FRANCIS COLLINS FINDS THE LIGHT

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

(John 1:4 NIV)

We call Christmas the season of light in no small part because of the meaning of this verse. But what are we to make of this mysterious word? How was Jesus the light of men?

Famed geneticist Francis Collins’s journey to faith is a good example.

Collins’s credentials and accomplishments are legendary in the scientific community. He headed up the Human Genome Project before serving as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. In 2007 he wrote a New York Times best-seller, The Language of God, which weaves together the story of his work as a world-renowned scientist and his journey from atheism to faith in Christ.

As a young doctor and atheist at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, Collins cared for many desperately sick people who, in spite of their illnesses, had profound faith. He wondered, “why were these people not shaking their fists at God and demanding that (their families) stop all this talk about a loving and benevolent super power?” After all, most of them were dying from illnesses they had done nothing to deserve.

That’s when an older patient, suffering from untreatable angina, asked a question for which he was not prepared, “What do you believe?”

“I felt my face flush as I stammered out the words,” he wrote, “I’m not really sure.”

Collins was in the dark and knew it. He began to question his integrity as a scientist and realized that, rather than consider all the evidence and come to a rational conclusion on life’s greatest question, he had engaged in, “willful blindness and something that could only be properly described as arrogance … Suddenly, all my arguments seemed very thin, and I had the sensation that the ice under my feet was cracking.”[1]

After a long period of searching, which included a review of the world’s great religions, grilling a pastor with questions, and reading C.S. Lewis’s classic, Mere Christianity, the light dawned:

“On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.”[2]

Perhaps you can identify with Collins. You know something is out there, something true, and good, and powerful enough to give dying people hope and peace, but you have been avoiding it. That something is really Someone, the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Maybe you are ready to begin your journey into the light today, or you know someone who is. If so let me recommend C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, the book that helped Collins so much. Then there’s Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith, a modern classic. And finally, if you are of a scientific bent, The Language of God is a great place to start.

[1] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 20.

[2] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 225

TIME FOR A NEW REVOLUTION: Thoughts on Rampant Sexual Assault

My dad, Schafer J. Skelton Jr., never played flag football. That puzzled us because we knew he was on three Conference and two State championship teams in high school, earning all-state guard honors in 1950. Mom asked him once, when the men at a church outing were dividing into teams, why he wasn’t joining in the fun?

“I play football for keeps,” he said. “If I go out there, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Dad understood himself well enough to know that once on the field, in the heat of competition, his natural aggression and fierce competitiveness would likely send somebody to the hospital. I wonder if we understand our sexual selves that well.

What does this have to do with the epidemic of sexual assault?

The Bible is clear that from Noah’s son Ham to Harvey Weinstein, men have been guilty of sexual harassment and assault. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s, however, tossed out every warning the Bible had to give. It said that sex is like flag football; everybody has fun, and no one gets hurt. But the headlines tell the tale. Sex is one of the most powerful forces within us.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet likes to say, they also have victims. The sexual revolution kicked the referees off the field, pitched the helmets and pads that once protected the players, and produced predictable fruit: millions of women, children, and men have been hurt.

But the men are the primary perpetrators, so allow me to speak directly about them.

As a pastor, my exposure to some of the grimier parts of life is limited. So, I did an informal survey of my wife, mom, three daughters, and two female cousins, asking, “How bad is it out there with men?”

It is very bad, much worse than I imagined. Some of the things men say and do are too foul to print. Combined with the reports we’ve all read about high profile abusers and rapists my first reaction is profound grief. My second is deep anger.

Schafer would have broken their teeth out.

A word to those men, and the ones like them. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.[1] You may imagine that you are too smart to be caught, but no one gets away with it. I urge you to repent and ask Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness. If you refuse, do not imagine that you will escape the wrath of God.

But what about the rest of us? The climate is so charged with rancor and suspicion that some men are wondering if they should ever ask a girl out on a date, and some women are wondering if they should accept.

