April 2013

5 ways to make the most of retirement

April 30 2013 by Steve Silver, Baptist Press

NAPLES, Fla. – I recently saw the movie “Quartet.” This directorial debut by Dustin Hoffman caught me off guard. I expected a pleasant afternoon of English landscapes and edifying dialogue wrapped in a story about a retirement home for gifted musicians. I got that and more – an acceptance of my own future. Let me explain.

At a graying 65 in Florida, I’m very aware of the phase of life I’ve entered. But I’m still fragmented. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that a young Steve saw a young Dustin Hoffman star in his first major role? How could the young Dustin now be 75 and directing a movie about old people? How could I be 65 and watching his movie? Impossible!

The central character in “Quartet,” Jean Horton, an aging opera diva played by 78-year-old Maggie Smith, resents her move to Beecham House. Her exciting, famous salad days are over. But she refuses to participate in “their” old, wrinkled fun and games. The movie chronicles Jean’s gradual acceptance and even love for and participation with her new “old” family.

Why was I so deeply affected by this film? This is why. I’m one of the people at Beecham House – but still looking through the young eyes of a young Hoffman. Stuck in time. Like Jean Horton, maybe it’s my time to make the transition. I wrote out my thoughts on how to accept my age reality and how to live forward and make the most of my “retirement years” on emotional and spiritual levels. It’s a matter of attitude adjustments. Maybe you’re stuck betwixt and between, too. So, I’m directing these “Five Ways” to both of us.

1. “Cross over.” We need to realize when we’ve come into the sunset phase of our life and embrace that with positive anticipation – knowing that the rest of our life can be the best of our life. Everything in our culture shouts “youth is good, old age is bad.” So, we try to hold on to youth (in more ways than can be catalogued here) long after it’s left us. We do this not necessarily because we prefer youth, but because we fear and resent aging. And what is it that bothers us? Sure, the inconvenience of physical ailments and restricted lifestyles are real to be sure. However, I believe the core problem with the old age “brand” is the morbidity of deterioration and death associated with it. So, we buy into the “young is good, old is bad” lie. I contend “young is good, old is better.”

2. Live in eternity’s sunrise. The English poet William Blake (1757-1827) wrote, “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.” If Blake was commenting in this article, he might advise us to look forward to eternal life and not grasp too firmly the joys we’ve known here. Hard to do if your memories are fond, tender, precious ones of loved ones past and present. Memories should not, however, be the primary fuel that propels us forward. Their proper place is the beautiful scenery on our journey, not the destination itself. This attitude, of course, can only apply if we believe that eternal life with Christ is better than this earthly one. As aging Christians you and I have the sure assurance that the best of the love and joy we’ve known here is a mere foretaste of what we’ll experience in eternity. If we have this mindset, the nearer we get to death, the closer we’ll be to Joy Itself. I look on this as the “on ramp to eternity” phenomenon. Young is good, old is better.

3. Love the one you’re with. If you’ve been married a long time, you’ll probably be together until one of you dies. You know things about each other that no one else does and care more about each other than anyone else does. But it’s a double-edged sword. Familiarity can breed contempt. It’s easy to take each other for granted and allow behavior we wouldn’t tolerate from or impose on others. We must guard against rude, presumptuous behavior toward our life partner. We take our spouse for granted at our own peril. Give this person you married with such youthful enthusiasm the very best attention and tender care, all the time and without exception or excuse. If you can’t be consistent, quickly acknowledge your error and ask him or her for forgiveness. Even when your youth and middle years are behind you, it’s never too late to change. Make this covenant together. You’ll both be pleasantly surprised by the transforming power of this simple principle.

4. Love others closest to you. Maybe you’ve noticed that often the older you get, the smaller is the circle of those with whom you’d prefer to spend a lot of time. There’s your spouse and family, but there are other people in your life. Quickly make a list of them. Your family members come easily, but they aren’t necessarily the ones with whom you are now spending most of your time. Pay attention to whom you’re putting on that list and begin (if you don’t already) loving those people more. Put aside silly irritations, forgive past and present offenses, think on and encourage in yourself and them finer qualities. Pray for them and their needs. Bring up your faith to them. Most will appreciate your concerns and interest. Put aside sarcasm and competitively-charged behaviors when you’re with them. Ask God to give you the capacity to love them as He does and to see them as He does. You’ll be amazed at the change in their lives – and yours.

5. Be prepared. You are going to die. Your spouse is going to die. Your friends are going to die. You know this, they know it, and it will happen sooner than expected – maybe even for you. If you’ve successfully adopted the attitudes prescribed above, you’ll look upon death as a joyful conclusion to a life of relationships cultivated for and with the Lord. We should have been living our entire lives like this – as if each day was our last day on earth. Not many of us have done that, but it’s not too late to start. Each day is a blank sheet of paper. Make this the very best day you’ve ever lived. Be prepared. This isn’t all there is.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Silver is a semi-retired management consultant, founder of Men’s Golf Fellowship and author of New Man Journey. He and his wife Sandy have three grown children and six grandchildren. They live in Naples, Fla., and Brookfield, Ct.)
4/30/2013 2:33:19 PM by Steve Silver, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Being a mom when she’s all grown up

April 30 2013 by Terri Stovall, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. At each stage of life it seems like there is this constant tension. For mothers, it is trying to strike the balance of wanting to continue teaching and nurturing on the one hand, while allowing her daughter to be strong, confident and independent on the other. For daughters, the tension is almost the opposite. They seek to be strong, confident and independent but, almost secretly, long for that long-term nurturing and teaching that only a mom can give.

