October 30, 2008

The Green Bible?

Not too long ago, I bumped across an advertisement for the latest Christian publishing gimmick. HarperCollins, a secular publisher that occasionally dabbles in religious material, has released what they call The Green Bible - a version of the Bible designed to appeal to the conservationist in us all. A snippet from the website reads:

The Green Bible is the definitive movement Bible that shows that God is green and how we can care for and protect God's creation.


*Green-Letter Edition: Verses and passages that speak to God's care for creation highlighted in green
*A personal green Bible trail study guide
*An appendix with information on further reading, how to get involved, and practical steps to take
*Recycled paper, using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover

So we have women’s Bibles, men’s Bibles, military Bibles, couples’ Bibles, Bibles for teens, Bibles with sports icons on the cover, red-letter Bibles … and now a “Green-Letter Edition”, highlighting all the passages that deal with “God’s care for creation.” And I submit to you that this is, at best, a misguided marketing ploy – an attempt, by HarperCollins to squeeze a little more money out of the Christian 'book stores' by making the Bible ‘more appealing’ to the twenty-something set. I call it a ploy because, if they were really altruistic about saving the environment, HarperCollins would print all their books on “recycled paper, using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover.” But that’s not what this is about. This is, at best, a gimmick … and, at worst, it might be blasphemy. For here we have a Bible version that is primarily concerned, not with the whole counsel of God, but with a select portion of it – a portion, it just so happens, that appeals to a particular segment of society and purports to say what they want to hear.

I’m not a big fan of colored ink in the Bible – even red-letter editions. For if we are going to use red ink, ought not the whole Bible be printed in it … since all of its words are inspired by Jesus? To highlight the words of the incarnate Jesus, over against the words of Moses, or Peter, or Paul, is to make it appear as though some parts of the Bible are more inspired than others; and to add fuel to the fire of those who like to chop the Bible into little bits that are more or less acceptable in their own eyes. So buy your Bibles in all black – the way the prophets and apostles wrote it. Or at least read your copy as though the words were all the same color, remembering that red and green are no more inspired or important than black.

Now at least the red-letter editions attempt to highlight Jesus. But, in The Green Bible, the spotlight falls onto a subject much less worthy of adoration – the creation. And in highlighting creation – indeed, building a whole Bible version around it – The Green Bible fuels the fire of a generation of people who have, in a peculiarly altruistic sounding way, done a Romans 1.25. That is, 21st century Americans are encouraged on every hand to so venerate ‘mother earth’; to be so concerned for the environment; to become so ‘green’ that we have, in effect, “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature [or creation] rather than the Creator.” Sound far-fetched? Go to the public school down the street and you will hear the children singing these words: ‘The earth is my mother, the earth is my mother, she gives me everything that I ever need.’ I've heard it myself! And it's Romans 1.25 all over again. Instead of “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” the youth of today believe ‘The earth is my mother, I shall not want.’ We’ve become a generation of earth worshippers!

So, I guess what I'm on about is something like this ... Do what you can, within reason, to preserve God’s creation. That is biblical and right. But realize, most of all, that God’s distinctive, definitive, perfect strategy for saving the planet is not about human efforts, and community action programs, and government initiatives. No, God is going to save the planet – and its inhabitants – through the blood of His Son. That's what Romans 8.19-22 says. The creation will be redeemed and made right when God's people are redeemed at the last day.

And how are God's people redeemed? Well, at the last day, by the coming again of Jesus. But all that would be of no use to us if we had not been redeemed, by His blood, at His first coming. So God's plan for restoring creation found its crux at the cross. So God’s environmental plan is more red than green. God’s ultimate solution for the groaning of creation is not to urge us to save the trees, but to point us to the tree that saves. God’s solution for the groaning of creation is to point us to the cross of Christ, where both we and the creation have been be set free from the effects of sin. And if we really care about God and His creation, those are the kinds of passages that we will highlight in our Bibles!

