Philip | Andrew | Meade

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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.

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.

3 Reasons Why Lists Are Good But Not That Good

I’ve noticed a lot of lists flying around the world of evangelicalism these days, especially in the area of ecclesiology and discipleship. Hey, I like lists and I like flying things, but lately I’ve been tempted to shoot a few of them out of the sky like a drone. If you are wondering what lists I’m talking about, I mean things like this:

10 Things You Should Listen For During A Sermon
4 Words To Say When Developing Leaders
3 Mistakes When Developing A Strategy
4 Ways to Attack Pride
5 Things Leaders Should Say To Their Followers

Those are but five examples of about a million that showed up in my Feedly account just in the past couple of weeks! Now listen, most of these articles offered some great practical advise for leadership development and I myself find it helpful to occasionally write blog articles using a list of objectives, observations, or calls to action (especially when I can do so in an incredibly ironic way, like this article). But I suppose I feel a little overwhelmed by lists here lately and for those who are prone to become stressed by things to memorize, here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t worry.

1. A completed check list does not necessarily mean you have landed in the realm of success.
Again, lists can be very helpful and practically beneficial for organizing thoughts and prioritizing ideas. But evangelicalism has rightly been pushing back against a list mentality when it comes to our understanding of the gospel. We don’t do a certain number of things in order to achieve salvation and growth in the Lord is never diminished to checking off item x, y, and z; even if x, y, z are terrific things. In fact, it is entirely possible to mark every box with a check and subsequently lose sight of the ultimate goal. For example, I have great experience with critically checking off boxes when listening to a sermon only to have missed the spiritual impact of the message due to my ferocious attention to the 10 things I was looking for during the delivery.

2. Lists are never as simple as they seem.
It can be exciting to read about 4 easy and effective things to say to a leader as a follower. But then you need to check off another list of 5 things. And then another list of 10 things. And before you can turn around, a simple exercise in leadership development has become an extraordinarily complex list of 2,498 boxes to check in a plethora of growth areas. It’s like a never ending powerpoint presentation. Thus, I am somewhat skeptical of the lasting impact of an overly saturated list based model for spiritual and practical development.

3. Too many lists can diminish the importance of the subject being discussed.
I would prefer to read an insightful article highlighting one or two aspects of leadership in ways that are more developed and deeper in content than I would a quick burst of several things to do. Lists can come across as a post-it note level of thought whereas digging deeper in a main idea can generate a more curious and engaged reading of the material. At least it does for me.

So, as someone who makes lists and find them helpful, I believe there is benefit to these kinds of articles. I also believe we could see less of them being written and benefit from that as well. At the end of the day, “success” in church comes down to preaching the word, loving on people, and enjoying the pleasures of God. It’s actually incredibly simple. Just not easy.

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History Beckons The Macho Man!

March 29, 1987 was one of the most anticipated nights of my blessed childhood. That was the night of Wrestlemania III.

I was (and am) a die-hard Hulk Hogan fan. My best bud at the time, Robbie Hughes, and I would spend hours every weekend using my bed as a wrestling ring and would put my unfortunate stuffed animals in every submission hold you can possibly imagine. I would walk to the “ring” in my bedroom, rip my t-shirt apart (which I wasn’t very good at doing because I wasn’t strong enough) and proceed to wreak havoc inside the “squared circle.” Life was good.

My other favorite wrestler was Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He was usually a “bad guy” but I didn’t care. Technically speaking he could wrestle circles around Hulk Hogan and was the only other wrestler who really captured my imagination. I loved how he was so protective of his manager, Miss Elizabeth (who I and every other 11 year old boy in the country had a crush on), and yet so ruthless with his opponents. His signature move, the flying elbow drop, remains the most gorgeous and devastating move in wrestling history.

And so on March 29, 1987, Macho Man would wrestle Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, another talented wrestler who was playing the role as the good, innocent guy. But the huge story was Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. These best friends would now be going against one another. It is difficult to explain how pumped I was for this event.

Today, things are different. There are hundreds of online wrestling websites that keep wrestling fans up to date with every little detail of the wrestling industry, both inside and outside the ring. You can watch YouTube over and over and over again to catch up on your favorite matches and most beloved wrestlers. There is even a “WWE Network” where for $10 a month you can watch the events as many times as you want, listen to industry podcasts, and keep track of all the news. In other words, the anticipation today is different than what it was in the 80’s.

