Do Not Fear

faith-4932875_1920I want to talk about fear. To be transparent, this is absolutely a response to the Coronavirus situation that is currently facing the world, but this is not going to be a political commentary, it is not going to be my thoughts on the news media or the medical professionals or the politicians… It is not going to be a rant. I assure you that I have plenty of thoughts on all of that, and maybe I will share them later, by not now.

But I have to say that over the past 36 hours or so in particular, I have been thinking a lot about this situation and specifically about the responses to the situation that we are seeing. It seems that every time we turn on the news or browse our social media we are hit with new stories of closing and cancellations and quarantines. Of toiler paper shortages. Or, as the New York Times reported yesterday, of the man in Tennessee who, with his brother, amassed over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer over the past two weeks so that he could sell them for a huge profit in the midst of this health scare.

And, I have to be honest with you, a lot of what is going on has made me angry. I want to offer you some biblical insight into why Christians are not to allow themselves to become paralyzed or overwhelmed by fear.

We are going to look at several passages and consider several principles, but I want to begin in 2 Chronicles 20.

In chapter 19, we see that Jehoshaphat instituted a number of reforms, including civil and religious. Then chapter 20 begins with, “After this…”

After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi).

So, we see that there are a number of armies coming against Jehoshaphat and the Israelites, and they are getting close. Engedi was about 36 miles from Jerusalem.

Verse 3 says, Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.

Jehoshaphat was afraid. This is an absolute fear.

This is the same Hebrew word used in Nehemiah 2:2. King Artaxerxes sees that Nehemiah is sad and asks him why he has such a sad face—and Nehemiah was, it says, “overwhelmed with fear.”

This is the same Hebrew word used in 1 Samuel 28:5. Saul sees the Philistine army gathered together and camped in opposition to him, and Saul, it says, “was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.” The NIV says “terror filled his heart.”

This is the same Hebrew word that is used in Jonah 1. Jonah is fleeing from the Lord, he has boarded a ship for Tarshish and God sends a violent storm—so violent that the experienced sailors on board the ship are terrified.

So, you get the idea… When it says that Jehoshaphat was afraid, he is not just concerned. He is not just alarmed. He is not apprehensive. He is panic-stricken. He is distressed. He is scared half to death, to borrow the colloquialism.

Here is where we would expect to see something sudden and dramatic happen. Alarms are sounding, troops are being rallied, defenses and being engaged, windows are being shuttered… A frantic frenzy of activity breaks out in response. Right?

Wrong.

What does it say? “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord.”  The New American Standard reads, “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord.” I actually love the Contemporary English Version’s rendering. It says, “Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he asked the Lord what to do.”

How often, for you and me, is this actually the last thing we do? We try to problem solve, we ask other people for advice or help, we panic, we get stressed, we lose sleep, we lose weight—or we gain weight, depending on how we handle fear—and then, when nothing else works and we don’t know what else to do, we think, “maybe I should pray.”

Listen to what Oswald Chambers said: “We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.”

And that was exactly what Jehoshaphat did. I encourage you to read the rest of 2 Chronicles 20, at least through verse 17.

Now, someone might be thinking, “that was a visible, human army and this is an invisible virus.” That’s true. But the principles are the same. We are not to fear. The command “do not fear” is found repeatedly in Scripture. And there are some very good reasons why we are not to fear. But we will get to those in a minute.

I want you to consider this definition or description of fear from Kay Tye, a neuroscientist. This answer was published in Scientific American last summer as part of an article interviewing various scientists about fear. Dr. Tye said,

Fear is an intensely negative internal state. It conducts orchestration of coordinated functions serving to arouse our peak performance for avoidance, escape or confrontation. Fear resembles a dictator that makes all other brain processes (from cognition to breathing) its slave.

Did you catch that? “Fear resembles a dictator that makes all other brain processes its slave.”

This is one of the reasons, maybe the biggest reason, why God commands us not to fear. When we do fear—or, maybe to be more specific, when we fear and do anything other than go to him as our response—we are taking our focus off of God and allowing our focus to be shifted to, and dominated by—enslaved by, to use Dr. Tye’s words—something else. For most of us it will likely not be an actual army like it was for Jehoshaphat. But it can be so many other things. It can be the Coronavirus, it can be finances, it can be school, it can be our job, or our marriage, or our parents, or or or…

I have no idea if Dr. Tye is a Christian or not, but what she says in that article echoes what the Bible says about why our thinking is so important. I love the fact that Ravi Zacharias’s radio program is called “Let my people think.” Christians need to think! We need to use our minds and to think carefully and intentionally and having been informed by truth!

It is no accident that Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” If we are not going to allow the world to press us into its mold, we must have minds that are renewed. We have to let God change the way we think, in other words—and that necessarily means changing what we focus on!

I grew up playing baseball. I loved playing it, and then, when I got older, I played on multiple church softball teams and loved that too. But if I had to guess, I would say that there were six words I heard more than any others throughout my years playing baseball: “Keep your eye on the ball.” When you’re in the batter’s box and the pitcher is staring into the catcher’s mitt, wanting nothing more than to blow a strike by you, you have to have laser-like focus on that baseball. You don’t get long to decide to swing or not swing—or, sometimes, to get out of the way! You cannot be thinking about anything else, you cannot be distracted by anything else, you cannot be kinda thinking about it… it has to be your sole focus.

That is why Paul not only wrote that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, but he wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we are to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Did you catch that? Every thought! Why? Because what we think about very much shapes our lives.

Several years ago, Pastor Jonathan Parnell wrote,

Fear is like the monster under my kids’ beds — its power is fueled not by what’s really there, but by what might be, what we imagine could be. Fear is a hollow darkness in the future that reaches back through time to rob our joy now by belittling the sovereign goodness of God.

The might bes and could bes are driving an awful lot of what is going on in our country right now. Am I saying that we should be cavalier about all of this? Of course not. But we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by, or even distracted by, fear!

Let me tell you why…

God is with us and God will help us. Look at Isaiah 41…

Verse 10 – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Verse 13 – “For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.'”

So, one reason we must not fear is that it distracts us—it takes our focus off of God. And that leads to the second reason, that has been resonating so much with me over the past 36 hours. When we take our focus off of God, and we are controlled by fear, we become absurdly susceptible to those who claim to have the solution.

According to Thucydides, the people of Athens included fear along with honor and interest as the three strongest motives for action. When we are afraid, and not focused on God, we think we have to do something! That’s the only explanation for the otherwise inexplicable fact that people are currently stockpiling toilet paper, for example.

Barry Glassner, in his book The Culture of Fear, says, “we are living in the most fearmongering time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there’s a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears.”

What does that mean? If enough people are afraid of something, or multiple somethings, they will gladly give money and confidence and even obedience to those who claim to be able to resolve their fears. Back in 2005, Robert Higgs suggested that fear is the bedrock of every human government. “Without popular fear, no government could endure more than twenty-four hours,” he wrote. Now we may be able to debate that, but the underlying thesis there is that same notion that people will voluntarily submit themselves to someone or something that claims to be able to resolve their fears.

And I want to tell you, as I have watched what is happening in our country over the past week or so especially, I am seeing, for the first time in my life, how some of the things that we see in history could have come about. The fear that exists, and the willingness to go along with whatever, is troubling. Even more troubling perhaps is the unwillingness to stand up and stand out. We are seeing, played out before us, a massive example of peer pressure. You might think I am going to the extreme here, but I now see firsthand how Nazi Germany happened. Now don’t get me wrong, we are no where near that level, but Hitler was able to capitalize on fears and anxieties to enact his policies and very quickly it was so overwhelming and widespread that very few people were willing to stand up and say, “Wait a minute, what are we doing?”

And again, I am absolutely not saying that this is where we are now, but I believe that this is how the Antichrist will come to power. The fear and chaos and danger that is present will be the door to his authority. By appearing to have the solutions, he will gain the trust, the worship and the obedience of the world. Read Revelation 13 in particular.

The Old Testament account of the Israelites shows us just how quickly, and how stupidly, humans will turn to just about anything for answers. Think about Exodus 32… Moses has not come down from the mountain yet and the Israelites are impatient and they convince Aaron to make them a god… Exodus 32:1 says, “Come, make us gods who will go before us….” In other words, “make us gods who will lead us.” We are so impatient, we are so anxious, we are so afraid of being stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, we will follow whatever you make for us… Stupid!

So, we are not to fear, but we are to trust in God. Yes, be wise. Yes, take precautions. Yes, use common sense. But do not fear. In closing, consider the words of Jon Bloom:

This bold, happy confidence in God is not only an expression of trusting love in him; it also makes us feel lovingly expansive and encouraging toward others because we’re filled with hope in God. We can’t help but want to comfort and encourage others with the comfort and courage we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.

 

 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Work of God’s Hands

Today is the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade, a decision that made abortion legal across the United States and has resulted in tens of millions of innocent deaths. The ACLU tweeted today, “Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is a RIGHT.” Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) tweeted, “…we must redouble our resistance against attempts to take us backwards. Women’s health is not negotiable. Women’s bodies belong to no one but themselves.” Of course, those who are so adamantly committed to maintaining a woman’s right to kill her unborn child are celebrating today and reiterating their commitment to making abortion access even more available than it already is. Those of us who recognize that “pro-choice” is really just a more pleasant way of saying “pro-death,” however, mourn this anniversary.

I do want to address the evil of abortion specifically in this post, but before I do, I want to address abortion from a different—and necessary—other perspective.

Those of us who are pro-life are often very adept at articulating our commitment to the sanctity of life and our opposition to abortion. And I honestly do not know how anyone can claim to be a Christian and Bible believer and not be pro-life. At the same time, we do not tend to be nearly so articulate, or compassionate, when it comes to our treatment of those who have had an abortion. It is my commitment, and it should be the commitment of every believer and every church, that I will treat any woman who becomes pregnant, regardless of the circumstances of that pregnancy, with grace and compassion, not shame and rejection. Now, it is possible that someone is thinking that might serve only to condone or excuse sinful behavior, but that’s not what I am saying. Here’s what I am saying:

It is not sinful in and of itself to be pregnant. The actions that led to becoming pregnant may have been sinful. They may have been sinful on the part of the woman who is now pregnant and they may have been sinful on the part of the person who impregnated her. In other words, the woman who is pregnant may have sinned or she may be the victim of someone else’s sin. If her pregnancy is the result of her sin, there are biblical guidelines on how that is to be addressed. But there is nothing wrong with being a mother or with being pregnant. If we are to be a Bible-believers acting in accordance with the Scripture, then we must take that position that we love babies—unborn and born—and we hate it when any baby is killed.

I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I will not ever, regardless of circumstances, encourage a woman to have an abortion. ((And I am not going to go into the specifics here, but I can also tell you that abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother. An early delivery of the child might be, but abortion is not). All children are a gift from God and every child bears the image of God—and no child, born or unborn, deserves to be killed for the actions of his or her parent, even if the actions were sinful.

If the actions of the pregnant woman were sinful and the women is repentant, then we are instructed to come along side her and restore her. If she is not repentant, we have instructions from the Bible on what to do in that situation, as well. But no where in the Bible can we find direction or support for rejecting, ignoring, condemning or abandoning that woman.

Josh Brahm, from the Equal Rights Institute, tells this story, with the permission of Monique, the woman involved:

She grew up with an absent father and thus a mother who worked multiple jobs to support her children. One of her mother’s jobs was as an administrator for the black Pentecostal church that Monique grew up attending. At the age of 17, Monique became pregnant because of a guy who took advantage of her.

Nobody at the church asked how she became pregnant. Instead, the church leadership told her mother that Monique was to sit in the back pew until the pregnancy was over. She was no longer allowed to talk to her friends, as the parents assumed that Monique would be a bad influence on them. Monique’s mother didn’t intervene on her behalf because she was so embarrassed about the situation, and she didn’t understand what had really happened to Monique.

Monique recalled a particular Sunday morning when she was singing loudly from the back pew during the worship time. Monique is one of the most gifted vocalists I’ve ever served with on a worship team, and that love of singing began in Monique’s childhood. It was one of the primary ways that Monique connected with God. But on this day, as she was singing, a woman in the pew in front of her turned around and said, “Don’t you wish you could be singing to the glory of God?” Monique went silent. She said that she had never felt as lonely or shamed as she did during that pregnancy. She distinctly remembers thinking, “If this is church, then I don’t want to have any part of it.”

