Author: Michael S. Miller

The Faithfulness of God

Matthew 1:1-17

The genealogy in Matthew 1 is more than just a list of names, it is a powerful demonstration of the faithfulness of God to fulfill all His promises and particularly the promise He is about to fulfill through Christ in the rest of Matthew. This should offer us hope that God will continue to be faithful even when we are not. This is the first sermon in a new series on the Gospel According to Matthew. Preached at Potomac Baptist Church in Sterling, VA

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Politics Isn’t Sports

Human beings by nature are competitive individuals.  It was the competitive nature within the heart of Cain which motivated him to murder his brother Abel (Genesis 4).  However, it was not the result of God rejecting his offering that led to murder, but rather it was the contempt Cain had for his brother upon realizing that Abel found God’s favor and he had not.  Nothing exhibits the competitive spirit in human beings more so in modern day American than in the public sports arena.  Anyone with even a vague familiarity of sports would expect athletes to be ruled by an attitude of tough competition, but sadly in our modern day, the competition among sports fans often far exceeds the competitiveness of even the players.  It is the fans who invest so much in the team through the purchase of season tickets, hats, jerseys and endless other apparel items.  It is the fans, not the athletes who defend their favored team at work, participate in fantasy football and brag about the abilities of players; this is where the real competition exists.  While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, sports players are the ones who generally demonstrate a respectable degree of sportsmanship towards each other.  It is not typically the players who become unruly with each other or demonstrate contempt for one another, it is the fans.  Interestingly, the ones who have the most contempt are the ones who have the least to lose.

This election has no doubt generated high levels of tension, competitiveness and even contempt for one another, and it is for this reason we must be very careful in the weeks ahead.  Just as in sports, we selected a team, perhaps made donations and even offered proof of our loyalty by purchasing the team’s hats, shirts, bumper stickers, pins and other memorabilia; all with the hope of defining ourselves as a winner on November 9th.  But politics is not sports, yet one would hardly notice the distinction in modern day America.  A visitor to our country could easily be led to the conclusion that Trump and Clinton were merely the names of two sports teams on their way to a national championship game.

This may point to the unfortunate fact that in many ways we have abandoned a proper perspective behind the purpose of a presidential election and replaced it with a shallow desire to either find ourselves on the winning team or be proven accurate in our prediction of the outcome.  Is the emphasis behind our endorsement of any particular candidate based on our personal convictions regarding the issues at stake or merely from a desire to experience the excitement so often felt by sports fans leading up to the big championship game?  Perhaps it is our sense that the latter is true, which has caused so many to seriously consider withholding their voting privilege on November 8th. 

Our sports saturated culture understands the pride associated with being fans of the winning team, but both winners and losers can so quickly be led down a path which leads to contempt for the other side, especially when the stakes are so high.  Is it any wonder that one of the more popular bumperstickers after the 2008 presidential election read “we won, get over it.”  Perhaps that is the reason this presidential election has created so many divisions and even contempt for our fellow countrymen. Our competitiveness has been driven by the belief that, unlike sports, if our candidate is not elected the entire country and future generations will lose.  There may be some validity to this statement, but even though the President of the United States is recognized as one of the most powerful positions in the world, to consider it the primary position of significance in our government is to misunderstand the constitution which forms our nation.  While the President does retain a significant amount of authority, that individual is only capable of extending power to the point where the authority of Congress and the Supreme Court begins.  This distribution of power across three branches of government was wisely considered by our founders to be the best method of preventing one individual to retain all authority, as in the monarchical system which formerly ruled the original thirteen colonies.

For this reason alone, we can avoid a doomsday view of this election, but for the Christian there is an even greater reason.  Isaiah 14:24, 26 tells us, “The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand…” (v26) “…this is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations.” (ESV).  It is for this reason we can accurately conclude the elected winner will be one installed by the divine decree of God to fulfill His good and perfect purpose.  However, this should not be viewed as a justification to relegate our voting privilege. God has placed us in a county where such a freedom should be viewed as part of God’s grace and our responsibility as citizens of a country who should “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7).  Yet, despite the outcome, it is also our responsibility to submit to the government who ultimately serves a divine purpose (Romans 13:1-7).

