“They’re all Cylons.”

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A parable, generally applicable:

My wife and I watched through the 2000’s version of Battlestar Galactica several years ago (her first watch, my second). For those unfamiliar, this iteration of the sci-fi classic involves a resumption of hostilities between the human race and a race of extraterrestrial cyborgs called Cylons that, in the interim since the last war, have discovered how to create versions of themselves that pass for human. Part of the ongoing mystery of the show revolved around the identities of the “final five” Cylon models, who likely were seeded among the main cast like sleeper agents, unaware of their true nature until they are activated.

This meant that anytime anyone in the main ensemble did anything remotely suspicious (or sus, for you younger readers), my wife immediately said with conviction, “Oh, that one’s definitely a Cylon.” When I pressed her on this, she eventually joked, “That’s because they’re all Cylons!” [Ironic spoiler redacted]

When a few of her assertions eventually proved true, she proudly pointed at the TV and said, “See? I totally called that.” When I questioned how many of her othere guesses were actually wrong, she waved my comment away and just repeated with a smile, “I called it.”

The way she saw it, if you make enough accusations of nefarious plotting and hidden agendas, being proven right a few times more than makes up for being proven wrong a great many more times.

Let the reader understand.

No matter how small.

My friend Michael Coughlin put out the call on Twitter this morning to folks in Texas that the Texas legislature will soon be considering bills that limit and/or outlaw abortion. He encouraged any friends who are against the scourge of abortion to submit comments that would be part of the public record and provided to the legislators.

As I’ve discussed in the past, I am thoroughly and unwaveringly convinced that abortion is evil, that it is the premeditated murder of a human being, and that it should not exist. So naturally, I was happy to lend my voice to the proceedings, as a citizen of the great state of Texas. I’ve included these comments below, so that I’m fully “on the record” on this subject.

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Good morning. I’m writing to encourage and exhort my representatives to take a stand and make Texas a state that affirms the value and dignity of human life from the moment of conception.

The unborn child is a unique human being, with her own unique DNA, distinct from her parents’. She is not a blob of tissue or a mere collection of cells. From the moment of conception, the unborn child’s cells are totipotent, carrying within themselves the complete blueprints to develop into a fully-formed human being, if given the time, nutrition, and protection necessary. In time, the child will develop her own nervous system, internal organs, blood type, fingerprints. All of the hallmarks of a unique and precious individual are there in the womb within the space of mere weeks. If we claim to be a society that “believes in science” and affirms the inherent rights of human beings, then it is hypocritical to dismiss the scientific reality of an unborn child’s humanity at any stage of development or to allow the decisions of others to make the life of that unborn child discardable.

As a unique human being, each unborn child has been endowed by his or her Creator with inalienable rights recognized under the United States Constitution, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To allow the mother or another individual to make the decision to end the life of that child denies those rights. Not only is such a premeditated act of violence tantamount to murder, ending the life of a distinct human being, but it is a clear instance of social injustice. If Texas is going to be a state that protects the rights of its citizens, it must begin doing so at the very earliest stage of existence.

Finally, I call on my state government to recognize that every unborn child, no matter the circumstances of their conception, is made in the image of Almighty God. From the moment of conception, they have been knit together in their mothers’ wombs, intricately woven in secret, as the Psalmist poetically described it. Every person is an image bearer of God, no matter their age, stage of development, level of ability or disability, ethnicity, economic circumstances, sex, or location. Every person deserves dignity and respect. Every person has the God-given right to be born.

It is the duty of this state and its leaders to protect and defend the rights of its citizens against injustice and premeditated violence. Friends, we have failed to do so when it comes to our youngest, most innocent, and most vulnerable citizens. I plead with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to consider this, and to ask yourself if we really want to be a people that denies the basic humanity of others, and treats human beings like objects to be owned or discarded at the whim of another. May it not be so. May it never be so in the state of Texas.

Thank you for your time and attention. Know that I and my family will be praying for you.

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I know this is a challenging subject with a lot of strong feelings on both sides. You may disagree with me, and you may even be upset about this. If you’re willing and able to discuss the issue in the comments, I’m happy to engage in good faith. (As always, just don’t be a jerk.) So I’m leaving the com-box open for now. Thanks.

2020: The Year the Lord Has Made.

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The end of December is usually a time of reflection on the past year—and after this year, many of us are perhaps a little skittish at the prospect. I have to admit, I have enjoyed and shared several “2020 is terrible” jokes and memes over the last several months. But a few weeks back, I was reminded of a verse I had memorized as a child:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

As I meditated on this verse, I was reminded that not only did the Lord make “this day,” but He indeed made this week, and month, and even this year. The Bible teaches that the Lord is sovereign over all of human history, seeing the end from the beginning, and nothing takes place outside of His will and divine plan. What’s more, for those of us who are in Christ, all things—ALL things—work together for our good, to shape us into the image of our Savior (Rom. 8:28-30). If all of this is true, then even a year like 2020, checkered as it seems with challenges and even disappointments, has played out as our Lord ordained it to.