This tension seems to be even more complicated when trying to figure out how to mother an adult daughter. Many mothers have done well in launching their daughters into life and are proud of the women they have become. They sit back and admire their daughters as wonderful wives and mothers. Some mothers have especially raised their daughters to be strong, independent, self-assured women who can hold their own in a world that is hard and dangerous. But this leaves many a mom wondering whether she can still be a mother to her adult daughter ... “Should I be her friend or should I be her mother?” “How much advice does she really want?” “Am I intruding?” Let’s add one more level of muddiness. When an adult daughter goes through a particularly challenging time of life – and we have all been there – how much mothering does she really need ... or want?

As I find myself walking through a season that has knocked me back a few notches physically, emotionally and spiritually, I have rediscovered what I believe to be a universal truth: 

Regardless of her age, how independent or self-sufficient she has become, there are still times that a girl just needs her mom.

Titus 2 reminds us that older women are to teach younger women how to live life in the day-to-day, and the mother-daughter relationship is the most natural place for that to happen. The “curriculum” we have been given in Titus 2 requires teaching well into adulthood. After all, it is not until your daughter has a husband, that you can truly teach her how to love him (v. 4). It is not until she goes through dealing with a rebellious child that she understands what it means to love her child as the mother she needs to be (v. 4). It is not until that first Thanksgiving is held in your daughter’s home that she suddenly realizes she needs you to teach her the finer details of making her house a home (v. 5). And, when your daughter faces unique difficulties, ones that not even you saw coming, that she wants to know how to walk so the Word of God is not discredited (v. 5).

When your daughter is going through a difficult time, she tends to be the most open to teaching since she is seeking answers, solutions and remedies. This is a time for you, as a mom, to take advantage of a teachable moment in your adult daughter’s life.

So how can you mother your adult daughter during difficult times?

Initiate. Don’t always wait for her to ask.

It is often difficult for women to ask for help. After all, hasn’t the world told us that we can have it all and do it all? To ask for help makes us feel like we are weak and have failed as a woman on some level. As a mom, initiate meeting a need that you see. You may simply declare, “I am going to be there,” rather than waiting for her to ask you to come. Or merely dropping a meal off without giving her a chance to say “No thanks.” One caveat: There is a balance here. Mothering does not equal smothering. But, for an adult daughter, it is often much easier to offer thanks for an unexpected pot of soup than to have to ask for the help.

Share your own experience openly and honestly.

When an adult daughter is facing an unknown, she seeks out information on what to expect. Whether it is a natural life occurrence such as a first child being born, or something more unexpected such as a surgery, a medical treatment or disease, there are many questions she may have. Share your own experiences as openly and honestly as possible. Inevitably we search the Internet for detailed stories of others who have walked the road we are on. What better source than to talk openly with someone who loves us? You, Mom, can be that someone we, your daughters, can ask those nitty-gritty questions without judgment or embarrassment. Sharing what you went through as a woman, a wife, or a mother lets your daughter know that she isn’t alone.

Feed her soul, not just her stomach.

While providing meals and tangible help at home seems to be the immediate, and perhaps easiest, need to meet, your daughter’s emotional and spiritual needs can often be more overwhelming than her physical difficulties. Share Scripture with your daughter. Pray for her. Tell her the truths that you are learning through this, for when a daughter is struggling, we all know mom is hurting as well. My own mother, who lives 400 miles away, emails me every morning with a “verse du jour.” Sometimes it is only one verse. Sometimes it is a longer passage. Always, these living Words serve as a salve to my soul. Find your way to sprinkle your daughter with the living water of God’s Word. It doesn’t have to be email. It can be an unexpected card in the mail, ending your phone call with a particular verse for that day, or posting on her Facebook wall.

Mother-daughter relationships can be tumultuous, wonderful, full of laughter one moment, and crying sessions the next! If you are a mother of an adult daughter, your job is not over! As an older woman, it is still your unique calling to teach your daughter how to live life in a way that upholds God’s Word (v. 5). When you see your daughter walking through difficult times, this is your opportunity. Lay aside any encumbrances. Embrace your role as her mother. I guarantee you, your daughter is craving a mother who will teach, nurture, guide and direct her ... she just may not always admit it!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terri Stovall serves as the dean of women’s programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. She co-authored the book Women Leading Women. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Seminary.) 
4/30/2013 2:31:07 PM by Terri Stovall, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A prenatal test with (mostly) deadly results

April 29 2013 by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press

DALLAS – A new type of test is being rolled out to detect genetic abnormalities in unborn babies. It examines traces of fetal DNA in the mother’s bloodstream that predict the risk of a child being born with Down syndrome and other conditions, like Trisomy 18 and Edwards syndrome.

