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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.

Somebody’s Watching Me

Somebody’s Watching Me

UnknownYou might have read the title of this post and thought it would be a review of the song by Rockwell (I am, after all, a child of 80’s music!).  No, this post is about something different.  The other day I was studying 1 Peter 2:11-12 and was struck about the importance of a Christian’s conduct in a world that is clearly watching what Christians do.  I was reminded of a quote by the old Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren who rightly noted,

“The world takes its notions of God, most of all, from the people who say they belong to God’s family.  They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible.  They see us, they only hear about Jesus Christ.”

Peter reminds his readers that their conduct must be “excellent,” or honorable because the world is watching.  When the world observes our behavior that is rooted in love, grounded in truth, and marked by denying the “lusts of the flesh” it will make an impact on others.  In Peter’s words, the lost will “glorify God in the day of visitation.”  Whether this means the lost will come to Christ through the observance of a Christian’s behavior or acknowledge Christ is Lord on the Judgment Day and know at that time the behavior of Christians pointed to the truth is unsure.  Regardless, the behavior of genuine Christ followers will make an impact for the kingdom of God.

Some will be angered by the worldview Christians follow.  Some will merely want to scrutinize the behavior waiting for the Christian to make a mistake.  But others will observe the transformation Christ brings and the evidence of it in the way Christians live and ask, “Whatever it is you have, I want it!”

Thus, it is imperative that the conduct of Christians be anchored in the word of God and a genuine example of the transformation that comes about from following Christ.  All this means that Christians must live in a counter-cultural way.  They cannot live like the world.  Sadly, this is becoming less apparent in the church today.  David Wells notes,

“The church [must] form itself, by his grace and truth, into an outcropping of counter-cultural spirituality.  It must first recover the sense of antithesis between Christ and culture and then find ways to sustain that antithesis… It must give up self-cultivation for self-surrender, entertainment for worship, intuition for truth, slick marketing for authentic witness, success for faithfulness, power for humility, a God bought on cheap terms for the God who calls us to costly obedience.  It must, in short, be willing to do God’s business on God’s terms.”

Scot McKnight, in his commentary on 1 Peter 2:11-12, wrote that someone interviewed a well-known American preacher and contended that some of this preacher’s message was different than the message of the Bible, particularly about self-denial.  The preacher responded, “If I preached that, the people in my church would be mad as _____.”  The interviewer persisted and said the concept of denying yourself was still in the Bible.  The preacher’s response: “Just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean I have to preach it.”  This is a classic example of the cultural-conditionedness of some churches and preaching today.  Little wonder so many that claim to be Christ followers do not live counter-culturally.

So, we must be diligent to live differently than the world.  We don’t need to be afraid of our culture, or hate it- we need to engage it with Christ’s love and truth through our actions, words, attitudes, etc.  We most likely have no idea who is watching us and the impact it is making in their lives.

Herb and Ruth Clingen and their young son were missionaries to Japan when WWII broke out.  The Clingens were sent to a POW camp in the Philippines where they were imprisoned for three years.  Herb’s diary told of how his family’s captors tortured, murdered, and starved to death many of the camp’s inmates.  The prisoners particularly hated and feared the camp commandant named Konishi.  Herb described one especially diabolical plan of Konishi forced on the Clingens and others near the end of the war:

“Konishi found an inventive way to abuse us even more.  He increased the food ration but gave us palay– unhusked rice.  Eating rice with its razor-sharp outer shell would cause intestinal bleeding that would kill us in hours.  We had no tools to remove the husks, and doing the job manually- by pounding the grain or rolling it with a heavy stick- consumed more calories than the rice would supply.  It was a death sentence for all internees.”

Through divine providence the Clingens were spared and liberated from their camp in February 1945 by Allied forces.  That prevented the final plan Konishi had drawn up- shooting and killing all survivors.  Years later the Clingens learned that Konishi had been found working as a grounds keeper at a golf course in Manilla.  He was put on trial for war crimes and hanged.  Just before his execution, Konishi professed conversion to Christianity, saying he had been deeply affected by the testimony of the Christian missionaries he had persecuted.

May we careful to be an example of Christ to the Konishis in our lives.

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.”

 

 

 

He Makes All Things New: How God Will Consummate the Age

He Makes All Things New: How God Will Consummate the Age

cloudsAt the end of time, God will consummate all He created to its final glory. The things that were tarnished by our sin, God will restore. Some things will be taken away and other things will be made new. This is the final goal of history. Rev. 21:5 states, “And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” What encouraging news for those who are in Christ! Below are side-by-side examples of how God will consummate the age.

Gen. 1:1- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Rev. 21:1- “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…”

 

Gen. 1:16- “God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day…”

Rev. 21:23- “And the city has no need of the sun, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

 

Gen. 1:5- “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.

