Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tashlan at Christmas

"Listen, Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That's why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash."
—Shift the Ape, The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

It's fitting that these words were spoken outside of a stable, the stage on which Shift the Ape hoisted the greatest deception upon the creatures of Narnia in their history. A stable is also the place where, in our world, tradition tells us the Son of God was born and placed in a manger. We celebrate His birth each year at Christmastime, somewhat arbitrarily on December 25. Since every day of the year holds within its hours and minutes reasons for rejoicing over the incarnation, December 25 stands not as the day we (probably) get Christ's birthday wrong, but as the one day we get our celebrations right—or at least the day on which we make a more concerted effort to get them right.

What matters at Christmas is not the day we've chosen to set aside. It's the Savior we celebrate. This year, the greatest attacks on the manger has not come from Hollywood or Starbucks' plain red cups. They've come from two unlikely sources: a tenured professor from Wheaton College, a lauded evangelical stronghold outside of Chicago, and Pope Francis.

Larycia Hawkins, a political science prof at Billy Graham's alma mater caused quite a stir when she announced her decision to wear a hijab in a show of solidarity with Muslims. She said, "They, like me, a Christian, are people of the book." But that wasn't what got her in trouble with her employer. It's what she said next: "And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God."

And that wasn't the only controversial thing the Vatican had to say recently. In a statement, the Catholic Church announced, "Although Jews cannot believe in Jesus Christ as the universal redeemer, they have a part in salvation, because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." In other words, Jewish people do not need Jesus to be saved.

In both of these cases, the baby in the manger is being ignored, for it is Christmas that destroys these notions. We can confidently say that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God for many reasons, but there is one that supersedes them all: Jesus. Although Muslims pay respects to the Jesus of their traditions, it is not the Jesus of the Bible—the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the King of Kings. I'm sorry, Dr. Hawkins, but while Muslims and Christians may both be people of a book, it is not the same book.

When it coms to Jews, we do have a book in common: the Old Testament. But once again the manger demolishes any notion that Jesus is not necessary for salvation. At every stage of His earthly life, Jesus' presence demanded a response. Every person who saw Him had to choose: Is He a peasant baby whose parents weren't married when He was conceived or is He God in the flesh? Is He a carpenter-turned-itinerant-miracle-worker or the long awaited Messiah? Is He a criminal on a cross or the Lamb of God, paying for the sins of the world? Jesus Himself said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24 ESV). And the apostle Paul wrote, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call upon him" (Romans 10:12).

When we say that Muslims worship the same God that Christians do or that Jews are automatically saved on account of their Jewishness, we rob both groups of Jesus. He is the only hope for the world—for Jew, Christian or Muslim. If we truly want to find something that really unites the world, let's dispense with this nonsense of saying we all really believe the same things or that it doesn't matter what we put our faith in after all. We already have something in common with the power to bring us together: We all need Jesus. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

What the Bible Says About Islam

"Let God be true, and every human being a liar," the apostle Paul wrote (Romans 3:4 NIV). This is the call of the Christian life—to believe God even when it doesn't make sense, when doing so is tremendously difficult, and when everyone else is heading in the other direction. But sometimes believing God is not just about doing the right thing (although it's always at least that). Sometimes it's about believing His Word and allowing it to shape your view of the world.

This weekend, ISIS attacked the city of Paris, killing 129 (at current count), injuring hundreds more, and terrorizing peace-loving people around the world. Paris is not alone. It seems there is a terror attack somewhere in the world every few days.

What is happening here? What is causing this evil? To listen to our leaders, jihad is caused by global warming, the lack of good jobs in the Middle East, the presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, hatred of our freedom here in the West, cartoons of Mohammed, the salaciousness of Hollywood, and/or our alliance with Israel. Aside from the global warming—that one's just silly—there may be a sliver of truth to the others, but it's like saying traffic is caused by your next-door neighbor going to work. He may be contributing to the problem, but you're missing the bigger picture. 

Jihad is a foundational principle of Islam. Men and women commit acts of terror because they believe their holy book, the Quran, instructs them to do so. While most Muslims are not terrorists, terrorism is still one of the many fruits of Islam. 

But that's still not our answer. Why would someone willingly choose to strap a bomb to their chest and detonate it in a crowded theater? What would make someone kill so indiscriminately? Why would someone choose a path that is clearly so dark and twisted? The Bible tells us that false gods are neither imaginary nor harmless; they are, in fact, demons. Paul, writing to Corinthians about eating food sacrificed to idols, makes this clear: "The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20).

I know—it's completely offensive to say that someone of another religion is worshipping a demon. But that's what the Bible says.

