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Is Marriage a Religious or Civic Issue? Why Evangelicals See It as Both

Is Marriage a Religious or Civic Issue? Why Evangelicals See It as Both

Marriage Heart Health

The past few weeks I have noticed a good deal of debate on the Internet among Christian and non-Christian friends about the importance of marriage. Some claim that the biblical definition of marriage is merely a religious perspective on the institution and should not be interwoven with the fabric of civic expectations or norms. Others claim that some Christians place an undue emphasis on sins related to marriage such as homosexuality and polygamy while ignoring other sins such as greed or gluttony. However, most evangelical Christians would disagree with these aforementioned statements based on the fundamental importance of biblical marriage not just in a spiritual sense, but in a civic/societal sense as well.

In his commentary on Genesis 2 (where God creates the institution of marriage), James Boice writes a single paragraph that seems to clearly show why marriage is so important and why most evangelicals hold the position on marriage that they do. Here is the paragraph:

“God established marriage as the first and most basic of all human institutions. Long before there were governments or churches or schools or any other social structures God established a home based on the mutual respect and love of a husband and wife, and all other human institutions came from it. From the authority of the father there developed the patriarchal and later tribal systems of human government. These gave rise to monarchical systems and then democracies. From the responsibility of parents to raise and educate their children came more formal systems of education: academies, institutes, colleges, and centers of higher learning. From the need to care for the family’s health came hospitals. From the obligation of parents to educate their children in the knowledge of God and the ways to worship came synagogues and then churches. One cannot think of a contemporary social or cultural organization that does not have a derivative relationship to the home and marriage.”

I think Boice captures the essence of why marriage is so important to evangelicals and why it cannot be limited to merely a religious issue, but is a core component in the fabric of a healthy society. Just about everything we know and do as a civilization can be traced back to this one fundamental institution that was created and defined by God. There is ample evidence from history and many reasons to believe about the future that the demise of marriage as defined in the Bible will lead to the demise of society.

In regard to making sins related to marriage more important than other sins it is true that sin is sin and all sin should be spoken against and avoided. Yes, Christians must be careful not to harp on one sin at the neglect of others especially if those sins are being practiced or latent in their lives. And yet, the sins of greed and gluttony (just to name two) are not the sins being championed by those who wish to undermine or destroy a biblical worldview. In other words, sins related to marriage get so much time and attention in the debate because that is the issue being pressed by secularists and non-evangelicals.

I know there will be some who read this who strongly disagree with me. I do not offer this post to be combative, but to simply try and show why evangelicals think marriage is so important because of the critical part it plays not just in religious belief, but in society as well.

What a Marathon and Donald Sterling Taught Me About Loving People

What a Marathon and Donald Sterling Taught Me About Loving People

runnersmarathonEarlier this week I ran the OKC marathon. It was my third full marathon to run, but my first time to run the OKC Memorial. The race started two hours late due to storms, pushing the event deeper into the humidity, heat, and wind of the day. This made for brutal conditions. My time was really bad and it was by far the worst I had done at a marathon. However, I wanted to run the marathon closest to where I live and experience the significance of what this race means since it is connected to the memory of the bombing of the Murrah Building.

In every marathon I have run one of the things that strikes me most is the incredibly wide variety of people who are running. If you like to people watch, you should definitely run a marathon! There are big and small people, old and young people, mean and kind people, loud and quiet people, and slow and fast runners. I saw shirts with profanity and profane statements and I saw shirts with Bible verses. One gentleman in his sixties was singing out loud the soundtrack to the movie Frozen. I saw a guy running in flip flops and another guy barefoot. Some were running to honor the memory of a loved one. One husband and wife ran the whole 26.2 miles pushing their child in a stroller. A firefighter ran the entire marathon in his fire fighting gear including oxygen tank. In those conditions on that day, I can’t imagine how difficult that was.

All this to say, when it comes to a marathon “it takes all types.” In observing these people, some inspired me. Some made me laugh. Some made me want to be angry. Others disappointed me. Some made me ask, “What are they thinking?” and “Why would they do that?” or “Why would they wear that?” And as I was observing this variety of people, the Lord reminded me these are the ones He came to save. Jesus did not die just for the people that I “like,” that encourage me, and are similar to me, but also for the ones who offend me, are nothing like me, and make me want to shake my head. The marathon is a fitting microcosm of when the Bible says, “For God so loved the world…”

How important it is to remember this truth in a world that still contains those with the mindset of a Donald Sterling, the LA Clippers owner who recently made egregious racist remarks. As NBA on TNT analyst Kenny Smith noted, “Racism is a refuge for ignorance.” How very true. The thought that I might be better than someone because they physically look different from me is repugnant- and stupid. The thought that God would withhold His love and salvation for the same reason is just as indescribably abhorrent.

