Why Did You Do That?


Just yesterday, my youngest son did something stupid.

To tell the truth, his mom and dad often do stupid things, too—daily. But our job is to correct him and help him to be better than we are (which means making him prone to doing fewer stupid things). So we corrected our child.

The main way we corrected him was by asking him a question: Why did you do that?

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

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His reply was, “I don’t know.” When he responded that way, we knew clearly where our real work needed to begin. We needed to help him understand why he does inappropriate things. If we could help him understand why he does these things, we might also be able to lead him to see why he should not do them—and why he should do more positive things instead.

This struggle in our day to day child-rearing turns out to be a struggle that sits at the heart of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is about what we ought to do, what we ought not do, and why we ought to do/ not do certain things. On this last question, the “why” question, there is much debate among Christian thinkers. Why ought we love others and not murder them?

The simplest ethical response is, “Because God says so.” (But why does God say so? How do we know?)

The answer growing more popular these days to the “why” question is something like, “because good people (God’s people) do good things.” This latter answer operates on the idea that our character determines our actions. According to this view, God is intensely concerned to shape our character so that good actions which please him will flow from our good character. A classic example of this approach comes from Jesus in Matthew 12:33-35,

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Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Christians obviously want to be good trees bearing good fruits. The kind of person you are determines the kind of actions you will perform. But there’s a  big #Problem!

How does this work? By nature, we aren’t good trees! Scripture tells us that we are by nature dead—children of wrath (Ephesians 2); Scripture says that by nature not a single one of us is righteous (Romans 3); and the Bible teaches that by nature our hearts seek to do evil continually even from a very young age (Genesis 8).

The naturally bad trees will not attempt to do good—that would be working against our own nature (like a peach tree somehow deciding to grow a watermelon). If, on the other hand, we simply confess we are bad trees and thus must do bad works, we fall victim to fatalism and disobey God’s instructions openly. How in the world can a naturally bad tree produce good fruit?

Here is where Christian ethics must begin—with theology! Christian living begins with God supernaturally revealing himself and his gospel to those who are by nature children of wrath. God reveals both himself and the sacrifice Jesus made in order for those who believe to be “converted” into good trees bearing good fruit. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved!”

God makes His people alive! God reveals himself and his will to his people. His people love and trust him. They trust him to teach them how to live in this world and how to remain safe in his presence forever. Because God is good, everything he commands his people is also good.

The key to Christian ethics is simple: Start with a good and gracious God making his will known; then make disciples (teach people of all backgrounds to obey what Jesus teaches).

Disciples start obeying. From their obedience, disciples grow more and more good fruit. Obeying Jesus leads to better discernment. As the writer of Hebrews says it,

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hb 5:14).

So, Christian ethics, like child-rearing, is a process of asking and answering, “Why did you do that?” –followed by, “Why don’t you simply trust God and do what He says?” #Discernment #Sanctification

Why Worry?


Students get anxious when final exams arise. Salesmen get anxious when monthly sales quotas fall short. Authors get anxious when the manuscript deadline draws near. Contractors get anxious when rain delays put them behind schedule. Parents get anxious when their children flirt with unhealthy life choices. Everyone experiences the pressure which leads to worry. It’s part of life.

A lot of times, we juggle our own anxiety along with the anxieties of those closest to us.

man in green coat figure standing in front of yellow toy bus

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Perhaps your daughter is stressing about not having a date to prom while you are worrying about the next round of layoffs at the company. Maybe your girlfriend is having tons of problems with her impossible roommate while you are waiting for someone to pay what they owe you so you can make this month’s rent.

Life is filled with an endless flow of opportunities for worry. And into such a worry-filled world, we find in Philippians 4, Paul saying some amazing things: “Be anxious for nothing.”

What! Really? No way! There’s so much to be anxious about! Are we to pretend these anxieties don’t exist?

As it turns out, Paul offers a remedy much better than pretending. He instructs us to “let our requests be made known to God” (4:6). Paul follows a biblical pattern for obedience. Like much of the Bible, Paul follows his “Do not” with a better “Do this instead.” The negative introduces, but the positive action is supposed to rule the day.

So Paul says in Philippians 4, “Do not be anxious for anything” (negative); instead let your requests be made known to God (positive). He seems to say that telling God what we need in order to [Do Not Be Anxious] will somehow remedy all our worrisome woes.

Does life really work this way?

I can imagine a conversation with someone in my congregation who is fighting anxiety. My saying something like “Tell God about it” or “Pray” or “Go to God with this” usually doesn’t help at all. The immediate reply to me often goes like this: “O, I have been praying about this.” [And God has not responded.]

No one openly admits that their real concern is that they have been asking God, and God has not helped! In fact, in conversations about anxiety, people aren’t really asking, “how do I get rid of anxiety?” What they really want to know is, “Why has God not fixed this yet?” The answer to that question, according to Paul, is something worse than we imagine.

Anxiety about our circumstances is not an indication that we have forgotten God; it’s a declaration that God is insufficient to meet our needs. Worrying and fretting are statements that God’s timing is all wrong. Anxiety is a call for God’s inaction to be overturned.

