Saturday, April 25, 2015

On the Celebration and Normalization of Transgenderism

Bruce Jenner is well-known for a lot of reasons, but his gender transformation has certainly been the focus of his notoriety lately. Jenner's 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer and the Vanity Fair cover story introducing "Caitlyn" Jenner have been two of the most significant pieces of media coverage to date on the topic of gender identity, and they have certainly shed a lot of light on the diverse experiences of transgender people. This certainly wasn't the first time that the media has covered gender identity issues, and the trend in media and culture lately has been to celebrate gender transformations and normalize their occurrences. Some of this coverage has been incredibly helpful because, in large part, the culture has been ignorant to the experiences of people who have a different understanding of their sexual or gender identity. There is no doubt about the fact that a transgender person experiences unique difficulties in this life with which others cannot fully empathize. However, from a Christian perspective, the celebration and normalization of transgenderism is incredibly troubling.

One of the most difficult questions I've ever been asked was in a seminary classroom at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Russell Moore was a professor there at the time. He asked us a question that went something like this: "If a transgender person, who has recently become a Christian, comes to you asking what repentance looks like for them in respect to their gender identity, how would you respond?"

(You can read a post from Russell Moore about his complicated "Joan or John?" question here.)

Genesis 1:27 declares, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them," and Jesus affirms this declaration in his teachings on marriage. The primary concern for anyone dealing with gender identity issues, or even with more complicated intersex issues, is that their questions imply that what God created was a mistake. Gender identity issues are ultimately issues of idolatry; we become gods who determine the design and purpose of our own bodies.

God doesn't make mistakes. However, the reality for all of us, not just the transgender among us, is that we have all been born with a natural inclination to rebel against the design of God in various ways. All of us wrestle with some form of sexual immorality. All of us have self-serving tendencies. And what is brought to our attention in gender identity issues is that all of us are prone to wrongly living out what it means to be male or female. This is what Paul means in Romans 1:24 when he says, "God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity," in verse 26 when he says, "God gave them over to degrading passions," and in verse 28 when he says, "God gave them over to a depraved mind." After listing several "things which are not proper," Paul continues, beginning in verse 32 and continuing into chapter 2, "Although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." This passage teaches us that we're all in the same boat. We are all guilty of rebellion against God, and we are all needy of the same redemption, which is found in Christ alone. We must always hold the sin of unbelief higher than the sin of gender confusion because, while the gospel of Jesus Christ can save anyone, simply having a proper understanding of gender can save no one.

Christ calls all of us to repent and believe, and he calls the transgender person to do the same.

For the transgender person who has a family or who has had gender reassignment surgeries, repentance becomes a more complicated process. Sometimes it may mean living similarly to a biblical eunuch. Sometimes it may mean living in the freedom of singleness. But whatever it means on the practical level, repentance always means turning away from the ways we've rebelled and pursuing faithfulness to God's intentions for us. Those who were born as a male should pursue their identity as a male, even though they likely will not feel like a male.

The gospel can redeem anyone from anywhere. However, the celebration and normalization of transgenderism is going to make repentance for redeemed transgender people much more confusing, much more complicated, and much more difficult. This celebration and normalization is often done in the name of love for transgender people, but it can never be loving for a Christian to affirm a person's rebellion against God. So the question becomes: how can Christians best love transgender people both personally and publicly?

We have to begin by reminding ourselves to see people the way God sees them. Because of all the reasons explained above, we shouldn't accept a cultural normalization of gender transition, but what we should pursue is a cultural normalization of receiving and treating transgender people like anyone else. Transgender people are not freaks, but they are very often treated that way. That's a tragedy, and Christians are often the culprits. Christians need get past their prejudices and learn to receive sinners with graciousness and kindness, particularly when it comes to the disenfranchised. This is what Christ did for us; while we were sinners, Christ died for us. While we were his enemies, he loved us. We need to come beside transgender people and show our concern for all of their needs, displaying for them the goodness of God's love and grace and holiness.