I hope you will pause today and remember that God loves everyone. Everyone. Regardless of what they look like, what they say, what they wear, or how they conduct themselves. He created them, cares for them, and calls them to follow Him. In light of this fact, we need to be careful of how we perceive others and how we treat them. Let’s be conduits of God’s grace and Gospel to all the people we encounter.

The Real Issue Behind the Duck Dynasty Flap and What Should Be Learned From It

The Real Issue Behind the Duck Dynasty Flap and What Should Be Learned From It

11174The controversy surrounding the suspension of Phil Robertson by A&E over his comments opposing homosexuality has undoubtedly crowded the newsfeed of just about everyone’s choice of social media.  Sadly, it appears to have brought out the worst of some people on both sides of the controversy.

More than the issue of free speech or the merits of the show itself, the Duck Dynasty dust up signals the significant shift of the moral landscape and perception of biblical authority in this country.  The reality is that 20 years ago comments such as this would not have drawn the firestorm as we see today.  At the heart of this controversy is not Phil Robertson, A&E, or reality TV, but rather the growing intolerance of secularism against a particular Christian conviction: homosexuality.

The subsequent issue becomes how both sides are going to respond to each other over this issue.  The comments Robertson made in the GQ article were crude, but they were not inflammatory (read the article here).  Thus, the whole thing seems to have been blown out of proportion.  And to be fair, I have seen countless comments from conservative Christians that were inappropriate and completely unhelpful in contributing anything to the debate.

My query in all of this is why each side feels the need to silence the other with bullying tactics.  This is absolutely not the way to get someone who believes differently than you to change his or her mind.  The controversy also brings to the fore the completely erroneous mindset that to disagree with someone means you hate them or think them to be backward.  Both sides need to jettison this approach posthaste.  To this end, I came across two quotes that are especially helpful on this point.  Each quote comes from both sides of this controversy.

Here’s the first quote from Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a conservative evangelical:

“Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.”  (Read Moore’s full article here)

Here’s the second quote from Brandon Ambrosino, a writer and professional dancer based in Baltimore and is gay:

“For the record, I’m undecided on whether or not I think Phil actually is homophobic, although I certainly think his statement was offensive… But I also think that if I were to spend a day calling ducks with Phil, I’d probably end up liking him- even in spite of his position on gay men. It’s quite possible to throw one’s political support behind traditional, heterosexual marriage, and yet not be bigoted.  I’m reminded of something Bill Maher said during the height of the Paula Deen controversy: ‘Do we always have to make people go away?’ I think the question applies in this situation too.

Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them? One of the biggest pop-culture icons of today just took center stage to “educate” us about sexuality. I see this as an opportunity to further the discussion, to challenge his limited understanding of human desire, to engage with him and his rather sizable audience — most of whom, by the way, probably share his views-  and to rise above the endless sea of tweet-hate to help move our LGBT conversations to where they need to go.  G.K. Chesterton said that bigotry is ‘an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.’ If he is right- and he usually is- then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.”  (Read Ambrosino’s full article in Time here)

The best way to convince the other side of your position is through thoughtful engagement, not bullying tactics with the aim of silencing the opposition through pedantic and inflammatory comments.  Christians need to be careful not to shun those with whom they disagree, but rather through our words and actions point people to Christ and the truth of His Word.  After all, is this not how Jesus did it?

 

 

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

store-crowd-black-friday-blur-615cs112212I came across an insightful piece last week written by blogger Matt Walsh (read his post here). In it, he makes the distinction between capitalism (which he is for, and I am too) and consumerism. Capitalism doesn’t automatically mean consumerism. Sadly, our culture doesn’t understand this distinction. Walsh writes about the intersection of consumerism and the Thanksgiving holiday:

That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover- just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back- just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have. Buy when you’re happy. Buy when you’re sad. Buy when you’re hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy an iPhone. Six months have passed, here, buy another iPhone. Go online and buy things. Go to the mall and buy things. On your way, stop and buy some more things. Buy things for every occasion. Buy things to celebrate. Buy things to mourn. Buy things to keep up with the trends. Buy things while you’re buying things, and then buy a couple more things after you’re done buying things. If you want it- buy it. If you don’t want it- buy it. Don’t make it- buy it. Don’t grow it- buy it. Don’t cultivate it- buy it. If you are alive you must buy. Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.

How appropriate, then, that a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had, now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need. Our great grandparents enjoyed a meal and praised the Lord for the food on the table and the friends and family gathered around it. We, having slightly altered the tradition, instead elect to bum-rush elderly women and trample over children to get our hands on cheap TVs.