I had in mind a list of practical guidelines for men and women to help cultivate virtue and curb our baser instincts, but anyone can come up with a list of do’s and don’ts. Here at the nasty end of the sexual revolution we need a reason to follow the list in the first place. Rod Dreher reminded me of one in The Benedict Option.

Scripture gives us a reason to respect the bodies of others and refrain from sex until marriage that is much more powerful than the fear of punishment. Our bodies, the complementarity of male and female together, bear the image of God and are thus sacred. Using another human being for sexual gratification without the protective covenant of marriage is, at the very least, to undermine their dignity. Abusing or assaulting another human being for sexual gratification is to desecrate the sacred.

Bottom line, when we see other human bodies as sacred, the rules about how we should treat them, the respect we owe to them, become self-evident and internally energized.

Dreher writes, “… man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal.”

“Anything we do that falls short of the perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule breaking but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself.”[2]

We have been living contrary to the structure of reality now for over fifty years and the results are obvious. Isn’t it time for a new revolution? Isn’t it time to turn around?

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Pr 15:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option. Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York, 2017. P. 200.

JUSTICE FOR JACK: Religious Freedom in the Furnace

JUSTICE FOR JACK:  Religious Freedom in the Furnace

While sexual assault charges dominate the headlines, destroying careers and political prospects alike, the results of an assault on every American’s freedom of conscience are being weighed in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Jack Phillips’ Colorado bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is named after his favorite Bible verse, Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (NLT) Jack’s dream was to use his artistic baking skills not only to provide for his family and serve his community, but also to bring honor to God through his every day work.

Because of that conviction, Jack made it a policy not to create artisan cakes to celebrate things that ran contrary to his religiously informed conscience. All his customers were able to get custom made cakes for their celebrations with Jack’s nearby competitors, so Jack’s convictions were never a problem until two men asked for a custom-made cake for their wedding ceremony in 2012.

Jack’s legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom, explains what happened next.

“Jack offered to sell the men any pre-made cake in his shop, but kindly explained that he could not use his artistic talents to custom-design cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Like millions of people across the globe and throughout history, he affirms the biblical teaching that marriage is the sacred union of a man and a woman. Designing a cake for them would force him to violate his conscience.

The men swore at Jack and stormed out. He endured weeks of threatening phone calls and emails. His family and his employees have also been abused.

But that was only the beginning. Jack received notice from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC). He was being sued, accused of violating the state’s nondiscrimination laws.

The commission ruled against Jack, fined him, and tried to force him to violate his conscience.

“I haven’t singled out that one issue as something I won’t do,” Jack says. “I don’t make cakes for lewd bachelor parties; I don’t make cakes to celebrate divorce; I don’t make Halloween cakes, or anything involving witchcraft.”[1]

The CCRC also ordered Jack and his staff to design cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations, go through a ‘re-education’ program, implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and file quarterly ‘compliance’ reports for two years to show that Jack has completely eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

In response, Jack stopped baking custom cakes, losing 40% of his business and laying off employees as a result.

Jack’s story is reminiscent of the biblical Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel chapter three. As Jack refuses to bow to today’s politically correct sexual orthodoxy, so those men refused to bow before a political ideology that exalted the creature above the creator. As Jack faces the loss of his livelihood and life-savings, Daniel’s friends faced the loss of their lives. As Jack stands on his biblically informed conscience before the most powerful court of our time, they stood resolute before the greatest power of theirs, saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”[2]

Yet Jack does not stand alone; we are in the furnace with him. His fate is ours. If the Supreme Court rules against him, then religious freedom will cease to exist in the United States. Your freedom to obey your religiously informed conscience in your business, your profession, your education, your children’s education and associations, your affiliations, and yes, even your church, will be confined to the dictates of the new sexual orthodoxy. You will be forced by law not simply to tolerate, but to celebrate things that conflict with your conscience before God.