Attempts to find hope in an earthly system of government is false hope and hardly the basis for the inevitable contempt which is likely to ensue as a result of this election.  As Christians we already belong to a winning team, where victory is only found in salvation from the penalty of sin through Christ and the expected future return of our Lord.  It is for this reason we should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). Without this perspective at the forefront of our minds, we are in danger of conveying the message that our hope is found not in Christ, but in a Presidential candidate.  Nor should we have any reason to share in any demonstration of contempt for those who are also made in the image of God.  The grace from God bestowed upon all who belong to Christ never results in contempt, only sadness in knowing there are many who are in danger of missing out on the grace of God for all of eternity.  This election is not the time for Christians to spurn contempt for their fellow citizens or fellow heirs in Christ, but rather it is an opportunity to highlight the flaws of a fallen world which awaits the coming restoration of all things (Romans 8:22, Acts 3:21) and to demonstrate our willful submission to God’s divinely ordained plan.

Vote for Conscience Sake

The news coming from last night’s election campaign brought forth either sentiments of disappointment or joyous celebration for conservative Americans, as they became aware of Ted Cruz’s decision to suspend his campaign; leaving Donald Trump as the front-runner candidate to become the Republican party nominee.  Those who did not support Trump are now faced with a decision regarding who they should support in the national election, especially given the two candidates will likely be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Yet, unlike in previous election cycles there are now Christian leaders, some of whom I deeply respect, who are encouraging Christians to either restrain from voting at all in the Presidential election on November 4th or to vote instead for a third party candidate.

What does it say that we have now shifted from merely guiding Christians to examine specific positions of a candidate according to a biblical worldview, to now telling them which candidate they should or should not vote for in the Presidential election?  Even if you were to agree that such a practice is justified, why did Christian leaders wait until Ted Cruz departed the race before suddenly making it known that he was apparently the evangelical Christian candidate?  Is choosing not to vote or voting for a third party candidate a more biblical decision?  For those encouraging a third party candidate, how are we to believe that this unknown candidate would hold to a biblical worldview or even be guaranteed a victory?

It is well known and accepted by many people that a third party candidate victory in a Presidential election is statistically improbable and typically results in a victory for the party opposite of which the person most closely aligns.  In the case of this year’s election, a third party candidate which most closely aligns with conservative values will inevitably lead to a Hillary Clinton victory.  Perhaps this is an outcome you have considered and are content to accept knowing you supported someone in good conscience instead of merely a party line vote.
Allow me postulate that a Hillary Clinton victory will inevitably lead to an even greater increase in the erosion and intentional dismantling of religious liberty.  Mr. Trump certainly does not embrace a biblical worldview, but is it possible to conceive of a Clinton victory as the better alternative, because that is exactly what you will have if Trump fails to win the election in November.  Although Trump may endorse the pro-gay movement in certain areas, Hillary not only endorses it, but will aggressively push it down the throats of Christians by forcing religious institutions to conform or be shutdown.  Hillary aggressively supports the right of a woman to murder her unborn child in the womb, while Trump has indicated a shift in his position to no longer support abortion.  How could such a high priority issue for Christians suddenly become one in which we are willing to now choose Clinton, an avowed abortion rights supporter, to continue stretching the boundaries of abortion by not voting for the one candidate who could defeat her in the election?  Would it not be worthwhile to suspend our disagreement with Trump on other issues in oder to gain a small victory by having a President who does not support the murder of a child.

The impacts of the Obamacare bill, which will especially be realized this year, will continue to contribute to the decline of the U.S. economy under a Clinton administration because only Trump has offered to repeal this bill.  Even if you do not believe all of Trump’s economic plans align with conservative principles, it cannot be argued that they are much closer than Hillary’s socialist, Keynesian position.  Do we not as Christians believe that a strong, economy which enables human flourishing is beneficial for mankind?  Which candidate is more likely to support policies which enable the economy to return to it’s former luster?

Trump is determined to improve the condition of U.S. veterans who have given so much to our country, while Hillary has proven she could care less about the military let alone the veterans who have served.  Although many people may not consider the vast, world-wide influence of the U.S. military, it represents the most powerful military force in the history of the world.  As someone who has worked at the senior level of the Department of Defense throughout the Obama administration, the military is unable to survive another administration which has eroded the very principles which have allowed it to sustain such a globally recognized position.

The next President of the United States will likely have the opportunity to select new Federal judges to include several who will sit on the Supreme Court and have vast influence on our nation for the next few decades.  Even if you do not agree that Trump would make a good decision, is it possible that his decisions might prove to be a better alternative to Hillary?

