Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A book about a book: The Life and Times of 'Mere Christianity'

George Marsden's C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity: A Biography (2016) should be on your reading list for 2017 (and for locals of Cedar Rapids, you too can check it out from the public library).

Whether this is you first encounter with the writings of C.S. Lewis (1899-1963) or you're already an admirer of all things Lewis, Marsden's book about a book will draw you in.

Mere Christianity has a surprising life worth studying. The book began as lectures on British Broadcasting Radio in the heat of World War II. These were 15 minutes speeches written for and spoken to scared soldiers, war widows, and a bombed out England. Publishers quickly realized that these words had a depth and winsomeness to them that deserved publication. It turns out they were right. On both sides of the Atlantic, and now around the globe, C.S. Lewis's Christian imagination and theological arguments have become old friends and useful weapons for bringing down the strongholds of darkness.

Mere Christianity is second in sales only to Lewis's seven books of fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia. Mere Christianity is an invitation to feel the logic of Christian doctrine, and to understand the beautiful vista of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

One particular paragraph on page 85 was worth the price of the book for this reader. Marsden writes:

   Lewis also found apologetic work spiritual debilitating [a Christian apologist defends the Christian faith]. 'I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one's own faith,' he told a group of Anglican clergy and youth workers in 1945, 'than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as the one that I have just successfully defended in public debate.' The problem, he explained, was that such occasions make the doctrine appear to rest on the 'weak pillar' of one's own self and arguments. Faith could not rest just on cold reasoning. One needed to get back 'into the Reality--from Christian apologetic to Christ himself.

   We can learn much from this great 20th century defender of the Christian faith. But more than anything, what we must experience most is not "good arguments for Christianity," but rather, the Good Christ of Christianity. The best reasons to become a Christian are like advertisements or maybe even personal ads, but in the end, Christianity is a relationship, a marriage, a reunion of a loving God and His beloved people. If we don't get to the Reality, the reasons don't matter much.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Serial Monogamy?

Dear America,

Words matter; they shape our lives and our culture. Of late, American parlance has allowed citizens to engage in "serial monogamy." In context, the phrase means that human persons are free to engage in any, one "committed" sexual relationship at a time.

So, you can be serially monogamous, as long as, on Tuesday you are in a relationship with Stan, Susie on Wednesday, and back to Stan on Thursday. Simply, determine the relationship and then everything is okay.This is the end of fornication and adultery as we know it; it's just serial monogamy and, now, no one gets hurt (right?).

From what I can tell, the phrase only prohibits multiple sexual partners in the same encounter, and since the culture also accepts "open marriage" (another dubious turn of phrase), it's settled that we've entered a day when monogamy has lost all meaning.

This is another example where America has allowed finite human persons to define reality. Rather than face the potential guilt and shame of being unfaithful sexually (even apart from marriage), we coin a phrase that removes all sense of monogamy to appease our wounded conscience. (Oh, that we'd flee to a forgiving God, a crucified Jesus, and an empowering Spirit for new life.)

Most moral philosophers throughout history have known that the sexual act communicates acceptance, intimacy, and commitment. It's reserved for true monogamy because of it's power (think of the need to contain electricity to conduits or fires to fireplaces). Sexual power unhinged will cause a wake of destruction that only God can know. He has warned us, but is anyone listening?

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What do you want God to do for you?

"What do you want me to do for you?" asks Jesus, time and time again (Mark 10:36; 10:51) during his earthly ministry.

He has not stopped asking that question, now as the resurrected and reigning LORD of heaven.

The question forces us to admit what we truly believe about ourselves and Jesus. It can force us to petition, to beg, to pray. It might, however, expose that we really don't expect Jesus to do anything. Or worse, we don't think he can. Or even worse than that, that we're fine without his intervention.

How we answer this question, daily, hourly, minute by minute is the litmus test of our faith. 

A life without prayer will give you the kind of life you can have without prayer. Parenting without prayer gets the sort of results prayerless parenting gets. Pastoring without prayer gets the sort of results prayerless pastoring gets. Evangelism without prayer, singing without prayer, serving without prayer, working without prayer, Bible reading without prayer will be as "succeessful" as prayerless efforts can be.

God says he will not share His glory with another. If we don't pray (and I mean desperately pray), we'll take some of the glory ourselves. We'll share the credits, even though we live in a universe where the closing credits of the movie roll one phrase: to God be the glory for ever and ever.

What does a prayerless life receive? We don't get to see miracles from God, the glory of God, the power of God. Jesus could not do many miracles in prayerless and faithless cities. Jesus still cannot do much in prayerless and faithless souls.

Really think, really pause, and then really answer Jesus' question with humble petitions: 

"What do you want me to do for you?" 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Human speech and evolutionary impossibitilies

"Speech! To say that animals evolved into man is like saying Carrara marble evolved into Michelangelo's David." So Tom Wolfe closes his 2016 work, The Kingdom of Speech.

In under 200 pages, Wolfe quells the myth of evolution by exposing the absurd jump from animal "speech" to human communication. In fact, he does it not through his own pen, but by quoting every major "evolutionist" since Darwin. The logical and pseudo-science gymnastics of the 'experts' proves one thing, speech is an innate gift in the chest of men. And a gift suggests a Giver.

Wolfe does not go much farther than this, but with Christmas soon to dawn, I found myself worshipping the Triune God by the book's end.

For in Christianity, Speech goes back to the beginning. The Word was in the beginning, with God, and God. This Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. Jesus is God's speech. God wills to be known. Despite the alienation of sin, God says, I want you to know me. And I'm coming to get you. Listen...I'll speak...and His first word was a baby's cry at a mother's breast.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Marks of true repentance...

Repentance is a decision of the heart and will to turn from sin and turn toward God.

The Bible commands repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19), and also tells us it is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:25). We can repent because God's grace enables it. We marvel at Christ's life and death, and we turn toward Him for hope, healing, and forgiveness. Glory to God, we must and can turn from sin,

Likewise, the Bible warns there are false versions of repentance; the best passage on this comes from: 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NIV):
     Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Worldly sorrow is flash-in-the-pan guilt. It's tears, frustration, and disappointment about sin and its consequences in our lives. But, it's world focused rather than God focused. The repentance that saves and sanctifies is first and foremost a reorientation toward God.