What can you do? Four very important things:

First, pray. This is first and foremost a spiritual battle.

Second, take a stand. Let it be known that you support Jack. Write if you are able, share this post or posts from the organizations listed in the notes[3], or at the very least go on social media and say, “I stand with Jack.” Supreme Court Justices are human too. They read and your voice matters.

Third, give money. Order brownies from Jack’s bakery. Send him cash. Or send money to ADFLegal.org to help them fight.

Finally, be informed and informative. Share the sermon podcast, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE FURNACE, listed here: http://www.fccsobo.org/files/fccsobo/Podcasts/September%203,%202017%20.mp3. Become knowledgeable on these subjects and learn to give a sound-bite on why the biblical worldview of human sexuality is good for everyone and why religious freedom is the fundamental freedom.

[1] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Da 3:16–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story

REMOVING HISTORICAL GLOSS: Metaxas’ Enlightening Luther Biography

Johann Tetzel was being robbed. The Dominican friar and Grand Commissioner for indulgences in Germany was on his way from one very profitable preaching crusade to another when a German nobleman, one who had made a great point of asking whether all future sins could be forgiven if only the right indulgence was bought, cashed in on his prior purchase and relieved the preacher of his purse.

At least, that’s how the story goes.

Yesterday, October 31, 2017, was the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which, according to the 2000 edition of LOOK magazine was the second, behind the invention of the printing press which enabled it, greatest event in the last one thousand years. The story of Tetzel and the robber baron, which is probably mythical, is one of many that Eric Metaxas covers in his excellent work, MARTIN LUTHER: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.

Although I am only halfway through the book, listening to the audible version, I am totally sold on Metaxas’s ability to make a complicated story not only accessible and informative, but entertaining.

Mailed Not Nailed

For example, everyone knows that a theologian and monk named Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting 95 theses opposing the sale of indulgences on the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. (An indulgence supposedly draws on the merit of the good works of Christ and the saints to deliver a sinner from punishment on earth or in purgatory). But most do not know that Luther may or may not have personally nailed the document to the doors, the bulletin board of its day. It could have been a clerk that swung the hammer. What sets October 31st apart, according to Metaxas, is that is the day Luther mailed his theses to his presiding bishop, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg, with a proposal to call a conference of theologians on the abusive sale of indulgences.

Gutenberg’s Internet

Metaxas also illuminates the fact that, in those early days of the printing press, Luther had no intention of igniting a revolution and no idea of the part he would play in it. He was simply a pastor / theologian and faithful Catholic trying to do his job and protect his parish from oppression and heresy. The 95 theses, written in Latin, would have been indecipherable to most Germans who passed the church doors. They were meant for a limited audience of theological scholars who would have had thoughtful discussions and sent their conclusions and recommendations off to higher authority for approval.

But the printing press was to the sixteenth century what the internet is today. Information transfer went from snail’s pace to light speed almost overnight. Further, with no copyright law in place, Luther could not prevent publishers from pushing his ideas far beyond the boundaries of Wittenberg and Mainz. He was soon embroiled in a battle that he had not planned and could not have anticipated. (He also never made a dime from his writings). Ultimately, Luther saw this series of unfortunate events as providential and embraced his calling as a reformer. But Metaxas removes the gloss of history and helps us see that Luther, like many of us, was a man of his times driven as much by circumstance as by conviction to take up the work which God had prepared in advance for him to do.

I’ve only brushed the surface of Metaxas’s latest, but I hope you will read it. It will give any Christian a greater comprehension of the treasures of grace we possess, the place in history we occupy, and perhaps help us see our calling as well as Luther saw his.

PRODUCING BETTER THINKERS

The discussion had been disturbing. The young woman I was counseling was in deep-dish trouble. Her relationships were dysfunctional, she was up to her armpits in debt, and most of her decisions were based on a daily reading of her horoscope.

