Saturday, July 18, 2015

Regardless of what Planned Parenthood (may have) Done

                There are many ways to skin a cat, and to best approach the question of abortion in general, and specifically(perhaps) Planned Parenthood, it is important to define and explain the two general approaches to addressing it. 

                One, there is the Christian/Biblical viewpoint that must be explained and defended.

                Two, the pluralistic/agnostic/scientific/sociological viewpoint that must also be explained and defended. 

                I would contend that these positions can, and do, point to the same conclusion.  And I hope to make a compelling case to that end. 


The General Christian Argument Opposing Abortion:

  1. Murder is ALWAYS wrong. 

  2. Life is defined by God

  3. God is the one who breathes life into us and knows us in the womb

  4. Therefore, willfully taking of an innocent persons life is murder and a sin against God


It may be difficult to “scientifically” define when a child in the womb moves from non-life to life, the very fact that we are currently unable to truly “know” at what point that threshold is crossed, our responsibility would be to err on the side of life.  If murder is a sin, and at SOME point there is a life that bears the image of God inside the womb, it is of great and unnecessary risk to accidentally, perhaps, murder a life because your “guess” on the timing of when this threshold has been crossed was incorrect. 

If you were to indiscriminately shoot at a building where people were inside, regardless of your claims to not intending to actual kill someone, you would still be culpable for murder if you did “accidentally” hit someone.  In the same way, it is the height of irresponsibility to play Russian Roulette with children in the womb hoping that it might not actually be a life at the time you destroy it. 


Therefore, the risk of murder is so great, and the knowledge, scientifically, is so limited, faithful Christians should indeed advocate for the elimination of abortion.


The General “Secularist” Argument Opposing Abortion:

  1. Murder is always wrong

  2. Life is defined by a few narrow parameters, generally speaking, heartbeats and brainwaves

  3. Brain waves are an indication of life and an individual who is known and can be known

  4. Therefore, willfully taking of an individuals life(those who can think and feel) is always wrong


With the general concept that brain waves are indication of life the secularist argument rests in the “threshold” of the time at which these are observable.  Brain waves are first detected at 6 weeks.  While a secularist argument has a more defined “threshold” moment, there is still one. 

Therefore, abortion past the time of brainwaves is the willful taking of a life. 



Possible Disagreements and My Response: (Christian views)

  1. Rape

  2. Incest

  3. Life Endangerment

  4. Well Being of the future life(poor mothers, bad home environment, etc)

  5. We are a pluralist society we can’t advocate for our religious beliefs.

For each of my responses there is one foundational premise that I will state here, and not restate.  If we believe that God breathes life into us and knows us in the womb and He alone is the Author of life, regardless of the tragic circumstances surrounding any specific pregnancy, the life that DOES exist is an image bearer of God and the willful murder of that life is not justified by any degree of tragedy associated with its creation.   The argument against abortion are not reliant, or, related to, the reasons for the abortion.  


The Christian response to a victim needs to be “weeping with those who weep”.  And admittedly there are too many stories of victims who were not lovingly cared for in the aftermath of their situation.  Studies have shown that women who choose abortion after a rape are nearly 80% likely to regret the decision.  70% of women actually choose not to have an abortion, and not 1% of those have stated that they regret the decision. 

The sad reality is that many rape victims are not given the opportunity to know that there is  light on the other side.  While most who are led to believe that abortion will mitigate their suffering find that it increased it. 

While there are obviously those who had an abortion and are “glad” of it, it still doesn’t address the fundamental premise.  Is the value of an individuals life defined by the circumstances related to their creation define their value? 

I hope it is clear that creating an ethic that accepts that some lives are less valued than others by no fault of their own is a dangerous and completely unbiblical position to have.



Much of this is similar to my response to the rape exception.   The additional point is related to WHY we would contend for abortion in the case of incest.  This is generally presented as a protection against severe defect due to close relatives. 

By accepting this premise we are allowing for differentiation of objective value being ascribed(by our own opinions—not Gods) upon lives who are “not” defective and those who “are”.  I hope that we would weep if we became a nation that began to advocate for the abortions of every child in the womb whose tests have shown defective genes.  The child who is deformed due to incest is no less valuable than the child who is deformed due to other reasons. 


Life Endangerment: 

This is obviously a much more difficult question to deal with.  I will say that historically, pre Roe, women who came into the hospital and were literally dying due to their pregnancy DID receive medical help to save their lives.  Doctors did not just sit there and watch them die because they were opposed to abortion.  Extreme, and TRAGIC, medical procedures have generally always been accepted as a necessity. 

A choice of who to let live is thankfully EXTREMELY rare.  To advocate for abortion in general when this accounts for an almost too small to account for percentage of total abortions is disingenuous.  I think a Christian can support the heartbreaking realities of these extreme events without it also including other forms of abortion.


Well Being of Future Life---Generally Related to Financial/Life Situation of the Mother

Luckily, for all of us, what is true today, is not guaranteed to be true tomorrow.  The tragedy of this position is that it is advocating for murder for the sake of financial benefit(in reductionist terms).  While it may feel too “hard” today, what if two days later they get a raise.  What weeping should there be?

This position also fails to take into account the literally millions of Christians and millions of dollars that ARE poured into private charities to support these young women and families.  My wife and I personally support and work with our local Pregnancy Crisis center.  They provide clothes, education, formula, parenting classes, babysitting, home placement, etc.  We have even personally offered our home to young women who had no where else to go. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that, due to my communities and connections, that we could find a place and resources for virtually any young woman you could send our way.  If someone’s argument is that they don’t know what to do, I would say, “Who have you talked to???”  In the dozen cities and towns I have worked in EVERY single one has places that provide everything I just mentioned. 


