Monday, December 23, 2013

don't miss the point of the virgin birth

This time of year the virgin birth of Jesus is often discussed, for obvious reasons. I want to offer an observation that I think sometimes gets missed in this conversation. I think the entire reason for the virgin birth is often overlooked. 

I remember Dr. Craigen in my Systematic Theology class speaking often of Jesus “entering the stream of humanity.” In my understanding, the virgin birth is not so much about his sinlessness (though he certainly was) as it is about his eternality. Jesus is the uncreated one. He always was. He was not conceived in the way other humans are. He stepped from heaven into the stream of humanity through the womb of a virgin. The virgin birth teaches, undeniably, the eternality of Jesus Christ. The sinless, eternal one chose to humble himself and step into the womb of a young woman.  

What do we lose if we give up the virgin birth? We effectively sabotage the vehicle that God uses to enter planet earth. If we deny the virgin birth, our understanding of who Jesus is will never be accurate or adequate. If someone finds the virgin birth unbelievable, my guess is they've had issues from Genesis 1 through Matthew. God specializes in impossible (miraculous). Mary understood this. She believed Gabriel. "For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Lk 1.37-38)


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's OK to Cringe

We generally shy away from things that make us uncomfortable. As Christians, we go so far sometimes as to assume that it’s not in the plan of God for our lives to situate us in a place that is uncomfortable. Where did we get this unbiblical notion? 

Entering the final week of his life, Jesus has a perspective that is wholly unique. He knows how and when he will die. The final Passover lamb is making his way to the altar. As he systematically moves through this week, he's in complete control. This week will be full of painful physical suffering, relational hurt as he’s abandoned by his closest friends, family pain as he dies in front of his own mother, and a deep spiritual emptiness as he bore the wrath of God and separation from God on the cross. 

Let’s take a quick walk through John 12.27-28. Jesus looks at his day planner for the week and says, “Now is my soul troubled.” Did you know it’s OK to be deeply troubled? Jesus was. There you go, you have permission to cringe at the pain of life. But Jesus didn’t leave things there. He goes on,  “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?” That would have been tempting, right? Let’s get out of here. I don’t want to do Friday. Friday is going to be hard. Can we go straight to Sunday? Jesus knows agony is coming. He steadies himself through his confidence in the Father, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Yes, yes, yes! Can we just try to follow this simple line of thought with Jesus? Life is hard. Life has a purpose. Life is for the glory of God. Sounds like a John Piper sermon, or maybe Piper got those thoughts somewhere, hmmm. 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Practical Polytheism: The 10th Command and Idolatry

Most of you don’t have wooden, stone, or otherwise hand crafted idols in your home. This was a major issue in Biblical times and one that still dominates many cultures today. But are we really free from idolatry? 

This past week in our Equipping Hour, we concluded a study of the 10 Commandments. We considered how the NT views the Big Ten and how they should impact us now, particularly as we view ourselves through the lens of the gospel. To use a broad brush, we concluded that the New Testament writers did indeed uphold the 10 Commandments. Ultimately no one has kept them perfectly. That leads us to the One who did keep them, Jesus. In this way, we see the logic of Gal 3.24, the Law has been the tutor to lead us to Christ, the obedient and righteous one. 

So what now? Do we toss out the commandments? Hardly. In fact, the New Testament ups the ante on the 10. We learn that it’s not enough to not commit adultery, we have to put off lust. We aren’t righteous by simply controlling our urge to murder, we are murders by our anger. 

The last of the 10 Commandments is the command to not covet. This one is particularly interesting because it’s part of the fabric of how most of us think. Interestingly, Paul seemed to have a coveting issue. He uses coveting as his example of how the Law exposes sin in Romans 7.7. Then we have a simple but highly profound statement in Colossians 3.5. In a discussion about various sins to “put off,” Paul says to put off “covetousness, which is idolatry.” By linking coveting with idolatry, Paul takes us from the bottom of the original 10 Commandments back to the top, where it all started. When we covet, we are idolaters. Practically, we have "other gods" and have formed our own idols. That’s a serious problem. 

Let’s park here for a moment. For some reason, we seem to be OK with a “little” coveting. We laugh about it, as if it’s really not a big deal. It’s normal, right? But if we identify it as idolatry, then it’s not quite so funny. Imagine I come over to your house and you have a carved idol. You explain, “Yeah, I have this idol, but I don’t worship it, much.” Small idols are still idols. 

