Monthly Archives: August 2009

Newsweek on Abortion: The Culture of Death and Societal “Progression”

fetusNewsweek‘s Eleanor Clift just wrote a column on how the battle over national health care now includes significant debate over the role of abortion within public health plans.

I’m not going to engage the question of universal health care or the matter of publicly funded abortions.  I do not support either of these matters.  What peaked my interest in reading the piece was this paragraph:

All the familiar protest figures are suiting up for their first big battle since the family feud over Terri Schiavo’s right to die devolved into a national debate over what’s euphemistically termed “the culture of life.” Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and a band of noisy supporters disrupted a town-hall meeting this week in Virginia, shouting down featured speaker Howard Dean, a physician, and calling him a baby-killer. The Rev. Pat Mahoney, who led the protests at Schiavo’s Florida hospice, showed up in Martha’s Vineyard looking for some media action. “It’s hard to imagine we’ve progressed as a nation,” says Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. “I hope we’re just seeing the bitter end of this thing.”

Here’s the whole piece.

What particularly caught my attention was this last quotation in which the president of Planned Parenthood speaks of her hope that America has reached “the bitter end” of the abortion divide.  She expresses weariness in this statement.  She yearns for a day when the nation will have reached the end of its internal battle, when “progress” will sweep away division over what she would call “a woman’s right to choose.”

There is much to discuss in this piece, but this last sentiment struck me as one evangelicals need to watch out for.  Everywhere, an emotive populace couches the terms of debate in terms of emotion and physicality.  “We’re just tired of the arguing,” we hear.  “Can’t we stop this infighting?”  A younger generation expresses their desire to transcend bitterness and division: “We’re tired of fighting over stuff–I want to follow leaders who focus on hope, not arguments over truth.”

This all sounds right on target.  But it’s really an open invitation to evangelicals and others who represent the “culture of life” to stand down.  If one looks at this kind of language and thought carefully, one sees that it is a devil’s bargain.  We’re all tired, says the common wisdom.  Just tired of this fighting and this division and this needless bickering.  That’s all very premodern.  We’re modern now.  We don’t fight about stuff.  We work together, partnering on common causes, charting a new way forward.

Young evangelicals: be very careful about buying this line.  Many of us accept it as an entree to progressive culture.  We opt out of the evangelical ghetto in search of broader cultural acceptance and collaboration.  Where our elders fought turf wars over hard issues, we seek for common ground in social justice.  This can be good, if it leads to genuine justice and improved welfare.  But in many areas, it does not.  In the area of abortion, it does not.

It is the height of folly to disregard the fetus in pursuit of the approval of the ambient culture.  We may all feel weary and tired, and we may dislike division, but we need to sober up when it comes to the ideological divides before us.  There is a war, a spiritual war, that is unfolding all around us.  It’s between light and dark.  Culture of life vs. culture of death (see Al Mohler on this point–he’s shaped my own thinking).  God vs. Satan.  On the particular issue before us, this means that some people in this world want to murder babies.  Others do not want to do so.  Where we cannot agree that it is in the best interest of women and children to avoid abortions, we have no common ground.  There is no room to give here.  There is no compromise to be reached.  However much we may want to find peace and common cause in this world, Christians cannot link arms with agents of death. 

The Christian life is never called easy or lightweight in Scripture.  It is brutal in some respects.  It involves shouldering a spiritual cross, with all of the attendant pain that carrying a 100-lb piece of splintered wood would involve (Matthew 16:24).  Righteousness does not advance in an evil world by weak hearts and accommodating minds.  It goes forward by the power of God’s Spirit (Acts 1:8).  It does not advance when Christians give in to the culture of death and its ploys.

Next time you’re tempted to speak of “being weary” about division and disagreement, next time you want to “work for common causes,” remember the fetus.  Pray hard on this matter–let articles like this move you from just anger to focused, believing prayer.  Give time and money to crisis pregnacy centers.  Remember what’s at stake.  The lives of babies.  That, and the sheer weight of the fact that you represent the living God in a world of death and sin, should be sufficient to push you onward in the long, difficult fight for righteousness and true justice.

