Philip | Andrew | Meade

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The Church and Bioethics: Refusing Treatment

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on May 29, 2016 concerning the bioethical issue of refusing treatment.

Four questions to answer on refusing treatment:
1. Is death a natural or unnatural occurrence?
2. Is there a moral difference between killing and letting die?
3. Should we ever refuse treatment?
4. How should the church respond?

Is death a natural or unnatural occurrence?
When considering the gospel ramifications of dying, we need to be instructed on exactly what death is to us as Christians. Is death a fried or a foe? It is natural or unnatural?

This is an example of where the Bible provides some balance for us. First, Christians must reject the idea that death exists only as a natural part of living. But second, the Bible teaches us that every person will die because of sin. So there is a regularity to death in our lives. Let’s consider the unnatural reality first…

God did not create the inhabitants of the world to die. He created life in the garden of Eden and called it “Good”, and all was perfect. There was no death, only life. This was natural. A world without death.

But then we know what happened. In Geneses 3, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin into the world. God had clearly promised what would happen if they disobeyed – their disobedience would bring about the curse of death. And it did. When Adam and Eve sinned, a couple of things happened.

First, there was immediate spiritual death. Adam and Eve were spiritually separated from God and now in need of his grace for reconciliation. This is why they were hiding from God, in fear of him for the first time because of being separated from him. That spiritual death passes to every person who has ever lived, and we are all born with a need to be reconciled to God. That is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Second, there was physical death. God banished Adam and Even from the garden and from the tree of life, and over the course of time, they physically died. This physical death also spread to all people because of sin. Romans 5:12 says that “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Romans 8:12 describes all of creation “groaning” because of the curse of sin and death, waiting for the day it will be restored to its natural state that God originally designed. And finally, and most importantly, Christ had to become a curse in order to destroy the curse of death and sin. Galatians 3:13 mentions this – that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (cross).

Death is also an enemy. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus Christ will put all enemies under his feet. Let’s just pause there for a minute, friends. Do you hear that promise? That’s a promise of God, and God doesn’t break promises. You hear me? God doesn’t break promises. And he has promised that all enemies will be put under the feet of Jesus. Christ has conquered and will conquer. And then Paul describes the very last enemy that Christ will defeat – death itself. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

So from this biblical perspective, death is anything but natural. But in light of sin and the curse, death has become unavoidable. And this is where we might begin to understand it to be natural in a certain kind of way. The Bible says we will all die. The death rate is 100%. The Bible is remarkably clear and precise about the death rate. God mentions 120 years old as about the oldest anyone will live, and David writes that 70-80 years is a normal length of time for a person to live. Remarkable how accurate that still is to this day.

Is there a moral difference between killing and letting die?
As we discussed last week, it is not morally permissible to take one’s own life. But does that mean we must take advantage of every possible medical treatment in order to preserve our lives? Is there a moral distinction between actively killing and passively allowing our bodies to physically pass away? I would say yes, there is a moral distinction. Here’s a few reasons why.

First, although God does not permit the active killing of another person or our own bodies, he has mercifully and graciously provided an escape from our present suffering that will usher us directly into his presence. That escape is called death. Thus, as we just mentioned, God has limited the number of days a person will live so that those who are in Christ will reap the fruit of their faith. God turns death, which is no doubt an enemy, into a great blessing for those who trust him. And God does that all the time. Takes suffering and turns it into blessings. So, it is better for us to ultimately be with Christ, which Paul says on a few occasions.

Second, although murder and actively killing are prohibited, there are times in Scripture when allowing oneself to die is commended, such as when it describes an allegiance to Jesus Christ above and beyond anything else. Paul says in Acts 21:33 that, “I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Third, there is that beautiful Psalm 116 that has been used at so many funerals. It says, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Death can be a precious thing if you are in Christ.

So, in light of these biblical considerations, we see instances where there are moral distinctions between killing and allowing oneself to die.

Should we ever refuse treatment?
Since we have seen that death is a part of God’s providence over his sinful creation and since we have seen that there is a moral difference between killing and letting die, I would say there are scenarios where refusing treatment is morally permissible.

Whereby actively killing is the decision to choose death, refusing treatment is many times a choice of one kind of life over another kind of life. Let’s take for example a person who has a terminal illness or disease. This person has an option to undergo a long and painful series of treatments that might delay the inevitable for a bit longer, but in the process would keep them from seeing and being with the people they love, and would keep them from enjoying the hours of the days. Should this person refuse the treatment, the point is not that they are actively choosing death, but that they are choosing a shorter life that is free from the debilitating heartache of the harsh treatment.

Modern medical technology has certainly not eliminated death, but has delayed it in ways that keeps people alive in conditions that previous generations would have never thought imaginable. I believe a Christian moral ethic must avoid two things – first, we must avoid the idea that we can terminate life at will whenever it seems burdensome to us, and second, that we must avoid the idea that life should always be extended as long as possible.

Every family who must make these kinds of decisions will not have the luxury of plugging in some data into an ethical formula to receive a printed conclusion of what to do. These decisions take godly wisdom, prayer, and much conversation. But dear friends, be careful not to slip into the mistake of placing worldly values and ideas as the basis of your decision. These are wholly Christ-centered decisions that might look very different from a gospel approach than from a worldly approach.

How can the church help?
First, the church can help with these decisions by preparing one another to die in the confidence of Christ. This means preaching and teaching the gospel as the central purpose of our lives – to transform lives in Jesus. One of the great realities of the apostles and the great martyrs of our faith is that they had an unshakable belief in the gospel of Christ whereby their death, even in agony, was not something to fear but rather something to usher them into the sweet promise and embrace of God.

Second, the church can help by promoting service to Christ and to others, rather than ourselves. The time will come for so many of us when we will have to make critical decisions about the treatment of a family member or loved on. As I mentioned earlier, there are no easy formulas we can rely on. It takes prayerful conversation and wisdom, and sometimes there might not be a right or wrong answer. But when the time comes to begin making those decisions, the teaching of the church should play a vital role. We must be careful to not make decisions for our family members and loved ones based on what we most want to see happen, or for selfish reasons. In other words, if the time is right for a person to go be with the Lord, but we are not ready to have them depart us, we must think of others first.

Third, the church can help by carrying one another’s burdens. This means thinking of our church family in terms of people over programs. You don’t program burden carrying. We don’t set up a 6 week class or a summer event in order to suffer with one another. Bearing one another’s burdens takes an attitude of sacrifice and intentionality, to model the life of our Lord Jesus, and to let one another into our lives. Bearing one another’s burdens means to live as the church in such a way that we know we are never alone, not only do we have Christ has our great high priest, but we have one another. We have one another.

Fourth, the church can remember the power of prayer. Prayer changes hearts and lives. Prayer matters.

The Church and Bioethics: Suicide and Euthanasia

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on May 22, 2016 concerning the bioethical issue of suicide and euthanasia.

Technology has provided many cures to a variety of illnesses and has increased life expectancy considerably over the years. But of course, technology has not and never will cure death itself. We all will die some day. Ironically, the same technology that has extended our life expectancy has not necessarily decreased our anxiety and fear of death. On the contrary, in some ways our fears have increased. We are now all very familiar with how modern medical advancement can preserve and maintain life, but often does so in a painful, miserable, unwanted existence. These concerns has led to an increased public desire to “die with dignity”, which is sometimes used as a synonym for “assisted suicide.” In light of this, a wide variety of bioethical public policy questions are in front of us to determine the obligation we have as a society to sustain life and the limits we have on how to end it. But as we mentioned in our first sermon in this series, we are not discussing public policy concerns so much as we are helping each other think personally through these issues. Our call then is to consider how our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ impacts our understanding of PAS and our decisions to either accept or refuse medical treatment.