This is not an endorsement of Trump over any other GOP candidate, that ship has sailed.  Rather, it is an endorsement of some semblance of conservatism against the guarantee of socialism.  It is an endorsement of some religious liberty over no religious liberty; or should we say no Christian liberty since Hillary certainly supports liberty for other religions.  If the argument is that Trump does not support religious liberty to the same degree as other candidates such as Cruz or Rubio, then perhaps we should make it clear that Trump is also not out to intentionally destroy it like Hillary.  Even if we agree that Trump’s policies may lead to a decline in religious liberty, which is certainly open for debate, he has not made it a mission to force conformance to the homosexual agenda like Obama has done and Clinton will inevitable continue.

As already stated, there is no hope for a third party candidate victory, so if your decision is to either vote for an unknown candidate or not vote at all, then understand you are voting for Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States and we can say goodbye to any religious freedom we may have left.  It may be difficult to vote for Trump in good conscience, but how will your conscience feel when you watch religious liberty deliberately be dismantled by Hillary, knowing you could have prevented it?

The Draft: A Woman’s Right?

Last week marked the twelve year anniversary of the opening of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring the more than 16 million men and women who served during the war.  When I walk the halls of the Pentagon each day there are memorials which surround me to honor not only men, but women who have honorably served to defend our nation.  In the center of Arlington National Cemetery there is an entire memorial dedicated to the women of our Armed Services.  There can be no doubt that over the past century women have shared in the rich heritage of military service.  Yet, the one element which has always distinguished these women from other woman, has been their freedom to exercise a choice in deciding to serve our country in this capacity.  Since 1917, when women were first allowed to join the U.S. Armed Services, this opportunity has always been a decision not made under compulsion, but under free will.

Yet, all of this could change within the next month if a bill which recently passed the House Armed Services Committee is approved by Congress and signed into law by the President.  Just as all male U.S. citizens are required on their 18th birthday to register for Selective Service, this bill would mandate all women to also register; making them legally bound to participate in the draft process in the event it was ever required.  It invokes the inevitable question regarding whether women should be required to register for the draft and if so why have they never been forced to do so in the past.  Before answering that question, consider for a moment the intent of the draft and the conditions under which it would likely be instituted. It is essentially the forced supplementing of a shortfall in military personnel, typically combat troops, who will be required to serve on the front lines of a battlefield. Although it could be rightly argued that warfare has changed since the draft was executed in WWII and the Vietnam War, the fundamental purpose is to fill a gap in combat operations.

So as we consider this issue it must be understood that fundamentally, an extension of the draft to include women, is the endorsement of forcibly committing young women to the front lines of a combat area.  Put another way, it is also the belief that not only men, but women have a duty to protect the homeland of America.  That is not an argument about whether a woman is physically capable of defending our nation, but rather a question of obligation.  In the event of a draft, there is little distinction made between the strong and the weak, the small and the large, because every man in this country is viewed as having an obligation to fight and if need be die, for the protection of this country.  Is this an obligation which should be shared with the women living in this country?

While there is certainly a legitimate argument that our military consists of jobs with non-combative roles, the fundamental justification for this law is to demonstrate equality across genders in America.  So in the event of a draft, how could it be argued that women would only be given non-combative roles, while the men are being sent to fight and die on the front lines.  Who would conduct the selection process to determine who serves in combat and who does not.  If the basis for this requirement is gender equality, then the integrity of the program mandates an equal dispersion of genders.

The Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, recently opened all combat careers to any gender, but this the issue of the draft is a much different debate then permitting women to apply for service in combat roles.  Instead, the more urgent issue is whether women should be mandated to serve on the front lines.  Consider for a moment the practical impacts of enforcing such a law on the young women of America.  The preponderance of single parents in this country are mothers, although we certainly should not discredit single fathers who share similar circumstances.  Can we envision a young, single mother being forced to leave her children out of a duty to fight for her country or would we argue that there are enough men to take her place.  Imagine a mother and a father both being drafted at the same time; required to leave behind a family for someone else to care for.  Even if there are exceptions, who decides which one stays and which one leaves?  If the father volunteers what is to prevent the draft board from selecting his wife instead under the banner of equality.  Could a husband imagine sending his wife off to war while remaining at home with the children?