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Ephesians 1: The Heart for the Saints

From Ephesians 1:15-22, the heart we need to have for fellow believers:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

When we ourselves hear of faith and Christian love in a body of believers, we need to pray for that group.  We may have disagreements over doctrine and practice with others, but our prayers should still ascend to the Lord for those who claim Christ and demonstrate true faith.

And would that our prayers would be this rich and doxological.  If our prayers are dry and listless, if we relentlessly use the same phrases over and over, we should definitely dip into Scripture and use prayers like this to send our own soaring above.

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The LEAD09 Conference: Chester and Dodson in Maine (October 9-10)

lead_936I wanted to give you more info on the LEAD09 conference I mentioned yesterday in my links.  Here’s a little more from the conference website

Here’s what conference organizer Ramsey Tripp says about it:

“Lead09 is designed to promote the gospel, community and mission of the Church—to answer the questions many of us have been asking about what the Church is, how we fit into the Church and the mission of the Church. The best way this is done is through attending in a group.  We are excited for your Church to attend and want to extend a group discount to make is easier on your pocket.

For all groups of 5 or more your registration will only be $60 a person. If you have a group please email our group registration services at info[AT]atmospherechurch.com.  We look forward to seeing you this October.”

More info:

October 9th & 10th 2009
Auburn Maine

560 Park Ave. Auburn Maine 04210

Cost: by September 18th -$75ea | after September 18th $100

And here’s some stuff on the material and speakers:

Windham Baptist Church is partnering with Atmosphere Church (of EABC) to host a conference October 9-10 that we hope God will use to bring about gospel renewal throughout Maine, New England and beyond. It’s called Lead ‘09 and the theme is Gospel, Community and Mission.  This two-day conference is a call to each of us and our churches to take Jesus seriously–to radically reshape our lives around the gospel word so that we can truly be his gospel community on God’s mission.

Our two speakers are both God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent leaders who teach the Word of God  faithfully with passion, humility and urgency.  Tim Chester is a writer, Bible teacher and church planter in Sheffield, UK. An author of many books, Tim is also the co-author of Total Church, a biblically-rich book on what it means to BE the church. Jonathan Dodson is the lead pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, TX. His articles have often blessed our church family, especially “Fight Club” and “Anger: the image of Satan.” On a personal note, Jonathan is a treasured friend. Having served with him in both the local church and in global missions, I can tell you without hesitation that you will be blessed by his teaching.

I said this yesterday, but it’s really exciting to see Maine churches holding a conference of this kind that will promote church health and gospel advancement.  Because of the culture of disbelief and the considerable challenges to ministry in their regions, New England and Northeast Christians, like Christians from other places, can sometimes adopt a retreat mentality.  They can grow timid.  This response is understandable; indeed, ministry in the Northeast can be terribly difficult in a way that Christians from other places may struggle to understand.

But what the church needs is not to retreat, but to advance (I nabbed this from Mars Hill).  This conference should provide encouragement, both practical and theological, toward that end.  We should be realistic about our hopes, but we should also be hopeful, asking the Lord to bring revival.  Our great God is strong and faithful.  He sees His people in particularly dark places.  He will strengthen and reward them.  As they continue on, fighting the good fight, He will bless them. 

Many churches in this world may not grow huge or feature world-renowned preaching, but those are not the church’s goals, anyway.  The point of it all is to be faithful, trusting, and aggressive for the gospel.  It would be great to see churches and organizations that have these goals unite together–for example, to have accomplished groups like NETS and NECEP at this conference, making connections with like-minded folk.  Christians can only benefit by banding together, particularly in dark regions like New England and the Northeast.

I’m hugely encouraged by what East Auburn Baptist Church, Atmosphere Church, and Windham Baptist Church are doing.  May this conference draw many, and may it have an effect that goes beyond a few days of corporate thinking and meditating.  May the Lord grant New England and Northeast Christians unity, boldness, and blessing in the gospel.  Even if you’re thousands of miles away, will you pray for this conference, and for the work of the gospel in New England and the secular Northeast?