Covetousness is notoriously difficult to discern in our own hearts but the Bible is clear that this is not a sin to be taken lightly. Don’t be a practical polytheist who confesses the one true God but then give your worship to idols through the sin of coveting. The reality is we have an will violate this command. We are law breakers and it drives us to the one who never once coveted. Knowing this forgiveness motivates us to identify coveting and confess it for what it truly is, idolatry. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

CSL on Writing

If you are a student, a pastor, or a story teller, I think you will find this advice helpful from CS Lewis.

"In writing. Don't use adjective which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please will you do my job for me."

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Hair Worth Splitting

I was reading RC Sproul's commentary on John 9 tonight. John 9 tells the familiar story when Jesus heals the man who was born blind. The story in it's full context is rich with festival significance and messianic implications. That aside, RC Sproul makes a distinction between two words that we often use interchangeably - witnessing and evangelism. I've tended to not like using the term "witnessing" so much as evangelism, and I think Dr. Sproul helped me finally put words to my preference.

He argues: "...they [witnessing and evangelism] are not synonyms. Any time I call attention to the person and work of Christ, I am bearing witness to Christ. But that is not the same thing as preaching the gospel." The man born blind was asked by the hostile pharisees to give an account of what happened to him. He says, "Whether he is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see." (Jn 9.24-25) The man bears witness to what Jesus did for him - made him see. Our testimonies serve the same purpose. We can bear witness about what Christ has done in our lives.

But let's hear Dr. Sproul's caution well: "We should all have a prepared testimony, and we should be willing to share it at the drop of a hat." He continues, "But we shouldn't confuse our personal testimonies with the gospel. Sharing our personal testimonies is not evangelism." (John, p 181-182) When we have an opportunity to speak the gospel, let's make sure we aren't only telling our stories, let's tell THE story.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bonhoeffer Quotes

Last night at our midweek service, we looked at a number of quotes from Bonhoeffer's Life Together. It was a refreshing time.

Here are three pages of gold. There's so much of this book that is quotable.


Life Together Quotes

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why I Share the Pulpit

This past Sunday, I sat on the front row while a younger man from our congregation preached the Word. I was glad to be worshipping and listening to an exposition from the book of Hebrews. I took a few minutes during the service to explain why I think it’s a good thing to have other men preach. 

Here’s a summary of what I said. 
1. The Lord uses different voices. Different teachers have ways of communicating fundamentally the same truths but may say it or accent it slightly differently. This can be useful. After many years in youth ministry, I smile when students magically hear something “new” at camp. Sometimes it’s the simplest truth that they’ve heard hundreds of times, but  said in a slightly different way. Praise the Lord that God hasn’t made everyone sound just like me. I’m happy for diversity and how the Lord uses each of us.

2. I look for ways to demonstrate that the church isn’t all about me. Plurality needs some form of expression. I love having other people involved in leading the service, reading Scripture, and sometimes, preaching. I’m thankful that I have the primary responsibility for teaching the flock at SCC. I believe part of my teaching role is teaching by letting others teach. 

3. I firmly believe that the church must take ownership of the next generation of elders and preachers. We have the responsibility to test the giftedness of men for future ministry. I’m glad that in the summer of 1998, I was given an opportunity to preach my first sermon in a little country church outside of Jackson, AL. How would I know if I wanted to do this (or even could) for a living if never given an opportunity? Unfortunately, men get sent off to seminary every year with zero ministry experience. The church needs to step up in this area.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Roundup of Articles on Supreme Court Ruling

Here is a collection of what I’ve found to be the most helpful articles that have been posted about the recent ruling on Prop 8 and DOMA by the Supreme Court. This is an important issue that we need know about. I’m no legal expert but I do want to understand what is going on in our world. I’m thankful for these who have taken the time to get in the weeds to help us understand. 

Trevin Wax explains that this whole conversation can have some positive effect for the church. We need to use the opportunity. 

Jesse Johnson walks through the legal maneuvering that has brought us to this point. The process is fascinating and sad. 

Dr. Mohler gives a synopsis of what has just happened, what is at stake, and where this thing could likely go next. 

