, little towns, forgotten villages, poor barrios, upper middle class enclaves and outlying districts. Many walked and others chartered buses/vans/mini-buses. Some rode on horseback.

A sea of green and white flags of Santa Cruz greeted me as I made my way toward the city centre. Almost everyone had the flag except for yours truly. I managed to find a place near the local burger king outlet. It was'nt the best of places. A lady looked at me hard and gave me a flag; I thanked her and continued to soak in the atmosphere! It was hot and humid. There was one guy with a cool 4 sided square hat; a tired looking pregnant lady decided to sit on the pavement; A cute 5 year old girl, tastefully dressed with a frangipani clipped in her hair, sat on her father's shoulders. People were talking through their cellphones - trying to connect with their friends. A flautist and a drummer, about 5 metres from where I was standing, played local favorites. Spontaneous chants laced with vulgarities against the president kept people entertained. The vendors were out in force, selling everything from mineral water to flags.

Helicopters, hired by the TV channels, swirled above like vultures over their prey. And the crowd would oblige by raising and waving their flags whenever they flew over us. The podium was enormous with the green and white backdrop; at the centre were yellow, green and red - the colours of the Bolivian state; superimposed on these colours were the words "2/3". This was of course a reference to the key demand that the constitutional assembly pass every proposed article of the new constitution with a 2/3 majority. The government controlled assembly however passed a ruling which approves the new constitutional articles through a simple majority vote. The ruling party now has at its disposition the right to any pass articles it sees fit; its opponents in the East see this as a blank check to impose a socialist indigenous system over the whole country. Also, and this is important, the large business constituency in Eastern Bolivia views a socialist driven centralized government as a threat to their interests.

The programme was a combination of chants, music, songs and speeches. It was not possible to see the action on the podium from where I was standing. The sound, although a little rough, came through. The major speeches were given by the president of the civic association, German Antelo and the governor of the Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas. Both made commitments to stay within Bolivia; the Venezuelans and the Cubans were accused of meddling in Bolivian internal affairs; President Evo was criticized severely. One lady near me was critical of Antelo's speech saying that there were no clear-cut calls to action. Beneath the surface of this movement, on the part of some, is a willingness to take up arms. Any call to violence however would have immediately taken the wind out of this massive civic movement because the vast majority of the people although angry and frustrated are basically peace loving.

There were some clashes in a province, near Santa Cruz, called San Julian. The President's supporters blocked the road in San Julian to Santa Cruz; buses full of people could'nt get through to the Cabildo; tempers flared and fighting broke out; unconfirmed reports say 2 people may have died.

At a press conference later President Evo sounded conciliatory and even congratulated the organizers of the Cabildos saying that his party is willing to dialogue with the opposition.

We are entering the holiday season; people will start thinking about their Christmas dinners and gifts; hopefully everyone will calm down.

We might enter the new year with hope for a settlement.

Friday, December 15, 2006


The Lord's love in our hearts helps us find the right words to reach the lost.

He looked burly and not the sort of taxi driver you'd fool around with. I thought twice and decided to share Christ with him; we exchanged names. Call me Jorge, he said.

I asked him if he was planning to go to the Cabildo today. He said "NO" and went into a tirade against the civic leaders of Santa Cruz, accusing them of being elitist and not sharing their wealth with the poor. Roman priests, nuns and Christian pastors were not spared. According to Jorge, Roman priests and nuns were well taken care of at the expense of the simple folk in the churches; Pastors were no better because they were taking advantage of the people's ignorance. A staunch supporter of President Evo, Jorge said, "Evo is the only president who is looking out for the poor". I was a little taken aback by his support for the government because he was a fair skinned native cruceñan from eastern Bolivia. People from this sector are avowed opponents of President Evo.

How does one share Jesus with the "Jorges" of this world? Well, I told him that he was right; priests and pastors had indeed failed to live up to their calling as God's servants. Jorge remained silent as I told him that Jesus, unlike his servants, is faithful and a person of great integrity. I find that talking about Jesus is a powerful witnessing tool. The Lord's love in our hearts for the lost helps us find the right words to reach those who need him the most. Sometimes its not what we say but the way in which the Holy Spirit fills our words with the Lord's love for the lost. His words were measured and less offensive; he nodded his head in agreement with me about Jesus. I invited him to our Christmas Eve celebrations and prayed for him. He thanked me for the conversation and sped away. I felt a little frustrated that I could not close the deal and lead him to Christ. He appeared to be very hard but there was a softening towards the end.

