Monthly Archives: August 2012

How Abortion Shows Us Our Need for Redemption

Isn’t it warped that a person will cringe upon hearing in the news that a mother has left her 2 month old baby in a dumpster overnight, while at the same time acknowledge that this same woman should have the right to end the life of a child inside her womb using knives and vacuums?

Abortions, by in large, are about a warped view of reality.  It is all about seeing the child as a mistake.  It wasn’t supposed to happen this way…I can’t afford a baby…I’ll be embarrassed if anyone finds out…it may affect my health…my life will change dramatically…I wasn’t ready for this.  That is 99% of abortions right there.  But if you read those reasons again slowly I think you’ll see what’s really behind the statements.  It’s a power play aimed at blotting out the reminder of our sin.  It truly is.  We may think of it as a simple surgical procedure, but in reality, it is a fierce and violent attempt to kill that which exposes our neediness, our shame, and our selfishness.  And it results in the death of an unbearable number of babies in North America and throughout the world each and every day.

And while it may be easy to point the finger and condemn the woman or family or doctor who aborts a child, each and every one of us knows this tendency to try and crush that which exposes our weaknesses and offenses.  Who hasn’t lied to avoid embarrassment or beaten themselves up over a costly decision?  Who hasn’t scrambled to cover up a botched effort or sought to shift blame to someone else?  We hate guilt and anything that brings to light our true situation.  Every human being is born with God’s laws written on their heart (Romans 2:15), and therefore our consciences accuse us.  And our response to that accusation is typically an all-out effort to sweep it under the floor, to put it out of our minds, and to justify our actions.  But nothing is hidden before God who knows and judges the secrets of our hearts (Romans 2:16, Psalm 44:21, Hebrews 4:13, Job 34:21). He sees our intentions and our deception even if no one else does. 

Like the mother who chooses to walk into the abortion clinic, whenever we attempt to blot out our sins, we are actually acknowledging and even declaring before God, “I am guilty, I am guilty!” And deep down, we know our actions require a just penalty because we have been created in the very image of the one true God of the universe, who is supremely and perfectly just.  And he will with certainty pour out his perfect justice on each and every human life. 

Abortion reminds us that we are guilty and in need of grace, and without the grace we so desperately need… the grace that can only be found in trusting in and following after a risen Savior, we will receive the justice due us from an infinitely holy God, namely unceasing anguish apart from him.  But God the Son, in great condescension, shockingly came to us in human form as Jesus Christ, was laid in a manger in little Bethlehem, and grew in wisdom and stature as a young man.  He experienced our weaknesses and temptations, all the while living without sin, performing incredible miracles and teaching with an authority that had never before been seen.  He was loved by a small few but mocked and accused by most, and was ultimately taken to a hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed him to a wooden stake, according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).  And in his death, Jesus experienced the full wrath and anger and justice of God the Father, causing him intense despair.   This was a plan determined by and accomplished by God so that sinners could know the love and magnificence and righteousness of the God who created them, for all of eternity.  This is the heart of the Christian faith, and it starts with the recognition that we as a worldwide community and as individuals are unruly rebels in need of grace… in need of someone to redeem our desperate situation.    

Upon his death, Jesus, who 33 years earlier had been laid in a manger as a precious babe, was laid in a tomb.  Three days later he rose up and took off his grave clothes and returned to his disciples, eventually ascending into an unseen place called heaven to be with his Father.  It was a declaration that God had carried out his plans perfectly, and that Jesus’ perfect life and wrath-quenching death was for sinners, so that all who would trust in and receive him would be united to Christ and receive the forgiveness offered in his name…  adopted as beloved children into God’s family.  It is in this relationship with God and with other brothers and sisters in Christ that we begin to know love and joy and forgiveness truly as we walk out life in a strange and broken place called Earth.  It is a foretaste of what is to come, ultimately living and reigning forever with Christ and those throughout the centuries that have come to know this grace, in a re-created heaven and earth, a place of truth and worship and joy and perfection and life. 

In the end, abortion is a picture of what it looks like to run from sin and refuse this great grace.  Jesus, like the baby in the womb, exposes our rebellion and our neediness.  And he declares, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”  Jesus Christ is the wisdom and righteousness of God, made available to all who will receive him. 


The Tragic Irony of Effort

I bumped into a young guy today who had the name “Wolfpack” on his shirt.  I asked him what it meant and he told me it was the name of the group of guys he belonged to that had gone through Air Force basic training together.  The back of his shirt listed the names of each of those young men atop a statement that read “If you accept anything less than your best, you accept failure.”  I pondered that statement a bit and thought about the value in it.  There’s nothing controversial there really, nothing to shake our heads at.  In fact, Wolfpack man’s shirt is kind of commendable and even inspiring.  I suppose it’s like a badge of honor for those guys who had suffered through basic training together.

I began thinking about what that statement might sound like stated positively and decided it might go something like this… “When you give your best effort, you’ll be successful.”  You know, kind of like saying “no guts, no glory!” or “hard work pays off!” or even “the difference between try and triumph is a little umph!”