Consider the alternative: Is it any less offensive to say that millions of people worldwide are worshipping thin air? That's our only other option if we are to affirm Scripture's teaching that there is but one God (Psalm 86:10). And let's give folks some credit. Why would people continue to worship a false god if that god never showed up? There are other spiritual forces at work in our world—and when people call, those forces sometimes answer. Remember when the Lord turned the Nile into blood in Exodus? "The magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts" (Exodus 7:22 ESV).

There is nothing in my worldview that insists Mohammed didn't have an experience with someone claiming to be the angel Gabriel. And I have no reason to believe that Mohammed's own imagination came up with the violent commandments of the Quran on its own.

There are some who claim that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, but that cannot be. The Q'uran preaches an ethic that is wildly opposed to the teachings of the Old Testament, where Yahweh revealed Himself to His people Israel. And though Jesus makes the goodness of God even more explicit in the New Testament, the Quran rejects "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) in favor of Sharia (which incidentally means "way"), a lie, and death for everyone who will not surrender to Allah. There is no way to reconcile Islam with the Judeo-Christian tradition, so let's stop trying.

When dealing with a demon-inspired enemy, we must remember three things: First, this is evil, evil, evil. There is no way to reason with, appease, or outlast such a force. We must not fool ourselves into thinking Islamic radicals will somehow get tired of jihad. They won't, because the real enemy underneath wants to destroy everything good, true, and beautiful. We need World War II-type heroes. We need to be men and women who understand this is an existential threat. And we need to be unrelenting in our resolve.

Second, we can never forget that this is a spiritual enemy. While those killed and enslaved by ISIS, Al Qaeda and dozens of other terrorist organizations are the victims, those who do the killing are also victims. They have been ensnared by a demon—and unless they take hold of Christ, they will suffer in eternity for their crimes. The way to fight a spiritual battle is to draw closer to God, to pray for revival, and to never grow weary in doing good. No bomb alone can destroy this evil.

Finally, we must understand the root problem is Islam itself and not simply the tactic of terrorism. Islamic beliefs, including Sharia law, enslave men and women in shackles to a demon. This is where we must be clear-headed and hold fast to what the Bible teaches. Our task is nothing less than to oppose Islam and those who adhere to its teachings, all the while loving those very same people and praying that Jesus would give them new life. If we really understand the danger of Islam and the demon who inspires it, we cannot continue to pretend that love means building mosques, holding inter-faith services, and making accommodations for the worship of Allah.

God our Creator—yours, mine, and theirs—wants men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation to discover freedom in Him. Islam's greatest goal is to stop such relationships. In fact, Allah wants nothing less than to destroy the people Jesus died for.

But because Jesus died, this too is a battle that has already been won. Terrorism and endless wars are not the end of the story. Those who today worship a demon will bend low before Jesus, side by side with their Jewish brothers. God promises:

In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Egypt will come into Assyria, and Assyria into Egypt, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance" (Isaiah 19:23-25).

I hope I get to see that day.

Monday, November 9, 2015

White Mocha Rage and Its Proponents

It seems outrage is fairly cheap these days. You've probably seen the reports: "Some Christians Are Extremely Unhappy About Starbucks' New Holiday Cups."

Really? 

I find it hard to believe that any serious-minded follower of Jesus is upset that Starbucks, a decidedly left-leaning corporation, has removed stylized snowflakes and cartoon snowmen from their disposable cups—as if those things constituted a strong gospel message and souls were coming to faith in Christ at the bottom of an eggnog latté. Starbucks is hardly attacking Christmas. The cups are still red and green, the traditional colors of the holiday, and there still available only during the commercial Christmas season. 

Something doesn't smell right about these news stories. It seems there's much ado about nothing, which in and of itself would not be so unusual. Who are the Christians who want to step up the arms race in the war on Christmas? As far as I can tell, this whole thing started with a selfie video made by Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor turned self-proclaimed "social media personality." Some apparently sketchy things in his personal theology and his approach aside, watch the video for yourself and decide if his outrage is not just an attempt to draw attention to himself, to make his video go viral. 

There are two stories here. One is that there are people out there taken in by this sort of thing, who would see the Starbucks red and green cup, and believe their love for Jesus is being ridiculed. It's not, so that's just sad. 

But the second story is bigger: There is power in the media inflating a story beyond all necessary proportions. Do you know why we're talking about this faux controversy? Because in just 48 hours, the media has fanned the flames, and the perception now exists that this is an actual issue in the evangelical church. It's not. Just stop it. The church may overreact at times, but we're really not doing so on this one. At least not the vast majority of us. 