This sermons will attempt to answer four questions:
Is Suicide Morally Wrong?
Does Suicide Automatically Send A Person To Hell?
What about Physician Assisted Suicide?
How should the church respond?

Is suicide morally wrong?
Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have almost universally held that suicide in general is a sin against God who is the giver of life. Even without backing up such a claim with specific biblical texts, there seems to be an intuition we have as Christians that says suicide is morally wrong. But what specifically can we point to in order to show that suicide is not pleasing to God?
Some will dismiss the legitimacy of suicide by suggesting it “usurps God’s authority and sovereignty.” Since God is the one who decides when we die, we should not take that into our own hands. But this is shortsighted, since we have already discussed during our sermon on Assisted Reproduction, where a similar argument is made, that absolutely nothing can usurp the sovereignty of God. His desires are incapable of being thwarted by human beings.

And yet there is an important aspect of being reminded that our power is incredibly limited against the sovereign power of God who alone is able to give life and take it away. To put it simply, God is God and we are not.

Let’s consider two biblical truths that will help us.
First, there is great power in the simple instruction by God in the 10 Commandments that says, “You shall not kill.” The force of that command, as is demonstrated throughout Scripture, is that God highly values life and has put an absolute prohibition on taking human life, which necessarily means a person taking his own life, since there is no qualification on the command to allow such an exemption. You may think, “but aren’t there instances in Scripture where taking a human life is permitted or even commanded by God?” Yes, so let’s think about those for a moment.

Author David VanDrunen lists three scenarios where God permits the taking of a human life in the Bible. 1. Capital punishment. 2. Waging a just war. 3. Self-defense.
In an ironic way, the one thing that unites all three of these scenarios is the 6th Commandment itself to not kill! Capital Punishment, Waging a just war, and self-defense are all permitted specifically to protect human life! In other words, God permits killing in these instances precisely because of the horrors of killing. Which means that a violation to God’s clear command to not kill is allowed when the 6th commandment itself is at stake.

Now, does suicide fall into that category? Is suicide a permissible violation of the 6th commandment to not kill because it defends and preserves human life? No it does not. Suicide only destroys lives.

Second, we can consider the people of the bible who committed suicide and see how their actions were perceived by God. At least 5 people committed suicide in the Bible – Abimilech, Saul, Ahithophel, Zimri, and Judas Iscariot. In every instance, Scripture records their act as that of wickedness against God. But perhaps even more compelling are the stories of those men in the Bible who contemplated or were drawn to the idea of taking their own life. Job. Elijah. Even Paul. Here we have men whose suffering we can only begin to understand, and who would have much preferred to be in the presence of the Lord away from their grief. And yet Scripture lifts them up as an example of the goodness of Christ because they remained faithful to him and his service. In Paul’s case, he says that “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9)

Does suicide automatically send someone a person to hell?
No, it does not. All sin brings about death. Every sin we have ever committed – from the telling of a lie to our various acts of idolatry to our selfishness to our jealousy – all involve our active participation in that which is the very cause of death. Let’s be reminded that death exists because of idolatry in the garden of Eden, and from that one sin, death has followed every generation of humans who have ever lived. Suicide is a sin that brings about immediate death, but make no mistake, all sin is a killer.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ gives life. And no single act of sin, including the taking of one’s own life, can overcome the power of the cross. For that person who had saving faith in the Lord Jesus and who subsequently experienced a moment of deep despair, of terrible suffering, of incredibly heartbreak, of devastating depression, of mental illness, or of selfish cowardice that led them to an act of suicide, they awoke in the loving embrace of Jesus Christ where they will be forevermore, because nothing can separate his children from the power of the gospel, nothing can pluck them out of his hand, nothing can overcome the blood of Jesus. Grace is indeed greater than all of our sin, every single one. So dear brother or sister, shame and guilt you might feel for past sins must lead you to only one place this morning – lead you to the foot of the cross where Jesus is ready to forgive and save forevermore.

What about physician assisted suicide?
Physician assisted suicide is, of course, the assisting of a patient in the termination of their life. This is sometimes used synonymously with euthanasia, but the two are not exactly the same. Euthanasia, for starters, might be done by someone other than a medical professional, such a a close friend or family member, and second, there is something called involuntary euthanasia where the patient does not give consent for their life to be taken. This kind of assisted suicide is almost universally condemned since the one giving assistance is taking the patients life in their own hands without their agreement.

The core biblical issues relating to PAS do not change simply because a doctor is now the one administering the death. If a biblical case is made against suicide from the hands of the individual, that same case certainly holds true from the hands of a doctor. But this is where reality makes it very difficult, when a person is suffering and in pain and living with every breath in agony. We as Christians must respond with mercy to these situations, as we may very well find ourselves in their shoes.

One thing to remember is that if the person is not a believer, than assisting them in suicide does not relief their suffering. It increases it. Here is where we will test just how deep our trust and belief in biblical truth really goes, specifically in our believe of the doctrine of hell.

If the person is a Christian, then an act of assisted suicide says to them that there is no comfort and no answer to their suffering and to their despair – precisely opposite of the entire gospel message.

I said I wasn’t going to get into public policy issues, and I’m not, but two recently articles caught my attention. Just over the last few months, Canada has enacted legislation to legalize PAS in certain conditions, seeing this as an appropriate move toward human dignity. Canada would join a few US states, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg as those who legally allow assisted suicide. Published at the exact same time as this news concerning Canada is an article by Dr. Theo de Boer, a professor of health care ethics in the Netherlands, who argued for the benefits of PAS there. Now, several years later, he has written another article. Listen to what he says, “I told delegations from abroad that the Dutch solution was robust and humane. As recently as in 2011 I assured a European ecumenical audience that the Dutch system was a model worth considering. But that conclusion has become harder and harder for me to support. For no apparent reason, beginning in 2007, the numbers of assisted dying cases started going up by 15 percent each year. In 2014 the number of cases stood at 5,306, nearly three times the 2002 figure. Neither the Netherlands nor Belgium has made a serious attempt to address the rising incidents of assisted dying and the shift from seeing assisted dying as a last resort to seeing it as a normal death. It appears that once legalization of assisted dying has occurred, critical reflection is difficult…If there’s even one case of assisted dying for which there was a less drastic alternative, then that is one case too many.” I leave that with you.

How should the church respond?
1. We should respond with compassion to those who are struggling with this issue and for those who have had loved ones take their own lives.
2. We should remember that we are not autonomous people who make decisions based on what is best solely for us. That is the advice we hear a lot, isn’t it? “You will have to do what’s best for you.” We hear this when it comes to marriage advice all the time. You know, you just have to do what’s best for you. Hey, great advice, unless you believe a word of the Bible! Unless you understand the sacrifices of the gospel! Not once did Jesus say, “do what’s best for you.” Then we begin to remember that we follow the example of Christ, who always and only put others before himself, who came to serve and not be served, who said, “love God and love your neighbor.” The decisions we make, especially the decision to take a life, will have a lifetime of consequences on so many others who are left with the memories. Our lives are not our own. We belong wholly to God, who has purchased us. We do not have the freedom to do with them as we please.
3. We should respond with the gospel and the good news of a Savior who understands what it means to suffer. A righteous man who suffered in the most horrific of ways. Jesus understands. He understands. And he is available to save today. Are you suffering because of a loved one who is no longer with us? Jesus understands. Are you suffering with depression and pain and a desire to leave it all behind? Jesus understands.

The great Isaac Watts moves us with these words:

Touched with a sympathy within,
he knows our feeble frame;
he knows what sore temptations mean
for he has felt the same.
He in the days of feeble flesh
poured out his cries and tears;
and, in his measure, feels afresh
what every member bears.
Then let our humble faith address
his mercy and his power:
we shall obtain delivering grace
in every needful hour.