The Bible, too, commends hard work.  Proverbs 10:4 says that “a slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” and Proverbs 12:24 says that “the hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.”  In fact, one of the main themes running throughout Proverbs is about how hard work pays off.  We see this all around us in the world don’t we?  Take the Olympics, for example.  To earn the chance at medaling for your country and standing on that podium as millions across the world watch in awe, you are faced with four years of disciplined and grueling training. Even the most gifted athletes have to work hard to stay on top and they usually do because the road to sweet success is paved through lots of sweat.  And for the most part, that’s really just simple math.  Generally speaking, people who work hard accomplish many great things in life while those who are lazy rarely succeed at anything worth noting.

But let’s turn this idea on its head for a second, because that’s exactly what the Bible does when it comes to salvation.  Most folks by default have a generic sense that God will accept them if they work hard at living a decent life.  They use the statement on his shirt as a formula for eternal life, whether consciously or subconsciously.  Treat people nicely (to their face at least), give some of your time and money to others (not to the point of discomfort of course), and stay out of jail (for the really bad crimes) and you pretty much have a nice eternity wrapped up for yourself.  Sure, we all get into a little trouble here or there, but in the long run things will weigh themselves out… especially in consideration of how we stack up in comparison to all the heathens around us.  That’s how most of us think at least, right?

But when it comes to God’s acceptance, we will need more than our best to succeed.  In fact, our very best falls shorter than we can ever imagine.  That’s the problem with assuming our best will merit something, because by setting “my best personal effort” as the standard, I ultimately deny the standard that the Creator of all life has set.

And so we must come face to face with one simple truth:  that every person has not only fallen short of God’s standards, but has also rejected his standards and replaced them with their own.  This is the very center of what it means to reject God.  By trying to save ourselves we deny who he is and what he has said and we worship our self-deluded standards.  We attempt to live as our own Messiah… our own functional Savior.  Do you see the tragic irony in that? We reject God by the very effort we expend to get to him!  The entire world around us feeds “Self-Savior” mentality, and it leads to behavior that condemns us before God.

And so, it is a priceless gift from God when we grasp this truth, acknowledging our feeble and self-righteous attempts to successfully get to him and earn his favor.  In our fallen world where sin is built into our DNA, we are likely to pave the path towards sweet success with our sweat and tears, only to realize that the sweet success we envisioned was merely a veil covering the true wages of our effort – deadly destruction.  Ultimately, there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ, who can bridge the gap between our rebellious effort and the holiness of a perfect God.  By giving up, admitting our inability, and trusting in Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection in our place, we may come to know the amazing grace and infinite love of a holy God who overcame all of our useless striving.  So we can rightly accept our failure and place our faith in the One who succeeded where we cannot.


22 Thoughts from SBC Send North America Conference – Part 2 of 2

Continuing from the first post, here’s my remaining observations and summary of some of the teachings from the Send North America Conference.

12)      There was an emphasis on urban church planting and we even heard from some men who are currently living that out.  Some reflections on this…  Engaging cities is tough.  People don’t trust pastors in cities; they view Christians as hypocritical and fake.  We need pastors/elders who will live holy, authentic, and honest lives with the people.

13)      The city is a place of great diversity, which often produces conflict.  Without compromising our faith, we need to build relationships there and love those that are different than us.

14)      The city is a place of brokenness and destitution.  People are in a great state of need, both physical and spiritual, and it’s usually more overt and apparent than in the burbs.  Lives are stacked on top of lives and it creates tension.  There isn’t a nice house on a cul-de-sac that folks can hide behind, and ultimately, all kinds of needs are exposed. People in cities need truth and compassion.

15)      The city is a place of loneliness for many.  The nations are streaming in, many who don’t know but a person or two.  They are strangers and we can welcome them with the love of Christ.

16)      The city is full of lots of people, and where people are, there are idols.  We need to learn the stories behind our cities, come to love the people there and understand how the gospel addresses their idols.

17)      The church should reflect the demographic makeup of the city.  Segregated churches in our cities speak loudly.  They say the gospel isn’t powerful and Christianity is only for certain types.  But that’s a mockery of the gospel.  My wife and I visited a multi-racial gospel-focused church in Atlanta and it was so refreshing to see how being in Christ breaks down racial barriers.

18)      JD Greear preached on the great love of Jesus for sinners, demonstrated in the anguish he endured in the Garden of Gethsemane.  His thesis was this – Effective Sending is the Result of Seeing Jesus.  It was, for me, the most impacting sermon of the conference.  Under the crushing weight of sin and the unbearable separation from His Father who he had known perfectly and intimately throughout all eternity, Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him.  What was that joy? It was the gift of the church from His Father.  Truly, Jesus loves his church and he died for us.

19)      John Bisagno received a warm and honoring round of applause.  I think it’s great to celebrate men who have come before us, carrying the gospel torch.  He spoke about the need for balance in ministry, but what stood out to me most was when he talked to the high drop-out rate among pastors.  He gave four main reasons – morals, money, ministry conflict and discouragement.  I think this gives us much to think about.   Again (see point 1 from post 1 of 2), without being continually compelled and amazed by the grace of God demonstrated in the cross of Christ, pastors will likely flame out.

