Formed by God

In their book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop describe the horrors of Nazi Germany.

The first to be killed in Nazi Germany were the infirm, the senile, and the mentally retarded. Then came the aged and the “defective” children. Eventually, as World War II approached, the doomed undesirables included epileptics, children with badly modeled ears and even bed-wetters. The transportation of people to these killing centers was carried out by “The Charitable Transport Company for the Sick.” The plan then was to kill all Jews and Poles and to cut down the Russian population by 30,000,000.

We’re all struck by this great Holocaust and wonder how it ever could’ve happened. Leo Alexander, who served as a consultant to the Secretary of War in World War II and who was on duty with the office of Chief Counselor for the War Crimes tribunal in Nuremberg, says that what happened in Nazi Germany “all started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.” In German, it was called lebensunwertes leben, which roughly translated means “life unworthy of being lived.”

An elderly German man who lived through the Holocaust tells the following story. These are his words.

I always considered myself a Christian. I attended a church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews; but like most people in America today, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?

A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we heard cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews.

Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing!

We could do nothing to help these poor people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more.

Years have passed, and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.

Does this sound anything like the United States in 2018? Are we tempted to cover our ears and just “sing a little louder”? As we face a virtual holocaust on the dignity and sanctity of life, are we tempted to cover our ears and just sing a little louder?

It all began with “the attitude that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived”—lebensunwertes leben. We may think we’re beyond that. We may think that only oppressive Nazi regimes would pursue this. Surely, modern people wouldn’t think that there’s such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.

But listen to this. Many people in the European country of Iceland have recently been bragging that they’ve virtually eliminated Down Syndrome from their country.

We may think this is good news. Have they found a cure for Down Syndrome? Wouldn’t that be fantastic! They could share it with the rest of the world!

But, no, they haven’t found a cure for Down Syndrome. They’ve just reached the point where virtually 100% of the babies who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are killed in their mothers’ wombs. So, they’re bragging that they’ve virtually eliminated Down Syndrome from their country.

But Iceland isn’t alone. In Denmark, 98% of babies who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome will be aborted. In the UK, the number is 90%. In France, it’s 77%. In the USA, it’s 67%. That’s 2 out of every 3 babies who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. Do these babies represent lives not worthy to be lived? Are their lives lebensunwertes leben? Are we any different than the Nazis?

Have you ever thought, “If that person really knew me, he/she wouldn’t love me”? Many of us have deep, dark secrets in our lives that we don’t share with anyone for fear that people won’t love us if they know who we really are.

We may fear that we’ve done something in the past or that we’ve had something done to us in the past that makes us unlovable. In Psalm 139, David writes,

Psalm 139:1
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

These two verbs “search” and “know” are going to form “book ends” on this psalm. They appear here in the opening verse, and the same two verbs appear again in the same order in the second to last verse of the psalm.

The verb “search”—in the original language—means to consider something in detail, to analyze something so that you can discover its essential features. The verb “know” is used multiple times throughout this psalm [verses 1, 2, 4, and 23 (x2)]. In the original language, it means to become familiar with something through experience.

David’s point in using these two verbs in the opening phrase of this psalm is to let the reader know that God’s knowledge of us is both complete and intimate. There’s nothing that God doesn’t know about us. We may keep secrets from our parents. We may keep secrets from our siblings. We may keep secrets from our spouses. But we keep no secrets from God (cf. 139:2–6).

David declares in verse 7,

Psalm 139:7
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

This are rhetorical questions. They’re questions with an obvious correct answer. They’re questions designed to get us thinking. Where can we go from God’s Spirit? No where! Where can we flee from his presence? No where!

God is with us and he loves us. There are no invisible people in God’s eyes. We may make people invisible in our eyes, but there aren’t any invisible people in God’s eyes.

We make people invisible by refusing to think about them, by refusing to have open, honest conversations about them.

We take a young woman who’s a part of the sex industry, and pornography turns her into an object of lust. In our mind’s eye, she’s no longer someone created in the image of God. She’s become invisible.

We take the refugee who is fleeing persecution, and we complain that his presence here makes us feel uncomfortable. In our mind’s eye, he’s no longer someone created in the image of God. He’s become invisible.

We take the baby in the womb and we declare that what the mother does with what’s in her body is her choice. In our mind’s eye, both the mother and the baby are no longer people created in the image of God. They’ve both become invisible.

We take the elderly and the infirm and we warehouse them away and encourage them to choose death with dignity. In our mind’s eye, that old woman’s no longer someone created in the image of God. She’s become invisible.

