THE GREAT HOPE

THE GREAT HOPE

“If you lose consciousness do you want me to stop at the nearest ER or do you want me to keep going to Duke?” We had already made a rapid stop on the side of 501 South near Roxboro to switch oxygen bottles when the first one ran out. My friend Paul was near unconsciousness as I fumbled the valve swap from one to the other.

“Keep going. Take me to Duke,” he said as he sucked down all the O2 from the fresh bottle that his ravaged lungs could absorb. The cancer he had been fighting for seven years was winning.

I hit the gas and tore down the highway, trusting that any police officer who might pull me over would agree with my sense of urgency.

That was April 14, 2013. My friend Paul never came home from Duke University Hospital. We buried him one month later.

Because it feels so permanent, the loss of friends and loved ones can have a devastating effect, creating a lifelong chain of grief and depression, unless we have a source of joy that is beyond the reach of death.

That source is what we celebrate this week. It is the great hope of the resurrection.

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. [1]

The resurrection changes how we experience all of life, not just the end of it. Let me give you three ways that it has changed life for me.

First, I have no fear of death. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t look forward to saying goodbye to family and friends. I don’t look forward to pain and suffering. But as the Apostle Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Phil 1:21-24 NIV)

Did you see that? “To die is gain…to be with Christ, is better by far.” The fact of the resurrection tells us that what Christ promised can be counted on. “In my father’s house are many rooms. I go there to prepare a place for you.” I don’t fear that place. I look forward to it.

Second, I live in hopeful expectation, of seeing loved ones yes, and friends who have believed, but the hope is far greater than that. I look forward to seeing Jesus face to face, the living Jesus I have known in his word, the presence I have known in prayer, through the veil, and in worship as “through a glass darkly.” “Now we know in part, then we shall know as we have been known.” No more shadows, no more veil but standing (or kneeling) in the presence of my King, rejoicing with him in the beauty, righteousness and glory of his kingdom, celebrating with him at the great feast of the Lamb and drinking anew with him the Cup of the Covenant.

Finally, every day is Easter to me. Every day is resurrection day. I live in the joy and freedom of the sons of God, for I too have “died to this life and been raised with him to walk in newness of life.” When I take up my own death in Christ (Romans 6) I am free to enjoy all of God’s good gifts on planet earth, good food, good fun, good friends and good love, without the fear that losing any of them to death is a permanent loss of real life. The true source of joy is beyond the reach of death.

My friend Paul knew that hope before he died. Now what about you? Where is your hope? If it is in this world alone, then count on it, you will lose it. But if you have the greatest hope, if it is in the resurrection of Christ, then you will have strength to face the loss of anyone or anything, and no one can steal your joy.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (1 Co 15:19–20). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

WALK IN THE SPIRIT: What Does Freedom From Sin Mean?

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16.

From time to time people ask questions that remind me how deep the discouragement and how hard the battle with sinful impulses can be. One of those came from a friend last week who asked: “What is freedom from the chains of sin?  Freedom to never sin?  Freedom from the worst consequences of sin?  I’ve been pouring over Romans 6 (don’t have to sin), 7 (it’s not me that sins but sin in my flesh), 8 (there is no condemnation),” but he had reached no conclusions.

He is right, of course, about Romans 6, 7, and 8. We are free from slavery to sin and free from the eternal consequences of it, but as long as we live in these fallen bodies we will continue to struggle with the impulse to sin which is why the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so crucial.

Maybe a Star Wars illustration will help us think about it.

At the end of act one in the first movie, Luke, Han, and Leah are trying to regain the Millennium Falcon, fighting their way through. On the opposite side of the hangar, Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi are in a duel to the death.

Darth Vader is overpowering and gloating. “Now I am the Master!”

“Only a master of evil,” says the old Jedi.

Then Obi Wan says: “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

That scene illustrates two metaphors for the Christian life: First, it is about power, but not the kind of power most people imagine, and second, the power we seek comes to us in a counter-intuitive way; to live, to have real power, we must die.