What he says here is sad, but true.  We have now expanded “Black Friday” to Thanksgiving day. Walsh continues:

For a while, Black Friday and Thanksgiving coexisted. We thanked God for His blessings on Thursday, and then jumped into the consumer mosh pit at Best Buy on Friday. But this Black Friday-Thanksgiving marriage was tenuous and rocky from the start. It was doomed to fail. Thanksgiving offers tradition, family and contentment; Black Friday offers smart phones at drastically reduced prices. In America, we all know who wins that battle. So Black Friday, like a black hole, violently expanded; it absorbed the light that surrounded it and sucked everything into its terrifying abyss, where all substance is torn to shreds and obliterated. Black Friday could not be contained to a mere 24 hours. It is Consumerism. It wants more. It always wants more. Nothing is sacred to it; nothing is valuable. So, now, Black Friday has eaten Thanksgiving alive. Thanksgiving let out a desperate cry as Black Friday devoured its soul, but we barely noticed. It’s hard to hear anything when you’re wrestling 4,000 other people for buy one get one free cargo shorts at Old Navy.

I think we should step back and really consider if shopping on Thanksgiving Day is what we should be doing. As Walsh notes in his post, if we are shopping on Thanksgiving then we are a part of the problem of consumerism.  I know I always want to be part of the solution to that problem.

I might add here that I see the problem of consumerism in our culture in general and even in the church.  Church, for more and more, is not about what I can give and how I can serve, but merely about what I can get from it.  Getting people to volunteer is a pandemic problem in the church today. Let’s avoid the consumerist mentality- at Thanksgiving and at all times.  Let’s live in wisdom and moderation seeking how we can give more than we take or get.  That is an attitude that places us in line with the heart/mind of God and causes us to truly be thankful and dependent on Him.

Philippians 2:5-8- “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Why I Won’t Be Asking Mother’s to Stand in Church This Mother’s Day

Why I Won’t Be Asking Mother’s to Stand in Church This Mother’s Day

12086328-mothers-day-coupon-codes-2013Mother’s Day is this Sunday and in church we will celebrate Moms as rightly we should.  It’s an amazing and ingenious thing how God created the institution of the family- a father and mother bringing their own respective personalities, temperaments, and gifts to bear on the raising of their children.  Being a mother is a high calling and one that comes with great responsibilities as well as blessings.

That said, I have always felt a bit uneasy with how our church, along with countless other churches, recognize Moms on Mother’s Day- we have them stand.  Again, nothing wrong in the slightest with recognizing Moms and honoring their impact in our lives, but in the last few years I’ve been wondering asking Moms to stand.

Why?  Because having Moms stand on Mother’s Day can be a painful experience for a number of women in the congregation.  I think of the women my wife and I have come to know the last few years who struggle with infertility and desperately want to have children, but have none.  Jamy and I were blessed to have two biological children, but then we were unable to have more children even though we wanted more.  I have often wondered how difficult it would be for us if we never were able to have kids.

God, in turn, put us on the path of adoption, which has been an indescribable blessing.  But then again, we have become acquainted with people whose adoptions fell through.  That is an unbelievably painful experience. What about the woman in the congregation who is unable to have children and attempts at adoption have failed?  How does she feel when the mothers stand on Mother’s Day?

So, you may ask, why have you kept asking the mothers to stand on Mother’s Day if this is the way you feel?  I guess because of tradition.  We’ve always done it that way before (which is generally a terrible reason to do something).  Today I read a blog post that a number of women in our church have posted to their walls on Facebook which finally made me realize we need to do things differently this year in our church on Mother’s Day.  I will not be asking the Moms to stand.  We will celebrate motherhood and dedicate babies this Sunday.  But we will avoid placing women (and their husbands) in an awkward and even painful situation.  I never want people who are hurting to be hurt further at church.  I want church to be a place that brings comfort, support, empathy, and presence of the Lord and others that brings encouragement.

I encourage you to take a moment and read the blog post I mentioned.  Find it here: An Open Letter to Pastors from a Non-Mom

This Mother’s Day let’s be sensitive to those for whom Mother’s Day may be a very difficult day.

Is Easter A Pagan Holiday?

Is Easter A Pagan Holiday?

The-Joy-Of-Easter-1Every year around Easter my inbox starts to get flooded with questions germane to the holiday.  I have noticed that each year there is typically a “soup du jour” question that is most popular within our culture.  For example, a few years ago the questions were all related to whether or not the remains of Jesus had been discovered in an ossuary (burial box).  And, no, such a discovery was not made.  This year I am receiving a number of questions and observing quite a bit of traffic on the Internet and social media as to whether or not Easter is actually a pagan holiday.

