Open Letter To Christians Celebrating Same Sex Couples

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Dear Christian friend,

You’re a gracious believer in Christ faithfully serving in your local church.  But based on our conversations, it’s clear that you agree with the cultural refrain that Christians should shed the label of being “narrow-minded haters” by finally embracing same-sex relationships.  Here was our last conversation:

YOU:  How can it be wrong for two committed gay people to be in a loving relationship?

ME:  The Bible makes it clear that homosexuality is a sin.

YOU:  We can’t expect everyone to believe what our Bible says.

ME:  True, but it’s the standard that Christians use to judge right from wrong.

YOU:  The Bible also says you should stone a homosexual to death.  I don’t see you advocating for that.

ME:  Well, no.  That was the civil law God gave to Israel through the old covenant.  We live under the new covenant in Christ and we hold to the moral law seen throughout scripture.

YOU:  Sounds like you’re picking and choosing what you want to believe.  Gay people were born with those feelings and God loves them.  I think our church needs to get past the condemnation and show God’s love.

You and I could rehash this conversation again and again but what’s the point, right?   Instead, I just want to get at the root of our disagreement instead of endlessly arguing biblical semantics.

In my hand is a leather Bible with two words etched on the front cover that read “Holy Bible”. You have that same Bible in your hand.  But here’s the difference between you and me; you have a second bible in your hand.  You can’t see it because its invisible but it’s just as real as the leather-bound Bible you’re holding.  That other bible is titled “Values of the Current Culture”.  In that book is a list of all the latest trends in cultural thinking highlighted by the ever popular spin on the verse “judge not lest you be judged.”

Our culture despises the fact that when the Holy Bible calls homosexuality a sin against God, many Christians simply accept it as truth.  The world considers us narrow-minded haters because we embrace the teachings of an ancient text that place sex within the confines of heterosexual marriage.  It now seems that you agree with the culture.

But don’t you see?  You’re narrow-minded, too.  You narrowly interpret truth through the prism of present-day culture using your invisible bible.  You crack open that bible to find your moral bearings while disregarding your leather-bound Bible as too outdated or obscure to provide the same.  When our culture commands that we celebrate all consensual sexual practices, you blindly accept it as gospel truth.  When your Holy Bible commands we turn from those same practices, you boldly deny it as expired dogma.

As receivers of God’s grace, we don’t stand on a soapbox of moral authority on the subject of human sexuality.  We pray on bended knee from a posture of mutual brokenness.  While you and I might not appear to be desperately broken to outsiders, our secret thoughts and actions betray our clean exterior.  We are broken and we were born that way.  While your gay neighbor may appear perfectly normal, most assuredly he is just as broken as you and me.  He was born that way which is why Christ commands that he be born again.

So dear Christian friend, please put aside the invisible bible that denies the brokenness and refutes the repentance.  I trust that you sincerely believe you’re loving your gay neighbor by side-stepping the Bible’s claims on sexuality, but you aren’t loving anyone.  You’re my brother in Christ and I love you but it seems to me that you are being the narrow-minded hater.  

Top 5 Really Bad Christian Songs of the 90’s

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Aaahhhh, the 90’s…

It seems like only yesterday we were in youth group singing out the chorus of Shout to the Lord with a WWJD bracelet on our wrist and a True Love Waits card in our wallet. Despite the fond memories that decade brings, we must admit that some of the Christian songs we played in our youth halls and tape players were just plain bad.

As the product of a 90’s evangelical upbringing and the former co-manager of a Christian bookstore, I’ve deemed myself specially qualified to offer up this list of the Top 5 Really Bad Christian Songs of the 90’s.

Let the countdown begin…

#5  The Devil is Bad – by The W’s

Unbeknownst to parents in the 90s, the approval rating of the devil was skyrocketing among young people thanks to secretly back-masked secular songs.  Luckily, a ska group named The W’s rescued us with a timely reminder that the devil, as suspected, is bad.  Fun fact:  This was the first and last Christian song to have ever been sung to Satan himself.