The Church and Bioethics: Gender Identity and Transgenderism

Below is a brief summary of a sermon I preached on May 15, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning gender identity and transgenderism.

This sermon will attempt to graciously and biblically answer four questions concerning gender identity:

1. What is gender identity and transgenderism?
2. What does science say about gender identity?
3. What does the gospel say about gender identity?
4. How should the church respond?

What is gender identity and transgenderism?
This is an essential place to begin because before we can properly address a concern, we must first understand the concern. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense or connection of gender. A person’s gender identity – their inward feeling of their gender – might be the same or different as their birth sex. A transgender person, then, is a person who identifies with a different gender than what is on their birth certificate. So, a person who was biologically born a male and was listed as such on their birth certificate might come to identify their gender as female later in life and live out that female identity instead of a male identity.

Now it is important to make some clarifications. Being a transgendered person is not the same as being a transvestite. A transvestite is a person, usually a male, who finds pleasure in dressing up as a female. The man does not wish to change genders, but enjoys dressing up as a fetish. In contrast, a transgendered person understands themselves to be different and desires to be different than their biological sex. Much of the social media memes and other unhelpful characterizations of this issue often come across as transvestitism, which is not a fair assessment of what the Obama administration is trying to protect. The issues related to the letter issued by the Department of Justice and Education are to protect transgendered people. Now obviously, this new policy opens the door wide open for potential abuse by those who are not actually transgendered and would be seeking  to experience an inappropriate erotic or sexual encounter. But for President Obama, civil rights protection for transgendered people outweighs the potential for abuse of the policy.

Transgenderism is also not sexual orientation. A transgendered person might identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and so forth. So although we typically think of gender identity and transgendered people through a lens of sexuality, they are two different, but obviously closely connected things.

This first question is important because we need to have Christian compassion for those who are genuinely struggling and suffering through gender dysphoria. It might be easy for us to roll our eyes and turn our face away in disgust at the thought of a male fulfilling a sexual impulse by wearing make-up and a dress to walk into a women’s restroom. But if we begin to consider how a person might be confused, embarrassed, bullied, and emotionally scarred through their gender dysphoria, then our Christian mandate is to show a gracious spirit of love and concern, even as we push back against policies that are harmful, especially to our children.

What does science say about gender identity?
Sometimes the phrase used to describe the feeling of a transgendered person is that they are a “female trapped in a mans’ body” or vice versa. What does science say about this phenomenon? Is it biological? Or is it psychological? Or is it both? First, let me say that the Obama administration doesn’t really seem to care. They understand a trangendered person to identify their gender through an ongoing process of changing ideas that may weave in and out of various genders, including male, female, a “third gender”, “gender fluid (which means you are both), etc. But to help clarify for our purposes, is there an internal biological factor that makes this unavoidable for some people?

The truth is we just don’t know. We will hear scientific language used to establish the internal biological reality of transgendered people, such as XY Chromosomes and the chemistry of the brain, but this is still work that exists in the land of the unknown. JM Bailey, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, has an article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website where he simply concludes that, “Currently the predominant cultural understanding of male-to-female transsexualism is that all male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals are, essentially, women trapped in men’s bodies. This understanding has little scientific basis, however, and is inconsistent with clinical observations…. The persistence of the predominant cultural understanding, while explicable, is damaging to science and to many transsexuals.” So, on the one hand, I think we have to avoid the extreme of thinking transgendered people are such because of biological science alone.

On the other hand, we should avoid the extreme of insisting that trangendered people are just perverts who want to live out an erotic desire. We don’t yet know the answer to the nature vs. nurture question. It may very well be that there is a biological component to their dysphoria. So, we just really don’t know what is happening. Which is another reason why making such a strong move as Obama has done is problematic. North Carolina Governor Pat Mcrory I think summarized this concept very well. He said the “federal government is searching for a solution to a problem that has yet to be defined.”

Let me mention one last thing concerning science. For Christians, we want to know the full story. We want to know the causes. We want to know all we can so we can better relate and engage. But from a biblical truth standpoint, nothing changes. Whether transgendered persons are a product of biology or by nurture or a combination of both, the truth of God’s word and His design still stands. Therefore…

What does the gospel say about gender identity?
If science doesn’t have much to say at this point on this issue, the gospel can speak all day. Let me mention a couple of things.

1. The gospel teaches that the male/female binary is a purposeful picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5).

2. The gospel teaches us that God is both Creator and King, ruling over our lives for His glory and our good. Humanity does not determine or assign gender to ourselves, that is the act of God alone. When men and women desire to create for themselves their own reality and their own direction and their own desires, we make ourselves false gods, which is always sin against the one King.

3. The gospel teaches us that suffering is an important part of the Christian’s life. I would never deny that those who genuinely feel an internal conflict between their birth gender and their perceived gender are tormented by that reality. But I would deny that alleviating that suffering by changing genders is a solution. Only the gospel can help here. For the gospel places us in Christ and in his sufferings, where we begin – over a long life journey – to find contentment and even joy in our sufferings. The very thing transgendered people desire by changing genders is the very thing they will miss. But they can find it by learning about the sufferings of Christ.

4. The gospel teaches that forgiveness and reconciliation with God is available through Jesus Christ. There is a story of a person who was born a man, switched genders, had sex reassignment surgery, and felt even more despair. On top of all of this, the person had a daughter who only knew them as “mom.” After coming under conviction, this person approached a pastor and asked, “is there any hope for someone like me who has made such a mess of things?” The answer is yes. There is always hope in Jesus Christ.

How should the church respond?
1. By being quick to repent and slow to judge. Whenever we are confronted with a unbiblical lifestyle or cultural shift that we find morally reprehensible, the church should first remember that we are a people redeemed from our own state of filth and wretchedness. Before we should begin discussing the speck in another’s eye, lets make certain we are removing the log in our own.

2. Have conversations. Both with individuals and in a corporate setting. When people who are struggling with issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity see that the church is quick to repent and slow to judge, it will open doors to real, meaningful conversations about life and faith. Would you be able to have such a conversation with a transgenered person without turning away from the individual in scorn?

3. Never, ever deny truth. If we are quick to repent, slow to judge, and then engage in conversation, we must never compromise the word of God. In other words, we must speak with grace and with conviction. And frankly, people appreciate conviction. People are not repulsed by conviction, but are deeply repulsed by condemnation. And there is no room for condemnation in the church of Jesus Christ. There is, however, plenty of room for gracious conversation marked by Godly conviction. The former will turn people away from the cross, the latter will draw them near.

4. Pray for God’s mercy on our country and our schools. We might consider America the greatest country on earth, and I believe she is, but if God was willing to send the nation Israel into exile for their idolatry, he will not hesitate to do the same to the USA. The political process involves the people of the United States making their voice known to their representatives and members of congress. We need Christians speaking up. We need Christians running for office. So do that. In love, do that.

5. Parents will have to determine the line of the Rubicon. The idiomatic expression “crossing the Rubicon” means the point of no return. Although I do not believe parents should panic and pull their children from public schools, I do believe parents should establish the point of no return. Here is why that’s important. If you never set that bar, then you will always think the next difficult issue for public education is just one more thing and not enough to take action. But if you know in advance that this particular line is where your family can no longer allow your children to attend public schools, then you will be prepared when the line is crossed to pursue other options. I know that is challenging. This is an issue that I think the church will need to be forward thinking on, and begin brainstorming now on we can help parents who are church members discover and fund other options if that time should come. *After preaching this sermon, two gracious church members also suggested the desperate need for Christians to plug into public education in a variety of ways, including holding positions of influence, in order to make a difference in the spiritual direction of our schools. I couldn’t agree more.