But the most disturbing thing was that she had grown up attending church. She was supposed to know how to manage life, but she didn’t. Her spiritual journey included a lot of lessons to help her feel good, but very few to help her be good.

That isn’t the way Church is supposed to be.

The Apostle Paul said that in the Church we are to “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Eph 4:15). We have the Scriptures for, as he told Timothy, “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

The church is supposed to be God’s university on planet earth, a learning center for Biblical life lessons, a place where each member is constantly growing up into maturity in Christ.

A healthy church is a place where the Christian’s life foundations are laid, where we learn how the Bible applies to everyday life. Healthy churches equip believers to discern between wisdom and the world’s empty values.

Consider some issues believers should be able to think through and come to soundly biblical conclusions: How best to manage our finances? How are we to think about gun violence? What is the best way to help Puerto Rico recover? Should we stay in NAFTA? How about student loan debt? How should we lower the burden on college students? How can we discern between so-called fake news and the real thing?

The list of things we need to know how to think about is endless and simple answers elude us. How should serious-minded believers respond? Can the Bible help?

The Bible doesn’t always teach us what to think. But it can teach us how to think biblically on issues from Abortion to Zoning laws. That’s what it means to develop a biblical worldview. Healthy Christians develop a biblical worldview in God’s university, the local church, becoming in the process better parents, better students, better leaders, better workers, and better citizens.

I’m so grateful for the dedicated Sunday School teachers and small group leaders our church has benefited from over the years! The list is long, but each one has helped us “grow up in all things into Christ,” to think biblically about our world.

And what about you? Do you have the ability to teach? Have you ever tried? Could you take a rotation in Children’s Church, or as a small group Bible study, or Sunday School teacher?

Just like the young woman in my office that day, the church needs good teachers on all levels now more than ever. Ask God if he is calling you to lay the foundation for someone else’s future.

A FACE LIKE FLINT: Os Guinness’s Call to Courage

8 “Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”[1]

Thus spoke God to Ezekiel, his prophet to the exiled Jews in Babylon circa 593 B.C., and so speaks Os Guinness to a church increasingly exiled from American culture today in his book, IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization.

Guinness, the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer, is author of over 30 books and one of the most erudite and articulate spokesmen for the truth and goodness of the biblical world view working today. IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE is a clarion call to the church to face up to the realities of the forces arrayed against the faith and to stand strong against “everything that contradicts the call of our Lord – whatever the cost and whatever the outcome.”

“At stake,” writes Guinness, “is the attempted completion of the centuries-long assault on the Jewish and Christian faiths and their replacement by progressive secularism as the defining faith of the West and the ideology said to be the best suited to the conditions of advanced modernity. The gathering crisis is therefore about nothing less than a struggle for the soul of the West and the place of faith – any faith – in the life of advanced modern societies.”[2]

With that introduction he proceeds through seven concise but weighty chapters to explain the philosophical, social, political and spiritual roots of the mudslide of global modernity now enveloping Western Civilization.

Guinness is not content with social criticism. He does not stop at analysis nor does he offer up practical but ultimately shallow steps at making a difference. He goes deeper by helping us think and pray about our part in the grand drama that is the Church in the world.

The book’s brevity, it is only 225 pages, and Guinness’s clarity make his analysis convincing and fascinating, but it is weighty. It is not a “how-to-do-it” book, but a “how-to-think-about-it” book. Each chapter concludes with an insightful prayer and three discussion questions designed to help the reader decide how he or she will participate in the grand struggle for the soul of civilization. If you like meat in your morning devotions you will find it here. I read it with pen in hand after my first cup of coffee and found it compelling.

The Church in what remains of Western Civilization needs more Ezekiels. Those who feel the call to fill those shoes need to read Guinness.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 3:8–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] P. 22

GOD, KIRK CAMERON & HURRICANES

Former Left Behind actor Kirk Cameron made some comments about the recent hurricanes that, taken out of context and twisted by headline writers, made it sound as if Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were God’s judgment on America. As if on cue the blogosphere went bananas.