#4  Lean On Me –  by DC Talk

A staple song of the youth hall, this DC Talk remake cracks the top 5 in honor of loners like me who didn’t have a partner to rub shoulders with during the big Lean On Me verse.  Reminiscing over this song brings up a past that comes back in my darkest of dreams.  Hey youth pastor!  While your Jesus freaks are having fun with this cheesy song, there ain’t no disguising the truth that I’m sitting alone.

#3  Breakfast – by Newsboys

Have you ever wondered what hell is like?  Wonder no more because according to the Newsboys number 1 hit in 1996, we can know for certain that “they don’t serve breakfast in hell.”  That might be true but I’m pretty sure they loop that song.   Fun fact: This song was so bad that DC Talk wrote a response to it entitled What Have We Become.

#2  Who’s In The House – by Carman

What do you get when you combine the flair of David Copperfield with the rapping skills of 90’s sitcom nerd Carlton Banks?  That’s right.  Its best-selling Christian artist Carman rapping his way to the Dove Awards with this really bad attempt at being relevant.  Fun fact:  The name Carman was adopted when it was learned that our non-Christian friends kept begging us to  “stop playing this song in your car, man!”

[you must watch the video for this one]

#1  Big House – by Audio Adrenaline

It was the anthem of youth group night in the 90s and if you’re not careful, you’ll be singing it to yourself for the rest of the day.  It’s a big big song with lots and lots of problems.  Namely, that it’s a song about heaven.  If heaven was designed by college frat guys.  Though not quite as cheesy as our number 2 song, the corny and semi-sacrilegious lyrics of this Christian megahit along with the compulsory kindergarten hand motions put this really bad Christian song solidly at number one.

 

Honorable Mention

Home Run – by Geoff Moore and The Distance

R.I.O.T – by Carman

The Brother Who Rescued His Brother

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In Need of Rescue

It’s a heartbreaking image and yet beautiful at the same time.  A little boy hooked up to an IV, with his body stretched out on a hospital bed as his pure and healthy marrow is extracted from the core of his bones.  Without those precious few ounces of genetically-matched marrow cells, the brother of this little innocent boy, seven-year old Seth, would face a scary and uncertain prognosis as Seth’s body battles a very high risk form of leukemia.

Before the doctors could proceed with the transplant, they had to be certain that any trace of Seth’s original and defective cells had been eradicated.  His system would be completely annihilated through a heavy combination of chemo and radiation.  In other words, before Seth could receive his brother’s healthy marrow, his own cells had to die.

By God’s grace through prayer and an amazing medical team, Seth made it through the risky procedure and recovery phase successfully.  After more than three weeks in the hospital, he and his parents are packing up their bags right now to go home tomorrow.

It was this moving image of one brother giving life to another that brought to mind another heart-wrenching and soul-sustaining picture.  It’s the picture of our brother.

Jesus, The Brother Who Rescued Us

“It was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.  So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.”  – Hebrews 2:10-11

Scripture tells us that our souls are dead even before we’re born.  In our core, we are unable to respond and relate to our Creator because the cancer of damaged desires has ruined all hope of a life-giving relationship with God.  But then a brother came along.  Jesus1This brother willingly stretched out his innocent body on a Roman cross to allow his holy lifeblood to be extracted.  Though it cost Him everything to save his sin-stricken siblings, Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to call us his brothers and sisters.

Being Made Pure

It must be a strange thing to be able to look into the eyes of your brother and know that his very existence became your own source of rescue.  Yet in reality, that is the single event that all believers will one day experience as we see Jesus face to face.  The Bible tells us that when we see Him, we will be like Him.  Though it took chemo and radiation to annihilate stubborn cancer cells in Seth, it will only take one look at our Savior to purify us and completely eradicate the sin that would have brought eternal death otherwise.  Praise God, our brother is our Savior!