We Are a Pluralist Society:

It is true we cannot force our views on anyone, nor should we, this does not change the fundamental reality that a life is a life is a life.  Therefore, should a good society NOT defend and speak up for the most vulnerable lives?  When a culture begins to devalue ANY of its citizens lives for ANY reason, it will begin to rot from the inside.


Possible Disagreements and My Response: (Secular)

  1. Life isn’t a brainwave

  2. Murder isn’t always wrong

  3. It’s better for society

  4. “Viability” is a more appropriate barometer for life


Life isn’t a brainwave:

This would be in direct contradiction to nearly every other medical standard we hold to.  We know that in the womb children; dream, feel pain, laugh, think, learn, etc.  While the degree to which they can do that is not clearly defined by the “amount” of brainwaves, we do know that these are true neuro realities of the unborn.  And even if they can’t “learn” as much as a Three year old, or, a 33 year old, we obviously do not place value on an individuals life by their degree of relative intelligence. 

And if we do not use brainwaves to define life in the womb, by what scientific method shall we then use?


Murder isn’t always wrong

Obviously this is a rare argument.  But historically there have been individuals, and whole societies, who contend for the value of eliminating those with “less” value.  Every healthy secularist society rejects this notion.  Though we should always be on guard for the voices that try to slip in from time to time to advocate for such.


It’s Better for Society

This is in relation to generally 2 broad thoughts; 1- Better life for the mother/family therefore, better communities, 2- We don’t need more poor uneducated people. 

Communities where abortion is more frequent are NOT better off.  Not that I am saying they are doing poorly BECAUSE of abortion, but, it reveals that abortion is not a catalyst for healthier families and communities. 

This ultimately boils down to a value being placed on someone’s life by the value you perceive them providing for you, directly and indirectly.  To repeat an earlier point let us pray that this type of cultural ethic never gains prominence. 


Viability is a better barometer of life

The problem here for a secularist, and especially a Christian, is that this is a moving goal post.  What was viable 50 years ago is radically different to what is viable today.  As medical science continues to progress that “threshold” continues to move ever farther back.  To use the term, “extreme” measures, when evaluating legitimate life sustaining procedures is itself very unhelpful.  A child at 38 weeks could have complications in the womb that means extreme steps post birth are necessary.  Extreme steps that are similar to the steps for an extreme premature birth.  If the degree of effort necessary to sustain life becomes a defining characteristic, does that mean a 38 week child is no more a “life” than an 18 week old one? 

Once we accept that extreme steps to provide viability is not a satisfying standard to define life, we will conclude that is practically a completely unusable one.  And, as technology advances does that therefore change moral standards.  For example, it wasn’t murder to abort a baby at 30 weeks 50 years ago, but it is today….?  A moral standard is not dependent upon technology.  If technology defines morality, than morality means nothing at all.
So, those are my thoughts.  Where am I wrong?  Where am I right?  Let me know!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Prosperity Gospel, Shifting Cultures and a Theology of Suffering

My son thinks I am a bully.  I know this because he told me so.  After punching him a few times and taking his lunch money I was shocked to hear him express this sentiment......Well, that isn't exactly what I did.  What happened was, and you can help me judge this decision, he had not eaten his vegetables at dinner so he couldn't have a sugary snack.  Therefore...BULLY. 

There is a tendency in all of us to desire things that aren't good for us.  At its heart this is simply a way of saying "sin".  We are image bearers of God, and that indicates that we are therefore designed as a reflection of the character and nature of God Himself.  When He gave His law to us it wasn't just a random list of do's and don't's, but instead a reliable witness and testimony to His very character and the outflow being our design parameters. 

The nature of sin is such that we are in constant conflict with our divine design.  Scripture tells us that our "flesh" is at constant war with God.  Our very deepest felt and innate desires too often betray this truth; We are broken.  And this brokenness, by its very definition and character, separates us from God. 

So what do we do when confronted with the reality of our brokenness?  We do two things that seem radically different, yet are different sides of the same self-centered destructiveness.

1-  We become legalists who take the Law as a personal challenge.  The promise and the goal of being a legalist is that we will; 1- Make ourselves right before God, and, 2- Be greatly blessed by temporal rewards because we are doing everything right.  This second part is most easily associated with what is called the prosperity gospel(notice the purposeful lower case g). 

Both practices of legalism are just different versions of prosperity teaching.  You do this, you get that.  If you DIDN'T get that, you are just not trying hard enough.....God finds your lack of faith....disturbing.....

2- We become Grace Abusers who reject the conviction of God's truth and place personal satisfaction and fulfillment of felt desires as the highest achievable standard because if, "God is all about love and Grace, he obviously wants me to be happy...."

Grace Abusers are just prosperity gospellers without any effort. 

It is of no small coincidence that as the 20th Century saw the growth of the prosperity gospel we also saw a rapid change in the moral compass of western civilization, and particularly America.  As we elevated personal satisfaction and happiness to a sacred place it is no wonder that the greatest modern heresy and bigotry is apparently practiced by those who say, "No!"

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been co-opted as the get rich scheme of eternal self-pleasure.  If something makes you uncomfortable, calls you to reject something you enjoy, deny yourself and pick up a cross, it must be, by definition, wrong.  Mean.  Sinful. 

A gospel that promises temporal pleasure, whether materially, emotionally, relationally, or otherwise, is a gospel that will not sustain or survive. 

The truth of the Gospel is not found in the measurable and quantifiable "blessings" experienced by those who have put their faith in Christ, but it is instead found in the place where suffering and pain are met with joy and peace.  In John 16 Jesus makes a clear promise to his disciples, and to us as well. 

