Sanctity of Human Life and the Dangerous Divide of Politics and Faith

Let me be up front, I am not a fan of American politics. I think they are divisive and reductionistic, focused less on doing what is right (or searching for what is right) and more on getting re-elected. I hate the false dichotomy that Americans have been fed for so long that one party has the moral high ground compared to the other. Both parties have proven to be tribalistic and self-focused with more concern for personal gain than the common good.

That being said, one issue on which I just can’t move is the issue of abortion. I believe that the protection of all human life is not a political issue but a divine mandate by God (e.g., Gen. 9:5-6; Deut. 27:25; Ps. 127:3; Psalm 139:13-15; Deut. 30:19). I believe the government should protect the freedom of all people, but I don’t buy into the argument that this is a “women’s choice” issue. One of the strongest denouncements of abortion came from the mouth of John Piper a number of years ago. In response to President Obama’s statements on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Piper spoke with prophetic eloquence and power. What I love about his response is that is drenched in love and respect for the then newly elected president (a sentiment not all can echo). Listen carefully to a passionate plea to protect the most innocent among us. The video is only a few minutes long but every word is drenched in prayer, power, and Biblical conviction.

Our church supports a local organization that helps women in crisis pregnancy situations. I would encourage you to seek out such organizations that are on the front lines of helping pregnant women and their babies. Pray for them and give to them because it is more than a cause.

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What Me? Entitled?

Lately, things haven’t seemed to go that great. There have been some good moments amid the turmoil of life over the last few months. But even with the many ways that I know I’m blessed, I’ve struggled to gain any traction in my quest for joy and contentment.

As I’ve examined my heart and life, I’ve come across one of the problems. I feel entitled.

Normally I don’t think of myself as entitled. I don’t mind working for what I have. I don’t expect people to just give me things. But in my attitude with God I noticed that I felt, at least in some small way, that he should treat me better.

It’s a classic “older brother” move (see Tim Keller’s teaching on Luke 15, from whom I learned much of this). You know in Luke 15, the famous story of the prodigal son. The younger brother takes his inheritance from his living father and goes off into the far country to live a life of personal pleasure. When he takes his inheritance he is telling the father that he wishes him dead. An inheritance is something you get when the father dies. At the end of the day, the younger brother wants the father’s stuff, not the father.

But the story doesn’t end there. There is another brother. Luke 15 is really the story of two brothers. It is in the “older brother” that I saw some of the seeds of disappointment that had sprouted in my heart. You see, the older brother worked hard for the father. He obeyed, he served, he followed the rules. When the younger brother comes back from his journey of sin, the older brother is angry, hurt, and mad that the father would forgive and celebrate his brother. Why? Because he had served all these years and never received a party! You see, he had the same basic attitude of the younger brother. He wanted the father’s stuff (e.g., the party, the affirmation, the inheritance) he just thought he could get it through obedience rather than rebellion.

I think one of the reasons I’ve felt such disappointment lately is that at my core I expected God to treat me better. I thought I deserved better. I thought I’d made enough sacrifices and been faithful enough that God owed me something. But that’s wrong.

The truth is I deserved nothing but alienation and punishment from God. I was an enemy of God in my sin and my service does not entitle me to anything. My service should be from a place of gratitude and love. Rather than serving God to get something I should serve because I have been given everything. Such an attitude overthrows the entitlement mentality that can rob of joy. Entitlement sets up my human desires as the arbiter of what is right. The gospel sets up God as the highest joy to which nothing can compare.

If all I want is the blessings of God then I don’t really want God. And if my joy is based on my circumstances, then it will always be an up and down sort of thing. What I am learning is that God is enough. Only God is enough. Nothing other than God will ever be enough. What freedom to let go of what I think I deserve and hold onto the only one who matters.

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Unity vs. Agreement

Recently I preached a message on Philippians 1:27-2:11, essentially the central passage in Philippians arguing that we are to be “together for the gospel.” Christian unity is from God through his Spirit and is centered on the gospel. As such, it is infused with grace and always gives the benefit of the doubt to others. Because it is “gospel-centered” it isn’t based on personal preferences or opinions so there is room for diversity. As Christians brothers and sisters we can be united in purpose (i.e., the gospel) while being very different in many areas. If we flatten our churches to external uniformity rather than Spirit-filled unity we rob the gospel of its power.

