This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Our Two National Sins



Our Two National Sins

Each January, we are given the opportunity to ponder our two great national sins.
 
January 22 reminds us of our great national sin of abortion.  Since the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973, we Americans have experienced over 54,000,000 abortions.  My heart is burdened on several counts.  There is the tragic loss of life.  There is the untold pain experienced by both women and men in the aftermath of abortion (how I long to tell post-abortive women and men that there is freedom from their pain through Jesus Christ).  There is the seeming entrenchment of the predominant view that abortion on demand is a societal good. 
 
The third Monday of January reminds us of our great national sin of racism.  We celebrate the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We are reminded again of the evils of the past—of slavery, of segregation, of racism.  We are reminded of the remarkable history of the non-violent struggle for civil rights.  We are reminded of the need to recognize that this wound still needs healed.

On both of these issues, I have a tendency to shy away from loving my neighbor as I love myself.  Loving my neighbor requires that I actually enter my neighbor’s world.  Am I really caring of the woman who feels that she has no options for her unplanned pregnancy?  Am I willing to love her as I love myself?  As a white person, have I tried, really tried, to understand the challenges and difficulties that an African-American has both historically and presently with both blatant and subtle racism?

I was watching a television documentary on MLK day about King’s life and work.  When they got to the Selma protests, I wept, really for the first time in my life at the sad specter of our racist past.  And then I felt sad at myself—that I have lived so long and had not had that reaction until now.

May God forgive me.

Galatians 5:14 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”


Monday, December 8, 2014

What Does the Manger Have to Do with the Grave? Christmas and the Value of Human Life



“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  (John 1:3)  How Jesus’ coming to earth changes everything.

Preface: The nation’s collective conscience about the value of life is changing.  We are losing our understanding of the intrinsic value of human life.  However, the incarnation, the entrance of Jesus Christ to this earth as a baby, teaches us about why life is so valuable.

The Drive for the “Right to Die”

Brittany Maynard was a 29 year old woman who was diagnosed with a terrible and terminal disease, stage four glioblastoma.  She decided to use her final days on earth to promote “Right to Die” laws in the United States, and, in a video presentation that went viral, declared the date that she would take her life.  She kept her promise and on November 1, she took an overdose of barbiturates and died.[i]
It would be only the most calloused individual who would not sympathize with Brittany’s plight.  The challenges of receiving a terminal diagnosis test the mettle of any individual, and any true Christian must look with compassion upon such a hurting individual and her family.  Still, two troubling issues emerge:  1) Brittany wanted to use her illness as a pulpit from which to be a missionary for legalizing assisted suicide in every state; 2) The organization “Compassion and Choices” used Brittany as the poster child of their advocacy of so called “death with dignity.”

At first blush, it might be thought, “What is the problem with assisted suicide for the terminally ill?”  After all, a person should be able to dictate the terms of their death, just as they live, right?  Failing to allow that seems cruel and who wants to promote the continuation of pain and suffering of hurting people?  One key word is “autonomy,” the ability to be in charge of one’s own life.  The “right to die” advocates have quite an affection for autonomy.  Why should the state, they reason, have an interest in stopping me from asserting my autonomy about when I will die?  In fact, Brittany Maynard, in one of her last videos, expressed it this way, “The worst thing that could happen to me is that I wait too long . . . and somehow have my autonomy taken away.”[ii]

The Christian Response to the “Right to Die”

How does the Christian respond to such a compelling figure as Brittany Maynard?  It is helpful to pull back from her personal story for a bit and see the landscape that legalized assisted suicide will bring us.  It will bring us the utilitarian view of life—that life is worth living only as long as that life produces something of value.  This leaves us with two questions—who determines what is “valuable”?  And how can we know “value” from “non-value”?  Let’s back up from Brittany’s diagnosis and consider a person who is not terminally ill but is perpetually depressed.  Should we leave it to them to live or die?  How about a person who is really, really sad because they faced a really, really bad day? How much pain does it take to become “unbearable”?  Who gets to decide what is bearable and unbearable?

The focus on the primacy of the individual assumes that the individual knows what is best for himself.  Is that true?  “Right to die” advocates actually disagree about this.  Some suggest that once a certain point is reached in lack of autonomy, others should be allowed to make the decision for the patient.  So, the focus on autonomy ends up with a person having to prove his own value, does it not?  What happens when a doctor determines that you no longer have an “autonomous” life?  Does that mean that the state is compelled, by “compassion” of course, to kill you?  