At the heart level, we come to hate the sin, guilt, and shame we've incurred by acting or thinking in a morally evil way before a holy God. We see God's love, foremost on the Cross of calvary, and seek to honor Him who saved us. We know our repentance doesn't save us, but we also know saved people must repent (similar to James' concern with faith and works in James 2).

At the level of the will, by the Holy Spirit, we crucify the passion and unbelief that led us to sin against God (Rom 8:13; Colossians 3:5). We won't go that way again because we smell the death, destruction, and horror of such a path. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because the Spirit is at work in us to obey God's holy will (Philippians 2:12-13).

Note the various behaviors/attitudes associated with true godly sorrow and repentance from 2 Corinthians 7:11 -

1. Earnestness: This means we become diligent and careful to avoid any of the temptations that led up to our sin before God. We guard our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. We're earnest to honor God. We don't ask, "Is this sinful or not?" We ask, "What does holiness and pleasing God look like?" Elsewhere we read in Scripture that we should not allow anyone to look at our lives and quickly suspect us as greedy, sexually immoral, or impure (not even a hint, Ephesians 5:3). And why, Paul goes on and says, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a person is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Ephesians 5:5, NIV) Are you earnest to turn away from sin in order that you might inherit the kingdom of God?

2. Eagerness to clear ourselves: This does not mean we make excuses for our past behavior, but rather we endeavor to live such profound lives of marked change that no one would doubt our repentance. This is a tricky one because we all know how to make people believe we've repented. So, this starts at our heart. God hates hypocrisy. We must fall on our knees and beg God to forgive us, change us, transform us, renew us. Oh, that our hearts would hold onto God until He grants us a total, complete repentance that is authentic, vibrant, and evident to all.

3. Indignation: This is a holy hatred of sin and a willingness to confess, as Paul, that I am the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16). The terror of hell still grips me, the condemnation of sin lingers in my memory, and the unlikely escape from eternal punishment is not forgotten. Connect this with God's redeeming love, and what flows from the heart is a holy indignation toward sin and its effects.

4. Alarm: This is sobered fear. This is firmly believing the truth of Hebrews 10:26-27 "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." Especially for the Christian, any ongoing sin should produce in us sobered fear. Let this fear send you back to God's love in Christ and the mercy that comes from Jesus' death.

5. Longing: Every sin disrupts our relationship with God. It's a vital break in our fellowship. Biblical repentance involves a desperate longing for the unhindered reconnection that is possible through the blood of Jesus. We come running because of the promises in 1 John 1:7 & 9:
    NIV  1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
    NIV  1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

6: Concern: Next up is a refreshed zeal for the LORD God. We're jealous for Him. We're concerned to keep Him the priority of our lives. We want nothing to come in between. We want nothing to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus...and praise God, nothing ultimately can (Romans 8:29ff.).

7: Readiness to see justice done: This is a firm commitment to avenge all wrong doing. If we sinned against a spouse or friend, we make things right (with time, money, service, earning back trust, public confession, etc.). If we sinned against our local church, we accept their counsel for making things right and for walking in open fellowship. Repentance of the heart is never calculating. We don't say, "There, I repented by doing X, Y, and Z, all should be well." Biblical repentance knows that ultimately Christ's death is our only hope, atonement, and true freedom. We rest in Christ's satisfaction for sin. We never, ever, turn to penance to atone for our temporal punishments. And yet, Paul says, we give the rest of lives to outdoing one another in love, continuing with a moral obligation to love one another. Biblical repentance includes a commitment to justice, restitution, and ultimately for making sure God's name is honored.

We must never short circuit repentance into easy-believism or 'forgive and forget' nonsense. This is a blood-bought privilege from Jesus Christ that will be clearly seen, and when it occurs, everyone will know it's a work of God and praise Him (not you or me). Everyone knew Zacchaeus had repented (Luke 19). Paul's conversion and repentance was known by all (Acts 9ff.). The sexual immoral man from Corinth demonstrated full repentance (see 1 Cor. 5 and 2 Cor 7).

May God grant you and me repentance today, whether it's repentance to salvation or a repentance unto sanctification. And may our repentance receive the commendation in 2 Cor 7:11: At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

You might appreciate another accounting of Biblical repentance at

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A spiritual irony...

Non-Christian people who mistrust the miracles of the Bible are open to mass amounts of spirituality and supernatural phenomena. (ghosts, aliens, gurus, etc.)

Christian people who trust the miraculous claims of the Bible are skeptical to most spirituality and supernatural phenomena.

So, which of these two are more likely to be duped?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My favorite reads in 2016

The two volume biography of George Whitefiled by Arnold Dallimore. This is what faithfulness in a generation looks like.

The first 3 novels by Kenley Davidson; beautiful fairy tales retold with dynamic wit and plot.

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (short, but sweet classic book on how God works in our hearts and lives).

Timothy Keller's Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. A book that makes you doubt your doubts.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Harriot. True stories of a early/mid 20th century veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales of England.

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by Dallas Willard. A reasoned account by a seasoned philosopher on the validity of spiritual truth and knowledge.

The Road to Character by David Brooks. The New York Times editorial writer laces together several sketches of heroes to call forth a new way forward (really the old way) toward greatness.

A reread of What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. A theological/practical book on why productivity can glorify God and how to get to it.

Honorable mentions in the realm of fiction: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Elantris by Brandon Sanderson.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Do you want to hear God?

  Four instructions that were inspired by Thomas Watson’s 1692 book entitled, A Body of Divinity:

   1. See your need of hearing. Before you will give Jesus you ear, you need to come to grips that there is no one more good or glorious than the Son of God. You can listen to Him or other voices. 

     2. Go to Christ to teach you. This starts at the heart. This is a prayer of desire. “Jesus, speak to me.”

    3. Use the tools Christ has recommended. Contrary to Eastern religions that tell you to clear your mind, Jesus wants you to fill Your mind with truth. The best way to hear Jesus is to pick up your Bibles and read. Read for understanding. Read for meditation. Memorize the Word. Study the Word. Listen attentively to the preaching of God’s Word. God has spoken in the Old Testament. God has spoken through Christ…and we hear Christ when we read of Him in the New Testament. Jesus is not limited to speaking to us from the Bible, but we will not know His voice if we don’t know the Bible.

