Category: Family

Avoid Politics, Offer Hope

Every national election year we are faced with the reality that both Election Day and Thanksgiving Day are located within the same month. This inevitable results in politics being at least one of the primary discussions at some point during the Thanksgiving celebration. This year the Holdness Family attempted to overcome this challenge by encouraging people to reconcile with each other for just this one day out of the year so everyone could take a much need break from discussing politics and focus primarily on being thankful. While the video skit is cute, entertaining and contains an underlining positive message, it does not offer a reason why everyone should “just get along” with one another and not discuss politics. This may create a temporary sense of reconciliation for one day, but the very definition of reconciliation implies the long-term restoration of a relationship, not a temporary truce. Soldiers of war have been know over the centuries to establish formal or informal temporary cease fire agreements to allow for the celebration of major holidays, but they certainly did not believe these would resolve the dispute, it merely suspended it for a short period of time.
Continue reading “Avoid Politics, Offer Hope”

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.

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

Dysfunctional Sunday Mornings

What are your plans for Sunday morning? A question which would once have been answered predominately with the single word “church” now solicits a multitude of answers.  Sunday has become just another day of the week.  Another day to sleep in, work on the yard, exercise, shop, play sports and participate in local events.  The Sunday morning car ride alone will reveal this drastic change.  For some Christians, these observations invoke visceral reactions, which spawn comments about the increasingly secularization of the culture and the desire to reinstate the period of time when it was socially unacceptable to do anything except attend church on Sunday morning.

Yet, why is this our initial reaction when we observe disregard for religion?  Is it really our desire to fill churches with people, who given a choice, would much rather do anything except attend Sunday morning worship at church?  While the secularization of our culture has resulted in devastating circumstances, we can admit that there have been some benefits, such as the removal of any social stigma associated with not attending church. In a society where all people are in essence “required” to attend church in order to maintain a good social status in the community, the challenge is greater in distinguishing between the true worshipers and those who are seeking personal gain. Yet, is it not the true worshipers that we should desire to fill the pews each week in our worship services?

The woman at the well in John 4 highlighted a long disputed issue between the Israelites and the Samaritans, concerning the physical location where worship was to take place.  Jesus responded by saying “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23). God’s desire is for the gathering of “true worshipers” who share a genuine heart longing to give glory and praise to Him. Why should we approach worship any differently than God? Why are churches determined to seek the desires of man in the worship service? The worship service is not for unbelievers, it is not for entertainment, it is not for our enjoyment, it is not for us, but rather at the core of the worship service is giving to God what He is owed. Yes unbelievers will attend, yes Christians will be blessed and yes Christians should find joy in worshiping their Creator, but nonetheless the sole purpose is not to receive, but to give.

Nevertheless, there is an ever increasingly man-centered emphasis on the worship service which has appeared in subtle, yet compromising ways. Acceptable worship is no longer being defined by God through His Word, but rather it has been replaced by individual interpretation based on whether the music, the preaching and the atmosphere feels like worship or resulted in an enjoyable experience.  However, if God is not viewed as the sole authority on worship, then we have elevated man as the object of worship. One of the first churches we attended after moving into the Washington D.C. area had a long-time member who told me the reason he enjoyed the church was because he liked the accent of the pastor. Perhaps if more serious thought was given to my question his answer would have been different, but the truth is people use these factors to define their satisfaction with the church and particularly Sunday morning worship.

Your emotional state after worship is not the test of genuine worship.  When it comes to worship; forget yourself.  When you sing songs of praise are you glorifying God?  When you hear the preaching of God’s word are you being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:3) so that you might worship Him through being sanctified and becoming more like Christ in the way you think?  The desire of every Christian should be to locate a church where the worship service fosters an environment which allows us to engage in proper, undistracted worship as God rightly requires.

When the purpose of the Sunday morning service extends beyond this, the church becomes no more relevant then a local country club. Churches which lack a high view of God in worship will eventually be reduced to a place where anything and everything will be used as a means for enticing people to fill the pews, all under the auspices of bringing the gospel to as many people as possible.  The worship service will be reduced to a casual, light-hearted gathering with top rated music albums and a short devotional; all carefully choreographed as a professional production, with the idea of making God look attractive to the world.  Despite these so called good intentions,

if the church fails to demonstrate a high view of God, it will not matter how many unbelievers in the pews hear the words of the gospel because the glory of God will appear inconsequential and so will the need for a Savior to save us from the penalty of sin.

Unbelievers are incapable of worshiping God as true worshipers, so why are we surprised when they are turned off by the music, by the preaching and by the seemingly boring nature of a worship service?  Why would we ever choose to diminish the worship service from God’s level to man’s level in order to please those who are at enmity with God?  The cultural shift towards the religion of “no thank you, I’ll pass,” should not lead us down the path of compromising the standard God has established for His own worship.  The worship service is not for unbelievers, it is for believers. Unbelievers should be welcomed when they chose to attend, the preacher must compel them to come to Christ and we should certainly pray for them to come to a saving knowledge of Him, but we do not gather for their sake.  The purpose of the worship service is to worship God and in the words of Paul, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

Evangelism is not the central role of Sunday morning worship, but rather it is the God ordained role of every Christian who should each week be continually equipped to conduct ministry. When the worship service is centered on Christ, it will point people to Christ, but when it is centered on man, it will point man to himself. Martyn Llyod-Jones once said, “The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it.”

When it is social pressure which influences church attendance, it invokes artificial worship, but when church is optional, it reveals the true heart of the individual.  When people are attracted to a church because it looks like the world with only a speck of God added, they will lack the gospel, but if they are attracted because of a longing to worship God, they truly understand the gospel.  So let us not be surprised when the world rejects what the true worshipers do every Sunday morning and be careful to ensure our worship is headed in the right direction; giving to not receiving from.