Category Archives: Current Events

WHAT NOAH TEACHES US ABOUT EASTER, AND ABOUT OURSELVES

noah_ark_01Most recently I invited Bill Watson, Criswell College’s Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Research, to Mission Dorado Baptist Church to preach our Palm Sunday service. Bill is a two time graduate of the Criswell College and is working on his PhD at the University of Texas in Dallas.

Bill preached on Noah, which wasn’t inspired by the recent movie of the same name. It was inspired by Easter, a holiday on which the church celebrates our great hope–the resurrection. His message was simple: The story of Noah teaches us that we are all really messed up and that, without the resurrection, we will always be messed up.

I imagine you’re asking, “How in the world does the Flood teach us about the resurrection?”

Bill’s take on Noah suggests that Noah is a second Adam, not to be confused with Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). As the second Adam, the story of Noah is a second story of creation. In fact, it’s astounding how much the story parallels the creation story in Genesis 1. Consider these parallels:

  • The darkness in Genesis 1:2 parallels the sure darkness from the rain clouds in Genesis 7:17.
  • The dry land appearing in Genesis 1:10 parallels the tops of the mountains becoming visible in Genesis 8:5.
  • The vegetation sprouting in Genesis 1:11 parallels the freshly picked olive leaf in the dove’s beak in Genesis 8:11.
  • God’s first command to Noah after leaving the ark parallels his first command to Adam, which is to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28; 9:1).

There is little doubt that there are striking parallels between the stories. When reviewed more intimately, the order is even the same. But the question still remains, “How does this teach us about Easter?”

In short, Bill argues that the story of Noah reveals the tragedy that Adam’s sin in Eden impacted mankind so deeply that even Noah, the sole man on earth who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” was still incapable of overcoming it (Gen 6:8). The story reveals that even when God started over with the very best among us that creation was still doomed. Consider what Noah did upon leaving the ark:

“Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Gen 9:20-21).

Like Adam, Noah ate fruit in a forbidden way and then became ashamed through nakedness. And like Adam, Noah failed to live up to God’s standards. And we should learn that, if given the same opportunity, we too would fail.

This is where the message of Easter comes in. Peter writes that the “present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire” (1 Pt 3:7a). The backdrop of this statement is Noah’s Flood, teaching that in the same way that God destroyed the ungodly in Noah’s day, so will God destroy the ungodly on the Lord’s Day.

” … kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (1 Pt 3:7b)

The only difference is that when God walks these proverbial Noahs out onto the earth, of which you and I through Jesus (our ark) are part, that we don’t have to worry about messing up in the way Adam and Noah did. We don’t have to worry about following in the footsteps of the first or second Adam. This is because we will, at this point, have followed in the footsteps of our last Adam, the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Noah teaches us that, apart from Jesus, although we may find favor in God’s eyes, without the resurrection we are doomed. Without Jesus we can’t help but follow in the footsteps of our ancestral Adams. We will always fail. But with Jesus we can not only make it through the Flood, we can succeed after it.

Bill’s sermon was phenomenal, and I encourage you to take 30 minutes to listen to it as you prepare to celebrate the resurrection this Sunday: Bill Watson’s The Story of Noah.

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HOW YOUR MARRIAGE CAN TEACH PEOPLE ABOUT EASTER

wedding-rings-setYou likely know the story: God caused a “deep sleep” to fall on Adam and then took one of his ribs and fashioned Eve out of it (Genesis 2:21-22). There is an incredible typology embedded into this event about the true message of Easter. 

The sleep in which Adam enters is well described as a metaphorical death. Adam didn’t physically die, but his “deep sleep” made it appear as if he did. It was symbolic of it. The idea, therefore, is that Eve was able, and only able, to live because Adam, in a sense, died.

His “deep sleep” foreshadows the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf.

Christ died on the cross and was pierced in his side for his bride (John 19:33-37); Adam “died” and was pierced in his side for his bride. Like Jesus, Adam gave of himself so that his bride could live. And similar to Jesus, Adam rose from his “death” to live again with his bride.

But the message doesn’t stop here. Immediately after this event Moses writes:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

The term “one flesh” has permanence. It suggests marriage is designed to last a lifetime, which is an incredibly important notion.

There is a theological concept called “the perseverance of the saints” that conveys this thought well. This doctrine teaches that “once saved, always saved.” This is to say that, once a person has been “married” to Jesus, that Jesus will never divorce him. This is because, once a person accepts Jesus, he and Jesus are like “one flesh.” And like literal flesh, it cannot be divided. In Ephesians 5:32 Paul says that this idea of “one flesh” is a “great mystery” and that he is speaking about “Christ and the church.”

This conveys how a marriage, when functioning properly, can serve as a testimony for the gospel.

So marriage represents more than a lifelong earthly relationship between a husband and a wife. It illustrates God’s everlasting relationship with the church, a relationship that nothing can divide.

Paul writes:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

Not long ago a woman in our church lost her wedding ring, which she had for more than 50 years, and was understandably devastated. She found it, but she could have easily gone down the street and purchased a new one. Losing the ring, for this woman, meant losing the testimony of her marriage. While losing it held no affect on the union of her marriage, it was important because it testified of her marriage in a way that no other ring could.

By itself, marriage is an amazing institution. But we cannot forget what it represents.

We should value the meaning of marriage as a testimony of God and his people. When a husband sacrificially loves his bride, that bride is empowered to live for her husband. And this love points upward to what Easter Sunday is all about—a sacrificial love brought about by a savior named Jesus Christ for his bride the church.

And this is a “ring” that can never be lost!

Clearly, this is why divorce so devastates. Divorce is more than a piece of paper allowing you to legally separate from your spouse. It completely destroys God’s witness. It communicates the exact opposite of God’s relationship with his church. It tells the world that there are things that can separate God’s love from his bride instead of the biblical truth that there aren’t.

God has had every reason to divorce mankind. He instead decides to unconditionally and sacrificially love us. This is well showcased after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden, when he took an innocent animal, slayed it, and used its skin to cover their shame, which, like Adam’s proverbial death, points towards Jesus—the Resurrection and the Life.

Have a wonderful Easter.

 —This article is adapted from my book “Marital Roles” (978-1481151238).

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THREE QUESTIONS I’M ASKING MYSELF AFTER WORLD VISION’S REVERSED DECISION

WorldVision-LogoIt’s been a busy week for World Vision. On Monday, March 24, they announced a new policy that would allow “gay Christians” in legal “same-sex marriages” to be employed with their organization. And on Wednesday, March 26, they announced that the policy had been reversed.

World Vision’s policy matters to a lot of people. I happen to be one of these people. First, the organization is one of the largest and most established Christian charitable organizations in the world. And second, it’s one through which I have sponsored a child for many years. Therefore, any policy change of this magnitude will undoubtedly impact my decision to either continue or discontinue my partnership with the organization.