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  – 1 John 3:2-3

 

AFFLICT THE COMFORTABLE AND COMFORT THE AFFLICTED

A pastor once told me that he considers it his personal calling to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”.  Those words became more than just a clever catchphrase after a recent business trip to Ohio.

Afflicting the Comfortable Takes Guts
Last Monday, I boarded one of those cramped regional jets that have just enough leg room for a newborn baby. With a pair of headphones covering my ears, I made it clear to the passenger pressing into my left shoulder that I was not a talker.

Apparently, the man was unfamiliar with the unwritten code of air travel conduct because he struck up a conversation with me. Legroom1As it turns out, he was a small business owner returning from a luxurious vacation in Amelia Island. With only two years remaining before retirement, this man seemingly had it all. He was part of “the comfortable” despite the stingy 17-inch wide seat.

Then in the quiet of my conscience, the Holy Spirit said, “Tell him about Me.” Our conversation continued into politics, vocations and vacations. Then God said it again, “Tell that guy about Me” and yet I continued to resist. My inexcusable lack of obedience was rooted in one assumption; this man had it all together. Surely he wasn’t ripe to respond to the afflicting message that Jesus Christ is Lord and rightfully demands that we abandon the idols of the American dream. The plane landed, I untangled my legs, then said goodbye to the businessman I’ll likely never meet again.

Comforting the Afflicted Takes Compassion
A few days later, I was sitting in the lobby of a posh downtown Cincinnati hotel with my laptop open. As a natural introvert, I kept my head low and smiled at other guests sitting near me if for no other reason than to avoid looking creepy.

One of the hotel guests eventually moved closer to my seat. She was smiling, energetic and clearly seeking conversation. I was none of these. The young lady claimed that she had been stood up by a blind date that never showed. Her next comment made it clear to me why she was loitering in that downtown hotel lobby. Her self-proclaimed goal for that evening was to seek out a “sugar daddy”. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, a sugar daddy is a wealthy man willing to provide money to a younger woman for certain services. You get my drift.

My stomach sunk at the sight of an intelligent young lady willing to give herself over to the next man with enough money in his wallet. I made it clear that I would be no source of income to her and then began to close up my laptop to call it a night. Before I walked away, I asked if I could try to talk her out of this way of life. To my surprise, she agreed to have the chat.

Over the next hour, I discovered that this 22-year old college graduate named Kelly had been beaten down by an abusive father, an overwhelming student debt load, and a badly broken world. Her once confident and casual demeanor surrendered to the weight of raw emotion; the sorrow of her soul evidenced by the tears and mucus she wiped from her face.

Sitting in front of me was the personification of “the afflicted”. I gladly offered her the comforting news of the gospel, telling her that she was uniquely created by God but that sin had tarnished everything. Through blood-shot eyes, she avowed her intention to seek God through prayer when she arrived home that night. Whether she ever did, I’ll probably never know.

Our Mission
That pastor wasn’t exactly right though. It’s not just his personal calling to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. It’s the mission of every follower of Christ to inject gospel truth as poison to the pride of human comfort or as a panacea to the pain of the human heart. The first takes guts. The second demands compassion. Both require love.

Human Sorrow as a Clue to the Cross

By now, you’ve heard about the Malaysia Airlines tragedy that killed all 298 people on board.  Quick question, has your heart been heavy with grief since hearing the news?  Probably not.  You saw the headline, felt some combination of sadness and anger but then life moved on for you.  Meanwhile, the family members of the victims have undoubtedly not stopped lamenting their loss.  The disparity between our reaction to the news and the family’s reaction has an obvious explanation.  The amount of inner anguish a person experiences when someone dies is proportional to the degree of relational connection to that person.  The level of sorrow rises exponentially with the closeness of the relational bond.

CrossImage1This seemingly self-evident fact reveals one particular truth about the most evil, magnificent, and mysterious event in human history; the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

The lyricist for the song Here I am To Worship was spot on when he wrote “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross”.  We will never know exactly what happened in that period between the garden and the grave when Jesus suffered and died.