      4.  Finally, if you would want to hear more from Jesus, believe and act on what you’ve heard thus far. I’ve never met someone who didn’t want to hear from God. But, the Biblical model seems to be that God speaks to us so that we obey and believe. He doesn’t speak new things until we’re willing to obey the original things. Where has God spoken that you need to believe and act? 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Race, election, and the future, my 2016 vote as a white, evangelical pastor...

Like many Iowans, one of my greatest difficulties is I rarely think of race. It is a difficulty for I've come to learn from my ethnic-minority teachers that only majority cultures fail to see such things. I don't see race because it does not affect me Monday-Sunday. I don't see race because I've never been discriminated against, prejudged as dangerous in the middle of the night, or suspected as an illegal immigrant or potential terrorist. I am free, powerful, and protected by a history favoring my cultural background.

Still, at some capacity, I am labeled by some a backward fool, as a professed evangelical Christian. It is true my evangelical beliefs were attacked during my public university days by multiple professors. My desire to teach as an adjunct in public institutions is an uphill battle. Some of my cherished beliefs, especially the protection of life for the unborn, are considered dangerous to humanity.

So where did that leave me when I entered the voting box on November 8, 2016? And where has my heart been these past 10 days?

#1: I did not vote for either of the two major party candidates. Their character and/or platform kept me from voting for them. I believe the command-in-chief should be chief in character. I did not have a clear conscience voting for two people known by scandal and self-promotion.

#2: I stand with the scared citizens who fear Trump as leader. His "America-first" rhetoric can be translated into whatever "America" exists in his imagination. Is this the America of late 19th century Ellis Island where all people were welcomed into our country? Or is this the America of WWII when FDR threw Japanese citizens into war camps? Will we be marked by fear and reaction or by faith and receptivity? This country was built on the contributions of 1st generation immigrants, people of color, people fleeing persecution in search of hope. May that "America" stay fiercely present come inauguration day.

#3: I stand with the celebratory citizens who have said "no" to an amoral America. There has been a radical abandonment of ideas once believed foundational truths giving America solid footing. When the created order is reimagined by fallible humans, the fabric of society tears into pieces. Many citizens voted on November 8 to challenge this trajectory. They voted because they want little boys and little girls to grow up with a sense of gender. They voted because the concept of marriage for 3-4 millennia should not be rewritten in a single generation. They voted because law-breakers should have consequences, law enforcement honored, and government promises kept. They believe that the 1932 Little House on the Prairie carries more wisdom than 21st century Hollywood.

#4: I stand with all Americans (and non-Americans) who believe love and truth must be weld together. Civility, non-violence, and persuasion mark America at its best, whether its suffragettes or Civil Rights heroes. May the "right" and the "left" refuse to turn to cruelty to (re)gain power. No matter the winner, we all lose. The greatest force in the world is love, so may your charity be known to all. At the end of life, when we stand in judgment before God and history, the winners are those who sacrificed most not those who gained most.

#5: I do not stand with Americans savagely protecting their pocket books and places of power. It's not surprising that independent business owners vote toward the right and that government employees vote toward the left. Those not receiving government assistance vote right, those receiving assistance vote left. We've turned our political loyalties into a veiled cover-up for self-promotion. May there be a day when we pursue justice for others, protection for others, freedom for others, dignity for others, without the election directly benefiting ourselves.

#6: I bend before Almighty both in a posture of prayer and with a sense of peace. I went to bed on election night at 10PM unaware of the next President. The future of our country was not going to be set by the reports on CNN or FoxNews. The Sovereign Lord still held the reigns of history, regardless of the outcome of millions of American voters. This Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ, died on a cross to deal with the treachery and sin that lives in human hearts. He will allow evil to stretch to a certain place and then no farther. Nothing happens and no one is elected outside of His will. Whether it's a Churchill or a a Hitler, an Obama or a Trump, the heart of the king can be turned by the LORD. And so I pray for the new President-elect: may he be a Churchill, not a Putin. And yet, my confidence does not ride or fall on legislation or changes in leadership, but in a crucified and risen LORD who offers clemency, peace, and hope to all who will bow before Him.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Review of Tim Keller's "Making Sense of God"

Tim Keller has put out new books year in and year out going on over a decade. I've read most of them, and I've yet to be disappointed. There are three types of books Keller writes: (1) Deep, heavily-footnoted, books to make secular and Christian people think (Reason for God); (2) Theologically sharp books that invite Christians to marvel and act (e.g. Generous Justice, Prayer); and (3) Practical books that invite Christians and religious seekers to see life according to the Gospel (e.g. Prodigal God).

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (2016) falls squarely into the first category.

To read this book, you need two bookmarks, one pen, and a note-taking journal or device. You'll need the second bookmark to check the end notes as you read along (why, oh why, do publishers not use footnotes?). My book has 2-3 underlines, comments, and questions on each page, and I circle or make a notation every 5th end note. In short, the book is full of gold nuggets. Keller reads and reads, thinks and thinks, and then interprets these ideas so the rest of us can understand what's being written and believed around the world.

This is a great book to read with a few Christian and secular and/or scientific friends. This book encourages conversation and dialog about the leading ideas of our day. In the end, Dr. Keller will present why he believes Christianity is a rational choice that relates best with human thinking, desires, and experience. Still, he gives a fair reading of the best and brightest thinkers of our day.

Let me offer 5 brief take-aways from the book that I hope stir your appetite to devour the book:

1) It takes as much faith to believe in science as in Christianity.
2) The search for meaning is a cul-de-sac for the secular thinker. You can come in, but you have no place to come out.
3) A self-created identity provides no substance for which to build or maintain self worth.
4) Moralistic religion has done more for human flourishing throughout history than atheistic relativism/secularism.
5) Believing in God and Christianity is more reasonable than not (but that doesn't mean you'll want to believe but you just might).

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A multiverse and a myriad of dimensions...

"Professor, how do you explain the unlikely collision of physical properties that have allowed organic life to exist on the earth?"

"We live in one universe of millions--the multiverse theory. By mere chance, our world is capable of life. All others are most likely dark, chaotic voids."

"Could it be possible that a supernatural, divine being fine-tuned, one single universe in such a way to sustain life?"

"No, believing in divinity is an idea that cannot be postulated. We cannot see, test, or prove God's existence."

"So, you're telling me I'm supposed to be believe in millions of universes I cannot see, test or prove, instead of a single being that I cannot see, test or prove?"


