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9 Things You Should Know About D-Day

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 12:07am

This past Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Here are nine things you should know about the battle that changed both the outcome of World War II and the course of human history:

1. On June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian military forces launched Operation Overlord, the codename for the largest amphibious invasion in world history. This first day of the invasion—known as D-Day—began the Battle of Normandy on five separate beachheads in Normandy, France.

2. General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force in the European theatre, oversaw planning for Operation Overlord. On the day of the invasion Eisenhower issued an Order of the Day that was distributed to the 175,000-member expeditionary force:

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

3. What does the “D” in D-Day mean? Military historians still disagree about exactly what the letter means. Some claim it merely stands for Day and that the coded designation “D-Day” was used for the day of any important invasion or military operation. Others sources, however, claim that when someone wrote to General Eisenhower in 1964 asking for an explanation, his executive assistant Brigadier General Robert Schultz answered: “General Eisenhower asked me to respond to your letter. Be advised that any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date’; therefore the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.”

4. As Prime Minister Winston Churchill said after the invasion, “This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place.” Prior to D-Day, about 3,200 reconnaissance missions were launched to take photos of the landing zone. On the day of the battle, which began after midnight, more than 2,200 allied bombers dropped approximately seven million pounds of bombs in what turned out to be a mostly ineffective air bombardment of the beaches and inland. This wave was followed by another 10,521 combat aircraft and 24,000 airborne assault troops (i.e., paratroopers).

5. US troops went ashore on the landing beaches at 6:31 am. Within the first few hours of the invasion the Allies landed more than 160,000 troops at Normandy, which included 73,000 Americans. The heaviest losses were on Omaha beach where US forces suffered 2,000 casualties. In the first hour the chance of becoming a casualty was one in two.

6. While the preparation and logistics of getting to the battle were an impressive feat, the outcome of the operation relied on the men who were fighting. Historian Tony Williams notes that, “whatever the massive logistical build-up, extensive preparations, and impressive firepower of the Allies, the success of the invasion depended upon the individual soldiers.” A postwar study by the 116th Infantry Division found, as historian Peter Caddick-Adams explains, that the success of the invasion was “largely to the initiative and aggressiveness of small unit leaders who made the best of a bad situation. Landing in most cases far off their assigned objectives, with large losses of men and equipment in the water, they had to improvise in order to cope with the strange fortifications to their front.” As Williams adds, “They were citizen-soldiers of a free society who were allowed to take the initiative and debate the best course of action as they fought together in small groups in pursuit of a common purpose.”

7. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed or wounded on Omaha Beach, most of them in the first few hours. (In comparison, that is almost twice the number (1,833) of those killed in action in Afghanistan over a period of seventeen years.) In total, more than 4,400 Allied soldiers lost their lives during the invasion. Still, this was far fewer than the expected number of casualties Allied leaders had expected. On the eve of D-Day, Churchill said to his wife, “Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning, 20,000 men may have been killed?”

8. After D-Day, the fighting of World War II would continue for nearly another year. But as Marc LiVecche says, “D-Day was in many ways the first day of the end of the war in Europe.” By August, 1944, the Allied forces had liberated northern France and began to move into Germany where they met Soviet forces and ended Nazi rule.

9. On the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech in Normandy extolling the courage and faith of the soldiers:

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge—and pray God we have not lost it—that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.”

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause.

Maturity Matters in Church Planting

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 12:04am

In pastoral ministry, we can easily overemphasize confidence, charisma, and skill. And if this is true in pastoral ministry, it’s all the more true in church planting. As we train and assess planters, it’s easy for us to place an unhealthy emphasis on a person’s “competence.”

Let’s be clear: These things aren’t meaningless. They have value. But Christian maturity—that is, growing in Christlikeness—is infinitely more valuable than how much you know or how impressive your skill set. It is ultimately about being rooted and established in Jesus. As we plant and lead churches, then, we must be men marked by maturity. After all, we can’t lead others into maturity in Christ if we ourselves aren’t maturing in Christ. So how do we do this in church planting?

Today, I’m excited to have Jeff Medders with me on the podcast to discuss these things.

Listen to this episode of Churches Planting Churches.

Related:

Ahmari or French? Why Christianity Is Not Pragmatic

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 12:03am

A lot of digital ink, and I mean a lot, has been spilled about the ongoing debate within conservatism sparked by the David French–Sohrab Ahmari conflagration.

Without rehearsing every angle of the conflict (the primary sources to read are here and here and here), the debate is about what posture religious conservatives should adopt in a society that is growing hostile to religious conservatives. And connected to this is the question of whether liberal democracy1 remains the best vehicle for securing a humane and moral political order. Has America gone off course from liberal democracy’s design? Or is liberal democracy itself flawed? The answers to the questions have enormous consequence for America’s political structure, religious liberty, and the relationship between church and state.

Personal Background

Before I get to the substance of my comments, let me say upfront that I know both David and Sohrab as friends, not simply online acquaintances. Where the temptation to divide and exploit may be present, let me just say that I think David and Sohrab are good men. I refuse to see them as anything less.

I will also say this upfront (which I’ve said to Sohrab): I agree more with David than Sohrab. (And to be clear, I’m only speaking for myself in this article. We’re in the realm of wisdom here.) As a Baptist and Protestant, I think the picture Ahmari paints of a public square ordered toward its ultimate end with an imagined consensus at its center is an over-realized eschatology—it’s more than we should expect in a fractured, divided age. So, in addition to the confessional state component to this discussion (which, as a Baptist, I firmly reject), I think the Ahmari position commits one to perpetual disappointment as the hoped-for goal of Christian hegemony is never fully realized. The practicalities of the Ahmari position seem untenable and the past abuses of integrating church and state are too problematic for me adopt.

But the substance of this article is meant to address something related to this conversation: namely, the problems with Christian pragmatism or seeing Christianity as a vehicle for some instrumental good, such as enacting a desired moral ecology within a political order. While one detects in Ahmari the nostalgia for a Christendom united around a common good, the Baptist in me sees not only dead churches in its aftermath, but a mass of unregenerate people as its byproduct.

Christianity and Pragmatism Don’t Mix

The French-Ahmari debate involves the question of whether there’s a byproduct of the Christian gospel that is worth just as much as the Christian gospel itself. As I hear some argue, it seems that Christianity is good because it produces a more humane culture. I think that’s true, of course. But to the extent that Christianity is repurposed for its social utility, Christianity becomes an instrumentalized force for some other end than humanity’s salvation.

Christianity isn’t the place for pragmatism. Our Lord’s earthly ministry ended on a cross, which means Christianity doesn’t expect worldly domination or triumph. The cross is both a place of salvation and a paradigmatic expression of the Christian’s life within a fallen order. This doesn’t mean a church in exile is a church in retreat, either. But it does portend that misunderstanding, defeat, and suffering are knit into its DNA, and the promised judgment and eventual triumph of the coming kingdom won’t be enacted by man alone.

One doesn’t commit to Christ to get some temporal good out of it, whether personal favor, wealth, success, or power—or “Christian values.” That’s not to say that Christianity has never been used for this societal end nor that it isn’t a welcome byproduct insofar as society must be guided by one morality or another; it is to say that it shouldn’t be the ultimate purpose. Stipulating the ultimate purposes of Christianity (salvation in Christ) must be kept separate from its penultimate byproducts (a society that’s humane and amenable to religion).

But here’s my question: What value is your Christianity when your culture seems lost? At that point does Christianity seems less successful or useful? Is the fear of alienation, second-class status, or outright marginalization worse than the prospect of Hell?

This kerfuffle is reminding me that the Christian gospel and its fruits aren’t a tactic or a strategy for some greater end. The fruits of the Spirit are a character that we must become, not just practices to discard when their effect proves less viable.

In this world, we aren’t promised hegemony, a moral world, or a world that mimics the values of Christ. In fact, I think we’re promised a lot more of the opposite. But it means that while we look to the cross for our salvation, we look to it as a means of interpreting the world and the place of the Christian in it. Christianity isn’t fundamentally about restoring civilization to greatness. Sure, it can accomplish that. But it ought not be used for that particular end.

Evaluating Liberal Democracy

A huge portion of this debate has to do with evaluating whether liberal democracy is still a worthwhile vehicle. Spoiler alert: I think it is. I think it accords more accurately with the world that we live in, not the world we have. And that’s a world of pluralism, difference, and deep disagreement. It’s a Genesis 3 and Romans 8:18–27 world. It’s a reality that can’t be papered over.

I can’t, as of right now, see a better vehicle for living together with deep disagreements without resorting to violence. That’s not to say that I think liberal democracy is a good unto itself; it’s not. But it sets minimal procedural norms that allow discussion to exist, even if persuasion never occurs. I think Christians should champion this—not because we believe the world will be persuaded, but because we’re commanded in Scripture to conduct ourselves peaceably.

But let me say that, with Ahmari, I think things are bad for religious conservatives and bound only to get worse. The issue for me, however, is that the problems religious conservatives face aren’t because of liberal democracy’s flawed design; they’re because of a flawed humanity that rebels against both God and nature. Were we to have any other political system in place—and let’s imagine it’s one that some stripe of Catholic Integralism wants—I still think we’d end up with the same inevitability: a humanity bent on rebelling against God and nature. The difference for me, as a Baptist, is that I’m not willing to trade the Christian gospel for an amorphous “Christian culture” beset with its own problems, using Christianity as a prop for some greater purpose.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I advocate for what’s called an “Augustinian Liberalism” when it comes to how religious conservatives operate in the public square: We understand the inherent conflict of society as a constitutive element of our sinful world. But our aim and intent is to steward such pluralism in a way that’s non-coercive while simultaneously directing people toward their highest good, which is Jesus Christ.

Living in a Common-Grace World

At root, what can we say? We can say that regardless of political order, God preserves this world as a facet of his common grace. Our world isn’t as bad as it could be, all things considered. Natural law is one expression of his common grace. However fractured our society may be, and whatever the degree of humanity’s revolt toward God, he has enabled mechanisms that allow society to exist in perpetuity. We may not all agree on what constitutes “justice,” for example, but even the fallen mind seems to appreciate and demand an idea like justice.

Let me close by proposing a paradigm for us to consider as we navigate cultural conflict. As I understand Christian social witness, Christians must never transgress the witness of Christ. This means, in the least, we use his life and metaphors as both minimal and maximal boundaries. What do we see in Christ’s witness? He calls people to love their enemies, quite literally (Matt. 5:43–48). At the same time, he says he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34). If we believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, these truths aren’t in tension, which means there is a multifaceted self-conception to Christian witness. Christians fight a war, but it’s a different kind of war. It’s not a war of flesh and blood. The most powerful weapon in our arsenal, then, isn’t Constitutionalism; it’s a call to repentance.

1 Liberal democracy is a term that describes Western-style political order. It emphasizes the primacy—and in its most exploitative forms, the hyper-autonomy—of the individual, the rule of law, and a commitment to certain norms that allow for deliberation about law and political life to occur. At its best, liberal democracy is procedural, in that allows for society to resolve conflict peaceably through constitutional mechanisms. In its worst forms, liberal democracy rests on a false idea of epistemological neutrality and impartiality that more often than not smuggles in secular progressivism.

The Unexpected Secret to Joy

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 12:02am

Obedience is not one of my favorite words (except when I’m with my kids). It doesn’t give me all the feels; it doesn’t make me warm inside. In fact, the concept seems rather cold. There’s an almost robotic quality to it.

Maybe that’s just me, though. Maybe you have the word framed on your wall, or Instagrammed over a nice filter, or even tattooed on your ankle. In Hebrew, of course.

Throughout our lives we’re being told to obey. Obey your parents. Obey your teacher. Obey your coach. Obey your professors. Obey your landlord. Obey your governing authorities. Obey your doctors.

Obey, obey, obey. I doubt anyone reading this article is on a quest to find another person or institution to whom they should submit.

Exactly, you may be thinking. So why would I want to obey the Bible? I’ve seen one; it’s thick enough with rules to make a great doorstop. And I hear the author is quite demanding. I have plenty of obligations already, thank you.

Custom Designed

I used to live in a foreign country, and, despite attending class each day, I never mastered the language. I was functional but not fluent. As you can imagine, this made it tricky when trying to share the gospel story with the friends I’d made. Illustrations had to be really simple. For example, I would often say something to this effect:

Fish are made for the water, and birds for the air, right? Now imagine a fish who decides he’s tired of being restricted to the water. He wants to be free, to experience the joy of life on land. So he manages to flop around and “free” himself onto dry ground—which turns out to be a death sentence. Why? He was only designed for water, not for air. Conversely, imagine a seagull growing jealous of the freedom he witnesses in the ocean below. I’m sick of being confined to the air, he thinks. I want to be truly free. So he plunges in and perishes. Why? He was only designed for air, not for water.