This test doesn’t involve the six-inch needle and 1 percent risk of causing miscarriage that amniocentesis does. Sequenom Inc.’s website advertises its MaterniT21 test as “an alternative to traditional” testing methods, “non-invasive to you and your baby.” 

The tests, really screenings, have already been performed on tens of thousands of mothers and are being marketed aggressively by four companies. They carry another very real risk, though – the significant risk of death for the unborn child. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that false positives are popping up more frequently than expected, and in the “worst-case scenario, inaccurate test results could contribute to the abortion of healthy babies.” And what if the baby is found to have Down syndrome or something else? The Journal makes it sound as though the most tragic outcome is the inadvertent choice to abort a healthy baby. But what of the abortion and death of those with Down syndrome or the other genetic abnormalities?

Is that not just as tragic?

Spokesmen for the companies marketing the screenings insist they are to be followed by ultrasounds or amniocentesis before presenting the patient with the choice to terminate the pregnancy. But they admit there’s a lot of confusion out there. The Journal interviewed Athena Cherry, director of Stanford University Medical Center’s cytogenetics lab who said “the message isn’t driven home enough.” She performed follow-up testing on six positive results for two severe conditions, four of which turned out to be false positives. 

The Journal also reports that the tests appeal to women because they can be performed earlier, at about 10 weeks gestation, giving them more time to make the “difficult decisions.”

Prenatal testing is recommended for women at higher risk of having babies with chromosomal abnormalities, including those over 35 years old. But with the availability of these new non-invasive tests, some experts are recommending these tests be offered to women of any age along with “appropriate counseling.” Will these experts ever consider it appropriate to counsel a couple to bear a child that is expected to have genetic abnormalities?

Folks, insurance companies have started covering these screenings, which will likely become standard practice for pregnancies. They will be covered under the health care law. Not surprising that a national health system would seek to cull the ranks of the disabled to save money. 

Of course, prenatal tests can detect conditions for which doctors then treat the baby in utero. Mostly, though, they inform the decision whether or not to continue a pregnancy. It’s tragic, but in our individualistic, utilitarian culture, most of those decisions will bring the baby’s death.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the “Point of View” syndicated radio program.)
4/29/2013 3:27:27 PM by Penna Dexter, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Homosexuality, ordination and a seminary degree?

April 29 2013 by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Being a seminary president means you receive mail, and lots of it. Publications from every sector of life flood my office on a daily basis. I enjoy perusing many of these materials, especially those related to theological education. Usually, I am alternately amused and frightened by much of what I read, as each publication demonstrates how unbiblical much of contemporary theological education is in America today.

One such magazine especially caught my attention in recent months. The publication, entitled Mosaic, is the institutional magazine published by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. One of Mosaic’s featured stories from its fall 2012 edition stopped me in my tracks. The article, “Extending the Gift of Welcome to All: LPTS Student Maurice ‘Bojangles’ Blanchard Discovers his ‘True Colors,’” highlighted Blanchard’s alternative lifestyle and ministry pursuit.

Blanchard is a practicing homosexual and alternative lifestyle advocate in the Louisville, Ky. area. He was recently ordained to ministry by his church, Highland Baptist, a church that long ago abandoned affiliation with the SBC, the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the local, Long Run Association. Blanchard leads “True Colors” at his church, a ministry created to attract members of the homosexual community.

My interest intensified when I read Blanchard’s testimony regarding his perceived call to ministry and his ensuing pursuit of theological education. Blanchard reflected on his interaction with the seminary administration and community, noting, “I didn’t go there [Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary] looking for them to say ‘You’re gay and I affirm you. I wanted to go there and hear, ‘You’re in ministry, and I affirm that,’ and I felt that from day one.”

Embedded within Blanchard’s statement is a ruinous logic. At first reading, one might find Blanchard’s dichotomy between personal lifestyle and call to ministry acceptable and even appealing, especially in the modern milieu of subjective, autonomous spirituality. A closer look, however, reminds us that the New Testament does not proffer this option. To be called to ministry, one must possess a lifestyle that passes scriptural muster, for God’s Holy Spirit does not contradict God’s Holy Word, and vice versa.

Indeed, 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 make clear that God’s standard for ministry is high. The threshold is high because the office is high. The office is high because we serve a high God who guards the glory of His name and His church.

The point is not so much that we sit in judgment of Blanchard, or anyone else pursuing ministry. Rather, the point is that the Word of God judges us all. Sadly, one need not look to non-evangelical entities to find confusion pertaining to the call to ministry. Evangelical churches often exhibit ambiguity and contradiction surrounding the call to ministry and the character marks that are to accompany it.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 offers a clear and nonnegotiable list of character qualifications for the gospel ministry. This list is prescriptive, not descriptive; it is regulative, not suggestive. To be sure, in ministry it is helpful to be winsome and eloquent; furthermore, it never hurts to possess a magnetic personality. Yet, before one should look for these secondary – and tertiary – desires, one must first meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3.

What is more, the qualifications for ministry enumerated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 do not simply represent a one-time threshold to cross. Rather, it is a lifestyle to be maintained, a character to be cultivated, and an ongoing accountability to God’s Word and God’s people. One’s call to ministry is inextricably linked to one’s biblical character. The two cannot – and must not – be decoupled.

One need not be perfect to be a minister, but one does have to be above reproach. Clearly, the point is not perfection. If that were the case, then a qualified seminary student – or seminary president – could not be found. The point is that God’s call to ministry on a person’s life corresponds with the affirmation of the people of God and the approbation of God’s Word. A church that rejects the scriptural qualifications for ministry doth not a biblical ordination make.

My heart harbors no ill feeling toward Mr. Blanchard. Rather my heart carries grief for him, his church, and those to whom he ministers. He is a sinner, as am I. I am, however, deeply grieved by the moral and ministerial confusion he exhibits.

The tragedy in the story of Mr. Blanchard is not that it is one more incremental step toward the full normalization of homosexuality in our culture. The tragedy is that an erstwhile minister, who lives in rebellion against God’s moral and ministerial standards, bears false witness about the nature of the church, the transformative power of the gospel, and the biblical expectation of ministers. In so doing, he tarnishes the glory of Christ. Whether it is by means of an aberrant lifestyle or the display of more acceptable and domesticated sins, any attempt to separate a call to ministry from godly character is a division that cannot be made. What God hath joined together, who are we to separate?

Yet Blanchard’s story is more than an article to be lamented; it is a sober reminder for all pursuing ministry. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Pay attention to your life and to your doctrine, as you do you will ensure salvation for yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason K. Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He will be inaugurated Wednesday, May 1, at 10 a.m. Central in the new Midwestern Seminary chapel. This column first appeared at his website, http://jasonkallen.com/.)
4/29/2013 3:20:29 PM by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

An open letter to the Boy Scouts (from an Eagle Scout)

April 26 2013 by Nathan A. Finn, Baptist Press

Apr 24, 2013
WAKE FOREST, N.C. – To the National Executive Board, the Boy Scouts of America.
Dear Friends,
For as long as I can remember I have loved the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). I was fundamentally shaped by the decade I spent as a Scout. Many of my closest friends and my younger brother were fellow Scouts. My father, who will always be my first and most influential role model, served for many years as our assistant scoutmaster. Besides my father, three of the men I most admired during my high school years were two scoutmasters and a district executive. Outside of my parents and my local church, Scouting taught me almost everything I learned as a young man about honor, virtue and leadership. To this day, I can recite from memory the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. I became an Eagle Scout on April 7, 1994.
Now in my mid-30s, I have continued to appreciate the Scouts and have looked forward to the day when my own sons are old enough to become Tiger Cubs. As our nation has changed over the years, in many ways for the worse, Scouting has remained a beacon pointing to a better way. The BSA is one of the few non-sectarian mediating institutions in our society that instills traditional morality, promotes reverence toward God, champions an integrity-driven understanding of character development, and cultivates an honorable patriotism. Scouting has always been a decisively conservative organization, in the best sense of that term, emphasizing abiding principles over passing trends.
In recent weeks, I have been troubled by the news that you are proposing lifting the membership restriction on open homosexuals. This after many years of arguing, I think correctly, that the homosexual lifestyle is inconsistent with the Scout Oath and Scout Law, particularly the admonition for Scouts to be “morally straight” and “clean” in their thoughts and actions. As recently as last summer, you concluded that the present membership policy is adequate. I quite agree. So it was with a heavy heart that I learned you have reversed course and are now seeking to revise your policy. While your new proposal does not lift the ban on homosexuals serving in leadership, many observers perceive it would render that further change all but inevitable. Now that you have proposed this particular accommodation to political correctness, it will become increasingly difficult for you to justify your present leadership policy; the latter is self-evidently inconsistent with the new course you are charting.
I think I understand why you are considering reversing your longstanding membership policy concerning homosexuality. It is probably tempting for you to try and avoid receiving the same treatment that Chic-fil-A received last year from many cultural progressives, including the mainstream media. If you maintain your current membership policy, you will no doubt be criticized by those who disdain the values you promote. You may also want to avoid the accusation that you are on the “wrong side” of history. There is little doubt that homosexuality has become far more acceptable in American culture than it was when you first began receiving criticism on this issue in the 1980s and 1990s. In the past generation, LGBT activists have been very successful in “mainstreaming” their views in the public square, despite the fact that they likely comprise only about four percent of the American population. The evidence is all around us.
Homosexuality is now prevalent in movies and television programs, and homosexuals are often portrayed as the most humorous, virtuous or winsome characters. Young adults seem to be far more willing to affirm the acceptability of homosexuality than their parents, a trend that is confirmed by polls concerning attitudes toward so-called gay marriage. Several states have legalized gay marriage over the past decade, and the current president of the United States has become a public cheerleader for the cause as his public views have “evolved” on the matter. In recent weeks, the Supreme Court has concluded a couple of days hearing oral arguments on two cases that could go a long way toward determining the future of marriage in this country. As you probably know, virtually anyone who views the increasing normalization of homosexuality as anything except progress is immediately castigated as homophobic or bigoted by LGBT activists, leftwing bloggers, and even many voices among the mainstream media.
While homosexuality has become increasingly acceptable since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the case can be made it remains irreconcilable with the Scout Oath and Scout Law. As philosophers such as J. Budziszewski and Robert George have argued, homosexuality is inherently incompatible with natural procreation, undermines monogamous marriage (traditionally defined), and opens the door for more universally condemned forms of sexuality such as pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia. Ryan Anderson has more recently argued for some of the unintended consequences of redefining marriage to allow for same-sex marriage. And, of course, tens of millions of Americans object to homosexuality for religious reasons. While all Americans are free to embrace some form of LGBT sexuality if they so desire, private organizations such as the BSA should be free to expect members and especially leaders to affirm traditional sexuality.
Though pressure will no doubt continue to come from the broader culture, I want to urge you to stay the course and maintain your present membership policy. Do not be afraid to swim upstream and take a stand for moral positions that are rooted in the natural law and the sacred texts of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Press on, continuing to promote the older virtues that have been redefined, rejected or simply ignored by so many modern Americans. Though taking this principled stand will almost certainly open you up to further criticism, and it might even negatively impact your membership statistics, at least in the near future, I believe standing firm is the best “good turn” that the BSA can do for our nation today and in the coming days. As you rightly note in your elaboration of the Scout Law’s call to bravery, “A Scout ... has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at or threaten him.” May it be said of you.
Please know that this Eagle Scout will be praying for you in these coming weeks as you prepare to vote on your membership proposal. I will pray you do the right thing and rescind your new proposal. Should you choose to move forward with this vote, I will pray the National Council rejects this unfortunate change in your membership policies.
Thanks for considering this open letter from an Eagle Scout. I remain hopeful that the Boy Scouts of America will continue to be the type of organization that will shape young boys to become men of honor and integrity – including, I hope, my own sons one day.
Nathan A. Finn
Eagle Scout class of 1994
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This column first appeared at the The Imaginative Conservative website (www.TheImaginativeConservative.org). Nathan Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.)
4/26/2013 1:30:29 PM by Nathan A. Finn, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Gay marriage, a civil right?

