Thursday, August 20, 2015

What the Duggar Scandal Reveals—Part Two (Unfortunately)

Yesterday was the best day of Josh Duggar's life. I know what you're thinking, but stay with me for a minute.

When I read the news about Duggar's two Ashley Madison accounts and the nearly $1,000 he spent in his attempts to commit adultery, I was angry. Here's an outspoken Christian with a platform, and he's a complete hypocrite. Not only was he part of a hit reality TV series (that was brought down because of revelations that as a teenager he molested five young girls, including two younger sisters), but he was also working for the Family Research Council (again, until the aforementioned molestation incidents came to light).

In a previous post, I wrote, "If Josh can be changed, so can anyone. But based on the media's coverage, it seems many would have preferred for him to remain a molester." Well, he may no longer be a child molester, but today he admitted to being a porn addict and "unfaithful" to his wife. And yes, the Internet seems to be quite happy about this development. Josh Duggar was, and is, a fraud. And so, in the minds of many people, Christianity is bogus, and all the people who claim that Jesus brings new life are—like Josh—apparently lying.

Whenever anything like this happens, it's a sad day. Josh's actions have the power to harden many hearts, shut many ears, and close many eyes. That's a tragedy. So yesterday was a bad day, but as I mentioned at the onset of this post, it may just have been the best day of Josh Duggar's life.

Josh didn't become an adulterer yesterday. He's been one ever since he decided in his heart to cheat on his bride. The Ashley Madison reveal only shed light on what was already there. Josh's sin has been exposed—and now he has an opportunity to truly repent, seek help, and recommit his life to Jesus.

Scripture is clear: "Each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12), and "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:10). That's you, me, and everyone else—including Josh Duggar. God already knows every sin we commit and every dirty secret we try to hide. So there's no point in attempting to live a double-life. We will be found out, one way or another, so it's best to come clean before we're standing in front of our Maker.

Josh has been given an opportunity to stop hiding in the darkness, albeit one that he probably didn't want. He has bruised his wife and children, his family, and the body of Christ at large, but he is not without hope. Jesus died for adultery and pornography and child molestation—and loves Josh more than we can know. That's the beauty and power of the gospel: Jesus came to seek and save the lost—hypocrites and those who cheer when hypocrites are found out.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Manger King Release Day: When Christmas Comes in the Summer

There is a Christmas book in my office, a collection of holiday reflections from several bestselling Christian authors. I keep it on my shelf because it was the inspiration for my book, Manger King: Meditations on Christmas and the Gospel of Hope, which releases today.

Well, maybe inspiration isn't the right word. A couple of years ago, I read through the chapters, and with (almost) each one, I became more and more disheartened. It wasn't that the men who wrote the chapters weren't offering inspirational messages, and it wasn't that they were trying to distort the gospel. What troubled me was that these authors got the Christmas story wrong. One relied entirely on the book of Luke without letting Matthew speak when appropriate; another had the wise men arriving at a stable, though the Bible makes no mention of a stable and suggests that the magi arrived some two years after Jesus' birth.

What's the difference? you might ask. Of all the narratives in Scripture, the nativity accounts may be the most famous—at least in societies heavily influenced by Christianity. So what does it say about our trust in Scripture—and its reliability—if we can't get the story straight?

So I started writing—25 reflections on the Christmas story, putting all the pieces together as best I could. I let the Bible be my guide, and set aside those traditions that, while much loved, just don't reflect the narratives we find in God's Word. In the process, I discovered that the real Christmas story is better than we could have imagined. God the Father is good, His Son is our only hope, and the Holy Spirit is still at work within and among His people.

As I mentioned, today is the official release date for Manger King. It seems a bit silly to be writing about my Christmas book when the temperature outside is in the mid-90s and most kids haven't even gone back to school yet. But that leads me to one of the wonderful things I discovered about the Christmas story: It's bigger than the Advent season, the month of December, or special church services. The story of Jesus' birth is the hinge-chapter in the grand story of redemption that God has been writing since the beginning of time. It points back to the Old Testament and forward to the New Creation. And as such, Christmas is best when it's celebrated all year long.