Our lives before the Spirit comes are full of darkness (Titus 3:4-7). A dark life is a life that tries to get its own way all the time; to have its own power. It follows dark impulses. Paul defines that darkness in Galatians 5:19-21.

Hear it in Eugene Peterson’s brilliant paraphrase from THE MESSAGE:

“… repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”

It is the worst of human behavior. And Paul is talking about Christians! When we live according to our ‘old man’ or ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ as it is variously translated we are capable of all such things. We look no different than the world.

But don’t get discouraged. Paul chooses his words very carefully. The original tense of the verb translated “those who live like this” (v.21) means “habitually practice”.

If your life is marked by this kind of behavior, day after day, week after week, year after year, you are kidding yourself about your salvation. The Spirit doesn’t reside in you.

But a life lived in the power of the Spirit is not like that at all.  It’s a life where the light grows stronger and stronger each day.  It’s outlined in Galatians 5: 22-23.

Here it is again in Peterson’s paraphrase.

“He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

How does all this come about?

God wants our lives to be full of His light, full of his power.  But it doesn’t happen automatically.  Like a Jedi Knight we have a part to play, we must learn how to, “Walk in the Spirit so that we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Otherwise we will fall back into the habits of darkness.

To walk in the Spirit, we must learn the difference between Spirit and Flesh, how the two operate in us. I’m doing some ministry traveling for the next two weeks and won’t be sure of my internet connection, but if I’m able I’ll write more about the differences between the two and how to walk in the Spirit next week.

PRO LIFE SUMMARY 2

“A woman has the right to determine what happens to her own body.”

“The pro-life view is religiously based, and religion shouldn’t have anything to do with public policy.”

Ever heard those statements and wondered how to respond?

This Friday, January 22nd marks the 43rd anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Since then over 58 million babies have been killed by abortionists in America alone.

This scourge can be stopped, but not by staying silent about it. The tech-savvy millennial generation is already inclined to think outside the box of pro-abortion arguments handed down to them from 1970’s liberals. We need to continue to feed their skepticism with truth. The more confident we are as we talk with friends and family, especially the millennial generation, the more likely they will be to end it.

Here then is part 2 of the article Why Pro Life? by Stonestreet and Klusendorf. Find the link to the whole document, titled 21 DAYS OF PRAYER FOR LIFE, here at http://www.colsoncenter.org.

Watch for the summary TAKE AWAY TRUTHS at the end. DS.

WHY PRO LIFE? A SUMMARY part 2
By Scott Klusendorf and John Stonestreet

Reason #3: Logic Affirms Life
Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life or you don’t.

Pro-life Christians contend that although humans differ in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature that bears the image of their Creator. Humans have value simply because they are human.

Secular critics like David Boonin provide a radically different perspective: Although you are identical to the embryo you once were, it does not follow you had the same right to life then as you do now. For Boonin, being human is nothing special:

On my desk in my office where most of this book was written and revised, there are several pictures of my son, Eli. In one, he is gleefully dancing on the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, the cool ocean breeze wreaking havoc with his wispy hair. In a second, he is tentatively seated in the grass in his grandparents’ backyard, still working to master the feat of sitting up on his own. In a third, he is only a few weeks old, clinging firmly to the arms that are holding him and still wearing the tiny hat for preserving body heat that he wore home from the hospital. Though all of the remarkable changes that these pictures preserve, he remains unmistakably the same little boy. In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. This picture was taken…24 weeks before he was born.

The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head titled back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.

But here’s Boonin’s problem: If humans only have value because of some characteristic they possess in varying degrees, those with more of it have greater rights than those with less. Human equality is a myth.

Pro-life Christians have a better explanation for human equality. Our value is grounded in our common human nature, not a degreed property like self-awareness that none of us share equally and may come and go in the course of our lifetimes. When did you get that human nature? You got it the moment you began to exist—conception.