Essentially, in 1987 you had Saturday Night’s Main Event to catch up on the week’s activities and you could purchase wrestling magazines at your local drug store. That was basically it. If you missed something on television, you better hope your friend saw it so he could fill you in during PE the next day at school. Yeah, it was an awesome time in some respects and the main event of Wrestlemania III – Hogan vs. Andre – was the most anticipated wrestling match in the sport’s history. It will never be topped.

So, the irony of Wrestlemania III is that the Hogan/Andre match was not the best match of the night. Macho Man/Steamboat took that honor. Now, the Hogan match was the most important match and provided the most epic moment in sports entertainment history. But that night Macho Man stole the show.

This post is not a breakdown on how incredible the wrestling match itself was. No, this post is simply to point out that one phrase uttered by Macho Man in a simple, 30 second promo right before the match set the stage for the best wrestling match of all time.

Promos are a big part of what makes or breaks a wrestler. Yes, the wrestling is important and fans today especially demand high quality wrestling and high impact entertainment. But the wrestler’s ability to “get over” with the fans (that means become likable and popular) is heavily dependent on the way they handle the microphone. Two quick examples:

The Rock was a great wrestler and was doing just fine, but it wasn’t until he started doing individual promos and wooing audiences with memorable lines perfectly executed, such as “Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?” that he really took off in popularity. On the other side of the coin, a wrestler named Goldberg was one of the most powerful, dominant, popular wrestlers in the WCW during the late 90’s. Part of his mystery and appeal was that he didn’t say a word. He just came out and beat people up and left. But then, once that started to fade, Goldberg was forced to start talking. And he was terrible. I mean, terrible. Awful. (click here for an example, but don’t say I didn’t warn you). And soon after, his appeal diminished among fans.

Back to Wrestlemania III. The biggest Pay-Per-View event of the year and the largest stage of all time – some 93,173 people were in attendance at the Pontiac Silverdome to see Hogan and Andre duke it out. The place was electric, nothing like this had ever happened before in the history of wrestling. It couldn’t get any better.

It was time for Macho Man and Steamboat to do their thing. Today before a match begins at a Pay-Per-View, there will usually be a 3-5 minute video montage that catches up the fans on why these two guys are getting ready to fight. The promos are usually very well done and get your heart pumping for the match. But back then, the wrestlers would do a live promo literally just seconds before they walked to the stage!

Here I was, counting the matches until we could finally get to the Hogan match, and then it suddenly went to a promo for the Macho Man match. He was standing with his back to the television wearing his classic, flamboyant robe. The first words were fitting; his famous, “OH YEAHHHHHH!” And then, I was BLOWN AWAY…

In 30 seconds Randy Savage delivered the most perfect promo I have ever heard. I have heard some amazing promos, but this one is the one by which all the others are judged.  Remember, an event of this magnitude had never happened before. 93,173 fans were in attendance in addition to the millions watching at home. Savage had to give his match one last “pump” before he made his ring entrance to the best entrance music ever – Pomp and Circumstance. His 30 second promo could capture the fans attention, especially at home, so that they wouldn’t go grab a snack waiting for Hogan, or he could bomb the whole thing, struggle to find the right words, and just screw it up.

He didn’t screw it up. After his promo I can remember just sitting on the edge of my bed with my mouth hanging wide open. For the next few months, I walked around just repeating this one line from his promo over and over again. I have never heard a wrestler say something that captured my attention like Savage did that night.

So what was it you ask? Well, the entire promo was amazing and I could exegete the masterpiece line by line, but let me get to the point…

At the end of the promo, when you think all he has left is a throw away line of some kind, Savage delivers this beauty:  HISTORY BECKONS THE MACHO MAN!

I think a lengthy analysis of why this is so good and so perfect would not make the point as much as simply watching and listening to it. I have heard this a million times since 1987 and it gets me every time. Just listen and see if you don’t also connect with how truly important those words were at this moment in wrestling history.

I will say this – what makes them even more powerful is that somehow Savage knew the gravity of the situation. It was as if he knew that he and Steamboat were getting ready to wrestle one of the most perfect matches of all time. It was as if he knew that people would still be talking and writing about this match some 30 years after he wrestled it. It was as if he knew that he was getting ready to wrestle in such a way that the world would never forget the name Randy Savage. This wasn’t just poetic wording. This was prophecy. And he nailed it.