Paul’s positive command to let your requests be made known to God is not our opportunity to supply God with the information he was missing. Rather, this command is an opportunity for us to reverse course, to put the matter back in God’s hands where the outcome will be more secure.

Look at the text more closely. Paul says,

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:4-7.

First, Paul reminds us that the Lord is near. Then he commands us to let our requests be made known to God. Notice the attention Paul gives to describing HOW we are to let our requests be made known.

  1. Aware of God’s nearness.
  2. Without anxiety.
  3. In everything (all life circumstances all the time).
  4. By prayer and by supplication.
  5. With thanksgiving.

Paul gives us quite a description of the method and demeanor which ought to shape our prayers. Perhaps the last part is the most difficult: with thanksgiving! How can people give thanks for the very things which are stressing them out?

Paul says give thanks to God for the people in your life. Give thanks to God for the opportunity He is giving you to be a faithful witness. Give thanks to God for the way He is reminding us of our own weaknesses and of our great need for a great savior and lord! Give thanks for the school, thanks for the job, thanks for the children, thanks for the spouse, thanks for the income—thanks for the God who is near and has never left nor forsaken His children (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

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Here’s the craziest part of all… Paul is writing this letter from prison! Paul was thrown into prison when he founded the church at Philippi. And Paul was in prison again when he wrote this letter to these saints. Trying to spread the gospel, he kept getting thrown into dungeons with his feet and hands shackled to the floor. Did he have reason for being anxious about his future? Yes!

But he likely followed his own advice and let his requests be known to God in all of life by prayer with thanksgiving. And Paul found what you and I will find: the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guards hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (4:7).

How great is this encouragement!

The peace of God—beyond all our thoughts—will guard our hearts and minds. What does Paul mean that our hearts and minds will be guarded? He means just like the Philippian jailer once stood outside his cell and guarded Paul, his prisoner, so now the Almighty sovereign of heaven and earth stands guard to keep the minds and hearts of his people locked in his house of safety chained to his promise of peace for their souls.

To be “free” of God’s standing guard to keep us in his peace, all we need to do is demand our right to start worrying again about tomorrow.

Asia Bibi and Why She Matters


Alumni from CBU and from the BAT program texted me today and tagged me on social media to make sure I noticed the release of Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi). They remember praying for her many times in various classes over the years. Finally, Asia Bibi has now been released, after more than 8 years in jail.

Asia grew up in Punjab Province in Pakistan. She is a Christian woman—the only one inAsia Bibi Persecution Pakistan Pray her village. She and her husband have two daughters together. She also has three stepchildren from her husband’s previous marriage. Her husband and two daughters left Pakistan and relocated to London, England, for their safety, while Asia’s appeals continued at a snail’s pace through Pakistani courts.

No credible evidence was established to prove that Asia committed blasphemy against Muhammad. However, she remained in custody. The reason? Fear. Muslim judges and political leaders have not taken up her case because doing so would likely mean giving their lives. Even knowing the stakes, two governing officials over the years have tried to help Asia.

Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer came to Asia’s aid in 2011. On the basis of Justice, he pleaded for her release. He was shot by one of his own security team members. Upon hearing of Taseer’s death, Asia reportedly wept inconsolably, knowing that this man sacrificed his life for her.

Another of her advocates—Shabaz Bhatti—worked through parliament to end Pakistan’s infamous “Blasphemy Law 295c.” Bhatti was the only Christian member of Pakistan’s Cabinet. He was the Minority Affairs Minister. On March 2, 2011, gunmen ambushed Bhatti’s car near his house, killing him. He knew the stakes and had told his closest companions he was willing to die for justice.

Today, three Muslim judges–chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel—have risked their own lives for the cause of truth and justice. In their decision, they quoted Muslim sources demonstrating that, yes, blasphemy is awful, but so, too, is falsely accusing others of it and sentencing them to death. Knowing they have righted the wrong of sentencing Asia to death, these courageous Muslim judges have now put themselves at risk of the same.

The Red Mosque in Paris, the Islamist TLP in Pakistan, and Muslims throughout the region have little interest in justice. They demand blood. They are angry. But James taught us long before Muhammad was born that the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. May the Lord strengthen all people of good will to protect Asia, her family, and these courageous Muslim judges and against the bloodthirsty mobs.

Space, Steve Miller, and a Good Christian Time


 

About forty years ago, my friend and I sat excitedly as the diamond needle made its way from the edge of the vinyl disc toward the center. Reliably, the turntable rotated at 33.3 RPM until the needle made its way to the grooved section with the song we most wanted to hear: “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.

bald-eagle-521492_1920As Miller’s melody filled the air, we experienced many feelings; disappointment wasn’t among them! The instant the “space intro” began to play, we were transported from our south Louisiana homes into a far-away world of rhythmic delight.

More recently, in a different small town in south Louisiana, scientists were likewise transported into a far-away place of audible fascination, but theirs was not a musical adventure—at least not technically. Scientists detected a faint chirp from deep space, instantaneously affirming Einstein’s century-old prediction that gravitational waves permeate our universe.

Writing in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye describes this chirp as music to the scientist’s ear,

“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.”