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The Link 8.28.09: Street Basketball, Band of Horses, Lead09 Conference

streetball1. Linked at Truehoop, the best basketball blog on the web, this is one of the best pieces I’ve read about the experience of playing basketball.  Don’t worry–I have read many.

2. Have you heard the song “The Funeral” by Band of Horses? It’s haunting.  I don’t know what it’s about.

3. Wondering what to do next time you’re in Juneau, Alaska?  Glad you asked.

4. If you’re in the New England area, you need to check out the Lead09 conference in Maine from October 9-10, 2009.  It looks really stimulating.

5. A sobering piece about the national health care debate from TWS.

–Have a great weekend, all.  Play some streetball.

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Do We Have Free Will? It Depends

From a recent Ref21 article by Andy Naselli, my buddy:

Non-Christians and Christians alike often give the same answer to difficult questions like these: Why did God allow sin in the first place? Why does God save some people and not others? Why does God send people to hell? Why can living like a Christian be so frustrating? The immediate solution often suggested is simple: “free will.” To many people, it’s a satisfying answer: “Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, God does x because he has to preserve my free will. Yeah, OK. Next question.” I’d like to suggest that re-think this important issue.

The title of this short essay is a question: “Do We Have a Free Will?” That question may be jarring to you because it asks if something exists that most people assume exists. My short answer to that question is that it depends on what you mean by “free.” The longer answer is the rest of this essay.

Read the whole piece.

Free will is one of the toughest issues around.  Philosophers, theologians, and everyday folks have been dealing with it for millenia.  (This is a pretty big set-up for my recommendation of Andy’s piece, isn’t it?)  Andy’s piece will do a great deal to help with questions along these lines.

Read the whole thing–and check out the other resources related to a talk he just gave at our church, Crossway Community Church of Kenosha, WI (which has a brand-new website that looks great and works nicely–bravo!).

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Cultural Irony: Twitter Users Are Dad and Mom, Not the Kids

nagytwitterThe New York Times has an ironic piece up about Twitter users.  Apparently, they’re older, not young.  Surprising.

Especially funny to me was the quotation from an 18-year-old girl (photo: Tim Shaffer/NYT).  She is not necessarily the embodiment of maturity–she gets tons of text messages a day–but she has some funny words about the purpose of Twitter:

Kristen Nagy, an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J., sends and receives 500 text messages a day. But she never uses Twitter, even though it publishes similar snippets of conversations and observations.

“I just think it’s weird and I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life,” she said.

Though the article doesn’t seem to give the exact percentage of older Twitter users, it suggests that a very small portion of users are young:

Her reluctance to use Twitter, a feeling shared by others in her age group, has not doomed the microblogging service. Just 11 percent of its users are aged 12 to 17, according to comScore.

So here’s the ironic thing.  An 18-year-old girl, seemingly more likely to be narcissistic than older folks, actually thinks it’s “weird” to tell others her actions for “every second” of her life.  Yet the older generation, seemingly less likely to be narcissistic than younger folks, thinks it’s perfectly normal to tell others of their moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour activities.  Huh?

Before too many people protest at this point, let me say as one inevitably must that one can use Twitter for good ends.  I’ve seen it happen.  It can connect people meaningfully, help make friendships, communicate information, and so on.  So that’s on the table.

But I do find it funny that this girl and tons of her peers would likely say that they think it’s “weird” to share needless information about oneself with the public.  Does this tell us something?  Maybe it does; maybe it doesn’t.  It seems worth thinking over.  Who’s that knocking at the door?  Lady Irony?  Is that you?