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

I stand with "the Christians" on Election Day

Some would say election day is the most divisive day in our country. It cuts across people, neighborhoods, and even families.

But let me say, for the record, that I am standing today with the Christians...all those who profess Jesus Christ as LORD.

I am with you, brother Christian, when you cast your vote for straight party Democrat.
I am with you, sister Christian, when you fill in the bubble for straight party Republican.
I am with you, disappointed Christian, who refuses to cast a vote.
I am with you, senior citizen Christian, as you fear your medical future.
I am with you, unemployed Christian, as you face today's mail and its certain bills.
I am with you, Christian of the 1%, as you carry the burden of financial stewardship.
I am with Christian independents, Green Party Christians, Libertarian Christians, evolution-believing Christians, flat-earth convinced Christians, and confused Christians.
I am not ashamed to call you brother; I am not ashamed to call you sister.

Through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are one family. When one of us succeeds, we rejoice. When one suffers, we all mourn. Today I see not a divided family, but one united through the Cross. And by our love for one another, the world (the desperate, broken, and decaying world) will know we are disciples of Jesus.

This is not our home; we're just a passing through. May we be good stewards of each day. May our civility and charity be known to all.

And yes, please, God bless America.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

World Series 2016 - The glory and danger of sports

For all the non-Cleveland Indian fans, today is a day of thrilling joy. A 108 year "curse" is lifted.

I find it fascinating that this century old condition has been called "a curse." The Bible refers often to curses and blessings. To be blessed is to find joy, contentment, and satisfaction. To be cursed is to be under judgment, discontent, and unsatisfied.

Sports have this uncanny ability to produce such sensations of blessing or curse. If I play well on the basketball court, I walk a little taller the rest of the day. If I shoot 0-10, I wallow. Some would say, "That's just sports." But I wonder if we realize that something more could be in play.

Many of us look for sports to give us something that will never last. Let's call this, "The Ultimate Blessing." Even if your team has a perfect season (oh the joy) or wins the World Series (yippee), they will lose again in the future. Even the greatest athletes (cough, cough, Tiger Woods) can crash.

If we've put our greatest hopes in sports or our sports' teams, we will never taste a blessing that can never be taken away. The curse will come back. The sense of dissatisfaction and judgment cannot be totally averted.

The Bible uses the language of idolatry to address this condition. An idol is a created thing that cannot deliver on the ultimate blessing. Whether it's sports, money, sex, or power, such things can only provide momentary joy. Now we all know that, and yet, we all seem to be chained to our idol factories, expecting them to manufacture that ultimate blessing eventually. Or some of us have learned to hedge our bets, so we cheer for a team, play the game ourselves, work hard, save money, buy toys, pursue romance, and attempt great things...hopefully there's enough success from enough of these created things that we'll have enough joy to make it through enough days with enough satisfaction.

This "works" for many people. They can go a very long time happy enough with their created things (idols). But there are those flashes of insight when we're honest enough to say, "I'm in bondage to these created things." I'm not free, happy, or fully satisfied. And even when we have it all, joy is still elusive. This is why so many stars in People Magazine see psychiatrists, do drugs, invite scandal, and do all manner of public craziness to stay in the limelight. You can have "it all" and fall short.

Christianity says "ultimate blessing" is possible. Great, unending, never-stopping, fully-satisfying joy is available...God Himself. The ultimate goal for humanity is to be blessed in (with/by) God. The ultimate danger is to be cursed by God.

Jesus Christ came to expose all idols as mere created things that can never deliver and only enslave. But He could really save. For starters, he dies for our sins, the treachery of idolatry, the curse we deserve for loving things other than God. But this salvation includes reconciliation with God. We are brought into God's family--the perfect Being becomes our Father and Friend. We have an unending intimacy with the person who has unending joy.

The great curse of sin falls on Jesus so we can have the great blessing of God with us.

So today, Cubs' fans, enjoy the glimpse of glory. But remember it's only a glimpse of glory...the real thing is God himself. There is a victory that can never end, a curse that can never come back, and a God who will never turn his back.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Armchair Political Meanderings from a Christian Pastor

I'm seeing letters, emails, and speeches galore on the impending elections. On one hand I agree with everything they say, and on the other hand, I think they overstate some things. Let me give it a crack:

1) You do not have to vote. Despite what people say, you can express your political opinion by not voting. You can be a good citizen and not be a voting one. Not voting says, "Something's rigged; the candidates are unfit; I refuse to believe our voting and governmental systems are right." Personally, I will vote, but it is not a requirement (Christian and or otherwise).

2) This election is not make or break. The pundits warn the end of America as we know it if either major party candidate is elected. The reality is our world will change minimally based on the president, Senators, and the like (the world is already fallen, is is not?). Yes, leaders influence, and yes, policies matter. But the sum and substance of history flows through the human heart. 1930s Germany became what it did not because of Adolph Hitler, but because of the hearts of post-WWI Germans crying out for power and vengeance. It's easy to point the finger at party leaders and political heroes/villains, but culture is shaped by individuals. Change the heart, change the world. Each election is simply a reflection of the culmination of individual values; lament that before you lament and lampoon any particular candidate. Vote your conscience, but more importantly, check your conscience. Do you know what is good? Are you living a good life? How you assess the condition of your own soul is make or break. Are you ready to meet your Maker?

3) The world will not be transformed by political power (good thoughts on this in J.D. Hunter's To Change the World). Whether we vote left or right, we trust in the coercive power of law to make the world aright. The right wants laws to protect the unborn. The left want laws to force others to finance certain programs. And yet, history has shown that coercive power offers little for substantive change. Love changes the world--love marked by service, sacrifice, persuasion, and mercy (cf. 1 Corinthians 13 and Christ's example in 1 John 3-4). Abraham Lincoln won over our nation not by winning the Civil War, but by passing on his conviction of one nation, under God. Martin Luther King, Jr., transformed people through his words, life, and martyrdom. William Wilberforce's success in Parliament fell on the heels of cultural transformation through evangelical preaching and anti-slavery teaching (both amid great suffering and persecution). The coercive power of the state cannot transform the culture. Love (or hate) does. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A quote worth our cogitation...

