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.