Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stand for Prayer, Part 4

Home from my trip, I'm still thinking about that book title, Armchair Mystic. What is it about our prayer lives as evangelicals that is missing? Could it be that we've turned into a bunch of "me" centered whining babies? Our prayers at best often amount a string of perfunctory "thank you" clauses and a very vague and general confession of sin (how often do we get into specifics like greed, pride, gossip, lust, or hate?). At worst our prayers are little more than a wish list (or for some, an attempt to invoke god-like powers to "claim" their blessing) of things we thing we need to be happy. Our prayers are a mile wide and an inch deep. Why is that?

Maybe we've missed the point of prayer. Prayer is about communion with God. We listen to God in his word, but we need to learn to "listen" to God in prayer, too. How do we do that? First we need to know God. Here I'm not talking about merely intellectual awareness or having in our minds a string of facts about God. I'm talking about contemplating who God is in prayer. This involves praying theologically informed prayers. Prayer should be the joining of heart and head in a mystical union that seeks to know God as you would know any person.

With that in mind I offer the following suggestions: (1) learn what God's attributes are; (2) learn what Scriptures support our belief in the divine attributes; and (3) pray through those attributes in contemplative prayer using Scripture to reinforce your awareness of God's greatness and his presence in your life. Let prayer become a practice of the presence of God. Now, to do this you're going to need to read a bit of theology. I would recommend something like Millard Erickson's Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2nd ed. It's concise, readable for the layman, and scripturally grounded. Learn to live life corem deo, in the face of God, and you will learn how to "pray without ceasing," for all of life will become some form of prayer--of the practice of the presence of God.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Take a Stand for Prayer, Part 3

I've mentioned that prayer is a discipline. It is work. And this kind of prayer is something I believe we are unaccustomed to in our world today. Yesterday I sat on a plane and visited with a lady from New England who was reading a book by a Jesuit author entitled Armchair Mystic: Easing into Contemplative Prayer. I asked her about the book, assuming she might be a Catholic. She said the book was good. She's a divinity student, a Protestant, and the book was assigned to her in a spiritual formations class.

In reality this is an area where the Orthodox and the Roman believer may have one up on us evangelicals. The Catholic tradition understands well the power of mystery in the contemplation of God. It's not that this is not a part of our Protestant heritage. The Puritans entered into this very well. It is that it has become a lost art among evangelicals since the Enlightenment and the advance of a analytically "methodological" approach to everything. To borrow from St. Augustine, we seek to understand in order that we may believe, getting the cart before the horse.

How can you and I counter this in our own lives? First, I think it would be useful to approach the Psalms from the perspective of seeing them as meditative prayers. That, after all, is what they are. Learn to pray the psalms, and then learn to model your prayers after them. Secondly, look at other prayers in the Bible. Do the same with them as they fit your circumstances. Above all, do that with the Model Prayer in Matthew 6: 9--13. Thirdly, set aside time for prayer in a place where you will not be disturbed and focus on God, his grandeur and majesty, holiness and infinity, and learn to contemplate his perfections. Let yourself get lost in the wonder of Who God is.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Take a Stand for Prayer, Part 2

Confession time. Several years ago I was the pastor of a church while I was in seminary. The church was a country church with its share of problems. I had a rough two years at that church that ended bitterly. I did a lot of things right, but I did one thing wrong. I didn't pray as I should have. I had all kinds of good excuses, too.

I was commuting daily to seminary (three hours a day). I had to study. I had one baby and one on the way. I had to visit people, both church members and prospects. I had to prepare for three services a week. There just didn't seem to be enough hours in the day.

My preaching was theologically orthodox. My pastoral care of my people was adequate. But I was spiritually dry. Why? Because my prayer life was barren, and as a result my ministry was fairly barren, too. I think I baptized three people in two years.

This morning I'm rushing to get to the airport and struggling with finding time to pray. Oh, I'll pray on the plane--just before take-off and as we land. I love to fly. I hate take-offs and landings.

Your single biggest preparation for the day is what Luther discovered--prayer. "Pray without ceasing."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Take a Stand for Prayer

This week I want to think about prayer. Praying is something all Christians talk about but most do far too little. I'm talking about myself here, too. The thing is, the prayer life is a private life. There is little accountability regarding time spent in prayer. Do you know how much time your pastor spends in prayer? Does he know how much time you spend in prayer? Would you each be embarrassed if the other knew?

