Pastor's Blog

Truth Suppressors, Idol Makers, & World Breakers

Truth Suppressors, Idol Makers, & World Breakers: Why there’s really no such thing as an atheist, and the explanation of all bad behaviors

1) Where did we come from?

2) Where are we going? 

3) What is the meaning of life? 

4) What constitutes good/evil within this life?

No matter if you consider yourself religious or not, all people have some answers to life’s four basic philosophical questions. Whatever your answers (or lack thereof) to those questions are, those responses are the beliefs that govern your life choices. Those conclusions point to what is your operative telos. Furthermore, none of us can empirically, in this moment, quantify our responses to those questions. This means we’re all operating out of faith.

So, for instance, I absolutely have assumptions about the origins of the universe. These assumptions are based on what I read in the Bible and what I perceive in the world. Another person might hold macro-evolutionary assumptions about the origins of the universe based on other factors – classes they took in college, a documentary they saw on TV, etc.

Neither of us can prove our assumptions.

Even if we can do an experiment that might prove something today, this proves nothing about what happened in the past. Our beliefs are expressions of faith.

The same is true with what’s on the other side of death. I hold faith assumptions. But so does everyone. Many I’ve talked to say that we die and are placed in the ground and that’s the end of us. Okay…I can prove that happens to my body, but what about my spirit? I assume one thing happens, but the materialist assumes another thing.

Neither one of us can prove anything in the moment.

Consequently, this is clearly not science vs. faith or reason vs. faith. It’s all faith assertions based on what we believe is the most compelling evidence.

(And by the way, not only are we all ultimately living by faith, but we operate accordingly on a daily basis because that’s actually the only way to do life.) For instance, let’s say you find a girl you think you might want to marry. But you’re not positive she’s the right one for you. You consider yourself a reasonable, scientific fellow and are therefore going to wait until all the necessary empirical data comes in before you pop the question. You know what’s going to happen, right? Two possible things: 1) You’ll die/She’ll die, or, and more likely, 2) She’ll find a better guy – one who is courageous enough to commit to her via a leap of faith.

In other words, you simply cannot prove that ten years from now, this individual will have been the “right” person for you to have married. You gather a reasonable amount of data, and then you make a leap of faith. It’s the only possible way to live.

And here’s my point: Irrespective of what you call yourself, functionally, none of us conducts our personal lives as scientists (or atheists). Practically speaking, all of us live by faith. 

Furthermore, inherently, all of us assumes our lives have meaning. And naturally, we all flinch in the face of death. Instinctively, we all know there is such a thing as right and wrong. Why does this all come intuitively? Because deep down we KNOW God exists! And the Apostle Paul says we all understand this intrinsically because God does such a sensational job of proclaiming his existence to us. 

Then why the disbelief?

Truth suppression should not be a foreign concept to anyone alive in the past century. It’s been one of the world’s recurring refrains. Everyone agrees that Communism, Fascism, Nazism worked largely because of propaganda and truth suppression – the government only shared certain select pieces of information with its population.

The tagline of one of my favorite shows as a kid, the X-Files, was “The Truth Is Out There.” The show was tapping into a general awareness that people in power sometimes withhold truth in order to control others. In recent years, “fake news” has become the most popular topic surrounding media. And regardless of which news you believe is the fake news, we all agree that it’s possible and prevalent. In other words, when people report information, depending on their motivation, they share select information in order to alter beliefs.

Now, if we realize it happens out there, all the time, why wouldn’t we realize that we’re constantly tempted to do it to ourselves as well?

I. Truth Suppressors

There’s something about the human condition that makes us lean towards denial in the face of difficult truth.

From my perspective, the biblical text that serves as the granddaddy of all human behavioral explanations is found in Romans 1:18-32. Here the Apostle Paul lays out a basic explanation for what all natural flesh attempts to do with the inconvenient truth of God.

God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

(Romans 1:18-21)

Paul’s general assessment then is that humans don’t disbelieve in the true God because they’re basically ignorant of God. Rather, they disbelieve in God because they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (vs. 18). They’ve talked themselves out of the truth that’s in front of them, despite the clear evidence, because the truth is inconvenient. 

Paul’s logic in these verses is NOT that God is angry with people for simply having too little knowledge and that this leads them to do bad things.

So far as I can tell, Romans 1:18-21 is the only spot in Scripture where all three of the historical philosophical arguments for God’s existence come up. The Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Moral Argument are all embedded.

Ignorance is not the primary issue.

Paul doesn’t describe pagans as people who were unfortunately withheld information and didn’t stand a chance, but as people who are sinning by choice against their better knowledge. They suppress the truth for themselves. For that matter, believers too possess a sinful flesh that is constantly trying to push the inconvenient, humbling truth down. 

II. Idol Makers

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:22-25

Here’s the interesting twist. Because the truth of God is inconvenient and humbling, the fallen flesh refuses to worship God.

However, we were created for the purpose of worshiping God.

We’re wired to worship God.