This certainly does not mean that it was an easy year. In no way am I minimizing the hardship that 2020 has brought with it. In the last 12 months, most of us have known loss of one sort or another. Many of us have lost family members in death, faced difficult medical diagnoses, struggled with job loss or financial hardship, and wrestled with family conflict.

However, dear friends, the fact remains: this is the year that the Lord has made. And while this year has brought its particular challenges, it has also contained particular blessings.

Thankful

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a few things I’m thankful for that happened during 2020.

  • My wife and I found out we are expecting our third little girl in early 2021, and couldn’t be happier.
  • I began working from home back in March and have been able to enjoy being with my family every day in a way I didn’t get to in previous years. As a result, my bond with my wife and daughters seems stronger than ever.
  • The number of readers on this little blog of mine have exploded this year, and as a result, I started my first “affiliate link” partnership with the kind folks over at Monk Manual, which has provided some extra income for our household.
  • God has opened other areas of provision that have come at just the right time to take care of unexpected bills.
  • Our church merged with a sister church a few weeks before the initial “shutdown” happened, and somehow we’ve emerged from this difficult season as a stronger body.
  • In addition to serving as an elder in my home church, I’ve had several opportunities to preach at other area churches while their pastors were away or had retired/relocated.

While it’s easy to be dour along with the rest of our culture at this “horrible year,” I would challenge you (and myself) to change how we think about and speak about the past year. Though the world would say there is little to consider good about 2020, that’s just not true. Despite it all, God has indeed been good to us—we just need to take the time to see it.

The Choice to Rejoice

Psalm 118:24 affirms that the Lord has made this day, and then follows with the exhortation, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is one of those reminders in Scripture that joy is not only a gift of God and a fruit of the Spirit, but it is also a choice. The psalmist calls to the faithful and encourages them to make the choice to rejoice and be glad in this day of the Lord’s making.

While this verse is written within a specific context (which we will examine shortly), it’s worthwhile to pause and consider: Are there times when I can make the decision to rejoice, in spite of my circumstances? Again, this does not imply a “Pollyanna” sort of naïve blindness to the difficulties of life. Scripture reminds us that Jesus Himself was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He is sympathetic with our weakness and our suffering.

Yet Paul also reminds us (from a Roman prison cell) in Philippians 4:4 to “rejoice in the Lord always—again, I will say, rejoice”! There don’t seem to be any exceptions in that word “always.” Rather, Paul gives—and repeats—this command. If these are commands from the Lord (and they are), then we will be enabled to obey them by the strength the Lord provides. Indeed, “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10). We can call on the Holy Spirit to help us obey this command and rejoice in what the Lord has done, no matter what circumstances we face.

Thus, when we consider this year that the Lord has made, friends, we can and should choose joy. By the grace of God, we should fight to rejoice and be glad in it. Why? Because the Lord made it, and He has used it and is using it for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28-29).

“His Steadfast Love Endures Forever”

One of the ways we can move toward joy is by recounting how the Lord has been faithful (as we just did earlier). This is clear in the first 18 verses of Psalm 118. The psalmist calls on God’s people to confess together the steadfast love of the Lord, and then recounts specific incidents in which God has shown Himself gracious.

The Lord is a rescuer (v. 5-6), a helper (v. 7), a refuge (v. 8-9), and our victory (v. 10-12). He will keep us from stumbling (v. 13), be our salvation (v. 14), and do valiantly for us (v. 15-16). Even in His discipline of us, He does not give us over to death (v. 18).

In verse 19, the psalmist asks the Lord to “open the gates of righteousness,” and this begins not only the section in which our key verse is found, but it points us to the greatest good that the Lord bestows on His people—a good that we have been celebrating in this Christmas season.

The fact is, there is nothing coming from us that is innately righteous. “There is none righteous; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). On our own merits, even at our best, the “gates of righteousness” should be slammed shut in our faces. And yet, God has made a way for us to enter these righteous gates, through the work of His son Jesus, our Redeemer.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Do you recognize the language of verses 22-23?

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Ps. 118:22-23)

This passage would later be quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21 and Peter in I Peter 2—both describing the ministry of Jesus the Messiah! He was the “stone of stumbling and rock of offense” for those who would not believe, but the rock of salvation for all who would call on His name!

If you keep reading in Psalm 118, you’ll also find these words in verse 26: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These were the very words spoken by the people during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the end of His ministry.

Then, verse 27: “The Lord is God, and He made His light to shine upon us.” Or perhaps, as John would put it in his gospel: “In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Psalm 118 ultimately points forward to the coming of God’s Messiah, the Deliverer who would bless His people and bring them joy and success, a living demonstration of the steadfast love of God. And the coming of that Messiah would be “the day that the Lord has made,” a day worthy of rejoicing!

And what happened when that day arrived? John again tells us: “…light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil…” (John 3:19). Jesus the Messiah stepped into human history, a miracle baby in a manger in a small village. He lived the perfect life of righteousness that God’s Law demands of mankind. He taught the true words of God, did miracles, healed disease, cast out demons, and brought light into our darkness. And the response of the people was to slander Him falsely and deliver Him up for torture and execution.

