Category Archives: Social Issues

Reflections on the 2017 Just Gospel Conference

Over the past few days 10 members from our church attended the Just Gospel conference in Atlanta hosted by The Front Porch.

The three-day conference was a compilation of two biblical expositions, several monologues, and 17 panel discussions. The focus of these discussions was on the way biblical justice in the local church intersects issues of race, secular movements, abortion, education, orphans, widows, young men, murder in Chicago, hip-hop, women’s issues, incarceration, and sex trafficking.

Our church has been discussing issues of race, grace, and reconciliation for a number of years, so I was looking forward to attending and processing these important issues together.

Here are a few of my thoughts that have been shaped by the help of others who attended.

  1. Social meetings are better than social media.

Discussions about important issues are always better face-to-face. Social media often cultivates an atmosphere where being heard devours the desire to hear from others. At this conference, people came to be fed, led, and given room to process. In an age where many find safety behind a screen, this conference confirmed afresh how essential it is to move conversations about race and justice from blogs and Tweets to dinner tables and live dialogues.

The conference atmosphere was warm and the format of discussions modeled for the listeners how to dialogue about difficult issues. Our group met for meals several times to talk about what we heard and how it affected us personally and our church corporately. The give and take modeled at the conference helped us lovingly learn from one another.

 

  1. Diverse friendships aid our ability to see injustices we would normally overlook.

Most of my life has been lived in contexts where people look like me, think like I naturally think, and experience life as I do. As a middle-class white man I have never worried where I would sleep, never sold my body for a meal, never been fearful of a police officer, or feared for my life in my neighborhood.

God has graciously brought people into my life that have welcomed me into their weeping and their rejoicing. The topics of the conference were educational, challenging, and at times confusing. But having friends to help me process has been invaluable. One reason is that as I have grown in my love for them I have seen realities I would have otherwise overlooked. Tripp Lee rightly said, “We can’t bear each others burdens if we don’t know what each other’s burdens are.”

What this conference did is further help me understand that many people don’t have the option to not think about issues of injustice. I think about issues of justice most normally if they show up at my doorstep. Many don’t have that privilege. They live in areas where injustice is less like a package dropped on their doorstep and more like a shadow; a constant companion in life.

Privilege is mishandled if it used to perpetuate indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of my neighbor. Everyone in our group was able to point to things they learned about history that gave a fuller picture of how injustice is perpetuated today. The continual realization of this is not a comfortable reality, but is a necessary one if I am to be a Christian who will labor for justice, even or especially if the injustice is not directly aimed at me.

In the end, my black friends and I likely won’t agree on everything and will never experience things exactly the same way. But loving friendships are marked by patient, empathetic, offense-overlooking love. Christian love endures because it is empowered by the Spirit of Christ. He makes us one, and gives us the power to walk as one, until that day when we will struggle no more.

 

  1. White conferences must begin to diversify their speakers. 

This statement is not about affirmative action or being politically correct. This is a conviction that has crystalized for me over the past few days. I was introduced to numerous African American brothers at this conference who are exceptionally gifted in handling the word. This wasn’t a surprise, but sadly not a privilege I have had often enough. Victor Sholar’s message on the Good Samaritan out of Luke 10:25-37 was one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard in a long time.

When I initially looked at the lineup of contributors for the Just Gospel conference, I was put off because only 2 of the 37 contributors were white. But then I began to wonder how my brothers and sisters of color feel when they attend evangelical conferences where there is very often an all-white or all white + a token minority in the line up.

I come from a tradition where most of my influencers are middle to upper class white men. These men are faithful and love God, but their experiences affect the way they interpret and apply the Scriptures. As Dr. Jarvis Williams explained, we gain different insights from people who are “looking up” at commands about justice than we will from people who are “looking down” on them. The insights and applications brothers were drawing from the Bible were fresh for me and challenged me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be challenged.

The voices of marginalized brothers and sisters are often unheard by people like me. I suspect this may be why I have rarely, if ever, heard a sermon on practical justice that was not a cry for religious freedom or condemning abortion. Both of those injustices matter, but they are not the only justice issues. The body of Christ is made up of people from various ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Diverse perspectives bring Gospel implications to light that would otherwise be overlooked. Diverse voices in my life help me be more faithful to God. I want and need that, and especially hope that my brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention will make strides to grow in this in the days ahead.

 

  1. We must have a patient urgency.

People are complex. Issues of justice are complex. Applications of the Gospel in diverse churches are complex. This complexity requires patience with one another as we navigate how we can grow together in Christian unity.

At the same time, there is great urgency. The church does not have the option to walk by on the other side of the road while our fellow man lies bloodied in the road of injustice. The plight of minorities, babies in the womb, orphans, widows, sex slaves, abused women, and refugees must matter to us.

Figuring out how to navigate these two realities is very difficult. Anyone who gives effort to engaging grows weary at some point. I saw this weariness and heard people testify of it. I have felt it often as I try to figure out how I’m not “getting it,” or why others don’t see my perspective. These conversations are hard, but they must happen.

Leonce Crump summed the struggle up well by urging us to have “present urgency with an eternal perspective.” Patience and urgency are not enemies. Christians know this because James 5:9 exhorts us, “be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We must keep these truths before us as we labor for justice.

 

  1. Self-justification short-circuits conviction. 

 Conversations about the intersection of race, grace, and justice are both edifying and offensive. They are edifying because my heart is stretched to see implications of the Gospel that are unnatural to me. God uses them to show fresh ways I need His help. Through them I have developed deeper relationships with diverse friends.

At the same time they are offensive. Sometimes I am offended because I am wrongly accused, but more often, I am offended because I don’t like being exposed. There are racially-charged sins that abide in me. My heart is home to perspectives that are ignorant at best and murderously sinful at worst. I don’t want to be racist or even tempted to have prejudiced assumptions about people.

When an accusation comes against me, I want to justify myself. I make excuses. I shift blame. I do what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. But this is not the right response of a Christian. Rather than justify ourselves, we must rest in the justification given through faith in Christ. Tony Carter’s closing comments reminded us that we are all sinners, justified alone by faith in Christ which frees us to see one another as equals—equally justified, and equally sinful—and begin the difficult work of meeting one another where we are.

This frees us to allow God’s Word and the insights of others to do work in us. Not every accusation that comes against us will be grounded in truth, but some of them will. Are you open to correction? Do you receive the challenges of others? This conference and the conversations I had because of it brought these questions home afresh for me.

 

  1. The Scriptures must remain central.

One of the best parts of the conference was pastor Bobby Scott who always had his Bible open and reading verses to give guidance to the conversation. I believe more than ever that the best way forward is on our knees with humble hearts before open Bibles.

Allowing the Scriptures to guide our conversations guards God’s glory. As Dr. Kevin Smith said, “We want people to understand we are springing forth from the Scripture.” This gives help to God’s people and hope to the world, a world lacking the power of the Spirit of God to address the challenges we face.

One theme that came up on the first day was the need to render aid to the afflicted in the context of Christ’s call to discipleship. Liberation without Gospel transformation is just another form of worldly incarceration. The Bible tells us that all people’s greatest need is to become and grow as followers of Jesus. The Gospel reconciles us with God and with those made in His image. If you are able to listen to the conversation between Thabiti Anyabwile and Roland Warren about abortion, you will hear an excellent example of this.

The wisdom of the world will call us to compromise convictions about God’s designs in sexuality, roles of men and women, the mission of the church, and racism. Many have wandered from the faith in the name of compassion. But many others have wandered from the faith in the name of safety. Jesus calls us to follow Him on the way that is hard, on a road that is narrow. There are temptations to stray on every side. As we journey together we must walk closely with Jesus, according to His Word, because He knows the way.

 

As with any conference or sensitive discussion I’ve been a part of, I had several concerns, critiques, and areas of needed clarification. These centered around a desire for more clarity on complementarianism, added pastoral wisdom about ways to engage in arenas of difficult ministry, and a desire for even clearer Biblical instruction about issues of justice. I am processing these privately with some of the brothers involved, but I do not want them to overshadow the encouragements and challenges our group received from our time at the conference.

I am thankful to see God moving in our day, and I am hopeful that discussions like this can be used by God to bring unity and maturity to Jesus’ church as we move forward together.

It’s a Wonderful Time to Be A Christian

This article was originally published at DesiringGod.

America is facing turbulent times. Political unrest is unceasing. The racial divide is deepening. Fear and frustration swirl frantically.

This leads to only one logical conclusion: It’s a wonderful time to be a Christian.

Christians are uniquely equipped to thrive in tumultuous times, not because we are great, but because our God is. As we consider the darkness of our days, I’d like to share five reasons I think it is a wonderful time to be a Christian in America.

