Monday, March 19, 2007

The Immorality of Truth: A New Irony

For quite some time, the liberal media has sought to separate sex from its ethical and moral anchor, and the result of their largely successful campaign to do so has been the normalization of all types of sexual deviancy that our culture once considered taboo. Furthermore, the attempts of the secular left to marginalize any objection to this new sexual ethic have resulted in a slate of appellatives that can now be readily applied to the objectors: homophobe, bigot, and fundamentalist are three labels that quickly come to mind.

But yesterday, I found that Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald has a new moniker for those who dare raise the moral question with regard to homosexuality in particular. . . .we are now immoral!

Pitts' Friday column in the Herald addressed comments made last week by General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint cheifs of staff. Having personally heard General Pace's comments, I knew it would not be long before the press picked up on this opportunistic fodder and sent it through the rapidly-revolving cooling-unit. Calls have been made for the General's resignation, the end of the don't ask-don't tell military policy, and for a public apology...all in response to Pace's simple statement below:

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way."

Still, of all the strong objections given to the General's comments over the past week, I found Leonard Pitts' to be the most peculiar. To be sure, Pitts resorts to the typical lines of response as well:

Name-calling: "People like the general--in other words bigots, often wrap their objections up in claims of fundamental right and wrong where sexual orientation is concerned.

"Categorical Fallacy: "It is immoral to be Jewish? Immoral to be male? Is it immoral to hail from Idaho? How then, can it be immoral to be gay?

"Misrepresentation of the Opposition: "At this point, of course, someone is frantically pointing to an obscure Old Testament passage as his or her authority for the immorality of homosexuality. Thing is, the Old Testament also requires the death penalty for disrespectful children, forbids the eating of meat cooked rare, and obligates the man who rapes a virgin to by her from her father and marry her."

For the record, this "bigot" doesn't need Leviticus. I have Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6. While the proscription of punishment for homosexual behavior in Leviticus is certainly bound within the Mosaic Covenant, the over-arching principle of Biblial sexual ethics remains a universal, and thus, trans-covanental stipulation. And for the life of me, anyone who equates ethnic nationality, gender, and geographic location with sexual behavior makes such an absurd argument that nothing else need be taken seriously.

Still, I was intrigued by the one unconventional approach taken by Pitts: that of referring to those who object to the homosexual lifestyle on moral grounds as themselves immoral. How on earth does a man with the intelligence and eloquence of a Pulitzer-prize winner manage to make such a leap? I found the steps in his column:

1. Re-define Morality: "Morality, it has always seemed to me, has less to do with commonalities of existence then with how you treat other people." There you have it! Morality is now no longer about knowing right from wrong. It is about how I "treat" my neighbor. I smell a false-dichotomy!

Would it be morally reprehensible, for example, for me to walk by my neighbors house while it was going up in smoke, with my neighbor inside? Certainly it would. Why then, is it not considered equally reprehensible to refrain from warning someone that their behavior places them at an astronomically-high risk for the worst kinds of Sexually Transmitted Diseases . . .the "terminal" kind? Why is it not considered immoral to confront a lifestyle that has led so many to depression and suicide?

And regarding the military; why would we consider it "immoral" to prohibit any behavior that might result in a breakdown of discipline? The don't ask...don't tell policy is there for the same reason the "no women in combat" rule is there (oh wait, the politically correct have done away with this one already, haven't they?) Sexual tension..whether heterosexual or the absolute last thing you want on a battlefield!

To say that morality has little if anything to do with "commonalities" and is all about how people are treated is to say we can all have different understandings of what "kindness" and "equality" and "tolerance" mean, yet still treat each other with these virtues. But if the above-described vision of "morality" can find its way into the mainstream, then you can be sure that the "immoral" label will be attached to any evangelical who dares to question sexual behavior prohibited by Scripture.

2. Change the Subject. "Team Bush misled the nation into war against the wrong enemy. It hospitalized wounded Americans in squalor and filth. It left the people we 'liberated' without electricity, gasoline, or medical services for months turning to years because of its failure to plan. How moral is that?"

From my vantagepoint, the jury is still out on the conflict in Iraq. As such, Pitts' claims regarding this war may indeed end up having merit. But even if his assessment of the war is correct, such an assessment changes nothing with regard to the subject matter he seeks to address.

This approach of "who are you to judge us?" is in reality nothing more than a cleverly disguised ad hominem attack. Suppose I am arrested for the armed robbery of a convenience store? Suppose that to answer for my crimes I am dragged before a judge who is corrupt? Suppose, as my defense, I say something like this:

I may be a thief, but how moral is it of you to sit up there behind that bench and judge me? How many times have you taken payoffs in exchange for 'not-guilty' verdicts? How much of the taxpayer's money have you wasted sitting through hours of court hearings only to let someone guilty go free? What about that pedophille you released just last month because of a technicality?

Could all of that be true of a judge who gives me the maximum sentence? Sure. Do I still deserve punishment? Absolutely.

On a similar note, let's just assume that Pitts' claims against the current administration are true. Let's assume the President really is a liar. Let's assume General Pace intentionally placed our wounded soldiers into abhorrent medical conditions. With all these things assumed, what has changed regarding homosexuality?

Not a thing!

In the end, Pitts accuses General Pace of holding to a "visceral" view of immorality. Upon further investigation, it appears that Mr. Pitts' view of morality is itself quite "visceral." If our culture has reached the point of referring to truth as "immoral," then perhaps the viscera is the only foundation on which we can seek to build a common understanding of right and wrong. But making absolute statements based on your "gut-instinct" seems to me the least-likely of ways to perpetuate a civilized society.

Ironic as it may sound to many on the left, I believe I'll find relief from all this "immorality" in the text of Scripture!


Read Leonard Pitt's article here:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Word from One who Left

Without a doubt, the Southern Baptist Convention presently stands at a crossroads. As an Associational servant, each and every day I observe both the best and the worst of our denominational culture. And while I am one of the few young guys who still see the glass as "half-full," I am well-aware that many young leaders within the SBC are simply emptying their glasses and looking for another well.

Their reasons for leaving are many...admittedly, some are simply whiners who despise all things institutional. Such persons will never be pleased, and we should never be surprised to see this type of individual jump ship. Still, there are others who are leaving; the kind of creative, competent people who are essential to our continued success and Kingdom impact. These don't usually make a lot of noise when they jump off the wagon. In fact, most simply say nothing. They just dissapear. But today, I heard from one of them, and I think you should hear from him too.

I was reading an online essay by Nathan Finn, a current Ph.D. student and staff member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, entitled The Varieties of SBC Conservatism. I commend this article to you, and give the link to it below so that you can benefit from the wisdom of this soon-to-be Doctor. It is articulate, consistent, sagacious, and in some sense may even prove to be prophetic. Yet it wasn't Finn's article that caught my attention so much as one of the comments left on his thread.

For some time I have been seeking to put to words the sentiment I hear from many young pastors within the SBC. The annonymous comment below sums up this sentiment well:

· A handful of reasons why we are leaving:
We are leaving because we are more committed to winning souls in the world than winning a majority position in a denominational arena.
We are leaving because we have the ability to hold different theological positions and discuss those positions, without hating one another for them.
We are leaving because it is more important to us to worship with a pure heart and serve with clean hands than to judge others in their worship and service.
We are leaving because we understand that when Christ returns he will not be riding on a Donkey or even on an Elephant for that matter.
We are leaving because we want to distance ourselves from tongues seemingly set on fire by Hell that must be heard in annual meetings or on daily blogs to feel righteous.
We are leaving because the Kingdom has come, the fields are white, and many SBC workers have become more preoccupied with who THEY are and less with who HE is.

Well said.

For more than 150 years, the SBC has been used by God to extend His Kingdom in mighty ways, and I still believe our potential is great. But if our desire is to continue this legacy well into the 21st Century, we had better pay attention to voices like the one above!

Read Nathan Finn's post here:

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Death of a Man of God: What Really Matters

Anyone who knows me well knows that John Piper is one of the foremost influencers of my theology and ministry. For more than a decade, I have been blessed and mentored from a distance by this man of God through reading his books, listening to his sermons, and having the opportunity on a few occassions to meet him personally.

One of the reasons John Piper is such a blessing to many is because of his father Bill, a Greenville, South Carolina itinerant evangelist. I learned today that Bill Piper passed away, and a funeral will take place in my hometown to memorialize him.

Interestingly, this news came to me at the same time that I was pondering my own future. At 35, I still, God willing, have much more to do in advancing the Kingdom of God. But at my age, it is easy to get caught up in the "professional" side of what I do . . .wondering, for example, what I will be doing in five or ten years . . . .still in associational work? Back in the pastorate? Teaching in a seminary?

John Piper's recent blog entry memorializing his dad just reminded me today that none of those things really matter. What does matter is the legacy of faith I leave for my family. I read with tears the following words that Piper wrote in memory of his father, and prayed that one day, when I leave this world for the next one, similar words might be spoken of me by my sons:

An exerpt, with what I consider the most moving parts highlighted:

The doctor in his green frock came at 12:40 and listened with his stethoscope to four different places on Daddy’s chest. Then he pulled back the sheet and said, “I must apply some pain stimuli to his nail base to see if he reacts. Then he used his flashlight to test Daddy’s eyes. “The nurse supervisor will come and get the information we need about the mortuary.” Thank you.
Alone again, I felt his cheeks. Finally cool after the fevered and flushed fight. I felt his nose, as though I were blind. Then I felt mine. I thought, very soon my nose will be like your nose. It is already like your nose.

The nurse came. No thank you, an autopsy will not be necessary. Mackey Mortuary on Century Drive. My name is John, his son. My cell phone is . . . . “You may stay as long as you like.” Thank you. I will be leaving soon.

Now I just look at him. Nothing has changed in his face here in the darkness of this dim light. Just no movement. But I have watched his chest so long—even now, was that a slight rise and fall? No, surely not. It’s like sailing on the sea for days. On the land the waves still roll.
He has four-day’s beard and dark eyes. I lift an eyelid to see him eye to eye. They are dilated.

Thank you, Daddy. Thank you for sixty-one years of faithfulness to me. I am simply looking into his face now. Thank you. You were a good father. You never put me down. Discipline, yes. Spankings, yes. But you never scorned me. You never treated me with contempt. You never spoke of my future with hopelessness in your voice. You believed God’s hand was on me. You approved of my ministry. You prayed for me. Everyday. That may be the biggest change in these new days: Daddy is no longer praying for me.

I look you in the face and promise you with all my heart: Never will I forsake your gospel. O how you believed in hell and heaven and Christ and cross and blood and righteousness and faith and salvation and the Holy Spirit and the life of holiness and love. I rededicate myself, Daddy, to serve your great and glorious Lord Jesus with all my heart and with all my strength. You have not lived in vain. Your life goes on in thousands. I am glad to be one.

I kissed him on his cold cheek and on his forehead. I love you, Daddy. Thank you.

What a legacy!

So often those of us whose profession it is to ready souls for eternity are drawn toward the temporal . . .the advanced degree, the denominational recognition, the numerical growth of a church, the celebrity that certainly accompanies minsitry as much as it does any other profession . . . .in light of eternity, none of that matters. And on the Day of Judgement, if these things are brought up at all, I suspicion they will only have been barriers to what we should have been doing and a justification of God's judgement on us. God, grant us the grace to treat temporal things for what they are . . . .temporal.

Help us to live with eternity in view, that such things might be said of us as are now said of William Piper!


Thursday, March 01, 2007

William Wilberforce and Pastors who Change History

To all of my non-pastor readers: I ask you to please excuse the following post, and indulge me a bit as I share a moment of comeraderie with my brothers-in-arms. And although this post is for the purpose of encouraging pastors, I encourage you, as a non-pastor, to read on. Perhaps what is written will help you to pray more intelligently for your pastor as he seeks to make the difference I am convinced he can make!

Every month in North America, approximately 1500 pastors leave the ministry. . . .for good. The casualty rate among those called to ministry is high. 4 of 5 who graduate from a theological seminary this spring will no longer be in ministry by 2012. While many of these casualties are explained by moral failure, many more are simply the result of discouragement, depression, and exasperation. Many pastors simply feel as though their ministry makes no difference.

The worst kept secret in Christendom is that the Pastorate is often a thankless job. Furthermore, those who enter ministry with dreams of striking it rich have altogether lost their concept of reality. Everyone knows that if money is what you seek, ministry is, generally speaking, NOT the place to find it. So while there are a few co-dependent golddiggers lurking in a few seminaries, most called to ministry understand the sacrifice they are making. Still, a few years into ministry, they feel as though something is missing. They signed up for this because they wanted to make a difference in people's lives. They wanted to transform their church and its surrounding area through the power of the Gospel, and after years of waiting for such, many seem to think to themselves "this simply isn't what I thought I signed up for."

