The Ark

Dorothy Church near Drumheller, AlbertaIt does not require advanced observational skills to know that our world is corrupt. The Psalmist tells us that the Lord “daily loads us with benefits” (Psa. 68:19). In that same prose the newspaper daily loads us with woes.

We are inundated by our media with the horrors of power in the hands of corrupt politicians, of passions and diversions that end in disaster, the corruption of love and intimacy and the devaluing of person-hood in the aged and unborn. Some of these realities, like the atrocities of convicted Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, are too disturbing to even approach.

Our world is fundamentally flawed. It seems no sooner does one evil dictator die that another takes his place. Scandal is followed by fallout and reaction which is often followed by even more scandal.

If the disease of the human condition wasn’t enough we also have to face the awful disasters that nature brings. So far, just in 2013, there has been devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma, a Nor’easter dump almost 23 inches of snow and ice on New England, dozens of earthquakes, wildfires in Colorado, flooding in Central Europe, and a meteor hit Chelyabinsk in Russia. Even the Earth, with its thorns and thistles, has been corrupted by the curse of sin (Gen. 3:17-18). The scriptures are true when they say that the Earth groans and waits for its redemption (Romans 8:18-23).

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if we could find a place of solace in ourselves but the awful truth is we are complicit as well. It’s one thing to shake our head at the demise of culture and the reckless, selfish behavior of others. It’s another thing altogether to look inside and realize the same decay is alive in me.

Many Christian movements have a tendency to hide in response to our culture. They insulate, hunker down and attempt to ignore the world and the culture around them in order to protect it’s decay from effecting all that they value. As a husband, parent and Pastor it is easy to understand the desire to run, hide and seclude everything and everyone you value. However, that is not always possible, nor is it necessarily a believer’s best or only response to the disease of our culture.

The Israelites, slaves in Egypt, were under the threat of Pharaoh. Fearing the swelling number of Israelites he ordered the midwives to kill all the boys born to the Hebrew mothers (Exodus 1-2). Fearing God, scriptures say, that the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and let the baby boys live. Seeing that the midwives wouldn’t obey, “Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” (Exodus 1:22 ESV)

So it came as a surprise to me when I read the next 3 verses. Jochebed, Moses mother, after hiding him for three months in their house, could hide him no longer. So she made a little ark and she put him in the river.

The river. The thing that was drowning all the others babies. The river was her problem. Why would she put him in the river?

The unfortunate reality is there is no avoiding the river. I would love to fully encase my children in bubble wrap, hide them in our house and shelter them from all the evil and pain in the world. I would very much enjoy the ability to prevent the families in our church from having to deal with divorce, death and disaster. But I can’t. I cannot keep them from the river. Everyone faces the river.

Thankfully, I am not totally powerless. I may not be able to keep them from the river but just like Jochebed I can put them in something that can keep them from the rivers effect. When it came time for Moses to face the river, Jochebed put Moses in an ark. So while others were drowning in the river Moses was drawn out of the river. Even his name, which means “drawn out”, testifies to the preserving power of the ark.

It was an ark that preserved Noah’s family during the great flood. It was an ark that preserved Moses in the river. It is still an ark that preserves the righteous today. You and I can place our families, friends and loved ones in the church! The church of Jesus Christ is an ark of safety (Heb. 11:7) that, though we cannot avoid the river, we can be preserved from the rivers effect.

The local church is the hope of the world. It preserves and declares and protects. It exists for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His followers.

Thank God for the church!

The Definition of Marriage

girl & boyThis week the Supreme Court is hearing arguments over the definition of marriage in the United States. This is a political and social cauldron that has been brewing for decades and now heads to the Supreme Court for a decision.

Some would ask what all the trouble is about. If you love someone shouldn’t you be allowed to marry them? While on its face that seems a simple and justifiable position it posits some irrational assumptions. The same logic can be used to defend polygamous marriages, sibling marriage and virtually any other “marriage” one could conceive. Essentially marriage will lose its definition if same-sex marriage is deemed a culturally acceptable marriage.

Furthermore, as a Christian, same-sex marriage is also unthinkable because I believe the Bible is the definitive objective moral standard that all people should adhere to and the Bible defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. The state does not confer the right to marriage. Marriage is a religious institution, defined and designed by God into the essence of nature, that the state recognizes for its social, cultural and economic benefits.

Marriages are entered into every day by the hundreds yet it is greater than a cultural event. Though marriage is administered by law it is more than a legal contract. Though it is respected by society it is more than a civil union. Marriage is, above all else, a sacred covenant, instituted by God, upheld by His law, blessed by His hand and is to be honored by all men.