What does it say about a culture that we are adamantly supportive about providing women adequate time to care for their children through maternity leave, nursing areas in the workplace and flexible work schedules, but are unwilling to admit that there just might be some fundamental differences between the roles of men and women.  Isn’t it interesting that many child custody cases in divorce court decide to award primary custody to the mother on the basis of studies which identify maternal care as a key element in the development of a child.  While the death of any parent in a family with young children is heartbreaking, there is something about the death of a mother who leaves behind young children which grips and moves us in a way which cannot easily be understood.  There is a reason for the metaphor, “just as a mother cares for her child” because the imagery epitomizes our understanding of love, nurture and care.  Is this really just antiquated imagery from a bygone culture dominated by male chauvinism or is it perhaps rooted in a human nature designed by God and not meant to be suppressed?  If it was not the result of God’s design then why would Peter write, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pt 3:7).

As Christians we need to think carefully about what the Scripture teaches about the role of women and ask ourselves some serious questions about this topic while we still have the opportunity to influence the decision.  Would you send your wife to war?  How about your daughters?  Or try this one, would you send your mother to war; to fight and to die?  Don’t be so quick to correlate permitting a woman’s freedom to serve in a combat job and forcing them into one.  In the event of a draft, women will still have the freedom to join the military if they so desire.  The draft is ultimately about freedom, but only in this way; through the suspension of an individual’s freedom in order to fulfill the duty to protect America’s freedom.  This decision isn’t about granting women’s rights, it is about taking away a woman’s right to have her freedom’s protected.

Thankful to Who?

The Thanksgiving holiday is once again upon us and as one pastor I know put it, time for food, football and flop.  Once again we will watch the Macy’s Parade and likely see more commercials of stuff to buy on Black Friday then the actual parade.  Yet in the center of all this, most of us will at some point take the time to consider everything we are thankful for.  For some this may be easy, but for others it may be a struggle depending on their current situation.  Regardless of the situation, even the most difficult circumstances can allow for a heart of thankfulness if considered within the right context.

In fact, the story which most consider to be the historical origin of Thanksgiving is a story of great difficulty for a group of people who experienced starvation, disease, death and hostility.  It is a story of families devastated by the death of a spouses, children and friends where most likely the graveyard contained more tombstones than people living in the settlement.  Practically speaking the settlement was an absolute failure and their efforts were hardly worthy of thanksgiving.  Yet, in spite of these tragedies, they were filled with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness not because of anything they have done.  It was a thanksgiving which identified God as the provider of all good things, most importantly the grace of God received through Christ.  For them a heart of thanksgiving was not a one-time event which occurred once a year, but a continual state which likely helped them endure throughout their difficulties.

So to who are you directing your thanks towards this Thanksgiving holiday? It may seem like a simple answer, but consider the inconsistency in expressing thankfulness and gratitude without the recognition of a recipient. When most people receive a gift, they express gratitude towards the giver, but how often does someone mention gratitude for something without any recognition of the recipient.  Who exactly are you giving thanks to? Without a recipient, it is merely a meaningless catch phase used to describe good things which you are glad to have.

If you are thankful for your job, your home, your family, your friends or even your life, to whom are you expressing this gratitude?  For the Christian there can be no other answer except God, but for many other people the most honest answer is probably themselves.  Thankful for a job they worked to obtain, a house they purchased, a family they built and the good health they sacrificed to attain.  They have become the ultimate source of their own good circumstances; I’m thankful to me for me.

So this week as we visit with family and friends let us remember to verbally remind people of the recipient of our thanksgiving.  Avoid the overused phrase, “I’m thankful for” without saying to whom you are giving the thanks.  This may be the most powerful evangelism tool you possess this week as you interact with those who may not believe the gospel.  When someone speaks of their thankfulness, don’t be afraid to ask the question “who are you thanking?”  You may be surprised with the answer you receive.

At the same time let us also not forget that our response to God’s goodness comes not only in words, but action.  Living a life of obedience to God demonstrates our gratitude and thanksgiving to Him more than any words.  Be assured that at the same time people listen to us offer thanks to God, they are also watching us to see just how much we really believe everything we say.