I want to challenge us to pray for the transgender people in our community. Pray for their soul. Pray that their experiences might change. Pray for God to show you how you might be able to catalyze that change. Pray for God to give you the courage to speak the gospel of grace to them and that they would be open to receive it. And in the spirit of those prayers, I want to challenge us to be obedient to how God speaks to us on this issue. The transgender community is all too often ostracized from our culture, but there is a place for them in the Kingdom of God.

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

And the best Bible translation is...

It wasn't until college that anyone ever started talking to me about Bible translations. Which translation is best? I owned several translations just from growing up. I still have the NKJV Baby's First Bible in the original box. I had a CEV Bible for kids. I had an NIV for teens. For the first couple of years of college, I carried around a pocket edition NLT, and I had an NIV that I took to church. But it seemed like my friends and many of my favorite pastors, like John Piper and David Platt, were switching to the ESV. So I got one of those. As I'm looking at my shelf today, I also see an RSV, a KJV, an HCSB, a Geneva Bible, the Message, an NRSV, and an NASB.

For the rest of college, I followed the trend of my friends with an ESV. I really liked it, and I still do. However, as I began to study theology, I kept reading from non-Reformed theologians that the ESV has a "Reformed" bias and that the language in several places was slanted toward that bias. I heard someone call it the Elect Standard Version. While I'm Reformed myself and hold that title proudly, I wasn't married to the ESV. I liked it, but I didn't like the idea of people minimizing my theological stances simply because of the translation I read. I didn't want someone to assume that I was Reformed simply because I had been influenced by the language of the ESV. In spite of that, I kept using it because I wasn't sure which translation I wanted to use. And, by the way, I completely disagree with that critique of the ESV. I've never found any passage in the ESV that had a different meaning from another translation regarding Reformed doctrines. It is a translation that has earned it's popularity because of its commitment to being simultaneously very readable and very accurate.

Around this time, I started seminary, and in my first semester, I took both Greek and Hermeneutics. I began learning about translation methods and manuscripts. The KJV and NKJV are translated from different manuscripts (Byzantine-type) than most modern translations (Alexandrian-type). While some argue that the Byzantine manuscripts are better, the reality is that the majority of people who give their lives to textual criticism and translation agree that Alexandrian manuscripts are closer to the original manuscripts, and we can trust them. The translators for the KJV used the best manuscripts that were available to them at the time, and they made a really great translation. It is very accurate, and the language is beautiful. However, we have better and older manuscripts available to us now.

Translations are generally categorized as either having formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence. It's probably best to think of these two categories as really representing the two sides of a spectrum, with translations falling somewhere in between. On the far right (formal) would be the NASB. For the most part, it is translated word-for-word. On the far left (dynamic) would be something like The Message. The Message isn't truly a translation; it is a paraphrase, but that's what makes it a good representative for a far-left, dynamic stereotype. The scale of translations that I mentioned on my shelf would look something like this: (dynamic) The Message - CEV - NLT - NIV - HCSB - ESV - RSV - NKJV - KJV - NASB (formal).

As I studied Greek, I began comparing my Greek translations to different Bible translations. I discovered that the NASB was almost always exactly what I was translating word-for-word. This discovery wasn't great for my retention in Greek Syntax though because, instead of studying Greek vocabulary and paradigms, I began spending more time studying the passages from the NASB before I would take an exam! And I ended up doing the same thing in my Hebrew classes.

Some people claim that the NASB is hard to read. It's labeled as being "wooden." However, I've found it to be incredibly rich. And I decided in seminary that I'd prefer a Bible whose translators did as much translating and as little interpreting as possible. Sometimes it's hard to separate translation and interpretation, but, where possible, I want to receive a translation from a translator and an interpretation from a theologian. The NASB has become my favorite Bible because it has caused me to slow down and pay attention to the meanings of phrases and grammatical connections, and I always feel comfortable reading it knowing that I'm reading something very close to the original text. There are times, especially in the Old Testament, when the NASB has some awkward phrasing, and that really is its downside. But I love it, and for anyone who is looking to study the Bible closely, I can't recommend a translation more highly.

However, I won't say that the NASB is the "best" translation. In formal translations like the NASB, reading can often be less enjoyable. At the same time, I think there are places in more dynamic translations, and especially in The Message, that make them hard to recommend for serious theological study. But I actually love The Message for reading the narratives of the Bible. I could probably read Genesis from The Message in half the time that I could read it from the NASB, and I'd probably enjoy it more and retain it better from The Message as well.