I hope you'll check out the book. And if you enjoy it, would you do me a favor and tell others about it? And perhaps leave a kind review on or I'd sure appreciate it.

Merry Christmas (and try to stay cool)!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Of Life and Light

Some years ago, there was a news story about Melissa Drexler, a girl who gave birth in the bathroom stall while at her senior prom. She then choked her newborn baby boy to death before throwing him away in the trash and returning to the dance floor. I can't imagine a more despicable crime, a more helpless victim, or a more coldblooded killer. For this murder, Drexler received a sentence of 15 years in prison and was paroled after just three.

But I think America owes her an apology. We've legalized the murder of children—as long as they're still in the womb. We've said it's her body, and therefore her choice. And we've championed these "empowered" women who throw away motherhood so they can keep on dancing (at least metaphorically speaking). The only difference between Drexler's actions that prom night and the tens of millions of abortions that have taken place in the United States since 1973 is that Drexler delivered her child before she carried out the death sentence she had preordained for her son.

The recent undercover videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing the dismemberment and sale of baby parts in recent weeks has me thinking that, again, we've just found a new disgusting yet natural outcome of Roe v. Wade. And Planned Parenthood really isn't to blame.

The Supreme Court decreed from on high that a baby growing in her mother's womb has no rights, no protections, and no expectation of quarter. So why not sell the unborn child's parts like cuts of meat over a butcher counter? Why not haggle for the best price like a used car salesman? And why not figure out a way to squeeze the most government funding and profit out of the endeavor?

Of course, I'm being facetious. Abortion is both diabolical and disgusting, no matter how folks on the left try to sanitize it with spin. Drexler should have received a penalty appropriate for her crime. Planned Parenthood should be defunded, shut down, and investigated—and in a more just world, its leadership and medical staff tried for murder.

In Ephesians, Paul writes, "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them ... Everything exposed by light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light" (5:11, 13 NIV). Abortion is the ultimate deed of darkness. The procedure is performed behind closed doors. The child's life is snuffed out while still unseen in her mother's womb. The visit to the clinic is often done in secret. Even the Supreme Court's justification for abortion comes from a so-called constitutional right to privacy. Darkness, darkness, and more darkness.

But then God began to shine a light. In the late 1970s, sonograms became commonplace in the U.S., and for the first time, a mother and father could see their beautiful child growing, hear her strong heart beating, and take home a picture of their baby—months before their due date. With more technology came more light, and the miracle of life inside the womb became more spellbinding.

And in recent weeks, the light of hidden-camera revelations from the mouths of Planned Parenthood executives have made the darkness of abortion that much more visible. Abortion needs to stop—not only because it's an evil and despicable act, but because I'm afraid for the soul of our nation and the judgment of God if we, having been given so much light, choose to trudge back into the darkness.

We have a choice: We can either choose light or choose darkness.

If we choose to remain in the light, we must put an end to the murder of unborn children—either through a constitutional amendment, a new Supreme Court decision, or by electing brave men and women to the legislative and executive branches of government who will stand for life and set aside Roe v. Wade.

But if we choose to scuttle back into the night, will there be anything we consider too evil for our society? Any deed so dark that it can no longer be permitted? I'm afraid of what we'll become.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Everyone out of the Closet

"Everything has changed and nothing has changed." That's how Rev. Al Mohler began his response to today's Supreme Court's decision on gay "marriage," which legalized the practice in all 50 states. Mohler was referring to the culture divide at large, but his statement could just as well apply to the coming divide within the church.

Until today, it's been relatively easy for Christian leaders to avoid the discussion of gay "marriage" and homosexual practice in general. Remember Obama's second inaugural, when Louie Giglio was asked to give the closing benediction prayer? Critics blasted the pastor, but they had to go back to the mid-1990s to find a sermon where he preached on homosexual sin. Although Giglio's primary audience consists of college students—an age group that (statistically) struggles with sexual liberality and experimentation—he didn't preach on the topic in 20 years. And then there's Andy Stanley. He's one of the world's greatest communicators, but he can't seem to give a straight answer on this particular topic.

