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.

Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


No one needs to ponder whether Christians in Palestinian territories are suffering terribly. They are. Who’s to blame?

Christian persecution middle eastThere are very strong voices in the media and in political circles who point out that Israel is the country doing all the killing. Sure, Hamas is firing hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they don’t end up killing anyone because of Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” defense systems.  Meanwhile, Israel’s rockets do reach their targets, and, so, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in recent fighting. Palestine has been an area of Christian influence for centuries. And Israel has been an unwelcome occupier of the land since 1948. Protected by her western allies, Israel is responsible for exerting its disproportionate force in such a way that Christians in Palestine are the ones who end up suffering.

Against this view, there are those who argue that Israel has done no wrong. They point out that Hamas—a known Islamic terrorist organization—has been in control of Palestine since 2007.  In the last decade more than 4,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza.  The rockets are fired by Hamas, Al Quds, and others, who launch the rockets from hospitals, elementary schools, and apartment buildings in order to prevent Israel from fighting back.  If Israel were to fight back, she would inevitably kill civilians, which would then create “martyrs” for media manipulation.  The entire affair is as cynical as it is sordid.

What if—instead of being sucked into the bi-polar, geo-political warfare being waged from both sides—what if we could hear directly from Palestinian Christians? Maybe we can. They have been speaking out for the past couple of years.  From a 2012 Gatestone Institute report,

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Most of us are not experts on the political machinations of the Middle East. We rely on news reports, testimonies, and research we hope we can trust. And we must do our best to make sense of a situation that always seems to inflame passions more than light the way of truth. It isn’t easy. But here’s a thought.

Given the fact that these Christians are living in Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories, they would be applauded by their government and by the sentiments of the general population if they blamed Israel. Blaming Israel would be the most natural, most agreeable, and most simple statement for them to make.  But they have been doing the opposite. They have been protesting the treatment they are receiving at the hands of Hamas and their own leaders.  They have been saying that their people are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. And they have said this publicly at their own risk:

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help. 

It seems to me that it would take much more courage for them to speak against their own Muslim (Hamas/PA) leaders than it would for them to Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christspeak out against Israel. Thus, I tend to believe that Palestinian Christians are in fact being persecuted by and, consequently, have been suffering at the hands of Hamas and other Muslim radicals in Gaza.

I’m not saying that Israel is always right. I don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that the land and geopolitical entity we now call Israel is particularly favored by God (as I have explained here).  There is no doubt that Israel’s wartime mentality is creating a terrible hardship for many, even if Israel has taken the unprecedented step of announcing ahead of time where and when she will strike. (See here for particular stories with varying degrees of blame toward Israel).

What I am saying, however, is that Palestinian Christians have been persecuted by the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. And at least some Palestinian Christians have been trying to speak up about it.  They feel that the media are punching the mute button toward their voice-boxes because their complaints don’t fit the typical political script.

At the end of the matter, of course, it does not matter who is to blame as much as what will we do? Will we help them with our prayers (1 Cor 1:8-11)?  Above all, let us pray that Christ Himself would be their strength, their hope, and their refuge through this awful storm in which they seem to have lost all their earthly allies.

For Krauthammer’s take on current Israel-Palestine crisis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-moral-clarity-in-gaza/2014/07/17/0adabe0c-0de4-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html

 

 

 

Why Hobby Lobby Decision Matters for All American


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 Obamacare. The second story is more subtle, under the radar, but perhaps more damaging in its scope. It is the story of code enforcement. Let me explain these in order.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed in June 2010. Certain provisions did

Obama Signing Healthcare Law Obamacare into effect

not take effect immediately. One of those delayed provisions was the Health and Human Services mandate for contraceptive coverage. Now that this mandate is in effect, businesses and other entities nationwide are suing the federal government to demand an exemption on the basis of conscience.

The latest business to join in the lawsuits is Hobby Lobby. They are the first evangelical Christian business to join the fray, but hopefully they will not be the last. In all, there are27 different lawsuits in the courts on this issue.  The objection is to the mandate’s insistence that all companies (and Christian schools) provide insurance coverage (without co-pay) for abortifacient drugs like the morning after pill or the week after pill.

The Obama administration is arguing two basic points germane to religious liberty. First, they argue that Christians must abandon their religious liberty when they choose to enter the commercial marketplace. This argument is based on their second argument, which is that religious liberty extends only to official houses of worship, not to individuals in their diurnal affairs. In other words, religious liberty (according to the Obama administration) means an American can go to a facility on Sunday and do his worship thing there without government interference (except for theaforementioned tax code restrictions), but he mustn’t think his liberty extends beyond the building.

The Obama administration clearly does not believe in religious liberty at all.  Instead, they believe in restricting religious liberty to “houses of worship” only.  Arguing for this view of religious liberty would be like arguing that a prisoner is actually free because he can do whatever he wants (inside his cell).  This is a radical departure from American history and reflects more of a communist view of religious freedom than an American one.

Communist Chinese flagIn China, for example, Christians are “free” to join the public, Three-Self Patriotic Church and worship there—in that “house of worship.”  They are not free to gather in homes or worship elsewhere. They certainly are not free to carry their Christianity into the workplace or the university. The defense of the Health and Human Services mandate of Obamacare rests upon such a demolition of religious liberty.

In addition to the Obamacare drama unfolding, there is a second stream of American stories all pointing to the same enslaving end. There is a rash of code enforcers around the nation taking aim at house church gatherings. We have seen instances of this in Illinois, California, Arizona, and now it has come to Florida as well.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, is representing the Florida couple who is being threatened with a $250/day fine for having a small group (6-10) in the home for a Bible study.

Dacus says“They are having a specific problem with this family solely because they are having family and friends over to read the bible and pray.  That may be fine in some tyrannical parts of the world. That is not okay in the United States of America.”

The idea behind the code enforcers is the same as the idea promoted by President Obama: Keep your Christian God in a box. Go to your church building and do the Christian thing, but don’t bring the subject up at your work or your home. This is a Communist view of freedom, which, of course, means this is no freedom at all.

Code by code, insurance plan by insurance plan, America is shutting out its Christian past and killing the concept of liberty and justice for all.

Imagine Living as a Christian in Nigeria


Just this past weekend, my family and I hosted a World Cup party. About 25 people crowded into my living room to enjoy the epic battle in which the U.S. Men’s National team fought against the highly-touted, Ronaldo-led squad from Portugal.

Religious Freedom down Hostility Up

Freedom Down, Hostility Up

Yes, the last-second cross from Ronaldo to the head of Varela sent shockwaves down all 25 spines in the room, causing us—at least momentarily—to lose both our will and our ability to speak.  But, all in all, we enjoyed the football, the food, the fellowship, and the fun of the World Cup event. Many people around the U.S. enjoyed similar parties in similar settings.

But World Cup parties played out differently in Nigeria. Nigerians—including Nigerian Christians—also had World Cup viewing parties. Sadly, in the Mubi area of Adamawa state, Muslim extremists bombed a party of football watchers gathered (just as we were) to enjoy this global spectacle that, by design, hopes to bring the world together.

According to this Reuters report, the attack left 14 people dead and 12 injured, some of those are critically wounded.  Most people suspect Boko Haram, a terrorist group working to rid Nigeria of all but the purist form of Islam. In April of this year, this terrorist group kidnapped 200 schoolgirls possibly to keep as brides for Muslim men. The girls are still being held. And, since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has killed more than 500 innocent civilians in settings similar to World Cup watching parties. The majority of those being targeted by Boko Haram are Christians.

We have taken much for granted in the U.S.  Even while our freedoms are shrinking daily, we still have not come to a place where bombs are expected at “futbol” parties. We can be thankful for that, of course, but we also can be more sober about the world in which we live.

Islam is a force of intolerance with no equal right now. A couple of Islam scholars I have read have argued that groups like Boko Haram spring up in countries where Islam is almost a majority. Their hope is that through violence and intimidation and an appeal to Islamic heritage they can tip the Lady Justice Judge othersscales nationwide toward Islam and Sharia law.

I’m certainly no expert on these matters, but I will say that Nigeria fits that description. Nationwide, they are 50% Muslim and 50% Christian or traditional African religion.  The area targeted in this recent attack is a Fulani area (I think). That would make sense because Boko Haram has been slaughtering Christians and any who don’t appear Muslim enough. The Fulani people, I believe, are mostly Muslim, but they hold to a tradition all their own.

Regardless of the particulars at play in Nigeria, the case is certain that it is not safe to be a Christian there, especially in the northern parts of the country like Adamawa state (where this attack occurred).  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria need our continued prayer and support. Our concern for humankind and for individual liberty calls us to care for the fate of the Fulani people in Nigeria, too.

To contemplate the reality that while we were joyfully watching a game for its entertainment value other people were being mercilessly slaughtered in the name of religious conformity is, at the very least, sobering. It is an almost unbearable reality.  We can’t just ignore it for that would make us cold, indifferent, and almost culpable.  We also can’t be debilitated by it. We must continue both to express our own freedom and work so others can enjoy theirs. Both in Nigeria and in California, people should be free to watch the World Cup together without fearing an Islamic invasion.

More thoughts about religious liberty

 

3 Simple Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda


In my previous post, I sought to show why it is important for Christians to fight for religious liberty. What are some simple ways Christians can do this without selling out to a political agenda? I thought of 3 simple ways to get the conversation going:

  1. Religious Freedom in America

    Wikimedia Commons

    Learn. Disciples are learners. Primarily, this learning must be focused on learning obedience to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But Christians have an obligation to be good citizens as well (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2, etc). We must learn first what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in order then to obey Christ’s command to render unto Caesar that which is his (Matthew 22:21).

