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2019—a new beginning. My heart is filled with hope and also lament—the makings of a David-styled patchwork psalm from my own heart to God.
God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day, Psalm 7:11.
As I look into this new year, read the news and take the stories and research to heart, I too feel indignant. And deeply sad. Lord how can it be that…
…56 million a year are dying from abortion, almost four times as many as from heart disease and stroke (the next leading cause of death). These little ones are human beings, yet, for no scientific reason, they are denied personhood by American law that promises to protect life.
…Entire groups of school friends are cheered as heroes with soaring social standing for surgically altering their bodies to match the “gender” they want to be. The doctors who will cut off breasts and penises and dispense powerful hormone therapy drugs are seen as “compassionate.”
…If a gay student wants to change his sexual feelings to like girls, THIS is unspeakable and taboo. And any therapist who would help altering sexual desire simply by talk therapy is “dangerous.” Guilty of a “barbaric” and “cruel” practice.
Angels, shepherds, wise men, Jesus lying in a manger–we know the story so well. But it’s been sweetened up, romanticized, censored, stripped of its violence and desperation through the years. It’s good to go back to the original sources and renew our appreciation of the extreme drama of the story.
Here are 9 questions to challenge you and your family to worship a God who would orchestrate such an amazing story to reconcile us to himself. (You might enjoy using one each night as a conversation starter at dinner. You can even include these questions in a larger game of Advanced Christmas Trivia to share at Christmas gatherings with additional categories like music and history using this free download.)
I queried my politically engaged friends about what top two or three values would most determine their vote and received a wide range of thoughtful answers. For example, one friend said, “sanctity of life, respect for the rule of law/constitution, and the danger of social engineering with dark money.” Several mentioned “respect for others, especially those you are working with.”
Many mentioned “immigration.” Some mentioned “democracy vs. authoritarianism,” “populism vs elitism,” and “jobs not mobs.” Others want to vote for “Christians.” Others greatly value the candidates’ stands on “education,” especially at the state and local level.
By far, the biggest vote getter was…
1. The body is only a clump of matter. A wet machine that we can use as an instrument for our own purposes.
2. The design of our bodies is completely by chance. Tells us nothing about our purpose.
3. I am not my body. The real me is my mind, will and feelings.
4. The value of our bodies depends on if they can function at a certain level.
5. A baby is a human life from conception, but not a person until it can function at a certain level.
6. Life is no longer worth living or caring for unless our bodies can function at a certain level.
7. We can have sex with our bodies, detached from love and trust, and still enjoy the ideal of human flourishing, including rich and lasting intimacy.
8. My thoughts and feelings of sexual attraction are more important than the biology of my body.
9. My thoughts and feelings about my gender are more important than the biology of my body.
10. The highest purpose of marriage is to protect the “personhood” of the adults, not the well-being of the children.
Answer: They are all based on assumptions about the human body that devalue the body and fragment human nature.
Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, addresses each of these secular assumptions and shows how a Christian worldview of the body and sexuality is more reasonably aligned with science and evidence than a secular worldview. How it assigns the body more dignity and value. And how it resonates more deeply with our longings for integrity, meaning and joy in these intimately personal areas of life.
Few Christian leaders have impacted me as deeply as Bill Hybels. As a pastor’s wife, Bill’s vision for the power and nobility of the local church changed my understanding of what my life was about: “The Church is the hope of the world.” “There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.” His contagious passion energized me to be more creative and invest more deeply in the church Jesus loves.
So along with tens of thousands of others I groaned at the news that several women have accused him of sexual sin. And not just any women. Extraordinarily gifted women leaders that I watched him encourage and elevate in his own church ministry: Nancy Beach. Nancy Ortberg. Vonda Dyer.
What follows is a summary with links of this sad business and a bit of my own struggle to come to grips with these accusations.