The Church and Bioethics: Abortion and Stem Cell Research

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on May 1, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning abortion, stem cell research, and bioethics.

My position will be that babies in the womb, including the embryonic and fetal stages, are image bearers of God whose lives are to be protected and nurtured.

Four questions to answer addressing the topic of abortion and stem cell research:
1. Is there a difference between human life and human personhood?
2. What about Exodus 21?
3. Why is stem cell research a bioethical issue?
4. How does the gospel make a difference?

Is there a difference between human life and human personhood?
Most recent discussions that have a direct impact on public policy concerning abortion have centered around the question of what constitutes a human person. Why has the discussion of personhood become so important? Well, today most scientists, philosophers, educators, doctors, and theologians will agree that a human embryo, even from the first moment of fertilization, is a human life. This is difficult to refute. It is obviously alive, it possesses human DNA, and unless it is interfered with, will naturally develop through the various human life stages of maturity and development. But the Western world is now debating not so much if an embryo is a human life, but if all human life should be granted full human rights and thus equally protected.

Many are debating today that not all human lives are actually human persons, and that only persons are able to possess the kind of human rights that will protect them from harm. This, of course, has a tremendous impact on how people are thinking about abortion. If a human life is not yet a person and therefore does not have full human rights, such as the right to life, then abortion is not murder. But is this right? How does the Bible guide us in this area?

Although we have used the language of personhood to describe deep theological truths – such as the Trinity and the person of Christ – the Bible does not speak directly to the issue of if there is a distinction between human life and human personhood. Instead, the Bible speaks on these things in terms of the image of God and the impact of being created in that image. Let’s look at two examples:

Psalm 51 is a beautiful prayer by David seeking forgiveness for his multitude of sins.
First, notice that David refers to his time in the womb as “me.” There is a continuity in David’s inspired writing of himself with whatever stage of development he was in the womb.

Second, and even more powerfully, is that David identifies himself as a sinner, even while in the womb. This is not merely the mother’s sin, for the entire Psalm is about David’s sin and his pleas for forgiveness. This teaching lines up perfectly with Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…”
David is teaching us in Psalm 51 that his sinful condition is not just a result of his own personal actions, but because of his association with Adam. (now let’s pause here and be reminded of a beautiful gospel truth. It is through our association with the first Adam, the one from Genesis 1-3, that we are by nature sinners and children of wrath. But it is through our association with the second Adam, that is Jesus Christ, that we take on his righteous nature and become a child of God.) But the point here is that since David identifies himself as a sinner in his embryonic state, then even as a human life in the womb, he carried with him moral accountability, that is to say, the need to be forgiven of sin. This necessarily means that even before David was born, he was an image-bearing human person.

Psalm 139 is another example. Here the continuity of David with his “inward parts” is consistent with Psalm 51. But even more striking is the degree of care that God shows to this baby inside the womb. Matthew 6:26-30 teaches us that God does not show the same level of value and personal care for all of his creation. Humans who bear his image are his top priority. And this Psalm most beautifully demonstrates how God sees the life in the womb as a full image-bearing human person.

We can also turn our attention to Luke 1 and the announcement by Gabriel that Mary would conceive and bear a son. Jesus, as we know, is the ultimate image-bearer of God who perfectly identifies with humans and yet is without sin. But notice that Jesus does not just appear in his adult human form. He identifies, from first to last, with the full range of image-bearing human persons, which meant he came in the first stage of maturity and development – a life in the womb. In this way, Jesus completely lived for us, completely died for us, and completely saves us.

From these three examples, we can say that the Bible does not specifically target the language of personhood, but highlights the image-bearing nature of humanity from inside the womb, which means from a biblical perspective, there is no difference between a human life and a human person. From fertilization onward, we are image bearers of God and have a right to life.

What about Exodus 21?
Pro-choice advocates have historically used Exodus 21:22 as a pivotal text to demonstrate how the Bible views life in the womb as less than a human person. Let’s read the verse and see if that claim holds up. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Now, you are probably wondering why pro-choice folks look to this text to support their position when in fact it appears to harm their position. Well, that’s right. This is actually a verse that once again shows the image-bearing nature of life in the womb. Look at it closely. The Bible is speaking about harm to either the children or the mother.

So why do pro-choice folks latch on to this? Because a few translations, including the New Revised Standard Version and the 1977 New American Standard Bible, translate it differently: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide.” (Emphasis mine)

In this translation, the text indicates the “no further injury” is to the mother alone, seemingly making the death of the baby in the womb a trivial matter, compensated by a fine.

Now, in 1995 the NASB updated the text of their translation in order to use the most up to day scholarship. Their updated text says something very different from the 1977 translation. It says, “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.”

So which translation is correct? The language evidence in this one verse coupled with the entirety of the Bible’s teaching on this topic shows that the updated version, and thus the translation of almost every modern translation (and most older translations, such as the KJV) is correct – the translation should be “her children come out” instead of “has a miscarriage.” This shows how life in the womb was considered just that – an image-bearing human person, and penalties would be paid in relation to the harm, or lack thereof, that came to the baby.

Why is stem-cell research a bioethical issue?
Stem cell research receives a significant amount of attention because of the potential to use the cells in ways that could produce better treatments for disease and illnesses. Because of that, many Christians struggle with an additional layer of ethical decision making – a case of which is the greater good, to preserve the life of a human embryo or to destroy that life in hopes of helping humans who are more fully matured and developed.

Stem cells are distinct from other types of cells because they are not fully differentiated. That just means that stem cells are able to develop into a variety of other cell types, leaving the possible scientific study on them open to many possibilities. The most important and valuable of stem cells are called “pluripotent” cells because they are are undifferentiated. Multipotent are the next valuable, and then unipotent are the least valuable to scientists. The ethical tension comes in the fact that human embryos, that is to say our children, are a rich source of pluripotent cells, the kind that are most valuable.

It is very difficult for Christians, even in light of all the evidence we have already discussed as the image-bearing nature of human life in all of its stages, to argue against stem cell research because all of us know loved ones and friends who could potentially benefit from this kind of scientific progress. It is easy to be seen as unloving to hold a position against stem cell research. Thus, this is another position where Christians will need to cultivate Christian courage. If human embryos do indeed bear the image of God in their personhood, then harming or killing them for the profit of another, even another who is more fully developed, is morally wrong and against all that we believe in Christ. Some of the most heinous periods in world history have come through brilliant arguments for the harming of those who are weaker, smaller, or supposedly dispensable for the perceived greater good of others.

But not all is lost here. Embryos are not the only source of stem cells and technology is providing additional sources for scientific study. Umbilical cord blood is one example of a plentiful source of stem cells, and even more promising is that scientists have started working on ways to extract stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryo itself, which of course would remove the difficult ethical considerations altogether.

How does the gospel make a difference?
First, the gospel reminds us of sacrifice and service, the vision statement of all Christians. In setting the ultimate example, Christ willingly left that which was comfortable, that which was majestic and perfect, that which was rightfully his, and took on a world of sacrifice and inconvenience. In 2014, an estimated 977,000 abortions took place in the US alone. Of those 977,000, a significant portion, upwards of 3/4 of women said they did not want a baby because it would interfere with their life. And listen, they are right about that. Babies get in the way. They can be loud and never sleep and are so demanding and inconvenient. They are expensive and seem to be so darn ungrateful. But do you remember what we said on day one of this sermon series? We said that bioethical issues involve a comprehensive view of who we are as Christians and must never be reduced to just the issue at hand. This is a perfect example. Apart from our Christ-centered worldview where the gospel instructs us on what service and sacrifice looks like, an annoying, interfering baby would be, well, just that. An annoyance. And who wants that? But in Christ, we find our joy through sacrifice. Our joy through service. Our joy in putting others before ourselves.