Martin Luther is attributed with saying, "I have so much to do that I can't get it all done if I don't spend the first four hours of each day in prayer." In our society we look at that and say, "What?" Most of us have a hard time sustaining four minutes in prayer, and then in the back of our minds are the nagging thoughts of all we have to do that's not getting done because we're just "sitting" there. And we're just sitting there because we haven't really entered into the work of prayer. Our prayers are not earnest. They are not Spirit led. They are perfunctory. Shakespeare aptly wrote in Hamlet,

"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go" (Hamlet, Act III, Scene III).

Prayer is a discipline, partly of the mind, and partly of the heart. If the heart is not transformed to love God no amount of discipline of the mind can effect genuine prayer. Jonathan Edwards considered prayerlessness the tell-tale sign of a false Christian--one who is Christian in name only and not genuinely saved (see his sermon, "Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer" in vol II of The Works of Jonathan Edwards). Is it any wonder that our pulpits lack power, our witness is weak, and our world is the state it's in? We wring our hands and work our minds looking for the "method" that will bring the desired result but fail all the while to tap the power, the only power, than can effect real change in us and in our world--the power of God through Spirit driven prayer.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Love the LORD Your God, Part 5

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you are and have" (Deut. 6: 5, my translation). Jesus interpreted the final words of this verse as "with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12: 30 NASB). The Hebrew of Deuteronomy 6: 5 could literally be rendered "muchness" or "all you have". The word is usually taken for "strength". Strength need not be limited, as we're prone to think, merely to physical prowess. What God calls for here is putting everything you've got into loving him--your worldly possessions, your physical body, your intellect. Quite literally, God wants everything from you. He wants it all at his disposal. The emotions and will were discussed under the heading of "heart", and the total person was discussed under the heading of "soul". What's left?

Jesus said we're to love God with our "minds" or our intellect. Your ability to think and reason should be at God's disposal. You are called to "think God's thoughts after him" as one theologian put it. You are called to the task of learning to do theology well. Everyone does theology. Some do it better than others, but even the atheist has a theology, although his is the most minimal. Whatever your field in life, whether you're a plumber or a physicist, you should put your mind at God's disposal to look for his glory in all the things you see, experience, and think about. Believers are not called to follow blindly. Christian faith is not a "leap in the dark." You are called to use your mind and think. Sanctified reason is both a blessing and a command for the believer. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil 4: 8 ESV).

You are also called to love God with all you have. Everything you have, from your health to your wealth (be it little or much) is a gift from God, and you are his steward over it. He did not give it to you to squander on the trinkets of the world in what Bunyan called "Vanity Fair" (Pilgrim's Progress). Churches spend a lot of dollars building new, lavish facilities when they could be spending that same money launching a new church across town or sponsoring missionaries in a third world country. Christians buy the best and latest things even though what they have is just fine. The extra money they spend could be used to feed hungry children somewhere or support mission work. Think before you spend. Ask yourself, "Do I really need this, or is it a luxury?" "Is there some better use I could put this money to?" "Will God be glorified in this purchase?" Take a stand and love God with your thoughts and with your possessions. "Do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10: 31).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love the LORD Your God, Part 4

In Deuteronomy 6: 5 God commands that his people love him with all their "soul". Here the Hebrew word is nephesh and indicates the totality of one's being. The heart speaks to the inner, immaterial part of the individual, but the nephesh speaks to the whole person--what we would call body and soul. Where the heart leads the body will follow.

In practical terms this means that if you love the Lord people will know because they'll see it in how you behave. Your body will be consecrated to his purposes, not your own gratification. Jesus said it this way: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14: 15 NASB). The person who says he loves the Lord but lives in willful sin lies and is deceiving himself. Obedience isn't the source of salvation. It is a distinguishing mark of salvation. The one who loves the Lord will open his heart and his hand to the poor. The one who loves the Lord will speak the truth. The one who loves the Lord will be faithful to his/her marriage vows. The one who loves the Lord will keep himself/herself sexually pure outside of marriage in thought and deed. The one who loves the Lord will not envy the blessings of his neighbor. In short, the one who loves the Lord will live a life of integrity, of righteousness, fulfilling the second table of the Law just as much as the first table.

