Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Books in Review

So, major clarification to start: This is not my favorite books that came out in 2012. In fact, I am pretty sure that none of them came out in 2012. These are my favorite books that I read in 2012. There you go.

Top 5 Fiction Books that I Read for the First Time
5. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was not as good as This Side of Paradise or The Great Gatsby, but it still has some great stuff. Some people find Fitzgerald depressing, and I can understand that. I find him enthralling. He penetratingly searches for meaning as his characters struggle with vain pursuits. I thought Tender is the Night was worth the read.
4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. His more famous book is The Kite Runner, and it is fantastic. This book, however, which follows the lives of two Muslim women in Afghanistan, is nearly as powerful. I think Hosseini writes in a way that is not flattering to Islam, but is also not full of vitriol. The story of very profound and his characters are very real.
3. The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. I know, not exactly a recent book, but I finally read it. It's great, as evidenced by its lasting impact on western culture. I especially thought Athos was a well-written character.
4. 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I kind of cheated here, but I thought these two books went together. I thought 1984 was better, but both were great dystopian novels. Both warn against excessive power by the government, but both foresee different dangers.
5. The Plague by Albert Camus. This is a dark, difficult, and profound book about mankind, brokenness, and death. Again, not a new novel, but one that I had been meaning to read for a long time. It is worthwhile, and would be a great one if you are going to read a book with a group of people and discuss it.

Top 5 Nonfiction Books that I Read for the First Time
5. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Miller's book Searching for God Knows What is an all-time favorite for me. This was not quite as good, but still a great read. Miller tells the story of how he re-evaluated his life when screenwriters came to adapt his book Blue Like Jazz into a movie.
4. Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Of course, the book that follows the 2002 Oakland A's was made into a wonderful movie last year. The book is a great read for anyone who likes baseball (or underdogs).
3. Radical Womanhood: Feminine Fatih in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley. I did a lot of reading this year on the subject of biblical manhood and womanhood. This was a standout book from a former feminist on her struggle to embrace biblical femininity, and the freedom she experienced as she did so.
2. Genesis in Space and Time by Francis Schaeffer. This book is great for seeing the importance of history in the Bible and in Christianity. Schaeffer, in my opinion, does not major on the minors when it comes to the Genesis account, but instead shows the biblical and historical significance of the Genesis account.
1. The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. This is one of the greatest books I have ever read on marriage. It is great for singles, for newlyweds, and for all married folks. The book walks through the significance of marriage, while not idolizing marriage in an unhealthy way.

Books I Keep on Reading (and that I reread in 2012)
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell Johnson

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dealing with Newtown

When I first heard about the shooting in Newtown Connecticut last week, I didn't have a strong reaction. I feel a little bit guilty even saying that. I think the reason is that, sadly, it felt to me like just another sad chapter in an old story. Kent State, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Newtown. A school shooting, sadly, is not something new.
This reality, however, does not make what happened last week any less tragic or horrific. And I have found myself feeling more and more saddened and sickened as the days go on. As a father of three sons, I can't imagine (nor do I want to imagine) the horror of those parents as they received the news that their children had been murdered. I can't imagine the trauma that will be experienced by the precious children who survived. I pray that it will not be lifelong and debilitating for them. The whole situation is sickening.
In the aftermath of a tragedy like this, everyone chimes in. I have read many wonderful articles, including ones from Jen Wilkin and Al Mohler. I have also read and heard many things that have made me shake my head. Everyone is searching for answers, and everyone is suggesting them.
This post is not meant to be exhaustive, but I hope it will be helpful in some way. Here are some truths that I think are important for us to keep in mind as we process this tragedy.

We Are Not Safe
Discussions about gun control and security are legitimate. I say that because some will claim that what I am about to say is fatalistic. I don't intend it to be this way. I think we should discuss safety and security and weapons. At the same time, I think a lot of us (especially those of us who are parents of young children) want to find a way to assure ourselves that we can keep our children safe. If we just get stricter gun control laws, if we just have better security, if we just diagnosed mental disorders, if we just. . .
Sure, let's consider doing those things. But let's also not deceive ourselves into thinking that we can really guarantee our own (or our children's) safety. If presidents and kings can be assassinated, do I really think that a deranged person cannot kill me or my family? I can't. I don't like this fact, but it is a fact.
The reason this is so important is that we must not place our hope and trust in our laws, or our policemen, or our guns. Psalm 20:7 says, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Psalm 146:3-5 says, "Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God."
Our hope is not that we can stave off death by our own efforts. Our hope is not even to avoid death. We can't. We trust in the God and Father of Jesus Christ, who gives us hope beyond the grave.

Mankkind's Problem Is Internal
For some, this shoot was about guns. For others, it was about mental illness. Both were involved, and both should be discussed. That said, we have had murders and genocide before guns were ever invented. And we have plenty of violence committed by people who do not have mental illnesses. Neither guns nor mental illness are mankind's chief problem.
In the end, we are all victims of mankind's brokenness. But we are not only victims, but also victimizers. I have never killed anyone, but people have been victimized by my harsh words, my selfish actions, and my neglect of the needy. We are all sinful. It is easy for us to agree with the Governor of Connecticut when he says, "Evil has visited this community today." He is right. It is harder for us to agree with the Bible when it tells us that we all are evil. We don't simply need someone to save us from the evil out there, we need someone to save us from the evil inside of us.
It is good and wise and loving to do what we can to minimize the evil out there. But let's never neglect the fact that evil and violence and murder have plagued every society in the history of mankind. Sadly, this will continue until Jesus returns. Only then will there be an end to death and mourning and pain (Revelation 21:3-4).

Death is the Greatest Enemy
The Newtown tragedy is so horrific because of the seeming finality to it. Those grieving parents don't get to see their children anymore. They don't get to hold them one more time. They don't get to have one last conversation. I can't imagine what they would trade for five more minutes with their children. The finality of death is what makes it so crushing.
But death doesn't have the last word. If it does, we are all doomed. We may not all die in a violent school shooting, but we will all die. Death is our enemy. It ends our lives, it separates us from one another. It ends our dreams and aspirations. Bur death does not win out. First Corinthians 15:26 says, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." Then later in verses 54-57, the Apostle Paul writes, "'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting.' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus himself said, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believe in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." (John 11:24-25)
Death is the greatest (worst) enemy. This tragedy reminds us of this. But thank God that there is hope beyond the grave. Otherwise there could be no hope or resolution in the wake of such a tragedy.

We will all process this tragedy. Most of us will grieve, feel sick, feel scared, and ask why. In the midst of this, never lose sight of the fact that Jesus offers us the ultimate security. Through him, we can have life beyond the grave. Just as he rose, we will rise. While guns and mental illness and lack of security might exist, none of those are the core problem that we need solved. We need both ourselves and our society renewed and transformed. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can and will accomplish this.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Deborah: A Mother to Israel

This post is in a series of posts exploring biblical masculinity and femininity. The goal is not so much to explore the specific roles to which God has called us, but instead to look at the God-given differences between men and women so that we will better understand what informs the different roles to which we are called.