"I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart.  I have overcome the world!"-- John 16:33

The context of John's 16th chapter is that those who are following Jesus can expect there lives to be more clearly marked by suffering than by personally experiencing victory.  Phrasing is everything.  Jesus does not end this warning with, "Do not worry, you shall totally overcome".  Instead he points to Himself and the ultimate hope and victory that is ours beyond this life because HE HAS already overcome.  He does not give ANY indication that this secured victory will translate into temporal successes. 

The modern Church has lost an essential theological bulwark.  A robust Theology of Suffering.  By this I do not mean some sort of wallowing and depressing resignation to be miserable.  The theology of Suffering is a recognition that life is broken and the World is in opposition to God, and those who follow Christ will not only still experience the temporal struggles that affect all people, but they can also expect spiritual challenges. 

But what did Jesus says in John 16:33??  He has overcome.  Our hope, the Gospel, is that even in the midst of great suffering, whether emotional, physical, relational and otherwise, God has come down, Jesus has carried that pain and the Holy Spirit dwells within us as a deposit of our faith and the source of our strength to face all things with Joy.  To, as Paul put it, count all our losses as gains for the sake of Christ! 

When we elevate personal comfort than all manner of things will not only become accepted, but, even advocated for as being "good".  That which was once evil is now contended for as good....When you or I believe that Christ's purpose was to make me comfortable today I have laid the groundwork for exactly that. 

Christ told us to count the cost.  And many walked away, because it cost them too much they thought.  But let us remember, "But to who else would we go, YOU have the words of eternal life"-- John 6:68.


From a good read on a Theology of Suffering


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

You Aren't How You Feel

My daughter is not a bear.  In case any of you have ever been confused by some of her actions, growling, and "claw" attacks, she is not actually a bear.  Just a funny and precocious three year old with a propensity for imagination and ridiculousness.  It is quite fun to play "bear" with her, and I will sometimes even initiate it by growling at her.  The best part of being a bear is that the game usually turns into the bears going to "sleep" and snuggling together.

Even with all that fun, I have never sent her off at night to go sleep in the woods, nor have I encouraged her to climb inside of the bear exhibit at the Zoo so she can take her fun to the next level.  She is still a three year old girl who needs her mommy and daddy to remind her to NOT pick up dead squirrels off of the road(true story....).  There is a logical and reasonable approach we take to raising our children;  There are immutable and intractable facts about WHO they are.

In culture today we have accepted and promoted the idea that we ARE how we FEEL or what we DO.  

This is in direct opposition to reason, logic and reality.

It is also destructive and dangerous.

Think about this simplistically.  If how we felt was the best arbiter of what was best for us we would all eat healthy well balanced diets, exercise, never procrastinate, never act towards people with anger, purposely hurt other peoples feelings or act selfishly to the damage of others.  Virtually all of the problems in the world are a testament to people following their "feelings".

Don't get me wrong, feelings are great.  I like to get allll the feels...when appropriate.  And NOT when they are counterproductive to truth and reality.

Have you ever been mad at someone for something they did?  Like really really mad?  And that anger caused you to act towards them in a way that reflected that you were angry?  You have???  Hey, me too!  Welcome to humanity.  But what if you found out that what you thought they did to you did not really occur?  And you had been completely wrong?  What do you do?

You might say that you of course would change your ways.  But you know what is interesting...we often have become so invested in the way we are feeling that we invent, or search for, reasons to justify how we have been feeling.  We begin to process how we feel through a psychological behavior known as "confirmation bias".  In a nutshell, it simply means we seek out any justification or support for what we already have chosen to think/feel and refuse to acknowledge or address any information that is counter to our already established perspective.

So how do we counteract this?

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.--Genesis 1:27

The very foundational reality of our immutable selves is that we are created as reflections of the very nature of God.  In our unique and beautiful creation we are the most truly "US" when we seek to emulate and reflect that reality.  Everything, and anything, else is a distortion of that Truth.  And this is not some amorphous flexible concept that says, "However I feel is the way God made me so therefore that is who I am and no one can say differently".

The wonderful thing about God is that He is not some unknowable floating cloud of ephemeral smoke that is impossible to know and be known by.  He has revealed his Nature, his Character, and his good Design in Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ.  We are not left wondering, "Am I really a bear?"  We instead told in no uncertain terms that we are image bearers of the Most High.  And, that His character that we made to reflect is clearly described and we are called to live in alignment with.

Our "flesh" and feelings can be powerful.  But they are not ultimately true.  Courage and bravery is not succumbing to how you feel, but instead having the willingness to say, "Not what I feel, but what is true about God and therefore about me".

Adorable and sweet until he thinks he can do this off of a tall building......

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's The End of the World and I Feel Fine

Once upon a time there was a little chicken, and everybody called him-- Chicken Little.

And one day while he was out walking, up in the sky a bird flew over and it dropped an acorn, and the acorn fell down and-- bip-- bopped him on his head. Chicken Little said “AWK! ” and looked up, and didn’t see anything, and he looked down and didn’t see anything.

So he said “Help, help the sky is falling! Help, help the sky is falling! I have to tell the King!” And he went running down the road, looking for the King.

Did you know that Christianity is dying?  While Time magazine asked the question about God's death a bit early(1966) , it seems that we we have finally caught up to their prophetic words...well not prophecy if these isn't a God, guess???..... This past week the Pew Forum published the results of their survey concerning the religious affiliations of Americans.  The big take away?  Self-identified Christians have shrunk as a representation of the population quite precipitously.  

If you are a believer, the sky seems to be indeed falling.  If you, on the other hand, have been praying(I mean wishing to science) that religious sentiments would go the way of the DoDo bird, the report was an encouraging affirmation of personal bias and hopes.

Is the sky really falling?  Are we on the precipice of the end of Christianity as we know it?  

Not exactly.

