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, July 27, 2012

Education does not change depravity

I am bewildered at the virtues attributed to education.  Most people today, of all political and most religious stripes, hold the virtue of education as axiomatic.  In fact, any “formal” education is regarded as a purifying moral agent.  If we could just get everyone into school as early as possible and keep them there through high school and preferably college, we would have a just and kind society.

Enter James Holmes.  Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58 others in a shooting spree in an Aurora, Colorado theater.  Holmes is also well educated.  Until very recently, he was in a Ph.D. program in neuroscience, having graduated with honors from a baccalaureate program in the University of California system.  He was one of six students admitted to the doctoral program and received a prestigious NIH grant that paid for his tuition and an additional $26,000 annual stipend.

Some pundits are trying to walk back the “brilliant” killer theory, especially those in academia. (See for example,   However, Holmes’ intelligence or lack thereof is not germane.   What is germane is that we have a highly educated person who received all of his education in our better schools.  Holmes’ education, instead of making him a morally upright person, enabled him to be a diabolically sophisticated killer.   The education of wicked people will only create more sophisticated wicked people.  Here are some wise words from our 26th President on the subject of the value of education without a moral basis:

 “A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.”  Theodore Roosevelt

“To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” Theodore Roosevelt

Of course, teaching “morals” raises an important question—whose morals?  Since the early 1960s, public education in America largely has abandoned the field of moral education.  The reason is that moral education requires some authority higher than ourselves.  So, at best, public education ought to do no harm to the moral education of young minds.  However, since all moral tenets except those that flow from atheistic materialism are regarded as an “establishment of religion,” public education leaders have attempted to remove any vestige of absolute moral authority.  This is, of course, every bit as much an “establishment of religion,” but our nation’s experts reason that education itself produces moral virtue.  We must keep all mention of God or especially Jesus or the Bible as moral authorities as far away from impressionable minds as possible. . . at least until someone is shooting live ammo at us.  Then, we can have our cries to God and even prayer vigils in the aftermath of massacre, until the media moves on to another story.

Martin Luther said, “I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”

In the case of the well educated James Holmes, this was all too sadly true.  And if Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:9-20 are true (and they are!), it is sadly true of us all.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Batman Tragedy and an Evangelical Controversy

It's nice when, after you've finally decided to wade into an Evangelical brouhaha, the controversy suddenly dissipates.

Last week, I was alerted to an article written by Jared Wilson, a member of The Gospel Coalition. The article was written as a response to the popular Fifty Shades of Grey books and was supposed to show how a complimentarian understanding of the roles of men and women is a powerful antidote to the degrading relationships described in those books. Complimentarianism is the view that men and women are equal before God and have distinct roles in the church and home.

The article was poorly executed. I won’t go into the specifics because Jared has apologized and removed it from The Gospel Coalition’s site. Suffice it to say, some of the language utilized to describe the sexual relationship between a husband and wife felt harsh and domineering to many readers.

Egalitarian readers of the article—those who would argue that there should not be a distinction in roles on the basis of gender—were upset. Many went too far, accusing Jared of advocating marital abuse when his intention was clearly the opposite. Jared seemed to be doubling down, arguing that the critics weren't understanding his point.

I was reluctant to enter the discussion. I really like Jared and felt like much of the criticism crossed the line and didn't address the essence of what he said. At the same time, I was concerned about the picture of complimentarianism that was being painted by one of our own. I had decided to venture into this conversation when suddenly it was over. As I said, Jared apologized and most graciously accepted his apology. 

Controversy over (mostly).

So why am I wading into the conversation?

I fear that the term "complimentarianism" is being compromised. In our current discussions, we are using words like "leadership" and "headship" to emphasize the very character traits Scripture warns us against in Genesis 3 at the fall. Put simply, men, our job is not to "rule" our wives! When I use the term complimentarian to describe my position, I fear that people misunderstand what I mean.  They—complimentarians, egalitarians, patriarchs—all impart secular views of authority and leadership and import them into the discussion.   

I want to advocate a different understanding of leadership and authority, and, therefore, complimentarianism.  It is an understanding based not only on Paul's words to husbands in Ephesians 5:22-33 but also Jesus' words in Matthew 20:20-28 on leadership. To do so, I don't want to use the imagery of a CEO or a coach or a father to describe the role of a husband. Instead, I want to use some of the violent images from Aurora, Colorado.

The tragedy in the early hours of Friday, July 20, 2012 at a theater showing a screening of the new Batman movie was horrific. In terms of casualties, it is the worst shooting in U.S. history. One aspect of the story that is garnering more attention today is the similarity in the stories of three of the twelve fatalities. A quarter of the people who perished in that theatre were men shielding their girlfriends from the bullets of a madman. 

These men who died were not perfect men. You can read their biographies and learn of their frailties. But all of them, at that last moment when it really counted, flung their girlfriends to the ground and sacrificed their lives for them. Even the left-of-center website Slate noted the “ingrained” impulse in men to protect women thatwas brought out in the tragedy.

This is the image of complementarianism I wish to communicate to my sons and other men in the church. Our role is not to be served by our wives. Our role is to sacrificially give up our lives for our wives on a moment by moment basis.