So if we reject worshiping the true God, this doesn’t lead us to STOP worshiping. Instead, we just redirect all of our praise, all of our energy, all of our resources, all of our sacrifices to something/someone else. That’s why Paul says they “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (vs. 25). This is the biblical concept of idolatry.

Humans don’t just live; we all live FOR something.

All of us has something that ultimately captures our imagination, something that becomes the highest allegiance of our hearts. I’m inclined to believe that if you were born and raised in modern America, there are 3 common P-Idols: Professional Advancement, Physical Attractiveness, and Personal Comfort & Freedom.

You don’t have to consciously choose to idolize these things. You just have to inhale the polluted cultural ethos to absorb the lifestyle. If you happen to be raised in a good, Midwestern church-going family, I can safely add Moral Performance as an inevitable fourth to the list. These are the things, by default, we tend to live for. We’ve been trained to believe they give us meaning and value.

Paul says about the pagans: “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts” (vs. 24). The word for “sinful desires” is, in the Greek, epithymia, which literally means “hyper-desire.” In other words, the things (beauty, comfort, successful career, or morality) certainly aren’t wrong in and of themselves. The hyper-desire of these things – lusting for them as though they were God – that’s the thing that leads to all of our bad behaviors. 

III. World Breakers

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1:26-32

If you’re tracking Paul’s logic, he’s now said that God’s truth is obvious and unmistakable. But it has implications that humans, by nature, don’t like. Instead of worshiping God, humans selfishly and foolishly choose to value the blessings of God ahead of the Blesser. The hyper-desire for these good things, the efforts made to appease these idols, are the catalysts for all of the bad behaviors that exist on planet earth. Humans worship their false gods by breaking the true God’s commands.

ALL bad behavior is merely the outworking of idolatry. And this is what is ruining the planet.

Paul’s next verses give proof. He offers statements about the breakdown of human society due to idolatry. He talks about sexual disorder (vss. 26-27), economic disorder caused by greed (vs. 29) social disorder caused by deceit, malice, and murder (vs. 29), the breakdown of the family unit caused by disrespect (vs. 30), relational disorder caused by faithlessness and ruthlessness (vs. 31). And he even says anyone who complicity approves of all this is also liable (vs. 32).

It’s always just one short step from idolatry to immorality.

All immorality is simply idol worship. 

Any bad behavior you’ve ever struggled with points to a false god that contends for your heart.

This is why working merely on behavioral modification is like giving a lozenge to someone with lung cancer. You might even find success in periodically relieving symptoms, but the root cause will simply manifest itself in other destructive ways.

Further amazing…do you know how God punishes idolatry? Paul says, “Therefore God gave them over…” (vs. 24) God doesn’t fight for the hearts of mankind forever. And he doesn’t typically cast down lighting bolts. After repeated resistance and rejection, he eventually just gives people what their sinful hearts’ desire.

And this is the scariest possible outcome.

If you want to kill a drug addict, just give him enough drugs. If you want to kill an alcoholic, just give her enough alcohol. If you want to kill a sex addict, fulfill all their fantasies. If you want to kill a career-oriented workaholic, keep promoting them. Etc.

It’s worth thinking through our own possible hyper-desires at this point as well. If you’re addicted, idolatrous when it comes to the wellness of your family, or your moral performance, or your romantic pursuits, or your physical beauty, what should God give you if he truly loves you? What would kill you?

IV. World Saver

Humans don’t like God’s truth. Humans suppress God’s truth. Humans then start worshiping created things. This turns the world upside down and hurts people. It’s all here.

So what should God do about all this? I know what I would do if I were God. Thank God my finger’s not on the trigger.

Paul reveals the shocking good news of God’s grace repeatedly in Romans, but in this particular text, I think it’s even implicit in verse 18.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people” (vs. 18)

Notice that Paul doesn’t say “the wrath of God” will come down, though, in a sense, it will on Judgment Day. Also, in another sense, the wrath of God is revealed as God gives people over to their sins, and simply allows them the amount of rope their hearts desire to hang themselves. Without question, though, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven most obviously at the same approximate time that the Son of God was revealed from heaven.

The Son of God had no wickedness of his own. And the Father repeatedly mentions how pleased he was with Jesus (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5). But mankind, including us, attempted to suppress his truth in our lives.

Fortunately, Jesus can’t be suppressed. His stone gets rolled away and his truth and God’s grace gets revealed. The One who had no wickedness at all, in his great love for us, allowed himself to become suppressed for a time, so that those of us who have suppressed the knowledge of him in our lives would be forgiven, and have our stones rolled away too.

Through faith in him we not only find complete forgiveness, but are gifted a righteousness that defines us as eternal members of God’s perfect family. And our testimony to God’s grace, moving forward, our life mission, is time spent helping humanity let go of its idols and exchange the lies of this world for God’s truth. The other side of the gospel is the first step of all recovery.

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.


