Philip | Andrew | Meade

Vox Scriptura Vox Dei

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.

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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