It is certainly my hope and my prayer that such a response would never come from me or from my church—or any church.

Now, having discussed how we are, and are not, to respond when a woman becomes pregnant outside of marriage, let me also make clear that we must respond similarly if we ever meet someone who we know, or we learn, has had an abortion or has paid for someone to have an abortion. I believe absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, that abortion is murder and abortion is sin. But I also know absolutely, 100%, without a doubt that I am a sinner, and so are you, and that Jesus loves sinners—and commands me to do the same.

If you are reading this and you have had an abortion, or you paid for someone else to have one—you need to know two things: God knows that…and God still loves you. And if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, that sin has been forgiven. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Phillips translation says, “No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are ‘in’ Jesus Christ.” No condemnation means that—no condemnation, regardless of your past.

All of that was a necessary backdrop to the rest of what I am going to say about the evil of abortion. First, some basic facts…

According to the Guttmacher Institute (which, by the way, supports abortion rights):

• Eighteen percent of pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in 2017 ended in abortion.
• Approximately 862,320 abortions were performed in 2017. That is just under the current population of South Dakota and greater than the populations of North Dakota, Vermont, Alaska or Wyoming.

Can I put those numbers into some perspective for you? Using 2017 numbers…

• Abortion killed more people in five days than drunk drivers did in a year.
• The increase in suicide rates gets a lot of attention…as it should…but in 2017, abortion killed more people in twenty days than suicide did all year.
• Abortion killed more people in 65 days than lung cancer did in a year.
• Abortion killed more people in 8.5 months in the U.S. than cancer of all kinds combined did in a year.
• The leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2017 was heart disease, with 647,457 fatalities. Abortion killed that many in nine months. Do you understand what that means? It means that abortion was, by a long shot, the leading cause of death in the United States in 2017—and that was a year in which abortion reached its lowest number since legalization in 1973!
• The total number of deaths, excluding abortion, in the U.S. in 2017 was 2,813,503. If abortion were included in that number, it would be 30% higher.

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided., more than 55 million babies have been aborted. That’s 1.4 times the population of California. It’s double the population of Texas as of the last census.

That number is larger than the population of the 25 smallest U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Consider the maps included here to imagine what it might be like if the people in those 25 states were gone.

The United States
The United States with the 25 smallest-population states removed

If we were to have a ten-second moment of silence for every baby killed by abortion since 1973, we would have to be silent for more than seventeen years! (If you find that difficult to believe, see the footnote for the math).

All of this stems from the beliefs of what those who are in favor of the right to abortion call the “pro-choice” position. Of course, Ronald Reagan very succinctly and directly addressed the silliness of that terminology in a debate in 1980, when he said, “With regard to the freedom of the individual for choice with regard to abortion, there is one individual who is not being considered at all, and that is the one who is being aborted. And I have noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

If you pay any attention to the news, the odds are good that you have seen or read the speech that Michelle Williams gave when she won a Golden Globe award two weeks ago. In it, she said, “And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.” She was celebrating her professional accomplishment and announcing to the world that she could not have reached that accomplishment without the right to kill her unborn child.

Interestingly enough, in November of 2012 a woman named Jodi Jacobsen wrote an article entitled, “Life Begins At Conception. That’s Not the Point.” In that article she said,

Here is a startling revelation: I am a mother of two and a woman who earlier in her life had an abortion. I am unapologetically pro-choice. And I know life *begins* at conception (which itself is the product of a complex process), because I kinda already knew that having a child required, as a first step, the successful integration of a sperm and an egg, or fertilization. (emphasis hers)

She later writes, “The question is not when life begins. That just obfuscates the real issues.”

So, what are the real issues? Well, according to Jacobsen, the “fundamental” issues are:

• When does pregnancy begin?
• Does personhood begin at conception? Is a fertilized egg, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus a person with rights that trump those of the woman upon whose body it depends?
• Do women need “evidence” that if they are pregnant, odds are they are going to have a baby?
• Do women have the moral agency and fundamental rights to decide whether or not to commit themselves not only to the development of a life within their own bodies, but to a lifelong tie to another human being once a child is born?

Later in that article, Jacobsen makes the case that “life” and “personhood” are not the same thing. And Peter Singer would agree. Singer is a professor at Princeton, a philosopher and an atheist, and he has to be the most blunt pro-death individual I have ever come across. In 1979 he published a book entitled Practical Ethics, which was revised and reprinted in 1999. In it, Singer says that human worth should be determined by human capacity. Accordingly, he wrote this:

A week-old human baby is not a rational and self-conscious being, and there are many non-human animals whose rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity, and so on, exceed that of a human baby a week or a month old. [Therefore] the life of a newborn baby is of less value…than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.

I imagine that concept is troubling to you. I hope that it is. After all, I cannot imagine anyone who ever held a newborn child and thought, “This isn’t even a person yet!” I could give you other examples of similar ideas held by others. Sadly, they are not in short supply. But the truth, for those of us who believe the Bible, who hold a theistic worldview, is clearly summarized in this statement by Rebecca McLaughlin:

From a theistic perspective, there is such a thing as a child—who might make moral demands on us—only because God created children. … With a theistic worldview, morality and reality spring from the same source.

And that, of course, is what this entire thing really comes down to. “God created children.” God created each and every human being that exists, that has ever existed and that ever will exist.
In Isaiah 64, Isaiah is asking God to manifest Himself to the people of Israel and show His power in a very real way. And I do not generally like to handpick a verse to focus on without providing the full context, so forgive me for doing so this time, but I want to zero in on verse 8. Isaiah writes, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

I want to make three points from this verse about the creation and value of each human being. I want us to grasp the intimacy, the intentionality and the individuality of each human life.

Isaiah is using the imagery of a potter shaping clay. If you have ever tried your hand at pottery, or ever watched someone else do it, you realize that it is an intimate act. It is up-close and personal. The hands of the potter are working the clay, feeling the clay, shaping the clay… God’s design and creation of every human being is similarly intimate and personal.

A potter does not just haphazardly shape the clay on the wheel. He or she is intentional about the design—where to apply pressure, and how much pressure to apply; how tall to make it, how wide or narrow. It all depends on the intended design and purpose of the pottery being made at that moment. God’s design and creation of each human being is intentional.

And thirdly, a potter makes each piece of pottery individually. Even if making similarly designed pieces, each is special and unique. God designs and creates each human being individually, as well. He does not have an assembly line that cranks us out. We are each, in the words of the psalmist, wonderfully made.

We are each made intimately, intentionally and individually. We are the work of God’s hands. And we are made in the image of God. Every life is sacred. Every life has worth.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

60 seconds x 60 minutes = 3,600 seconds per hour
3,600 seconds x 24 hours = 86,400 seconds per day
86,400 seconds x 365 = 31,536,000 seconds per year

55,000,000 million abortions x 10 seconds = 550,000,000 seconds

550,000,000 seconds / 31,536,000 seconds = 17.44 years

A Lesson for the Church: The Other Example We Have Been Given by Rachael Denhollander

Rachael Denhollander is a name probably not many people knew until a year and a half ago. That is when she became the first person to come forward and publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Even then her name was not nearly as well-known as it is now. After her victim impact statement on January 24, it is probably fair to say that not many people have not heard of her.

In 2000, Denhollander was a club level gymnast when she met Nassar at the age of fifteen due to a back injury. Nassar was, in the words of the Boston Globe, “the despicable doctor who systematically, for decades, used his position as a renowned, sought-after, and respected physician in the gymnastics world to sexually abuse countless young athletes under the guise of medical treatment.” Only at that time, no one knew—or, I should say, no one acknowledged—that Nassar was a predator. Others had complained about Nassar before 2000, but nothing had been done. By the time he was arrested his victims numbered in the hundreds. One hundred fifty-six of them spoke at his sentencing hearing, which resulted in a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison.

Denhollander’s courage in coming forward and opening the door that gave voice to so many other victims has received plenty of attention in the media and I am not going to focus on that here. I would simply echo what Tara Sullivan wrote, that Denhollander is “Larry Nassar’s most important victim, his loudest and bravest opponent in the fight to expose his depravity as a serial pedophile disguised as a respected physician.”

What brought perhaps the most attention to Denhollander was her impact statement, nearly forty minutes long, in which she clearly spoke of what Nassar had done, the physical but, more importantly, emotional, damage it inflicted on Denhollander and others, and then shared the gospel with Nassar. Writing on The Gospel Coalition site, Justin Taylor said, “What she said directly to the man—who gratified himself off of her innocence and abused countless other girls in a malicious and manipulative way—is an incredible testimony to the grace and justice of Jesus Christ.” I agree. When I first heard it later that same day I described it as “an extraordinary presentation of the gospel to someone Rachael Denhollander has every human reason to hate and wish eternal condemnation in hell upon!”

Her bold stand against Nassar and her equally bold statement of the gospel to Nassar—and a watching world—has drawn tremendous attention, and rightfully so. In his edition of The Briefing the day after Denhollander spoke, Albert Mohler said,

…what so many in the world missed is that the moral clarity that was so evident in that courtroom yesterday cannot really emerge from a secular worldview. It can only emerge from a biblical worldview. And yesterday it wasn’t just the witness to good and evil that appeared. In the voice of Rachael Denhollander, there was a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel that speaks so honestly about sin, and the Gospel that so honestly promises in Christ salvation from sin.

Denhollander has, indeed, set a beautiful example of what it means to be like Christ. To hate the sin but not the sinner. To extend mercy and forgiveness when it is not even remotely deserved—and never could be. Evangelical Christians are sharing her statement and celebrating her testimony and all of that is good. It is as it should be.

Sadly, there is something else about Denhollander’s experience that Christians seem to be overlooking, and we must not do so.

In her statement, Denhollander said,

Even my status as a sexual assault victim has impacted or did impact my ability to advocate for sexual assault victims because once it became known that I too had experienced sexual assault, people close to me used it as an excuse to brush off my concerns when I advocated for others who had been abused, saying I was just obsessed because of what I had gone through, that I was imposing my own experience upon other institutions who had massive failures and much worse.

 

My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated. And far worse, it was impacted because when I came out, my sexual assault was wielded like a weapon against me.

 

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Denhollander wrote, “I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community.”

 

As incredible and beautiful as Denhollander’s courage to come forward and willingness to share the gospel with Nassar may be, that she “lost her church” through coming forward is just as incredible and hideous. I do not know exactly what transpired between Denhollander and her church, but the details here are not important. For her to say, twice, that she lost her church as a result of taking a stand against Nassar says all that we need to know. There is no justification anywhere in Scripture for abandoning a victim. Quite the contrary, in fact. Romans 12:15 says, “When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow” (Living Bible).

 

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said that whatever is done “to the least of these my brothers, you have done it to Me.” Commenting on that verse Matthew Poole wrote, that charity, or love, “must be chiefly shown to those of the household of faith.” Denhollander is clearly of the household of faith, yet her church abandoned her. Take note, fellow Christian: that means her church turned its back on Christ.

 

I do not focus on this to condemn Denhollander’s former church alone. I do not even know the name of the church she attended. I emphasize this to bring attention to such behavior that has gone on for far too long, and has been far too tolerated, in the Church in general. How can we claim to follow Christ if we abandon our brothers and sisters who are hurting? John Tillman wrote the following in a devotion on The Park Forum:

 

As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own, identifying with their feelings of powerlessness, of isolation, and of being silenced for so long. …

 

No environment, from Hollywood offices to the sanctuaries of our churches is untouched by the culture of degrading sexual manipulation and abuse. Christians have an opportunity to drop partisan loyalty, abandon “what-aboutism,” and step into this cultural problem with the perspective of the Gospel.

Christians can uniquely offer condemnation for abusive actions and the systems which allowed them, while offering compassion and protection for victims, and even forgiveness and redemption (though not necessarily reinstatement) for perpetrators.