The Significance of Deborah
When discussing the debate about biblical masculinity and femininity, Deborah is often a pivotal figure. Those who are complementarian often point out the fact that in Israel's history, all the patriarchs were men, all twelve heads of the tribes were men, all the priests were men, and the vast majority of the prophets were men. Egalitarians, however, will often point out that Deborah judged Israel, right alongside Ehud, Samson, Gideon, and Jephthah.
It is a fair point. Does the presence of Deborah shoot a hole in the claim that men and women are substantively different, and that these differences lead to men taking the responsibility for leadership roles, while women come alongside to support servant-hearted male leaders?
Deborah's story is found in Judges 4-5. My goal in this post is not to give an exhaustive exegesis of these chapters, but rather to explore how they interface with biblical masculinity and femininity. In the end, what strikes me most about her story is not her similarities with the others judges, but her uniqueness among them.

The Uniqueness of Deborah
When the tale of Deborah begins, there is no doubt that she is to be counted among the judges. Judges 4:4-5 says, Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided.
Deborah is not a sub-judge; she is the real deal. She is as much a judge as any man who judges Israel during this period of time. In fact, unlike Samson, Gideon, and Jephthah, nothing negative is said about Deborah. In some ways, she is a superior judge to the others.
That said, Deborah is not like any other judge. Every other judge led Israel into battle and delivered them from oppressors through military action. Deborah, however, was different. Judges 4:6-7 says, She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops in the Kishon River and give him into your hands."
Instead of leading the troops into battle, Deborah calls upon Barak to do so. No other judge does this.

Is Fighting Manly?
Now, this unique situation begs the question, "Why?" Why didn't God simply have Deborah lead the troops into battle? Some of us might hesitate at the seemingly-obvious answer because we are afraid it might be sexist. Still, the obvious answer seems to be that Deborah was a woman. Men were the ones who went to battle in order to fight for and defend the nation.
But is this an archaic practice that needs to be cast off? Seemingly not, since God shows no sign of making it a priority to change this practice. God has no hesitation in raising up Deborah as a full-fledged judge, but he redirects the normal pattern when it comes time for battle.
All throughout Israel's history, the men went to battle. This was just an assumed reality. And this practice is certainly not unique to Israel in military history. Throughout the Bible the idea of courageously preparing for battle is tied to the idea of being a man. The Philistines reflect this in 1 Samuel 4:9 when they exhort each other, "Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!" The Apostle Paul reflects this reality in relation to spiritual warfare when he says in 1 Corinthians 16:13, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong." The word that is here translated "be courageous" literally means, "be manly." The ESV and NASB both translate it, "act like men." It is a euphemism here, but it still clearly ties manliness to courage for battle.
So, in light of this, what does God call Deborah to do? He calls her to relate his calling to a worthy man, who would take responsibility to lead Israel into battle. Instead of usurping the role of the men, she reinforces it. She encourages it. By calling Barak to take the lead in this way, she is inviting him to be masculine; to be manly.

Worthy of Protection
The fact that men are called to this does not denigrate women; it reveres women. It says that women are precious enough that the men should take responsibility to protect them. For Barak to take responsibility for the battle is to do something manly. For Deborah to encourage him to take this responsibility, and to back him up, is to do something feminine. Instead of honoring Deborah by making her just like the men, God honors more by making her unique among the men.
Interestingly enough, Barak doesn't want to go to battle without Deborah. Deborah gladly obliges, but does so with a mild rebuke. Because he seems to lack the courage to take responsibility for this manly task, he won't be the one to take down Sisera. Instead a woman (Jael) ended up killing him. Barak lost out on an opportunity to be brave and manly because he was hesitant to take the responsibility that had been given to him.
This purpose of this post is not to explore the role of women in the military. At the same time, one can't help but make a connection. The reason to be hesitant to put women in dangerous military situations is less a result of the belief that women are not as competent (although men are biologically stronger than women), and more a result of the belief that women are worthy of male protection. This applies not only to military situations, but also to a number of other situations. If a husband and a wife are in bed and hear a noise, he should not ask her to go explore. He should never say, "I checked it out last time; it's your turn." It is appropriate for the husband to take responsibility to explore. Men should walk women to their cars or their houses late at night. Men should stand between women and suspicious-looking people while out of public. If a woman is being intimidated physically or verbally, it is right for a man to step in. It is not because women are unable to defend themselves; it is because they are worthy of protection. And it is because it is masculine to take responsibility to protect women.

Beyond Physical Protection
And the male protective instinct should go beyond just the physical. First Peter 3:7 is a curious and controversial verse. Peter writes, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."
The reason this verse is controversial is because it refers to women as "the weaker partner" or, in some translations, "the weaker vessel." Weaker in what sense? Some commentaries limit this only to the physical sense. On the whole women are not as physically strong as men. But the context seems to point to a broader sense of the term. After all, Peter's commands concern the wife's need to be understood and treated with respect and consideration. This seems to point to an overall fragility in women that is not present in men.
As we go through life, I think most of us can observe that women tend to be more emotionally impacted by events than men are. Women tend to cry more. They tend to empathize more. Men tend to have an easier time compartmentalizing things. The idea that women are "weaker" in the sense that they are more vulnerable and fragile is not meant to be a derisive statement. It is a strength, just as much as it can be a weakness. It is not always an advantage that men can be cold and detached, and it is wonderful that women tend to be more emotionally tied to people.
Peter here calls not simply for physical protection for women, but an overall protection for them. We men should be very considerate with our words in order to protect the women in our lives. It is not because they "can't take it." It is because they are worthy to be treated with care.

The Femininity of Deborah
If the masculine call is to take responsibility to lead and protect, what is the feminine calling? Powerfully enough, I believe that we see this reflected in Deborah. Barak is called to lead the battle. So what does Deborah do? She is charged with calling him to the task. Now, Deborah is a powerful woman. She is influential. She is wise. The idea of a wise, powerful, and influential woman walks up to a man and says, "You are the man to lead these people into battle," this is quite a compliment. It is quite a reinforcement of his masculinity and capability.
In the very beginning, Eve is called a helper for Adam. This is a powerful term, often used for God as he helps Israel. Eve is to come alongside Adam and help and support him as he takes on the daunting task of subduing the earth. Women are created for this wonderful and life-giving calling.
Just imagine the power of a woman to say to a man, "I believe in you. I believe that you are able to provide for our family. I believe that you are strong enough to protect us. I believe that God has empowered you to lead us. I will support you and help you as you take responsibility for these things." That is life-giving! It is a powerful and noble calling. In essence, this is what Deborah did with Barak. What a powerful calling for women, and what a beautiful dance it is when men are powerfully protecting and cherishing women, and women are supporting and helping them as they do so.

