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.

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 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,


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).   

Be a one issue voter.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Implementing What's Best Next, Part 3

This is the third of three posts on how I've implemented What's Best Next, by Matthew Perman. The first post can be found here. The second post is here

This post is long overdue. I've been busy and, as much as I've wanted to write it, it hasn't been what's best next. I've also realized how hard it is to quantify the impact of WBN on my ministry both at home and at Bethany Community Church. Even reading over this post again, it doesn't capture everything I'd like it to say. I knew it would be that way and so I've delayed writing the post.

But I'm glad it's taken awhile. At a pastors' retreat, I shared some of the things I had learned and implemented from WBN. One of my friends asked a penetrating question that had lurked in the back of my mind and disturbed me to hear articulated: "You've been doing this for 4-5 weeks. Do you really think this can last?" I answered honestly, "I don't know. I sure hope so."

I'm writing this post six months after reading WBN and the answer is, so far, yes. Sure, I haven't been faithful to keep up with everything I've wanted to do. Some things I stopped doing for a few weeks then started doing again. But at this point, I think I can say with confidence that most of the changes I have made are going to be long-lasting.

Knowing I won't be able to communicate the full impact of WBN, here are a few examples of its impact on my ministry.

Seeing the Day in Terms of People

The system I implemented after going through WBN—and the heart change that occurred while reading it—helped me see people in a new way. As people come into my study or call me on the phone, there is a greater joy in these encounters (formerly referred to as "interruptions"). There was a dangerous heart attitude I struggled with my entire ministry and this change has been a welcome one for both me and those who minister with me. (If you're wondering if I ever viewed you as an interruption, the answer is of course not! I'm talking about other people.)

Joy in Not Getting Everything Done

I'm also taking greater joy in not getting things done. Perman is right in arguing our joy must not come from accomplishing things on a list. Good days for me in the past were defined by accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish. Bad days were days where things were left on the list. I think I'm doing better at defining a good day as one in which I'm faithful to do what God would have me do with joy.

Keeping Track of Projects and Action Steps

My ability to track projects and make progress on various ministry initiatives has increased significantly. The practical suggestions in WBN and GTD (Getting Things Done) are bearing some fun fruit in my ministry (and my home). Initiatives that stalled for months are progressing in God-glorifying ways.


For years, I hated emails. They sat and sat in an inbox with little hope of leaving until the project they referenced was completed. And the moment the inbox was emptied, a flood of new emails replaced the crop that had just departed.

The process Perman lays out to deal with "stuff" is the single most helpful practical counsel I have ever received for dealing with administrative issues.


WBN provided me with a template to help encourage our staff. First, it contained tools I could hand to them to help with areas they might be struggling with in their ministries. For example, if a staff person struggled to stay on top of projects, WBN had some helpful suggestions. Or, if a staff member struggled with how to delegate responsibilities, I could direct them to another chapter from WBN. It's a great coaching tool and, to paraphrase Paul, I could entrust what I'd learned to faithful people who could help others also.

It also provided me with a system where I could track my care for them. It's frustrating if a person in an area of leadership forgets a commitment they made to you or fails to do a task essential for you to accomplish your job. An ineffective leader can be a frustrating bottleneck in an organization.

Finally, it helped me track how to care for them. Instead of a special need they had becoming a task on a long list that gets lost in the shuffle of paper on my desk, their need became a special project. The project became something my attention was focused onto weekly. That's been helpful.


WBN also helped me shepherd my family more effectively. There were so many areas in which I had said, "Someday I really need to think about how to address that issue." Putting all those issues into projects and thinking through the next steps and understanding my need to be faithful to do that which has been most important is going to yield fruit into eternity in my kids' lives.

In fact, just this last week, I began to train my children in implementing parts of WBN in their own lives. We're not six months into the process yet, but Whitney has noticed a remarkable improvement in the kids' ability to be faithful in doing what they are supposed to be doing.


Pastor Ritch summarized WBN this way: "Go to bed early, then get up at 5 A.M." He was kidding, but not entirely. Much unfaithfulness in my schedule comes from poor decisions made late at night and early in the morning. I fail to get the rest I need and the start on my day that would make it more productive. This is the area I'm still struggling with the most. I know I need to get 7 hours of sleep but that still seems so unattainable. But, by God's grace, I'm getting closer.

This process of "getting closer" is a theme for much of what I'm implementing with WBN. I haven't arrived, but the book helped me understand targets for which to shoot and tools to help me aim more effectively. It's not an exaggeration for me to say that no other book impacted the practical side of my ministry more than WBN.  I highly commend it to you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

On the Meaning of Being Male and Female

Genesis 1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

God created human beings in His image, male and female.  The perfection of that created order was deeply broken by Adam’s sin.  Sin’s entrance into the world damaged everything, even including the maleness and femaleness of human beings.  In this article, I hope to engage a controversial topic with compassion, truth, and most of all, a focus upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our only hope for healing that brokenness.