Second, the gospel reminds us of community and the church. After all, it was for the church that Christ died. Now listen, the church isn’t perfect. Far from it. But we love each other, sometimes in awkward ways, but we do. And we love babies. I can promise you that you will find a place of refuge and advice and help and support from the people of Graefenburg Baptist Church. That won’t make things easy for you. That won’t mean you will gets lots of sleep. But you will get help when you ask, you will be invited into community with us, and we will rally around you.

Third, the gospel reminds us of forgiveness. There is no condemnation for those of you who are in Christ Jesus. Abortion is one of those topics that when preached, seems crystal clear. But when there is a baby inside of your body that will disrupt everything, including perhaps your reputation, things become muddy very quickly. I understand that. Brother and sister, if you have a history that includes abortion and you have sought the Lord Jesus in forgiveness, then he does not condemn you and your guilt is removed. And if the Lord Jesus does not condemn you, then neither will Graefenburg Baptist Church.

But if you have not yet asked Christ to forgive you, then come to him today. He is gentle and ready to forgive. He will not turn you away.

 

 

The Church and Bioethics: Assisted Reproduction

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on April 24, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning assisted reproduction and bioethics.

Four questions to answer addressing the topic of assisted reproduction:
1. Does assisted reproduction usurp (infringe upon) the sovereignty of God?
2. What is an embryo and how should Christians think about them?
3. What is the relationship between embryos and assisted reproduction?
4. Are there other ethical concerns?

Does assisted reproduction usurp the sovereignty of God?
Although a common objection from evangelicals to assisted reproduction is that the practice “usurps” the sovereignty of God, the answer to this first question is an unequivocal “no.” Human beings, despite our seemingly sophisticated technological advances, are not capable of disrupting or infringing upon the eternal purposes of a providential God. Therefore, Graefenburg Baptist Church will always view every baby and every child as a deeply loving and abundantly good gift from God. Regardless of how that child came into this world, whether it was through natural sexual relations or assisted reproduction or a single mother or single father who had a baby out of wedlock, every child is a beautiful gift of a sovereign God, and every child has come from God alone.

But we have to be careful. We can’t think that since God’s sovereignty is absolute and since every child is always a great gift that our actions and decisions concerning assisted reproduction do not matter. Remember, God’s sovereignty does not negate human responsibility, and we will be held responsible for our choices. So, we should not condemn assisted reproduction on the grounds that it usurps the sovereignty of God, but we should also avoid accepting every means of ART (assisted reproductive technology) as morally and ethically suitable for Christians.

What is an embryo and how should Christians thing about them?
An embryo is formed by the coming together of an egg from a female and a sperm from a male in a process called fertilization (sometimes called conception). When conception occurs, the egg and the sperm individually cease to be, and there is a new, distinct living human organism, sometimes referred to as a zygote. This new life is so amazing that it immediately closes itself off from any additional outside disruption. No other sperm can get in, no other parts are necessary for this human life to grow. This new living organism, so long as it is nurtured and fed and given time to develop, will very soon be crying and screaming and kicking in the arms of a doctor and then the arms of a parent.

Listen to how Robert George and Patrick Lee describe this process as they write for the US National Library of Medicine: “…from the zygote stage onward, the human embryo has within it all of the internal information needed—including chiefly its genetic and epigenetic constitution—and the active disposition to develop itself to the mature stage of a human organism. As long as the embryo is reasonably healthy and is not denied or deprived of a suitable environment and adequate nutrition, it will actively develop itself along the species-specific trajectory of development. This means that the embryo has the same nature—in other words, it is the same kind of entity—from fertilization onward; there is only a difference in degree of maturation, not in kind, between any of the stages from embryo, to fetus, infant and so on.”

In other words, Christians should consider embryos to be children. We should consider these to be our babies. All an embryo needs is time for more maturity and nourishment. But that is true for a newborn baby. That baby needs more time to mature, needs nourishment, needs somewhere safe to sleep. The exact same thing is true for the human embryo.

What is the relationship between embryos and assisted reproduction?
Let me address the two most common forms of ART. First is artificial insemination. Through this process a man’s sperm are injected into a woman at the right time and in the right place to help increase the probability of pregnancy. Through this means of assisted reproduction, fertilization occurs in a natural way and embryos are in no greater danger than if the couple would have engaged in normal sexual contact. For this reason, the relationship between embryos and artificial insemination does not create additional risk factors a couple would need to worry about.

The second most common type of assisted reproduction is In Vitro Fertilization. Through this process, Eggs are harvested from a woman, sperm is taken from the man, and they are brought together outside the womb. After fertilization occurs outside the womb, the embryos are implanted, or transferred, inside the womb. This process has several ethical concerns associated with embryos that artificial insemination does not.

First, both because IVF is incredibly expensive and because the success rate is very low, usually a much larger number of eggs are harvested for fertilization than are expected to be used.  After fertilization occurs outside the womb, only a couple, 2 to 4 typically, will be implanted into the womb. What is left is a very serious moral and ethical dilemma. What happens to the remaining embryos that were not placed in the woman? Sometimes they are frozen for potential use at a later date. Sometimes, and we have to recognize the way the secular world uses this language, they are “discarded.” Which simply means they are killed. There are some other options available as well, that I will mention below.

A second ethical concern for the embryos with IVF is the potential of needing to abort one or more of the embryos. This is sometimes referred to as “selective abortion.” Again, since there is such a low success rate and because of the high costs involved per transfer, the doctors might implant several embryos into the womb with the hope that one will continue to develop and mature. This often leads to multiple pregnancies and leaves the parent with a deeply difficult moral decision as to whether or not they should selectively abort one of the babies in order to put less health risk on the mother and on the other children. Thankfully, this trend of multiple embryo transfers is slowly starting to decrease. In some parts of Europe, there is a mandatory single embryo transfer, which is preferred from a Christian ethical viewpoint. Dr. Dorrette Noorahsen writing for Fertility Specialists says, “Due to the success of vitrification, we no longer need to transfer a higher number of embryos at the fresh ET, but are comfortable transferring fewer, and if the woman is not pregnant we can do a FET at a later point in time. The number of higher order multiples in the United States have decreased in the last decade due to fertility centers transferring fewer embryos. Transferring fewer embryos has not decreased pregnancy success rates in the last decade. Actually, IVF success rates have improved in the last decade due to improved technology.”

A third ethical problem for IVF is the reality of how many children have been killed in order to make the technology possible. It would be one thing if these killings had stopped now that we have the technology in place, but of course the industry desires to make the procedure more effective and safer for all parties. However, the means by which they continue to improve on IVF technology is in part the continuing destruction of embryos.

Are there other ethical concerns?
The parental connection when a third party is involved is an additional ethical concern. Third parties are sometimes necessary during assisted reproduction because either the female or the male is not able to conceive, so a third party egg or sperm is necessary. This creates a situation where there is a biological link to the child outside the husband and wife.

Now, most parents who are actually raising the child will have no problem clearly identifying themselves as the true parents, and rightly so. But what about the perspective of the child? There is no way to know how they might respond to the news of a third person having biological responsibilities for their birth. Of course, one option is to keep the information away from the child. But then that creates a situation where there are family secrets, and puts friends and family in an uncomfortable and often unfair situation of knowing something and keeping it quiet. Family secrets hardly ever turn out well.

Most children will want to know about their biological makeup and couples who use a third party must prepare for these kinds of ethical possibilities.

Another concern for third party involvement is the potential emotional connection between the third party and the child, a truth that is demonstrated in Scripture itself, such as the jealousy that develops with Sarah and Hagar.