Pray for Jorge. I'm sure the Lord will send someone else to build on what the Holy Spirit did through me. And pray for discernment, wisdom and boldness to evangelise!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Churches Pray In The Streets

With just one day to go before the Cabildo, its getting tense in Santa Cruz. The government sent a cabinet minister (2nd from the right, flanked by high ranking military officers) to try and smooth things over with the civic leaders. He was gently rebuffed. A few days ago the President railed against the separatist tendencies of those behind the Cabildo at a public function organised by the military. The officer corps not unlike Bolivian society are deeply divided over issues facing the country. Some support the president; the others identify with the aspirations of their regions. If push comes to shove, the latter will not obey the president and might even take matters into their own hands. We have not come to this precipice and my reading of the present situation does not foresee such a collision. The current volatile situation however has the potential of undoing social constraints, unleashing acts of violence.

People in the streets are buying the Santa Cruz flag, T-shirts and other paraphenalia for the huge open air meeting tomorrow (a million might just show up!). Some of the words on the T-shirts are very provocative and highly disrespectful of the government.

Cabildos are also scheduled to be held in 3 other Bolivian States in the East - Tarija, Beni & Pando- tomorrow.

Many churches are praying for peace to prevail. Various christian groups are moving around the town centre praying for the city and for revival. A group of churches committed to unity of the nation also put together an open air service (we are part of this group). Revd Federico Bascuñan, the Vicar of Christ Light Of The World was interviewed by one of the TV Channels.

Pray that the Cabildo tomorrow will be peaceful!

Monday, December 11, 2006



How do civic leaders and regional politicians get the government to take seriously the aspirations of their region? They convene a massive public meeting where speeches and declarations are made in the city centre. These public meetings in spanish are called "Cabildos". In 2004 the civic leaders of Santa Cruz called for a "Cabildo"; a declaration of regional autonomy was made at this huge open air meeting of the populace. Nearly 200,000 people responded and turned up (picture on top).

Prior to the "Cabildo" a massive signature campaign, in support for autonomy, was launched in Santa Cruz; the matter was then put to the congress and the wishes of the people were made into law by the previous government. As a result Santa Cruz and the other 8 states of Bolivia elect their governors and have a greater say in resource management and self government. Its fascinating to see the legislative process of a nation bend to the collective force of a massive civic action!

The election of Evo Morales and the possible proposal of a radical collectivist Cuban style constitution at the constitutional assembly have convinced a large number of people in eastern Bolivia that the government intends to do away with regional autonomy and transform Bolivia into a a socialist - indigenous entity. A series of hunger strikes in Santa Cruz against the government continues to capture the imagination of many in Eastern Bolivia.

Civic leaders have now played their ace; they've convened a "Cabildo" on Friday the 15th of December; this is a major civic action only reserved only for critical moments; a "Cabildo" only works when the vast majority of the people are supportive of the cause. And it appears that the people of Santa Cruz as well as 3 other states in the east are supportive of civic leaders and opponents of the government. A million people are expected to turn up! The opposition against the central goverment has now reached the proportions of a major social movement and it is quite possible that at least 300,000 people will respond to the call.

People are also nervous. Rumors abound of government agents planning to instigate violence at the "Cabildo".

Some extremist elements are calling for Santa Cruz to be an independant republic. Forget it! This will never happen.

Will the President declare a state of siege and detain the leaders behind the "Cabildo" and the hunger strikes? The constitution grants him the right to do so if he believes that these actions threaten national security.

Pray that the "Cabildo" will be peaceful and free from violence.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Bishop Lyons paid us a visit and confirmed 12 new members. The parish has set a goal of 300 new members. The candidates above are from our extension centre, Bread Of Life.

