Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What is Love? The Supremacy of Doctrine

"What is love?  Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more."
I know I'm dating myself quite a bit here, but honestly, was there a movie with more buffoonery than "Night at the Roxbury"?  In almost 20 years since Roxbury's debut in theaters, there have been rivals but not many surpass the degree of over-the-top clown-like behavior portrayed by the Butabi brothers originally of Saturday Night Live fame.  For all of us who lost brain cells watching it, the memory of synchronized head bobbing to the tune of Haddaway's "What is Love?" still warrants a slight chuckle.  Yes, the movie was dumb, but at least it was intentionally dumb.  The film lacked any depth, but at least the song asked a worthwhile question.

At last week's ACBC Conference, I attended a standing room only (I literally stood for 55 minutes) breakout session called, "Homosexuality and Counseling".  In the session, we were introduced via video to a young man who I will simply call "Jay".  Jay identified himself as a Christian who was struggling to overcome what he considered to be a sinful condition: same-sex attraction.  He relayed various details of his life in what appeared to be his attempt to trace his steps into a homosexual lifestyle.  I won't go into any of those details because I was more concerned with his understanding on how his struggle with sexual orientation affected his view of God and His love.

Jay explained that the pastor of his childhood church was harsh and hostile when talking about gays and lesbians.  Aware of his own growing attraction to other men, Jay understood that "coming out" in the context of that particular church would bring condemnation and not counsel; hurt and not healing.  Understandably, he drifted away from that congregation and in later years joined another.  At his new church, he heard what he called "the message of God's love" consistently.  "I knew that God had made me and wanted me to be happy", Jay said.  He then concluded with this thought, "That's when I became excited and soon came to understand that God must have made me to love other males and enjoy my sexuality with them."

Before going into the remainder of Jay's testimony, I want to highlight this critical juncture.  Jay's perspective on faith and life with God has drastically changed based on the new emphasis on an old idea: God's love for humankind.  Undoubtedly, the pastor from Jay's first church also believed in and taught/preached on God's love.  We don't have all the details, but clearly, that pastor had a category for persons who are under God's wrath (good) while simultaneously maintaining a deficient view of God's grace (not good).  The second pastor spotlighted the "wideness" in God's mercy (good) but did not exalt God's goodness in calling men to repentance (not good).

In both cases--assuming Jay's description of their messages is accurate--both pastors are at fault.  In short, their tendency to present a simple, unidimensional "god" is an unbiblical reduction of the true God that the Holy Scriptures bear witness to.  The Bible explains that God is both kind and stern (Romans 11:22); He is angry at the wicked (Psalm 7:10-12) but also justifies them (Romans 4:4-5) without compromising His holiness in the least.  The person who merely wants God on their own terms finds such distinctions tedious and is easily annoyed at persons who painstakingly insist on pointing them out.  But the person who has experienced God's grace is in awe at the mind-boggling provision of Christ on the Cross for their sake.  No wonder the psalmist exclaimed, "Great are the works of the Lord, they are studied by all those who delight in them!" (Psalm 111:2).

Due to the cultural climate in both society and in the church, we have to state what should be obvious but will be missed by many:  Jay's view of God has no bearing on who God really is.  Jay came up with the wrong picture of God twice.  He connected the dots incorrectly in both cases largely because the preachers misnumbered them.   The first preacher's definition of God's love didn't capture the depth of forgiveness purchased for the ungodly by Christ's substitutionary offering on Calvary's Cross.  The second preacher, while apparently holding up the diamond of God's unfailing love, failed to present it against the black velvet of God's righteous wrath against sin (which would have magnified God's love rather than obscure it as preachers of this stripe fear).

Herein lies the predicament for the preacher: if you fail to faithfully draw the doctrinal lines, your hearers will draw them for you--biblically or unbiblically.  Jay figured what a lot of people figure: God made me and loves me... God knows I'm this way... So God must be okay with me as I am... God loves me... Love means 'acceptance'... Acceptance cancels out repentance... I'll keep doing me.  Please note that acceptance really does cancel out repentance because for so many, acceptance of the person includes accepting all that the person does.  This is spiritual suicide because it implies that God accepts sin just as He loves and accepts sinners.  But if this is the case, why would Christ die for sins (Romans 4:25; 1st Peter 3:18)?