So which translation is best?

The best Bible translation is...the one you'll read. Even though there are advantages and disadvantages to every translation, they all tell the same story centered around the same gospel of the same Jesus. Most Christians have never read through the whole Bible, and it would be far more valuable to worry less about which translation is on your shelf and more about taking it off the shelf and saturating your heart with it on a regular basis.

One of my seminary professors, Bruce Ware, encouraged us to read the Bible in two ways. Read it fast, and read it slow. Take time regularly, daily even, to read quickly through large chunks of the Bible. Then go back and slowly meditate on and pray about particular portions of what you read. So if you, like countless others, grew up with the KJV and love it, then read your KJV! If you have a hard time enjoying translations that are worded in ways you wouldn't word things, then grab an NLT or an NIV and read it! If you think you want something in-between, something with high word-for-word accuracy while remaining very readable, then read something like an HCSB or an ESV.

Don't let your Bible become a coaster on your coffee table, a dust collector on your shelf, a fixed extension of your dashboard, or a regular item in the church lost and found. Regardless of translation, make Scripture a part of your daily life, for Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why was I in a wreck? Reflections on Luke 13:1-9

Most of you know by now that I was in a car accident yesterday around 5pm. I was driving home from the dog park when I saw a white truck swerving in the grass on the right side of the road. Then he swerved back into the road and hit my car head on. I looked down and saw my right hand covered in blood with swelling that looked like a ping pong ball under the skin. I saw the contact lens from my right eye fall out. And I saw a burn hole in my shorts on my left leg from the airbag. The driver door wouldn't open, so I climbed through and exited the car on the passenger side. I looked down the road and saw the white truck, still on the wrong side of the road. After hitting me, he knocked down a fence on the other side of the road and tried to drive away. However, the wreck had given him a flat tire, so he only made it about 200 yards. I found out later that he was running because he was an unlicensed and uninsured illegal immigrant, which isn't making the details in my insurance claims any less complicated. It took me a minute to realize that my car was facing the opposite direction. I didn't feel the car spin, but I definitely did a 180. I started to feel a knot on my forehead swelling, but it didn't hurt. I was more worried about the way it was going to look. I got Chase out of the car. He was fine. The car is totaled though. Everything in front of the dashboard was either flattened or scattered across the road. I felt fine, but a few people encouraged me to sit down. When the ambulance arrived, the EMT began to put me in a neck brace, and they were bringing a stretcher toward me. I had a stubborn moment, so I stood up and shook my head to show them that my neck was fine and that my legs were working. The real reason I didn't want to get on a stretcher was because everything was happening so fast and I was thinking about the things that I still wanted to get out of my car. When I opened the car door, I realized how much everything in my car had been scrambled. My wallet was next to the brake pedal, and my house keys were in the back seat on the passenger side. They had been sitting next to one another on the center console beforehand. We took Chase home in the ambulance and then made our way to the hospital. My hand had some glass in it from the windshield, and I have some cuts and bruises above my right eye. Nothing is broken, but I definitely look like I got into a fight! And my hip has started to get sore, so you can add a gangsta walk to the picture as you imagine my appearance.

Moments like these always make us consider the goodness of God, particularly when we reflect on how much worse the circumstances could have been. But this begs the questions: do we believe that God would have been even better if he'd allowed me to avoid the accident altogether? Do we believe that he would be worse if he'd taken my life? God is certainly good, but it's not because I'm fine. God could have taken my life and would have been no less good and right in doing so.

As I rode to the hospital, my mind was drawn to a passage in Luke 13.

