Archive for April, 2013

Why the Silence?

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). We live in a world where too often we hear about the unfruitful works of darkness–the nightly news seems to thrive on ghastly stories of murders, rapes, and violence. Frankly, it is why I don’t watch very much news. I’m not into ratings wars propelled by human suffering.

Yet, there is a place for the proper exposure of dark deeds so that the evil may be seen to be evil and our consciences and culture may be guarded against the numbness that comes along with moral decline. One would like to think that a news media which thrives on bringing to light every weird and wicked peccadillo would jump at the opportunity afforded them with the trial of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor accused of murdering babies who survived late-term abortions. The details are genuinely disgusting, but that’s not my concern in this post.

My concern is over the virtual media blackout. Thankfully, it may be breaking due in large part to an editorial by Kirsten Powers that closes with these words, “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.” She is spot on with the main point of her statement–”The deafening silence…is a disgrace.” Tucked inside of her words, though, is a key which may explain the silence.

Viewing the media as a force for justice may be where the problem lies, since justice cannot be conceived of apart from moral values. There is no doubt that the media have been on the side of just causes in the past, but it seems equally clear that they have also been on the side of unjust causes. Like all people, those in media make their assessments of what is justice based on their own morals. In times where there has been a moral consensus about an issue, then the media has often been a vocal and important tool in pursuing justice (e.g. civil rights). It seems pretty clear that we don’t live in a time where there is a moral consensus about much, especially abortion.

If the predominant forces within the media world do not believe that abortion is a moral ill, then they face a genuine conflict in reporting the gruesome details of the Gosnell murders. They might find themselves stirring up opposition to a practice which they have defended. It is quite possible that their morals put them on the opposite side of justice in this case. Well, not as persons–I’m sure they are disgusted by the butchering and barbarism–but as advocates for social justice. Collectively, they might not want to give aid to their moral enemies in the abortion fight. Their “pursuit of justice” still pushes them to protect the “right” to kill babies.

This is the challenge of our day, a day where the culture is split on large, important moral issues. The media does view itself as a force for justice, but it often defines justice very differently from significant numbers of Americans, especially those who look to the Bible for ethical and moral instruction. The justice the media pursues, just like the rest of us, is one which is based on moral values. It appears that the media’s moral values in this case are being exposed.

What Gosnell has done is evil and the lack of media coverage, given its normal propensity to exploit and explore evil, is a disgrace. People whose moral values are offended by both the barbarity and the silence should raise their voices, not only to stop such barbaric acts, but to fight against having a culture shaped by the morals of the media. Our consciences and culture need to be stung by the moral tragedy that Gosnell’s murders represent.

Let us speak up, but do so graciously, pointing people to the real answer for the moral mess that comes when life is treated as disposable. Humans are made in God’s image, and Jesus Christ died and rose again so that we could have real, spiritual life. Let’s pray for another Great Awakening and let’s pursue it with a gospel focus that doesn’t reduce the Church to the level of a political action group. The ugliness of the Gosnell murders has exposed the ugliness in the human heart and there is only one remedy for that–the new birth. Let’s express our outrage, but let’s not get fooled into thinking that getting the media or legislators on our side is the real answer to our problems. We need an outpouring of God’s grace that produces a genuine revival among His people and awakening in our land. SDG.

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Shielded by Grace

My family and I are very thankful for the encouraging reports of prayer being offered for my son and us from around the world. I think I have received notes from folks on almost every continent expressing their concern and assuring us of intercession being made for us. We have seen God’s hand in this and are grateful beyond words. Derek came home from the hospital this past Saturday, but still has a lot of healing up to do. An 80,000 pound truck doing 55 mph can do a lot of damage to your body, so it is quite amazing that he is doing as well as he is. There are still issues, but it looks like his body is healing up well.

Times like this, at least for me, lead to a lot of wrestling with how to communicate effectively what we know and believe as it is fleshed out in our experience. One phrase that I have used regularly is that “God graciously protected my son’s life.” I am not sure what others are thinking when they hear the word “graciously” in that statement. What I mean by it is that God did something for him and us that we don’t deserve. God showed him and us grace in how He protected him from far greater injury, and He especially showed grace to us in sparing his life.