Closing Thoughts
I believe one thing is absolutely necessary before any Christian couple should begin the process of assisted reproduction. Not surprisingly, it has to do with the gospel. Christian couples should seek contentment in Christ before any decisions are made or considered. This is not to say that contentment means a couple should not pursue a route to help with pregnancy. But rather, before a route is taken, they should seek contentment in Christ with their condition. The reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has not changed the brokenness and suffering of something so difficult as infertility, but it has radically changed a Christian’s perspective on that suffering.

Embryo adoption is a beautiful way for couples to both pursue parenthood in a God-honoring way while also coming alongside children who may be otherwise killed through the embryo discarding process. We would be happy to discuss embryo adoption with you and pray for your decision making.

The Church and Bioethics: Birth Control

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on April 17, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning birth control and bioethics. The intent of these sermons is not to tell people what bioethical decisions they should make, but to help us think biblically and think well about the issues at stake. 

Four questions to answer concerning the Church and birth control:
1. Is the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 a universal, ongoing command that requires all Christians to bear children?
2. What are the gospel implications of the Creation Mandate?
3. How does having dominion over the earth apply to birth control?
4. What are some warnings?

Is the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 a universal, ongoing command that requires all Christians to bear children? We argued that the answer to that question is “no.” If we believe the mandate of Genesis 1:28 to multiply and fill the earth (that is repeated in 9:1, 35:11, etc), is still binding for all individual Christians today, then that would have obvious implications on how we would think about birth control, especially for couples who have decided never to have children. But we do not hold that position. The New Testament and the coming of Jesus Christ has a significant impact on our understanding of procreation. Jesus himself was childless, and yet remained the perfect fulfillment of the Law. Jesus has positive things to say about those who purposefully choose to be a eunuch. Paul endorses singleness, and thus childlessness, as a positive status for those who are able. Barrenness is never viewed as a curse in the New Testament for married couples, so those who struggle with infertility today should have no reason to think they are breaking a command of the Lord that says every Christian should bear children.

What are the gospel implications of the Creation Mandate? We should not assume the above position means the Creation Mandate is no longer a critical part of Christian practice today. On the contrary, there are several significant gospel implications:
1. God delights in children because children are image bearers who reflect the radiant glory of God. God desires Christ-honoring image bearers to fill his earth, not dishonoring idol worshipers. Thus, when Christian parents bear children and raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord, God is greatly glorified by this act. This powerful means of bringing glory to God and good to us should be a factor when considering birth control and long term decision making for having children.

2. God used the Creation Mandate of Genesis 1:28 to fulfill his promise of the Seed of the Woman crushing the Seed of the Serpent. This is one reason why barrenness in the Old Testament was such a curse, and why God reminds Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel in their barrenness that He was the God of salvation and the God of the means of salvation, namely through the successful lineage up to Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes in the flesh, this critical application of the Creation Mandate came to a close, for the eternal purposes of God were now revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. The Seed of the Serpent has been crushed by the new and better Adam.

3. The New Testament points us to another mandate that is, in fact, binding on all Christians. We call it the Great Commission. This also involved filling and multiplying the earth – with disciples of Jesus.

How does having dominion over the earth apply to birth control? Although we may at times wonder if technology, in all its forms, is helpful or harmful, we can nevertheless appreciate the giftedness God has given to doctors, engineers, scientists, and others who have used the earth’s resources for the betterment of humanity. That is a clear application of having dominion and subduing the earth. Modern medicine that is able to fight back against disease and death is a benefit to all humans and is consistent with the mandate of Genesis 1:28. The same principle is true for birth control, insofar as it falls within the category of subduing and having dominion. That does not mean that all forms of birth control, or all applications of birth control, are equally valid or morally acceptable, but it does mean that Christians should be careful to not dismiss the technology out right.

Finally, what are some warnings? We conclude from the above comments that birth control does not explicitly contradict the Creation Mandate, nor is it inherently contradictory to God’s design and commands for his children. There are moral and ethical considerations where a married couple would be wise to hold off on childbearing for a period of time, or even indefinitely, and birth control would make these wise and morally correct choices a possibility. In that way, artificial contraception can be used for the glory of God.

But we must be careful. There are moral and ethical considerations where a married couple would be acting against the character and commands of God by using birth control. A few examples are:

Greed. If a primary catalyst for preventing children is so we can fill up our barn houses with wealth, then we need to repent.  The riches of children far outweigh the riches of a bank account.

Selfishness. God desires his children to be concerned with others, to be servants to others, and to lay down our lives for others. Welcome to the definition of parenthood! Children are a beautiful way God cultivates the fruit of righteousness in husbands and wives. If our motivation for keeping children out of our lives is so we can fulfill selfish ambitions apart from being distracted by others, then we are on dangerous ground.

Fear. Will I be a good parent? What if I make the mistakes my parents made? Will we have enough money? There may very well be times when it is appropriate to wait and use birth control while you build character for godly parenting. There may very well be times when a significant debt, such as large tuition payments, need to be covered before you can have children. There are many situations where wisdom and stewardship would direct couples to wait before having children, or even decide to not have children at all. But, we will never be fully prepared in our character for parenting. Our bank account will never be rich enough. The brutal aspect of fear is that it is used by the evil one to immobilize us, to keep us stationary, to prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God’s design. Parenting, like every other part of Christian living, depends on the power of Christ in us. And the power of Christ in us develops character, such as courage, to do what scares us most for the glory of God.

In conclusion, we learn that God does not command or require every Christian to bear children, that birth control has legitimate, Christ-honoring uses for married couples who are thinking biblically, wisely, and with good Christian stewardship about children, and that birth control can become self-exalting if we use it for inappropriate reasons. A question every married couple should ask themselves is, “Why do we not want children?” and then how will the answer to that question impact our ability to serve and glorify God? That question, I think, will take us far.

The Church and Bioethics: An Ethical and Theological Foundation

Below is a brief summary of the introductory sermon I preached on April 10, 2016 for a series called “The Church and Bioethics.”

Bioethics is the study of the typically controversial ethical issues emerging from new situations and possibilities brought about by advances in biology and medicine.

A few presuppositions for this sermon series:

1. Worldview
We do not change the Bible to align with our thinking. But we change our thinking to align with the Bible. Information on bioethical issues come to us in a variety of ways. We are instructed on these concerns by what we read in the news, through digital media, by our own personal experiences, through the always-accurate Google searches, from our medical providers, and through the Scriptures. As helpful as these other sources may be, Christians must always shape their worldview through the power of God’s word that then provides guidance to how we should evaluate additional fountains of information. This series will highlight a Christ-centered approach to thinking and responding well to medical technology.

2. Comprehensive
Abstract moral questions are rarely helpful. Our decisions and life experiences are a connected whole and the choices we make in one situation will often determine the kinds of choices we will be forced to make later. Making a wise choice today might very well prevent an even more difficult bioethical choice later in life. But even more important than that is how our individual moral decisions must be examined in light of our broader growth in Christ because each of us has a certain character about us. We do not come to any bioethical decision with a blank slate. We bring the totality of our lives to the decision making table, and the substance of our character in Christ will drive the decision making process.

Almost every abstract question raised in bioethics is reduced to external action. What would you “do” in this situation, is the way the question is typically asked. But we will be approaching these issues believing that our character in Christ is just as important as the actions we take, or the rules of conduct. In fact, our conduct is directly impacted by our character. Christians will act our of their character in Christ, and our character is formed by growing deeper and deeper in love with Jesus, being transformed by him.

So, the person who wishes to carry out the correct external action must be a person of excellent internal character, and for the Christian, that means growing more in Christ, looking more like Jesus. Thus, bioethics is a comprehensive discipline, not limited to just the notion of “what would you do?” in an abstract situation. To that end, this sermon series is concerned with not only helping us think about the right thing to do, but more importantly, cultivating in ourselves the kind of Christ-exalting character in order to make our choices and make them well.