Blogger Mike McManus offers some interesting statistics here regarding same sex marriage:

Gays are not interested in marriage. Massachusetts was the first state to adopt gay marriage in 2004. However, there’ve been only 12,000 same-sex unions. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4% of men are gay and 1% of women are lesbian. Thus, of the state’s 3.3 million males, there are [potentially] 132,000 gay men, plus 33,000 lesbians. Only 14% of the 165,000 have “married” and 86% chose not to do so…[indicating] most are not interested in marriage.

Why should the definition of marriage be changed when less than a tenth of 2% of the population wants to force that change? In all 30 states that have added constitutional amendments limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman, traditional marriage has always been upheld by referenda, even in California.

Children need a mother and father. The healthiest children are those reared by a married mother and father. “Marriage is the union of a husband and wife for a reason: these are the only unions that can make new life and connect children in love to their mom and dad,” says Maggie Gallagher, President of National Organization for Marriage.

Homosexual men are 4% of the population but account for half of all new HIV infections and 85% of syphilis cases. According to the CDC, men having sex with men (MSM) account for 48% of the one million people living with HIV, (532,000), 53% of new HIV infections (28,700). MSM are the only risk group in the U.S. in which new HIV infections have been increasing since the early 1990s.

Gay men live 20 years shorter lives than heterosexuals, according to the only epidemiological study to date. A tenth of sexually active teens are experimenting with same-sex unions, reports a New York City study, published in the journal Pediatrics. Why encourage more teens to experiment with this destructive life style?

In summary, unlike heterosexual marriage in which fidelity is the norm for four out of five couples, promiscuity is the norm for homosexuals, even those in committed relationships. Only a tenth of gays marry if given the legal opportunity to do so. Most are not interested in marrying.

If they aren’t interested, why force a change in the definition of marriage to benefit a tenth of 2% of the population? It will only encourage more sexual experimentation among young people with tragic consequences. They will live 20 years shorter lives.

For children to thrive, they need to grow up in homes with a married mother and father. In his 1828 American Dictionary, Noah Webster defined marriage as the “act of uniting a man and a woman for life,” because marriage “was instituted …for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity, and for securing the maintenance and education of children.”

Pastor and Author Kevin DeYoung offers this insight from his blog post, A Few Things to Consider Before Supporting Gay Marriage at The Gospel Coalition.

A pundit on the radio opined that opposing gay marriage is “Neanderthal” because he believes, “people should be able to marry whoever they want.” This was a well known talking head giving voice to a sentiment shared all across this fruited plain. On college campuses, around dining room tables, and in not a few of our churches, gay marriage marches on by the simple logic that says: what business do we have telling people who they can or can’t marry?

As impressive as the argument sounds–barreling down at us with the strong force of moral superiority and the implicit charge of intolerance–the logic is less than meets the eye.

Let’s think about what is not at stake in our culture’s debate over gay marriage.

  • The state is not threatening to criminalize homosexual behavior. Though many Americans believe the behavior is wrong (and until fairly recently homosexual acts were against the law in some states), the debate at present is not about whether homosexuality is legal or not. No one questions that it is.
  • The state is not going to prohibit homosexuals from committing themselves to each other in public ceremonies or religious celebrations.
  • The state is not going to legislate whether two adults can live together or profess love for one another.

The issue is not about controlling “what people do in their bedrooms” or “who they can love.” The issue is about what sort of union the state will recognize as “marriage” and confer all the benefits thereof. The state doesn’t tell us who we can be friends with or who we can live with. You can have one friend or three friends or a hundred. You can live with your sister, your mother, your dog, or your buddy from work. You can celebrate your relationship with your grandma or your college roommate however you want. But none of these relationships–no matter how special–are marriages. The state’s refusal to recognize these relationships as “marriage” does not keep us from pursuing them, enjoying them, or counting them as significant.

The debate is often cast as freedom (those who support anyone marrying anyone) versus oppression (those who want to tell you who you can marry). Conservatives are losing the debate because that’s the narrative being told in a thousand television episodes, in a thousand songs, and by an increasing number of politicians and educators. But in the long run, the triumph of gay marriage (should it triumph as a cultural and legal reality) will mean the restriction of freedoms for millions of Americans.