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You Might Be a Bad Dad if…

dadchildAfter looking at that Sedaris quotation yesterday, I thought a bit about my own role as a dad.  It struck me in mulling over busyness and “success” that it is easy, not hard, to be a bad parent and a bad dad, to care way too much about oneself and not nearly enough about one’s loved ones. (Photo: Hamilton Beach)

Here are some ways that I am tempted to be a bad dad:

1. Talk on a cell phone while spending time with kids. At times, I reflexively reach for my phone when I’m on a walk with my daughter.  “Here we go,” I think.  “Half an hour to kill.”  This reaction is natural.  It is also disgusting.  I already work a ton; why can’t I spend even twenty minutes with my child?  I see this all the time.  Don’t do it.  Walk with your child; talk with them; be goofy with them; train them; tell them no strongly when they try to eat trees and follow up on discipline.  Train them, love them, invest in them.

2. Work when at home. This is difficult for students.  To make it through programs to which we have been called, we have to work when we can.  That’s understandable.  But there are also plenty of times when we don’t need to be working.

If we’re fathers, we should try to do well in school or in our work.  But we should care far more about our families than our grades or, dare I say it, job performance.  Does that mean our work might suffer?  Yes, it does.  So be it.  Be a better dad than student or employee wherever you can.  Sacrifice your selfishness and anxiety.  Invest in your children.  Outside of the moment, you won’t regret it.

3. Watch them without playing with them. I’m not saying that dads need to engage with our children during the entirety of their playtime.  After all, they have to learn how to entertain themselves.  We shouldn’t smother them.  But we all know the temptation to tell our wives that we’ll watch the baby, giving her some much-needed rest, and then to plop ourselves on the couch after tossing a few toys to the baby on the floor.  At that point, your child gives you a quizzical look–”Weren’t we going to play together?  Dad?”

So the point is, play with your children.  Get down on the floor.  Play weird little games with their toys and blocks.  Make them laugh.  Tickle them.  Play dolls.  Play GI Joes.  Don’t be a bad dad.  Love your children.  Get off the couch.

4. Claim you have no time to help (but find time for fun). This is related to number two.  Dads like us can be tempted when home to sigh, tell our wives how much we wish we could help them, and then busy ourselves with work.  Later, we somehow (miraculously!) find time to play sports or hanging out.  That stinks like month-old laundry.

So the solution is: sacrifice.  Kill your selfishness.  Stop being a dork.  Play less sports if you have to.  Spend more time with family.  And yes, this can be challenging for me just as it can be for many others.

5. Lean on your wife to provide even as you do what you want. This is really common in an age of “empowered” women and wimpy men.  This drives me nuts.  As a generation, we need to seriously man up.  Cut back on your classes, sacrifice your free time, do whatever is necessary to allow your wife to nurture your children and care for your home, which she is uniquely called to and gifted for.  Stop slacking off, hanging out, reading too many websites, and having too many long conversations while she breaks her back to support you.

Some might think is harsh and hard.  Well, life is hard.  God made (most) men strong specifically so that they could provide.  We may get less sleep, we may be tired, we may have to take fewer classes or work fewer hours.  But we should do these things for the good of our families and the glory of God.

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Satan has been warring against men since the garden.  He wants us to be bad dads.  He wants to snare our children and send them to hell.  He wants us to neglect them, even for expressly positive ends, and to make them bitter against us. He will give us all the help we need to accomplish this end. 

Of course, we have to balance our responsibilities, and at times we have to make hard choices.  It is important that we live in light of the gospel and not our previous condemnation.  Even as we have to fight laziness, we have to fight false guilt, and know that it is good to live a balanced life of work, play, rest and so on.  There is a time for hanging out with friends, and for recreation, and fun, and lazing around.  There is.

On the other side of Satan, with all people, men or women, Jesus Christ stands and calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, denying ourselves, shirking our sin, aggressively taking dominion of our lives and our world to advance His kingdom and spread His gospel.  Through His awesome Holy Spirit, He waits to empower us.  He searches the earth for men (and women) who will lay their lives down for Him.  He gives us local church accountability, exhortation, and encouragement so we can do just this.

He calls us men who are gifted with families to be great dads–not so that we can merely warm hearts and make Hallmark cards together, but so that we can act in whatever capacity and place we find ourselves as bold, strong, loving agents of grace.

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Everything Costs: The Sacrifice of “Success”

I found this sobering illustration of the cost of success in a recent David Sedaris feature for the New Yorker entitled “Laugh, Kookaburra.”

Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove.

“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.

This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

Here’s the whole piece. It’s not really about this matter, mind you.

This is by no means the only word on the subject.  But there does seem to be something right about these words.

We cannot really expect to have it all.  If we want a healthy family life and friends and good health but we also want vocational success, something has to give.  Nothing is life is free.  Everything costs.

This is really important for Christians to consider.  Whether in ministry or not, “success,” however defined, doesn’t come for free.  This should, I think, temper our ambition and cause us to question our goals.  Why do we want what we want?  What are we willing to give up to achieve it?  Many of us will quickly see that “success,” a word which almost always deserve quotation marks, comes at too high a cost.  This means that to be happy, we’ll have to give something up in a vocational sense.

Too many Christians that I have studied make a different choice.  Most often, I would guess that we are inclined to give up family (maybe health for some, which often affects the family in the end).  It’s easier to spend less time with one’s children than it is one’s friends or one’s work.  Children can be taken for granted.  They’re around.  There is always more time for them.  Plus, they already love you.  How much time and attention can they really need, or justly claim?

What is the rub, then?  Seems to be this: when you have to downshift, when you have to throw something overboard, make that ambition.  Make that future “success.”  Forget the life coach and the consultants and the “dream big” books.  Forget the next guy.  Forget trying to be whoever it is in your mind that you’re trying to be.  Love your family.  Love your children.  Don’t write the book.  Don’t give the lecture.  Don’t cut any burner off.  Produce less, and live more.

There’s going to be tension here for many of us.  Sadly, we’ll sin.  We’ll try to grow.  And so we should.  But even with the tension noted, we should do our very best to ignore “success” and to seek to be faithful.  Maybe one doesn’t have to pit the two against one another.  They often, however, seem to end up at odds.

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Devotional Thought: Jesus Came as a Twig

From Isaiah 11:1 comes this stirring promise:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

This is a well-known passage, but the description of the Messiah in 1a struck me freshly.  Isaiah saw that the Messiah would not come out of a massive Davidic oak.  He could have.  No, in the purposes of the Lord, the Messiah would come as “a shoot” from Jesse’s “stump.”  The Lord would lay His people low, humble them, allow them to be slaughtered, such that David’s line was nothing more than a tree stump (see Isaiah 6).  

But out of that stump “a shoot” would come.  Not another oak.  Just a little shoot, the kind one finds by the thousands on a normal sized tree.  Jesus would not come as an oak, though He was very God Himself.  He came as a little shoot, but that tiny piece of wood would grow up to take another piece of wood, a cross, and graft in the Gentiles to His own tree (Romans 11).  The wood images in the Scripture are rich, as one can see.

We do well to remember the humility of Jesus’ coming and the situation of Israel in that day and the ages before it.  Jesus, Isaiah informs us, came as a twig.

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The Link 8.22.09: Leeman on Discipleship, the Super-Rich, and Mosques Swallowing Synagogues

piper_hands1. Jonathan Leeman of 9Marks has a great series of posts that discusses how immanence and transcendence relate to various aspects of Christian ministry.  It’s way, way deeper than your average deal.  Here’s part one; part two; and part three

2. John Piper discusses what to do when storms, or “tornadoes,” hit in life. (Photo: BlisstheFamily)

3. The Super-Rich are suffering, according to the NYT.  Why does it seem like they like this?  It’s a good thing to have lots of rich people.  Disparity of wealth does not by any means tend to societal harm.

4. This is a noteworthy national religious development: Islamic mosques are increasingly located in formerly Jewish synagogues.

5. Mike Anderson of The Resurgence has notes from the first session of RE:Train in Seattle.  Not your typical seminary note-taking–pretty cool stuff.

6. Did you know that the People Growth conference featuring Carson, Jensen, Dever and others has a $59 student/church planter rate?  That’s amazing.

7. Have you heard of Zolitics?  Now you have.  It’s slated to be the top bi-partisan “poli-tainment” site on the web

–Have a great weekend, all.

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