 

  1. People are intrigued by real Christians.

Whether it be through media stories, political reports, or comedy sets, “evangelical Christians” are characterized as whiny, entitled children. We are perceived as bigoted hate-mongers looking down on others while blinded to our own shortcomings. We are seen as outdated, overrated, and irrelevant.

Yet, when someone meets an actual Christian these days, they often are intrigued.

Our convictions are peculiar, but the gentleness and respect with which we hold them is refreshing (1 Peter 3:15). We don’t demonize those we disagree with, but treat them with charity, as we want them to treat us (Matthew 7:12). We engage with humility because we know that we too are imperfect and need God to change us as well.

“The peace Jesus provides is strong enough to hold back the gates of hell, and weather the storm we face today.”

Our community is also peculiar. When they observe the church, they find a people who are not naturally united. We come from different cultures, vote for different candidates, march for different causes, and often have little in common — except Jesus. When people spend time with us, they perceive a love marked by patience, charity, and heavenly-mindedness.

Now, not everyone will like real Christians when they meet them. But God’s word promises that he will use our love to change people’s opinion of us and (more importantly) of our God:

Keep your conduct among [non-believers], so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)

If Christians will engage their neighbors with courageous, humble, honest, servant-hearted love, people will be pleasantly surprised.

 

  1. Christians have the answer for racial reconciliation.

The rock of racial unrest has been rolled over in our country. Out from the darkness have crawled sorrowful reminders that our progress is incomplete. The anger and apathy that swirls around our brokenness tempts many to despair.

Yet Christians know Jesus provides a better way. On the one hand, we cannot simply say Jesus is enough and expect peace. The issues are far too complex and wounds too deep for a superficial balm. The hard work of praying, fasting, listening, learning, confessing, repenting, forgiving, and changing is required.

White brothers and sisters ought to show love by learning about the deep roots of social, institutional, and communal injustices that affect many today. Read the Scriptures alongside historical books that recount the black experience in America. Talk about what you are reading with African-American friends and include other minority friends in the discussion. Don’t be defensive or quick to make excuses. Listen. Learn. Repent of sin that is exposed. Empathy is developed when education occurs in the context of relationships.

Black brothers and sisters, I encourage you toward a resilient faith. Many of your forefathers endured oppression, were denied membership in white churches, and grew despite a lack of access to theological education. We need to see that resilience now. Systems of injustice will not be corrected overnight, which means that testing will continue. But as tests come, please ensure that your hearts are being purified and not petrified. White Christians are not your enemy. Jesus says they are family. The Lord calls us to “hope” all things, including the best in fellow believers, even when we hurt, confuse, or disappoint each other.

On the other hand, we must say Jesus is enough, for he himself is our peace.

[Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:14)

We have already been reconciled in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16–20). While laboring to apply this reconciliation takes hard work, we must remember that he has made us one — even if we don’t feel like it (Ephesians 4:1–3). The peace Jesus provides is strong enough to hold back the gates of hell and weather the storm we face today.

The world does not have an answer like Jesus. They have no power and no lasting solutions. But we have an opportunity to show them the unity that Jesus prayed for and purchased with his blood (John 17:20–21).

At the cross alone, fear mongering, finger pointing, and apathetic indifference are put to death, and real reconciliation comes to life.

 

  1. God has brought unreached peoples to us.

For centuries, the American church has been praying, raising money, and sending workers to take the good news of Jesus to people who have not heard. This work is important and must continue, but we can’t overlook what God is doing in our own backyard.

God has brought unreached peoples to us.

“What would happen if Christians opened their homes and their lives to the strangers who live next to them?”

Though policies surrounding immigration are debated, the reality of immigration is not. Tens of millions of legal and illegal immigrants have settled in the United States. Many have fled war-torn countries and are seeking a fresh start. Many are seeking hope which cannot be found in Allah or any other supposed god.

Regardless of your political views, if you are a Christian, your theological convictions should spur you to action. What would happen if Christians opened their homes and their lives to the strangers who live next to them? Showing Christlike hospitality to Muslim neighbors is essential for them to understand the true message of Christianity.

I do not say this lightly — we are positioned to fulfill the Great Commission.

Dispersed peoples and advances in technology have opened unparalleled opportunities to advance the gospel. While we are able, we must steward this opportunity and make disciples among the nations, and by his grace, many are in our backyard.

 

  1. Persecution is purifying us.

Jesus promised that following him would be costly. He warned, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Ostracism and affliction have marked the church since its beginnings. Yet, the United States has been largely spared this common experience of believers.

Many minority groups have tragically endured oppression, but as a whole, the church in America has known freedom to worship Jesus. In fact, public worship has not only been allowable, but advantageous. Churchgoing opened doors for business, made one appear trustworthy, and was required for social acceptability.

But the tide is changing. And as it does, Christians are experiencing increasing pressure from the world to conform or be conformed. This pressure will expose some so-called “Christians” as imposters, but for true believers, it will produce maturity.

Pressure from the world pushes Christians deeper into Christ. As this happens, we will be pruned and purified. We are forced to search his word to explain our convictions (1 Peter 3:15). The importance of prayer becomes undeniable. Political power is exposed as a mirage. Sin’s offerings are less desirable. Our affections are reoriented toward heaven.

In his mercy, God uses persecution to purify our profession of faith to the point that we can honestly say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Persecution should never be sought, but when it comes, we can trust that God will use it for our good.

 

  1. We are closer to seeing Jesus than ever before.

The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)

Every generation since Christ’s ascension has clung to this promise. As time has passed, it has only become truer. Whether Christ will return in our day is yet to be seen, but the horizon is brightening as the day is darkening. The believer sees this hope with unveiled eyes and senses the sweetness of approaching glory.

Until now, many of us have gone days or weeks without even giving thought to the Lord’s return. Our love for the world has drowned out the need to hope in the world to come.

“Whether Christ will return in our day is yet to be seen, but the horizon is brightening as the day is darkening.”

Yet, in God’s kindness, today is a new day. As we grow in our love for Christ, our hearts will be oriented toward heaven. We will find the chatter of the world emptier and the promises of heaven fuller.

The Lord’s return cannot leave us unaffected. Let it move you to prayer for perseverance (Mark 14:38). May it press you to risk all to reach the unreached (Matthew 24:14). Ready yourself for your heavenly bridegroom, and let his coming keep you sober, knowing it could interrupt your next breath (Luke 12:40).

It is a wonderful time to be a Christian. God is working among all nations, including ours. Let us not despair or be deceived, but lift our eyes in hope to him who is coming soon.

The Great Tragedy of the 2016 Election

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A great tragedy occurred on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

The tragedy was not found in the celebrations or concessions of elected officials. It was not colored red or blue, and it wasn’t rooted in the dark cloud that hung over this scandalous political season.

The tragedy I’m speaking of is far more grievous.

You see, in this land of the free and home of the brave, there were many people whose ballots were not cast. Their convictions were silenced. Their opinions were not expressed. Their voices were not heard.

Why not?

Because they were dead.

The great tragedy of the 2016 election is that roughly 31,103,051 million would-be voters are not with us because they were murdered through abortion. That means from 1973-1998 roughly 31 million babies had their right to live taken from them by their own parents. Of those, over one third were African Americans, the very people abortion was designed to extinguish.

This is an unspeakable tragedy.

They didn’t get to cast a vote for the first woman president or the political outsider or write in another candidate. They didn’t get to make a stand against racial injustice or make a stand for integrity. They were robbed of watching results come in with their friends. They weren’t allowed to rest their heads on a pillow in the land of the free.

That is a great tragedy. But the tragedy isn’t over.

Why?

Because over 3,000 babies will be aborted today; and each day leading up to Tuesday November 8th, 2020. In the 3 minutes it takes you to read this post, approximately 7 babies will have been aborted in the United States of America. Their voices will be silenced. Their freedom not experienced. Their opportunity to be brave not known.

 

Close to Home

This is a tragedy that hits close to home for me. When I was 19, I chose to end the life of my first child through an abortion. My friend and I were in a scary place, we didn’t plan to get married, and we felt we had nowhere else to go. So we chose to end the life of our child.

My child would be 20 today. He or she would be off at college or working hard at their craft. They’d be praying for God’s grace on our land and working to make the world a better place.

But, they won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be sitting down with them and explaining how to think about policies and the candidates that represent them. I won’t be able to tell them about freedom and justice for all. I took that freedom away with my injustice.

I cannot undo what I’ve done in the past. None of us can. Only Jesus, who shed His blood for sinners like me can heal those wounds. Jesus gives us great hope in the midst of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies we face in this life.