The next time you're in Starbucks, don't tell the barista your name is "Merry Christmas" so he writes it on your cup. Just wish him a merry Christmas and pray that the Lord would open a way to serve him in the name of Christ so he'd know you mean it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Chicken Who Crossed the Road

Did you know that Chick-fil-a has a secret recipe for a pork sandwich? It's true. Hidden in a vault at their corporate headquarters, the company has a contingency plan, should the world ever face a chicken shortage of cataclysmic proportions. Chick-fil-a's leadership recognizes that their real business is serving their customers good food in a warm, friendly environment. Chicken is what they're known for, but it's not essential to what they really hope to achieve in the marketplace. So if one day you find yourself ordering up a Deluxe Pork-fil-a sandwich with waffle fries you'll know why.

These days, it seems everything is negotiable at Chick-fil-a. Remember in 2012 when Dan Cathy, the president and COO of the company, said he was "guilty as charged" when it comes to supporting the traditional family? He said, 

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

He later said, on behalf of Chick-fil-a corporate,

We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. ... We intend to stay the course. .... We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.

Almost overnight, Chick-fil-a became a scourge to the politically correct left and those who support so-called gay marriage. Corporate partnerships with the Jim Henson Co. and Harper Collins Publishers dried up. The mayors of Boston and San Francisco publicly announced Chick-fil-a was not welcome in their cities. And Chicago made moves to block a second store from gracing the Windy City. But despite all this pressure, God seemed to be blessing Dan Cathy for standing by his biblical convictions. Chick-fil-a sales increased 12%, or 4.5 billion—that's billion with a b—in 2012.

But what a difference a few years makes! Today, Chick-fil-a is an official corporate sponsor of Level Ground, an LGBT film festival whose mission is to "create safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality through the arts." Seems a bit outside the "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition. ... We intend to stay the course" mandate set by Dan Cathy. 

They say you are what you eat. I guess Dan Cathy eats a lot of his company's product. "I think the time of truths and principles are captured and codified in God's Word, and I'm just personally committed to that," Cathy said in a 2014 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The bottom line is we have a responsibility here to keep the whole of the organization in mind and it has to take precedence over the personal expression and opinion on social issues." Just two years after the controversy erupted and most of America stood by the company, making it even more profitable, Cathy changed his public statements. No longer is the Bible the final word. Now it's market share. 

If only there were a jackass to stop this chicken in his tracks.

No, I'm not making reference to Donald Trump, and my intention is not to be inflammatory. Dan Cathy is behaving like the biblical Balaam, and I pray that God brings him someone like the donkey in Balaam's story to get his attention and remind him of the truth.

Balaam, for all his faults, heard from God and knew exactly the right course of action to take when Balak, the king of Midian, came to him seeking a curse upon Israel. But Balaam would not go all in for the Lord. He continually entertained compromise. He took small steps toward disobedience, and eventually he found himself an enemy of God. You see, Balaam could not reconcile his calling from God with his desire to increase his personal bottom line. He sought compromise between the definitive word God had spoken and his love of money.

But in the middle of Balaam's ever-so-subtle rebellion, God opened the mouth of his donkey to confront Balaam in his sin. If a talking donkey couldn't get his attention and put him back on the right path, nothing would. In the end, Balaam chose his own destruction. He didn't directly disobey God—he never cursed Israel at the behest of Balak—but he did figure out a way to get some of Balak's money. He told the king how he could get Israel to bring down a curse upon themselves—by tempting them with sexual sin and idolatry (Numbers 31:16).

The Bible warns us about people who follow Balaam's lead: "They have followed the way of Balaam,  the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing ... For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved" (2 Peter 2:15, 17 ESV). The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Peter, is not mincing words. I believe Dan Cathy is a good man, but I believe he's making a grave mistake by compromising his beliefs to appease those who advocate a lifestyle that stands brazenly against the gospel. A few folks may feel better about themselves and about their favorite chicken sandwich, but Dan Cathy is headed down a dangerous path. My prayer is that you and me—and millions of believers across the country—might become the jackass he needs to hear from right now. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why We Ought to Believe Every Word

Like children who have never missed a meal, who go to bed safe and warm each night, and who are surrounded by the loving reassurances of their parents, when things get tough, we can still have trouble believing that God really will provide for our needs. But here's the amazing thing—the Bible never says God will merely provide for our needs. It says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9 MEV).

But let's take a step back. Before we approach those things that we can't even imagine, let's consider some of the things God's Word tells us plainly. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He announced, in part, "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19 NASB). But do we really believe that? Sure, on some level, most of us would say yes. But then why do so many Christians feel captive, oppressed, or that the Lord is angry with them?

And what about what Jesus told His disciples, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12 ESV). Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, turned water into wine, and walked on water, among other things. But how many of us believe that we will do greater things than these?