Wrapping Up
Once again, Judges 4-5 is by no means a manual on masculinity and femininity. But it is interesting how this story, far from blurring the distinctions between men and women, actually highlights those distinctions. It reflects the consistent biblical reality of men being called to sacrificial, servant-hearted leadership, and women being called to respectful, servant-hearted support and help. Deborah shows us a wonderful picture of biblical femininity in all its glory.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Music Behind the Dance Steps

Back when I was a youth pastor, the game Dance Dance Revolution was big. If you don't know, Dance Dance Revolution is a dance video game, in which the players step on appropriate squares when the screen tells them to. If you do the game correctly, it simply looks like the player is dancing to the music on the game.
One time I took a group of students to an arcade, and a number of them started playing the game. There was one student who had practiced the game regularly, so he got on the machine and got a great score. But while he was getting that high score, he looked wooden and awkward.
Then two other students took a turn. They had never played the game before, but they had good natural rhythm. While they didn't get as high score as the first student, their movements were fluid and natural. They actually looked like they were dancing.
The first student knew the steps. The next students knew the music.
For years this has served as an illustration to me for how we respond to God's commands. God's commands are the dance steps. He tells us to forgive one another, to be patient with one another, not to lie to one another, to reserve sex for marriage, and to do a number of other things that we often find difficult.
Sometimes we focus all of our attention on the dance steps. We obey God's commands in a way that looks wooden and awkward to people around us. Technically, we are getting the steps right, but it misses the bigger intention.
God doesn't give us commands that are arbitrary. He doesn't write out dance steps that make no sense and then demand that we follow them. There is a music, a bigger intention, behind the dance steps he gives us. When we grasp the bigger intention, the dance steps seem more natural to us. When we understand that bitterness leads us into slavery, then the dance step of forgiveness makes more sense. When we understand that lying is destructive, we naturally desire to be honest. When we see the destructive impact of casual sex outside of marriage, the idea of remaining celibate doesn't seem so burdensome.

On December 2nd, at Life Bible Fellowship Church, we held a special event that addressed biblical manhood and womanhood. It involved a formal teaching time that I did, and then a Q&A time with me, my wife Karina, and then Gary and Miriam Keith. You can watch the video of it here.
Instead of focusing on the dance steps of submission and headship, we looked to explore the music behind these dance steps. Commands that tell men and women to play different roles in the home and the church seem jarring to us because, in our culture, they seem like unnatural dance steps. But if we understand the beautiful music of the God-given differences that God has created into men and women, the dance steps will come more naturally to us.
This is an introduction to a series of upcoming posts on the subject of biblical manhood and womanhood. It is also an invitation to listen for the beautiful music of God's good intentions for us, not only when it come to this subject, but to all the life-giving commands that God gives us.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Trinity, Part 2: Authority, The Shack, and Resources

We just finished a 3-week series on The Trinity at Life Bible Fellowship Church. The goal of the series was not to solve a puzzle (good luck with that), but to draw near to the relational, 3-in-1 God who has drawn near to us. Here is a link the second week of the series. The third week should be posted soon on vimeo and on our webpage.
As a follow up, I wanted to address a few follow-up matters that can be helpful in digging deeper into this foundational truth about God.

Is there a Hierarchy in the Trinity?
After church yesterday, I had a good conversation with a couple of people who asked about this. It is a great question, and is one of consistent debate in the Christian community right now. In the debate, here are the two views:
Position 1: Within the Trinity, there is authority and submission. The Father initiates, the Son and Spirit respond. The authority does not mean inequality, but this dynamic has eternally been true.
Position 2: The Son took a submissive role during his time on earth, but this is not a dynamic in the eternal relationship of the Triune God.
The debate here is not a debate over Christian orthodoxy, but I don't think it is a throw-away debate either.
Everyone seems to agree that the Son submitted to the Father during his time on earth. So, was his submission temporary or eternal? Well, we consistently see passages that say that the Father sent the Son. That was before the incarnation, and it certainly seems to imply some kind of authority.
For some, the term hierarchy means that one is better than the other. In the Trinity, the Father is not better or more divine than the Son. But there is distinction. The Father is distinctly the Father, and the Son is distinctly the Son, and the Spirit is distinctly the Spirit. There is equality and yet distinction.
Is it possible that this is not an eternal distinction, but only a temporary one? It is possible, but it seems like a really hard sell to me. All indications point to the idea that this authority-submission dynamic predates the incarnation. And if God is going to present himself to us in a certain way, it seems like that is how he intends for us to understand him.
Also, if we decide that there can't possibly be authority in the Trinity, then do we believe that we can have authority and equality in relationships here on earth? Further than this, the New Testament talks about certain people having positions of authority on the New Earth.
Authority is not evil. Abuse of authority certainly is. But we should have no reason to reject the biblical presentation of authority and submission in the Triune God.

Is "The Shack" a Good Presentation of the Trinity?
I have had several people talk to me about William P. Young's book The Shack, which was published in 2007. Many of you have read it, and many probably have not. Here are some comments.
On the positive side, I think the book really dives into the love relationship of the Triune God. There are some beautiful statements about God's relationality, and some beautiful images of grief and loss and forgiveness and healing.
On the negative side, there is a lot in the book that misses the mark. Most significantly, Young's view of God's love does not seem to have room for judgment. He says that God never punishes sin, but sin is its own punishment. While sin tends to carry with it its own consequences, it is flatly wrong to say that God never judges sin. You have to ignore significant stretches of the Bible to draw this conclusion.
Young also makes statements that tend to lean toward universalism (the teaching that all people will ultimately be saved). The book does not teach universalism overtly. At the same time, I lived in the same town as William P. Young when the book hit the bestseller lists. From a number of personal conversations with those who know him and run in his circles, there are major universalist tendencies. This is a concern.
On top of this, Young also allows no room for the above point about equality and authority. He flatly rejects the idea of a "chain of command" in the Trinity. Now, the bond of the Triune God is not a flow chart; it is the bond of love. But Young seems to think that love necessitates the elimination of authority. This is not biblical.
There are many beautiful things in this book. If my review seems mostly negative, this is for 3 reasons:
1. The positive things in the book are things that you can get without reading it.
2. The false teachings in the book can be really harmful, and they feed right into the cultural mainstream. We need to be warned.
3. When the book first came out, I really underplayed the negative elements and I personally witnessed friends buy into the book at its core. After this, I saw their understanding of God, Scripture, and heaven and hell go in directions that I believer are unbiblical.
So, there you go. All books should be read with discernment. I biblically discerning person could probably read the book, sift through the wrong things in it, and enjoy it a lot. That said, I personally choose not to recommend the book to people because of the potentially harmful elements.

What are some good resources for diving deeper into the Trinity?
Here are 3 recommendations:
1. Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell Johnson. This is a short book. If you are a reader, you could consume it in one or two sittings. It is a great book if you are looking to get your feet wet. It will also help to expose you to other helpful resources.
2. The Holy Trinity in Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham. This has been the single most helpful resource to me. It is a thick book, but it walks through all the major theologians who have contributed to our understanding on the Trinity. It is a faith-building, worship-inspiring, wonderful book.
3. Wayne Grudem's podcasts on the Trinity. Wayne Grudem wrote a huge Systematic Theology book, and he has taught through it at the church he attends. He did four messages on the Trinity, and they are available for free. Just go to the iTunes store and search "Wayne Grudem." You will find his podcast for Systematic Theology. The Trinity messages are 18-21 on the list. Four great downloads!

If you have follow-up thoughts of questions, feel free to comment or hit me up on facebook.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Trinity, Part 1

This past Sunday, we began a new series at Life Bible Fellowship Church on the Trinity. The goal of the series is not to solve the puzzle of the Trinity, but rather to draw near to the relational God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you want to check out the first sermon in the series, here is the link to it.
There were a lot of good conversations after the services, and a lot of people were excited to seek to know God in a deeper way.
Because the Trinity is the most profound mystery in all of Christianity, I recognize that our three-week series will be no means cover everything that can be said. So I thought it would be good to accompany the series with some posts in order to answer some questions and go a bit deeper. In this post I will address three questions that, in some way came up after the message.