After I preached the message I ran across this article that had one really interesting quote in response to the complaint some might have that they “don’t agree with everything that is being preached”:

You know what? Neither do I and I’m the pastor. As such I fully reserve the right to disagree with myself. And every now and then I do exactly that. Why? Because I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m asking questions. And my hope is that those I pastor are doing likewise. If you insist that your pastor agree with you on every little thing under the sun, you are going to either hop from church to church for the rest of your life in perpetual disappointment or you will eventually give up and drop out altogether. Chances are you are not going to agree with everything that is preached anywhere. As long as your pastor isn’t preaching… heresy, you can afford to disagree on secondary issues. The truth is when you choose to stay despite disagreeing on some things, you, your pastor and your church are better for it.

If you want to hear my plea for “unity for gospel” you can watch the message below:

A Good Looking Family Devotion Resource

51fPvKKo5TL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_I mentioned the other day about the Jesus Storybook Bible and recently came across another family devotion resource called Long Story Short. This one seems aimed at kids a little older than Jackson (who’s not even 2 yet). But it focuses on being helping facilitate discussion based on the Bible.

Here’s the author’s description:

Transform Your Family with Ten Minutes a Day in the Gospel Story Christian parents know the importance of passing the gospel story on to their children, yet we live in a busy world filled with distractions. Schedules collide, there is homework and yard work and dishes and laundry, the car s oil should be changed, there are phone calls to make…and before you know it, everyone is getting to bed late again. The Bible can seem like a long story for an active family to read, but when you break it down into short sections, as Marty Machowski does, family devotions are easy to do. Long Story Short will help busy parents share with their children how every story in the Old Testament points forward to God s story of salvation through Jesus Christ. You won t find a more important focus for a family devotional than a daily highlighting of the gospel of grace. Clever stories and good moral lessons may entertain and even help children, but the gospel will transform children. The gospel is deep enough to keep the oldest and wisest parents learning and growing all their lives, yet simple enough to transform the heart of the first grader who has just begun to read. Ten minutes a day, five days a week is enough time to pass on the most valuable treasure the world has ever known. Long Story Short is a family devotional program designed to explain God s plan of salvation through the Old Testament and is suitable for children from preschool through high school.

I hope that description captured you like it did me. “Clever stories and good moral lessons may entertain and even help children, but the gospel will transform…”

My Weakness is Always a Painful Reminder

broken-potI’m in that place again. You may be familiar with it yourself. You know, that place of inadequacy, uncertainty, and doubt. Paul described it as “weakness.” Everyone gets there sometime. For some it takes on the full symptoms of debilitating depression. I can’t always explain what gets me hear. Fear? Confusion? Sin? I’m not sure I always know. Other times it’s plenty obvious.

I guess it’s good to admit that I don’t have the answers. I’m such a ‘know-it-all’ sometimes. But life has decided to prove me wrong. Take that back, God has decided to prove me wrong. There is too much I don’t know and too much I can’t do. I’d rather have less answers and know God more.

Today I’m choosing to accept my “weakness.” My inadequacy seems to be the best platform for God to display his power (2 Corinthians 12:9). In fact, I think that recognizing my complete inability to fulfill the tasks which God has assigned  (2 Corinthians 2:16) is a wonderful foundation from which to work. My weakness is a beautiful showcase for God’s glory.

Family Devotions from the Beginning – “The Jesus Storybook Bible”

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One of the best decisions we have made since Jackson was born was making reading the Bible as a family a priority every night. Even when he was an infant, we started reading the Bible every night. We first used My First Message but as soon as we were given the Jesus Storybook Bible (thanks Aunt Kara!) we were hooked. I think Whitney and I look forward to this time every night even more than Jackson. The stories are Biblically accurate, theologically sound, and convicting. The gospel is always in view whether the story is an Old Testament Narrative or a New Testament epistle. Take this excerpt from 1 Samuel 16 when God chose David to be Israel’s King:

God chose David to be king because God was getting his people ready for an even greater King who was coming. Once again, God would say, “Go to Bethlehem. You’ll find the new King there.” And there, one starry night in Bethlehem, in the town of David, three Wise Men would find him.

I’d dare to recommend that everyone (kids or not) get this wonderful book and read it. You could use it as a daily devotional or just to help focus you on the central focus of Scripture.

Valley of Dry Bones, Ezekiel 37

I just figured I’d compile a two part series on Ezekiel 37 I preached. This famous story takes place in the “Valley of Dry Bones.” It is poignant, gripping, and powerful. The underlying message is simple: HOPE.