1 "Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." 6 And he began telling this parable: "A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. 7 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' 8 And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; 9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'"

God didn't allow me to experience a wreck because I'm a worse sinner than any of you, nor did he allow me to live because I'm any better than anyone else. But my prayer is that, through this and every moment that confronts us with the fragility of life, the Lord would call us all to repentance. God uses difficult circumstances for our good. He uses them to make us more like Christ. Verses 6-9 from the passage above have been burned onto my heart as I reflect on my current circumstances. The reality is that my Christian walk has been marred by an inconsistent ability to fight the lustful tendencies of my flesh, including the condition of my heart in the moments leading up to the accident. Some song lyrics that I wrote several years ago say, "Oh what a compromise: my heart for a moment full of lies, lies that declare war against the sacrifice I've tasted in your wine. Oh, I don't know why I cannot find you more lovely." Lust is great at over-promising and under-delivering, promising pleasure and leaving its subject dissatisfied. The most astounding thing about lust is that everyone who wrestles with it recognizes its inability to satisfy but is still somehow tempted by its seductions. In moments of weakness, I've prayed a prayer that sounded something like this: "Lord, if you foresee lust ever enticing me down a path that would cause me to do something that would disqualify me from ministry, please don't allow me to be given a pastoral role in a church." However, while that was an honest prayer and a good desire, it is the prayer of a man who is not prepared to radically wage war upon his sin and does not believe that the Spirit of God is strong enough to overcome it. I recognize that the temptations associated with this fleshly body will remain until I am given a new and imperishable body for heaven, but I am not prepared to allow that to be an excuse for sin to ever have mastery over me. The song I mentioned above finishes out saying, "Why so downcast, oh my soul? My heart longs for Christ alone. Oh, I know that I will never find one more lovely."

It is far too often that our lives are marked by the pattern, as eighteenth century pastor Andrew Fuller said, "of vowing and breaking vows." But may we stop resting in our own strength and promises, and follow Fuller's lead in saying, "From this time I considered the vows of God as upon me."

Since the accident, I've experienced an encouragement in the Lord in a renewed and empowered way. I feel him digging around my roots and putting in fertilizer. The reality is that the ministry that God has entrusted, and will entrust, to me is far too significant for me to even consider allowing my flesh to ruin it. Left to my own devices, I would be the first to fall away from Christ. But, thanks be to God, believers are not left to their own devices! The Spirit of God is at work, pruning and fertilizing our souls. So may we be prepared to throw our lives into the hands of vineyard-keeper, or may we be cut down!

Christ has taken every broken promise, every failed attempt at obedience, upon himself. Let us take up a renewed commitment to repentance today, basing it not on our ability to repent, but on Christ's commitment to us. Though we are like fig trees that deserve to be cut down, hear Christ say, "'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer," and may this grace empower us to bear fruit.

Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but he will heal us;
He has wounded us, but he will bandage us.
Hosea 6:1

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Brooks Conrad and the Christian Life; Meditating on Colossians 3:1-17

On May 20, 2010, I took Anna to see a baseball game at Turner Field in Atlanta. The first pitch was at 1:05 on a beautiful sunny day, around 80 degrees, and the Braves were taking on the Reds. However, the beautiful 80 degree weather suddenly felt hot and sticky, and the relaxing baseball game suddenly felt long and exhausting when Tommy Hanson and the Braves found themselves down 8-zip in the 2nd inning. By the 9th inning, the score was 9-3. Most of the crowd was gone at this point, but I paid for us to see at least 9 innings of baseball, so we were staying! Seven batters later, everything was different. It was now 9-6, and the bases were loaded with one out for Brooks Conrad. The few thousand fans that were still at the Ted were on their feet with caps inside out and tomahawks chopping. For this at-bat, the switch-hitting Conrad was planning to face the southpaw Arthur Rhodes, but the Reds replaced Rhodes with their closer, right-handed Francisco Cordero. Conrad uses a different bat, different helmet, and different shin guard for right-handed and left-handed pitchers, so he had to go quickly switch everything out. A few moments later, with a 2-2 count, Conrad gripped the bat, bare-handed as he always does, and hit an opposite field fly ball to Lance Nix up against the wall in left field, but as Conrad rounded first, he bowed his head and realized he’d have to settle for a sacrifice fly. However, when he turned around, he saw the Braves dugout emptying. The ball had bounced off of Lance Nix’s glove over the wall for a walk-off grand slam! Braves win! Braves win!