But even that day was the day that the Lord had made, for it was only through that dark day that our redemption would be accomplished! Because Jesus our Savior was crucified in the place of ruined sinners, He became our vicarious substitute, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath and justice against sin, so that we who believe in Him might be declared righteous before God, one day entering the righteous gates of the New Jerusalem, “dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne” (as the hymn goes).

The deliverance of God was made manifest on the darkest of days, a day we call “Good” Friday, because that unfathomable suffering brought us cleansing. It brought us hope. It brought us joy.

The suffering of our Savior was the day of our deliverance. Let us also rejoice and be glad in that day!

Look Back in Gratitude, Look Forward In Hope

The year 2020 is coming to a close, friends. Admittedly, it did not follow any of our plans or hopes for what would transpire. But nevertheless, this was the year that the Lord has made. Let us choose to rejoice and be glad in it—glad in what the Lord has done among us, glad in what the Lord has taught us, glad in how the Lord has shown Himself always faithful, and glad in the knowledge that we have hope because the Lord ordained the darkest of days 2000 years ago as the day of our salvation, for all who repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year! Be blessed this day, and rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

“I don’t need your civil war…”

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How do you think about the people around you? How do you see them? How do you speak about them?

There’s been so much that’s gone on in the last month that has burdened and overwhelmed me. So much that I wanted to say but didn’t know how to–or whether or not my words would contribute anything useful or new. I’ve tried to stay out of the online hot-take business (with mixed success), but I think a lot of my thoughts lately are boiled down to this key issue:

When you stop seeing your ideological opponents as human beings worthy of dignity, it makes it a lot easier to justify treating them as sub-human in your speech and actions, both directly and indirectly.

People from my ideological/theological camp talk about the dignity of human life a lot, specifically when it comes to the life of the unborn. But I worry that much of that language is shown to be mere rhetoric when the way we speak to and about our enemies (either political or theological) is degrading, demeaning, and dismissive. (Depending on whom you ask, that makes me a squishy, raised-pinky, “nuance”-obsessed liberal, which is HILARIOUS.)

Labels and categories can sometimes provide a helpful shorthand in conversation, but I wonder if we lean so heavily on those that they start to become personas or avatars to absorb our attacks. It’s easy to make fun of “leftists” or “Trumpists” when you’re thinking about a generic stereotype instead of your parents or siblings. You can take shots, make jokes, dismiss their concerns. But when you start putting names and faces to the labels, it should become a bit harder to be so calloused and contemptuous.

“Should.” But we both know that with practice, we can become very comfortable labelling and smearing even the ones we purport to love with such invective.

“You’re just a…”

“Well of course you disagree, you….”

“Well, if you’d quit listen to all those…”

When Jesus said that in the end times, a person’s enemies would be the members of his or her own household, I don’t think the reason for this was supposed to be who’s on the national ballot or where we stand on cultural hot-button issues.

…I don’t have some great epiphany coming here. I hope you’re not expecting one.

Instead, can I just encourage you to take a few moments and run a mental audit of how you have spoken about people lately, including/especially those you disagree with? Ask yourself, “Am I able to disagree with this person/group while still treating them with dignity, as image-bearers?”

And don’t answer too quickly in the affirmative. I know that my knee-jerk reaction to this is, “Of course I do!” If it’s the same for you, maybe take a second and think carefully about it. If you’re feeling especially bold, ask someone close to you if you tend to speak of those you disagree with in minimizing or dismissive terms.

Perhaps one good step toward addressing some of the bitter divisiveness and tension in our homes and communities is by recognizing that we’re more than our political team-jersey–and the same is true of those on “the other side.”

Look, I’m not calling for some kind of kumbayah, let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-Imagine sort of utopian dream, because that won’t ever happen, nor should it. There are serious issues than need to be discussed. There are divides and differences of belief that can’t be ignored or patched over. It’s right and good to disagree, even disagree strongly, about issues of first importance. But if we can’t at least look each other in the eye and say, “you matter,” I think it says a lot about our own hearts. And for those of us who seek to follow Jesus, it may say something mortally serious that we just can’t ignore.

Fearfully and wonderfully.

I have to admit, I’m taking the national debate over abortion pretty personally.

I have been pro-life (or anti-abortion, if you prefer) all my life. I was a child when my parents were able to adopt a little girl who was scheduled to be aborted in George Tiller’s mill, but God’s providence intervened. She is now my sister, and I can’t imagine my childhood without her in it.

I’ve participated in peaceful protests. I’ve educated myself on alternatives and support services for pregnant women, and supported such services with my time and money in the past. And while I haven’t had the opportunity yet to take a more active role, my wife and I have talked about and are still talking about foster care in the future. (We were actually in the midst of foster-care training when we found out about Baby #1, a few years ago.)