Red Cupology

It is hard to imagine we have reached a point where something as insignificant as a disposable coffee cup could generate such controversy among evangelical Christians. When Starbucks recently decided to remove pictures of Christmas trees, reindeer and snowflakes from their 2015 “holiday” cups it trigged a national outcry by Christians across social media sites that went viral in just a short period of time. Why so much attention given to a cup, a disposable cup? It was the result of one self-proclaimed evangelist, on a YouTube video, who said that all Christians should be offended by what he perceived as an “attack” by Starbucks against Christianity and Christmas. There is a sad incongruity in recognizing that here we have a man who identifies himself as an evangelist, but yet considers the removal of winter themes from a disposable cup as the most important message the world needs to hear. A message apparently so profound that it has collected over 12 million views.

If Christians truly perceive the removal of these drawings on a cup as representing an attack against Christmas, it is highly likely they have completely missed the reason for the Christmas celebration. It is difficult to recall any account of Christmas trees, reindeer or snowflakes in the biblical narrative known as the Christmas story; probably because they simply are not there. This points to the fact that Starbucks does not, nor has it ever, claimed to make the birth of Christ their central theme of the Christmas season. It is not as if Starbucks had previously designed their cups with pictures of angels, stars, manger scenes and shepherds.

When we fix our eyes on trivial issues it distracts us from the significant issues which are glaring us in the face every day. We are bold about posting a video to Facebook of a man declaring how offended we should be about a cup, but we shy away from sharing the gospel with our family, neighbors and co-workers who desperately need the hope that Christmas brings. So eager are we to shout our outrage at a company which has never claimed to be a theological institution, but we never speak a word to the impoverished person on the street corner who has lost all hope in anything. What message do we as Christians want to convey this Christmas season; the message that we are deeply sensitive to the scribbling on a disposable cup or our overwhelming joy in the message of hope and salvation that the Christmas season brings every year?

Instead of being offended by the removal of Christmas trees and reindeer, let’s consider the significance of a red cup. A red cup which points us to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that we celebrate each time we partake in Communion. The cup Christ was born to drink so that His blood might enable the forgiveness of sins to those who believe upon Him. You may be offended by the Starbucks red cup, but it seems to be the most fitting color to represent the true meaning of Christmas than any cup design previously created by Starbucks.

The Age of the Designer Family

Since the rise of Hollywood, we have witnessed our culture set their dreams on creating what has become known as the definition of a “perfect” family.  For many years creating this ideal family involved factors which were largely outside of our control. But the post-modern world is enabling people to come closer to making this dream into a reality by overcoming former barriers through advances in medical research and the revolutionary shift in moral standards.  What was once thought to be impossible is now becoming possible and more importantly, culturally acceptable.

For the past several decades an individual or family no longer needed to settle for the interruption of a new child at a time which is inconvenient, they can simply have an abortion.  The professional career woman can remain committed to her career and couples can maintain their desired lifestyle, waiting for a more convenient time to have children.  A recent article told the story of woman who decided, with her husband, that the cost associated with having a new child was not in the best interest of their family who would most certainly experience a decrease in their luxurious lifestyle; perhaps having to sell their vacation home or reduce the family vacation to only two weeks.  In this particular case the married couple decided to actively take steps to prevent a pregnancy, but it demonstrates the reality of a cultural belief which prides itself in emphasizing the priority of personal autonomy and the supposed connection to individual happiness.

Additionally, the advances in medical technology allows families to determine the suitability of a new family member prior to the child’s birth; that is before they become “officially” part of the family.  No longer must a couple be burdened with the high maintenance requirements of a physically disabled child or take the risk of having a child with a high probability of genetic disease.  In essence, individuals are now free to choose the acceptance of this lifestyle based on an informed decision or make the decision to simply try again with the hope of better results next time.  In other words, it increases the degree of personal autonomy when it comes to designing the family.

In a society where people are given the option to personalize nearly every available consumer product, this concept has not been lost even when it comes to having children.  So it is not surprising to learn the latest development in the progress towards family design is gender selection.  While the previously mentioned features of modern day family planning provide the ability to reject the undesirable they are incapable of allowing for the individualized selection of the preferred qualities in a child.  Yet, the increasingly popular medical procedure of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), originally designed for the purpose of assisting parents with infertility issues, has become the gateway for personalized, family design.

Unlike artificial insemination, which involves conception within the womb, IVF involves the conception of the baby in a laboratory environment, which eventually leads to the implantation of an embryo into the womb.  While there is nothing inherently immoral or unbiblical with IVF, in a culture which is experiencing a rapidly changing moral revolution, it opens the door to an entirely new set of moral and ethical concerns.  According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that across the U.S. an increasing percentage of parents are paying the $15,000 to $20,000 fee for IVF, not due to infertility problems, but rather for gender selection¹.  As the article explains, this process includes the creation of multiple embryos which are then tested for both genetic diseases and gender prior to being implanted in the womb. This allows parents the ability to select an embryo which has both the desired gender and also the least risk for contracting a genetic disease.

For the Christian worldview, which understands life beginning at conception, this presents a significant problem, not because of conception outside the womb, but rather the selection of an embryo.  By definition the selection of an embryo means there are some embryos which will not be selected.  This naturally leads to the question of what happens to those remaining embryos; a question of vital importance for the Christian who views this as a decision which affects the future of human lives.  In most cases, couples with no desire for additional children are limited to the choosing between either having them destroyed, donated to medical research or donated to another couple for implantation.  Sadly, the first two options are most commonly chosen because the third option creates an entirely new set of ethical considerations. As revealed in a different article by KJ Dell ‘Antonia, appearing in the New York Times, the latter option is challenging because it is difficult for parents to consider the existence of a child (their child) who carries their DNA, but belongs to someone else².

So what we are witnessing is the intentional creation of multiple human lives outside the womb, for the sole benefit of allowing parents to choose the gender of their next child at the expense of other human lives.  For the Christian, the more disastrous realization is that these parents are, in essence, choosing the sanctity of one child’s life above the lives of his or her siblings.  Yet, if an embryo is merely, in the words of the NYT article, “tiny little balls of cells that, with a lot more time and a whole bunch of luck, will someday become children,” then the moral implications are non-existent and it no longer matters what happens to the other embryos.  For the family mentioned in the earlier cited WSJ article, what matters is that they “already had three boys, who had all been conceived naturally” and they “wanted to ensure their next child was a girl.¹”  What matters is that we can now have a family of our own design.  Yet it is also significant to note, at the same time these embryos are considered expendable, they are also being defined as male or female.

This topic not only causes us to consider the moral implications of these procedures, but it also reveals the yearning shared by every human being to be free.  It is the desire to be my own person, to create my own world and ultimately define myself in order to experience happiness in life.  If happiness is confined to my current circumstance or situation in life, then controlling my environment affords me the best chance at experiencing personal joy.  If what I believe will bring me joy and satisfaction is a family with three sons and a daughter, then I want the ability to make this a reality.  In a secular age, operating outside of the biblical worldview, this reaction should not come as a surprise.  If this really is “your best life now” then it would be illogical for us to not be constantly pursuing increased personal autonomy, in order to fulfill personal happiness.

Fortunately for Christians, the biblical worldview teaches us that our happiness is not based upon our current circumstances, but in the knowledge of the eternal, sovereign God who “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  Ultimately, our joy resides in the knowledge of our condition as people who have been redeemed through the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross who will one day experience a perfect, everlasting joy made complete in the new heavens and the new earth. In a culture which is constantly seeking new methods of producing happiness, this is a joy which transcends any circumstance we could possibly experience in our fallen world.

When we consider the implications of the current moral revolution, our concern will not be whether the culture continues to pursue new methods of producing happiness, but rather how far they are willing to extend the moral boundaries in order to produce this happiness.  A culture prepared to accept the killing of babies in the womb and the destruction of unwanted embryos in the name of personal happiness, is a culture which is on the path of accepting anything to achieve this end.

The recent release of the Planned Parenthood videos, created widespread knowledge about the selling of body parts from abortions for the purpose of medical testing. However, if this is considered morally acceptable, how long before medical technology makes it possible to use these same body parts to provide necessary transplants for babies still in the womb?  If the heart of an aborted baby can be preserved for medical research what would prevent it from being used to replace the defective heart of a baby before it is born. The moral implications of such a notion are staggering.  Imagine a consumer market created for the sale of healthy body parts from aborted babies; some of which may have been conceived merely for this purpose.  This may sound unthinkable, but when the culture’s response to the Planned Parenthood videos is one which says “those body parts were going to be discarded anyway” it leaves the gate open to using them for any purpose.  But again, when a culture embraces the position that human beings in the womb are merely a grouping of cells which do not yet form a human life, even what seems outrageous can be justified.

In the coming months and years we will see just how far the culture is willing to go in order to achieve their dream of the “perfect” family.  Welcome to the age of the designer family.

¹ Reddy, Sumathi, Fertility Clinics Let You Select Your Baby’s Sex, The Wall Street Journal, Aug 17, 2015
² Antonia, KJ D., Unused Embryos, to Donate, Destroy or Debate, The New York Times, June 17, 2015

Understanding the First Presidential Debate

With the Presidential elections just over a year away, the political landscape will soon be dominated by debates, speeches, interviews and campaign advertisements. The first of many debates occurred last night and offered much to be desired when one considers the meaning of the word debate. At best it was an exhibition of talking points and buzz word. While there is a sense of disappointment in the moderators for not creating an environment which afforded the candidates an opportunity to engage in necessary, in-depth deliberations, nonetheless it is not an event which should be completely undervalued or dismissed; especially given the extensive number of candidates now bidding for the Republican ticket. There are several noteworthy points which we should take away from this first debate.

In terms of what the debate provided us, it is probably best to identify it as merely a preview of the contending candidates which confirmed what most people likely already knew about each opponent. It provided what one might expect from a forum where candidates were limited to a one minute response. Yet, despite the limited response time we can often learn a great deal about someone when they are required to respond to potentially difficult, comprehensive questions within the constraints of short period of time. There is significance in observing the reactions of the candidates, each of whom are contending for a position which routinely encounters situations requiring immediate, decisive responses, sometimes leading to expansive ramifications for the country. This debate may not have provided us with a better understanding of how these candidates intend to fulfill their campaign commitments, but it did provide the viewer with a big picture overview of their overall demeanor and posture in a high-stakes environment.

While last night did not necessarily produce any winners or losers, it did reveal those who are able to articulate their convictions about a particular topic outside of the standard Republican Party talking points and phrases. In a party specific debate, the goal of a candidate should not be to articulate their similarities to the other candidates, but rather the distinctive marks which separate their approach to the topics. Those who were able to progress the conversation beyond the one liner phrases and buzz words which already define the Republican Party presented themselves as ones who will be worthwhile to watch in future debates, especially when provided ample time to articulate the issues in greater detail.

When we consider the overall structure of this debate itself, it is interesting to note the rationale behind the decision of Fox News to limit the debate to a two hour time block with only a one minute response time per candidate. Yet, what must be understood is that like every other cable news network, Fox News is competing for viewers, which requires a programing structure capable of accomplishing this goal. Therefore, we can only assume that the producers considered these time limits to be the breaking point for a large majority of their targeted audience. Yet, this does not represent a critique of the news networks so much as it does on the American culture and the ever shrinking attention span of Americans when it comes to significant matters such as the political scene. For many Americans the idea of watching a two hour discussion, even about issues which affect them daily, seems overly daunting especially on a Thursday evening during prime time television. It is inconceivable that anyone would think twice about watching a three hour football game, a two hour movie or an all-day marathon of Downton Abbey, but somehow spending two hours listening to a debate between people, a group from which many will one day select their next leader, seems uninteresting. The limitation of one minute responses could be associated with the goal of the moderators to cover a wide range of topics with the seventeen candidates within the short two hour window of time, but it could also be the result of a culture which seems disinterested in topics which cannot be reduced to a 144 character Twitter feed.

The Christian worldview understands that each person will one day give an account for how we spend our time, our resources and even how we voted in an election. We realize in voting for candidates that there will never be the perfect candidate, nor do we expect that the best candidate will be an individual who holds completely to our own worldview, but what is important is that we make the best choice based on our knowledge of the individual. A decision which comes not based on what anyone or any group would have us to believe is the best candidate, but rather one which is based on our own evaluation and assessment of the facts. To do this means that we must spend time to understand these issues which will be at the forefront of the campaigns and make an informed decision to vote for the person most capable of leading America in the right direction.

The Christian Role in the Environment

Most Christians are quick to dismiss the term environmentalism from their vocabulary because of both its association with an unbiblical worldview and politically charged, activist movements.  This guarded approach towards environmentalism is healthy, yet it often leads to the dismissal of any conversation regarding the Christian’s responsibility in caring for the environment. It is as if the environmentalist movement has forced Christians into complete silence on this topic because we rightly desire to avoid insinuating our concurrence with the dominating worldview held by many of those in the movement. So instead of engaging these opposing worldviews we simple avoid the conversation all together, which often leads to Christians being labeled as indifferent about environmental care.  Our lack of conversation conveys a perception that Christians simply believe this is a disposable planet which is not deserving of our attention.