I ask this not in a spirit of accusation or condemnation but instead recognize that if I'm pointing a finger, there are three pointing back at me. And I wonder if those who have been chastised for not believing the Bible—for not really believing what it says about homosexual practice, adultery, abortion, etc.—would pay attention to the prophetic voice of the church if we truly believed every word. I wonder if they would feel loved if we believed every word—really believed every word—that God has spoken. We would be people of shalom—people who know their Dad has everything taken care of, living as our Creator intended, free to love and not to worry.

Have we missed something? In our efforts to be relevant, accessible, and consumer-friendly, have we lost sight of what Abraham knew—what Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and every lover of God down through history has known? There can be no greater goal than to know God intimately, to experience more of Him with each passing day. In the early church, there was no shortage of persecution, no limit to the cost many believers paid for their faith, but men and women were drawn to Christ because they saw His Spirit alive and active in the church. These early Christians did the things Christ did—they healed the sick (Acts 3:1-10; 5:12-16), raised the dead (Acts 9:40; 20:7-12), and spoke words of prophecy (Acts 11:27-30; 19:6), among other miracles, signs, and wonders. And lest you think these experiences were limited to the apostles and their close friends, try to make sense of 1 Corinthians 12–14, which describes the gifts of average Gentile Christians.

The Bible is clear: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8 NIV). God has not changed. It is we who have moved, who have stepped out of sync with His Spirit.

But maybe this is our moment—our opportunity—to put aside everything else and seek His face. In setting aside our traditions, our denominations, our secondary doctrines, I don't mean we should toss those things in the trash. Rather, what if we just put them down for a divine moment in order to look to Him unhindered, that we might believe every word He has already spoken in the Bible and every word He wants to speak to our hearts? What if we became people who truly humbled ourselves and sought his face (2 Chronicles 7:14)?

What if the Christian life is not merely about sinning less but about loving God more? What if in our attempts to seek His kingdom—some through holiness, some through social justice, and others through evangelism—we've missed the forest for the trees? What if all those trees—good and right and proper as they are—will never bring the shalom we need?

What if seeking more of God is the way to seek His kingdom?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Same-Sex "Marriage" and the Path Between Condemnation and Celebration

A few days ago, Russell Williams, a Southern Baptist pastor, wrote a Facebook post about Kim Davis' jailing. And it has been shared 47,569 times to date. Before I respond, here is the post in its entirety:

Since I am a pastor of a southern Baptist church please allow me to weigh in on the case of Kim Davis, the lady in Kentucky who refuses to issue a marriage licenses to a same sex couple.   
First: This is not a case of the government forcing anyone to violate their religious belief. She is free to quit her job. If she quits her job to honor God surely God would take care of her.   
Second: This is not a case of someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage. If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she should not have been married four different times. If she is worried about her name being affixed to a marriage license that goes against a biblical definition of marriage, she should not have her name on the last three marriage licenses given to her.   
Third: This seems to be a case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the south will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus. 
This is why we are losing.   
This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals.   
Not because we disagree but because we don’t take the bible seriously. If ever there was a case of “he who is without sin cast the first stone”, this is it. If ever there was a “take the log out of your eye” moment, this is it.   
We must stop looking to the government to make America a Christian utopia. Our kingdom is not of this world.   
We must abandon all thoughts of fixing others and let Jesus fix us.   
If we want sanctity of marriage then stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces. That is the way for the church to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage, not by someone martyring their self-righteous self.

Russell—

Since you are a pastor in the SBC, it is my hope that you are seeking to honor Jesus and uphold His Word in everything you do. You clearly have influence, not just over your flock, but with many more people in the wider world. That's why your recent Facebook post has me so troubled. I am worried that your line of thinking will lead many further away from the heart of God.


You mentioned that Kim Davis is not being forced to violate her religious beliefs. You say that if she has a problem issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she should just quit her job. That is a viable option in my opinion. However, make no mistake. Her religious freedom—and yours and mine—is being violated. It started with bakers and florists, sermon subpoenas in Houston, and now a push for churches to lose their tax-exempt status. Kim Davis lost her freedom (albeit for a few days) because she listened to her conscience rather than the government. It's not because she supposedly broke the law; it's because of her Christian beliefs. Don't believe me? Then explain to me why San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom didn't go to jail. Why not Jerry Brown? Both refused to obey the law when same-sex "marriage" was illegal in California, but neither of them spent time behind bars for their acts of civil disobedience. 


You also wrote that this wasn't about someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage, and then you took what, in my opinion, is an unfair shot at Kim Davis. "If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she would not have been married four different times," you wrote. First off, you should know—or you should have done some research to discover—that Kim's marriage problems occurred before she came to know the Lord. As a born again Christian, she has a clean slate. We ought to be celebrating Jesus' victory in her life, rather than mocking her broken past.