Before I address that question, let me make it clear that the biblical accounts crucial to Christianity (e.g. the virgin birth, death on a cross, and resurrection of Jesus) in no way are metaphorical products from supposed earlier, pagan religions.  I recently read a piece in the British paper The Guardian that claims Christianity is nothing more than symbolic imagery borrowed from paganism.  The death of Jesus comes from a Sumerian goddess who hung naked on a stake and was raised from the underworld; the virgin birth relates to a belief in the ancient Cybele Cult, etc.  However, the evidence reveals such a perspective to be nothing more than presumptive conjecture.  To say that Christian holidays are actually pagan holidays in a way that means Christianity is actually an offshoot of paganism is not correct and furthermore is not even honest.  The death and resurrection of Jesus are documented by eyewitness accounts in ancient texts that withstand the scrutiny of credibility far better than any other ancient text of that time.

With that understood let me return to the question: Does Easter have roots in a pagan holiday?  Research the topic and you will find a wide divergence of opinion even in conservative, evangelical circles.  Many believe that the term “Easter” comes from the early Anglo-Saxon word “Eostre” which was used for both the name of a goddess who represented fertility and the arrival of spring as well the name for the month of April.  When the first Christian missionaries arrived on the British Isles they simply took the pre-existing pagan holidays and attempted to “Christianize” them (incidentally the same thing was done with Christmas and the holiday for the pagan god Saturnalia on Dec. 25).  Personally, I don’t find fault with the approach of these missionaries.  They arrived and saw everyone worshipping a pagan deity on a certain day and thought of a way to get people to worship the one, true God on that day instead.  This undermines the notion that Christian tenets arose form paganism.  No, early Christians wanted to supplant the worship of false gods with worship for the true God.  Over the centuries, this is exactly what happened.  The celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection overtook Eostre in popularity, although the name stuck as “Easter.”

However, there are many that believe the connection of Easter to the pagan goddess Eostre is overstated.  The Venerable Bede, a seventh century monk thought to be the first English church historian, connected the celebration of Easter with the holiday for Eostre.  However, some scholars argue that Bede’s findings were flawed, perhaps due to confusion of etymology of the terms, and no other ancient historians make the same connection of Easter to Eostre.  Rather, they argue that the term “Easter” is related to the name of the month of April, “Eastre” (West Saxon) or “Eostre” (Northumbrian), rather than directly connected to the pagan goddess (even though they concede that the name of the month probably, but not certainly, derived from the name of the goddess).  In addition, these scholars note that the term “Easter” is only used in English and other Germanic languages while the remainder of the world uses some derivative of the term “Pascha,” which derives from the Hebrew word for “Passover.”

So, what should Christians make of all this?   The most important thing is what has already been mentioned.  Even if the term “Easter” derives from pagan roots, that in no way implies Christianity is a highly evolved product of paganism.  If Christmas and Easter do in fact share the same dates/terms with pagan traditions, it is only due to early Christians trying to “redeem” these pagan observances to lead people to worship the one, true God of the Bible.  I find it interesting that many people want to cry foul that “Easter” is a pagan term and thus must have pagan inferences.  The reality is that we use terms that have their origins in paganism everyday and yet never make associations to occultic religions.  For example, Sunday in the Roman calendar was for the worship of the sun. January comes from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and doorways.  The reality is that hundreds of millions of Christians use “Easter,” and have done so for centuries, with the meaning of “the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus” not to celebrate a pagan goddess of fertility.

Let me close this post by quoting Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll who addressed this issue in an article that appeared in the Washington Post.  “Some Christians, rather than celebrate the fact that a day that was once devoted to the celebration of a pagan god and is now devoted to Jesus, wish to be the conscience police and go around telling everyone how they should stop having fun and celebrating because of the day’s origins. If someone has a conscience issue with celebrating the holiday, they should abstain, but to rail against kids eating candy and having fun sounds more like the religious types who murdered Jesus than the kids who hung out with him…  When it comes to cultural issues like this, we as Christians should view them through a simple rubric: reject, receive, or redeem? In this case, the early missionaries to the British Isles sought to redeem Easter rather than reject it or simply receive it. As a result, it became one of the centers of Christianity for many centuries and Eostre the goddess was all but forgotten.”

 

 

 

Should Women Be on the Front Lines of Combat?

Should Women Be on the Front Lines of Combat?

combatThere has been a lot of buzz about the recent decision to allow women to serve in the front lines of combat.  According to the Associated Press:

Leon Panetta is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

As I have thought through this issue and listened to/read the opinions of others, here are some key issues that arise in connection with this decision:

First, we need to understand that women are already serving in forward areas in combat zones.  I have a friend who is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq explain to me that the soldiers who are more often killed/injured are actually those serving in support roles rather than the front line.  These are soldiers operating the vehicles to equip those on the front line that hit IEDs.  It is in this support role that many of the women in the military serve.