Similar to Trevin’s sentiments, Dr. Moore explains how the church must leverage this for gospel purposes. Marriage isn’t incidental to gospel preaching. 

Marvin Olasky of World Magazine walks through the logic of the dissenting opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

38 Years of Faithfulness

Most of you who will read this post have some connection with me. That means the vast majority of you already know that 2 weeks ago, on June 6, 2013, my Dad went to be with Jesus. 

One of the added pains of June 6 is that’s only 2 days before June 8. On June 8, 1975, my mom and dad made a promise to one another. They said that it would only be death that would separate them. That’s exactly what they meant. 

I am grateful that my parents were faithful to one another for just shy of 38 years. The morning of the funeral service, my mom prepared an anniversary card, a Father’s Day card, and a birthday card to be placed in the casket. There are some things in life that you simply will never forget. 

The news today is flooded with stories of those who pervert this sacred bond and revel in  our cultural “progress.” I’m glad that my parents did not just teach me, but lived in front of me what it means to be committed to one another in a true marriage. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Your Ultimate Father

This is the first Father’s Day without my Dad. As I browsed through Twitter this morning, the pics and kind words about having and being fathers is interspersed with those sad that they can’t celebrate this day with their own Fathers. It got me thinking about those who never had a Father involved in their life. Many people live without knowing their dads at all, or maybe the only memory of Dad is pain and heartache. 

If that’s you today, I want to remind you of one simple name of God: Father. The best dad in the world is not perfect. God the Father is the only father that never dies, he’s the Eternal Father (Is 9.6). He is the only one who perfectly gives good gifts to his children (Mt 7.11). He is the perfect disciplinarian as a Father (Heb 12.7-11). The best earthly fathers are just models that point to the true Father, God the Father. 

If you are hurting today, remember that this world is broken. The role of earthly fathers is designed by God to point us to himself, the true and everlasting father who loves his children more than we can even comprehend. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

In Loving Memory of My Dad

Last night the world lost one of the most energetic Kingdom workers God has ever made. My Father left his earthly body around 10:30 on Thursday night, June 6. He had gone to the store and walked back to his room. My mom found him on the floor. He was unresponsive to CPR. There was nothing the paramedics could do. His body was here but he had gone to be with Jesus. 

The flood of emotions and thoughts is impossible to convey right now. I did want to point all or our thoughts to some glorious truths that are serving as anchors for my soul this morning. 

God decides when someone leaves planet earth. "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment". (Heb 9.27). We learn some valuable insights here. All people are going to die and all people die by appointment. You cannot leave planet earth without God's permission. 

A life lived for The Lord is never tragic. My dad loved God more than anything else. He ordered his life around Kingdom work. Though it may seem untimely to die at only 59 years old, the bigger tragedy is living a life that has nothing to do with God and his glory. Praise God that though we grieve, we grieve as those who have hope. (1 Thess 4.13)


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where To Worship

Preaching through John has been one of my favorite experiences since I started teaching the Bible. The understated subtleties are genius. It’s a book that begs us to read it over and over again. It’s so simple that a child can benefit but it’s structure and subplots are so intricate that scholars are still trying to wrap their minds around all that is here. 

One of the little insights that struck me this past week is the way that Jesus rearranged the religious life of Israel. At our church, we are in the middle of the passage where Jesus tenderly yet firmly speaks to the serial fornicator, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. As Jesus begins to prod at her personal life, she quickly changes the subject to something more distant, to a theological debate. She was a Samaritan. Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom (after the split under Rehoboam). They had been conquered in 722BC and many of the people deported. When that happens, immigrants from all over come to inhabit that area. They would eventually marry those Israelites who had been spared producing the “Samaritan” people. The full blooded Jews had a proud lineage and rejected these “half breeds.” The racial tension was intense between these groups. On top of that, the Samaritans had declared their own holy place to worship, Mt. Gerizim, while the “true” Jews to the South claimed Jerusalem (incidentally, they had the right place). 

After Jesus starts reading her mail, Mrs. Lady at the Well bails out of the personal stuff and wants to know about worship. A tactic we’ve all used at some point in conversation — when you don’t really want to talk about personal things. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach that worship isn’t about a place, because God is Spirit and you must worship in spirit and truth. Now that’s interesting. From Jacob’s well, Mt. Gerizim would be in sight. Why is this so significant? 