In addition, divorce on its own is not sinful. As a student of the Bible, are you not aware that Jesus permitted divorce for sexual perversion? And that a believing spouse is not bound to her unbelieving husband? This is the classical evangelical view, and though some may disagree, citing more or fewer biblical grounds for divorce, it's not right to simply equate divorce with sin. While divorce is always a tragedy and always the result of someone's sin, it is not in and of itself necessarily sinful. 

You continued to slander Mrs. Davis, saying, "This seems to be the case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the South will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus." Do you have evidence of this devious scheme? Unless you do, I think you owe Kim Davis an apology. 

Mostly, I want to respond to what you said about John 8. You wrote, "This is why we are losing. This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals. Not because we disagree but because we don't take the Bible seriously. If ever there was a case of 'He who is without sin, cast the first stone,' this is it." For a guy who doesn't like to see people throw stones, you have pretty good aim.

Jesus did not condone or celebrate this sin of the woman caught in adultery—the passage to which you alluded. In fact, He called it what it was—sin. But today we are being told that to call homosexual behavior or same-sex "marriage" sin is to be a hate-filled bigot. By codifying same-sex "marriage" in the law books, our government is mandating that we call what is evil "good." And if Jesus wouldn't do that, neither should we. 

I join with you in calling for the church to "stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces." You're right—these are all ways that the church can take a stand for the sanctity of marriage. Maybe I'm not that cynical, but I believe that most real Christians—those who have been born again by an encounter with the risen Son of God—are actively fighting against sin. 

The real reason many people have disdain for Christians is because of the other thing Jesus said that day with the adulterous woman: "Sin no more" (John 8:11). Jesus called her actions "sin." He was calling her to repentance, to put her trust in Him. If Jesus had ignored, tolerated, or celebrated her sin, she might not have paid with her life that day, but she would pay with her eternal soul on Judgment Day. Her only hope was to put her faith in Jesus, so that her sins would be placed upon His shoulders at the cross. That's a message that the world all too often just doesn't want to hear because it means owning up to our sin. There's no such thing as salvation if there's no such thing as guilt.

The scenario you call for—one in which Jesus' disciples don't speak truth into culture, naming sin when they see it and calling sinners to repentance—is not evangelical. It's Amish. What you've inadvertently called for is the retreat of the church from culture and politics. Because if we cannot speak while there is sin in our camp, we will never be able to speak.

There is a middle way between condemnation and celebration. Today, the angry mob that Jesus had to deal with has been replaced by a cheering crowd of gay-rights activists and well-meaning but mistaken Christians who don't want to hurt others' feelings. That actually just makes things all the more difficult. Calling a sinner to repentance can look a lot like condemnation against that backdrop. But love does not want to see someone face an eternity apart from God. That's why Jesus died. And that's why we can never grow numb when our society celebrates something that breaks the Father's heart. Kim Davis understands that, and it is my prayer that you—and the church all across America—would too.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Real Reason Kim Davis Is in Jail

A few weeks ago on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked presidential candidate Ben Carson, "Simple question: Does the Bible have authority over the Constitution?" Carson seemed to stumble for a minute, sensing the trap, and managed to respond with "That's not a simple question. I think probably what you have to do is ask a very specific question about a specific passage of the Bible and a specific portion of the Constitution."
Since Carson couldn't give a straightforward answer, I assume there would be times when, for him, the Constitution would trump the Bible, and vice-versa. But I think he's wrong—about the question not being simple.

What if the Constitution was written in light of Scripture's revelation? What if our Founding Fathers, in their collective genius, designed a form of government that takes into account the nature of man as revealed in the Bible, the created order of the world as given to us by our Creator, and the basic moral framework found, among other places, in the Ten Commandments? If this is the case—as I believe it is—then there will be no conflict between Holy Scripture and the U.S. Constitution, at least not ultimately. That is, unless an oligarchy of nine unelected judges tinkers with it illegally. 

And that was the dilemma facing Kim Davis—and many other local, state, and national officials—beginning just a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court rendered its verdict in Obergefell v. Hodges. With gay "marriage" now the law of the land, Davis would have to choose whether or not she would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or follow her conscience and refuse to do so. In the end, she took a middle road. She stopped giving marriage licenses to everybody—gay or straight. She said she did so to avoid the charge of discrimination. 