This means not only throwing our bodies on top of them as a deranged shooter is on the loose. It means doing the laundry, cleaning the house, caring for the children, cooking dinner, being quick to apologize and a million other tiny things. 

Men, love your wives as Christ loved the church.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Name of Jesus

Recently the volunteer chaplains for North Carolina's Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department were instructed to leave the name of Jesus out of their prayers at official ceremonies.

The Charlotte Observer reports that the directive to leave the name of Jesus out of public prayers applies to events such as police graduations, memorials and promotions. Major John Diggs explained that the goal is to be more sensitive to all the religions of the more than 2,000 police employees. Diggs argues that the policy is not designed to diminish anyone's Christian beliefs, but to be more inclusive to all.  This directive possesses teeth.  Any chaplain unable to comply with this directive will be relieved of service and replaced.

This news story reminded me of the time I was asked to pray to open the Illinois House of Representatives.  I was honored by the opportunity.  A few minutes before I was to pray, an official gave me a paper outlining my responsibilities.  The instructions on the sheet forbid me to use the name of any historical religious figures in my prayer.  I recognized that while the language on the paper was generic, the intent was to eliminate the name of Jesus from the public prayers of the House.  Before praying, I talked with our community's state representative about the instructions that were given me.  I knew that I could not pray if I did not honor Jesus in my prayer.  I was relieved when he laughed and told me to pray freely in Jesus' name as I had planned.  He told me that the state still recognized religious freedom.

The name of Jesus troubles the world.  This name has been the source of hostility from the first century forward.  In Acts 4, Peter declared to the religious leaders the truth that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)  The religious leaders were alarmed by this message that exalted Jesus and consulted one another regarding the appropriate response to the apostles' message.  After some deliberation they "called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus."  (Acts 4:18)  

Today, many in our country hate the name of Jesus as much as the Jewish religious leaders of the first century did.  His name is so powerful that it cannot be ignored by the world, it must be opposed.  The name of Jesus demands a response as Jesus does not allow HImself to be placed alongside other gods.  The name of Jesus reminds us of Jesus' exclusive claims regarding His Lordship and His salvation.  For us Christians, "Jesus" is the most precious of names.  

We know that Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man .  (1 Timothy 2:5)  We know that Jesus Himself instructed us to pray to God the Father in Jesus' name.  (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23).  We give thanks to God in Jesus name (Ephesians 5:20).  We know that  God has highly exalted His Son and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Phil 2:9-11)  How wonderful is His name!!  His is a name we trust.  His is a name we reverence.  His is a name we adore.  

Friends, let us never back away from using Jesus' name in our teaching, our talking and our praying.  Yes, this name will offend many.  Yes, we may feel odd in speaking this name to people who reject Him.  But God gave His Son this name at His incarnation for us to use to exalt Him, to worship Him and proclaim Him.  Our world still needs saving and only one name under heaven can bring God's salvation.  

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name, the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

 --John Newton

Monday, July 16, 2012

Theism, Quantum Physics, and the Multiverse

In a recent article on Big Questions Online (HT: The Gospel Coalition, see here), Stephen M. Barr asks whether thinking through the logical implications of quantum physics makes it easier to believe in God. In the next few paragraphs, I try to explain his argument as best I can. If you’re confused by my explanation, just skip down to the conclusion section of the article (for the original article, see here).

Anyway, here’s the gist of his argument…I think:

1. Materialism believes that “all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions.” Even our mind and thoughts are simply the products of physical processes.

2. Many people believe that “materialism” is synonymous with “scientific.”

3. Quantum mechanics depends upon probabilities, not certainties. We can never be certain, for instance, where a given particle is. We can only estimate the probability of its location is. This probability is represented by a wavefunction of the system. You can never describe with certainty what is going on within a system; you can only describe its probable state.

4. But things get weird when the system is “opened.” Everything changes when someone makes an observation into the system. The wavefunction collapses and an event reaches 0% or 100% probability. That is, we know that a particle is or isn’t at a given spot.

Now, if that doesn’t make sense, watch this video. I think it will sufficiently freak you out and help you see how crazy quantum physics is and how important the observer is:

5. Here’s where things get even more tricky. If there are only physical entities, minds are only the result of physical properties. What then? “Then the quantum probabilities remain in limbo, not 0 and not 100% (in general) but hovering somewhere in between.” In other words, observing a system shouldn't affect it like it does.

6. One way out of this conundrum for the materialist is the “Many Worlds Interpretation” (MWI). This holds that all possible outcomes in an event continue to exist.