I have seen lots of discussion on social media about “women’s rights” and “women’s bodies,” and whether or not “blobs of cells” or “blobs of tissue” have the same rights. I’ve read comments of prominent politicians arguing about how a 6-week-old embryo can be destroyed because it’s hard for women to know whether or not they are just “two weeks late on [their] period”–as if the living being within the womb is an after-thought. I saw recently that national newspapers referred to a fetal heartbeat as mere “embryonic pulsing” (what an perfect example of Orwellian newspeak).

Whenever I see those comments thrown around, I can’t help but think back to this:

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That’s my second daughter, at 12 1/2 weeks of development. A human being, with a head, limbs, a speedy little heartbeat–and at that point, no human rights, as she was still legal to abort in more than 40 states.

Even now, at 33 weeks along, my wife could travel to New York or Illinois or several other states, and our daughter (currently around 4-5 pounds, full of energy, doing flips and kicks, lungs expanding and contracting, mouth swallowing, heart still pumping away) could be medically disassembled, ripped literally limb from limb, brain matter sucked out, skull crushed, in the name of “choice.” This is “health care,” after all.

Those who oppose my views talk about the rights of women. Scroll up and take another look at that picture. Take another look at that little girl.

What about her rights? What about her bodily autonomy? When do we grant her humanity?

See, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s about acknowledging her humanity. It’s about recognizing that that little “blob of cells” that had an “embryonic pulsation” as early as 6 weeks into development is a human being, endowed by her Creator with inalienable rights. It’s about believing and defending the truth that this little girl–my daughter–is fearfully and wonderfully made.

For me, this national discussion isn’t about controlling women’s choices or women’s bodies. It’s not even about political power plays or left-vs-right bickering.

It’s about demanding the recognition that my daughter, like all unborn children, is still a human being.

And when you refuse to do that, I take that very personally.

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(Baby #2, back in February, at 19 weeks development. Babies at this stage are still able to be murdered legally in Texas.)

Rethinking My Feeds: Thought Experiment.

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Consider the following scenario:

You see a post, comment, or video on social media that you find frustrating or offensive. Perhaps the person is making straw-man arguments against your deeply-held belief, or they’re making statements that are fallacious or silly on the very face. Perhaps you can see such behavior or ideas as the direct result of a cultural or ideological worldview, and you want to demonstrate that “THIS”  offending statement or action “is how you get” some other, much worse thing.

Yet, instead of writing a post or thread or story about the subject, you choose to say nothing.

You decide to say nothing because: 1) you don’t actually know the person in question, or the commentators involved; 2) this isn’t a national story or part of a cultural discussion being had–it’s a niche event; 3) it would be difficult to develop a thoughtful commentary or response in a handful of sentences; and/or 4) you realize that doing so may get you a few supportive shares and likes, but may also usher in as much or more backlash and arguments, requiring further clarification, follow-up, and almost inevitable blocking/banning.

So you read the comment, shake your head, and move on with your day.

Here’s a question to consider, reader: By choosing a course of non-interaction, what have you lost and what have you gained?

Feel free to discuss below. Or not–I leave it up to you.

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[N.B.: I’m a bit busy this week. I will respond to all comments (even disagreements made in good faith), but it will not be right away. Thank you for your patience.]

The Good News that comes from the Good News. [Reposted]

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[Reposted from 2015 and revised slightly]

Yesterday, I talked about the bad news that comes before the Good News: that God’s wrath will one day be poured out against all sin and unrighteousness of mankind; that religious practice is useless at taking away our sin or giving us sufficient good standing before a holy God; and that every one of us stands guilty of breaking God’s commands and failing to worship Him as we ought.

But then I also said that, for those of us who embrace these truths and come to Jesus in complete desperation and dependence, we are made into new people.

The Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is good news for sinners who confess that they need a Savior.

So how is the Good News especially good for those of us who believe in Jesus?

Here are 4 ways Christians can rejoice in the Good News:

1. God loved us before we were good.

Our natural instinct is that we must earn God’s favor by doing good works, and that our good works will give us merit in God’s eyes. But the Gospel says that before we were sinners, Christ Jesus died for us—not for righteous people, not even for good people, but for filthy, rotten, rebellious, worthless, sinful people (which are the only kind of people that exist, truth be told). It wasn’t our good works that captured God’s attention or earned his affection. God chose to rescue sinners who didn’t deserve to be rescued, and sent Jesus the Son to live as a perfect, righteous man, to die in the place of unrighteous people, and then to rise again victorious over our great enemies, sin and death. God demonstrated His love by rescuing us. So now we who love God do so precisely because He loved us first.

What does this mean for you, Christian? God initiated a relationship with you while you were still in your sins. He rescued you and adopted you as His child. So now, do you think your sin is going to separate you from that love? Do you think the work of Christ is so limited that your sins as a Christian will undo what Jesus has done? By no means! If you have sinned, repent and be restored to right relationship with your Father, because we are called to obey God; but know that those who have truly come to Jesus will never be cast out, and those who repent will be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.

