Whose storm was it?

Last night the rain pounded and the winds roared as we cleaned up from dinner, but it wasn’t until a friend texted my wife, “Are you guys alright?” that we realized we had been near ground zero.  The National Weather Service said it was an EF2 tornado with 125 mph winds.  Descending a few miles southeast of us it carved a gully of destruction that damaged 40-50 homes and took down 8 buildings.  Many others had smaller problems: loss of electricity, water damage.

tornado 2“Hello Job.”

That’s what I said to Pastor Charlie this morning when I phoned him after learning that the basement of his new house was flooded for the 3rd time in several months.  This time it was mud too.  So lets pull up our conversation about Job and how God is sovereign from last Sunday and put it on the playing field: Who was behind last night’s vicious storm–the tail end of a killer that originated in Mississippi and took the lives of 7 as it careened up the East Coast?  If God wasn’t charting its course, who was?  Satan?  No one?

Our main options are…

  1. God is weak and couldn’t stop it
  2. God is strong but limits himself in the case of human free will
  3. God is strong but limits himself in the case of the devil’s free will
  4. God is strong and rules over everything–including Satan, evil people, and all suffering whether it be caused by “natural forces”, people, or Satan.

#1’s out of the question since the Bible says God is Almighty.  So is #2–at least in this case because there’s no human “free will” we can blame for inciting a tornado and assigning it a path.

#3’s more promising when we remember Job.  He suffered two meteorological disasters (lightening strikes killed animals and shepherds, and a sirocco killed his children) after God gave Satan permission to test the man.  But can we just can blame tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes on the devil?  Does Satan borrow God’s weather gear and use it without His approval?

Jesus said sun and rain are God’s: …He gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).  The songwriter claims that God does …whatever pleases Him…, then goes on to give a weather example: He causes the clouds to rise over the whole earth.  He sends the lightening with the rain and releases the wind from his storehouses (Psalm 135:6-7).  Not only is tame weather in his hands but the fierce.  He (the Lord) …displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.  The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet (Nahum 1:3).  Again, the songwriter claims that …fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather… obey him… (Psalm 148:8).

Scripture never says the devil can rule weather.  But if God is ultimately behind such violent stuff, why?  Why were some buildings in White Horse flattened last night?  Were they bad people…, worse than neighbors who emerged unscathed?  Jesus raised the same question in Luke 13: were people murdered by Pilate or those crushed by a falling tower, worse sinners than those not killed?  “No,” He answers.  No matter what our understanding of God’s sovereignty, in most cases we miscalculate if we link suffering with punishment.  Job’s suffering wasn’t God punishing him for some fault; God Himself said Job was the godliest man on the planet.

You might find it strange to be comforted knowing God ordained a storm, the speed of its winds, the amount of its rainfall, even its path.  But wouldn’t it be horrifying if it was ultimately in the hands of someone bad, or someone who doesn’t love you?  Spurgeon saw God’s fingerprints on everything and every event:  I believe that every particle of dust that dances on the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes–that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens–that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is as steered as the stars in their courses.  The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence–the fall of …leaves from a poplar as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.

God looks you and me in the eye and says, “I love you.  I have plans for you.  I want what’s best for you” (Romans 8:28).  And then tells us we have cancer.  Or gives us a pink slip.  Or opens the door as a husband leaves.  Or we get mugged.  Or a child goes back into rehab.  Or we can’t have children.  God never sins–or tempts anyone to sin (James 1:13).  He is fighting a war with the devil and everywhere winning the war despite appearing to lose a battle here and there.  Satan, and a friend’s sinful choice, and a husband’s lousy commitment all amazingly serve God’s purposes and fit in his wider plan.

I wonder if one of the main reasons we long to exonerate God when bad things happen, is that we like to be comfortable and happy and assume this God who loves us would have the same agenda for us.  But He doesn’t.  He is here for His own glory (1 Corinthians 10:31)–and again and again HOW WE SUFFER GLORIFIES HIM; He is here for our good (Romans 8:28); and He is here to make our faith muscular, to build up our endurance (Hebrews 10:36) which comes from the workout we get when life stinks (Romans 5:3-4).

When the devil tests us, he’s determined to destroy us.  When God does it Himself, allows the devil to–or someone else, He’s determined to develop us.

In 1980 a Bible college student near Chicago was arrested for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.  But he’d had a dream the night of the crime and believed it was about that crime.  Approaching the police, they believed he was the culprit.  Sentenced to 40 years in prison, he served 3 before being released.  Eventually DNA testing proved it wasn’t him.  In his book he wrote…

I have come to realize that we cannot judge God’s purposes, nor where He places us, nor why He chooses one path for our lives as opposed to another. The Bible itself is replete with accounts of divine action (or inaction) that does [sic] not seem fair, that does [sic] not make sense except when viewed in light of God’s perfect plan. Thousands of Egyptian children were massacred while a baby named Moses was spared. Jacob was a liar and a thief, and yet it was he, not his faithful brother Esau, who received the blessing of their father Isaac and of God. On one level it makes no sense that God would allow His Son to die for the sins of Humankind. But God has a plan—a perfect plan.

Is wife abuse Christian?

Here’s the story that raised the question: In 2012 American citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested in Iran and taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.  Since then his wife Naghmeh tirelessly worked political, religious, and social connections to win his release.

Last November Naghmeh emailed supporters that she was backing out of all public appearances for a season of prayer and fasting, admitting that her pastor husband had abused her physically, emotionally, and sexually (pornography addiction).  Twelve days later she released a statement saying she regretted her admissions.  “I was under great psychological and emotional distress.”  Yet five days after Saeed’s release on January 21, Naghmeh filed for legal separation–and a restraining order to make sure her husband doesn’t try to snatch their two children.

Franklin Graham wrote, “Other than God, no one knows the details and the truth of what has happened between Saeed and Naghmeh except them.  There’s an old saying that there are at least two sides to every story. I can tell one thing for sure–not everything that has been reported in the media is true.”

Probably not.  But something fishy is going on.  Saeed admits he’s not a perfect husband (when accused of something, why do we say that?  To admit to something that’s true of everyone only makes the claimant sound less convincing), but claims, “Much of what I have read in Naghmeh’s posts and subsequent media reports is not true.”  Perhaps, but Naghmeh’s claim that the abuse started early in their marriage is buttressed by the fact that in 2007, Saeed attended eight court-ordered anger management sessions and was put on probation for a year.  The charge?  Misdemeanor domestic assault.  It’s possible something’s been made up or exaggerated, but since domestic violence is so severely under-reported, it’s likely the charges have at least some merit.

I once had a man tell me that if I teach men to lead their wives, it will lead to domestic violence.  Well, all I have to teach is God’s wisdom–I don’t have any of my own.  And God says, “…the head of the woman is man…”   Here’s the thing, what that headship looks like is sometimes poorly exemplified by Christian men.  It should look like this: For husbands, this means love our wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  …husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-28)

To help men understand what this kind of leadership and Jesus-like headship looks like, I often talk about being “shepherds”–not just men who are put in charge, but men who are given responsibility.  In other words, my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:3 is that husbands will one day answer to God about how well they cared for, protected, provided for, and led, their families.  One of the false conclusions some husbands make is that leadership means making sure everyone falls into line (although that ability with children does matter for elder candidates–see 1 Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:6).  Not so.  Yes, God tells wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1), but never tells husbands to make sure their wives do.  Scripture does tell husbands about wives, …never treat them harshly (Colossians 3:19).

Pastor Abedini comes out of a Middle Eastern Islamic Persian culture–where a husband’s leadership is quite authoritarian.  Violence is permitted–implied in the Iranian Civil Code that governs marriage, and confirmed by the rare consequences for a husband who hurts or even kills his wife.  In his 2004 study of domestic violence in Iran, Dr. Ghazi Tabatabaei, concluded that 66% of all Iranian wives are assaulted in their first year of marriage–either by their husband, or an in-law.  I wonder if the US government had already alerted Naghmeh back in November that her husband’s release was imminent and she got scared.  Especially if verbal abuse was ongoing on their phone calls and Skyping.

How did Jesus treat his wife?  Beat her for not doing what he wanted?  Backhand her?  Threaten her?  Yell at her?  Demean her?  Betray her by watching unknown women undress?

Jesus died for her.  To mirror the kind of love Jesus has for His bride, a sinful Christian husband loves (an action–not just an affection) his wife and doesn’t raise a hand to his wife, mock her, shout at her, or substitute online strippers for her.  Just as the church treasures the other Partner of its covenant, so a husband treasures her.

Perhaps Pastor Abedini is innocent of everything.  Or maybe he abuses his wife but is convinced he doesn’t.  Recently my wife and I were talking about people having blind spots–not believing they are a certain kind of person, or behave a certain way.  I asked her, “So, what are my blind spots?”  Yikes.  Husband, maybe you should ask your wife?

What are the Chances?

powerballUp to the last minute on Wednesday, Americans were furiously buying tickets to the biggest Powerball pot ever: $1.6 billion.  In fact, there were two tickets sold for every man, woman and child in the nation.  Buyers were undeterred by the 1 in 292 million chance of winning.  “Somebody’s going to win!”  Early reports say there are 3 winners in three states who will divide the pie into slices of $533 million each before taxes.

Once when we were at the beach, I went with some friends to a casino in Atlantic City.  From seeing these places in movies I expected a lot of excitement and raucous music.  I was stunned by the virtual silence except for the sound of an occasional bell, and by the mostly listless expressions on people’s faces as they repeatedly pushed the start button on their slot machine.  I felt like I was at a viewing of barely alive people  The daytime crowd was small and the many glitzy but unused machines stood like monuments to empty promises.

Various studies have been done on what happens to lottery winners.  Data is hard to come by (after all, who’s going to admit, “Yeah, winning all that money ruined my life.  Bad move on my part.”).  Since not all studies show the same results it’s hard to make the dogmatic claim some make that most winners’ lives go in the toilet.

Some play for harmless fun, but the fact that problem gamblers can’t say when they crossed the line between affordable fun and ruin tells us something about the power of the drive to get rich.  “I want a lot of money even if I can’t afford it–or it wrecks relationships that matter to me.”

Jesus had nothing.  He wasn’t a socialist (since all of them have stuff too), but it’s easy to make the case that riches scared Him.  “Beware!  Guard against every kind of greed.  Life is not measured by how much you own.”  He didn’t just have gamblers in mind, He had us in mind: you about the clothes you want, me about the car I want, us and the vacations we dream of, the retirement funds we hope to hoard, and the portion of income we are determined to keep versus the portion we’re willing to give away.  His concern was not the fact of our wealth, but the hold of our wealth.  Or the hold wanting wealth can have.  What are the chances greed has its hold on us?

Getting Dressed for the Gospel’s Sake

clothing-choicesEmail or in person, It’s always awkward.  It’s usually in summer.  It’s usually a woman.  98% of the time, she’s over 60.  (For the record, so am I.)

“Pastor Keith, don’t you think ______ was revealing too much this morning?”

“Pastor Keith, you ought to preach on how women should dress.”

“Pastor Keith, with how some of these women at church dress, my husband’s problem with lust is worse at church!”  (Does he never watch TV?  Go to the beach?  Walk around the mall?)

The problem is not that she’s wrong, it’s that the solution is not as simple as preaching how a woman should dress.  I have vivid memories as a boy of horrific sermons on dress dripping with legalism that never mentioned the heart.  And frankly, as a pastor I am keenly mindful of much more pressing issues to address from the pulpit.

But what we wear does matter to Jesus; what we wear matters for Jesus.  While we cannot say modest dress is exclusively a female issue, it is especially a female issue for two reasons: 1) on the scale of anatomies that look good, a woman is a 10 and a man is a 4 (yeah, yeah, some of us are 2’s!), and 2) a woman’s form is a powerful magnet to men’s eyes whereas the male form doesn’t typically have the same effect on women.

A couple of weeks ago NBA superstar wife Ayesha Curry tweeted some interesting words on modest clothing that sparked a twitter debate.  See Kim Cash Tate’s excellent take on it over at Desiring God.  http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/modesty-lets-our-light-shine.

Living with the Terror Epidemic

 Add San Bernardino to the list of terrorized cities: Peshawar, Maiduguri, Tunis, Garissa (University), Jalalabad, Kukawa, Sana’a, Baghdad, Paris.  The number of civilian dead is in the thousands.  And that’s just this year.
It’s enough to make parents barricade their children in their home, and build a survival shelter.  God has a word for us: DO NOT BE AFRAID.
Pastor Scotty Smith of Franklin, Tennessee wrote the following after last month’s Paris massacre.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. Psalm 37:7-11 (ESV)
san bernardino car
Dear heavenly Father, another day of terror-making darkness, evil-doing madness, and life-taking sadness. How long, O Lord, how Lord before you send Jesus back to eradicate all evil? How long before the wicked will be no more? How much longer is “just a little while”?
It’s hard not to fret. It’s hard not to feel fearful and angry when women and children, the young and old are mercilessly slaughtered in the city of Paris; when restaurants, concert halls, and sports areas become the venue for the perversion of religion and the murder of your image bearers.
Father, we offer our prayer, not in self-righteous judgment, but as your weary children—longing for the Day when the knowledge of your glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14)—when perfect peace will replace every expression of evil.
Until that Day, free us from all bitterness and a lust for revenge. Vengeance belongs to you, not to us. Make us warriors of peace and agents of hope. Our labors in the Lord are never in vain. The gospel of the kingdom will prevail. Defeated evil will be eradicated evil. The devil is filled with fury for he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12). Make it much shorter, Father, much shorter.
Grant us wisdom to know what loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly with you looks like in Paris, and in our own communities. Replace our frets and fears with faith and trust, and our rage and wrath with patience and courage. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ triumphant and grace-full name.

Need a mission revolution?

You might if you hate Muslims because you believe they’re out to kill you.

You might if you grumble, “I don’t know why we have to send missionaries to other countries when we have so much work to do right here at home”.

You might if you have no idea what people of other faiths believe.  And don’t care.

You might if you cringe when you learn your new neighbors aren’t Christians.

You might if you don’t know any missionary personally–and don’t want to.

You might if you desperately hope the 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses currently on your neighbor’s porch, don’t stop at your house.

You might if you’ve never prayed for God to save someone who’s not related to you.

You might if you see your money as yours to do with as you please.

You might if you are puzzled that some Christians pray for–and strategize how to get the gospel to a people group that number only about 9000.

You might if you hated Pastor Brandon’s last sermon.

You might if you worry that people who aren’t Christians will come to your church.

You might if you think that mission is just for hyperspiritual crazies who pack up and move 500 miles west of nowhere, start dressing weird, and eat even wierder food.

You might if you can’t wait until the church mission conference is over and things get back to normal.

HEAR TODD AHREND THIS SUNDAY & MONDAY AT KEYSTONE!  JOIN THE REVOLUTION!  To see Todd’s bio & Oct.11-12 schedule: http://keystonechurch.org/MissionRevolution.htmlmain_logo

Sheela’s Ghost

Her parents already had three other children.  One girl to cook, clean and care for their sons was enough.  So when 18 month-old Sheela got sick, they placed her on a dirty string cot and ignored her.  As her already tiny body turned skeletal, infected sores covered it and she was too weak to even shoo away the flies the pus attracted.

It was 1976 outside a rural village in India called Gatheora.  As Christ-followers, Vishnal and Ruth had just moved there to serve the people.  Ruth discovered Sheela as she went from house to house, and asked what was wrong.  The mother was dismissive. “She doesn’t eat anything. She throws up whatever we give her.”
“Have you taken her to the hospital?”
“How can we afford it?”
“I will pay for her treatment.”
“Where is the time to go to the hospital?”
“What do you mean?!  Your daughter is dying and you don’t have time?”
“I have three other children, and a husband to look after.  Besides, I can’t find my way around the hospital.”
“Ask your husband to go with you.”
“He has no time. He has to look after the cattle and the field.”
“Tell him I will pay for him to hire someone to look after his field for one day. I will also accompany you. Many hospital staff members are our friends.”  Vishnal got involved and eventually went so far as to threaten the father with murder charges if they didn’t get the girl care.

Finally the parents reluctantly agreed to take Sheela to the hospital.  A week later she had improved remarkably.  The doctors asked Vishnal and Ruth to continue treatment at their home.  They and other Christians living with them lovingly cared for Sheela for several weeks the Christians in the house .

One day mother appeared at the Mangalwadi’s door.  “The village folk are saying you are corrupting our daughter.  If she eats in your home, our caste will become polluted and Sheela will become a Christian.”  Ruth said they had been glad to care for the baby but assured the mother she was welcome to take her home anytime.

She did.  Again the little girl was neglected and within weeks, terribly ill.  The earlier process had to be repeated: Ruth intervened and pleaded with the mother, Vishnal threatened the father, and eventually the parents relented.  Sheela improved, was again sent to convalesce at the Mangalwadis, then returned home when the parents demanded it.   Soon she was dead.

Vishnal Mangalwadi recounts the horrific story in his book The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible created the Soul of Western Civilization.  He said he and his wife could not understand the parents’ lack of concern for this baby.  As Christians, their own worldview was different.  They looked as children as assets or liabilities, conveniences, or burdens.  We looked at them as human beings with intrinsic worth.  We believed that God’s command, “You shall not murder,” gave to every human person a fundamental right to life.  We did not expect to gain anything from Sheela.  We believed that loving God required loving her.

In The Brother Karamazov, Dostoevsky insisted that if God were taken out of the equation, anything would be permitted.  True too of the Bible since it is God’s voice.  But God speaks about much more than behaviors that are off limits.  He speaks first and foremost about Himself, His character, and His grand plan to reconcile people to Himself in Christ.  When we listen, it changes everything about what we value and don’t, which world we live for and which one we don’t, what we do and don’t spend our time doing, whom we defend, how we treat people, what we’re willing to endure, it even shapes our attitudes and demeanor.    

Ghandi ridiculed the way “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”
American “Christianity” is increasingly paying the price for ignoring, dismissing, or deconstructing God’s sacred voice.  Although Christian by grace through faith, the only way faith comes to us is by hearing the Word of God.  Not only is genuine faith initiated by the Word of God, it is nurtured and lived by that same Word.

Some Christians read the Bible regularly–convinced that it is the life-giving, soul-satisfying, unique nutrition that they cannot live without.  Others “believe” the Bible, but since they almost never read it know little about its Main Star, God’s grand scheme, or His will for them; it’s a book they can read or not read.  Others believe some of it’s true and believe they’re smart enough to know which parts.  But it was a couple who believed the Bible, read it, and were shaped by it that saved a tiny girl named Sheela 40 years ago.  Saved her, at least for several months.

Wait, is that you Cait?

Last night I watched some reality, BRAVO style with Bruce Jenner AKA Caitlyn.  I can’t imagine going through 6 decades of life feeling like you should be somebody else–a REALLY DIFFERENT somebody else.  Nor can I imagine a 65 year-old man doing a sultry Vanity Fair portrait shoot in skimpy and sexy attire to exploit the mystique of transgenderism.  Although meant to improve the image of the trans community, all it’s done is pander to the well-worn belief that women are little more than eye candy.

With his professionally done hair, makeup and wardrobe, Bruce can easily pass for a woman.  I do find the lips odd (is that botox?), and the voice is a giveaway.  But sure, he could easily be a she.  Is that it?  As long as someone can pass the smell test (and afford the surgery) he/she can become a she/he?  I was stunned when during the show last night Jenner’s mother Esther asked the trans counselor, “When the Bible says a man should not wear a woman’s clothes, how would you interpret that?” (Deut. 22:5)  One online magazine described it as “an especially cringe-worthy moment”.  I guess they meant that she would suggest a very old Bible has something to say about such a sensitively modern issue.

I think it does.  Society’s trend marketers work overtime to persuade citizens of both how right their beliefs are, and how important it is that their hearers agree.  Which is why listening to what God has to say on the issues of our time is so urgent.  Because society’s so unimaginatively out of step with God.  Since rebellion grows native in human hearts, clashing with God is instinctive.

Dictionary.com first defines trangendered as noting or relating to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth.  Notice the passive verb: “assigned”.  Let’s recite together: a passive verb is “a verb, which expresses the effect of the action of some agent.”  Action done by whom?  What agent?  Who is so misguided as to assign a person’s biological sex willy-nilly at birth?  Did an evil obstetrician–or clueless parents, decide that Joe or Bruce was to be a male, and Hannah or Summer was to be a female?

“From the beginning, God made them male and female” (Matt.19:4).  Dictionary.com’s second definition provides a bit more cover for trans advocates.  It says, “…noting or relating to a person who does not conform to societal gender norms or roles.”  In other words, by this definition society’s to blame for artificially imposing a gender that may be unwanted.  Apparently the genitalia, the voice, the body hair, etc., are all unconvincing.  The transgendered person’s wishes are legitimate since gender is nothing more than a social construct.