So watch and listen carefully, a few times if necessary. This is the best of all time. Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

Woodrow Wilson’s War Message To Congress

When the European theater entered into World War I during the summer of 1914, Americans were less than enthusiastic about sending their sons and daughters to engage in the conflict. This position was mirrored by President Woodrow Wilson who intended to remain neutral in order to increase America’s potential as a negotiator of peace between the belligerent nations. However, by the spring of 1917, the President’s position had changed. For various reasons, including the Zimmerman telegram and Germany’s decision to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare, President Wilson gave a speech to congress asking for a declaration of war. The speech was on April 2, 1917 and is one of my favorite speeches in American history. (For what it’s worth, Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address is my favorite).

Two significant aspects of the speech stand out.

First, President Wilson beautifully acknowledges the unique and obligatory role the United States must play in securing the freedom of nations to determine for themselves their future direction. However, he manages to highlight the significance of the U.S. in this endeavor without suggesting superiority over the other world governments. He outlines how America must enter into the conflict “for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy.” But to dispel any notion that America would be the boastful, independent hero of the war, Wilson emphatically announces how “our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.” What a remarkable statement.

I find this balance to be extraordinarily important and challenging in leadership of any kind, and for my purposes, pastoral leadership. On the one hand, a person or a nation needs to understand the role they play, perhaps a significant role, in guiding the direction of the people. Undermining or downplaying the influence of a leadership position is not in the best interest of anyone. On the other hand, the single greatest characteristic of a leader is humility. From a biblical worldview, Jesus Christ was the greatest leader the world has ever known. And the greatest servant.

Wilson managed to assert the United States’ necessary role in the war without communicating an oppressive elitism. His determination to use the military power of the United States for the good of all people is a philosophy that has shaped foreign policy ever since.

Second, President Wilson was concerned the war effort might harm the relationship of the United States with the people of Germany. Knowing the world would be listening to this war message to Congress, the President spoke with a touching concern for the German people and viewed them in a different sphere than the evil government under which they were controlled. Perhaps even more important, Wilson wanted to make sure Americans were listening to this distinction. I believe his foresight into the potential fear that lurks in the hearts of humanity, a fear that can lead to immoral decision making, is to be recognized and commended. Several years later, a disastrous decision to relocate and incarcerate Japanese Americans during WWII would go down as one of the darker moments in U.S. history. To avoid this kind of mistake, Wilson make these incredible remarks:

“It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity towards a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck. We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage between us — however hard it may be for them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts”

There are certain presidential hopefuls in this current election cycle that it seems would not have this kind of insight or moral urgency to their decision making.

As with all presidents, Woodrow Wilson had his share of faults. But this speech to Congress in 1917 is one that deserves another reading from time to time. To read the entire speech, click here.

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Why I Recommend Lent To My Southern Baptist Church

The 2016 calendar is inching closer to February 10 which means a variety of blog articles, Facebook status updates, and Twitter feeds will be providing support for or against the season known as Lent. February 10 is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Lenten season.

In order to define our terms, Lent is one of the most significant seasons of the Christian Calendar and is celebrated by a wide variety Christian traditions. Lent is most commonly associated with a period of prayer, reflection, repentance, and fasting that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday when Jesus was crucified. These different traditions will take different approaches to the 40 day period of Lent. Some traditions are quite strict with this season, prescribing it as a necessary part of faith and practice. Other traditions take a less stringent approach by providing resources and opportunities to prepare for Easter Sunday while keeping the door of freedom wide open if a person should choose to not observe.

I am a Southern Baptist pastor. Theologically and convictionally, I align most closely with the Reformed tradition in terms of my views on scripture, salvation, congregational worship, and church life. I do not believe a corporate gathering of believers should be bound by a strict liturgy that eliminates freedom in worship, nor do I espouse any extra-biblical tradition that would violate the core principal convictions of being saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.

So, it would seem someone like me, a Southern Baptist pastor rooted in the Reformed tradition, would be the last person to encourage my congregation to observe Lent. But that is exactly what I have done in years past and will continue to do.  Here are a couple of reasons why:

1. Extra-biblical does not necessarily equal enslavement.
To be certain, the season of Lent is an extra-biblical practice. That simply means that Lent is not commanded in the Bible. That’s important. If Christians engage in spiritual activities that are not explicitly commanded in Scripture, we need to have a good reason from biblical principles as to why those activities are edifying to us and glorifying to God. Of course, faithful evangelical Christians engage in a host of activities that are not explicit in scripture, such as celebrating Christmas, because the freedom to worship Christ in the awe and gratitude of his incarnation certainly aligns with biblical principles.