This was probably the most exciting moment in sports history that I’ve experienced as a fan. For those who are interested, Craig Kimbrel pitched the 9th inning and got his first major league win that day. But this moment also changed the season for Brooks Conrad. Through the remainder of the 2010 regular season, Conrad was Mr. Clutch. He had at least five more game-winning hits that season, including another go-ahead grand slam. He generally wasn’t a starter on the roster, but he seemed to always come through as a pinch hitter, getting big hits in big moments.

In the playoffs, though, everything changed. Conrad had become the starting second baseman due to an injury to Martin Prado, and in game 3 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, Conrad committed three errors. His final error of that game allowed two runs to score in the top of the 9th inning, giving the Giants a 3-2 lead, which would be the final score. No longer was Brooks Conrad the hero that fans loved to cheer for. He was a failure that fans loved to hate. He was the guy who cost Bobby Cox the chance to retire with another World Series ring. And after that, his career just hasn’t been the same. The Braves didn’t re-sign him after the 2011 season. He played a year for Milwaukee and a year for Tampa Bay, but in both places he spent most of his time with the minor league club. Then he played a year in Japan where he batted .175 in limited plate appearances. Last year he was in and out of the minors with the Padres. And he began this year playing for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Oh, you haven’t heard of them?

What happened to Brooks Conrad? Maybe the miscues in the playoffs really did affect his mentality as a player. Or maybe he was actually just outperforming his long-term potential. I don’t know. But what I do know is that his identity as a player was completely transformed.

Something similar happens in the life of faith as well. Jesus gives Christians a new identity, and Christians who fall into sin are ultimately failing to live out their identity in Christ. The message of Colossians 3:1-17 is all about what this looks like; we're called to lay aside an old identity and put on a new one.

Colossians 3 begins, “if you have been raised up with Christ.” The implication is that if you haven’t been raised up with Christ, then what follows is not for you, at least not yet. The passage is going to begin instructing believers to put off disobedience and to put on obedience. And while it’s always good to be obedient to God, we have to realize that our obedience is not what raises us up with Christ. In fact, we may end up on the wrong end of the final verse of chapter 2, which says, “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” So before you consider the message of Colossians 3, consider what it is that raises you up with Christ and whether you’re there. Paul sets a firm foundation of this as he begins chapter 1 of his letter to the Colossians, saying that their faith in Christ Jesus lays for them a hope in heaven because of the word of truth, the gospel. Later in chapter 1, in verse 13, Paul says that Christ rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of Christ, and in verses 22-23, he says that Christ reconciled us to him through his death and that we will be presented blameless if we continue in faith. Chapter 1 ends with Paul declaring that Christ is in him because he is a believer and that God's power is working in him. In chapter 2, verses 6-7, Paul says that receiving Christ Jesus as Lord is what gives us firm roots of faith and that walking in Christ builds us up and establishes our faith. A few verses later, in verses 13-14, Paul says that the debt of our sin was taken away, having been nailed to the cross. So as we come to chapter 3, we want to make sure that we are in Christ. Put your faith in Christ, giving him rule and reign over your life and trusting that his sacrifice has made you pure. Search your heart, and if you’re there, then your life is, as Paul says in Colossians 3:3, hidden with Christ in God.

Paul says if that’s true of you, “Set your mind on things above.” I remember hearing a pastor growing up say that you cannot control sinful things coming into you mind; you can only control whether you act on it. However, I want to show you why this isn’t exactly true. Have any of you ever considered the differences between Butterfly’s Bryce and JOOLA’s Mambo rubbers for table tennis paddles? I imagine you haven’t. However, questions like these ran through my head regularly for a few years while I was playing competitive table tennis in college. And the point is that I thought about it because I spent a good amount of time playing competitive table tennis, and you haven’t thought about it because you haven’t played competitive table tennis. This imperative from Paul to set our minds is a call to point our thinking in a particular direction. For those of us who have had seasons, or lifetimes, away from Christ and in sin, this trend will be harder to break, but it is vital to our faith for us, as Paul urges Timothy, to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.