3. There is not always a right or wrong.
Sometimes there is a right and wrong. Perhaps many times there is a right or wrong. But not always. And this goes back to our second point about decisions taking place within a comprehensive framework of a person’s entire life, including their family, friends, and so forth. Some bioethical decisions will depend on the wisdom, judgment, and circumstances of a particular person in their particular situation. However, what all scenarios must have in common for the Christian is that their particular situation is placed first and foremost under the direction of Scripture. But from there, two people with a similar issue in front of them might end up with two different decisions, and that does not necessarily mean one is wrong and one is right.

4. Not a series on political engagement or activism or how the Christian should understand the public square.
There are important questions to consider on how Christians should engage the bioethical debate within the public square, and there are even some Christians who are calling for a complete departure from a “secular” health care platform. I believe Christians should be heard and have a voice in these ethical, political, and health care discussions, but that is simply not the road we are traveling for this series. I am concerned with us as individual Christians who make up the church of Jesus Christ thinking well about our personal medical decision making.

5. Not a series to tell you what to do, but to help us all think clearly.
I hope to offer guidance and direction as we stand face to face with morally confusing issues presented by modern medicine, to grow in our knowledge of Christ in a way that better prepares us to make personal, bioethical decisions with godliness, wisdom, and integrity.

6. Personal
I know these issues do not exists in a vacuum. They impact all of us. Some of us have even recently had to make difficult, bioethical decisions and you might be wondering if you made the right call. I will do my very best to preach these sermons with a pastoral sensitive heart and spirit.

7. Three Essential Theological Footings

God is Sovereign.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Romans 9:19-20. Throughout these sermons, we will keep reminding ourselves that humans are not capable of “playing God” even if we wanted to. God is still ruling and reigning.

Humans are masterpieces of God’s creation.
Whatever you think about the nature of human beings, both in our beginnings and end, will eventually steer you to make certain assumptions about medical issues related to humanity.
The Bible makes breathtaking claims about humanity. We are God’s masterpiece. A fallen masterpiece to be sure – and sin is the reason why bioethics is even a concern for us – but nevertheless we are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Consider this:
It is humanity that is created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27)
It is humanity that will judge the angels. (1 Corinthians 6:3)
It is humanity that is given dominion over the earth. (Genesis 1:26)
It is humanity that God loves enough to kill his only son. (Romans 5:8)
It is humanity that Jesus Christ, the eternal son of God, clothes himself in and wraps himself in to fully become one of us in order to save us. (Philippians 2:7)
What worth! What dignity! What purpose! What potential! May we never believe the lie of our adversary who gently suggests to us that the human in the womb or the human in the nursing home has no real meaning. That we are formed and shaped by a sovereign God into his own image means there is incredible worth at all stages of human development and life. Every single stage.

The death and resurrection of Christ.
Jesus came to suffer and die. (A man of sorrows). This means that as we strive to look more like Jesus and be more like Jesus, that we will have to understand suffering as a part of our lives. We do not seek out suffering, but we will expect it and must grow to find joy in it.
Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates just how important our bodies really are. Our bodies will be glorified and they will exist forever. Thus, the decisions we make concerning our bodies are important decisions. The spiritual and the physical are not two separate islands. Both are redeemed.

I’m praying for you as we dive into these deep waters. Please pray for me.

Breathtaking: Thanking God For Jerry Bridges

In the fall of 2013 I began to prepare my preaching and teaching calendar for the following year. God had placed on my heart a need to focus the majority of 2014 at Graefenburg Baptist Church on the necessity of a Christian’s union with Christ. Many years earlier, this one doctrine had transformed my thinking about my identity and my ability to live the Christian life. The two words “IN CHRIST” would become my rock.

I didn’t have to think long about the primary source I would use to lead my flock into the deep waters of this gospel truth – anything written by Jerry Bridges would be better than anything else. I chose “The Transforming Power of the Gospel” which was a 2012 publication that tied together several aspects of Bridges’ teachings from his other incredible books.  We spent an entire Academy semester working through the book church-wide in small groups. I think the good folks at Graefenburg Baptist Church would agree when I say that Bridges’ impact on our lives through those weeks is still building a stronger foundation on which we boldly walk with Christ.

I remarked to my wife last night after learning about Bridge’s passing that he is able to say things in his books in such a way that it is as if I am hearing them for the first time. I cry more reading Jerry Bridges than I do any other author. I just can’t believe what I’m reading.

Books will be written about the enduring legacy of Jerry Bridges. But perhaps the most profound thing anyone can say to a teacher is this:  Dear Mr. Bridges, my name is Philip Meade. Because of the way God gifted you, I know Him, love Him, treasure Him, and depend on Him more than ever. I’m a different person because of you. Thank you.

Here are a few (very few) themes Jerry Bridges could make shine like no one else and I found he returned to these areas in almost everything he wrote.

Sin.
We live in a time where no one wants to talk about sin. I mean, who wants to get all depressed thinking about how awful we are as humans? For Bridges, he always starts with man’s pitiful, helpless, condemnable state. He so beautiful states his reason for doing so:  “It is against the dark backdrop of our sinfulness that the beauty of the gospel shines so brilliantly.” The cross will never reach its most penetrating destination of our hearts if we don’t fully grasp how necessary it was. Bridges never ends with sin. Oh no. He keeps moving us along to God’s glorious grace. But that grace isn’t near as glorious without understanding who we are and why we need it.

Daily Embrace of the Gospel
Bridges repeatedly taught that the power of the gospel was not limited to how a person gets saved. The gospel, he says, is our daily power for pursuing holiness. For my writing and teaching, I have crafted Bridges’ teaching on this issue into a little phrase I call “the great misunderstanding.” For churches around the world, the great misunderstanding is that the gospel is “how you get saved” but then living the life of a Christian is up to us.  Discipleship is often stripped of the gospel and reduced to strategies, lists, programs, and numbers. This misunderstanding leads to discouraged and guilt-ridden Christians who feel the church to be an oppressive arena of highlighting faults instead of a refreshing home of family and worship. “Those good works,” he would say, “on which we tend to rely for our expectation of God’s blessings actually deserve the curse of God.” All of our good works are favorable to God because they are works in the righteousness and power of Christ. And that requires a daily denial of self and complete reliance on Christ in us.

Dependent Responsibility
Those two words have become a staple at Graefenburg Baptist Church. Using those two words, Bridges’ perfectly captures the balance of discipleship. We are dependent on the power of Christ as the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Apart from him, we can do nothing. And yet, we are responsible to pursue holiness. We can’t just “sit back and let God work.” No, we have to take action and we have responsibility. This teaching pushes back against pride (because we can’t do it) and passivity (we still have a responsibility).

Definition of Grace
Bridges’ definition of grace remains my favorite. Although we normally hear grace defined as “God’s unmerited favor”, Bridge’s takes it a step further and suggests the grace of God is not simply unmerited in a neutral sense, but is rather “ill-deserved.” We deserve God’s curse, not his blessing. Thus, Bridges’ definition of grace is, “God’s blessings through Christ to people who deserve his curse.” Incredible.

Breathtaking: The Righteousness of Christ Is Ours
This is the point that will cause me to warmly embrace Jerry one of these days in heaven and say, “thank you.” Many others have written on the benefits of our union with Christ, but it was Jerry Bridges who brought it home for me. One little word he uses – “breathtaking” – has caused me to weep in joy many times. Read his words and be amazed with me once again:

“Just as Adam was the representative head of all humanity, so Christ is the representative head of all who trust in him as Savior. So just as we must say, ‘When Adam sinned, I sinned,’ we may also say, ‘When Christ died on the cross, I died on the cross.’ Furthermore, we may also say, ‘when Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, I lived a perfect, sinless life.” I realize that this last statement is breathtaking, but that is what Paul was saying in his words, “In Him we might become the righteousness of Christ.” 