An ethic of life based on autonomy and utility will lead to people not admitting their needs for fear that they will be deemed to lack “quality of life.”  At the very best, this ethic promotes the wrong kind of living, people living lives that are separated from others because we would not dare reveal that we are needy.  There would be little reason for sacrifice to care for hurting people. Why sacrifice your autonomy and utility to care for someone who “ought” to be dead anyway?

The idea of the “right to die,” while presented as a compassionate response to human suffering, is actually a cruelty which will bring untold suffering to our nation.  Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, one of the leaders of this “right to die” movement, cleverly named “Compassion and Choices,” said in response to the Catholic Church’s rejection of this ideology, “Even many Catholics disagree with the Vatican on numerous issues, ranging from birth control – to a woman’s right to choose – to end-of-life choice.”[iii]  Note that it is Castuera, an advocate of this position, who equates the position with the right to abortion.

Horrific Problems Ahead

Here are some of the horrific problems which will occur in our country if this “right to die”—“death with dignity” view is embraced:
1)    Society does not want to bear the costs of human suffering.  Already we are seeing that our government dependence of health care is creating all sorts of questions about the cost of that care for the value received.  This will lead to an increasing dependence upon an exit, as in assisting people to die.  People, especially the elderly, will feel guilty about being a burden on others when they do not have “autonomy.”
      2)  It is anti-God.  Joanna Rothkopf, declares in a salon.com article, “The issue with outlawing assisted suicide for those certain, justifiable cases is that the law then assumes that life, by any means, is more important than personal philosophy and comfort. And that life-centric view is largely derived from our predominantly Western Christian society.”[iv]  Rothkopf admits that the only real hindrance to an America shaped in her image is the “life-centric view” that Western Christianity provides.  As Al Mohler notes, “the restraining power in America, when it comes to the issue of legalizing assisted suicide, is the continuing influence in America of its Christian heritage, of the Christian worldview, that continues at least in some way to shape the society.”[v]
      3)  The “right to die” view assumes that the highest good is to avoid all suffering.  This will lead to ever increasing reasons to take suicide as the preferred option in the face of suffering.  This is particularly true where one person’s suffering creates suffering for someone else.
4)  Death, rather than being fought as an enemy, will be embraced as a friend.  This leads to a diminishing of the value of life at every stage, no matter how autonomous, no matter how useful.

What Does This Have to Do with Christmas?

By now, you are probably asking, “What does this have to do with Christmas?  Isn’t a pastor supposed to write about Christmas in a December blog?”  I have good news for you!  This most certainly is about Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation of God in the flesh.  Let me show you how:
      1)  Instead of not wanting to bear the costs of human suffering, Jesus willingly came to this planet to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows.  He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.  We do not have feel like we are a burden to God, because He took our burdens upon Himself!  Isaiah 53:4-5, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  Philippians 2:6-7, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  
      2)  Instead of being anti-God, Jesus came to earth to make God known!  John 1:14, 18, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”
      3)  Instead of avoiding human suffering, Jesus embraced the cross.  His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, but He did not take an escape route (although He could have called down legions of angels to escape the suffering).  He, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross. Matthew 26:53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? Philippians 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross; Hebrews 12:2  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God; Matthew 26:37-38 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  
      4) Instead of death being a friend, Jesus entered this world, fought death, and was victorious over it.  As Douglas Moo writes, “The resurrection of Christ means a final and decisive break with death and all its power.”[vi] 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ; Romans 6:9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.; Acts 2:24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

So, I urge you to resist the siren call of our age to think of death as a welcomed friend, to believe that the highest good is to avoid suffering, to live as though God does not exist.  Instead, remember the Savior, Jesus Christ.  He bore the costs of human suffering.  He came to earth to make God known.  He embraced His own suffering for our sake.  He fought death and defeated it utterly.