Second, and for me probably the biggest issue in this debate, is what this decision signals in terms of a shift in morality.  Are there some women capable of fighting in combat?  Undoubtedly so.  But the bigger issue seems not to be can a woman be in combat, but should she be?  The long established norm of our society is to protect women and children from harm.  We see this manifested in many ways.  For example, the men who got on the lifeboats ahead of the women/children on the Titanic were excoriated (and in my opinion rightfully so).  Traditionally, when war comes, we don’t send women to the front, but seek to protect them.  In fact, when the horrors of war come to the homes of civilians (many of whom are women/children/elderly), we see that as an especially egregious consequence of war.

Denny Burk wrote a post on this subject and states: (access his blog post here)

Are the fortunes of women in our country really enhanced by sending them to be ground up in the discipline of a combat unit and possibly to be killed or maimed in war? Is there a father in America who would under any circumstance risk having his daughter shot or killed in battle? Is there a single husband in this country who thinks it okay for his wife to risk being captured by our enemies? To risk becoming a prisoner of war? Is this the kind of people we want to be? 

Burk goes on to quote John Piper‘s 2007 article for World magazine in which Piper writes:

If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of women.

Another problem with women in combat is that this same sense of morality will undoubtedly pervade the thinking/reactions of men in combat with women.  As my veteran friend noted, in a firefight one of the first things you do is check to see if everyone is OK.  If two soldiers are wounded and need to be dragged to safety and one is a man and the other a woman, the decision process is most likely going to be affected.  Could some decisions be possibly made by men in the combat unit to instinctively protect the women that might put the whole unit in greater jeopardy?

Regardless of your opinion about women in combat, this decision certainly signals a shift in the cultural norms of our nation.

Third, this decision is almost certainly going to have massive legal repercussions if a draft lottery is ever reinstituted in this country.  It is very possible that men will sue the government on grounds of some form of discrimination if they are drafted instead of a woman.  In addition, it’s one thing to ask a woman to volunteer for the front lines.  It’s another thing to force them there through conscription.  Morally, do we want to force women to fight in combat?  Legally, will women have expanded grounds to resist a draft?

Fourth, I have noticed a number people saying this issue is about equality.  I disagree.  In terms of physical structure, men and women are not created equally.  A friend of mine posted on her wall on Facebook:

For my size and my age, I am strong and in good shape. But … I AM NOT A MAN. And that’s okay. I cannot EVER keep up with the guys, no matter how hard I try. I am different … we are not equal. And I am good with that.

Nothing here says that men are “better” than women.  That’s ridiculous.  Yes, I understand that women have served in combat roles in countries such as Israel, but in general men are capable of doing many things in terms of physical strength that a woman simply cannot do.  And in combat that is important.  Again, this doesn’t mean men are better than women.  It just means they are different.  There are many things women can do better than men.  God created men and women this way and we should celebrate this reality, not try to blur the lines of gender roles, responsibilities, and capabilities.

We are living in times of fast, sweeping societal change and the issue of women in combat is one among many.  This is a controversial topic.  I am eager to hear your opinion.

Statement on the Newtown, CT School Shooting

Statement on the Newtown, CT School Shooting

Image: The families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman opened fire on school children and staff in Newtown, ConnecticutBelow is the statement I read to our church on Sunday, Dec. 16, in reference to the school shooting in Newtown, CT. Most of this statement is taken from the blog post on the same subject by Russell Moore.  You can read that post here.  I have had many requests from church members for this statement so I am posting it on the blog.  Please continue to be in prayer for the families affected by this horrific tragedy.

I do not know why evil of such magnitude can happen on this earth.  I do not know why God did not stop that man from walking into the school in Connecticut and murdering so many people.  And the thought that most of the victims were innocent, defenseless children is appalling to an infinite degree.  We are angered that there will be no chance for this man to be brought to justice as he took his own life.  But let me remind you that there is no human punishment severe enough for this man.  And remember that one day he will face a Judge able to render judgment far greater than we ever could.

I do know that God is good.  He is not to be blamed for what happened.  The horror of a school shooting is the manifestation of the fact that sin is more wicked than we can imagine or describe.  We live in a terribly, terribly broken and fallen world and the only hope we have goes beyond any law that we enforce or don’t enforce or the fields of psychology or sociology.  The only thing that can push back against the darkness and evil is Jesus Christ.

We must never forget that we are in a spiritual battle.  “The course of this world,” we’re told, is driven along by “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Satan is, Jesus tells us, a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44) because he hates life itself. And he hates the life of children, particularly, because they picture something true about Jesus of Nazareth.

Satan hates children because he hates Jesus. When evil destroys “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 45), the most vulnerable among us, it destroys a picture of Jesus himself, of the child delivered by the woman who crushes the head of our reptilian overlord- the devil (Gen. 3:15). The demonic powers know that the human race is saved, and they are vanquished, by a child born of woman (Gal. 4:4; 1 Tim. 2:15). And so they hate the children who bear his nature.