Take a stand. Demonstrate your love for God by living the life that honors him. Take up the challenge issued by Paul to strive for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3: 14). Make a difference where you live by demonstrating that the Christian life is a life that is different, and different in a good and positive way. "Love the LORD your God with all your soul."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Love the LORD Your God, Part 3

In Deut 6: 5 Moses commands that you "love the LORD your God with all your heart." What does it mean to love God with all your heart, and what hinders people from doing that? In the Hebrew Bible the "heart" refers to "the totality of man's. . . immaterial nature" (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1: 466). It is more than mere emotion, as we so often think of the heart today. It is the will and one's thoughts as well. With this in mind, loving God with the whole heart means loving God as an act of the will, being devoted to God in your thoughts, and being affectionately attached to God. That sounds pretty comprehensive.

What keeps people from loving God with their whole hearts? First and foremost, I think, is self-love. Today people are encouraged more than ever to love themselves, even in popular preaching (note Robert Schuller). Whitney Houston sings about the "greatest love of all" being the ability to love yourself. But what does the Bible say about self-love? Jesus calls his followers, not to self-love but to self-denial: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16: 24 NASB). Rather than thinking that I have some good in me whereby to please God and earn his favor, I need to recognize with Paul that "nothing good dwells in me" (Rom 7: 18 NASB), and so the first step in loving God is renouncing myself, abhoring and loathing my sinful self as something worthy only of God's wrath.

Another barrier to loving God as we ought is loving the world. "Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2: 15 NASB). One of the biggest challenges facing Christians in the affluent West today is love of the world, or worldliness. We've become obsessed with games, television, sports, and a host of other insignificant trivialities. We entertain ourselves to the edge of moral bankruptcy. Church services in many places are either nostalgic adventures into beloved tradition or mere entertainment. Instead of putting money into missions and church planting we build bigger and more lavish buildings. The thing is, we do a lot of this in the name of God and under the pretext of honoring him. In reality we do it for human pride and show that we really don't love him.

True love for God shows itself, not in the accumulation of wealth and possessions but in an open heart to the needs of others. How can you love God and not love others? How can you say you love God and not share the greatest news of all time--the good news of salvation in Christ--with other people? Why does the State feel a compelling need to get involved in relief for the poor and help for the sick? These are things that Christians should be taking care of voluntarily. The State shouldn't even have a pretext for getting involved. If only believers would do what they're supposed to do in caring for others there would be no basis for a welfare state. What will you do today to stand and show your heart's love for God?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love the Lord Your God, Part 2

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you are and have" (Deut 6: 4--5, my translation). The God of the Bible is one God, yet he is one God in three persons (cf. Matt 28: 19, where the Name of God is "the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit"). It is not enough to love just any god with all your heart, soul, and strength. It must be the God who is revealed in the Bible. Foundational to loving the LORD is knowing who he is. He is the one eternal and triune God revealed in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. He is not the fictitious man become god of the Mormons. He is not the distant and inattentive god of deism. He is not the vindictive and unmerciful god of Islam. Nor is he sometimes Father, sometimes Son, and sometimes Holy Spirit as the modalists believe.

You and I are called to love the Lord our God with all our hearts. Once you know who he is you must embrace him as your God. To embrace him in this way means to own his name and his calling on your life. It doesn't mean he belongs to you. On the contrary, you belong to him. As a believer in Christ you have been bought with a price, "with [the] precious blood. . . of Christ" (1 Peter 1: 19 ESV). You have been ransomed and redeemed from bondage to sin and self, and Christ has laid claim to you by his death and resurrection. How could you not respond to such sacrificial love by owning him as your Lord and King?

Because he is your God you are called to "love" him. While the Hebrew word has a broad range of meanings, the New Testament writers render it with the Greek word agapeo, which always signifies a willful and unconditional commitment to another. This love for God is not merely an emotion. It is a choice on the part of the individual, rooted in the gracious actions of God who loved us first in this way, to commit one's life unconditionally to God. God will have first place in your heart because he alone is worthy of it. The real man knows this, and the real man, drawn by grace, lovingly gives himself to the Lord his God in sacrificial commitment. Stand up. Be a man, and love God as you ought.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Love the Lord Your God, Part 1

Yesterday evening and last night I watched a series called "Liberty" about the War for Independence. This was produced by PBS in the 1990s, and my wife checked out the DVD set from our local library. In it were detailed, from the diaries and letters of the actual men and women involved, the sacrifices made for U. S. independence from the tyranny of the British Crown. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of liberty.