Just over a year ago, I shared at East White Oak's services about a friend of mine who was suffering from stage 4 glioblastoma (ironically very similar to Brittany Maynard).  My friend Suzy died about 14 months ago, but instead of taking her own life, she continued to live and to share Christ will all around her until the Lord took her home.  Her testimony was so compelling that the staff at the hospital where she received treatment had a special meeting with her to ask her why she could endure such hardships.  Here is what she said:
"I believe in and have faith in God and that has helped me through everything. Because Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins I believe that I will spend eternity in heaven with Him. And so death is not a scary or frightening thing for me. It is just the time when I will get to meet Jesus face-to-face. Right now I feel like I am being held in the palm of his hand. And as long as I am on earth, as long as I have breath, I want to experience the joy of living as He wants me to live and doing what God put me on earth to do."

Be glad.  Your Savior values your life.  “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” John 1:3.

Merry Christmas,

Scott Boerckel

Monday, November 3, 2014

A (Gentle) Defense of Blended Worship


At Bethany Community Church, we decided early in the history of our church not to provide multiple worship services based upon style preference.


We also decided the one "type" of service we offered would be blended.

Blended is a vague term, but what we meant by it was that we weren't going to be defined by a particular type of worship service. 

I’ve re-visited that decision several times. Not because I want to change it or believe it was wrong but because I often need to be reminded why we made that decision.

Recently, I read an article by Jonathan Aigner entitled, “11 Reasons to Stop Offering Different ‘WorshipStyles.’” We’re not on the same page theologically, but I agreed with much of the article. 

Even though I largely agreed with Jonathan on the dangers of offering different worship styles, I wondered how someone who didn't agree with him might offer some push back. Many of his reasons are guesses about what might happen when churches offer a variety of styles of worship. He could be wrong.

For example, does the use of various styles necessitate that there be a division between different age groups? No. I believe it likely to happen. I don’t believe it will foster greater unity in a church. But I can’t say with biblical certainty that it will lead to disunity.

As one who supports a blended worship service, I need the admonition of Ed Stetzer gives: “…I do think that pastors and theologians who forbid multiple-styles of worship services have locked themselves into an extra-biblical command that is not necessary and may not be the right approach at all times.” Therefore, he adds, “I would not want to make it a rule that multiple worship service styles are inherently wrong.” 

What relevant conclusions about worship can I reach that are defensible not just as a preference but as a biblical conviction? Here are four:

First, variety in worship is a biblical value.

If we were to argue multiple styles of worship were wrong because of the style of music contained within the service, we would be guilty of failing to appreciate the diversity of worship described in Scripture. I can't say, "Your worship style is wrong because it's too traditional."

Paul’s calls for the believers at Ephesus to address one another “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (5:19). The picture here is one of unity and variety in worship that is Christ-centered and beneficial to others.

Variety of worship is good and this is a truth that cuts both ways. Unlike some opponents of multiple worship services, I can’t argue that multiple-services are wrong because they are diverse. In fact, the problem may be that they aren’t diverse enough. Within a given service if only one type of worship is offered (the “contemporary” service or the “traditional” service), have we fulfilled the biblical picture of diversity of worship?

Second, the unity provided through the message of the gospel can overcome any issue that naturally divides us, including musical preferences.

Again in Ephesians, Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (2:14-16).

If our argument to promote a contemporary or traditional worship service centers on the “impossibility” or even the "difficulty" of reconciling brothers and sisters in Christ to a common form of worship, we possess an idolatrous notion of what worship is. Worship shouldn’t undercut the unifying power of the gospel but instead magnify and proclaim it.

Third, corporate worship in eternity will be unified as the focus of our worship is Christ.

The heavenly picture John provides us should motivate us. “After this,” he writes, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10).

The “voice” that John refers to in verse 10 is singular. The focus of the worship on God brings unity out of diversity. The very unity that is created out of a plethora of people groups worshiping as one is a proclamation of the glory of God.

Fourth, worship now  prepares us for future worship.

The time for unity in worship is not just some far off date in eternity. We prepare ourselves today for future glory.

What we decide to do in worship this Sunday has eternal consequences.

Whatever you decide to do in worship, I hope you share these convictions. 

I’m not what most would call an “emotional” worshiper. I don't contribute to the musical excellence of our church’s worship. But this past Sunday, as we sang corporately my eyes watered up as we sang a song about the unsurpassed excellence of our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm grateful for a worship team who calls a (moderately) diverse group of worshipers to unity at the cross.


May that be the joyful focus of your worship as well. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Struggling with Discouragement and Voting

This election season finds me struggling with discouragement. That’s not an unusual occurrence for me.