Is the Water Illustration Helpful?
In the sermon, I was fairly dismissive of a couple of Trinity illustrations that sometimes make an appearance.
Some people say that the Trinity is like an egg. An egg has a shell, a white, and a yolk. There are three, but there is only one egg. This illustration is bad, to be blunt. It pictures God as either three gods, or a God with three parts. While each of those parts make up a full egg, none are fully an egg. The shell by itself is not "fully egg," while the Son by himself is fully God. The egg illustration is not one that is helpful.
But more people asked me if the water illustration is not helpful. The analogy is that H20 was be liquid, can be solid, and can be gas. Once again, I was pretty dismissive of this analogy. Just so that you can know that I am not simply off on my own in thinking the analogy is faulty, here is a quotation from Wayne Grudem in his book Bible Doctrine:
"The analogy of the three forms of water (steam, water, and ice) is also inadequate because (a) no quantity of water is ever all three of these at the same time, (b) they have different properties or characteristics, (c) the analogy has nothing that corresponds to the fact that there is only one God (there is no such thing as 'one water' or 'all the water in the universe'), and (d) the element of intelligent personality is lacking."
On top of this, the water analogy is, for all intents and purposes, modalism, a heresy condemned by the church. Modalism is the teaching that there is one God who wears three different masks. Sometimes he appears to us as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit. This is biblically inaccurate for several different reasons (just check out Matthew 3:16-17 to see how the baptism of Jesus shows that modalism is nonsense).
Trinitarian theologian Collin Hansen writes in a Christianity Today article, "One common but mistaken analogy of the orthodox Trinity depicts modalism. The same bucket of water may appear as ice, liquid, or steam. But that water cannot simultaneously exist in every mode. God, on the other hand, exists simultaneously as Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
Many analogies of the Trinity are helpful in illustrating one point of truth. But both the water and the egg analogy lead us in very wrong directions.

Is the Holy Spirit a Person or a Force?
In the sermon, I focused on the fact that the persons of the Trinity are presented in relational terms. There is an eternal relationship at the heart of the Godhead. Scripturally, it can be easy to see the relationship between the Father and the Son, but a bit more difficult to see the Spirit interacting in that relationship. This causes some to wonder if the Spirit is really personal, as opposed to being a force.
The Holy Spirit is a person, not simply a force or a power. He relates to us personally, just as the Father and the Son do. This is why it is so amazing and significant that the Spirit himself dwells within us. In the Bible, we learn that the Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). Forces are not grieved; persons are grieved. On top of this, the Spirit prays for us (Romans 8:26-27). On top of this, Peter rebukes Ananias for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). You don't lie to a force, but to a person. The Spirit empowers, sanctifies, reminds, and teaches us. He is fully personal, just like the Father and the Son!
Quick note on the Spirit. Some people remark that he is often the forgotten member of the Trinity. In many ways this is tragic because of his prominent role in our lives (2 Corinthians 3). At the same time, it is worth remembering that the Spirit is not clawing for attention. He brings glory to the Son and reminds of us of the words of the Son (John 14-16). If we are focused on Jesus, we are listening to the voice of the Spirit. The Trinity exists in perfect harmony, not jockeying for position, but rather honoring and glorifying one another.

Is a Right Understanding of the Trinity a Salvation Issue?
The doctrine of the Trinity is not a small matter. It is not like end-times beliefs or positions on sign-gifts. As a Christian, you cannot take or leave the Trinity. Over the history of the church, it has been considered a test for orthodoxy. Part of this is because it is so directly tied to the deity of Jesus. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are not Christian denominations. They are cults. The reason for this is that they do not believe that Jesus, the Son, is fully God, and therefore they also do not believe in the Trinity.
None of this should cause us to take on an attitude of superiority, but it is important so that we recognize that if people have embraced these cults, we need to tell them to truth and urge them to embrace the true gospel of Jesus and not the cheap substitute that they have embraced.
Now, a person could read this and ask, "So, I must believe accurately about the Trinity in order to be a Christian? Does this mean that I was not a Christian if I just found out that my understanding of the Trinity for the past ten years was in fact incorrect?" It is a fair question.
If you had embraced the water analogy or thought that the Trinity means that God wears different masks at different times, this does not mean that you have not been a Christian. It means that you have had a faulty understanding of something really important. You now have an opportunity to be corrected by God's Word, and to embrace a more accurate (and, frankly, much more exciting and beautiful) picture of the Godhead. We all need to be careful about what we believe, but we also need to recognize that we all fall into error. This even happens with significant doctrines. Those who really embrace Jesus allow themselves to be corrected by his Word. Those who willingly embrace false doctrines do so to their own peril.
Frankly, there are probably many true believers in our churches who have a wildly misdirected understanding of the Trinity. This is partly the fault of many of us who are pastors and teachers and have not more faithfully and pro-actively taught these core doctrines.
So, if you find out that your understanding has been wrong, don't panic. Simply embrace the truth with which you have been presented. Joyfully embrace the truth about God, and draw near to the Trinitarian God who has drawn near to you.

More to come on this. If you can follow-up questions or comments, feel free to comment on this post, send me an email, or hit me up on facebook.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Is Still True

In my previous post, I quoted Donald Miller, who made the point that we have a limited ability to change the world through politics or other means. His point was not that our actions are meaningless, but simply that we make a mistake when we think that a candidate can lead us to utopia.
Every time that I have quoted this (including this last time), many people have found hope in it, but others have said that this makes it seem that our actions or our votes are not meaningful. This is not what the quote means, and this is certainly not what I believe. The point is simply that many key things remain the same regardless of the outcome of any election.
That said, now is the time that we put this into practice on both sides. President Obama has been re-elected. Some celebrate this victory as something that will pave the way for better days. Other bemoan his victory, believing that this will block the good path and lead us down a destructive path.
In light of such a big event, I thought I would just take a moment to list seven things that were true before the election, are true after the election, and will be true before and after all future elections.

1.  The world is still broken. It will still experience famine, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. No person can stop these.
2. Humanity is still broken and sinful. No amount of freedom can solve this problem, and no extra laws and regulations can solve this problem.
3. There will be an eventual end to all the problems we face. This will only be when Jesus returns, but when he does return it will come in full.
4. All people need to be saved from their sins. Remember that the enemy is not a candidate, not the Republicans or Democrats, not the liberals or conservatives. The enemy is the devil, who lies to us in order to keep us under the power and blindness of sin. We still need to pray for the salvation of all people, and reach out to them with the gospel of Jesus.
5. God directs the affairs of the world. Romans 13:1 says, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." While human beings may choose to live as practical atheists, no election truly dethrones God.
6. God calls us to care for the needy. Sometimes the government upholds justice for the marginalized. Sometimes the government exploits the marginalized. This applies to the poor, the minorities, the unborn, the diseased, and many other vulnerable groups. Whatever the case, God's people are called to care for those in need. We don't need a liberal or a conservative in the White House in order to fulfill this calling. In our churches we have the opportunity to shine the light of Jesus in this compelling way.

7. We should pray for our leaders with genuine hearts. First Timothy 2 exhorts us to pray for those in authority. This is not just true when we happen to like our leaders; it is true at all times. Anyone in authority covets the prayers of people.