For two thousand years Christians have been sealing their testimony of love to God in blood. But today in Western Europe and North America, how many have love enough for God and faith enough in Christ to seal their love with their blood? Are you so sold out to Christ and the gospel that you will die to spread the good news of salvation in Christ to others? Think about it before you answer. If you cannot be inconvenienced to attend a Wednesday evening prayer service or go next door to tell your neighbor about Christ, do you really think you would stand in front of an executioner and bear witness for Christ to the point of death?

The Evangelical Church today is in desperate need of men, real men, godly men of courage and commitment and sold out sacrificial love for God. These men are needed in pulpits, in military chaplaincy, in Scouting packs and troops, in board rooms, in classrooms (public and private, from kindergarten through grad school), in Congress, state legislatures, and municipal governments, and in every walk of life. You don't have to be a seminary educated pastor to be this man. You just have to love God more than anything else and follow him. Where are the men who will stand in the gap and demonstrate what it means to "love the LORD your God"?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stand for True Righteousness, Part 5

So, if taking a stand for true righteousness involves sacrificial love for others, how should that influence our overall demeanor?

First, in all things be courteous. There is no reason for a Christian ever to be rude to another person, regardless of what the other person says or does. Show acts of kindness in every possible situation. This is doubly true when dealing with persons who are avowed enemies of the Gospel.

Secondly, never leave room for an accusation. Guard your reputation. In a recent conversation in a store I was discussing Boy Scouts Youth Protection training and guidelines and how they are there to protect youth on the one hand and adult leaders from false accusations on the other. False accusations can ruin a person's reputation, and the gentlemen observed, "Where do you go to get your reputation back?" Right now the Evangelical community is reeling from a loss of credibility. At the height of its influence several of its most notable faces (televangelists) in the 1980s and 1990s were discovered to be involved in a variety of moral compromises. The actions of a few prominent people brought shame, disgrace, and loss of respect on all Evangelicals. Where do we go to get that back? We've got to live it down by rising above the accusations and demonstrating truly transformed lives.

Thirdly, be fair, honest, and factual in any debate. I've seen far too many "Christian" books on science that play loose with facts, especially their treatment of their opponents' views, in the interest of winning the debate. It is as if all is fair so long as we win. If you have to misrepresent to win, have your really won? Be sure of your facts. Represent the other side fairly and dispassionately, and be ready at any moment to show where you got your facts. If you find that you've erred, get out in front of it, admit the error, and issue a correction. Eating crow never tastes good, but it sure goes a long way to maintaining credibility.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stand for True Righteousness, Part 4

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12: 29--31 ESV). These two commandments sum up the two tables of the law. If the Church would live by these her impact on the world would be much more significant than it is.

A stand for true righteousness comes down to this--living a life of sacrificial love for others. That means doing what is best for others, even when they don't appreciate it, don't want it, and oppose you for it. That's the kind of love God demonstrated to us when he sent his Son to save us from our sins. We like our sin. We don't want to be delivered from it until God makes us aware of how terrible it really is. So when God sent his Son we didn't appreciate it. "He was despised and rejected by men; . . . he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isa. 53: 3 ESV). Did that stop him? No. He came anyway. He kept doing what he came to do, even in the face of mounting opposition. "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him" (John 1: 11 ESV). Finally, to get rid of him they killed him by hanging him on a cross. But that was his plan from the beginning to obtain our salvation (Acts 2: 22--24). He gave everything out of love to a people who did not love him in order to bring us back to God. In that act he provides for us the only way to be righteous before God (Rom 5: 1; 2 Cor 5: 21).