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"I Think I Might Be Done With Holidays:"

"I Think I Might Be Done With Holidays:" As a kid, there was an anticipation, almost uncomfortable longing, attached to holidays. Holidays, be they religious or secular, seemed to break up the routine of life. There was special food, special music, special lighting, special smells because after all, these days were…special. 

As an adult, perhaps jaded by repeatedly learning that no Christmas present is going to solve all my problems, as well as discovering that large gatherings often generate as many “incidents” as they do tender moments, holidays actually cause a little anxiety. When digging an artificial Christmas tree out of the basement, I can’t help but calculate how many days this thing will be up, how long it’ll take me to untangle lights, and how much I’ll resent taking it down in January before I wonder whether or not it was worth it. A bit Grinchy, I know. 

Granted, I’m a pragmatist, not a romantic. Putting the best construction on it, I’m certain that some Christians perceive grand holiday experiences as foretastes of the wedding banquet of paradise. Furthermore, I’d certainly admit that I have fond memories of holidays as a child. And I can definitely understand the desire to help create positive experiences and memories for your children. All of that. 

But part of the point of my blog is to help Christians see things from multiple unfamiliar angles so as to have a more thorough, biblical understanding of truth. The more Christians I get to know, the more I realize how different the experience of holidays can be. 

“Holy Days” 

For starters, it’s probably worth offering the reminder that our modern English word “holiday” comes from the Middle English for “Holy Days.”

As Christians, it’s also probably worth asking whether or not certain days of the week, month, or year are truly “holier” than others. If you ask the Apostle Paul, the answer appears to be, “Not really.”

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 That’s not the end of the discussion of holidays for Christians, but I think it’s the right starting point. From a Christian worldview, THERE IS NO DAY THAT IS MORE SANCTIFIED THAN ANOTHER. Any insinuation against that would contradict Paul’s theology. 

Secular Holidays and Christians

So long as a Christian doesn’t idolize the celebrations of secular holidays, I don’t think anyone would say most aspects of such things are inappropriate for God’s people. 

A more interesting phenomenon, from my perspective, is the desire of churches to piggyback on such celebrations. Many churches today seem quite comfortable dedicating the weekend worship to Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, a 4th of July theme, or hosting Thanksgiving worship. I’ve definitely even seen Valentine’s Day hijacked. The secular holiday incorporation exists to such an extent that, if you didn’t at least have a thematic prayer offered up on certain weekends (e.g. Memorial Day), there’d likely be a few complaints. 

What has been revealing to me was not, for instance, the celebration of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day itself. What feels more incongruous is the sadness attached to those who perhaps had harsh, critical mothers, from whom they are maybe even estranged, listen on Mother’s Day to how much moms are like Christ. What’s hard is championing the greatness of dads to fatherless onlookers.

Yes, it certainly presents an opportunity to talk about a Heavenly Father as the ULTIMATE Father. Yes, there are also a host of listeners who also had very faithful fathers. 

But since the holiday itself is designed to celebrate, the occasion can nonetheless create a potentially unhealthy distraction in a Christian worship service that is supposed to perpetually be themed on the celebration of Jesus Christ. 

Or, for instance, consider 4th of July celebrations. Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae posted a link to Twitter on July 4, 2016 [showing a group of black people picking cotton] with the words "my family on July 4, 1776."

He immediately received backlash from his large support base of white evangelicalism for “turning everything into a race issue.” 

Nevermind the fact that many American Christians haven’t actually thought through the implications of whether or not the American Revolutionary War was a biblically just one. 

Let’s simply address the race issue. 

Thomas Jefferson, the original drafter of The Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholder himself. So were famed 18th-century Christian preachers, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Though an early draft of the document did originally include a denouncement of the transatlantic slave trade, the antislavery clause was excised from the final draft due to the objections of numerous delegates who benefitted from slavery. (Hine, Hine, & Harold, African American Odyssey, vol. 1, 7th ed., Boston: Pearson, 2016, pg. 93)

Bottom line, if people of African descent aren’t interested in anointing our country as God’s chosen nation in a worship service, they’ve got legitimate historical reason on top of theological reason. Similar sentiments could arise if Native Americans don’t feel quite the same way about Thanksgiving as many white Americans do. Don’t be surprised, or offended. 

It is never appropriate for Christians to deify anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ. 

So while we can appropriately give thanks for fathers and mothers and the blessings of a relatively safe, free, country of incredible abundance, we must realize that the line routinely and hurtfully can get crossed. Nor should we lose sight of what the Church actually is. 

For this reason, I’m not sure how I feel about celebrating “secular” holidays as a church. The obvious advantage of celebrating decidedly Christian holidays in Christian worship is that EVERY Christian can equally celebrate Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week, Ascension, and Pentecost. The same simply cannot be said for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, et al. 

The Christian Church is an intentionally counter-cultural body as contrasted against the surrounding secular culture. 

Therefore, without saying “it’s wrong to celebrate such days,” it stands to reason that we should logically only be putting exclamation points behind aspects that unite us as the Body of Christ, not sometimes applicable holidays that help us overlap with secular society. 