I'm not trying to single anyone out. (Honestly, because they don't talk about their views much, I don't know where either Louie or Andy currently stands.) But the days of ambiguity and question dodging are essentially over. The Supreme Court has forced every Christian, but especially pastors and well-known Christian leaders, to face the issue head on. Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. 

Nothing has changed. The Bible remains clear on homosexual relationships: 

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable (Lev. 18:22). 

But at the beginning of creation, God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh (Mark 10:6-8).  

Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:26-28). 

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Some writers and theologians have performed exegetical gymnastics to explain away these texts and others, but their efforts do not change the plain meaning of these passages, nor do they add a single positive mention of homosexual activity to the Bible. Love it or hate it, God's Word is crystal clear about His intentions for sex and marriage.

Regardless of what an oligarchy of misguided lawyers decided today, marriage is still the union of one man and one woman. The Supreme Court can no more redefine marriage than they can adjust the laws of thermodynamics.

Everything has changed. With new legal protections, gay "marriage" advocates have tipped the scales in the national struggle to find the balance between religious freedom and gay rights. And it seems there won't be a "balance" at all. Unless something changes soon, preaching and teaching certain portions of the Bible will be considered hate speech. (It already is in some places.) And Christian schools and colleges will come under fire for upholding biblical values. (That one's happened, too.) Make no mistake: Every Christian leader will be asked about their stance on gay "marriage." And ambiguous niceties just won't be enough.

This is a bad day for America. I mourn the fact that my son Jonah will grow up in a country very different than the one in which I grew up. I lament the loss of influence the church will have on our culture. And I am worried that if we don't change course, God will continue to remove His blessings from our land.

But in all that, I actually do see one positive development—at least in the long term. The issue of homosexual sin speaks loudly to how we view Scripture. It is impossible to uphold the authority of the Bible in any real sense if we ignore its clear teaching on this basic issue. The Supreme Court's ruling today had an unintended effect: It will soon become very clear which pastors, Bible teachers, and Christian celebrities are standing on the Word of God.

Jesus said, "But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand" (Matt. 7:26). God's Word is a strong foundation, and how one views Scripture lies at the core of one's faith. A storm is coming. It seems we're about to find out who's on the sand and who's on the Rock.

So let's all come out of the closet. Let's all show our cards. It's no longer possible to be double-minded—the Bible has something to say about that anyway—so stand and be counted. At least then, we'll know who desires to be yielded to the Lord—and who is being tossed about by the waves of public opinion.

A little more honesty in the church is a good thing. It smells like Jesus.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

What the Duggar Scandal Reveals

Imagine a teenager in the 1930s, an active member of the Hitler Youth program in Germany. He buys into the false gospel of Aryanism and pledges his undying allegiance to Adolf Hitler. He's even been seen killing small animals for fun without a twinge of guilt or remorse. He's caught the eye of his counselors and superiors—he seems a prime candidate for a leadership position in the Nazi movement when he grows older.

But then something happens.

The young man is convicted by the Spirit of God. He mourns over his sin, and he turns from it in repentance. Years later, he is not a Nazi. Instead, he's leading a resistance movement to topple the Third Reich and restore Germany to Christian values.

If ever there was a wonderful example of a life redeemed and good conquering over evil, his story is it. Of course, whether this young man's rebirth is celebrated or criticized would largely depend on one's perspective. If the young man were ridiculed in the press, it might be an indication that the paper or its editor has socialist sympathies. 

Now fast-forward 80 years and think about Josh Duggar. Here is a man who, as a teenager, did horrible things. There is no excuse that can erase his evil deeds. It doesn't take a hero in the press to denounce those actions as villainous. Everyone but the most feral of sexual predators would agree with that sentiment. Even Josh himself recognizes the seriousness of his crime.