20)      Tony Merida held a great workshop on Preaching & Contextualization.  There was a ton of great info but I’ll only offer a few nuggets here.

  1. Preach the gospel, not moral improvement.  Satan isn’t scared of your moral improvement plan.  In fact, he may encourage it in order to keep Christ out of the church.
  2. The resurrection serves as the bookends of gospel preaching.  See 1 Corinthians for example.  Paul starts off in ch 1 & 2 and closes in ch 15 with it.
  3. Expect biblical cluelessness when you preach.  I agree, it’s easy to assume others know.  On the flip side, it’s easy for us listening to nod and act like we get it when we don’t.
  4. Preach the grand narrative over and over.  This may sound cliché to many, but it’s not happening in our churches.
  5. Drip method: don’t do “vision sermons” a couple times a year.  Instead, drip it into your sermons week in and week out, letting it continually take root.
  6. Contextualization: we must key in on people’s idols (point of contact), sympathize with them, and determine how it runs counter to the gospel (point of conflict).  See Acts 14-17.
  7. Preach to those not in the room.  Drawing from Tim Keller, Merida encourages us to preach to the groups we hope to see in our pews who aren’t there yet.  Preach to them and they will come (Field of Dreams anyone?).  Either you’re members will feel comfortable to invite them or they’ll hear that their questions are being answered.

21)   There was a workshop on “Church Planting Lessons from Year 1” given by Tony Merida and Jon Akin from Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC.  It’s 13 lessons in all and it was the best workshop I attended.  They set a really high bar for their members and I think these lessons will aid new churches in establishing a healthy foundation.  The content has been provided at www.tonymerida.net: Part 1 of 3 – http://bit.ly/OfKrfH; Part 2 of 3 – http://bit.ly/NJh1uI; Part 3 of 3 – http://bit.ly/OwTn3w

22)   Finally, date nights are great, but date weekends are better.  I’m so glad that my wife came with me.  We dropped our daughter off in Kentucky with my parents and enjoyed four full days and nights together.  So good.


22 Thoughts from SBC Send North America Conference – Part 1 of 2

This post is written for two reasons.  To help me reflect on attending the conference this week and to provide some information on what’s going on with the SBC and church planting.  I’m including some personal observations and reflections as well as memorable teachings and quotes from some of the speakers.  Keep in mind that over 2000 people attended and there were a myriad of workshops and breakout sessions, and I was only able to attend a few of them.

1)      First and foremost, the conference was Jesus centered.  Not because it was supposed to be, but because it was.  The conference was more doxological than practical.  Practical workshops were provided, but it was primarily about lifting up and seeing Jesus afresh.  Worship fuels mission.

2)      The conference was truly a multi-generational event.  I talked to young guys heading all over North America to plant churches, from rural Tennessee to Boston.  I also spoke with seasoned pastors in their 60s looking to fund new churches.  I think this spoke to the unity of purpose among all that attended.

3)      The conference was diverse.  From skinny jeans and chucks to suits and ties, all kinds represented.

4)      The conference was not diverse enough.  There were way too many white faces in the seats.  But… it wasn’t as homogenous as you might think.  There were signs of racial diversity and there is a desire in the SBC to see more of this.  That’s good, because Christ died for the nations and we’ll need people of all colors and cultures to engage the racial and cultural diversity of North American cities.

5)      There was an emphasis on the demonstration of the gospel in good works without damaging the importance of the proclamation of the gospel which is necessary for salvation (Matt 5:16).

6)      Great emphasis was placed on the kingdom of God.  Vance Pittman spoke to this well, detailing how our focus has so emphasized the church (ourselves) that we’ve forgotten that the church is God’s tool for the advancement of his kingdom, not an end in itself.  Surely this type of thinking would revamp the way we think about programs in the church and equipping all Christians to live and breathe as missionaries, not church members.

7)      Pittman also pressed against the arrogance that we see in many church planters today.  He reminded us that true church planting is done in humility and for the glory of God, and ultimately by God.  It’s not for the glory or reputation of the church planter.  I appreciated his words, “We need a revival of humility!”  He’s a passionate dude.

8)      David Platt also dealt with this idea, encouraging us all to celebrate sending people from our churches rather than boosted attendance figures.

9)      The overall vibe of the conference spoke “every church and every Christian should be involved in church planting!”… whether it be through giving resources, prayer, and/or actually planting.  And churches should mobilize towards birthing new churches if they aren’t already.  Ultimately, healthy churches reproduce and we must pray God works this into the life and heartbeat of our churches.

10)   Every Christian is a missionary.  It sounds cliché but it’s not happening.  See point 1.

11)   Ed Stetzer talks really fast, and he has a lot of good insights.  I remember “If you can order Starbucks, you can learn theological language.”  More importantly, he answered the question, “What are Christians?”  At a foundational level, we’re people who have been delivered from the domain of darkness by God and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13-14).  This reminded me that no matter what change I or any other Christian may desire, the greatest change has already occurred and is the anchor and springboard for all future change.

More to come…