Some will say that our Constitution is largely a secular document—with no explicit mention of God save "In the year of our Lord"—but I think our Founders were more savvy than that. By and large, if we take the Constitution as written and amended, there is virtually no conflict between faith in Christ and citizenship, nor between conscience and country. It's not a perfect document—that's why the men who wrote saw fit to allow for amendments—but certainly, followers of Jesus have been able to submit to and defend the Constitution in public office without fear of such a conflict ... until recently. 

Decades ago, the Supreme Court began ignoring the Constitution, though the document is clear: Only Congress has the right and responsibility to write laws. Yet the Supreme Court has seen fit on numerous occasions to bypass the legislative branch of our federal government and decree from on high a new way of life for us all. In recent years, the highest court in the land has found in the Constitution a separation of church and state that goes far beyond the First Amendment, abortion on demand, and now same-sex "marriage." 

And so, Kim Davis found herself required to uphold a law that wasn't a law when she first took office. And for bravely obeying her conscience and defending the actual Constitution—not a fictionalized retelling of it—she lost her freedom. 

Dr. Carson, the next time someone asks you which has higher authority: the Bible or the Constitution, make sure you ask your interviewer to clarify whether he or she means the actual Constitution or this patchwork thing the Supreme Court has seen fit to impose on us. Because if it's the real thing, there's no conflict. And if it's the "new and improved" version, I pray, for all our sakes, you'll cling to your Bible. 

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 found 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. 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 Amazon.com or Christianbook.com? 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.

*sigh*

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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Christian Love in an Age of Gay Wedding Cakes

At first, I found it hard to believe that the battle for religious freedom in America was being waged over wedding cakes and floral arrangements. But then, as I really thought about it, it began to make sense. Wedding days are epic—for everyone involved. This year, Laurin and I will celebrate our second anniversary, and as I look back on our wedding day, I think of it as the day we began our family, as the day that my bride and I stood before our heavenly Father and most everyone we know to declare our love and commitment to one another. It was
a big deal, and the day's memory will live on forever in my mind. As such, the details—including the cake and the flowers—are important.

Last week, Jessica Kantrowitz wrote a blog post where she applied Jesus' commandment about going the extra mile in Matthew 5:41 to the Christian baker's dilemma with gay weddings. The result was a popular meme that rewords Jesus' command: "If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two." Kantrowitz argued that since the Romans were despised by the Jewish people of Jesus' day and that Jesus' teaching applied specifically to Jews who were forced into service by Roman soldiers, we ought to take the same tack with gay couples who come to us for wedding cakes. 

True enough, the Romans were idolators and were an occupying force oppressing the Jews in the Holy Land. So Jesus' command is radical. He's giving a real-world example of non-retaliation and love for enemies. And that's the first place where Kantrowitz' comparison falls apart for me: Whoever said gay couples were Christians' enemies? 

I'm sure there are Christian folks out there who view gay men and women as the enemy. But even those who do must admit that Jesus was pretty clear about what to do with our enemies: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). Jesus is clear: Whether we consider someone a friend, a stranger, or an outright enemy, we are to love them. So the only question we should be asking ourselves when it comes to these gay wedding cakes is this: How would Jesus have me love these folks?

Many have answered this question by saying Christians ought to bake the cake. Kantrowitz goes further and insists we ought to bake two cakes. But is helping our gay neighbors celebrate their wedding days via pastry and confection really the best way to love them? For a few very important reasons, I think not.

As a Christian who believes that homosexual activity is sinful, I don't want to be counted among those endorsing it. That's not to say that I want Constitutional rights stripped from my gay friends and neighbors (though I don't believe that gay "marriage" is one of those rights), nor do I want them to be discriminated against in normal, everyday commerce. Let me be clear: If a gay man or woman comes into a bakery and wants to buy a cupcake, the baker—Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or other—should let them buy as many as they want. But when it comes to crafting a special wedding cake and celebrating a monumental event like a wedding, no one should be coerced.

Wedding cakes and floral arrangements are not normal, everyday commerce. They are important contributions to what is intended to be the most special day of a couple's life together. They are, in and of themselves, celebrations of the couple and their relationship. And if a Christian baker or florist is compelled to participate, that Christian is denied the right to submit to his or her conscience—something that every human being should be able to do. Martin Luther said it well when he stood before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and was commanded to recant of his gospel teaching:

[M]y conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

Luther was right. It is not safe or right for a Christian—when convinced by the Word of God—to go against his or her conscience. We will answer to God one day for every decision we make and every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:10). What more important religious right could there be, then, but the right to yield to one's own conscience?

When it comes to love for our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, I would like to be reckless and lavish—just as God is with every one of us—but because this is such an important issue, we must think Christianly about what it means to love in this situation. If we believe that sin is deadly—that there is a coming judgment when those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be lost forever—then how could it ever be loving to celebrate and help facilitate the sealing of a relationship that God has said leads only to death?