    1. One good way to learn is by studying Baptist history. For all our faults, the one truth we Baptists have supported well is religious liberty. Baptists such as the Danbury Baptist Association, John Leland, and Roger Williams, significantly shaped America.
    2. A simple way to learn about religious liberty is to pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is gifted and persuasive, and the ERLC is very good at keeping churches and Christians informed about issues of importance. For example, here is a helpful brochure.
  2. Engage. Speak to your friends, family members, and colleagues about the issues which you are studying. Do not be combative or arrogant. Be genuinely concerned and seek the most Christ-exalting, truth-honoring, love-producing position available on issues which the rest of the world invariably must strangle into a political ideology. Denny Burk provides us with this example concerning how to love your trans-gender neighbor.
  3. Bear Witness. Bearing gospel witness is more than throwing out a tract and calling for repentance. Gospel witness is never less than speaking the truth of the gospel for the good of those to hear, but the biblical vision of gospel witness is even more.
    1. According to the Bible, all of life is witness. Jesus, in giving instruction for His followers to become the world’s disciple-makers, told them first, “You are witnesses…” (Luke 24:48).  The same is true of Christ’s followers being “salt” and “light.” This is what we are as much as it is what we do. So we must bear witness by always walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, in truth and love.
    2. Collectively, the church can then become a witness, too. John says that the world will know that we are Christ’s followers by the way we love one another. Be a faithful church member. Share Christ in fellowship with one another as a gospel community. Invite others into that community. Share Christ with those you meet who are trapped by sin’s delusion and bondage. Others do not represent our political enemy. They represent all of us who once were thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, but we were washed with the water of the Word (1 Cor 6).
    3. See this moving testimony for a way to witness to the “outside” world of unbelievers.

In other words, now is not the time to retreat from society into our Christian enclaves. This is also not the time for Christians to disengage from issues because of not wanting to be owned by a political party. As laudable as it may be to avoid political trappings, such a decision to disengage on controversial issues may simply be nothing more than cowardice, hoping to avoid controversy and persecution by remaining silent where the battle rages. It’s not as though the Bible is silent on issues of sexual morality. We may need a little shot of Jesus to awaken us from our wishful slumber: Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9).

Or, we might be encouraged by this quote, typically assigned to Martin Luther:[1]

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

May the Lord grant that we Christians in the USA will not fail to uphold justice and liberty. Our greatest desire may well be that the world would know Christ, the ultimate truth who sets us free, but we should also not forget that as Christians we live in a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Let us hold our neighbors accountable to God and each other by promoting liberty.

Religious Liberty Important for All Americans

Why Christians Should fight for Religious Liberty

Should Pastors Preach Political Messages?

 

[1] Quote usually ascribed to Luther. But the exact quote is not found in his original writings. The quote, perhaps, originates from a 19th century novel. See this article for more.

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty in America


Freedom, though given freely by God, isn’t offered freely by Man. It must be fought for and won, sometimes through reasoned debate and cool persuasion, other times through battles with swords or guns. Tyranny is always lurking, scheming to usurp individual liberty. This is as true in America as it is anywhere.

Religious Liberty Persecution America FreedomI am thankful therefore for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC understands freedom. Recently, the ERLC hosted a panel discussion on the Hobby Lobby case and what it means for all Americans. The entire transcript is worth reviewing, but there are two points in particular that I hope you will ponder.

First, ERLC President Russell Moore explains that many people of faith seem to miss that religious liberty IS a gospel issue. Moore—provocatively and persuasively—demonstrates why Christians must oppose persecution and a loss of liberty in America:

So a lot of people assume well, we are standing in the place of Jesus, standing before [Pilate], who cares whether or not we have our rights and our liberties taken away? Jesus went as a sheep to the slaughter and so should we. What people aren’t recognizing there is that they are not only standing in the place of Jesus, they are also standing in the place of [Pilate] because the scripture says, Romans 13, “the God holds Caesar accountable for the use of the sword.” In a Democratic Republic, that means ultimately the people are held accountable so the question is not just are we going to be persecuted? The question is are we going to be persecutors? So if we shrug this off, what we are doing is consigning future generations and we are consigning people’s consciences to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for. 

I have spoken to many Christians, young and old, who think that we should go like sheep through the tyrannical slaughter of our religious liberties. But it seems a bit irresponsible and unloving toward our own children, grandchildren, and future generations of the church. As I’ve pointed out before, when we as Americans give up the fight, the situation gets worse for believers all over the world. We may indeed be living through the end of our religious liberty, but let us at least not go down without a fight—for the sake of our spiritual progeny who will suffer more dramatically the ill effects of such loss.

The second significant point in the transcript comes from Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. Pastor Rick clearly and eloquently lays out the case for why religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberty:

The first amendment, religious freedom is called America’s first freedom for intentional reasons. The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental.

As I said, the entire transcript is worth reading. These two points, I think, nail our present situation and identify clearly for us why it is so important that we not abrogate our responsibility to speak up, to preach, to pray, and to serve the church and the world with healthy doses of Christian love.

America, and thus the rest of the world, losing freedom:

Some of the people Obamacare hurts

Another example of a loss of liberty

Helpful Primer on Persecution


Christianity percentage by country

Christianity percentage by country (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Recently, Nina Shea, was interviewed by Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review. Nina is the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. She is also co-author of a helpful book detailing the present state of persecution around the world:  Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.  

 

In the interview, Nina Shea points out that Christians are fleeing en masse from Iraq and Syria. And in Nigeria, Egypt, and Syria, Christians are being slaughtered by the thousands. She tells of one incident in which Christians were murdered while attending a Christian funeral. And, in another situation in Egypt, Nadia Mohammad Ali was arrested with her 5 children and sentenced to 15 years in prison for converting to Christianity.

 

The interview points out that little is being done to aid Christians. While Nina Shea (like her colleague Paul Marshall) pleads for political solutions to come forth from a so-far non-responsive Obama Administration, she is doing a favor for all Christians. All Christians are commanded to remember the persecuted as though in prison with them. My hope in posting this is that Christians will read the interview and get acquainted with the present state of persecution and, even more importantly, will begin praying for those Christians who are suffering in the name of Christ.

 

 

 

Christians Should Be Politically Active


English: Portrait of a Gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce)

English: Portrait of a Gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the wake of the Kermit Gosnell “Slaughter-gate” trial (and the appalling disinterest of many), there is a need for Christians to be reminded of our function as a pillar and support of the truth–a reminder of our calling to be salt and light in an otherwise dead and listless world.  The post below is a little lengthy for a typical blog post, but it is of vital importance for Christians seeking to answer the question of whether we ought to be “politically” active. Issues of human life transcend political parties.

 

The following principles are derived from Romans 13. The debt of love the Christian owes to others necessitates a level of involvement with the government.  There are at least four ways this obligation to love directs the Christian toward some involvement with government.

 

First, above all else, the Christian is obligated (and delighted) to love God (Matt 22:38).  If our hearts are given to love God, will we not wish for His goodness to be on display?  Will we not long to see men give him the honor due him?  If we are instructed to pay honor to those ordained by God to serve in authority, how much more do we pay honor to Him from whom their authority is derived?  The Christian longs to see God honored by all men, including men and women in positions of governance instituted by, bound to, and established ultimately for the glory of God.  Our love for God will include a longing to see Him exalted in all aspects of civil life: art, music, education, science, and government.  He is worthy of such exaltation by all men.  Though the pagan unbelievers will refuse to exalt Him, the church will surely so purely love Him that she will not fail to seek His glory in all the earth (including in the practice of government).

 

Second, the Christian is obligated to express his debt of love to governing authorities.  Love for God and love for neighbors means that the Christian loves those in positions of authority over him.  This love may take different forms in varying contexts, but it will always mean loving in the biblical sense of the word.  Biblical love is a love that honors God above all else and seeks the good of others.  It seems to me, in relation to governing authorities, that this love for God and for others will mean confronting governing authorities in areas which they are rebelling against God.  Governing authorities are put in place by God.  God has a certain standard by which all men (even kings) will be judged.

 

Christians, in their on-going devotion to God, ought to remind leaders of such things—seeking to see God glorified by all men (remember this is why John the Baptist lost his head).  In so doing, Christians are loving those in authority.  How loving would it be to remain silent while men set themselves on the destructive path of opposing God’s purposes?  Rulers in authority are not final authorities.  They will answer to God.  Pure love will not shrink back from declaring this reality, even as Christ did not shrink from declaring it to his earthly judge, Pilate: You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above, Jn 19:11.

 

Proper love expressed to those in authority may take either of two forms: humble service or humble disobedience.  The former example can be found in Paul’s admonition to Timothy, 1 Tim 2:1-2,

 

First of all then I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

The latter finds expression in the actions of Peter and John as recorded by Luke in Acts 4.  In this chapter, Peter and John obey the laws of the land and seek to live a godly life.  A part of living that godly life meant to them that they had to share the good news with others.  When this sharing of the good news was ordered out of bounds by the powers that be, Peter and John had to resolve a dilemma: Should they do what the legitimate authorities demanded, or should they do what God has called them to do?  The resolution was no small matter.  Two proper authorities were calling for their allegiance.  Given such a reality, the two men—for the sake of conscience and in a thorough form of love—determined they could not stop speaking the good news they had seen and heard:

 

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you     rather than to God, you be the judge.”  For their part, Peter and John (just as for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego before them) chose to pay homage to God rather than to man when pushed to choose between the two.  Love for God must always come first.  In expressing such a devotion to the Living God, the men were, to be sure, loving those in authority as well.