Every preacher and teacher who won't draw the lines biblically, trusting that the Holy Spirit will paint the picture plainly for the hearers will be accountable to God.  But everyone who maintains the biblical distinctions will be commended by God even when condemned by men.  All preachers and teachers ought to take Paul's Holy Spirit inspired counsel to Timothy to heart: Watch your life and doctrine carefully (1st Timothy 4:16).  Life and doctrine are not the same--we make distinctions between them--but woe to the man who tries to separate them from one another.  Doctrine informs life in the way that thoughts influence and determine actions.  Until a man understands this, he isn't fit to teach/preach the gospel to others.

Sunday morning among God's people shouldn't be like a night at the Roxbury.  The idea that love means never being hurt is a lie.  What is love?

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.-- 1st John 4:10

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"-- Romans 5:8

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Image of God: Sold for Parts

"Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.  And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it."  --Genesis 9:6-7

There have been so many who have already commented on the video released by the Center for Medical Progress.  Given my particular leanings, I always find commentary from Denny Burk, Al Mohler, Jared Oliphint, Russell Moore and this time, I found Joe Carter particularly helpful in two recent posts here and again here.  One of the benefits of waiting to write is reading some of the best commentary out there and letting your mind marinate in it.

When I first saw the video, it was Wednesday, July 17th.  My wife and I were about to start morning catechism and morning worship with our daughters and several thoughts came racing in my mind.

1)  The importance of catechism.  I'll never forget Sinclair Ferguson's "Velcro-Theory" (my terminology, not his) re: catechism.  I was at one of the National Ligonier conferences (I think it was 2014) when he explained that catechism helps shape the mind of children with biblical categories.  But it also acts as Velcro, providing a place for the Holy Spirit to attach more biblical truth into the lives of our children in the years to come.  Dr. Ferguson explained that more and more, he was convinced that many of the doctrinal errors and un-Christ-like behavior of younger believers comes from one source: the failure of parents to catechize their children.  I realized that if I didn't want my daughter to look/sound like Dr. Nucatola, I had better get down to the business of serious praying and catechizing.

2)  I was immediately grateful for every body part of both my daughters.  Nuff said.

3)  If the behavior and attitude of Planned Parenthood's leadership in this video is somehow morally justifiable, then humans are not made in God's image.  In years past, I had come into contact with ideas/writings that linked abortion with slavery.  I understood the basic connection point between these two great evils in U.S. history to be this: there is a necessary and fundamental denial of the full-humanity of the slave that must precede the view of slaves as mere property.  The same is true regarding the unborn human child.  You can't end the life of a person based on the convenience/preference of another.

But the surfacing of this video showed me another link that I hadn't considered before: human abortion, like human slavery before it, reduces the value of a human to the profit experienced or benefits accrued to other humans.  In other words, the slave, like the unborn human child is only as valuable as someone else says they are.  They are not valuable in and of themselves for simply being human.

While abortion and slavery are linked in this way, there's at least one way/aspect that this video shows abortion is worse: at least when the slaves were sold, they were purchased as one whole and not in parts.

I have the scripture above and yet have done to show how it directly applies to my thoughts.  I didn't intend to do any work with it but it's there for another reason, two in fact:

A) A reminder to believers that we ought to take notice of the ways in which we have contributed to the wholesale disrespect of God's image.  Railing against murder in the womb or the atrocities against Africans and others used as slaves is right... but not if we ignore how things like pornography and sex-trafficking are also an attack against the image of God in humans.