The candidates below are from the mother church, Light Of The World.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Today Michelle and I celebrate 21 years of marriage. We were married at the Church Of Our Savior in 1985 on a Saturday afternoon. Pastor Derek Hong led the service. Bishop Moses Tay was present to give us his blessings. Rev Villlie D. read some of the prayers in the service. My classmates at Trinity College stood by us as we exchanged vows. Revd Kenny Chee (blogpastor) agreed to be my best man and Susan Verghese was the bridesmaid. We are grateful that our friends, parents, and relatives made the effort to support us at our wedding. I remember someone sharing a marvellous prophecy of how the Lord would make us a blessing and a light to the nations. And that was fulfilled when we left Singapore to serve the Lord in Bolivia.

There are no short cuts nor secret formulas to marital happiness. Listening to each other, praying together and not taking your spouse for granted are some of the basic components in any marriage. By God's grace we've survived some of the rough patches in our relationship; I can't imagine our marriage without Christ. One of the most difficult things to work through is the daily grind of simply living together: managing schedules, adapting to your partner's habits/customs, ensuring transparent financial transactions and accepting your spouse's idiosyncrasies.

Pray that we will be a witness to God's love and mercy.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


The men's ministry got together and decided to clean the church sanctuary and to paint the walls. On your right is Ariel; his dad Beto, brought him along to help out.

Meet Roberto Dick, with the red t-shirt below , the leader of the men's ministry.

In the middle is bare chested Marco Ortiz. He has been around for 3 years; he serves on the church council.

This is Beto, with the red cap, a newcomer to the church who has integrated rapidly in the life of the church. He has strong leadership gifts.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Exercising Your Gifts Through The Body

by Ted Schroder

There is no greater frustration in life than experiencing a gap between our ideals and our realities, between our expectations and our actualities. That is the constant problem in political discourse as well as religious experience. It's the disappointment felt by the losing team. So it is healthy for us to consider the practicalities of our own ideals: how realistic are we about what we can achieve in our own lives and in our church.

How can we make what we do happen? How can we sow the seed of the kingdom? How can we grow the kingdom of heaven in quantity and quality? How can we grow in the love of Christ, in discernment and knowledge? In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul tells us that we can make it happen through our understanding that the church is the Body of Christ and that we are individually part of it. Individual Christians are born by the Spirit into the Body and remain part of that Body.

The metaphor Paul uses is very graphic. The church is the Body, animated by the Spirit, under the headship of Christ. It is the Body of Christ in the world. The work of Christ in the world is done by the body, by all Christians working together in one organic unity. The body is made up of many parts: just as we have different bodily parts so we have different parts of the church body. Each is connected to the other, and all need one another. We have different functions but are equally needed for the health of the whole. No one should have inflated ideas about their importance, or deflated ideas about their insignificance. Each has a contribution to make.

This is how Eugene Peterson in The Message puts it:

"no matter how significant you are it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn't be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, 'Get lost; I don't need you'? Or Head Telling Foot, 'You're fired; your job has been phased out'? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way - the 'lower' the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary... The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance."

Why is it necessary for Paul to spell this out? Was it because some people were trying to get their own way, throwing their weight around? Was it because some people were trying to make everyone else over into their own mold? Was it because some people had become so self-sufficient that they felt they did not need others? Was it because some were takers and not givers? Was it because some were content to be spectators and not players? Was it because some people felt that they could be Christians without being part of the church? Was it because some felt they did not need the church?

In any game it is not possible to win unless the whole team pulls together. In any business it takes all parts of the workforce and management working together to become a success. The best plan in the world will be pure idealism without everyone working together to make it happen. What is it that can prevent that happening?