As I wipe away tears once again after copying that paragraph, I realize that this will always be breathtaking. It will never grow old. But not because of Jerry Bridges. It’s because of the merciful love of God who gave us Jesus Christ.

Farewell, my brother Jerry. I’m the righteousness of Christ. I promise you, I won’t forget it.
 

 

 

Do Not Vote For Trump

I have been in full time pastoral ministry for 17 years. During that time I have never endorsed a political candidate during an election year, including Presidential elections. That is a pattern I intend to keep during this 2016 Presidential election cycle. However, for the first time in my ministry, I am going to use whatever small amount of influence God has granted me to convey great concern toward a specific Presidential candidate and humbly ask my readers to consider moving their allegiance to a different Republican candidate during the primaries.

My friends, do not vote for Trump.

For several months I have been perplexed by the support Donald Trump has enjoyed and have been patiently waiting for our wonderful country to come to its senses. It just can’t be, I would tell myself, that this is actually happening. How can a man who has behaved the way Trump has behaved and spoken the words Trump has spoken not only be in the primary race, but leading the charge? How can a man who has a long, public history of building his ego and wealth on the backs of others, of making a name for himself in ways that should break the hearts of evangelicals, be leading among the evangelical vote? How can a man who has paved a road for himself with wholly non-conservative values be winning the conservative party?

Since Trump provides no real information to demonstrate he has a strong understanding of the nation’s most pressing issues and policies, I can only assume conservatives are attracted to him because he “says it like it is” or “isn’t afraid to say what others are thinking.” Let’s examine this sentiment a bit closer.

First, what is the biblical support for defining strong and effective leadership solely in terms of “telling it like it is?” There isn’t any. On the contrary, the Bible speaks of the power of the tongue and the need to use it in ways that edify and not tear down (Ephesians 4:29), and more importantly, we learn from Jesus how the heart is the ultimate source for our words. It is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). This should be troubling for evangelicals as we listen to Trump; a man who seems to relish demeaning others and is remarkably thin skinned when being challenged himself. Christians are certainly called to speak the truth, but we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

But I would take it a step further and suggest that our eagerness to support a candidate primarily because they “tell it like it is” is more a reflection of our own shortcomings than it is Trump’s political savvy. What I see, generally speaking, are evangelical conservatives who have become so embittered with the political, social, and spiritual direction of our country that we are willing to forgo the integrity of all three in favor of a candidate who sounds tough and speaks his mind, regardless of the manner or means by which he does so. By taking this approach, we allow our disillusionment with the entire political system to move us in a direction contrary to our faith and the gospel. In a bizarre way, Trump has become a political idol on which we gaze, dismissing the multitude of ways he is an oppressive voice to our gospel witness.

Second, although Trump has enjoyed much success as the candidate who usurps political correctness, saying what everyone is thinking does not defacto make one qualified to act on those beliefs. Running the country effectively requires a skill set beyond mere tough words. If you support Trump because he speaks his mind, have you really been convinced of his ability to implement policies and ideas to back up his strong rhetoric? I can’t imagine anyone answering “yes” to that question.

If you are drawn to Trump simply because he speaks his mind, please reconsider your vote. It is perhaps fine to admire his boldness, but it is an altogether different issue to vote him in as our Republican nominee.

My list of more specific concerns (and utter disbelief) toward Trump’s candidacy is rather long, but here are a few highlights for your consideration.

  • Trump is not pro-life. Currently he is maintaining a pro-life position, but history demonstrates he is not passionate about the sanctity of life. For evangelical Christians, this must be a central issue, in fact, it should be the issue. Trump has repeatedly defended Planned Parenthood and will quickly flop on his pro-life position.
  • Trump does not fully support Israel and has expressed “neutrality” between the Israelis and pro-terrorist Palestinians.
  • Trump does not have a clear set of ideological values. In other words, he is not a conservative, and doesn’t want to be.
  • Trump knows very little about policy. Republicans just don’t seem to care that Trump, almost unapologetically, knows or cares very little about the actual policies of our country.
  • Trump repeatedly mocks and makes fun of people. It is embarrassing. This is who we want to be our President and represent our country to the world?
  • Trump is offensive to women.
  • Trump has shown little interest in people who look different, talk different, or think different than him.
  • Trump thrives off power, not service.
  • Trump is where he is because of the mainstream media. If he gets the Republican nomination, they will turn on him and will turn on him fast in order to elevate Clinton.
  • Trump currently has a favorable/unfavorable electability rating of 34/58. That means a toaster could run in the general election and have as much of a chance of winning. To put it in context, Jimmy Carter was destroyed by Ronald Reagan in 1976 – Carter’s rating was 33/58. So, if Trump is the Republican nominee in the general election, he has no chance against Clinton.
  • Trump is gaffe prone unlike any candidate in presidential history. This has been overlooked up to this point, but it will not be overlooked during the general election.

My friends, one of the great benefits of living in this great country is that we are able to consider the pertinent information and make decisions for ourselves. For those of you who support Trump and disagree with me, I respect your decision. But I am bound by my conscience to offer this one appeal to you; an appeal to reconsider your support for Trump and take another look at the other candidates. Then, you must vote for who you believe will best lead our country the next four years with the values of our Christian witness. I do not believe that person can be Donald Trump.

May the grace of God be with you all.

Happy 40th To My Friend.

James Aaron Hagy is one of the most important people in my life and has been for almost 30 years. We don’t see each other much these days, but that doesn’t impact the strength of our relationship or our love for one another. In honor of his 40th birthday today, here are 40 things I love about my friend. (Many if not most of these will not be understood by anyone but Aaron. But you might have fun reading them anyway!)

1. The circle.
2. The Boss.
3. Hank Galoop.
4. “You better spill your guts, or I blow ’em out of ya.”
5. “Yo, word up man, don’t forget, Dance City, everyday, 5 o’clock – Tuesday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday!”
6. Matt Dalton’s truck.
7. In which we learned about DJ Magic Mike.
8. Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing, Bass
9. That time we broke my dad’s back going through the Kingsport Mall Haunted House because we were hanging on to him.
10. Friday “All-Nite Bowling” at Warpath Lanes with me, you, Jason, and dad.
11. The three amigos. (I love you, Jason!)
12. Hagy, Get Outtt!
13. “WalMart has these shoe strings on sale for $6.99, what say ye?”
14. Christmas 1990 when I received a video camera as a present. Wow, that started a lot of crazy nights.
15. The Snot Thing.
16. Moral Thoughts.
17. “I just hope all you viewers keep tuning in!”
18. “It’s Aaron time!”
19. The FBI Guy.
20. Football in the front yard.
21. “I know what I want and it doesn’t include you, it has to do with someone who likes to sniff glue!”
22. Do you remember when we got locked inside Dobyns-Bennett right beside the Little Theater?
23. The Spot.
24. Canonball Plug.
25. Eternal Pit.
26. “This next song’s called Mouth For War…where’s George Gondo?”
27. TKO drum set.
28. Judah First – should I even begin to start listing our memories together?
29. Vandura.
30. Devil’s Dice album.
31. I love that you make me laugh so easily.
32. I love that we have never had a real fight.
33. I love that we were both depressed for days after Hogan was defeated by The Rock.
34. I love that we drove to Toronto in a bright yellow Mustang to see Hulk Hogan.
35. I love that you love your wife and family.
36. I love your singing voice and the way you use it to make much of Christ.
37. I love all those times in a dressing room waiting for the show to start.
38. I love the music we make together.
39. I love the letter you wrote me on the day of my wedding. (I still have it).
40. I love you.

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