B) A warning to unbelievers that God isn't winking at this one.  The Bible's flood narrative is one of the oldest stories in recorded history.  But that's how far back God made it known that He is the guarantor of defense re: His image upon humanity.  His judicial options are varied in form, but one in it's effect.  So beware: for the measure you use will be used against you.  A calloused view of humanity in the womb on your part may some day invite a similar gaze upon your own life.  Therefore, repent and seek the Lord while He may yet be found.  May He have mercy upon you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Tragic Trajectory of Tony Campolo

I love my wife.  She always knows how to get my day started off the right way.  Having already listened to yesterday's edition of The Briefing, with a little twinkle in her eye and in an almost-comical tone, she asks me, "Guess which evangelical came out in favor of same-sex marriage this time?"  It only took me two guesses because as others have already observed, the very term evangelical means next to nothing these days.  By now, you don't have to guess since it's all over the place: it's Tony Campolo.

I'm always amazed by how the mind works (or doesn't).  When my wife confirmed my guess, I could see Dr. Campolo in my mind's eye.  Sometime  during my Gardner-Webb years, he came to speak for a couple of nights on campus.  If memory serves, I was either a sophomore or a junior which puts those speaking engagements somewhere between 1994-95.  If you've heard Dr. Campolo, then you know the story he would frequently end his talks with.  If you've never heard him, the Campolo Classic, when paraphrased, goes something like this,

"I was leaving my missions work in Haiti and when I was waiting for the plane.  Suddenly, a poor lady came with her baby in her arms and told me, 'Take him!  Please take him with you!'.  I said, 'No, no, I can't, put him away.  Take him away from me.'  But she insisted all the more, "Take him with you- please take him!  You can help him!  Take him!  Take him!'  But I was determined to get away and refused over and over again.  I told her I was sorry, but I couldn't take him."  

"And then it happened... I got on the plane and with the image of the woman and her baby in my mind, I finally realized what I had done.  I finally realized who I had left behind.  Do you know who I left behind?  I left Jesus!  Because it was Jesus who said, 'Whatsoever you do to the least of these--you did it to me!'  I left Jesus behind!  I didn't want the baby because he was sick and smelly but it was Jesus who I was rejecting!  It made me feel like sh*t because I left Jesus.  The problem now is, that a bunch of you are so holy and righteous that you care more about a four letter curse word than that precious life that I refused!"

I remember feeling so ashamed of myself that night.  I was one of those that he mentioned.  When I heard the preacher curse, I really did pull back because I didn't think it was right.  I was struggling in those days because I myself was struggling to maintain the purity of my own speech.  But here was an evangelist in the context of preaching, using universally-recognized obscenity in the English language.  As a 19 or 20 year old, Dr. Campolo had done a masterful job at making me feel guilty for recoiling at his cursing and letting his choice of foul language distract me from his message about how a little Haitian boy was really Jesus because he was "the least of these".

But by God's grace, I've grown a little wiser.  I recognized only years later that what Dr. Campolo did was to present a logical fallacy called, "The False Dilemma" or "The Either/Or Fallacy".  This wrong way of thinking presents two solutions when there are or may legitimately be several other options.  That night, I was essentially told that I had to choose between love for the poor and pure speech that is free of obscenity and coarse joking.  Immature in my faith and thinking, I was misled that night.

I thought of all that when my wife told me of Campolo's new stance.  And then, I came across this line in his official statement from his website explaining the rationale behind his position, 

"As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church."  The whole article can be found here.  

So the beat goes on.  As a U.S. citizen born to two Haitian parents, I really admired Dr. Campolo's passion for the Haitian people and was, at one time easily swayed by what I'm sure was a very sincere desire to energize what must have appeared to be lethargic lovers of Christ to get to the business of loving "the least of these" (by the way, there's a helpful article identifying who "the least of these" is).   But at this point of my life, whether I'm listening to a preacher, reading an article, or following the upcoming elections, I'm listening carefully to discern whether or not the presentation of a "solution" is really an honest evaluation of all sides.  