October 29, 2008

I am not Going to Pray for my People this Week

Nope. Not going to do it. Usually I pray for each individual in our church by name every week. But I won't do it this week.

Why? Well, a few months ago I thought it might be a good idea, one week, instead of praying for every person ... to thank God for specifics about them - areas of growth, blessings received, ways they've blessed me or others, etc. And it ... was ... absolutely ... revolutionary.

OK, maybe not revolutionary ... but really helpful at least.

Sometimes, as a pastor, your prayers for your people start to sound like a bit of a pity-party with God. 'Lord, Jim Bob wasn't here on Sunday. That's two weeks in a row. Set him straight. And Lionel made a snide remark about my haircut. Help him be humble. And then there's Sudie Bell. You know what she's been up to, of course. I just don't know what we are going to do with a woman like that.' And on and on it goes. Sometimes in a complaining tone. Other times, even when the prayers are genuine and compassionate ... you finally say 'amen' and feel worse than you did before you prayed.

That is probably a faith problem. But it is also a problem of ungratefulness. If I were more consciously thankful for what God is up to in people's lives, I wouldn't be so tempted to whine to God ... and I wouldn't feel like the odds were so stacked against me when prayer reminds me of all the growth we still need to see. Noticing God's work has a tremendous way of helping you see the bright side of things (while not neglecting the 'Need's Improvements' on the report card, either).

So I decided to take one week per month and, instead of praying for the people, to praise God for them in specific ways. OK, maybe I pray for a few things ... pressing issues and souls. But by and large I just thank God all the way down through each of the 96 people who regularly attend PRBC. It has changed my perspective. If you do it (for your family, or church family, or office mates) it might change yours.

Try it out, pastor or not.

October 23, 2008

Final Thoughts on the Election

People are going to die and go to hell on November 5th, just the same as they will on November 3rd. Babies are going to be aborted on November 5th, just the same as on November 3rd. You are going to be a sinner on November 5th, desperately in need of the Savior … no different than was true on November 3rd.

What am I saying? As many implications as there are in any presidential elections; as important as it is for us to vote wisely and pray fervently; as happy or disappointed or worried as we may feel twelve evenings from now… November 4th and the election that takes place on it are just a blip on the radar screen of God’s plans for us. “He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble” (Isaiah 40.23-24).

So as much attention as I have given, in recent weeks, to the presidential race and the implications of it for Christians … we need to check ourselves with a final statement about elections and government:

6. Do not put your hope in the government! No matter who is elected our next president … a few things are for sure.

a. He will be a depraved sinner. He will make selfish choices, foolish choices, and (given what we have heard from the various candidates in recent weeks) he will probably even make a few deceitful choices.
b. God will still be on His throne. What of gas prices go to $10 per gallon? What if the situation in the Middle East turns into World War III? And what if it really is all the government’s fault? God will still be in control. God will still be protecting His children. And Romans 8.28 will still be true.
c. People are going to die and go to hell on November 5th, the same as any other day. We could resurrect Lincoln or bring back Washington or even make Moses the president … and the greatest problems would not be solved. People are changed by the gospel. And cultures are changed by people changed by the gospel, not by presidents and congresses.

So he who takes too much interest, or expends too much energy, or invests too much emotion in the United States government is like the child who throws his pennies into the water fountain and actually expects his wishes to be granted because of it.

Are there important issues to be decided on November 4? Absolutely. I have tried to highlight them through this medium in recent weeks. But if, in highlighting them, I have lured you into over-absorption in the election and its candidates … than I have done you a disservice. And if you have cast your emotional lot or placed your faith in a sinful candidate or party, then you’re in for great disappointment … and perhaps more than disappointment. “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 22.7).

October 20, 2008

Being Pro-Life is much more than a Vote

My series on voting has, of necessity, turned into a mini-series on abortion and pro-life issues. To balance, I do want to make it clear that there is more - much more - that needs to be done for the protection of life than casting a vote on November 4. In fact, I would say that voting is really the smallest thing (though indispensable, as I have been arguing). Much more, Christians also need to promote life through:

-Putting child-bearing and rearing above career, etc.
-Loving unwed mothers and their little ones
-Supporting Christian crisis pregnancy centers, etc.

Here are a couple of links that take us a little further into some of these issues:

-Russell Moore's sermon on Joseph of Nazareth, last week at SBTS
-Together for Adoption
-Dan Cruver on how physical adoption magnifies the gospel of God's adoption of sinners

Some Videos worth Noting

Gianna Jessen abortion survivor...

Ending Roe v. Wade is, says Miller, "a pipe dream". Hmm...

Piper: "Don't mess with that":

A Single Issue Voter? (Thoughts on the Election, Part 5)

As I continue thinking my way through the election on paper before you … I realize that I have left myself open to a particular criticism. That is, the charge may come that I am guilty of being one of the most narrow-minded of citizens … a (gasp!) single-issue voter. For many years, voting based on the devastating importance of a single issue (that of killing millions of babies) didn’t seem all that narrow. But in today’s climate, even some purportedly evangelical church leaders are saying to folks like me:

“Look, abortion is here to stay. We simply have to accept reality. And instead of spinning our wheels, hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade, we need to focus our attention elsewhere. Let’s take some educational measures to try and ‘lower the number of abortions in this country’; let’s focus on some other issues; and let’s not let this one issue, by itself, determine how we vote. After all, both sides say they want to lower the number of abortions (although check the facts on that) … so let’s put aside this hopeless fight to abolish abortion and get on to other things. Reversing roe v. Wade, frankly, is a pipe dream.”

That is the attitude of many ‘evangelicals’ – that when it comes to electing leaders, it is counter-productive and naïve to let a single issue dominate our thinking. To which I have two responses:

First (and borrowing heavily from John Piper) … what if one candidate proposed that we re-introduce slavery? Or reverse the civil rights laws? What if one candidate was a convicted felon? What if one candidate was a known drug-addict? Would any one of these single issues not disqualify him from the presidency? Of course it would … no matter what he believed about other things. There are just certain things you cannot do, be, or believe and still be qualified for the presidency. I think 99% of people would agree … and thus, in a given situation, become very adamant single issue voters.

So the problem is not with single-issue voting. The problem is simply that most Americans don’t care enough about 1 million dead children a year to have that strong of an opinion about this single issue. For my money, however, anyone who supports the upholding (not to mention expansion) of laws that have permitted 40 million children to be legally murdered (talk about a contradiction in terms) since 1973 is absolutely disqualified for the presidency. Read Psalm 139 again, think it out, and see if you don’t agree.

The second response I have who believe it is foolish or naïve to decide your vote based on a single issue is this: ‘What if Abraham Lincoln would have listened to the naysayers who surely told him that it was foolish to divide the country, to alienate people, and to risk his presidency and his life over a single issue? There were plenty of other political issues in the late 1850’s, just as there are today … many of them important. But nothing was more important than tens of thousands of black slaves being treated as property (and often worse) all across the American South. Nothing! This single issue was more important than the economy (which would take a big hit when all those slaves were freed). It was bigger than an end to war (in fact it created the war). It was bigger than anything. Injustice had to be denied. America’s plate had to be cleared of years of blood-guiltiness. And, praise God, it was!

But what if Lincoln would have listened to the sophisticated naysayers of his day? What if he’d decided (like so many today) that, after all, it was a bit naïve to base political decision-making on just a single issue? That ending slavery was a pipe dream? That he should slide abolition to the back burner, simply try and ‘reduce the number of slaves in this country’, and move on to other issues. You know the answer. And maybe we will get to live long enough to say ‘what if’ and ‘praise God’ with the issue of abortion. But if Americans decide single issue politics is too naïve for this day and age, we’ll never know what might have been. And neither, in 35 more years, will 80 million children.

October 17, 2008

The Best Secular Book I have ever Read...

I think I can say that, although there may be a few close seconds, this is definitely the most challenging, impacting, make-me-think kind of secular book that I have ever read. I am about 60% through it and excited to get back to it this weekend!

Though written in 1985, it has some profound words for our current political and religious landscapes. Have you read it? If not, order it today and read it this fall. It will profoundly challenge the way you think about ... and watch the world. It should be mandatory reading for every pastor and seminarian ... and would benefit 99% of everyone else tremendously, too!

October 13, 2008

Thoughts on the Election, Part 4

‘What biblical principles should inform us as we think about the presidential election this fall?’ Here’s a summary of what we’ve said so far:

1. Be sure to vote (Jeremiah 29.7)
2. Be sure to pray (1 Timothy 2.1-2)
3. Think issues, not personalities
4. Understand the biblical view of government (1 Peter 2, Rom 13)

Now a fifth, and for me, determining factor …

5. Think basic human rights. If God’s first expectation of human government is that it uphold basic human rights and ethics (as we saw in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2) … then it seems to me that this should be our first expectation as well. Do we want our economy to be stable? Yes. Do we want jobs readily available? Yes. Are there energy concerns that need to be thought through? Yes. In fact there are many things that the next President will have to think through. But his (and his administration’s) first job will be to uphold basic human rights. If that is ignored, then everything else will eventually crumble, too … God will make certain of that.

So what does that mean? It means that, for Christians, what a candidate believes about certain human bioethical issues is more important than whether or not he wants to drill in Alaska. What he thinks about abortion, euthanasia, and so on is far more important than what his economic stimulus plan will be. Not because we don’t care about jobs and the economy. But because jobs and the economy, biblically, are not the government’s first priority – upholding basic human rights is! And if our country continues to kill babies created in the image of God to the tune of a million a year … who really cares if we continue to lead the world economically? Maybe we have forfeited our right to do so. If we keep sucking nearly 4,000 souls a day from the womb, maybe an economic crisis is exactly what we deserve.

God says that he knits human life together in the mother’s womb (Psalm 139). That means, quite obviously, that to snuff that out is not merely ‘a simple medical procedure.’ The thing being knitted together is a child, being fashioned by the hand of God. And the ‘procedure’, therefore, is murder. And that means, quite frankly, that politicians who support abortion support murder – no matter what they call it. And none of us would vote for a candidate who supported the murder of anyone else would we? If one of the candidates said that the solution to the immigration problem is to simply execute all illegal immigrants, would anyone vote for him? If he said that the solution to the health care crisis was the extermination of those who are extremely sick and have the greatest medical bills, would we support him? Not on your life. So why is it, then, that we are so wimpy when it comes to the extermination of children in the womb? It’s illogical, it seems to me. But millions of Americans don’t care.

Isn’t it time that we required our political leaders to enforce the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees all of us the right to life? More importantly, isn’t it time we expected our governmental authorities to stop shirking their respoinsibilities, and to do the one foundational thing that God has called them to do – uphold basic human rights, for everyone? Isn’t it time Americans stopped voting with their pocket books and their politics … and began voting with their consciences?

October 7, 2008

Thoughts on the Election, Part 3

We’ve been thinking, for a couple of weeks, about the question: ‘What are some biblical principles that Christians should take to the ballot box on November 4 (or any other election)?’ And so far, largely from Jeremiah 29.7, we have given three answers:

1. Be sure to vote
2. Be sure to pray
3. Think issues

Now today, let’s step outside of Jeremiah 29 and narrow our focus even a little further with a fourth idea. How should Christians think about and use the privilege of the vote?

4. Inform yourself as to the Bible’s understanding of government. Our vote is a reflection of our desires and expectations of our government. And as Christians, if we are going to express our desires and expectations, they had better line up with God’s, right? So does the Bible have anything to say about God’s desires for and expectations of secular government?

We need to look, specifically, at the New Testament. Since the Old Testament presents, basically, the form of government known as theocracy (i.e. a religious state ruled directly by spiritual principles) … statements about government there are really more applicable to the church than they are to the modern secular government. The United States, unlike the church, is not a theocracy. But the New Testament was written in a context where governments were very similar to ours – in that they were largely secular, though with varying levels of influence from a handful of religions. So the New Testament is where we need to look for the most direct statements about how God might think about modern government.

And what does the New Testament say? Well it presents three strands of thinking regarding the government.

A. Christians should pray for their government (1 Tim 2)
B. Christians should submit to their government (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2)
C. Governments should enforce ethical norms (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2)

It is on point ‘C’ that we need to focus. When we read the words of Paul in Romans 13, and of Peter in 1 Peter 2 … both men make it clear that God expects the government to uphold and enforce a standard of ethical norms … to uphold the most basic human rights, and to punish those who violate those rights. I find this significant … especially since this is really the fundamental standard that God imposes on government as an institution – uphold basic human rights. Since this is the only expectation mentioned, I take it to be of prime importance. It’s the fundamental thing.

That is not to say that we are not thankful when the government builds roads, or creates jobs, or gets gas prices under control. But these are not the primary role of government, according to the New Testament. The primary role is “the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2.14). So it seems to me that what a candidate thinks on various human rights and ethical issues is a great deal more important than his view on the economy, or on offshore oil drilling. And we need to take that realization with us to the voting booth.

October 1, 2008

Thoughts on the Election, Part 2

Last week we began a series of thoughts in answer to the question: ‘Are there any biblical principles that can help Christians select a candidate in this year’s presidential candidate?’ In other words, what sorts of thoughts should be rattling around in our minds as we listen to the rhetoric, watch the debates, and go to the ballot box on November 4? Well, from Jeremiah 29.7 (“seek the welfare of the city to which I have sent you … and pray to the LORD on its behalf”) we have already said that Christians should:

1. Vote. Failure to do so would be a giant missed opportunity at seeking the welfare of the country the Lord has placed us.

2. Pray. Failure to pray for the election and subsequent winner (whoever he is) would be, quite frankly, sin.

But are there any other principles besides voting and praying? What should we pray for? And how should we decide for whom to vote? That’s the gist of the question. So let’s get a little more specific this week. How should we select a candidate in 2008?

3. Think issues. I would hope that thinking issues would be an obvious tenant for any voter, Christian or not. But since the Lord has commanded us to seek the welfare of the city (or nation), we have to think issues. We have to ask: ‘Which candidate’s policies will be best for our nation?’ And we have to refrain from asking questions like: ‘Which one do I like more?’ ‘Which one looks most like me?’ ‘Which one is going to benefit me?’ Honestly, this election is not about me or you. It’s about an entire nation. So we have to ask, what is best for the entire nation? We have to vote on issues, not in a popularity contest.

Now the reality is that some people are going to vote either for against Barack Obama simply because he is African American. And others are going to vote either for or against the Republican ticket simply because Sarah Palin is a female. Some will vote for McCain simply because he is a war hero. And most will judge the debates and (eventually) the candidates primarily upon their eloquence.

Now, should we be excited that our country has finally reached a place where a black man can be considered a serious candidate for President? Absolutely! And should we be proud of and thankful for heroic veterans? No question. But I suggest to you that neither of those qualities, by themselves, makes a person fit (or unfit) to be President of the United States of America. Neither does a candidate’s gender or charisma. This job is far too important to be decided on factors that tug on our heartstrings, but may or may not make a good president.

So I say again, think issues. Look beyond each candidate’s outward appearance, speaking ability, and socio-economic background and begin to listen to what they say … and to look at what their track record indicates they really believe. Go to the ballot box on November 4 thinking issues, not personalities.