Christian Holidays and Christians

So I probably sound like I’m ALL IN on Christian holidays and totally against the celebration of secular holidays – a pagan Grinch of sorts. Again, notwithstanding the logical inconsistency of “secular holy days,” I’m not suggesting any of this is inherently wrong. 

In fact, I’m not even suggesting that I’m completely enamored with the concept of Christian festival days. As a New Testament Christian, I possess a decidedly New Covenant mentality when it comes to festivals. And the general New Testament teaching on festivals, as mentioned, seems to be that they’re okaaaayyyy…until they’re not. Old Testament festivals were a shadow of things to come in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Festivals are free for us to celebrate so long as our consciences are clear that the ultimate end goal is pursuing the glory of Christ (Rom. 14:5). But there exists a clear religious temptation to turn the celebration of these days, and their accompanying customs, traditions, and ceremonies into works by which we believe we’re achieving our own righteousness before God (Galatians 4:10). 

My general takeaway from the Apostle Paul then is that while he’s not a legalist who forbids the ongoing celebration of festival days, he nonetheless recognizes dangers attached to them, and he wants New Covenant believers to steer clear of getting wrapped up in rituals that may lead to missing the forest for the trees – the reality that EVERY DAY is celebration in Christ Jesus.

This is perhaps a part of the reason why, for instance, for the first several centuries of Christianity, though some speculated on the birth date of Jesus, Christians don’t seem particularly interested in celebrating lots of special annual ceremonies like Christmas. Not until after 300 AD. 

Early Christians writers don’t mention Christmas. 

Irenaeus and Tertullian both give lists of Christian feasts that do not include Christmas. 

Origen and Arnobius both seem to dislike the pagans’ celebration of birthdays. (McCracken, George, Arnobius of Sicca, the Case Against the Pagans, Volume 2, p. 83) 

The earliest feast day in connection with the birth of Jesus was January 6, Epiphany, the day of manifestation. Historian Justo Gonzalez points out that December 25, which was a pagan festival date, began to take the place of Epiphany as a celebratory date in some areas of the Latin-speaking West, after Constantine (4th century). (Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, pg. 112) 

Gonzalez adds that the Christian calendar in the opening centuries was primarily a weekly rhythm – Sunday was a joyful celebration of Easter; Friday was a day of sorrow and fasting. 

Aside from that, there was an annual resurrection celebration, but Christians weren’t even in complete agreement as to when that should take place and there became bitter debates about the matter. 

The point here is that the Early Christian calendar, i.e. that which was brought forth in the Apostolic era, offered very little in the way of ritual celebrations. The saint veneration that occupies literally half of the liturgical calendar for many Catholics and Protestants today was unknown, and, I imagine, would be unappreciated by Paul and the Early Christians. It is a historical footnote fascination. Not guideline for worshiping Jesus. 

Consequently, ritual celebrations are not inherently wrong…but they can become wrong IF they in any way detract or distract from Christ’s goodness rather than remembering and celebrating Christ’s goodness. 

Holidays or No?

Admittedly, I’m writing this post from an angle – i.e. to challenge thoughts, habits, and benefits of holiday ritual. The very nature of ritual is to form habit, and almost transition from consciousness simply into a state of virtue. The nature of thoughtful critique then is to reconsider the merit of an existing habit. That said, I absolutely believe that one can fully celebrate holidays, or not, to the glory of Jesus! (1 Corinthians 10:31) Without question, whatever you do, you shouldn’t do it (or not) because I said so. You should wrestle with biblical principles, pray, and be guided by the Spirit. 

The gospel about holidays is that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Though the world assigns subjective value and deems one day, one event, one moment comparatively better/worse than the next, our timeless Savior is always, constantly spectacular EVERY SINGLE DAY. 

Jesus is never the emotional letdown of December 26 or January 2 or July 5. Every day is an opportunity to worship with full heart, mind, and body because every day Jesus is gracious beyond comprehension. Every day is a holy day in Christ. 

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.


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Abortion Then/Now: What We Can Learn from How the Early Church Dealt With Abortion and Infanticide

Abortion Then/Now: What We Can Learn from How the Early Church Dealt With Abortion and Infanticide:

"Without God and the future life? How will man be after that? It means everything is permitted now." Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (New York: Vintage, 1991), pg. 589

Communist Russia, Communist China, and Nazi Germany eliminated an incredible amount of human life. Stalin was responsible for around 20 million deaths. Mao Zedong’s regime is credited with a staggering 70 million deaths. Hitler comes in third with around 10 million murders attributed to his name. The twentieth century was the world’s great experiment in seeing what intentionally godless governments would produce. The end result was a century with more slaughter of human life than all other centuries combined. 

Without question, the saving grace of the western world has been the presence of an inherited Christian worldview. Abraham Lincoln, William Wilberforce, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were able to make assertions about human rights and usher in civil rights reform based solely on a belief in the biblical Imago Dei (i.e. “the image of God”) – the idea that all humans have value because God himself imbued humanity with special value. 