 

Refuge in Jesus

If you have committed an abortion, I want you to know that there is a refuge in Jesus. He will heal your wounds. There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess your sins and turn to Him in faith, He will wash away all your guilt and all your shame. Listen to and believe this promise from Him, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 10:28).

If you support abortion, I want you to know that I do not demonize you. I too have felt the fear of an unplanned pregnancy. I too have known the tidal wave of confusion that swirls around. My encouragement to you would be to pray and ask God to show you if abortion is something that pleases Him or not. I know this may seem odd, but the reality is that God cares about everything we think, do, and say in this life.

I realize you have your reasons for supporting abortion; I did too. But I encourage you to take the time to read what God says about life and who has the right to give and take it away. If you’d be open to reading what the Bible says about abortion, you can read this.

 

Difficult Choice

If you are a Christian, be patient with those who view things differently than you. But don’t just be patient; speak truth in love to those who are in need. Find ways to help those who are struggling through unplanned pregnancies. Investigate options for adoption and invest in the lives of those who are facing difficult choices.

Today I looked at a picture of a 6-year-old boy at a football game.  He’s a 6-year-old boy who nearly wasn’t with us today because of the difficult place his mother found herself in. She was unmarried, pregnant, and scared. But my wife met with her and prayed with her and took her to a Christian doctor who showed her the heartbeat of the baby in her womb. That young mother had the courage to keep her child.

That young boy’s smile reminds me that God can save children, one at a time. But God does this by using His people to come alongside those who are struggling and lovingly showing them the Christ who can walk them through any terrifying situation, even an unplanned pregnancy.

 

 

I believe that the only hope to turn the trend of this tragedy around is for people to turn their hearts toward the God who made them through the way paved by His Son Jesus. Jesus changes hearts, and changed hearts change a nation. May God give grace to us as a country, and may God give us courage to stand up in the midst of this tragedy so that, if the Lord tarries, we might see this kind of tragedy come to an end.

 

Lord Jesus, we need your help.

 

Would God Celebrate Planned Parenthood’s 100 Years?

On Sunday, October 16, Planned Parenthood celebrated “100 years of healthcare services.” The group’s celebration trended on social media, and was even joined by both President Obama and the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.obama

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For many, the work of Planned Parenthood is truly a reason to rejoice. The group provides assistance to women who exercise their “right” to end the existence of a developing baby in their womb. This service that helps women “determine their own lives” is seen as an ultimate good, and therefore a reason to celebrate.

Last year, an Advocacy Board that advises Planned Parenthood even went so as to say that nation’s largest abortion provider is “doing God’s work” and the group released a “pastoral letter” claiming that the Bible says nothing about abortion.

Here’s the direct quote from that letter, “many people wrongly assume that all religious leaders disapprove of abortion. The truth is that abortion is not even mentioned in the Scriptures — Jewish or Christian — and there are clergy and people of faith from all denominations who support women making this complex decision.

As many celebrate the existence of Planned Parenthood, it is important for us to consider whether or not heaven would join in the jubilee. The fact that something is popular, and even endorsed by powerful people, does not make it right. What matters most is whether or not God is pleased with it.

Since abortion is an issue that is near to my heart, I thought I’d take a moment to consider whether Planned Parenthood’s 100 years of existence should be celebrated or not. As you read these Scriptures and consider what you see, ask God to show you if it is true—because in the end what He thinks is what matters most.

Abortion in the Bible

Though the Bible doesn’t mention the word “abortion,” it clearly teaches that abortion is a terrible sin against another person. These are not all the verses we could consider, but they are a few that best capture what the Bible says about this all important issue.

Exodus 21:22–25 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Does the Bible seem to clearly teach here that what comes out of a woman is a not just a fetus, but is a child? How serious does God say it is to kill an unborn child? If this is true of an accidental injury to a pregnant woman and her child, how much more serious is an intentional act of killing a child in the womb?

Ecclesiastes 11:5 “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.”

If God sends a “spirit” to come into a woman to produce a child, does that not show that what is inside her is living? If God says, I want a child in that womb, do we have the right to tell God “no, You may not do that, I will take that living thing out of me?”

Job 10:10–12 “Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? 11You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.”

What happens when sperm and egg unite in what we call conception? Is that not life? If you can detect a heartbeat (5-8 weeks after conception) does that not mean there is something living there? Where do skin, flesh, bone and sinews form? Are they not made in the womb? If we found all of this on another planet, would we not celebrate that we have found life there?

Psalm 139:13–16 “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (cf. Job 31:15; Isaiah 44:2)

What do you think the Bible is implying when David says God “formed” his “inward parts” in his “mother’s womb?” What does it imply when it says he was “wonderfully made” and “intricately woven”? Does this not imply that God is at work in the womb, creating a human being? If God knows “all the days” of that being, even while its substance is “unformed”, does that not imply that God has a plan for that being in the womb? Do we have the right to tell God to stop this marvelous work because we have other plans? 

Isaiah 49:1 “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.”

If God calls and names someone when they are in the womb, does that not make them a living person?

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (cf. Galatians 1:15)

If God has knowledge of someone as a person before they are even formed in the womb, does that not show that what is in the womb has great value and worth? Does not God forming someone in the womb show His intent to bring a life along to His designed end?

Amos 1:13 “I will not revoke the punishment, because they have ripped open pregnant women.”

Why does God see the ripping open of a pregnant woman’s womb as such a big deal? How is this different than His anger toward someone who would kill a woman who isn’t pregnant? Could it be that they would be killing two people? 

Luke 1:39–44 “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

What does the Bible say was in the womb of Elizabeth? Does it not call John a “baby?” And what does that baby do when it hears the voice of the pregnant Mary? Does it not say the baby leaped for joy? And what does she say about the “fruit” of Mary’s womb (see also Psalm 127:3)? Does this not imply that what is in her is of value and has great worth? From this don’t we have to conclude that what is in her womb is a baby?

After looking a just a few verses, it is overwhelmingly clear that God views what is in the womb of a woman at conception to be a life, a baby, a human being like you and me.

The Bible also teaches that taking the life of another person (murder) is a grievous sin. In Exodus 20:3 God says “you shall not murder” (cf. Genesis 9:5; Matthew 5:21; 19:18; Romans 13:9; 1 John 3:15).

To end a life is to kill it. We may want to phrase it differently, but an “abortion,” a “choice to not keep the baby,” to “terminate a pregnancy,” are all clearly ending a life. This is murder.  The Bible forbids this because it teaches that God alone has the right to give life and take it away (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 1:21).

God also says that when his people have murdered their children, that it is a great sin in His eyes (Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 12:31; 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 32:35).

Whether or not one believes the Bible is another matter, but to suggest that the Bible allows abortion is deceptive. One of the earliest Christian documents The Didache (circa A.D. 100) says “You shall not murder a child by abortion.” Christians have always believed that God does not give us permission to take the life of our children. He gives, we may not take away.

So does God celebrate with Planned Parenthood? He does not. Rather, He weeps over it. God loves people and He loves the children in mother’s wombs. He is the One who creates life, and He is the One to whom all of us must look when we find ourselves in situations we never planned for.

If you are considering an abortion and feel like you have no other options, please know there are people who can help you. They can connect you with loving families who would be willing to discuss adoption. I know a family who is waiting by the phone right now to adopt a child, even the one in your womb.

If you feel that you have no where to turn, please know that Planned Parenthood isn’t your only option. God has other options that are worth celebrating. I plead with you to reach out to a faithful local church near you, we can help you find one (info@delraybaptist.org) or email outreach@assistcpc.org who can connect you to someone in your area.

Please know that God meets us where we are in our journey, and He does this through His Son Jesus. If you find yourself weary, hear this word of promise from the Lord Himself, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Please turn to the Lord in this season of great decision and allow Him to give you the grace we all desperately need.

 

Was Jesus Liberal or Conservative?

Was Jesus a Liberal or Conservative?

These are notes from talks given at the U.S. Capitol, Georgetown Law, George Washington University, and most recently Georgetown University.

 

As we begin, I want to say that I’m not a political expert. I am a Christian pastor. This is important because I want to be very clear that my main intent tonight is not to move you to the left or right in your political convictions. My aim is to help all of us grow in our understanding of who Jesus is. In fact, I propose that what we think about Jesus and how we respond to Him is infinitely more important than our political convictions—though they aren’t unrelated.

Also, if I wrongly represent someone’s political views, please know that’s not my intent. None of us like to be pigeonholed and we all know there’s a vast spectrum between the right and the left. My aim is to be fair in this discussion, so I’ll ask you to be gracious as well. This, I hope, is the beginning of a conversation that could last for the rest of our lives. I desire to grow in my understanding of these topics, and I trust you do as well. We’ll have time at the end for Q & A, so please feel free to take notes and we’ll process together after the talk.