In a similar way, just as the fish was built for water and the bird for air, so you were built for God—and you will not find true life and freedom anywhere else. (See Keller, 39)

It’s an elementary metaphor, I know. But it’s also a mirror. We are more like these disgruntled creatures than we may care to admit. The distance between their logic and ours can be uncomfortably thin.

Biblical obedience is not about keeping an arbitrary set of rules; it’s about living in accordance with our design, in harmony with our Maker. Because he wants us to flourish, he restricts us in order to truly free us. He prohibits us to drive us to what is good. He lays boundaries with hands of love.

Because he wants us to flourish, God restricts us in order to truly free us. He prohibits us to drive us to what is good. He lays boundaries with hands of love.

Good for You

To the degree that we approach Scripture prayerfully and studiously, we will be positioned to catch easy-to-miss phrases. Hear, for example, the words of Moses:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deut. 10:12–13).

Did you catch those rapid-fire requirements? There are five: fear, walk, serve, obey, and the central one, love. They function like links in a chain, or like distinct notes of obedience in the music of your life. Moses’s call is comprehensive; God is interested in both your actions and your attitude. Feet, hands, mind, heart—he wants it all.

Rather daunting, huh?

But here’s the part we’re inclined to miss entirely: “for your own good.” Did you catch those four words when you read the passage? They revolutionize it. So why is God making all-encompassing claims on your life today, even as you read this book? It is because he deserves your obedience. But it is also because you were made for obedience, like fish for water and birds for air.

You were made for obedience, like fish for water and birds for air.

This news is not always easy to swallow, but it’s good: The One who flung the stars into space and spoke galaxies into being is far too qualified to govern just one or two small provinces in your life. He loves you too much to leave you in charge of an existence you didn’t design. Just as there are physical laws like gravity built into creation, there are moral laws you were born to honor. A disobedient believer makes no more sense than a disenchanted bird trying to reach the ocean floor. In infinite wisdom and goodness, God has structured his moral universe in a particular way. We can trust him. If we refuse, we won’t just be breaking his laws; we’ll be breaking ourselves against them.

Note of Urgency

“Slow obedience is no obedience,” we tell our kids. A similar note of urgency rings through the pages of the New Testament.

Consider the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matt. 7:24–27, emphasis mine)

And James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

And also John:

Whoever says “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. (1 John 2:4–5)

The Bible is not an arbitrary list of prohibitions; it’s an epic story of a Creator more committed to your joy than you could imagine.

And on and on. In fact, let’s return to Jesus for a moment. Shortly before his ascension and enthronement, he delivers marching orders to his disciples. We know it as the Great Commission:

Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18–20)

When we think about this famous charge, we often focus on themes like evangelism, discipleship, and missions. As we should. But again, it’s vital to read slowly and studiously, lest we miss easy-to-overlook words.

Jesus does not merely say, “Teach them everything I have commanded you.” That would be a simple call for information transfer. Instead he says, “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The risen King sends his servants into the world not merely to impart information, but to promote obedience. Have you ever thought about the fact that holiness is part of the Great Commission? This means that no matter how many disciples you are making or how jazzed up about missions you feel, if you are not pursuing obedience, then the Great Commission remains unfulfilled in your life.

Unexpected Path

Maybe you’re still skeptical. Following a demanding God still seems like a drag. Again, I want to reiterate that the Bible is not an arbitrary list of prohibitions; it’s an epic story of a Creator more committed to your joy than you could imagine. Entrusting each sphere of your life to him, therefore, is not something you do instead of enjoying him; it’s the way you enjoy him. Following him is not an alternative to your joy; it’s the secret to it.

So approach your Bible obediently, because obedience produces joy.

How Anglicans in Canada Found New Life After Their Eviction

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 12:00am

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more Anglican than David Short—which just made everything worse.

The 61-year-old is a fourth-generation Anglican minister, born in Africa while his parents were missionaries. He can even top that—his father was also born in Africa to missionary parents.

Home was Sydney, Australia, where he found the Anglican diocese “robustly evangelical, missionary in its heart, and deeply thoughtful on many issues.” Short went to high school there, then university. He went back for more theology courses, then got ordained. He wrote his master’s thesis for theologian J. I. Packer at Regent College, then became Packer’s pastor.

David Short / Courtesy of St. John’s

Short loved Jesus, loved Reformed theology, loved Anglicanism. And then he took a job in Canada.

“I’d never met a liberal Anglican until I came to Vancouver,” he said. “I was thrust into the most strange, dysfunctional, liberal diocese.”

In 2002, when his regional synod voted to let its bishop bless same-sex unions, Short stood up and walked out of the room (as did Packer). So did leaders from half a dozen other churches.

The pastors knew they had to form their own organization and to find episcopal supervision. But that didn’t seem hard. Most of the global Anglican church still held to the gospel. The Canadians just had to appeal for alternative episcopal oversight, something already permissible in Canada, and call it a day.

“I thought it would take 10 weeks,” Short said.

It took 10 years. Ten years of accusations and meetings and lawsuits. Ten years of stress and fear and anger. Nearly all the churches would lose their buildings; all did lose congregants and money. Pastors lost sleep. Some nearly lost their sanity.

“We asked all the wisest people I knew—all the cleverest theologians,” Short said. “No one had any idea what to do.” So they just did the next thing. And the next.

This June, the Anglican Church in North America—made up of break-away conservative Anglicans primarily in the United States and Canada, including Short—will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The denomination has 135,000 members in more than 1,000 churches. It’s in “full communion” with the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) and has jumped right into clearing up doctrine, releasing a 345-question catechism in 2014 and a Book of Common Prayer last month.

“It was all worth it,” said Ottawa rector—the Anglican term for senior pastor—George Sinclair, whose church left with Short’s. But he would have said that no matter what.

“Even if the church had declined, that wouldn’t be a sign that we had made a mistake,” he said. “Because the Bible is clear on this issue. You need to take a stand on it—without any expectation about how God will bear fruit from your faithfulness.”

The Church of England in Canada

The Anglican church—which was founded on Reformed theology—immigrated to Canada with the British. In fact, not until 1955 was the name was changed from the “Church of England in Canada” to the “Anglican Church of Canada” (ACC). (Canada itself wouldn’t be fully independent until 1982.)

The denomination did fairly well—by 1964, there were 1.37 million “total souls on parish rolls.” That was about 7 percent of Canada’s population—for comparison, Southern Baptists today make up about 5 percent of the U.S. populace.

Short and St. John’s in 2015 / Courtesy of St. John’s

But that was the Anglican high-water mark. In 1967, the “total souls” in the ACC had dropped to 1.2 million. By 1997, it was 717,000. By 2007, 546,000. After that, the leadership quit releasing numbers, though some estimate the decline at 13,000 a year.

In 1999, American Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong wrote Why Christianity Must Change or Die in a bid to “formulate a Christianity for the postmodern age,” where claims like the virgin birth, resurrection, and biblical infallibility have “long since been challenged and discarded by science and philosophy.”

It was an attempt to stop the bleeding, and many agreed with him. Short remembers synod gatherings where “we’d sing hymns from Hindu scriptures, pray to the ‘god of many faces,’ and annually support the women’s spirituality dialogue that taught women to channel spirits.” Short’s bishop, Michael Ingham, wrote a book titled Mansions of the Spirit: The Gospel in a Multi-Faith World, which “challenge[d] the Christian notion that Jesus is the only way to God,” Short said.

But not all Anglicans believed Christianity had to change to stay alive. In 1994, a small coalition endorsed the Montreal Declaration, which affirmed ideas such as the virgin birth, the authority of the Bible, and marriage between one man and one woman. The signers became the Essentials Council—a place where conservative Anglican pastors could find each other.

Thankfully, not all Anglicans believed Christianity had to change to stay alive.

Unfortunately, the Essentialists were on an impossible trajectory, wedged between their own convictions (validated by the growing conservatism of global Anglicanism—especially in Africa and Asia) and the mounting liberalism of their Canadian “province” (the Anglican word for region).

“We always had an awareness that there was a liberalism within the Anglican Church of Canada in practice,” said rector Ray David Glenn, who remembers not taking communion during a diocesan service “laden with secular, pagan, and Wiccan symbolism.”

The problem arose “when it became formalized in doctrine,” he said. For him, “that was the tipping point.”

Formalized Heresy

In 1998, after an emotional, three-hour debate at the decennial Lambeth Conference, the global Anglican bishops overwhelmingly—by a count of 526 to 70—approved a resolution upholding the historic, universal biblical teaching on sexuality and opposing the recognition of same-sex unions. The strongest language came from conservative pastors in Africa and Asia.

The resolution was clear, but it wasn’t binding. Four years later, Short’s diocese of New Westminster—a regional body within the larger Canadian province of the Anglican Church—became the first to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages.

J.I. Packer is honorary assistant minister at St. John’s Vancouver Anglican Church / Courtesy of St. John’s

After the tally was announced—63 percent in favor—some Essentialist pastors stood in protest. Others—including Short, Packer, and representatives from eight other churches—stood and walked right out of the room.

“There were tears,” Short remembers. “It was really difficult.”

The dissenters didn’t have much strength in numbers—they represented just nine of the diocese’s 80 parishes. But they did contribute almost 25 percent of the income, and many began withholding it immediately. (In retaliation, Ingham stopped paying some pastors’ salaries.)

“My reaction is shock,” rector Trevor Walters, who walked out with Short, told reporters then. “If you were going to write the worst possible outcome, this would be it.”

In some ways, that was true.

The Worst

“The very next day we got threats from the bishop,” Short said. “He brought charges against me and the other clergy. We all had to go and see him, and the [denominational lawyer] demanded that we promise our obedience to the bishop.”

“I will obey you in every lawful command,” Short told him. “Lawful means biblical. What you’re doing is unbiblical.”

Ingham leaned hard on him, but Short didn’t change his mind.

In 2011, Short’s St. John’s Shaughnessy congregation moved and tweaked its name / Courtesy of St. John’s Vancouver Anglican Church

“At that point I didn’t know if it had torn the fabric of the communion, but I knew it was a salvation issue,” Short told TGC. “What helped me was reading the Reformers again, particularly Calvin’s Institutes. He speaks a lot about not breaking away, and then breaking away when corruption enters the citadel of the church. That’s what happened.”

“Functionally, we found ourselves part of a national church that was no longer recognizably Anglican historically or globally,” Glenn said. “They were using Christian language to describe secular humanism.”

Short didn’t change his mind when the alternative oversight offered by another Canadian diocese was withdrawn after threats of investigation and discipline. He didn’t change his mind when Ingham filed charges to revoke his license and nullify his ordination—and Packer’s—over the rift. He didn’t change his mind when a gay-rights activist joined his church in order to protest it. And he didn’t change his mind when the death threats came. (There were two.)

“I can’t tell you the horror with which we were regarded,” he said. “We were on the front page of the paper. People I knew crossed the street to avoid me. My wife, in a store, overheard people talking about the ‘wickedness’ of ‘that David Short.’”

The crisis was heavy for all of the pastors who left—they were suspended without pay, lambasted in the press, abandoned by some of their friends and congregants. But worst of all was the prolonged tension.

George Sinclair / Courtesy of Church of the Messiah

“The stress went on for a long time,” said Sinclair, whose church left the ACC three days after Short’s. From the time of the New Westminster vote to the launch of the conservative Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), six years had passed. By then, “the Anglican clergy in Ottawa had already been talking about same-sex blessings for a good 10 years.”

When the break came, the stress didn’t stop.

“No parish or congregation . . . has any legal existence except as part of the diocese,” Ingham wrote. “[A]ny attempt by any person to remove a parish from the jurisdiction of the Bishop and Synod would be schismatic.”

The leaving churches objected, arguing that the ACC had abandoned Anglicanism. Lawsuits and counter-lawsuits and counter-counter-lawsuits popped up in the courts.

“When we voted to separate from the ACC, we knew we would probably lose our property and assets,” Sinclair said. “Our legal issues lasted over three years and ended with an out-of-court settlement where we walked away from our property on the condition that the one other church in town that also left would be able to keep their building.”

“The diocese sued us, officially and personally,” Glenn said. “We ended up moving into a temporary space. It was supposed to be six months but turned out to be eight years.”