 

This brings us to the third obligation of love bearing upon participation in government.  Namely, Christians owe their fellow man a debt of love.  This, I believe, is incredibly important.  Primarily, this obligation concerns the right handling of the word of God.  The Christian must be serious about proclaiming the gospel to the uttermost regions of the earth, including to the neighbor next door as occasions permit.  Gospel penetration is the means by which God is glorified and His laws are kept.  This obligation of preaching the gospel is primary and fundamental for the faithful Christian; this fact, however, is no final proof that the matter ought to end there for the Christian.  Christians love their fellow men and must not wish harm to come to them.  Christians—as the pillar and support of truth—must seek good for all men.  The best good, of course, is Christ Himself (hence our preaching).  But are there not other legitimate goods for which Christians ought to work very hard?

 

In a former generation of English Christians, William Wilberforce gave his life to see slavery end in England.  With a firm conviction that the glory of God was at stake in the practice of enslaving humans as chattel property, Wilberforce with John Newton and others devoted their energy to ending such an evil practice, a practice that denied slaves their status as being created in the image of God and insisted, instead, that they were more nearly related to the beasts of the jungle than to the Living God.  Should Wilberforce have sought election to parliament?  Ought he—under the debt of love—to have been so politically active?  In seeking to see slaves free, did Wilberforce and Newton subject the gospel to enslavement by a political movement?  No, they did not.  Rather, because of the gospel, they began a political movement and stayed with it to the end that men were set free to the glory of God.  Slavery was ended in England, and the movement was fueled for its fight in America.

 

And what about William Carey?  Should William Carey have simply stuck to his task of   preaching the gospel in India while the evils of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia abounded to the destruction of countless souls?  It was Carey’s sincere Christian conviction that the debt of love he owed had something to say to these things.  As Timothy George records it,

 

“Carey admonished would-be missionaries that they should ‘take every opportunity of doing…good’ to the people among whom they intended to serve.  As we have seen, Carey never forgot that his primary mission was to proclaim God’s redemptive message of salvation to lost sinners.  This did not mean, however, that he lived out his ministry in a ‘gospel ghetto’ sequestered from the real hurts of humanity or the structural evils of Indian society.  Quite to the contrary. [sic] Carey and the Serampore missionaries threw themselves into social reform activities precisely because their commitment to Jesus Christ compelled them to do so,” (George, Faithful Witness, 149).

 

Carey found that his conscience would not allow him to remain silent while human beings were being slaughtered needlessly.  God’s image bearers were cast out, destroyed, and discarded with little regard.  This disregard for humanity was particularly acute in India in the practice of sati, a ritual in which a new widow would be burned alive with the body of her deceased husband in an effort to assure the blessings of the gods over the family.  Rather than shrinking back from this gruesome culture, Carey investigated the Hindu scriptures and showed the governing authorities that such practices were not mandated.  He publicized and spoke out against all of the cruel practices because of his debt of love.  What ought he to have done?

 

What about us?  Like Carey, we must maintain the priority of the preaching of the gospel.  About that, there can be no doubt.  Did Jesus Himself not do more than preach the gospel?  Did He not also live it?  Did he not challenge authority where it was putting burdens on people too hard for them to bear, as in Matthew 23:4?  Biblically speaking, love—along with the biblical imperative to do good before the government—calls the Christian to speak the truth, challenging authorities when they oppose the will of God and taking up the cause of the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the elderly, the unborn.  We might wish to think it more sanitary and acceptable to God not to intermingle the gospel with government, but government is God’s idea.  And I wonder what our silence might say?  When, as the people of God, we say nothing to the world as they slaughter infants and quietly murder the elderly, what are we saying?  It is often said that silence is golden.  Might it not also be deadly?

 

Finally, the fourth debt of love taken from Romans 16 is the love we owe to ourselves.  Love, by its nature, is given over to another.  Yet, as when Jesus gives the greatest commandments to love (Matthew 22:37-39), the commandment to love is predicated upon the reality of self love.  Self love does not have to be nurtured as does love for God and love for others. Self-love simply needs to be transformed and enlarged.  We have love for ourselves from the beginning of our lives.  What we need to learn is how our love for ourselves involves others and, more importantly, God.

 

Can we understand the joy of love if we fail to express it to the watching world?  The practical rewards of loving others are not to be overlooked.  Showing love to women seeking abortions makes a better life for us.  When we exercise the above mentioned “loves” properly, we are properly loving ourselves and gaining a better life for ourselves (and for our neighbors).

 

As John Jefferson Davis puts it, “Civil laws that are consistent with the teachings of Scripture point society to a higher standard of righteousness, which is fulfilled only in Jesus Christ.  Such laws remain a worthy object of Christian concern and social action,” (Evangelical Ethics, 26).

 

For these reasons, which I believe are biblical, I cannot imagine that we can withdraw from the political process entirely.  I do not think that would pay proper honor to God’s established authorities over us, and I do not think that it would at all honor God.  Rather, I think the work before us is to determine what shape our involvement with those in authority will take.  What are the best ways for us to be involved?

 

We are in a position in which we must help our people think through these issues and understand them biblically.  Silence is not an option.  Neither is withdrawal.  I understand that we must be careful to preserve the primacy and supremacy of the gospel.  Indeed, I believe the message of Jesus Christ—the gospel—has everything to say to culture in disarray. In all things, I know that we must exalt Christ and glorify the living God.  So, my prayer is that we will work together to do just that—to do good and to fulfill our debt of love.

 

 

The Most Mistreated Minority in the World Is …


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 American Christians in particular. Kirsten Powers has written an article for USA Today which calls on Americans to speak out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Lebanon was once a majority Christian country but no longer, as Christians flee the hostility. CBS News reported in 2011 that the former president of Lebanon, Amin Gemayel complained of a “genocide” against Christians in the Middle East. “Massacres are taking place for no reason and without any justification against Christians. It is only because they are Christians.”

Christians are the most ill-treated religious minority in the world.  Without a doubt, Merkel, Powers, Shea, Gilbert, and Marshall are all speaking truth. The question for each of us is whether we will speak up with them on behalf of our brothers and sisters.  Will we do as the Lord commanded and “remember those who are ill-treated since we ourselves are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3)?

Take a prayerful look at the article from Kirsten Powers; the book from Shea, Gilbert, and Marshall; and the teachings of the New Testament and decide if you need to become an advocate for the persecuted church.

Abortion and the Death Penalty: Is There Any Consistency to a Pro-Life Position?


English: Total number of executions carried ou...

Number of death penalty executions in the USA since 1960 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The charge is often leveled that Pro-life Christians are inconsistent in their position on protecting the sanctity of human life. On the one hand, Pro-lifers are quick to pronounce a “fetus” a human life worthy of protection, while, on the other hand, they will pronounce a murderer worthy of death and say that the state should kill him. Is there any consistency to this Pro-life argument? How can one be opposed to killing and for killing at the same time? Is this not a contradiction?

 

Matters of human life (whether the human is in a womb or in a prison cell) are grave matters indeed. Those who are Pro-life should respect all human life. This respect for life, however, does not mean that there is never a time when another human being should be put to death. The Pro-life position is not a position that denies the right to kill. Rather, it denies the right to kill unjustly. Or, to put the matter another way, it denies the right to kill an innocent human being.

 

This statement is no cop out or contradiction. It reflects what used to be common sense wisdom applied to matters of utmost importance. No human being has the right to take an innocent life. Our legal system still reflects this common sense wisdom in two distinct ways. First, there is the presumption of innocence. One can be accused of a crime, but he is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. This is an important presumption because it protects us from hasty revenge. If, for instance, you believe that a person ran over your girlfriend, you are not free to go out on the basis of your belief and kill that person–that would be taking an innocent life. There must first be a trial in which the person is proved guilty of his crime. Then, justice may well demand the death penalty–carried out by appropriate, governing authorities.

 

The second reflection of common sense in our legal structure is the notion of punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent. We have crimes against kidnapping, for example. And we enforce codes in maternity wards and daycare facilities to protect babies from being kidnapped.  These measures reflect the common sense reality that laws and authorities ought to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.

 

With these common sense realities in place, we ought to be able to see that it is not the Pro-life position which lives in a make-believe world of gross contradiction. Rather, it is the Pro-choice position which turns common sense on its head and, literally, asks that we kill the innocent and protect the guilty. The death penalty is reserved for those who have killed and have been proven guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.  They are not innocent. They are guilty.

 

Abortion, on the other hand, targets the most innocent and most helpless form of human life.  What has the child in the womb done to deserve such an early death? How could one possibly argue against the death penalty and for abortion? Before the dreadful Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, courts had consistently held that babies in the womb had inheritance rights of their fathers (if, for instance, the father died before the child was born).  That makes sense.

 

In addition, courts ruled in Union Pacific Railway Co. v. Botsford that women must be examined for pregnancy before being executed  “in order to guard against the taking of the life of an unborn child for the crime of the mother.”  As this post from American Right to Life notes, this ruling makes perfectly good sense. A child should not be punished (by death) for the crimes committed by his mother.

 

Indeed, all of this common sense legal reality has foundation in Scripture.  Moses long ago established this form of justice for the people of Israel. As he wr0te in Deuteronomy 24:16,

 

Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.”

 

So, in my opinion, the Pro-life position is the consistent position. Whoever is proved to have shed man’s blood, then by man his blood shall be shed because he (or she) is no longer innocent, but guilty of murder. Punish the guilty. On the flip side, whoever has done nothing wrong is innocent. Protect the innocent. And who has a better claim to innocence than a baby in the womb?

 

 

Biblical Morality–A Crime Against Humanity?


