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.