Ultimately these events have forced me to ask three questions concerning World Vision. They are listed below, with some insights into each. My hope is that they provide some kind of aid in how we view the organization from here on out.

CAN I STILL TRUST WORLD VISION?

World Vision’s Statement of Faith includes, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” This is perhaps why the original policy change was so confounding. The word “infallible” is one of the most profound ways of affirming the Bible, and those who usually use it tend to be on the more conservative side of Christianity.

Thus, a policy change that is vehemently against the Word of God by an organization that claims it as infallible is absolutely astounding. And, in my opinion, lends reason for concern. Even after the reversal.

This morning, on my way to work, I listened to a radio program that discussed some of the behind-the-scenes events leading up to the original policy change. The hosts detailed how this was a decision that was discussed for years, and one that was prayed over constantly. In short, the leadership felt that God’s hand was in it. Richard Stearns and the Board of Directors were, according to the CT article, “overwhelmingly in favor” of the policy change.

This means that the current leadership of World Vision, in some capacity, probably does not view Scripture as “infallible,” at least in the same way a conservative Christian might, which is that it is “incapable of making mistakes or being wrong.” This is extremely important because it reveals the philosophical mindset of the organization’s leaders’ view of Scripture.

In the very least, it’s safe to say that they were willing to overlook their beliefs for the sake of cultural unity, which, one might argue, threatens the integrity of their beliefs.

God’s Word didn’t change on Tuesday, March 25. That is, the single day in between the policy change and the policy change reversal didn’t include an event in which God edited his Word. It was the same before the change, during the change, and after the change, which begs the question, “Why did World Vision renege on their original policy change?”

One can’t help but consider that it was because of pressure. According to Christianity Today, World Vision lost thousands of sponsorships after their initial announcement. Moreover, Christian bands like Casting Crowns, according to one radio broadcast, were ready to dissociate themselves from the organization if the policy change remained in tact.

These are huge hits that undoubtedly threatened the future of the organization. While it’s true that some actually enhanced their support of the organization because of the change, one cannot deny how hard it would have been on World Vision to lose platforms like a Casting Crowns concert.

Personally, I am thankful that the policy change was reversed. And I’m grateful for the brokenness expressed by Richard Stearns in doing so. But I cannot help but be concerned with what appears to be a pragmatic decision, in both of the policy changes. Pragmatism is a philosophy that stresses the practical outcome as the primary criterion of determining truth. Therefore, if World Vision acted pragmatically to reverse their decision, then it reveals a dangerous philosophical element within their leadership. If the leadership is willing to change their minds from pressure on one side, then who is to say that they won’t change it from pressure on the other side?

Our faithfulness ought to be to the Lord. And the aim of our faithfulness is discovered through his Word. World Vision claims that they view it as infallible, but it seems that they were willing to ignore that conviction in their original decision, and even perhaps in their latter conviction. Both seemed to have been made because of what people said, not because of what God said.

It is important to note that I am not suggesting that World Vision reversed their decision because of pressure. I am simply pointing out that the leadership, through this event, might have revealed some dangerous philosophical tenets that should cause us to be concerned for how they might function in the future.

For this reason alone, I would be lying if I said that my trust in World Vision hasn’t waned.

CAN I STILL ENDORSE WORLD VISION?

In short, I don’t know. This is a question that I am asking, but one that I have yet to answer. As of now, my wife and I still have a child sponsorship through World Vision. We agreed that we would forego that sponsorship after reading about the original policy change. There are plenty of organizations that offer the same opportunity without the unbiblical affirmation. Now that the policy has been reversed, I’m not sure if I should continue or discontinue my relationship with World Vision.

I do know two things, however.

First, I know that children will gratuitously suffer. As Trevin Wax writes, “Children will suffer. Needlessly.” Damage has been done, and some of it is irreparable.

Second, I know that anyone who desires to forego their relationship with World Vision is not, as one social media commentator says, “minions of Satan.” As followers of Jesus, we are accountable to God for how we handle our resources. Sponsoring a child in an unfortunate situation is a good thing. And it’s a good thing that World Vision gives us the opportunity to do that. But a policy that affirms an unbiblical lifestyle in what is considered a biblical organization says a lot about the organization’s philosophy.

I want to help children, but I also want to do so in the right way.

World Vision will have to answer to God with how they handle their business. And I will have to answer to God with how I handle mine. While I grieve that I might forego my child sponsorship with World Vision, I also know that I am liable to God with who and what I support.

My advice is to endorse child sponsorship, and to do it with an organization with which you have no qualms. That organization might be World Vision, but it also might intentionally not be World Vision. Fortunately, there are a variety of organizations out there that offer the opportunity to spiritually and physically help kids in need.

CAN I FORGIVE WORLD VISION?

Absolutely.

It is a rare thing for a professional organization, like World Vision, to essentially act so unprofessional. It reveals that even the best of us mess up. And sometimes it can be on the public stage. As Christians, we have the opportunity to respond either the right way or the wrong way. If we choose to respond the wrong way, then we are guilty of ungodly behavior, just as much as World Vision was on Monday.

I am grateful that World Vision reversed their policy change decision, even if I do have concerns as to why they did it. At the end of the day, they are a conservative Christian organization that helps people, and does so because of the love of Jesus.

Richard Stearns asked for our forgiveness. As Christians, we ought to give it. This doesn’t mean that we need to support a child through World Vision, or even continue to do so if we have been. It means that they acknowledged their mistake and asked for forgiveness, and now we have the option of giving it.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that our resources go to organizations that advance the true and unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the vision Jesus had for the world, and the vision that we, as followers of Jesus, ought to have as well.

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SON OF GOD MOVIE: A REVIEWED PREVIEW

Son of God movieThe movie Son of God arrives in theaters this Friday. And, like any Christian movie, it’s caught the church’s gaze. The major question surrounding this movie is, “Is it accurate?” That is, does it accurately portray the Jesus found in the scriptures.

As far as I can tell, the movie is an expansion of the television series, The Bible, a series I happened to watch. It’s also a series I happened to review. Since the movie is essentially an expansion of the television series, I imagine that a review of Part Four of The Bible (the part that concerns Jesus) might provide insight into answering the question as to if Son of God accurately portrays the Son of God.

Thus, here is my reviewed preview of the Son of God movie, based on the Son of God in The Bible television series, as compared to the Bible:

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“Change the world,” a caucasian Jesus answers, in a slightly British accent.

This is how Part Three of The History Channel’s The Bible ends. But The History Channel seems to have a different perception of what “changing the world” means than Jesus. This is revealed not by what is included in Part Four of the series, but in what is left out. And what’s worse, The Bible did not leave important scenes from the Bible out; it left important moments out of the important scenes, essentially reformatting the original context of the events.