Homosexuality laws 2

Homosexuality laws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Current events did not take long to prove Dr. Mohler correct in his assertion yesterday that gay rights has become the centerpiece of a new moral “McCarthyism.” Dr. Mohler’s commentary concerning “The Giglio Imbroglio” has proved prescient. Today, news has come out that an American pastor is being sued for “crimes against humanity” because of his views on homosexuality.

 

Scott Lively, a pastor and activist who believes that homosexuality is a sinful undermining of traditional marriage and family norms, has been sued by SMUG (Sexual Minorities of Uganda–a political action group funded by George Soros).  The lawsuit has been filed in federal district court and appeals to international law, citing a trip that Lively took to Uganda to speak out against the homosexual lifestyle.

 

The case seems important to me for two different reasons. On the one hand, it is troubling that an American citizen is being sued in U.S. Federal court on the basis of international law pertaining to events in another country. If this path is followed, then it would open an entirely new line of extra-constitutional ammunition to employ against Christians or any who dare violate the accepted norms of the policemen of political correctness.

 

Second, and much more importantly, if the case is not thrown out entirely (as Matt Staver of the Liberty Counsel is suggesting), then it will encourage the further persecution of Christians who hold a biblical position of calling homosexuality a sin. What Lively has done is express his opinions. For those opinions, he is being charged with assault against the entire population of humankind.

 

I’m not a huge fan of Scott Lively. He has been over the top in some of his opinions against homosexuality. Nevertheless, he has not harmed anyone. He made clear that he does not condone Uganda’s proposed death penalty for homosexuality. So, even those who oppose him should recognize that he does have the right to free speech.

 

At what point should those preaching tolerance actually have to exercise some of their own?

 

 

Is There Hope for Russian Adoptions? Tears and Heaven


Original flavor Sun Chips in the bag

Original flavor Sun Chips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 28, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a life-wrecking edict to stop Russian adoptions. The story below is my attempt to capture the agony and offer some hope.

A bag of Sun Chips broke my heart. I saw the half-empty bag with its twisted, crumpled top dangling gingerly over the side of the white countertop. The bag was unmistakably Misiker’s. It had been held tightly in his little brown fists all evening long.

Misiker is my (now) three year-old son, who came to live with us in Kentucky last March. The Sun Chips episode occurred in his native land of Ethiopia. I share the story because it offers a hint of the agony now endured by 46 adopting parents in the former Soviet Union.

The Sun Chips broke my heart because of what they symbolized: A baby boy trying to hold what tiny bit of life he could in his little two year-old fingers.  My wife and I officially adopted Misiker and his younger brother Jack last December in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, because of the quirky immigration policies of the USA, we had to leave Misiker and Jack in Ethiopia and return home to Kentucky, even though Ethiopia had awarded them to us as our children.

We bonded with the boys. Misiker stayed with us throughout the day. He was always busy running around the orphanage compound, playing with the other children, kicking a ball, and talking with anyone who might listen; yet he kept an eye on his mom and dad. He played, but checked to see that we were watching. And we were, until the night arrived for our departure.

When I handed Misiker over to the nanny so she could take him to bed (while the driver took us to the airport), the little boy’s eyes looked scared. His countenance was confused.  His nose crumpled upward, while his smile broke uncontrollably downward, muffling his tearful cries just enough to make them more unbearable for his mom and dad. We had to let him go, but neither he nor we really understood why. Through tears, we prayed, then went back to our room to gather our bags.

In the room, I completely fell to pieces, feeling very much like someone had drilled a hole in my stomach and was slowly pulling out my intestines at a tortuously slow pace—delightfully increasing my agonizing cries. When I thought I could not cry any more tears, I gathered our bags and walked down the stairs. When I turned the corner, I saw the Sun Chips bag his little hands had held.

This two year-old baby owned nothing in this world. Everything from his underwear to his pink slippers was borrowed from the community basket. All he had in this world that he could call his own was a single bag of Sun Chips, and there they sat on the edge of a counter awaiting his return.  Would he remember them in the morning? More importantly, would he remember me in the morning? I would likely be flying over the Atlantic when he awoke in the morning. Would he remember? Would I ever see my little boy again? When would he finally have a mommy and a daddy he could not lose?

From December to March, my life was agony. My wife and I prayed for our boys often, but longed for them even more. We finally were able to bring them home, but I doubt I will ever forget the horror of having to let them go.

I have experienced a small shadow of the pain now clouding the lives of the 46 parents who were in Russia to get their own little boys and little girls, only to be told by a hateful, political edict: You can’t have them!  May God have mercy on these parents and their babies.

For me, the greatest comfort was the thought of Christ’s return.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am,there you may be also.” (John 14:3). As I was leaving to prepare a better life for my little boy, I was also imitating the Lord Jesus Himself, who is returning for us.  Our time on this earth as believers is time spent just like the orphan who is waiting for all to be made right at his father’s return. Christ is returning for us. He will receive us to Himself and take us to our heavenly Father forever to dwell in perfect righteousness where there will no longer be a need for tears.

77 Non-Religious Reasons to Support Traditional Marriage


Marriage in America in 2010

Marriage in America in 2010 (Photo credit: GEEKSTATS)

Jennifer Roback Morse of The Ruth Institute has put together a list of 77 non-religious reasons to support man/woman marriage. While 77 reasons may be a bit of overkill on the subject of traditional marriage, these reasons do indicate that there is a good case to be made for keeping marriage traditional.

Dr. Morse has a host of articles on the Ruth Institute website which demonstrate the wisdom of traditional marriage. No other structure compares with traditional marriage for protecting and fostering human growth. As I have noted before, traditional marriage is nothing less than a reflection of the reality of human existence.

Some of Dr. Morse’s reasons are offered on the basis of biology, while others are given on the basis of sexuality and benefits to the children. A few of the more interesting arguments are given below:

2 “Man/woman marriage allows children to know and be known by their biological parents. Same sex marriage separates children from at least one parent.”

17 “Same-sex marriage changes marriage from a child-centered institution to an adult-centered institution.”

29 “Same sex marriage makes an implicit statement that mothers and fathers are interchangeable, and that sex is irrelevant to parenting. The burden of proof should be on those who make this strong, non-intuitive claim.”

30 “Even same sex couples believe sex is relevant: the sex of their partners. A gay man insists on a male sex partner. He is not satisfied with a female sex partner, no matter how masculine she may be. A lesbian insists on a female sex partner. Even a very feminine man will not do.”

And, finally, one which mirrors the argument I have made here before,

70 “Same sex marriage is a creation of the state. Man/woman marriage is an organic institution arising spontaneously from society.”

If that last one seems unimportant, read my post. It is the difference between freedom and tyranny. (Feel free to offer your own responses).

Bob Fu, China Aid, and Our Faithful God


National emblem of the People's Republic of China Christian persecution

Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and He will exalt you at the proper time—so says the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:6). 

And time has proved the Scriptures true over and over again. One of the most recent cases is that of Bob Fu, founder of China Aid.  The scope of China Aid more than tripled last year (2012), yet Bob Fu has been advocating on behalf of the persecuted in China for more than a decade. Day in and day out, Fu and his ministry team have been working non-stop to bring relief to those suffering in Fu’s native land of China. Fu and his wife escaped from China (and persecution) back in the 1990’s. Shortly after arriving in America (and beginning to study theology), Fu began working to serve other Christians, starting with a campaign to save 5 pastors from an unjust execution.

From his garage office, Fu began advocating on behalf of Christians in Communist China. Then, he moved his ministry to Midland, TX. He has quietly, but steadily built a solid reputation as an advocate for China’s persecuted. His ministry was exalted to center stage this past year when he helped orchestrate the escape of the blind lawyer Chen Guangchen. Negotiations were coordinated through Fu’s ministry, thus bringing Fu much recognition for his efforts. Several newspapers have recognized him this year as their person of the year.

Fu’s faith has proved true, and God is now exalting his ministry to the persecuted church. Fu has also been speaking against China’s forced abortion policy, helping women save their babies. His story is empowering for all those fighting the good fight day after day in seemingly forgotten fashion.  Bob Fu provides a clear example of God’s faithful presence with His people. Christ told the church that He would be present with her always, even to the end of the age.  Fu’s case encourages our faith as Christ continues to prove true to His word.

Thank you, Bob Fu—not just for advocating for persecuted Christians in 2012—for remembering the persecuted church day by day, year after year.

Good Work Is Never Vain


God promises us triumph for the Christian (1 Corinthians 15). There is a victory already won (even if not fully realized) for all those who are alive in Christ. One of the great promises which attends this victory of Christ is implicit in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

It may be true that Christians are killed for their faith, but they will never suffer loss (Luke 21:18). The second death never

Pakistan Persecution Christian

Shahbaz Bhatti

hurts the Christian, and, as the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 15:58 reminds us, the believer’s work is never lost. Fashion, fame, and fortune can and will be lost, but faith in Christ never ends in vain.

I am reminded of this reality today, reading the story of Rimsha Masih. She became famous this past summer after she was accused of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Rimsha, an 11 year-old suffering from some mental disabilities, was ultimately acquitted of all charges and released. Unfortunately, neither she nor her family feels safe in Pakistan. Even with her fear, she continues to persevere in good works, writing letters to religious leaders around the world (like Pope Benedict XVI) and encouraging Christians to remember those Christians who are in prison for their faith, as though in prison with them. Surely, Rimsha’s faith is on display, and her good works will abound to all eternity.

Even more encouraging, however, is the on-going work of Shahbaz Bhatti. Bhatti—at the time of his assassination—was the only Christian in the official cabinet of the Pakistani government.  Before he was killed, Bhatti founded the All Pakistani Minority Alliance (APMA). It was this organization which spearheaded the efforts to save Rimsha. In addition to writing letters to Christians around the world, Rimsha has also taken time this Christmas to thank the APMA for their help in getting her released.