 

When it comes to politics, religion, or pop culture, Jesus is the kind of guy people like to be associated with. Whether it’s Justin Beiber giving Jesus a shout out at the VMAs or Duck Dynasty guys quoting Jesus in the woods or politicians doing commercials about their thankfulness for “the evangelicals”—people like to have Jesus on their side.

Some political or social liberals, suggest that if Jesus were on the earth today, He’d be dressed in denim work clothes, teaching and modeling equality, inclusion, and tolerance. After all, He’s the One who said we should “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:38) and “judge not lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1-5). They suggest that because Jesus healed the sick (Mt. 12:15) and taught us to help “the least of these” (Mt. 25:40) that He’ call for free universal healthcare. They say that if He were here today He’d propose higher taxes on the rich so the poor could follow their dreams (Mt.19:21).

At the same time, some political or social conservatives have long claimed to be the ones who really know Jesus. They maintain that if He lived today, He’d be at their rallies giving orders to flip the tables of Planned Parenthood (Mt. 21:12) and calling for the government to quit oppressing people’s morality and pocketbooks. He’d be speaking out about border control (Mt. 10:5) and traditional marriage (Mt. 19:1-6) and the rights of the unborn (Mk. 12:31).

These camps often oppose each other; and both think they are right. A CNN article titled Do you believe in a Red State Jesus or a Blue State Jesus?, rightly said that after the election “somebody somewhere in America will fall on their knees and pray, ‘Thank you Jesus.’ And somebody somewhere else will moan, ‘Help us Jesus.’”

So what do you think? Would Jesus be red or blue? Would He be setting up a soup kitchen or shouting at the religious hypocrites? Was Jesus a liberal or a conservative?

To help us answer this, we’ll spend the rest of our time exploring three topics that Jesus taught about which are relevant in political discussions today. We’ll consider what Jesus taught about taxes, what He taught about the rich and the poor, and what He taught about human flourishing.

#1 – What did Jesus teach about Taxes?

In the Gospel of Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees (religious conservatives of His day) about whether or not people should pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman emperor. Jesus asked them to bring him a coin and asked, “whose [inscription] is on it?” They said “Caesar,” to which Jesus famously replied “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and render to God the things that are God’s.”

What He meant by that is, because Caesar is King give him what is due him, namely taxes. Now, when Jesus says pay your taxes, He’s not talking about giving money to a government that you might fear will squander it. Rather, He’s talking about giving money to one of the most cruel and perverse government systems in the history of the world. Rome was ruthlessly oppressive to everyone under their authority.

Why would Jesus say to pay taxes to them? Because Jesus recognized government is a God-ordained institution set up to maintain order and uphold justice and righteousness in a fallen world (Gen. 9:6). Every government, good or bad, is part of God’s design, and we are to honor God by paying the taxes they require (Rom 13:1-7).

Would Jesus increase taxes on the rich or decrease taxes on the middle-class? Liberals and conservatives have their opinions, but Jesus doesn’t say. But He does say give to Cesar what is Cesar’s—and give to God what is God’s.

And here we see the masterfulness of Jesus’ teachings. He never avoided relevant social topics, but He used those discussions to point us in a different direction. While He speaks to the crowd about honoring the government, He teaches them about honoring God. God created each of us and we owe Him our love, obedience, and worship. Jesus’ teaching on taxes ultimately points us to our need to give to God the worship and obedience that He deserves from us. Jesus challenged both liberals and conservatives give honor to whom honor is due, supremely God.

#2 – What did Jesus teach about the Rich and the Poor.

Jesus was known for His remarkable compassion toward the poor and oppressed. At the same time, He fearlessly ministered among the wealthy and powerful. And we can learn from His interactions with both groups.

In the Gospel of John ch. 5 we find Jesus making a stop by a pool in Jerusalem. This wasn’t a pool like you’d find at the Marriott, instead, this pool was a hangout for the marginalized who were blind, paralyzed, and poor.

In the story, Jesus walked over to a lame man and asked, “do you want to be healed?” The man replied that he had no one to help him, to which Jesus responded by telling him to take up his mat and walk. And the man, who had been crippled for 38 years, stood up and walked. Jesus healed him. Let’s make three observations about this story.

First, Jesus was aware of this man’s distress. This pool wasn’t in a part of town most of religious or political leaders frequented. But Jesus was there. He sought out this man and used His power to do alleviate this man’s physical distress. This kind of practical, compassionate love for broken people characterized everything Jesus did.

Second, Jesus didn’t heal everyone at the pool. Many left that day no different than when they arrived. Could Jesus have healed them all? Yes. Then why didn’t He? We don’t know. Jesus regularly left places where people needed to be healed to minister elsewhere. Was He being cruel? No, that would miss the point. Jesus’ miracles certainly aimed to help people, but they had a deeper meaning—to prove He was God’s Son who had the authority to forgive sins.

Third, Jesus taught the formerly lame man about his greatest need. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’” Jesus called this man to rightly consider his needs. His greatest need wasn’t a healed body, but the forgivness of his sin. Unless he repented, the physical relief he received that day would be of little consolation on the Day of Judgment.

Jesus cared about the poor and He calls His followers to do the same (Lk. 14:12-14). But physical help was given along with spiritual help. Jesus cared about relieving people’s physical suffering, but even more so He cared about relieving the eternal suffering they would face apart from His grace. And this lesson wasn’t just for the poor.

In Matthew 19:21, Jesus speaks to a man known as a rich young ruler (this guy is everything we all desire to be. He’s rich, young, powerful.). He said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Jesus knew this man’s heart and was keenly aware that this rich man loved his money more than God. So, Jesus told him that if was going to follow Him, he needed to surrender his love for material things so that he could see gain the things of eternity. In essence, Jesus had the same message for the rich man as He did for the poor man: allow your physical situation to awaken you to the reality that a final day of judgment is coming.

Does Jesus teach that we should help the poor and relieve their suffering? Yes! We should be generous with what we have. But as we see in our second example, Jesus challenged both the rich and the poor to not value physical or financial security at the cost of forgetting that having their sins forgiven by Jesus is our greatest need.

#3 – What did Jesus teach about human flourishing?

Our desire for fullness of life is at the heart of our culture’s conversations about the plight of fleeing refugees, the rights of women and the rights of unborn children in their womb. It is behind the call for marriage equality, and the cries for healing the racial brokenness all around us.

When politicians and educators address this topic, the focus is often on economic development, or opportunity equality, or maybe personal autonomy that gives us the right to do whatever we want without anyone telling us we are wrong. But what would Jesus say about human flourishing?

As with just about everything, Jesus came at the topic in a way we wouldn’t expect. Jesus knows all of these felt needs, but does not see them first as physical issues, but as spiritual ones. Jesus taught that true human flourishing is impossible apart from a relationship with Him. Why? Because each of us, regardless of our political leanings or cultural upbringings, are naturally alienated from God in our sin. But this is what Jesus came to save us from.

Listen to just a few of His words. In John 10:10 He said “the thief [devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Then later in John 15:10–11 He said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love…These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Abundant life. Full joy. It is only through Jesus that we understand true human flourishing.

In Mark 8:34–35 Jesus made this even more clear, “calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

What Jesus is saying is that the quest for human flourishing, and everything else in life, must be understood and submitted to His Lordship. Human flourishing is not “I get to do what I want to do,” but rather that we get to find joy, find life, find abundant life in being freed from our sin and rightly related to God and to other people.

The way we relate to each other does not begin with our own opinions or own desires. Rather, Jesus says that it must be filtered through and submitted to His Lordship. Jesus is King and because of that, all His people surrender their agendas at the door. In our church we have some who will vote for Hillary, some who will vote for Trump, some who will write-in, and some who won’t vote at all. Among them, there are obviously political differences, but they love each other, and show honor toward each other. This was the same among Jesus’ disciples in His day.

It’s safe to assume that Simon (the zealot) and Matthew (the tax collector) had different political views. Both were called to follow Jesus, and both faithfully did so. How does that happen? Because Jesus’ followers know He is greater than our political differences, no matter how important they may be. And it is through relationship with Christ that we can rightly grow to learn from each other, as His teachings guide us.

In fact, I will say on a personal note that years ago, I could never have imagined how a Christian could vote for someone from a particular political party. But through conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than me, I have grown to see how they seek to honor Jesus with their lives and it has been helpful for me.