I know that may sound harsh, but I am writing to those who are convinced that the Bible is the Word of God and that sin is as weighty a matter as God says it is. No, homosexual sin is not heavier than other types, but because it too often manifests itself in a person's identity and, now, in a couple's lifelong commitment, it is not a small thing to be trifled with. Therefore, the most loving thing a Christian baker or florist can do is to stand aside. The gay couple may not understand. They may even become angry and offended in the moment. But there is power in the testimony of someone so in love with Jesus that they cannot yield to pressure from other people. It is not loving to celebrate an adulterer's philandering or a thief's latest score. And it is not loving to celebrate a gay couple's decision to live permanently in unrepentant sin.

Love is not merely doing the seemingly nice thing. If it were, Jesus would have never spoken harsh words to the Pharisees of His day, He would have left those money changer's tables upright, and He never would have offended people by telling them who He was: the Son of God. If Jesus had "loved" the world in that way, they would never have crucified Him. And we'd all be without hope. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jesus' Most Political Day

Last week marked the beginning of the official 2016 presidential campaign season as Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for POTUS. But Cruz didn't merely announce his run for the highest office in the land; he did so at Liberty University. Conventional wisdom suggests it would have been more prudent for Senator Cruz to have picked some place a bit more neutral, a bit more middle-of-the-road conservative. Sure, there's a primary to be won and a base to be energized, but even religious commentators are questioning the senator's decision, arguing that the religious right wing of the GOP has all but been dismantled.

While I understand the desire to unhitch Jesus from right-leaning (or even left-leaning) political causes, I believe we do ourselves a great disservice when we imagine a politically neutral King of Kings.

Today is Palm Sunday. It's the day when we celebrate Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, the week that led to His crucifixion and resurrection. On this day nearly 2,000 years ago, men, women, and children tossed palm branches in Jesus' path and shouted "Hosanna!" which means "Salvation!" or "Liberty!" Jesus, for His part, rode atop a donkey's colt. He did this in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, which says:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey was a declaration that He was the king Israel had been waiting for. And while Jesus reigns in the hearts of all who trust in Him for their salvation, it is impossible to deny the political statement Jesus made that first Palm Sunday. The very next verse of Zechariah tells us what kind of king Jesus would be:

[H]e shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Palm Sunday leaves us with a choice: Will we submit to Jesus' rule or will we continue to rebel against His authority? And that's where it gets political. Since Jesus has claimed dominion over everyone and everything, we are not free to push Him out of our political decisions. Here in America, we enjoy the right of a type of limited self-government. Since we get to vote, we get a voice in who our leaders will be and in what direction we'd like our nation to head. And Jesus gets to tell us who to vote for. After all, He is King over everything—including our political choices.

Ted Cruz announced His candidacy for president at Liberty University. I'm sure, to some extent, this was a calculated move to try and reconstitute the coalition of conservatives who swept Ronald Reagan, and later George W. Bush, into power. But I believe it may also be something more than that.

Liberty, whether or not you agree entirely with its theological and political convictions (I certainly have a few reservations), has built into its mission the goal of "develop[ing] Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow's world." In other words, Liberty wants to fill the world with leaders who will yield their authority and influence to Christ. It's a way of living out Christ's reign across the world, but especially across our nation.

Such a goal sounds radical, but maybe that's only because we've grown accustomed to faith that never leaves the pews, to convictions that stay firmly embedded in our hearts and nowhere else, and to a never-ending political debate in which a Jesus of our own making is used to champion our causes. Maybe it's time to simply yield to our King. Otherwise, we're in danger of becoming the "Hosanna!"-shouting crowds—those people who were eager to crown Jesus king if it meant that He would fulfill their dreams but who turned on Him just five days later when it seemed Jesus would not be the enemy of Caesar they had hoped for.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Some Debates Need to End

This week, the title of Richard Weaver's oft-cited work, Ideas Have Consequences, rang true in Colorado. On Friday, it was announced that Dynel Lane, the 34-year-old woman who allegedly lured a 26-year-old mother-to-be, Michelle Wilkins, into her home in an attempt to steal her still-developing seven-month-old unborn daughter, would not face murder charges. After promising her a deal on baby clothes via a Craig's List ad, Lane attacked Wilkins, cutting open her womb and removing the baby girl. Wilkins survived, but Aurora—that's the name the child was to receive—did not.

There are moments when there are no words. Aside from the demonic, I don't know what kind of evil could possess a person to commit such a horrible crime. But what is almost as shocking is that the law in Colorado has no appropriate response. Colorado is one of a dozen states where the violent killing of an unborn child is not considered a homicide. Though there was a bill put before the state legislature in 2013 to reverse this injustice, the legislature failed to pass it, fearing it would interfere with abortion rights. 