The APMA is now being operated by Paul Bhatti, brother of the slain founder, Shahbaz Bhatti. As Christ promised, Bhatti’s work has not proven vain. May the Lord continue to bless and multiply the good works from Christians like Masih and Bhatti.

Royal Babies, Abortion, and Birth Defects: Why Are We So Confused?


Royal Wedding of William and Catherine Duke & ...

Royal Wedding of William and Catherine Duke & Duchess of Cambridge (Photo credit: Defence Images)

 

My friend Denny Burk asked an incredibly insightful question: Why don’t we call it the royal fetus?  The remark, of course, was in reference to Prince William and his lovely bride Kate Middleton, who are—as we used to say—“with child.”  They are expecting. But what are they expecting?

 

Well, they are not expecting a fetus. They are not expecting a pony, a kitten, an alligator, or a gorilla.  They aren’t expecting a collective mass of biological matter.  They are expecting a baby, and everyone knows it. No one wonders about their fetus.  Folks wonder about the child. They wonder about a prince or a princess, but not a fetus.  Denny supposes the only difference between the baby developing in the womb of the Duchess of Cambridge and a baby abiding in the womb of a mother seeking an abortion is that one baby is wanted, and the other is not:

 

What is the difference between this “royal baby” and the unborn child in the womb of a mother in the waiting room of an abortion clinic? There’s no intrinsic difference in terms of their humanity. The only difference is that one is wanted and the other is not. Thus, the one gets the status of “baby” and the other is euphemized as a fetus, blastocyst, or blob of cells.

 

Denny is so helpful in this observation. He helps us to see again that there is an impalpable hypocrisy in our social psyche when it comes to abortion.  We all know it’s a baby, but we allow euphemisms like “fetus” to persist so we don’t have to admit the obvious (to ourselves).  By and large, Americans still are not at ease with abortions. Thus, we live in a contradictory world of human hypocrisy.

 

We say that women should have access to a “full range of reproductive services,” but we also say abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.”  Just to be clear, abortions are never safe for the baby. But still we say things like this to mask the “yuck” factor of facing what abortion really is.

 

Alcohol abortion hypocrisy pregnancyIf you were to imbibe tonight in your favorite bottle of Belgian ale, you would be subjected to the government’s warning label, cautioning pregnant women to think twice before partaking of a potentially toxic cocktail. Alcohol may cause birth defects—meaning, alcohol affects your baby. It’s probably best not to drink this product while your baby is developing in your womb.  The glaring hypocrisy of such a warning is this: The same women who are warned not to drink this beer because it could damage their developing child are also told by the same laws that it is fine to dismember the child and remove it altogether through abortion. Why care about a baby’s defect if we’re not supposed to worry about its death by abortion?

 

O, that God would finally rid us of this demonic curse we are under that diminishes the value of human beings created in His image!  We are hypocrites. We protect the eaglet so it develops in its nest, and we protect babies from mothers who drink beer, but we will not protect babies from abortions. How twisted and confused we have become!

 

 

What About Christmas Persecution?


Andy Williams famously sang of December as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  With the smooth, mellifluous tenor that also floated our emotions down “Moon River,” Andy Williams made December special, calling friends and family to unite around the gift-giving spirit ushered in originally by God Himself.  Nowadays, Williams has passed on, and God has become a problem.

 

While it is true that Democrats booed God when he was mentioned at their convention this year, it is also true that the booing

 

The Andy Williams Christmas Album

The Andy Williams Christmas Album (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Democrats are not alone in wishing God weren’t really alive. More and more, Americans seem to have a problem with God.

 

Because Christmas is a recognition of the love of God for us, it, too, must go. As David Limbaugh wrote, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Christmas Must Go.” Christmas is growing less welcomed in America.

 

Andy Williams’s song says,

 

There’ll be parties for hosting 
Marshmallows for toasting 
And caroling out in the snow 
There’ll be scary ghost stories 
And tales of the glories of 
Christmases long, long ago

 

Sadly, people can no longer tell tales in America of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.  The U.S. Navy is one of the latest groups to join the cancel Christmas parade.  They banned the nativity scene on naval bases in Bahrain this year.  Closer to home, Santa Monica, CA, once called “The City of the Christmas Story” because of its elaborate Christmas displays, now has abandoned the public display of the traditional Christmas Nativity.

 

As Christians, we are saddened by this loss of tradition and discouraged by the rejection of everything good about this Christian celebration; however, we must not be surprised. While it is true that the shepherds rejoiced at the arrival of Christ, it is also true that the king grimaced and plotted the child’s demise.  There is more the spirit of Herod and less that of the shepherds in America these days.

 

Yet, just as the jealous King Herod could neither accomplish his own diabolical will nor thwart the righteous will of God, so, too, will it prove true in America that Christ and His church will ultimately reign victorious. The kingdom will advance despite those who marshal their forces against the Lord’s bride.

 

When Christ came to his meager throne in a borrowed manger on that first Christmas morn, he came not to ask permission or even to make salvation possible:  He came to make salvation certain. His resurrection and ascension sealed the certainty of God’s accomplished will. The kingdom has, in fact, come, and God’s will WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Therefore, even if nativity scenes are against this nation’s law, and even if the babe in the manger is a forbidden danger which the self-righteous, politically polite insist we must avoid—still, there will be a few aliens and strangers to the world who will delight in telling the tale of the glory of that first Christmas long, long ago.  It’s okay for us to be of good cheer at this happiest time of the year.

 

 

Southern Baptists and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Southern Baptists have often been faulted for being on the wrong side of the issue of slavery and, later, on the issue of civil rights.  While it cannot be denied that the Civil War came about as a result of Southerners demanding the right at the state level to determine the issue of slavery, it should also be remembered that many Southerners worshiped together in congregations with slaves before the War split them apart (See Greg Wills’s great book, Democratic Religion, published by Oxford).

It is true that Southern Baptists were on the wrong side of the slavery issue. So, it is fitting that Southern Baptists openly and publicly repent of their sins against black Americans.

Baptists in history have not always acted in perfect accord with the Christ who bought them. Though we have always readily

Martin Luther King, Jr. Visits Southern Baptist Seminary

accepted our Lord’s salvation, we have not always heeded His instruction.  It is very encouraging to remember, however, that the Seminary in which I teach theology from time to time was on the forefront of the Civil Rights movement.

Many do not realize that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Southern Seminary and spoke in a chapel address and in lectures to students in the classroom in 1961 (three years before civil rights legislation passed through Congress).  And, according to King, he had visited that chapel two or three times prior to this address.

I am proud of Southern Seminary’s history on this issue and its future on nearly every other. It is a great beacon of light for America and beyond.

You can actually listen to Dr. King’s chapel address here:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Address Southern Seminary

Does the Bible Condemn Abortion?


I hear a common refrain from those who favor abortion. It usually goes something like, “The Bible is silent on abortion,” or “the Bible never condemns abortion.” Is this true? Is it true that the Bible does not speak to abortion?

On the surface it appears true that the bible does not condemn abortion. There is no text which says, “Thou shalt not commit

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

abortion.” However, on those literal terms, there is no text which says, “Thou shalt not initiate a nuclear holocaust.” Yet, we somehow think that would be a bad thing and probably not something God wants us to do. Must we have a verse which explicitly says, “Do not put Jewish people in a gas chamber” in order to know that it’s wrong to do it?  It’s a bit simplistic to say the Bible does not condemn abortion. It certainly does.

In the 10 Commandments, we read, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).  The word murder (in the original Hebrew) refers not to killing in general, but to the specific, determined effort to end a human life.  Often, it is translated “manslayer.”  This command does not forbid all human killing. It does not forbid killing in war or conducting executions for the sake of justice.  But the question is whether or not it forbids killing a life in the womb. I think it does, and I will share with you the two reasons why.

First, Moses (who wrote Exodus) does speak to the issue of abortion in the very next chapter after writing the “You shall not murder” commandment. In Exodus 21:22-25, Moses writes the famous “eye for an eye” passage (called the Lex Talionis, or the law of retaliation). The point of that passage is not to encourage blood-thirsty people to seek vengeance. Rather, the point is to keep the punishment in proper relation to the crime. If a foot is injured, you cannot gouge out a person’s eyeballs in return.

What is almost always missed when this passage is read or quoted is the fact that it is spoken in the context of a pregnant woman being accidentally struck by men who are in a fight. “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth… yet there is no further injury… “(Exodus 21:22)–then the result is to pay a  fine in accordance with the demands of the woman’s husband. But if there is further injury (to the woman or the child?) then the law of retaliation holds: life for life.

While it is not certain what further injury is in view in this passage, the principle holds either way: Do not fight near a woman who is pregnant because you may do harm, and, if you do, you will bear the full weight of guilt in accordance with the injury you cause. In modern legal jargon, the fitting term here is negligent homicide–a form of murder which took place because you acted recklessly and caused another person to die.

The Exodus 21 passage stringently forbids reckless behavior when men are around an expectant mother in order to prevent injury. This principle is something we still recognize with animals, but we exempt ourselves from its reasonableness when it comes to human life.  According to Title 16, Chapter 5A, Subchapter II, Paragraph 668 (a), of the United States Code, if one disturbs an eagle’s nest and, thus, causes an eagle’s egg to crack, then he can be fined $5,000 and sentenced to prison. The reason is clear. An eagle’s nest incubates an eagle’s egg which is the home of an eaglet struggling to be born alive. Along the same reasonable lines of thought, the Bible protects the nest of babies struggling to be born alive.  The hypocrisy of our laws is inexcusable.