 

What is my conclusion about whether Jesus was a liberal or conservative? As you can imagine, trying to answer this question is like nailing Jell-o to the wall…but here’s my attempt. In one sense Jesus was neither liberal nor conservative and in another sense Jesus was both liberal and conservative.

 

Jesus was neither liberal nor conservative in the way that we define them because He came proclaiming a higher reality—the kingdom of God. In John 18:36 Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world…for this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” Jesus came to orient us all, not toward the right or the left, but first and foremost toward heaven.

Jesus didn’t avoid political conversations; but rather, He filtered discussions about politics (and everything else) through His commitment to honoring God the Father. By understanding this, we avoid the dangerous position that Jesus was just a moral teacher like Gandhi, Buddha, or Mother Teresa whose instruction ought be weighed as one opinion among many. We also avoid the dangerous practice of using Jesus as a poster boy for our personal agendas. When we do this, we risk taking His Name in vain and remaking Him into a god after our own image.

Jesus’ teachings exposed the sin in the hearts of everyone He encountered, regardless of which way they leaned politically or where they stood socially. He didn’t care if a free market system said it was ok to have money changers selling marked up animals in the temple, Jesus flipped their tables because it dishonored God.

Jesus came as light, shining into everyone’s darkness, regardless of who they aligned with. In fact, Jesus’ unwillingness to side with the right or the left got Him into a lot of trouble. The two religious powers in Judaism in His day were the Pharisees (ultra-conservatives) and the Sadducees (ultra-liberals). These two groups, hated each other and never find common ground about anything – except that they hated Jesus. The only thing they could agree on was that they opposed Jesus and wanted to dismiss Him, and ultimately kill Him. Liberals and conservatives both opposed Jesus because He didn’t come to further their purposes. He came to call them both to repent, believe in Him and submit to His reign as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And that didn’t sit well with either side.

But Jesus didn’t just come to mess with them, He came to mess with you as well. I wonder, does Jesus make you uncomfortable by the way He calls you to turn away from your idols of comfort and enter into the lives of people who are unlike you? To touch the hand of a forgotten leper. To minister to a paralyzed man who reeks of urine. To sit down for a meal with someone of a different ethnicity or different political conviction than you to learn about their fears and hopes. I wonder how Jesus’ teaching affects you here?

Or maybe you’re made uncomfortable with some of Jesus’ commands? Perhaps you appreciate his sensitivity to the lowly, but some of His teachings make you uncomfortable, so you try to pick and choose. You like that He says “don’t judge” but dislike the whole context that instructs you to repent of your hypocrisy so that proper judgment can occur (Mt. 7:1-6). Or maybe you like how He included people from any and all backgrounds, not to affirm their lifestyles, but rather to alter them according to His will.

Naturally we all have issues with Jesus. My guess is that if Jesus and His teachings haven’t offended you at some point, then you’ve never really listened to what He has to say. Jesus was neither liberal, nor conservative.

 

Jesus was both liberal and conservative. If we were to sift through Jesus’ teachings, we’d certainly see ideals which both conservatives and liberals heartily affirm. While we all have many differences, there are many things we agree upon. We all, regardless of our political affiliation, value mercy. We all want to see an unbiased love of compassion, inclusion and care for the oppressed – though we’d differ on how that should be carried out. Jesus proclaimed and embodied these characteristics of mercy.

In the same way we all, regardless of our differences want to see justice upheld. We want to see the guilty punished, we want to see oppressed defended, we want to see the right thing done for ourselves and for those whom we care about. There is no way we can read the life of Christ and not see justice clearly displayed.

In fact, I would suggest that Jesus is the only person who ever was truly merciful and truly just at the same time. And this fact is at the heart of what Jesus came to teach and to perform. Jesus didn’t come to set up a political system or further partisan cause. He came to deal with ultimate issues. He came to deal with our hearts and our standing with God. He came to teach us about our eternal destiny.

This is the message that Christ proclaimed. He taught that all of us are made in God’s image. That’s why we all desire good things like mercy and justice and love and truth. God made us to reflect Him in that sense. The problem is that while good is reflected in us, we are all completely corrupted by sin. Whether we vote red or blue (or somewhere in between), whether our skin is black or white (or somewhere in between), whether we are rich or poor (or somewhere in between)…all of us have sinned against God and against other people.

When we die, we will be judged for all we have done. All the times we haven’t been just and haven’t been merciful. All the times we hated people who disagreed with us. We are all condemned before God and because He is good, he will bring unfiltered, unreserved wrath on all who have sinned.

But, because God is merciful and He desires none to perish, but for all to know Him and experience His love, He sent Jesus to teach us how to be made right with Him. This is why Jesus came, to seek and save the lost – liberal and conservative alike. The Bible tells us that Jesus willingly became a human being, lived a perfect life w/o sin, and then willingly laid down His life on the cross so that God’s wrath might be poured out on Him. He then rose from the dead, and God now calls all people to turn from their sins and believe in Him so they will be forgiven. That is the message of Jesus and that is the message of Christianity.

 

So was Jesus a liberal or conservative? I’d say He is the foundation for all the good that both those camps affirm. I’d also say that both camps, and everyone in between, should hear the greater message of Christ which is to believe in Him, have their sins forgiven, and live in light of the life that is to come.

America is not the hope of the world. Government is not the hope of the world. Presidents, Kings, and Princes are not the hope of this world. Jesus is the only hope for this world, and the only hope for you and me.

 

 

Together 2016 – Encouragement, Confession, and Concern

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On Saturday thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC for Together 2016. This event was billed as a time for Christians from around the country, and around the world, to make a stand for Jesus and “reset” their lives in repentance.

Well-known pastors and musicians marked the gathering. Before the event had to be called off due to excessive heat, there were seven hours of wonderful testimonies, challenging messages, impassioned prayers, and heartfelt singing by all in attendance. The theme of “unity” and standing “one in Jesus” ran throughout the day.

I didn’t see or hear everything during those seven hours, but I saw much of it. And as I watched, I found myself encouraged, convicted, and concerned.

 

An Encouragement 

I wish all those who scoffingly claim that Christianity is dying off could have seen what was happening on the Mall this weekend. This gathering of impassioned believers boldly proclaimed that Jesus is still the most relevant name in the universe.

They came together in prayer, singing, and crying out to God. Together 2016 was a bit nostalgic for me. During the first summer following my conversion, I attended One Day 2000. During that gathering I heard John Piper challenge us not to waste our lives. It was a pivotal day for me, and I suspect Together 2016 will be the same for many others.

There were people from many tribes, languages, nations, and generations. Skin colors were diverse, but the prayers were unified. Themes of justice and righteousness marked the day. The songs, most of the people who spoke, and the regular pauses to pray about loving God, repentance, and our need for Jesus were heartfelt.

As Francis Chan reminded us at the end of the day, following Jesus will not be the popular thing to do, but it will be eternally worth it. I praise God that He is raising up another generation of believers who desire to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost.

 

A Confession 

I must confess, I approached the event with a critical spirit. Over the past ten years, my theological convictions have deepened—and I anticipated that most of them would be grated against during this event. And they were.

Lack of theological precision, careless phrasing of words, and the emotionalism that marks evangelicalism were not difficult to find.

But that’s when the Holy Spirit convicted me with a scene from the Gospels. In Luke 9, we find an account of a few of Jesus’ disciples getting irritated that people were doing ministry in a way they weren’t.

“John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you’” (Luke 9:49-50).

In the opening minutes of the event God convicted me of spiritual pride. I was reminded that Jesus is doing great things in His Name among people who are very different than me. And regardless of who is ministering, Jesus is always working in spite of our feeble efforts. As one of my professors used to say, “The Holy Spirit loves to work in the midst of our mess.”

Praise God for that!

The Body of Christ is diverse and we must all learn from and be encouraged by one another. I have plenty of my own issues and blind spots, as do the people in my theological camp. It is easy to sit back and be critical of others who don’t do things the way I would. But that attitude isn’t pleasing to Jesus.

He would say to people like me, “the one who is not against you is for you.” After a few moments of conviction, the Spirit broke my pride and gave me the freedom to rejoice in the good work God was doing in my brothers and sisters on the Mall.

But that joy didn’t leave me without a concern.

 

A Concern

Calling us to be “together” is a noble thing. There are countless things that divide us unnecessarily. Many of these were addressed wonderfully during the event. But the one thing that actually brings a unity that pleases God was not always clear; and was at times even undermined.

At one point in the first session, a group of men came on stage to pray, including a Roman Catholic. What he said was encouraging and true. But having him on stage to speak and pray (plus promoting the event with a video from Pope Francis) was a tragic decision that may have been overlooked by many in the swirl of all the encouragement.