This will happen in obvious ways at first–by ostracizing those who disagree, by bullying with political correctness, and by trampling on religious liberty. Surely, Christians must realize that no matter how many caveats we issue, not matter how much we nuance our stance, no matter how much we encourage or show compassion for homosexuals, it will not be enough to ward off the charges of hatred and homophobia. We will have many opportunities in the years ahead to walk in the steps of Jesus who when reviled, did not revile in return, and when he suffered, did not threaten but continued to entrust himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).

But gay marriage will challenge our freedoms in others way too. It’s not just Evangelicals, traditional Catholics, and Mormons who will be threatened. Once the government gains new powers, it rarely relinquishes them. There will be a soft tyranny that grows as the power of the state increases, a growth that is intrinsic to the  notion of gay marriage itself.

Marriage a Pre-Political Institution

In the traditional view, marriage is what it is. It’s the union of one man and one woman. That’s what marriage is, before the state calls it as such or confers any benefits on it. Marriage, in the traditional view, is a pre-political institution. The state doesn’t determine what defines marriage; it only recognizes marriage and privileges it in certain ways. So “gay marriage” is actually “so-called marriage” because the state does not have the authority to redefine a pre-political reality.

In the revisionist view, by contrast, there is no is to marriage. To be fair, some advocates of gay marriage would say monogamy is still essential to marriage. That is, the one person-one person relationship, for some revisionists, still constitutes the essence of marriage. But many supporters would not make this claim. In fact, many are open that their end goal to abolish all bourgeois marriage. Even the ones that do promote monogamy find it hard to maintain logical consistency. If monogamy is what marriage is, then can a brother and sister be married? What about an acquaintance you meet on the internet with no intention of ever meeting in person? Can these two be married? Surely, the revisionist won’t want to say sexual intimacy is what makes marriage marriage. For then they too would be in the business of telling adults who they can and can’t marry. If your love isn’t sexual it doesn’t count.

And by what logic should marriage be restricted to two persons? Already in California a three-parent law is in the works. Multiple-person marriages will not be far behind. Why can’t three people be married? Or four or fifteen? And why should exclusivity have anything to do with it? Surely, we don’t want to stop adults from being married to whomever they want, even if they want to be married to six people at the same time.

This may sound like extreme reductio ad absurdum, but the premise behind these examples is already well on its way to being established. Once you argue that we have no right to refuse marriage to those who want their relationships to be defined as marriage, you’ve sold the definitional farm. You’ve effectively denied that marriage has any essence of its own. Marriage is whatever the state wants it to be.

What an irony: the many young people (and a growing number of young Christians) who support gay marriage on libertarian grounds are actually ceding to the state a vast amount of heretofore unknown power. No longer is marriage recognized as a pre-political entity which exists independent of the state. Now the state defines marriage and authorizes its existence.

Divine Design and the Common Good

One of the reasons gay marriage enjoys increasing support is because it doesn’t appear to harm anyone. The only threat, is seems, comes from those who defend traditional marriage and wish to force their morality on others. Our culture is fickle. It says “live and let live” when it comes to the most powerful human bonds and the most enduring institutions, but it insists on protecting the “other” with fundamentalist zeal when it comes to trans fat, cigarettes, and carbon emissions.

The unspoken secret, however, is that homosexual behavior is not harmless. Homosexuals are at a far greater risk for diseases like syphilis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, gonorrhea, HPV, and gay bowel syndrome. The high rate of these diseases is due both to widespread promiscuity in the gay community and the nature of anal and oral intercourse itself. Homosexual relationships are usually portrayed as a slight variation on the traditional “norm” of husband-wife monogamy. But monogamy is much less common among homosexual relationships, and even for those who value monogamy the definition of fidelity is much looser.

Gay marriage will also be harmful for our society. We must consider why the state has, for all these years, bothered to recognize marriage in the first place. What’s the big deal? Why not let people have whatever relationships they choose and call it whatever they want? Why go to the trouble of sanctioning a specific relationship and giving it a unique legal standing? The reason is because the state has an interest in promoting the familial arrangement which has a mother and a father raising the children that came from their union. The state has been in the marriage business for the common good and for the well-being of the society it is supposed to protect. Kids do better with a mom and a dad. Communities do better when husbands and wives stay together. Hundreds of studies confirm both of these statements (though we all can think of individual exceptions I’m sure). Gay marriage assumes that marriage is re-definable and the moving parts replaceable.

By recognizing gay unions as marriage, just like the husband-wife relationship we’ve always called marriage, the state is engaging in (or at least codifying) a massive re-engineering of our social life. It assumes the indistinguishability of gender in parenting, the relative unimportance of procreation in marriage, and the near infinite flexibility as to what sorts of structures and habits lead to human flourishing.

