Monday, July 20, 2015

The Image of God: Sold for Parts



"Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.  And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it."  --Genesis 9:6-7

There have been so many who have already commented on the video released by the Center for Medical Progress.  Given my particular leanings, I always find commentary from Denny Burk, Al Mohler, Jared Oliphint, Russell Moore and this time, I found Joe Carter particularly helpful in two recent posts here and again here.  One of the benefits of waiting to write is reading some of the best commentary out there and letting your mind marinate in it.

When I first saw the video, it was Wednesday, July 17th.  My wife and I were about to start morning catechism and morning worship with our daughters and several thoughts came racing in my mind.

1)  The importance of catechism.  I'll never forget Sinclair Ferguson's "Velcro-Theory" (my terminology, not his) re: catechism.  I was at one of the National Ligonier conferences (I think it was 2014) when he explained that catechism helps shape the mind of children with biblical categories.  But it also acts as Velcro, providing a place for the Holy Spirit to attach more biblical truth into the lives of our children in the years to come.  Dr. Ferguson explained that more and more, he was convinced that many of the doctrinal errors and un-Christ-like behavior of younger believers comes from one source: the failure of parents to catechize their children.  I realized that if I didn't want my daughter to look/sound like Dr. Nucatola, I had better get down to the business of serious praying and catechizing.

2)  I was immediately grateful for every body part of both my daughters.  Nuff said.

3)  If the behavior and attitude of Planned Parenthood's leadership in this video is somehow morally justifiable, then humans are not made in God's image.  In years past, I had come into contact with ideas/writings that linked abortion with slavery.  I understood the basic connection point between these two great evils in U.S. history to be this: there is a necessary and fundamental denial of the full-humanity of the slave that must precede the view of slaves as mere property.  The same is true regarding the unborn human child.  You can't end the life of a person based on the convenience/preference of another.

But the surfacing of this video showed me another link that I hadn't considered before: human abortion, like human slavery before it, reduces the value of a human to the profit experienced or benefits accrued to other humans.  In other words, the slave, like the unborn human child is only as valuable as someone else says they are.  They are not valuable in and of themselves for simply being human.

While abortion and slavery are linked in this way, there's at least one way/aspect that this video shows abortion is worse: at least when the slaves were sold, they were purchased as one whole and not in parts.

I have the scripture above and yet have done to show how it directly applies to my thoughts.  I didn't intend to do any work with it but it's there for another reason, two in fact:

A) A reminder to believers that we ought to take notice of the ways in which we have contributed to the wholesale disrespect of God's image.  Railing against murder in the womb or the atrocities against Africans and others used as slaves is right... but not if we ignore how things like pornography and sex-trafficking are also an attack against the image of God in humans.

B) A warning to unbelievers that God isn't winking at this one.  The Bible's flood narrative is one of the oldest stories in recorded history.  But that's how far back God made it known that He is the guarantor of defense re: His image upon humanity.  His judicial options are varied in form, but one in it's effect.  So beware: for the measure you use will be used against you.  A calloused view of humanity in the womb on your part may some day invite a similar gaze upon your own life.  Therefore, repent and seek the Lord while He may yet be found.  May He have mercy upon you.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Tragic Trajectory of Tony Campolo



I love my wife.  She always knows how to get my day started off the right way.  Having already listened to yesterday's edition of The Briefing, with a little twinkle in her eye and in an almost-comical tone, she asks me, "Guess which evangelical came out in favor of same-sex marriage this time?"  It only took me two guesses because as others have already observed, the very term evangelical means next to nothing these days.  By now, you don't have to guess since it's all over the place: it's Tony Campolo.

I'm always amazed by how the mind works (or doesn't).  When my wife confirmed my guess, I could see Dr. Campolo in my mind's eye.  Some time  during my Gardner-Webb years, he came to speak for a couple of nights on campus.  If memory serves, I was either a sophomore or a junior which puts those speaking engagements somewhere between 1994-95.  If you've heard Dr. Campolo, then you know the story he would frequently end his talks with.  If you've never heard him, the Campolo Classic, when paraphrased, goes something like this,

"I was leaving my missions work in Haiti and when I was waiting for the plane.  Suddenly, a poor lady came with her baby in her arms and told me, 'Take him!  Please take him with you!'.  I said, 'No, no, I can't, put him away.  Take him away from me.'  But she insisted all the more, "Take him with you- please take him!  You can help him!  Take him!  Take him!'  But I was determined to get away and refused over and over again.  I told her I was sorry, but I couldn't take him."  