While it is true that #JesusChangesEverything, this is not the truth that unifies believers. What unifies Christians is that Jesus died and rose and that anyone who repents and believes in Him and His work alone will be saved. The organizers of the event seemed to work so hard to bring down walls of division, that they intentionally neglected to be clear about the Gospel of justification by faith alone.

We must remember that the Protestant Reformation happened for a reason. The theological truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is eternally important. And sadly, this was dangerously distorted on Saturday as thousands watched it happen.

In the days since the Protestant Reformation, more people were executed or exiled over the truths that were brushed aside today than the number of people who were in attendance at the event.

Should we work for unity at great cost? Yes.

Should we pursue unity at all costs? Never.

As J.C. Ryle said in Warnings to the Churches, “never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth upon the altar of peace.”

I believe we should work together with people of all faiths for issues of religious freedom and social justice. But I do not believe that Jesus would have us sacrifice precious truths He shed His blood for in order to have togetherness.

I deeply believe that the organizers of Together 2016 are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some dear friends of mine participated in the event today. I do think the true Gospel was proclaimed by numerous speakers and performers. I am certain the motivations of the organizers are to get the Gospel to more people. And I trust the LORD will do great things through the event today.

However, muddying the Gospel will not help any of this come to pass. The best way to love those who are in error over the Gospel is not to link arms with them, but to help them see the importance of our differences.

 

Whether this sort of gathering will happen again or not, I do not know. But we who are Christians must remember that before Jesus prayed for us to be “one,” He prayed for us to be “sanctified in truth” (John 17:17-23), because after all it is “the truth that will set you free” (John 8:32).

 

Can We Weep Together? Bringing Peace to Racial Pain

 

I’m the pastor of a medium sized church in Alexandria, Virginia. We are predominately white, but are growing in diversity of all sorts—including ethnic diversity. Our members come from all different backgrounds. But they aren’t just church members; they are people I love.

So when I hear news stories about white police officers shooting black men, it strikes close to home. My mind immediately goes to how some of our black friends will be receiving the news.

How might fear grip them this time?

Will despair pull them toward the pit?

How will their children hear the news?

My heart is pulled toward them, because I love them.

 

But in our church we also have white police offers, and they are people I love deeply as well. So when the news comes in, I wonder how it will affect them.

Will they be angry that they will likely be seen as crooked cops?

Will they become a target of retaliation?

How will this news affect them when they are thrust into a tense situation?

I care about them, so my heart considers them as well.

 

And then, I wonder…

How will those two groups love each other?

How will they perceive each other when they sit next to each other on Sunday?

Will black members be jaded against the white members?

Will white members ignore events in the news that are hurting black members?

Are they talking and listening and praying with each other?

Do they even know God wants them to do this?

How should our elders speak into and shepherd along our congregation?

What are our blind spots on this issue?

 

These are the sorts of things that keep pastors like me up at night. Why? Because the unexplainable love of the church is the way God shows the world that He is their only hope for healing from racial pain.

As our church processes these realities, we try to keep a few things before our eyes.

 

  1. Admit that racial pain is a real issue.

We will not all feel this pain in the same way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not all blacks will perceive pain in the same way or agree on how to move forward in fixing it. Neither will all whites. But we must admit there is an issue in our country and it didn’t end when slavery was abolished.

For my white friends, if you don’t feel pain about these issues, but your black neighbor does, what does that mean? Do they need to be corrected and told not to feel a certain way? Might you have room to grow? Loving those who are different than you begins with listening and learning from them. I wrote an article “I Don’t See You As a Black Friend” that chronicles my own journey in this area.

The realness of racial pain isn’t just popular opinion; it is God’s opinion. In fact, you could make a case that the entire New Testament is God glorifying Himself by bringing people of different ethnicities / races together in the church through the blood of His Son. The Bible is about reconciliation. Yes, sinners reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), but also sinners reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The hard work of reconciliation didn’t stop when Jesus ascended. In one sense, it just got started. The Gospel alone has the power to change hearts, but change will not come until we admit there is a tragic and painful wound festering among us.

 

  1. Pray that we will see people as God sees them.

God created all people in His own image. Every person, light-skinned and dark-skinned, citizen and police officer alike, was knit by God in their mother’s womb as one who would radiate God’s own glory for all to see. That image is corrupted by sin, but it is not erased. That must mean something when we watch videos of people being shot, hear orphaned children wail out the words “I want my daddy”, or learn of police officers being struck down by vengeance seekers.

The LORD instructs His people to “regard no one from a world point of view” or merely “according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). This means God gives His people eyes to see that people are not just ideas to debunk or problems to fix, they are people. They have mothers and fathers and children. They cry tears and have real hopes and fears. That must matter to us, because it matters to God.

Compassion for one another is essential to healing the pain caused by racially charged sins against one another. This compassion is birthed when we realize that we are in this together, though our experiences along the way are often vastly different. Do you see others as God sees them? Do you tend to categorize people and say “oh those people” are _____?

There are systemic issues to discuss, but who is going to discuss them? People. If change will happen systematically, change must first occur personally, so I’m writing to you as an individual right now. Ask God to help you see people as image-bearers, no matter how different they may be than you.

 

  1. Pray for God to help you weep when others weep.

You don’t need all the facts to weep with another person. As a H.B. Charles has rightly said, “the Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn’t tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.” Love leaves room for unanswered questions, especially when another is brokenhearted.

When news about a police officer killing a black man breaks, what happens in your heart? What comes to mind? Do you find yourself considering how others might be hearing the news or do you automatically make judgments about those involved?

I trust that we all agree there must be investigations into whether police action was warranted in these cases. But can we not understand why many from the black community would be cynical about the process?

White friends, do you ever feel cynicism toward the system when a politician or celebrity gets off the hook?

I trust so.

Can you not then, understand why black brothers and sisters could have cynicism about how trials and charges will be played out in the courts?

And black friends, do you wonder how your white brothers and sisters in Christ who serve as police officers process these situations? Are they in a place of privilege and authority? Yes, maybe so. Should the “bad cops” be outed and punished to the fullest extent of the law? Most certainly.

But 1 Corinthians 13 tells us all that “love believes and hopes all things”—so I’m assuming that you know that all cops are not bad cops, and I hope that you’re fighting to believe that, like my brother Trip Lee is.

Black or white, brothers and sisters, we have to work hard to believe the best of each other. In other words, we can’t assume someone using the phrase “black lives matter” means that person doesn’t believe that “all lives matter.” And we can’t assume that a police officer that says “all cops aren’t evil” means that he doesn’t care about black life.

We each must ask how we are obeying God in the command to have a sympathetic heart that breaks when others break.

One of the best ways to soften a heart toward others is to spend time with them.

Have you ever sat with a weeping black friend? Have you ever seen the deep grief in their eyes when they talk about the fears they have for their life an the life of their children? You may not understand their pain, but have you helped them wipe tears away?

This kind of tear-wiping love is what God will show His people when He welcomes them to heaven (Revelation 21:4) and it ought be the kind of love His people show each other when we exist as the church.

 

  1. The church must be the church.

The church has not loved each other well across racial lines for many decades, but today is a new day. It must be. If there is ever a time that blacks and whites must risk comfort, pain, and misunderstandings for the hope of greater change, it is now. The world is longing for an answer to the deep problem of racial pain.

The church must be a place where members can openly grieve about things that break their heart without being concerned that they will be judged for it. Is that kind of freedom found in your house of worship? Love makes room for weeping with each other, especially when we don’t fully understand why they are weeping.

The church must be the place that says to someone different than you, “I have been praying for you, and I would love to hear how the events in the news are affecting you, would you be willing to get together so I can learn more from you?” Love learns from each other.

The church must be the place where we say I am sorry, will you forgive me. One of my most heart-wrenching moments as a white pastor is when another black pastor shared his pain from the pulpit two weeks in a row and was never asked by a white member to learn more about his pain. That kind of apathy or fear-driven silence is not love. But in the church we can say we have sinned against each other and move toward reconciliation. Jesus died to forgive and heal those sins, so let us go to Him together for help.

Jesus told His people to “let your lights shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That light is made visible when the power of the Gospel enters into the lives of very different people and brings unity at the feet of the risen Lord Jesus.

Unity among people is so precious that Jesus shed His blood to purchase it. Satan hates unity in the church, which is why working division is the devil’s delight. Racial pain is an easy place for him to attack, but the Lord Jesus delights in stepping on his neck in victory.