 

Compassion for the victims is precisely what Christians should be offering. Compassion and support and encouragement. There is no room for abandonment or rejection or judgment of victims. In an April 2016 blog post entitled “4 Common Ways Churches Fail Abuse Victims (And What to Do Instead)” Ashley Easter states that the Church must take accusations of abuse seriously, whether made against someone inside or outside of the church, and “recognize how difficult it is for a victim to come forward.” Furthermore, the Church, and those within it, need to “believe and reassure the victim that there is nothing they could ever do to cause someone else to hurt them.”  In July 2015 Boz Tchividjian wrote of his own abuse as a child and the way churches so often respond inappropriately to abuse victims. “A primary reason why victims are afraid of the church is because of the level of immaturity and ignorance they have experienced in how they are treated or handled by the community and leadership of a church,” Tchividjian wrote. He continued, “There is now an entire generation that has left the church and might not ever return because of the negative impact that the church has had in the lack of understanding and compassion for the broken and the wounded.” Abuse is horrific and cannot be tolerated. But just as wrong and intolerable is this kind of response within the body of Christ.

 

I pray that Rachael Denhollander will be embraced and encouraged and prayed for by the Church even though she was not treated that way be her local church. I pray that she will remain a passionate and articulate voice for abuse victims and for the gospel. I also pray that she will prove to have taught us a significant lesson about abuse and how not to respond to it.

The Sanctity of All Human Life

Tomorrow is national Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is held on the Sunday closest to the date when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. In the United States, and indeed around the world, the sanctity of life has become a political issue. Legislatures and courts debate and rule on whether life is indeed sacred and whether or not life can be ended at the whim of a mother or the wish of an old or ill individual. But I am not going to address it politically. It does not matter if you are Democrat or Republican or Independent. I am addressing the sanctity of life because it is a biblical issue. It is, quite simply, a matter of knowing and defending biblical truth.

Since 1973, when abortion became legal under Roe v. Wade, approximately 60 million babies have been aborted in the United States. I live in the Midwest, so to try to put that into context, that would the equivalent today of the combined populations of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Texas.

If each of those babies was represented by an 8×10 photo, their photos would cover 765 acres, almost the exact size of New York’s Central Park, or enough to cover the National Mall five photos deep. Or, put differently, it would be enough photos to paper over Mt. Rushmore.

The good news is that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate is now the lowest that it has been since abortion was legalized in 1973. The not-so-good news is that it cannot truly be considered celebratory to finally kill less than one million babies a year in the U.S. As Jamie Dean put it in WORLD, “When we mark finally killing less than a million children in a single year, such a victory seems as tragic as it is sobering.” Every life saved is worth celebrating, and every woman who chooses not to abort is to be commended and encouraged. But to say that we finally killed fewer than one million children in a year serves really only to show us (1) how depraved and murderous our nation had become and, (2) how much further we still have to go.

According to the American Life League, thirty-two Planned Parenthood facilities closed in 2017. That is wonderful news. Not so wonderful is that Planned Parenthood still operates more than six hundred facilities within the U.S. and partners with twelve other countries around the world. The May 30, 2017 issue of The Washington Times reported on Planned Parenthood’s annual report, released nearly six months late at the end of May. In that report, Planned Parenthood reported that saw fewer patients but performed more abortions than in 2016. How many? According to their own report, 328,348. That is about 900 a day, 37.5 per hour, or one every 1.6 minutes—every day of the year. And you and I helped them do that, since the federal government supports Planned Parenthood to the tune of $500 million annually. That is despite the fact, by the way, that the organization reaped a $77.5 million profit in 2016. Planned Parenthood has infiltrated public schools across the country through sex education curriculums—and in some of those schools it is Planned Parenthood staffers that teach the material. Due to the explicit nature of that curriculum and those sometimes teaching it, Planned Parenthood has tried to go a step further and get itself a permanent space in public schools. In Reading, PA, for example, Planned Parenthood proposed opening a health clinic inside Reading High School. The Reading school board postponed its decision and eventually rejected the idea, but that it was ever even seriously considered is incredibly alarming.

Many who defend Planned Parenthood, and particularly tax payer support of the organization, like to tout all of the other services the organization provides—things like birth control, HIV services, patient education, pelvic exams, cancer and screenings. Does Planned Parenthood do some good things? Sure. So, did Adolph Hitler. Think that’s an unfair comparison? Hitler was responsible for the execution of approximately six million Jews. According to an October 2016 report on CNS News, Planned Parenthood had, at that time, executed 6,803,782 children since 1978 through abortion.

I could go on providing many more facts and figures about abortion in the United States—and around the world—but my primary purpose in this post is not to confront you with those staggering numbers, as important as I think that is. My primary purpose is to explain, from Scripture, why human life—every human life—is sacred. Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, and abortion is an enormous portion of the fight to defend the sanctity of all human life, but it is not the only portion. A biblical view of the sanctity of life means recognizing, defending and advocating for the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death.

Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Humans are created in the very image of God. We are God’s image-bearers. That, by itself, ascribes tremendous value to each and every human being. Nothing else in all of creation bears the very image of God—only humans. Man, woman, boy, girl, every human being who has ever been conceived has borne the image of God.

Now one chapter later, in Geneses 2:7, it says, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

There are two important truths in this verse that I want to focus on. The first is the statement that God formed man. In chapter one of Genesis the emphasis is on the fact that God created everything—the universe, the earth, the skies, the oceans, the mountains, the trees, the animals, humankind—out of nothing. God created everything ex nihilo, from nothing. Nothing in creation is the result of a cosmic explosion that conveniently resulted in parts coming together just so to form the world and the universe around us, and human beings are certainly not the result of incredible accident and happenstance.

According to a BBC report entitled “The 25 Biggest Turning Points in Earth’s History,” this is what happened 4.5 billion years ago:

Earth grew from a cloud of dust and rocks surrounding the young Sun. Earth formed when some of these rocks collided. Eventually they were massive enough to attract other rocks with the force of gravity, and vacuumed up all the nearby junk, becoming the Earth.

Then, after all of that collision and whatnot, life emerges:

Nobody knows exactly when life began. The oldest confirmed fossils, of single-celled microorganisms, are 3.5 billion years old. Life may have begun a bit earlier than that, but probably not while huge rocks were still raining down on Earth. Life may have begun in warm alkaline vents on the seabed, or in open water, or on land. We don’t know, and we don’t know what the first organisms were like.

There are many other fantastic claims that follow, but then, 65 million years ago,

…a huge chunk of rock from outer space smashed into what is now Mexico. The explosion was devastating, but the longer-term effects were worse. Dust was thrown into the upper atmosphere and blocked out sunlight, and in the ensuing cold and darkness Earth suffered its fifth and last mass extinction.

And then, finally, humans come along:

Almost immediately after the dinosaurs were wiped out, mammals evolved the ability to nourish their young inside their wombs using a placenta, just like modern humans. Soon, some of these early placental mammals evolved into the first primates. They would ultimately give rise to monkeys, apes and humans.

This is all balderdash! Human beings were created by God, in His image. Genesis 2:27 says God formed man. God shaped and molded humans to be precisely what He wanted and He designed. It is the metaphor of the potter and the clay, applying pressure where necessary, pushing, pulling, pressing, forming. This Hebrew word is not used in connection with any other creature. Joseph Benson said it “implies a gradual process in the work, with great accuracy and exactness.”

God created the universe, the world, and humans. He created humans in His likeness and He formed humans to His precise desires and specifications.

But the second key truth of Genesis 2:27 is that God breathed into man the breath of life.

According to the Cambridge Bible, “The preceding clause having explained man’s bodily structure, the present one explains the origin of his life. His life is not the product of his body, but the gift of God’s breath or spirit.”

It says God breathed into man the breath of life. The Hebrew word from which we get “breath of life” literally means “the soul of lives.” God breathed into humans a soul—a soul that is different from any other aspect of creation, from any other animal. Humans are both physical and spiritual, both temporal and eternal. God formed our physical aspects and then He breathed into us our spiritual nature. Job references this wonderful truth. In Job 27:3 you will see Job said, “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils….”

The Pulpit Commentary puts it like this: “Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine inbreathing; certainly not an in-breathing of atmospheric air, but…a communication from the whole personality of the Godhead.”

Are you with me? You and I and every human being who has ever been conceived have within us the soul of lives, the whole personality of the Godhead, breathed into us by Almighty God! No other living creature ever has, does have, or will have that. It is that breath of life, breathed into us by God, that separates us, that makes us unique, that is the very reason that all human life is sacred.

Now, having established that, what does it mean for us practically? What does it have to do with abortion or euthanasia or anything else? What impact does that have on our worldview? Quite simply this: everything. The fact that human beings are created in the image of God, formed by God, and animated by the very breath of God, means that every—mark that, now, I said EVERY—human life is sacred. If you believe what I have just shown you from the Scripture you cannot be content with a theoretical knowledge of those facts alone. The application or implication of that knowledge must be a recognition and a defense of the sanctity of all human life.

That has several practical, real life implications.

First, we must be, in the contemporary political parlance, pro-life. You cannot believe that human beings are everything we just saw that they are and also believe that it is acceptable or permissible for any human being to, for whatever reason, decide that a human life in the womb is disposable. Abortion is a violation on the very character of God. It cannot be anything but that if you believe what we have just seen in Scripture. If God created and formed and breathed into humans, and humans are the image-bearers of God, then we dismiss that completely and disregard His character if we support the idea that an unborn child is disposable.

I am not going to go into the details of when life begins. Suffice it to say that both Scripture and science make it clear that life begins at conception. It is, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, an inconvenient truth for those who defend the right to abortion, but it is, nevertheless, the truth. There is no avoiding the fact that abortion is the killing of a child.

We are making progress in the United States in restricting selective abortions. For example, Ohio recently passed a law banning abortions of children with Down syndrome. That’s a wonderful thing—on one hand. On the other, think about the totality of what that means: if you are going to have a baby that the doctor says will have Down syndrome, you many not abort it. But if you are going to have a baby that the doctor believes will be perfectly healthy and you want to abort it anyway, you’re free to do so. Several U.S. states have laws banning sex-selective abortion. That’s good, too—on one hand. On the other, it means that abortionists must ask a woman if she knows what sex her child will be and then, assuming she tells the truth, tell her that it is illegal for her to abort her child based on that information. And what then are the odds that the mother will say, “Oh, that was my reason. I guess I will have to keep the baby.” I feel confident in saying the likelihood of that is zero. Do not get me wrong, I think any restriction on abortion is a step in the right direction. If nothing else, each restriction makes it all the more noticeably ridiculous that abortion is permitted at all.

Second, we must support options and assistance for those who find themselves unwilling or unable to care for a child once it is delivered. We cannot wholeheartedly and passionately defend the right of a child to be born and leave it at that. We must support assistance for the mother who does not want to have the child, but does anyway. We must support—prayerfully and yes, sometimes even financially, the woman or the family that gives birth to a child and keeps it but is not quite sure how to take care of it. We must support adoption—and the families who adopt.

Christians have been pro-life from the beginning. Indeed, in ancient Rome, it was their willingness to take in and care for the rejected newborns that marked them as unique and unusual. In his book The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome, Michael Craven writes:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world. Cicero (106-43 BC), writing in the period before Christ, cited the Twelve Tables of Roman Law when he wrote, “deformed infants should be killed” (De Ligibus 3.8). Similarly, Seneca (4 BC-AD 39) wrote, “We drown children who are at birth weakly and abnormal” (De Ira 1.15). The ancient writer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120), discussing the casual acceptance of child sacrifice, mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds while the mother stood by without tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D). Polybius (ca. 200-118 BC) blamed infanticide for the population decline in Greece (Histories 6).

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn. . . .

These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.

We must, today, be willing to practice the same sort of self-sacrificial actions.

Third, we must change the concept that a child is a hindrance to a woman pursuing her goals and dreams in life. U.S. track Olympian and medalist Sanya Richards-Ross wrote a book that came out last summer entitled Chasing Grace. In that book she wrote, “I literally don’t know another female track and field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion, and that’s sad.” I do not know how many track athletes Richards-Ross knows, but I assume that for someone who has competed on the world stage the number is high. And she is right, it is a sad statement. Sadly, though, it is not only female athletes who see potential childbirth as a roadblock to the accomplishment of their career goals. Planned Parenthood, on its website, lists among the reasons someone may choose to have an abortion these two: it’s not a good time in life to have a baby or they want to focus on work or achieve other goals before having a baby. A May 2017 post on Save the Storks cited a 2004 survey of more than 1,200 post-abortive woman that indicated that “three-fourths of aborting women have an abortion because a child would interfere with their life (work, school, etc.).” We must change this mindset. Women who do choose to give up a job in order to stay home and care for their children full time must be celebrated and encouraged. But women who choose to maintain a career and have children must also be celebrated for choosing life.