It is gracious precisely because it came from God freely. He was not obligated to protect him in this way. Derek’s life is God’s, bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, so He has the right to use Derek in whatever way He deems right. If He had permitted his life to end or to face far graver injury, there would be no wrong in God for allowing it. There is nothing in us that deserved some better outcome than others have experienced. It is foolishness, biblically and theologically, to think this outcome is tied in some way to some merit in my son or our family. Why does Peter walk out of jail, but James gets beheaded? Not because Peter deserved it and James didn’t. God simply had different plans for their lives. The Sovereign Lord wanted to magnify His own name through the martyrdom of one and the continued ministry of the other.

I have to admit that I flinch a little when I magnify God’s kindness to us in this circumstance precisely because I know godly people who have faced similar circumstances and their child didn’t survive or experienced more permanent damage. What caused the difference between the outcomes? The sovereign hand of God, not any worthiness or merit in my son or us. Just like with Peter and James, God has different plans for magnifying Himself for different individuals and families.

The fact is that God is in control of all things, so that means He could have prevented the truck from hitting my son altogether had He so chosen. He didn’t because He has something that He wants to accomplish in Derek’s life (and our family’s and among those around Derek’s life). But please don’t assign grandiose meaning to those words “He has something He wants to accomplish in Derek’s life”–I mean simply that this very trial Derek is experiencing is another opportunity for him (and those around him) to grow in grace and serve Christ.

Surviving this accident is not some heavenly sign of future greatness. He’s alive today because of God’s grace, but here’s the newsflash–so are you. That one person survives and another doesn’t means that God’s plan for the one’s life was complete and the other’s isn’t. The difference is in God’s will, not the value or merit of the people.

So, I live feeling the tension that we are to rejoice in God’s kindness and mercy that has been graciously provided, but we must do so in a way that recognizes that God has not in any way been unkind, merciless, or lacked grace toward those for whom He had different plans. Since the outcomes were not based in the merit of the recipient, but in the sovereign plan for the God who can be trusted, we bow the knee in worship regardless of outcome. He knows and does what is best for His own glory and the good of those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. SDG.

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The School of Hard Knocks

I have a sermon on James 1:2-4 entitled “The School of Hard Knocks” because of what that text teaches us about the value of trials in our lives. God’s goal for believers is to make them like His Son, and one of the ways by which the Father lovingly pursues our spiritual growth is the school of hard knocks. Although it sounds crazy in some ways, we are to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” because we know something about trials, namely that they produce endurance and endurance leads to spiritual maturity. It is not the trials themselves that are the joy, but the knowledge that they produce the good fruit of endurance and maturity.

My youngest son, Derek, is an 18 year old high school senior who literally entered the school of hard knocks last week. On his way home from a friend’s house he pulled off the road to help another motorist whose front tire had come completely off so that the car was shooting sparks all over the freeway. Derek approached the car on the passenger side, but when he could not get the driver’s attention to see if she was okay he came around to the driver’s side. As he tried to talk to an unresponsive driver a semi-truck hit him. Incredibly, he survived the hit. I am typing this as I sit at the end of his hospital bed, where he lies sleeping and I am filled periodically with praise and thanks to God.

Derek was pretty badly banged up–9 broken ribs, punctured lung, fractured skull, broken clavicle and scapula, a laceration in his liver, a handful of fractures in his neck and spine, as well as a couple of cuts that needed stitches and loads of abrasions head to toe from being knocked an estimated 115 feet down the freeway by the impact. Even as I type this I can’t believe that is all that he suffered. He got hammered by a semi going 55 miles an hour. God showed him and our family incredible mercy and we are exceedingly thankful.

Anybody who has received a phone call like I received last Tuesday night knows that it is hard to explain the feeling that floods through your body. It was not the first time I’ve gotten a bad phone call, but I literally felt like the wind got sucked out of me this time. My wife and I were in Florida and our son was being taken into emergency surgery because he was in critical condition in a hospital back in Detroit. As only God can do, though, He graciously gave peace and folded us into the comfort that comes from knowing He rules over all things.

As a pastor I have often found myself giving counsel to people who are getting hit with the hard realities of life in a sin-cursed world. One bit of counsel I’ve shared countless times is that the wrong thing to do is to start asking, “Why?” That question flows from the wrong place in our hearts and almost always leads into a destructive, downward cycle. The right question, I believe, is “What?” Specifically, “What do you want me to learn? What do you want me to do?” The reason I give this counsel is rooted in the truth of James 1:2-4–God’s plan for the spiritual growth of His children uses trials to produce endurance and maturity. And I know that this is God’s plan for my/His child. Derek knows Christ and has committed his life to serving Him, so I know that this is God’s will for his life right now. God is going to graciously grow him and us through this. Knowing that enables me to count even this as joy. SDG

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