On the second reason I think the Bible does condemn abortion: God is pro-life in the most exceptional sense of that term. Jesus on two occasions in John’s gospel called himself “Life” (see John 11:25 and John 14:6).  Practically every verse in the Bible after Genesis 1:26-27 affirms the value of every human life and, thus, negates abortion–which inherently devalues human life.  Genesis 9:6–the passage of Scripture which demands execution for murderers–does so on the premise that human life images forth God and, thus, is the property of God. No person has the right to determine in accordance with his whims or desires that one of God’s image-bearers should be killed.

We must not destroy the image of God. Indeed, Genesis 9:7–the very next verse–reaffirms the God-given command to be fruitful and multiply human beings upon the earth–that is the opposite of the spirit of abortion. So, it appears to me that the Bible is not silent after all on the issue of abortion.

Saying there is no commandment in the Bible against abortion is almost like saying there’s nothing in a grocery store that says you have to eat.  While it may be technically true, it is ridiculously off the mark.  Everything about a grocery store says, “Food, Eat.”  And everything in the Bible says, “Life.”

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Women Are Dying from “Safe, Legal” Abortions


Soviet poster circa 1925. Title translation: &...

Soviet poster circa 1925. Title translation: “Abortions performed by either trained or self-taught midwives not only maim the woman, they also often lead to death.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who hasn’t heard the horror stories of coat hangers, toilets, and back-alley butchers? One of the major arguments in favor of passing Roe in 1973 was the promise that women would no longer be butchered or mutilated in the process of ridding their bodies of unwanted babies. Now, after Roe, all abortions would supposedly be done in the safe, sterile environment of women’s clinics or hospitals. Today, that promise rings more hollow than ever.

More than 400 women have died from supposedly “safe, legal” abortions, and yet there is not a feminist group extant who seems to care. Indeed, the big concern for women now seems to be to make sure 11 year-olds can get abortifacient drugs over the counter without parental consent. Is the pro-choice position really just an attempt to divorce sexuality from child-bearing–no matter the cost? It honestly appears that way to this pro-life outsider.

More than 400 women have died because they wanted a safe, legal abortion. Does anyone care that women are dying? There are real problems in abortion clinics all over this country (think Kermit Gosnell), and, yet, no one seems to care. To address the unsafe and inhumane conditions of abortion clinics would be viewed as an attempt to over-burden clinics in order to prevent or, at least, discourage abortions. So, feminists say nothing. Femicide is occurring throughout the land, and feminists do not care.

The 400 number is lower than the real number because, unlike your local pharmacy or animal clinic, abortion clinics are shrouded in privacy and cloaked in anonymity when it comes to accountability. With all the government regulations out there on EVERYTHING from windmills to treehouses and Lemonade stands–with all of this over-regulation of our lives–you would think we might want one or two regulations on abortion in order to prevent women from dying. But the courts say, “No!” And pro-abortion women say no.

Maybe all that talk against back-alleys and coat hangers was nothing more than a quirky aversion to dim-lit alleys and wire coat hangers. Maybe it had nothing to do with women after all. Are we really better off because women are dying on Main Street rather than in a back alley?

The Individual Conscience: Another Casualty of Obamacare


You Can Fool Everybody But God And Your Consci...

You Can Fool Everybody But God And Your Conscience. Give A Full Days Work – NARA – 534350 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martin Luther once famously said,  “I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound.” His life was on the line for his Christian beliefs, and he reasoned that dying would be better than going against his conscience. He believed that a man lives beyond himself in world in which he must give an account for his soul. Thus, he could not violate his conscience—even if it meant he would die.

Today, our government is demanding the end of conscience for anyone who runs a business in America. It is ironic, isn’t it? We castigate business owners as “Wall Street Fat Cats” who care nothing about people—only money. And yet, when a businessman like David Green tries to run his business on principle and according to deeply held beliefs about what is best for other people, he is threatened with a fine of 1.3 million dollars per day for doing so.

The Obama administration does not care about David Green’s conscience. They care about abortion. And they care about having Roman Catholics and Evangelicals pay for it. Does that sound too cynical, even conspiratorial? It isn’t. It is the truth. The Obama Administration is arguing, first, that businesses are by definition secular and, second, that even if they were religious by nature, the burden posed by the mandate in Obamacare is not substantial. (After all, it isn’t like early abortions are killing real babies—just babies in development. No big deal!). Read it for yourself from the legal brief by the Department of Justice:

Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion. Even if a secular entity could exercise religion within the meaning of [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] RFRA, the preventive services coverage regulations still do not substantially burden the company’s or its owners’ exercise of religion for an independent reason: any burden caused by the regulations is simply too attenuated to qualify as a substantial burden.[1]

So, who decided that a business owner must become secular to do business in the United States? The Constitution is supposed to protect the free exercise of religion. That is the reason pacifists have been given a pass in military combat—not because the Army is a religious entity. Obviously, it’s not. Individuals have a duty to be bound to their consciences and cannot be asked to violate them for political whims by coercive governments. But that is exactly what has happened to America after Obamacare.

David Green has always run his business in such a way that he has shown a great concern for the people he employs.  Hobby Lobby pays its employees 80% above minimum wage. Employees enjoy free time in the evenings and on weekends. And even though the company could make lots of money on Sundays, they close on that day so families can enjoy a day of rest. David Green and family believe in a Sabbath rest, based on conscience. Hobby Lobby has always been a conscientious business.

And now, the Obama Administration is saying, “Your conscience must go.” The individual conscience is yet another casualty of Obamacare in the new America.

Some of the People Obamacare Hurts–Hobby Lobby in a Lost America


I am still sad from the November elections because of the damage Obamacare does to human life and to the fabric of our

English: Hobby Lobby store in Stow, Ohio

English: Hobby Lobby store in Stow, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

republic. I have listed below a letter from David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby concerning why he had to file a lawsuit against our government. I hope you will read it and hear the heart of an American whose conscience is torn between running a prosperous business for the good of thousands of people and being forced by the government to violate his conscience so that women can abort their babies free of charge.

Just a snippet gives you a feel for the heartbeat of Green’s concern. It is a concern for all people. Obamacare represents an overreaching of the First Amendment. It is a law that restricts the free exercise of religion. As Green says,

The government cannot force you to follow laws that go against your fundamental religious belief. They have exempted thousands of companies but will not except Christian organizations including the Catholic church.

Unfortunately, a federal judge struck down Hobby Lobby’s first attempt at a reprieve from this draconian law. Hobby Lobby filed an appeal on November 21st. We should pray for them and for the people who work for Hobby Lobby. They may be forced to close their doors because they cannot pay more than a million dollars a day in fines to the government.

If you are interested in following this case, I have linked here the website which posted the letter. On that website, there are links to the legal briefs, statements, and court filings related to the case.

By David Green, the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

When my family and I started our company 40 years ago, we were working out of a garage on a $600 bank loan, assembling miniature picture frames. Our first retail store wasn’t much bigger than most people’s living rooms, but we had faith that we would succeed if we lived and worked according to God’s word. From there, Hobby Lobby has become one of the nation’s largest arts and crafts retailers, with more than 500 locations in 41 states. Our children grew up into fine business leaders, and today we run Hobby Lobby together, as a family.

We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles. I’ve always said that the first two goals of our business are (1) to run our business in harmony with God’s laws, and (2) to focus on people more than money. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. We close early so our employees can see their families at night. We keep our stores closed on Sundays, one of the week’s biggest shopping days, so that our workers and their families can enjoy a day of rest. We believe that it is by God’s grace that Hobby Lobby has endured, and he has blessed us and our employees. We’ve not only added jobs in a weak economy, we’ve raised wages for the past four years in a row. Our full-time employees start at 80% above minimum wage.

But now, our government threatens to change all of that. A new government health care mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one. If we refuse to comply, we could face $1.3 million PER DAY in government fines.

Our government threatens to fine job creators in a bad economy. Our government threatens to fine a company that’s raised wages four years running. Our government threatens to fine a family for running it’s business according to it’s beliefs. It’s not right. I know people will say we ought to follow the rules; that it’s the same for everybody. But that’s not true. The government has exempted thousands of companies from this mandate, for reasons of convenience or cost. But it won’t exempt them for reasons of religious belief.

So, Hobby Lobby and my family are forced to make a choice. With great reluctance, we filed a lawsuit today, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asking a federal court to stop this mandate before it hurts our business. We don’t like to go running into court, but we no longer have a choice. We believe people are more important than the bottom line and that honoring God is more important than turning a profit.

My family has lived the American dream. We want to continue growing our company and providing great jobs for thousands of employees, but the government is going to make that much more difficult. The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law. I say that’s a choice no American and no American business should have to make.
The government cannot force you to follow laws that go against your fundamental religious belief. They have exempted thousands of companies but will not except Christian organizations including the Catholic church.

Since you will not see this covered in any of the liberal media, pass this on to all your contacts.

Sincerely,

David Green, CEO and Founder of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

If You Don’t Judge Others, You Are Dumb


No Scripture is quoted more often than the proverbial, “judge not” passage of Matthew 7:1. Whatever its iteration, this statement appears welcome in every college classroom and any political conversation. It’s probably the only Bible verse with universal appeal. The sayings, “We mustn’t judge” or “I try not to judge others,” are threatening to overtake the frequency of expressions like “How are you?” on the list popular parlance.

At the risk of being a fish out of water, I baldly proclaim, “Refusing to judge others is the height of stupidity and a Judge Not But Judgevacuous absence of love.” There, I said it. The rest of my time will be an attempt to persuade my good readers to avoid this stupidity and, of course, be more encouraged to love.