Fourth, we must forgive, accept, and love those who have had abortions. Abortion is a horrific evil and one that violates the very character of God in a way unlike many other sins. But God does not rank sin. God forgives those who seek His forgiveness. And we must do no less. There is great truth in the cliché that we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. We should hate abortion with a passion. We should do anything we can to oppose it and to try to eliminate it. But we must just as passionately love those who have experienced abortion. Please hear me on this: while abortion is an assault on the character of God, so too is an arrogant, judgmental attitude that refuses to show love and forgiveness toward those who have had an abortion!

Fifth, we must recognize, articulate and defend the truth that every life is sacred. The word “every” leaves nothing out. What this means in practical terms is that there is no differentiation among human beings; no individual and no group is any more important or any more valuable than any other individual or group. All humans were created in the image of God, fashioned by Him and received the breath of life from Him and therefore all human life is sacred. Let me be even more clear:

  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on gender—male and female are equally sacred
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on race – every human life is sacred regardless of whether that life is Asian, Latino, African, Caucasian or any of the innumerable hyphenated options
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on ability, whether physical or intellectual – every human life is sacred regardless of intelligence level or physical capability—or limitation. That means the one with the IQ of 50 is as sacred as the one with the IQ of 180. The one with a physical handicap is as sacred as the one with incredible athletic prowess. The one that is blind is as sacred as the one with 20/20 vision.
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on age. The child that was just conceived moments ago is as sacred as the infant that was born last month. That infant is as sacred as the kindergartener, as the high schooler, as the college graduate, as the 40-year-old, as the retiree, as the senior citizen, as the one who is approaching the age of 100. There is no biblical support for the idea that any life ever ceases to become worth living until such time as God Himself makes that decision. Murder is wrong. But so is suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Bible does not differentiate between the sacredness of the individual that is still fully coherent and capable of caring for him or herself and the one that has lost most of his mental faculties or is confined to a wheelchair or a bed.

I realize that it is difficult from our finite human perspective to accept and understand why some things happen the way they do in this life. Why are some children born with incredible limitations or disabilities? Why are some born healthy and then experience an illness or an accident that strips them of some of those abilities that they once had? Why do some live to a ripe old age with full physical and mental capabilities and others seemingly lose all memory or rational ability at a relatively young age? I do not know the answers to those questions. Accepting that God is sovereign and allows what He allows for reasons that only He may understand is indeed a large part—though an incredibly difficult part—of faith. But I do know that the Bible makes it unmistakably clear that every life has value and purpose. Let me give you quickly just eight verses out of many that could be shared:

  • Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
  • Job 10:11 says, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.”
  • Leviticus 19:14 says, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • And then Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • Luke 12:7 says, “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
  • Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory;it is gained in a righteous life.”
  • Exodus 4:11 says, “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”
  • In John 9, His disciples asked Jesus why a man was blind—whether it was he or his parents that had sinned, and Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Every human life is created by God, formed by God, and given the breath of life by God. Every human life is sacred.

Ephesians 5:7-11 says this:

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

We can expose them through our words, but we can also expose them through our actions, and we must. We are to be salt and light in the world, and that includes defending the sanctity of all human life.

Our responsibility, as children of God and His ambassadors in this world, is to honor and respect the dignity and sanctity of every human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. We must do this through our words and our deeds, within our churches, our homes, our communities, our state, our nation and the world.

Someday, the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday may be unnecessary. I certainly hope so. I agree with Russell Moore, who wrote, “I pray regularly that for my future great grandchildren, a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday would seem as unnecessary as a Reality of Gravity Emphasis Sunday.” But unless and until that day comes, we are called to defend the sanctity of human life—every human life—because God has given every human the very breath of life.

Celebrating Halloween: Why Would I?

Tracy Krebs, a former colleague of mine began a recent blog post this way: “As soon as the leaves begin to turn, the anti-halloween-bloggers start popping up on my fb feed…” It is true that the changing colors of the leaves prompt those both for and against the celebration of Halloween to dust off their opinions and post them anew. It is not a topic I have ever engaged in with effort. When asked, I will share what I think. When challenged, I will respond. And I took the blog post of this former colleague, shared on Facebook, as a challenge. Her post was titled, “Can I love Jesus…and Halloween?” Tracy makes it clear that she thinks the answer is yes. I disagree with her on that. But it is precisely because of some erroneous explanations she gives for her position that I feel the need to respond.

She begins her post with a quick overview of the origins of the holiday we now know as Halloween. She correctly traces the beginnings to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, when the Celts “believed that the veil between the spirit realm and physical realm was at it’s [sic] thinnest and that ghosts of the dead (along with other spirit realm entities) wandered among the living” (Tracy’s words). She goes on to say that the Celtic people lit large bonfires in their fields and put candles in their hollowed-out gourds to guide these spirits and left food and wine on their doorsteps to appease them. Furthermore, they had large feasts “during which they purposely honored their dead relatives; speaking fondly of their memories, appreciation and love for them; and, yes, since they believed they were close by for a few hours, would usually try to commune with them” (again, Tracy’s words).

There are a few problems with this. First, supposing it were an accurate description, this practice is not harmless or biblically acceptable. Deuteronomy 18:9-11 says,

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.

Notice several things from this passage: (1) some practices—read religious practices, holidays, celebrations and traditions—of heathen nations are abominable to God; (2) consulting with the dead—which would include communing with, to borrow Tracy’s word—is also an abomination to the Lord. 1 Chronicles 10 makes it clear that Saul suffered serious consequences from the Lord for consulting with a witch—a medium—to summon the spirit of Samuel. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that communicating, communing or consulting with the dead is permissible, let alone encouraged.

But notice that I said “supposing it were an accurate description,” when referring to Tracy’s overview of the origins of Halloween. The reality is, it is not. History.com, in its overview of Halloween, starts off the same way Tracy does: “Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.” After that, however, it takes a dramatically different route than Tracy does:

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By this explanation, the Celts were not honoring their dead relatives, recalling fond memories or attempting to commune with them. Far from it. They were actually making sacrifices to Celtic deities, dressing up in weird costumes and telling each other’s fortunes, which could be “a source of comfort and direction” during the winter. Notice, as well, that the ghosts and spirits that were believed to return were not stopping by for a friendly visit; instead, they were “causing trouble and damaging crops.”

The problems with Christians celebrating such traditions should be immediately evident. First of all, it is not possible to make predictions about the future with any accuracy or legitimacy. James 4:14 says “you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” Second, fortune telling and other such predictions cannot be counted on for direction or comfort. Scripture makes it abundantly clear, in a plethora of passages, that believers are to find their comfort and direction in and from the Lord and His Word. Third, of course, is the offering of sacrifices to pagan deities, something repeatedly condemned in the Bible. And fourth is the trust that was placed in the flame from the “sacred bonfire.” Psalm 9:10 says, “And those who know your name put their trust in you,” speaking of the Lord. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” It is not distorting the passage at all to say, speaking of the Celts, “Some trust in sacred bonfires and pagan traditions.”

Immediately after her description of Samhain, Tracy writes:

This is not unlike the many other cultures around the world that have a day of honoring the dead. Is setting aside a day to honor the dead a bad thing? I don’t see how it is. The Catholics religiously honor their dead and pray for them. Ireland, Scotland, England, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Nepal, the Philippines, and many others cultures current and through history commemorate their dead with a holiday. (Actually, why DON’T we do that?)

Setting aside a day to honor the dead is not inherently a bad thing. We do this in the United States with Memorial Day, in particular, and many individuals and families honor the memory of the deceased relatives on their birthdays or the anniversary of their deaths. But there is a difference between honoring them as in remembering them and honoring them as in worshipping or exalting them. And to the Catholic practice, there is absolutely no point in praying for the dead. Once they are dead it is too late; there is nothing to pray for. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (KJV). Some Catholics, of course, go further and pray to the dead, usually saints, and/or ask them to pray for them, to intercede for them with the Father. This, too, is contrary to Scripture. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Tracy continues in her defense of Halloween by writing, “A simple google [sic] search will tell you that when missionaries came to the Celts, the decision was made to join in their pagan holidays to make converting to Christianity less intimidating.” Um, yes and no. The use of the word “missionaries” is a bit misleading here. These were not people who had moved peaceably in amongst the Celts to spread the gospel. Instead, within just a decade or so of the death of Christ, the Roman Empire had conquered the Celtic territory. They ruled the area for 400 years, during which time two Roman celebrations were blended with the Celtic traditions—Feralia, which was a Roman commemoration of the dead, and a celebration of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. History.com even suggests that this blending is what originated the still-extant activity of bobbing for apples at Halloween, since the apple was he symbol of Pomona.

In AD 609 the Pantheon in Rome was dedicated to honor all Christian martyrs and the feast of All Martyrs day was established. Originally celebrated in May, this was moved to November 1 by Pope Gregory III and expanded to include all saints as well as martyrs. However, according catholic.org, “In Ireland, the Church celebrated All Saints’ Day on April 20, to avoid associating the day with the traditional harvest festivals and pagan feasts associated with Samhain, celebrated at the same time.” An intentional avoidance of the pagan holiday is quite different than “joining in.” Then following the Reformation, “many Protestants retained the holy day, although they dismissed the need to pray for the dead. Instead, the day has been used to commemorate those who have recently died, usually in the past year, and to remember the examples of those who lived holy lives” (catholic.org). Even now the Catholic church emphasizes that October 31 is not a holy day; “It is important to remember these basic facts: Halloween is a secular holiday that comes the night before All Saints’ Day” (ibid).

It is worth noting that the Catholic celebrations in most parts of the world outside of the U.S. are not anything a Protestant would want any part of celebrating. Just a couple of weeks ago I was part of a group of people having dinner with a missionary in Mexico. He has experience ministering in some of the remotest villages in the country. There, celebrating the Day of the Dead is a requirement, and Protestants not participating face persecution. The people are kept in poverty—sometimes even in debt—by the amount of money they are expected to spend to celebrate their village’s saint.

What about Halloween in America? History.com says its celebration was “extremely limited” in New England due to the Protestant beliefs in those colonies. It was much more common in Maryland—which fits, given that Maryland was initially founded as a refuge for Catholics. Gradually, the celebration spread:

As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups as well as the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing.

Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish potato famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.

With the influence of these various traditions it became common practice to dress up in costumes. Then, in the late 1800s, there was an intention effort to eliminate ghosts, witchcraft and such from the Halloween celebrations and make them more about community. History.com says parents were even “encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything ‘frightening’ or ‘grotesque’ out of Halloween celebrations. This would be similar to what many—including many churches—now call Harvest Celebrations. These are fun occasions with food and games and nothing at all related to the dead.

Tracy asserts that joining in pagan holidays is exactly what the New Testament apostles did in order to reach unbelievers, but she offers no evidence and I would challenge her to explain that statement. I know of no such “joining in” that took place.

She goes on to suggest that whether or not Halloween is celebrated as “the Devil’s holiday” comes down to identity and authority. She acknowledges that these is increased demonic and occult activity on Halloween, but she is not afraid of either because of her identity in Christ. Because she identifies as a Christian, claims the authority of Christ and carries the light of the Gospel, she has no fear of the darkness or evil of Satan and his minions. Tracy writes, “So, back to this being the devil’s holiday… Says WHO?? I didn’t give him the right to have a holiday. But every time you say that, YOU ARE! You are coming into agreement with his play to usurp your authority. STOP IT! Don’t give your authority away to that snake.”

Okay, so she admits that this day sees an increase in demonic and occult activity, but she will celebrate anyway because she does not fear that activity and she knows God is far more powerful than Satan. That does not really make any sense—especially when her celebration includes the décor and costumes commonly adopted by those who are celebrating evil and death. See, whether or not you fear evil, there is zero point in celebrating it. When you dress up as ghosts or goblins or zombies, how are you spreading the Light? Earlier this month the Chicago Tribune published a list of most popular Halloween costumes for 2017—for adults and children—based on the National Retail Foundation’s Annual Halloween Spending Survey. What were they? For adults, they included witch (1), vampire (6), zombie (7), and slasher movie villain (9). For children, witch (6) and ghost (9). Why go there? Even if you, like Tracy, do not fear evil, why celebrate it? Why surround yourself with depictions of it? Why think about it? There is certainly nothing here that would be consistent with Philippians 4:8. 1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love does not delight in evil” (NIV). 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Keep away from every kind of evil” (TLB). Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good…” (NIV). Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil” (NIV). None of these verses seem to leave any room for a harmless celebration of evil.