April 26 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – We should have seen it coming. Back in 1989 two young activists pushing for the normalization of homosexuality coauthored a book intended to serve as a political strategy manual and public relations guide for their movement.
In "After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s," authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen argued that efforts to normalize homosexuality and homosexual relationships would fail unless their movement shifted its argument to a demand for civil rights, rather than for moral acceptance. Kirk and Madsen argued that homosexual activists and their allies should avoid talking about sex and sexuality. Instead, “the imagery of sex per se should be downplayed, and the issue of gay rights reduced, as far as possible, to an abstract social question.”
Beyond Kirk and Madsen and their public relations strategy, an even more effective legal strategy was developed along the same lines. Legal theorists and litigators began to argue that homosexuals were a class of citizens denied basic civil liberties, and that the courts should declare them to be a protected class, using civil rights precedents to force a moral and legal revolution.
That revolution has happened, and it has been stunningly successful. The advocates for the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage have used legal arguments developed from the civil rights era to their advantage. Arguments used to end the scourge of racial segregation were deployed to normalize homosexuality and homosexual relationships. Over the years, these arguments have led to such major developments as the decriminalization of homosexual behaviors, the inclusion of homosexuals within the United States military, and the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states.

When rights are right

What should Christians think about this? We do believe in civil rights. Taken at face value, civil rights are those rights that a person should be recognized to possess simply because he or she is a citizen. Christians should welcome the recognition of civil rights, understanding that the very notion of such rights is based on a Christian worldview and the affirmation that every human being is made in God’s image, and therefore possesses dignity and certain essential rights. In the language of the Declaration of Independence, “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.”
Even as secularists do their best to establish some grounding for civil rights without reference to God, the founding language of our nation – in agreement with biblical principles – clearly affirms that these liberties are given to all people by the Creator.
Beyond this fact, we must be thankful that an expanding understanding of civil rights has led our nation to address wrongs and to make moral progress in ending wrongful discrimination. The civil rights movement of the late 20th century saw America come face to face with the reality that, as a nation, we were not living up to our own commitment to those rights.
The key question we now face is this: Does recognition of civil rights for all people require the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage?
That is precisely what gay rights proponents have been claiming for the past 30 years, and their arguments have gained much ground. In 2003 the Supreme Court struck down criminal laws against homosexual behavior in the decision known as Lawrence v. Texas. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that the Constitution does not allow for the criminalization of homosexual acts, since such laws would deny a specific class of persons their basic civil rights. A series of similar court decisions has followed, with several courts ruling that outlawing same-sex marriage is a similar denial of a civil right.

When rights are wrong

At this point Christians have to think very carefully. We do not want to deny anyone his or her civil rights. To do so would not only violate the Constitution but also deny the rights that are granted, not by the government, but by the Creator. But is same-sex marriage such a right? The answer to that question must be no.
Marriage laws always discriminate. Current laws discriminate on the basis of age, marital status and gender, as well as a host of other issues. The law itself necessarily discriminates. For instance, married people pay fewer taxes and women enjoy maternity leave. The question is whether such discrimination is right or wrong.
Discrimination on the basis of an unchangeable characteristic such as skin color would be wrong. But Christians cannot accept the argument that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic. While recognizing the complexity of issues related to sexual orientation, we cannot define a behavior as an intrinsic characteristic. On that basis, why not grant theft or other sinful behavior the same civil rights protection?
Furthermore, we recognize that marriage, like human rights, exists prior to the law. Christians understand that marriage was instituted by the Creator, who designed marriage and the family as the foundational social unit of human society. Marriage unites a man and a woman in a holy covenant that should last as long as they both live.

From the very beginning, marriage was designed as the union of one man and one woman. Every human society has recognized this meaning of marriage, and all successful civil societies have honored, protected and defended heterosexual marriage as the union that should govern human sexuality, reproduction, intimacy and rearing of children.
Those pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage have been tremendously successful in convincing many people – and several courts – of their argument that same-sex marriage is a civil right. But this is a confusion of categories that Christians cannot accept.
The argument for the legalization of same-sex marriage fails in terms of any constitutional logic that our nation’s founders would have conceived. Beyond this, faithful Christians cannot accept such arguments because an even greater authority – the authority of the Bible as the Word of God – binds us.
The Bible is clear in terms of its teachings on both sexuality and marriage. As Jesus Christ declared, God intended marriage as the union of one man and one woman “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:4-6). The legalization of same-sex marriage would confuse and greatly weaken the single institution that is most central to human society and most essential to human flourishing.
Christians responding to demands for the legalization of same-sex marriage cannot accept the argument that the right to marry a person of the same gender is a civil right.
We are living in an era of moral revolution and seismic cultural change. Christians must remember that our ultimate authority is the Word of God. We are thankful for the recognition of civil rights, but we also understand that these rights will be confused in a sinful world. We must understand that the claim that same-sex marriage is a civil right reveals more than constitutional confusion – it reveals the need of every human being for nothing less than the forgiveness, healing and redemption that can come only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of the day, the argument over same-sex marriage is never just about same-sex marriage, and debates about civil rights are never just about civil rights. Deeper truths and worldview implications are always at stake, and it is our responsibility to make certain that we know what those are and stand humbly and compassionately for those truths, regardless of the cost.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at AnswersInGenesis.org.)
4/26/2013 1:21:35 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What does it mean to ‘not love the world’?

April 24 2013 by J.D. Greear, Baptist Press

DURHAM, N.C. – If you read through 1 John, you’ll come across a short statement that might seem a little confusing: “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). This is the same guy who wrote that “God so loved the world that he sent his only son” (John 3:16). Is John schizophrenic? Did he forget that he had written John 3:16? And what does it mean to “not love the world?”

First, let’s make clear what John is not saying. John is not saying that we should hate:

1. The created order.

Some Christians hate earthly pleasures, like nice food or comfortable clothing. But God created the world and when He looked at His creation, He said: This is good! When Jesus was here on earth, He was accused of being a “glutton” and a “drinker of fine wine,” which meant that He knew how to enjoy a good meal.

So it glorifies God when you enjoy great music or a prime cut of steak. That’s what these things were created for.

2. The economic and social structures of society.

I’ve known a lot of Christians who thought that we should avoid secular professions completely. They usually try to start “Christian” versions of business and entertainment, which while commendable, is not the point of this passage.

3. Culture.

When I grew up this verse was often interpreted to mean you shouldn’t listen to rock music, because rock music was “worldly,” even if you put Christian words to it. I heard people say (with straight faces), “The devil owns the drum set.” 

We applied this to style, too. Christian guys were supposed to wear ties and have short hair. If a guy had long hair, it was proof of sin in his heart. Tattoos and piercings were out of the question. Christians were supposed to – quite literally – look different. But cultural style is not “worldly” in and of itself.

4. The people of the world.

Sadly, I’ve known some “Christians” who felt they were being godly when they expressed their hatred or disgust toward non-Christians. They can point to this verse all day long, but that’s clearly not an attitude that anyone who has experienced the gospel could harbor.

So what is the “world” that we are supposed to hate?

When John says, “Do not love the world,” he means the world as it is arrayed in rebellion against God. He defines his own meaning in the next verse: “for all that is in the world, the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world” (2:16). The word translated “lust” isepithumia, which has the connotation of a desire that has taken on too much weight in your life. Lusts are cravings that control you.

So, for instance, “lusts of the flesh” take normally healthy desires for physical pleasures and wrench them out of context. You take the desire you have for sex and you raise it to the level of absolute obsession. “Without this,” lust says, “I just could not be happy.” So you disobey the laws of God to get it, no matter what the cost. Is sex the problem? No. But as a culture, we treat it as the ultimate good. And that is worldly.

How about “lusts of the eyes?” This happens when you see something good in the world that becomes so important to you that you sacrifice everything else for it. I see people do this all the time with money. They put themselves in bad financial situations, going into debt to obtain stuff that they think will satisfy. But like the lust of the flesh, this is worldly and fails to fulfill.

The “pride of life” consists in raising some aspect of your life – which is not necessarily bad – up to the level that it defines you. You can feel confident because of the number in your bank account. Or because of the number of friends you have. Or because of the talent you have. But when something other than God is your confidence for the future, you’re engaging in worldliness and giving glory to lesser things. The Hebrew word for glory (Kabod) literally means “weight.” To give something “glory” is to give it too much weight. False worship is often simply giving some lesser thing too much weight in your life.