On September 14, 2015, scientists at two different LIGO[1] facilities in Washington and Louisiana achieved the milestone discovery of GW150914—the first directly observed gravitational wave in space. Lasting only 0.2 seconds, the chirp of this wave reverberated around the world to the delight of scientists everywhere. Though discovered in September 2015, the wave was not announced until February 2016. Scientists ever since have been heralding the wave detection as a major achievement in science. Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute calls this discovery “the real thing,” while Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University says it is one of the major breakthroughs of physics. Eric Katsavounidis (LIGO team member) says, “This is the end of the silent-movie era in astronomy.”[2]

Astronomers are ecstatic about this discovery for more than one reason. Sure, Blog universe-2368403_1920GW150914 affirms an important aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps more importantly, the detection of this gravitational wave means an entirely new dimension of exploration is unfolding. In the past, scientists studied the universe mainly by observing light. Now, gravitational waves can be studied throughout the cosmos, further clarifying aspects of motion, time, and origin of the cosmos. Adding gravitational waves is like adding sound to the light of the universe.

Years before my friend and I even heard of the Steve Miller Band, scientists had already begun working to observe gravitational waves. LIGO began as a dream in the 1960’s with scientists like Kip Thorne at Caltech. These scientists persevered through funding issues, research setbacks, and technology deficiencies for forty-eight years before their dream of detecting a gravitational wave was realized. If nothing else, the achievement stands as a testimony to human perseverance.

In 1916, Einstein first proposed finding gravitational waves. The search for these waves began in earnest about fifty years ago. Construction of super-technical, super-sensitive equipment began two decades ago. Over the last two decades, more than two hundred million dollars were invested in upgrades to the two LIGO observatories, culminating in a final round of intensive upgrades over the last five years. And just about a year ago—before the equipment was officially ready to launch—it happened. The chirp sounded (listen here). For two-tenths of a second, the earth surfed across a gravitational wave. Scientists worldwide rightly applauded.

Gravitational wave GW150914 was produced by the final collapse of spiraling, binary black holes. These spiraling black holes were once massive stars which collapsed into themselves, then into each other. Each of these black holes began as stars with a mass thirty times that of our sun. The collapse of the two stars, and the consequent merger of the two black holes, happened 1.4 billion light years away in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.

No one on earth felt the gravitational wave. Without the sophisticated, ultra-sensitive LIGO equipment, no one would ever have known that such a wave existed. But because of LIGO scientists who were able to split laser beams and send them through 2.5 mile long vacuum tubes 90 degrees apart in Louisiana and Washington, the world now knows for sure that gravitational waves are rippling through the cosmos like intergalactic whirlpools. It’s easy to see why physicists are so excited.

Christians should join their applause. LIGO is a monumental achievement. Christians might be tempted to conflate this discovery too quickly into an argument for design (against evolution), or to question the assumptions of origins (for fiat creation against Big Bang cosmology). Scientists do tend to leave a number of metaphysical questions hanging like the ill-fitting apparel we put on the discarded clothes rack in fitting rooms. Charles Q. Choi explains it this way:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”[3]

blog galaxies-connectedWhy is the universe expanding? To what end is the universe expanding? Is there a purpose built into the expansion? Where did the energy and mass derive from which the Big Bang occurred? Why should there be a Big Bang in the first place? These and many other questions remain unanswered. In truth, GW150914 answers some questions, refuses to answer other questions, and reveals still more fascinating questions waiting to be asked.

One such question in my own mind is how does this discovery affect our understanding of time and history. Ostensibly, the experiment had little to do with time; it was an experiment designed to detect gravitational waves in space. Yet everything about the experiment extols the virtues of linear time.

Think back to the song “Fly Like an Eagle.” The song wished for a revolution to eradicate poverty. Steve Miller wished he could fly like an eagle until he was free from the suffering in this world. Miller hoped for progress over time. One of the more memorable lines from the song is the confident refrain, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”

Like those of us whose cognitive formation took place in a western tradition, Steve Miller assumed that time is linear—that time progresses toward a defined point which we call the future. Does the notion of linear time correspond to the reality of the cosmos? Eastern religions doubt linear time. Even in the West, some have begun to doubt that time has a fixed beginning and a linear progression into the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche may be the most influential philosopher in the West to argue against linear time. According to Nietzsche, time occurs in a series of endless loops, a system he referred to as eternal recurrence. In this system, time is more like a wheel, turning round and round but going nowhere. Human action is rendered insignificant because whatever is has already been and will be again. In eternal recurrence, human action is pre-determined by the cycle of time. Thus, no human action ultimately changes history. The future is swallowed up in the past. So Nietzsche explained in Zarathustra, “The soul is as mortal as the body. But the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again.”[4]

Nietzsche was comfortable with—if not excited by—this loss of future meaning, but not everyone shares his zeal for embracing (and thus defying) the meaninglessness of human existence. Philosopher Ron Nash points out that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence robbed history of meaning: “In order for history to have significance, it must have a goal. Without a purpose or goal, neither history nor individual human lives can have significance. Without a goal, there would be no basis by which mere change could be identified as progress.”[5]

It’s easy to see that the LIGO scientists pay close attention to history—especially the last 100 years. Not only history, these scientists are serious and sober about the future. They believe they are making progress, but they know they are only scratching the surface. They are determined to learn as much as they can before they die, leaving a knowledge trail for future scientists. In other words, these scientists believe in progress. LIGO scientists believe in the future.