Rev. 22:5- “There will no longer be any night…”

 

Gen. 1:10- “God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas.”

Rev. 21:1- “And there is no longer any sea.”

 

Gen. 3:14-19- The curse is announced

Rev. 22:3- “There will no longer be any curse…”

 

Gen. 3:16-19- Sorrow and pain begin

Rev. 21:4- “There will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

 

Gen. 3:19- “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Rev. 21:4- “And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death…”

 

Gen. 3:24- “So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Rev. 22:14- “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life…”

 

What an amazing thing to see these Scripture passages in comparison! May we live our lives today with eternity as our focus.

 

Announcement Made in Church March 2-3, 2013

This month marks the fifth anniversary of our move to 45th Street.   As you know, our church has experienced a great deal of growth, both spiritually and numerically, in the past five years.  In just the past few months, our church has received numerous recognitions for growth and missions involvement.  I say none of that to boast, but as I have previously mentioned, these recognitions are, in light of our increasingly secular culture, just reminders that we need to do even better.

So, how do we accomplish that?  All of you know that the attendance of our church is outpacing the size of our facilities.  Some may wonder or argue that we don’t need to grow any larger.  My response is that I am totally committed to helping our church first and foremost grow deeper.  At the same time, I am committed to accommodating our church growing larger in order for more people to hear the Word of God taught in truth and come to faith in Christ- even if it means I have to preach ten times each weekend!  In this world of rising secularism and pluralism, I believe it is the will of God for us to be committed to this endeavor.

Thus, we need a plan and action for the immediate and long-term future.  In the long term, we need to carefully pray as to whether or not it is God’s will for us to build another building, what exactly we need to build, do we possibly consider satellite campuses, and whatever we do be good stewards in the process.  Honestly, this is years away.  Before we ever consider another major project, I believe we should retire the debt we have for our current building.  I am asking you today to be faithful with your tithe to support the ministry and missions of our church as well as make a commitment to move all of those Bibles in the display in the foyer and continue to give until our debt is eliminated.  This is an important part of our church moving forward in making an impact for God’s kingdom.

As for the present, we need to do something that will allow for more growth.  We presently have four worship services: one on Sat. night and three on Sun. morning.  The 9:30 and 11:00 Sunday worship services are very full.  In fact, recently we had some people sitting on the floor at 9:30 with both overflows open.  Yes, we have space in the Sat. night service, but for whatever reason, we have had difficulty seeing large crowds come to that service.  However, we believe the Sat. service is reaching a unique need, such as people who work on Sundays, etc. and we want to keep it as an option.  Our only other alternative is to add another service to make room particularly in the 9:30 service.  What I am proposing today is that we consider an additional service to start at 12:30 on Sunday that will be a contemporary music style just like 9:30.  I am asking for at least 100 people in the 9:30 service and 100 people in the 11:00 service to commit to attend this 12:30 service (or the Sat. night service).  Please see this request not as a matter of convenience, but of sacrifice.  If we free up seats and parking spaces in these worship services it will allow for people to be here to hear the Word who are not here yet.

Having said that, we do not want to disrupt families or our ministry to college students and youth with this possible new service.  We are simply asking you to pray about the possibility of attending a 12:30 service.  Also, I understand if you attend the 11:00 service and shift to the 12:30 service you would most likely attend the 11:00 Sunday School, but could still go to 9:30 Sunday School, serve in the children’s department or just hang out, and then go to 12:30 worship- confusing I know!

If we can get this commitment for a 12:30 service, this will allow space for growth in all of our worship services and may even allow us, at least at the start, to close the overflows and allow people to sit in the center section which helps people better focus on worship and listening to the message. So, I am asking you to prayerfully consider if you would be willing to make this change and help our church accommodate more growth.  Next Sunday, we will put a form in the bulletin to measure the response of those willing to attend at 12:30.

These are very exciting days at IBC.  Every week, I get a message from someone who shares a testimony of what God is doing in their life and how He is transforming them.  That is what it’s all about!  Let’s continue to be faithful and committed to God and His church!

 

 

The Most Important Place I’ve Ever Walked

The Most Important Place I’ve Ever Walked

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Jerusalem

 

I just returned from a 10-day trip to Israel that was truly incredible.  I had never been to the Holy Land and was so glad to experience this life changing trip with my wife and some close friends.  I find it very difficult to express just what it meant and felt like to actually walk in places where Jesus himself would have walked.  For the last 20 years I have taught church members and college/seminary students all about these places.  Only the Lord knows how many pictures and maps I have shown in lectures.  And then to finally see it all for myself was indescribable!  On the way home, my mind was flooded with favorite places/memories and the major takeaways of the trip.  Here are just a few:

