Friday, December 29, 2006

"Honoring Human Life"

Thirty-four years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v Wade that states may not place "excessive" restrictions on abortion. For all practical purposes, this decision legalized abortion for just about any reason. England made abortion legal in 1967, and China has used abortion for population control for decades. Millions of babies, the most innocent and helpless of human life, have died for the convenience and profit of others.
But medical ethics involves more than the issue of abortion. Stem cell research, euthanasia, organ donation, and when to terminate treatment are some of the many areas where people struggle to find answers.

Many people struggle for answers because they begin with wrong assumptions and principles. For example, if the question of when human life begins could be satisfactorily answered for everyone, then questions of when human life should legally be protected are easier to answer.

Two Biblical principles give insight and clarity to these issues. First, human life is unique, deserving dignity and respect because all humans are descendants of Adam. Genesis 1:26-27 teach that man was created in the image of God. We may not know all the details of what that phrase "image of God" means, but one truth is clear: Only man has the image of God; animals do not. And since all people are descended from Adam, then all people bear the image of God, even if that image is marred and deformed through sin, disease, or accident.

Second, human life begins at conception. The Bible does not tell us everything, but the Bible does tell us enough. Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 1:5 are two texts which reveal the working of God in the unborn. The only position that is consistent with the Bible and with what we are learning about the life of a baby before birth is that human life begins at conception. Otherwise, all we have left is ethical chaos and pragmatic & convenient demagoguery (which even a casual look at bioethics journals will show).

Does believing that human life begins at conception solve all the ethical problems? No. In fact, it will create a few problems. But it is the only position that fits the evidence, Biblical and scientific.
What is so revealing is that many people will never accept that human life begins at conception, no matter what evidence is presented. Many have a personal agenda of "Me First" and no amount of Bible, logic, or science will change their mind. What principles they have are based on convenience and comfort, not what is right or true.

A person’s attitudes about the weak, the disabled, the sick, the dying, and the unborn are a picture window into his soul and what he really believes about God. Babies who are born with severe deformities and elderly patients with painful, terminal illnesses are situations which test and refine our thinking about God.

The Bible explicitly states (many times) that God is sovereign over life and death, health and sickness, the good and the bad (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Isaiah 45:6-7). Once a person rejects the sovereignty of God in these areas, ethical confusion dominates the thinking. For example, what degree of abnormality justifies abortion and who will decide? What is "quality of life" and what criteria will we use to decide? How does a person really know his heart? Does he wish to terminate life because of compassion for the one suffering or does he have other motives? How can we sure what our motives are?

Although those who support abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia believe they are honoring human life by their actions, in reality they are dishonoring human life by sacrificing the most helpless and weak for the strong. One day, the strong will become the weak and will themselves be used for the benefit of those stronger.

Bioethics without a Biblical basis is essentially ethics without boundaries (or boundaries which regularly change) and a confusing and empty quest for answers. In today’s pluralistic America, those who believe the Bible have a duty and right to speak out in support of life and oppose a culture of death.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Susan, Katie, Dr. Steve Hankins, & Myself

"Psychology and the Bible"

Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bi-Polar, Chemical Imbalance—we hear these words often. And they are disturbing. Why? Because, more and more, people are labeling their sin as a psychological/medical problem and using prescription drugs to "solve" their problem.

A few facts are in order.

First, no objective, scientific test currently exists that will determine if a person has one of these conditions. For example, if a person has a brain tumor, a CT scan or MRI will almost always reveal the presence of a physical problem---the tumor. Many people are surprised when they find out that the determination of a chemical imbalance in the brain is basically guesswork. No test exists to prove a chemical imbalance.

Second, if a person is seriously depressed, then that person should get a complete physical exam instead of quickly seeking medication to relieve his problem. Many physical disorders and illnesses may contribute to depression. Yet objective medical testing can determine if a person has a verifiable medical condition. But very few of those who are taking anti-depressants have received a thorough physical exam. Most of the time, someone prescribed medication based on a relatively brief visit to the doctor. If a person does not have a verifiable medical condition, then his problem is most likely not medical, but spiritual.

Third, scientists do not understand the human brain. True, we understand more now than we did 20 years ago, yet we do not understand as much as people think we do. Nor has anyone proven that some problems such as alcoholism or drug addiction are the result of genetic brain problems. Many would like for that to be true so that they can avoid responsibility for their sin.

The Bible teaches that repetitive sin will eventually have serious consequences [Proverbs 5:21-23; Galatians 6:7-8], even what we would call psychological problems. King Saul, the first king of Israel, had serious character flaws that he refused to change. As his indulgence in sin progressed, he became more paranoid and psychotic. What started out as a sin problem deteriorated into serious mental and emotional instability, making treatment of his "problems" more difficult.

Are there legitimate mental disorders for which medication could be used. Yes. The brain is an organ of the body just as the kidneys or heart are organs of the body. The brain can become sick and need medication for the problem. Yet our society and even Christians have too often turned to psychology and medication to solve what are fundamentally spiritual problems.

Facing your sin is humbling, hard work. Taking a pill avoids that hard work. Churches need to regain our rightful place in the treatment of people’s problems. Jesus Christ Is More Than Enough.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Are We Really So Bad?"

Benjamin Franklin, like many of the Founding Fathers of our country, was a very gifted and talented man of wide-ranging interests. In his Autobiography, he tells how he decided to engage in a systematic effort to develop moral perfection in his life. Franklin did not attend church very often (although he did go five Sundays in a row once!), partly because of what he considered the low quality of the preaching. He was a Deist, as many were in his time, and he considered himself a religious man. As part of his effort at "religion", he developed his plan for moral perfection.

The system he developed was detailed and thorough. He created a chart of 13 positive moral qualities which he would focus on. His chart was divided into days of the week on the top and moral qualities on the left. He carried this chart with him in a small book and would focus on a different quality each week, noting each day when he failed to live up to that quality. At one point he says "As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other." He soon found out that his goal was more difficult that he realized. As he focused on one fault, other faults would take advantage of him.

Over time, he did improve in the areas he worked on, but, he says, "I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined." Eventually, he came to the conclusion that he would have to live with some faults, but his reason is not what you would think. He realized that a man of perfect character would be either envied or hated or both. So he decided to keep a few faults in order to keep his friends!

I give Franklin great credit for being honest about himself and for making the noble effort to systematically improve his character. How many today put so much attention and effort into such a work?

Although people today will admit they aren’t perfect, most people believe that mankind as a whole is basically good. We are not the "sinners" that the mean, grumpy preachers tell us we are. In fact, one famous pastor believes it is wrong to tell someone he is a sinner; he believes our problem is low self-esteem, not "sin".

I find it amazing that people still cling to the outdated belief that people are basically good. Not only does the Bible very clearly teach the opposite (Romans 3:9-18), but experience shows us we are all morally imperfect (sinners) in our actions, attitudes, and nature. Sin is much more than selfishness. Sin is a fundamental violation of and rebellion to God’s moral requirements. Law libraries are filled with shelves of books to regulate human conduct. Our country is overflowing with judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and overcrowded jails. Professional counselors enjoy a steady business. Bookstores are filled with self-help and personal improvement books. And many suffer in silence behind closed doors, not seeking help, yet not happy either.

Strange, isn’t it, how we try to convince ourselves that we are good people, yet we sing songs at Christmas celebrating the birth of a Savior. Many Christmas songs that we sing so enthusiastically, and often without careful reflection on what they are saying, focus on powerful sin as the reason "the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14). For example, "Joy To The World" in stanza three mentions "No more let sins and sorrows grow, . . . He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found." In "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing", stanza one says "God and sinners reconciled". In the English carol "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen", stanza one says "Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day; To save us all from Satan’s power, When we were gone astray."

The Bible portrays sin as a powerful enemy, a force within us that we cannot escape by our own power. Yes, people like Benjamin Franklin can improve themselves through hard work and determined willpower. Yet very often such "success" creates modern-day Pharisees who believe they are good enough for God.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. People who are not that bad don’t need a Savior. Our problem is not medical, psychological, educational, financial, or environmental. Our root problem is spiritual, a broken relationship with the Lord God. Any solution other than Christ only masks the real need and will only disappoint eventually.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Are There Any Preachers Left?"

Twice a year, my family and I travel south to see relatives in Georgia. One year, on our return trip home, we stopped in Louisville, KY at the Southern Baptist Seminary. Although I grew up Southern Baptist, I left the SBC in the late 70s because of the unrestrained liberal theology being taught in its schools and seminaries. In recent years, the Southern Baptists have moved toward a somewhat more conservative theology.

However, I appreciate the heritage that Baptists have. One of my favorite Baptists of the past is John Broadus, a very well-known and popular preacher and theologian in the late 1800s. He wrote a best-selling book on preaching, first published in 1870, a book he thought no one would buy but is still in print today. I collect early editions of this book and have 11 different copies, including an 1871 2nd printing. The seminary in Louisville, where Broadus taught, has the original handwritten manuscript of his book. The library archives were kind enough to let me see and handle this 140 year old document. In the archives room, with white gloves, I looked page by page on the elegant handwriting of a man who first taught this material after the Civil War to one, blind homiletics student.

In today’s churches, we don’t have preachers. We have communicators, marketing specialists, leadership specialists, and executive pastors. Where are the preachers? Where are the men (I use that particular noun on purpose) who proclaim from a pulpit (not a stage) solid Biblical content with holy passion? Where are the men who will spend many hours every week in their study (not office) with the Lord God and His Word?

If the Bible is truly what it claims to be—the only authoritative revelation from the true God—then people do not need sermonettes, homilies, or reworked versions of current best-sellers. People need to hear something beyond what they can get at any good bookstore or TV discussion program. People need hope, encouragement, faith, and, at times, confrontation. Only the passionate proclamation of the Bible will meet the real needs of the human heart and soul.
Quintilian, a famous 1st century Roman orator, wrote in The Orator’s Education that the good orator must also be a good man (Book One, Prooemium).

Do we have any good men today? Do we have any men who will immerse themselves in the fantastic truths of the Bible, in their study early in the morning, practicing self-discipline and planned neglect, limiting the influence of other activities on their time? Do we have any men who know that their primary duty is to be "men of the Book", so saturated with the Word of God that, when they stand before hurting people, the answers and conviction are obvious?

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a well-known British pastor said that " when the pulpit is right, and the preaching is true, that it will attract and draw people to listen to its message." Charles Spurgeon, another well-known British pastor, said that with many preachers "the polish of the rhetoric is greatly in excess of the weight of the doctrine." G. Campbell Morgan, Lloyd-Jones’ predecessor at Westminster Chapel and of whom I have about 90 books from his personal library, said that the essentials of a sermon can be condensed to three words: Truth, Clarity, Passion. Yet these three qualities are often missing in many pulpits.

Today, we have weak pulpits and anemic theology. Churches that have 45 minutes of music and then a 15 minute sermonette are contributing to the slow destruction of Bible Christianity in our time. The preaching of the Bible is a noble and essential calling. Hebrews 10:25 instructs the people of God not to abandon their assembling together, especially as they see the return of Christ draw near. As God’s people obey the Word, the preachers of God must have something for them to hear, something that will draw people Sunday morning and, yes, Sunday night.

The Bible is full of wonderful truth, yet our eyes are naturally closed to those truths (Ps 119:18). May the first set of eyes to be opened be those of the pastor.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Believing The Virgin Birth"

Christmas songs such as "Silent Night" explicitly refer to it. Famous doctrinal creeds such as The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, The 39 Articles of the Church of England, and the Westminster Confession of Faith clearly mention it. Christmas pageants all over the world refer to it. But does anyone really believe it?

I suspect the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ is one of those beliefs that some people publicly acknowledge but privately laugh at. Yet the Bible is very clear in its teaching on the Virgin Birth (not to be confused with the Catholic beliefs about the Immaculate Conception of Mary or the Perpetual Virginity of Mary).

Beginning with the OT prediction in Isaiah 7:14 and confirmed in Matthew and Luke, the Virgin Birth is essential to the theology of salvation. The Virgin Birth is the method God used to bring the eternal Son of God (John 1, Colossians 1, Revelation 22) into the world as a human being.

Logically, there are only 4 possibilities for the birth of Christ.
1. A human father, no human mother
But this raises the question of how to be born since men do not have babies
2. A human father and a human mother
How would this birth be any different from any other birth?
3. No human father and no human mother
Would this make Jesus some type of alien, not human at all?
4. A human mother, no human father

The most unique & different of all the options, this allows Jesus Christ to be both God and man at the same time. As fully God, He would be able to pay the penalty for our sin. As fully man, He would be able to be our representative and substitute sacrifice. Yet this possibility also allows the element of miracle since the virginity of the woman could be verified, giving the situation a mystery which the human mind would have to deal with.

The context of Isaiah 7:14, one of the most famous verses in the Bible, shows that the Hebrew word translated "virgin" in the King James refers to a young woman who is a virgin. The passage teaches that God is not going to deliver His people by military force or political maneuvering but by the birth of a Special Child. Unless the woman is a virgin, the birth does not have any special significance and is not any different than any other birth.

The wording of the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1:16, especially in the Greek text, shows that the birth of Jesus Christ was different than the other births of the genealogy. The explicit statements of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1 and to Mary in Luke 1 clearly teach a virgin birth.

Some object to the Virgin Birth by referring to it as a biological impossibility. Yet, interestingly, that objection was the first recorded objection to the Virgin Birth, and that objection came from Mary herself (Lk 1:34). The inspired answer? The power of God will make this possible (Lk 1:35).

If someone in the ministry does not believe in the virgin birth, that person is embracing unbelief and refusing to accept what the Bible clearly teaches. In such situations, that person has become heretical and should be removed from his ministry.

When a person is exposed to what the Bible teaches about the virgin birth and that person refuses to accept that teaching, that person cannot be a Christian because he is denying a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. A person cannot be a Christian and deny what Christianity teaches. He may be a religious person, but he is not a Christian.

More than just a "Christmas story", the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ is clearly taught in the Bible and is a fundamental doctrine of Christian belief. The Virgin Birth is an essential part of the profound and ingenious plan of salvation that God has designed.

"Can We Legislate Morality?"

How does a person become a good person? How can we make or encourage other people to be good people?

One solution that society seems to choose as a first response to bad behavior is to ask our legislators to create a new law that will require people to follow prescribed behavior. For example, injuries from vehicle and cycling accidents have motivated laws such as requiring passengers to wear seat belts, requiring children to be placed in car seats, and requiring helmets for young children on bicycles. Yet a person may ride a motorcycle without a helmet and an adult does not have to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.

When business scandal affects many people’s investments or retirement, the calls for more regulatory laws intensify. When people discover that politicians have allowed themselves to be influenced by large financial donations or that political campaigns have found ways to accept unregulated money, the calls for more regulatory laws intensify. When a tragic or horrible event occurs, people want to know if some law can be created to prevent such behavior in the future.

American society at one time tried to improve the consumption of alcohol by making the sale of alcohol illegal through a Constitutional amendment. The amendment was eventually repealed because the law was generally ignored. Once a society has become used to a certain activity, even a bad one, trying to eliminate that activity is almost impossible. This is why certain drug use should remain illegal and never become accepted and legal behavior.

Some use the example of Prohibition as an illustration of how society cannot "legislate morality". What people usually mean by the term "legislate morality" is that you cannot force people to be moral & good people by the use of laws. However, this is only partially true.

Admittedly, passing a law will not make a man a good father or good husband. Passing a law will not make a teenager listen to his parents nor will passing a law make a person an honest worker or be kind to others. Properly understood, society cannot "legislate" people into morality.

However, that should not stop society from passing laws to regulate morality. Does not society have laws against murder, stealing, perjury, and polygamy? Does not society have laws to require fathers to pay child support, to prevent sexual assault, and to prevent parents from leaving infants in hot cars? Are not these "moral" issues? So society does make some attempt to regulate morality if that regulation appears to be for the good of society. In fact, all law is to some extent an attempt to regulate behavior, even moral behavior.

Can we create laws that will force people to be kind to each other, to help each other, and to smile at least five times every day? Of course we can. But have we really changed anyone, and do we really want laws like this? Human law can never change the human heart. Outwardly most people will conform to the law because they do not want to pay a fine or go to jail. But inwardly people will still be the same. I’ve noticed that many people are quite capable of conforming to what is expected of them regardless of what they may actually think or be.

How do we make someone a good person? Only by complete transformation of the human heart, the "new creation" that 2 Corinthians 5:17 refers to. Unfortunately, many who claim to be "Christian" are a poor reflection of the "new creation" they are supposed to be. Nevertheless, the Bible clearly pictures the person who has trusted Jesus Christ and His work on the cross for salvation as different, renewed, transformed, and new.

Outward morality can indeed be legislated. But inward morality based on a transformed life can never be manufactured by human law. Only the Spirit of God Himself can produce such a change.