The optimism of this work affirms in three ways the linear concept of time: First, that this universe has a single point of origin. Second, that this is an orderly universe which remains intact over time. Third, that the work done presently matters (has enduring significance not just now but in the future). These scientists share a belief in the progress of knowledge (preservation and advancement).

Christians, too, believe the universe has a single point of origin. We proclaim the significance of human life now with great confidence toward the future. We believe, for instance, that Christ died for our sins once in history for all time, and the benefits of that death endure to the future.

Christians should join the celebration of GW150914. The discovery of this wave affirms the way we see the universe. Christians and physicists agree that time is significant for human beings in the past and present. This discovery also means that we can keep singing Steve Miller, as time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                [1] LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. There are two observatories, one in Livingston, LA, the other near Richland, WA.

[2] As quoted by Robert Naeye, Sky and Telescope, February 11, 2016, accessed [on-line] 27 January 2016: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/gravitational-wave-detection-heralds-new-era-of-science-0211201644/

                [3] Charles Q. Choi, “Our Expanding Universe: Age, History, and Other Facts,” Space.Com (January 13, 2015), accessed January 30, 2017, [on-line] http://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html

 

                [4] As Quoted in C. Ivan Spencer, The Tweetable Nietzsche (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 104. Originally, this quotation is found in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra [III, “The Convalescent”].

[5] Ron Nash, The Meaning of History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998), 38.

Why Getting So Angry Might Not Help


Angry Bee BlogWhen a honey bee gets angry, it stings.  After the sting, it dies.  Literally, the bee gives its life in defense of its anger seeking revenge.  Our anger is often like that of the bee.  It is volatile and deadly.  And, like the bee, we are able to inflict only a temporary pain to the objects of our ire, yet we are likely to kill ourselves in the process.  The anger of man (or woman) does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

Of course, I don’t mean that we physically die, as does the bee. Rather, I mean that something about us is lost when we unleash our poisonous stingers of anger against others.  We lose a right relationship with the person for one thing.  For another thing, we lose control of our own emotions.  But, even beyond these losses, we lose something else—something far more valuable than any reward of satisfaction we get by cutting another man or woman down to size.  We lose sight of God.

You see, our anger does not establish righteousness.  No matter how angry we get, no matter how many people we bring alongside of us to share in our anger, we cannot prove by that anger that we are right.  Miriam was angry with Moses. Moses was angry with Miriam and with the people in the wilderness.  The people in the wilderness were angry with God and Moses. Yet, none of these was considered righteous by God.  All their grumblings were sin.  In fact, their anger ended up making God angry with them because of their unbelief.

Did it matter that it was the majority opinion that they had a right to be angry?  No.  God does not establish righteousness by majority opinion.  He establishes righteousness by His own righteousness.  No matter how mad we get, no matter how many hornet’s nests of anger we stir up in others, no matter the size of the crowd or the volume of the protests—we will never attain to the righteousness of God by our anger.  Indeed, as with the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, our anger may only be a clear presentation of our own unrighteousness.  It does not matter that “everyone agAnger Blogrees” with our reason for being angry.  The anger of man does not—and will not ever—bring about the righteousness of God.  We lose sight of God when we curse our spouses, our bosses, our employees, our teachers, our team mates, our roommates, our siblings, or our parents.

Because we lose sight of God, we lose sight of ourselves, too.  Perhaps the worst thing our outbursts of anger prove is that we have a very unrealistic view of ourselves before God.  If we had any idea of how deeply our own private and public sins offend God, we would not dare allow our tongues out of our mouths as weapons to be employed against others.  We would be quiet and still in the presence of God’s holiness, and we would see sufficient reason for keeping our own mouths shut, lest He become angry with us, and we perish along the way.

So, anger clearly makes us think too highly of ourselves, too lowly of others, and way too little of God.  Instead of an outburst of anger, we should work to burst outwardly with grace toward others, remembering that Christ taught us “By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2-3)

God simply refuses to be impressed with our anger.  He is too impressed with His Son who cleanses us from murderous thoughts and outbursts of anger (see Galatians 5).  May we be as impressed with Christ as the Father.  If that be the case, we would not exalt ourselves above others.  We would be much quieter and gentler.  And we would be more loving… and more joyful.

Why God Cares for the Poor: An Old Testament Perspective


PoorThe Old Testament locates justice in God and understands that people called by his name ought also to practice justice, beginning with their own families and their own covenant community. The rationale behind such a design is organic and seems inescapable. How could an Israelite demand in the name of God that justice be carried out in Samaria or Nineveh or Egypt or Philistia if the Israelite did not first carry out justice in Israel? It was the nation of Israel which was to be a light to the Gentiles. Indeed, Deuteronomy 4:7-8 sums up the thought perfectly:

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? What great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

The people of God were expected to stand out because of the very fact they had access to the word of God. While the concept of covenant community is often forgotten in conversations regarding civil justice, it ought not be. The watching world is supposed to see something different about God’s covenant community as a whole. Both an individual and corporate witness was expected to be on display, as each Israelite was shaped ultimately by the just and righteous God who made them a nation in the first place.