Moral philosopher Mary Midgley contends that, "Ever since the Renaissance, it has been the key project of our culture to free individuals from the pressure of their social background and to enable them to stand alone. Endless devoted efforts have been made to pry each loose from his family, his state, his church and any other shell to which he might cling, and allow him - indeed force him - to think and act for himself... The careful separating out of each soul from its social background has of course been responsible for an immense amount that is distinctive and valuable in the achievements of our civilization. No other culture has carried it nearly so far. No wonder that to many people it never looked, until lately, as if we could ever have too much of that good thing, individualism." (Evolution As Religion, 166)

What we have painfully discovered in recent years is that we cannot live to ourselves, we are part of a whole. We are environmentally connected. We are part of a global economy. What one person does affects others. We cannot live independently of others. We have learned that one part of the body cannot be treated without affecting other parts. We are more and more aware that one part may be cured at the expense of another part because of side effects. The communal aspects of life, which used to be despised now appear as both necessary and understandable in terms of the sciences. The words of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who won great battles against tyranny, still echo in our minds with the question, "Can anything be more important than individual liberty?" But when excessive individualism threatens marriage, family, the state, and the church, we must question it.

Midgley goes on to say: "Of course, human beings are distinct individuals. But they are also tiny, integral parts of this planet - framed by it, owing everything to it, and adapted to a certain place among its creatures. Each can indeed change its life, but does not originally invent it. Each receives life in a family (as a petal does in a flower), in a country (as the flower does on the tree), and in the biosphere (as the tree does in the forest). Our environment gives us nearly everything we have.... All this is no derogation of our essential dignity, because dignity is meaningless without a context. The only person who might conceivably exist and make sense on his own is God, and even He apparently prefers not to try it, since He creates the world. And whatever might be true of God, man is no god, but a social being and a part of the fauna of this planet." (op.cit.170)

Just as we have to value and respect the physical and cultural environment in which we live, by acknowledging our dependence on one another, and curbing our unrealistic selfish individualism; so too, those of us who claim to be Christians, have to value and respect the Body of Christ, of which we are a part, by acknowledging our need of one another, and restraining our selfish desire for an unrealistic spiritual independence.

We need one another. Lone-ranger Christians who think they can dispense with the church are mistaken. If we have a personal relationship with Christ we are part of his Body. We are not independent of one another, we are interdependent. Professing Christians who say they don't need the church, are going against nature. Spiritual isolation breeds grotesque and unbalanced lives. Fellowship in the Body of Christ should nurture a healthy person.

In the movie, "Hear No Evil, See No Evil", Richard Pryor stars as a blind man, and Gene Wilder stars as a deaf man - chasing gangsters and escaping wrongful arrest by the police. It is an hilarious spoof showing how each must depend on the other for both are handicapped. So it is with all of us in the church. In order to get anything done, we have to rely on one another, and work together.

We need to exercise our gifts. Just as parts of the body can atrophy if we do not use them, our spiritual gifts can shrivel up if we do not fulfill our obligation to use them for the common good. We are created for a purpose - to participate in the life of the church, and not just be a spectator, or depend on the exertions of others. We are called to do our part through serving and giving in one capacity or another. "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10)

Russell Conwell was one of Philadelphia's most prominent preachers toward the end of last century and the beginning of this. He was most famous for his celebrated inspirational lecture, "Acres of Diamonds", which he gave more than 6,000 times throughout the country. He founded Temple University, hospital, and the seminary which is now Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, whose new extension campus we support in Jacksonville. He exhorted people to use their God-given gifts, all their talents, abilities, and imagination, to serve others. He denounced both the 'lazy poor' and the wealthy who accumulated riches solely for their own enjoyment. I commend his prayer to you.

I ask not for a larger garden
but for finer seeds.

I ask not for a more distant view
but for a clearer vision of the hills between.

I ask not to do more deeds
but for more effective ones.

I ask not for a longer life
but for a more efficient one for the present hour.

I want to plant more,
advertise more;
tell the story of Jesus in clearer form.
I want the world to be more wise,
and also more glad because I was used.

may some oak say, 'I grew stronger';
may some lily say, 'I grew purer';
may some fountain say, 'I threw clear water higher.'

May some good books be read;
may some good friendships be made;
may my total influence tell for righteousness,
without an unnecessary tear.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Managing Confrontational Language In The Public Square

Matt Green in his article below believes we should use Christian language in secular panel discussions and avoid terms that mislead. "Sexual Orientation" according to him does not properly describe homosexuality nor does it factor in the possiblity of God changing those who display such an orientation. Green may have a point especially in places where political correctness guts the christian message.