God is the master craftsman (cf. 139:13–16). He forms us while we’re in our mother’s womb. God creates and gives life and God values human life—all human life.

God values the life of the women who is being sex trafficked.

He values the life of the refugee who’s fleeing persecution.

He values the life of the mother and of the baby in her womb.

And he values the life of elderly and infirm.

God values all human life because unlike any other part of creation, human life is created in the image of God.

Genesis 1:26–27
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness. . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

He formed us. He knitted us together. We were intricately woven together.This is poetic language, but it’s language that speaks of being carefully and thoughtfully put together. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (139:14).

But when it comes to the topic of abortion, we’ve taken this beautifully poetic language and we’ve exchanged it with cold, sterile, and sanitary terms like “pulling the plug” or “making a choice” or “fetal tissue.” And in so doing, we’ve removed ourselves from what’s really happening—the taking a human life.

There are only 7 countries in the world that allow an elective abortion after 24-weeks. And of those seven countries, only four countries allow for elective abortion at any point in the pregnancy—right up to the point of delivery:

  • The United States of America,
  • Vietnam,
  • China, and
  • North Korea.

How’s that for company to keep? Vietnam, China, and North Korea. All three of those countries are among the top of the list of countries where human rights are regularly violated. And that’s the company we keep in allowing abortion for any reason at any time during a pregnancy.

Statistics tells us that 3 in 10 women in the local church have had at least one abortion. But abortion isn’t just a women’s issue. Women don’t get pregnant without the help of a man. In many cases—not all, but in many cases—women choose abortion because the man leaves her with little choice.

Now, to be clear, having an abortion or coercing your girlfriend or wife to have an abortion isn’t an unforgiveable sin. It’s not. It is a sin. But there is forgiveness and grace to be found at the cross. God’s grace can cover all of our sins.

But we have a crisis on our hands. There have been over 60 million abortions in the USA since 1973. These are human beings. These are human lives.

But there’s also some good news here as well. There’s been a steady decline in the number of abortions since 1990. In 1990, there were 1.6 million abortions. That was the high-water mark of abortions in the USA.

In 2017, there were an estimated 900,000 abortions. That’s still a lot. That’s one abortion every 8 seconds. But that’s over a 40% decrease since 1990, and that’s good news.

Statistics tell us that the younger people are, the more opposed they are to abortion. And I think I know why. I think it’s the sonogram or ultrasound machine. We have a generation of adults now who grew up with a sonogram picture of their brother or sister taped to the fridge. When you use a sonogram machine to look at what’s happening in a mother’s womb, there’s only one conclusion you can come to: LIFE! What’s in mommy’s belly is LIFE!

And now we have generations of young people who have grown up seeing these pictures of their brothers and sisters in mommy’s belly. Some have even gone with mommy to the doctor’s office to see the baby in the womb. There’s no other way to say it. That’s a human baby in her belly.

We need to celebrate the sanctity of life. We need to celebrate the sanctity of life from conception until natural death.

So, you may be wondering what you can do. There are any number of things you can do. Here are seven things you might consider.

  • First, if you’re a parent, start by educating your own children on these issues. Show them what the Bible has to say about this.
  • Second, volunteer at your local crisis pregnancy center. They’d love to hear from you.
  • Third, volunteer at a homeless shelter. When we talk about the sanctity of life, we’re not only talking about babies in the womb. Every human being on the planet is created in the image of God. All human life is precious.
  • Fifth, volunteer at an assisted-living facility. Some of the men and women who live in these facilities feel like they’ve been forgotten. They feel as if they’ve been warehoused in a facility and left there to die. Make it a part of your schedule to go and visit the residents of a local assisted-living facility.
  • Sixth, learn to teach English as a Second Language (ESL). There are refugees who have come to America because they’re fleeing persecution in their home countries. And they live here now. They want to speak better English. They just need someone to come alongside them and teach them.
  • Seventh, volunteer at a battered women’s shelter. These shelters serve as a temporary place of residence for women who’ve been in relationships that have been marked by domestic violence.
  • Eighth, become a foster parent. There are children all over this country who need a safe place to live. Without the foster-care-system, many of these children would be homeless. Show these children the love of Christ by bringing them into your homes.

Now, we can’t do all of these things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something. These are just a few of the things you can do. You can do many of these things either individually or as a family.

The point here is simple. There are men and women, boys and girls, all around us, all of whom are created in the image of God, many of whom are hurting, many of whom need to experience the love of God.

What can we do to show them the love of God?

