Today’s post comes from a Grace Community Church “Pastoral Perspective” on illegal immigration:

According to recent estimates, there are over 21 million people living in the United States illegally. On a political level, much controversy centers around how illegal immigration might be better regulated, and how the government should respond to the immigrants who are already here. On an economic level, experts debate how the influx of immigrants has affected the American economy.

But our primary concern is neither political or economic. Rather it is theological and pastoral. From a biblical and practical perspective, how should pastors and church leaders respond to this issue? As those who minister in Los Angeles, this question is not hypothetical for us. Nor is it hypothetical for a growing number of churches across our nation.

Though not an exhaustive response, below are ten considerations (organized under four headings) which outline Grace Church’s pastoral perspective on this issue.

Continue Reading…

I like to pack light, even for extended journeys. And I mean really light: one small carry-on backpack no matter how long the trip or how many climate zones I’ll traverse. My wife calls it oddball asceticism, but I call it biblical minimalism.backpack

My penchant for paring down luggage belies my other, contradictory, tendency: hoarding. My overstuffed closets and erupting junk drawers evoke feelings of buyer’s remorse from innumerable impulse purchases.

The one-bag exercise is a therapeutic routine to remind myself that what I need is exponentially less than what I own.

The average American house contains over 300,000 items. The community of modern minimalists I stumbled upon while researching efficient packing strategies strives to prune its inventory of possessions to three digits at most.

Minimalism is a revenant philosophy that was practiced by Spartans, Stoics, Buddhists, Piper, and our own grandparents who still wash their aluminum foil as a holdover from the imposed frugality of the Great Depression.

This quirky community is not into austerity or deprivation for its own sake. A minimalist may own an expensive possession, but only if adds value to his or her life. It’s more about deliberate and intentional purchases versus the unbridled consumerism of keeping up with the Kardashians and getting an iPhone 6 when the 5 still works.

khakisOne minimalist I read confessed that he owns a $100 pair of jeans (label torn off), but notes that it is his only pair of long pants. I, on the other hand, have a stock of jeans that collectively amounts to more than $100, and yet the only one I consistently wear is my favorite (which, ironically is a second hand pair I was given). I also maintain an array of 50 shades of khaki pants like a washed-out rainbow in my crammed closet.

The media thrives on a following. It likes to tell us what is normal, whether that is a movie trying to normalize deviant sexual behavior, or a commercial inciting a craving for conformity to the latest fashion. Minimalism is a way of opting out of what the mass media dictates, and rather making choices intentionally.

 

Continue Reading…

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
– Philippians 3:20–21 –

In a word, the heavenly citizen’s prospect is glorification. Glorification is that final stage in the process of redemption when Christ (a) raises the bodies of all believers from the dead and reunites those bodies with their souls; and (b) instantly changes the bodies of believers alive at His coming into perfect, sin-free bodies, even like His own when He was resurrected.

Glorification

The Body of Our Humiliation

Earlier translations of this verse spoke of “our vile body” (KJV) or “the body of our humiliation” (ASV). But that could send the wrong message. Paul doesn’t intend to demean the body in any way, as if the physical body was evil in itself. That was the teaching of certain pagan religious philosophers of the day, but not of biblical Christianity. Remember, Adam and Eve were created perfectly by God, in His image, as a body-and-soul entity.

And so “the body of our humiliation” has nothing to do with some supposed inherent sinfulness of the body. Rather, it refers to our bodies, which are presently marked by the humiliation caused by sin—always characterized by weakness, by physical decay, by indignity, sickness and suffering, and of course the ultimate humiliation of death. And the body, though not inherently sinful in itself, is too often the instrument of our sinful acts—the vehicle through which we gratify our sinful desires. Knowing that that which should be set apart and consecrated as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) is nevertheless presented to sin as an instrument of unrighteousness (Rom 6:13) causes it all the more to be regarded as “the body of our humiliation.” Indeed, in this body we groan (2 Cor 5:2; cf. Rom 8:23), calling out with the Apostle Paul, “Who will save me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24).