So how exactly does that mystery relate to our own suffering here?

When a husband and wife are so closely knitted together that they are said to be as one, we intuitively understand what that means.  When death breaks that bonded tie, the resulting anguish of the one left behind is all but unbearable.  But what if two persons existed that were so thoroughly connected in relationship that they were not simply “as one”, they were truly actually one in essence?

Or what if a son was so intimately united to his father that He was not just a beloved extension of his father, he was actually one with him?  To see one person was to see the other.  Isn’t that precisely the language Jesus used to describe His relationship with God the Father?  In the book of John, Jesus says “I and the Father are One” and “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

A severing of that kind of relationship would unquestionably impart the most potent form of sorrow ever experienced by one person on planet earth.

It’s with that understanding that we might begin to plumb the depths of the anguish Jesus experienced on that Roman cross when the Father “made Him who knew no sin become sin.”  Exactly how the eternal pre-existent Christ processed those 6 hours of suffering is beyond us.  Whatever He experienced was of such cosmic proportion that its work holds the capacity to bridge the infinite chasm between man’s rebellious heart and the holy God of the universe.

So why does this need to drive your thoughts today, tomorrow, and the next time you are weeping over the casket of a loved one?  Two reasons.

First, we must never forget that Jesus’ payment on the cross cost Him everything.  The God of the Bible is worthy to receive every thought, prayer, and deed because He gave up everything to have us as His own.  Jesus’ physical pain at Calvary, while unquestionably excruciating, was not the entirety of His suffering.  Isaiah rightly prophesied that it was the “anguish of His soul” that brought us peace with God.

Second, it’s only when we understand this important aspect of the cross that it can serve as a warm blanket in times of grief.  These truths won’t make the pain go away, but they do serve to direct our hope to the God who willfully experienced the crushing sorrow of severed intimacy.  If anything, God has experienced the sorrow of loss more than we ever have.  That’s what makes Him so deserving of our worship in times of joy and so worthy of our trust in times of pain.

Last Tuesday

Last Tuesday, I drove solo down I-95 on my way back home from a vacation in North Carolina with my wife’s family.  To make the most of a long and lonely trip, I popped in an audio book of CS Lewis’ classic The Great Divorce.   It’s the story of a man who had just entered the afterlife.  The main character narrates his journey through an imaginary eternal realm that CS Lewis employs to communicate spiritual truths about the human condition and our final destination.   As the story progresses, the narrator discovers that eternal torment and eternal joy hinge upon a man’s willingness to relinquish his rights and embrace the promise of eternal joy in Christ.

Characters on their way to ever-increasing torment HeavenHellwere those individuals who willingly chose to cling to their rights.  Their right to be appreciated.  Their right to be heard.  Their right to exact revenge.  Their right to use their own money as they saw fit.  Their right to hold a grudge.  Their right to control their child’s life.  Their right to be respected among their peers.   Each of these characters clung to something that prevented them from making the journey to everlasting joy that Christ was promising.

As for those individuals who were experiencing the ever-increasing joy of heaven, they had long since abandoned those formerly sacred yet now seemingly silly and self-righteous notions of personal rights.  The one telling trait of those heaven-bound characters in Lewis’ story was humility.  The abandonment of the self had freed them to interact with others without needing to be heard, affirmed, respected, validated, or even acknowledged.  These characters were free to give without needing anything in return and in doing so, grew closer to eternal joy in Christ.

I finished the audio book and arrived back home at 6:00pm that Tuesday evening.  Before I could drop my bags, my phone rang with the news that my wife’s Uncle Steve had tragically and unexpectedly died while jogging through the woods near his Michigan home.  At the age of 51, Steve’s journey into the afterlife began during my trip down I-95.

There are a handful of men who I’ve encountered over the years that seemed to possess such a degree of humility that my own insecurities vanished when I was around them.  Steve was one of these men.  Now that Steve has passed and his life story is being recounted, I’ve realized that I was just one of so many who recognized the peculiar goodness of a great man even as it was cloaked by a simple and soft-spoken demeanor.