Short’s congregation moved to a small local theater / Courtesy of St. John’s

The pressure was perhaps heaviest on Short, who was at the center of the rift. With a congregation of 2,000 members—around 1,000 of them weekly attendees—St. John’s was the largest Anglican church in Canada. For nine years, Short spent two to three days of every week on the controversy—reading and writing legal documents, meeting with leaders across the globe, and seeking agreement among orthodox congregations.

And then it was too heavy. He remembers the weekend it all fell apart—his wife’s mother died, he officiated a “difficult” wedding, and the church hosted two outreach events.

“I remember lying on the grass outside, in tears, feeling the world was spinning away from me,” he said. On Monday he saw his doctor, who gave him an anxiety/depression test. “If you’re above 16 [on the test], you’re in trouble,” Short said. “I was at 21.”

His doctor told him to quit working immediately. Short thought of the preaching conference he was scheduled to be at in Washington, the trip to Europe, the two conferences he had committed to for conservative Anglican evangelist Rico Tice in England.

“I couldn’t do any of it,” he said. “I had a full-blown breakdown.”

It would be 18 months before he was back to work full-time.

“I never doubted the Lord’s love,” he said, “but sometimes the Lord takes you aside from regular stuff to help you see you can only rely on him.”

Unity in Division

“One of the hardest leadership things for me was when, a year and a half after leaving our building, the congregation began to shrink, reaching about half our former size,” said Sinclair, whose membership at St. Alban’s dropped from about 220 to 110 during the crisis. “I spent a lot of time agonizing with God if I was unfaithful or my preaching had deteriorated. But I came to the realization that people weren’t going back to the Anglican church—they were going to Presbyterian or Baptist churches because they wanted a building.”

Sinclair’s congregation moved to a nearby theater / Courtesy of Church of the Messiah

That took the sting out.

So did the fact that the church “never missed paying a bill.” And that “the morale of the congregation never faltered, even when people were leaving.”

Over at St. George’s, the first Sunday spent in its temporary space was “profoundly joyful,” Glenn said. “There was no sense of mourning or sadness. I remember saying to my wife, ‘If this is suffering for the gospel, sign me up.’”

His people had voted 98.5 percent in favor of leaving the denomination. On the other side of the country—40 hours away—Short’s had approved leaving by 99 percent.

The unity was oddly high—after all, leaving meant taking a reputational hit, paying out significant money to attorneys and court fees, and eventually losing their historic buildings. Who’s signing up for that?

Voting to Follow Jesus

Well, not everyone signed up for that.

“We lost people in the early months—people who couldn’t stomach engaging with this thing and more people who were committed to a cultural view of the gospel on this issue,” Short said. “A lot of people had to make painful decisions where they had to nail colors to a mast on a culturally unpopular issue.”

He held “town hall meetings” to answer questions about what was happening but determined “I’d never preach about the crisis in the gathering” because “that was for teaching the Scripture and the worship of God.”

Ray David Glenn’s church moved from their temporary space in a Christian television station chapel to a new church building in 2015 / Courtesy of St. George’s

That was a common—and, it turned out, critical—decision among conservative pastors.

Glenn explained the conflict to St. George’s and held prayer meetings. But on Sundays, he preached the Bible.

“We didn’t preach toward leaving our diocese,” he said. “We just preached the gospel. I remember the last series we preached was through Galatians. When we started preaching through books of the Bible, it became so abundantly clear this is what had to happen.”

Sinclair was “imposed” on his urban, liberal church “against its will” back in 1995. “Over time as I started to preach, some people left quietly and some left with great announcements,” he said. “But a few people got converted, and the Lord started to draw other people there.”

When they eventually voted, 13 years after he arrived, the count was 99 percent in favor of leaving the ACC. And when the time came to decide whether to vacate their building or ask the other church in town to vacate theirs, not a single person voted to stay.

Anglican Network in Canada

The New Westminster vote was the first shot in a much larger battle, and more quickly followed. In 2003, a practicing gay man became a candidate for bishop in England (he eventually withdrew his name); another became a candidate for bishop in the United States (he succeeded).

In response, about a quarter of the world’s bishops boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference, where liberal American and Canadian leaders were allowed to attend but not vote. Then those African and South American bishops launched a conservative conference of their own. GAFCON was meant to be a “one-time event” but instead birthed a council that today represents “50 million of the 70 million active Anglicans of the Communion.” (GAFCON, which originally stood for Global Anglican Future Conference, now refers to the whole movement.)

Short addressed GAFCON in 2018 / Courtesy of GAFCON

“One of the most marvelous things that has happened is the great strength in the Global South has gathered around the GAFCON conference,” Short said. “The stories from around the world are remarkable. The Lord is doing something in global Anglicanism.”

In Britain, where the denomination started, the Church of England restricts marriage to a man and a woman, but some pastors unofficially bless same-sex partnerships in marriage-like ceremonies. In December, the denomination commended—but didn’t require—that those wishing to mark gender transitions use the baptism service liturgy. And the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby invited same-sex bishops—but not their partners—to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in 2020.

Overall, it’s “an unprecedented global realignment of Anglicanism,” Glenn said.

In Canada, post-split, there’s a sort of peace.

This July, the ACC will vote on the second reading of an amendment that would allow same-sex marriages, making it church law.

Glenn’s St. George’s was overflowing this Easter / Courtesy of St. George’s

Meanwhile, the Anglican Network in Canada—which is now a diocese of the 10-year-old Anglican Church in North America—spells out that “marriage, by its nature, is a permanent and lifelong union, for better or for worse, til death do they part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others.”

The ANiC had 74 churches at the last official counting in 2017. Membership had grown from about 7,200 in 2015 to 7,800 in 2017.

“It was like surgery,” Glenn said. “It cost us a lot of time and energy and money and buildings, but it was trauma that was toward a greater health.”

Before, the diocese was “held together by institutional measures,” he said. Now, “we actually have a sense of affinity and brotherhood.”

At Sinclair’s church, which is about to launch its first church plant, attendance is up from 110 to 140. Short’s church has been able to plant “a couple of churches” and remain around 700 weekly attendees. Glenn’s congregation has grown from 100 to 250 weekly attendees.

“We’re baptizing 16 candidates on Sunday—we do baptisms every quarter,” he said. The number “isn’t abnormal for us. What is abnormal is to have Anglican congregations where adults are being converted to Christ.” (Since the mid-1960s, the four largest mainline denominations in Canada—including the ACC—have lost half of their members.)

On any given Sunday, less than 10 percent of the people in his pews would even know what the “inside of our old church building looked like.”

Worth It?

Sinclair laughs when he remembers joking years ago with then-rector Charlie Masters, “Maybe we’ll end up running into each other at a Christian and Missionary Alliance convention in a couple of years as pastors there!”

Then more soberly, “because Anglicanism isn’t worth losing your soul over.”

In our culture, “this is the issue that rubs up against the gospel,” Glenn said. “Apart from the gospel, a pastor is nothing but an underqualified social worker. The gospel is all we have.”

If you’ve been preaching to a congregation for a few years but don’t know if they’d vote to go with you, that should be a “gut check,” Sinclair said. “Obviously, you don’t want to be ham-fisted. You want to convince them of the wisdom of these doctrines. But I wonder how many pastors and churches don’t take stands for fear of offending.”

Apart from the gospel, a pastor is nothing but an underqualified social worker. The gospel is all we have.

He remembers watching one of his members bring a non-Christian friend to a service.

“As he walked in, I knew that I was going to be preaching on sexuality,” Sinclair said. “I confess I thought it was too bad the sermon was not on something else, but I preached on sexuality anyway.” Later, the man’s friend told him that instead of being offended, the man found it interesting. (“Non-Christians know Christians believe something different from them.”)

He also remembers preaching about Christ’s propitiatory death on the cross and “getting a handful of letters denouncing me and a handful of people at the door saying, ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my life.’”

“You don’t know how God is going to provide for you or use you to be fruitful,” Sinclair said. But that doesn’t mean God owes you fruit.

“A lot of despair comes from clergy who secretly believe God should bless them because they’ve taken a stand,” he said. “I had bits and pieces of that in me. But that’s a deep spiritual poison for a Christian or a minister.”

Instead, “you need to take a stand without any expectation about how God will bear fruit from your faithfulness.”

A lot of despair comes from clergy who secretly believe God should bless them because they’ve taken a stand. . . . But that’s a deep spiritual poison for a Christian or a minister.

Short doesn’t even like the question, “Was it worth it?” (Both Sinclair and Glenn say it was.)

“I think that’s a Satan question,” he said. “If you’re a faithful Christian, you can’t go ahead with the blessing of same-sex marriages. You can’t join fully into that by giving money [to that denomination]. So what do you do?”

Maybe you stay in the denomination and advocate for biblical truth. Or maybe you walk out of the meeting. Maybe you file the lawsuit or fight one that’s been filed against you. Maybe you form a brand-new denomination.

You do the next thing, “being faithful with what God has put in front of you,” he said. And the whole time, you preach the gospel.”

What We Lose When We Collapse the Four Gospels into One

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 12:04am

The ordinary Christian adult would struggle to articulate why we have four Gospel accounts rather than one. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we only had one account? Do differences among the four accounts invite unnecessary doubt? Do similarities among the four accounts create unhelpful redundancy?

Many people read the Bible a verse or two at a time, simply looking for a quick dose of inspiration. They might think they’re faithful Bible readers, but they’re barely scratching the surface. They’ve been trained to read small sections—not entire books—of the Bible, and this practice negatively affects their reading experience.

As a father, I see how most resources for young children don’t teach them to read entire books of the Bible, especially when it comes to the Gospels. Children’s books about Jesus tell stories without saying which Gospel account they come from. Books that helpfully summarize the whole Bible, such as The Jesus Storybook Bible or The Biggest Story, collapse the four Gospel accounts into one as well. They don’t explain how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John differ from and complement one another.

So what do we lose when we collapse the four Gospels into one? I believe we lose at least three things: the author’s unique perspective, the artistry of the story, and the apologetic of the life of Jesus.

Author’s Unique Perspective

Each Gospel author had a different experience of Jesus, and those experiences shape how they tell the gospel story. Matthew was a tax collector. When Jesus called him to become his disciple, the Pharisees disdained and disrespected Jesus for his choice (Matt. 9:9–13). Have you ever brought shame to someone by your association with them? If that person loved you anyway, do you think it would affect how you told others about him?

Mark’s family hosted a prayer meeting in their home (Acts 12:12). James had been killed; Peter was in prison. What would become of the community who followed Jesus? Then Rhoda, the servant girl, announced that Peter was at the gate. Peter!? What a miracle! If you witnessed this interrupted prayer meeting, do you think it would affect how you tell others about Jesus?

John was in the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples. He was one of the few invited up the mountain. When the appearance of Jesus changed to blazing glory, he saw it all. Can you see something like that and not be forever marked by it? Can you tell the story of Jesus without reference to his divine, cosmic, supreme glory?

Artistry of the Story

Each Gospel also has its own style and pace that communicate truths about Jesus and his work. The genealogy of Matthew is beautiful. There are repeated names for emphasis—Abraham and David. They both received promises that their descendants would bless others. There are also unusual names for a first-century Jewish genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. Each of them was marginalized in some way, yet was eventually brought into the family of God.

Matthew introduces the story of Jesus with a reminder of the promise-keeping nature of God and the grace-extending heart of God. Mark has an urgency to his storytelling. There is a strange man announcing the coming of the Lord and calling people to repent. Then, the Lord appears and immediately Satan attacks. Afterward, Jesus says to repent and believe the gospel, and an unclean spirit recognizes him as the “Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). At this point we’re little more than halfway through the first chapter. If your habit is to read only a verse or two at a time, you’ll miss being drawn into the drama of the story as Mark intends.

Luke writes as a thoughtful friend and guide. He personally addresses Theophilus. This opening address, a brilliant single sentence (Luke 1:1–4), is longer than Mark’s account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12–13). The expectation is set to sit back and listen to a story that will unfold at a more leisurely pace. Luke’s pace will allow him to develop subthemes throughout, such as the Holy Spirit, prayer, wealth, and outcasts.

Apologetic of the Life of Jesus

It’s one thing to believe Jesus died on a cross as a historical fact. It’s quite another to be persuaded that Jesus would willingly die on the cross for the eternal good of others. Only a close examination of his life—what he taught, how he treated others, and why he died—could persuade anyone that Jesus really is this type of person. Each Gospel writer understood there’s no way to separate the work of Christ from the person of Christ.

John writes about an encounter that Jesus had with a Pharisee named Nicodemus (John 3:1–15). He follows that story with an encounter that Jesus had with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1–42). Reading these encounters in close succession, as John intends, shows that the good news is for men and women, for well-connected leaders and socially invisible minorities.