At the heart of the Christian ethic lies the sacrificial love of God in Christ. You and I are called to imitate that sacrificial love to others by our actions, thoughts, and attitudes. "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children" (Eph 5: 1 ESV). A stand for true righteousness means imitating God by loving the unlovable, giving others what they need rather than what they deserve, and treating others with the same compassion you have received from God in Christ. Standing on a sidewalk and yelling at people in an angry tone is not what we're called to do. Rather, with tear-filled eyes and hearts melted with compassion we need to show people the end result of their sin and point them in the direction of the only hope for life. We need to model a life before them that makes them hunger and thirst for what we have. The world sees us as a negative people, angry, hostile, and ignorant. We need to demonstrate to the world that we are hopeful for our own future, grieved over the future of our world, compassionate toward our enemies, and informed--informed to the point of being able to show a better way to live. Make a difference where you live. By exemplifying sacrificial love to others take a stand for true righteousness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stand for True Righteousness, Part 3

If the kind of righteousness talked about here, what is often called "horizontal" righteousness, begins with the core commitment that each person is unique and created in the image of God, then how does that play out in actual interchanges between individuals, groups, and in society at large? At the heart of the word "relationship" is the matter of how we "relate" to one another. God, in the Bible, calls us to an ethic of love--of unconditional caring for others. This kind of love is not an emotional attachment but a commitment to seek what is in the best interest of others, putting self in second place.

When you take a stand for true righteousness in a marriage, then your spouse will know it. You will not treat your spouse merely as the means to your financial security, sexual fulfillment, source of happiness, or whatever else you can come up with. Rather, you will look for ways to fulfill your spouse in every area of marital life by giving yourself sacrificially to him or her in every area of life.

In your friendships you will seek the best for your friends. You will build them up, encourage them, and look for opportunities to do them good. In dealing with those who oppose you, you will likewise look for peace--genuine peace. If need be, you will endure persecution without retaliation. Still, it is important to speak the truth, even when doing so seems to hurt. There are times when showing a loving concern for others means opposing their self-destructive and sinful conduct. The Christian engages in the battle for true righteousness when he or she stands for biblical morality in opposition to the degradation of the world. This means saying things others may find offensive or unpleasant. It does not mean saying those things in an offensive and unpleasant way. Even when standing against the prevailing immorality of our day, believers should make every effort to be winsome in their conduct.

Don't be afraid to say that homosexuality, adultery, fornication, theft, murder, abortion, cheating on taxes, lying, political corruption, etc., are wrong. Don't be afraid to say that Jesus is the only way to have real peace with God and escape his wrath. These things are all true, and ultimately to say them is to show genuine love for others, because saying these things points others to the best possible way to live and the only way to eternal life. It is no crime to speak against the evils of our age. However, find ways to do it that are constructive, not destructive, loving, not insensitive. Learn to build bridges, not burn them. Demonstrate a stand for true righteousness by how your relate to others.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stand for True Righteousness, Part 2

Applied Social Darwinism has given us a society where gang crime is rampant, abortion is legal, and in some places, assisted suicide is also legal. Add to that the current debate about health care, the possibility of socialized medicine and the health-care rationing that is necessarily a part of such a system, and you can see quickly that human life today is not measured by intrinsic worth but on economic terms. At the most fundamental level individuals view one another through a cost-benefits lens when building relationships and exploiting the weaknesses of others. Is this any way to maintain an orderly and cohesive society? No! Such treatment of one another builds distrust in relationships because every relationship becomes "disposable" based on the constant changes in the cost-benefits equation.

In this setting marriages become mere "economic" arrangements that are valued for everything from sexual gratification to obtaining insurance for one's "soul mate". So long as the benefits outweigh the costs, the marriage is not in danger of dissolution. Thus there is a move on today to redefine marriage, in defiance of 5,000 years of written history, not as a formal union between a man and woman for the purpose of establishing a family and propagating the human race, but as any consentual relationship so that homosexual couples may enjoy the economic benefits and social acceptability that married couples enjoy. The push has nothing to do with what's objectively right or wrong but with the cost-benefits equation of a utilitarian ethic. The end result of this redefinition of marriage will also be the eventual legalization of polygamy if marriage is so broadly defined by the courts.