John does not say, “Avoid these things in every way.” He says, “Don’t be consumed with these things.” Because if your life is consumed with things – even good things – then it shows that the love of the Father is not in your life. God has been displaced. God has been “outweighed” by some lesser thing in your life.

This is why John ends his book with the statement, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Because the essence of idolatry is when you love something more than God, depend on something more than God, obey something more than God. Like the lusts that John mentions above, it is when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing. But only God can support the weight that so many of us put into things. The tragedy of idolatry is not simply that we are simply disobeying, but that we are placing our ultimate trust in something that was not meant to bear that weight.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – J. D. Greear is the lead pastor at the Summit Church in Durham, N.C. This column also appeared at JDGreear.com and BetweenTheTimes.com.) 
4/24/2013 1:40:25 PM by J.D. Greear, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Boston and Syria, through God’s eyes

April 24 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Amid the tsunami of sympathy expressed after the Boston Marathon attack, a photo making the rounds online caught my eye. 

It showed a group of young men and boys standing in front of what appeared to be a bombed-out building in a town in Syria. They held a banner emblazoned with these words in bold black letters: “Boston bombings represent a sorrowful scene of what happens every day in Syria. Do accept our condolences.” 

I don’t know whether the photo is authentic or not. But the truth about what is happening in that suffering land is unquestionable. In fact, a day when only a few innocents are killed in Syria’s bloodbath of a civil war would be welcomed. An average of 100 civilians die each day as the fighting there drags on. More than 70,000 have lost their lives since the war began.

The numbers numb the mind. Millions of Syrian civilians have been displaced inside the country. They wander the countryside in search of shelter and food, dodging the crossfire of war and fleeing deliberate terror attacks on them as government forces and rebel groups battle for territory. Rape and torture abound.

In the latest of many reports of civilian slaughter, opposition activists claimed April 21 that government forces had killed at least 80 people – and as many as 250 – in a strategic town south of Damascus. Soldiers and loyalist militias burned houses, seized field hospitals and killed the wounded, according to the activists. A British-based human rights group said the dead included men, women and children. 

“They’re just scattered limbs and charred bodies that are completely unrecognizable,” a resident of the area told The New York Times. Video images posted online appeared to show a row of bodies wrapped in carpets or bags. Several had been shot in the face. The damaged town’s electricity and water reportedly have been cut off. The only bakery has been destroyed. Those who don’t flee face starvation.

That hideous pattern has been repeated in many other Syrian towns. And rebel bands – some led by Jihadist fighters from outside Syria – stand accused of similar massacres. 

“After nearly two years of violence, over 4 million people are in need of assistance,” Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, told Baptist Press in March. “The number of refugees from Syria [in neighboring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon] is approaching 1 million, with 80 percent of those being women and children. IDPs [internally displaced persons] in Syria are now approaching 3 million.”

Palmer told of a field partner who traveled into affected areas and “witnessed heartbreaking scenes of human suffering and darkness. In one area, a package of seven pieces of pita bread, a staple food, was selling for US $4. In another area, one liter of fuel was going for $10 – the equivalent of about $40 per gallon.”

Most Southern Baptist relief work so far has focused on Syrian refugees in surrounding countries. But the massive suffering inside Syria cannot be ignored, despite the danger involved in delivering aid. “We have had four project sites, with three being outside the country and one inside,” Palmer said. “Now, because of the deepening crisis in the country, we feel compelled to mobilize more resources through trusted partners inside Syria, while still supporting work in the refugee areas in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.” The aid will include staple foods, medicine and hygiene supplies, shelter, heaters and oil, clothing, blankets, mattresses, carpets and survival-based business assistance.

We mourn the victims of the Boston attack because they are innocents and because they are our own. The death of an 8-year-old boy breaks our hearts. The tragedy hits close to home. The seemingly endless violence in Syria, meanwhile, seems far away, impersonal.

But I can’t forget the Syrian refugee family I met last fall in a Jordanian border town. The Muslim father and mother had crossed the Syria-Jordan border with their five children. They had watched in horror as their teenage son was shot in the head in an ambush. As he lay bleeding in his mother’s arms, she screamed for help. A soldier approached, gun pointed. Their 4-year-old son, who rarely speaks, stood and held up his arms. “I beg you, Uncle, don’t hurt us anymore. Have mercy on us,” he appealed. 

The child’s eloquent words must have moved the soldier, who took the wounded older brother to a hospital for treatment. The whole family later made it into Jordan, where they found comfort and aid from a Christian church that helps many refugees. The older boy has recovered, but walks haltingly and needs physical therapy. 

The Syrian crisis isn’t far away for me, because I have looked into the eyes of mothers, fathers and children who are suffering its consequences. But you don’t have to go to the Syrian border to sense their suffering. If you follow Christ, you can look through His eyes, feel with His heart and touch with His hands. He is inside Syria right now, seeking and comforting the lost and the suffering – just as He was at the finish line in Boston. 

“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’” (Matthew 9:36-37). 