While the accusations were brought to the Willow Creek Church elder board four years ago, after two investigations that found no evidence they broke publicly in the Chicago Tribune newspaper on March 23rd:
Last week my preparation to speak on behalf of a ministry to victims of human trafficking landed me in a gang training seminar.
Officer Z, head of gang investigations in Lexington County in South Carolina, shot straight with us about the situation here, and maybe where you live as well.
Lexington is a nice middle-class suburb of Columbia, 80% white, 15% black, 6% hispanic 5% foreign born. The median home value is $144K. 89% have a high school diploma. 39% have a BA or higher. Officer Z gave us a reality check about the presence and threat of gangs “right here in River City.”
Things I was surprised to learn about gangs:
Reading through the Old Testament book of Judges lately and I’m struck by how God raised up Samson to make Israel great again. The Angel of the Lord visited his barren parents and promised them a son who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” As auspicious a beginning as John the Baptist.
God’s Spirit “rushed” upon Samson and enabled him to kill Philistines who had been oppressing Israel for forty years. When he called out to God for strength, even for water, God provided. He empowered Samson to slaughter 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, then cracked open a rock to replenish him with water. Samson judged Israel 20 years and is included in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”
And yet, Judges 13-16 portrays him as a strongman who was a narcissistic liar, a womanizer, an arrogant and boastful loudmouth, cunning and shrewd, thin-skinned and bent on mayhem and revenge.
This case is so important for freedoms of religion and speech still to be determined, including your own freedoms, that it’s worth reading this short summary of what the Justices actually said in their own history-making words.
Last week a happy Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, celebrated his religious liberty at the Supreme Court. Maybe you read headlines like, “Court rules in favor of baker who refused to make wedding cake for gay couple.” As you read these excerpts of their opinions below you will grasp so much more of the issues, context, and future challenges to our freedoms than just reading headlines and short quotes. (My words appear in italics.) Here’s a powerful example from Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion:
“Phillips told the couple, ‘I’ll make your birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same sex weddings.’ It is hard to see how this statement stigmatizes gays and lesbians more than blocking them from marching in a city parade, dismissing them from the Boy Scouts, or subjecting them to signs that say “God Hates Fags”—all of which this Court has deemed protected by the First Amendment.
“Moreover, it is also hard to see how Phillips’ statement is worse than the racist, demeaning, and even threatening speech toward blacks that this Court has tolerated in previous decisions. Concerns about “dignity” and “stigma” did not carry the day when this Court affirmed the right of white supremacists to burn a 25-foot cross; conduct a rally on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; or circulate a film featuring hooded Klan members who were brandishing weapons and threatening to ‘Bury the niggers….’…The First Amendment gives individuals the right to disagree about the correctness of Obergefell and the morality of same-sex marriage.”
On May 19th Great Britain’s Prince Harry married American Meghan Markle. As soon as it ended, the TV commentators swooned : “The whole room was filled with happiness.” “It’s enough to make me believe in love again.” It was a joyful occasion. The prince was dashing. The bride radiant in her tiara. But there was also a beautiful subtext woven into the ancient ceremony that may have contributed to inspiring people to want to get married…stay married…even believe in love again.
In today’s cynical hook-up culture, it lifts our spirits to see a bride and groom promise to love and cherish one another till death. While almost three billion people around the world delighted in the beauty of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s marriage ceremony, I wonder how many of the guests and viewers really grasped the deep truths woven into the familiar words.
A speaker by speaker, song by song, verse by verse summary, with brief commentary, of Billy Graham’s funeral in Charlotte, NC on March 1, 2018.
To me, it felt a little bit like the days after 9-11. The enchantment of this world was momentarily broken, and the curtain pulled back on the ultimate reality of what is good, true and beautiful. Thank you, Billy Graham, for pointing the way home in life and death.
Setting—Tent for 2,300 people positioned for the view to perfectly frame the Billy Graham library/museum, an enlarged dairy barn-styled building with a silo beside it. And to the left, the relocated dairy farm-style home in which he grew up. Barely pinkening redbud trees line a split rail fence.