And, remember, all of these things will be true in 2016.
Some of these truths bring us to a sobering reality and drive away false and shallow optimism. Others give us hope and drive away false and shallow pessimism.
The election that just took place was not insignificant. But it did not move heaven and earth and it did not change any of the seven facts listed above. Let's embrace God's truth, pray fervently, and fulfill our calling in the power and grace of God.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Looking for Utopia

Yesterday at Life Bible Fellowship Church, our Lead Pastor Gary Keith preached on Revelation 21:1-5. His key question was, "Where is our true hope?"
It was a great message and very timely, since sometime tomorrow night we should know who will be our president for the next four years. A lot of people's hopes are riding on this election. And a lot of the hope manifests itself in panic if the other guy wins.
If we believe the candidates, we seem doomed either way. Governor Romney tells us that if the President is re-elected, then we will continue on this historically slow path to economic recovery. President Obama tells us that if Governor Romney is elected, we will go back to the economic policies that got us into this mess in the first place.
In essence, both candidates are saying this: The other candidate will keep us from the wonders that await us, and I can lead us there!
If we believe the candidates, then we believe that they can bring us money, health, safety, and freedom. If a person is truly able to bring you money, health, safety, and freedom, then it might be appropriate for you to consider worshiping him. I am not trying to be sarcastic. That would be an amazing feat! That person would probably be worthy of some pretty heavy devotion if he could accomplish all of those things.
The fact is, no person can guarantee that we will have wealth and financial security. At any point we could have a personal or national economic collapse. We could get fired, have investments go south, or get robbed. No person can guarantee our health and safety. We will all ultimately get sick and die, and as secure as we can become, evil people can always find ways to get into airplanes and movie theaters and cause pain. And no one is strong enough to guarantee our freedom. Stronger nations than ours have fallen. We are no immune.
Ultimately, I still think that Donald Miller put it well when he said, "The truth is, we can make things a little better or a little worse, but utopia doesn't hang in the balance of our vote or of what products we buy." Neither of these candidates is going to save the world. Neither of them is going to fulfill our hopes.
The good news is that the Bible tells us that our hopes will be fulfilled at some point. Revelation 21:3-5 says, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'"
God himself will be with his people. It will be God who provides an end to fear by removing death. It will be God who provides an end to pain and suffering and grief. And at the end of the passage he makes it clear that he, and he alone, is the one who makes everything new.
After this election, some things might get better. Some things might get worse. But utopia does not hang in the balance. Thank God! Our problems will continue, but our ultimate hope will still be just as secure as when it was first promised.
There is only one who will make all things new. He alone deserves our worship and attention.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Richard Mourdock Was Not Wrong

On October 23rd Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made a huge gaffe. He made an extreme and indefensible comment.
Or did he?
By some of the responses, you would think so. In response to his comments, President Obama said, "I don't get these guys (referring to Mourdock and Todd Akin, who is now famous for his 'legitimate rape' comments). Rape is rape." Actress Tina Fey said, "If I have to listen to one more grey-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I'm gonna lose my mind." Carly Fiorina, the National Senatorial Committee vice-chairwoman, said, "Richard Mourdock said a really stupid thing, and he apologized." This was in response to Meet the Press moderator David Gregory summing up Mourdock's comments by saying that Mourdock was talking about "rape, and that it could be God's will, and that pregnancy because of rape should be taken to term." His opponent in the race, Joe Donnelly, said, "I was shocked by what was said, and I think it was insulting and wrong to women, to survivors of rape and to their families. It has no place -- comments like that -- in public discussion."
Clearly Mourdock must have made an extreme and divisive statement about rape.
But he didn't.
In a debate, Mourdock was asked about his position on abortion in cases of rape and incest. Here is his response: "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock really made no statement at all about rape. In fact, the subject only came up because he was asked about it. The only comment he made about rape itself is that is is a "horrible situation." This hardly seems controversial, divisive, or extreme. He made no statement to which someone should respond, "Rape is rape." He made no statement that somehow tells women "what rape is."
The extreme reaction has been the way people has made him out to say that he is pro-rape or that he believes that rape is "something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock's comments were not about rape. They were about abortion and his view on when life begins. he said that life is a gift from God, and he said that life, even when it begins in horrible situations, is still something that God intended." Certainly people disagree that God is the source of life, but that a person has this belief is hardly groundbreaking.
But didn't Mourdock admit that he was wrong when he apologized?
Here is his apology: "I said that life is precious. I believe life is precious. I believe rape is a brutal act. It is something that I abhor. That anyone could come away with any meaning other than what I just said is regrettable, and for that I apologize. If they came away with any impression other than that I truly regret it, I apologize. I've certainly been humbled by the fact that so many people think that somehow was an interpretation."
As some opponents have pointed out, Mourdock didn't really apologize. He regrets that his words were misunderstood.
His words were not about rape, but about when life begins and what we should do when life is present. No matter how many people try to make his comments about rape, they simply aren't.
More to the point, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List supported Mourdock, saying, "Richard Mourdock said that life is always a gift from God, and we couldn't agree more. To report his statement as an endorsement of rape is either willfully ignorant or malicious."
Ultimately, if anyone genuinely misunderstands Mourdock's statement, it is probably because they misunderstand the reason why many people (in fact, the majority of Americans) are pro-life. The reason is that we believe that life begins at conception, that life is precious, and that innocent life should be protected. This fact is not dependent on whether that life was conceived as a result of a devoted man and woman, a drunken one-night stand, or a horrific act of violence. My previous post walks through this reality.

In my last post I mentioned Rebecca Kiessling. She was conceived in rape and her mother gave her up for adoption. When she later reconnected with her biological mother, she said that she would have chosen abortion if it had been legal at the time. Rebecca Kiessling is alive today because she was conceived before Roe v. Wade.
Today Rebecca Kiessling is grateful for those who stood in the gap and protected her life, a life conceived in the horror of rape. I bet she is even grateful to any grey-faced men with two-dollar haircuts who fought to protect her life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Abortion Exceptions: What about Rape?

I had the privilege of speaking on the issue of abortion at Life Bible Fellowship Church this past Sunday. Speaking about abortion is daunting for several reasons, and one of those reasons is that it seems impossible to address all the different questions and concerns people have.
You can click here to watch the message in its entirety:
After the message I had several people ask me about whether or not there should be an exception in cases of rape. I got to talk to them individually, but I thought it would be good to write a post in order to cover the question more thoroughly. I am going to address the matter by responding three statements that I believe often reflect arguments in favor of such an "exception clause."

If a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape, then it is not her fault that she is pregnant. She should not be punished for what someone else did.
It is certainly true that a woman who gets pregnant as a result of rape does not bear any guilt for anything. She has suffered a horrific wrong, an act of violence. I know of no pro-life person who would in any way minimize the horror of rape. But this argument makes a false assumption.
The false assumption in this statement is that the pro-life argument is, "If you are pregnant, then you got yourself into this situation. Therefore you need to take responsibility instead of taking the easy way out." If that was the pro-life argument, then it would make sense to say, "But if you are pregnant through no willful action of your own, then you shouldn't need to suffer the consequences of pregnancy."
But this is not the pro-life argument. The pro-life argument is that the unborn is a person. A person conceived in rape is not any less of a person than a person conceived in a loving sexual act between a husband and a wife.
This past Saturday night I got to attend the banquet for Assure Pregnancy Clinic. The speaker was a woman named Rebecca Kiessling. She shared her powerful story that night. She was adopted, and when she tracked down her birth mother, she discovered that she was conceived by rape. Rebecca powerfully talked about the emotional difficulty of dealing with this information. But when it comes to the abortion issue, and the exception clause, she commented, "The supreme court has ruled that the man who did this to my birth mother does not deserve the death penalty. Did I then deserve the death penalty because of what he did?"
Just as is true with abortion in general, we have an easier time talking about it when we don't put a face to the subject. Could we really stand in front of Rebecca, or others conceived in rape, and say to them, "Because of how your mother conceived you, I would support her right to abort you"? I know that I can't do this.
A life is a life no matter how that life comes about.