Ed Stetzer wrote a response to the Pew data and points out a glaring missing point.  Evangelical Christianity has GROWN nearly 3 million during the time period of the survey.  What the Pew survey shows is not actual numbers, but the share of the population.  During the time of the survey we have seen a rapid population growth from many regions of the world where Evangelical Christianity is far behind Catholic identification(though Catholocism shrank noticeably within their survey data).  And so while Evangelical Christianity clearly grew, it didn't grow as fast as the total population growth...THEREFORE...they shrunk as a portion of the population.

Something DID land on our heads.  It just wasn't the whole sky.  

What are we supposed to make of all of this?  How should we respond?  Should we be worried.

Let's make a couple of important broad points clear;

1- Truth is not a popularity contest.  Even if Evangelical Christianity was shrinking, that doesn't prove anything one way or the other about its veracity.  Conversely, its growth, in and of itself, doesn't prove anything either.  

2-  The goal of the Gospel is not to have the largest voting bloc and strongest political influence of other groups.  If anything, that is a distraction that has lead, historically, to terrible compromises and destructive behaviors.  

Within this there is something that we SHOULD be glad of.  And let me be clear, I don't mean glad in the sense of this being something great because of what it means in an eternal sense.....  


For a long time Christianity has been synonymous with social/political order.  Meaning, without any personal thought or conviction, people would just identify as Christians without any concern of whether or not it really meant anything.  As the cultural pendulum has swung away from this there is no longer artificial social pressures to continue to identify with that which you do not really take seriously.  

Look at the "mainline" denominations today and you will see what the results of generations of nominal Christians have created.  One of the largest historical denominations in the US is the Presbyterian Church of The USA.  About a decade ago guess what they took out of their doctrine?  That Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.  He is now listed as "unique to our faith tradition".  

For those who are not nerds for etymology like myself....the term, "Christian" is rooted in identifying with, and proclaiming, Jesus Christ(hence Christian) as the Son of God and the one and only hope for Salvation for all man kind.  You may disagree with this statement, BUT, that is the definition in a nutshell of what a Christian is and believes.  

Why do I think the mainline denominations are hemorrhaging members over the last decade?  Because they have become social clubs that don't make any claims to Truth, nor claims that that Truth has a claim on YOU.  At the end of the day, if what we do in "this" group is interchangeable with any other group, it becomes easy to become disengaged.  

The modern church has become what we were warned about in 2 Timothy 4:3---people gathering around teachers to tell them exactly what they want to hear.  And lets be honest, deep down inside, we don't really want(or NEED) an echo chamber affirming our self-centerdness.  We are desperate for Truth. We are desperate for conviction.  Accountability.  ETERNITY.  And talking about things that are nothing special, just "unique" to us, ain't cutting it.

So they sky IS falling.  But not in the way some people are going to tell you.  And before your sky starts to collapse on you make sure you are building towards eternity in Christ and Christ alone, because that is the foundation that will never fall.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Virtue of Intolerance

If the zeitgeist of popular culture is to be believed, Tolerance is the highest ideal society must strive after.  And not just any old type of tolerance, but affirming, encouraging, never disagreeing with tolerance.  A common refrain one hears is the old canard, "we aren't supposed to judge". 

Is this sensible?



Of course not!

Follow the general amorphous blog of undefined tolerance to its inevitable conclusion;  No laws, no rules, no justice, total anarchy.  We do not tolerate bad behavior.  Nor should we. 

My son has a natural tendency to hit his sister over perceived slights and annoyances.  For the sake of my daughter I do not tolerate this behavior.  I correct it.  It brings about consequences for my son.  Not because I just arbitrarily decide to punish him, but because for his own sake he needs to be corrected and taught what is and is not acceptable behavior. 

Clearly when tolerance is preached from the steeples of cultural trend setters they do not surely mean that good and loving fathers must tolerate their child's inappropriate behavior?----well, perhaps some do---but they will never admit to it.

Tolerance has virtually no meaning when it is divorced from the immeasurably important value of intolerance.  And this immeasurable value is found in the basic logically consistent reality that there truly are things that are good and right and there are other things that are truly bad and wrong.  While defining the standards of either may at times be a challenge, it is not an impossible one.  If one is willing to use their brains.

If everything I have just indicated is True at all times for all people in all circumstances....Why is there such a preponderance of cries for 'tolerance', and a tolerance that seems to be void of all definable meaning and parameters?

Because it is not being used in the classical sense of the meaning of tolerance at all.

Tolerance is being patient and kind with someone even if they are wrong, or, they have offended you in some way.  And, tolerance only makes any sort of sense if it is being defined as a reflection of an active verb contrasting that you are tolerating something that is intolerable.  If it is not intolerable, than no tolerance is necessary.

I do not 'tolerate' my children's hugs, because they are not intolerable. 

But modern tolerance demands that one must not only accept what another is doing, but, that we must call it good.  To say different is to cross the unacceptable line into 'intolerable' behavior.  But again, it is impossible to BE tolerant if what you are tolerating is not intolerable originally.  And if you are not even able to express that something is indeed intolerable, how can anyone even know you are being tolerant.

It is a conundrum.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
-Matthew 5:13-16

Do not fall victim to this worlds illogical and convoluted reasoning.  If you have been called by Christ, bought with a price, and belong to Him, you have a responsibility.  To speak truth.  To live truth.  And to do it with grace and patience. 

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
Titus 2
It is sad that it doesn't go without saying.  But, even as we recognize the absurdity of the world around us.  Do not tolerate yourself, or others, dealing with it in a way that lacks grace, integrity and goodness.  No one will care about your scintillating logic and brilliant argumentation if you are a jerk. 
Be virtuously intolerant. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

No Matter Where You Go

My wife called me out the other day.  Yes, she calls me out quite regularly on any number of things because she is good for me like that.  This one really struck me.  She said that she could tell I have not been spiritually focused. 