One, I was struck with just how amazing a teacher Jesus Christ was.  As a teacher myself, I often struggle with how to make the subject/material come to life for my students.  I realized in a fresh way that Jesus was the master teacher.  This hit me as I stood looking at the cliff face in Caesarea Philippi.  This place in the first century was the hot bed of paganism.  Jesus brought his disciples here to point-blank reveal to them his identity (Matt. 16).  It was here that he asked the disciples who they thought he was.  Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  This was an amazing statement in a region where there were countless gods.  Jesus responded to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Chills went up my back as I imagined Jesus saying this with the giant rock cliff face in the background.  At that rock people worshiped the Greek god Pan, threw their children to their deaths as a sacrifice, and worshiped goats.  A lesson to us all that whenever we follow false gods the outcome is devastating.  But upon the confession that Jesus is the one true God, we will find a rock of truth, peace, and eternal security.  What an amazing teaching with this giant rock in the background!

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Caesarea Philippi

 

Two, I was reminded of the truthfulness of Christianity and the Bible.  In Israel, civilizations have been living in the region since the beginning of human history.  Thus, ancient artifacts are perpetually being uncovered.  Site after site that we visited only confirmed that everything ever dug up out of the ground only proves the accuracy of the biblical record and never disproves it.  Over 90% of the cities/villages recorded in the Bible have been discovered in the place where the Bible says it was located.  Names, tunnels, palaces, temples, etc. that are mentioned in the Bible have been discovered.  Our culture today believes that if you believe in God, and that he created the world, as well as believe in Scripture as the authority in life then you are a misguided simpleton who cannot think critically.  Archaeology clearly demonstrates that to be a Christian and believe in the Bible does not mean you have checked your brains at the door.

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The Abraham Gate at Tel-Dan.  Abraham would have walked through this gate to rescue his nephew Lot (Gen. 14)

 

Three, perhaps the strongest takeaway I had from this trip was that in the end what matters most is not that I have walked where Jesus walked, but that I walk the way he walked.  The accounts in the Bible of Jesus teaching, ministering, healing, dying, and rising again are all real.  Walking where he walked brought all of that to clear, colorful life for me.  And yet, Jesus came to this earth and did all that he did not just to establish some really neat holy sites to visit, but to change my life.  Yes, he really did walk on the earth, and he did so to really transform me.

Our tour guide brought us one day to a place known as the Southern Steps.  These are the steps leading out of the south wall of the city of Jerusalem that Jews would have used when they exited the Temple in the first century.  It was here that Jesus would have done most of the teaching he did while in Jerusalem.  I noticed when we came to this place our tour guide went sat on a rock that was part of one of the ancient steps.  He sat there for a moment, wistfully looked around, then got up.  He then told us this story:

The guide said that years ago he served as the personal tour guide to a famous pilot from the United States.  This pilot was an atheist- a self-proclaimed “man of science” who didn’t believe in the supernatural.  The pilot was promoted to be an astronaut and on his first mission into space he looked at the earth from that new vantage point and immediately in his heart knew that the world was not the product of random chance/evolution, but was created by a Higher Being.  When he returned to earth this pilot gave his life to Christ and lived passionately for the Lord.  After he retired, he came to the Holy Land for a visit.  This pilot told our tour guide that he wanted him to take him to a place in Jerusalem that he knew with 100% certainty was a place where Jesus would have walked.  So, the guide brought the pilot to the Southern Steps.  The guide then said that the pilot sat down on that same rock the guided had sat on, looked to his left toward the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane and then said, “You know, of all the places I have ever walked, this place is the most important.”  The guide then explained to us what an amazing statement that was because the pilot’s name was Neil Armstrong.  Even more important than walking on the moon, was walking where Jesus walked.

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The Southern Steps where Jesus would have walked down to exit the Temple in Jerusalem and the location of where he taught when in the city (I’m sitting on the rock Armstrong sat on)

 

The world tells us to walk according to what it values as true and best for you- a walk that pursues wealth, power, and self-gratification.  But of all the ways you can walk, or live your life, the best way to walk is the way Jesus walked- in faith, humility, commitment, perseverance, and total dependence on God.  This is why Jesus came and walked this earth- to enable us to walk as he did.

Sufficient Grace

Sufficient Grace

graceThere are times in life when we experience storms that seem to never end.  Paul endured what he called a “thorn in the flesh.”  And yet, Paul discovered that even in the most painful and enduring trials the grace of God was sufficient.  2 Cor. 12:8-9, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”  The word order in Greek can render the phrase to read, “Sufficient for you is the grace of me.”  Indeed, what we need first and foremost in the storms of life is the grace/presence of Jesus.  More than looking within ourselves or to the world’s answers, we need Jesus.  He is the comfort, strength, and provision we need in painful times.