With the debate in our culture regarding same sex marriage virtually over, a new debate is quickly growing.  It touches on the core of what it means to be male and female.  Confusion over what it means to be male and female is the new hot topic.  Is gender a trait that exists along a continuum?  Is gender defined by what the individual feels?  What does the Bible mean when it says that God made human beings male and female?

Two Circumstances: Intersex and Transgender  

There are two circumstances here which require careful and compassionate consideration.  The first is that there are people born with intersex characteristics.  That is, there are chromosomal and/or genital characteristics that create ambiguity of the male/female distinction.  I believe that this is partly what Jesus had in mind when He said that some people are eunuchs from birth (see Matthew 19:12).  In the US, enough ambiguity exists to consult a specialist in these matters in 1 in 1500-2000 births.[i]  The challenging difficulties of the Fall create a variety of harmful effects on the human race.  All disease and genetic defects can be traced to Adam and Eve’s sin the Garden of Eden.  This effect of the Fall extends in some cases to the biological nature of gender.  In this, we must have great compassion for those who are born with these challenges and for their families.  As Mark Chalemin of Probe Ministries notes, “The fact that some individuals are born with evidence of mutations in their sex-determining genes doesn't change their value in God's eyes any more than someone born with the mutation that causes cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia.” [ii]  Indeed, it appears that God has a special determination to set everything right for people in this circumstance.  See Isaiah 56:3b-5: Let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

The second and more significant (at least in terms of cultural debate) circumstance is that today the very notion of gender is being challenged.  This is the issue of transgender, that is, a person’s gender is whatever they themselves want it to be regardless of the biological determination of their body.   Rather than a biological ambiguity of gender, the transgender movement is about a psychological ambiguity of gender.  The transgendered person feels that their gender identity is at variance with the physical reality of their biological birth sex.  Former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins University, Paul McHugh, noted  in a June 12 article in the Wall Street Journal, “On May 30, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review board ruled that Medicare can pay for the ‘reassignment’ surgery sought by the transgendered—those who say that they don't identify with their biological sex.  Earlier last month Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he was ‘open’ to lifting a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.  Time magazine, seeing the trend, ran a cover story for its June 9 issue called ‘The Transgender Tipping Point: America's next civil rights frontier.’[iii]   According to a 2011 survey, about 700,000 Americans identify as transgender.[iv]  The speed with which this topic has captivated cultural attention is breathtaking.  It was only in 2013 that the American Psychiatric Association removed this condition from its list of disorders, now calling it “gender dysphoria” instead of “gender identity disorder.”[v]

Defining the Problem of Transgender

There is, of course, a political agenda surrounding the topic of transgender.  There is a movement to normalize trangender experience and to redefine gender according to individual self-perception rather than biological anatomy.  This inevitably leads to debate about access to public restrooms, what children are taught in public schools about gender, and public funding of gender reassignment surgeries.[vi]

My primary concern for this article, however, is not the politics of transgender.  Rather, it is the hope of the Gospel to meet EVERY human brokenness.  The person who identifies as transgendered believes that there is a problem and that it requires a solution.  Where the disagreement lies is on what the problem is and what the solution is.  

Let’s think about the problem first. If indeed authoritative truth comes from individual autonomy, then the transgendered person would be correct—he was born with the “wrong” body, or at least he identifies psychologically about gender in a different way than his biology suggests.  As John Piper notes, “If there is no God telling me what is wise and good, then my own preference will assume that role. It will seem ‘ridiculous’ to say ‘biology is destiny.’”[vii]  Is the individual the best authority for what is best for him?  Is it possible for the individual to be wrong? 
The Christian worldview tells us that none of us should trust our own autonomy.  We are, by virtue of our sin, broken in how our minds work (They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  Ephesians 4:18).  We are broken in how our hearts deceive us (The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9).  We are broken, enslaved to our passions (For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Titus 3:3).  Does it then make sense that we should trust ourselves? By all means, no!  Instead, it makes sense to look to our Creator and what He reveals to us.  First, we should consider that the Creator has made each of us, fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139) and that His creation reveals His character (Romans 1) so that we can trust His work even more than we can trust ourselves.  Secondly, we should consider that God has spoken to us in the Bible, and its authority is greater than human individual autonomy (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  It is only when we accept this authority that we can embrace the biblical solution to human brokenness, including the plight of the transgendered person.

Solutions of Transgender

Let’s now think about solutions.  If the view of individual autonomy is held, the transgendered person would be correct in attempting to circumvent his biological gender by both medical means and by demanding that others accept his own gender designation.  This indeed has been the approach of many.  Surgical sex “reassignment” surgeries are thought by many to bring a solution.  However, there is strong data pointing out that recipients of sex reassignment surgery are more prone to suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric inpatient care.[viii]  This solution seems as challenging as the problem.  

One reason why this might be true is that sex “reassignment” is really a fiction.  As Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins University notes, “'Sex change' is biologically impossible.  People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is a civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder."  McHugh also notes his considerable history in addressing the challenges of transgender, “We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into ‘sex-reassignment surgery’—launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as ‘satisfied’ by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a ‘satisfied’ but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.”[ix]

The second solution by transgender advocates has been a demand that others accept the individual’s psychological designation of gender rather than their biological one.  While that might seem loving to do, it is built on the foundation of human autonomy; it demands that we accept what a person thinks in their head over what nature has given.  For a person who believes in a Creator, it is a demand to deny that Creator’s work.  And if indeed there is a Creator, to “accept” a gender designation contrary to biological gender is to support a person in believing a lie about themselves at a most fundamental level.

The biblical solution is quite a bit more nuanced than “trust Jesus and your problems will be over.”  In fact, in one sense, embracing the Bible’s solution creates more problems!  Jesus, after all, said, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  That is the opposite of individual autonomy, of living as one’s own authority.  Jesus calls us to go the opposite direction of human autonomy and live under His Lordship.  So, while becoming a Christian is simple in some ways, it is not easy to be a Christian.

This means that we must be patient with people identifying as transgendered.  They must know that we do not regard them as “freaks,” that we will not bully them or accept others doing so, that God their Creator made them wonderfully and loves them.  They must know that Jesus died on the cross to undo the curse of Adam which includes the brokenness of gender confusion.  The denial of self and taking up one’s cross does not mean that one earns his salvation.  Rather, God receives us because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Our slow, plodding, even painful obedience in taking up our own cross (including the cross of gender confusion) is part of a long road of learning, learning the steps of our Master, Jesus.[x]

Applications for the Church

Several applications for the life of our church emerge simply from a consideration of these issues.  First, the issues of what is male and what is female will continue to grow confusing in our culture.  “Equal access” legislation, particularly as it relates to the public school and workplace, will trumpet the idea of individual autonomy over that of the authority of a Creator.  This points to the importance of having an intact family where maleness and femaleness is modeled.  More importantly, it points to the importance of holding up the scriptures as an authority greater than ourselves.

Second, the church needs to develop a compassionate, biblical approach for ministry to people with gender confusion.  As our culture abandons God for the individual as god, we cannot simply ignore people, no matter how the effects of the fall have harmed them.  Trying to avoid people who are affected by the fall is both impossible and disobedient to the Great Commission.  However, we also must love people enough even to the point of kindly disagreeing with the solutions that they propose for their own peace.

Third, we must believe in the power of the Gospel.  Is the Gospel such good news that it is for people who have congenital ambiguities?  Is the Gospel such good news that it is for people who wrongly think that real peace and joy will come if they can determine their own gender and everyone else just accepts that?  Do we believe the Gospel enough to welcome transgendered persons to our church?  Anything less than an affirmative answer to these questions is a denial of Christ and His power to save. 

Fourth, if we never face a circumstance on this topic, it is not a good sign.  It is a sign that our Gospel outreach has not extended to some people.  So, if you are thinking, “Boy, I hope that we never have to deal with transgendered people,” you should repent.  Repent that you do not want to extend the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  You see, “the ends of the earth” does not just mean geographically; it also means philosophically.  We take the Gospel to everyone and love everyone in Jesus’ name.  

Fifth, repentance means to acknowledge the authority of our Creator.  A transgendered person might not “feel” right in repenting of feelings that run counter to one’s biology.  But the Christian Gospel is not about how one feels.  It is about faith in Jesus Christ Who saves, indeed, saves us from our own confused, deceitful thoughts.  Any spiritual transformation, especially on a topic as intimate as one’s own gender, likely will not be immediate.  The patience of God and His people are great for those who earnestly seek the will of God.  I love what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah, “He does not bend a broken reed; he does not snuff out a smoldering wick.” (Isaiah 42:3)  Despite the incredible pain and anguish that any transgendered person faces, there is hope in Christ and the Gospel!  Jesus did not come to bend the broken reed.  He did not come to snuff out the smoldering wick.  He came to seek and save the lost.   

[vi] “When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London's Portman Clinic, 70-80 percent of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25 percent did have persisting feelings, notes Dr. McHugh, but what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned. Despite such studies several states—including California, New Jersey and Massachusetts—have passed laws barring psychiatrists, even with parental permission, from striving to restore natural gender feelings to a transgender minor.”  See: