20 October 2008

Brother Augustine

A man I admire very much, as much for the coolness of his name as for the patient humility of his faith, is visiting this week in nearby Dayton. His name is Brother Augustine Asir and he lives in Chennai, India. I count him a distant friend even though I've spent a scant few weeks with him, first in the summer of '99 and then again in 2005.

One of the kindest words of encouragement I've ever heard came from this man. In 2005, I was so blessed to have the opportunity to preach twice to groups of believers there, first to a small crowd of elderly folks in a home and then to group of believers in our borrowed flat. Both times, I spent many hours preparing some thoughts from passages of Scripture only to be led to change plans in the hour before I was to speak...but when the speaking came, I had such confidence, power and peace when I opened my mouth that not a word fell to the ground. And I felt joy. Joy like I feel when I read the prophet's echo, "Is not My Word like a fire, like a hammer which breaks stones to pieces?!" or when I read Paul's words to Timothy, "But the Word is not imprisoned!" Joy solid like stone.

It was after the second occasion, the one in the small flat (incidentally, after a long night and day of throwing up and general illness), that Brother Augustine came and encouraged me. He came and spoke to me as a sort of spiritual grandfather, eyes peaceful and glad, face lined with dark wrinkles, crowned with his white curly fuzz. He told me then that I had served well, that the Spirit works mightily in my speaking, that He is strong within me.

My father has encouraged me much over the years, and my wife encourages me wonderfully as well. But along with their good words, I remember his. They've stayed with me, as a kind of spiritual blessing...these words from a grandfather in the faith.

Thanks, Brother!

17 October 2008

Some Missionary Thoughts

I am studying the Gospel of Matthew, and this morning began working through chapter 3 and a bit about John the Baptist. A little later, I saw a Piper sermon in my Inbox about John the Baptist--called John the Witness in one of the other gospels. In Piper's sermon, he speaks of how God is going to use us to share the Light...

The Word and the Life and the Light are coming into the world. But they are not going to conquer this darkness the way a bolt of lightning brightens the night. They are going to conquer it by lighting millions of cold, dead human torches with the oxygen of the gospel and the mysteriously spontaneous combustion of the new birth. And that gospel will come through human witnesses.

Such a beautiful way to put it! Another reference to John the Witness came up earlier this week in Oswald Chambers:

The key to the missionary message is the propitiation of Christ Jesus. Take any phase of Christ's work—the healing phase, the saving and sanctifying phase; there is nothing limitless about those. 'The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!'—that is limitless. The missionary message is the limitless significance of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, and a missionary is one who is soaked in that revelation.

The key to the missionary message is the remissionary aspect of Christ's life, not His kindness and His goodness, and His revealing of the Fatherhood of God; the great limitless significance is that He is the propitiation for our sins. The missionary message is not patriotic, it is irrespective of nations and of individuals, it is for the whole world. When the Holy Ghost comes in He does not consider my predilections, He brings me into union with the Lord Jesus.

A missionary is one who is wedded to the charter of his Lord and Master; he has not to proclaim his own point of view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God. It is easier to belong to a coterie which tells what Jesus Christ has done for me, easier to become a devotee to Divine healing, or to a special type of sanctification, or to the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Paul did not say 'Woe is unto me, if I do not preach what Christ has done for me,' but 'Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!' This is the Gospel—'The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!'

O be encouraged, you who are the Light! Take the Word of God to the world, regardless of darkness; for we are captives set free, even in this world of chains, and we know that "the Word of God is not imprisoned!"

19 August 2008

Obama on Abortion: A Few Thoughts

See video of Obama's interview here.

Obama addresses abortion in Part 3 of the video, starting around the 3:00 mark...

First, let me review the question. "At what point does a baby get human rights in your view?" Certainly this is a big question, one which in some ways strikes upon the very core of a person's worldview, while at the same time it can be the easiest of questions. I first saw this portion of the Obama interview with Rick Warren last night on CNN, in which Warren posed that very question to Sen. Obama.

I listed a few problems with Sen. Obama's answer on the posted item here, but I wished to share a few other thoughts. For one thing, I must note how many times the reporters and commentators last night remarked on how McCain's position "is just much easier" for handling a question like this, so that the question was practically a bit unfair. Which caused me to wonder: could it not be that in some cases a particular stance is easier because it is the right one? I can appreciate Sen. Obama's difficulty with such a question--if you do not say it begins at conception, then you have to very carefully consider what qualities of tissue and spark you calculate and tally until the sum equals a genuine human being worthy of human rights. God's answer is simple, per the Scriptures I have cited here recently; Obama's answer, however, is very complicated. And ultimately, in this interview at least, left unsaid.

As he declined to succinctly or specifically answer the question, let's consider Obama's possible beliefs.

1. He might believe that human rights are in fact the product of human government, so that the government defines when such rights begin--and may change its standard at any time, as the governors come and go. Therefore, there is no absolute answer to the question. PROBLEM: Obama states in this interview that there is a moral and ethical element to the issue of abortion. He does not state what that morality is, but his statement is enough to show that he believes there is some fundamental, absolute reality and truth which should govern the issue of human life and human rights.

2. He might believe that human rights are conferred upon a baby when it is physically independent of its mother. This is one typical defence for the abortion practise, claiming that the mother has absolute power over her own body at all times. (Of course, no one has absolute control over their entire body at all times, but well.) PROBLEM: A baby who has been born and is therefore bodily independent of its mother is yet physically dependent on her for food and care. If a mother were to set her baby in a room and leave it there for days on end until the baby expired, we would send her to prison for murder. Physically, a born baby needs only that which a prenatal baby needs: sustenance (food, water) and a safe place to grow. SOLUTION: Remove any laws which would penalise a mother for setting her baby in a room and leaving it there to die as it cannot help itself. Obama, in fact, has voted along such reasoning; he is, at least, consistent. ANOTHER PROBLEM: Many states have laws which count the murder of a pregnant woman with her unborn child as double homicide. SOLUTION: Revoke such laws. A THIRD PROBLEM: Sen. Obama acknowledges that he does not believe it morally good for abortions to occur in "late-term." At this point, the child is still in the womb but, Obama believes, has been trespassing in the womb too long and so cannot be evicted. One would think he would prefer late-term abortions, since this would demonstrate that the mother has thought longer and harder about the decision to abort than the one who aborts within weeks of pregnancy (see Obama's interview: he explains he is pro-choice because he thinks women do not make the decision to abort casually).

3. He might believe that human rights are granted when the child can experience pain. I have never heard this actually argued, but it was a possibility occurred to me, and I wanted to give a third option because I like the number three. PROBLEM: Apart from the impossibility of measuring this for each child prior to abortion, such a belief would not adhere to the moral element Sen. Obama expressly contends is part of this issue. I have never heard Obama voice such a belief.

We know this: Obama believes that human rights are granted not merely by human government, but by something higher than human government--something on a morally superior level. We might safely assume that Obama believes that God is involved in the equation, as Obama has plainly expressed his belief in God. So then, Obama must believe that God approves abortion and agrees that abortion is right in some circumstances. And for some reason, God disapproves of abortions which are "late-term" according to our current definition of the terms of pregnancy. So you have a narrow window of time--say, 20-something weeks--in which it is morally acceptable.

I can see why the commentators called John McCain's position "much easier."

But this morning as I was driving in to work thinking about these things, I realised that eventually abortion will be illegal in this country. I know it deep within me. It is so like the issue of slavery, needing only a bit of hard work and individuals committed to the moral good--just a few thousand William Wilberforces would be sufficient, I am convinced. Throw in some cleverness which exposes the lie of it all. Some bright lawyer who realises that if we can use DNA samples in courts of law to determine victims and assailants in a crime, why can we not consider DNA that significant factor distinguishing a child from its mother from the moment of conception? Some churches faithful to the truth that pure, undefiled religion which God accepts includes caring for orphans (James 1:27)--so that they turn their oversized church buildings into orphanages instead. That's not so much to hope or pray for. In time, these things, I pray, will rise and converge, and we will have a culture which loves life again, loves children again--even the silent and helpless.

06 August 2008

A Statistical World

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that there were no Truth.

I know, you think that’s hard to do, but let’s be honest, there are millions of people doing that every day. So put yourself in their shoes and pretend for a moment.

No Truth. No thing, belief, bit of knowledge or scrap of wisdom which is…simply is. No reality which is true whether it is known or unknown, mysterious or plain as day.

Now, how would a people respond to such a crisis?

A few thoughts: for one thing, they would begin taking measurements of everything in every possible way, hoping through extensive studying, sampling, statisticizing, logging, blogging, surveying, polling, scrutinizing, investigating, and otherwise calculating—hoping through all of this that they might come to some conclusions about how reality is. They have nowhere else to turn, so naturally they try to place everything around them in some kind of framework defined by their own terms.

Having taken proper measurement of all things, they next would begin to form “norms”—the standards for every item which define what a proper example of each item would be, or how it should act, speak, behave, think, grow, look, etc. You may insert any object you wish as the given item: pencil, potato chip, song, person, vegetable, and so on. These all must be compared to the new “ideal,” which is in fact no more ideal than any other such item—but the statistics make it so.

Of course, the scientists, psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, and other learned men who establish all of these norms are desperate for the comparisons to occur—not only because they themselves devote their lives to nothing better than comparison (such a sad imprisonment that must be!), but also because every comparison can be used as evidence for their “norm” by either justifying the created standard or violating it. Every comparison validates the standard.

All of these mathematical men would be far too blind to realize that their given, created standards are empty and vain. They have the length of the “perfect” banana set down in millimeters. They know the exact birth-weight for a “healthy” baby sycamore. They can tell you the “ideal” conditions in which to grow poppies, puppies, acorns and humans. Even if those conditions have never been seen anywhere on planet earth.

Thus we see that, in the absence of Truth, people will take measurements enough to establish ideals of their own, even a heaven of ideals which this physical realm can never touch.

The world does this; the Church does this just as well.

12 June 2008

One Degree of Separation

My coworker Tracy just asked fearfully if she might turn the thermostat down "one teensy degree" here in the office. I suppose she thought our friendship would be over if she did so without permission. But of course, we all agreed that would be fine.

Now I'm a little cold.

16 January 2008

An Irony

I still hope to give ample time and thought to the ideas of Church and State, as begun below. But in rereading those thoughts this morning, I am very struck with this irony: the American churches, by and large, have adopted a very American form of church government, and one not so driven by the example of Scripture. Consider: the President (Senior Pastor), Vice President (Associate Pastor), etc. The picture provided us in the Book of Acts is much more organic, operating in team-leadership by several elders and even several (teaching) pastors within each local church body.

I wanted to here make note of this, for later meditation.