Scott’s blog post addresses the main issue I’ve been grappling with this year. There aren’t many competitive races on my ballot and the one statewide race that is competitive—the governor’s race—is between two candidates I can’t support.

I came as close as I’ve ever come this year to considering voting for a candidate who isn’t pro-life. Frustrated by what seems to me to be a self-destructive trajectory in our state, I’d love to vote for someone “different.”

But I can’t do it. Here are five quick thoughts I had:

1. I admit perfect can become the enemy of the good.

Some may look at my decision not to vote for a major party candidate in the governor’s race as throwing my vote away. Ideological purity, the argument goes, ultimately fails to accomplish anything.

There’s some truth to that. I can’t be so focused on wanting to vote for the perfect candidate that I’m unwilling to compromise.

2. I admit mature believers can differ on significant policy issues.

There are issues that mature believers can differ on. Tax rates, environmental issues, balancing the budget, etc. Believers can take biblical principles and apply them differently. There should be grace as we differ. 

3. I feel a culpability for voting for those who pledge to not protect the unborn.

But I can’t justify voting for someone who pledges to not protect the unborn. It’s unconscionable to me. That’s not to say that a believer who decides differently is in sin. Some may decide to choose the lesser of two evils. 

For me, my conscience can’t escape the reality that I’ve voted for a person who has pledged to actively work against his or her most basic responsibility as a person in authority—protecting the innocent.

4. I believe that Jesus is king.

Despite my discouragement, I have confidence in Jesus’ kingship. As Psalm 97:1 declares, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”

5. I need to vote (and so do you!).

God sovereignly placed us in a representative government. I bear a responsibility for those who are elected and need to exercise my civic duty to vote.


Some years, that task is more difficult than others. 


By His Grace,

Daniel

Monday, October 20, 2014

Be a One Issue Voter




I want to write about the greatest public policy issue facing our nation.  It is not the economy, foreign relations, the environment, or health care.  It is the matter of the sanctity of life at all stages of life.  The biblical evidence in support of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death is overwhelming (see, e.g., Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1).  There is no other issue if the sanctity of life is not upheld.  The first “unalienable right” mentioned in our Declaration of Independence is the right to life.  Be a one issue voter.

I refuse to vote for anyone who is not solidly pro-life.  It does not matter that one pro-abortion candidate is better than another on some other issue.  I am glad that in Abraham Lincoln’s day there were one-issue voters who sought above all else to remove the blight of slavery in our land.  The value of life can never, never be compromised on the altar of political expediency, even if the vote is “wasted” on an “unelectable” candidate.  The pro-abortion candidate who tries to gain pro-life votes by appealing that he/she is better than the alternative will boast, if elected, that only the pro-abortion position can “win.”  If pro-life voters do not vote their convictions, do you think that we will ever see our laws allowing abortion on demand changed?  If pro-life voters compromise, what do you think will happen to our senior citizens as health care costs spiral upward?  No, someone must stand in the gap, and that someone, dear pro-life voter, is you.  Be a one issue voter.

The issues of fetal stem cell research (which is nothing but a sophisticated form of cannibalism) and euthanasia are real and upon us to say nothing of the horrors of partial birth abortion.  The reality is that a candidate that is not pro-life will not hold back the tide of the decreasing value of life at all stages.  Many, many more issues about life are coming before our elected officials.  Even if abortion cannot be rolled back, these issues will be before our elected officials and soon.  I disagree with socialist Eugene Debs on nearly everything, but he was right when he said, "I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than for what I don’t want and get it." Be a one issue voter.

You might say that you don’t need to be a one issue voter for so-called minor offices.  But you do!  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I helped a neighbor a few years ago in her campaign for city council.  She was a great alderwoman, but I had failed to ask her about her position on abortion.  Today, based on her effectiveness in city government, she is a pro-abortion Congresswoman from Illinois, financed largely by the pro-abortion lobbies.  I regret having helped her. Be a one issue voter.

The ad linked below was in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday October 14, 2014 celebrating that "both candidates for Illinois governor are pro-choice." The ad was paid for by 8 people, including Diana Rauner (see the fine print at the bottom). http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/.a/6a00d834515c5469e201b8d07d750d970c-pi   

Be a one issue voter.