If a woman gives birth as a result of rape, the child would be painful reminder of a horrific thing that happened to her.
Once again, I believe that this statement could be true. If the mother keeps the child, the child may be a reminder of that painful and horrible act of violence against her. But I don't believe that it follows that the right or best choice is abortion.
First of all, there is the wonderful choice of adoption. Rebecca Kiessling's mother chose to put her up for adoption. If the real problem here is that the child's presence will bring a painful reminder of the violence of rape, then there are many, many couples who would love to take the child into their family. If the real issue is that the mother would not be able to bring herself to look into the eyes of the child of not be pained, the child could be placed in a family who would love him or her.
Second of all, there are many people who remind us of painful things that have happened to us. A friend who informs a woman that her husband has died in a car accident may forever remind that woman of her grief over her husband. A doctor who delivers the news that a child has died may forever remind the parents of the horror of that child dying. In 2001 one of my best friends was killed by a reckless driver. I am facebook friends who his college roommate. When I interact with him, or see his updates, I think of my friend Matt, and I am pained at his death.
But the friend, the doctor, and the college roommate bear no guilt. Their proximity to the tragedy simply makes them a person who reminds us of pain that we suffered (perhaps at the hands of someone else). In the same way, the child bears no guilt for the "father" in this case. The fact that the child may bring a painful reminder of violence and violation is not a reason to abort the child. This is an act of injustice, punishing the child for the sins of the "father."
Third of all, I believe that in many cases the child would be a source of joy rather than of grief. There are many situation in which tragedy takes place, but we celebrate something beautiful that comes from that tragedy. We severely underestimate the redemptive power of God when we conclude that nothing good could come from bearing and loving a child who was conceived in rape. God, who brings good out of evil, salvation out of desperation, and life out of death, can always bring good out of bad circumstances. This doesn't mean that I think the mother MUST keep the child instead of choosing the route of adoption, but I think we make a lot of faulty assumptions when we conclude that the mother's relationship with the child would necessarily be irrevocably tarnished.

If pro-life people would flex, and allow for some exceptions, the movement could make some headway.
Right now Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are running on a pro-life platform with the exceptions of rape and incest and the life of the mother. Is this platform the way to go, simply in order to build consensus and move closer to the overturn of Roe v. Wade?
Scott Klusendorf writes and speaks about abortion, advocating for the protection of unborn children. In his book The Case for Life he writes about how he handles questions about cases of rape. He concludes that it does very little good to allow for the exception in moving toward middle ground. He says,
"Here's why. The abortion-choice position he defends is not that abortions should be legal only when a woman is raped but that abortion is a fundamental right she can exercise for any reason she wants during all nine months of the pregnancy. Instead of defending this position with facts and arguments, he disguises it with an emotional appeal to rape. But this will not make his case. The argument from rape, if successful at all, would only justify abortion in cases of sexual assault, not for any reason the woman deems fit. In fact, arguing for abortion-on-demand from the hard case of rape is like trying to argue for the elimination of all traffic laws because a person might have to break one rushing a loved one to the hospital. Proving an exception does not prove a rule.
"To expose his smoke screen, I ask a question, 'Okay, I'm going to grant for the sake of discussion that we keep abortion legal in cases of rape. Will you join me in supporting legal restrictions on abortions done for socioeconomic reasons that, as studies on your side of the issue show, make up the overwhelming percentage of abortions?'
"The answer is almost always no, to which I reply, 'Then why did you bring up rape except to mislead us into thinking that you support abortion only in hard cases?'"
As Klusendorf points out, talk about the rape exception is often (but not always) a smoke screen. 1% of abortions are in situations of rape or incest. This does not downplay the horror of rape in these cases, but it does show that pregnancy by rape is by no stretch of the imagination the main reason for abortion, or even one of the main reasons.
All of this said, is the Romney/Ryan position better than the Obama/Biden position? I can't imagine how I could say anything but Yes. Less abortions are better because that means less unborn children dying. At the same time, I think we would feel conflicted if, in an effort to free slaves in the 1800s, someone argued, "We can't get the pro-slavery people to come around on this one. So let's make a slavery exception for those whose skin is especially dark." Would this be better than the previous situation? It would in the sense that more oppressed people would be set free. But it is a hard position to justify. It certainly is not a position that anyone would want to defend today.
But would I vote for such a law if it was on the ballot? I think that I would. I would not vote for it if we were starting from a position of abortion being illegal. But if we moved from abortion on demand to abortion only in special cases, this would save lives. And I would have a hard time not voting for something that would save lives.

No pro-life person is excusing or minimizing the horror of rape. But the horror of rape should not lead us to excuse ending the life of an innocent unborn child. If those of us who are pro-life are going to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, this should include unborn children who are conceived in rape. They are no less human and no less valuable than any child, grandchild, niece, or nephew in our lives today.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Caught Between Two Kingdoms

One of the most frequent phrases used in Christian circles is "kingdom of God." And yet it is not always clear what is meant by this idea. The concept of the kingdom of God can seems slippery.
In basic terms, the Christian church has historically taught that the kingdom of God has come in one sense, and that it is still to come in another sense. We are living in the in-between, caught between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world, ruled by the enemy, is still here, but his power is fading. The kingdom of God is growing in power and when Jesus returns it will come in its fullness.
There is an obscure story at the beginning of 2 Samuel that powerfully illustrates how we are faced with powerful decisions as we live between these two kingdoms. It is the story of a man named Abner.
Abner was the commander of Saul's army. As 2 Samuel begins, Saul has died. David's power is growing, but he has not yet fully come into his kingdom. It has been promised, but it has not been realized. The power of Saul's kingdom is fading and it has a certain expiration date.
After Saul's death, Abner responds by desperately holding onto Saul's kingdom. Second Samuel 2:8-9 says, "But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul's army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel." Clutching to the fading kingdom of Saul, Abner scrambles, grabs Saul's son, and declares him to be the king. He does what he can to keep Saul's kingdom going.
Abner's allegiance to Saul's kingdom, though, wanes in the next chapter. Ish-bosheth makes a spurious accusation against Abner, and this sets Abner off on an angry tirade. In 3:8-10 Abner says, "To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman. God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the LORD has sworn to him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba."
Now, there are several astonishing things about what Abner says in this passage. But two stand out.
1. He makes clear that he has done all that he could do for the house of Saul.
2. He makes clear that he knew all along that God had promised the kingdom to David.
It is important to pause in order to take in this reality. Abner reveals that he knew that God himself had promised the kingdom to David, and yet Abner did everything he could to fight David's ascendancy. In reality, Abner knowingly opposed what he knew that God had ordained.
What would possess a person to do this? What would cause someone to knowingly choose a side opposite God?
The answer is simple. Abner was an important person in Saul's fading kingdom. He had influence and prominence. This might not be true in David's approaching kingdom. He might have to settle for obscurity in that kingdom.
In Milton's Paradise Lost Satan says, "Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven." While Abner's actions may not have been quite as dramatic as Satan's reasoning, the two are in the same vein.
Here is the point. Abner was caught between a fading kingdom and a coming one. He chose the fading kingdom not out of ignorance, but because he had more prominence in the fading kingdom.
Like Abner, we are all caught between two kingdoms. The kingdom of the enemy is passing away. There is an expiration date on his reign. Still, there is the potential to be important in his kingdom. We can grab hold of his way of power or pleasure or fame. We can do things his way and we can scrape all that we can from his fading kingdom. But all the while, we will be fighting against the inevitable. We will be fighting against God.
Embracing Jesus' coming kingdom can put us on the outs right now. The fading kingdom still holds some sway. But when we choose self-serving power over self-giving power, when we choose self-indulgence over delayed gratification, when we choose petty revenge over forgiveness, we choose to stand opposed to God and his coming kingdom. And not only this, but we choose to align ourselves with what is certain to fade, rather than showing loyalty to what is certain to win out.
Abner chose prominence in a small and temporary kingdom over a place in the kingdom of God. Everyday we are faced with the same decision that Abner faced. What will we choose?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Abortion and the Death Penalty