The rest of this passage will lay out the details of what exactly Paul means by the command to set our minds. And this is important. There is a false teaching in Christianity today that many people are buying into because of a particular interpretation of the ideas presented in this passage. These name it and claim it, or blab it and grab it, teachings suggest that God will cause what we believe about ourselves to come to fruition. And while Paul is urging Christians to believe something about themselves here, he is urging them to believe something specific. Paul is not telling Christians to think of themselves as financially successful people and to then expect riches. He is not telling Christians to think of themselves as favored people and to then expect everyone to be overly nice to them. He is not telling Christians to think of themselves as healthy and to then expect medical reports to be great. That’s not the way thoughts work. Your mentality about life can certainly change the way you experience life, but believing ourselves into financial and physical well-being is not the message of Christianity, nor is it necessarily a virtuous pursuit. Jesus was poor and hated to the point of crucifixion. If being healthy and wealthy and liked are the measures of Christianity, then Jesus failed miserably in his lifetime. So Paul wants us to think of ourselves as we truly are in Christ, not as we may want life in Christ to be like.

Paul commanded in verse 2 to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. In verse 5, Paul describes those things of earth, urges Christians to “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Verses 6-7 reminds us that those whose life is identified by these things are under the wrath of God. He goes on to say that we should put aside own own anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying. He says that these things are a part of the “old self.” Stop thinking of yourself that way because that is not who you are in Christ.

Paul David Tripp, the Christian counselor and author, says that when Christians sin, it is because they are “identity amnesiacs.” They forget who Christ has remade them to be. Lay your sin down because that’s not who you are in Christ. However, we cannot simply blame our sinfulness on our sinful nature and be content with that. Instead, we must declare war upon our flesh, vowing by the power of the Spirit to put sin to death. In verse 5 we’re told to consider ourselves dead to those things. And the way you consider yourself dead to something is to consider yourself alive to something else. We’re not just people who are against fleshly things; we are people who are for godly things.

As you fight sin, don’t be identity amnesiacs. Remember who you are in Christ. Verse 12 reminds us that we are chosen by God, we are holy, we are beloved, and we are people marked by the characteristics of Christ. When Paul commands Christians to set their minds on things above, verse 12 and following describes those things that are above. “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…put on love…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…and be thankful.

Our pursuit of Christ, fixing our eyes on him, is both an inner pursuit and an outer pursuit. The inner pursuit is the conformity of our heart to Christ, and the outer pursuit is the conformity of our life to Christ.

Verse 16 paints a picture of our inner pursuit. It begins, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” This might be a slow process, but be diligent. Your mind may be consumed with sinful things, or even simply nominal things, and renewing your mind toward Christ will be a slow and daily process. However, it’s so valuable to persevere, to be saturated in Scripture so that you become more and more aware of the disparities between who you are and who God created you to be. And it’s not only valuable to do this yourself, but to do this together with other believers. Most of the time in the New Testament, when the Bible addresses “you,” it does so in the plural, and it’s no different here. This is an imperative for the church, namely that the word of Christ would richly dwell within us. And this note helps the rest of verse 16 make more sense for us. We teach one another the ways of God, and we admonish one another when we stumble into sin. So don't try to learn the ways of God and fight sin alone; invite other believers in your life to do this with you. Give people permission to help you become more faithful by providing biblical insight and correction.

Verse 17 urges us toward the outer pursuit, saying, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” There are times when we believe that God does not care about the trivial, but I would argue that it is in the trivial things that the depth of our faith is most revealed. These all-encompassing statements from Paul, “whatever you do” and “do everything,” are calling us to constantly live out a particular identity.

He’s taken us from darkness into light, and he’s urging us to live in the light of the gospel. He’s made us clean, and he’s urging us to be clean.

For those of you who don’t know, six years ago I decided to change the spelling of my name. I had been burdened by the stories of God changing the names of Jacob, Abram, Simon, Saul, and others. In their name changes, he reveals their identity changes. They were no longer people who identified as rebels of God but as the chosen people of God. I changed my name from Zachary to Xaiquiri to remind myself daily of the new nature that I’ve been given in Christ. I made is odd because I wanted to use my name as an evangelistic tool so that I could share with them what Christ had done in me. I haven’t always been faithful to preach Christ with the opportunities that my name has given me, and I feel ashamed that I’ve missed those opportunities because I believe that this identity-altering gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. I have been, at times, an identity amnesiac.