How do we connect with God’s grace/presence during storms of life?  It is important that we elevate our study of the Word.  Psalm 119:71- “It is good for me that I was afflicted,
 that I may learn Your statutes.”  In times of struggle, our perception and understanding of God’s Word is heightened.  Martin Luther once said three things are necessary to understand a text of Scripture: prayer, study, and suffering a trial.  The reason God allows us to be in a storm is to teach us a lesson; to mold and shape us into the person he wants us to become.  In storms, God is trying to get our attention.  Thus, we need to spend quality time in the Word.

Another thing we need to do is elevate our prayer life.  Like Paul, Jesus prayed three times for his “thorn” or as He called it His “cup” to be removed- the cross (Matt. 26:36-44).  In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed if there could be any way for Him to fulfill God’s will without the torture and pain of the crucifixion for God to make it so.  Yet, for Jesus and Paul, it was God’s will for them to endure the pain of the trial.  It was prayer that enabled both to move forward, despite the difficulty, in God’s plan for their lives.  The “thorn” and the “cup” were not enjoyable, but Jesus and Paul knew that the grace/presence of God would strengthen them to thrive through the storm.

Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 19th century, was a man who endured many storms in his life, but experienced the grace of God.  He experienced strong bouts with depression most of his adult life.  His wife whom he cared for was an invalid most of their marriage.  He took unpopular stands against the theological liberalism of his day and endured constant ridicule and threats.  He spent one-third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness.  There was hardly a weakness, hardship, or difficulty he did not know.  And yet he knew his trials would result in strength and God’s grace. Spurgeon wrote:

“It is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future, but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith… At this moment, and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory, the grace of God will be sufficient for you.  This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our Lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee, sufficient to strengthen thee, sufficient to comfort thee, sufficient to make thy trouble useful to thee, sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it, sufficient to bring thee out of it, sufficient to bring thee out of ten thousand like it, sufficient to bring thee home to heaven.  Whatever would be good for thee, Christ’s grace is sufficient to bestow; whatever would harm thee, his grace is sufficient to avert, whatever thou desirest, his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee, whatever thou wouldst avoid, his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate… Here let me press upon you the pleasing duty of taking home the promise personally at this moment, for no believer here need be under any fear, since for him also, at this very instant, the grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient.”

It is so very true: even in the darkest and longest of storms, the grace and presence of God is sufficient to enable you to thrive through the storm and be made stronger in His will.

Turning Trials Into Triumphs

Turning Trials Into Triumphs

man-praying1I recently shared a quote in a sermon on the storms of life by George Matheson, a 19th century Scottish theologian and preacher.  He was born with eyesight problems and by the time he was 18 was practically blind.  He was renown in his time for his preaching and lecturing skills.  He was also an accomplished hymn writer.  One of his hymns, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” is a classic in many modern day hymn books.  Matheson couldn’t physically see, but recognized spiritual truths with great clarity.  He never thought the trial of his blindness was unfair and embraced it as a principal way he would bring glory to God through obedience to the lessons God would teach him through it.  The quote below is from one of his writings and is a powerful, majestically written reminder that our greatest trials can indeed be our greatest triumphs.

“There is a time coming in which your glory shall consist in the very thing which now constitutes your pain.  Nothing could be more sad to Jacob than the ground on which he was lying, a stone for his pillow.  It was the hour of his poverty.  It was the season of his night.  It was the seeming absence of his God.  The Lord was in the place and he knew it not.  Awakened from his sleep he found that the day of his trial was the dawn of his triumph.

Ask the great ones of the past what has been the spot of their prosperity and they will say, ‘It was the cold ground on which I was lying.’  Ask Abraham; he will point to the sacrifice on Mount Moriah.  Ask Joseph; he will direct you to this dungeon.  Ask Moses; he will date his fortune from his danger in the Nile.  Ask Ruth; she will bid you build her monument in the field of her toil.  Ask David; he will tell you that his songs came in the night.  Ask Job; he will remind you that God answered him out of the whirlwind.  Ask Peter; he will extol his submersion in the sea.  Ask John; he will give the path to Patmos.  Ask Paul; he will attribute his inspiration to the light which struck him blind.

Ask one more! – the Son of God.  Ask Him whence has come His rule over the world; he will answer, ‘From the cold ground on which I was lying – the Gethsemane ground – I received my scepter there.’  Thou too, my soul, shall be garlanded by Gethsemane.  The cup thou fain wouldst pass from thee will be thy coronet in the world by and by.”

May we all see the trials we experience in life as opportunities to be taught and molded by our loving God who desires to fashion us into the likeness of His Son.

 

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.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: A Great Start to 2013

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: A Great Start to 2013

4377.2013blog

Below is a portion of the many Resolutions written by Jonathan Edwards on how he would live his life.  They were written from the years 1722-23.  Read through these and I believe you will find them to be an excellent prescription for charting the direction of your life in 2013.

Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence.

Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.

Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.

Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.

Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world.

Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

Resolved, let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s.

Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.

Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance.