Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ask RC: Should Churches observe Sanctity of Life Sunday?

It is a legitimate and important question- the appropriateness of celebrating the incarnation, the celebration of Christmas. I believe it fitting and appropriate, but am in turn always uncomfortable disagreeing with brothers to my right. I understand their concerns, and appreciate their passion for the regulative principle of worship. On the other hand, one can not rightly argue that the birth of the Savior is off limits in the pulpit. The Bible talks about it, and so we may preach about it. Given that, I cannot embrace a position that suggests we can preach about it, but not in December. If we are allowed to preach the promises in Genesis, in Isaiah, if we are allowed to preach the first few chapters of Luke, it seems we ought to be allowed to preach them at any time of year.

The same, it seems to me, applies to not only the church calendar but to church history. That is, we can preach on the Lord’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem and in turn about the resurrection, and so ought to be allowed to preach consecutive sermons on these events each spring. In like manner, if we are right that the Bible teaches the solas of the Reformation, it seems that it would be safe to preach on them the last Sunday in October. One is not, in so doing, becoming Romish in imposing a church calendar, or constructing holy days without biblical warrant. One is instead remembering the grace of God in space, and in time.

While the choice of December 25 as the anniversary of Jesus’ birth is rather dubious, we do know with certainty what happened on January 22, 1973. On that day the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case Roe v. Wade. The nine men determined that every state had the duty to give women unfettered access to abortion up until the birth of the child. It was a day whose infamy overshadows December 7, 1941 in the memory of the church in America. Since that time perhaps 50, 000, 000 babies have been murdered in the womb with the full protection of the state and the knowledge of the church.

Abortion in America is, in the judgment of my very wise father, the greatest evil in our history. The American holocaust dwarves the evil of Nazi Germany in both numbers of the dead, and the numbers of we who know what is happening. Can we then impose an obligation that every pulpit should speak against this great evil on the third Sunday of every January? Of course not. The pulpit, like the bearers of God’s image, is sacred. We can not rightly impose any obligation not explicitly found in Scripture. We no more ought to impose Sanctity of Life Sunday on the church than we should impose the observance of the birth of Jesus.

On the other hand, Sanctity of Life Sunday is as fitting, as sensible, as reasonable as observing the Incarnation from the pulpit. Just as we must preach the glory of the incarnation, sometime, if not in December, so we must preach the horror of this evil sometime, if not in January. To be silent is to be complicit. It is to tell our children and grandchildren that we are as guilty as those Germans who knew, and were silent. Of course our pews are filled with the guilty. The same is true of every sin we preach against. Of course the grace of God in Christ trumps even this great evil.

But the same Jesus who died for our sins calls on us to suffer the children to come unto Him. When we are silent, when we treat abortion as a mere social problem, a mere political issue, we expose our complicity. So preach faithfully. Proclaim not the sanctity of life, but the holiness of God, whose image the least of these bear. Call for repentance from the pulpit God placed under your care. Preach the same good news that He preached, that the captive are to be set free, that those marching toward death are to be rescued. Preach, and take the heat. For Jesus says such will make you blessed. Walk by faith, and preach by faith, in season and out of season.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ask RC: Should Christians particiate in illegal Bible-distributing activities?

Should a Christian promote or participate in Bible-distributing activities in a country which deems those activities illegal? And should a father and mother lead and encourage their children to do so as well?

We live in a radically disobedient age. The spirit of rebellion is at home even inside the church. We disobey our parents, dishonor our elders, and distrust the law. Seeing this propensity so potent in my own heart I am usually eager to encourage others to meekness of spirit, and a default assumption of obedience, even when the state annoys us. We need to believe the promise of God in the fifth commandment that things are more apt to go well for us in the land as we honor our parents, and by extension all those in authority over us.

That said, in each and every circumstance where God has put us under the authority of another person or institution, there is at least one critical limitation. Wives are to submit to husbands. Children are to obey parents. Citizens are to give honor to whom honor is due, all unless or until those in authority command us to do what God clearly forbids, or forbid us to do what God clearly commands. We see this principle at work when Peter is commanded to cease preaching in the name of Christ. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The spread of God’s Word would certainly fall into the same category. As we fulfill the Great Commission, teaching the nations to observe all that Christ commands, that means bringing them God’s Word. As such we ought to promote this good work.

We ought to do so, however, with eyes wide open. That our consciences are bound by the very Word we are called to spread doesn’t mean that the conscience of these hostile governments is so bound. If and when we find ourselves actually being persecuted for our obedience, we ought to do two things. First, we ought to rejoice. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that such persecution is an honor and a blessing. Second, we ought to humbly submit.

Our fathers in the faith were commanded to profess the Lordship of Caesar. They refused, resting their hope in the Lordship of Christ, denying that there could ultimately be two kings. They did not, however, take up arms to overthrow Rome. Indeed they went peacefully to their deaths, spilling their own blood as the seed of the church.

We are to pray for the persecuted church around the world, entering into their sufferings. We are to expect persecution in our own lives. And we are to learn to rejoice in all things. The war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is serious business. That our weapons are not carnal does not mean that the enemy’s weapons are not carnal. The glory of the gospel, however, is that our lives, like His, cannot be taken, precisely because we freely lay them down. Remember that when we signed on with this army, and when our children signed on, we agreed to follow Him wherever He might lead. We can do so with confidence knowing that He is, even in martyrdom, leading us to glory.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ask RC: Are You Messianic?

That depends. Do I have Messianic delusions? I certainly pray not, and if I do, then surely I must repent for them. Is my faith built around the biblical promise of the coming of Messiah, steeped in the wisdom of the Old Covenant? Of course. Am I part of that subsection of the Christian faith that holds it important to keep kosher, to keep Jewish feast days, who rest and worship Friday through Saturday evening? Nope, that’s not me.

Not long ago I was standing behind a table stacked to my eyeballs with copies of my books and teaching tapes, having spoken at a state homeschool convention. I was approached with just this question- is this material Messianic? Taken somewhat aback by such a question, I determined to do my part to take back that rather precious word. “Yes,” I said, “every word in here is Messianic. We aspire always to teach in submission to the Messiah. We seek always to proclaim the life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of the Messiah.” My inquisitor went away unhappy with me. And I with him.

I think it a good thing when we remember the grace of God in the lives of our forefathers. My ancestors are Scottish, and of late, that is, the past five hundred years, Presbyterian. God did a marvelous thing in bringing Reformation to Scotland. It still bears fruit to this day. I honor this history in the naming of my children, and from time to time, by wearing my kilt. I am not, however, a “Scottish Christian.” I am a Christian, as are all those who put their trust in the finished work of the Messiah. My identity is in the Messiah, not in the Hebrides. In like manner, the book of Hebrews is very clear that all our identity is bound up in Christ, not in being Hebrew. I am, as Peter reminds us, a part of a royal priesthood, a holy nation, along with everyone else who rests in Him.

There are, I trust, in the “Messianic” movement, those who treat their Jewish heritage, whether genetic or adopted, as I treat my Scottish heritage. They do not deny the catholicity of the faith simply by remembering what God has done for their fathers in the flesh. There may be some I fear, however that need to heed the warning of Hebrews, who are tempted to overshadow the glory of the Messiah by going back to the shadows. That such a temptation was all too real in the first century church ought to warn us that we are quite capable of falling into the same pit today.

My advice for those facing this temptation is the same counsel given by the author of Hebrews- look to the Messiah. He will show you precisely what Paul, saw, that all such things should be considered loss for Messiah (Philippians 3:7). Our citizenship, after all, is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are all Messianic, for we have all been purchased by Messiah.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Weary in Doing Good

I’m tired, and my dear wife is happy about it. Two weeks of speaking and travelling among the saints in Colombia, South America has left me run down, fighting a cold, and muddle-headed. My wife, God bless her, is no sadist. Her joy over my weariness is perfectly understandable. She likes “Tired Me” because “Tired Me” is much more soft, attentive, emotional and tender than “Energized Me.” I suspect that there are other husbands like me, and other wives like my own.

Having been through this pattern before I was tempted to think nothing of it. It’s a nice bonus that my wife is blessed by this current state of mine. And I had always been content to discount the phenomenon as not touching on the real me, tough guy that I am. But for some reason, perhaps because I watched Inception on my flight back from Colombia, I am not left wondering this- what if “Tired Me” is the real me?

What if my weariness doesn’t obscure, but instead reveals who I actually am? What if I expend energy, when I have it to spare, suppressing my feelings? What if Andrew Peterson’s song The Queen of Iowa drives me to tears because it should, and that something is wrong with me when it doesn’t? What if my Shannon’s smile, my Donovan’s hugs, Darby and Delaney’s singing voices, Erin Claire’s thoughtfulness, Maili’s stories, Reilly’s prayer requests, and Campbell’s overflowing love for his siblings are supposed to keep me perpetually choked up? What if “Tired Me” is better at sympathizing with Yolie and Sue and Eileen and Tim and Joni in all the challenges they are facing?

Indeed, what if God in His good providence, sees to it that I am more tired, so that I might be more like His Son? Maybe that’s why I should be getting up earlier to pray. Maybe that’s why I should be working harder, not so that I might get more done, but that more might be done in me.

Our prayers expose the folly of our strategies. We ask for strength, because we think it will do the kingdom good. But the kingdom grows in our weakness. We ask for health, thinking it will make us more effective, when it might just make us more affected- pretending to be strong and bold. We ask for ease, which only makes us more at ease in Babylon. What we ought to be asking is to be more like Jesus. He had no place to lay His head. He was acquainted with sorrows. He carried the burden of our sins, and drank the Father’s cup. And through it all He is what we are supposed to want to be. Lord, make me tired. Make me weak. Make me tender and make me soft. Make me reach out to hold my wife, to squeeze my children. Make me more like your Son, for the sake of His kingdom, for the sake of His saints, and for the sake of my soul.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Creation, one has to believe, must be a plenty cool thing. The angels, I’m sure, took their seats with a level of anticipation we can only imagine, as they waited for the curtain to go up. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” Oh His stars that must have been something. The radiance broke forth, and the heavenly chorus sang. Glory!

Because we are still modernists, even in this postmodern age, we tend to see the glory of creation in the design stage. We think the universe a staggering marvel of engineering. We think that after the angels saw the light, that God took a time out to explain the wave properties and the particle properties, and how He balanced them in an almost incarnational way, (Jesus is, after all, the light of the world.) Like a scientist explaining an experiment, like a detective explaining a crime, God dispassionately explained His secret blueprints. We think too that this is God’s pleasure in the creation, that He is tickled pink with His own elegance.

This is all well and good. The universe is quite a harmonious complexity of a watch, and our Lord quite the skilled Watchmaker. The universe, however, I believe, in the end is not so much an astounding machine as it is a way yonder too much fun toy. It is God’s own toy, and His delight in it is like that of a child. The trees in the fields clap their hands not as solemn applause, but as giddy frolic. The seas roar not like a lion, but like the crowd at the football game. The mountains melt not because of a consuming fire, but from the very looseness of joy. And snow, then there is snow, an extravagant array of tiny ice sculptures coming together to form a falling curtain on the earth. No machine could ever do that. A toy, on the other hand, a globe sized snow globe, that’s something God could not only make, but could play with for months on end.

Creation reflects the Creator. Its playfulness is His playfulness. And in the end, for His grand finale, He makes of us, stringed Calvinist puppets that we are, into real boys.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Consorting with Whores

That there is a deep and profound chasm that separates believing in the total depravity of man and our own understanding of the depth and scope of our own sin is a potent sign of the depth and scope of our own sin. “Total depravity” is a true and sound biblical doctrine about how the fall has impacted mankind. We are sinful in every part of our being and utterly unable, precisely because we are unwilling, to embrace the work of Christ on our behalf unless He changes us first. Because we are totally depraved, however, we see this as a doctrine about man, rather than an actual self-description. We distinguish between the problems of “man” and our own problems. It is safe to speak ill of man, but dangerous and sad business to look too closely into our own hearts of darkness. So instead we think ourselves as partaking in a general sense of this depravity thing, but see it manifest in our own lives in nice, clean ways. We have a high view of God’s holiness, of His law, and so confess with all due piety that we are sinners indeed, rebels against the living God, in a nice, clean, abstract sort of way.

The living God, however, has a far more accurate and potent picture of what we are. We are whores. We are shameless, self-degrading, crass and crude. We throw ourselves at strangers, selling our dignity for cash. Worse still, after He has redeemed us, washed us, even married us, we go back for more. We turn tricks before the all seeing eyes of a Husband who suffered hell for us. Again He comes and washes us. He holds us. He confesses His love for us. He promises He will never leave us. He makes us new again.

But because we are still proud, we parade around in the beautiful gown with which He has covered us, suggesting that it surely had a few spots, a wrinkle or two on it before He found us. But they were nice, respectable spots and wrinkles. What we should be confessing that it was once stained through with our whoredom. The joy of the Lord is not that He took we who were mostly clean and made us wholly clean. The joy of the Lord isn’t that because He worked in us no one needs to know our former shame. The joy of the Lord is that while we were out walking the streets He came for us. While others paid to pollute us, He paid to redeem us.

Our Father told us a story so that we would know what we are. He gave us a prophet, Hosea. And we, sinners that we are, instead of confessing to being Gomer, thought He was telling us to be more like Hosea. “Oh,” we humbly confess, “we should be so much more compassionate towards the really bad people. Please forgive us for not being more loving toward the unseemly ones of this world.” The truth is He is confessing that we are the unseemly ones. That’s what we are, the people Jesus died for and married, the people adopted and loved of the Father, the people indwelt and being cleansed by the Spirit- God in three persons, consorting with such as we.