Unfortunately, Israel too often failed to maintain God’s standard of righteousness in their own community. Thus, God sent prophets to proclaim his righteousness, calling the people back to repentance. These prophets and righteous ones often became the persecuted (Jer. 20:2), the outcast (1 Kings 18:4), and the needy (Gen. 37:36). Thus, quite often in the Old Testament the righteous and the poor are grouped together. Being righteous was, sadly, often the means by which one became poor. The pairing of these two concepts in Amos 2:6 makes the point: “Thus says the LORD:

“For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals” (ESV).

The shock value of Amos 2:6 is, of course, that it is aimed at the covenant children of Israel.  God’s people, Israel—of all people in the world—ought to have enacted justice and righteousness. Instead, God’s people actually oppressed the righteous. These needy people were not righteous because they were poor; rather, they were poor because they were righteous.[1]

Their concern for God’s righteousness likely cost them social standing and opportunity, ultimately leading to their being oppressed. God does indeed care for the poor, but he has a particular concern for the righteous poor—which certainly includes the persecuted who are poor on account of him.

 

                [1] This insight comes from Old Testament Professor Jeff Mooney, who has made the case in conversations with me that the poor in the Old Testament are often poor because they suffer on account of righteousness.

*This post is adapted from chapter 12 of Christians in the Crosshairs.

 

How Mark Links Christ to Persecuted Christians


onelinkThe Bible is the one written word of God from Genesis (original creation) to Revelation (the new heavens and the new earth). There is one consistent story (creation-fall-redemption) narrated throughout the 66 books of the Bible. The four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are early attempts to consolidate the entire story into short summaries (“gospels” or tracts that tell the good news of God’s redemption).

The story of God and his dominion was prophesied through Isaiah in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Mark builds upon Isaiah’s prophecy to picture Jesus as its fulfillment. In Mark’s story, when Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, he calls them to follow him personally in the work he is accomplishing.

Jesus commands his disciples, “Follow me.” Jesus calls his disciples to follow him in Mark 1:17; 2:14; and 8:34, with the first-person pronoun (me) present each time, thus indicating that their call was not a generic following of a religion or a political action committee; rather, the call was to follow Jesus Christ himself.

The personal nature of this call was made clear by Peter, who said in 10:28, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you.” The disciples left their families and jobs for this single purpose: to follow Jesus Christ. The gospel of Mark makes clear that this following of Jesus means following also the kingship mission he was accomplishing.

The gospel of Mark unfolds the relationship between Christ and his followers as beginning with the call to be in the presence of Christ but always accompanying that call with the expectation that the disciples will also join with Christ in announcing the coming of a new kingdom. The disciples are called to more than a profession of faith. They are called to join “the initiation of God’s sovereign action that brings salvation and is to end in a transformed universe.”[1]

They are called to faith, to believe (1:14-15). Being called for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the gospel in Mark is similar to being called on account of righteousness in Matthew. Also in Mark 3:14, Jesus appointed twelve to be in his presence and to go out and preach, and, in this one verse,  two controlling ideas are found: presence and practice. From the time of their calling, the disciples are called both to Christ’s presence and to the practice of obedience.

Being thus connected to the presence and practice of Christ, faithful followers are expected to suffer opposition and even persecution–just as Christ did–because they are empowered by Christ himself to continue his kingdom work. Christ explained this to his first followers, for instance, in Mark 10:29-30:

29 Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30 who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. 

 Just as the world and its powers fought against the work Christ was doing in the first century, so, today, similar powers will oppose the work our Lord continues to accomplish through us.

[1]G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Matthew 6:33: The Kingdom of God and the Ethics of Jesus,” in Neues Testament und Ethik, ed. Rudolf Schnackenburg (Freiburg: Herder, 1989), 88, referencing Mark 1:15.

Don’t Be Afraid of Bad Disciples


Have you ever sacrificed your time and your energy to invest in other people? You probably spent time with them in discipleship, building them up in God’s Word, only to have them go astray and turn away from all you taught them. It hurts, doesn’t it? It seems like a life-investment with no return.

Christ definition disciple what is disciple christianThe founders of Southern Seminary in Louisville learned early in the life of that great institution the pain of a life investment lost.  One of the first and brightest students to come through Southern Seminary was Crawford H. Toy.  By all accounts, he was a brilliant student and became an early faculty member at Southern.  But then he went astray.

Basil Manly said that Toy “breathed an atmosphere of doubt” until it became his “ritual air.” Toy abandoned his position on the reliability of Scripture.  He left Southern and became a professor at Harvard, where he would later become a Unitarian.  This move crushed the founders of Southern Seminary, men who had invested greatly in Toy.  James P. Boyce, upon leaving Toy at the train station for his departure from Southern Seminary (and biblical orthodoxy), famously cried out—with his right arm held high: “Oh, Toy, I would freely give that arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”

What pastor or serious man of God would not freely offer himself as Boyce did to preserve the soul of a young man in whom he has made a life investment? Sadly, Christian history—beginning with Judas—is riddled with men who have been as close to the truth as darkness is to the light that shines into it, and yet have turned away in the end.  Such a turn from truth is grievous for a teacher to see.