As an associational servant and 15-year ministry veteran, I have heard these thoughts from a few pastors. Many more exist, I am sure, who feel the same way, and simply choose to conceal their pain. And as I think back over my own experiences, many have been the times when I have thought in regard to my own ministry: "What good am I accomplishing?"

These experiences came to mind as my wife and I decided to take in the new movie "Amazing Grace" during its opening night last weekend. The film chronicles the road to the abolition of slavery in Great Brittain as it was led by William Wilberforce. While Wilberforce had always been an opponent of slavery, it was after his conversion to Christianity in 1785 that his distaste for the barbaric practice became empassioned. Together with then Prime Minister William Pitt, Wilberforce faced in Parliament a super-majority of politicians who were themselves the beneficiaries of the slave trade. The first time he instroduced his abolition bill, it went down in flames, by a vote of 163 to 88. For the next sixteen years, Wilberforce faced defeat on this issue.

During this trying time, Wilberforce leaned on the advice of Anglican pastor John Newton. Prior to his own conversion, Newton had himself traded in human life; profiteering from the slave trade as the owner of a slave ship that transported newly captured human commodities to the British Isles. Later in life, it was Newton's own conviction over the sheer evil of his own actions that led him to encourage Wilberforce to continue the battle in Parliament. The results of Wilberforce's determination came in 1807, as slavery was abolished in Great Brittain.

In addition, Wilberforce took great encouragement from the writings of another abolitionist pastor by the name of John Venn. Parliamentary records show that during the height of the debate over abolition, Wilberforce actually took Venn's sermons on human rights into Parliament and read them to this legislative body as a way of saying "this is why the slave trade must be outlawed."

Last Friday night, as I watched the cinematic version of these events, it occurred to me that two relatively unknown pastors were faithful in discipling a young member of Parliament, and changed the world as a result. Venn's name is obscure even in the annuls of history, and Newton is known more for "Amazing Grace" than for his relationship with Wilberforce. But there is no slavery in Great Brittain because these two men were faithful in carrying out one of Paul's most impassioned pleas to Timothy:

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (-2 Timothy 2:2 ESV)

Paul knew that the Gospel would only permeate culture if it were replicated, and it would only be replicated if entrusted to those who would commit themselves to passing on the Faith once delivered to others. A few simple things are required for this:
1. A genuine conversion; Timothy himself had to be taught, and had to accept the Apostolic teaching.
2. An evangelistic passion; Once converted, you want to share this life-changing experience with others. As John Newton said to William Wilberforce, "I'm a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior."
3. A mind for equipping others; You don't just want to be an evangelist. You want others to be evangelists, which means you are not satisfied until those you have led to Christ are actively sharing Him with others.

These three simple things will result in the transformation of a community, a city, or even a nation. Accompanying that transformation will be the jettisoning of cultural evils like slavery, racism, abortion, sexual deviancy, murder, and social injustice.

The problem is that many pastors, in moments of discouragement, are tempted to judge their ministries based upon those moments: the low-attendance on Sunday, the low offering in the plate, the seeming cultural insignificance of his local church. When we focus on such things, we lose sight of what really matters to God; namely, whether or not we are doing what He has called us to do. Faithfulness to the task of equipping faithful men with the tools neccesary to impact their spheres of influence with the Gospel IS success to God! So if you are a pastor who wonders whether he is making a difference, don't ask yourself about church attendance, or budgetary limitations, or building prominence. Ask yourself how your present actions, your schedule, your priorities, and your passions line up with what Paul commands of us all in 2 Timothy 2:2. Are you growing in your relationship to Christ? Are you in turn passing on what you are receiving to faithful men? Are these faithful men in turn passing that on to others? If the answers to these questions is "yes," then take heart. God is pleased with your ministry.

This year, the sons and daughters of former British slaves are celebrating 200 years of freedom because two men of God were faithful to their calling of equipping one young member of Parliament, and discipling him well. When I think of this as the Director of an Association of 56 Baptist Churches I have to ask: If two faithful pastors can have this effect, what kind of impact could 56 of them make?

My prayer is that this will be read by pastors who are discouraged; who are tempted to voluntarily become one of the 1500 who will leave the ministry in March 2007. I pray you will commit yourself afresh to your calling, because your faithfulness to that calling will change the world!