Prayer is one very real way we unite together to war against Satan’s aims to divide us. Consider the prayer requests one black brother sent to our elders:

“I encourage you to pray that our black brothers and sisters can be spared from the things we so regularly see in the news…Pray that we not become desensitized to the violence or oppression…Genuinely pray that our hearts are not turned cold towards our white brothers and sisters, particularly those we are in not in close relationship with. When white brothers and sisters in the body remain silent, it doesn’t take much to begin seeing them as the same as those who cause injustices to occur…Pray that as some of your black brothers and sisters grow increasingly distrustful of police and of those in authority, silence can cause us to subconsciously  (or intentionally, depending on the person) think, ‘They think the same way, would react the same way, and simply don’t understand.’ That is a temptation seeded by the enemy, who desires to cause dissension in the body. But pray also that we will pray for those in authority over us, as God commands, so that our hearts will be tender and loving toward them with the hopes that relationships can be built and peace can be known. Pray for us to have an openness to share our hearts, feelings, thoughts and emotions, regardless of how confused, with our Christian family.

 

Jesus is the hope of the world, and the church is the people through whom He displays this hope. If you are a member of a local church, the responsibility falls on you to make changes. Are you willing to trust the Lord to help you? He promised to be with us (Matthew 28:18-20). We must come together in humility and fervency, for His glory and the good of one another.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

Comments that are constructive will be posted, but I filter as much as I can and won’t be posting any combative or inflammatory comments here. Thank you for adding to the conversation with thoughtful and compassionate insights.

 

 

What Would Jesus Say To Us After the Orlando Tragedy?

 

Orlando

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

 

Early Sunday morning, a man stepped into an Orlando night club and gunned down over a hundred fellow human beings.

To date, forty-nine of them have died.

No matter how many details emerge about the shooter or his motives, we know that they cannot help us cope with this tragedy. The shocking loss of life has ripped open the heart of our country, and left us all reeling with questions.

Why did this happen?

What could have stopped it?

How can friends and family cope with such unbearable loss?

The questions that fill our minds in times like these are natural and reasonable. Yet as we ask them, we ought not do it alone. This is a time for walls to come down and doors to be opened for conversation. Yet, while we speak with one another, it must also be a time for us to look up and ask, “what would Jesus say to us at a time like this?”

Does God see what has happened? Does He care? Where was He while this wicked man murdered so many people who had done him no harm?

What would Jesus say to us after the tragedy in Orlando?

 

1. Jesus says, “I weep with you.”

God was not absent when the gunman went on his rampage. He sees murder in the heart of oppressors (Genesis 4:6-7) and vows to avenge it (Nahum 3:1-6). He hears when the blood of the innocent cries out to Him from the ground (Genesis 4:10).

God is not only aware of murder, but He also weeps over it. God is moved by tender compassion for people when they are struck down by evil people (Exodus 3:7; Psalm 106:44). Jesus showed this sort of compassion throughout His ministry as He wept with friends next to the graves of loved ones (John 11:35).

Jesus created each of the people who died inside that nightclub (John 1:3). He knit them together in the wombs of their now weeping mothers (Psalm 139:13-14). He created them to be image bearers of His glory (Genesis 1:26-28). God has loved and cared for them every day of their lives (Matthew 5:45) and now, He reassures us who remain that we do not weep alone—He weeps with us.

 

2. Jesus says, “I will help you.”

 The sorrow the shooter has laid upon so many is staggering. Tears have run dry and have left behind hearts filled with disbelief, fear, and anger. Many are blessed to have good friends to help them in their dark days, but even those friends will lack ultimate answers.

Yet, the Lord speaks into our pain and says to His people, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). God has ultimately shown this kind of helping love by sending His Son Jesus to rescue us from our sin, and if He has done this, we can trust Him all the more to help us now (Romans 8:32).

So dear family member who prepares to bury your loved one, hear this, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Grieving friend who is left reeling with sorrow, know this, the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

News watcher who feels your heart breaking with those whom you don’t know, find help in this promise, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).

Look to Jesus, He offers broken hearts the help they need, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

 

3. Jesus says, “I warn you.”

While some might find it cruel to speak strong words in such a time as this, we see that Jesus does not think so. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks to a crowd after an eerily similar string of tragedies in the city of Galilee.

Pilate (who ended up ordering Jesus’ execution) had murdered Jewish worshippers while they were offering sacrifices to their God. After hearing the news, Jesus said to them, “do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

To those who find comfort in pointing out the fact that the victims of this tragedy were gay party-goers who have received the judgment of God, hear what Jesus says to you. Be warned that it is dangerous for you to spend time looking down on others to the detriment of looking at your own perilous position. Jesus promises that unless you repent, you will likewise perish.

To the many more who weep and mourn over those who have fallen, we must hear what Jesus says to us as well. Jesus speaks to people who have witnessed a tragic mass murder at the hands of an evil man and says to them that there is a lesson for their grieving hearts. What is that lesson? We must all realize that one day, it will be us who people weep over. We certainly pray that our end will not be as tragic as the forty-nine fallen in Orlando, yet Jesus says that during such tragedies, we must examine ourselves.

There are many ways that the fallen will be remembered and their lives will echo in meaningful ways. Jesus tells us that one of those ways is that it ought make us pause and examine the brevity of our own lives. They did not suspect that their lives would be so short. They did not know that June 12 would be the day they would leave this earth.

Jesus sees tragic events like Orlando as a time to weep, but also as a time to consider eternal realities and ensure that we are ready to stand before God—because some day we will. Today is the day to consider Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God who died for our sin and rose from the dead to give us life. He calls us all to leave behind our lives of sin and find life in Him (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38, 4:19-20).

Jesus loves us enough to speak into our suffering and warn us to prepare for the day when we too will be laid to rest. Ask Him to help you understand what this means and take time to read through Jesus’ own words about it.

 

4. Jesus says, “I will soon make all things new.”

We are all weary of the tragedies that seem to continually pound upon us like waves on the sea shore. We must know however that these waves of weariness will not roll forever. Jesus promises that one day soon He will shake the world in judgment and bring all evil into the light. There He will expose all injustices done in His world and remove them from His presence forever.

On that day, pain will no longer prevail for God’s people. Death will be done. Evil will be extinct. Terrorists will be terminated. Justice will reign and mercy will fill the skies of heaven.

God lays before His people the promise of a world that will be emptied of evil and filled with joy. In that land “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:4–5).

This promise is laid before us all and it is for you as well, if you will only receive it by faith.

 

In the wake of one of our nation’s most anguishing events, we must know that we are not left alone. This kind of deadly tragedy must move us to listen to one another’s stories and weep with one another. But it must also move us to turn the ear of our heart toward Jesus and hear His life-giving words.

 

Is the Transgender Discussion Exposing Our Hypocrisy?

Transgender Bathroom Kids

 

This article is co-authored with our associate pastor John Henderson, PhD.

According to a recent New York Times article, the Department of Justice is planning to issue the following statement to public schools across the United States:

“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”[1]

According to this thinking, chromosomes and biology should not determine the sex, gender, and bathroom assignment of a person. Rather, each person is to lean upon his or her own understanding to make the determination.

Another New York Times article reports that gender binary thinking, which assumes there are only two distinct genders, male and female, is becoming a thing of the past.[2] People can now decide to be whatever they sense they really are. Apparently, when it comes to gender and gender identity, biological determinism is being shown the door.

This should raise questions for all us. For many years now we have been told that biology actually determines a ton of stuff. Alcohol abuse, according to various scientists, has “key biological causes.”[3] Scores of scientific studies claim that Bipolar disorder, Major Depression, and other experiences we call mental illness are in some way caused by our genetic and biochemical makeup.

Most notably, the argument that homosexuality is not a choice or preference, but a genetically and biochemically determined reality, saturates the scientific literature today. Each new study along this vein is simply, “the latest in a growing scientific literature suggesting that sexual preferences may be not simply a matter of personal preference but part of our ingrained biology.”[4]

Am I the only one who finds this confusing? If gender and gender identity is no longer biologically determined, but a matter of choice, then we have some questions to answer.

  1. Do we plan to say the same about sexual identity?

Are we now saying we choose to be heterosexual or homosexual? Previously we accepted a direct link between genes, biological, anatomy, and gender, but now we’re saying that link does not matter when it comes to gender. Perhaps this is fine, but for the sake of consistency, do we plan to say the same about sexual identity, which has no direct genetic or biological link anyway? Are we saying that just as we choose gender preferences, we choose sexual preferences?

  1. Do we plan to say the same about alcohol and drug abuse?

No reasonable person doubts that biology plays a role in alcohol and drug abuse. Biochemistry is involved. But the social sciences have taken this concept much farther. Alcohol and drug abuse, as taught in hundreds of psychology, sociology, and psychiatry programs all over the world, has biological causes. Not merely influences, but determining forces inside the body and somehow connected to genes. Is this no longer true? Again, for the sake of consistency, are we supposed to apply the gender identity rubric to the abuse of substances?