Today is Reformation Day, October 31st.  As you celebrate the freedoms of the Protestant Reformation, remember that good and faithful pastors have paved the way for you to receive God’s Word. For those of us who speak English, remember William Tyndale, the father of the English Reformation.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate and publish the Bible in English.  For his translation and publishing efforts, he was killed—strangled, then burned at the stake.  And yet, his work remains.  Indeed, when the King James (authorized) translation was produced, the committee retained about 84% of Tyndale’s interpretations. Tyndale studied, labored, and died so we could have access to Scripture in our own language.

You may have heard the story of William Tyndale. But you probably haven’t heard much about Henry Phillips. Henry Phillips was something of a drifter, a castaway.  He was a gambler whose situation had become so desperate that he stole money from his own father to pay his debts. And yet, William Tyndale took him in.

Tyndale shared his meals with Phillips.  Tyndale made a life investment in Phillips, sharing with him the glorious joy of justification by faith alone.  Tyndale showed Phillips all his latest manuscripts and shared with him the plans he had for Bible publication in England.  Few people were given such privileged access by this great Reformer.

And in May of 1535, the life investment Tyndale made in Henry Phillips paid its diabolical Reformation Tyndale english persecutiondividend.  Phillips turned on Tyndale, leading him into a trap in which soldiers easily subdued the wily wordsmith.  Tyndale was led away to a dungeon in Vilvoorde Castle.  From there, he was taken to his death.  Henry Phillips was able to pay a few more debts with his blood money.

As we consider our own life-investments lost, let us be mindful of William Tyndale, whose great work still remains nearly 500 years after his death. He may regret the investment he made in Henry Phillips, but William Tyndale—I am sure—has no regrets about investing his own life in the work of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, the life investments we make are for the gospel. Thus, they are never in vain.

Happy Reformation Day! And keep up the good work.

Stop the Intolerants


[…the conclusion to Tuesday’s post]

A PERSONAL EXAMPLE

Carson Intolerance new tolerance persecutionIn the same Spirit which animated Paul’s protest at Philippi, Barronelle Stutzman is standing against injustice—and paying a price for it. Stutzman’s polite refusal to make a floral arrangement for a homosexual couple was rooted in her firm belief that she would not be loving her neighbors by participating in their same sex marriage. Stutzman did not refuse to do business with the homosexual couple. She sold them flowers from her shop. She had a very friendly, on-going relationship with the couple. She even offered to sell them flowers for their wedding, but she did not want to make the floral arrangements.

For this, Stutzman has been called horrible names and branded as a homophobe and a bigot. In telling her story, Professor Richard Epstein  (Professor of Law at NYU, senior lecturer University of Chicago, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute) turns the table on the enforcers. Epstein demonstrates clearly that the enforcers are more intolerant than the Christian in this same-sex scenario. Here’s how he says it,

Let’s define our terms. “The English noun bigot,” Wikipedia tells us, “is a term of abuse aimed at a prejudiced or closed-minded person, especially one who is intolerant or hostile towards different social groups (especially, and originally, other religious groups), and especially one whose own beliefs are perceived as unreasonable or excessively narrow-minded, superstitious, or hypocritical. The abstract noun is bigotry.” Phobia, meanwhile, is defined as a “persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.” The issue is whether these terms are more applicable to the people of faith attacked by the commissioners, or to the aggressive commissioners themselves.

For Epstein, Stutzman isn’t the bigot. He prosecutes his case by demonstrating how this issue is a government overreach. The market might clearly correct some of these issues if given enough time. Instead, Epstein argues, the government strikes preemptively—the omnipotent state putting its decisive thumb on the scales of justice. Here, Epstein is brilliant. He is right to identify that the real issue is the power of the state squashing the freedom of its people to believe. Stutzman loses her freedom. She is not the bigoted oppressor. Epstein concludes,

The words “bigotry” and “phobia” clearly do apply to the five commissioners who happily denounce people like Stutzman. They show no tolerance, let alone respect, for people with whom they disagree. They exhibit an irrational fear of those people’s influence. They show deep prejudice and hostility to all people of faith. They indulge in vicious overgeneralizations that make it harder to live in peace in a country with people of fundamentally different views. And they seem to take pleasure in bullying little people who can’t fight back.

He’s right. Christians are quickly becoming the minority group who can’t fight back in America. Ultimately, that’s going to be okay… because Christ has already won the major battle anyway! But sometimes Christians—like Paul, Silas, and Barronelle Stutzman—will need to stand or sit in protest of injustice for the good other Christians. May the Lord bless and strengthen her faith.

Consider praying for Barronelle or helping her in the fight (see also the ADF legal page).

 

Why Sit in Prison?


The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave from the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

jail-noStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. Ultimately, the righteousness of God was Paul’s motivation for life (Rom 5:20-21). Throughout the New Testament, God’s justice expects justice from men, too. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In addition to suffering persecution for the cause of Christ, Paul and Silas also suffered injustice from the Roman rulers. Paul undoubtedly desired for the magistrates in Philippi to become Christians. His faithful testimony before authorities in the book of Acts proves his desire to see pagan rulers converted. More proof of Paul’s desire is found in his admonition to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:22): I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Nevertheless, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did, with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. As Christians, we sometimes will sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, the other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of all Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

In the context of 21st century America, Christians will increasingly have occasion to point out injustice. We must think through now how and when it is right to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should then go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

So What, if We Face Persecution?