"And then it happened... I got on the plane and with image of the woman and her baby in my mind, I finally realized what I had done.  I finally realized who I had left behind.  Do you know who I left behind?  I left Jesus!  Because it was Jesus who said, 'Whatsoever you do to the least of these--you did it to me!'  I left Jesus behind!  I didn't want the baby because he was sick and smelly but it was Jesus who I was rejecting!  It made me feel like sh*t because I left Jesus.  The problem now is, that a bunch of you are so holy and righteous that you care more about a four letter curse word than that precious life that I refused!"

I remember feeling so ashamed of myself that night.  I was one of those that he mentioned.  When I heard the preacher curse, I really did pull back because I didn't think it was right.  I was struggling in those days because I myself was struggling to maintain purity of speech.  But here was an evangelist in the context of preaching, using universally-recognized obscenity in the English language.  As a 19 or 20 year old, Dr. Campolo had done a masterful job at making me feel guilty for recoiling at his cursing and letting his choice of foul language distract me from his message about how a little Haitian boy was really Jesus because he was "the least of these".

But by God's grace, I've grown a little wiser.  I recognized only years later that what Dr. Campolo did was to present a logical fallacy called, "The False Dilemma" or "The Either/Or Fallacy".  This wrong way of thinking presents two solutions when there are or may legitimately be several other options.  That night, I was essentially told that I had to choose between love for the poor and pure speech that is free of obscenity and coarse joking.  Immature in my faith and thinking, I was misled that night.

I thought of all that when my wife told me of Campolo's new stance.  And then, I came across this line in his official statement from his website explaining the rationale behind his position, 

"As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church."  The whole article can be found here.  

So the beat goes on.  As a U.S. citizen born to two Haitian parents, I really admired Dr. Campolo's passion for the Haitian people and was, at one time easily swayed by what I'm sure was a very sincere desire to energize what must have appeared to be lethargic lovers of Christ to get to the business of loving "the least of these" (by the way, there's a helpful article identifying who "the least of these" is).   But at this point of my life, whether I'm listening to a preacher, reading an article, or following the upcoming elections, I'm listening carefully to discern whether or not the presentation of a "solution" is really an honest evaluation of all sides.  

Unfortunately, Dr. Campolo's tendency to present false dilemmas in the 90's has led to another false dilemma:  either you show love to gays/lesbians by letting them marry or you're condemning and rejecting them.  In his reasoning, it is NOT loving to warn persons of God's righteous wrath against sin.  It is NOT loving to call all persons to a life of repentance from sin and faith in Christ. It is NOT loving when, as a local assembly of believers, we recognize that all of us have varying degrees of victory over sinful patterns/desires and call all who profess Christ to engage in that war--not against sinners but sin itself-- regardless of what's comfortable.  Apparently, it's either full acceptance and celebration of what the Bible calls sin, or it's rejection of the individual sinner.  That's the epitomy of the false-dilemma fallacy.  

Sorry Dr. Campolo, but enough is enough.  I don't doubt your sincerity in terms of feeling love for gays/lesbians, but as a faithful son of Jenny Geddes, this Creepie Stool is thrown at your head!




  


  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Resolved to Pray: The Intro

"There are a lot of things you can do to fix your situation after you pray.  But there is nothing you can do to fix the situation until you pray.  Whatever it is you need God to do in your life, it happens after prayer."--H.B. Charles, It Happens After Prayer

The nerve of men who claim theology isn't practical!  It was my theological inquiry into Christ's ascension--one of the least talked about aspects of Christ's ministry--that rudely jarred me into a renewed resolve to pray more fiercely than ever.  I have found, however, that God's providence doesn't generally reveal itself one color at a time. 

I think that my studies on the topic of ascension, reading Donald S. Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life with a younger brother in Christ, and the upcoming month-long prayer vigil at my church have slowly been blending together and stewing like a good soup.  I'm grateful to God for this season of faith and how it's manifesting in greater zeal to pray.  