As the faith of a nation goes, so goes its perception of personhood. 

Consequently, if you’ve been following trends of Christian religious activity over the past 20 years, it was no surprise to you that the New York State legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act on January 22, the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The act allows abortion at any point during a pregnancy (24 weeks had been the prior limit) if it is deemed “necessary to protect a woman’s life or health.”

If you’ve ever read Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s famous article in the NY Times from over two decades ago, you knew this was coming. If you realized that the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) targeted New York upon its founding in 1969, you knew this was coming. If you were aware that over a quarter of all pregnancies in New York already end in abortion, you knew this was coming.

When you’re raised in the United States, it’s perhaps easy to forget that abortion and infanticide have been quite common in world history. The reason they have been forbidden in the West for centuries is only because Western values were shaped by Christianity. Author Benjamin Wiker makes the case in Moral Darwinism:

"[T]he laws against abortion and infanticide in the West are only intelligible as a result of its Christianization, and the repeal of those same laws is only intelligible in light of its de-Christianization." Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), pg. 100.

A fairly apples-to-apples comparison of what we see happening today in America is what was seen in the Roman Empire. The Twelve Tables – the earliest known Roman legal code, written about 450 B.C.E. – permitted a father to expose any female infant and any deformed or weak male infant to the natural elements to let them die in the fields. Philosophers Plato and Aristotle, both recommended infanticide as legitimate state policy. (cf. Plato, Republic 5; Aristotle, Politics 2,7) Seneca regarded the drowning of children at birth as both reasonable and commonplace. Tacitus stated that the Jewish mindset: “it is a deadly sin to kill an unwanted child,” was but another of the Jews’ “sinister and revolting” teachings (cf. The Histories 5.5). The famous Roman medical writer, Celsus, goes into great detail in De medicina (cf. 7.29) about how to surgically carry out an abortion. Etc. 

Some of these thoughts are new to America. But they’re not technically new.

So, the relevant question then is: How did the early Christians, with very little political, educational, or financial clout, react to the tragedy taking place around them? 

For starters, we know without question that Christians viewed abortion and infanticide as wrong. The Didache, a manual/catechism of church teachings written in the late first century, states in the second chapter: “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” 

Similarly, Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second century, wrote: "We have been taught that it is wicked to expose even newly-born children… (for) we would then be murderers." Martyr, First Apology, pgs. 27-29

While we do have some records of Christians writing letters to government officials in hopes of persuading them, this seemingly created little, if any, changes in government policy. Rather, historian Rodney Stark says that what truly influenced the Roman Empire to eventually become sympathetic to Christianity’s pro-life stances was the Christians’ willingness to provide relief for the poor and taking in and supporting babies which had been left to die by their pagan parents. Historian Will Durant wrote:

"[I]n many instances, Christians rescued exposed infants, baptized them, and brought them up with the aid of community funds." Durant, Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their Beginnings to A.D. 325, Vol. 3, pg. 598

The Roman Emperor Julian, writing in the fourth century, regretted the progress of Christianity. He saw that it was causing Roman paganism to crumble. Why? From his perspective: "(The Christian faith) has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them." Letter to Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia (362), in The Works of the Emperor Julian, Volume III (1913)

And here’s the main takeaway. Yes, Christians should experience righteous anger at the thought of the slaughter of more unborn innocents. Anger is a mechanism that appropriately rises to defend what is right. But when anger, even righteous anger, transforms into repaying evil with evil, we forget that God alone justly brings wrath, and that our job is simply to overcome evil with good.

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:17-21

I see no allowance in here for self-righteous social media tirades. I see no godliness in calling names like “idiots” or “psychopaths.” I see the Apostle Paul telling us that the path to Christlikeness is showing the same grace to enemies that God showed to us. I see Paul similarly telling the church in Corinth “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) I see the Early Christian Church, with minimal resources, actually influencing their pagan society by adopting children, providing charity to the poor, and confounding the culture by a demonstration of humble, sacrificial love.

Social media rants cost nothing and can ruin everything. On the other hand, picking up crosses to follow Christ costs dearly but helps save the world and lifts up the name of Jesus.

Interestingly, Steven Pinker cited in his NY Times article that “The women who sacrifice their offspring tend to be young, poor, unmarried and socially isolated.” If provided adequate human resources – godly men who were willing to stay with them and help them raise kids, Christian friends who encourage them towards the beauty of God’s will, a church that is willing to financially come alongside a young pregnant woman and give her grace instead of shame – many of these young, poor, unmarried, marginalized women would make different decisions. The quick jab, sanctimonious social media post doesn’t move the needle an inch. Sacrificial love brings forth life.

This is not to say that wisdom brought forward in videos like this one aren’t enormously helpful. Being able to defend your Christian values using arguments from the Natural Knowledge of God are an important part of your Christian witness as well. Former NARAL co-founder, Bernard Nathanson, became a pro-life activist upon viewing the undeniable evidence before him with the advent of the ultrasound (chronicled in educational film The Silent Scream). He later became a Christian. Calm, logical arguments are an essential part of the public dialogue.

But the group Steven Pinker was identifying as prime candidates for abortion is shockingly close to the group of people in society that God, throughout Scripture, is constantly compelling his nation (OT) & Church (NT) to watch out for – the widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor. The Lord does not tell his people to rage against the evils of the world, but rather to keep their own lives free from evil and be a light to the world. 

"Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other." Zechariah 7:9-10

In the recent history of American politics, when Christians shout, the country gets angry. But historically, when God’s people calmly point to the truth and lovingly sacrifice like Christ to lift up life and personhood, the world has been changed.

The good news is that we ALL have been forgiven and saved by a child whose life was unfairly taken. It was a costly tragedy for which we’re all equally guilty. But in his infinite wisdom, God used this horror to bring forth spiritual life. He can do it again.

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.


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Why We Had To Be Called "Christians"

"Why We Had To Be Called 'Christians'”:

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) 

How to define a “Christian” is actually one of the more interesting debates in a post-Christian culture. Since we’re now on the other side of an overtly Christian culture, that means the word “Christian” has necessarily absorbed some baggage along the way. Clearly, not everyone who identifies as “Christian” is, in fact, a Christian (Matthew 7:21-23; 1 John 4:20; James 1:26). And if you hope to lead anyone to Christ, in this culture, you should be able to articulate both what “Christian” is and isn’t.

I personally think there are three essential aspects to a Christian witness:

you need to be able to articulate the Bible’s teaching of sin/grace

you need to be able to tell your own personal story in terms of sin/grace

you need to be able to explain what it means that you have now, by grace, been made a “Christian.”

Helpful in the discussion of what it means to be Christian is understanding where the word “Christian” comes from. And fortunately for us, the Bible tells us: a place named Syrian Antioch.

In Book of Acts, which is the story of the Early Christian Church, you have three lengthy case studies of Christian conversion. We find the conversion of an Ethiopian prime minister in chapter eight, the conversion of a Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, in chapter nine, and the conversion of a Roman centurion, Cornelius, in chapter ten. And this doesn’t even include the conversion of the Samaritans in chapter eight.

All of this diversification was a little culturally startling to the Early Church in Jerusalem. While you’d think that they’d all be ecstatic about the widespread evangelism, you have to keep in mind that the first-century church consisted mostly of Jewish converts. As the church became “less Jewish” with the conversion of Samaritans and Greeks and Romans and North Africans, some felt a bit of an identity crisis. Up until this point, many believed they had simply added Jesus to their pre-existing Jewish culture, and their conception of culture had been adapted as Christ was adopted, but their culture was not yet transformed. Now they felt like they were losing their personal worldly culture as the predominant culture of their religious lives. And this was somewhat necessary and inevitable.

The eternal, multiethnic, multicultural trajectory of Christianity was seen no more clearly than in the city of Syrian Antioch.

Antioch was the third largest city of the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria. It had about ½ million people, making it ten times larger than Jerusalem. It was the capital of the Roman province of Syria. And it did have a large pre-existing Jewish population. So, although it was 300 miles north of Jerusalem, Antioch was still a natural spot for Christians to flee after the persecution in Jerusalem broke out. Antioch was a gorgeous, wealthy city with a four-mile-long, marble-paved main street lined by marble colonnades. It was the only ancient city with street lights at night. It’s the first truly cosmopolitan city in the empire. And in retrospect, it becomes such an obvious location for Jesus to use as a home base of sorts for his Church to carry out Gentile mission work. The Christian population of the city came about amidst a tremendous pluralism of Roman, Greek, and Syrian gods, as well as Judaism. 

When reading through the names of the leadership at the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1), it becomes clear that amongst the five guys mentioned, just by examining their names, you can tell they come from three different continents and represent at least four nationalities. And it’s at this point that it begins to become clear why the followers of Jesus Christ needed to be called “Christians.”

The Latin suffix -ian means “belonging to the party of.” It seems likely that some of the Jews sort of derisively called the followers of Jesus “Christians.” But why did they have to come up with a name for them at all?

See, the Jews could just be called “Jews.” It was all-encompassing. When someone said “He’s Jewish” – from that name you could understand an individual’s religious beliefs, ethnic lineage, dietary habits, moral standards, and many other details all the way down to his basic weekly schedule.

All of that. The same was true for Samaritans, Romans, Greeks, Africans, etc. But now you have all of these groups converting to follow Jesus. Consequently, you could no longer just say, “He’s a Jew.”

Identifying a nationality was no longer sufficient to summarize the story of his life. And this was the first time in world history that this was the case.

In fact, the city of Antioch was built by a guy named Seleucus, who was one of Alexander the Great’s generals. And when he constructed the city, Seleucus understood that, because of its location, Syrian Antioch was going to be a multiethnic city. Therefore, he not only ended up building a great wall around the city, which most major cities had for protection, but he also built walls within the city. Archeological record tells us there were at least 18 ethnic quarters within the city confines. Seleucus was smart and knew every race and culture believes it is superior to the others, which is why they often try to distance themselves. So the walls of Antioch not only kept the outsiders out, but they were also designed to keep the different ethnic groups separate.

But the Christians in Antioch were blowing this all up. Almost everyone in the world assumes that religion is simply an extension of your culture. And it’s easy to understand why. We tend to think you’re Muslim because you’re Middle Eastern, or Hindu because your Indian, or Roman Catholic because you’re Italian, or Presbyterian because you’re Scottish, or Anglican because you’re English, or Lutheran because your German, or Baptist because you’re Southern. We still hold these assumptions. And much of it is completely fair.

But the Christians in Antioch were busting these categories.

They were metaphorically breaking down the walls of Antioch.

You couldn’t identify their beliefs by their race or skin color or heritage. They needed a new name that apparently represented a higher priority than their culture – and the name given to them was “Christian.”

What does this mean for us today?

The early followers of Jesus had to be given the name “Christian” because they no longer identified primarily with their society’s prevailing priorities.

Jesus had become a higher priority.

Jesus had become to them “God.”

This doesn’t mean they resented every aspect of their culture. But it did mean that they rejected the cultural practices that didn’t glorify the true God. Remember, they were given the name “Christian” from the outside. It was obvious to the surrounding community – by the way they interacted in their relationships, by the way they managed their time and money, by the truth that they taught – that Jesus was their chief priority. They believed their sins were forgiven, their eternity was secure, and their time on earth was principally an opportunity to testify to that.

I’m constantly writing about how culture is ever-changing. But that – the Antioch definition of “Christian” – totally works still today.

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.


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Moving Past Babel

When your home has been destroyed and the city lay in ruins, starting over doesn’t happen so easily. Imagine a French family living in one of the many towns utterly destroyed by the allied bombings of World War II. How do you move on when every building on the street has been bombed out, shattered bricks spilling out onto the roads, rooms exposed on three sides because their walls were blown apart? Is it even feasible or compassionate to suggest starting over at that point? Or think of the people in Iraq who desire to move past the tribal wars and historical blood feuds that have destroyed their homes for years. It’s hard to move past all of that and start over.

Moving away from the desolation of life to something better can seem like a monumental task. When we have been torn up by sin, when the foundation of our life has been blown apart by guilt and the consequences of our sin, it seems unimaginable to move away from all that pain. Each year we ask young men and women to pledge before God and Church that, what? That they will run away at the first sign of difficulty? That they will run for cover when someone challenges their faith? No, they pledge that they would rather die than give up their faith. 1 Timothy 6:12 puts it this way, “Fight the good fight of faith.”

It is a fight. Being a child of God is a fight. So how do we move on from the rubble of our sin? How do we carry the light of God’s promise into the darkness of this world? We take God’s word, we take his promises, and we move on.

As humanity on the dawn of its second age moved away from their rebellion at the Tower of Babel, so we move away from our own “babels.” We move away with the LORD’s forgiving presence leaving behind our sinful pride. And as we move away from that we head into our futures with the LORD’s faithfulness.

Genesis 11:8, "So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city."


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Help Me Help the World

Perhaps you remember the day of your confirmation: whether you were confirmed as a youngster or as an adult, I hope it was a happy day. And it should be because confirmation is a celebration of God’s word. He brought you to faith. He keeps you in the faith. And he will bring you to himself in heaven.

So now what? Sometimes confirmation can seem like such a big deal that we put all this emphasis on it without thinking about the day after confirmation, or the life after confirmation. Confirmation means strengthening—strengthening for a life of showing your faith. Because whether you are aware of it or not, there is a world out there that hurts. It hurts because it’s lost in sin. And you and I, who have been confirmed or those who will be confirmed, have the answer for that world.

The problem is sharing that answer with the world is painful. There was a believer from the book of Acts named Stephen who understood how painful it was to share Christ in the world. When you look at his story, you might think, “What terrible experience!” But in the midst of all the bad things that happened to him, Christ was right there to strengthen him. And just like then, Christ knows that we need his help if we’re going to be any help in this world. Jesus helps us help a hurting world: Jesus encourages us, and Jesus gives us love to share. 

Acts 7:54-60, "When [the Pharisees] heard these things (from Stephen's sermon), they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 He said, “Look, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 But they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and rushed at him with one purpose in mind. 58 They threw him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” After he said this, he fell asleep.


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An Earnest Faith

There are certain qualities we should really have in life. One of them is honesty. Another would be having a good work ethic. Certainly kindness and an even temper would be on the list, too. Being earnest would be another quality I would add.

Being earnest is being serious about something. Being earnest is the first step in being honest. If someone asks me to help them, I should be serious about helping them and then follow through. Marriage would be a great example of this. If you commit to being married to someone, that’s a commitment that should be made in earnest. It’s serious business!

So are you earnest about your faith in Jesus Christ? Jesus wants to know. Is trusting and obeying Jesus something you seriously pursue? These are good questions to ask because you cannot sit on the fence. Either you pursue Christ with an active faith, or you don’t. Either you are alive in your faith or you are dying/dead. In the book of Revelation, Jesus writes seven letters to seven different churchs and each one examines the heart of faith. He tests faith so you can see if you are alive or if you are dying. If that sounds pretty serious - it is! It’s serious business because Jesus wants us to live an earnest faith. So let’s earnestly confess our sins and then earnestly follow Christ.

Revelation 3:19-20, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."


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Grief Doesn't Have to Stink

Grief is normal.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is needed.

It also stinks.

Probably everyone who reads this blog has had to bury a loved one. Our church, Good Shepherd's, recently heard of the unexpected death of a former principal. Dead at 41. Massive heart attack. It stinks.

"Lord if you had been here..." We always have lots of questions when it comes to death and even more when the death is sudden or unexpected. It seems easier to bury someone who is old and sick, but even then the heartache and pain and grief are still there. A question forms in our mind that is at the same time unanswerable and mildly accusing, "Lord, why?" Or, to put it another way, "If you had just done something."

But he does. He did. This is the season of Easter, after all. "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!" We celebrate that. We should celebrate that. Death is not the end. The sudden loss of a friend, a colleague, a family member, a spouse, a child, need not be just a crash into a brick wall and a life shattered to pieces. There can also be hope.

"Lord if you had been here...but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask." And what is it that Jesus asks for every human being? It is that they would not die but live. For our former principal at Good Shepherd's, that means he lives eternally. This is a good thing. This is THE good thing the only thing that really matters in a world full of death. And Jesus doesn't just want this, he grants this. It is why he came.

"I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die." John 11:25,26

Grief is normal.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is needed.

It stinks.

But in Christ our grief finds an answer that leads to eternal life.


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Coming Out of Tribulation

You would never have planned it this way, but there he was. You happened to be strolling through the park one evening when you saw him, kneeling in intense prayer a little ways off. There was something striking about this man that drew you closer and as you watched his lips move you wondered what could be weighing on this man’s heart. You could see the beads of sweat forming around his forehead and dropping to the ground. What was going through his mind? What was he struggling with that he came to the Lord with such fervent prayers?

It wasn’t until several days later, when Jerusalem was abuzz with excitement about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that you realized you had the honor of witnessing the prayers of Jesus hours before he was put to death.

We owe a debt of thanks to the writers of the gospels because through them we were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and we know exactly what was going through his mind when he fell to the ground, crushed by the burden of what he was about to do. We know how he opened his mouth to plead before his Father that the cup of wrath he was about the drink would be taken away from him. We know how he suffered! We know the great tribulation our Good Shepherd passed through to earn us forgiveness.

Christ was no stranger to tribulation, and neither are we. We may not carry the weight of God’s punishment against sin on our shoulders, but we encounter our own things that press us down, that squeeze us until we wonder if we can take it anymore. The question is: how are we going to handle it? Where does our courage come from? Well it doesn’t come from inside of us. It comes from a tomb which does not contain a dead Jesus but is a living witness to the reality of what Jesus did. This living Jesus has washed us with his blood and will guard and shepherd us through this great tribulation until we join believers from every nation, tribe and language in the eternal joy and comfort of heaven.

Revelation 7:14, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."


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A World Grown Cold but Filled With Love

When Jesus was still walking with us on earth, he told us that a time would come when the love of most would grow cold. He didn’t tell us what that would look like. He didn’t tell us that the world would suddenly become a hateful place of people spewing one angry word after another. He didn’t say that the world would be filled with racists, or xenophobes. All Jesus said was that the love of most would grow cold. What that actually looks like—I can’t say for certain.

But I like to think that you and I would easily recognize a world of no love. Don’t you think that would be easy to recognize? Hatred seems like something easy to spot. But what if the devil tricked us? What if the devil tricked us into isolating ourselves into our own worlds with things like computer and video games, television, the World Wide Web, mp3 players? Not that those things are wrong by themselves, but what happens when people no longer interact with one another in meaningful ways? What if the devil tricked us into to becoming so selfish that no matter what my behavior is in public I will always justify it? What if the devil tricked us into thinking that to truly show someone kindness we must leave them alone, stop judging their life and their choices, “Well, to each his own.” If the devil tricked us into those things, would that be a world whose love has grown cold? And would those people be Christians whose joy for the gospel, whose joy for Easter, had become so jaded that they stopped loving their neighbor or, worst of all, their Savior?

I don’t know if we’re living in a world where the love of most has grown cold, but what I do know I tell you now: we live in the joy of an empty tomb. We live in a world that has a loving and merciful God, a world that has a Savior, and a world with believers who know and believe this, too. So don’t let your love grow cold. Sing Easter’s joy, sing with all believers and sing the glory of God.

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Revelation 5:13


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Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. ~ 1 PETER 3:8