As usual she was right.

Before baby number three arrived last fall I had found a really great life pattern with our little family of four.  Each day was deliberately managed with clear goals.  Professionally and personally.  I was in complete control of my schedule and was always able to cut out plenty of time for personal devotions. 

As a surprise to no one, a new baby messed up all my well thought out plans.

Then, right after the baby arrived our church made the decision to move towards closing/merging.(which will soon be its own post) Then I started a "new" job in our newly merged with church a few months later with a whole new set of priorities, people and schedules. 

God has been so good throughout it all, and we love where God has led us and our wonderful community at Mt Pleasant church to join with our brothers and sisters at Calvary Evangelical Church.  But in the midst of the whirlwind of all this new stuff I got frazzled and unfocused. 

I have gained 15 pounds(sad face) haven't been committing enough time to just 'being' in God's word and to the chagrin of the 10's of you, haven't been focusing my thoughts in written form on my internationally read blog(big in Asia.....for some reason...).

Sin starts sneakily.  Not that I am currently out trying to score drugs and beating up widows for their social security checks.  If sin was going from being solid to being a criminal overnight we would all recognize it before it got a hold of us and avoid it.  But it doesn't work that way.  Bit by bit, tip toe by tip toe, we sloooooowwwwllly lose focus and wake up one day, weeks/months/years later and wonder, "What just happened???"

When we do wake up and see that things just aren't the way they are supposed to be what do we do? 

Too often you know what we do?  Beat ourselves up about it.  Get down on ourselves.  Perhaps even double down on the previous mistakes, dig in our heels and throw up our hands in defeat.

That's ok.

I mean, not really.  Stop doing that. 

But it is ok because of Jesus.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables.  The lost sheep, the lost coin, and, the prodigal son.  What is the message in each of those.  It doesn't matter how what was lost was "lost" HE wants you back.  He will take off your filthy clothes, carry you on his back, and bring you home.  You belong to Him.  And even if the whole reason you are far from Him right now is your own doing, He is calling you. 

Without condition. 

He doesn't lecture the poor sheep when he finds it.  He doesn't tell the returning son, "told you so".  He says, "Rejoice, celebrate and be glad!  You have returned!"

We enslave ourselves with chains that God has not put upon us.  Someone once said that you can run 1000 miles from God, but when you turn around, He is right there as if you never left.  My wife reminded me that I was distracted.  So I turned back around.  Don't be a slave to the last mistake you made, it is not how God sees you.  Don't see yourself that way.  

Apparently it was a maze keeping him away the whole time.....

Monday, March 16, 2015

Parenting and the Cross

Being a parent forces you to focus on priorities.   Every moment of every day is limited.  And this is especially true when your kids are still quite little.  You blink and another year has passed.  Just the other day, my wife and I had lost track of the time and realized that we were about an hour behind on starting the bedtime routine.  Clearly this made for a relaxed evening of well-behaved children……

Success means knowing what is and isn’t important and not compromising on getting those most important priorities accomplished.  It is easy to get distracted by the non-essentials and miss out on key moments.  A five year old needs to learn to pick up their own room, but it is more important that they know they are loved than they have a clean room.  And it is vital that they don’t confuse being loved with a result of the cleanliness of their room!

Well-meaning parents will sadly sometimes miss the most important priority in what it means to be parent; Love.  Nothing else matters if your parenting isn’t driven by love.  A child who doesn’t feel like their parents instructions are coming from a place of love is a person who will grow up to be resentful of the behaviors and habits they were unfairly “forced” to have.

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless, and so is your faith” -1 Corinthians 15:14

Being a follower of Christ I have one priority.  Christ crucified and Christ risen.  As the Apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians, our faith begin and ends with the message of the Cross.  Everything else hinges on that.  It is easy to focus on the peripherals first.  What I like to call the behavior modification aspects.  But Christ didn’t come to help us behave better, but to die for our sins, defeat sin and death, and offer, through HIS finished work, hope for eternity. 

The power of whatever I do as a preacher is sourced from one place.  The unconditional love offered at the Cross.  The people in our lives don’t need a better approach to achieving some sort of “better life” goals.  They need to hear the Gospel of the Cross. 

My kids need to know that they are loved deeply before what I teach them, hold them accountable to, and expect from them, makes sense.  And they need to know that their success and/or failure at achieving these standards is not the basis of whether their daddy loves them.  The love is unconditional, which gives them the freedom and hope to get back up when they fall. 

We need to know that we are deeply loved BEFORE we are equipped to pursue the Holiness that Christ calls us to.  And the Cross tells us that this love is not dependent upon how well we are currently doing at running hard after Christ.  People change because they are loved.  They can’t change so that they can get loved.

Some of us need more help as parents than others.....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Trust and Belief

With great confidence I am going to claim that none of my regular readers are PhD's in the field of Astrophysics.  Though none of us have spent the better part of a decade doing the indepth and challenging work associated with becoming an "expert" within this field, there are a number of facts that we will all confidently regurgitate;  Size of the sun, size of our galaxy, distance between planets, the movement of stars and comets, the speed of light, etc.  When we make these fact claims we do so with the utmost confidence that we believe that what we are repeating is true.  Why?  Because we implicitly trust the individuals and organizations that have told us so.

There is a virtually limitless amount of "knowledge" that the modern man possesses that has little to do with personal study and observation.  Though we can quote verbatim a Wikipedia article on the personal feelings of Robert E. Lee during the civil war, few of us have ever actually held in our hands and read physical letters penned by the general.  There is just too much important knowledge and information that we utilize in our day to day lives for us to do the necessary work to prove the veracity of our claims personally.  We believe the work of those we trust. 