It’s hard to get that from the Bible, from God’s voice.  True, there’s no direct prohibition of switching genders, but it seems clear that God created people to EITHER be a man or a woman, a girl or boy–that they are not interchangeable.  (This is what John Piper has been arguing for years.  Saying, for example, that if a church violates scripture and appoints a woman as a church elder, it’s saying that men and women are not only equal–which they are, but identical; interchangeable.  He believed–and it’s been borne out, that sooner or later this initial step will lead to accepting homosexuality as God-sanctioned.  After all, if men and women are the same–are identical, then they’re interchangeable.)

Transgendered people give detractors nearly the same argument as those attracted to their own sex: “This is what I want and that’s all that matters.”  Those with a religious framework might say it this way: “This is how I was born so it must mean that this is what God wants.”  We’re just beginning to see the chaos that will come from this when it comes to basic life like public restrooms, completing official forms (M or F?), etc.

In the defining issue of the day–homosexuality, the church admittedly has poorly executed God’s demand to love neighbor as self.  Sadly, with this new and prominent issue of switching genders, it may be more of the same.  Ridicule–in its many forms–by God’s people will bring shame on the name of Christ–and may unnecessarily chase people from Jesus.

On the other hand, we can and should, lovingly echo God’s words.  And…, help the transgendered community understand that they are not alone: we are ALL seduced by cravings.  For we are all sinners.  Thanks to sin, we prefer our wants to His.  Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts (1 John 5:21).  In other words, a man desiring to be a woman, is a variation on a married woman wanting to be with a different man, or a poor street kid running drugs because he wants money.  Or a candidate selling his soul to special interests because he wants political office so badly.  Or the single guy who sleeps with his girlfriend because his hormones are racing.  Or the a bar patron drinking himself into oblivion because he wants to forget his troubles.  Or a hunter who trespasses because he wants a trophy buck so badly.  Or a mother who abandons her three children because she wants some peace and quiet.  In a thousand ways every person who wants to please God–or doesn’t, is fair game to godless cravings.  Becoming a gender other than God made me to be, is among the many.

Parents, what will you do with a child you think is struggling with this?  Horror on your face won’t help.  If you catch a child cross-dressing, start with a little love.  Initially ask more questions than you give answers.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Establish rapport so your son or daughter is convinced Mom or Dad still loves me–doesn’t think I’m a freak.  Then begin to expose your child to the God who made him male, made her female.  There is no faith apart from obedience (1 John 5:3-4) but faith is not just about laws of do’s and don’ts.  It’s about a relationship with a God who’s just, who’s merciful, who’s gracious, who’s loving, who’s perfect, who’s everywhere, who knows all things, who is kind, who understands–even this.  But who thinks and speaks, for our good.  Make that, for our best.

I am Planned Parenthood

Did you watch the secretly-made PP video (previous post) and recoil in horror?  A physician who took an oath to do no harm both performs abortions and sells the body parts of those children deliberately torn apart in surgery.  How barbaric.

Says the barbarian.

“We pretend that we are better than we are.  We deny the evidence of our wrongdoing.  We avoid facing our badness.” (Eugene Peterson)  The gospel was academic theology to me for about 14 years of my ministry.  I don’t remember how it hit me but it did–like a runaway semi: I am exactly like the murderer on death row; exactly.  God views my love affair with others’ approval, my dalliances with lust, my disdain of this or that person, exactly like he views the convict.  Or the pedophile; or the doctor at Planned Parenthood.

…everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  Everyone.  No distinctions made between different kinds of sinners–between modest and horrific ones.  No allowances made for sincere motives or good intentions.  All seen in the same light by a God whose eyes blaze with holiness, not tolerance.  For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws (James 2:10).  It was this bad news that took my breath away and finally promoted the good news from theology to oxygen.

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins (Ephesians 1:7).   Recently visiting another church, Betty and I sang about the blood of Jesus and I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.  I wished they had dimmed the house lights.  But I will never never get over the fact that Jesus paid it all for me.  For a barbarian.  That the Holy invaded the unholy with His blood–the gospel, and made the unholy, holy.  Forever.  GLORY TO GOD!

It is this, that can curb judgment of others; this, that can tamp down disgust and fuel love; it is the gospel that changes “You’re a horrible person!” to “God loved you so much that He’s making you the same offer he made a barbarian like me: Jesus.”