But things have changed. Josh is no longer in the Hitler Youth ... er, no longer committing sexual sins—and he hasn't for many years. He's a happily married man with small children of his own. Until recently, he worked for the Family Research Council—an organization that promotes pro-marriage and pro-life issues from a Christian perspective. In essence, Josh worked for the resistance, lobbying for stronger marriages and families, and the safety of children. 

Josh's story is a win for the good guys, but the way it's being reported, you'd think he was prowling elementary schools, looking for little girls to touch. So why the outrage? Is it because the Duggar family didn't come out and tell the world on their show? Is it because Josh wasn't prosecuted? I don't think so. I think the outrage is more telling than all that. 

Many in our culture don't like the Duggars. They didn't like them before this scandal, and they won't like them long after it's over. The Duggars let God decide how many kids they'd have—19. They homeschool. They believe in chaperoned courtship. They don't let their kids hold hands with their boyfriends/girlfriends until they're engaged. They believe the Bible is the Word of God. And they love Jesus. 

There it is: Jesus. The great Divider of history and humanity. And I think He's to blame for all the hatred headed Josh's way. 

Walking with Jesus invariably means trying to live the kind of life that pleases God. That means saying no to certain behaviors, certain activities, and certain elements of our culture. And when a watching world believes there should be no rules and nothing off limits, Christians look like judgmental bigots—just ask your local Christian baker. 

So the world cheers with Josh Duggar's fall. Hypocrites! At last, proof that one of them is just like us! They're no better than anyone else! But the Duggars never claimed to be better than anyone else, only to be sinners saved by the grace of Jesus. Josh's life displays that kind of grace in vibrant colors. 

Christians ought to be different than other folks, but not because we're better. It's because we've been forgiven. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV, emphasis added).

If Josh can be changed, so can anyone. But based on the media's coverage, it seems many would have preferred for him to remain a molester. And that makes me wonder: In the great battle of history between good and evil, which side are they're really on?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

We Are Not Cattle

Talking about vaccines is like walking across a floor covered in syringes and hoping you don't get poked. No matter what you say, you're bound to offend someone and feel their sting. It's a touchy subject with advocates on both sides of the debate screaming loudly over their counterparts on the other. As a parent of a 10-month old little boy (the cutest little boy God ever created, by the way), I've been doing my research and learning everything I can about vaccines.

That's why I was excited when I heard that Christianity Today had used this month's issue to tackle the subject. Perhaps they would include compelling arguments from thoughtful Christians in the various camps, or maybe they would take space to discuss the need for civility in the debate. Or, hope upon hope, they might point to a third way, past all the arguments.

Instead, I found the cover headline: "For the Love: Why we of all people should get our vaccines." And when I opened up the magazine, I found an article entitled, "Why I Still Vaccinate," written by Matthew Loftus, a medical doctor who nearly died from an adverse reaction to a vaccine yet argues vehemently that, for Christians, there really is no debate left to be had.


Unfortunately, there is nothing new in Loftus' article. It's the same old argument from the pro-vaccine camp: Vaccines prevent horrible and deadly diseases, and they only work if most of us get them (the herd immunity deal). Added to the party line was a new Christian spin: Vaccines are really about loving our neighbors, so Jesus would have us get them and give them to our children.

I find little to commend in Loftus' approach to applied ethics. Medical knowledge and the experience of nearly dying from a vaccination may make him a somewhat bulletproof advocate for the vaccine industry, but they do not make his arguments biblical.

The herd-immunity concept is not justifiable, though it is aptly named. If children were cattle, then it would make sense to sacrifice a small percentage for the good of the herd. (Vaccines irreparably harm some kids. If they did not, the U.S. government would not have a special vaccine court to compensate the families of such children, since it is illegal to sue a vaccine manufacturer.) But each child has been created in the image of God, and we are not free to play Russian roulette with any of them—certainly not our own. Our children are our neighbors too. Shouldn't we love them enough to keep them out of harm's way when we can?