In the next few blog posts, I'd like to address what I've found to be the greatest and most frequent hindrances to prayer in my life.  I pray that as I share how the Lord has been working mightily by His Spirit to empower and encourage this my growth-spurt in prayer, He'll do the same for you.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ascension: The Day After

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem--a Sabbath day's journey away.  When the arrived they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.  All theses were continually united in prayer along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers."  Acts 1:12-14

At the marketplace in Jerusalem, the Apostle John ran into his cousin Yusef who asked, "You told me last week that the Crucified Rabbi from Nazareth was alive!"   John replied, "Absolutely!  We were with Him on the Mount of Olives just yesterday!"  "Well, where is He now?", demanded Cousin Yusef.  And in the first ever usage of "what had happened was", John explains, "Well... see... there was this cloud, right..."

Yes, as the authors of The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God have aptly stated, "the ascension seems like bad evangelism strategy."

In the last several days, I've been reading books like the one already mentioned and also Derek Thomas' Taken Up To Heaven to help me answer the mind-boggling questions as well as wrap my mind around the enormous blessings that I have on the topic of ascension.  But just yesterday, while I was listening to a very helpful sermon on Luke 24:50-53, I was challenged to look at the reactions of the Apostles to what they witnessed in the ascension of Christ.  Certainly, they were joyous and worshipful at what they saw, but as one who wasn't present that day, it made me wonder what my reaction should be.  As I searched further for a response, I instead discovered a resolve: prayer.

I don't know if the Apostles actually understood that Jesus was taking them to the Mount of Olives in order that they would witness His ascent/departure.  I can only imagine the awe of that moment when the cloud came and took Him out of their sight.  But I do know that one minute, Jesus was there and the next He was no longer physically present with them.  When the last high-five was slapped, someone had to realize that the party had ended.  At least that phase of it.

What do you do the day after Jesus ascends to heaven?

"All these were continually united in prayer..."  Every believer now lives in the day after the ascension of Jesus.  And while there are many differences between we who live today and the Apostles of that time, we are alike in this way: we have our marching orders.  We are to preach the gospel, make disciples that make disciples, instruct and train mankind everywhere to obey Jesus and His teachings, and to baptize them into the family of God.  How are we to be enabled by the Holy Spirit to do these things to the glory of Christ without fervent and regular prayer to the Father?

Whatever other response you may have to the ascension may the Lord grant you a heart to faithfully pray for Christ's kingdom to advance through the gospel and His church.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tree Trimming #15: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel




"Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were better than these?'  For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
Ecclesiastes 7:10

Okay, so it is clear that when it comes to me asking about older songs, I'm not wise at all.

Honestly, one of the saddest things about my love of Christmas carols is the discovery of how far (generally speaking) the church has fallen from heavy, scripture-saturated, lyrical content in music.  Most of the Christmas hymns that I like fall in this category.  But I think there's an argument to be made that O Come, O Come, Emmanuel might rank #1 in this category.  I'll offer brief commentary on my favorite verses from the song:

O Come O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel.

I think that there's a double-entendre here.  There's a historical re-telling of Israel's bondage in Babylon where it was hard to sing the songs of Zion.  But after returning to the land, the Son of God appeared.  At the same time, there's a very rich sense where "the Israel of God", both Gentile and Jewish sons of Abraham according to faith in Christ are held in exile.  1st Peter 2:11-12 declare believers are merely "pilgrims passing through".  As aliens and strangers to this world system, we too cry out "O Come O Come Emmanuel"!  Advent goes both ways.

O Come Thou Rod of Jesse Free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of hell thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave!
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall Come to thee O Israel

Isaiah 11:1-2 tells us the shocking news that though Jesse's tree became a mere stump, a rod or shoot would come jutting out of it.  Beyond that, a branch from it's roots would come forth and bear fruit.  Jesus is that shoot since the Davidic line of kings was virtually destroyed by Babylonians, and then trampled upon further by Greeks and Romans.  And yet, from a descendant of Jesse (the father of King David) Jesus stands out as a very different kind of king.  His ultimate victory isn't over Philistines or Amorites, but over hell and death itself.

O Come Adonai, Lord of Might
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
Didst give to thy people the law
In cloud and majesty, and awe
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall Come to thee O Israel.

It is hard to say for sure, but I wonder if the author of this carol is saying that the giver of the law itself is the pre-incarnate Christ?  I wonder.  The imagery of this stanza brings to mind Hebrews 12:18-24 where the contrast is made between the "shock and awe" of Mt. Sinai and the joyous celebration in Mt. Zion.  For indeed the law was given with numerous warnings and in such a way that the people would have fled if not for terror that God would overtake and deal with them even  more severely.