With an unyielding identity in Christ, Steve was not unlike some of those Lewis’ characters who had been freed from the need to gain the approval or affirmation of man.  When you spent time with Steve, you would never know that you were speaking to a man who was so cherished by an entire community, that his death would spur a string of news articles and pack a church.  Steve never saw fit to tell me or anyone just how big a deal he really was.  Probably because he didn’t know.  Humble people never do.  Steve was content to be known by Christ alone.  In one of CS Lewis’ other masterpieces, Mere Christianity, Lewis says this about men like Steve:

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.  Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.  He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

Last Tuesday was Steve’s last Tuesday.  SteveYet because of Christ, we know it was really the end of his beginning and the beginning of his eternal joy.  Men like Steve aren’t perfect but Jesus didn’t ask for perfection.  He’s asked that we just forget ourselves and fix our eyes on him.   In doing so, we begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with ceding our silly rights to a Sovereign Savior.

 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”. – Matthew 23:12

Brad Pitt’s Big Problem

I have a lot in common with Brad Pitt. For one thing, Pitt and I were both raised as Southern Baptists. Okay, unfortunately for my face that’s where the similarities end.

Unlike me, Pitt rejected the faith of his parents and eventually embraced a hybrid of atheism and agnosticism. So as I watched the Oscar-winning film 12 Days a Slave, I was more than a little surprised at the series of scenes where Pitt’s character made a simple yet indisputable case for the existence of God.

Pitt plays a fervently anti-slavery field hand that goes by the name Samuel Bass. In one scene, Bass voices his opposition to the unjust institution of slavery as he confronts the cruel slave owner of a Louisiana plantation:

  • Bass: It is horrid. It’s all wrong. The law says you have the right to hold a negro, but begging the law’s pardon, it lies. Is everything right because the law allows it? Suppose they’d pass a law taking away your liberty and making you a slave?
  • Slave-owner: That ain’t a supposable case.
  • Bass: Because the law states that your liberties are undeniable? Because society deems it so? Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.

Did you catch it? Pitt’s character asserts that manmade laws are not the final word for “what is true and right”.  As with all claims of moral truth, the case against slavery depended on the existence of a higher moral law that eclipsed man’s established laws.

In order for Bass’s higher moral law to exist, there must exist a higher moral law giver. Otherwise, any appeal against slavery is argued in front of an empty bench where no final judge is seated.

Therein lies Brad Pitt’s big problem.  An intellectually-honest atheist or agnostic has no answer to this simple question: Slavery is wrong? Says who?

Like every unbeliever I’ve ever met, we all inherently recognize that man’s laws are not the final determination of what is right and true. Like it or not, there is a Judge who has written His higher moral law on our hearts

Romans 2:15-16 – They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

How Baptists Become Buddhists

Have you ever met a Buddhist member of a Baptist church?  Yeah, neither have I.  But as evangelicals, we have a way of morphing ourselves into functional Buddhists for a few minutes every Sunday morning.  It only happens when the leader of a bible study asks the question “Does anyone have a prayer request?”  PrayerRequest1 Admittedly, it’s probably an overstatement to call us functional Buddhists but hear me out…

Buddhism teaches that the fundamental problem of the universe is suffering, with meditation as the antidote.  On the other end of the spectrum, Christianity teaches that the fundamental problem of the universe is mankind’s rebellious sin against God, salvation in Christ being the only answer.  Buddhism doesn’t even have a category for sin or evil, it simply doesn’t exist in their vernacular.

If an unchurched person were to sit in a bible study group during the obligatory prayer request time, they would almost certainly come away with the impression that suffering is the most pressing issue on our hearts.  After all, nearly every prayer request is related to someone’s sick family member or friend, a lost job, or a broken relationship.