But what happens when two honest people have wildly differing positions on a particular issue?  How is it even possible?  It has to do with who you choose to trust. 

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear"--2 Timothy 4:3

Thanks to the internet whatever your personal values, thoughts, opinions, activities, etc, are, you can find plenty of people to support you.  Not long ago I was reading about the growth of "fetish" communities.  Thirty years ago if you were a pedophile, you tried to get help, covered it up, tried to deal with it, or, acted on it and went to prison.  But what no one ever said, or, accepted, was that the proclivity towards pedophilia was "normal" or, "ok".  Now there are entire online created communities of predatory pedophiles who support each other, give tips and advice, and even plan international trips to countries with laxer child protection laws. 

While a pedophile in 1970 could still do some horrible damage, it was very limited in scope, and many potential predators never became predators because they didn't have anyone egging them on.  Today, if you are a potential predator, you are just a click away from people all over the world affirming your feelings and encouraging you to find ways to act on it.

Our human and self-driven desires cause us to seek out the "expert" advice of those who affirm what we already want to believe.  We start with a premise that whatever I "feel" must be right because I feel it so STRONGLY.  In some instances, there is natural internal and/or public aversion to such feelings.  Instead of responding to that natural aversion we instead look for someone to encourage the behavior or belief.  We TRUST that person BECAUSE they tell us what we want to hear, so we then integrate their affirmation as the foundation of our BELIEFS. 

Let me avoid putting a specific example within Christianity today in the cross hairs.  But ask yourself, what do you(and others) believe today compared to 20, 30, 50, 2000 years ago.  The rapidity in which these consistently believed Biblical positions are being reshaped has been breathtaking.  Why?  Because it is becoming easier and easier to gather around us teachers that tell us what we want to hear.

In contrast to what some "theologians" will argue, 2 Timothy 4:3 has a basic understood assumption built into it.  That there IS a sound doctrine.  And the second truth is that sound doctrine is in direct contrast to peoples natural desires. 

Theology today is crafted by a simple formula;  1- I feel or experienced "x", 2- I want to feel good about myself, not bad,(you can replace "myself" with "others") so I don't want "x" to cause me discomfort.  3-  I therefore subvert plain reading of scripture to be primarily interpreted by what makes me the most comfortable. 

Biblical theology has historically been crafted by; 1- Reading the Bible  2- Feeling or experiencing "x", 3- Shaping my response to "x" by what the Bible says.

We place our trust in what, or, who, makes us feel the best about ourselves.  Or, we put it in whatever or whoever says exactly what we have already decided.  And that becomes our belief. 

At the heart of everyone who rejects the Biblical teachings on any issue is that they are placing their trust in someone who has given them a way that makes them feel more comfortable.  And this happens with virtually zero cross examination.  They said what I was hoping to hear, I will just assume they are telling me the truth.  While they respond to teachers that disagree with their new position by immediately questioning everything, or, outright rejecting it because they don't like their response.  Again, with zero cross examination.  You said what I didn't want to hear, so you must be wrong/lying.

Your beliefs will be the result of who you trust.  Do you trust God's word?  Or, do you trust yourself and others first.

We want the candy so much we ignore important details.....

Monday, February 23, 2015

What my Kids Taught me About the Apocalypse

One of the tough things about having kids is that the ever present march of time is forever drawing attention to itself.  In my early 20's life was always "coming later".  Every day was fairly similar.  What you saw in the mirror in January is what you saw in the mirror in December.  There was always more time to accomplish something, to turn the corner, to get on track.  The rapidity with which life is now flying at me is frightening.  My infant daughter was happily chewing on teething biscuits, while sitting up in her bumbo chair, all afternoon.  I believe it was just a few weeks ago when my five year old son was doing the same thing. 

Instead of a virtual endless supply of "tomorrows" I am constantly wishing yesterday lasted juuussst a bit longer.  This oncoming rush of the inevitable future changes every moment of every day.  This evening I had to take all three kids to my three year olds dance class at five. 

What it would have looked like if it was just me going somewhere at five:

4:00--  Eat a snack
4:15-- Read something on the internet
4:30-- close my eyes for a  few minutes---the afternoon "sleepies" always get me
4:45-- Look for my keys
4:50--Drive to where I need to be

What it looks like taking three kids ages; 5 months, 3, and, 5 somewhere at 5
3:30-- Try to get a snack around so they don't melt down before we get back home around 6
3:45-- change a diaper
3:50-- argue with the three year old about going to the potty
3:55--  Find the multiple clothes that have been thrown in different rooms of the house instead of staying on
4:00-- Fill milk cups
4:05--  Get a bottle ready for the baby
4:10-- Find shoes
4:15-- Spend five minutes anxiously looking for keys that "someone" moved
4:20-- change a diaper
4:25-- Try to find coats
4:30-- Get baby in car seat
4:35-- start getting kids in car
4:40-- run back in house for forgotten NECESSARY items
4:45-- run back in house for sippy cups
4:50--leave while yelling at everyone to just be quiet

If you have kids this probably looks very familiar.

Having kids has taught me an essential life truth.  Tomorrow is going to sneak up on you whether you are prepared or not. And if you don't get prepared for it, it will go verrrrryyyy poorly for you.  Things are going to happen.  Much of it out of your control.  Once we realize that, come to terms with it and accept it, we HAVE to start preparing for it. 

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 Paul is speaking to the Church about the reality that the One who has risen WILL return.  And we should not let it, "surprise us like a thief in the night."  So much of life is living as if tomorrow won't come.  Then, it does.  Which often means being woefully unprepared. 

Being a good parent means accepting that every day  I have to stay one step ahead of my kids.  There are NO breaks.  After a while you can even begin to sense problems minutes ahead of time and cut them off at the pass.  Ever vigilant is the only way to succeed in parenting. 