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my friend Phil about abortion and the death penalty. One of the interesting facts that came up is that attitudes about the two issues tend to have a converse relationship. Typically, people on the right oppose abortion and support the death penalty. People on the left typically oppose the death penalty and support abortion.
Many people point out an inconsistency with the right. It is asked, "How can you be in favor of life when it comes to abortion, but not when it comes to the death penalty?" Now, I personally believe that there is no real conflict between these two. To say that you must oppose the death penalty if you oppose abortion is like saying that you have to oppose prison if you oppose wrongful convictions.
But I want to bring the inconsistency question to the left. Is it consistent to oppose the death penalty and yet support abortion?
This year there is a measure on the California ballot. Measure 34 proposes that the state of California repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison. While there are many reasons to oppose the death penalty, I was amazed at how many of the arguments appealed to the potential of executing an innocent person. It was the dominant argument against the death penalty, at least in this case. Earlier this year I read John Grisham's book The Confession, a book which proved that books can be preachy whether they lean right or left. Grisham's book basically became an anti-death penalty book, telling the tale of an innocent person being executed while authorities ignored obvious evidence with amazing disregard and indifference. Once again, the whole argument from Grisham was that the danger of executing an innocent person should be enough to make us rid ourselves of the death penalty.
To sum up, a huge anti-death penalty argument boils down to better-safe-than-sorry. Because there is the potential of killing an innocent person, we should not take the risk.
This brings me to the abortion issue. Now, I personally believe that there is overwhelming medical support supporting the fact that the unborn are people. But let's set that aside and simply say that we are unsure. Let's even say that we are pretty sure that the unborn are not people, but we can't be certain. By the logic of better-safe-than-sorry, shouldn't we avoid abortion. After all, there is a chance that we will kill an innocent person. And while the death penalty always takes a life, I think few would argue that it takes an innocent life every time. On the other hand, if the unborn are people, then abortion takes an innocent life every time.
Now, I personally strongly oppose abortion and support (not as strongly) the death penalty. But if both sides agreed to adopt a consistent better-safe-than-sorry grid, I would be more than happy to jump on board.

Monday, October 1, 2012

When No One Is Listening

One of the biggest topics in the news lately has been Governor Romney's secretly recorded comments about the 47%. The context is that a potential donor has asked him, on a practical level, how he will win the election. His response began with the idea that 47 percent of people "will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to good, to housing, to you-name it. That that's an entitlement and government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what." If you want the full context of the comments and the event at which he made them, here is an article you can read.
Since the secret recording was released, there have been varying reactions. Romney himself called the comments "inelegant" while some others have called them horribly offensive. I personally think the comment are worse than Romney is making them out to be, but I am not worked up over them. I guess my lack of indignation was for the same reason that I do not become indignant when a major college football program gets caught for recruiting violations. I have simply come to a place where I believe that the one who gets caught is not the only one who does it.
Case in point, a few months ago the president himself was caught on tape. During a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev concerning missile defense negotiations, the President Obama was recorded by a hot microphone. He said to the Russian president, "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility." The idea was that the president had to hold back on what he really wanted to do until he wouldn't have to worry about his quest for reelection. It ended up being an embarrassing gaffe.
What both of these situations have in common is that someone was caught on tape saying something that they had not intended for public consumption.
Now, before any of us throw stones at these men, we should consider what people would think of us if you private comments, jokes, and snide remarks were broadcast on television.
At the same time, these events underscore the fact that we often say what we really think when we don't beleive that our comments will have consequence. We speak most honestly when we don't think our comments will go public.
In Luke 12:2-3, Jesus said, "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."
In a similar sense, the author of Hebrews says in 4:13: "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Our youtube culture reminds us daily that what we say in private may end up being heard by the public. This is bad because comments are often taking out of context and friends betray confidences. At the same time, this is a sober reminder that we really don't have any private moments. We are always before God. He always hears us. And we are always accountable for what we say. When our "private" words are made public, we can blame those who betrayed the confidence, but we also must take a look at ourselves. If I am embarrassed that my words are repeated, then I need to ask why I said something embarrassing.
Living in freedom before God involves living with a clean conscience. Great freedom comes when you aren't afraid of getting caught or exposed. If we are content that our words, were they shouted from the rooftops, would reflect well on us, then there is nothing to fear.
Many years ago, a friend and fellow pastor, Alan, was wearing a microphone during the church service. The music was going on and the congregation was singing. He didn't realize that his microphone was on, and so people in the foyer could hear what he was saying. Standing in the back of the sanctuary he said to a friend, "You see that hot blonde in the front row?" You can imagine how the people in the foyer gasped when they heard this. Was their pastor checking out some woman and commenting about her. Then he said, "That's my lady." Great relief swept across the foyer when they realized that the "hot blonde" was his wife.
The story is only funny because, instead of being caught saying something embarrassing, Alan was caught saying something nice. His most honest words were revealed, and he was talking flatteringly about his wife. His private moment went public, and it revealed only a clean conscience.