Nevertheless, as Christians we must understand clearly what the Bible teaches about this issue because it is one which has and will continue to confront us on a daily basis. What then should be the response of Christians to the claims of the environmental movement?  What does the Bible teach about our role in caring for the environment? While the modern day claims of global warming, rising CO2 emissions and pollution are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, there are specific principles which we derive from Scripture which are able to guide us through the process of developing a Christian worldview on the environment. More specifically, there are three timeless principles through which any Christian living in any time and any place can develop practical methods of environmental care.

 Man’s Role in the Environment

First, we must realize that mankind is not merely a passive creature on earth, but that we do have an active role in caring for the environment. In Genesis 1 we are provided with the full creation account, part of which is the forming of man and woman in the image of God and placing them in the Garden of Eden. Almost immediately afterwards God gives them several commands indicating what, not only they, but all of mankind are now to do as part of God’s created order. They are namely, to “be fruitful and multiple and fill the earth,” “subdue it” and “have dominion…over every living thing” (Gen 1:28). In other words, have children, spread out and rule over the earth as those who have been created in God’s image. In the ancient world, the face or image of a ruler would be sent to the farthest ends of the kingdom in order to demonstrate to the people that his authority had reached that place. Thus, as those made in the image of God, we are a living testimony to the fact that God’s reign has reached the uttermost parts of the earth.

Scripture also teaches us something which in some cases in our culture will get you in trouble; that men and women are superior to the rest of His creation. Practically speaking, what is there in all of the creation to which mankind can be compared? There is clearly something about the human race which is unique and different from the rest of creation whereby we would never think to ask a dog about the moral implications of murder. There are certain attributes and characteristics of human beings which simply would not allow us to draw even the slightest similarities to animals, except our common connection as a creation of God.

Yet, while we are superior to the rest of creation, we must realize this status does not provide carte blanche authority to rule outside of the divine ordinance of God. It begins with recognizing that there is a creation owner and it is not us. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and all who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). Ownership belongs to the One who merely had to use His words to create all living things and what belongs to us is simply the role of a steward. All of mankind serves as a manager, overseer and caretaker, all of whom, like any steward, will one day be required to give an accounting for their management.

Stewardship does not view the earth as needing to be preserved within its original condition, but it speaks to utilizing all that it is capable of producing within the boundary of avoiding neglect. The man who was given one talent in the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:15-30) was rightly punished for not using the talent, but simply preserving it in the original condition; doing nothing with it. The master did not give resources to the three servants simply for them to observe, but for them to use and produce a return. The ingenious ways mankind has learned to use the earth’s resources should be applauded because of the vast technological advances and improved medical technology now available to most of the world. The immense benefits realized by these advances have led to a once unknown list of opportunities for advancing the gospel. Using the earth’s resources is part of the command to steward, but within that same vain it must be remembered that misusing these resources is to be labeled an unfaithful servant.

This one word of stewardship should encompass all that we think about our role in caring for the environment. It speaks to both the how and the why of environmental care. It forces us to hold creation with the same regard as the owner because one day He will provide the final evaluation as to whether it was managed in a way acceptable to Him. What better motivation is there for people to have an interest in caring for the earth’s resources? If there is no higher authority to which we must give an account, beyond equal members of the human race, then what is our motivation? Would it not be easier to fully expend the earth’s resources without regard for the consequences of our actions? If there is no Creator, if there is no owner and if there is no accountability then why expand the time or energy to even discuss this topic?

Yet, we must talk about this topic because as the first command given by God to those made in His image, it is clearly important to the Him whom we are to give glory in all that we do.  Therefore, we must think together carefully as Christians about how practically we should be exercising this role as a steward.  This is our motivation as Christians and it is one which serves as the best motivation for any person because it involves accountability to someone greater than the rest of society.

The environmentalist motivation which is based on saving biodiversity may be convincing to the scientist and biologist who care about species, but to the average person in the world that argument will hardly raise an eye. The claims of the earth becoming unsustainable for human life will only gain enough interest if the scientific evidence is inconclusive. Christianity offers the strongest motivation; accountability to an eternal Creator.  It means we care about the environment when it is popular and unpopular.  It is not based on a movement or an emotional appeal, but on timeless biblical truth.  So when we are told that Christians do not care about the environment, our response should be that we not only care, but we really care because of the One to whom we must one day give an account.

In our next segment we will consider the root of the environmental crisis.