In addition, Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places” (AMP). Why, pray tell, would any Christian want to celebrate the spiritual forces of darkness? I agree with Tracy that those in Christ have no fear of being defeated by the forces of evil, but I see no point whatsoever in celebrating them.

To the question of whether or not Christian should stand against the celebration of Halloween, Tracy writes,

Well, what is your commission in the Kingdom? Are you not an agent of Light? An ambassador of the King? Is it not your duty to draw the lost to their Savior? How best would that be accomplished when the lost come out of their homes once a year to walk the streets of your neighborhood? Are you attracting them to their Savior by turning off the lights of your house to let them know they are not welcome? Think about the message you are sending out… “Oh they are ‘Christians’ and they think we are evil and worshiping the devil because we are trick or treating…”

You could argue this point legitimately, I’ll admit. I do know some Christians who turn their porch lights on and welcome trick or treaters to their doors on Halloween. They smile and distribute candy and the children go on their way. I think it is possible to do that without condoning the celebration of evil. At the same time, I think it is equally possible to leave your light off and not participate without sending the message that you think those out and about are Satan worshippers. I also know some Christians who have their light on and give out gospel tracts to those coming to their doors. In my own opinion, this is not an effective means if witnessing, especially if no candy or other treat is given along with the tract. To the recipients this will come across as a trick while they were seeking a treat. It will not prompt them to read the tract and is unlikely to lead to their conversion to Christ. In my opinion, it would be better to leave your light off.

But Tracy has a point when she writes,

For the sake of all that is good, turn on your porch light and WELCOME these people! Put on your best costume and decorate your house better than anyone else! Hand out the GOOD candy bars! Everyone who trick or treats knows that there are a few homes that go above and beyond on Halloween and your night is not complete until you have visited THOSE homes… BE. THAT. HOUSE. Draw them in to you!! You have a unique opportunity once a year to meet, bless and pray for (even if just silently) EVERYONE in your neighborhood on Halloween night. At least turn on your light and be friendly… You are representing ALL of us.  Jesus did not shy away from the lost, He went to them. He engaged. (emphasis hers)

I think there can be merit in this. As I said, if you give out a tract along with candy, you may reach someone. You may at least, as Tracy said, have an opportunity to pray for those individuals or meet neighbors you would not otherwise interact with. Here is where she and I differ, though. I would vehemently suggest that if you do this you decorate and dress in such a way that has nothing whatsoever to do with evil. Be your favorite comic strip character or superhero. Stay far away from the zombies and vampires.

Scripture makes it clear that Christian liberty allows for a wide range of choices. Tracy may be within her Christian liberty to celebrate Halloween. I, and others, are certainly within our liberty to abstain. Scripture also makes it clear that not everything we can do is something that we should do, or something that is beneficial or fruitful. That is where I come down. Celebrating Halloween may not be sin (though I do think it could be, depending on the nature of one’s celebration), but I see little if any good in coming from engaging in an activity that is focused on celebrating death and evil. So, I guess the big question for me is this: even if I can celebrate Halloween, why would I?

(Except where otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Intentional Idiocy

Fortunately I am not the leader of the free world and therefore no one has been criticizing me for not responding more quickly to the white supremacist nonsense in Charlottesville, VA five days ago. My delayed addressing of it in this space has nothing to do with me not condemning it as strongly as I possibly can and everything to do with being a wee bit busy with the start of a new school year. However, I feel I have reached a point of preparedness for the week ahead that I can pause for a while this morning and type out some of that which I have been thinking.

The first thing I would like to say is simply this: the idea that anyone could still hold to the idea of any race being superior to any other goes beyond upbringing and prejudice and serves as the strongest possible example of intentional idiocy. It is absurd and nonsensical for anyone in the twenty-first century to believe with any level sincerity that one race is superior to any other. The evidence against such a notion is so overwhelming that anyone who thinks it is truly characterized by mental dullness (part of the dictionary.com definition of “stupid”). In case that is not clear, let me be more specific: anyone who actually believes that one race is superior to another suffers from a mental defect. That does not, however, excuse anyone from their ludicrous notions because this is a mental defect that is entirely self-inflicted. Or, at a minimum, self-perpetuated.

Having lived in the south for a number of years I am well aware that there are still areas where people commonly refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. There are people who still hold to the notion that the South will rise again. There are people who still believe that anyone that is not white is inferior, lesser and somehow other than fully, equally human with those who are white. I also recognize that many of those people were born into families and communities that perpetuate that nonsense and have simply been parroting the foolishness they received from their parents, who received it from their parents, and so on back up the family tree. But that does not excuse their stupidity. There have been examples throughout U.S. history of individuals who were born and raised in areas and families of strong white supremacist convictions who overcame that apparent disadvantage by recognizing and accepting the truth about human equality and choosing truth over prejudice. There are even individuals who were born into slave holding families and attended churches that taught that blacks were created by God to be in a condition of servitude to the whites who overcame that by embracing the truth of human equality. Sarah and Angelina Grimké would be two great examples but there are many others.

Sadly, the church does bear some responsibility for the racist notions of many white supremacists. Many Christian schools, especially in the American south, were birthed as part of the “white flight” movement after racial integration became the law. Many white churches in the south would not allow blacks to attend their services much less become members. Interracial marriage was forbidden in many churches–and in some it still is. Bob Jones University, in South Carolina, lost its non-profit status for a while over its refusal to give up its ban on interracial dating, claiming the Bible supported their position. I was present in a Southern Baptist church some twelve years ago when the church leadership announced one Sunday from the pulpit that after prayerful consideration their decision was that the church’s pastor had not done anything biblically wrong by officiating an interracial wedding. It blew my mind that that was still an issue in twenty-first century America. I was relieved that they reached the correct decision, but it should never even have been a question. There is simply no way to accurately interpret the Bible and come to any position other than full human equality regardless of race.

I have disagreed with some of what she has written since, but Dr. Christena Cleveland’s 2013 book Disunity in Christ provides excellent insight into why so many Christians continue to struggle with fully embracing equality in action even when they want to do so and can articulate those convictions verbally. She expresses what needs to happen succinctly on page 61 of her book when she writes this:

We must relentlessly attack inaccurate perceptions in our everyday interactions, weekly sermons, denominational meetings and dinner table conversations. Now that we are aware that categorizing is polluting our perceptions of other groups in the body of Christ, we must do the work of purifying our perceptions. What we need to do is really quite simple: rather than continuing on as cognitive misers who lazily rely on inaccurate categories to perceive others, we need to engage in what my friend Reverend Jim Caldwell calls cognitive generosity. We need to turn off autopilot and take time to honestly examine our polluted perceptions.

Parents, extended family members and communities bear responsibility for perpetuating the notion of racial supremacy or inferiority as well. We know this is true because racism and hatred are not naturally present–even in a world marred by the total depravity of man due to original sin. Jimmy Fallon started The Tonight Show on January 14 by speaking out against hatred and the nonsense in Charlottesville. In his comments he mentioned his 2 and 4 year-old daughters and said, “They don’t know what hate is. They go to the playground and they have friends of all races and backgrounds. They just play and they laugh and they have fun.” I have seen that childlike innocence of race demonstrated in my own daughter. My brother and his wife have four adopted children. All but one of them are of different racial backgrounds than my brother and his wife and that difference is immediately noticeable due to their varying skin tones. When my daughter was still a toddler they adopted their fourth child and she is only one who looks at all like she could actually be their child. My daughter was old enough to understand that the necessary steps and time had not occurred for this new cousin to have joined the family through natural means. As we explained that she was adopted just like the other three children in their family my daughter expressed shock that the three others were not the natural children of my brother and his wife. The varying skin tones meant nothing at all to her!

This is why I call racism and notions of racial supremacy intentional idiocy. It takes intentionality to accept that one race is superior to another. It takes intentionality to teach that to children. It takes intentionality to continue accepting it even in the face of reality and mature understanding that all humans truly are created equal. It takes a conscious commitment to and genuine intentionality to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and think that you are better than someone else simply because your skin color is different than theirs, to think that you deserve more or better than someone else simply because of your race. Doing that for a while, based on your upbringing and your surroundings, may be excusable. Continuing to do it when you’re old enough to know better makes you an intentional idiot.

The same day that Jimmy Fallon began his show by addressing the Charlottesville mess, an editorial by Cal Thomas appeared in The Washington Times. Thomas makes a number of excellent observations in the piece, but one of the most significant is his reminder that there is no such thing as a supreme race precisely because there is no such thing as racial purity. Thomas writes, “Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor, discovered in ‘Finding Your Roots,’ his PBS series on race in America, that there are no purebred humans. Mr. Gates himself discovered through a DNA test that he is descended from an Irish immigrant and a slave.”

The idea that there is no such thing as racial purity assumes, of course, that there is such a thing as race. A truly biblical worldview however goes even further and negates the notion of race completely. Are there various skin tones? Of course. But there is only one race and that is this: human. Answers in Genesis, the apologetics ministry that is most well known for its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, has long taught that there is no such thing as race. Search “racism” on the AIG web site and you will find a page under their worldview section that beings like this:

The term race is often used to classify people based almost solely on physical characteristics. According to evolutionary ideas, these so-called races descended from different ancestors separated by location and time. However, based on biblical history, the term race must be incorrect. We are all one race (“one blood” in Acts 17:26), the human race.

It’s not just “black” and “white.” A person’s skin shade (what is on the outside) should in no way invoke any sort of prejudice or racist comments. What a difference we would see in our world if people reacted in accord with biblical principles, understanding all humans are equal before God, and all are sinners in need of salvation.

Anyone claiming to believe the Bible has to acknowledge that the Bible teaches several truths that fundamentally destroy any notion of race, let alone racial superiority. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 5:1 says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” God made man–and woman–in His own image. That word man is all-inclusive. Every human being is created in the image of God. Every human being is descended from Adam and Eve, the first man and first woman. Every woman being is also descended from Noah, since only Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives survived the destruction of the earth by flood as described in Genesis 6-9. The Bible makes it clear that God does not show partiality and that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay the penalty for human sin because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16), a statement which omits any reference to race. Jesus repeatedly commanded that those who follow Him are to love one another, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. James condemning the showing of any partiality. There is simply no biblical justification for racism or attitudes of supremacy.

But what about Charlottesville specifically? CBS News posted a photographic story on line that included some fifty-five images and paragraph-length commentary or reporting on each one. The title of the story is “White supremacist rallies in Va. lead to violence.” The first picture and caption stated that the rally was planned by white supremacists and “advertised as ‘Unite the Right.'” Whether “the Right” was intended to refer to the political right or to the notion of right as opposed to wrong, it was an inaccurate label on both counts. As demonstrated here already racism and ideas of supremacy are never right. And there is no evidence that most individuals who identify with the right wing of the political spectrum are racists. That some claim that does not make it so for all. Cal Thomas said that David Duke claiming that he voted for Donald Trump does not make Trump a racist or the KKK representative of Trump’s positions or goals for America. “Mr. Duke claimed in Charlottesville that whites elected Mr. Trump,” Thomas wrote. “Sufficient numbers of white voters also elected Barack Obama — twice — so what’s his point?”

The CBS story reported, on the next slide, that in July “members of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in Charlottesville against the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, and called for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments,” a demonstration that came “[a]mid heightened community outcries for the removal of monuments honoring Confederate heroes.” Removing those monuments is another example of stupidity but advocating their removal–or even removing them legally–is no justification for claims of white supremacy.