Before I proceed, let me make it clear that I understand how important it is that God’s people pray for the sick and hurting among us.  I’m writing this blog post from a children’s hospital waiting to talk to my son’s oncologist. Our family has lived off the prayers of God’s people and it’s through that experience that I’ve become a staunch believer in praying for the sick.  My concern is not in what I hear during prayer request time; it’s what I don’t hear that concerns me.

A Memorable Moment

The most memorable prayer request in my seven years as a bible study leader came on an average Sunday morning.  I began our small group time with the same question “Any prayer requests?”  A young lady raised her hand.  Through tear-filled eyes, she proceeded to open up about her struggle with alcoholism.  She specifically asked that we seek God on her behalf to sustain her soul with strength to resist the temptation to drink.  You could’ve heard a pin drop in that room.

That single humble prayer request from an honest struggling believer is what spurred me to start a men’s group at my house.  That young lady had highlighted an issue in my own soul that had gone previously unnoticed and I felt a burden to see myself and the other men in our group humble themselves just like that girl and seek God’s power to change our hearts.

The problem with the prayer requests and prayer lives of many Christians is that we ask God to change our circumstances without asking him to change our hearts.  The apostle Paul prayed specifically three times that God would remove his main source of suffering which he referred to as a “thorn in his flesh”.  God responded by telling Paul that the thorn he was enduring was purposed by the Father to cause him to cling tighter to His all sufficient grace.  God wasn’t interested in changing Paul’s circumstances, rather He was seeking to continuously transform Paul’s heart.

When it comes to prayer, we seem to have no problem asking God to give us our daily bread when we lack it.  But for some reason, we struggle to ask God to lead us not into temptation and to deliver us from evil.  Instead, we just ask that He lead us not into cancer and deliver our friends from sickness.  If sin against God is the biggest problem in the universe, then certainly our prayer requests and prayer lives should reflect that reality.

A Vacation You Don’t Want

It sounds too good to be true.  An all-expense paid vacation to the Universal Studios Resort in Orlando with limitless front-of-the-line passes to sidestep the pitied patrons waiting 90 minutes for a 90-second thrill ride.   There’s just one catch; your kid must have cancer.familycross

In the fall of 2012, the American Cancer Society invited our family to ROCK weekend which is a 3-day getaway organized on behalf of families with a newly-diagnosed cancer kid.   The organizers plan engaging activities for the cancer kids and their siblings while parents attend informative seminars on managing life after the diagnosis.

I’ve never seen so many bald children in one place.  But what was so striking to me that weekend was the unity that the group of worry-weary parents exhibited in that hotel conference center.  Cancer is not biased.  It strikes the poor, the rich, the middle class and it doesn’t care if you’re black or white.  Though the families that weekend were diverse in makeup, we were unified in experience.  As parents, we had found ourselves thrust into a do-or-die fight for our kid’s life after hearing that awful decree, “Your child has cancer”.

There was an undeniable solidarity and fellowship among the families that weekend.  There were moms talking to other moms about the daily struggles of keeping up with the countless prescriptions, the endless clinic visits, and the crushing heartache of poor test results.  Dads chatted with other dads about the struggle of juggling jobs, paying medical bills, and attempting to maintain sanity at home.  We felt a natural affection for each other as involuntary members of an elite yet unpleasant club.  Strangers otherwise, we found unity in our experience.

There were no celebrities at the event but you sure wouldn’t know it by the way the doctors were honored and praised.  They were the saviors walking amongst us.  The hopes of every mom and dad rested on the knowledge and expertise of these white-coated angels.  We hung on every word they offered, recognizing them as the only thing standing between our child and a future funeral.

I left that weekend thankful for a relaxing reprieve.  Yet, I couldn’t help but see the obvious truth that God was pressing into me during those three days.

After all, isn’t that really a picture of the story of God’s people?  Our plight was no different than those bald-headed kids and their parents.  In truth, our situation was even more severe.  Each of us was diagnosed with a previously hidden but unquestionably fatal heart condition.  Each of us was given no choice but to rest our hopes for a remedy on the shoulders of someone far greater than ourselves.