Just before this, Jesus had rearranged worship in Jerusalem as he cleared out the temple. In the process, he declares the days of the temple are numbered. He is the true temple where worship will take place. Now he goes to Samaria and does away with their holy place too.  The mission of Jesus runs contrary to the religious system of the day. Jesus was not validating one place over another for worship. He simply states they are both becoming obsolete. The place where man meets God is THE true temple, the person of Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hope for Eeyore

A Bad Trajectory
If you are a Christian, you are undoubtedly disappointed by some of the developments of the past years. We are a generation that now calls good evil and evil good. It wasn't all that long ago that you could turn on the TV during prime time and watch with relative peace of mind. Andy Griffith has been replaced with mostly garbage. In recent days, our society rejoices in our progress. What progress have we made? We can now openly embrace and rejoice in sexual sins like homosexuality and promiscuity. So that's progress, huh? Our trajectory is not good.

I'm a firm believer in the Bible. Romans 1 helps give some explanation to what's going on. God is revealing his wrath (1.18) and he's doing so by giving sinners what they want, their sin (1.24, 26, 28). The sin is the judgment and the judgment is the sin. Welcome to 2013.

Moral Decay (Sin) Isn't New
I do want to point something else out though. As Christians we can get eeyorish in our outlook. We have to remember that we aren't the first society to watch our morals decay before our eyes. Read through Kings. Adultery, fornication, murder, lying, stealing, even mass murder and infanticide are part of Israel's story. The government that Paul instructed the Romans to submit to would the very government that would kill him. I do not like the fact that it is getting harder for preachers to preach the Word without fear of consequence, but our government isn't hanging people for preaching Christ, at least not yet that I know about. Peter would also die for his faith and he also instructs believers to submit to the government - a corrupt government (1 Pet 2). Many in the Middle Ages were convinced that they had the anti-Christ in their generation. It is widely taught that the Roman Empire crumbled fundamentally because of a loss of morality. Are we on a good course? No. Do I like it? No. But are we hopeless? Far from it.

Hope is Always in View for a Christian
I believe places like Romans 1 and 2 Peter 3 teach that generally the world is going to get continue to rebel. Jesus is going to come back and judge, in a similar way to how God has acted before, like in the flood. Our ultimate hope is that Jesus will restore all things.

Until then, we are stewards and responsible to do what we can to provide light to a dark world. I believe Christians can be a preserving influence and we can even see positive course corrections. In recent history, there are times when the general movement has been positive. A few examples of culture moving the right direction: slavery, civil rights, women's rights, and in large part in Eurpoe, anti-Semitism. We aren't perfect on any of these, but we have seen positive progress.

These among other reasons gives me lots of hope in this life. I'm excited that despite the horrors and deep evil of the Kermit Gosnell case, the public has largely reacted with appropriate horror when presented with the facts. This is an opportunity to perhaps regain some ground.

At the end of the day, "fixing society" isn't our job anyways. Our job is to adorn the gospel with holy lives and to point to THE Answer, Jesus Christ. The dark backdrop that seems to be getting darker all the time only provides a greater contrast for the diamond of the gospel.

Hold your head up Christian. Jesus came to give life. You have been born again to a living hope. You are his ambassadors and guess what: the good guys win!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Calling Evil Good and Good Evil

This morning as I tortured myself on the exercise bike at the gym, I listened to ESPN radio’s Mike and Mike. The headlines today are dominated by NBA player, Jason Collins, who has gone public with his sexual orientation. He is gay and after years of secrecy, wants the world to know. 

As I listened, the opinions being presented made me sad. I like listening to Mike and Mike — when they are talking sports. These men are both bright, passionate, and entertaining. As they dissected this issue, I began to see them as representative of the zeitgeist of our country. Our world has changed. They brought on a guest who is no stranger to this conversation, Martina Navratilova. Martina is one of the all time greats from Women’s tennis whose lesbian lifestyle was made public in the early 80’s. As she was talking about the issue, she was noting how much the culture has shifted from the early 80’s. Back when her announcement was made, she was socially shunned. Fast forward to 2013, Collins comes out and he’s celebrated for his bravery, integrity, and boldness. He has publicly received commendation from many big time athletes via social media. Mike and Mike reported, he even got a call from President Obama for his bravery. 