In short, one's worldview defines how one approaches the issue of ethics--of how you treat your fellow human being. If you find yourself uneasy with "defining" what is or is not a "marriage" or "family", or what is or is not morally acceptable conduct, then you need to do a worldview self-check. Yours is not a Christian worldview, whether you profess to be a Christian or not. Christians need to apply a Christian worldview to their ethics and treat every individual as someone created in the image of God. Certainly, the effects of the fall must be taken into account, but still, each person is created in the image of God. Rather than viewing someone from a merely utilitarian perspective, we need to treat all persons with dignity and respect regardless of how they live their lives or what the mental ability or economic status is. We also need to show them the compassion of the Savior by (1) lovingly drawing attention to the problem of sin and (2) mercifully pointing them to the only hope for forgiveness and deliverance from sin. This is one way, and the most fundamental way, to take a stand for true righteousness.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Take a Stand for True Righteousness, Part 1

In ancient Israel during the time of the judges it was said that "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17: 6 ESV). What happens to a society where determining what is "right" is left to the individual? In this passage it is a sad story of idolatry, corruption of the priesthood, and theft, all for personal gain. Morality left to individual determination inevitably leads to self-interest and self-preservation. A society cannot long endure where there is no external, objective sense of what is right and what is wrong in how individuals treat their fellow humans. This week I want to explore what it means to take a stand for true righteousness in interpersonal relationships. This will not be about saving righteousness in the sight of God but about fair dealings with one another--horizontal righteousness, if you will.

As God's people we are called to treat others right. The kids in my old neighborhood had a saying that was a variation on the Golden Rule: "Do unto others--then split!" That is the way many people live today. It is evident all around us. Corporate heads take shareholders' money and "split". Then they ask for a government bailout, take the money and "split". It's the "me" generation. Darwinian evolution advocates a selfish, survival of the fittest mentality that focuses on getting what you can when you can. Better to be at the top than the bottom of the food chain. The problem is, this is no way to maintain an orderly society.

God's word has a different plan for society:

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6: 8 ESV)

There is a lot of talk today about "social justice". From a biblical perspective, what does social justice look like? How should I treat my fellow human being? That will be the topic for this week as we examine what it means to take a stand for righteousness.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stand for Life, Part 5

When God created human beings he gave them a blessing in the form of a command: "Be fruitful and multiply," God said. There is a reason why we are created as male and female. Nature itself should teach us that man and woman were made for each other, not man and man, nor woman and woman. We were designed in a wonderful way to enjoy the intimacy of the sexual union in marriage and to produce children as a result of it. To take a stand for life is to take a stand for children, for something more than zero population growth. Today's Western Civilization views children as a burden, not a blessing. In the recent past the campaign for zero population growth focused on world food supplies. Today it's the "carbon footprint" we leave behind that they say might threaten to destroy our planet.

But what has God commanded? God has commanded you to "be fruitful and multiply." Solomon said,

"Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127: 3--5).

Why did Christianity win out over paganism in ancient Rome? One reason was sheer attrition. Christians, following biblical principles, had large families. Abortion was against Roman law, but it was routine for unwanted children to be "exposed", or left in the open at night for wild animals to find and feast upon. Christian women went through the towns in their areas every evening looking for these unwanted children, collecting them and placing them in Christian homes. In short, because of a different worldview, the Christians eventually came to outnumber their pagan counterparts. They took a stand for life in very practical terms, and it paid off.

Today most Christians are so compromised by the prevailing worldview that they have bought into the birth control mentality. Many have only two children, if that many. We are called to obey God and accept his blessing. Why refuse the blessing of a child that God sends? Christian couples should have families and accept the hard responsibility of rearing godly children who will be able to stand up and lead in the next generation. Don't be afraid of the large family. Older siblings help with younger ones. Yes, it gets messy. It's a lot harder to keep a clean house when you have five kids running around (I know). But the joy I receive from being with my five is worth all the toil and stress. Don't be afraid to adopt or be a foster parent either. Look around and see where you can make a difference in a child's life. Be a Scout leader. Be a mentor. Be a children's Sunday School teacher. Find a way to make a difference and take a stand for life.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Take a Stand for Life, Part 4

What is the measure of a human life? In Western Civilization today the tendency is to measure the value of a life in terms of its economic or utilitarian value. A life that can contribute more is more valuable than one that cannot. Is this the way to measure the value of a life? An unborn child's life is left subject to the whim of a mother who may either view the fetus growing inside her as a blessing (net positive) or an unwanted burden (net negative). If the fetus' mother sees the child as a net gain, then that child has a shot at life, but if she sees it a net loss, then that child is more likely to be reduced to "biological waste" and discarded as trash. What's the difference between the two fetuses? Physiologically they both have human DNA. They both came to be through the joining of man and a woman in the act of sexual relations. The difference is nothing other than the whim of the mother.