Matthew gives us a unique window into Jesus as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Herod ordered the execution of all the male Bethlehemites younger than 2 after Jesus’s birth. Years later, when news came to Jesus that John the Baptist had been killed, Jesus withdrew to a desolate place. He knew pain and suffering before the cross, and he willingly endured the pain and suffering of the cross to bring eternal hope and justice to the senseless evils of this world.

When you see the unique perspective and style of the Gospel writers, and the apologetic of the life of Christ, you will no longer think four accounts are unnecessary or unhelpful. Instead, to borrow and adjust a phrase from Charles Wesley, you’ll long for for a thousand Gospels to sing our great Redeemer’s praise (John 21:25).

God Doesn’t Come with a Leash

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 12:03am

There’s a reason we’re often warned against taking things for granted. The things we assume will always be there are usually the things that get neglected on the backburner. This can also happen theologically. As Protestants, we’re good at debating doctrines like soteriology, ecclesiology, and worship. If we take our doctrine of God for granted in our discussions, however, we won’t realize when it’s being tinkered with, misapplied, or even replaced. A timely and well-met remedy to this problem is Matthew Barrett’s new work, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God.

In a theological climate where a large portion of American evangelicals believe things contradictory to the Christian faith, None Greater comes as a spring in the desert. While Barrett—associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—has every right to bemoan the ease with which many can find biblical passages about building a wall while seeing no problem with the statement “Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father,” grilling evangelicalism isn’t his goal. None Greater is a constructive and doxological work, showcasing the beauty of an orthodox doctrine of God.

Creator and Creature

Barrett first helps us find confidence in how we can truly know God at all. Since the Enlightenment, modernity often deals in dichotomies, giving man the options of univocal and equivocal knowledge; either we know God absolutely, the way God knows himself (univocal knowledge), or we know nothing at all, and all reality is merely our interpretation (equivocal knowledge) (33). Barrett draws on Augustine and Calvin to explain that, even though we’re finite creatures and can’t exhaustively comprehend our infinite Creator, we still can truly know him.

Modernity has it backward: We don’t hypothesize our way to God; God reveals himself to us. He doesn’t reveal his entire essence to his finite creatures, lest his glory consumes us (Ex. 33:22; Heb. 12:29). Instead, like a nurse to a child, he “lisps” to his creation. He accommodates our faculties and speaks to us in his Word in a way we can understand.

We don’t hypothesize our way to God; God reveals himself to us.

For example, Barrett highlights that though God doesn’t literally have eyeballs and wings, as the psalmist will at times attribute to him (Ps. 17:8; 34:15); nonetheless, these analogies tell us true things about God. His “eyes” depict his omniscience, and his “wings” tell us that he is our haven and our refuge. Just as our language of God is analogical, so is our knowledge. Since our knowledge is an analogy of God’s perfect knowledge, we know we’re at least capable of knowing the truth about God and the world. Being made in God’s image, we’re not God, but we’re like God. In theological terms that Barrett explains and applies, God’s knowledge of himself and reality is the archetype, while our knowledge is the ectype. In other words, our knowledge is a “derivative,” a “copy” and “imitation” of the original.

Communicable and Incommunicable

The book’s subtitle, The Undomesticated Attributes of God, captures Barrett’s ethos. The classical categories of God’s attributes are his communicable and incommunicable attributes. While God’s communicable attributes are those that can be communicated and imitated by his image-bearers (love, justice, goodness, wrath, and so on), we can’t mirror his incommunicable attributes. God alone is immutable (unchangeable), impassible (can’t be acted upon), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (is present everywhere at all times), and so forth.

Here is where Barrett’s subtitle and the Creator-creature distinction play such an important role: Because God isn’t made with human hands as the idols of other nations, and because God isn’t contingent on the world (as Greek philosophy asserts), he can’t be viewed as a larger version of mankind. He isn’t a projection of man into the heavens. The distinction between Creator and creature isn’t a size difference. “He is not a God who simply possesses our powers but in endless measure,” Barrett warns. “No, an infinite God transcends our characteristics altogether” (44). Barrett goes on to explain that this is why God’s love, judgment, mercy, jealousy, and the rest of his attributes don’t contradict each other (234). Because God isn’t like man but is in himself perfect, all he does is perfect.

The distinction between Creator and creature isn’t a size difference.

The reason God can do all things perfectly is explained by his attribute of simplicity. This attribute, Barrett explains, gets at the idea that God isn’t made up of parts. In other words, he’s not merely a recipe of attributes. Unlike created things that are good and bad on varying degrees, God is all of his attributes simultaneously: “Is something true because God says it is true, or does God declare something is true because it is true? The question betrays God’s simplicity. God doesn’t bow to some external norm for truth, nor does he invent truth ex nihilo. God is truthfulness itself. All truth is truth because it mimics the very nature of God, who is truth. . . . If God is a simple God, then he is his perfections eternally” (80–81).

Biblical Doctrine

These insights are what makes None Greater stand apart. While systematic theologians have a knack for complicating things, Barrett breaks from the stereotype and applies these doctrines both practically and pastorally. He shows that the orthodox doctrine of God isn’t merely a philosophical paradigm placed over the Bible. Rather, he shows the reader that these attributes of God do the most justice to the biblical text, arising out of the Scriptures themselves. Barrett’s work teaches us how these doctrines help to hold all of the Scriptures together, rather than pitting them against each other as if passage x contradicts passage y.

None Greater does many things beautifully: it handles lofty concepts faithfully, yet it applies them practically, refusing to jettison these conversations just for the theologians.

For example, in 1 Samuel 15:11, God is said to “regret” making Saul king, but verse 29 says, “for [God] is not a man, that he should have regret.” Barrett argues:

The language of “regret” is not meant literally but serves as a signal, indicating to the reader not only that God has judged Saul but that God’s plan all along has been to raise up a king after his own heart. By declaring his “regret” God is announcing that this new king is on the horizon (“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you . . . and has given it to a neighbor”). (107)

Since God isn’t simply “the big guy upstairs,” we know that all of our language and metaphors of him—rock, lion, tower, light—aren’t comprehensive of his essence. Instead, the biblical authors “believe they are communicating who God is in relation to the created order by means of his mighty works and words” (128).

Beautiful Truth

While many depict Christian dogma as the yardstick that keeps people away from Jesus and the Bible, Barrett reveals to the reader how nurturing these doctrines are for the Christian. Rather than cold and rigid rules, because the doctrines come out of the Scriptures they naturally nourish and comfort the sheep. They not only guard us against the wastelands of heterodoxy, but they also help us cherish the fact that God is God, and we’re not.

Like its subject matter, None Greater does many things beautifully: It handles lofty concepts faithfully, yet it applies them practically, refusing to jettison these conversations just for the theologians. This is perhaps the book’s crown jewel. Barrett shows us that the beauty of these doctrines are such that no one should take them for granted. 

Finding God in the Anxiety of the Waiting Room

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 12:02am

Thrum. Thrum. I glanced cautiously around me—could others in the waiting room hear my heart pounding? Only four days ago, an ear, nose, and throat doctor had disrupted our lives with shocking news: Our apparently healthy 22-year-old son appeared to have a brain tumor. Only three days ago, an MRI at the local hospital had confirmed the diagnosis. Only two days ago, we had shared the heartbreaking news with his siblings and their spouses. And just yesterday we had wept through hymns at church proclaiming the goodness of our good Father. Now, one long hour had passed since our son had checked into the top tumor center of our region.

Have you ever been there? In the waiting room of a health crisis? If you haven’t, you know someone who has, someone who has experienced the heart-pounding, stomach-souring, head-throbbing anxiety of the wait. As the minutes tick by in the waiting room, your mind trips through the troubling what-ifs

What if it’s cancer?

What if I lose my job?

What if I can’t lift my grandchildren?

What if—my son is going to die?

These questions and others disrupt the peace of caregivers and patients alike as they endure the agonizing wait of a serious health crisis.

Our son’s brain-tumor diagnosis coincided with my 83-year-old father’s battle with stage IV prostate cancer. Already my father’s primary caregiver, I now became my son’s as well. Passing hundreds of harsh hours in multiple waiting rooms, I was met again and again with the hope of the gospel.

In the uncertainty of a health crisis, the following gospel realities can calm our anxious hearts, bringing us peace and hope.

1. Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love

The gospel contradicts the common 21st-century worldview that individual freedom and self-rule bring comfort. The Bible asserts that belonging to the Lord brings comfort. After our son’s third brain surgery, he spoke about this comfort.

He was recalling his tumultuous tumor journey with some visitors: two brain surgeries to excise the tumor, a third after his wound had become infected. In the third, a piece of his skull was removed. Our son and his visitors were laughing at the ugly taupe-colored foam helmet he was instructed to wear to protect his vulnerable skull. One visitor, a kind, older gentleman, commented that if anyone could pull this off, our son could, because of his remarkable bravery. The laughter hushed. All was silent for a moment. Our son then spoke slowly, with tears in his eyes:

“Nothing . . . nothing can take Jesus and my family and my friends away from me.”

In the disturbing realities of a health crisis, even when death is a real possibility, to be persuaded that “whether we live or we die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:7) and that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39) brings comfort, peace, and hope.

2. God Rules over Everything, including Every Hair of Our Heads

On that first day in the waiting room, as my heart pounded away, as my mind wandered through the what-if’s, a thought struck: Oh, no! His hair! I realized that our son, who had always carefully groomed his hair, would likely lose those locks to the surgery.

Thankfully, immediately after this unpleasant realization, I remembered something I’d been studying recently—part of the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism:

He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.

In the losses of a health crisis, peace and hope come from knowing that our heavenly Father is also a gracious king, caring compassionately and ruling kindly over his children (Matt. 10:29–31).

3. In Jesus Christ, We Have Forgiveness for Sins

It’s not uncommon for people in the waiting room to experience a deep sense of remorse and guilt. The patient who is terminally ill may feel regret; loved ones may feel anger and frustration as they care for the patient. Forgiveness is particularly good news in such a space.

One day, in the oncology waiting room with my dad, I received news that angered me. Previously, when I had checked on my dad while I was away caring for our son, he had told me he was “tip-top.” Now, as we sat in this crowded waiting room, he let it slip that his chemo pill was no longer working—he had stopped all treatment. I was angry because he’d lied to me about his condition. My anger made him feel guilty and ashamed.

Thankfully, he forgave me for being angry, and I forgave him for lying. What brought us both peace and hope in that moment was the truth of Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

4. Jesus Is Near

Knowing that Jesus is near brings peace and hope to the loneliness and uncertainty of the waiting room. Two aspects of his nearness make the wait bearable.

First, Jesus is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). His nearness soothes our anxiety; his nearness blankets us with the surpassing peace which can only be found in him.

During our son’s third surgery, which was unexpected and therefore left me alone in the waiting room, my anxiety skyrocketed. Waiting to hear whether the infection in the wound had spread to his brain, my heart beat so rapidly that my Apple watch urged me to breathe. I chose instead to pop in my earbuds and listen to the hym, “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” As I listened, Jesus’s peace washed over me, soothing me as a mother soothes her panicked baby.

Second, the Greek word used in Philippians 4:5 (“The Lord is near“) also refers to his soon return. This anxious season in the waiting room won’t go on forever. One day, Christ will come back, and our deepest hopes will be fulfilled as he makes all broken brains and hearts and limbs new (Rev. 21:5). In that day, God will dwell with his people, and we will know true and lasting peace.

Today, as we pass tense moments in the waiting room, we will find peace and hope in remembering that day—when we will finally live as God designed us, glorifying him and enjoying him fully and forever.

5 Loopholes We Use to Excuse Sin

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 12:00am

When it comes to owning sin, humans can be fiercely stubborn. We come up with all sorts of excuses to downplay sin and avoid true repentance.

It’s easy to mouth the words of an apology, to others or God, while feeling out possible loopholes that leave room for future indulgence. We’re spiritual Houdinis, contorting and twisting our way out of true repentance. We’re actors who specialize in scenes of contrition, whose apologetic masquerades are little more than roles we play to get off the hook.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes, in The Bruised Reed, summarizes our resistance well: “It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge.”

For some of us, our cry for God’s mercy is long overdue, but our evasions keep us from real repentance. Here are five common loopholes we use to excuse sin.

1. Momentary Mourning

When it comes to repentance, the ups and downs of emotions fail us. Now, emotions are God-ordained and can be a genuine symptom of deep, lasting repentance. As we come to the cross in confession and find grace there, tears are often inescapable.