But, with Paul, I’m calling us all to remember who we are in Christ. Set your minds on things above. Don’t think of yourself as a minor league Christian who fails to be good enough. Look to Christ and realized that you’ve been made holy and blameless. Your life has been raised with Christ, so set your mind on the things to which Christ has called you. Saturate yourself with Scripture and pursue the kind of life that you see Scripture calling you to pursue.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thoughts About Anti-Discrimination and Religious Freedom, the RFRA, and its fix.

It almost seems like old news now, but if you've paid any attention to national news lately, you've seen a lot of backlash to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, suggesting that the law, particularly the one signed in Indiana, allows people to discriminate in the name of religion. Most agree that religious liberty is good; most agree that discrimination is bad; but it seems as if we've found a place where the two are no longer mutually exclusive. There has been some compromise in Indiana, with the law being amended to include anti-discriminatory language, but most opponents to the law don't believe that the "fix" really fixed anything, while supporters of the law believe that the "fix" may have compromised too much. I've seen Christians divided and/or confused about how to think about this dilemma, and there are far too many Christians who, because of their proper concern for the oppressed, are failing to see the cost of neglecting religious liberty. If there is any group of people who ought to be fighting for the protection of religious liberty, it's Christians. Romans 14:22 says, "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves." Freedom of religion is about protecting people's convictions, not what you think people's religious convictions ought to be, even if you believe their convictions to be wrong or absurd. In Romans 14, Paul declared that all food was clean; however, he recognized that there were still people who followed laws about unclean foods. But instead of encouraging his audience to spend their time convincing people that it doesn't actually violate their religion to eat food that they believe to be unclean, he encouraged his audience to help everyone obey their own convictions. This passage doesn't have a perfect application into the modern political conversations about religious liberty, anti-discrimination, and same-sex marriage, but the reality is that Christians ought to care about protecting people's personal convictions because we recognize that a person's conscience before God is of incredible importance and because we recognize the value of the freedom to engage religious ideas in the public square.

People who are in opposition to recent religious freedom laws are often against them in the name of anti-discrimination. However, you are not truly for anti-discrimination if you are in favor of telling people they have to either violate their convictions at work or get out of business. By saying bakers have to bake wedding cakes for gay marriages (since this is the so-often cited example), you're saying that no one who would have convictions about doing so should ever be allowed to become a baker. That is just as, if not more, discriminatory than being on the consumer side of the same transaction. It would be the same as if I were to walk into a Jewish or Muslim bakery and ask for a loaf of bread to be used for the Lord's Supper at a Christian church. That bakery should not be forced to provide bread for a ceremony that they find offensive. This isn't discrimination against me for being a Christian; it's freedom for the baker to not feel legal pressure to cater to my ideals. The Bible may not speak to whether a baker should bake a cake for a same sex wedding. However, the Bible does speak, in chapters like the one mentioned above, about the violation of one's conscience. We might not always like people's convictions or understand their motivations, but freedoms are not given to protect things we like and understand. They are given to protect people from having the government force them to do something that they believe is wrong. In spite of many people's opinions, religious liberty laws don't allow people to discriminate in the name of religion. In either of the cases mentioned above, it isn't a person that is being discriminated against, but rather a particular purpose for which a businessperson is refusing to create a product. If you don't like their convictions, that's ok; they wouldn't like your convictions imposed upon them either. The beauty of religious liberty is that we can disagree, and neither of us will face legal ramifications for it. However, many modern legal proposals that are operating under the guise of anti-discrimination are laws that will in actuality put people in a position to make a decision between breaking their convictions and breaking the law. These anti-discrimination laws ultimately discriminate against people whose convictions the government finds discriminatory. Any time you have opposing ideas, which exist everywhere, there is a risk of people being offended. However, the risk of being offended is so much smaller than the risk of being silenced.

So the next time you consider opposing a religious liberty law in the name of anti-discrimination, realize that it isn't anti-discrimination that you're truly supporting -- it's the condemnation of convictions; it's religious oppression; and it could just as easily be your convictions and your religion that others are trying to make legally illegitimate.