Leaving key moments out of Jesus’ life would have been bad, but including the key moments and ignoring their crucial elements might be worse.

Consider these two portrayals from Part Four of The Bible.

THE LAST SUPPER AND JESUS AS THE ONLY WAY

In The Bible’s Last Supper scene, Jesus shares with the disciples that this will be his final meal with them. Naturally, this births fear and sorrow for a group of men who have grown very close to their Messiah.

Jesus quotes John 14:1-6, telling his disciples, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in God, trust in me also. You know the way to where I am going.”

“We don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?” a balding Thomas declares.

Jesus replies, “I am the way. The truth. And the life.”

And then he stops.

But there is a very important line missing from Jesus’ monologue in The Bible included in the actual Bible. This line is, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

Of the various verses in scripture that reveal that Jesus is the only way to the Father, this one is arguably the clearest. Therefore, if a producer of a series on the Bible wants to accurately depict Jesus’ mission to “change the world,” including a scene dialoguing John 14:1-6 is a great way to start, but leaving out the final portion of the passage leaves the biblically immature audience they are supposedly targeting, well, biblically immature.

Jesus is not just the “way, truth, and life,” but the “only way, truth, and life.”

THE LAST SUPPER AND THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

In the same Last Supper scene, Jesus takes the bread and says, “This is my body.” He then takes a cup after pouring wine into it and says, “This is my blood.” He closes by saying, “Remember me by doing this.” These are all included in the Last Supper accounts detailed in the scriptures, but The Bible leaves out another line that reveals how Jesus “changed the world.” This line is, “which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).

There is an old adage that captures why this line is important:

Jesus didn’t come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

To give The Bible the benefit of the doubt, there is a scene depicted from Matthew 9:1-8 in the early portion of Part Four where Jesus heals a paralytic. Jesus met both the physical and spiritual needs of the man, telling him both “Get up and walk” and “Your sins are forgiven.”

The reason the inclusion of the line is important in the Last Supper, however, is because it is directly connected to his death. Jesus didn’t come just to cure the physical ailments that plague mankind; he came to cure the spiritual ailment that plagues mankind. This ailment is sin and the penalty is death. Therefore, forgiveness of sins cannot come without death, the very thing Jesus references at the Last Supper.

While The Bible reveals that Jesus dies, it doesn’t necessarily reveal why Jesus dies.

This is the meaning behind Paul’s statement that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Jesus didn’t die to inspire bad people to be good, make lame men walk, and put people’s ears back on. He died to make dead people live.

This is clear in the Bible, but not in The Bible.

This is why his body was broken and his blood was shed. Jesus is our substitutionary atonement for the wages that we had earned through our sins. He paid it in our steads, and in so doing he “changed the world” (but probably with more of a Hebrew dialect).

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Finally, I want to add that I find myself a little concerned with Hollywood’s recent fascination with Christianity (some upcoming movies include: Noah, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real, etc.; and this is not to say that even these are all biblically accurate). I would like to applaud the attempt at what I would hope are biblical and wholesome movies, but I’m afraid that the Bible might serve as a mere catalyst to make money and that, in the long run, Christianity might be more harmed than helped in the process. Time will tell, to be sure.

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A SOUTHERN BAPTIST PASTOR INTERVIEWS A HOMOSEXUAL

imagesIt was in sixth grade that I met Matt. He had moved to my hometown of Mabank, Texas from Colorado Springs. We met in band and became friends. We weren’t the best of friends, but we were more than acquaintances. Although we now live on opposite sides of the nation, through the magic of social networking we have been able to keep in touch. We regularly dialogue through both public and private channels about the cultural mood concerning homosexuality.

Matt is a homosexual, which, because of my Christian faith, is a lifestyle with which I vehemently disagree. And Matt knows this. Matt knows that I don’t agree with him and I know that Matt doesn’t agree with me. But we choose to share our opinions openly and respectfully, which is the intent of this blog.

I recently asked Matt if he would be alright if I interviewed him about his lifestyle. Matt was kind enough to oblige. The motivation behind this is inspired by comments I often read from Christians against homosexuality. Unfortunately, many Christians handle the situation poorly. While it’s okay to be outspoken against it, (and I believe Christians should be free to share their biblical convictions), it’s not okay for that outspokenness to present itself in hatred. Paul writes, “If I speak … but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

Needless to say, there is a lot of gratuitously loud noise on today’s social networks.

The following is the interview I conducted with Matt. I typed out the questions and sent them to him. Some of the information is also from follow up conversations. Each question includes Matt’s answer and some include my response, if it calls for it. You will notice that these are in blue.

I hope that anyone who has an opinion about homosexuality sees the respect that Matt and I have for one another in our disagreements, and that that respect is contagious as we continue to debate the issue in the public square.

PERSONAL QUESTIONS

When did you first think that you were gay?

I began to suspect something was different about myself probably in eighth grade. I remember always wondering why the guys around me seemed so interested in pursuing girls.

Are you currently in a homosexual relationship?

Yes I am. I have been seeing the same guy since I was twenty two years old. We met in college and have been together ever since. He even followed me across the country to a new job. Both of our families have met and actually rather like each other. I was really surprised by that. My Dad is someone I would charitably describe as a “Tea Party Republication”, but he has honestly shocked me with his acceptance of who I am and even the guy I am with.

What kind of social pressures did you experience in “coming out?”

My coming out was kind of an accident. I was twenty and in college and, I won’t bore you with the details, but my parents figured it out and initially we didn’t talk for 3 months. When we did start talking again, it was mostly my mom and I. My dad and I had a very strained relationship the first few years, but now everything is more or less the way I would imagine a regular person’s relationship with their parents is. I can’t honestly say, but I would like to believe that I am glad it happened the way it did, because I am not sure when I would have built up the courage to talk to them about it. Probably not until well into my twenties.

POLITICAL QUESTIONS

What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?

This sounds so cliché, but my thoughts on same-sex marriage have greatly evolved since I first started hearing about it back in the mid-2000s. At first, I was staunchly against it, and I think a large part of that had to do with my upbringing in the church. I wasn’t, and nor am I now, against people receiving the same benefits and entitlements that marriage brings to everyone. But I was against the idea of calling it “marriage” because I felt that was reserved fully for straight people and the church. But that was back then, and this is now. I am not what you would call an activist for same-sex marriage, but I do believe now that if gay people want to get married, then they should be able too. Again, I can’t stress this enough, I really just believe that everyone should have access to the benefits that marriage provides, not the name or the title. I am sure my fellow gays won’t like hearing that, but it’s just the way I feel about the issue.

Author’s Note: Many of my thoughts concerning this question can be found in this blog: The Meaning of Equality.

Would you say that today’s homosexual movement is on par with the 1960′s civil rights movement?