It could be the cameras, but it looks like everyone is in navy. (the new black?) President Trump. Melania. The Pences. Ben Carson, N. Carolina governor. Nikki Haley. Sen. Ted Cruz. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Max Lucado. Beth Moore. Jewish yarmulkes. Orthodox Patriarch in black headgear. A missionary to bedouin tribes and other missionaries, unknown to us, but some of the “great ones” in God’s kingdom.
Linda McCrary-Fisher sings “Until Then” to open the funeral and David Bruce, Graham’s executive assistant, welcomes guests.
Donald Wilton-Pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg gives Scripture reading and invocation. He reads from Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Graham joined his church in 2008 and Wilton has visited him weekly in recent times. He travelled w/ the family to Washington and will conduct the graveside service.
Hymn-“All Hail The Power of Jesus Name.” Billy’s family singing lustily without programs. Pres Trump and Pences using programs. And I’m singing along too.
Yes, #metoo. Thankfully not the seriously damaging kind. Even so, I remember how in years past I felt all the feelings that have been swirling around since the reveal of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predations launched the movement in October…Surprise. Disgust. Did that really happen? Did he really say that? Put his hand there? Why didn’t I say something?
On the Mexico City Metro I did. I turned and glared and called the groper out (quite loudly!): “Que poca educacion tienes!” How little education you have!
But in my 20’s when it came to my boss’s boss, an elected official, sad to say, I simply tolerated the continuous flirtations and jousted back. He was three times my age and a very powerful man in Texas. I played the game and I’m sorry I did. Also sorry I didn’t graciously tell one of my best friend’s husband that his p—- joke wasn’t worthy of him.
You probably saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest for Right to Life and women’s empowerment last weekend. On Capitol Hill the Democrats in their trench shouted, ‘Protect Immigrants!” while Republicans in theirs shouted, “Protect citizens! Protect the military!”
And we watch. War-weary, just wanting these people to do their jobs and run the government. The shutdown shut down, but the “cultural war for the soul of America” as Pat Buchanan first described it, continues—this daily battle over “who we are and what we stand for as Americans.”
Did you hear any of the speeches from the Senate floor? It was as if Democrat Schumer and Republican McConnell each described the shutdown from totally different planets. As my gut tensed I wondered, “How will this war ever end?” It used to be that the war was fought during election season and now it’s fought every day.
Suddenly, unbidden, words and images flooded in…
Last week, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, I honored Martin Luther in this post and two messages. One person responded, “How can we celebrate a man who was an anti-Semite?” Not just a little anti-Semitic. Which of the following sentences do you think are Luther’s and which do you think are Hitler’s?
“…eject them forever from this country…mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, away with them!”
“…set fire to their synagogues or schools,” and let “all their prayer books and Talmudic writings be taken from them…Let their rabbis be forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and limb.”
Let “their houses also be razed and destroyed…[and let] safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…let them stay at home.”
Let “usury be prohibited to them, and all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping…they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess.”
“…we let them get rich on our sweat and blood, while we remain poor and they suck the marrow from our bones.”
It so happened that Luther, an intellectual genius, was also a great Biblical scholar and a writer with tremendous command of the German language. His audience found his powerful Biblical insights and courage to call out the Church almost irresistible.
In God’s providence Luther posted his 95 Theses not long after the invention of the printing press. In 1450 Gutenberg had published the first printed Bible (in Latin, of course)
Sixty-seven years later, on Oct 31, 1517, Luther hand wrote his 95 theses IN LATIN-a summons to fellow professors at Wittenberg University to a theological debate. His students had them translated into German and printed.
Back in the early days of the printing press, there were no copyrights and no authors’ permissions required. Printers printed whatever they thought would sell. And without his knowledge, sales of Luther’s 95 Theses took off. Within two weeks all the surrounding towns were discussing it.