So what is the problem? The problem is we have created a culture where it's virtually impossible to disagree. Anyone that dares to voice a dissenting position is automatically a bigot. A perfect example is ESPN’s Chris Broussard who simply said what the Bible says. Amazingly he said on air that the Bible says sex outside of marriage even in a heterosexual relationships is sin too. I say it's amazing because I can't believe that aired given our cultural allergy towards strong convictions. [See here for the clip and some great commentary from Denny Burk.] I will be surprised if Broussard doesn’t lose his job over this. It’s a topic you are not allowed to disagree about. You must bow and worship the idol of tolerance or be tossed to the furnace of public mockery. (Thanks Jeff Kinley [twitter @fabmaclen] for the word picture).   

I keep thinking about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

As a culture, we are not simply tolerating sin, we are calling it good. Think about it. We now say abortion is good (not evil). We think homosexuality is good (not evil). The judgment is the sin and the sin is the judgment as Romans 1 makes clear. The wrath of God is being revealed, more and more obviously everyday. (Rom 1.18)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Basins Are Full: Jesus didn't just make wine, he transformed the well

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed preaching through John so far. Admittedly, we’ve only just started! I preached this past week John 2.1-12. It’s an interesting passage that records Jesus’s first miracle, turning water to wine at Cana. I believe this is a massively significant event in the life and ministry of Jesus, and particularly important for how John introduces Jesus. Jesus comes not just to help avoid a social faux pas (running out of wine at the party). He comes as the Messianic bridegroom. He comes in fulfillment of what the prophets say would be a day when a the true wedding would take place and the wine would flow freely (Jer 3.1,12)

The Point of John's Gospel
Jesus isn’t simply providing beverages for the party, he’s pointing to something bigger. In stark contrast to John the Baptist who kept his distance in the desert, Jesus comes and engages into the social scene. Jesus's ministry would transform Palestine. John even tells us at the end of the book that there aren’t enough books in the world to contain all the works that he did (Jn 21.25). Having a journal full of Jesus stories, John strategically chooses 7 signs to tell us about the ministry of Jesus. (Jn 2-12) John then spends the rest of the book telling his readers about the Passion Narrative. (Jn 13-21) He does this so you will believe (Jn 20.31). 

A Transformed Well
I took a minority position on the miracle itself in John 2. I do not believe Jesus made the basins full of wine, I believe he transformed the well. Let me explain. The story itself seems straightforward. Jesus tells the servants to fill up some big water basins then to take some water (now wine) to the Matrie D of the party. I think there’s so much more to it than simple fermented drinks, though that’s impressive enough! (Fermentation takes time!) Jesus didn’t just grab some old jugs that were lying around. John makes sure that his readers know “there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification.” (Jn 2.6) Did you notice that? These weren’t just jugs, they were the ones used for the rites of purification. Likely these would have been used for the guest to wash their hands and would be used to clean the utensils for the party. There were all kinds of rules governing what makes one pure. This conversation comes up again with John the baptist in the next chapter. Interestingly, the Baptist makes reference to the bridegroom—Christ. (Jn 3.25-30) 

D.A Carson, following the lead of Westcott, understands the word “draw” used in 2.8 most naturally and normally refers to drawing from a well. Assuming this is correct, Carson understands that the instruction of Jesus was to have the servants fill the purification basins then in essence, sit them to the side. They are no longer necessary. Verse 8 says, “Now draw some out (from the well) and take it to the master of the feast.” The miracle then isn’t that there are 150 gallons or so of wine in the basins, the miracle is the well itself is producing the finest wine you have ever tasted! 

I believe Carson is correct, though, as I told my congregation on Sunday, I’m not going to the stake over this one! I think it fits best, not only lexically, but I think it best fits with Jesus’s intention at the party. He is the Logos Messiah who has come to bring a new day to Israel. The old Jewish rites have now been replaced. The time for being pure through water basins is over (those jars are full to the brim). There is a new bridegroom who is also the ultimate master of the feast. He abundantly supplies the life-giving spirit as represented with the fine wine drawn from the well which previously only gave water.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Three Decades After Abortion

Below are a few questions I asked someone who had an abortion. As you will read, even decades later, the pain of abortion still lingers. Despite the pain, there is hope in the gospel. Praise God that his grace is always greater! 