Yes, most particularly with the Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967), which invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Today, we draw inspiration from that time period, to fight for what we believe should be afforded to us to be treated as equals in the eyes of the law. People today think it’s crazy that blacks and whites couldn’t get married up until forty-odd years ago, but during that time period it was a punishable offense with jail time involved.

Author’s Note: I believe that by the time I am a grandparent that it will be unbelievable that homosexuals could not marry one another, and that by the time my kids are parents that people will be amazed that marijuana was at one time considered an illegal drug, and that by the time they are grandparents that people will be amazed that polygamy was once outlawed.

What would you say to someone who argues for things like bigamy, polygamy, and incestry in marriage (as an expansion of same-sex marriage)?

I think bigamy already occurs today and has been occurring for a long time. Certainly not on any level with large amounts of numbers or data to back it up. But you always hear the story about the man with another family in the next town over.

The problem with polygamy is that it almost always means one man with multiple wives. And when that happens you take away a wife from some other man. So in a polygamous society, you would have all these young, unmarried men who are unhappy with no wives. Same-sex marriage changes none of that, it leads us as a society away from that. Gay people just want the ability to marry someone instead of no one.

Incest is something that is just wrong on so many levels as it is, it’s not even really worth arguing over.

Author’s Note: I can see what Matt is saying in this, but I find it to be pragmatic. And I think pragmatism is a poor way to make decisions, although we all make decisions based on this philosophy everyday!

For example, would polygamy then be okay if we can manufacture a society where there are no unhappy unmarried men? What if the ratio of women to men was such that every man could easily have ten wives?

The point is that the issue runs deeper than mathematics.

Do you believe that there would be any psychological affects to a child reared in a home with same-sex parents (not having the traditional male and female examples)?

I don’t think there are any major drawbacks to a child being raised in a home by two same-sex parents as opposed to a traditional family set. In this modern age, children are raised by single dads, single moms, aunts, uncles and extended family. I think as long as all parties involved really love the child, then it will turn out alright.

Author’s Note: I believe that one of the biggest problems of our day is that a large amount of children are raised in homes without a stable mother and father. I have the opportunity to counsel many individuals and I can, nearly 100% of the time, trace the issue back to the lack of a father in the home.

RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS

Do you adhere to any faith religion?

I grew up Methodist, but just sort of stopped going once I graduated high school. I think even in high school I wasn’t really into church anymore, but it was definitely the place where all my friends went and it was a good place to socialize. I do believe that something or someone exists and had something to do with where we are in the universe today. I would say that I loosely identify myself as a Christian, but more like an agnostic one.

Author’s Note: I would say that it’s oxymoronic to be an “agnostic Christian,” although I can say that I know where Matt is coming from. His upbringing leads him to hold beliefs that are rooted in Christianity, but what he believes is not best described as Christianity. He has become agnostic, which means that he doesn’t really know what he believes, although he is still affected by what he learned during his time in the church.

What do you believe the Bible says about homosexuality?

I am not a connoisseur of the Bible, so all I can really say is that I know it’s mentioned a few times, but never directly by Jesus. I did, however, find this awesome article on the Huffington Post website which sums it up much more eloquently then I can: What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality?

Author’s Note: The author of this article begins by suggesting that homosexuality is not as big of an issue as modern day Christians make it, because it is addressed relatively little in comparison to other issues in Scripture. But this is like saying that prostate cancer isn’t as big of a deal as breast cancer because it doesn’t have as big of an awareness month, one that prompts NFL players to wear hot pink highlighted uniforms and people to wear faddy bracelets.

The fact is that it is discussed in Scripture, (homosexuality that is), which makes it important. And when it is discussed, it is identified as sinful. The reason it isn’t discussed more is, arguably, because of the culture in which the Bible was written, specifically the New Testament Gospels. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that homosexuality wasn’t as big of an issue in ancient Jerusalem, the holiest place in the world at that time and the place that Jesus performed most of his ministry and made most of his claims, as it is today. Rape isn’t densely refuted by Jesus either, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong.

Thus the statement, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so it must be okay” is a weak and misguided argument.

It is also important to know that Jesus essentially did talk about homosexuality. The Bible describes him as the “Word of God made flesh” (John 1:14), and so anything that is included in Scripture is verified by Jesus. He was the living embodiment of every word of every claim of the Bible. And so if the Bible speaks against homosexuality even once, then Jesus essentially, by virtue of his nature, talked about it.

As for the rest of his article, he seems to argue from ignorance. That is, his argument is, “I’ve personally polled some scholars and commentaries and some of them say that we can’t really know the context of these passages that include language forbidding homosexuality. So, we shouldn’t forbid it without knowing the cultural implications of the day.”

This is a poor reason to refute something out of hand. He is taking shaky evidence and making what he believes is an irrefutable claim. That’s poor debate etiquette. 

Do you believe that people are born gay (is it a choice or a predisposition)?

This is honestly a tough question for me to answer. I think everyone is born with certain traits amplified and/or dampened down due to conditions in the womb/external environment, so I can’t say for certain that it’s a predisposition. At the same time, I am fairly confident in saying that it’s not a choice either. I guess I would need to see more research on the matter before I committed to saying it’s a predisposition.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin (1 Cor 6:9), and therefore those that believe Scripture are simply trusting what it says. With that said, Scripture also says that sin is a “predisposition” (Rom 5). It’s something every person is born with. And as a predisposition, everybody has a “decision” to either act on it or not. Some act on it by lying. Others act on it by stealing. And some act on it by planting a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s a predisposition to which every person is subjected. Thus, since Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin, (and since it speaks of sin as a predisposition), it is not unreasonable to say that homosexuality is the fruit of a decision rooted in a predisposed, sinful nature.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s okay. We would never, for example, suggest that rape is okay. No one could reasonably say, “Aw, leave that guy assaulting that woman alone. Stop trying to rewire his predisposition with your personal preferences. He can’t help himself.” This isn’t to say that homosexuality is on par with rape, only that a sin is a sin, and the tiniest sin is enough to separate man from God.

Do you think, from what you know about Christianity, that a person can be a Christian and live an openly homosexual lifestyle?

I think it is possible for someone to be Christian and a homosexual at the same time, yes. God created everyone the way they are for a reason, and whatever that reason is, only God knows. It’s impossible for me to say it’s a sin, because so many things that we do today are. Our culture and society is vastly different than the one that is written and talked about in the Bible. I think someone’s relationship with God, is just that. Their relationship. It isn’t up to you or I to pass judgement on the way they reach out to God.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): It is interesting that someone would desire to remain associated to Christianity if he also desires to refute some of its basic claims. I say this not against Matt, but to many celebrities, such as Macklemore, who attempt to do so.