Reason #4: Our Founding Documents Affirm Life
Pro-lifers are often told the pro-life view is “religious,” and religious ideas should not determine public policy. But this is merely a dismissal rather than a refutation.

As Francis J. Beckwith points out, arguments are true or false, valid or invalid. Calling an argument “religious” is a category mistake on a par with asking, “How tall is the number five?”

Also, nowhere in the constitution does it say that believers are prohibited from bringing their ideas to the public square and arguing for them like everyone else. It’s one thing to say the state should not establish a church. It’s quite another to disenfranchise believers from participating in their own government. Some of our country’s most important documents – like The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – have their roots in the biblical concept of the imago dei. If prolifers are irrational and unconstitutional for grounding basic human rights in the concept of a transcendent creator, these important historical documents—all of which advanced our national understanding of equality—are irrational and unconstitutional as well. If God doesn’t exist, where do human rights come from? If they come only from the State, the same government that grants rights can take them away. If human rights are to be absolute, they must come from a source higher than the State. That’s what the authors of our founding documents believed: that every human being is “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” The first of these rights is the right to life.

TWO TAKEAWAY TRUTHS:
“A woman has the right to determine what happens to her own body.”
“True. But she doesn’t have the right to determine what happens to someone else’s body. I am the same genetic person I was in my mother’s womb, and so are you. Should you have the right to end my life because I’m inconvenient to you? Should I have the right to end yours?”

“The pro-life view is religiously based, and religion shouldn’t have anything to do with public policy.”
“False. Calling an argument “religious” is a category mistake on a par with asking, “How tall is the number five?” Some of our country’s most important documents – like The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – have their roots in the biblical concept of the imago dei.

SING OVER ME: Dennis Jernigan’s Journey

“How did this happen? What did we do wrong? Why didn’t we see it coming?” These and many other questions hound the parents of children who go off the rails in one way or another, none more so than the parents of children who “come out” as gay.

Dennis Jernigan’s parents did not learn of his immersion in the same-sex world until he had been delivered from it, but his autobiography, SING OVER ME (Innovo Publishing 2014), should be read by anyone who wants to understand how it happens and how same-sex attraction can be overcome.

Jernigan, whose songs and hymns are known and loved all across the evangelical landscape, has had over twenty years to heal and consider his life’s path, and tells his story in a way that is transparent and mature. Familiar patterns emerged as I read the chapters; patterns parents and loved ones should take note of, especially when raising artistically gifted and sensitive boys.

Rosaria Butterfield says that all sexual sin, hetero or homosexual, is predatory and she’s right. Jernigan’s story bears that out. Some of the forces that channeled him into same-sex attraction include: Adult male predatory behavior that initiated confusion, curiosity, self-doubt, and a fixation on sexuality in Dennis as a very young boy; bullying and being made to feel different from other boys; an untutored journey through puberty; homophobic hostility from other men that made it feel impossible for an adolescent to discuss his confusion with those who could’ve helped him; powerful identification with major female authority figures at critical periods in his life; more sexual predation and manipulation as a young man by trusted adult males who used him instead of helping him. The list is longer, but you get the point. It all leads to a confusion of identity that is sexually expressed.

According to Jernigan, many people feel trapped in the same-sex world and want to escape, but don’t know how. For Dennis, the path out of homosexuality wasn’t as complicated as the path in, but it was no less difficult. It too has a pattern, one that has nothing to do with man-centered schemes like “dating for the cure,” where people with same-sex attraction date the opposite sex in hopes it will effect an inward change. It won’t. In fact, the people who emerge victorious over this attraction find that the victory isn’t about sex; it’s about identity and love.

“It suddenly became apparent to me,” he writes, “that since childhood I had believed a vast number of lies about myself, lies planted in my mind concerning my sexual identity, my worth, my talents, my personality, my character, and everything about me … I could no longer trust anyone from my past to help me because I reasoned they were in the same predicament as I was. In that moment, I decided I would go to the Word of God, the manual, and to Father God Himself in intimate prayer and worship—not to discover who I was but rather to discover Who He was!”