“The Valley of Dry Bones” (Part 1) – “From Death to Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-10)

“The Valley of Dry Bones” (Part 1) – “Hope Lived Out” (Ezekiel 37:11-14)

My Preaching Essentials (Part 3)

PreacherVisionAnd the list continues from here and here
7. Clear. This one seems pretty obvious. However, I know how much fuzzy thinking can make fuzzy sermons. In addition, I know from personal experience (I repent!) how trying to sound smart can ruin a message. If the people don’t understand then you have communicated well. (Ephesians 4:12-13; Ecclesiastes 12:9–10)
8. Expectant. This one is tough for me. I often settle into defeat too soon. It is easy for duty to become an end in itself. However, the Bible makes clear that God is powerful and that his word will accomplish much. I must preach with a heart that trusts God will accomplish his purposes. I must preach with confidence that God will finish what he started! (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 4:16; Isaiah 55:11)
9. Theological. Theology is the task of translating the timeless gospel to a particular culture. For that reason, theologians through the ages have used contemporary language and thought to explain the truth of God’s word. Just think about it. Why don’t we just read the Bible when we assemble as the church? Why do we do more than that? Why do we explain and apply the message? Are we adding to the timeless gospel? No, we are articulating the timeless message to our culture. The preacher is bridging the linguistic and cultural gap between the Bible and his audience. He is showing how the world of the Bible is the real world that makes sense of all our current experiences, hopes, and fears. A good preacher connects his audience to God’s word. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
It is because preaching is not exposition only but communication, not just the exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to living people who need to hear it.
John Stott

My Preaching Essentials (Part 2)

PreacherVisionAnd the list continues…
4. PreparationSome circles emphasize extemporaneous preaching. I think there should be great freedom for the Spirit to work in a preaching setting. That being said, flexibility is usually enabled by preparation. Why should one carefully prepare? First, it is the model of Scripture.  When the apostles spoke, their message was theologically deep and biblically sound. They had pondered what they would say. When the Scripture writers wrote, they carefully crafted arguments with deep biblical connections and powerful rhetoric. The Biblical writers demonstrated great care in the way they used words. We would do well to emulate their example. Second, the text of Scripture is too important to teach flippantly. In addition, though it is able to be understood it is not always easy to understand. The distance between our language and the languages of the Bible, our culture and the cultures of the Bible, and our background and the backgrounds of the Bible necessitate care in teaching its message. (1 Timothy 4:11–16)
5. Honest. I know the temptation to preach ‘what works’. I know the ‘that’ll preach’ mentality. I know how my ego and desire for approval bids me sacrifice truth at the altar of utility. My appeal to preachers is to avoid pragmatism. Be honest with people even when the honest answer is not always the easiest thing to preach. Share your struggles. Preach the difficult texts.
Be honest about the text. Tell people when there is a passage that exceeds your understanding. Explain interpretive options when you don’t know which is best. The tendency for preachers is to yell louder and make statements of certainty to overshadow any doubts. However, the historical, textual, and hermeneutical difficulties make it tough to preach. Rejoice in the diversity and celebrate the difficulty. One example of a difficult text is the famous pericope de adulterae (the story of the adulterous woman) found in John 7:53–8:11. Whether or not this story really happened, the evidence is strong that it is not original to John’s gospel. The historical and textual evidence points fairly conclusively to it being a later addition. However, this story ‘will preach.’ It’s powerful and illustrates a lot of honest truths about Christ. However, what will preach and what is original to the Bible conflict (in this instance). I would implore preachers to trust the plan of God in the organization and content of Scripture. What is original is sufficient. Some hearers might be dismayed by such a choice but I think the harm done by glossing over the truth will be exposed when someone less amenable to Christianity uses Christian deceit or ignorance to undermine the truthfulness of the Bible. Be honest when you preach! (Colossians 2:8)
Be honest about yourself. Be honest about your sin. Be honest about your failures. Be honest about your limitations. Be honest about your sources. Be honest about your life. Be honest about your credentials. The end.  (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Titus 2:7)
6. Textual. This is a good counterbalance to my talk about originality. While the messenger is unique, the message is timeless. The text should determine the shape and structure of the message. I love Andy Stanley’s classic, Communicating for a Change. He has a lot of good information for communicators on how to memorably and winsomely engage an audience with a message. My biggest concern with his thesis is in regard to his ‘one point sermon.’ He lays out an argument from pragmatism. Essentially, people can only remember one point when you preach. In addition, the preacher can only really make an impact if he has a laser focus around one clear area. While I think people can remember, understand, and apply more than one point, my major critique is that the principle of a ‘one point message’ dare not overrun the logic of God’s Word. Sometimes a self-contained pericope contains multiple points. What if Paul uses multiple points to get his message across? Am I, the contemporary preacher, really confident that the original authors intent is of no value in this case? Am I willing to overrun the organization and rhetoric of the original text to make it more palatable for the modern audience? Ultimately, we only know God if he speaks to us. Let’s trust that what he said and how he said it is sufficient. For more on this, see Mark Dever and David Platt talking about the role of expository preaching in a healthy church. (1 Timothy 4:11–16)

theology, life, culture, and miscellany