There is an old illustration that describes this well. The illustration details a repair man replacing the parts of his boat. After purchasing the boat he begins to replace its every component. He switches out the motor, the hull, the deck, and the seats. Before long, there is no original element left of the boat.

Is it the same boat?

No.

Likewise, when one switches out all of the original components to Christianity, as determined by God primarily through the Bible, it is no longer Christianity.

Is there anything else that you would like to say or add that wasn’t included in this interview?

I just want to say that there will never be a time, no matter what happens, that I would actively hate someone for the beliefs they hold, or the religion that they practice. We are all immensely more complicated than these few social issues that bring out the worst in some people.

I will always be willing to rationally discuss and debate anything with someone as long as I am afforded the same courtesy. Which is why I like you so much Jared!  You are one of the few people I am still friends with where we don’t get into some heated screaming match over who’s right and who’s wrong.

Author’s Note: I believe that Matt is on to something here, and that even those that disagree with his lifestyle can learn from it. Christians should never actively hate people because they disagree with them. This is both counterproductive and unchristian. Jesus never hated those that disagreed with him. In fact, while hanging on the cross, he prayed for them. We may believe that they are separated from God, but hating them doesn’t advance the gospel. Our job is to share the truth, to share it in love, and to hope that God uses our efforts to save them and lead them to eternal life in Christ.

Final Note: I usually put the phrase “same sex marriage” in quotations, because I believe the term to be oxymoronic. That is, I believe it is on par with saying, “squared circle.” In this interview the term shows up from time to time without the quotations because it is included in Matt’s answers, and he doesn’t view it that way.

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THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN: A REVIEW

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsThere’s a moment in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when the Roman nobleman, Cassius, says to another nobleman, Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The context of Cassius’ statement is that his and Brutus’ unjust destinies are not the result of anything supernatural (something “in the stars”), but of their own poor choices.

This is a statement that has held its place in culture, but author John Green’s latest book seeks to dismantle this philosophy.

Green  himself, in response to a reader’s question, writes,

“. . . that’s ridiculous. There is plenty of fault in our stars. Many people suffer needlessly not because they’ve done something wrong or because they’re evil or whatever but because they get unlucky. I wanted to try to write a novel about how we navigate a world that isn’t fair, and whether it’s possible to have a full and meaningful life even if you don’t get to play out your life on a grand stage the way Cassius and Brutus did” (The Fault in Our Stars: Collector’s Edition, 4).

THE PLOT

The Fault in Our Stars is a book starring Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16 year old cancer survivor whose physical life has been left in shambles from her battle. Her lungs, as Hazel herself describes, “suck” and she is subjected to toting oxygen around wherever she goes. To say that she lives an abnormal teenage life would be a grand understatement.

The novel takes off when Hazel attends a support group and meets another cancer survivor named Augustus Waters, a quick-witted, humorously-cynical 17 year old boy who quickly falls in love with her. The two embark on a philosophical journey together as they share their deepest emotions concerning the unjust landscape of their lives.

POSITIVE ELEMENTS

Augustus Waters is arguably one of the most lovable characters in modern day fiction. I recently told my wife that “I wish he were real, because I would love to know him.” He is the rare personality that brightens up life because he sees it from a unique angle. Some of the more humorous portions of the novel exist when Augustus sacrifices his video game avatar to save nonexistent, pixelated innocents. In so doing, his character naturally dies and he himself loses the game. But this is how Augustus plays the game, because it’s how Augustus plays life. He is obsessed with the concept of dying an honorable, meaningful death, and has a difficult time reconciling how that is possible when one dies of cancer.

It is Augustus that helps bring life to the dying protagonist, Hazel Grace. The friendship and relationship they foster is certainly a positive element to the story and although they both live on the diving board of death, together they are capable of standing firm on that slippery, flimsy board.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT

Much of The Fault in Our Stars is spiritual. A quick Google search will reveal that John Green considers himself a Christian, although he allegedly doesn’t like boxing himself in with this title. The support group takes place in a church, God is often alluded to, and Bible verses even appear here and there, albeit out of context.

To say that the book paints an accurate picture of biblical Christianity, however, would be far-fetched. In fact, I would go as far as to say that God is often recreated and mocked. Augustus and Hazel would be what I consider nominal Christians. They seem to understand the basic concepts, like most Americans would, but they certainly don’t live by godly standards. It is assumed that everyone goes to heaven and that those that die of cancer might even have a special place there, although, to be fair, the protagonists seem to deny this claim.

The novel’s title, in and of itself, suggests that there is fault with God’s sovereignty in creation, and that mankind isn’t responsible, or at least as responsible, as Shakespeare’s Cassius alleged. Spiritually speaking, this is simply not the case. The fault is not in God (“the stars”), but a result of the Fall of Genesis 3. This is arguably my largest contention with the novel. Green assumes that all people are good and that things like cancer are unfair additions to life. While I would agree that cancer, and other evils like it, are horrible and devastating occurrences, we cannot ignore that such things are the inevitable result of mankind’s decision to disobey God. Thus, Cassius was right. The fault is in ourselves.

There are other claims about God in the novel, one being a fictional father in a fictional novel that the fictional author, Peter Van Houten, claims represents God (which isn’t in good taste). But one of the more revealing aspects of Green’s spiritual claims might be in an answer he gives to a reader in the Collector’s Edition of his novel. Green writes that “books belong to their readers,” which, contextually speaking, was Green’s way of saying that readers have the freedom to interpret elements of the story to their own desires. If this is a block of Green’s foundation to his worldview, then it might explain how he interprets the Bible, which consequently affects much of what he believes it means to be a Christian, which affects his view of “the stars.”

SEXUAL CONTENT

There is essentially one major sexual episode when Augustus and Hazel engage in premarital sex during their trip to Amsterdam. There are other episodes of various characters, including Augustus and Hazel, kissing.

VIOLENT CONTENT

The book is inherently violent insofar as it is about kids with cancer, and Green pulls no punches in relating the facts about what a kid might go through when dealing with such a disease. In preparing for this book, Green spent time serving as a chaplain at a hospital with terminally ill children and wanted to convey the painful reality of death, not the graceful death often painted in other novels.

CRUDE LANGUAGE

The novel includes various uses of “s–t” and “d–m.”

DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT

No drug content, but the characters, underage, do partake of champagne. To my recollection there are no scenes where the characters get drunk. Augustus often has a cigarette in his mouth, but he  never lights it. It is a metaphor that he is in control of his life and that this tool of death has no power over him.

OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS

The most negative elements of this novel rest in the influence it will undoubtedly bring to its young readers. Because it is such an engaging read and because the characters are so lovable, I can see many students learning from much of the fictional elements involved, treating them as truth. There are false concepts of mathematics (specifically claims on the philosophical understanding of infinity) and medicine, as well as misguided claims of biblical Christianity. There are also logically fallible philosophical claims that have little, if any, warrant. Green opens the book in writing, “This book is a work of fiction. I made it up,” but this does little to clarify what is real and what is not real in its claims.