In Donald Bloech's fantastic God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, and Love, he writes,

"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Theologically, we know that God does not change and that His plans and purposes are eternal. But that does not mean he is some inept father unaware or unconcerned about his children at play or in the throes of suffering. God is not aloof or absent to creation. He really does experience things with spiritual beings, human persons, created species, and the like.

The LORD experiences these things in His unique God-like way, and then He acts (a free act, done in love, never by compulsion). And when He acts, his eternal, unchanging perfections are on display for anyone willing to look, notice, and admire. God was perfect prior to sending Jesus to die on the cross for human sin, but through seeing and experiencing our experience of sin, God chose to bring out His perfections in the glorious gift of Jesus' life and death. He is the powerful Father who sees all that His children face and not for one second keeps from them exactly what they need. Your experiences today are seen by Father, and His unchanging perfection remains our unchanging hope.

Glory to God--"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: "Don't Fire Your Church Members"

                What would you do if you had a long-standing attender, who recently left his wife and moved in with his girlfriend, show up on communion Sunday? That happened during my first year as a senior pastor. How does a local church hire its first part-time staff members after years of paying only a single pastor? That question came up recently. What would you do if a member of your church left their husband accusing him of emotional abuse/neglect, refused to meet with any sisters in Christ or the elders, then started dating someone else, and then submitted her resignation for membership? That happened too.
                Who makes decisions in such situations? What decisions go before the entire church body? What tasks fall to appointed leaders? Jonathan Leeman, a veteran writer on all things ecclesiology, weighs in:

Practically speaking, that means the gathered assembly should probably not waste its time debating the color of curtains or approving photocopier purchases. It means they have been tasked with receiving and dismissing members (the who [of the Gospel]), with ensuring that the teachers are teaching biblical doctrine (the what [of the Gospel]), and by inference, with being involved in any significant decision that sustains or directs that church’s existence as a gospel-bearing witness.

In short, the keys of the kingdom belong to the membership of a local church. Bishops and presbyters are not invested with the authority; the local church is.  The church (according to the pithy and theological accurate song) is the “people….I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.” Or as Leeman defines, “A particular church is a gathering of two or three witnesses who together testify to the name of Jesus and to their shared membership in him. They do this by preaching the gospel and by employing the keys of the kingdom through the ordinances.” (italics original)
                Let me give three reasons you should read Don’t Fire Your ChurchMembers.
#1:  Leeman offers biblical rationale for duties that the local church body should be doing. Even if you are not convinced that congregationalism is the biblically-stipulated polity, you should consider Leeman’s arguments for the responsibilities of church members, individually and corporately.
#2: Leeman makes a compelling case that congregationalism takes seriously all the blessings of the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34) and thus, that New Covenant people are capable to make authoritative decisions for a church. Likewise, Leeman warns if we take away New Covenant responsibilities from New Covenant people, they will not mature or serve, as they should.
#3: Leeman challenges elder-pastors to lead, but not do, the work of the flock (cf. Ephesians 4:10-12).  This was by far the most convicting theme for this already-convinced adherent of congregationalism. I am quick to do the work of ministry rather than equip the saints to do the work. Because it is hard to communicate and invite the congregation into importance decisions, I often by-pass them, and thus, I miss out on the congregation’s full participation. Sure, I’ll let the congregation eventually vote or eventually affirm decisions (the bylaws require it), but I’m seeing ways I need to equip the saints now so they can help exercise authority more faithfully in the future.

This glorious mystery, the church, is God’s means to display His wisdom to the visible and invisible world. Let us serve this glorious gift well.

Should You Care about the Work in Front of You Today?

Do you find yourself living out this instruction from Colossians 3:22-23 in your daily work, serving "with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters [read: bosses, children, fame, power or paychecks]."
Are you engaged in work as defined by Dorothy Sayers: "The only Christian work is good work, well done."
If you need a pick-me-up today to engage your daily calling(s), consider listening to one of the sermons I preached in a Fall 2015 series: "Contributing to God's Kingdom."




Thursday, October 06, 2016

Should Christians 10% to God?

Here's a great article from Pastor Sam Storms on financial stewardship as it relates to supporting a local church and global missions...

I like how he starts summarizing his ideas at point #9:

(9) Is it permissible for a New Covenant Christian to tithe, i.e., to give 10% of his/her income to the work of the church? Not only is it permissible, I would strongly recommend and urge you to do so. In choosing to give 10% of our income to the Lord, we are honoring a God-given, Old Testament principle. In the absence of a prescribed percentage for giving in the New Testament, why not adopt the Old Testament pattern? However, this does not mean you are sinning if you don't. To give only 8% or to give 15% is equally permissible. Not to give at all, or to give disproportionately to your income (which is the case with most Christians today), or to give grudgingly, is indeed sin. Let us be joyful and generous in our giving. After all, everything we own belongs to God anyway!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sage Advice on Choosing a Church...

I think this is fantastic advice from the veteran Christian statesman, writer, and pastor, Eugene Peterson from a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt (whole interview available here):

JM: Eighty-one years is a long time. As you enter your final season of life, what would you like to say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship? What’s your word to them? 
EP: Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Two Arguments for the Bible being God's Word

I believe these are two good arguments on why Christians can sincerely hold the Bible in their hands with deep trust of its sacred and divine origins. Note, I have not attempted a logical argument (syllogism), but more of a natural step-by-step process that a person might go through to trust the teaching, authority, and divine authorship of the Bible:

Case #1: Jesus and the Bible.

1. Jesus was a real person in space-time history who lived in 1st century Israel, was crucified under the Roman leader Pontius Pilate, and three days later was announced by His followers to have resurrected from the dead, causing a world-changing religion to form that is now called Christianity. (this can be confirmed from extra-biblical/secular sources of history)
2. The best explanation for Jesus' resurrection is that it really happened.
3. If the resurrection happened, all other miraculous reports of Jesus' ministry in the New Testament are most likely to be true as well.
4. If the miracle accounts are true, so are the authoritative statements and teaching of Jesus.
5. Jesus taught, believed, and assumed that the Old Testament was written by God and spoken by God.
6. Jesus prophesied that when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles that they were to proclaim His life, death, resurrection, and its implications in His power (with the natural assumption it would be just as accurate as God's previous speaking in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-16). This is what we call the New Testament.
7. Thus, Christians should trust the authoritative teaching of Jesus that the Bible is the Word of God.