In MWI, reality is divided into many branches corresponding to all the possible outcomes of all physical situations. 
If a probability was 70% before a measurement, it doesn’t jump to 0 or 100%; it stays 70% after the measurement, because in 70% of the branches there’s one result and in 30% there’s the other result! For example, in some branches of reality a particular nucleus has decayed --- and “you” observe that it has, while in other branches it has not decayed --- and “you” observe that it has not. (There are versions of “you” in every branch.) In the Many Worlds picture, you exist in a virtually infinite number of versions: in some branches of reality you are reading this article, in others you are asleep in bed, in others you have never been born. Even proponents of the Many Worlds idea admit that it sounds crazy and strains credulity.
The Conclusion

Douthat reaches the following conclusion:
If the mathematics of quantum mechanics is right (as most fundamental physicists believe), and if materialism is right, one is forced to accept the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. And that is awfully heavy baggage for materialism to carry.
I agree with Douthat here. Materialists are so adamant in leaving God out of the equation, they will turn to the rather fanciful notion of multiple universes, or a multiverse, explanation of reality. I find this interesting because it is a similar conclusion described by Paul Davies in his book Cosmic Jackpot. In order to explain why this universe is so aptly designed for life, Davies notes that many appeal to the idea of a multi-verse. Because there are an infinite number of universes, of course it makes sense that one might look like our own.

Advocating for an infinite number of universes to explain quantum physics and the design of the universe seems to be a rather elaborate attempt to deny the existence of God. At some point Ockham’s razor comes into play.

I don’t believe that Quantum theory is inarguable evidence for Christian theism, but it does point to several things: (1) the materialistic worldview is incomplete, (2) the world around us is weirder than we know, and (3) there is a reality about us that is not merely physical in nature.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fruit in Keeping with Repentance

True repentance is a matter of life and death. We are all born moving in the wrong direction. .  . away from God's glory and toward self-glory.   We are born moving toward death, hopelessness, defeat and darkness.  If we do not "turn around" we will never arrive at the destination that we were created to enjoy.  God Himself is the chief end of man.  He is life, hope, victory and light.  He is the destination that satisfies our every yearning.  Yet connecting to God is never a matter of moving a little farther down the path we are presently traveling.  Finding God is not about "personal growth" or "personal discovery" or "gaining confidence in ourselves" as we continue down our life's path.  Finding God requires repentance.  We must turn our souls 180 degrees if we are to find Him.  This is what "biblical repentance" is . . . a turning away from sin and a turning toward God . . . a turning from self as Savior and a turning to Jesus as Savior.  

The path that leads to eternal joy requires repentance from each person. Jesus and the apostles tied repentance as a condition of entrance into God's kingdom.  In Luke 13:3 Jesus proclaims, "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."  

Jesus and the apostles were also concerned that we understand the difference between true repentance and false repentance.   In Luke 3:8 Jesus commands, "Bear fruits in keeping with repentance."  There is a kind of repentance that leads us to sweet communion with the Triune God, but there is also a kind of repentance that leads us farther away from His presence and blessing.  Not all repentance is created equal.  Our pride loves the kind of repentance that feeds self-righteousness and keeps us moving in the same direction toward self-glory and self-governance.  But God calls us to a kind of repentance that confronts our sinful hearts and turns our passions toward the honor of His name.  

How can we discern whether our repentance is true or false?  Whether it is fruitful or fatal?

The apostle Paul answers this question in the clearest of terms in 2 Corinthians 7:8-12.  Paul had written a severe letter to the Corinthian church to confront sin in the church.  After sending the letter, he wondered whether it would bring godly sorrow leading to true repentance or worldly sorrow that would have killed the church.  Paul rejoiced that the Corinthians truly repented of their sin.  He wrote, "I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

Both Saul in the Old Testament and Judas in the New Testament are examples of individuals who experienced a worldly sorrow over their sin, yet they did not biblically repent.  They both admitted, "I have sinned."  But neither committed by God's grace to change the orientation of their lives from sin to God. 

Paul describes seven characteristics in the Corinthian's repentance that made him believe that their repentance was true.  These seven characteristics help us to understand the fruit that is in keeping with true repentance.

2Cor. 7:11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

How did Paul know that the Corinthians repentance was true?

Paul lists seven qualities that were true of the Corinthians' repentance. 
      1.    Earnestness— True repentance is earnest for righteousness to rule one's life.  "Earnestness" is a determination to see something through to completion.  Earnestness means we do not procrastinate, but we willingly deal with sin quickly and thoroughly.  Earnestness means we become impassioned about changing our orientation to God and to sin. Earnest in making the necessary actions toward sin. 

Recently, my mom caught the flu from me.  I felt horrible about the pain and suffering she was experiencing as the result of her contact with me.  I became very EARNEST in my care for her.  I could not take her to the doctor fast enough.  What can I do to help her?  I phoned her many times throughout the day.  I went to the store to purchase her some food and medicine.  I watered her plants so she could rest.  I did not think to myself, “I will deal with this tomorrow.”  True repentance produces demonstrable evidence that we desire practical righteousness and we are earnest in entering into that righteousness today. 

2.  Eagerness.  When Paul writes the words, "eagerness to clear yourselves" he is not suggesting that true repentance is eager to prove one's innocence.  That is what false repentance does.  But this eagerness yearns to demonstrate that our repentance is genuine.  True repentance is eager to do whatever it takes to show others that real repentance is our hearts commitment.  It desires that all who know of the sin will also know of the repentance.