CONCLUSION

The Fault in Our Stars is a very enjoyable read. It’s hard to put down and it can be read quickly. I would not personally recommend it to any person younger than 16, and even with that (given my Christian faith), I would be cautious. It makes a variety of philosophical claims about life and can serve as a tool for philosophical discussions concerning gratuitous evils, which are conversations parents should have with their children. But it is my conviction that these conversations should be rooted and cultivated by Scripture, not fiction. Although, fiction is a fun way to add to the conversation after a firm foundation has been built in God’s Word.

I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

MACKLEMORE AND THE TOP THREE REASONS TO SUPPORT HOMOSEXUALITY

1-macklemoregayThis is a rendition of a blog originally posted in July of 2013.

Last night on the Grammys, Macklemore sang his culturally beloved song, “Same Love.” This song is essentially written as a mantra against those who oppose homosexuality, specifically as it relates to “same-sex marriage.” It’s also become somewhat of a mascot song for those that support homosexuality. Macklemore, according to his own lyrics, isn’t gay, but he is put out with those who oppose it.

The song includes three verses that make bold proclamations concerning homosexuality, summarizing three of the most common reasons to support it. Each is listed below with a few insights into each, suggesting how they are misguided.

1. HOMOSEXUALITY CAN’T BE CURED, ESPECIALLY BY RELIGION

The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision,
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing God, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago

Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin (1 Cor 6:9), and therefore those that believe Scripture are simply trusting what it says. With that said, Scripture also says that sin is, and Macklemore agrees, a “predisposition” (Rom 5). It’s something every person is born with. And as a predisposition, everybody has a “decision” to either act on it or not. Some act on it by lying. Others act on it by stealing. And some act on it by planting a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s a predisposition to which every person is subjected. Thus, since Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin, (and since it speaks of sin as a predisposition), it is not unreasonable to say that homosexuality is the fruit of a decision rooted in a predisposed, sinful nature.

But this, contrary to Macklemore’s rap, doesn’t mean that it’s okay. We would never, for example, suggest that rape is okay. No one could reasonably say, “Aw, leave that guy assaulting that woman alone. Stop trying to rewire his predisposition with your personal preferences. He can’t help himself.”

Macklemore is perhaps correct in suggesting that “right wing conservatives think . . . it can be cured with religion,” but right wing conservatives who think this way are wrong. Sin cannot be cured by religion. Sin can only be cured by Jesus. And while the organized worship of Jesus is in fact “religion,” it’s not organized worship that cures sin. The Bible certainly doesn’t speak of “religion” as “rewiring” our sinful natures. It speaks of Jesus as making us a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). There is a big difference. We aren’t even the same machine after he gets ahold of us and we therefore can’t be “rewired.” The old “wires” aren’t even there anymore.

But God “loves all his children,” right? That’s what the Bible says, is it not? Actually, no. It says quite the opposite. While God indeed loves people, all people are not his “children.” Only those that claim Jesus as Lord–and believe everything that comes along with this claim–are considered his “adopted children.” The Bible records Jesus, God’s Son, telling a group of unsaved individuals that their “father” is “the devil” (John 8:44).

In other words, God is not their father and they are not his children.

2. SOCIALLY, “GAY IS THE NEW BLACK”

It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins
It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!
Live on and be yourself

Here, Macklemore essentially says that “gay is the new black,” meaning, that those who oppose homosexual behavior are on par with those who opposed the abolition of slavery. But I don’t see signs in restaurant bathrooms and over water fountains for “homosexuals” and “straights.” I don’t see schools for “homosexuals” and schools for “straights.” I don’t see straight people forcing homosexuals to sit in the back of the bus. In fact, I see quite the opposite.

Ryan Anderson for example, a proponent for traditional marriage, was interviewed (or attacked) on Piers Morgan’s show for his beliefs. Piers and Suze Orman (a lesbian) both sat at the central table whereas Mr. Anderson had to sit with the audience. No doubt this was because of his stance on “same-sex marriage.”

Christians, at least those with the right state of mind, aren’t telling homosexuals that they have to sit at the back of the bus. They are standing up for biblical rights as dictated by Scripture.

Macklemore suggests that everybody deserves human rights, to which a Christian should agree. Everybody deserves basic human “rights.” But Macklemore, along with countless other “left wing liberals” (to parallel his title), misunderstand what a human “right” is. Marriage, for example, isn’t a human “right” so much as it is a God ordained institution (Gen 2) to which one can be privy if he abides by God’s standards. And God defines marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.

To make it anything else is to alter the very meaning of the word, forcing it to become something entirely different. We might as well call walking, running, say that 2+2=5, or remove other standards like the unlawfulness of incest or polygamy.

Redefining marriage is to take a God-designed institution and manipulate it into something that we want it to be. It’s telling God that we don’t want him, but we do want his ideas so that we can manipulate them into things that fit our personal preferences. We are throwing out the baby and the bath water, filling the tub up with something else, then calling it the same thing.

3. ANYONE WHO OPPOSES HOMOSEXUAL LOVE IS A HATE MONGER

When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned

The most curious element to Macklemore’s song is its citation of the Christian faith. It is baffling that someone would associate himself with Christianity, as Macklemore does, if that person denies all of its claims.

There is an old illustration that describes this well. The illustration details a repair man replacing the parts of his boat. After purchasing the boat he begins to replace its every component. He switches out the motor, the hull, the deck, and the seats. Before long, there is no original element left of the boat.

Is it the same boat?

No.

Likewise, when one switches out all of the original components to Christianity, as determined by God primarily through the Bible, it is no longer Christianity. And Macklemore’s statements that the Bible is merely a “book written thirty-five hundred years ago” hints to his feelings that his contemporary thoughts override its ageless truths.

The context of Macklemore’s rap suggests that anything that might hurt someone’s feelings is considered “hate,” and this is not “anointed.” But what if we turned around the line? What if a “right wing conservative” suggested that it was hateful to force one’s homosexual agenda upon him? Why can it only be a one-way street? Would this not be the homosexuals employing the “hate that caused war” onto us? Isn’t that what Piers and Suze did to Ryan during their interview?

But what if the initial “haters” weren’t “hating” at all? What if there was a good explanation for why they believed the way they did about homosexuality?

One of the clearest passages in Scripture describing homosexuality as a deadly sin is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Paul writes, “Do not be deceived; homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a way of saying that homosexuality is contradictory to God’s standards and that it is evidence of a life that has not been redeemed by Jesus. The result is no inheritance of God’s kingdom, or no eternal life in what most call “Heaven.” Thus, if you claim any association with the God of the Holy Scriptures then you must abide by this standard, otherwise you are building a new boat.