Suppose you wanted to know God and follow him. How might you get to know him? Where would you begin? Maybe you’d like to read what he said…500 years ago your only option would have been a Latin Bible.
You could pray…but suppose you felt unworthy. You wanted to come before God but felt you needed to begin by confessing your sin to him. You would need to confess to a priest. Rather than merely listening to your confession, by the 1500’s confessors had been taught to quiz church members–asking them the details of their sin, especially sexual sin with others. Or alone.
I watched the most riveting story on CNN of a woman who held the hand of two Las Vegas shooting victims as they died. She wanted to honor the moment of their death with a caring, loving presence, staying with one body for hours until his girlfriend could come and be with him. Meanwhile she was constantly in contact with his girlfriend and his mother, telling them every detail of his passing, listening to their tearful remembrances and stories of his life. She wanted to make his death more meaningful.
At the end of her story the camera slowly faded away with a soft piano musical pad underneath. The first few bars sounded exactly like John Lennon’s signature song, “Imagine.” And I sat transfixed by the idea of that song being played over that story. After a couple of bars the music modulated into other chords, another tune. But I was deeply struck by the lingering idea of the juxtaposition of Lennon’s lyric with the carnage in Vegas: “Imagine there’s no heaven…above us only sky….”
I didn’t realize it, but there is actually a growing tradition to sing or play “Imagine” in the wake of tragedy. The morning after the ISIS-inspired shootings at the Bataclan in Paris a pianist hauled a grand piano in front of the concert venue and played “Imagine” as a plea to end this religious inspired slaughter. The video went viral. How do Lennon’s lyrics and life speak to our motives for devaluing others?
There comes a point where a certain American citizen cannot honor or celebrate what this nation has done. To do so would violate a conscience that simply cannot value what this nation values. Should that citizen be compelled to show honor or celebrate on pain of losing a job? Or paying fines?
Suppose we are not talking about NFL football players taking a knee, but citizens who could not in good conscience honor or celebrate a gay wedding. They could not use their artistic expression to create flower arrangements or make cakes or calligraphy invitations. Should they be fined so much that they lose their business? That has happened to several Christians, and many believers have united in support behind them. Our tradition tends to honor freedom of conscience.
Do we really want to obligate these athletes to act contrary to conscience?
After his Tuesday speech at the UN, President Trump was again hit hard and often for being a nationalist. Why are so many so critical? Is it the same as love of country? As believing that America, among the nations of the world, is exceptional? Even superior? Is that so bad?
What is patriotism?
Webster’s defines “patriot” as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” We sing that America is beautiful for “patriot dreams” which evokes the ideals of our founders woven into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They dreamed of a nation where all of us who have been created with equal value and worth in God’s image will receive equal justice under the law. Where we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where our elected representatives will govern with the consent of “we the people.”
Like an opening fanfare we experienced a total eclipse of the sun. As a native Houstonian living in Columbia, South Carolina, now we are writing checks and sending Facebook touches to Harvey-flooded friends back home and lashing down our deck furniture in anticipation of Irma. What are the odds that two of the worst hurricanes in American history would hit back to back? And then there’s Jose coming right behind…
Friends who were headed to Montana this weekend will have to navigate the smoke from fires that have burned over 1,000,000 acres this summer. The schools in Olympia, Washington, where my cousins live, have cancelled sporting events this week because of the smoke from nearby fires. Yesterday the largest solar flare in a decade disrupted communications. And five minutes ago, as I’m posting this, CNN interrupted their coverage of Irma to report on an 8.1 earthquake off the west of Mexico.
Meanwhile, over in North Korea, seismologists suspected an earthquake last weekend which turned out to be a guy barely out of his 20’s exploding a hydrogen bomb.
As pastor friend Jay Sanders writes, “If you read the Bible, you know what all of this means.
“It means that theological con-men will be coming out from under every rock to tell us that Jesus will be coming back on September 23, 2017.”