2. Jesus saves children of wrath by grace through faith — not by their works.

Remember, you were spiritually dead in your transgressions and sins. You were not weak, you were not wounded–you were spiritually dead. D-E-A-D, dead. You were opposed to God, destined for destruction, facing His righteous wrath. But God who is rich in mercy made us alive together in Christ, the text says. God’s mercy initiated this relationship, and He saved us by grace through faith. Remember, grace means we received something we didn’t deserve–and that is the only sensible way we can view the love of God.

We are not saved by our works–remember? Our best deeds are still stained by sin! How could we, who were spiritually dead and unable to produce any true righteousness of our own, ever bring about our own salvation? We can’t! Instead, it is the gracious gift of God, received through faith–a faith that shows us to be the spiritual children of Abraham, the man of faith. Abraham believed God’s promise that through his line would come blessing to the entire world, and when Abraham believed, it was credited to him as righteousness. We then who believe the promise that God will save those who call upon the name of the Lord, that faith opens the door to our redemption. And even that faith is a gift from God, not a work from us! How could it be anything else? How can spiritual corpses believe, unless God enables them to do so?

What does that mean for you, Christian? We are accepted by God because of what Jesus did, not because of what we do. We receive Jesus’ righteousness, credited to our bankrupt account, by putting our faith in Him as our Savior and our Substitute and our Risen King. The works you do are done as a tribute to God’s mercy, not a payment to appease Him. The sacrifice of Christ was not loan consolidation, to give you a lower and more manageable monthly payment of good works; it was complete debt forgiveness, as the impossible amount you owed was stamped “PAID IN FULL” in red letters. We receive that amazing grace by faith.

3. Jesus saves us from the condemnation of the Law.

Throughout the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul is trying to address confusion that has been introduced to the believers in Galatia. There were some (called Judaizers) who convinced the believers that, once they became followers of Jesus, they had to become fully Jewish as well, following all the customs and rituals of the Jews and the Jewish Law. Paul tells the people in no uncertain terms that this is not only folly, it’s spiritual suicide. He asks them why, since they received Jesus by grace, they must now continue in Him by following rituals and legal standards?

Like so many of us, the Galatians believed the lie that they still had to live up to a specific code in order to maintain their relationship with God, and if they didn’t, they would once again be under condemnation. On the contrary, Paul writes, Jesus came to be the curse-bearer, hung on a tree to take the curse of sin upon his own shoulders and off the back of those who would believe in Him.

Do you hear what Paul is saying here, Christian? You who were once fully and completely guilty according to the Law, you have been justified by Christ. You have been declared “not guilty” by God the righteous Judge, on account of Jesus, who bore the due penalty of your sin and paid it in full. Nothing more is owed against that debt, and the condemnation you once faced does not threaten you any longer.

4. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live out our new identity and obey our new Lord.

Let’s take a look at that Romans 8 passage again. If we are now in Christ, we are no longer condemned under the Law. Because of what Christ as done for us, we can now walk in the Spirit rather than according to our flesh, our old sinful nature. This means we are able to walk according to the will and commands of God, rather than being driven by our own natural desires and compulsions. We are now able to please God in how we live, because it’s His Spirit at work in us, remaking us into the image of Jesus.

Not only do we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who lovingly convicts us of sin and reminds us of the truth of the Scriptures, but that Spirit is also a reminder and a guarantee of our hope of resurrection. As Jesus was raised bodily, so we will be raised bodily on the last day. On top of all this, the Spirit Himself confirms that we are God’s children. He gives us a spirit of sonship, so that we may call the God of the Universe, the Judge whom we once had feared, “Our Father.” We are no longer slaves to sin, bound to obey its desires. We are children of God, rescued from bondage, carrying the hope of resurrection with Christ, and given the Holy Spirit as a reminder of our inheritance with Jesus.

Hear this, Christian: We have been given the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin to bring about repentance and enable us to walk in a way that pleases our Father. We are no longer slaves to our sins, chained to our old way of life. He whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Walk in freedom, by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within you, so that you may walk as children of light.

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There you have it. Four reasons why the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is exceedingly good news.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, I must tell you that these glorious truths do not apply to you. As it now stands, nothing will shield you from the righteous wrath of God against your sins. I am not being arrogant, friend; I’m telling you only what the Bible tells you. There is yet time to repent of (that is, to turn from) your life of sin and self-service, and to look to Jesus the risen Son of God and believe on Him–believing that He is who He said He is and did what He said He did. You don’t have another moment promised to you. Don’t presume upon the patience of God. Think on these things. If you want to discuss it more, feel free to email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) or comment below.

If you are a believer in Jesus, however, then these and many more promises are yours in Christ. As we make our way through (what is called by many) “Holy Week,” the week in which we commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus, I encourage you to think on these things as well. Consider that the Crucifixion and Resurrection are signs to you of the love God had for you before you knew Him, and the grace He extended to you so that you may now call Him Father. My hope is that these truths will help you sing a little louder this Sunday.

The Bad News that comes before the Good News. [Reposted]

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[Reposted from 2015 and slightly revised]

About 5 years ago, at lunch after church, a friend invited me to sit with her and another girl. They asked if I could take a few minutes and explain what it meant to be “saved.” The only place I could think to start would be answering the question, “Saved from what?”