Case #2: The Bible and Reality

1. Humans have senses, reason, and innate ability to comprehend what is true, real, and rational.
2. The Bible makes claims to what is true, real, and rational.
3. The Bible best reflects reality, both in its history and its details regarding life, humanity, and the world.
4. Therefore, the Bible is true, real, and rational.
5. The most likely source for a true, real, and rational Bible is God Himself.
6. Thus, the Bible comes from God.

All that to say, a divine book will require divine assistance to fully understand and embrace (cf. 1 Corinthians 2). The Bible says the human heart and mind are broken and opposed to the things of God. A veil is over our eyes to fully understand the good news contained in the Holy Scriptures. Spirit of God, lift that veil. We need Jesus and His salvation.

Many people do not have to go through the process(es) described above to trust the Bible. God in His grace gives them confidence of His speaking through Scripture. Like a child who just knows the tone and tenor of their father's voice, some Christians just hear the Bible and hear God. Such people shouldn't look down on others who find it harder to trust God's Word, but rather say, "Thank you," for such a marvelous gift.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dangerous Whispers

"Singleness is awful. Why be lonely when all you need to do is download this app? Your one click away from happiness."

"Marriage is a drag. Remember all the fun and freedom you had when you were single?"

"You're not a complete woman unless you have children. What's a couple of tens of thousands of dollars as long as you get a baby?"

"Kids have stolen your life. Is it too much to ask to have a few free days to yourself?"

"You're only 45 minutes late. She'll understand and the kids are too little to notice. How else will you afford this lifestyle if you bow out on work every time your wife needs a little help at home?"

"You'll only resent this job more and more if you don't get out of here right now. You've worked so hard, and this stress is over the top. A couple of beers will help you get to where you need to be so you can go home and help with a good attitude."

"That cake is exactly what you need to deal with the day you've had."

"Hey fatty, if you'd just skip food for 2 days, you could finally fit in that dress you used to wear."

"Those $200 shoes are what you need to perform at your best."

"Don't even think about going to Jesus. All he'll want to do is steal your soul and whisper things in your ear."

Friday, September 09, 2016

Brother Pastors, do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture?

What grows churches? The Word rightly preached, taught, and believed in the power of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the prayer of God's people, or...

1. A fun children's ministry?
2. A fancy facility?
3. A fantastic website?
4. A flawless communicator?
5. A friendly atmosphere?
6. A fabulous choir?
7. A flurry of spiritual activity?
8. A functional program calendar?
9. A funny preacher?

I charge you, under God, preach the Word. (-The Apostle Paul)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Irony and Lotteries

It's ironic that a major goal of public education is to teach people basic mathematics, all the while, public education is funded by people playing the lottery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A 'published' article...

It's nice when someone else let's you write for them:

Blogger always thinks my stuff is good enough to be posted, but admittedly, their "posting" criteria is minimal. :)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Lessons for living for non-native Iowans...

Having been back in my home state for 6 years, I've picked up on a few lessons that I think will help non-natives now calling Iowa home.

Lesson #1: We're glad you're here. Iowans are generally pleased when people choose to move to our fine state. So welcome.

Lesson #2: We'd prefer that you don't tell us all the reasons you prefer your previous residences. I use the word "prefer" because as an Iowan, I'm polite. But in truth, Iowans love Iowa more than Texans love Texas. So, when you tell me about your preferred big city life in Chicago or the heat you miss from Arizona, I'm only politely listening.

Lesson #3: Feel free to choose a State School (UNI, ISU, UI) to support in athletics, but you are not allowed to make commentary on any of the other schools for a minimum of 10 years of sincere fandom. These rivalries are deep and you need to be on Iowa soil for a while before you are allowed to talk smack.

Lesson #4: Never make fun of Iowa, ever. Yes, Iowans joke about being backward, being "idiots out wandering around," and that we have more pigs than people. We can express such sentiments because our loyalties are not in question. When you do it, we are inwardly rolling our eyes and if grace is absent, silently writing you off as "friend potential." Just don't do it. Would you make fun of someone's grandmother?

Lesson #5: You are not an official citizen until you've eaten Casey's pizza, shopped at Hy-Vee and Fareway, and visited the State Fair. (Feel free to leave a few other Iowa staples in the comments section.)

Lesson #6: We like college sports. Sure we have our fair share of Packer fans, Cubs fans, and a smattering of neighboring states' professional teams' fans. But we live and die by college sports. So when you bemoan our lack of professional clubs, we just don't get it. We cheer for one (or all three) state school(s). We even follow high school sports and small college athletics. We like it; it's the way we are. (See #4, if you are struggling with #6.)

Lesson #7: Yes, we wave at strangers (sometimes with a single finger upon the steering wheel). We allow people to merge. We shake hands with anyone and everyone. We open the door for people behind us. We leave pennies (dimes, nickles, and quarters) at cash registers for customers to follow. If you choose to not participate in these activities, you will never become a full citizen (see #5) or be allowed to engage in sports' conversations (see #3).

Lesson #8: Farming is a way of life that is appreciated, supported, and honored. Yes, there are debates about ethanol, hog confinements, and the like that will need to be had among Iowans. But, in principle, we support farmers (Google ANF if you have questions) and thank them for what they do. It's hard work, and our country would not be what it is today without these fine men and women.

Lesson #9: Iowans need Jesus. We are not as good as we think we are. We fall short of God's standards of perfection, holiness, and others-centered love. Deep down, our "niceness" is rooted in pride. Without God's forgiveness through the Cross of Christ, our pride will get worse and our consciences cold to what is true goodness, love, and beauty. We need Jesus as much as residents of Sin City, Hollywood, or wherever. Forgive us, Lord.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

An anniversary, a birthday, and longing

On June 21, I celebrated my sixth anniversary as the pastor of Cornerstone Church.

On July 4th, my dad would have turned 66.

The first date was one of reflective joy. In 6 years, I've seen God's hand at work in my life and others. I've learn so much above love, forgiveness, and perseverance from the saints and sinners of Cornerstone Church.  I've learned more from them than anything I've taught. A local church proclaiming Jesus Christ is the hope of the world; it's been a place of hope for me.