Unfortunately, Dr. Campolo's tendency to present false dilemmas in the 90's has led to another false dilemma:  either you show love to gays/lesbians by letting them marry or you're condemning and rejecting them.  In his reasoning, it is NOT loving to warn persons of God's righteous wrath against sin.  It is NOT loving to call all persons to a life of repentance from sin and faith in Christ. It is NOT loving when, as a local assembly of believers, we recognize that all of us have varying degrees of victory over sinful patterns/desires and call all who profess Christ to engage in that war--not against sinners but sin itself-- regardless of what's comfortable.  Apparently, it's either full acceptance and celebration of what the Bible calls sin, or it's rejection of the individual sinner.  That's the epitome of the false dilemma fallacy.  

Sorry Dr. Campolo, but enough is enough.  I don't doubt your sincerity in terms of feeling love for gays/lesbians, but as a faithful son of Jenny Geddes, this Creepie Stool is thrown at your head!



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Resolved to Pray: The Intro

"There are a lot of things you can do to fix your situation after you pray.  But there is nothing you can do to fix the situation until you pray.  Whatever it is you need God to do in your life, it happens after prayer."--H.B. Charles, It Happens After Prayer

The nerve of men who claim theology isn't practical!  It was my theological inquiry into Christ's ascension--one of the least talked about aspects of Christ's ministry--that rudely jarred me into a renewed resolve to pray more fiercely than ever.  I have found, however, that God's providence doesn't generally reveal itself one color at a time. 

I think that my studies on the topic of ascension, reading Donald S. Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life with a younger brother in Christ, and the upcoming month-long prayer vigil at my church have slowly been blending together and stewing like a good soup.  I'm grateful to God for this season of faith and how it's manifesting in greater zeal to pray.  

In the next few blog posts, I'd like to address what I've found to be the greatest and most frequent hindrances to prayer in my life.  I pray that as I share how the Lord has been working mightily by His Spirit to empower and encourage this my growth-spurt in prayer, He'll do the same for you.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ascension: The Day After

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem--a Sabbath day's journey away.  When the arrived they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.  All theses were continually united in prayer along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers."  Acts 1:12-14

At the marketplace in Jerusalem, the Apostle John ran into his cousin Yusef who asked, "You told me last week that the Crucified Rabbi from Nazareth was alive!"   John replied, "Absolutely!  We were with Him on the Mount of Olives just yesterday!"  "Well, where is He now?", demanded Cousin Yusef.  And in the first ever usage of "what had happened was", John explains, "Well... see... there was this cloud, right..."

Yes, as the authors of The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God have aptly stated, "the ascension seems like bad evangelism strategy."

In the last several days, I've been reading books like the one already mentioned and also Derek Thomas' Taken Up To Heaven to help me answer the mind-boggling questions as well as wrap my mind around the enormous blessings that I have on the topic of ascension.  But just yesterday, while I was listening to a very helpful sermon on Luke 24:50-53, I was challenged to look at the reactions of the Apostles to what they witnessed in the ascension of Christ.  Certainly, they were joyous and worshipful at what they saw, but as one who wasn't present that day, it made me wonder what my reaction should be.  As I searched further for a response, I instead discovered a resolve: prayer.

I don't know if the Apostles actually understood that Jesus was taking them to the Mount of Olives in order that they would witness His ascent/departure.  I can only imagine the awe of that moment when the cloud came and took Him out of their sight.  But I do know that one minute, Jesus was there and the next He was no longer physically present with them.  When the last high-five was slapped, someone had to realize that the party had ended.  At least that phase of it.

What do you do the day after Jesus ascends to heaven?

"All these were continually united in prayer..."  Every believer now lives in the day after the ascension of Jesus.  And while there are many differences between we who live today and the Apostles of that time, we are alike in this way: we have our marching orders.  We are to preach the gospel, make disciples that make disciples, instruct and train mankind everywhere to obey Jesus and His teachings, and to baptize them into the family of God.  How are we to be enabled by the Holy Spirit to do these things to the glory of Christ without fervent and regular prayer to the Father?

Whatever other response you may have to the ascension may the Lord grant you a heart to faithfully pray for Christ's kingdom to advance through the gospel and His church.