That conversation and others like it have affirmed in my mind the vital importance of helping non-believers understand the Bad News.

No, that’s not a typo; I’m very serious. If people do not seriously consider the Bad News, then the Good News (that’s what “Gospel” means) won’t mean what it should. Without the Bad News, the Good News won’t seem as good or as compelling.

Bad News for People Who Like Good News

So what is the Bad News?

1. The Creator and Judge of the universe is storing up righteous wrath against His rebellious creation.

No one likes talking about the wrath of God. Everybody’s on board for the love and mercy and grace of God, but the wrath of God is the theological equivalent of a long record scratch in any conversation. However, the Bible doesn’t shy away from it.

The story the Bible tells is that God created the universe and everything in it, including mankind. However, our first parents rebelled against God’s rightful authority, choosing to disobey His command and be their own gods. Because of that, every one of their descendants has been born with the natural bent toward rebellion against God. All of us desire to sin, and all of us willfully commit sin. We not only sin deliberately (sins of commission), but we also fail to do what God has commanded and give Him the honor and glory He deserves (sins of omission). We deny the plain truth of the God who made us and give our worship to created things. All the evil and suffering of the world is the fruit of humanity’s sin. And because God is a just Judge, He must punish lawbreakers. So His great wrath is being saved up for the last day against all wickedness and law-breaking.

You may think, “Come on, Dave, is one little sin that serious?” Well, James the brother of Jesus writes that anyone who keeps the whole law of God yet fails in one small piece is still considered a lawbreaker, as if he had broken all of it (James 2:8-11). In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the people of God are told to be holy as God is holy, perfect as God is perfect. A perfectly righteous and just God cannot turn a blind eye to sin. It must be punished.

That’s pretty bad news—but it gets worse.

2. Religious practices and good behavior won’t take wrath away.

If you grew up religious or moral, you may feel pretty good about yourself, compared to the rest of humanity. You see the evil and cruelty of mankind reported on the nightly news and think, “I’m glad I’m not like those people.” Well…the Bible says differently. Even the people of Israel, who were given the Mosaic Law and the prophets and the writings of Scripture were still guilty of breaking that law over and over. Those outside the people of Israel didn’t have the written law, but they had the law of the conscience—God’s law written on their hearts. Yet our consciences cannot keep us on the narrow path; we make excuses for our behavior, or find ways to justify what our consciences and God’s Word clearly call sin. If you grew up in church like I did, you might try to convince yourself that exterior righteous deeds are sufficient to please God, but your righteous works will do nothing to take away the stain of your sins. Even your righteous deeds are like filthy rags.

“But surely, Dave, there are good people in the world, even outside of your narrow religious belief system. You can’t pin all this on them. What about the noble Muslims and devout Hindus and God-fearing orthodox Jews and good, moral people of no faith at all? Are you saying that all of them are going to Hell?”

Fair question. Okay, let’s check what the Bible says. *looks* Uh-oh…

3. Everybody’s guilty.

Everybody. Every single one of us. We’re all lawbreakers before God. Even the tiniest infraction makes us guilty, and if we’re being really honest, we know that we’ve done much, much more than that. What the Bible actually teaches is that none of us are “basically good, deep down.” We are in fact by our very nature “children of wrath.” What the Law of God, revealed in the Bible, has done is show us the depth of our sin and our rebellion against God.

Despite all that, you may still consider yourself a good person. Okay, do you mind if we test that?

  • Have you ever told a lie? What do you call someone who tells lies? (A liar)
  • Have you ever taken anything that doesn’t belong to you, no matter the value? What do you call someone who takes things? (A thief)
  • Have you ever looked with lustful intention on another person who is not your spouse? Jesus said that one who looks with lust has committed adultery in their heart.
  • Have you ever used God’s name flippantly as a curse or exclamation? That’s called blasphemy.

How are you doing? Still a good person? Or, if you’re like me, have you admitted that you’ve been a liar, thief, adulterer (in heart, if nothing else), and blasphemer?

Let’s be gut-level-honest, you and I: If that’s all true, how can we honestly claim to be “good” people?

And if God is a just judge who punishes sin, do we really expect Him to just “be a pal” and overlook our many sins?

At this point, reader, we have a choice:

If we reject what Scripture has said about our true nature and standing before God, then let us go on with our lives. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. But keep this in mind: on the last day, we all will give an account before the God of the Universe, the One who judges justly. If we decide to stand on our own merit in the face of that Judge, we will receive the full measure of justice. Considering we have already demonstrated that we are lawbreakers, how do you think that will go?

However, if we accept what Scripture says about our true nature and standing before God, we must admit that each of us are by nature sinners and deserving of God’s wrath against our rebellion. And for those of us who recognize the Bad News that we are facing a divine wrath we have earned…there is also Good News.