  1. Do we plan to say the same about Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression?

Once more, there are scores of studies and articles placing responsibility for various “mental illnesses” at the doorstep of biology. According to those studies, the experience of mania and depression are not about the conscious thinking of the person or layers of life decisions, but almost solely about underlying biochemical forces. Is this approach to understanding mental illness now wrong and cast aside?

  1. Or do we plan to use biological determinism only when convenient?

In other words, do we apply biological determinism when talking about something for which we do not want to be held responsible and then reject biological determinism when talking about something for which we want full control?

Are we far more interested in moral flexibility and political convenience than fidelity to the truth and consistency?

Among the various things discussed on this page, none is more biologically determined than gender. There are actual chromosomes (XX, XY) that link directly to actual anatomy (ovaries, testes, etc.) that we call “female” and “male.” If we’re saying those links no longer matter, then it only stands to reason the less tenable links in other areas of human experience be severed in the same fashion.

If this is the case, then everything that has no direct link to genetics and biology should be left to preference as well. If a person can go against their genetics and biology when it comes to gender, then how much more able is a person to go against any and all genetic or biological forces when it comes to sexual identity, drug abuse, and mental illness?

  1. Do we just make stuff up so that we can do what we want to do?

I mean, this seems like what is really going on. Is it that we just don’t want someone, anyone, telling us how to live if it goes against what we desire? Do we just want to do what is right in our own eyes? I’m not sure how familiar you are with history, but cultures where everyone did what was right in their own eyes always ended in a pile of rubble. Can we just admit that our desire to do what we want might be driving this brave new world agenda? And is it possible that it is driving it off a cliff?

  1. Do we want our children to be the experimental guinea pigs while we figure out these kinds of questions?

One of the most terrifying things in all this is how flippantly we are treating our children. We are heading down a road of experimentation and using our very own children as lab rats. We have no idea what kinds of affects these measures and others like them will have on young, developing, and perplexed children. Are we really willing to drive political and personal agendas at the expense of a confused child who is trying to figure out their bodies and desires and sexuality? If this open-ended experimentation isn’t child abuse, then I’m not sure what really is.

  1. Can we admit we have no idea what we are doing?

Is it possible that we have reached a point where it is blatantly obvious that we have no idea what we are doing? Can we admit our hypocrisies, even as it has been displayed in our contradicting approaches to biological determinism? Are we really just using science as smoke and mirrors to allow us to justify whatever we feel like doing?

Is it possible that our culture’s mantra of do not judge has caught up with us and led us to the place where we can receive no instruction, even if it would rescue us from the destruction of our own lives and the lives of our families? At the end of the day, is self-determinism really our god?

Might it be time for us to humble ourselves and realize that leaning on our own understanding has taken us down a dangerous road and that we need help? My hope for us is that God might show us mercy and that we will stop being wise in our own eyes and look to Him who made us and loves us and stands ready to rescue us.
Friend, this is the hope God promises in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is no flip-flopper. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever more (Hebrews 13:8). He came into our world and proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Let us step out of the darkness and into the light. We may not know what we are doing, but He does. Look to Him.

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/13/us/politics/obama-administration-to-issue-decree-on-transgender-access-to-school-restrooms.html?_r=1

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/fashion/pronoun-confusion-sexual-fluidity.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/1984/08/14/science/scientists-find-key-biological-causes-of-alcoholism.html?pagewanted=all

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/25/opinion/gay-at-birth.html

Picture courtesy of Nick Cimarusti | Daily Trojan

Life is Short. Don’t Have an Affair.

Ashley Madison

 

“Life is Short. Have An Affair.” – Ashley Madison

Their message was clear. You don’t have time to waste in a difficult or unsatisfying marriage. You don’t have time to waste in the boredom of faithful, sacrificial service to your spouse. You deserve better. You are better, so secretly step out and be satisfied. Find someone who fits you—and nobody has to know.

Ashley Madison’s offer to arrange a secret fling was popular. The adultery promoting website boasted of some 38 million anonymous members before they were outed by a group of hackers this week.

The shockwaves from this exposure will be far reaching and the fallout will be devastating. The names on the lists are real people. They have real spouses, real children, and real parents who must now deal with the real and lasting effects. Tens of millions of lives are now different because of this unveiling of sinful escapades.

Times like this provide us a unique opportunity to consider the deadly deception of sin. Let’s reflect on Ashley Madison’s message in light of what we’ve learned.

 

  1. Life is short. Don’t believe the lie.

The Madison tag line does what all good temptations do—tell you a partial truth.

Life is short. This is true. We only have a brief amount of time to get the most out of our days before they are over. This makes the pains of a difficult marriage feel all the more imposing on our happiness.

Life is short. I deserve better.

Life is short. This isn’t who I thought I was marrying.

Life is short. I am tired of being the only one trying to make this work.

Pitting the difficulty of marriage against the brevity of life is a masterful way to allow discontentment to take a seat in the den of your heart.

It’s the same trick Satan pulled on Adam and Eve in the Garden when he told them that if they ate of the forbidden fruit they would “be like God knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-6).

Satan told the truth to them. When they ate, they would go from only knowing good, to now experiencing evil as well. All that was true. The lie was that knowing evil would be better for them than the goodness God had already supplied.

I bet that first bite of the forbidden fruit was amazing. But the aftertaste has been more bitter than they could have imagined.

The temptation of adultery plays the same trick. At first, there is pleasure. The thrill of secrecy. The power of curiosity. The excitement of newness. The satisfaction of passion.

But that’s where the truth ends and the bitterness of the lie begins. If Madison was honest, her tag line would have said:

Life is Short. Let us help you destroy it!

Life is short. Be ever anxious about covering your tracks and deleting emails and erasing texts.

Life is short. Be always imagining ways to explain your travels and bank withdrawals.

Life is short. Be racked with fear and indescribable guilt when you walk in your house and see the eyes of your spouse and children.

Life is short. Be ready to get caught, because you will get caught.

We all get caught.

 

  1. Life is short. You will be exposed.

On Tuesday, a list of adulterers was laid bare for all to see. We know no one expected this to happen. That’s why they used a site that promised anonymity for their adultery. They assumed, like we all do, that lies can be hidden.

We all do this don’t we? We think no one will know about that little lie we told. No one will see that Internet history we deleted. No one will see the way we judged that person in our heart.

We think that we can hide our sin, but the fact is that eventually “your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). And as shocking and devastating as the Ashley Madison unveiling was for those affected, it is merely a foreshadowing of what will happen for all people on one quickly approaching Day.

Jesus promised that “nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). That means that every thing that has ever been done, thought, or imagined by every person who has ever lived, will one day be brought out in broad daylight.

The book of Revelation paints a picture of a day when all things will be exposed, not merely before other sinful people, but before the holy and just God of the universe.

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away…and I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened…and the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:11-12).

On that day the list of all lists will be unveiled. Dates. Places. Actions. Motives. Lies. Cover-ups. Justifications.

Everything that has ever been done. By you. By me.

This is why the Ashley Madison exposure is such a blessing in disguise, both for those on the list, and for those on the outside looking in. It is a warning that one day all of our lists will be exposed, and God will not overlook any evil. But because He is good, He will bring just and eternal judgment on all people who have sinned (John 5:26-29).

 

  1. Life is short. Come to Jesus.

This brings us back to the truth that Ashley Madison reminded us: life is short. But the brevity of life should not lead us to pursue fleeting and deceptive escapes.

Rather, it should bring a sober realization that what we need is not deliverance from the pressures of this life, but we need a Savior. We need someone to deliver us from the judgment that awaits us all.

And here we find the scandal of the Gospel. That Jesus is the Savior of all sorts of sinners. He did not come for those who have no sin. Rather, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Jesus came and died on the cross as a substitute for adulterers and liars and religious hypocrites alike. He then rose from the dead to extend forgiveness to all who will come to Him. For those who turn from their sin and believe in Him, He “forgives all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us” Colossians 2:13-14.

If you were on the Ashley Madison list, come to Jesus. He will forgive you. No matter if you were an atheist or a Christian. Today is the day to turn from your sin and turn to the Savior.

If you were among the ones wounded by someone on the list, come to Jesus. He promises that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

If you are someone on the outside looking in, come to Jesus. Events like this remind us that we too can fall into grave sin (1 Corinthians 10:12) and that we must prepare to give an account for our own lives.

 

Life is short. Don’t believe sin’s lies. All things will be exposed. Come to Jesus.