There it is: If an unborn child—at any stage of development—is a human being, then killing that child would be murder. But that would place abortion among the cruelest of acts, so definitions need to be reconsidered and our laws need to be double-checked for careful wording.

I know of no one who celebrates the actions of Dynel Lane. But is what she did really so different than abortion—from Aurora's perspective? For Aurora, it makes no difference if her beating heart was stopped with the consent of her mother. For Aurora, it matters little if the procedure was performed by a licensed abortionist or a deranged attacker. The result is the same—her life was snuffed out violently. Aurora was robbed of every good gift this world has to offer. 

Though I believe that Aurora is being held in the arms of her Creator tonight as I write this, I also believe that Aurora's worth as a daughter of the King knows no limit. Colorado's laws do not reflect that reality, and as a result, it will be impossible for Aurora to receive justice in the state's courts. 

Ideas have consequences. To justify abortion, we must also justify a murder like Aurora's. Because in reality, they aren't very different. The debate over abortion seems never-ending, to the point that some Christians even entertain the notion that the issue should be considered "controversial." There is no controversy here for me. I think that if we consider Aurora and the tens of millions just like her who have met the same fate, "controversy" becomes one of those words that has now lost all meaning. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Missing the Forest for the Trees: A Reaction to Dr. John Walton's Adam and Eve—Part Three

Though it may not seem like it from the previous two posts, I believe there is a lot to admire about the work or Dr. John Walton. I appreciate him as a Bible scholar, especially as one who is attempting to address the great issues of our day. Writing about Genesis is not an easy task, and I applaud Dr. Walton for taking up the challenge. Perhaps that's why I find some of his statements so troubling. 

We need scholars to shed new light on familiar passages of Scripture, to help us understand what the Bible teaches in an age of new challenges. What we don't need are compromises that impose something foreign on the beautiful gift of God's Word. This is my concern with Dr. Walton's recent theories concerning the early chapters of Genesis. He writes: 

The distinction between innocence and sinlessness or sinfulness is important, and it's one that Paul makes. He says in Romans 5, "Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not [charged] where there is no law." Sin, in that sense, isn't so much a matter of behavior as it is being held accountable for certain behavior. When I say the first humans were innocent, I'm basically saying they were not yet held accountable for what they did (45). 

In effect, Dr. Walton contends that Adam and Eve sinned (erred morally) before the fall, but it wasn't called sin or credited as sin because there was no law to err against. But this line of thinking flies in the face of Paul's teaching in Romans: "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law" (2:12). It seems God makes no distinction between those who sin apart from the law and those who sin in full knowledge of it. The law brings us knowledge of our sin and guilt, to be sure, and it gives us the grace of accountability, but it doesn't create sin. 

Dr. Walton mentions Romans 5:13 to make his point, but if he would have continued reading, he would find "Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam" (v. 14). Adam's sin was against a command, but Paul here again makes no distinction: death comes through sin, whether that sin violates a direct commandment or not. 

I'm not quite sure why Dr. Walton feels it's necessary to paint Adam and Eve as sinners before the fall. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that they were in any way immoral prior to that blasted fruit. They were said to have been created in God's image. One of the primary ways theologians throughout the ages have understand the imago Dei is as a reflection of God's character—his holiness. 

And that gets us to a deeper point about sin. Sin is not mainly a violation of a commandment. That's putting the cart before the horse. The commandments exist to reveal God's heart. Sin occurs whenever we act against God's goodness, truth, or beauty, whenever we fail to walk in His ways. The commandments were given as guardrails to keep us on the path, but they do not, in themselves, create the path, nor do they create sin. 

In fashioning his Adam and Eve as ignorant yet fully-engaged sinners, Dr. Walton has minimized the serious nature of sin. If Adam and Eve were already sinners, then the fall was just a legal status change. Before the fall, they were counted as righteous, even though they were sinners. And with that bite of forbidden fruit, their label was simply corrected. We are no worse off than they before the fall—at least not morally. The only difference is that we're counted guilty and hell bound, apart from Christ. 

And in redefining sin as he has, Dr. Walton has also changed our hope. To be saved from our sin is no longer to have a new heart, but rather to be rid of the commandments. Our innocence can never be regained, our purity never recaptured. If Dr. Walton is right, and the blessed state of the Garden was ignorance rather than sinlessness, we are only now shooting for second-best. The power of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil cannot be undone. There is no regaining innocence when innocence never really existed in the first place. 

What we do with Genesis matters, for when we begin messing with the beginning of the story, we undoubtedly change the ending.