Good News for Sinners who Need Good News

What is that Good News? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to save sinners. God the Son stepped into time and space and chose to be born as a human being for the specific purpose of paying our debt. He lived the perfect life you and I couldn’t, by completely obeying God’s Law, and then died as a sacrifice in our place to pay for our sins. The wrath we deserve was poured out on Him for our sake. The justice of God was satisfied, and the mercy of God was revealed, in the cross of Jesus.

And then, 3 days later, Jesus rose again from the dead, defeating death itself, demonstrating that His sacrifice satisfies the righteous demands of God’s Law, and forever declaring that He is Lord of all creation.

Friend, if you know you are a sinner, and you have never turned from your sinful rebellion, confessed that you need God’s forgiveness, and believed in Jesus who died and was raised for your sake, today is the day. There is no time to waste.

My email address is the4thdave at gmail dot com. If you want to talk about this, shoot me a message.

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Tomorrow, we’ll revisit the Good News that comes from the Good News! See you then!

Rethinking My Feeds: Outrage.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

What a difference a weekend’s non-stop news cycle makes.

I was going to write a post about the latest internet debate last week, concerning razor advertisements, implications of toxic masculinity, and the necessity of teaching young men virtue. (Of course, by the time I had started to put some thoughts together, several writers of higher calibre had already written excellent pieces in that vein, so I left off.)

Then I spent Friday and Saturday with some other men from church thinking through discipleship at home and in the church, and Sunday with my church family and friends. As I slowly got back online yesterday evening, another outrage had replaced the last outrage–this time, regarding the issue of racially-based disrespect and (later in the day) media narrative bias. Some people who were quick to repost the initial reporting began stumbling over themselves to walk back statements and reassess the latest available information, while others were doubling-down and disregarding any other data points or newly-available information.

One could point the finger of blame at social media for the flare-up of such stories, but then again, if not for alternative outlets beyond the “big three networks” and the cable news channels (ever the bulwarks of, um, “fair and balanced” reportage), we would not often get additional data points that challenge the way stories are framed.

Yes, there’s the ever-present danger of “fake news” and false leads (as was demonstrated when a young man was apparently misidentified as the infamous “smirker” and was hashtagged, stalked, harassed, and doxxed over the course of a few hours). On the other hand, if you limit yourself to what the “officially verified” and check-marked set report, you still may not get the full story. (After all, what’s the good in listening to only one verified source of “real” news when that source is Pravda, comrade?)

Suffice it to say, social media was abuzz with the reaction, the counter-reaction, the reactions to both, and the finger-wagging and tongue-clucking pointed in various and sundry directions. I got sucked in, reading about the drama, forming opinions on second- and third-hand accounts, until I realized I was doing the same thing everyone else was–feeding on the drama as an outside observer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I engage with social media and how that engagement affects me.

Some of that thinking has been helped by recent books (Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, and Senator Ben Sasse’s excellent book Them). Some of it has grown from observations in myself and others, through the ebbs and flows of social media’s outrage spin cycle.

I’ve arrived at a few conclusions about how I need to change my social media use, which I will think through and share over a few posts in the coming weeks. Here is the first:

I am choosing to minimize the amount of rage-baiting in my feeds–both in terms of what I write and what (and whom) I read.

I doubt that term’s original, but I haven’t heard it used much, so I’ll claim it. “Rage-bait,” like “click-bait,” is an attractive invitation to engage–but specifically to engage in order to get angry.

Ben Sasse talks about “nut-picking” in his book Them–the practice of finding an extreme example of bad behavior or ignorance in another ideological tribe and holding it up as an example of that whole group. I think a lot of us are guilty of this, even without realizing it. We post and share stories that incense us, but if we were pressed, I doubt many of us would honestly say that “Wacko #5” is truly representative of the millions of people we would classify in the same ideological tribe.

But man, Wacko #5 gets us those sweet, sweet clicks, doesn’t he…

I want to resist the temptation to rage-bait. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that deserve our outrage; on the contrary, there are realities that rightly require attention, comment, and even strong rebuke. It may not be healthy to fly to the opposite extreme and live in blissful ignorance of real-world concerns and issues, if we want to be good citizens and neighbors.

The problem is, to borrow a phrase from The Incredibles: If everything is outrageous, then nothing is outrageous.

Internet outrage becomes white noise. It’s barely a blip. One outrage sweeps in after another like waves lapping the shore, and we are all awash in it–partly because we choose to accept it and engage in it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to distinguish which issues are worth discussing, and which ones we can just ignore. In other words, we don’t need to go off every time someone is wrong on the Internet. We can just shake our heads, close the browser window, and move on.

(And if there are specific people or sites in our feeds that are light on information or content and heavy on rage-bait, maybe the best response is to click that “unfollow” button. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

So here’s my challenge to you, reader: Take a step back and look at what you post and read on your various social media feeds. Consider the posts and tweets and shares that provoke you to anger the most. How much of it is actual issues-focused interaction…and how much of it is rage-bait?

Does the rage-bait actually make you a better citizen? A better neighbor? A better person? Or does it just make you angry?

And what might you do about that?

That Morning.

(Reposted and expanded from this post way back in 2004.)