Violence against children is also peculiarly satanic because it destroys the very picture of newness of life and dependent trust that characterizes life in the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:4). Children are a blessing, and that enrages the horrifying nature of those who seek only to kill and to destroy (Jn. 10:10).  Perhaps this is why Jesus said of anyone who harms a child it would have been better for him to have never been born- a clear reference to that person’s judgment.

Let’s not offer pat, easy answers to this tragedy. We don’t fully understand the mystery of iniquity. We don’t know why God didn’t stop this from happening. But we do know what this act is: it’s satanic, and we should say so.

Let’s not forget that over 2,000 years ago Jesus was born in the midst of a madman who mass murdered babies.  His name was Herod and in every way he epitomized the evil we fight against.  And yet Jesus offered hope, peace, and salvation.  Today, it’s another madman and another mass murder of babies.  And yet, Jesus is still offering hope, peace, and salvation.  Let’s grieve for the innocent. Let’s demand justice for the guilty. And let’s rage against the devil who is behind it all.

Should Christians Observe Santa Claus?

Should Christians Observe Santa Claus?

Every year at this time I am asked the question by parents in our church, “Should we observe Santa?”  It’s amazing to me how emotive and divisive the issue of Santa Claus can be.  I have read a number of Christian authors who post tempestuous rants declaring that Santa “hijacks” the meaning of Christmas.  To me, I find such extremist responses at worst inflammatory and at best unhelpful to the debate.  Many Christian parents grew up with Santa as part of their Christmas tradition and would like to do the same for their kids, but struggle with the ethics of it- namely in two areas.  One, is observing Santa lying to my children?  Two, does it make the focus of Christmas materialism rather than Christ?

These are fair questions and legitimate concerns that have to be considered and navigated by parents at Christmas.  I think we could add to the concern of observing Santa an emphasis on St. Nick potentially being omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal- all attributes that can only be possessed by God.  So, is it wrong to observe Santa?  I asked a Christian mother whom I respect a great deal to share with me her perspective on Santa.  The following is what she wrote to me and I found in it a great deal of wisdom.  I strongly encourage you to read this and ponder the insight she offers:

I like Santa.  Many are surprised that my family allows him into our celebration at all.  I care very much about this issue because as a Christian mom I want to get this right.  I usually answer the question with something along the lines of, “It’s a game we play in our family…our kids understand and enjoy it.”  I struggle if it is ok to invite Santa into our family’s Christmas celebration.  I understand and genuinely admire those who have chosen not to play Santa.  When I let go of the comparison game, and just tuck this question up with the Lord I always go back to my own childhood.  This game was special and dear to me growing up.  I was raised by Bible-believing Christian parents.  Jesus was clearly taught truthfully ALL YEAR LONG in many creative and traditional ways in both my home and church.  Both of my parents are wise and down to earth and didn’t raise us with a materialistic “keep up with the Joneses’” worldview.

Santa was a tradition of Christmas that we all loved and he didn’t occlude Jesus; or Jesus’ birthday.  Maybe because of the way they led our lives January through November or maybe because our Christmases were simple and sacred and both family and faith focused, I never felt Jesus was threatened or forgotten.  He was honored by a family who loved Him and loved each other.  I felt no more lied to than when my dad would tweak my nose and act like he’d pulled it off as he paraded his own thumb around.  The twinkle in my mother’s eye when she teased about Santa was very different than the passion in her eye when she taught about Jesus.  Both were good for me.  The way God puts families together is different.  Some kiddos are unique in the way they process things and for them the difference I just described would be more difficult for them than good for them.  This makes me glad that He gives us wisdom in every situation and very glad that we can share faith with great celebration and camaraderie even while having different convictions.

When I think about Jesus’ own life as a human child, and the faith culture in which He was raised I consider festivals intended to help a community remember God’s intervention and faithfulness to His people throughout the generations.  I believe THAT should be the center of Christmas.  I wonder if sometimes in our effort to keep the shallow and materialistic out of our Christmases, Christians tend to “over-baby” Jesus, making Him a little bit of a birthday tyrant.  I’m not sure that He would be ok with our over-protecting Him at Christmas while often under-acknowledging Him the whole year through.  In my family I don’t want to prioritize God first, family second, church third… with all the good choices lined up in order next and the bad choices carefully avoided.  I want God to be the center; the only Creative Life from which every choice and action flows.  When that is an intentional goal for everyday then at Christmas He is still the center from which everything flows; even silly fun traditions that keep children and parents young and connected.