The unity and brotherhood exhibited at ROCK weekend is exactly what we would expect to see from God’s people.

I suppose there is one big difference.  In the case of the Church, the Great Physician not only diagnosed the problem, He became the cure.  He provided a remedy through a red cross covered in life-giving blood that freely flows to anyone who would receive it.

If we had spiritual eyes to see, Sunday mornings might look a lot more like that weekend in Orlando.  If we perceived our fate as clearly as those parents, we might be just as desperate to hear a Word from our Healer.  If we truly believed the implications of our diagnosis and its ultimate cure, our hearts would be overwhelmed with praise and adoration for the Savior who stood between us and eternal death.  We’d be far less likely to settle for a unity that is built on something less than Jesus blood and righteousness.

Shocking Words from a Mourning Mother

Small caskets are an agonizing sight.  But there you are, sitting in a church pew ready to observe the funeral for a baby boy who passed away after battling a terminal illness.   Bravely, the mother of that little baby stands up to give a brief eulogy for the son she treasured so much.  You are expecting the grief-stricken mom to choke through a few meaningful words about her undying love for the son she’ll never hold again.   With a steely-eyed expression unfitting of the occasion, the mother begins to speak:

God has taught us by afflictions what we would not learn by mercies—that our hearts are his exclusive property, and whatever rival intrudes, he will tear it away… We do not feel a disposition to murmur, or to inquire of our Sovereign why he has done this. We wish, rather, to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart, till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished. Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error, and to strip us of our only little all. O may it not be in vain that he has done it.”

The woman walks off the stage while you and the entire audience sit in stunned silence powerless to process the words you have just heard.

These were the words of Ann Judson, wife of America’s first missionary Adinirom Judson, after the tragic death of their son Roger in 1816.

Ann Judson
Ann Judson

They are the words of someone so profoundly God-centered that they pound like shockwaves on the ears of today’s most devoted Christians.

In our contemporary Christian culture, the ideal parent is one who pours every ounce of energy into developing a spiritually sturdy, socially adept, and financially stable clone.  With the right blend of church attendance, sports programs, extracurricular activities, and educational intensity, parents seek to ensure that their children are well adjusted productive church-going citizens.

Of course, none of those things are bad.  But I wonder what Ann Judson would think of a faithful Christian parent today whose singular life focus is the well-being of their child.  What we call good parenting, she might label as dangerous idolatry.

Ann Judson might be stunned to learn that those extra dollars at the end of the month are dutifully dumped into a college savings plan and only after the college plan is funded do we consider giving to the missionary or church planter.  After all, that’s what faithful Christian parents are supposed to do.  We secure our child’s educational future and only then give extra time and resources to kingdom work.

She might be surprised to learn that we often skip the weekly church gathering in favor of other important undertakings.  After all, faithful Christian parents should encourage their children to engage in other social and recreational activities that create positive environments.  Certainly, we attend church as often as possible and even occasionally help volunteer when the time is there but we are reasonable enough to understand that our child’s social development cannot be hindered.

I wonder what Judson’s reaction would be if she discovered that the very house in which we live was chosen largely because of its proximity to an academically-vigorous public school.  After all, a responsible Christian parent would never let their children live in a neighborhood where other parents don’t put the same kind of emphasis on education.  God forbid it.

The contrast between the heart focus of a modern Christian parent and that of Ann Judson is stark.  As Tim Keller said, idolatry is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing.  It seems that, in the name of good parenting, we have taken the good gift of children and turned it into an idol that demands a radical sacrifice of our time, money, and energy; the same kind of time, money, and energy that Ann and Adinirom Judson exhausted as missionaries in the gospel-starved region of Burma.

Not every mom and dad is called to be a missionary but every Christian is called to live with one central focus, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Certainly, this will look different for every family but as it stands now, most of us look the same.

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