At the other end of the life spectrum people speak of "death with dignity," by which they seem to mean, "you take charge of your own destiny and end your life on your terms." There is a tendency in our society today to avoid pain and suffering at all costs, even if it means suicide to avoid the physical pain of a terminal disease. Little regard in this setting is given to the possibility of endless suffering in the afterlife. The prevailing notion in our world seems to be either (1) there is no afterlife (nihilism) or (2) everyone gets to go to heaven except maybe the really bad people (functional universalism). The notion that God may have a good purpose in someone's suffering doesn't even enter the equation. Individual self-determination, a concept from the Enlightenment, is the guiding principle.

In the middle of it all now in the United States we have the debate over government allocated health care. When you have the controlled allocation of limited resources based on government criteria, each life, and the care it will receive, have to be weighed on utilitarian grounds. How much will this life contribute to society versus what will it cost to maintain it? In that kind of equation, the elderly, rather than being honored as the Scripture says (Lev 19: 32), are viewed as a drain on the system and should be given less care so that they may cease to burden the system sooner rather than later.

In short, what is missing is a moral center from which to make beginning and ending of life decisions. Throughout the history of Western Civilization no nation's laws until now have allowed for abortion. The Code of Hammurabi banned it. The Assyrians outlawed it. The Babylonians and Egyptians forbade it. The Greeks and Romans proscribed it. The Church opposed it. But today life is not seen as a blessing in and of itself. Humans are no longer treated as persons created in the image of God. We've had a century (more or less) of evolutionary indoctrination, and it has brought us to this sad point. Life is cheap. So we kill in the clinic or through "assisted suicide" with legal sanction, and we gun down our fellow man in the street without it. Survival of the fittest has become the rule of the day.

It is time for the Evangelical community to stand in the gap for life, not just in opposition to abortion or euthanasia, but for the dignity of every life as created in the image of God. That means taking a stand against violent crime in the inner city and getting our hands dirty making a difference there. It means teaching young people about the reality of humans as created in the image of God in ways that may have to work around the government educational system. Think outside the box and take a stand for life.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Take a Stand for Life, Part 3

On the surface it is curious that many who are "pro-life" also favor capital punishment and many who support abortion and doctor assisted suicide are against it. Actually, the pro-life group is logically consistent in supporting capital punishment. Here's why.

Humans are created in the image of God, and therefore each person is worthy of dignity and respect. Furthermore, each life is sacred. When one human being, with malicious intent, however, takes the life of another human being, he or she forfeits the right to his/her life. This is because of the extreme nature of the offense, not just against the person murdered, but against God in whose image that person was created. In Gen 9: 6 God said,

"Whoever sheds man's blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man" (NASB).

This text should never be interpreted to support vigilante killings, however. God has placed in the hands of the state the authority to apply this divine law so that society will be well ordered (Rom 13: 1--5).

It should be noted that there are more ways to kill a person than actual murder. Jesus considered unjustified rage or anger a type of murder--a desire to murder even if the actual act is never carried out (Matt 5: 21). In that same passage Jesus considers any thought or action that shows a disregard for others as created in the image of God an insult to God comparable to murder. How often do we put down others, demeaning them to make ourselves look better? How often do we harbor secret grudges in our hearts against others? To take a stand for life is to take a stand also for treating each person with dignity and respect regardless of his her mental ability, economic worth, race, religion, or any other factor. Rather than mistreating others let us show them the love and grace of God. When and where we're able, let us point them to the One who has saved us from sin and judgment. Take a stand that will open for them the possibility of life eternal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stand For Life, Part 2

As long as people subscribe to the prevailing philosophy of the day that life simply evolved by natural processes, then life and death remain part of the natural cycle and no form of life can be considered superior, only different. Abortion and euthanasia are easily justified in such a worldview. Christians, on the other hand, must stand for life, and especially for the sanctity of human life as created in the image of God. That makes humans unique among all living creatures, with special rights and responsibilities that are given "by their Maker" as the founding fathers of the United States said.

Genesis 1 displays an orderly progression from non-living to living things as the story of creation moves forward. The culmination of God's creative work was the making of man and woman in his image: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth'" (Gen 1: 26--28, NASB).