This is where parents must make a tough decision. Each family must decide whether the vaccines are worth the risk, whether they think their children will fare better with the CDC's schedule, an alternate, or none at all. Many factors must be considered: Will the child be in daycare? Will they be breastfed, giving them the ability to build natural immunities? Is there a family history of disabilities that may be linked to vaccines? Parents should read the studies, listen to the stories, watch the documentaries, and talk with their doctors—but ultimately moms and dads will have to decide what's best for their children.

Our communities and our nation are strongest when our families are strong. But the herd immunity idea puts the community above the family and, in doing so, actually weakens both. In the end, more information is needed, more unbiased studies are warranted, and the conflicts of interest between the government and big business need to be broken apart so decisions can be made with good information.

Jesus isn't commanding you to vaccinate your kids. He's commanding you to love them right alongside your other neighbors. How you do that is still up for debate. But Christianity Today isn't doing us any favors by staying safe and only publishing one side—the politically correct side—of the story.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Home Fires That Burn

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
—Malachi 4:5-6

If life were a movie, Baltimore wouldn't be crumbling under the angered fists of protesters, gangs, and the desperate poor. This scene has already been played out—in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Los Angeles, and in a dozen other places across the home of the free—so it makes for a poor storyline to see it again. But here it is. And once more, as if on cue, a cry for justice has turned into a cry for blood, and the only thing being wrought is more injustice.

I believe there is a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy at work in all the looting and burning. The shouts of "Black lives matter!"—true though the sentiment might be—masks a deeper cry: "I matter!" And though the current protest finds its lifeblood in the African-American story, this longing is not unique to any one race or city. It is the longing of every human heart for home. But "home" is receiving the full brunt of the fury. By attacking their own city, the rioters are, in essence, agreeing with the very injustice they came to battle. Every shattered window and torched convenience store loudly proclaims that the folks who live in this neighborhood actually don't matter after all, that home is just an illusion.

Every night when I come home from work, I make sure to give my son lots of hugs. I tell him, "I love you," more than once, though he cannot yet understand my words. I build a tower out of fabric blocks that his mother made for him, and I cheer when he crawls across the room to knock them down. Laurin and I pray for our sweet boy before placing him in his crib for the night. He knows "Thank You, Jesus," and he smiles, because we show him those words in sign language at every meal and every nap.

More than anything, I want my son to know that he matters to me and to our heavenly Father. I want him to know he has a home here in this world, and when this world is over, if he wants it, a home with Jesus.

There is something broken in Maryland—and all across this world—something that cannot be repaired by police sensitivity training, neighborhood watches, or social programs. Nothing can replace the family—a mom, a dad, and their children. Everyone needs a home—a mom and dad to tell us we matter, to speak deep into the recesses of our hearts in the unique ways that only a mom and dad can. 

I wonder how many acts of senseless violence might be left undone if each angry face knew he mattered, not only to his mama, but to his dad too—and also to his Maker. Could it be that what's spilling out into the streets began years ago with hugs that weren't given, "I love you"s that went unsaid, and prayers that were never prayed? I know a bit of what it's like to grow up that way—and my heart aches for anyone who longs for home.

Today, just 40 miles from Baltimore, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that may very well change our nation's legal definition of marriage. If the highest court in the land should decide to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states, they will condemn millions of children to the same fate as many of those young men and women in Baltimore: a home that will never really be home because it lacks the love of either a mother or a father.

Those who support gay marriage want us to believe that love is all that matters—that a dad (or a mom) isn't necessary as long as there's love. But that's just not true. Don't take it from me. Take it from Heather Barwick. In her recent letter to the gay community, Heather writes about her experience growing up with two mommies and the pain that it caused her:

Gay marriage doesn't just redefine marriage, but also parenting. It promotes and normalizes a family structure that necessarily denies us something precious and foundational. It denies us something we need and long for, while at the same time tells us that we don't need what we naturally crave. That we will be okay. But we're not. We're hurting.

If our nation continues down this path, the meaning of family will not really be changed. Only God can define marriage, and therefore the family. But we will be doing the cultural equivalent of looting and rioting—setting fire to our own homes and pretending that what we're doing is somehow noble.