Living this way can seem exhausting.  Especially if you are one of those poor uninitiated innocents without kids yet.  But it is worth it.  One, because staying prepared makes our lives so much easier and more enjoyable, and, two, because there is nothing in my life that is more satisfying than being a parent and loving, and being loved, by my kids. 

Paul's point is similar in value and purpose.  We can pretend all we want that tomorrow isn't going to come, but it won't change that it will.  So what are we doing about it right now?

It is too often that many of us live out our faith with an attitude of, "eh, we will figure it out when it's time".  Paul shouts at us, "Wake up, it's coming, be faithful, encourage one another, stay sharp!"

Whether Jesus comes back tonight, or, in 1000 years, are you living your faith awake and sober?  Or, are you drunkenly sleeping away the day?

You will have an End, and they always come earlier than expected

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's a good thing that the "American" church is dying!

Being a parent is tough.  Disciplining your kids is tough.  Our family has reached the stage where my oldest two have at least a dozen altercations a day.  A lot of the classic, "she's sitting to close to me!!!!!" fights to break up.  What can be extremely frustrating for us is dealing with fake "I'm sorry's".  You know what I am talking about.  Sibling gets mad and hits their brother or sister.  You tell them to give them a hug and say that they are sorry.  They slowly walk over, don't make eye contact, mumble out a forced, "I'm sorry", look at you and say, "I did it".

We all know that they really don't mean it.  But you have to start somewhere.  One day they will no longer be under my care(and control) and I pray that they grow into people who don't have to be forced to say that they are sorry when they mess up.  In this stage of their development, we recognize that my five year old is not prepared to make his own life decisions and go off on his own.  Will he be prepared to one day live without dad guiding him?  I can guarantee one thing though, if I infantilize him from today until he is 18, he will really struggle making decisions on his own. 

In our lifetimes we have seen one of the most radical cultural and sociological shifts to have ever occurred in such a short window of time.  Only 50 years ago it would have been virtually unheard of for someone to not at least claim some sort of allegiance to Christianity.  And membership in at least some sort of denomination was a given, especially if you were going to be "somebody" within your community.  Today, the fast growing segment of the "religious" population are the "nones".  This means that people who have ZERO religious affiliation are rapidly outgrowing an ever shrinking involvement by the populace in churches.  Only around 50% of Americans even go to church consistently.

Now, before this motivates you to go posting some sort of viral meme on Facebook about how if we let kids in school have bibles there would never be a school shooting EVER EVER EVER again....let me tell you something.

This is a good thing! 

This might be a great thing!!

For centuries involvement in a church and self-proclamations of a Christian faith was a non-negotiable.  Like a five year old following rules they didn't care about, many people went through the motions because they had no choice.  Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was arguably one of the most famous pastors in the 1800's.  To this day his wealth of teachings and sermons are inspiring future generations of church leaders.  And he estimated that less than half of his congregation was really saved.  And that is why he made a point to regularly preach the gospel. 

Back in the 1800's.....

When everyone claimed they were a Christian....... 

One of the most influential pastors of the past  two to three hundred years, was fairly confident that half the people who called him their pastor didn't really get the Gospel. 

The Church in the West, and particularly America, has been co-opted by interests and motivations that are not generally in alignment with scripture and the Gospel.  It was the nations biggest country club.  If you wanted to get ahead, you better get on the board at your local "First Baptist Presby Methodist Church of Christ Redeemer" so that you could make friends with the other movers and shakers in town.  Presidential hopefuls had to make pilgrimages to make nice with famous church leaders so they could signal to everyone that they were just like them.....Nominally into that Jesus fellow.

What was the result of the Church being hand in hand with power?  People who care about power running the Church.

With the growth of the internet, more and more stories are popping up about horrific leadership abuses, coverups and church implosions.  There are even compelling(and damning) research papers that delve into why the pulpit attracts people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder at an exponentially higher rate than they exist in society in general.  As long as the Church can be seen as a gateway to power and money, people who want power and money will gravitate towards the Church.  Which only leads to more and more people saying, "I'm done with this".

Ok.  Enough of the bad...

Christ did not come to establish an Earthly kingdom where all of his buddies got to be in charge of everyone else.  Jesus had to even correct one of their moms in Matthew 20:20 when she specifically asked that her little special angels be given cushy roles.  Instead, Christ established His Church for the purpose of proclaiming the good news and to make disciples of every nation.  And in practice it was to be accomplished through serving others sacrificially(Matthew 20:16--First last, last first passage), while knowingly accepting persecution(Matthew 24:9---you will be persecuted and the nations will hate you because of me passage). 

Does this sound like many of our churches or leaders today? 

We are a lazy Church in America today.  We have had it so easy for so long we just want to believe that everyone should just see it our way.  And, if we face even a modicum of "persecution" we raise millions of dollars to politically fight our enemies and elect people who give us just enough lip service that we think they will at least vote the way we want them to. 

When the Church in America stops worrying about losing its power, or its perception of prestige in our communities and nations, THEN it can get focused on what it exists for.  Proclaiming Christ crucified!  And when that becomes the heart beat or our churches, they WILL have less political power, and perhaps even less money.  But guess what?  Then we will stop finding ourselves led by people who were there for the money and power!

I don't want people coming to church just because they have to.  No more than I want my son to only say he is sorry because I told him to do it.  We should all desire that people have their lives radically, and permanently, changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When we stop relying on power and control to get people to act "right" we can begin to do the real work of letting the Gospel change them from the inside out.

You will be shocked to know that signs like this are not turning around the
fortunes of the American Church

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Servants and Leaders

After approximately ten years in vocational ministry I have had a lot of time to think about what it means to serve and what it means to lead.  And I was blessed with the opportunities to observe it being put into practice in a variety of ways.  What is my conclusion at this point in my life and ministry?  Most people don't do either very well. 