But emotions don’t always tell the truth. They can become another loophole, a way of looking sorry on the surface while we internally avoid the painful purging of idols God desires. As Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

The craftiness of the human heart creates a dangerous concoction of half-hearted remorse, using external repentance to mask inward apathy. It’s a strategy of self-deception: If we convince ourselves we’re repentant, the guilt we feel loses its sting.

It’s not that we’re totally without remorse—our hearts may be heavy in the moment. But when the sun of temptation rises again, our sorrow quickly evaporates in the blaze of indulgence.

Are our tears a vain attempt to mediate our own atonement, or do we embrace the cross of Christ in all its sin-crushing, affection-stirring wonder? May our tears flow from God’s endless fountain of grace, not from the streams of our fickle emotion and fleeting repentance.

2. The Percentage Plea

Sometimes we pit our righteous deeds against our sinful deeds. We draw up a spiritual pie chart to prove how our obedience far outweighs the tiny sliver of sin in our lives. We crunch the numbers, convinced they’re in our favor. If we get most things right, God will surely excuse the few things we get wrong.

The deception is twofold.

First, it overestimates human righteousness, anchoring it in what we do rather than in what Christ has done. In Romans 3:9–20, Paul makes clear the impossibility of building any case of innocence based on our works. Elsewhere he says our salvation is not something to earn but to receive (Eph. 2:8–9).

Second, it underestimates the corrosive nature of sin. It’s hazardous to assume the sliver of darkness in our lives can exist cozily alongside the light (in reality it’s probably more than a sliver anyway).

In Scripture, sin is never portrayed in neutral terms, as if it can be fenced in. Instead it’s pictured as yeast that grows steadily through dough (Gal. 5:9; 1 Cor. 5:6–7). Its appetite is insatiable. When we downplay its presence, sin’s growth is guaranteed.

Sin’s appetite is insatiable. When we downplay its presence, sin’s growth is guaranteed.

3. Institutional Cynicism

Ours is an age of institutional suspicion. No one wants to be told how to live. Autonomy is king and authority is foe. Any mandate to holiness is dismissed as yet another instance of the institutional church’s legalism.

The hypocrisy of “holier than thou” religious authorities—who are often exposed in the same sins they decry—thus becomes an excuse for individuals to treat their own sin lightly, allowing the church’s flaws to become a loophole for excusing their own.

Does our disdain for evangelical “holiness” jargon cripple our commitment to growing in Christlikeness? Is our eye-rolling at self-righteous believers a self-justifying strategy for holding on to sin?

As always, Jesus shows the way. He verbally skewered the legalists of his day (Matt. 23)—while taking holiness seriously. He refused to be manipulated by the judgmental and superficial Pharisaicalism of his day—while also proclaiming: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He rescued the law from the abusive hands wielding it—while calling his disciples to follow its intent according to his Father’s heart (Matt. 5:17–20).

We must do the same.

4. Hiding in the Herd

Human community can be both a gift for our growth and an inhibition to it. Like Adam and Eve as they ate from the tree, there’s a herd mentality in all of us—a tendency to be influenced, led, and shaped by each other in destructive ways.

Community can be insular and bias-confirming, when we defend everything in our camp and judge those in other camps. Whatever is common becomes comfortable, normalized, justifiable. Evangelicals are not immune to this problem. We can easily fall into categories of “us versus them,” or Christians vs. the culture, blinded to how we’ve simply Christianized the same secular practices we claim to detest.

As we benefit from the beauty and life of Christian community, let’s also check the motives, habits, and presuppositions of our tribe. This is hard and courageous work, but in the end the status quo of evangelicalism is not always the way of Jesus.

Is community our crutch, a way to excuse sin because we’re “not the only ones”? Are we afraid to stand out and content to blend in, even when we sense we’re being disobedient?

As we benefit from the beauty and life of Christian community, let’s also check the motives, habits, and presuppositions of our tribe.

5. The Giftedness Game

A mentor once shared that his greatest moments of temptation come on the heels of success. As a gifted pastor and communicator, he recognizes in the aftermath of a great sermon, with the affirmation of his people ringing in his ears, he sometimes feels entitled to reward himself in sinful ways.

My mentor’s honesty is instructive for us all. Are we quietly convinced God cares more about giftedness than character? Do we imagine our “indispensability” in God’s kingdom affords us special privileges to dabble in rebellion?

Our friends and colleagues may applaud our gifts. The world may admire our success. But God’s eyes are fixed on our hearts. What does he see?

We must not let our accomplishments outpace our character. Our résumés do not excuse our rebellion. By God’s grace, may our public obedience accurately reflect our private habits.  

We must not let our accomplishments outpace our character. Our résumés do not excuse our rebellion.

Look Back as You Move Forward

How do we stop the evasive maneuvers? What can we do to stop the cycle of seeking loopholes that excuse sin rather than truly owning it and turning from it?

We must daily rehearse the gospel to ourselves. We must saturate in the simple, profound truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And we must not limit the gospel to something Jesus did in the past, but as something Jesus is also doing in our present. It’s not just Christ alone for salvation, but also Christ alone for transformation.

In his book Center Church, Tim Keller writes:

The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life. It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard to live according to biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our minds, hearts, and lives by believing the gospel more and more deeply as life goes on.

The more we absorb the gospel, the less necessary each loophole becomes. In Christ, we don’t have to manufacture remorse for sin. Instead, Jesus’s sacrifice floods our hearts with affection for him. As we gaze at Calvary, it becomes impossible to trivialize our sin. Our good works are exposed as insufficient. Our cynicism is melted away. We’re freed from conformity to others. We come to see success not as license to sin, but as grace to undeserving rebels.

Our rebellion is indeed stubborn, but the love of Christ is more stubborn still. As we yield to the excavating work of the Spirit, saturated in the truth of the gospel, our loopholes will fall away.

20 Quotes on How Your Church Budget Can Better Magnify God

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 12:04am

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read Jamie Dunlop’s fantastic new book, Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry (Zondervan, 2019).

To understand what really matters to a church, look past its vision statement, past its website, past its glossy brochures, and look at its budget. Follow the money. . . . A church budget is more than spreadsheets and numbers. It’s a window into the heart of a church, illuminating the values and priorities of God’s people. If you care about your church, you will care about its budget because a budget reveals, facilitates, and sometimes calcifies how a church does its work. (15)

A church budget is a spiritual tool with spiritual aims. A church budget has spiritual value when we get it right and does spiritual harm when we get it wrong. As a result, seeing a church’s budget merely, or even primarily, as a financial tool grossly underestimates what it is. (16)

Very little in this book can be put into practice without the support of your pastors. So if your pastor just handed you this book because you’re “the budget person,” you have my permission to hand it back and insist that you will only read it if he does as well. (19)

[God’s] purpose for your church’s budget is that in your church’s faithfulness—that is, in your risk-taking obedience—you show off and reveal how amazing he is. (27–28)

The decision to entrust the spiritually-fraught questions of budgeting to administratively focused committees is at the root of much budget-related dysfunction. (37–38)

I recommend that pastors give leadership to any administrative matters that have spiritual dimensions— including the budget. Pastors should identify the spiritual priorities at stake in the church budget and then lead the process of assembling a budget at whatever level of detail is necessary to address these spiritual priorities. (39)

If on the whole you can’t trust your pastors with your money, why on earth are you trusting them with your soul? (40)

The simple fact that the congregation will be doing the giving suggests that they should have an opportunity to accept or reject the budget—or at least provide feedback before it’s finalized. (41)

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: Are there items in the budget that non-Christians are interested in funding? If there are, praise God for his common grace! In general, focus your efforts on causes only Christians will get behind. (45)

A budget is full of opportunities to teach about spiritual priorities. Don’t waste that opportunity! (48)

If you’re a pastor, my hope is that you’ll make it your ambition to know the church budget as well as anyone else in the church. You might consider using it as a prayer guide. Perhaps one day each week, pray through a different line item or category of the budget and ask God to accomplish the gospel ambitions that stand behind that money. (48–49)

Since one’s main source of teaching should be their church, the church should be the main recipient of one’s giving. It’s especially important in an age of individualism to submit giving to the wisdom of the church by giving primarily to its budget. (61)

Jesus taught extensively about money, not because he wanted a handout but because he wanted our hearts. (62)

One way you can help your congregation believe that you love them more than their gifts is to insulate the pastors from the knowledge of how much each member gives. 
(69)

Don’t be stingy with your staff compensation. What benefit is it to you for your pastor to be distracted from ministry because of financial needs? . . . Pay them for what their work is worth, not how much you think they need. But shouldn’t people working for a church make less money? No. If the laborer deserves his wages, he deserves what his work is worth. . . . Over the long term, adjust your staff size to fit the available budget rather than asking a bloated staff to all work for less than their work is worth. (78, 79)

Sometimes it’s worth the downside to unity to fund a program that serves just a segment of your congregation. But where possible, encourage programs aimed at the whole congregation and that trade on the glory of unity rather than the comfort of similarity. (97)

Sometimes attempts to measure gospel work can damage it quite severely. (105)

If you take my advice about providing better support to fewer missionaries, you’ve concentrated your kingdom investment portfolio. That makes you more dependent on the faithfulness of their work, and as a result, you’re more likely to hold them accountable. Construct your outreach budget so that your supported workers depend on you and you depend on them. (114)

Consider how you might create space that facilitates a Word-oriented schedule. For example, having multiple services because of space constraints designs congregational life around your facility, not the priorities of God’s Word. I know this may sound crazy, but indulge me for just a paragraph. A church schedule that’s dictated by the facility seems backward to me. “We run three services on a Sunday, which means the service can’t be more than 60 minutes, which means the sermon can’t be more than 25 minutes” . . . and so forth. What an odd way to structure the most central aspect of a Word-centered church! Yes, I understand a facility sized to accommodate the whole congregation is expensive. Yes, I understand that people want multiple options in service times. And yet I’m convinced that we give up far more than we realize when we move to multiple services, which is why our Protestant forbearers would have been appalled to see our “mass-like” (in their opinion) multiservice church schedules. In our society, convenience trumps all; let’s not make it so in the church. (131)

The New Testament epistles care about giving not mainly as a means for meeting financial needs, but as an indicator of what we love and whom we trust. (138)

Special appeals for money are often worded as to assume that most people aren’t giving faithfully. For example: “If each of you would skip one latte each week for the next year, we could close our budget gap!” But embedded in that language is the assumption that Christians in your church will normally use their finances in selfish ways and that faithfulness is abnormal. Even if you have doubts about your flock’s faithfulness, do not normalize faithlessness. An appropriate appeal is not, “I know you’re all spending money on stuff you don’t need; please give it to the church instead” but “this is the year to give in ways that you won’t likely be able to repeat year after year.” Communicate an expectation that healthy Christians will be faithful with their money. (144)

A Surprising Way to Love Your Neighbor

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 12:02am

When one of my neighbors cursed me out—in front of my kids—for not shoveling the driveway to his liking, the idea that I ought to love him seemed absurd. But then I remembered: the command to love my neighbor is not rooted in the loveliness of my neighbor. Christ’s command is shockingly unqualified (Matt. 22:39).

It’s hard enough to love our neighbors when they’re kind and civil. Real neighbor love requires sacrifice: whether of personal time, convenience, or comfort—three intangibles deified in our secular age where the self reigns supreme.

Because of our personal bent toward self-love—reinforced by the accompanying cultural pressure—genuine love of neighbor is all the more crucial and countercultural. And more importantly, this is an essential and indisputable mark of biblical Christianity (Lev. 19:18Matt. 22:34–40).

The practice of loving our neighbors can be beautifully varied—caring for the sick, showing hospitality, volunteering to serve the city, providing for the needy, and more. There’s no one-size-fits-all for practicing neighbor love. In fact, our various contexts should give rise to various forms.

But I want to suggest one significant, surprising way we can love our neighbors: church planting.

Particular People and Place

Consider the nature of this endeavor: A church plant entails gathering, equipping, and unleashing a motivated group of believers, prayerfully and strategically, who will root themselves in a specific community to invest, preach, love, and serve.

Planting a church, rightly understood, is one of the best ways we can love our neighbors.

When a church is planted, God’s people—empowered by the Spirit and commissioned by the risen Christ—are enabled to minister among particular people in a particular place. Just as our gospel proclamation is contextualized in church planting, so too is our gospel demonstration—the way we love our neighbors in accordance with their needs. Church planting, then, is uniquely fertile ground for the practice of neighbor love.

Long Haul

Planting churches empowers common and creative forms of neighbor love while adding a unique ingredient to it: longevity. Most of my individual attempts at loving my neighbors have been flashes in the pan. But neighbor love that’s short-lived in the hands of an individual can become long-lasting in the hands of a community. Something, say, like a church plant.

Neighbor love that’s short-lived in the hands of an individual can become long-lasting in the hands of a community. Something, say, like a church plant.

I was recently reminded of church planting’s unique capacity as a vehicle for neighbor love when I learned of a local family who planted a church in South Memphis—an extremely underserved and impoverished area. Alongside their labors in discipleship and preaching, this small church plant is loving their neighbors by running literacy classes for kids from the block—something they’ve now been doing for nearly a decade.

When we interpret and practice neighbor love through a corporate lens—in addition to our default individual lens—then genuine, long-term love that honors and displays Christ is within our reach.

Wisdom and Integration

Of course, it’s possible to plant a church with minimal emphasis on loving your neighbors. It’s also possible to plant a church that displaces the same neighbors you hoped to love.

Therefore, this work requires more than good intentions; it demands hard-won wisdom. At the very least, a plant that loves its neighbors well will be a plant that prays regularly and vigorously.

Further, planting a church requires theological precision and integration. Augustine famously explained two key principles for interpreting Scripture:

Anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine Scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.

Just as our understanding of Scripture can be evaluated by whether it leads to the double love of God and neighbor, so too the faithfulness of our church-planting efforts can be evaluated by whether they lead to the double duty of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Word and Deed

Church planting that doesn’t lead to loving our neighbors in word and deed does not wholly grasp its God-given purpose. But this also means church planting that sees the Great Commandment as an inseparable sibling (not a distracting rival) to the Great Commission will be uniquely poised to proactively love in word and deed.

I’m reminded of several New England church plants that have each partnered with a local school, directing their members to volunteer as tutors, and supporting the staff with gift cards and supplies.

Church planting that does not lead to loving our neighbors in word and deed has not wholly understood its God-given task and purpose.

I think of my former church plant that partnered with two other plants to create a coalition to meet the physical needs of immigrant students arriving to local schools with no shelter, no food, and no relatives.

While these might seem like lofty initiatives, they are both less complicated than they sound and more effective than they may seem. And they all started with ordinary church plants embracing the privilege and the command—from Jesus—to love their neighbors as themselves.

Piper and Charles on Scriptures They Turn to When Discouraged

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 12:02am

Every Christian deals with discouragement. The question for each of us is not whether discouragement will come, but where we will turn when it does.

TGC Council members John Piper and H. B. Charles Jr. sat down to discuss their own favorite Bible passages for battling discouragement. When his soul is downcast, Charles has two go-to books. When he needs hope, strength, and joy, he turns to the Psalms. And when discouraged by his weakness, he looks to 2 Corinthians to remind himself that “God uses our weakness as a platform for his glory.”

Piper has a two-pronged approach. He memorizes Bible promises that address specific areas of discouragement. But he also keeps a few general promises for all occasions, especially those times when discouragement is so great that his mind goes blank and he can’t remember the topical promises he’s memorized. One of these all-purpose promises is Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not with him freely give us all things?”

Memorizing the promises of God is one effective way to wield the shield of faith when Satan fires the flaming arrows of discouragement at us.

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.

Related:

7 Lies Christians in College Tell Themselves

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 12:00am

I don’t know when or how it happened, but I picked up many lies about the Christian faith as a college student, lies that took years to recognize and repent of. Though it’s been almost a decade since I graduated, I’ve noticed many Christians in college today tend to believe these same lies.

Though certainly not unique to students, these seven lies seem especially present in this life stage and should be called out.

1. “I have to do what I feel is right or genuine.”

God created us, in his image, to be both rational and emotional. But when either becomes ultimate, we are not conforming to his image. This is why the ultimate authority of feelings, emotion, and “authenticity” for young people today is problematic. Emotions have a place, but they can be fickle liars. What “feels right” in our heart can actually be deception (Jer. 17:9). What seems “authentic” or “genuine” is not necessarily a reliable source of wisdom. The sooner we learn to critically evaluate our feelings, rather than follow them indiscriminately, the better.

The sooner we learn to critically evaluate our feelings, rather than follow them indiscriminately, the better.

2. “I must do something extraordinary with my life.”

If we’re honest, what many of us really mean by this is “I want to be famous,” “I want to go viral,” or “I want to become an influencer.” But this attitude tends to downplay the everyday, “ordinary” forms of faithfulness—the single mom trying to raise kids while working three jobs, the full-time college student working late shifts to pay bills, the persevering small-town pastor who never gets a book deal. Are they not extraordinary too? Rather than burdening themselves with the expectation of fame, fortune, and influence, Christian college students should focus on seeing how ordinary faithfulness can be the most extraordinary calling of all.

3. “I’ll stop feeling lonely if I get married.”

Single people don’t have a monopoly on loneliness. Most spouses also feel lonely in their marriage at one point or another. In fact, if feeling lonely as a single person is difficult, feeling lonely as a married person can be even more challenging. The ultimate answer to loneliness isn’t marriage or companionship; it’s finding our complete satisfaction in Christ and our union with him (Ps. 17:15).

4. “My porn addiction will stop if I get married.”

Many young believers think their struggle with pornography will dissipate once they get married. But porn addictions don’t merely stem from pent-up sexual desires; they stem from deeper desires—to be loved, accepted, affirmed—all of which find their ultimate fulfillment in our Father’s love for us in Christ (Matt. 11:28; Col. 3:1–4). If we don’t find freedom from porn in the gospel prior to getting married, this sin will doubtless wreak havoc on our marriages.

5. “I’m too busy for church this week.”

Life doesn’t get any less stressful or less busy after college. I know investment bankers who work more than 90 hours a week and rarely, if ever, miss church on Sundays. The reality for busy college students is they can almost always study ahead, reschedule meetings, or go to sleep a little earlier to make time for church. Most of us were college students once. We all know from experience that if we really wanted to make time for church, we would (Heb. 10:25).

Life doesn’t get any less stressful or less busy after college.

6. “I’ll tithe when I get a real job or after I pay off my debt.”

Here’s the reality: If I don’t give sacrificially when I have little, I won’t give sacrificially when I have a lot. For most of us, there will rarely be a time in our lives when we are debt-free—whether it’s student loans, credit-card debt, or home mortgages. If we only give out of abundance, we’ll never give, since we’ll always be in debt. Generous giving must be a matter of discipline and principle (Mark 12:41–44), whether we have a little or a lot. If we don’t learn this early on, we will struggle to prioritize giving later on.

7. “Church membership is optional for college students.”

The concept of church membership is foreign to many college students. To complicate the matter, some students may wonder why they should pursue membership at a church they can only attend for half of the year anyway (let alone attend after graduation). But the biblical case for membership has been well established, and college students are no exception to the rule. Whether it means maintaining a single membership, a seasonal membership, an auxiliary membership, or a dual membership (all of which can often be worked out by your college church and your home church, if they’re two separate entities), we should never overlook our constant need for accountability from church elders.

Transhumanism Is Yet Another Temptation to Play God

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 12:03am

Often when we hear about advanced technology like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and genetic engineering, we think of some far-off future with flying cars and robot co-workers. Terms like “the singularity,” “superintelligence,” and “transhumanism” seem irrelevant to the mundane problems we deal with as Christians living in a fallen world. Aren’t there more pressing issues?

In his book Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship, Jacob Shatzer—theology and ethics professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee—provides a clear and pointed critique of the popular concept of transhumanism, showing that it’s yet another expression of humanity’s belief that we are gods in ourselves. We must think deeply about this issue now if we want to pursue true discipleship in our rapidly shifting culture.

Shatzer helps guide believers through the challenging concept of transhumanism in light of a Christian ethic grounded in the image of God. We need to see how technology is already changing us and to wisely respond—otherwise we’re in danger of passively imbibing the cultural narrative that we can fundamentally change our nature.

Firm Footing

Shatzer defines transhumanism as a movement whose goal is to transform humanity by improving human intelligence, physical strength, and the five senses by technological means. Transhumanism “enables us to overcome our biological and genetic inheritance” (40). Shatzer boils this popular concept down to two fundamental principles. First, optimism that humanity can overcome our own humanity, and second, that each individual has the fundamental right to pursue these enhancements (53).

While this might seem like a sci-fi novel or the plot of a new Hollywood thriller, many in the technology field currently are pursuing a way to overcome the limitations of humanity and enable us to attain god-like powers. Popular thinkers such as Yuval Noah Harari (author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow) and Nick Bostrom predict that we’ll transcend our human limitations or be outpaced by an intelligence greater than ours. Humanity must either upgrade or be left in the wake of progress.

We need to see how technology is already changing us and to respond—otherwise we’re in danger of passively accepting the cultural narrative that we can fundamentally change our nature.

Shatzer describes the three main waves of transhumanism: (1) morphological freedom to change ourselves, (2) use of augmented reality to merge the physical and digital world, and (3) the pursuit of artificial intelligence to finally transcend our human limitations entirely. Throughout the book, he interacts with The Transhumanist Declaration, a summary of transhumanism, as well as with popular groups such as Humanity+ and the Christian Transhumanist Association.

Needed Corrective

Shatzer offers a calm and collected critique of transhumanism based in a rich understanding of how technology can be used to love God and love neighbor. He doesn’t provide a fearful and defensive reaction to transhumanism, but one that is winsome and beneficial for the church. Often in light of emerging technology, we’re quick to adopt the liturgies of this technology without serious thought about how these tools will affect us and the worldview that drives them. Shatzer provides a needed corrective to the false belief that humans are simply machines that need to be upgraded over time to stay useful and retain worth. While humanity was marred by the fall, God’s image wasn’t lost.

Much of the thought behind transhumanism is that humanity is broken and needs upgrading in order to fulfill our true potential. Transhumanists desire to escape our sin-marred bodies and transcend the limitations given to humanity. Some, like Ray Kurzweil, believe that one day we’ll finally be able to overcome physical bodies and upload our minds to escape the brokenness once and for all. Shatzer describes this desire as a symptom of the fall and of our need for the gospel, rather than something to overcome with our own technological innovation (123). Overcoming and transcending humanity is antithetical to both the Scriptures and the gospel. God himself became like us in order to save us. He took on flesh in order to sacrifice his body to save our embodied souls. If we seek to shed our bodies, we lose a fundamental aspect of our humanity and ultimately deny the One who took on flesh to rescue us.

Much of the thought behind transhumanism is that humanity is broken and needs upgrading in order to fulfill our true potential.

While some Christians will recast transhumanism in biblical terms, the movement as a whole is fundamentally opposed to an orthodox and biblical understanding of humanity. Our ultimate need is redemption, not reinvention. Shatzer reveals that many Christian transhumanists operate with at least an implicit debt to open and process theology, which states that God is ultimately open, improving, and adapting, like creation (97). But this theology is at odds with the God who is the unchanging basis for all knowledge and truth. God isn’t open and risky; he’s sovereign and omnipotent. In a world of shifting sand, he is the rock to which we can cling for hope and redemption.

Shatzer wisely points out that “true human flourishing is not found in a technological worldview, but in subordinating our tools to truly human ends” (35). True human flourishing can’t be rushed and is often not convenient or efficient (171). In a culture that prizes those values above all, nothing less than human dignity is at stake in the conversations and debates surrounding technological innovation and progress. Christians see the world differently from transhumanists, since we realize Christ is the one who restores us and our world—rather than us pursuing innovation to ameliorate the effects of sin and our rebellion on creation.

Our ultimate need is redemption, not reinvention.

Christians must reject our culture’s assumptions that true dignity and worth is derived from the economic utility of human life. God’s image is the basis for human dignity. Humanity isn’t something for us to shed or transcend, but something to embrace as ones marked by the bloody and beaten body of a man who overcame death by the power of the Spirit. Christ wasn’t raised from the dead in order for us to transcend our humanity, but rather to restore us to our true humanity—to a right relationship with the unchanging and all-powerful God. Our human limitations are a blessing rather than a curse, for they remind us that there is only one Homo Deus, and his name is Jesus Christ.

New Film: Watch Jesus at Work in Athens

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 12:02am

In 2011 I went to Athens, Greece, with the intention of teaching migrant church leaders the Bible. I had no idea what God was about to do in my heart.

We’re living in an age of migration. Never before have so many people been on the move. In 2015, more than 1 million migrants entered Europe, almost all of them through Greece. I watched the news while it happened, and I heard the commentary: Muslims were invading Europe. The immigrants were dangerous. Countries were being overrun. Sharia law was coming to France.

I was in Athens in 2011 when a migrant killed a Greek woman in labor. Greeks went on strike and protested. Roaming groups of Greek men attacked migrants with no fear that the police would intervene.