The second date was a heavy day. I was surrounded by smiles, laughter, fireworks, and fun, but the gravity of my father's absence kept me from fully entering into the delight of the day. I wanted to send Dad a birthday text. I wanted to give him a call. I wanted to hear what he shot in the 4th of July golf tournament. But he's not here. Please don't throw the "you'll always have your memories" card at me. He's not here. It hurts. I'm not going to jump off a bridge, but I think it's a form of honoring another person when a special day comes around and you grieve. Sure, it can be unnecessary martyrdom or self-mutilation. But I think there's a healthy form of grief that does stick around for people. For some it never goes away. For others it lessens over the years.

Both dates created in me longings...

1) A longing to be a faithful shepherd today and for the years to come.
2) A longing for Christ's return, the meeting of those asleep in Christ with those still alive at Christ's coming.
3) A longing to be in the final family, where death no longer separates and sin no longer invades.

Come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Book Review - Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom

I wrote this book review back in 2006 for an online seminary class from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I still stand behind these words:

Johnson has written a fascinating book, loaded with many strong arguments.  I appreciate her thoughts on the rise of the “Psycho-Culture” especially.  To think psychology would make someone Christian is to think a woman can accurately teach on true manhood.  A woman cannot develop manliness in a man, and psychology will not develop people into Christ-like individuals.  The chapter titles reflect the foolishness of such thought patterns.  If the church keeps drinking from the wrong wells of psychology, the church can expect to look less like Jesus and more like Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung.  Johnson’s presentation was strong and convincing.  Psychology is taking over the world.  I have personally witnessed multiple church members laugh off the authority of scripture to the predominant psychological doctrines heard on TV and radio programs.  Obviously these chapters were an oversimplification of psychological ideas, but it appeared to reflect the 21st Century American culture.
Johnson’s emphasis of the church as the decisive and dynamic context for spiritual formation hits home as well.  Numerous parachurch organizations have overemphasized personal discipleship to the detriment of both the local church and Protestantism as a whole.  Unfortunately, many local bodies have bought into this harmful self-actualizing ideology.  Churches have become factories to disciple and produce individual “mature” Christians.  By highlighting the bible’s mandate for corporate growth, Johnson is attempting to bring down this unbiblical behavior of independent spiritual formation into a more family-centered, dare I say biblical, affair. 
Johnson’s inconsistent view of scripture is the main weakness that wreaks havoc on her desire for the church to have authority in the world.  She says, “The recovery of Christian spirituality, therefore, cannot come through a debunking of Scripture and tradition.” (23)  She also uses God’s Word as the foundation for much of her ideas throughout the book.  She remarks later that “the Bible is at the heart of the church.” (91)  But in the same book she questions the inerrancy and historicity of Scripture. (93-94) She also encourages the Bible to be studied with a hermeneutic of suspicion. (101) She mentions on a few occasions that the Bible’s backwardness and strong patriarchy is meant to be interpreted out of scripture through a more modern feminist lens. (101)  She calls modern historical-critical scholarship a “liberating power . . . [for] unlocking the Bible for Christians.”  Many of her statements match the statements of her mainline liberal companions.  These statements strip God’s Word of the very power and authority she hopes to see alive and working in the church.  Maybe she should take some of her own advice, “We must not only teach persons how to read the Bible, but to resist their dominant culture.” (150)  The dominant culture has been devaluing the Bible and making it a fantasy tale for over a hundred years, and Johnson is dangerously close to joining them.  Perhaps, the mainline liberal church will never experience the prominence Johnson is hoping for until they return to a more conservative evangelical perspective on Scripture.
            “Protestantism lacks authority, clarity and direction.” (137)  These words reveal the deep concern in Johnson’s heart for a renewal of the Protestant faith community.  In response, Johnson has produced this text to rally the church into a position to transform lives in a powerful way.  Johnson longs for an authentic Christian spiritual formation in the lives and communities of Christian people.  She dreams of a day when human beings embrace their ability “to recognize and to participate in God’s creative and redemptive activity in all of creation.” (22)  The world is full of interest in “spirituality” and “psycho-analysis,” but Johnson presses the church’s to authoritatively teach that true Christian spirituality is marked by love for God and neighbor. (28) 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It's not your spouse's fault...or is it?

Ahab, meet Jezebel. Ahab, a child of Israel, a member of the covenant people, marries the foreign woman, who worships the foreign gods. Who is at fault? - Ahab. Bad move buddy.

But wait, Ahab listens to a prophet, humbles himself, and seeks the LORD (1 Kings 20). Way to go. Oh, wait, he doesn't do all that God commands. Fool.

Ahab tries to get some land, doesn't get it, and goes away sad (1 Kings 21). Then, his pagan wife says, "You're the king; you get what you want." She has the owner killed off and seizes the property. Oh, my, Jezebel.

The Prophet Elijah shows up to rebuke Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab repents, Jezebel remains a stone. Only time is needed for Ahab to turn away again. A final judgment has its day (1 Kings 22).

Who you marry matters. They are "significant others" because they impact your life, soul, and trajectory more than any other human person. Clearly, Ahab's spiritual condition was revealed when he was attracted to a woman like Jezebel. But it's also clear that her influence over time made him even worse than he was.

1 Kings 21:25-26 (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.)

Truly, behind every good man is a better woman. Behind every evil man is an even worse women. And in others homes, it works the opposite. 

Your sin is your sin. You are solely responsible. And yet, our spouses play a key role in the direction of our lives. And yes, you will be held responsible for the influence you have on your better  half.

Spouses, point each other to the LORD.

Spouses, do not lead your partner into sin.

Spouses, humble yourselves before the LORD and seek His grace.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Any takers?

Would you like a world...

1) Where lying is unacceptable.
2) Adultery forbidden.
3) Forgiveness encouraged.
4) Second chances offered.
5) The lazy challenged to work.
6) The working challenged to help.
7) Wives respecting husbands.
8) Husbands cherishing and loving wives.
9) Children raised with engaged parents.
10) People rejoicing in other people's success rather than coveting and clawing for their share of the pie.

Note: This is the type of community depicted in the Bible that is expected of Christian people. This is the "horrible, dangerous, dehumanizing ethics" of conservative Christianity.

My church isn't perfect, but we refuse to change the ideal set before us for 2000 years. We don't want to lighten a single command of God's Word because we'd lose the beauty of excellence if we'd ever hit our target.