But the coming of Emmanuel is enhanced because of how the law shakes us at our core.  We are aware of our horrible standing before the tribunal of God's holiness.  As Sinai shook under the presence of God, so our souls are naked and ashamed due to the awful weight of sin's folly.  Therefore, when the Spirit makes the sweetness of God's grace towards us in Christ evident to us, we rejoice at the coming of Emmanuel.  God with us is not a terror, but makes us merry.  We are clothed in Christ's garments and not our feeble fig leaves.  He brings security in peace and not enmity.  We are invited to the most lavish meal where Christ drinks from the fruit of the vine anew in His Father's kingdom.  And His banner over us is love.

Even if the former days are better than these days, it is for certain that the future days are better than them all.  O Come O Come Emmanuel!





Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tree Trimming #14: Light and Dedication

Yes, the usage of "A.D." is quite intentional, thank you.  
"Back in the day when I was young..." I used to think of Hanukkah as "Jewish Christmas".  Obviously, I use the word "think" very loosely.  I must have heard that phrase some where from someone and never gave it another (legitimate) thought.  I went to Catholic schools from grades 1-8 so I never paid much attention to Jewish holidays and often found them confusing.  The menorah was a beautiful symbol to me, but apart from seeing it as symbolic of the "festival of lights", I didn't give it any serious consideration.

It wasn't until many years later that I heard a sermon that things began to change.  The preacher made a passing reference to the "Feast of Dedication" in John 10:22 actually being Hanukkah.  The thought that Jesus celebrated the feast fascinated me.  The basic facts of Hanukkah made it a great holiday to observe for anyone connected to the Temple at Jerusalem.  Even as a Christian, I find that the themes are certainly worth celebrating.

Dedication... When Antiochus IV attacked Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple mount, forbidding sacrifices and erecting statues of Zeus, the Jews had to make some hard decisions.  Being inferior in military power and under the demoralization that comes from such humiliations, they could have been passive and gone along with the status quo.  But Hanukkah celebrates the passion and faith that inspired and informed the Maccabean Revolt which eventually led to the reestablishment or dedication (that's what the word Hanukkah means) of Temple worship.  Psalm 69:9 makes it clear that it is a good thing to be zealous for God's house of worship and to be personally insulted whenever God is dishonored.

Light... God's divine power was not only seen in granting victory to the Maccabees in their revolt.  The miracle of Hanukkah was also in the supernatural provision of 8 days worth of light when there was only one day's worth of oil.  It is evident from this divine occurrence that God was enabling the work of re-dedication for His glory and for the good of the nation.  Jesus declared Himself to be "the Light of the World" (John 8:12 and again in John 9:5) and in the beginning of John's gospel we are told that the life within Jesus is, in fact, the light of men (John 1:4-5).  Jesus also makes reference to light as being necessary to do the work of God which flows well with the significance behind the need for light in the re-dedication that Hanukkah commemorates (John 9:3-4).

Historical Context... I used to struggle with the idea that Christmas itself was never something believers in Christ were mandated to celebrate.  However, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, which, by the way, is not a festival mandated in the Old Testament.  What can we say?  Is Jesus acting against the word of God?  Safe to say, that's an impossibility.  But it seems to me that Jesus, in the historical context of His humanity and national identity, saw fit to celebrate God's faithfulness to His people in the miracle of Hanukkah.  If this is true, then I think I can safely say two things:

1.  Christmas is certainly worth celebrating though as a festival it is "extra-biblical".  What could be more worthy of celebration than the Incarnation of Christ which fulfills the hopes of all those counted righteous by God since the Garden?

2.  Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tree Trimmings #13: Silent Night




While searching for the full set of lyrics to Silent Night, I was surprised by two things: 1) I knew all three verses!  That doesn't always happen as I was expecting to find an additional 1-2 sections of the song that I had never heard sung before.  2)  I came across a book with an amazing title:  Silent Night--The Remarkable 1914 Truce.  It was a story I vaguely remembered hearing.

On Christmas Eve in 1914, in the midst of what was later to be called World War I (WWI), soldiers from opposing sides agreed on a truce.  According to an article from The New York Times, approximately 100,000 soldiers (mainly Germans and British) participated first cautiously then happily in the cease-fire.

The Christmas Truce sounded a lot like what many of us would recognize as part of celebrating the day:  plenty of drinking, watching and playing sports like "football" (aka "soccer" to most Americans), singing Christmas carols, decorating Christmas trees, listening to Christmas sermons, etc.  While the vast majority of troops enjoyed an end to hostilities, a certain German corporal who's first name was Adolf and last name was Hitler scolded his counterparts for failing to honor their obligations as soldiers to engage in war.