When you think of Boston, remember Syria, too.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Contributions to relief ministry among Syrian refugees can be made by visiting www.imb.org/syrianrefugees and designating “Syria relief” in the comment line. For updates on how God is at work through the crisis in Syria and ways to pray and help, email love4syria@pobox.com. Visit WorldView Conversation, the blog related to this column.)
4/24/2013 1:31:38 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Remembering the time I was given a Bible I didn’t want

April 23 2013 by Jeff Iorg, Baptist Press

MILL VALLEY, Calif. – My grandmother died in March. She was a devout Christian who lived a full life of service to God and others. Before it was cool, she helped start a church that has grown to be one of the strongest in its area. People at her service spoke of her personal witness to them, her direct way of getting to the point about spiritual matters, and her constant love for those who struggled with life’s challenges. She truly was a remarkable woman. 

My earliest memory of her was going to her house for Christmas when I was only 6 or 7 years old. I wanted a watch for Christmas – not some toy, but a grown-up watch to show everyone my budding maturity. On Christmas Eve, grandmother said we each could open one present. I scanned the tree, looking for the smallest box that just might be my watch. Nothing really matched watch-size, but one rectangular box had possibilities. I selected that gift, hopeful it would fulfill my dreams. I opened it enthusiastically. 

It was a Bible – about the worst gift imaginable for me at the time. My disappointment was more than evident. Who gives a kid a Bible for Christmas? It was a zippered, King James Version, red-letter edition, with my name embossed in gold on the front. What a nerdy gift, a real downer for my emerging manhood. 

Somehow the Bible made it home with me. It sat on a shelf for a few years. In my early teen years, I committed myself to Jesus as Lord. I started reading the Bible, using the one grandmother gave me for a few years. After a while, it went back on the shelf and was replaced by various Bible versions and styles. Now, my Bible is on my phone and tablet, and I can’t remember the last time I carried a print version.

My first Bible survived multiple moves, becoming an important life memento along the way. When my grandmother died, I thought about the Bible she had given me and the prophetic nature of the gift. The Bible changed my life, became the focus of my ministry, and now drives the curriculum of our seminary. 

I took that old Bible off the shelf and used it to preach from at her memorial service. Holding it in my hands was a tangible reminder of her love, her vision for my life, and her legacy of Christian faith invested in so many people. A most disappointing gift became the best gift of all! 

And yes, on Christmas morning when I was young, a smaller square box was under the tree – a watch. But what seemed timely at the time has long been overshadowed by the timeless gift of the Word of God. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. This column first appeared at his website, JeffIorg.com.)
4/23/2013 1:43:19 PM by Jeff Iorg, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Furthering the gospel via Earth Day

April 23 2013 by Thomas White, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – April 22, many will celebrate Earth Day in an effort to bring attention to climate change and to reduce our carbon footprint. The secular event serves as a good reminder about caring for the earth, but how you look at Earth Day will differ depending on your worldview.

If you have a biblical worldview, then you believe something similar to the following: 1) God created everything and gave mankind the command to exercise dominion over creation; 2) mankind fell, sinning against God and suffering the consequences of sin; 3) God sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem mankind through a substitutionary sacrifice on the cross paying the penalty of sin and conquering death through His resurrection; and 4) Jesus will return one day and eventually create a new heaven and a new earth.

From a biblical worldview, we take care of the earth as a matter of stewardship. God has given mankind the stewardship to exercise dominion, but part of that stewardship includes leaving the earth better than we found it for the next generation. We should not selfishly use resources for ourselves because that does not demonstrate a love for God and His creation or loving our neighbors as ourselves ... even those neighbors in the next generation. 

Stewardship forms our primary motivation because we recognize that eventually a just God will judge us all. The eternal continuation of the earth, however, does not compel us because we believe that God will create a new heaven and a new earth one day.

If you have a secular worldview, then you believe something similar to the following: 1) the earth evolved over time resulting in mankind; 2) all reality and life centers on human beings; 3) as mankind gains knowledge and understanding, humans can evolve to become better in each generation; 4) once a person dies, who knows what happens?; and 5) if humanity fails to care for the earth, then mankind will cease to exist.

From a secular worldview, mankind takes care of the earth to ensure the continuation of the human race. If climate change continues, then eventually the earth will become uninhabitable and the human race will cease to exist. While there is a sense of stewardship, the primary motivation comes from an obligation to the human race to preserve mother earth for future generations. It is a responsibility not to God, but to humanity.

There are some from a biblical worldview who overlook the secular founding and support Earth Day. Those who support Earth Day focus on a Christian’s stewardship of God’s creation. Those who reject Earth Day focus on the new heaven and new earth that will be created and a perceived human-centered perspective in the secular movement.

I want us to recognize the opportunity to further the gospel no matter what you think about Earth Day. Christians have an obligation to love God by demonstrating good stewardship of His creation, and an obligation to love others by sharing the gospel message with them. Conversations about Earth Day can lead to a gospel conversation that includes Jesus’ death, resurrection and future creation of a new earth day – an earth that won’t have problems with carbon footprints.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thomas White is vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at http://thomaswhite.wordpress.com.)
4/23/2013 1:38:57 PM by Thomas White, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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