This is an important verse because it reveals the devastating reality of the sin of homosexuality. I don’t oppose homosexuality because I am a stubborn-minded bigot who is simply regurgitating my environmental conditioning. I oppose homosexuality because God opposes homosexuality. I also oppose it because, according to Scripture, it is a lifestyle that reveals that one has not been redeemed by Jesus, and this lack of redemption will ultimately result in an eternity separated from God. And I don’t wish that upon anyone.

Now, if I may, a rap of my own:

Jesus is the best and I’ll tell you why
He came to earth to live and then to die
For you and me because we were lost
God sent his only son to die on the cross*

*Stolen from a VBS rhyme from when I was like seven.

Further Reading:
What Macklemore Got Wrong … And Right by Denny Burk

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THE TOP THREE REASONS TO HAVE AN ABORTION

babyI should probably add to the title: “And Why They Are Unwarranted.”

Some weeks ago “#praytoendabortion” became a trend on Twitter. And, to the astonishment of many, the trend lasted for a few days. These astonished individuals, considering the trend unwarranted, tweeted such statements as,

“#PrayToEndAbortion is such an ignorant trend. Women deserve the right to their own bodies and to decide what happens to their bodies.”

and,

“#PraytoEndAbortion is trending. *expletive* It’s up to every women to do what she wants to her body. Period.”

and,

“Yes, let’s all #PrayToEndAbortion. Not ending rape or sexual assault, but let’s worry about eliminating a woman’s right to choose. #prochoice.”

After evaluating the discussion, I’ve narrowed down the most common statements from today’s outspoken tweeters into three responses. I’ve also included some insights into each response.

1. A WOMAN HAS THE RIGHT TO DO WHAT SHE WANTS WITH HER OWN BODY

One of the most common phrases I hear about abortion, particularly those who have participated in it, is, “I had an abortion.” In fact, one girl actually told me on twitter that she “had an abortion two weeks ago.” I’m not sure I like this phrase. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t like this phrase at all, not only because of what it means, but also because of what the phrase itself implies.

The phrase “I had an abortion” likens the event of abortion to getting an unwanted mole removed. A person who goes to the doctor to get a pesky mole removed from his face might be found saying, “I had a mole removed,” and would be justified in saying so. The idea is that the mole was an unwanted part of the body. It served no purpose. It was probably ugly. It might have even been cancerous. Regardless the reason, the phrase, “I had a mole removed,” is a warranted statement to detail the experience.

The same is not, and cannot be, true regarding abortion.

When a pro-life individual endorses the phrase, “She had an abortion,” that individual is essentially conceding to the pro-choice philosophy that an abortion is like having a mole removed. The statement fails to convey that a person was murdered during the process. It softens the experience to be more palatable, when the unbridled fact is that something absolutely devastating happened. The woman didn’t “have an abortion.” She didn’t remove an unwanted part of her body. She sacrificed one body to spare the inevitable effects to her own.

She committed an abortion.

A woman’s body is the only thing in this world that is capable of cultivating human life. And that’s special. With all of the advancements in science, scientists still can’t produce an artificial womb. This fact alone reveals that pregnancy is designed to be a beautiful gift, not a wretched curse. And although a woman may have the right to do what she wants with her own body, and although a woman’s body is inevitably effected by a pregnancy, her body isn’t the only one at stake, regardless of the age of the unborn child.

2. WHAT IF THE CHILD IS CONCEIVED THROUGH RAPE?

Of the various responses I hear, this one is perhaps the most unfounded, (if there is any foundation to these responses at all). This is because this response implies that a child conceived out of unfortunate circumstances is somehow less valuable than a child conceived out of fortunate circumstances.

The response implies that an unborn child might be a person, but that the person is less valuable, and justifiably murderable, because of how he was conceived.

Make no mistake about it, rape is a horrible thing. There is nothing that can be said that could justify a person forcing another person to have sex. And because sex is the way people are conceived, sometimes the act results in a pregnancy. And, unfortunately, rape, being a sexual encounter, can also result in a pregnancy. And conception through rape is always an “unwanted pregnancy.”

But even this doesn’t justify taking the life of the child. The unborn child is innocent of how he was conceived and should not suffer because of it.

When #PrayToEndAbortion was trending, I happened to get into a few discussions concerning the topic. One individual asked me, “What if it was your daughter who was raped?” The question was an intimate one, for I am currently expecting my first child, a daughter. My response was as follows: “Life is life, regardless of the unfortunate circumstance of conception.”

While I don’t have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body, and while rape is a devastating event, the fact is that such an act still doesn’t justify the murder of an innocent child.

It just doesn’t.

We should not be in the business of determining which life is more valuable than another based on circumstances outside our control. When we do, we follow in the footsteps of people like Adolf Hitler, who desired to dismantle an entire ethnicity because they did not meet his standard of life.

3. A FETUS IS NOT A PERSON

This is perhaps the most popular response for a pro-choice argument. And it is assuredly one of the most fundamental questions concerning abortion. If a person becomes a person at conception, then abortion is murder. If a person doesn’t become a person until birth, then abortion is not murder.

What is the answer?

I want to provide my insights in two ways. First, I want to address a picture I saw during the Twitter trend that one individual posted with a statement likened to, “I’m solving the issue with this single picture!” Here is the picture:

abortion-rights-choice

As seen, whoever designed this picture suggests that since an egg yolk is not a chicken, and since an acorn is not a tree, and since silk is not a dress, that a sperm-impregnated egg is not a person.

There are significant fallacies with this picture. For brevity’s sake I’ll focus on one.

Chickens can lay eggs without the egg actually being fertilized by a rooster. So the author is correct in that the egg yolk isn’t a chicken, much like a woman’s unfertilized egg is not a person. If the egg was fertilized, then it would be a chicken, albeit in an early stage.

He is right in his statement, but wrong in his conclusion.

The idea is that there is an obvious difference between a fertilized and unfertilized egg. One is a chicken and the other is breakfast, respectively. This picture actually helps disprove that which it is trying to prove, than the other way around.

Second, I would be remiss to ignore that my stance on abortion is drawn from my faith in Jesus. Quite simply, God’s Word declares that children are a gift of the Lord and that God actually knits a person while he is in his mother’s womb. For this reason alone a “fetus” is a person from conception.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward (Ps 127:3, NASB).

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb (Ps 139:13, NASB).

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you (Jer 1:5, NASB).

WHO AM I, AS A MAN, TO WRITE SUCH AN ARTICLE?

Who am I, as a man, to argue with an abortion-minded woman against her desire to terminate a pregnancy affecting her body?

I’m an individual who cares about life, especially innocent life.

If the unsafest place for a person is inside his mother’s womb, and if we are okay with that, then we live in a culture that knowingly embraces the Holocaust 2.0.