Patheos blogger, Michael Stone is a good example:

“Cameron is toxic. His glib explanation and justification for his imaginary God’s cruelty and immorality is moronic … Cameron’s God is a misogynistic, moral monster, that lacks any moral standard, and apparently approves of rape, incest, genocide, and slavery, among many other unsavory and decidedly immoral acts.”[1]

Others, including actress Jennifer Lawrence, agreed with this blogger’s sentiments:

“Well, maybe it’s God punishing America for voting for a racist, self-serving, ego driven President. The hurricanes are hitting two states who voted for him. Like you said Kirk…coincidence? I think not!”[2]

Such charges against the God of the Bible are common, so what exactly does it teach about judgment and natural disasters?

First, no one on this planet knows when judgment will come or where it will fall, not even Jesus (See Matthew 24:36-39).

Carl F. H. Henry was a well-known theologian of the 20th century, respected for the profundity of his work, revered for his intellectual brilliance and spiritual depth, and the farthest thing you could imagine from an actor in a Left Behind movie.

Henry said:

“I think we are now living in the very decade when God may thunder his awesome “paradidomai” (“I abandon, or I give [them] up,” Romans 1:24) over America’s professed greatness … Our nation has all but tripped the worst ratings on God’s Richter scale of fully deserved moral judgement.”[3]

Henry said that in November of 1980. Almost four decades have passed. Things have gotten worse and better at the same time. It is presumptuous of anyone to say that any hurricane is God’s judgment.

It is, on the other hand, an opportunity for God’s people to excel themselves in showing mercy by serving those in need and that, according to USA Today, is exactly what they are doing. About 75% of the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, an alliance of organizations that help FEMA, is made up of faith groups. Samaritan’s Purse, whom our church supports, is among them.[4]

Second, the only natural – disaster – type judgments recorded in scripture occurred after they were specifically prophesied by one of God’s servants as such. Think of Noah and the Flood, Moses and the ten plagues, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

God is able and sometimes does use the natural elements to execute his judgment, but his habit is to tell us beforehand. Otherwise we may understand disasters as a result of ‘curse on the ground’ from Genesis carrying out its work. Calling a hurricane the judgment of God after the fact is theological Monday morning quarterbacking.

Third, every natural disaster is an opportunity for us to consider our mortality, our impending personal interview with the judge of the universe. The book of Hebrews explains that, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.” Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment we will give an account for every careless word we speak (Matt.12:36). So Cameron is right when he says hurricanes are an opportunity for humility and reflection, as are other near death experiences.

Fourth, the best news that anyone can ever hear is that judgment has already happened and they missed it.

My brother lives two blocks from the ocean in Panama City Beach, Florida. A direct shot from Irma would have left his home under water and his town looking like New Orleans after Katrina. While he is concerned for his neighbors to the south he is also greatly relieved. Other towns absorbed the energy of that monster storm.

Scripture says all of us carry enough sin to be swallowed up by God’s ultimate judgment. But it also says that all of us can, if we are willing, take refuge in the cross of Christ. He absorbed the energy of God’s judgment for our sin (Romans 3:22-26).

Hurricanes and other natural disasters are to be expected on planet earth after the fall and cannot always be avoided, but they can be prepared for. So too with the judgment of God: It cannot be avoided, but it can be prepared for by taking refuge in Christ.

[1] http://pulpitandpen.org/2017/09/08/kirk-cameron-says-god-sends-hurricanes-internet-collectively-loses-mind/

[2] http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kirk-cameron-draws-controversy-hurricane-comments-1037129

[3] Citation: Carl F.H. Henry, The Christian Century (Nov. 5, 1980). Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 8.

[4] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/09/10/hurricane-irma-faith-groups-provide-bulk-disaster-recovery-coordination-fema/651007001/