Continue Reading…

skydive wedding“Hitting the wall” is a phenomenon that happens to marathon runners somewhere around mile 20.  They have trained hard, kept their pace, and are running well.  But now, with the finish line so close, they start to falter.  Some runners lose focus.  Some lose energy. Some even stop running.

A similar phenomenon can occur for young couples on the cusp of marriage.  After months (years?) of dating, engagement presents couples a new set of challenges. Here is my pastoral advice to engaged couples:

Continue Reading…

473725556This past weekend pope Francis canonized four new saints in a ceremony which received extra attention as two of the four were of Palestinian origin. One of the new Palestinian saints, Sister Mariam Baouardy (1846-1878), was a mystic and stigmatic also known as “Mary Jesus Crucified.” She was a Palestinian and foundress of the Discalced Carmelites of Bethlehem in the late 1800’s. The other new Palestinian saint, Sister Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas (1843-1927), was a co-founder of the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, who spent much of her life in Bethlehem founding schools and orphanages.

Despite the interesting politics of the situation, we will stick to commenting on the theological issues. What is a saint? How does one become a saint? And what is Rome doing when they canonize someone?

Continue Reading…

Wolf HallMy wife and I have enjoyed watching a new series on PBS Masterpiece called “Wolf Hall“. In this intriguing show history is retold through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, “the enigmatic advisor to King Henry VIII, as he maneuvers the corridors of power in the Tudor court. This six-part series follows the back-room dealings of this accomplished power broker, from humble beginnings, who must survive deadly political intrigue.”

One of the things that I like to do while watching a show like this is to utilize my smartphone to ‘fact check’ the details. For example, did Queen Anne Boleyn truly commit incest or was it a false charge trumped up against her because she failed to produce a male offspring? What were the actual circumstances surrounding her death?  As a Christian, I especially want to know what role genuine believers played during the English Reformation?

For those of you interested in learning more about the heroes of the faith in this era I recommend the following books: Katherine Parr: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation Queen (one of the many wives of Henry) by Brandon Withrow. I also would commend chapter four in Christopher Catherwood’s, Five Leading Reformers: Lives at a Watershed in History.  Finally, I would encourage you to consider reading J. C. Ryle’s classic book, Five English Reformers.

Here is a snippet of some of the helpful details Catherwood provides in his short, but helpful book, on Five Leading Reformers. “The Reformation, when it finally came to England, came not with a Wycliffe or a Tyndale, but through the gentle scholar of quiet determination, Thomas Cranmer.”

What then is the key factor in determining the English Reformation? The answer is surely the top down nature of the English Reformation, a change made initially not on spiritual grounds but on political ones. This is how Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) could be promoted by one King (Henry), lauded by the King’s son (Edward) and martyred by the same King’s elder daughter (Mary).” “We need now to come on to the events which propelled Cranmer to fame- the issues at the heart of the English Reformation.” Continue Reading…

Parenting provides an ever ready laboratory for experimenting with theology’s application to real life.

Doctrine is designed to seep deeply into the substance of life. If truth isn’t changing your workaday decisions about everything from toothpaste (why do you want whiter teeth?) to diet (for whom are you losing weight?) to what you order on Netflix (do you need a rating to tell you nakedness isn’t entertainment?), then you are in danger of being a subtle type of hypocrite.josh waitzkin

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their attention to gnat-sized detail when it came to the law of Moses, while simultaneously ingesting camel-sized indulgence when it came to caring for the people the law was meant to protect and the God the law was meant to honor. Likewise, some Christians can dot the “I” in TULIP with great dexterity, but they struggle to apply the doctrine of irresistible grace to say, their attitude toward their recalcitrant teenager.

Recently I encountered a parenting conundrum that required the oil of doctrine to help turn the cogs of everyday life.

Think through this with me. A caring, Christian dad comes to you with this question: which sport should my seven year old boy play? Our family only has time and money to permit one sport for each of our children. This particular son is extraordinarily gifted at chess. (for the sake of the illustration let’s concede that chess is a sport). Let’s call the boy Josh (homage to chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, whose father faced a similar dilemma, which he wrote about in his memoire, Searching for Bobby Fischer).

Our little Josh could possibly become one of the great chess masters of his generation, or at least his school league, if he devoted himself to the pursuit of excellence. He’d need to read a lot of books, have private coaching, and travel all over the country to gain exposure to tournament level competition in his age group. There’s only one problem: he doesn’t want to.

Josh wants to play a team sport at school, like soccer. Oh, there’s another problem: Josh is not that gifted at soccer. His school coach, who is content to have him play the occasional B team game, has made it clear that Josh will not be the next Lionel Messi, though “messy” is an apt adjective for his playing style.

Josh loves watching soccer, knows all the soccer players’ stats, and looks forward all week to his matches, even if simply cheering his teammates from the bench. If he had private coaching and spent hours of extra practice, he might make the A team someday. But he’s ebullient when playing on any team, as long as he’s with his friends, and outside in the sun.

How would you counsel Josh’s dad?

Here are some doctrinal principles to apply to the situation:

Continue Reading…

It is hard to comprehend the damage that the culture of death has done to our society. Abortion on demand has produced a generation of women scarred by the trauma of taking life. Marriage as an institution has been corroded, the basics of morality have been lost, and motherhood has become more about convenience than sacrifice.

But often lost in our view of abortion is the role of the father. One of the many casualties of our Moloch worship is that the father’s role in pregnancy has been minimized and marginalized, while his obligation to care for the child has been vanquished.

By stressing that human life is a choice that should only be made by the mother, fathers have been eliminated from the picture all together. Sexually promiscuous men are free to sleep around, and if it results in pregnancy they have no obligations. Abortion is so cheap and our culture celebrates the women who do it; the result is that the father’s conscience is simultaneously seared and soothed.

And this too is now celebrated. Carafem—a Washington DC area abortion clinic whose motto is, “Abortion. Yeah, we do that”—has started this ad campaign in the DC Metro:

abortion yeahThe gist is this: a guy gets a girl pregnant, and can’t take five minutes away from work to talk to her about it. His response, via text message of course, is just get an abortion. See the point: abortion is so low-key that you can just tell your partner to get one by text message! With any luck, she will have gotten that take care of by the end of your shift.

Continue Reading…

200408-omag-hungry-600x411It usually happens like this: a married couple or an individual shows up at church. They are struggling relationally or spiritually. At some point they say, “I have been attending so-and-so church for several years, but something does not feel right. We know that the Bible says we should be growing spiritually, and we have tried lots of things, but I go away feeling empty. And my [unbelieving] husband even recognizes it.” After many questions, it becomes clear that they have little to no understanding of God, themselves, sin, Christ, and how it all applies to their lives. Very often, it’s because their ears have been tickled. They have been pandered from the pulpit.

Pander: “to provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable” (Merriam-Webster).

I imagine that these individuals have sat under preaching similar to a kind I heard recently. The pastor approached a somewhat controversial and very important text. He opened by saying that just about any interpretation of the passage is fine, and one cannot really say that this or that view is correct. After reading some of the passage and skipping over other parts, he began to describe his personal ministry experiences which argued against the clear meaning of the text. On the basis of personal sentiment, it was described that the passage could not mean what it said. In so many words, he excused and apologized for the text like one might do for an embarrassing uncle at a Christmas party. The preaching continued around the text without the text being preached.

This is one of the many forms of pulpit-pandering. But I’ve wondered about the long-term effects of this approach to preaching the word of God. What might happen to people as they sit under this all-too-common occurrence week after week? To be sure, it will not be without consequence.

Here are a few perils that can result from pulpit-pandering:

Continue Reading…

Did Jesus become the literal embodiment of sin, or take on a sin nature, or become a sinner when He died at Calvary? I was asked a variation of that question some time ago, which prompted the response in today’s post.

crown_of_thorns

The heart of the question centers on Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

In what sense did Jesus become “sin on our behalf”? Does that phrase mean that Jesus literally became a sinner on the cross? Continue Reading…