It may seem Neanderthal to think the state should not confer the rights and privileges of “marriage” upon whomever it chooses by whatever definition it pleases, but give it time. Experiments in sexual freedom have a tendency to blow up in the laboratory of real life. Would anyone say the family is stronger today because of the sexual revolution and no-fault divorce laws? Human nature and divine design are not set aside as easily as our laws and traditions.

Pray for our nation and pray for our culture. Sin has an infectious ability to corrupt everything it touches. For the spiritual health of our cities, our nation and our families we must defend the Biblical definition of marriage and continue to be salt and light by exampling in our lives what God’s ideal plan for the family looks like and by living in the blessing of Biblical marriage.

Hymns

I was raised singing hymns from a hymn book. The church I attended, from the time I was born until I was 18 and went to college, was in the South Suburbs of Chicago and we sang hymns every Sunday. Not the boring kind of high octave soprano hymns but the black gospel, hammond b-3 organ driven, foot tapping, hand clapping kind of hymns. Songs about the blood and victory and heaven. I love the old hymns of the church.

I also like some of the new songs. If the reason we worship and sing is to express our hearts and devotion to God in song then every generation deserves their worship songs. Just because something is old does not make it outdated and just because something is new it is not necessarily better. And vice versa.

Charles Stone recently posted a blog entry about Hymns and what they mean to him and the church. I found it interesting, worth considering, and wanted to pass it on to you. You can read his blog post here or scroll below for the full article.

Last Sunday night I attended an old-fashioned Gospel sing at a church near our home.

It was out of my comfort zone because the last 25 years I’ve served in churches that primarily used contemporary worship music in their services. Yet, from toddler age through college I attended churches that primarily used hymns.

When the seeker movement became widespread, I and many other like-minded pastors classified traditional hymns as barriers to church growth. As a result, I seldom used them in the churches I served except for the occasional “Amazing Grace.”

However, as I sat through the Gospel sing, something stirred deep within me.

Had I neglected an important part of my Christian heritage by not incorporating them in the churh services? Should I reconsider them going into the future?

The Gospel sing worked like this. The song leader invited those who attended (a couple hundred) to pick a hymn from the hymn book. They then raised their hands and he’d pick someone. They’d call out the hymnal page number. We’d turn to that page. The pianist would start playing. We’d sing.

After 30 minutes of suggestions and singing, probably 20 songs, we’d take a short break from singing. The pianist then played a medley of hymns and a duet sung a couple hymns. Then we sang for another 30 minutes, prayed and dismissed for ice cream sundaes in the gym.

I thought I’d be bored and planned to surreptitiously follow NFL games on ESPN’s Gametracker on my iPhone. Was I surprised.

Here are several lessons I learned that night.

1. The majority who attended were clearly older than 65, many in their 70s and 80s.
As I watched these seniors sing, their faces glowed with a deep love for Jesus. God reminded me that preferred music styles don’t indicate a person’s love for Him. The builder generation, which is quickly declining, has shown incredible commitment and sacrifice to the cause of Christ the last several decades. Just because they prefer a different music style than my preference doesn’t mean I’m any closer to Jesus than they.

2. I was surprised at how well I recalled these songs I hadn’t sung in more than 20 years.
I seldom even needed to look at the hymnal for the words. I realized how grateful I was to my parents for the rich Christian heritage they gave me. Those many years they took me to Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night services along with revivals and vacation bible schools had left an indelible imprint on my soul. Those hymns had deeply imbedded the truth of God’s word into my heart that I’d never forgotten.

3. I marveled at the magnificence of how God created our brains.
Music increases our ability to recall truth because it enhances long-term memory. Even after decades of not reading the words or singing the hymns, my mind easily recalled them. This thought reminded me how important music should play in our services to imbed theology into the hearts of believers.

4. I felt sad as I watched my youngest daughter who sat next to me.
As my wife and I sang, she followed along as best as she could, yet she hardly knew a single hymn. Either my naivety or my pride (or both) had caused me to neglect this powerful medium to teach the essence of the Faith. My kids had become the losers.

5. Finally, I resolved to bring hymns back into the churches I serve.
While updating their tempo and style a bit, I want those young and old in the faith to encounter the living Christ through the power of God’s word hitched to the medium of hymn music.

What are your thoughts on hymns? Do you believe we have neglected them? If so, how have you incorporated them into your services?

Christians and Politics

Unless you’ve been living under a cabin in the woods for the last few months you’re probably aware there is an election coming up. On Tuesday, November 6th the United States will hold an election for President, among many other offices to be filled. Issues and controversies have become contentious over the past several months and the topic of faith is often brought to the center.