When we sin, others ask, “How do I know if you have truly repented?”  Worldly sorrow becomes frustrated with that question.  HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY INTEGRITY?  True repentance rejoices in the opportunity to prove itself.  It wants to demonstrate that change has really happened.  For instance, if a husband has committed adultery and truly repents.  He will desire to humble himself to prove his repentance is real.  He will become an open book to his wife and others.  He will offer freely his phone, email and text records.  He will communicate his schedule for each moment of the day.  He will offer full disclosure of credit card purchases.  He will make his mileage log on his car available.  "Eagerness" makes him willing to wear a tracking device on his ankle if necessary!!  His heart communicates to all, "I am eager to prove the change God has wrought in my life.  I want to give you all the information that you need to show that I have changed.  I am an open book now to defend my repentance."  True repentance asks, “What evidence do you need to show you that I have repented?”  True repentance willingly gives more information than asked, not less. Eagerness welcomes uncomfortable probing by those who have been wronged and those who are part of the restoration process.  The decision to repent is a matter of a moment in time, but the process of repentance usually takes a long time. 

3.  Indignation.  This is indignation over our own sin, not the sin's of others.  True repentance is angry at one's own actions.  Angry at the reproach that the sin has brought to Jesus and His church.  Sin becomes revolting when we see it in the light of God’s holiness.  We realize that our sin is a rejection of God’s holiness and sovereign authority.  Our sin is no small matter!  It is not a little thing.  It is right to become angry about it.  Repentance brings us back to a deep solemnity regarding our own sin.  We agree with God about its severity and seriousness.  We are not merely upset by temporal consequences of our sin, but by the fact that we tried to rob God of His glory!   We are indignant over OUR actions.

4.  Fear.  Sin always begins with a casual view of God and His justice.  Repentance brings us to a fear of God and a deep awe of His holiness.  When Isaiah saw the LORD he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is 6:5)  Repentance brings a person face to face with God's holiness and inspires a godly fear of Him that leads us to humbly seek His mercy and to worship Him.  True repentance changes the way we think about God.

5.  Longing.  True repentance possesses a longing to see our soul and our sin as God does.  We no longer are willing to be blind to the ugliness of our own sin.  True repentance longs for reconciliation with God and with the people who our sin has hurt.  True repentance longs to be a joy to others, not a pain.  It longs to see ALL the damage our sin did and to take appropriate action to move toward that end, regardless of the personal cost.  It refuses to take ones eyes off their sin in order to be comfortable.  In true repentance, we embrace the discomfort of repentance in order to love God and others.

6.  Zeal.  True repentance is consumed with a desire to be holy.  It is thirsty for God.  It makes us long to be a sheep that hears His voice and follows him.  It makes us a fervent fan of God.  It produces an energy boiling up inside moving us upward to communion with God.  We no longer see our discipline in the Word and prayer as obligations to fulfill, but as joys to pursue. We want to hear God’s voice.  

Psa. 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold,
                        even much fine gold;
             sweeter also than honey
                        and drippings of the honeycomb.
Psa. 19:11   Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
                        in keeping them there is great reward.

True repentance does not leave us as a mild-mannered Christian, but as one who pursues holiness with passion and zeal.  

7.  Punishment.  True repentance is ready to see justice done, even if that requires personal pain and cost.  It is eager to make restitution and to receive the penalty that the law demands for such a sin.  It does not seek to protect oneself from the just penalty, but accepts the consequences of one's own sin.

Repentance is a lovely thing.  It is not something to loathe, but something to love.  Repentance is the beginning of grace in our lives.  Through repentance we realize our sinful condition, renounce sin before God and run in faith to Christ.

Martin Luther ignited the Reformation by nailing 95 Thesis to the door of the Whittenburg Chapel.  The very first thesis was, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Amen and amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A New Domino Theory

When I was a kid, I felt the Soviet menace. Nuclear annihilation was a real threat. I recall our children’s prayer meetings on Wednesday nights where a man named Jack Barrett, tears pouring down his face, would lead us kids in praying for the salvation of Nikita Krushchev. Only those who lived through it would be able to understand the chilling nature of Krushchev’s threats (“We will bury you!”) and atheism (he boldly proclaimed to a Soviet youth conference after Gargarin’s orbit of the earth, “Why should you clutch at God? Here is Gagarin who flew into space but saw no God there.”)

Many people during the Cold War were concerned that a domino effect was possible in the advancement of communism. That is, if one state in a region fell under communism, surrounding countries would fall under its influence like one domino knocking over another. In my teen years, how one felt about the war in Vietnam was very much linked to how one felt about this domino theory. That is, if one believed the domino theory, the war in Vietnam was a worthy fight to stop the advancement of communism. If one did not believe it, the war was not a worthy fight and an interference with Vietnamese self-determination.

All of this would be just a fascinating bit of history except that we are on a moral battlefield in our nation today which is more fearful than nuclear annihilation. The battle is such that if it is lost, other moral pillars of our civilization will fall in successively rapid fashion. Indeed, I wish to propose a new domino theory. It is a domino theory of moral collapse.