It is a stupid thought to say that you mustn’t judge others.  If you fail to judge rightly between those who tell the truth and those who tell lies, you will end up believing lies and living an illusion. You will be a Yo-Yo for every fool who cries “Wolf!”  You will also be very poor, as you will believe every TV ad which commands you to act now on an offer you cannot refuse.  Failing to judge the veracity of others’ speech is simply stupid. You must judge others.

Typically, the judgment in question relates only to moral judgments. So, when people say “Don’t judge,” they mean don’t judge the morality of others—particularly their sexual morals. More often than not, quoting the verse “Judge not” refers to not telling others that their sexual preferences are wrong.  This refusal to judge is—in my humble opinion—vacuously unloving.  Here is what I mean.

Knowing what is known now about Jerry Sandusky (the former football coach at Penn State who has been convicted of serial child molestation) and Kevin Clash (the creator and voice of Elmo on Sesame Street), a parent would be criminally negligent to allow his son to be alone with either of these men. While Kevin Clash has not yet been convicted of any crime, he has been credibly accused by at least two men of having sex with boys under the age of 18.  Clash has not yet denied the charges. He only says that he is working to resolve his “personal matters privately.”

Sexual sins (as we learned in the case of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky) are supposed to be private matters and should not be any of the public’s business.  So, Clash is hoping to resolve his “private” sexual matters privately.  Any parent who buys that claptrap is foolishly unloving toward his child. Would you send your son off for a visit with someone about whom there is credible evidence of sexual exploitation? Sex is no longer a private matter when it threatens your son or daughter.

Lady Justice Judge othersWhile it is true that we must not judge Kevin Clash guilty of all the crimes he is being charged with until after a trial has brought forth all the evidence, it is also true that some measure of judgment is required already when it comes to protecting children. Clash himself understands this and, so, has resigned for now from Sesame Street.  Unfortunately, Sesame Street’s on statement is (again in my opinion) culpably weak, stating only that this is “a sad day for them.”  A sad day for them?  What about concern for the safety of children who may be targeted for sexual exploitation?

If you have any intelligence whatsoever, you will in fact judge the statements and actions of others. If you have any love in your heart for your children, you absolutely must make judgments about the sexual practices of your neighbors and about whether or not you want your children to spend time with them.  Matthew 7:1—like the rest of Scripture—speaks about how to judge rightly (from God’s perspective) rather than persisting in judging wrongly (from a self-righteous perspective). Maybe we would be helped by quoting John 7:24 more often: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 3 of 3)


If what has been said already about Israel is true, then a question arises, “What about the nation of Israel today?” In this finalIsrael Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christ part (of a three-part series), we’ll look at what the Bible says about Israel as an ethnic/national people.  The key text for this discussion is Romans 11.

The question we are asking is, essentially, the same question Paul asked when he discussed this topic (which might be an indication that we are on the right track).  Paul’s question, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” The answer is, “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” (Romans 11:1).

Romans 11 is notorious for the difficulty scholars have had coming to an agreement over its contents. I will offer you my thoughts on it to help you make sense of the chapter for yourself.  Here is the way I read Paul’s statement.

First, it is not as though God’s plan has failed just because Israel (nationally/ethnically) has been cut off from God’s favor, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6).  Paul acknowledges that the situation after Christ is not so far removed from the situation before Christ; it has never been the case that everyone within the borders of ethnic or national Israel were actually the chosen of God.

God’s people have never been characterized by ethnicity. They have always—since Abraham—been characterized by faith—humbly believing as true that which God has revealed.  The issue has never been about birth or land but always about mercy (so Romans 9:14-15). So, Paul states in 9:7, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.”  Children of God were always and still are children by faith, not by birth.

Second, God has an over-arching, sovereign plan for all nations and people, including for Israel. In Romans 11:11, Paul asks, “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” His question wonders whether Israel is forever lost to Christ in the plan of God. His own answer is, “May it never be!” This verse (11:11) alerts us to the fact that God has a plan for people—including for people whose heritage is Jewish—through Jesus Christ.

Third, God’s plan displays an unexpected irony in that the present rejection of the Jews has the built-in purpose of making them jealous of the outpouring of salvation to the Gentiles (See 11:11).  The fact that God’s people are now those with faith in Christ is expected to make the Jews (who had all the original promises and covenants from God) jealous—so that they, too, might be brought back to covenant love with Him.

At his own realization of the glory of God in putting together such a comprehensive scheme for Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation through Christ, Paul worships, shouting forth, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways….”

Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National ChristFourth, for now, a hardening has come upon (ethnic/national) Israel. This hardening allows an on-going opportunity for the full number of non-Jews to come in to the kingdom. As Paul says in Romans 11:25, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  What is important to remember is that the hardening is partial, meaning not all Jews even now are rejected. Some are accepted by God through Christ. Some are believers.  Paul stated that he was such an Israelite.

And so, any Israelite who stops his unbelief will also be brought into the family of faith and the kingdom of God (11:23). The partial hardening means some Jews are now being saved.  Now is the time for the full number of Gentiles also to come into the kingdom of God, along with some of the Jews.  “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (11:26).  Jews and Gentiles together become one body with one Lord in one faith through Jesus Christ.

The favored people of God are those who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Apart from Christ, there is no kingdom or covenant promise for any other people. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus.  Anyone who has the Son, has life. Anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  National Israel is in a favored place only in the sense that there is a gospel witness in that land. May the Lord indeed grant for many to come to Christ through the preaching of this gospel.

Debates are sure to continue concerning Israel and concerning Paul’s instructions in Romans 9-11.  These chapters divide Amillennialists from Dispensationalists and Dispensationalists from one another. Nevertheless, one basic truth pierces through all theological distinctions like a sword pierces through a chink in the knight’s armor: he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

Those who take confidence in living on a certain strip of land or having a Jewish sir name should re-think their basis of security, taking no confidence in the flesh.  Rather, like Abraham, they should have faith in God. Christians—those who by faith have received the promises of Abraham—must always remember to stay fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (for Gentiles and Jews alike).

Give Thanks to Almighty God (Says the President of the United States)


Happy Thanksgiving! We set aside today to remember Him to whom all thanks is due. Thanksgiving was instituted by

President George Washington First Thanksgiving Proclamation Almighty God

proclamation of the President of the United States–George Washington–on October 3, 1789.  You do not need for me to explain it to you because you can read it for yourself below. As you can see, the holiday was national and overtly religious.

Thank you, Almighty God, for the freedom our souls enjoy in Christ.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 2)


Earlier, Acts 13:32-39 was quoted, but not in its entirety. When the complete quote is included, we see that the early church Dreidel God Israel Christ Kingdom landproclaimed more than the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, He is the realization of the Son of God. As such, Christ is also the fulfillment of the kingdom. So, Acts 13:34 offers this prophecy from God about Jesus: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.”

Talk of David in the Bible is always significant because David represents the fulfillment of Old Testament Kingdom promises. David is the prototypical king of Israel. This prophecy fulfilled in Acts 13 is an acknowledgement that Jesus has come as the King of the Israel of God.  Thus, our contemporary over-emphasis on the national entity of Israel is a diminishing of the glory of the eternal kingdom which has already begun for God’s people in Jesus Christ.

The issue of emphasis in the New Testament is not national, nor ethnic, and it isn’t even about a parcel of land; the issue is Christ the king and His kingdom people who are “in him” by faith.  There is still a future fulfillment in Christ at the consummation of His kingdom, which brings about the new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem from above.  So, the Apostle Paul was able to speak of a new reality in Galatians 6:15-16,

“For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

Clearly, the Apostle Paul makes Christ’s faithful out to be the true Israel of God. The reason is that those born again are “in Christ.” Those in Christ are in the true Israel of God. They are the fulfillment of the kingdom promises of the Old and New Testament.  Thus, the Apostle Peter would say of us who are in Christ,

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, A People for God’s own Possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God…

The people of God—God’s Holy nation—is not Israel, but us who belong to Christ. The kingdom belongs to Christ and to those to whom He gives it. Jesus died the “King of the Jews,” and when He rose again and ascended into heaven, he guaranteed a new future which inextricably sewed heaven and earth together into a new reality which He will complete on His return.

Star of David Israel Nation Christ KingdomNotice the significance of each point in 1 Peter 2:9. Christians now are the “chosen race,” first mentioned in Isaiah 43:20.  Christians are now the “royal priesthood and holy nation” of Exodus 19:6.  [Yes! Christians are the nation of God’s favor.] Christians are now the “people for God’s own possession,” mentioned first in Exodus 19:5. In short, Christians are the children of God, the chosen for His kingdom.  Thus, no one [including Jews living in the land of Israel]—no one can come to the Father except through His son, Jesus (John 14:6). Christians are those who have thus come to the Father.

The original covenant promise from God came to Abraham. It was through Abraham that Isaac (the child of promise) and Jacob (the father of the 12 tribes of Israel) came about. The faith of Abraham is completed in the coming of Jesus Christ. So, again, Paul the Jew would say, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7-8). “So, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

From the beginning, Abraham was to serve as a light to the nations, and, in Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. They were originally blessed through the light of Abraham’s offspring–Israel, which shone (in varying degrees of darkness) until the arrival of the true Israel of God: God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Now that Christ has come, everything has changed into a glorious reality of his eternal kingdom.

If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s descendant, an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).  If you are in Christ, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Hebrews 12:22).  In short, all the promises of God (including those in the Old Testament) are “yes and amen” in Christ Jesus.

To Be Continued Again? What about the future of national Israel? Stay tuned.