The traditional games we play and the generosity we pour out on our children at Christmas time can be very pleasing to the God of “all good gifts” as it reflects His generous faithfulness throughout the year.  The telling of stories of family and faith tradition that make an Invisible God’s providence visible to children learning to move from concrete to abstract thinking can be very pleasing to the God who tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.”  Remembering Jesus the Baby, the Boy, the Minister, the Sacrifice, the Redeemer, the Living Intercessor in the context of family and faith community is the goal for my Christmas.  And FOR US, in our family, the sweet Santa game is powerless to steal that away.

I think this Mom sums it up well.  Yes, there are potential dangers in observing Santa that require caution, but if a family chooses to observe Santa they have not necessarily caused Jesus to abdicate his throne.  For some families, Santa won’t be the right thing to do.  And that’s good.  But for other families, Santa can be a part of the Christmas tradition while still focusing on Jesus.  And that’s good, too.

I believe when it comes to Christians and the observance of Santa we must apply the principles Paul taught in Col. 2:16-17- “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Paul notes that the observance of diets and days is like a shadow, but Jesus is the substance.  God gave the Israelites in the Old Testament specific rules and regulations about what to eat and what to celebrate as a means of aiding their obedience and devotion to God.  But now that Christ has come, we follow and obey God on the basis of grace, not law.  It doesn’t mean we reject what the Old Testament says or think it unimportant, we just understand it in light of Jesus Christ.  All of the dietary laws, observances of days, and animal sacrifices were simply pointing the way to something that was coming which was much better- Jesus.  That’s why he refers to diets and days as a shadow, but Jesus is the substance.  We have to make sure that we are not chasing shadows with our lives.  We must be focused on the substance- Jesus Christ!

It is very important to note what Paul does not say in this passage.  He doesn’t say, “Forbid people from observing diets and days.”  What he says is that you cannot let anyone judge you.  There is great liberty for believers.  Christians can choose to observe or not to observe whatever they choose so long as it is in keeping with Scripture.  The substance of the observance or celebration must be Christ and growing faith in him.  This becomes a potential issue in the church because there are people and families with a wide diversity of convictions (including Santa).  We have to be careful how we handle these in the context of the body of Christ.  I have talked to some children (and even parents) about what they would be doing to celebrate Christmas and the first thing they say, with great enthusiasm, is they won’t be observing Santa Claus.  I came away from those conversations wondering if the chief end of Christmas was to extol the non-existence of Santa instead of the existence of Christ.  Again, it’s perfectly fine to not observe Santa and for some families it’s the best thing to do.  However, we must be careful how we handle this to not cause division within the church.

If we are to follow the principles of Col. 2:16-17, at issue is if you do not observe Santa, you cannot think that you are more spiritual than others who do observe him.  Paul condemns that in this passage.  Why?  Because it leads to pride and self-righteousness, not Christ-righteousness.  The reverse is true.  If you observe Santa, you cannot think that those who do not are wrong.  Don’t judge others in these convictions and don’t let them judge you.  These are convictions that God has given you.  Realize that God genuinely has not given them to everyone.  We must never let issues such as these divide us.  Our liberty to follow our convictions is part of the treasure we have in Christ.  Our unity and fellowship in the body of Christ is part of that treasure as well.  If we are not careful, pride and judgmentalism can set in regarding convictions and take away our treasure.

So, let the Lord lead you and give you wisdom about what is best for your family regarding Santa Claus.  And whatever he leads you to observe, don’t condemn those who observe differently.

Is Obama the Pathway to the Antichrist? How Christians Should Respond to the Election

Is Obama the Pathway to the Antichrist? How Christians Should Respond to the Election

There has been no small amount of backlash from conservatives regarding the outcome of Tuesday’s election.  The traffic on social media has been interesting to say the least.  As a pastor, I have been asked what the Christian response to the election should be and I have personally observed a wide range of responses from fellow Christians and pastors.  Some have been helpful, others, not so much.

Regrettably, one very unhelpful response came recently from Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX.  Jeffress told his congregation that President Obama and his policies are “paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”  Statements such as these do nothing to help engage an increasingly secular culture in our country that is more removed from a Christian worldview than ever before.  In addition, I believe Jeffress’ statement ignores biblical commands to honor and respect government leaders even when we disagree with them (more about that below).

I can understand the frustration, fear, and anger that many evangelical Christians have at the outcome of the election.  Tuesday night taught us a great deal about the change taking place in our nation.  Briefly, here are three things that I found most interesting in light of the election.

First, our nation has a divided and rapidly changing electorate that is becoming more ethnically and ideologically diverse.  Most pundits have declared Obama’s victory as a sound or definitive win, yet in the popular vote Obama is ahead at the moment by less than 3 million votes out of nearly 120 million cast.  Recent polls state that 20% of Americans now designate themselves as having no religious affiliation.  Exit polls on Tuesday revealed that 17% of voters said they never attend religious services of any kind.  These numbers are significant increases from just a few decades ago.  More adult Americans than ever before live in urban areas, are single, and/or have no children.  Incidentally, these demographic have a strong influence on voting patterns.