What is the leading domino? What domino is it that, if it falls, will lead to the moral annihilation of American culture? While it is based on the loss of biblical authority, for the larger culture, which has always included non-Christians, I believe that domino is the sanctity of marriage. Marriage is under siege today . . . from many corners. The homosexual marriage issue gets the headlines, but I think that dilution of marriage began with the liberalization of divorce laws in the 60s. The downward spiral can be traced thusly:

--Marriage becomes a source of pain which people believe ought to be relieved;

--Divorce laws are liberalized;

-- Divorce rates among every religious and economic strata skyrocket;

--Millions of children are scarred; their sexual identity confused; emotional pain is overwhelming, and reticence to marry and have children grows among the young;

--Meanwhile, people remarry and perhaps carry the cycle around a few times;

--Or, hesitant to marry and with the introduction of birth control, vast numbers of people either live together, or just “hook up.”

--Now, the only people anxious for marriage are those who see it as the forbidden fruit, namely, homosexuals;

--The society at large does not really see much value in the institution of marriage and feels a bit guilty at denying anyone anything. The societal guilt here perhaps is driven by the guilt felt by parents who see their children damaged by divorce and the guilt children feel that their parents’ divorce was their fault. So, the trend moves increasingly toward legitimizing gay marriage.

--One cannot ignore the influence of the media on these counts. Consider the ways that the entertainment industry portrays the real nuclear family versus the way it portrays more "diverse" families. They want us to accept divorce so they make us laugh at it; they want us to accept remarriage, living together, casual sexual encounters, homosexuality, gay marriage, etc. so they make us laugh at it. More importantly, the stupid ones are always those bigots who think that one man/one woman for as long as they live is the way to go. What idiots those folks are!

--So now, people are threatened, even for suggesting that sexually immoral behavior is sinful. People can lose their jobs over a simple statement that affirms the biblical position.

Do you see? The dominoes have already fallen! It is not that our culture is on the verge of collapse; in many ways, it already has collapsed. Meanwhile, all polls indicate that “the economy” is the most important issue in the upcoming election. We want our affluent lifestyle—give us our bread and circuses! The prophet Amos thunders these words from the Lord,

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!
2 Pass over to Calneh, and see,
and from there go to Hamath the great;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Or is their territory greater than your territory,
3 O you who put far away the day of disaster
and bring near the seat of violence?

4 “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
6 who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
7 Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.” (Amos 6)

During the Republican primary, Rick Santorum was castigated for suggesting that legalizing homosexual marriage would lead to a further degradation of our culture and, in fact, would lead to further redefinitions of marriage. Santorum was either misunderstood or purposefully reinterpreted, as the pundits decried his “homophobia.” They accused Santorum of equating homosexual behavior with other (currently unacceptable) behavior. Meghan McCain, John McCain’s daughter, expressed this bit of incisive analysis, “I mean it's so dated and it's so gross.” In fact, Santorum was simply expressing the idea that knocking over the leading domino of marriage will cause further moral degradation.

In early July, a bill was introduced in California proposing what is already law in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maine. This bill provides for children to be able to have more than two parents. See: One sentence in this article stood out to me, “Supporters cited several examples where the law could be applied, including a lesbian couple that conceived a child with the help of a sperm donor who has been involved as a parent, or a man who married a woman while she was pregnant with another man’s child, who also maintained his role as father.” Can we see that these “complexities” of modern family life are only because we have departed from one man married to one woman for as long as they live? The further we depart from that, the more “complex” family life will be. What kind of families will we have when the number of parents is subject to court order? We’ve replaced the God of the universe with the local circuit court judge as the authority for the family. Those so cynical of Rick Santorum last February for suggesting that these kinds of things would happen are not lining up to apologize.

All of this makes me wish for the simpler days when all we worried about was nuclear annihilation. Will you be a Jack Barrett for the 21st century? Will you pray? Will you seek to make your own marriages (each one is a mini-civilization) an expression of the beauty of Jesus Christ’s church? Will you stand for God’s definition of the family and not just on issues that don’t personally affect you? The hour is late. We do not know if we live in a time like Hezekiah (where God miraculously rescued at the final hour) or a time like Jeremiah (where the destruction was certain). Too many dominoes may have already fallen, or we might yet see revival. I choose to live with knowledge (not pretending things are better than they are). BUT I also choose to proclaim hope in repentance. May we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand and not be ashamed of our Lord.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cute Pictures of Kids... What's Not to Like?

This week’s article is a little... lighter. It’s basically just some pictures my family and I thought were pretty sweet. A few of the pictures are posted below and more can be found here. I’ve tried to think of some deep theological justification for the article or some profound point regarding parenting but everything I come up with is a bit of a stretch.

The bottom line is I just really like these photos taken by wedding photographer Jason Lee. They’re fun and, for me, proclaim the joy of family.

In Luke 17:2, Jesus cautions His disciples that it would be better for them to hang a millstone around their neck and be flung into the sea than to cause a little one to stumble. 

There are many ways to cause the children in our church or home to stumble.  We can fail to correct them (1 Kings 1:6).  We can fail to discipline them (Heb. 12:7). We can fail to teach them about the Lord (Deut. 6:4-9).  

We can also fail our children as we neglect having fun with them.  We can cause our children to stumble as we push legalism and deny them a relationship.