We will all be caught on tape. We will all have private moments go public. May we live soberly before God so that those comments will reveal private people who are consistent with our public personas.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Homosexuality and Freedom

The issue of homosexuality is one of the most contentious issues in American culture today. The biblical position is clearly that homosexuality is wrong. The point of this post is not to prove this, but rather to talk about how we respond to this teaching. If you want to look into the biblical framework, you can read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:9-11, or Romans 1:24-27. Also, you can listen to a message that I just preached at Life Bible Fellowship Church this past Sunday if you want to hear my framework on these passages and this issue.
Of all the biblical positions that Christian embrace, this may be the one that is least tenable in our culture. There are many reasons for this. One of the key reasons is that this teaching seems to take away the freedom for people to define themselves.
I confess that, when dealing with the values of our culture, it is a hard sell when trying to convince people that homosexuality is wrong. It is an uphill climb. I don't believe that this post will necessarily convince anyone to change their position. I do, however, hope to present some thoughts that may be able to help us with our framework as we talk about the issue.
The main issue at stake in this post is this: Does the Bible's teaching on homosexuality rob people of their freedom?
In a sense, it seems like the answer is a very obvious, 'Yes.' When anything is forbidden, this robs people of freedom. In this sense, all prohibitions in the Bible rob human beings of freedom. Prohibitions against adultery, murder, robbery, slander, and pride all rob people of freedom. The prohibitions force us to change our actions, to limit ourselves. In order to follow them we must say 'No' to our impulses when we feel like slandering others, retaliating in violence, acting on sexual impulses, and thinking too highly of ourselves. All commands, in a certain sense, rob us of freedom.
To follow this up, it is reasonable to conclude that most people agree that it is good for us to limit our freedom. Most of us believe that in every situation we should not exercise our freedom to murder or rob one another. And most of us believe that, at least most of the time, we should not commit adultery or speak disparagingly of others.
But why do we limit our freedoms? Is it just so that others are not victims of our slander or violence or pride? If this is the case, then we might say, "Our lives would be better if we could freely enact our violent and sexual and verbal and territorial impulses, but for the good of others, we must deny ourselves." We might lament our loss of freedom, but begrudging accept the situation.
But would our lives really be better if we lived completely by our impulses? The answer is certainly 'No.' In fact, true freedom is not about the ability to say 'Yes,' but the ability to say 'No.' Before the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were not free because they had to say Yes to their masters. Their freedom was defined by their ability now to say 'No' to them. When we are free, we are able to say 'No' to those who would make oppressive demands from us. Denial is core to the idea of freedom.
But now comes the point of divergence between those who embrace the gospel of Jesus and those who reject it. Those who embrace Jesus end up concluding that Jesus sets us free from a number of oppressive masters. In fact, we conclude that, for the most part, our impulses are oppressive masters. Our impulse toward pride will end up placing us in the prison of self-love. Our impulse toward anger will place us in the prison of bitterness and resentment. Our impulse toward rampant sexual exploration will place us in the prison of hollow sexual addition or the quest to fulfill ourselves through sex. Our impulse toward speaking cruel words to others will place us in the prison of loneliness and self-importance. When we let our impulses lead us, we are not free. We are their slaves. We have to do what they tell us to do. What we think will bring freedom only brings slavery.
But the point of all this is not that there is no proper expression of the freedom for which we long. The point is not that we can't get freedom. The point is just that we often look for it in the wrong places. We look for it in the free expression of our appetites for food and drink and sex and revenge, while all of these lead to slavery instead of freedom. But behind all of these misguided actions is the proper desire for freedom. We want it, and God knows we want it.
Jesus said that he came to set us free, and that freedom comes with becoming his disciples and obeying his words. Freedom comes not through obeying our misguided impulses, but neither does freedom come through throwing off any possible master. We as human beings are not free, and we need a liberator to lead us to freedom. Jesus is the master and liberator who leads us to freedom.
Can a master lead you to freedom? Can you get freedom through obeying everything that a person tells you to do? It sounds like a paradox, but it isn't. If you are tangled up in chains, you would gladly obey the instructions of someone who was able, step by step to tell you how to become untangled. If you were trapped in a dark cave, you would gladly obey every instruction of a person who came to lead you to freedom. Jesus is the master, the Son of God, who died in order to lead us to freedom. He claims that he can do it. The only question is whether or not we trust him enough to follow his lead.
Now, when it comes to homosexuality, there is clarity that God's Word identifies it as a sinful activity. This means it is an activity that will not lead us to freedom, but instead to slavery. Like other sins, it offers us freedom because it offers us the opportunity to freely follow our impulses. Whether or not there is a genetic condition that leads to same-sex attractions, it is clear that some people will live a homosexual lifestyle if they freely follow their impulses.
Many of us want to ask why it leads to slavery instead of freedom. I think that we do have some answers to this question. We could conclude from the Bible that we are compromising our masculinity or femininity when we trade in heterosexuality for homosexuality (Romans 1). We could conclude that we overlook how God has made us (emotionally and also biologically), and thus miss out on the lives God has ordained for us. But we also must, to some extent, exercise faith in cases like these. There are many times, when following someone to freedom, that you must trust him without knowing why a certain path is necessary. Sometimes we must deny our appetites even though we are saying to God, "This other way seems better to me." In order for finite human beings to experience freedom, we must at some level be willing to trust the infinite God who sent his Son to purchase our freedom.
So, in the end, the biggest question does not concern the wrongness of homosexuality (or any sin). The biggest question concerns whether or not we trust Jesus to lead us to freedom. He claims that he can do it. Do we believe him?
If we do, then we all must be willing to say 'No' to a number of impulses in order to say 'Yes' to him and his leading.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Abortion and the Quest for Value

Today I had the privilege of meeting with some leaders from Assure Pregnancy Clinic in Ontario. We had a great conversation about their ministry and about the current state of the pro-life movement.
At one point I asked Sharon Sparks, the director, what she thought was the main message that needed to be heard by women seeking abortions. She said many wonderful things, but the first thing that she said was, "You are valued."
It is important to talk about the biblical teaching on abortion and the worldview issues that follow. It is important to talk about the medical issues surrounding abortion. It is important to talk about the guilt and shame and regret that so often follow the choice to abort a child.
At the same time, according to the staff of Assure, many of the women coming to the clinic believe that abortion is wrong (at least in most cases). The problem is not simply lack of education. The problem is that women feel cornered. Their parents or boyfriends (or sometimes husbands) are pressuring them to abort. Many times financial concerns enter into the decision. These pressures and concerns often drown out the ethical questions surrounding abortion. It can create a situation in which medical and Scriptural arguments fall on deaf ears.
But then there is Sharon's message. You are valued. You are important. You matter.
When we believe that we are important and valuable, an amazing thing happens. Suddenly, we feel empowered not to take the easy path, but the more difficult one.
There are times when my wife gives me encouragement as a husband, a father, a pastor, and a man. She speaks words that reinforce a deep value that I have in all of these roles. When I hear these life-giving words I am not inspired to sleep in, sit on the couch, watch TV, and overeat. Instead I am inspired to seek Christ more powerfully, invest in my kids more personally, pursue my wife more vigorously, and live for Christ more holistically. Her words of value make me want to take the more challenging path because this is more consistent with that idea that I am valued.
When we believe that we matter, we are empowered to make difficult decisions instead of taking the path of least resistance. We suddenly want to get off the couch and work hard at something. We suddenly want to recover from our addictions. And we suddenly want to care for a needy child instead of escaping from a difficult situation.
The Gospel of Jesus gives us the powerful situation that we are valued. We are not valued because we decide that we are. We are valued because God values us! he values us so much that he parted with his beloved Son in order to rescue us from sin and death! We are treasured by the Creator of the entire universe.
If we are going to make a difference in the lives of women, men, and unborn children, we must communicate the gospel value that they are treasured by God himself. I pray that we can boldly and joyfully embrace and communicate this truth. And I pray that this truth will drive all of us to choose the more challenging path of living as people who are deeply valued, rather than settling for the mediocre life of people who believe they are forgotten or ignored.