Tell us about your abortion.
Thirty-two years ago I had an abortion. I was 18, and felt scared and alone. My hormones were raging, I didn’t understand my sudden mood swings and generally had no idea what was happening to my body. I just wanted to sleep all the time.  The father of my baby had been in and out of detention facilities and eventually spent some time in jail. I met him on my senior trip, just out of high school. He was supposedly rehabilitated at the time. We dated for about 6 months and then he was arrested on drug charges. While he was out of jail and awaiting trial, I became pregnant, despite the fact I was on the pill. 

My first reaction to being pregnant was I wanted to have the baby and get married like my parents had when mom became pregnant with me when she was 19. It soon became clear that this was not going to be an option for me. The father would have nothing to do with marriage or keeping the baby. He said that it was not life yet (being only 6 weeks pregnant) and advised that I have an abortion. I had some idea how this would go over with my family because not long before this, my parents forced my younger sister (15 at the time) to have an abortion when she found herself in a similar situation. I knew if I had the baby, I didn’t have any support. I didn’t see any options. I don’t remember people talking about a pregnancy crisis centers. I was in college and didn’t have a lot of resources. I was trying to keep this from my parents and Planned Parenthood was willing to help me. It seemed like the only option. 

I went to get a pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood and it came up positive. I then planned to get an abortion at a place my cousin had been and could drive me. The father of the baby gave me half the money and I had saved the other half. It was a snowy day and my cousin drove me to the clinic. I walked in and they took my money and gave me a little white pill (valium) and told me to sit in this room by myself and watch a film. The film confirmed what the father had told me and what I had learned in high school science. I learned that because I was terminating the pregnancy early, it wasn’t really a life yet. There was a simply a blob of tissue that would be removed. The next thing I remember is being asked to come back into a room where they would perform the abortion. I don’t remember the doctor, but I do remember 1 nurse holding her hand over my mouth and the other 2 holding me down. I remember a sound like the noise of a vacuum. After they were done, the nurse escorted me out into a recliner and told me to stay seated until they told me I could leave. I walked out of the clinic no longer pregnant but this was just the beginning of the story. 

You went from someone who had an abortion to someone who is now speaking out against abortion. What changed?

The five lies that I believed before I had an abortion:
  1. Abortion does not end a life. I believed that life didn’t begin at conception. (Science teacher taught me evolution in the 10th grade.)
  2. Abortion is heroic. It seems that the media and Hollywood movies portray women who have abortions and doctors who perform them as heroes. People who are against a women’s “choice” are villains that don’t care about the mother or baby.
  3. Abortion solves a problem. My parents modeled having an abortion as the way solve the problem of unwanted pregnancy. After all, they took my younger sister to the abortion clinic.
  4. Abortion is a right. I fell the government making it about “the choice” that was fought for me in the Supreme Court. As a women, my reproductive rights became the main agenda about abortion. This also reinforced the idea it wasn’t really a life inside me.
  5. Abortion is a simple one-time procedure. I trusted that the doctors, staff of Planned Parenthood were telling me the truth about abortion and the effects of having one. I believed they cared about me and knew what was best for me.
The five truths that made me against abortion:
  1. My conscience told me when I walked out of the abortion clinic that I had just lost something that was indeed life and I had never felt so empty before in my life.  Evolution is a theory not truth.
  2. I was not a hero, but a murderer.
  3. I Shouldn’t have been so concerned about what people thought about  me.
  4. It's not really about choice it’s about life. 
  5. Planned Parenthood had nothing in writing about the emotional risk I was taking by having an abortion. They didn’t tell me I would have nightmares or do whatever I could to numb the literal emptiness or guilt I felt for the rest of my life. I was never the same person after my abortion. It was as if I fought in a war and I had post traumatic stress syndrome. They didn’t tell me that I was going to have to tell my husband and teenage daughters that they had another sibling that I killed. They didn’t tell me the horror that would follow me. The long talks and tears over that so called “choice” just seems like a very bad decision that was made without the knowledge of truth or consequences. 
What counsel would you give to a pregnant and scared girl who is considering an abortion?
I would reassure her that as scary as it may be now, although abortion will give her relief of her problem, the horror she will live with for the rest of her life is not worth it. I would want to know if someone is talking her into it. Who are the people around her and what are their world-views of life? I think that most women who have an unplanned pregnancy do not want an abortion. They are in a crisis and want relief. They are not emotionally stable enough to make decisions. Often times people are talking them into having an abortion. She needs to know the significance of the life inside of her. Whether she is a believer or not, she needs to know that little life inside of her isn’t simply a blob, it is a person made in the image of God.  
What would you say to a woman who feels crushed by guilt from having an abortion?
God created that baby in my womb and he thought it best to finish the baby in heaven. It is God who is ultimately in charge of every life and when it ends, not man (Heb 9.27). God used great men of the bible like David and Paul who were murderers. There are real consequences to sin. But if someone is in Christ, they are not condemned (Rom 8.1). Jesus forgives through his abundant grace. 