The Civil War is an important part of American history and there is absolutely nothing to gain by trying to erase all images or references or even monuments to it from our land. According to a Washington Times article published just today, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker “plans to introduce legislation that calls for the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol building.” The Capitol includes statues of both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. There are, according to the Architect of the Capitol, “three times as many statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians as there are statues of black people in the entire Capitol complex.” Is that sad? Of course. But there are ways to fix that problem without eliminating the Confederate statutes. And the statues in Statuary Hall were placed there by the action of each state legislature (each state gets two), so it would make far more sense for state legislatures to reconsider whom they want representing their state in the Capitol than it would for Senator Booker to propose the removal by congressional action. Most Americans do not know who the Confederates in Statuary Hall are and would not recognize their names or historical significance even if they did. (Think I’m wrong? Without using Google or any other resource, tell me who Edward Douglass White, James Zachariah George, Uriah Milton Rose or Zebulon Baird Vance were, for example). The collection of one hundred statutes was not completed until 2005 when New Mexico finally sent its second statue. Seven states have replaced one of their first two since Congress authorized replacements in 2000, so if a state–or the people of a state–want to put a different individual in the collection to represent them let them do so. For Cory Booker or anyone else, however, to say that they have to do so is dictatorial and a clear violation of free speech and other constitutional rights. Alabama replaced Jabez Curry, who was a Confederate politician, in 2009. Florida approved replacing Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate, in 2016. So let the process run its course! (The collection, by the way, only includes nine women and a handful of Native Americans, so there are a number of other underrepresented groups as well).

According to CBS, the white supremacist protesters marching into the University of Virginia campus were shouting “Blood and soil”, a phrase used by Nazis. Demonstrators were giving “Nazi salutes and chant[ing] ‘You will not replace us’ (and alternately, ‘Jews will not replace us’).” One man said he was participating in the march because, “‘Our country has been usurped by a foreign tribe, called the Jews. We’re tired of it.'” Business Insider reported that on Monday, August 14,

“Vice News Tonight” published a chilling 22-minute documentary featuring interviews with several of the white nationalists who helped lead the “Unite the Right” rally that devolved into violence and chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

Most prominently featured throughout the episode is Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist who provided an in-depth description of his beliefs and his movement’s goals at the rally to Vice correspondent Elle Reeves.

Cantwell offered racist critiques of black and Jewish people, confirmed that his movement was violent, and defended the killing of Heather Heyer — the 32-year-old woman fatally struck on Saturday by a driver identified as a white supremacist — as “justified.”

Later in the article Cantwell was quoted as saying that he wanted a president far more racist than Donald Trump, whose daughter Ivanka is married to a Jew, and that “a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here.” He went on to say,

This is part of the reason that we want an ethno-state. The blacks are killing each other in staggering numbers from coast to coast — we don’t really want a part of that anymore, and so the fact that they resist us when we say we want a homeland is not shocking to me. These people want violence, and the right is just meeting a market demand.

Cantwell’s statements are disgusting. They may even be construed as illegal and treasonous. The right to free speech and opinion must be protected. We cannot make being an idiot a crime. But actions can become crimes. Illegal marches and protests, inciting others to violence and destruction of public property are all crimes, not to mention actual violence, and they should be treated as such. Anyone who broke the law at the Charlottesville rally should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Anyone who broke the law by yanking down a Confederate statue Durham, North Carolina should also be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. One good thing about modern technology like ubiquitous cell phone cameras and social media networks is that someone is almost always filming this nonsense–usually the idiots themselves–and posting it for all the world to see. Arrests and convictions should be rather simple.

There are very few things that will truly unite Americans anymore. Politics will never do it. Sports won’t. Religion will not. But the uncompromising and determined opposition of racial hatred and violence should unite us all. There is simply no place for it in this country. We should be just as united against the idiocy of Charlottesville as we were at the attacks of 9/11. The 9/11 attacks were attacks against the United States of America, against what we are, what we stand for and what we believe. The Charlottesville rally was no less such an attack.

 

 

God-Given Nervousness

No one that I know enjoys getting nervous. In fact, most people do their best to avoid situations that they know will make them nervous. But I have come to the conclusion that being nervous is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think sometimes it is a God-given thing.

For example, being nervous is one of the biggest reasons so many Christians are reluctant to share the gospel with others. They are not sure they will say the right thing or know all of the answers to questions they may be asked.

Ken Currie wrote the following:

For the time being, it seems the greatest threat to gospel-telling in such a society [as ours] is not that we will be hauled before the city council, beaten, and have our property taken away. What we are really dealing with is some awkwardness.

Awkwardness is perhaps the biggest threat to evangelism for far too many of us.

I’ve done a little research and can confirm to you that there is not one documented case of someone dying, or even being severely injured, by awkwardness. Not one.

Awkwardness is one way of putting it. Nervousness might be another, because I think Currie’s awkwardness and my nervousness are referring to the same thing. We might be awkward and nervous because we don’t feel like we are ready to do a good job of sharing the gospel or we might be awkward and nervous because we aren’t sure how someone will react when we share the gospel and we don’t want them to laugh at us, shun us or whatever. Currie also said this:

God gives most of us this awareness of awkwardness so that we would never, not for a second, trust in or magnify ourselves and drift away from the magnificence of the gospel. This awareness in evangelism makes the gospel tangible. It means I need the gospel right now myself. Not only does my hearer need Jesus at this moment, but so do I!

Just last week I was having a conversation with a friend about a significant change about to take place in her life and even though she is at peace about it being how the Lord is leading her, she is, she said, getting more nervous by the day. And here’s what I told her: I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing to be nervous, because being nervous means that I realize I am not in control and I cannot make something successful by myself. God is in control and He is the only one who can determine success or “failure” in the end. As followers of Christ ours is not to determine the likelihood of success before we follow God’s leading. Our responsibility is to obey and let Him handle the outcome.

I think nervousness is normal when we are anticipating the unknown or the unfamiliar, when we are knowingly going outside of our comfort zone. Just don’t let yourself be overtaken by the nervousness! We must remember to use the nervousness as a reminder to put our trust in God and to meditate on His Word.

There is a difference between being nervous and being anxious or worrying about something. Scripture tells us worry and anxiety are not productive and indicate a lack of trust in God, but I do not know anywhere in the Bible that it says we are not to be nervous. Here is a quote from Charles Stanley that you may find encouraging: “As you walk through the valley of the unknown, you will find the footprints of Jesus both in front of you and beside you.”

Nervousness could be a sign that you need to carefully evaluate what you are about to do or thinking about doing in order to be sure that it is indeed how God is leading. But once you are sure it is, let the nervousness lead you to the Lord. Respond to that nervousness by leaning on His everlasting arms. In the words of Proverbs 3:5b, “trust the Lord completely; don’t ever trust yourself” (The Living Bible).

Respecting Religion

You have likely heard about, read about, and even watched or read the exchange that took place on June 7 between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, during Vought’s confirmation hearing. There has been much said and written about the ridiculousness of Sanders’ questioning–not to mention the unconstitutionality of it–from all ends of the political spectrum, and I will link a few examples here if you would like to read them for yourself. Aaron Earls blogged about it on The Wardrobe Door, clearly making the point that “all roads lead to exclusion,” and that the opinions of Senator Sanders (and Senator Chris Van Hollen, who expressed an inclusivist view of Christianity during the hearing) are perhaps even more intolerant than Vought’s view that led to the questioning. Others on the conservative end of the political (and religious) spectrum made equally eloquent and passionate arguments against Sanders’ questioning.

Interestingly, those calling out Sanders’ intolerance were not confined to the usual ranks though. Emma Green, writing for The Atlantic, wrote, “It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget.” She went on to state, “It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. … This is the danger of relying on religion as a threshold test for public service, the kind of test America’s founders were guarding against when they drafted Article VI.” She concluded her piece by articulating exactly what so many on the other end of the spectrum have been saying about “tolerance” for years: “As the demands for tolerance in America become greater, the bounds of acceptance can also become tighter. Ironically, that pits acceptance of religious diversity against the freedom of individual conscience.”

Even Camila Domonoske, writing for NPR, addressed Sanders’ line of questioning. She provided a reasonable and balanced look at the issue from both sides, citing spokespeople for Sanders, legal experts, Muslim leaders and Russell Moore , president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. She correctly reported that views on hell differ, even among Christians: “Different Christian sects, and individuals, have varying interpretations of damnation. The traditionalist view is that eternal suffering awaits all who do not accept Christ; on the other end of the spectrum is the universalist belief that everyone will be saved. And then there are disagreements about what hell actually is.” But the very title of Domonoske’s piece asks the question that ultimately needs to be addressed in light of the Sanders-Vought exchange: “Is it hateful to believe in hell?” (And even if one feels that it is, is such a belief a legitimate subject of questioning in a political confirmation hearing and/or a legitimate reason to oppose or restrict someone from political office?)

I have linked only three examples here and there are many, many more, from all sides, so feel free to find and read those to your heart’s content. It will not surprise anyone who has read the blog with any regularity to know that I found Sanders’ questioning to be out of line and unconstitutional. But I actually want to take a different perspective on the entire exchange, looking instead at Vought’s responses to Sanders. I do not want to throw Vought under the proverbial bus, as he was no doubt surprised by the vehemence of Sanders’ questioning, but he seemed to be uncertain in his responses, unwilling to double down on what he had written and take a firm and unequivocal stance on biblical Christianity. In short, he seemed caught off guard, unprepared to give a defense for his faith.

The apostle Peter addresses the importance of enduring suffering for righteousness sake and being prepared to offer a defense for faith in 1 Peter 3:13-17:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Vought was certainly put in a position by Sanders to suffer for righteousness’ sake. He was, quite literally, asked for the reason for the hope that is within him, and he was indeed slandered and reviled during the exchange. Matthew Poole, in his commentary, said of verse 15, “either that hath authority to examine you, and take an account of your religion; or, that asks with modesty, and a desire to be satisfied, and learn of you.” Sanders certainly fell into the first category.

Again, it is impossible for me or anyone else to say what we might have done were we in Vought’s seat, so I do not wish for this to be seen as an attack on him. But I do wish it to be seen as an encouragement for all of us who claim the name of Christ and seek to be faithful to biblical Christianity. Should we ever find ourselves in a similar situation, will we be prepared to respond? Will we have a defense for our faith, for the hope that is within us, when we are literally in the spotlight? Russell Vought had an opportunity that very few people ever have had or will have, I suspect. He was seated before United States senators, with the opportunity to speak God’s Truth into the congressional record, not to mention to the ears of elected officials and to millions of people across the country and around the world.

Using the transcription of the exchange between Sanders and Vought provided by David French of National Review, I want to imagine what Vought’s answers could have looked like. I am giving Sanders’ questions/comments in blue, Vought’s real answers italicized in brackets and what I would like to imagine could have been said instead in more faithful adherence to Peter’s exhortation thereafter in orange.

Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

[Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and . . .]

Absolutely not, Senator. Islamophobia is a fear or hatred of Muslims and I neither fear nor hate Muslims. I am a Christian and I believe the Bible–both Old and New Testaments–which clearly states that the only way to know God is through acceptance of His Son Jesus Christ as Savior.

Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

[Vought: Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College.]

The context of my statement in Resurgent was dealing with the Muslim religion because it dealt with a position taken by a professor at Wheaton College regarding the Muslim religion. But in reality I believe that all people who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, regardless of their religion or their rejection of all religion, stand condemned. I believe that because that is what the Bible says. while there are others, John 3:18 would be perhaps the best example. It says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” So, in keeping with my Christian faith, I believe that many people stand condemned.

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

[Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian . . .]

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

[Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .]

Yes, Senator, I do believe that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned because that is what the Bible says.

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

[Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.]

I am not sure if that statement is respectful of other religions or not, Senator. To be honest I am not certain it was designed or intended to be respectful of other religions. That statement was made specifically to highlight the very clear, very important differences that exist between biblical Christianity and Islam. The Christian faith is, necessarily, narrow-minded and exclusive. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I was articulating and defending that element of my faith, that portion of what the Bible says.

I think, however, that you are missing an important point, sir. I absolutely respect the right of every person to choose his or religion, or to choose no religion. I believe the Constitution of the United States explicitly grants a freedom of religion to everyone in this country. That means that I accept, respect–and would defend–the right of Muslims or Hindus or Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or Catholics or anyone else to believe, or not believe, as they so choose whether or not I agree with their religion. So in that regard I have complete and total respect for other religions.