But as that happened, I was in a room with 40 Greek, African, and Asian pastors who spent the weekend praying for one another. God was writing another story, one that did not show up on the evening news.

What God Is Doing

What I experienced over the next eight years was remarkable. Refugees were finding Jesus, and Muslims were dreaming about him. Eventually I moved to Athens and wrote a dissertation after doing hundreds of interviews and field research in migrant communities. God was at work in remarkable and undeniable ways. These stories overwhelmed me and led me to recruit Pete Hansen, producer and director of the popular Dispatches from the Front series, to capture them.

Jesus in Athens is a film that attempts to show some of what God is doing amid one of the largest movements of people in history. It’s a front-row seat to the hidden action of God. Afghans worshiping together. Iranians baptizing thousands of new believers. Greeks planting churches. Americans feeding and clothing refugees. These stories are just a small glimpse of the thousands of ways God is at work.

Widen Your Perspective

As I was chasing down the Holy Spirit to see what he was doing, I was reminded that people often have a limited view of God because of their limited experience.

Few Greek evangelicals knew what was happening in their own city. Full-time ministry workers only knew some of what was happening within their own ministry. One week I was told by a ministry that Iranians were easy to reach, but Afghans were hard. The next week I was told by another ministry that Afghans were easy to reach, but Iranians were hard. The limited experience for both groups shaped how they viewed God, thought of his work in the world, strategized, and prayed.

My prayer is that Jesus in Athens would open your eyes to see a small piece of the tapestry God is weaving, and that your heart will be stirred as you see the gospel’s transforming power in the lives of Muslims, refugees, Greeks, and Westerners. I pray that many would go and count cross-cultural missions as gain.

To learn more you can go to www.JesusInAthens.com.

You can view Jesus in Athens on Amazon Video or on DVD.

What Others Are Saying

“Moving and convicting.” — John Piper

“It will make your heart burst to watch the hands and feet of Christ serving the outcasts in Athens.” — Dave and Gloria Furman

“I was not prepared for how much it would stir my soul and stretch my faith. Do your soul a favor and watch it today!” — Jason Meyer

“I struggle to find words for the impact this documentary has had on my heart. Your heart will be broken, stirred, and powerfully renewed by this film. Praise God for his amazing grace!” — Sam Storms

When Your Friend Is Suffering and Sinking

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 12:00am

I’ve spent most of my adult life living in pain. I’ve spent most of my adult energy fighting an army of lies.

The migraines started in my 20s. They quickly became chronic, afflicting me almost daily. I have an autoimmune disease that has wreaked havoc on multiple systems in my body. When I was 37, I developed a neurological disorder called trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia, also known as cluster headache.

Not My Greatest Enemy

The pain from these headaches comes on fast and furious, often waking me in the middle of the night. It’s like a burning hot screwdriver jammed into your eye socket and twisted around by a mad gorilla for a couple of hours. The pain is so fierce you can’t sit still; you have to pace around the room or rock back and forth holding your head and screaming out for mercy. Physicians often describe it as the worst pain known to medicine.

Physicians often describe it as the worst pain known to medicine.

Once the pain passes—after around two hours—you feel like you have fought a war with your face and given birth through your eye but have no cute baby to show for it. You’re physically exhausted and an emotional wreck. But there’s no time to catch you breath, because the next attack is coming soon, usually within a few hours. The clusters have a notorious nickname—“suicide headaches”—because the suicide rate for people who suffer from them is 20-times the national average. They often result in clinical depression, anxiety, or PTSD because of the emotional toll of fearing the next attack. As the name suggests, they come in clusters—some people have three or four a day for months at a time.

It’s a dark illness.

The lesson I’ve learned from decades under these grim conditions? My greatest enemy isn’t pain. My greatest enemy isn’t cluster headaches. My greatest enemy is the Enemy and the lies he hurls at me.

Under Attack

My recent season of cluster headaches lasted for six months. During that time I often thought of the story of Moses holding up God’s staff so that the Israelite army would prevail against the Amalekites (Ex. 17:11–13). When Moses’s arms were too heavy to hold up on his own, Aaron and Hur found a rock for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses and held up his arms.

Many times over the years, I’ve felt like Moses, unable to hold up my own arms. I’ve been unable to clean my house, fold laundry for my children, drive for carpools, cook healthy meals, and complete my own work projects. I’m not fighting the Amalekites (thank God, because they sound horrible), but I am fighting despair, frustration, and hopelessness. My Amalekite army is the lies that attack me all day and all night.

Lies especially thrive in the darkness. When I wake up at 2 a.m. with searing pain yet again, the pull to believe lies is strong. It’s hard to believe God is really for me. It’s hard to believe he loves me.

Lies thrive in the darkness.

I hear things like: If God really loved you, he’d heal you. Your life was supposed to be better than this. Your children deserve a better mom. Your husband deserves a better wife. You deserve to be normal. No one cares about your pain. This is pointless pain. It would all be over if you’d just drive your car into an oncoming semi. Those are just some of the lies I’m tempted to believe in the dark.

God’s Love in a Squash Soup

During this latest season of suffering, God brought friends to serve our family in practical ways like making meals and picking up groceries. As they carried out these everyday tasks for me, it felt like they were Aaron and Hur, standing next to me on the rock, holding up my arms. But they were doing more than chopping sweet potatoes and roasting chicken. They were doing more than meeting my physical needs. They were fighting this spiritual battle with me. They weren’t just picking up a spatula; they were picking up a sword.

They were fighting the darkness with me, reminding me what’s true about God.

  • When I was tempted to believe God had forgotten me, a friend remembered to call to check how I was doing and see if I needed milk.
  • When I thought that God didn’t care about me, a church member showed up with tacos and a card that spoke of God’s tenderness and compassion.
  • When I believed all this pain was pointless, a friend showed up at my door with squash soup and testified to the ways they’d seen God working in our lives.

The love of God was poured out on us through human hands. I felt strengthened to fight the great army of lies because these faithful friends listened to the nudging of the Spirit.

When you make a squash soup, pick up groceries, or drop off some crispy yuca fries, you help your suffering friend to see truth clearly. You remind them of what they believe. It is holy work to come alongside suffering friends to hold up their arms and hold up their faith.

Speaking the Truth in Actions of Love

Chances are, there is someone near you feeling forgotten, questioning if God is really good. Shine light on the dark lies they’re fighting. Bring them a meal, send them flowers, or watch their kids for an afternoon. It doesn’t have to be food. Any act of love can have a mighty effect.

It is holy work to come alongside the suffering friend to hold up their arms and hold up their faith.

Through your actions you say, I am going to help you get through this. You aren’t alone. God hasn’t forgotten you. He is for you. God sent me because he loves you and cares about your pain. You are a vessel of love. You are a reminder of truth. You tell your friend that God is on their side. You are arm-holders and lie-destroyers.

That’s a pretty successful day in the kitchen if you ask me.

David Platt Models How to Pray for a President

Sun, 06/02/2019 - 6:00pm

The Story: When President Trump made an appearance at a church in northern Virginia this afternoon, David Platt showed how we can and should pray for our presidents.

The Background: After attending a Sunday morning golf outing at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, President Trump stopped by McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia, this afternoon. A spokesperson for the White House said the president was there to “visit with the pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.” The pastor of McLean Bible is David Platt, who is also a TGC Council member.

The president arrived at 2:25 pm during a musical performance and wore khakis and a jacket over a polo shirt. He held a golf hat. During the 15-minute visit to one of the D.C. metro area’s largest churches, the president made no remarks while on stage. But Platt noted there had been calls to pray for the president on this day. “Many of you may have seen that there was calls to, particularly on this Sunday, pray for our president,” Platt said. “We don’t want to do that just on this Sunday. We want to do that continually, day in and day out. So I want to ask us to bow our heads together now and pray for our president.”

The following is a transcript of the prayer:

Oh God, we praise you as the one universal king over all. You are our leader and our Lord and we worship you. There is one God and one Savior—and it’s you, and your name is Jesus. And we exalt you, Jesus. We know we need your mercy. We need your grace. We need your help. We need your wisdom in our country. And so we stand right now on behalf of our president, and we pray for your grace and your mercy and your wisdom upon him.

God, we pray that he would know how much you love him—so much that you sent Jesus to die for his sins, our sins—so we pray that he would look. That he would trust in you, he would lean on you. That he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice, and good for righteousness, and good for equity, every good path.

Lord we pray, we pray, that you would give him grace he needs to govern in ways we just saw in 1 Timothy 2 that lead to peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. God we pray for your blessing in that way upon him and his family. We pray that you would give him strength. We pray that you would give him clarity. Wisdom, wisdom, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Please, oh God, give him wisdom and help him to lead our country alongside other leaders. We pray today for leaders in Congress. We pray for leaders in courts. We pray for leaders in national and state levels. Please, oh God, help us to look to you, help us to trust in your Word, to seek your wisdom, and live in ways that reflect your love and your grace, your righteousness and your justice. We pray for your blessings on our president for that end.

In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

After the prayer the president thanked Platt and returned to the White House. Platt did not explicitly mention the Virginia Beach shooting in his prayer or other remarks. A video of the prayer was posted on Twitter by TicToc by Bloomberg.

Why It Matters: Last week Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted a video on Twitter calling on Christians to take a moment on Sunday, June 2, to pray for President Trump:

I don’t believe any president in the history of this nation has been attacked more than Donald Trump. He is our president and if he succeeds, we all benefit. But if his enemies are allowed to destroy him and pull down the presidency, it will hurt our entire nation. And so I’m asking that we take a few moments and that we pray on the second of June. Pray for him and his family. We’re going to do this all over the country, many thousands of churches. So please join us on June 2 and pray for President Donald J. Trump.

In response, the president wrote on Twitter, “We will all stick together and WIN! Thank you Franklin.”

While many churches already make a regular practice of praying for our country’s chief executive, Graham’s call to prayer was criticized for being ahistorical and partisan. If Trump was hoping on Sunday to hear a Franklin Graham-style condemnation of his enemies, he was at the wrong church—and chose the wrong pastor.

Instead, Platt presented the gospel in his prayer and asked God to give the president clarity, strength, and wisdom. Platt also prayed that the Lord would help Trump govern for the good of equity, justice, and righteousness. Above all, Platt made it clear that our earthly leaders will benefit most when they follow the “the one universal king over all”—King Jesus.

Platt reminded us that we pray for authorities not to protect them from criticism but so that we as Christians “may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:2). In doing so, he provided us with a model for how we should all pray for our president.

Learn How to Disagree Agreeably

Sun, 06/02/2019 - 12:03am

Imagine you’re at your favorite coffee shop. Everything about the place is great, except the tables are a bit too close to one another. This makes it difficult to avoid eavesdropping. Your reading tends to zone you out from the conversations of others, but not today. You can’t help but hone in on a conversation between an ardent Trump supporter and one who gladly voted for Hillary. It’s not the various arguments mustered for one candidate over the other that intrigues you. No, it’s the evident respect each person has for the other even while expressing significant disagreements.

It’s hard to go back to your reading for the day. You become preoccupied with why the kind of exchange you just heard is so rare—even in your local church.

Can’t Christians Disagree Graciously?

It’s humbling to acknowledge that the unseemly disagreements that are standard fare on cable-news networks are also common in the church. Many Christians tell me they can’t talk about political differences with their best friends. What hope then is there to engage a new acquaintance on a substantial issue of disagreement?

I believe we can do much better, not only because we should as Christians, but also because we have some unique tools at our disposal. Here are four things to consider.

1. Have a Biblical View of Human Nature

We should view both ourselves and our opponents accurately. It’s understandable that our initial instinct is self defense when disagreeing with others. It would help us to remember some truths we may not be digesting deeply enough. The doctrine of sin reminds us that we do and think sinfully and are also prone to self-deception (Ps. 19:12; Jer. 17:9). It’s one reason we need input from others. The eminent historian George Marsden observed that “human depravity is a neglected explanatory category” in our culture. And it’s lacking in our churches as well.

As Christians, the doctrine of sin reminds us of the many ways we rationalize, justify, and minimize our own actions and thoughts. When I remember that all humans, myself included, are both capable of great evil and also created in God’s image with God-given dignity, I find stability to navigate the choppy waters where substantial differences threaten to push us far apart.

2. Slow Down and Pay Attention to Words

I recently preached a sermon on how the Bible defines the words faith, hope, and love. When is our understanding of faith moving toward presumption? When is our understanding of hope more akin to wishful thinking? When is our understanding of love more beholden to modern-day therapy than the cross of Christ?