It was fall, and school was just getting into full swing. My senior year of college, full of 400-level classes and theater and a girl with whom I was utterly smitten.

We, she and I, were getting lunch. Walking from the school cafeteria counters to the beverage island in the middle of the dining hall. Two small cups of Dr. Pepper, one of chocolate milk, balanced on my plastic tray, trying not to spill.

The nearby television was tuned to MTV, as Kurt Loder (or someone similar) was discussing the death of Aaliyah, the R&B star who died in a plane crash just a few weeks before. She and I chatted about the tributes and the memorial services that dominated the airwaves.

She mentioned that she heard one announcer say that Aaliyah’s death would be our generation’s “where were you when” moment. Our parents would have the Kennedy assasination, our grandparents would have Pearl Harbor, and we just had Aaliyah. I thought that was a bit of an overstatement (no offense intended to the dead), and that it would be pretty sad if the death of a pop singer were “the” landmark news moment of our lives.

She agreed. “I was more impacted when Kurt Cobain died. There were girls at school who cried all day, when they found out.”

I didn’t share that memory; my upbringing was devoutly devoid of pop music. But I understood and agreed, “Yeah, clearly Cobain had more of an impact.”

We sat at the table, watching the large-screen TV in the caff, and the topic shifted to homework and other things.

That was Monday.

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The next morning, my roommate Josh and I were getting ready for the 9:30 class we both had (Children’s Theatre? Scenic Design? Something in the theater building.)

I was perched on my dorm-room desk chair, Mr. Rogers-style, about to pull on my socks, when Josh uncharacteristically turned on the TV (something he never did in the morning). And I saw it. I saw the world change in an instant.

I saw a mighty city in flames. I saw the great tower shudder. I saw the smoke and debris.

Then the image of the second plane vanishing into the side of the second tower. To this day, I don’t know if that was a live video or a replay, but either way, it felt sudden. Jarring.

I sat slack-jawed and half-socked, unable to move. Josh dropped down on his bed, stunned. I heard him gasp. We sat silent, in our small dorm room on the small campus of a small Baptist college in the wide plains of middle America, and we watched in horror as Americans were murdered en masse.

After about ten minutes, I awoke from my shocked state. “I…guess…we need to get to class.” Josh nodded. I finished getting dressed, and we walked together in silence from the dorm to the communications building. On our way, we met our professor speeding toward and then past us, calling over her shoulder, “Meeting in the black box.”

We walked into the small theater, and saw the other students huddled in the seats, in twos and threes, some crying, some consoling, all speaking in hushed tones. We sat. I could think of nothing to say. I was numb. Hollow. As if my spirit had been pulled from me. Mrs. B, the other theatre prof, stood and said a few words. She said that now was a time to pray for our country, and for the families of the victims. We didn’t know how many, but we knew that countless were affected. We didn’t know what would happen next. We were afraid.

Our professor said that class was cancelled, and that we should spend the day praying. We prayed together as a group, and then dispersed. I walked out the glass doors of the building onto the recessed porch, half-stumbling. Some had been wondering aloud if this was the beginning of a war. I wondered the same thing. How many more cities would be attacked? Would there be a retaliation? Would there be a draft?

Most of us ended up in the student “commons” building. There were a few hundred, all huddled around a large-screen TV, watching in silence. Many faces were tear-stained and puffy, drawn with horror.

I stayed there for most of the day, watching the same images over and over. Then the first tower fell. Later, its sister followed.

We could forget about Aaliyah and Kurt Cobain. We had our “moment.” Every one of us now had our story.

So many things we felt. So many things we wanted to say. Now, so many years after, we’re still trying to find the words.

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It’s at this point in the original post that I concluded with a rousing “they didn’t just attack New York or DC–they attacked all of us” speech. And that’s still true. For one glorious, all-too-short moment, the partisan bickering was tabled in favor of bowed heads, clasped hands, and “How are you doing, neighbor?”

And now we’re here–17 years later. We’ve defeated Bin Laden and Saddam, and new terrorists and warlords have risen up to take their places. The War on Terror hasn’t ended; it’s just changed location and shape. Truth be told, it’s been largely forgotten by many Americans–white noise in a distracted culture.

Meanwhile, we’ve had three presidents, all of whom were/are vilified by their opponents and defended fiercely by their allies. I’m not going to argue over who was better or worse (though I do find it interesting how one went from being portrayed as literally the second coming of Hitler to now a beloved and even fondly-remembered statesman in some circles–the benefits of perspective, I guess).

In some ways, it feels like this country is on the verge of fracture, though I wonder sometimes if that’s really just social media and cable news talking. Then again, moderation has fallen out of fashion. On the street corners and in the marketplace, everyone speaks in chyrons.

I don’t have answers, either. I’m still trying to find the words.

If there was a single silver lining on that dark day 17 years ago, perhaps it’s this: For one brief moment, we remembered what we had in common, and we realized that there was something more vital, more fundamental than the petty, partisan bickering that was already so deeply ingrained in the national conversation in the summer of 2001.

One nation, under God, indivisible.

May it always be.