But if by respecting other religions you mean that I have to agree with what they believe or keep quiet about areas in which my faith differs from theirs then I guess I would have to say no, I do not respect–by that definition–other religions. But given the incredible freedom of religion that we hold so dear in this country, Senator Sanders, I cannot imagine that is possibly what you meant.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

To which I would say, if I might Mr. Chairman, that the freedom to believe as we see fit and to speak as we wish–even about those differing and contradictory beliefs–is precisely what this country is supposed to be about.

 

Gender Identity Anarchy

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic was “the Gender Issue.” The cover featured the title “Special Issue: Gender Revolution” over the picture of Avery Jackson, a transgender girl from Missouri who does yet appear to have reached teenage years. The issue’s main story was titled “Rethinking Gender” and it led with a page-and-a-half photo of twins Caleb and Emmie Smith. Emmie said, “When we were 12, I didn’t feel like a boy, but I didn’t know it was possible to be a girl.” She came out as transgender at 17 and has now undergone gender-confirmation surgery. But, she says, “I was no less of a woman before it, and I’m no more of one today.”

In other words, Emmie is saying that her gender is really all about how she feels about herself, what she thinks and how she chooses to identify. If having surgery did not make her more female then it must be the case that the surgery was purely for the purposes of providing her a body—an external appearance—to match the way she thinks and feels inside. This is a recurring factor in the entire transgender debacle. Not to be outdone by National Geographic, TIME used the cover of its March 27, 2017 issue to focus on the gender issue. The cover headline reads, “Beyond He or She” over a picture of Marie, an individual who appears to be a girl but, according to the caption, “identifies as queer and gender nonconforming.”

The feature story inside the magazine is titled “Infinite Identities,” and it quotes 18-year-old Rowan Little, who identifies as gender fluid, as saying, “Some days I feel like my gender could be like what I was assigned at birth, but there are some days when I feel the opposite way.” There is that issue of “feelings” again. Later, the article quotes Kyle Scotten, who identifies as a gay man, as saying that he sees sexuality as a spectrum. “I totally believe there are 100, 200 shades in the middle,” Scotten said, and even if he does not understand all of the nuances, “it makes sense to them in their own head and that’s enough.”

Really? If it is enough for something to make sense to someone in their own head then we are all in trouble. That is the very basis of anarchy—people being able to do whatever they want without rule, order or authority, based solely on what makes sense or feels good to them. In fact, Will Durant said, “As soon as liberty is complete it dies in anarchy.” The argument being made by many these days is that individuals have the liberty to decide for themselves what gender they will identify as—even if that changes from day to day. And when they decide, everyone else is supposed to accept it and accommodate it, even to the point of using their preferred pronouns lest we offend them by referring to them in a manner other than that which they prefer. Is it not interesting that their liberty then becomes constraining on the rest of us? English philosopher Jeremy Bentham knew that of which he spoke then, when he said, “Tyranny and anarchy are never far apart.” The anarchy of self-identification, and its resulting preferences and prescriptions, shall soon be the tyranny by which we shall all be ruled.

Further evidence of this liberty-to-anarchy progression comes later in the TIME article. It references a 2016 survey in which respondents were asked to provide the term that most accurately fit their gender—which produced more than 500 unique responses. Ritch Savin-Williams, professor emeritus at Cornell, said of the pure volume of labels being used, “It says, ‘Your terms do not reflect my reality or the reality of my friends.’” How many of us have not, at least one time or another, wished we could simply define our own reality? If we could, we would either be in a state of total anarchy or a state of total insanity, of course, because defining our own reality is simply not possible. Reality is, by definition, real.

Dictionary.com defines “reality” as “the state or quality of being real; something that is real; something that exists independently of ideas concerning it; something that constitutes a real or actual thing, as distinguished from something that is merely apparent.” Those definitions, of course, eliminate the possibility of anyone defining their own reality. Too, we recognize in almost every other area of life that we do not get to define our own reality. I would like to be a professional baseball player but I cannot simply say that is my reality, show up on the field and be allowed to play—or to collect a really big pay check. Try defining your own reality for your employer next time you are asked to do something at work. Even better, behold your own reaction when your next paycheck is a miniscule percentage of that which you expected (and earned) and when you ask the boss about it he says the paycheck you were given reflects his reality.

The TIME article ends with a perfect concluding statement to wrap up this absurdity, quoting Grace Mason, the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school. “I’d rather be who I am and be authentically me than try to fit in one of those crappy little boxes. I have a great box that I have made for myself.”

Of course all the rest of us have to accept and embrace that box—and everyone else’s boxes too—or else we will be labeled intolerant (at best).

The National Geographic story leads with a description of E, a 14-year-old girl who feels more like a boy. E still uses her birth name (choosing to go by E for the story) and still prefers the pronoun “she.” E does not think “transgender” fits her gender identity and she does not feel like she was born in the wrong body. “I just think I need to make alterations in the body I have, to make it feel like the body I need it to be,” she said. And what might that be exactly? Well, “a body that doesn’t menstruate and has no breasts, with more defined facial contours and ‘a ginger beard.’”

The article goes on to state that the XX and XY chromosomes that determine a baby’s sex do not always tell “the whole story.” Interestingly, though, the article says that that is true “on occasion.” It does not state how rare that occasion is, but is does provide an example of an individual with CAIS, complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and describes a “small group of children born in the Dominican Republic with an enzyme deficiency” that causes genitalia to appear female at birth and male once puberty sets in. These are unusual situations to be sure, but there are, as the article states, occasional and small in number.

Also small in number are the individuals involved in scientific studies purporting to indicate that the brains of transgender individuals may be more like the brains of their self-identified gender than their biological gender. According to the article, some such studies include “as few as half a dozen transgender individuals.” That is an incredibly small number and rarely if ever would such a finite sample be considered sufficient for scientific conclusions. The article highlights another problem as well—that these studies sometimes include individuals already taking hormones for the opposite gender, “meaning that observed brain differences might be the result of, rather than the explanation for, a subject’s transgender identity.”

More interesting still though is that the article goes on to state that there has been a “robust” finding that there is a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The article cites a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. indicating that “children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.”

The reason this connection between gender nonconformity and ASD is so interesting is that ASD is—as its name states—a disorder. It is a spectrum, yes, because it includes a range of symptoms but and disabilities, but ASD is the catch-all label for an expansive range of developmental disorders. Might gender nonconformity be a disorder then? Indeed it is, though I doubt you will see National Geographic or TIME or any other mainstream publication state that anytime soon.

The National Geographic article includes a photo of a child named Henry, along with a caption stating that Henry considers himself to be “gender creative” and, at the age of six, “he is already very sure of who he is.” That, of course, is nonsense, as no six-year-old is very sure of much of anything, much less anything that could potentially have life-altering ramifications.  WORLD magazine ran a rebuttal of sorts to the National Geographic and TIME features with its April 15, 2017 issue. Its cover featured a boy looking into a mirror and seeing a girl, which the headline “Forgotten Victims.” Not surprisingly that feature article took a different approach to the story than the other two. In fact, that article actually cited the six year old quoted in National Geographic that I led this paragraph with, along with a response from Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians. “You don’t treat medical confusion by putting people, especially children, on toxic hormones and cutting off healthy body parts,” Cretella said. “Just because a person thinks and feels something does not make it true.”

In fact, the Bible makes it clear that doing what one thinks and feels, when not consistent with Scripture, is not only not true but is quite dangerous. Both Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 state that the way that seems right to a man will end in death. No doubt all of this gender nonconformity seems right to the people who are creating these great boxes for themselves. Proverbs 12:15a says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2 says that every man’s way is right in his own eyes.

By the way, there is a term for everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. It is anarchy.

March Movie Madness

There has been plenty of attention paid to Disney’s release of a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, the well-known “tale as old as time” in which peasant girl Belle falls in love with a beast that was in fact a man, transformed to a beast as a result of a spell cast on him due to his own unkindness. The movie is the latest in Disney’s recent line of live adaptations of its classic animated films, this one the update to 1991’s smash version of the same name.

Much of the attention this movie has been receiving, however, is due to the inclusion of a gay character in the live-action version, Gaston’s doltish sidekick LeFou. Social media has been abuzz with articles calling out Disney for its decision to include what TIME repeatedly reported as Disney’s first gay character. As a result of this inclusion many Christians and social conservatives have both criticized Disney and vowed not to see the film. Others have cautioned parents to use discernment in taking their children to see it. I have been engaged in some of these online discussions and my position has been—and is—that I will not go see the movie in the theater because I do not want to use my dollars to express support or approval for this kind of character inclusion. I likely will see the film eventually though and, depending on the scene, may or may not let my children watch it. From what I have been reading lately I suspect I may let them see it. Why? Because, according to those who have seen it and have shared their thoughts on it, the character is little different from the same character in the animated version and the “exclusively gay moment” is rather quick and insignificant and, unless you are looking for it or expecting it, not likely to be seen as a specifically gay scene at all. This is confirmed by a story in the March 20 USA TODAY story headlined “Beauty and the Beast’s ‘gay moment’ may have been much ado about nothing.” According to that story, the scene in question is “a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot in the film’s final seconds.”

So how did this scene become such a big deal? The film’s director, Bill Condon, chose to make it one. In an interview he did with Attitude magazine Condon said,

LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.

Others involved in the film confirmed this statement. Ewan McGregor said, on The Late Show, that LeFou is a “gay character.” He even emphasized the fact that opposition to the inclusion of such a character is ridiculous in the day and age in which we live, saying, that people need to get over their objections because “It’s 2017. For f**k’s sake.” So the point is that the director of the movie, if not Disney itself, intentionally set out to make a point of the character’s sexuality. If he would not have said anything then some people may have picked up on it or wondered about it when they saw the film, but he/they chose to make it an issue. In other words, they have only themselves to blame that some people are now making an issue of it. Of course once a theater in the south announced it would not show the movie because of the gay character, Russia changed the film’s rating and Malaysia said the film would not be shown there at all, the director and others tried to backpedal.

Incidentally, Condon’s remark really served more than anything to create for him, Disney and the film itself a lose/lose situation. Some, as already described, are unhappy about the announced gay character. Others, on the LGBT side of the debate, took the opposite approach, saying, according to the same USA TODAY article, “the representation of a gay character did not go far enough.” Yet again, had Condon never said anything about the character being gay this likely would never have been an issue.

A few people in discussions I have been part of suggested that the LeFou in the live-action version is no different at all than the LeFou in the 1991 animated version. If so that serves only to reinforce my point that Condon created this storm with his comments. Absolutely no one would have thought in 1991 that Disney would include a homosexual character in an animated film marketed primarily to children. That was six years before Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian (April 1997). Not only did she come out personally, but her character on her television show Ellen came out as well. Biographer Lisa Iannucci told Biography.com, “[T]here was concern over not only how the audience would react, but how the advertisers would react.” So it is absurd to think that it would have seriously crossed anyone’s mind six years before that that Disney, the company that was built completely around wholesome children’s entertainment, would include a homosexual character.

I have had people challenge me on why the gay character is an issue but the inclusion of bestiality and magic/witchcraft is not. The bestiality question is an absurd one. Belle falls in love with the beast, yes, but he is not a true animal–he speaks, walks on two legs, has emotions, etc.–and they never consummate their relationship while he is in beast form. Bestiality refers to sexual intercourse between a human and an animal. Accordingly, I do not think this even warrants further comment.

The magic/witchcraft issue is a legitimate one. Just about all of Disney’s fairy tale films include magic/witchcraft/sorcery of some kind and there certainly are some Christians who do not watch or approve of any of the classic Disney movies for that very reason. There are some personal convictions involved here for sure. My position is that the magic is defeated in the end and it is not glorified or taken to an extreme of serving Satan. I have not ever let my children watch The Princess and the Frog though because I think the magic in that movie is too dark and Satanic. Some Christians have no problem with Harry Potter either; I do. The other thing to keep in mind with Beauty and the Beast is the reason behind the beast’s curse. Take this synopsis from IMDb.com:

An old beggar woman arrives at the castle of a French prince. The woman asks for shelter from the cold, and in return, offers the young prince a rose. Repulsed by her appearance, the prince turns her away. The beggar warns him not to judge by appearances, but the Prince ignores her and shuts the door on her. The woman then throws off her disguise, revealing that she is a beautiful enchantress. The Prince tries to apologize, but she has already seen the lack of kindness in his heart. She conjures a powerful curse, transforming him into a hideous beast, his servants into anthropomorphic household items, and the entire castle and all its surroundings into a dark, forbidding place, so that he will learn not to judge by appearances. The curse can only be broken if the Beast learns to love another and receives the other’s love in return before the last petal of the enchantress’s rose withers and falls; if not, he will be doomed to remain a beast forever.

While magic and sorcery are used, the reason for their use is the prince’s selfish, judgmental, arrogant attitude. Once he sees that he could have played host to a beautiful princess he wants a second chance. Too late! To emerge from the curse he must learn both to love and to receive love. Powerful, poignant lessons can be taught from this. Biblical lessons even. So the magic in the film is not much different from the magic in Narnia.

The bottom-line issue for me when it comes to this movie is simply this: Whether through the character himself or simply through the comments of Bill Condon, Ewan McGregor and others, Disney is slowly, perhaps even subtly, pushing the acceptance of homosexuality into the realm of childhood. As an article on the Answers in Genesis web site accurately argues, “Sadly, Disney clearly wants to normalize what God has called sin. …[W]e must strongly caution against Christians exposing children to one more example of society’s acceptance of homosexual behavior, even if it’s just a small part of the film.” I agree with that statement.

The reality is that, for Christians, The Shack should be of greater concern than Beauty and the Beast. The biggest reason for that is simple: Disney is a secular company providing secular entertainment and thus marketed primarily to a secular audience. The Shack, however, is a film based on a book written by a man, William Paul Young, who professes to be a Christian. In his own words (in a recent blog post on his web site) the book “offered alternative ways of thinking about God and humanity that resonated intensely with many, it also challenged deeply held assumptions and embedded paradigms.” In and of itself that may not be a bad thing. All of us can be guilty of getting caught up in tradition or habitual ways of thinking about something and those can actually detract from an accurate or vibrant understanding of the truth. I am sure I am not the only one who has had moments of hearing a Bible passage exposited, or reading the thoughts of a theologian or author and realizing both that I had never thought of it that way before and that this new perspective provided a much-needed clarification or addition to what I had previously been content to think.

Much of the error (which sounds much nicer than saying heresy, doesn’t it?) will be recognizable to those with a solid understanding of Scripture. In the words of Randy Alcorn, “I believe that those who are well grounded in the Word won’t be harmed by the weaknesses and deficiencies of the book.” I agree with that, and I do not feel that my faith was challenged, undermined or weakened by reading the book. If anything, it may have stirred me to firm up some of my beliefs. And the book does contain some merit and value—and surely some elements from which I derived benefit.

Young, however, brings “new” perspectives that are not accurate at all. They serve not to clarify or correct possibly vague or inaccurate understandings of God and Scripture but to corrupt and pervert the truth that Scripture reveals. If nothing else, the fact that Young chose to portray God appearing in the physical form of a woman in the book is cause for concern. When I read the book I almost stopped reading right there. God, of course, has not physical form. He could choose to appear in some physical manner I suppose but He is not a woman, that much is certain. Young explains this in the book by stating that Mack, the book’s main character and the human who interacts with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their physical forms in the literal shack from which the book and film take their title, cannot accept God as a Father because of his own damaged relationship with his physical father. That may be a legitimate obstacle for many people because many people have strained or even dangerously unhealthy relationships with their earthly fathers. That does not, however, allow any of us to change who God is. Our own difficulty or discomfort with God as He has revealed Himself can never be used to justify or excuse our alteration or manipulation of God in order to make Him more palatable or acceptable or comfortable. (This is the same reason why it is not okay for those in some cultures that struggle with the idea of Jesus being God’s Son to change that wording in order to make the Bible more easily accepted in those cultures).

One of the biggest issues for the book and movie is that Young’s main character is God—and God speaks at length. Young is, therefore, literally putting words in God’s mouth through his story. This is a dangerous act, one that the Scripture warns about strictly. This also lends greater weight to the content of the story even if Young insists—as he does—that he was writing a novel not a theology book. Why? Because, in Alcorn’s words, “It’s hard to fall back on ‘Yeah, but it was just one of the characters saying that’ when the character happens to be God. You can’t really say ‘he was having a bad day,’ or ‘he wasn’t familiar with that Scripture.’”

In her review of the film, Sophia Lee writes that “Papa” in the film (which is a term Mack’s wife uses for God and the manner in which Mack addresses God throughout the book—which is only one more reason why depicting God as a woman is problematic) is “a god who is far removed from the God of the Bible.” Why? One example she notes is Mack asking Papa about his wrath, to which Papa responds, “My what? You lost me there.” That is a real problem. An incredibly significant problem. Indeed there could be no greater problem. Why? Simply this: if we deny or ignore the wrath of God then we are necessarily denying or ignoring the holiness and justice of God, which requires denying or ignoring both that humans fall short of that holiness in and of themselves and are therefore deserving of punishment and separation from God. If we ignore or deny that then we are ignoring or denying the fundamental truth of the Bible, the very heart of the gospel message, the very reason why Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life and died to pay the penalty owed by humans so that those who accept His sacrifice on their behalf might receive the forgiveness of God.

Let me be clear here: I am not asserting something that Young himself does not make clear. Young has said that he does not believe in penal substitution. He said he believes in the wrath of God and he believes there is no hope for human beings apart from the cross but he says Christ became sin for humans, not that human sin was punished through the death of Christ. In fact, he said, “I don’t see that it is necessary to have the Father punish the Son.” (To hear this for yourself you can listen to a lengthy 2009 interview with Young here; this specific conversation takes place over six or seven minutes starting around minute 16 of the recording).

Young’s most recent book is titled Lies We Believe About God. One of the “lies” Young addresses in the book is “The Cross was God’s idea,” the book’s seventeenth chapter. There he writes,

Who originated the Cross?

If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner. Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense. And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one.

You can read that for yourself on page 149 of the book if you want to ensure that I am quoting Young accurately. He goes on to write that the Cross (he capitalizes it) was the idea of humans, that the cross is a “deviant device” that is “the iconic manifestation of our blind commitment to darkness. … It is the ultimate fist raised against God.” There is some truth there, but Young goes own, saying that God responded to this “profound brokenness” by submitting to it. But Young does not mean that Jesus submitted to the will of the Father by giving up His life to pay the penalty of sin that is justly demanded by a holy and righteous God. Rather, Young says, “God climbed willingly onto our torture device and met us at the deepest and darkest place of our diabolical imprisonment to our own lies, and by submitting once and for all, God destroyed its power” (p 150). At first that sounds good but consider carefully what Young is asserting here: he is saying that God submitted Himself willingly to man—and man’s lies, darkness and brokenness specifically. He is saying that God freed humankind from our own darkness and lies by submitting to that same darkness and allowing man to execute Christ on the cross and thereby free humanity from its own “blind commitment to darkness.”

The reality, however, is that man’s “commitment to darkness” and “profound brokenness” is a result of the fall. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve but it is has infected every human being since. As a result, “we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT). God did not submit Himself to our darkness to free us from it. That would ultimately mean that God submitted Himself to sin—to Satan. Far from it! God did not submit to Satan at all—ever. God the Son (Jesus) yielded Himself to God the Father, willingly putting Himself in the position to take the place of every human being who has ever lived by paying the rightful penalty of sin on their behalf. All who accept that Christ did that, and accept that He is their Savior and the only way to heaven, will have their sins forgiven and will spend eternity in the presence of God rather than eternity separated from God in hell. That, by the way, is another of the “lies” that Young addresses in his recent book. He says hell is neither separation from God nor conscious torment, but Scripture makes clear that it is indeed both.

In the book’s introduction, quoted on its back cover, Young writes,

This book is not a presentation of certainty. … You may identify with some topics and not with others. You might agree or disagree with my conclusions. Some of these ideas may be deeply challenging, while others may seem naïve and thoughtless. That is the wonder and uniqueness of our journeys and the beauty of dialogue and relationship.

Actually, Mr. Young, that is a bunch of fluff and stuff. It is utter nonsense. It is relativism at its core, postmodernism at its finest. Allaboutphilosophy.org states, “Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist’s premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist.” That is what Young is celebrating! He is openly declaring that he is unsure of what he writes in his book—but one cannot be unsure of that which is absolute truth. In other words, Young can only be uncertain of God’s wrath, man’s sinfulness, the existence of eternal suffering in hell and the atonement for sin on the cross through the death of Christ because he is uncertain of the Truth of the Bible. That we can be uncertain of these things, and disagree on them, is neither wonderful nor unique. It is the gateway to straying from the Bible and from God. He has communicated these things clearly in His Word; uncertainty can only come from an unwillingness to accept and believe it.

Owen Strachan wrote recently wrote the following on The Gospel Coalition web site:

What truly horrifies sinful humanity is not, in the end, Scripture’s stubborn reliance upon blood atonement. The problem is much deeper. What truly offends human nature about the atonement is the greatness of the God who forgives through it, the lavish nature of the mercy that flows from it, the salvation for the wicked accomplished by it. It is precisely this salvation our fallen hearts reject. It is exactly this forgiving God we defy, and even dare to correct. We must take care here: to promote the cross without the atonement means we do not promote the cross at all.

I could not agree more with Strachan—and when we allow anyone, including William Paul Young, to suggest that the cross was anything other than the act of a great, loving, merciful, just, holy, righteous God simultaneously demanding and accepting the perfect sacrifice on behalf of fallen man as “the wages of sin” we serve only to repudiate the wonderful truth of the gospel and the indescribable love of God.

I realize that much of what I am criticizing here comes from Lies We Believe About God rather than from The Shack, but one will open the door to the other. The movie will no doubt be seen by people who did not read the book and will prompt many of them to want to explore Young’s ideas further. That will lead them to Lies We Believe About God. In fact, that Lies was released to coincide with the release of the movie is not at all coincidental. Young, and his publisher, are literally banking on the fact that the movie will drive sales of the book. Indeed, one reviewer on Amazon.com, identified only as Lisa, hits the nail on the head when she writes,

This book’s release at the same time as the movie’s release clears up any question out there as to whether the author desires to shape Christian thought and doctrine. Many have questioned over the years whether The Shack should be viewed as only a fiction work – not a doctrinal statement. I bought the Kindle copy yesterday to let the author clear that question up for me himself. Now I know what he believes. His departure from Orthodox theology is quite apparent. If you are a young Christian or non-Christian I encourage you to seek mature godly counsel before you take the ideas of this book as a fact!

So it is entirely fitting to be addressing the false teachings contained in that book while discussing the release of the theatrical version of The Shack. If anything it is even more important, because Young likes insisting that The Shack is a novel. He makes no such disclaimer with Lies We Believe About God, which he does present, as we have seen, as containing uncertainty but definitely not as fiction.

There are several things that we must keep in mind when it comes to The Shack and other erroneous writings and teachings of its ilk. First, popularity does not equal truth. The Shack has sold more than twenty million copies but that does not mean that the ideas it presents are true or even deserving of serious contemplation. It means only that Young tapped into the interests of millions of people. (It is not coincidental either than he did so by presenting a picture of God that is much softer, kinder and gentler than the true God of the Bible). Second, quality production does not equal quality time. Someone said to me the other day of The Shack, “One of my friends saw it and said it was really good.” It might be; the production quality is probably very high. The budget was no doubt healthy and the acting may be very good. None of that means it is a good idea for anyone to spend their time watching it. Playboy is probably a quality product purely from the standpoint of design, printing, photography, writing, etc. and Hugh Hefner is certainly a successful businessman. None of that means it is a good idea to read the magazine. Third, sentiment is no substitute for veracity. We know this in our human relationships. After all, no one would want their spouse to tell them something they want to hear because it will make them feel good rather than tell them truth. No one wants a doctor to tell them they are in perfect health, even though that would be encouraging and result in happiness, if the truth is that they are riddled with deadly cancer. Why not? Simply this—because we have to know the truth in order to effectively and appropriately respond to it. William Paul Young is saying a lot of things that a lot of people want to hear. It makes them feel good—about themselves and about God. Why? Because it lets them shape God in their own image. In the end, that will do them far more harm than good. When they die—and they will—and stand before God—which they will—He will not say, if they died without accepting Christ, that He loved them so much and He is happy to welcome them into heaven. Instead, He will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” To where will they depart? To hell—to be separated eternally from God and to suffer unending torment.

And that’s no work of fiction; it comes straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:23).