By virtue of being created in the image of God, man enjoys a unique position in relation to the rest of creation. It is a position of stewardship. And by virtue of being created in the image of God, man has a unique relationship with God and with his fellow man. A stand for life takes that into account, realizing that to the extent we treat another human poorly we throw yet another insult, as it were, into the face of God. Taking a stand for life involves more than protesting abortion and euthanasia. It also involves taking a stand for respect for others, courteous behavior, and looking for ways to encourage rather than beat down or put down others. Could it be that we don't get a better hearing in the arena of ideas because our very methods sometimes go against what we're trying to affirm and support?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Take a Stand for Life, Part 1

In the documentary movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein explores the question of the origins of life on earth. This one question continues to plague natural science. How did life begin? Where did that first living organism come from? For the Christian the answer is simple. God, who is himself Life, by an act of his will, created all the living creatures that exist. He alone is Life in the sense of being self-existent (theologians call this the aseity of God). In Exodus 3: 14 God told Moses his name was "I AM"--the one who necessarily exists in and of himself.

Our society is one that is moving rapidly in the direction of embracing the culture of death. To stand for life is viewed as a kind of extremism by many. Western Civilization has been inundated with nihilistic philosophy that pairs naturally with the naturalistic, humanistic worldview of our day. In this way of thinking death is a "natural part of the life cycle" and should be embraced. Abortion and euthanasia are encouraged (killing of unborn infants and "mercy" killing of the weak and terminally ill). At the same time, capital punishment for crimes is viewed as "cruel and unusual" punishment by many. People are who are pro-life and support capital punishment are accused of being inconsistent, but no one accuses the anti-life supporters of inconsistency when they advocate killing the innocent unborn and the elderly or terminally ill while at the same they decry capital punishment.

Over the next few days I intend to explore the importance of standing for life, and as odd as it may sound, how standing for life involves standing for capital punishment as well. If all life derives from God, then all of life is sacred in some sense, and if humans are created in the image of God, then all human life is to be valued on that basis more than any other criteria of value.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 12

Today I will finish looking at the regula fide, or Rule of Faith. Also, I will be taking a break until Monday, October 5, as I will be attending "Woodbadge for the 21st Century", a Scout leadership training program.

In the last line of the Apostles' Creed we read, "[I believe in] the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen." In the treatment of Christ's own resurrection I touched upon the matter of the resurrection of our bodies. His resurrection is the promise of our future resurrection. The point of Christ's work is that death doesn't get the last say. He came to save the whole person, not just the immaterial, spiritual part. The body and soul are created together such that neither is a complete person without the other. The Hebrew word nephesh, commonly translated "soul", refers to the totality of one's being. Christ came to save the whole person. A belief in the bodily resurrection is a Christian non-negotiable. Our resurrection and Christ's are so related that to deny one is to deny the other (1 Corinthians 15), and so to deny the reality of our salvation in him. The moment a person stops believing in the bodily resurrection he or she renounces the right to claim the title "Christian". In presenting the gospel to unbelievers it is vitally important to stand for the resurrection of the body, yet how many gospel presentations mention the resurrection today?

Paul certainly included the resurrection and coming Judgment in his message at Athens (Acts 17: 31). The resurrection is a message of hope for believers because we believe in "life everlasting" in a state of bliss with God. But for the unbeliever the resurrection is a message of warning. There is a judgment to face and an eternity of suffering to be endured for all who do not know Christ (Rev 20: 11--15). No wonder Paul said, "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor 5: 11, NASB). Our calling is not merely to inform. Our calling is to stand for the Gospel in its totality and do all in our power to persuade men and women to take seriously the message of hope in Christ and the reality of the coming Judgment of God on the world.

I believe our evangelism is weak today precisely because we do not feel in our hearts the reality of these eternal verities. We do not contemplate the blessing of the resurrection of the saints nor the awful suffering of the wicked who die under God's wrath. The life beyond this one is a mere shadow in our minds. The Gospel has been reduced to a selling technique based on benefits to be had in this life without serious regard for the life to come. And because of that we've lost the sense of urgency in reaching lost people for Christ. It's time for the Evangelical community again to take seriously the resurrection of the body and stand for the salvation of the whole person. Take a stand!