Its different in Singapore. The Prime Minister was questioned at a press conference by a reporter concerning homophobia (I saw it on youtube) . PM Lee replied that his government's challenge was to provide space for gays without disregarding people who consider homosexuality a sin. He used the "S" word! He was probably referrring to Muslims and Christians; both these groups teach that homosexuality is a sin. What an irony! A secular politician using religious terminology to put forward his government's case.

No Such Thing As "Sexual Orientation"

Matt Green, Editor
Ministries Today

Homosexuality poses the greatest challenge to discernment, discipline and restoration that the church has faced in the past 100 years. Why? If we don't learn how to discuss it with winsome conviction, we'll probably lose our voice on the issue altogether. Thankfully, when God brings a sin into the open, as he did with the exposure of Ted Haggard, it means He's giving the church an opportunity to deal with it.

However, before this happens, we must change our language and stop allowing popular culture to define our terminology. What do I mean? Here's just one example: In a recent CNN interview with Kyra Phillips, instead of providing incisive clarity from a biblical perspective, evangelical sociologist Tony Campolo muddied the waters. I'm not suggesting that Christians must be ready with pat, religious mumbo-jumbo for every tough question posed by the media, and I confess that I sometimes agree with Campolo's controversial views on social justice, poverty and war. But he needs to put his perspective on homosexuality back under the microscope of Scripture.

In discussing Haggard's restoration, Campolo states:
"Will he just say, 'I have a little problem on the side'? Or will he begin to face the fact that maybe I have a sexual orientation that does not offer an easy fix? And if he does turn out to be homosexual in his orientation, he's going to have to live with that orientation and figure out what this means for the rest of his life, because there's not an easy fix for that."

First, Scripture does not recognize homosexuality as an orientation, any more than it recognizes adultery, fornication, anger, drunkenness or lying as individual orientations. Instead, it prohibits specific behaviors--all of which have their root in an "orientation" that every human being was born with: sin. This orientation (or "sin nature," as theologians would put it) leads us to reach for a bottle, a gun, a syringe or someone else's spouse in our relentless defiance of God's law. Whether by nature, nurture, genetics or life choices, some of us are more inclined to certain sins, but we remain, as Paul so eloquently contends, "without excuse".

The language of "orientation" has allowed us to relinquish our responsibility for specific behaviors, to psychologize our conduct and to label each other as drunkards, abusers, adulterers, liars, homosexuals and so on, based on the sins we are most likely to commit. This system is convenient both for those who do not struggle with any of the sins that happen to be "socially-unacceptable" at the moment and for those looking for an external excuse for their sinful behavior.

Campolo is partially right: Our orientation toward sin is something we're born with and will have to deal with all our earthly lives. But the orientation and the sin itself should not be confused, lest we embrace some fatalistic version of Christian living. Campolo sounds a lot like Paul, who wrestles with this when he states, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (Romans 7:15). But if we keep reading, we see that Paul was convinced that it is possible, through the power of the Spirit, to win daily battles with the the "sin orientation" that lingers in our fallen souls. As church father Augustine summed it up, before conversion we were "unable not to sin," but when we are in Christ, He enables us not to sin--a testament to the power of the Spirit to circumvent our wiley sin nature.

Whether speaking to our congregations or the press, imagine the clarity church leaders could bring to the nebulous discussion of "sexual orientation" by letting our language reflect biblical reality and altogether avoiding the cultural labels of "gay", "lesbian", "bisexual", "transgender" and so on. The results?

It helps church leaders avoid fixating on discussion of certain sins at the expense of others and alienating people who struggle with specific sins, while leaving others off the hook.

It levels the ground at the foot of the cross, where all sinners must meet--regardless of which sin they are most vulnerable to.
It naturally redirects manipulative questions such as "Will gays go to hell?" to more substantive ones, such as "Will sinners go to hell?"

It redirects the focus of those wishing to justify their orientation for one reason or another to examining their specific behavior as offensive to God.

The increasing prevalence of homosexual behavior in our society provides an open door of opportunity for Christian leaders to reclaim the language of sin and, in so doing, bring hope to sinners and clarity to believers seeking to understand the depths of their own depravity and ongoing need for grace.