Beautiful Feet for Ecuador

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View from a mountain in Ecuador. Picture taken by Dave Wilson. The individual photographed is one of his translators.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

God’s people, dwelling in the beleaguered city of Jerusalem in 700 B. C., needed good news.  They had been guilty of terrible idolatry and had experienced horrendous devastation at the hands of the Assyrians.  They needed good news.  And God intended to bring it.

Everyone who brings the good news of the gospel to people lost in darkness is a herald just like the one Isaiah spoke about.  And God is giving the churches of the West Central Association the opportunity to take our feet to Ecuador and herald the good news of Jesus.  The opportunity is open to any member of any church within the West Central Association, and I pray that you will all consider how the Lord might call you to be involved.  These are the details you need to know at this point.

  • Dave and Deb Wilson are the missionaries we will be working with in Ecuador.  I will be the team leader coordinating preparation and travel and helping lead of the group there.  That means I am definitely going!
  • We will depart on Friday, August 21 and return on Saturday, August 29 , 2015.
  • The cost will be approximately $1700.  The final cost will depend upon the cost of the plane ticket.  The cost in Ecuador, including transportation, meals, lodging, and translators will be $800.  The plane ticket is estimated to cost between $800 and $900.  It is also advised that each person bring enough money to make a small donation to the ministry of your choice at the end of the trip.
  • A deposit will be due in January (amount to be determined) and the balance will be due later.
  • What will we be doing?  We will be paired up and matched with a translator and will engage in gospel centered discussions with men and women in small mountain villages.  Everyone will have ample opportunity to share what Jesus has done in their lives!  We will also be able to go into local schools, share Bible stories and games with the children, and share the gospel with the teachers.  On Sunday we will be taken to various local churches to share.  Other opportunities may arise as well.   If you’ve never shared your gospel story before, don’t be afraid.  The Lord will give you what to say when the time comes, and we will prepare you beforehand.  Come ready to see God at work!
  • What will we need?  People who are willing to share how Jesus has worked in their lives. In addition, we could use folks who have skills in leading worship and people with a heart to work with children.  We will need some supplies, which we will be asking churches to help us with when we get closer to the trip dates.
  • What can you do now?  Be on the lookout for flyers and pamphlets promoting the trip.  I will be sending them out soon.  If you’ve made the decision to go, notify me as soon as possible so we can begin preparations.  We are looking for a group of 16-18.  Come to the Fall Association Meeting on Saturday, November 8 at First Southern Baptist Church, Terre Haute at 9 AM.  We will have discussion and testimony about the trip.  Bring someone who may be interested.

You will hear more from me soon on this.  Stay tuned.

 

Discrimination, Religious Liberty, and the Gospel

By Michael Wren

Much has been made over the past few days about Arizona bill 1062, which Governor Jan Brewer vetoed.  That the bill was vetoed was not surprising.  By the time the bill reached the governor’s desk both political parties and numerous major businesses within the state were urging it.  The governor argued, in part, that the bill was worded very broadly and could have led to some unintended consequences.  For the moment neither her reasoning nor her decision to veto the bill concern me.  I am much more concerned about the conversation that has erupted around the bill.

As anyone who has paid attention to the news is aware, many conservatives were urging for the passage of the bill through the legislature in order to defend religious liberty—so that those who disagree with same sex marriage as a matter of religious principle would not be forced to violate their conscience by participating in such a ceremony.  This is an enormously important issue.  Baptists have been at the forefront of religious liberty since the beginning of the Baptist movement in England in the early 1600s.  Early Baptists in the United States were crucial in championing the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the U. S. Constitution.  Religious liberty is essential to a free society and has been a cornerstone of the American experiment.  And as of now, both sides on this issue are striving to maintain the inviolability of religious liberty.

hot doughnuts

Three of my favorite words

Many are perplexed and, honestly, troubled, that conservative Christians would claim that the right to choose not to do business with a gay couple is a matter of religious liberty.  I would argue that, based on the teachings of Scripture, Christians ought not refuse to do business with gay couples in every situation.  In most business ventures, the owner can transact business with his or her customers without any knowledge or approval of the customer’s lifestyle.  If I owned a doughnut shop (which oddly enough would be kind of awesome), I could not in good conscience refuse to sell doughnuts to gay people.  They are created in the image of God, and by God’s common grace they have the opportunity to eat the blessed manna that we call doughnuts just like everyone else.  God does not, in his word, declare that gay people cannot buy, sell, and make a living in this world.  To refuse them service is to make a distinction that God does not make.

But making a cake for their wedding I would consider a different matter, since God explicitly declared that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Doing business in this situation would require participating in a falsehood, and to do so would be unethical.  Thus the freedom to refuse to be a vendor for a gay wedding becomes an issue of religious liberty.

But is this an act of discrimination?  A friend of mine, in a blog posted Thursday, complained that Scripture should not be used as a cover for discrimination.  She pointed out that Christians used Scripture to defend slavery, support Jim Crow laws, and assert that the AIDS virus was a curse sent by God to destroy homosexuals.  I cannot agree more that Scripture ought to be interpreted properly, and I concur that the examples she cited are important to consider as we wrestle with this moral revolution happening before our eyes.  In each case she cited, the parties involved relied on erroneous interpretations to support their claims.  We should consider them for a moment.

In the case of slavery, antebellum Southerners mistook the description of slavery as a reality in the worlds of the Old and New Testament for the assertion that slavery was a God-ordained institution.  Just because God recognized the existence of slavery and revealed laws for the proper management of the institution does not mean that God approved of the institution.  It is a subtle distinction, to be sure, but an important one.  The teachings of the New Testament make clear that slavery is an institution that exists because of the presence of sin in the world.  Just because it exists doesn’t mean it’s good.  And one thing Southerners should not have missed (which reveals the depth of their blindness on this issue)—slavery was never race-based in Scripture.  Antebellum Southerners, for all of their savvy in interpreting Scripture (I focused my doctoral research on this), simply abused Scripture on this point.

Jim Crow sign

Signs like this were typical in the Jim Crow era.

Jim Crow laws were likewise supported by faulty interpretation of Scripture. The main theological pillar for segregation was the belief that blacks were an inferior race.  This, of course, was built off of the famous “curse of Ham” in Genesis 9.  But their interpretation was nothing more than wishful thinking on their part.  The curse Noah leveled against his son that had violated him was actually targeted at Ham’s son, Canaan.  The writer of Genesis includes that curse to prepare us for what will come in the books of Joshua and Judges—when the Canaanites were either destroyed or enslaved by the 12 tribes of Israel.  It had nothing to do with race at all, and certainly nothing to do with the black race.  Again, Scripture was used tragically to support segregation.  Thankfully, segregation, like slavery, has now been discredited in our culture.

Finally we should consider the claim that the AIDS virus was a judgment by God upon homosexuals—another good example of faulty interpretation of Scripture.  This claim breaks down logically as well.  If the AIDS virus was intended by God for this purpose, why has God allowed it to run rampant in Africa?  That consideration alone should cause one to reevaluate that claim.  But turning our attention to Scripture, we must be careful how we interpret God’s activity in this world.  Prophets in the Old Testament could interpret specific events as God’s judgment because of a particular sin.  Daniel did this before Belshazzar.  The nameless prophet did this before Jereboam (1 Kings 13), and there are plenty of other examples.  All of these examples had one thing in common—God specifically spoke to the prophet about that exact situation.  We do not have that revelation.  Does God work through a hurricane?  Yes.  Does God work through the spread of a disease?  Yes.  What exactly is God doing in these specific situations?  We cannot say with certainty.  We must remain humble before him.  That’s all we can say.

So, then, what do we conclude about our current ethical dilemma?  If we make a distinction (which is all discrimination is, by the way—making distinctions), it must be a distinction that God has revealed we ought to make.  If we go beyond those bounds, we treat people in a way that is contrary to God’s will.  Should Christians do business with gay people?  In general, to deny gay people business in most situations would be to deny them something that they have as much right to as anyone else.  It suggests that a gay person is less of a person than straight people are.  What about the case of being a vendor at a gay wedding?  If God has spoken clearly about marriage, then we have a different story.

The legislation in Arizona may well have been worded too broadly.  I don’t know.  Defending religious liberty is definitely a complicated matter, and standing up against illegitimate forms of discrimination is certainly important.  But denying service to gay people in order to avoid participation in a gay wedding does not seem to be an illegitimate form of discrimination, based on the Bible’s definition of marriage.  The world is changing quickly.  Christians must stand boldly for the truth of God’s word and shine the light of the gospel with love.  This is a tall order in any generation.  But it seems especially challenging in our day.

The Venice Project

Venice

Piazza San Marco, Venice, at high tide

By Michael Wren

In case any of you hadn’t encountered this, last weekend was established as Evolution Weekend by a movement known as The Clergy Letter Project.  Across the world, 597 congregations dedicated their weekend services to reflect on the relationship between science and religion in order to demonstrate that numerous clergy around the world have embraced the theory of evolution and find it fully harmonious with religious faith.  In last week’s debate over creation and evolution, Bill Nye pointed out at least twice that millions of religious people around the world affirm the theory of evolution.  They do so because of two convictions: 1) The Bible conveys important religious truths, and 2) the scientific consensus regarding evolution and the age of the earth cannot be denied.  They desire earnestly to demonstrate that Christian truth is not opposed to the scientific consensus.

If so many Christian leaders hold this conviction (and nearly 13,000 have signed the Clergy Letter stating these convictions), why would evangelicals attempt to deny evolution?  If so much evidence is stacked against a creation model, why would anyone attempt to stand against the inexorably rising tide?  The effort reminds me of the beautiful city of Venice, with a rich history, a thriving culture, and a vibrant populace that sees more of their city underwater with each passing year.  Are we living in a sinking city?

The answer to this question is not found by debating merely about fossils and rocks.  The core issue is about the nature of truth and authority.  Why do we believe what the Bible teaches?  How do we know that the Bible contains important religious truths?  How can a human know about God in the first place?  The Clergy Letter states that the Bible conveys truths “about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation” in a timeless form that is capable of being passed down from generation to generation.  However, religious truth is different from scientific truth: “Its purpose is not to convey scientific information, but to transform hearts.”  On this model, the Bible is believed to contain spiritual truths, while science conveys empirical truths about the world around us.  We learn about spiritual things from the Bible and about the world around us from science.  The two “comfortably coexist.”

There is no question that the findings of science and the teachings of Scripture ought to coexist comfortably.  However, the truth statements found in the Bible cannot responsibly be understood the way the Clergy Letter seeks to define them.  If the Bible made no claims about nature or history, there would be no tension to try to resolve.  But it does make such claims.  It does not claim to present to us “timeless tales,” but rather, to relate to us actual historical events.  Both our Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul teach that Adam and Eve were actual historical figures.  Jesus bases his teachings on marriage upon the fact that God had created male and female and placed the first couple together in marriage (Mat 19:4-5).  Similarly, the Apostle Paul teaches that just as Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, and his sin had consequences for all of humanity, so the Lord Jesus died on the cross, and his death carried with it consequences for humanity.  Important biblical teaching on marriage and the atonement are based upon the historical existence of Adam and Eve.

But the Bible continues to make historical claims after Genesis three.  One of the most important is found in Genesis 12, where God selected one man, Abraham, to be the bearer of an incredible promise that would bring blessing to the whole earth.  Later in Scripture, God refers back to that promise repeatedly as the foundation of his relationship with Israel.  If Abraham didn’t exist, Israel’s faith was based upon fiction.  Likewise, the Ten Commandments state plainly that Israel’s relationship with God was founded upon historical fact: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2).  And then what about our Lord Jesus?  If the historical existence of Adam and Eve or Abraham or the Exodus isn’t critical to our faith, then what about the death and resurrection of Jesus?  Sure, very few people would be willing to deny that Jesus existed, or even that he was crucified, but what about the resurrection?

In short, Christian theology is grounded upon the conviction that God acts in history.  If we allow our beliefs to be suspended pending further scientific and historical inquiry how are we going to determine what is true about God at all?  Did Jesus rise from the dead?  Was King David a real person?  Did God really part the Red Sea?  Was Abraham real?  Scientists want to tell us, “We’ll let you know when we figure it out.”  What does this leave us with?  Some heartwarming stories?

And this brings the disagreement to its most critical issue: do we decide for ourselves what God is like and how He has acted, or does the Bible inform us of this? If you embrace the model affirmed by supporters of evolution, the answer is that we decide this for ourselves.  Ian Barbour, former Bean professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Carleton College, demonstrated this repeatedly in his renowned Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen (1989-1991).  Barbour stridently maintained that God guided the process of evolution, but also believed that the evolutionary process happens through chance mutations.  He then redefined God’s providential role over creation to account for the existence of chance.  You see, if we take the responsibility to formulate Christian theology based upon our own ideas, it is not only our view of the natural world that will be affected.  We will redefine the nature of God, the nature of humanity, the doctrine of salvation, and the doctrine of last things.  All of theology will be affected.

On the other hand, the Bible maintains that the truth of God must be revealed to us if we are to know it.  Repeatedly the prophets spoke only because God had spoken to them.  The Apostle Paul stated the problem succinctly: “For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” (Rom 1:21-22). Sin has corrupted our ability to think about God clearly.   God must speak, and thankfully He has, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.”

It seems as if, in this modern world, evangelical Christians are putting up sand bags trying to hold back the rising tide, or worse yet, casually strolling the streets of our great city while water reaches to our ankles.  We are, however, convinced that God must reveal himself, and that we do not have the ability to figure out what He is like on our own.  We still believe that science and Christian teaching should coexist, and it is for this reason that we explore other scientific explanations for the early history of the universe.  I would be more comfortable if the current scientific consensus were in harmony with Scripture, but as it currently stands, I will place myself on the side of God’s revelation and hope for harmony at a later time.  After all, Jesus has promised us that our city is not actually sinking.  He said in fact, that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” (Mat 16:18).

 

Keep Your Chin Up, Kentucky. We Still Love You.

bill-nye-ken-ham-debateReflections on the Creation/Evolution Debate

By Michael Wren

If you did not watch the debate, which took place at the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, you can find the entire event on YouTube for a short time.  Like most debates, last night’s event featuring Bill Nye and Ken Ham is unlikely to change very many minds.  Debates generally don’t change very many minds.  However, if they are good debates, they bring the core issues to the fore for consideration and reflection.  This debate was no exception.  Neither Nye nor Ham had much chance of making an impression on the opposing constituency, but their debate was revealing.  Here are a few reflections.

1)      The question posed for debate favored Bill Nye from the start.  The question was “Is creation a viable model of human origins in today’s modern world?”  In a debate, the affirmative is always more difficult to defend than the negative.  It is much easier to shoot holes in something than it is to demonstrate that a position is without flaws.  Ham had a considerable challenge in front of him.

2)      Both debaters focused upon their strengths during their 30 minute presentations.  Ham pressed home the point that observations must be interpreted, and when you’re talking about interpreting the past, presuppositions play a major role in interpretation.  He also put more of a focus on biology, where Answers in Genesis has done considerable research developing a different model of the development of life than the evolutionary model.  Nye, on the other hand, stressed the point that evidence from geology and astronomy render to possibility of a young Earth untenable.  Since the question involved whether Young Earth Creationism was viable, he clearly felt this was all he needed to win the debate.

3)      Neither debater did well in countering the other’s main arguments.  Nye failed to adequately answer Ham’s criticism that presuppositions influence the interpretation of data.  He ridiculed the distinction Ham made between observational science and historical science (which was Ham’s way of pointing out this problem), but he did not answer the criticism.  Ham, on the other hand, did not answer in detail the evidence Nye brought forward arguing for an old universe and an old earth.  Ham pointed out the unreliability of various dating methods, but did not counter the critical point that the layering of rock layers and ice layers seems to indicate on old earth.  I know Answers in Genesis has theories on these points, but he did not offer them in detail.  This left his defense unsatisfying.

4)      Toward the end of the rebuttal period, one of the core issues finally came out.  Nye professed to be completely unsatisfied with Ham’s arguments because he has not explained how “natural laws have changed.”  He then claimed Ham was arguing for “magic.”  In other words, any force operating in the universe apart from the laws of nature can only be described as “magic.”  But this is the core issue, isn’t it?  And this was one of Ham’s main points, though he could have made it better.  If you believe in the existence of God, you believe in a power that can and does operate outside of the laws of nature.  So any involvement that God had in creating the universe will be basically unobservable.  You will not be able to account for it through scientific analysis.  Nye does not believe in God, and for this reason, he cannot accept that scientific observation will only be able to tell us so much about the origin of the universe.  Based on the speed of light, the universe does appear to be 13.7 billion years old.  But what if God created the universe out of nothing?  It would still appear to be 13.7 billion years old based on its size.  The existence of God is one of the core issues in the debate.

5)      Nye shared that one of his greatest concerns was that creation science would blunt the minds of America’s next generation and impede the development of technology and medicine.  However, he failed to answer Ham’s challenge to provide one example of a modern technological development that a creationist could not have developed.  Here, Nye failed to make his point.

Louisville_skyline_night

Louisville, Kentucky. A great city.

6)      Nye clearly shares the opinion of many in the scientific community that creation science is nothing more than ignorant, backwoods fundamentalism.  This is nothing new.  In the famous Scopes trial of 1925, defense attorney Clarence Darrow ridiculed creationists as “bigots and ignoramuses” who are retarding the progress of American culture.  Nye followed this same tactic.  He repeatedly referred to Kentucky, where the Creation Museum is located, and ridiculed the state for having no programs in nuclear medicine.  He was clearly implying that Kentucky is backward, partly because of the influence of the creation museum, and that if it wanted to make an impact in the modern world, it would have to grow out of this fundamentalist conviction about creation.  First of all, I think Nye overestimates the museum’s influence in the state, particularly in its major universities.  I doubt very many at UK and U of L are sympathetic to Ham’s views.  Secondly, Ham offered substantive arguments.  Ridiculing him just makes Nye look arrogant.  For the record, I love the state of Kentucky.  My family and I spent eight of the best years of our lives there.   We still love you, even if Bill Nye doesn’t.

7)      This point just irked me.  Nye repeatedly maintained that Ham was arguing that only the Bible in its English translation was authoritative to solve the problem of origins.  In other words, he views Answers in Genesis as nothing but KJV only fundamentalism.  For the record, the Creation Museum repeatedly refers to the original Hebrew and demonstrates no preoccupation with the KJV.  Then again, Nye admitted he was no theologian.  That was obvious to anyone who watched the debate.

As I reflect on the debate, I wish Ham had presented a thorough argument about a creationists’ perspective on astronomy and geology, because this was Nye’s focus, and this is the area that most Christians who have any knowledge of science have questions about.  Perhaps this debate will provide enough of a platform for Answers in Genesis, and others, to pursue those questions more thoroughly.  Nye, on the other hand, came off as arrogant and unwilling to consider the substantive argument offered by his interlocutor.  Unfortunately, I’m not surprised.

No One Believes In Me Anymore

Dore Devil

Satan, the fallen angel, from Gustave Dore’s engravings of Paradise Lost

By Michael Wren

Back in the ‘70s, contemporary Christian artist Keith Green wrote a song about the Devil, entitled “No One Believes In Me Anymore.”  In the song, Green depicts Satan as celebrating the fact that people generally deny his existence, allowing him easily to spread lies like atheism and new age philosophy, and innocently promote the occult: “I used to have to sneak around/ But now they just open their doors/ You know, no one’s watching for my tricks/ Because no one believes in me anymore.”  Though over three decades have passed since Green wrote and recorded the song, times have not changed.

This week, as The Telegraph (an English newspaper) reports, an alternative liturgy is being promoted for the christening service the Church of England uses in its infant baptism ceremony.  All services and ceremonies in the Church of England follow The Book of Common Prayer, and have since 1549, when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer published the first edition.  In Cranmer’s edition, the priest asked the parents and godparents, “Do you forsake the devil and all his works?”  In the current edition, published in 1998, the priest asks similarly, “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”  However, an alternative is being promoted, and is already being used in 1,000 parishes, which simply asks them to “reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises.”  There is no mention of the devil, or even sin.   On the surface, the change is put forward as an attempt to better explain the meaning of the ritual to people who are mostly unacquainted with the church.  However, a change like this, a change to the week to week worship of thousands of churches, is not a simple matter of better pedagogy or even more effective marketing.  Behind this change is a denial of the existence of the devil, and for some it is a denial that sin separates humans from God at all (as Andrew Brown celebrates).

That there are some within the Church of England who have radically redefined Christian theology should not be surprising.  There are many in Christian denominations in America who have done the same.  There are certainly a few folks in our churches, especially younger attenders, who would sympathize with the changes to this liturgy.  However, we would be remiss if we did not consider how important it is that we recognize the reality of Satan’s existence.

What is really at stake in all of this?  What are we missing if we leave the word Satan out and substitute the phrase “evil in all its forms?”  We are missing the humbling recognition that there are spiritual forces in existence against which we have no natural defense.  We lack the insight that we are truly powerless, not only because of our own frailty, but because our enemies are more powerful than we are.  And we fail to appreciate the urgency of prayer.  We need to pray because we are powerless without prayer.  Paul instructs us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil,” (Eph 6:11).  That armor, consisting of truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, and salvation, is put to use in prayer (verse 18).  When we deny, or even merely ignore, the existence of the devil, we lack the motivation to stay vigilant against sin.  And ignoring the devil is as dangerous as denying his existence.

When we remember that the devil truly is a prowling lion (1 Peter 5:8) seeking to devour us, we are spurred on to prayer and watchfulness.  We desperately need the power of God if we are to ward off the destructive power of the devil on our lives, in our community, and in our world.  Consider these remarks by Martin Luther:

“This we must know, that all our safety and protection consists in prayer alone.  For we are far too weak against the devil and all his might and forces arrayed against us, trying to trample us underfoot.  Therefore we must keep this in mind and grasp the weapons with which Christians are to arm themselves for resisting the devil.  What do you think has accomplished such great results in the past, parrying the counsels and plots of our enemies and checking their murderous and seditious designs by which the devil expected to crush us, and the gospel as well, except that the prayers of a few godly people intervened like an iron wall on our side? . . . But by prayer alone we shall be a match both for [our enemies] and for the devil, if only we persevere and do not become weary.”

Most of us are not guilty of denying Satan’s existence, but we are guilty of ignoring him and growing weary.  We are not watching for his tricks.  The result is that we are weak.  Who knows what else has fallen down around us while we have slept?

Marriage Definitions Revisited

The cast of “Sister Wives” on TLC

Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the coming of our Messiah into the world, God in human flesh, to bring peace between God and man and salvation to the world.  But while the Messiah’s birth reveals God’s intention of peace toward all who call upon His name, the world around us still exists in the dark of chaos.  So we cannot allow our vigilance to wane as we exchange presents and sing “Silent Night,” as a recent court decision in Utah makes clear.  Christian commentators have warned for several years that a redefinition of marriage to allow for same-sex unions would eventually topple polygamy laws all over the nation.  Late last week that began to happen.

Reality TV star Kody Brown, who is featured in the show “Sister Wives” along with his four wives and seventeen children, took the state of Utah to court over the law that he could not cohabit with more than one woman.  Utah, you may know, outlawed polygamy in the 19th century in order to attain statehood.  However, because polygamy was still practiced by many conservative Mormons, the state also passed a law prohibiting a man who was already married from cohabiting with other women.  Judge Clark Waddoups of the U. S. District Court in Utah ruled late Friday that this part of Utah’s polygamy law is unconstitutional.  Individuals are still allowed only one marriage license, but Waddoups ruled that the law prohibiting cohabitation violated Utah citizens’ First Amendment rights.  Brown is free to return to Utah with his four wives and 17 children.  The ruling built off of a 2003 Supreme Court decision (Lawrence v. Texas), and follows in the wake of numerous court rulings during the intervening years that have redefined our understanding of the Bill of Rights.  In short, Waddoups’ ruling is consistent with what Federal courts and the Supreme Court have ruled over the past ten years and is not likely to be overturned.  The redefinition of marriage is here to stay—and sooner than many thought.  For a full explanation of the case and its implications, check out Albert Mohler’s blog.

This case, won by a reality TV star, should serve as another reality check for churches.  Battles over marriage are already happening in the Indiana State Legislature.  And we are literally one court ruling away from legalized same-sex marriage and legalized polygamy.  None of this, of course changes the Bible’s teaching about marriage or the need for churches to give clear testimony about it.  However, as marriage laws change around our churches, we will inevitably be put in the position in which we are asked to conduct or hold a wedding ceremony that is contrary to biblical teaching.  The day will come when gay couples will approach a church and ask to use its sanctuary, or a family will ask to conduct a ceremony for an additional wife.  Such ceremonies will become common in the culture at large.  If our churches want to stand clearly for the biblical definition of marriage, they will have to have clear policy statements passed by the congregation.  Your marriage policy should point to your governing doctrinal statement (for most of us, The Baptist Faith and Message) and stipulate that marriages are to be between only one man and one woman.  If our convictions about marriage are challenged in court, we need to be able to demonstrate that our practices are consistent with clearly articulated religious beliefs.  I want to encourage your churches not to procrastinate on this issue.

Totally His Light

IMB Prague“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you.  For look, darkness covers the earth, and total darkness the peoples; but the LORD will shine over you, and His glory will appear over you.  Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance.”

            Baptist Press has run a story about Evan and Lauren Parker, two recent college grads from Georgia, who have moved to Prague for six months as part of an IMB program called “Hands On,” which is designed to give college students and young adults missions experience alongside experienced IMB personnel.  I assume we will see similar stories leading up to our Lottie Moon Week of Prayer for International Missions, December 1-8.  Let me encourage you with three quick points of emphasis:

1) Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory,” (Hebrews 1:3), the light that Isaiah promised that would shine in the darkness, that would serve as a magnet for the nations.  We live in an era in which the light shines brightly.  Around the globe there are places of unimaginable spiritual darkness, places perhaps like Prague, which is considered by some to be “the world capital of atheism.”  But no darkness is impenetrable, not when we possess the light of the glory of God in the person of Christ Jesus.  Isaiah promised that He would come, and He is here.

2) Jesus commanded us to shine our light among men, so that they would see our good deeds and glorify God (Matthew 5:16).  Evan and Lauren Parker have waded into the darkness with the light of Christ, and even in a difficult place they are finding that the Holy Spirit is at work.  Let me challenge you to live today with the conviction that the penetrating light of Christ can shine through your words and actions—changing even the hardest of hearts.

3) This is an important season for us as Southern Baptist churches.  The opportunities around the globe are as great as they have ever been, and our churches can be part of the effort to bring the light of the gospel into places of immense need.  But our churches need our leadership.  Let me urge you, as pastors and lay leaders, to persistently remind your people to pray.  The week of prayer is coming up in a few weeks.  Make sure the prayer guides are distributed.  Remind people to use them.  God answers when His people pray.  Also, urge those in your fellowship to give to the Lottie Moon offering.  If we are to be “Totally His,” as the campaign emphasizes, we must surrender our prayers and our offerings.  God will use the resources to equip people already trained and on the ground all over the world,  and to send new folks as well.

May God bless you as you spread the light of the gospel this Christmas season!