Jernigan replaced lies about himself with truth and walked in the light about his problems with his fellow believers. He found acceptance, understanding and a commitment to walk with him among a few close Christian friends, and notably, he discovered the power and freedom of Spirit-led worship.

Not surprisingly, some people have condemned Dennis for this forthright autobiography, accusing him of trying to reinvigorate a waning music career by “coming out” in this way. But as the legal threat for refusing to celebrate homosexuality grows it becomes increasingly important for others who struggle with same-sex attraction and identity to hear from people like Dennis, and gain hope. May his tribe increase.

THE MOLECH / PLANNED PARENTHOOD PARADIGM

Everything had to be carefully prepared. The attendants laid fuel for the fire in the rearward facing hearth of the hollow, life-sized bronze figure.  The musicians began softly, building intensity and volume as the fire grew hotter and the statue began to glow. The worshippers, having already made lesser offerings in the first six chapels, entered the seventh chamber to the mind-numbing thunder of pounding drums and clashing cymbals and a now red-hot bronze of a man with the head of a bull, seated on a throne with blazing arms outstretched to receive their infant sacrifice. Welcome to the 15th century B.C. worship of Molech, where the cries of the victims were swallowed up by the cacophony of the celebration.

I paint that ancient picture to remind you that no one should be surprised by what we are seeing in the video expose´ of Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts-for-dollars enterprise. In the first place, syndicated columnist Mona Charen reported on this practice as far back as 1999.  But more importantly, human nature has not changed.

Molech, mentioned in Leviticus 18:20, was one of the gods of the people who occupied the land before Israel came in. From an ancient, near eastern perspective the local deities “held the franchise” on prosperity. If you lived in Egypt you needed to know the Egyptian gods. Ditto in Babylon. But in Canaan you needed to know the Canaanite gods. They held the keys – if you were inclined to forget the real God – to your prosperity, your physical health and wellbeing. When you come right down to it, idolatry was economically driven.

Now, put yourself in the 21st century shoes of a young, unmarried woman. She lives in a culture that prides itself on sexual freedom and expression. Her culture also increasingly frowns on traditional families and motherhood and urges women to find fulfillment in a professional career, in having money, and things, and freedom. Then she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. She learns that the father of the child isn’t interested in being a father. She will bear the parenting burden alone. Perhaps her parents won’t help. She will bear the financial burden alone. She can afford to go to college or raise a child, but not both, her economic chances are being constrained. Or perhaps she is already in a professional career, one that will not make room for a child. What are her options?

Meanwhile the High Priestesses of Choice chant, “It’s about your freedom! Your body! Your rights!” And the drums of fear thunder louder in her ears, and the “clinicians” cymbals clash ‘it’s only tissue’, ‘a simple procedure’, ‘over in a moment’, adding to her confusion, drowning out the silent screams of the baby in her womb.

The arms of Molech wait in Planned Parenthood clinics all over America. The only difference is that they’ve figured out it’s more financially advantageous not to incinerate “the product,” but to sell it.

The question for us is: Can this situation change? Pro-life leaders in Congress are proposing legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, and I hope they succeed. Only when hearts change, however, will we stop the abortion holocaust. We must work upstream of politics with the message of hope in Jesus Christ. He alone can open the eyes and secure the hearts of women in fear. He alone can free us from the greed that drives the abortion industry.

If you are a woman who has undergone an abortion and you feel the brokenness and the guilt of it, there is hope. If you are a person who has worked in the industry and now regret it, there is hope. The guilt you feel has been born by another. The defilement you feel as a human being can be washed away. Jesus Christ, born of a woman, born under the law, was sacrificed as our penalty for sin and was raised so that we could be free. He has poured out his Spirit on us so that we can be cleansed. I urge you to invite him in to your life, to be your Lord and savior today.