With that in mind, check out some of these pictures.  Again, more pictures can be found here:

As I look at these pictures, a few thoughts go through my mind...

1. Those are some pretty adorable kids.

2. Jason Lee has a really clean house.

3. Those are some pretty adorable kids.

4. I wonder if Whitney would marry me again so we could use Jason Lee as our wedding photographer.

5. No, seriously, those kids are probably taking some sort of illegal cuteness steroid. If cuteness were an Olympic sport, these kids would be permanently banned.  

6. I want to do fun things like this with my kids.

Really, the last thought is my dominant thought.  I need to instruct, correct, and train my kids.  But the time is going so quickly.  I also just want to make some fun memories. I want the kids at our church to know that our church loves them.  

So, as you enjoy these pictures, think of some fun ways to love a kid in your church this week.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Declaration of God-Dependence

Two hundred and thirty-six years ago, our nation declared her independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.  Although there has been some dispute on the actual date of separation, July 4th has been the date that has been celebrated from the outset. 

From that outset the American ‘Ideal’ has been to preserve a nation of distinct states whose citizens are free from the tyranny of government control.  In fact, the American Dream was to create a nation whose government protected the rights of its citizens, rights endowed by the Creator, rights stated as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What is fascinating and informative about that famous statement by our founding fathers is the clear acknowledgment of the Creator; not simply the clear acknowledgment, but the explicit assertion that it is the Creator God who has endowed, or graciously granted, these rights.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all, admittedly, relatively abstract ideas, concepts that can be subject to interpretation.  However, when we consider that those who wrote the statement attributed the endowment as coming from the Creator, it seems logical, even essential, to defer to this same Creator for the correct understanding of each stated idea.

Life belongs to God.  The Creator, who says, “It is I who put to death and give life” is the Giver of life.  He has given man, as His image bearer, dominion over the created world.  Even as man exercises his divine commission to multiply, it is still God who opens the womb, so that children are a gift of the Lord (Ps. 127). Government derives from the Giver of life, therefore, the authority to protect the lives of her citizens (Romans 13:1-7), from murder and evil against them. 

One important application of government’s stewardship of life is with respect to the unborn.  It is essential that our government allow God to define the starting point of a life falling under its vested protection.  The Bible teaches that God fashions the unborn life in the mother’s womb upon conception(Psalm 139:13), yet the fashioning of each human life is according to a master plan that predates all time (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 1:5).

Liberty as the founders referenced, wasn’t the freedom of individual rights as our society fancies it today, a selfish freedom in which ever man does what is right in his own eyes.  The founders seemed most concerned about each individual citizen’s freedom from the tyranny of a ruling class that enslaved, or harnessed the necks of the many to plow for the benefit of the few holding the reigns of power.

It has often been noted as an oddity that the New Testament writers did not focus their efforts on the abolition of the institution of slavery.  It is certainly because they recognized that slavery was an outworking of man’s own slavery to sin, and the sinful desire to selfishly use others for one’s own personal benefit and enrichment.  What the New Testament community of believers did focus on, therefore, was liberating sinners from the slavery to sin. 

The liberty that the Creator is most concerned with is liberty from the bondage of sin and condemnation.  And God calls His people to live in such a tranquil way that would foster a winsome attraction to the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Our Creator, who took on flesh, came that men might know the truth and truly be set free.  Liberty from the cruel master of sin, freedom from the grievous weight of spiritual death and death eternal, is the liberty that God has offered to all, and desires that His established human governments would protect access unto. 

Of these three proposed endowments in our nation’s declaration, pursuit of happiness seems most subject to interpretation.  Without the Creator’s voice, sinful preferences will war for authenticity in being determinative.  For instance, today happiness is … marrying someone of the same gender, … dishonoring human covenants and contracts for personal fulfillment or gain regardless of the cost to others, … the few pursuing material goals and wealth at the expense of the many, having basic needs and services supplied by virtue of citizenship rather than effort. 

Here the voice of the Creator speaks clearly that the path marking the pursuit of happiness is one paved by selflessness.  What nation, foolishly intent on protecting the ability of the individual to pursue selfish interests that are possibly, even often, set in opposition to the personal benefit of others and the whole, could ever hope to remain a unified whole?

God has blessed us with the best ideals that a nation could be founded upon in a fallen world.  Yet it is incumbent upon our nation to allow God’s wisdom to also supply the best answers for determining the interpretation of those ideals.  Our country's declaration of independence must represent a dependence upon God.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I am about to leave for the hospital to visit a young man from our church.  He is 12 years old and in his second major battle with cancer.  Today, doctors are removing his foot in this fight for his life.  Gavin is an outstanding hockey player.  This surgery is painful on more than one level.
At this point in the blog, readers are probably expecting some treatise on the purposes of God in suffering, some explanation of why this is happening.  That would be a good thing to write about some time.  But not today.

Today, the doctors are going to hurt Gavin terribly, permanently injuring him and ceasing the things he loves in order to help him and spare his life.  These doctors are ruthless in their pursuit of saving Gavin.