All in all, it was the first time in months that the noise of war was muffled.  For once, they enjoyed a Silent Night.

But it was short-lived.  By December 26th, hostilities were renewed and men who sang together, shared meals around the same table and even professed to worship the same God renewed the antagonism and the call to arms was answered.  This wasn't a bittersweet moment, but a hope that died as the flower of tragedy bloomed.

Now I don't want to be labeled a pacifist, but it seems to me that people who could celebrate Christmas with "the enemy" and then return to being enemies within a 24-hour period don't really understand the holy day.  Christmas is more than an interruption.  It's the celebration of God's decision to halt hostilities and make for peace with His enemies; eternal peace through the death of His Son and ultimate restoration through the resurrection of Christ.   Romans 5:1 declares,

"Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."  

As much as one might criticize those soldiers, the challenge for us all is the same.  Will Christmas merely be an interruption in our self-centered lives where we give gifts as if to exonerate ourselves from the shame of our self-absorption all year long?  Will Christmas merely be a cease-fire between ourselves and God as we put on a good face for Mom by coming to church for the sake of the day but not for the sake of the Savior celebrated on that day?  Prayerfully Christmas will not be a day to enjoy pretend peace with God.  Especially when He has gone so far out of His way to offer permanent peace.  


Monday, December 15, 2014

Tree Trimmings #12: God With Us (Part 2)



Psalm 136 is not what you'd call a classic "Christmas text".  I can't see why not though.  It's one passage of scripture that is remarkably balanced between God's amazing works, awful wrath, and the awesome worship He deserves due to His faithful love.  When we consider that Christmas marks the coming of the "Mighty God", here's a good snapshot of Who He is:

The Most High:  "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good... give thanks to the God of gods... give thanks to the Lord of lords... who alone does great wonders"  (Psalm 136:1-4).  God stands alone as the supreme being and most revered of all celestial personalities.

The Creator:  "...to him who by understanding  made the heavens... who spread out the earth above the waters... who made the great lights...the sun to rule over the day... the moon and stars to rule over the night..."  (Psalm 136:5-9).  He is the manufacturer, designer, and owner of all that is.  He delegates authority as He pleases and even celestial bodies do His bidding.

The Judge: "...to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt... and overthrew Pharaoh and his host into the red sea..."  (Psalm 136:10 and Psalm 136:15).  God condemns the wicked at a time and in a way He knows to be expedient for their destruction and for His own glory.  Who do you know of that has done anything people will be talking about 4000 years from now?  But that Red Sea tho...

The Deliverer:  "... who brought Israel out from among them... with a strong hand and an outstretched arm... who divided the Red Sea in two... and made Israel pass through the midst of it... who led his people through the wilderness..." (Psalm 136:11-16).  The Mighty God makes distinctions between those who are His and those who are not (Exodus 8:22, Exodus 11:7, and 2nd Timothy 2:19).  Since all have sinned and fallen short of His glory, He is free to bestow saving grace upon whoever He pleases.  Whoever has found a refuge in Him is blessed indeed!

The Warrior:  "... to him who struck down great kings, and killed mighty kings... Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan" (Psalm 136:17-20).  The rapper Jadakiss once observed, "Dead rappers get better promotion."  The wrestler known as "Undertaker", somewhere along his very long and storied career, used to threaten his opponents by saying, "I'll make you famous".  But God has been famous for making the vast majority of his opponents nameless.  He decimates and destroys the unrepentant.  He overcomes and overwhelms those who stand against His people.  Woe to the one who refuses to kiss the Son.

The Promise Keeper:  "... who gave their land as a heritage to Israel... who remembered us in our low estate... and rescued us from our foes... who gives food to all flesh..." (Psalm 136:21-26).  Promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all kept.  God delivered on each and every one of them (Joshua 21:43-45).  

The might of God's power is matched only by the power of His faithful love which, along with His glory motivates and informs all that He does.  It is altogether astonishing to consider the One residing in a virgin womb as the inventor of it.  We are blown away to consider the Mighty God as a little helpless baby learning to walk on legs He designed.  And although He is a judge and warrior, He came to defend the guilty and make peace with His enemies.

We might well say along with David when he wrote in Psalm 139:6, "such knowledge is too lofty for me to attain".  But then again, what should we expect when we experience Emmanuel the incomparable and Mighty God with us.