The most obvious "bad apples" are found in the operational paradigms of those who would be considered the leader.  But our ministries are also full of people who aren't very easy to lead regardless of the quality of the leaders. 

Why is this?

It is because we are either unaware of, or, unwilling to abide by, the Biblical prescriptions for how we are to conduct ourselves in the context of Christian community.  Let me give you some extreme examples of what this looks like before I do anything else.

Bad Leader:

A bad leader is someone who thinks of their "title" or "role" as conferring to them some sort of unassailable position of absolute authority that affords them the RIGHT to make any demand they want of others, in ANY manner that they choose to make the demand.  Think of a Senior Pastor who has set up his own little enclave of power that refuses to listen to, or, be tender with, the "little people".  Even honest questioning is viewed as disobedience and sin.  Want to ask why your church is allocating such a large amount of money to a private pet project(or salary) to the pastor?  Dems fighting words buddy, get ready for church discipline....

Bad Servant/Follower

A bad follower is someone who is consistently contentious and argumentative about every little thing.  Especially when it is not a Biblical issue, but a preference issue.  They never seem to be willing to joyfully follow reasonable instructions, but instead, argue for every inch.  Think of a church member who won't stop fighting with the church leaders over what color to paint the walls in the foyer, or, complains to everyone around them how "dumb" the leaders are for doing "this" vs "that".  Sadly, what I just described is wildly common.  I have known people who have left a church because the straw that broke the camels back was a disagreement on who should have access to the church kitchen, or, where the church library would be kept. 

If you have been involved in a church for any length of time you have probably had your fair share of experiences on either end of this spectrum.

So where do we start to address this? 


12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord's work. They work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. 13 Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because of their work. And remember to live peaceably with each other.  1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

The most obvious verse we can find regarding the issues of being a follower is found in this text.  What are the key words?  Honor, think highly of, give wholehearted love, live peaceably. 

If you are currently in a position of having someone in a role of "leader", can you claim that this passage accurately and consistently describes your behavior and heart attitude?


42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”-- Mark 10:42-45

What does it mean to be a leader according to Jesus?  To serve.  NOT to Lord it over people.  A leaders heart is to be shaped by an active willingness to lay aside "rights"(this is what a slave imagery conveys) for the purpose of serving those they lead. 

If you are currently in a position where you are responsible to lead others, can you claim that this passage accurately and consistently describes your behavior and heart attitude?

The problem with these two passages is they can easily be used as battering rams to DEMAND that someone else behave in a specific way.  Leaders will bludgeon "followers" with a passage about honoring their leader(which just happens to be themselves...) and followers will disrespect the "leader" because they want to contend that the leader isn't being enough of a servant.....

There is a much more important passage in scripture that cuts through the black and white role defining that we too often do as we try to create defined roles and rules for those roles....

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23

The "Fruits of the Spirit" are the guiding principle for ALL Christians, at ALL times, for ALL roles they may ever have the responsibility for.  No matter where you are currently in your life and within a particular ministry and church, EVERYTHING you do is to be evaluated through the lens of these values.  If you claim to be in Christ, but consistently and belligerently act in ways that are diametrically opposed to the outward reflection of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.....well....draw your own conclusions.

No matter your role, ask yourself the question, "In this situation, as right or wrong I, or, they, may be, are the fruits of the spirit evident in my attitude, behavior and words?"

Do you want a healthy church?  It isn't about getting better leaders, or, getting better servants.  It's about each Christian, regardless of position, being shaped and defined by the work of the Holy Spirit.  When that is your first priority, the rest will work itself out.

The best leader of all time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Bedtime stories are a favorite of my son and I.  Recently I began to tell the story of God's people(starting with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat) and have recently arrived at the ministry of Jesus.  Last night we talked about the story from Matthew 8:

28 When He arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met Him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they pleaded with Him to leave their region.

At the conclusion of the story I was asking my son about the townspeople wanting Jesus to leave.  Even though what Jesus had done had freed the people from a great problem, they didn't like the results.  My son wisely responded, "Well, where are they supposed to get bacon now??"
I don't think my son was necessarily siding with the townspeople's rejection of Jesus, but it does illustrate an important point....

Do you ever browse through facebook?  You probably notice something that is becoming more and more common:  Complaining, moaning, drama posts, etc.  It seems like half the people in my feed are ever more increasingly unhappy with the status of their current life.  But do you know what I have learned about many of these same people?  They have no intention of making any changes, or sacrificing anything that they want.

We want to do whatever it is we want to do, but we want the world(and God) to make it all work out in our subjective favor.  We want to be thinner while still eating junk food.  We want to be happier, while still making the same emotionally and mentally poor relationship and life choices.  We want to be richer, while still being financially irresponsible.

There is a refusal to ever acknowledge that what we want may come with a cost.  The townspeople were being completely terrorized by the demoniac.  Surely they wanted the problem resolved.  But no one had apparently made any sort of effort.  They just ignored the problem.  It tells us no one even went that way at all.  So Jesus came in and solved their problem.  And, even more beautifully, freed the oppressed man from what he was experiencing.

What was their response?  Was it, "thank you thank you thank you!!!"?  Nope.  It was, "Can you please leave?"

Look at your own life.  As you evaluate the degree to which you have joy, hope, peace, happiness, etc, are you content?  Or, are you struggling right now?  Then look at Christ's claims on your life, and God's revealed truth about who we are, and what we are called to.  Are you truly aligned with it?  I would argue that you are not.

As long as we live unwilling to come to Jesus, even if it costs us something, then we too will have a demoniac type effect in areas of our life that we will feel shut off from.  Bacon is great, but freedom and hope is better.

The most amazing science in the world