Ask RC: What should our relationship be with our oldest son and his live in girlfriend?

It would seem to be a reasonable corollary to the Apostle John’s affirmation that he knew no greater joy than to know that his children walk in the truth (III John 4) that there is likely no greater sorrow than to see one’s own children walk away from the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is no mere intellectual question but cuts us to our hearts.

The question above suggests that there are two different but related questions in play. First, how ought we to look at such a son, and second, how should such a son relate to the rest of the family? It is both a blessing and a curse that we are not able to see into the hearts of others. It is a curse when such might offer us assurance, a blessing when such might lead us to doubt.

Our first bedrock principle we should not lose sight of is that all humans, outside of our Lord, sin while we live on this planet. Your son is indeed in dark and grievous sin. So to, however, was King David when he took Uriah’s wife and his life. David, remember, was called the friend of God.

That said, the second bedrock principle is that those who practice gross and heinous sin have every reason to doubt their salvation. “No one knows the heart of another” can become too soft a pillow that misses the plain teaching of Scripture on what we can know. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:19-21).

Then there is this third bedrock principle- reaching the conclusion that a person is not a believer is not the same things as reaching the conclusion that he or she will never be a believer. Your son may be like David, given over to this sin for a season. He may be like Saint Augustine, who was brought to faith only after a riotous youth. Or, he may not be among those chosen before the foundation of time. We just can’t know for certain.

How then ought your family to treat him? The more important question is how ought the church to treat him. When your son professed Christ he surely came under the authority of a local expression of the body of Christ, the church. The elders there vowed to watch out for your son’s soul, and so now have a duty to bring to bear the grace of church discipline in his life. He should be called before the elders to repent, to turn from his sin. If he refuses, he should be barred from the Lord’s Table and from the table of those who belong to the Lord. He should be excommunicated, disfellowshipped. He should, that is, no longer be welcome at your own table as well. Your relationship with him changes from one wherein you believed one another to be bound together in the bonds of Christ to now being mere relatives. Yes you can be polite to him. You can be cordial to him. You should let him know that your hearts are broken, that you love him and always will, but that having left the faith; he has left that which defines your family. Remind him of the story of the prodigal son, and let him know that your prayers will always be that God the Holy Spirit would bring him to himself, that you might feast once again with him. Let there be no bitterness and rancor. Let him instead see your broken hearts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Gringo in Colombia

Can an experience become a cliché? And if it does, does that make it invalid? I am writing because I have no access to the internet. I have no access to the internet because I am in a small town in a less developed country, Rio Negro, Colombia. I am here to speak to scores of pastors from around the country. And my frustration over the lack of internet once again exposes my frustration over my own sanctification. Which is what always happens when I find myself in less than comfortable surroundings.

This is not, by the grace of God, my first time in a less developed nation. Beyond several such trips I have also been privileged to minister from time to time in prisons around the country. In each case I walk into the situation thinking myself a fine fellow, and walk out ashamed. My shame is found in my relative spiritual immaturity in comparison of those I have come to “help.” I’m supposed to be bringing a message from God. Instead God speaks to me- “You are soft, pampered, and worst of all you are proud.” I come in eager to teach. I go home grateful for what I have learned. And then I forget.

In Africa, in Myanmar, in Colombia I have met believers living under terribly difficult circumstances. It may be simple poverty. It may be persecution from other religions. It may be an aggressively inhospitable state. What draws my eyes away from the circumstances is the blindness of the saints to those circumstances. They are far too busy rejoicing in the grace of God, far too consumed with His glory, to be distracted by their surroundings. They are too passionately committed to preaching and teaching, to fulfilling the Great Commission to notice that things for them are not so great. They sit on tiny patches of unproductive ground, staring with greater joy than an American child on Christmas morning, at the Pearl of Great Price.

My point here is not to wallow in guilt for prosperity, far less to encourage others to bemoan their blessings. Rather I want us all to learn to appreciate all the blessings from the hand of God. Rejecting hot showers, dependable internet connections, or even heavy laden dinner tables will not make me better, nor my new friends more comfortable. Instead my calling is to give thanks for all His good gifts in due proportion. These are good things, and I am to never take them for granted, as if I am owed all these things simply by virtue of being born in these United States. That my daily bread is wrapped around the finest meats isn’t evidence that it did not come from God, but a sure sign that it has come from Him.

I must, however, ask my Father in heaven for this grace on top of that grace, that I would learn to rejoice in the gospel as these men do, that I would learn to rejoice in want, and better still, to know that I am always in plenty, wherever He takes me around His globe. I have Jesus. And I get to learn from those who rejoice in the same.