(In the meantime, you may want to read, “Is the Holy Land Really Holy?”)

Is God Always on Israel’s Side?


English: English translation of hebrew version...

English translation of Hebrew. Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I honestly dislike controversy. I try to avoid it. But the things which matter most to me are always on collision course with the things that others decide are too “controversial” to speak about in polite company.  Marriage, families, protecting babies, and the freedom of religion—all these are important realities which rile abortion supporters and those who wish to dismantle the traditional family.

Above all else, I care about Christ and sharing God’s love with others. So, I have to speak concerning the controversial subject of Israel (because it involves Christ). I read a popular Christian post which proclaimed that God is always on the side of Israel. I do not think that is true—at least not in the way the author meant it.  Before I explain further, I heartily agree that the nation of Israel needs our support, considering that it is freedom’s best ally in the Middle East, and many of her neighbors are busily working to see her annihilated.

That being said, the Bible nowhere offers warrant for saying the present nation of Israel is comprised of the people of God.  The land and the people filling it have no hope of being part of the kingdom of God without faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Like the novelist Anne Rice, I understand the presence of the Jews as an “immense  mystery” without a natural  solution.  It takes God to explain the existence of Jews in this world, and it may well be that at some point in the future there will be a great outpouring of faith towards Christ among the Jews (Romans 11:25-29).

Nevertheless, the present nation of Israel does not exist as a vessel of God’s special favor.  The reason is simply this: The concept of Israel is a personal concept in Scripture, not a national one. The present nation of Israel is a national entity, not a personal one.

In the Bible, Israel is a person. Originally, Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32:24ff).  Israel later became the collective name for the twelve tribes of Israel (which, of course, was a reference to the twelve sons of Jacob).  The original, biblical understanding of the name Israel was a reference to a person.  This person represented other people.

In a foreshadowing of the Christ who would later come to fulfill God’s purposes for His people, Exodus 4:22 says, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  Again, in prophetic utterance, Hosea gets a word from God: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). All the prophecies about God’s Son—Israel—have seen their fulfillment in Christ, who came not to abolish the law, but to complete the law and the prophets.  So, in Matthew 2, Jesus was taken as a child into Egypt so that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled—out of Egypt, God called His Son.

The concept of Israel and the person of God’s Son both find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Acts 13:32-39 speaks of early Christians preaching Christ as the fulfillment of these prophetic words:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus as it is written in the 2nd Psalm, ‘You are my son, Today I have begotten you.’ 

The Apostle Paul (in Romans 9:6-8) spent much time and energy pleading with the Jews (who occupied the land which today makes up Israel) so that they would stop taking comfort in their ethnicity.  He spoke plainly that their hope was not to be found in “Israel” but in Isaac—not in the flesh but in the promise of God.  In other words, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel… this means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise….”

To Be Continued (Let your mind chew on these thoughts, while I get ready to post more tomorrow)

Tyndale Against Tyranny (Again)


English: William Tyndale, Protestant reformer ...

English: William Tyndale, Portrait from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Česky: William Tyndale (portrét ve Foxeově Knize mučedníků) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you own a copy of the Bible in English, you should be thankful for a man named William Tyndale. William Tyndale fought both the government and the established church to give the plowman his own copy of God’s Word. Tyndale held the courage of his convictions firm to the end, translating the New Testament into the language of the people. For his heroic efforts, he was killed. He died as a true martyr for Christ.

Today, the publishing firm that bears his name is also trying to get God’s Word to people in their own language. Tyndale House Publishers was born out of the passion of its founder, Kenneth N. Taylor. Dr. Taylor wanted all people everywhere–including children–to have full access to God’s Word.  In the spirit of the original Tyndale, Taylor’s publishing house has published millions of Bibles starting with The Living Bible and moving in 1996 to publishing the New Living Translation.

In addition to publishing bibles, Tyndale House also publishes Christian literature such as the Left Behind series. Tyndale House has become a standard-bearer for athletes and stars who want to share their positive testimonies of faith. Examples of those who have published through Tyndale include Kurt Warner, Emmit Smith, and Rick Santorum.

Still, the Obama administration does not consider Tyndale House Publishers religious enough to avoid paying for abortifacient drugs in their health insurance plans. As a result, the publishers filed suit against Obama’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

Thankfully, a federal judge has awarded a temporary injunction to Tyndale House Publishers so that fines will not accrue against them until after the case has been settled. As I have said before, the HHS mandate as interpreted by the Obama administration is a direct assault on the First Amendment, and, if it is ultimately upheld, Americans will no longer be free to exercise faith convictions in public.  This decision is monumental.

I am very thankful for Mark D. Taylor and Tyndale House publishers for their willingness to fight against the tyrannical imposition of abortion upon Christians in the marketplace. I hope you will join me in praying for their success in this matter of religious freedom.  Specifically, there are 3 ways to pray as the case progresses:

  1. Pray that the courts will see that Tyndale House (and other Christian businesses filing suit against the HHS mandate) are operating by faith with faith-oriented purposes like Bible publishing. Christians (and people of faith)  live public and complete lives of faith.
  2. Pray that the courts will honor the protections inherent in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which protects the right of religious liberty for Tyndale House through its parent organization, the Tyndale House Foundation. It is clear that the Foundation exists for explicitly Christian purposes and that the leaders of the Foundation and the publishing house operate from the standpoint of Christian conviction.
  3. Pray that the Obama administration is not successful in its attempt to restrict religious liberty to activities related to church gatherings. Such a “success” by the administration would be a defeat for all Americans, not to mention it would mean the virtual eradication of Christian witness in the public square. This is significant because it will ensure a systemic persecution of Christians in America, as light cannot help but shine–even when the government says it can’t.

Again, thank you, Mark Taylor and Tyndale House Publishers, for bringing your faith convictions to bear on public policy. May the Lord grant you a success which would keep people free who may not even be aware of this encroaching bondage.

Bonhoeffer Is Not a Martyr


20th anniversary of the assassination against ...

20th anniversary of the assassination against Adolf Hitler on July 20th 1944 :*Graphics by Gerd und E. Aretz :*Ausgabepreis: 20 Pfennig :*First Day of Issue / Erstausgabetag: 20. Juli 1964 :*Michel-Katalog-Nr: 433 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On behalf of Project 13:3 and on behalf of the persecuted church around the world, I delivered an address this afternoon at the 64th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. This year, the meeting is being held in Milwaukee, WI.

The paper I delivered was titled “Bonhoeffer, the Bible, and Christian Persecution: Unraveling the Mystery of Martyrdom.” You can read the entire paper here.

The gist of the paper is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer should not be called a martyr by Christians. The reason Bonhoeffer should not be called a martyr is that he was not persecuted for his faith. He did not die as the result of persecution. He died as the result of being guilty of a political plot to overthrow Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s part was not to assassinate Hitler, but the plot itself did include that ultimate aim. The attempt was made, but failed. Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot.

What I really want to summarize here in this blog post is why it is important to reserve the title martyr for others (like this guy, for example). Specifically, even though evangelicals are not known for the veneration of saints in a manner such as that prevalent in the Roman Catholic tradition, the truth remains that Christians seek role models and are even encouraged several times in Scripture to imitate others–especially others who have persevered and triumphed through trials and suffering.

Whether intentionally or not, those who call Bonhoeffer a martyr do the church a disservice because they are affirming for him a place of honor which is worthy to be emulated. Though it may be acceptable for a soldier to join in subterfuge in order to kill a leader and, thus, serve the greater good of humanity, the Christian call is to a higher order of righteousness. The Christian should not kill.  The Christian should not steal. The Christian should not forge documents and tell lies in order to preserve political secrets.

I do not discount the possibility that a Christian may in certain circumstances be guilty of some of these sins–or maybe even all of them–and still be a Christian. However, awarding such a person the title martyr is dangerous and unhelpful to the long-term witness of the Christian Church.

While one may in fact applaud Bonhoeffer’s willingness to die for what he thought was right, he should not applaud his willingness to kill–or even to employ deception so that others might kill–a political enemy. This is not something Christ ever did.  The title martyr must be reserved for those whose actions are in accordance with the righteousness of Christ.

You may have other thoughts. You are, of course, free to share. But for much more detail, you should read the Bonhoeffer paper.

Will Germany Help Syrian Christians


Deutsch: Dr. Angela Merkel Bundeskanzlerin der...

Deutsch: Dr. Angela Merkel Bundeskanzlerin der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Vorsitzende der CDU Deutschlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the founder of a ministry to the persecuted church, I am well aware of the serious degree to which Christians are suffering from North Korea around the globe and back to Malaysia. In Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Christians are routinely beaten, imprisoned, or killed because their faith in Jesus Christ cannot stay secret or silent.

There is no doubt that Christians are the most persecuted people on the planet right now, but Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and the daughter of a Christian pastor, has come under inexplicable fire for stating what ought to be obvious to all: Christians are in danger.

Thankfully, Chancellor Merkel has not cowered yet to the liberal pressure to stop standing up for Christians. In fact, Merkel recently called on Germany to exercise its right to defend Christians by welcoming the persecuted Christians from Syria. As I have chronicled before, Christians in Syria are being squeezed from both sides and are in severe danger of being wiped out completely in some areas.

Without a doubt, many in the German government will fight her efforts to protect and preserve Syrian Christians; so we must pray for Germany and for Merkel. We must be thankful that at least one European leader has the moral fortitude to see the violence for what it is and to actually reach out to those in greatest need, rather than sitting on the fence hoping not to “anger” those who are violently imposing their religion on all Syrians.

Thank you, Angela Merkel, and (hopefully) thank you, too, Germany.