This "impossible" ideal is also what sends us to Jesus for forgiveness, salvation, and the hope of renewal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Silence, the Fermi Paradox, and Hope

In 1969, Samuel Beckett’s play “Breath” hit the stage. It’s a 30 second play. The curtains open, the lights go up, and the stage is filled with scene of garbage and refuse. A moment goes by and a human cry imposes on the gloomy silence. Then a whimper. Then the lights go out.
                For many people, this play depicts their view of life: garbage, isolation, pain, and then the curtain call. It’s in this great despair of loneliness that many people have spent their entire lives seeking a word from another planet. Thousands of people have given their lives to listening to the static of space, hoping, assuming, and expecting to hear a voice from the other side of the universe. And do you know why they expect to hear something? Scientists estimate there are 100 billion earth-like planets in the universe. As such, they believe life should be present elsewhere and thus they keep listening. But nothing has shown up…
                In fact, there’s a scientific theory called the Fermi paradox, named after an early 20th century Italian scientist by the name of Enrico Fermi, that tries to ascertain the apparent contradiction between the high probability of alien life and yet the lack of evidence for such aliens. There are a number of differing theories on why we haven’t heard anything, but my particular favorites are these…
1)      Higher civilizations are here, all around us. But we’re too primitive to perceive them.
2)      There are scary predator civilizations out there, but as more evolved life forms they know better than to broadcast outgoing signals and advertise their locations.

I want you to notice the commonalities between Samuel Beckett and those listening to space…
Silence and loneliness rage our hearts and lives; and there’s a deep longing for something or someone to show themselves and deal with the garbage of our lives. So let me ask…
             What if there was a higher power out there who was personal, communicative, good, and strong enough to explain our condition and provide a solution? What if He, though more highly developed, chose, out of the goodness of His heart, to reveal Himself and a path to hope?
             Sure, some people might perceive him as an alien, predator civilization seeking to destroy our way of life, but others just might trust the good intentions of this super power. Could I be so bold as to suggest that this higher power is the God revealed in the Bible, the God defined and described by Jesus Christ, and the hope laid out in the message of Christianity? 

3 years after Samuel Beckett's play opened, a book was published with a counter-cultural message for a title. What was it? Francis Schaeffer's He is There and He is Not Silent.

Monday, June 20, 2016

To social media or not to social media...?

3000 year old wisdom for today's social media:

Ecclesiastes 7:1 "Do not pay attention to every word people say..."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Are you a sluggard?

A sluggard is a lazy, sluggish person.

Here's an ancient test to see if you are a sluggard (Proverbs 26:13-16):

1) A sluggard sees danger in front of them wherever they go. This becomes an excuse to remain idle. They avoid anything that appears moderately risky or challenging, assuming life is supposed to 'just work.' 'The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!"' (Proverbs 26:13)

2) A sluggard in bed is as natural as a door on its hinges. A sluggard finds all manner of reasons to sleep in, call in sick, and need a "me day." "As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed." (Proverbs 26:14)

3) A sluggard has accustomed themselves to laziness so much that simple, normal human activity is exhausting. "The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth." (Proverbs 26:15)

4) A sluggard has an excuse, an answer, and a person to blame for all the reasons life is hard, work is lacking, and inactivity abounds. "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly." (Proverbs 26:16)

Look at Christ who died for you. Die to self and commit to sacrificial living for Christ and others. Trust that power, joy, and purpose flows from God for any and all willing to surrender their lives to Him.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A book review of Understanding Gender Dysphora

Understanding Gender Dysphoria (2015) is not for the faint of heart. For starters, this text is for those already familiar with debates regarding gender and homosexuality.[1] Second, Yarhouse does not shy away from technical language and research that quickly bogs down a book intended for a general audience. If, however, you have cut your teeth on introductory writings and now want to minister faithfully to people with questions about gender and sexuality, Yarhouse can help.

Gender dysphoria is a clinical diagnosis describing a person who has acute discomfort or distress regarding their psychological and emotional identity, which feels in contrast with their biological sex (e.g., a biological man feels he is a woman). 

Yarhouse argues there are three different frameworks to consider when ministering to those with gender dysphoria: 

1)      In the “integrity framework,” Christians uphold the Biblical testimony of gender being either male or female (Genesis 1-2). Thus, they teach that any practice (dress, behavior, etc.) contrary to one’s birth sex/gender is unbiblical. Yarhouse argues (in straw-man fashion, unfortunately) that the integrity framework is quick to blame a person as sinful and guilty for their own gender dysphoria. (In my experience, many Christians hold to the integrity framework on sexuality and also hold with integrity God's command to love all people and to serve each person, regardless of their sense of gender, sexual orientation, or behavior. They are marked by offering grace, not shame or blame.)

2)      In the “disability framework,” Christians would continue to uphold the Biblical testimony regarding gender, but they would see conditions like gender dysphoria being the result of the Fall. As such, Christians would not assume gender dysphoria is the result of individual sin or choice, but a matter of brokenness and in need of compassion and care. As such, Christians would minister to those with gender dysphoria like those who have any manner of psychological disorders, long-term addictions, and/or post-traumatic conditions.

3)      In the “diversity framework,” some Christians would offer full acceptance and celebration of people who want to live out a gender identity contrary to their biology, even offering support of transformations via dress, hormones, surgery, etc. In another version of the diversity framework, Christians would not necessarily support comprehensive efforts at adopting a gender contrary to their birth, but they would celebrate diverse gender experiences and create safe places for growing in Christ.

Yarhouse believes Christians should interlock all three frameworks for an integrated approach. The strength of the integrated approach is it both upholds historic Christian doctrine and keeps love and compassion central. Its weakness is that the diversity framework can quickly trump the other two. Likewise, the emphasis on diversity has all manner of practical and doctrinal concerns (Would we celebrate someone who felt like a dog trapped in a man’s body? Would we celebrate an anorexic woman who thought she was fat? I'm not equating gender dysphoria with these types of dysphoria, but at the end of the day, someone has to have an external authority determining what is healthy and appropriate thought patterns). Certainly, Christians must love the hurting and confused, the sinner and the saint, but we should be careful to only celebrate what is good, true, and beautiful (Romans 12:9).

Despite my hesitancy to fully embrace Yarhouse’s integrated approach, his commitments to Scripture and love in a broken world are essential for the raging debates before us, and more importantly, the immortal human persons around us.

[1] Better starting books would be Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting, and any of the excellent writings of Rosaria Butterfield and Christian Yuan.