The question is, how involved, if at all, should Christians be in politics? To answer this question there are basically three schools of thought.

1. We should divorce ourselves completely from the secular political process.

The problem I see with this position is that it is not supported by scripture and could potentially be detrimental to the spiritual health and condition of a nation. If believers remove their voice from the process we are vacating our responsibility to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16, ESV). We become complicit in our nations cultural decay if we do nothing to promote righteousness, which, incidentally, “exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34, ESV). The uncomfortable call of Christians has always been to stand against the plague of sin and decay that inevitably forms across nations and people and to push it back with the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. We should immerse ourselves in politics and activism.

John MacArthur addresses this issue well. He says here:

Many think [sinful, cultural decline] is a political problem that will not be solved without a political strategy. During the past twenty-five years, well-meaning Christians have founded a number of evangelical activist organizations and sunk millions of dollars into them in an effort to use the apparatus of politics–lobbying, legislation, demonstration, and boycott–to counteract the moral decline of American culture. They pour their energy and other resources into efforts to drum up a “Christian” political movement that will fight back against the prevailing anti-Christian culture.

But is that a proper perspective? I believe not. America’s moral decline is a spiritual problem, not a political one, and its solution is the gospel, not partisan politics.

3. Find a position of balance where we can remain informed and engaged.

I believe Christians should be engaged and informed. We should not be ignorant of the issues, individuals or the process nor should we be obsessed with them. We should take account of what really matters and vote according to our conscience and faith. The fact is, we have to vote for somebody. If we abandon the process we are complicit in its decay. So we should be informed and engaged and vote accordingly.

Regardless of which candidate is elected, whether we approve of their policies and party or not, the Bible commands us to respect and honor them (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). We are also instructed to pray for those in authority over us (Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). We do not have to agree with them, or even like them, but we do have to respect them. Politics is always going to be a difficult issue for Christians. We are in this world but are not to be of this world (1 John 2:15). We can be involved in politics, but we should not be obsessed with politics. Ultimately, we are to be heavenly minded, more concerned with the things of God than the things of this world (Colossians 3:1-2). As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all members of the same political party; monarchists who are waiting for their King to return (Revelation 19:11-16).

Why Give to World Missions?

Today, the least churched nations in the world are where Christianity was birthed. Missiologists speak of this area as the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window is made up of 28 Muslim Countries, 1.1 Billion population (est 2000), 2 Hindu Countries, 1.1 Billion population (est 2000), and 8 Buddhist Countries, 237 Million population (est 2000) totaling almost 2.5 Billion people with limited access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The 10/40 Window includes nations such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, China, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Western Sahara, and Yemen.

According to researchers the 10/40 Window constitutes 82% of the poorest of the world’s poor (per capita GNP less than US$500 per year), 84% of those with lowest quality of life (life expectancy, infant mortality, and literacy), the hub of the world’s major non-Christian religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) close to 100% of those who are both most-poor and have least-access to Christian resources, the least Christian resource investment and least sharing of the Christian message.

These are all “Old World” nations (mostly in the eastern hemisphere) with at least 50 percent of their land mass falling within 10 to 40 degrees latitude. These are all nations that need a revival of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Violence, sickness, poverty and oppression that can only be broken by the Spirit of God dominate in this region of the world. Missionaries who leave the comforts of their home and families to evangelize these nations are deserving of our financial support.

Allow me to give you 10 Reasons why Christians should invest in the Kingdom of God by giving to missionaries.

1. Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. (John 14:6)

2. There are 1.6 Billion people who have never heard the Gospel. (Romans 10:14)

3. Jesus instructed us to send people to disciple all nations. (Matthew 9:38; Matthew 28:19)

4. God has blessed us so we can bless the nations with The Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Psalm 67:7)

5. It’s a secure, eternal investment. (Matthew 6:20; Rev. 7:9)

6. You’ll be blessed for giving to God’s work and His people. (Matt. 10:42; 2 Cor. 9:6)

7. Our missionaries are worthy of our support. (Matthew 10.10)

8. God is worthy of the worship of all nations. (Isa. 43:6-7)

9. It’s an act of grace. (2Cor. 8:1-15)

10. Everything we have belongs to God anyway. (Col. 1:16; Haggai 2:8; Psa. 50:12)

Please consider giving to Global Missions. Partner with a Missionary family or ministry. Jesus wants you to help reach the nations with His Gospel for His Glory.