Yet, one of the more common refrains I hear from men I highly respect but highly disagree with concerning Lent is that observing this season “leads people into slavery.” Such indictments against recommending Lent to a congregation carry several problems. First, this is a general, sweeping statement. As I have noted, the observance of Lent does not come in a one-size-fits-all package and without an understanding of how a particular church preaches the gospel of Christ, union with Christ, and freedom in Christ, a blanket condemnation of turning people into slaves through the observance of Lent is reckless. Second, those in the Baptist Lent enslavement camp are guilty of pressing back against the fundamental issue of the 16th century while living in the 21st century. I suppose it’s possible that a Southern Baptist church who encourages Lent might be endorsing a mandatory, superstitious set of regulations by which a Christian can curry favor with God, but I’ve not met a Baptist pastor yet who would ever embrace such a heretical view.

2. Lenten observance does not endorse legalism.
The great H.J. Kuiper, an influential editor of The Banner from 1928-1956, helped provide a balance to Lent by endorsing some elements of the season he found worthy while expressing concern over other elements. One of his concerns was that Lent would promote the spiritual disciplines for one brief time of the year but then cause Christians to become lax in their walk with the Lord the remaining year.

Although I appreciate Kuiper’s concerns and find them much more plausible than the enslavement argument, they are nevertheless misplaced. Although Lent itself is not commanded in Scripture, Feast Days most certainly were. The primary intent of the Feasts were to set aside a period of remembrance and personal piety for what the Lord had done and was doing. Was God suggesting his people “forget” the Lord their God during the periods in between the feasts? Of course not.  Today we see a plethora of helpful (although I would admit too many) 40 day emphasis literature and bible studies. Sometimes it is right and helpful to focus ourselves during a period of time on an area of our Christian life. I can’t think of a better time than the weeks leading up to our Savior’s death and resurrection.

Does the idea of fasting, prayer, and repentance lead to legalism? This is nonsensical. What is magical about the word “Lent” or the 40 days before Easter that would cause these disciplines to become legalistic? If that is our approach, then we must never instruct or encourage our people to fast and meditate on the cross at any time of the year. Which is foolishness and unbiblical.

3. We must not become enslaved to a specific tradition.
I read an article last year describing how a person in the Reformed Tradition should not observe Lent because the season conflicted with the traditional interpretation of church life and practice within the Reformed camp. That’s scary stuff. When we base our church practices and spiritual growth solely on what a particular tradition points to, then we become slaves to a tradition and not to Christ – the very thing the Reformation protested against.

4. Practically speaking, the denouncement of Lent becomes laughable.
I had a good chuckle last year when IMB President David Platt called on all Southern Baptist leaders to guide our people into fasting for the IMB Great Commission work. His appeal to pastors fell within the time frame of the Lenten season. I wondered how my fellow SBC pastors and leaders who had come out strong in opposition to Lent would handle Platt’s request. Would they lead their congregation to fast for the IMB with a big asterisks that says, “This has nothing to do with Lent. You will not be enslaved or become a legalist by doing this.” The point is that if calling our people to prayer, repentance, meditation, and fasting during the 40 days before Easter is frowned upon, then we are frowning upon essential spiritual disciplines. The issue is not if we lead our people into these practices, it’s how we lead them into these practice. If we lead them by saying these are “necessary,” then there is a problem. But that is true for any time of the year, not just Lent. If we lead them by saying these are “worthwhile,” then there is benefit.

5. I want my congregation to grow closer to Jesus.
Graefenburg Baptist Church exists to “Glorify God alone by transforming lives in Jesus in order to love more and serve more.” The two key words in our mission is “in Jesus.” We spend a lot of time, well virtually every Sunday, reminding ourselves of the power of the gospel and the utter futility of attempting to live the Christian life apart from the power of Christ in us. And yet, we are a people who pursue holiness. Dependent Responsibility is what we call that. Dependent on the power of Christ in us, but responsible to pursue Jesus. What that means is that we will call our people to obey. We will call our people to engage in the disciplines. We will call our people to pray, to read, and to worship. But we will call them to these things based on the power available to them in Christ, not in themselves.