I posted an article a couple of days ago to remind us of the trend in the U.S. toward losing our religious liberty. Today, I want to speak a little more as to why this conversation matters.

 

Declaration of Independence

From National Archives

I spoke once with a Christian lawyer friend who was arguing with me about the increasing power of the LGBT movement. As a political movement, this group represents an anti-Christian view of sexual morality. The increase of LGBT political power has produced a decrease of religious liberty (floristsphotographers, and bakers have all lost businesses because of conscientious objections to same sex marriages).

My lawyer friend was critical of those florists, photographers, and bakers. He made two basic points against my defense of them. First, he said we have the First Amendment of our Constitution to safeguard their liberties. They can fight for their rights in court. Such a fight is a healthy part of living in a pluralist culture under the rule of law. Second, he said, maybe Christians need to suffer a little persecution. If the Lord brings persecution to us, so be it. Maybe it will do us some good.

On the first point, the first amendment is hanging on by a thread. The historic right of dissent is eroding more quickly than Malibu Beach. This erosion of freedom prompted Hobby Lobby CEO David Green to speak out. Recently, David Green made a public appeal for Americans to vote for Donald Trump. Green was not a supporter of Trump throughout the early part of this election cycle. His reason for “politicking” for the populist Trump was tied explicitly to preserving the first amendment to the constitution.

David Green’s editorial in USA Today explains the dilemma of conscience he suffered which led him into a lengthy court battle. Because of his Christian faith, Green has remained ardently pro-life. The federal government told him that he had to provide insurance which covered abortifacients (drugs which cause an abortion) or pay a fine of $1.3 million per day! Adding to the pressure was the fact that Hobby Lobby employs 30,000 people—tens of thousands of families would be affected by whether or not David Green violated his conscience on the matter of abortion.

For Green religious liberty isn’t a nicety. It’s a dividing line between freedom and oppression. Are Christians—and other people of faith—really free to believe fundamental truths about the origin of humanity or not? Sadly, as the Hobby Lobby case points out, Circuit courts are split on the question of religious liberty for individuals and corporations in the public marketplace. The Supreme Court is split, too. The Hobby Lobby Case was decided on a 5-4 vote. And now the death of Justice Antonin Scalia has recast religious liberty votes along the lines of 4-4.

In my opinion, my lawyer friend was too confident about the future of individual freedom. The next president will decide (by his or her Supreme Court nominee) whether the first amendment will stand. I am not overly optimistic that we will remain free to act on our sincerest beliefs about life, God, and marriage. So, my lawyer friend’s first argument is tenuous at best.

Second, this friend seemed almost nonchalant in offering his opinion on persecution. If we Christians face persecution for our beliefs, so be it. We may even deserve it. It will be good for us.

Persecution can be good for the church (in the sense of purifying her), but there is no proof that persecution actually grows the church. Missiologist Justin Long has studied the effects of persecution on the church. His conclusion?

“Church growth is “not strongly” correlated with either governmental or societal persecution. However, Christianity “tends loosely” to change more rapidly (grow or shrink) when governmental restriction is high, and stays relatively stable when such pressure is low.” (CT article)

Consistent with this conclusion, the New Testament testifies both of growing and shrinking churches under the pressure of persecution. The church in Jerusalem grew rapidly (Acts 5:14) after the persecution of Peter, John, and the early apostles. However, after the persecution (and martyrdom) of Stephen, the church in Jerusalem was devastated, with church members being scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).

More to the point, though, there is something wrong with a Christian attitude of indifference toward persecution. Persecution is not okay. We don’t “deserve” it. No one deserves to be locked away in poor living conditions for 20 years—missing the growth of children and grandchildren—simply because he believes that Jesus Christ is Lord. It’s not okay to be indifferent to this kind of suffering (which happened to Allen Yuan in China).

It’s not okay for Christians to be rounded up and stretched out in front of a steamroller and crushed to death (as happened in North Korea). I’m sure those who make such an argument would quickly point out that losing a cake decorating account (or even a business) is hardly comparable to being crushed to death by a steamroller. Fair enough. But the distinction is only one of degree of persecution. Once religious liberty is lost, the degree of acceptable punishment against Christians will likely increase. It won’t immediately mean that Christians will be steamrolled in America, but who knows what punishments will ultimately be allowed?

It’s no small thing to suffer the loss of a job, a business, or the opportunity to do business. Essential aspects of living—food, clothing, shelter—depend on vocations like photography and baking. Our Christian integrity is defective if we can glibly or nonchalantly subject brothers and sisters in Christ to suffering.

Sure, Christ may bring intensified persecution to Christians in America. Indeed, it may already be happening! It could get even worse. But let’s at least put up a good fight for freedom.