I’ve heard it said A. N. Whitehead believed most debates are fruitless because the opposing sides didn’t think it important to define some of the key words. They assume everyone in the conversation has the same working definition and talk past each other. No wonder J. C. Ryle observed that “the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy.”

As inheritors of a rich heritage of words, Christians can do much better. James 1:19 reminds us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Pastors should model care with words. Slowing down to explain the biblical contours of key words is time well spent. It reminds the rest of us to be careful in our own use of language, particularly when we’re disagreeing with others.

3. Consider Your Own Credibility

Jordan Peterson likes to tell young people that they have no credibility to protest in public unless they first keep their bedrooms neat and tidy. It’s good counsel and one Christians ought to take more seriously. I like to say that we Christians often want to start a landscape company when the weeds in our own backyard need serious attention.

Consider the following hypothetical conversation:

Pro-life Christian: I can’t believe that people think partial-birth abortion is okay.

Pro-choice friend: Why?

Pro-life Christian: Because it is the killing of a human being!

Pro-choice friend: Why do you believe anyone two and younger is human?

Pro-life Christian: Because the Bible says so!

Pro-choice friend: Would you show me a few of those Bible verses?

Pro-life Christian: Uh, let me see, I know they are in there somewhere.

I’ve done my own informal survey with various groups of Christians I’ve taught. I first make sure everyone agrees that Jesus being God in the flesh is one of the most important teachings of the Christian faith. Then I ask how many can show me a few verses that describes that doctrine. I tend to get an awkward silence.

Before we engage the important issues of our day, we must put in the necessary study. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be angry and unprepared, a popular combination these days.

4. Read Those Who Make You Angry

I have benefited greatly from reading classic authors like Voltaire, Hitchens, and Ralph Waldo Emerson—the latter being a longtime conversation partner. Skeptics can be invaluable to read because they point out our blind spots and hypocrisy. But here’s one important caveat: Don’t read critiques of Christianity until and unless you are grounded firmly in the Christian faith. Even then, I would recommend doing it with a friend.

In Anger, Don’t Sin

There are certainly times to be righteously indignant, but we must be careful that our anger doesn’t devolve into ungodly frustration (Eph. 4:26–32).

I’m grateful for the terrific resources that the Christian faith offers. As a saved sinner, I need all the help I can get.

Justice Clarence Thomas Gives America a Lesson on Eugenics and Abortion

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:03am

The Story: In a recent Supreme Court opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas connected the dots between eugenics and abortion. In response, abortion supporters are attempting to discredit him in hopes that Americans won’t learn the truth.

The Background: Earlier this week the Supreme Court declined to review Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. That case was about an Indiana law that included a provision that would make it illegal for an abortion provider to perform an abortion in the state when the provider knows that the mother is seeking the abortion solely because of the child’s race, sex, diagnosis of Down syndrome, disability, or related characteristics.

In a 20-page opinion, Associate Justice Thomas argued that the law “promote[s] a State’s compelling interest in preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics.” Here are some highlights from the opinion:

The use of abortion to achieve eugenic goals is not merely hypothetical. The foundations for legalizing abortion in America were laid during the early 20th-century birth-control movement. That movement developed alongside the American eugenics movement. And significantly, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger recognized the eugenic potential of her cause.

[. . .]

This case highlights the fact that abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation. From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was particularly open about the fact that birth control could be used for eugenic purposes. These arguments about the eugenic potential for birth control apply with even greater force to abortion, which can be used to target specific children with unwanted characteristics. Even after World War II, future Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and other abortion advocates endorsed abortion for eugenic reasons and promoted it as a means of controlling the population and improving its quality. As explained below, a growing body of evidence suggests that eugenic goals are already being realized through abortion.

[. . .]

Abortion advocates were sometimes candid about abortion’s eugenic possibilities. In 1959, for example, Guttmacher explicitly endorsed eugenic reasons for abortion. A. Guttmacher, Babies by Choice or by Chance 186–188 (1959). He explained that “the quality of the parents must be taken into account,” including “[f]eeblemindedness,” and believed that “it should be permissible to abort any pregnancy . . . in which there is a strong probability of an abnormal or malformed infant.” He added that the question whether to allow abortion must be “separated from emotional, moral and religious concepts” and “must have as its focus normal, healthy infants born into homes peopled with parents who have healthy bodies and minds.” Similarly, legal scholar Glanville Williams wrote that he was open to the possibility of eugenic infanticide, at least in some situations, explaining that “an eugenic killing by a mother, exactly paralleled by the bitch that kills her misshapen puppies, cannot confidently be pronounced immoral.” G. Williams, Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law 20 (1957). The Court cited Williams’ book for a different proposition in Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, 130, n. 9 (1973).

[. . .]

Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever. Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this Court is dutybound to address its scope.

What It Means: While pro-lifers tend to already know about the eugenics movement, many Americans are only hearing about it for the first time. Not surprisingly, this has caused something of a panic among abortion apologists.

For example, The Washington Post wrote an article titled, “Clarence Thomas tried to link abortion to eugenics. Seven historians told The Post he’s wrong.” In the article Paul A. Lombardo, a professor of law at Georgia State University, says, “I’ve been studying this stuff for 40 years, and I’ve never been able to find a leader of the eugenics movement that came out and said they supported abortion.” Lombardo may have missed the fact that Thomas had directly quoted Alan Guttmacher, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and namesake of the Guttmacher Institute, expressing support for eugenic abortions. More likely, though, Lombardo probably assumes that people will read the article in the Post and assume his claim is true. If the Post can’t be bothered to fact check the claims they publish, why will the readers?

Critics of Justice Thomas also claim there is no need for a ban on sex-selective abortion, because they are not occurring in the United States. Michael C. Dorf, a professor of U.S. constitutional law at Cornell, says “when women come to the United States from cultures that practice sex-selection abortion, they do not bring the practice with them. Accordingly, much of the Indiana law targets a non-problem.” Such a claim could only be made by someone ignorant of demographic trends—and who did not read the footnotes of Justice Thomas’s opinion.

One study that Justice Thomas cites is “Son-biased sex ratios in the 2000 United States Census” published in 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As the abstract of the article says,

We document male-biased sex ratios among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents in the 2000 U.S. Census. This male bias is particularly evident for third children: If there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50%. By contrast, the sex ratios of eldest and younger children with an older brother were both within the range of the biologically normal, as were White offspring sex ratios (irrespective of the elder siblings’ sex). We interpret the found deviation in favor of sons to be evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage. [emphasis added]

The article adds, “Since 2005, sexing through a blood test as early as 5 weeks after conception has been marketed directly to consumers in the U.S., raising the prospect of sex selection becoming more widely practiced in the near future.”

Dorf also contends that Justice Thomas misuses the term eugenic when he applies it to “an individual decision by an individual woman to have an abortion” since “eugenics cannot be an individual project.” Yet as Ed Whelan notes, “Dorf does not inform his readers of Thomas’s weighty evidence that individual abortion decisions can collectively have a eugenic impact. For example, ‘In Iceland, the abortion rate for children diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero approaches 100%.’ Dorf also ignores the possibility that there might be weighty systemic biases that influence individual abortion decisions.” Whelan also points out that “the eugenics movement tried to harness the voluntary actions of individuals.”

Again, most of the history Justice Thomas presents will not come as news to informed pro-lifers (see: 9 Things You Should Know About Eugenics). But the reaction by his critics shows that the pro-abortion crowd will go to extensive links to discredit such any connection to the eugenic practices of yesteryear and those of today. They know they will lose credibility when they claim to oppose discrimination based on sex, race, and disability and yet allow the unborn to be killed based on such discrimination.

Justice Thomas is right about the connection to abortion and eugenics, and he’s right when he says the Supreme Court cannot avoid the issue forever. Neither can the rest of America. We need to ensure America knows that all children are worthy of protection because all are made in the image of God.

3 Basic Tools Your Teenage Church Kid Needs

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:00am

My teenager’s second home is the church. She’s a pastor’s kid. She knows Sunday school answers, Bible trivia, and what it means to be a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N. Hymn lyrics were the lullabies of her childhood, she had more story Bibles than Dr. Seuss books on her bookshelves, and the girl can sing 14 years’ worth of VBS soundtracks in her sleep. She is a full-blown church kid.

Thankfully, my daughter isn’t just a church kid. I see evidence of her faith in more than fluency in Christianese or proficiency in church culture. She has professed saving faith, been baptized, and is blossoming with the fruit of the Spirit. She loves others, is quick to serve, demonstrates repentance when she sins, and desires to please God, because she’s actually a follower of Christ.

As such, she’s called to grow.

Whether we are 10 or 110, Christians are called to grow in godliness, being continually conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). If your teenage church kid has been born again, she will increasingly demonstrate growth and maturity in Christ. More than churchiness, she will strive for godliness as she grows in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).

More than churchiness, [a born-again teen] will strive for godliness.

As she grows, help her cultivate the soil with a few tools. These tools may seem basic. They are. But even your church kid needs to be reminded, by you, that centuries worth of Christians have looked to these necessary means for growth in godliness.

1. Search Scripture

In a 2016 survey, 86 percent of teens agreed the Bible is a sacred text, but less than half saw it as a source of hope, and only 35 percent believed it holds everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life. Most teens don’t actually believe the Bible offers help for their daily lives.

How will your son or daughter grow in godliness if he or she doesn’t look to God as their primary source of wisdom? Don’t assume your church kid falls into the 35 percent. Ask your teenager if the Bible is his or her primary source of hope and help. If it isn’t, start here.

Scripture is the primary way God teaches your teen about himself. Inside its pages she will learn to discern right from wrong and to find wisdom and knowledge. The Bible isn’t irrelevant or boring for teens—it’s gloriously imperative and your child’s greatest source of hope. Show her the countless examples that have ministered hope to you. Then, give your teen the tools she needs to discover the riches of Scripture for herself. Don’t just tell her to read the Bible, teach her how to both approach and study the Bible, and help her establish healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

2. Love the Church

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). And yet many teens today don’t even like the church. Statistically speaking, more than half of teens see involvement in the church as unimportant, and only 20 percent regard it as “very important.” Does your teen realize that the church isn’t a building or another weekly commitment? The body of Christ (Rom. 12:5) and her blessings (1 Cor. 10:16) extend past the youth-group doors!

Teach your teen to love the church by expressing your own love for who and what’s inside.

Teach your teen to love the church by expressing your own love for who and what’s inside. Inside the walls of a healthy church is a community of worshipers of all ages, on unified mission to make disciples and bring glory to God. Here, faith is lived out in joy and trial, spiritual and physical needs are met, and the weak and wounded find help and hope. Inside the church, the fruits of the spirit are abundant in the lives of God’s people. Inside the church are shepherds and pastors who speak the Word of God, set a faithful example (Heb. 13:7), and joyfully keep watch over the souls of their people (Heb. 13:17).

Help your teen experience the church’s blessings by connecting her. Invite someone your teen doesn’t know to share a meal (and their story) with your family. Encourage your teen to volunteer at the church’s hospitality desk or offer to sit with an exhausted mom’s squirmy child during church. Or suggest a weekly lawn-mowing for a widow or single mom. Whether it’s an organized ministry opportunity or fulfilling an organic need within the body, teach your teen to look for needs, jump in, and invest in relationships.

3. Pray Continually

As a church kid, my teenager has grown up hearing her parents pray over meals, bedtimes, family worship times, and in-between times. We make efforts to tell her how prayer became a joy and privilege in our own lives. We also try to be honest about how sometimes it’s challenging and difficult. But even as a church kid who hears prayers all the time, our daughter still needs to be coaxed to practice uncomfortable spiritual disciplines: to be asked to pray when she doesn’t volunteer, encouraged when she’s embarrassed, and nudged to seek prayer as a first line of defense.

Encourage your teen that giving attention to her prayer life will help her to grow in godliness. Weakness is the Christian’s invitation to pray. Rather than always rescuing, teach your teen prayerful dependence on the Father’s rescue. Call her to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find help in her time of need (Heb. 4:16). Assure her that embracing the awkwardness of a growing prayer life is part of the process. Prayerful maturity comes with time, determination, and lots of practice.

Keep Growing

As the parents of a teenage church kid who follows Christ, we must take up the task of watering, tending, and pruning their discipleship—while recognizing their growth is in the Lord’s hands. Helping our teen grow in godliness means giving her the tools to water and till the soil and then watching the Spirit produce fruit in all circumstances.

As parents of teenagers, may we never grow weary of doing good to the disciples living in our homes, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature [wo]manhood, and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).

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