Second, the Republican party is in the midst of an identity crisis. Demographics are going to make the Electoral College a huge problem for Republicans in the future.  Al Mohler has framed the problem for the Republican succinctly- “Put simply, the Republican Party cannot win unless it becomes the party of aspiration for younger Americans and Hispanic Americans. Otherwise, it will soon become a retirement community for aging conservatives. The party’s position on immigration is disastrous, and it is at odds with the party’s own values.  No party can win if it is seen as heartless.  No party can win if it appeals only to white and older Americans. No party can win if it looks more like the way to the past than the way to the future. The Republican Party could not defeat a sitting President with a weak economy and catastrophic unemployment.”

Third, and to me this is the most significant issue that the election has revealed, is the sharp decline in morality in the U.S.  President Obama is a strongly pro-abortion president who openly affirmed gay marriage this summer in the Democratic National Convention.  Yet, to the surprise of many- myself included, these positions appear to have hurt him in no way in this election.  Tuesday, after 33 states approved bans on gay marriage in the last few election cycles, three states voted to legalize gay marriage and one defeated an amendment that would ban it.  One state voted to legalize marijuana and other states voted on a number of moral issues including assisted suicide.  Tammy Baldwin, who won the election in Minnesota for U.S. Senator, will be the first openly gay senator in the Senate.  All of these signal a major shift in the moral climate of our nation.  The thing about a representative government is that it is representative of the people- and this election told us a great deal about the people of our nation. Mohler notes, “Clearly, we face a new moral landscape in America, and huge challenge to those of us who care passionately about these issues. We face a worldview challenge that is far greater than any political challenge, as we must learn how to winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions about marriage, sex, the sanctity of life, and a range of moral issues.”

So, how should a Christian to respond to what the election has revealed?  I think it best to consider a biblical response in at least two ways:

One, as Christians we are told to honor, respect, and pray for our government leaders.  Paul instructed the young pastor Timothy to pray for those placed in authority over him- “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).  Paul himself modeled respect for government leaders when he was on trial before Felix in Acts 23-24.  I just finished teaching my seminary students on Monday that the title Luke gave Theophilus, to whom the Gospel of Luke and Acts were addressed, was “most excellent.”  This title showed respect and honor to the office of the leader.  Paul used this same title when he addressed the Roman procurator Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:2), even though he was working his way through the Roman legal appeal process and no doubt differed with Felix on worldview.  Felix was known for cruelty, licentiousness, and taking bribes, yet Paul addressed him with respect.

Christians need to do the same in regard to President Obama.  There is much we disagree with regarding his ideologies, yet we should follow what we are told and modeled to do in Scripture in regard to responding to our leaders.  This doesn’t mean we cannot oppose the president with courage and passion, but we must understand that inflammatory comments such as linking him to the Antichrist do nothing to be winsome for Christ to a secular world.

Two, the moral decline and growing secularism in our nation should serve as a massive wake up call to the church.  I can’t stop thinking about how the church today looks more and more like the seven churches in the book of Revelation (Rev. 2-3).  Recall that for most of these churches Jesus had some good things to say, but he had some condemnations as well.  In general, the complaint Jesus had against these churches was the toleration of false teaching and worldliness evidenced in a passion-less following of Christ.  Should it surprise us that our nation is on the moral path it is when our churches look so much like the world?  When we have countless thousands following humanistic, health and wealth pastors who have so watered down and abrogated the gospel and biblical truth that it is barely recognizable?  Add to this Christians who no longer live in self denial to their greed and lusts and it’s little wonder the church is losing its influence.

The result of the election is a wake up call for Christians to once again live with passion for Christ in obedience to his word.  This begins with me and you!  We need repentance and action.  We need to have a deep love and concern for our world and think through how we can engage it with winsome strategies for Christ that do not compromise the gospel.  Again, this starts with you praying for and talking to your neighbor, co-worker, and friend.  It starts with carefully thinking through what you post on social media.  We must commit to living surrender lives to Jesus as Lord and to reaching out to our world.  Sadly, even though our world is getting darker and more challenging many Christians want to argue with each other about tertiary issues such as Calvinism, etc.

We must go and be salt and light to our nation and world.  I have sensed a great deal of sadness and gloom from so many after Tuesday.  But instead, let’s rise to the challenge knowing we have the power and presence of Jesus himself on our side.  One pastor astutely noted, “The election is behind us, the Great Commission is before us, the Holy Spirit is still in us, and Jesus is coming for us. That’s Hope.”