Editors Note: 
If you are someone who is struggling with an unplanned pregnancy and would like to get counsel on how to work through these issues, please contact me and I will put you in communication with this author. If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to share. Use this story however would be helpful. To God be the Glory.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Know the person, not just the problem

Folks who come from my ilk of theology love teaching. We love to be taught, we love to teach, we love when people get our teaching, and importantly, we love it when people live out biblical teaching. That's great, of course, and exactly what the Bible tells us to do! We make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe (Mt 28.19-20). So far so good.

I am however concerned that sometimes we can over accent didactic teaching and not provide all the help we could with people. When someone has an issue in their life, it’s not simply that they need more data. If I have a problem with my car, usually the owners manual isn’t all that helpful. I need someone who understands the manual to help me diagnose and solve the issue. Helping people is similar, only more complicated. A machine predictably responds (at least in theory). People aren’t so easy. You can tell a worrier, “Don’t worry because Ps 42 and Mt 6 say you should trust just God.” Ok, agreed, but emotions and misinformed thoughts patters do not simply correct in a moment. Sometimes people need to know someone is tempted like they are and cares about their struggle with sin.

One verse that has caught my attention for a while is 1 Thess 5.14. The Thessalonican letters are generally positive in their tone. They were a church that often got it right (by God’s grace). Paul takes a moment as he’s starting to land the plane of the first epistle and gives some instruction about dealing with people who are struggling. I love the wisdom of this verse because sometimes we tend to give counsel before we understand the person. (NOTE: I did not say we don't understand the problem.) I’ve heard and jokingly repeated the 3 steps to Biblical counseling: “1. What’s your problem? 2. What does the Bible say? 3. Why are we still having this conversation?” While there’s a grain of truth to this, Paul’s encouragement in this verse is compassionate and understanding — not just an information dump. The counsel has to fit the person, not simply the problem.

First Thessalonians 5.14 says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle (unruly), encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” There are categories of people and our approach to them should vary based on their posture and state of heart.

The unruly do not need to be coddled in their sin. They need a firm word of rebuke. When blatant disregard and disobedience is present, it calls for the big stick. Paul certainly wasn't hesitant to rebuke (see Galatians or Corinthians).

But not everyone needs to be rebuked. If one is faint hearted, the last thing they need is a loud rebuke. They probably do not need heavy didactic teaching either, they need to be reminded of the truth they know. This is the double souled one who doubts, they cower, they don't live with the resurrection power that Paul talks about in Ephesians 1. They need someone to come alongside and remind them about the gospel. They need to be reassured of their forgiveness in Christ. With these people, we have a ministry of reminding, similar to what Peter did (2 Pet 1.11).

The last category that Paul mentions is the weak. There is obvious overlap with the "faint hearted" but enough distinction to helpfully distinguish. These folks may be weak because of some trauma. These people are sometimes similar to one who has broken a bone and has a cast. The event may (or may not) be over, regardless, healing is in process and can be really slow. Sometimes believers just need someone to hold on to them while they heal. We can assign them homework and worksheets and in some cases maybe that's the splint needed, but often times, they just need to know someone cares and is there with a consistent gospel word.

Paul concludes this section telling the Thessalonians to be patient with everyone. Wonder why he encourages patience? Obviously because people work can try our patience! People continue to be unruly and lazy. Others just can’t seem to “get” the gospel impact on their situation. Some Christians seem anemic for long stretches of time. Be patient. Let the Word work. God produces growth. God has been growing believers for a long time through the Word, prayer, and fellowship. Do what the Word says, admonish, encourage, help, and be patient.