I’m not a man telling a woman what she can or can’t do with her body. I’m a man affirming the right to life. This is something that Jesus came to give everyone, and to give it abundantly.

“The thief comes only to … kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

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LOUD NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT

candle_lighting_serviceIt’s Christmas Eve.

You’ve finished your Christmas shopping. Your tree is standing tall, fully decorated. Lights are meticulously adorning the edges of your roof. The gifts are wrapped and placed under the tree. The stockings are hung by the fireplace with care.

You’ve even completed your holiday charity work, participating in Operation Christmas Child, serving at a community feeding, and donating to a special Christmas mission.

There is just one more thing left, and it’s something you look forward to every Christmas: the annual candlelight Christmas service.

The candlelight service often marks the church’s final Christmas event of the year. And for the most part, every candlelight service is the same. It takes place in the evening, usually on Christmas Eve. Christmas songs are sung. A Christmas message is preached. The lights go down, the candles flicker on, and like an angelic choir the church harmoniously begins to sing,

Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright…

It’s a beautiful scene.

Is it, however, a scene that captures the nature of what took place on the night of Jesus’ birth? Was it really a “silent” night? And was everything really “calm”?

In describing the birth of Jesus, the Gospel of Luke details three groups that reveal that the night may not have been as silent and as calm as our beloved song proclaims. Instead, Luke reveals that it might have been a night full of joyful exclamation and overwhelming excitement.

Consider these three pictures:

A HEAVENLY HOST

In Luke 2:14, a host of angels appear to some shepherds, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’”

This suggests that even the heavenly beings could not keep silent about the birth of Jesus. The shepherds immediately went to Bethlehem to both see Jesus and tell others how they learned about Him.

AN EARTHLY HOST

Luke 2:18 says that all who heard what the shepherds told them “wondered.”

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that this wondering was not “silent,” but instead noisy. This is contextually possible if the “but” at the beginning of verse 19 is taken as “on the contrary.”  Mary, unlike the others, treasured the shepherds’ words, “pondering them in her heart.” The rest perhaps discussed the matter openly.

A SHEPHERDLY HOST

Luke 2:20 says that when the shepherds went back to their fields, that they “glorified” and “praised” God for all that they had heard and seen.  This doesn’t sound like it was silent at all!

In fact, it sounds like it was a pretty rambunctious evening.

I concede that a candlelight service revolving around the idea of rowdy chaos, concluding with the words, “Loud night, holy night” might not be as attractive as its traditional counterpart, but such lyrics might portray the events of Jesus’ birth more accurately. And this isn’t to say that the song, Silent Night, is a bad song. It surely consists of wonderful affirmations. It is to say only that it’s wise to consider the totality of what took place on the night our Savior was born, which is this: The birth of Jesus is something to be joyfully loud about!

This Christmas let’s remember that the birth of Jesus is a glorious event that deserves to be  celebrated and vocalized, especially in a culture that wants to keep it “silent.”

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WHY IT’S OKAY TO SAY “NO” TO LOCAL CHARITIES

Charity“Would you like to donate two dollars to the local Rehab Center?”
“Can I add a children’s book to your order to be donated to the hospital?”
“Would you be interested in donating a dollar to the animal shelter?”

These are but a few of the holiday donation requests I have received over the past couple of weeks. Whether I am buying a sandwich, a book, or a toy for my pet, I find myself showered by requests to support a local organization. And while I believe that some of these requests are warranted, and while I believe that some of these organizations are good, and while I believe that donating to some of these organizations is a worthy cause, I also believe that followers of Jesus ought to be prudent in how they give to organizations that don’t explicitly promote the gospel.

This is to say that, while it is good to give to rehab centers, hospitals, and even animal shelters, such donations should not be confused as explicitly participating in the gospel.

This is because Christianity isn’t about doing good things; it’s about advancing the name of Jesus. Organizations like rehab centers and hospitals can prolong the quality of physical life, but only Jesus can provide everlasting life. Both are good, but one is better. Much better. And this is the real message of Christmas.

Unfortunately, this is a concept that is often muddled. And, ironically, it’s most often muddled during the Christmas season.

Some weeks ago I read the following comment, which in my estimation reveals the confusion of the relationship between good works and the gospel: “Compassion for the poor is uniquely tied to the gospel & unalterably linked to the great commission.”

At first glance this statement seems impressively theological, but upon further investigation it attempts to recalibrate the gospel into something other than what it is. Jesus warns of such efforts in his parable of unleavened bread:

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Matt 13:33, NASB).

In this, the gospel is the pure “three pecks of flour” recipe to which we should not add “leaven.” In Scripture “leaven” is always bad, and it causes the finished product to turn out much differently than intended.

Jesus’ message is that we ought to be careful to not add extra ingredients to the gospel’s recipe. And confusing the doing of good things as the gospel is, without question, adding extra ingredients.

This of course isn’t to say that compassion for the poor isn’t “tied” or “linked” to the gospel. It is. Nor is it to say that compassion for the poor is an evil ingredient. It isn’t. But to go as far as to say that it is “uniquely tied” and “unalterably linked” might be altering the recipe a little bit.

Digging wells for a poor village in Africa, for example, isn’t, in and of itself, the gospel. It’s a wonderful thing to do, especially if it is being done because of one’s redemption in Christ, but it isn’t the gospel. The gospel can be preached without the digging of wells. Digging wells to create a segue to preach the gospel is good, but if the gospel isn’t preached then one has essentially only done a good thing that is no better than what a non-Christian organization can do. Many organizations participate in this compassionate effort for the poor without any gospel motivation. In this, physical life is sustained, but the village remains spiritually dead.

When we replace the backing of organizations that don’t support the explicit gospel message for the backing of organizations that do, we confuse the gospel with doing good things, which isn’t the gospel. Giving to good organizations is a good thing, but participating in organizations that advance the gospel is better. Christians should do both, but we should also know that our resources go further when we explicitly support the gospel. And if we have to choose one, we should choose the one that shares the gospel with its recipients.

This is because it’s not necessarily true that compassion for the poor “is uniquely tied and unalterably linked to the gospel” so much as that it can be “tied to a unique and unalterable gospel.” This idea preserves the gospel’s unique ingredients without altering its recipe. It places the power of the gospel in Christ, not our actions, and shows that it’s the gospel that has the power to save, not our ability to do good things for the less fortunate.

As Matt Chandler writes:

If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it. At the end of the day, our hope is not that all the poor on earth will be fed. That’s simply not going to happen. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feed and rescue the poor; I’m saying that salvation isn’t having a full belly or a college education or whatever. Making people comfortable on earth before an eternity in hell is wasteful (The Explicit Gospel, 83).

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Some of the content in this blog originally appeared in my article first published on thestrife.comThe New Quotable: Using Twitter Carefully

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