That doesn’t take a back seat during Lent. We don’t change gears and suggest that over the next 40 days, everything we have learned together about the gospel and our dependence on Christ is put on pause. On the contrary, we teach that based on the power you have in Christ, pursue him these few days leading up to Easter. How could I not take advantage of this incredible time of the year to help my people on their journey?

In conclusion, if you are not convinced of the benefit of Lent and think it isn’t for you, then here is my advice…don’t do it! You have that freedom in Christ! But I encourage you to pick up a book on the cross (how about this one), and grab a family worship guide through Lent (my church will be providing one on February 7), and meditate each day on your identity in Jesus, and by all means, get to worship on Sunday mornings.

Enslavement? I think not. The joy of Christian living? Yes. Yes indeed.

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How Do I Know If I Am Depending On God Or Myself?

When I talk about discipleship and living the Christian life, I will frequently reference the necessity of “Dependent Responsibility.” To daily bear fruit as a Christian disciple requires personal responsibility – we are called to strive for holiness (Hebrews 12:14) – but also dependence on the power of Christ – we can never do this alone (John 15:5). Most Christians I encounter are attempting to do things by their own willpower, forgoing the grace available to them for the task at hand. There are others, however, who espouse the common cliche of “let go and let God” so fully that they forgo any personal responsibility to get up and do something.

Neither approach works. Discipleship takes both responsibility to pursue Christ and dependence on God for that pursuit.

A common and very good question is – how do I know if I am depending on Christ? How can I tell if I am attempting to do this on my own and thereby neglecting the “Dependent” aspect of my walk with Christ? It’s a great question because most of us would never seek out a path to discipleship that is void of God’s power. That is obviously not our intent. But it happens so frequently. Usually daily. So how can we know?

There are several ways, I think, to access how you are doing in the dependent department. But none are more powerful than this….

As you are reading this right now, how much time have you spent in prayer today? Or perhaps a better question is, have you prayed at all? The nature of your prayer life is your number one indicator of how well you are depending on God. Whether we would admit it or not, a lack or lessening of prayer is a clear picture of our intent to live this day by our own willpower. And it is a recipe for disaster.

So, want to depend on Christ’s power more for your discipleship and growth? Want to live the Christian life like you’ve never done so before? Start with prayer. Start with prayer. Start with prayer.

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The Force Awakens and the Noetic Effects of Sin – *Mild Spoiler Alert

*The below commentary contains some mild spoilers concerning one of the main characters, Finn. Read at your own risk.

This article will attempt to do two things:  Provide a simple summary of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and discuss one specific theme of the film from a biblical worldview.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE FILM AS A FAN:
Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have watched the original trilogy dozens of times and the journey of Luke Skywalker to the status of Jedi Knight is a beautiful thing to behold. So much so that in spite of more accomplished light saber duelists or perhaps wiser and more emotionally stable Jedis, the final moments of Return of the Jedi leaves me convinced of Luke’s superiority over any Jedi that ever lived. To quote the great Brett “The Hitman” Hart, Luke is the “the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”

Do not count me among the millions of Star Wars fans who love to vilify the second trilogy of films, Episodes I-III. There are certainly aspects of the films, especially Episode II, I do not care for, but the portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi by Ewan McGregor was masterful and Liam Neeson as the convictional Qui-Gon Jinn was iconic. But still, Lucas’ decision to abandon more traditional special effects and models in the prequels for the digital universe left an important visual  element of the original trilogy missing.

J.J. Abrams brings that element back in The Force Awakens and it is probably the single greatest reason I was thrilled to be watching and, at times, tearing up during the film. Droids from Episode IV are seen walking about, physical sets and models dominate the film, Star Destroyers look like Star Destroyers, and the strange juxtaposition of archaic simplicity with sophisticated Sci-Fi technology was back and executed with perfection.

Watching Han Solo and Chewbacca return to the Star Wars saga was breath taking. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get comfortable with an older Han Solo, but once his character became infused with the story line, things felt less awkward. I wonder if my future viewings of the original trilogy will be impacted by what I now know about Han Solo from The Force Awakens.