So, two parallels.  First, God is relentless in the pursuit of His elect.  He will even hurt terribly, sometimes permanently injuring the person and ceasing the things that person loves in order to save him.  Jacob’s wrestling with the angel comes to mind, as does the blindness of the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.  Job 5:17-18 says, “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.  For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”  (Yes, I know that these are the words of Eliphaz, a not always trustworthy source, but I think here that he is affirming truth.)  Psalm 94:12 says, “Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD; the man you teach from your law.”  We are not shocked that the doctors today will hurt Gavin in order to heal him.  We ought not be shocked when our loving God hurts His own in order to heal even worse things in us.

Second, Jesus calls us to be relentless in rooting sin out of our lives.  The doctors are relentless in their pursuit of rooting cancer out of Gavin.  Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).  Are we relentless in our rooting sin out of our lives as the doctors are in rooting cancer out of Gavin’s?  I fear not.

So, today remember the relentless pursuit of God on your life and welcome His discipline.  Relentlessly remove sin from your life, even where it is painful to do so.  And remember to pray for my young friend Gavin today.

Gotta go—surgery begins in less than an hour.

UPDATE:  Gavin's surgery went well.  He has a long and difficult road ahead.  Please pray for him.  He loves the Lord--we spent quite a bit of time prior to his surgery looking at various online Bible devotion sites.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

God Shed His Grace on Thee

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Our family's trip to Washington D.C. several years ago gave me great gratitude for our nation’s founding.  Despite the current secularization of our government, the fingerprints of Christianity’s impact upon the establishment of our country were clearly evident to all but the most obstinate.  For instance, images of Moses and/or the Ten Commandments are displayed in the National Achives building, the Supreme Court, the Capitol and the Library of Congress.  The words, Laus Deo, meaning “Praise be to God,” are inscribed at the eastern side of the Washington Monument’s capstone.  This monuments cornerstone contains a Bible.  Inscribed in the Lincoln Memorial is the Gettysburg address which concludes with a statement regarding the centrality of God to our country, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom . . .”  Also in the House chamber is the inscription “In God we trust.”  This same phrase is written over the South entrance of the Senate Chamber.  I could write pages regarding the imprint of faith in God upon our founding.

The evidence of our nation’s reliance on God at its founding is so strong that the voices that deny this ideal were largely absent for nearly the first 200 years of our national existence.  In 1911, President Woodrow Wilson said, “The Bible ... is the one supreme source of revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God and spiritual nature and needs of men.  It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. America was born a Christian nation.  America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture."  President Wilson’s acknowledgement was not controversial in his day, but was an acknowledgement of our country’s dependence on God. 

One of the many highlights of our visit to Washington D.C. was our tour of the Library of Congress.  In the rotunda, a number of quotations are presented just below the domed-ceiling.  As we stood in the balcony of the rotunda, a ray of sunshine was flashing off of one those quotations, making it most prominent.  As I read it, a prayer for our country rose up within my soul.  The line was from Alfred Tennyson, “One God, one law, one element, and one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves.”  The line made me think of the current direction of our country away from God, away from liberty, away from moral order.  It made me think of our nation’s future in God’s program.

As a teenager, I attended prophecy conferences that featured some of the nations best preachers explaining what God’s Word had to say about the end times.  The question was often asked, “What place does the Bible assign to the United States in the last days?”  The answer always given was that the Bible does not give any direct reference to the United States at the culmination of God’s plan for human history.  Some of the speakers then speculated some possibilities.  Perhaps the United States would be one of the ten nations that comprise the revived Roman empire led by the Antichrist.  Or perhaps the United States will have diminished to the point of having no real impact on world affairs.  Or perhaps we will have been conquered by another nation and merely folded in to that nation’s part in God’s sovereign plan. 

I remember thinking at the time that those scenarios were unimaginable.  We were so strong economically, militarily, politically and even spiritually that any of those options seemed so distant to me at the time.  Much has happened in our great land that has made me realize that those options may not be so distant after all.  I now believe that it is possible that we could become a completely secular nation like much of Europe and that we could crumble from moral and spiritual decay.

At those prophecy conferences, there was one more possibility regarding America’s place in Bible prophecy that was offered.  Some of the prophecy speakers suggested that perhaps our country might be a stronghold of Christian faith just prior to the Rapture.  If so, the rapture of the church would cause our country to lose a large portion of her leaders and laborers in the twinkling of an eye.  Her strength would be drained overnight by the massive “recall” of the saints to heaven.  This is the scenario for which I am praying.  I love our country and long to see her blessed by God.  For this scenario to happen, we need a reversal of our present course.  We need a spiritual revival to awaken us to God and His glory.  We need a vibrant church that proclaims the Good News of Jesus with clarity, boldness and courage.  We need to pray that God would smile upon us in mercy. . . that He would not treat us according to our sins, but that He would rescue us by His grace. 

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thoughts Regarding Homosexuality

How to lovingly respond to a culture that is increasingly hostile to a traditional morality is difficult.  How to lovingly respond to a culture that eagerly embraces almost every kind of deviation from God's design for marriage and sexuality is nearly impossible. Two Sundays ago, while discussing these deviations, we looked specifically at the issue of homosexuality.  