Whatever we surrender today becomes normal tomorrow. If we quietly allow the first amendment to be flushed from American history, thus ushering in a greater degree of persecution against Christians, then we will be guilty (at least partially) of causing our own children and grandchildren to suffer. Future generations will have less access to so many great truths which we have taken for granted.

We may lose, but God give us the strength at least to fight so there is a record of our faithful resistance to tyranny.

America Looking More Like China on Religious Liberty – Gregory C. Cochran


I am re-posting this blog from four years ago because time is proving just how true it was. The trajectory now appears set in stone. Of the three top candidates for president, two (Clinton, Johnson) enthusiastically support the diminishing of First Amendment rights including religious liberty. The third (Trump) may not be reliable.

I re-post the article below to keep this issue fresh in our minds. I will post an update to this article in the next few days. So… from four years ago…

There are two major stories whose trajectories are coalescing toward a permanent loss of religious liberty in the United States. The first story is the on-going saga known affectionately as Obamaca…

Source: America Looking More Like China on Religious Liberty – Gregory C. Cochran

The Look of Love in Pakistan


This past May, a young Christian woman was under assault from her Muslim neighbors in Pakistan. According to Open Doors, Sonia Gill, 23, was accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad by using an old banner bearing the prophet’s name as a covering for her floor. As it turns out, the banners she used were old political banners, nothing related to Islam.

PakistanOpenDoors

Sonia Gill Pakistan Open Doors

Still, a mob gathered outside of Gill’s home. The local mosque leader filed official charges against Gill, accusing her of blasphemy under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law (295-c). Faced with serious accusations (which could lead to the death sentence), Gill was advised by Muslims and fellow Christians to flee. But she did not.

She would not leave even though the anger of the mob was raging hot against her and her household. In one sense, Gill’s story is one of courage. In the face of threats to her freedom and safety, she stood her ground.

In another sense, however, her story is much more profound. It is a story of love. When asked about her decision to stand firm rather than to flee, Gill replied,

“If I flee, what would happen to my Christian neighbors and their houses?”

In her reply is the Spirit of Christ. As our Lord said, “A greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Our good shepherd not only laid down his life for his sheep, but he also gave his spirit to his followers and instructed us (by faith) to love others as Christ loved us (Jn 13:34-35).

Sonia Gill willingly made herself a target in order to protect her Christian neighbors. Her actions exceed courage and bear the sure mark of Christian love. Her love was apparently rewarded, too. According to the story, a local Muslim leader has begun taking actions on behalf of vulnerable Christians.

Led by Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, local authorities are considering establishing a minorities’ protection cell to offer security for Christians like Sonia Gill. Join in praising the Lord for protecting Gill and her neighbors in this village in Pakistan. Give thanks for Sonia and pray for her continued faith. Pray for these local leaders like Shahbaz Sharif, that they might uphold truth and justice–especially for vulnerable Christians.

Read the full story here.

For more about Christian Persecution in Pakistan, see here.

What’s a Christian Response to the New Marriage Culture?


After the Obergfell decision this past year, Christians have tried to cope with a new definition of marriage. What does this new definition mean for church Marriage Retreats? for childcare? or for conversations in youth groups about sexual intercourse?

IMG_3731So many questions have risen since June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court verdict was released. If two men can be legally married, then why not two men and a woman (bi-sexual marriage)? Why is the number two sacred in marriage? Why not three women? Why not one man and four women who consent? The questions erupt more quickly than do convincing replies.

While the culture rakes through the labyrinth of questions, Christians have an unparalleled opportunity to preach the truth to a world increasingly used and discarded by the sexual revolution. Whatever the law does, the gospel keeps converting sinners by the grace and power of God.

That is essentially the point of a chapter Chris Morgan and I wrote in a new book titled, Ministry in the New Marriage Culture (B & H 2015). The book contains chapters on childcare, youth groups, preaching, counseling, and many other topics. Our chapter pleads for Christians to stay focused on the main thing: Christ and His gospel. I’ll leave you with a quote from the chapter and a link to The Gospel Coalition’s post from our chapter in the book:

The more we’re marked by unity, holiness, and love, the more our lives can ably paint the picture of how life ought to be, and the more our countercultural kingdom community can effect change in one another and in the broader society as salt and light (Matt. 5:3–16).

These gospel realities ground our confidence in all situ­ations. And these realities ground our confidence in a secular age because Christ has defeated the biggest challenge—sin and death (1 Cor. 15). Everything else pales in comparison.

Read the Gospel Coalition post here.

The Most Mistreated Minority in the World Is …


I am teaching a college course today on the scope of the persecution problem around the world. Naturally, I found this little post to be a helpful reminder.

Gregory C. Cochran

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio. The ea...

Back in November, I wrote a blog post about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which it was noted that Merkel was taking a great deal of heat for claiming that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world.  That is not a headline that sells in America, as many folks still love to decry the “moral majority” of America’s past.

Nonetheless, time is proving Merkel right.  Studies have shown that Christians are harassed more than any religion in the Pew Study Religion Persecution Christianworld.  A new collaborative work by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute covers the worldwide persecution of Christians in great detail.  The Book,  Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, is now in print.

The book demonstrates just how bad the problem is and how, particularly, Christians in the Middle East are being targeted for extinction with little concern from Americans in general and…

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