I think my only real criticism with the movie, and it is minor, is the speed at which things fall into place for the unfolding melodrama. Abrams keeps the action moving so quickly that it seems he is almost paranoid of taking too much time to let situations, conflicts, relationships, and plots fully develop before pushing them forward. I wasn’t thrilled with the physical appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, and you could make the argument for Abrams relying too much on Episode IV for his movie. But, those things are so minuscule it isn’t worth dwelling on them.

The ending of the film was perfect. I have never left a theater more excited about the next film in an installment.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE FILM AS A PASTOR/THEOLOGIAN
Plenty of folks have weighed in on the larger worldview issues embedded in the Star Wars franchise. This article from Peter Jones at Ligonier Ministries is a good overview of the big picture for understanding Star Wars from a Christian worldview.

What I found to be fascinating was how a major theme of the film connects to what is known as the “noetic effects of sin.” The noetic effects of sin refers to the way our minds have been impacted by the fall of Adam. Romans 1:21 is helpful:  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Human reasoning has not been completely destroyed by sin, although it has been severely darkened and, apart from Christ, will lead a person into futility.

This leaves humans in a helpless situation. Something must happen in order for the light to break through the darkness. Paul describes that “something” in 2 Corinthians 4:6 when he says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This clarifies several things. First, Paul makes a connection between the mind (knowledge) and the heart (the wellspring of life). Second, Paul speaks of the necessity of God’s action in shining this light in our hearts before our minds can grasp the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is clarified in 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Third, God’s light-shining initiative is necessary for the knowledge of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, but human reasoning is not all together ruined by sin. There is still an ability, even among unbelievers, to understand good from evil.

Now we turn to Finn. Here is a man who was raised from birth to serve the First Order and has been indoctrinated with their evil intentions. He doesn’t have a name and is known only by his Stormtrooper identification number of FN-2187. He is respected among his superiors as a person with unlimited potential to advance in the First Order hierarchy. Every second of his life has been spent in service to First Order causes with exceptional results.

And then it all changes. When we encounter Finn, we find a man who is reluctant to carry out the orders of his superiors. He seems more intent on saving lives than he is killing them. How is this possible? How can a man who was raised without a name, born and immersed solely in a world of evil and hatred, feel compelled to defect to the “light” side of the battle? What was his motivation to switch sides? And where did that motivation come from?

In the biblical narrative, this question is most difficult when asked in reverse. God as Creator-King designed a world without blemish, one that was pronounced “very good.” And then something went horribly wrong. Somehow one of God’s created beings defected and switched sides. Except there was no other “side.” Of all the questions I receive from curious church members, children, and my own family, the most difficult is the question of Satan’s fall. How could a sinless being with no knowledge of evil choose evil? I don’t know. I chalk that one up to Deuteronomy 29:29; “the secret things belong to the Lord.”

The issue of Finn from a biblical worldview is easier to answer. God’s grace through general revelation has enlightened humanity to know something of the doctrine of Imago Dei – being created in the image of God. The noetic effects of the fall are devastating, but have not prevented humans from understanding at least a partial moral compass of God’s design. The reason is because humanity has the image of God stamped on our hearts, or as the author of Ecclesiastes put it, “…he has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The power of Imago Dei helps make sense of Finn’s sudden and otherwise incomprehensible turn from the only world he knew, a world of evil. Additional revelation is needed before Finn can comprehend where he belongs in the world; at the beginning he simply wants out of the First Order. He wants the killing to stop. He wants to flee from the evil and do what King David desired in Psalm 55 – ride on the “wings of a dove” and fly far, far away. But as additional revelation enlightens him to the cause of the Resistance (Rebel Army), Finn begins to be shaped into someone other than a deserter of evil. He begins to be shaped into an agent for good.

It remains to be seen in future films if the franchise will answer the lingering question of why Finn decided to defect, or if they will leave it alone. By doing the latter, the filmmakers are unknowingly pointing to an important biblical doctrine. Humanity is not incapable of discerning good from evil in a general sense. But something more is needed to be who we are designed to be. Something more is needed is pull us completely out of the darkness and into the light.

If we exit the “galaxy far, far away” and travel back to reality, God has a specific agenda. His agenda is to “deliver sinners out of the domain of darkness and transfer us to the kingdom of his beloved son” (Colossians 1:13). That deliverance takes a special kind of revelation – the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

May the peace of our God in heaven be with you all.

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