What follows is not an exhaustive treatise on the Christian and homosexuality.  It simply contains some of my broad, quick thoughts that I hope help us as we think through ways to love others, even those with whom we disagree.

It's not designed to be polemical.  I doubt that those who staunchly disagree with my position will be persuaded by the following. It is designed to encourage believers who wish to rightly respond to one of the most pressing cultural issues of our day.

1. All of us are guilty of sexual sin. 

Before looking at the specific issue of homosexuality, I think it is important to acknowledge that all of us are guilty of sexual sin. We approach this issue not as self-righteous Pharisees but as fellow sinners saved by grace.

To say that we are all guilty doesn’t mean that sexual sin is a primary area of struggle for all of us.  It simply means every area of our lives has been affected by the fall.  Some of us may not even be aware of our struggle with sin in this area.

A person may have some attitudes about sex that they are not even aware are sinful.  For example, the idea that the goal of the physical relationship is to serve our spouse instead of ourselves is a novel concept for some couples.  The husband may not have had that perspective and been unintentionally sinning in that area of his life.

Or, to consider another example, one of the principles from 1 Corinthians 7 is that physical intimacy in a marriage should happen regularly.  Perhaps a husband or wife have gotten so involved in work that they have neglected their spouse.  The husband or wife isn't consciously sinning, but in their practice they are sinning sexually.

2. Homosexuality is condemned in Scripture.

On Sunday, I laid out various passages discussing Scripture’s condemnation of homosexuality, such as: 

Leviticus 18:22: You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

These passages are compelling enough for Luke Timothy Johnson, a pro-homosexual Roman Catholic scholar, to write: 
I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.
The person claiming to be a believer must appeal to an authority other than Scripture if they wish to justify the homosexual lifestyle.

3.  Homosexuality distorts the image of God.

Samuel Shin, writing in the Spring 2005 Trinity Journal, makes the following observations:
[Homosexuality] shatters the intention of God’s divine image in humanity to reflect his glory in the God-ordained relationship between man and woman.  Man and woman are to complement one another, to be his image together. 
Henri Blocher criticizes homosexuality along the same lines. He also finds that homosexuality is sinful because it detracts from the God-given sanction for a man and a woman to represent the image of God together. The “being-with” as he points out, is an integral part of that relationship between man and God. He writes:
We have seen that the being-with of the man and his neighbor reflects (and should serve) the being-with of man and God. If the fundamental being-with is face-to-face partnership with the other sex in diversity, then our proposition is confirmed and sharpened. The face-to-face relationship with the Lord signifies for mankind respect for otherness in supreme and transcendent form and for the primary distinction—that between Creator and creature. Immediately we can understand why the apostle Paul makes a close association between idolatry and homosexuality (Rom. 1:22–27). This sexual perversion as a rejection of the other corresponds to idolatry in its relationship to God, the rejection of the Other; it is the divinization of the same, the creature.
There is enough biblical warrant against homosexuality that we could stop here. The gay and lesbian relationship is one that continues in sin, repeatedly rejecting and distorting the image of God, without any pursuit for repentance and forgiveness. It goes against the standards of ethics and morality set in the word of God. It undermines the very ontological and functional being of God. God is a God of three persons. The Trinity is the perfect relationship, and when God made man in his own image, he created the interconnectedness that would reflect the image of the communion of the Trinity. To break that connection is to shatter that visage, and that is what sin is, the active aggression and opposition to the will of God. However, current homosexual theologians who advocate homosexuality are dependent on arguments against certain biblical passages that seem to clearly condemn homosexuality.
Shin is right and his arguments deserve close consideration.

4. Homosexuality does not bring joy.

Any lifestyle that is marked by a commitment to follow one’s own desires instead of God’s instruction will not by joyful.  I was saddened by some of the research I did regarding the lifestyles homosexuals lead.  

According to PFLAG Phoenix, a pro-homosexual group, suicide is the leading cause of death among young people who identify as homosexuals.  They are more likely to attempt suicide and more likely to abuse drugs (  

This is not to argue that homosexuality causes teens to commit suicide.  The point is that the homosexual lifestyle isn't accompanied by the happiness it promises.  The promise of joy is elusive for all of us who seek satisfaction apart from obedience to God.

5. Homosexual marriage is a contradiction in terms.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice discusses the meaning of words with Humpty Dumpty.
Extolling the virtues of un-birthdays, Humpty Dumpty says:
'There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents —'
'Certainly,' said Alice.
'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
Simply deciding that marriage now means a union between two individuals regardless of gender does not make it so. 

6. Homosexuals are not enemies to be defeated but friends to be loved.

Christians need to acknowledge that homosexuals have experienced great pain at the hands of those claiming to be Christians.  Our goal is not to cause greater pain but to love those with whom we disagree.

7. The gospel offers hope and healing for all sexual sins.

We concluded on Sunday morning by looking at the power of the gospel in Romans 1:17-18. 
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
The hope of the gospel doesn’t mean that we will never struggle with temptations to sin.  It means that the treasure of Jesus Christ is sufficient to help us overcome sin itself.  

All of us are in need of righteousness.  This righteousness is freely provided by Jesus Christ through faith in Him alone.