Loving Your Enemies

Jesus said a lot of countercultural things when he walked on this earth, but near the top of that list has to be when he told his followers to “love their enemies.” It’s hard enough to just love our neighbor—which is something else that Jesus told us to do—but to love our enemies—for many of us, that’s just a bridge too far. Why should I love my enemies?

Many people will recall that in 2012 the whole idea of same-sex marriage was in the media almost every day. It’d be another three-years before the Supreme Court would make same-sex marriage the law of the land, but in 2012 the movement was already gaining widespread momentum.

In May of 2012, President Obama addressed his “evolution” on the issue—he was for it, then he was against it, and then he was for it again. The whole country was in an uproar. There wasn’t any middle ground. There wasn’t a safe space to hide and avoid the controversy.

That summer, Dan Cathy—COO of Chick-fil-a—announced his opposition to same-sex marriage, and as a result of his announcement, Chick-fil-a was immediately thrown into the cultural firestorm.

There were those who adamantly disagreed with Chick-fil-a’s stance and they threatened to boycott Chick-fil-a, and there were those who equally as adamantly agreed with Chick-fil-a’s stance and they rushed to Chick-fil-a in droves. It was—if you will—a political stalemate.

But maybe you wonder, what did Dan Cathy do? What did Cathy do while some were threatening boycotts and others were cheering support?

According to media reports, here’s what he did. He decided to move toward his “enemy.” Cathy decided to reach out to Shane Windmeyer—the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, a pro-LGBT campus group. Windmeyer was a gay activist and an openly gay man.

Cathy reached out to him because Cathy wanted to hear more about LGBT concerns regarding Chick-fil-a. Cathy said this about why he reached out to Windmeyer.

“We don’t have to agree with our enemies but we still have to honor and love them.”

Not long after that meeting, Windmeyer told the Huffington Post that he considered Cathy a friend.

How might our lives—how might our culture—look different if instead of cutting off relationships, we chose to say, “I don’t share your convictions on such-and-such topic, but I would like to hear more about why this is so important to you.”

How might our lives and our culture look different if we began to be civil to one another again? How might our lives and our culture look different is we began to love our enemies?

Kathy Litton, a pastor’s wife in Mobile, Alabama, wrote this profound statement. “As long as I think of my enemies as ‘bad’ people, they will remain my enemy. The moment I choose to see them with a gospel lens, is the moment I can truly love my enemies.”

Jesus has called us to live counter-cultural lives. There are any number of ways we can live a counter-cultural life for Jesus, but we can start by loving our enemies (see Luke 6:27b). Straight away we notice the counter-cultural nature of Jesus’ call to discipleship. He tells us that we’re to love our enemies.

The word that used here for “enemy” means to “hate someone and wish them injury.” This isn’t just someone with whom you don’t get along. This is someone who wants to see you get hurt. And Jesus tells us that we’re to love that individual or that group of individuals.

There are several different Greek words that are variously translated as “love.” Some of these words are more powerful words for love than others. The word used here is the most powerful of all of those words. It’s agape love. Agape love is a love that seeks the best interest of the other. It’s the kind of love that God has for us.

When God so loved the world—in John 3:16—he “agaped” the world. That’s the type of love that we’re to have for our enemies. That’s the type of love that we’re to have for those who want to bring us harm.

To love someone with agape love is to delight yourself in them. It’s a love that’s not motivated by what the other person can do for you. Agape love is volitional. It’s making a decision of the will to love another.

If we “love” only because we know that we’ll be loved in return, friends, that’s not what Jesus is talking about here—or anywhere else in the New Testament, for that matter. In Luke 6:32, Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”

Here’s what Jesus is saying.

If I love my wife (and I should love my wife and I do love my wife), it’s a pretty safe bet that I know my wife is going to love me back. And if I love my children (and I should love my children and I do love my children), it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll love me back.

There’s nothing counter-cultural about that kind of love. Jesus tells us here that even “sinners” love those who will love them back. And by “sinners” here, he’s not referring to the fact that we’re all sinners (cf., Romans 3:23). He’s using sinners here in a more designated sense. He’s talking about those who consciously choose not to follow Christ.

Even they have no problem with loving someone who will love them in return. In essence, he’s saying, “Give me a break. Everyone does that. Everyone loves the person who will love them back.”

So Jesus asks, “what benefit is that for you?” The word translated here as “benefit” is the same Greek word that’s elsewhere translated as “grace” or “favor.” In essence, here’s what Jesus is saying.

“Why should God show you any grace, why should he show you any favor for loving those who love you in return?”

Christians—those who follow Jesus—ought to be different. We ought not to just blend into the crowd. There should be something distinctive about the way we live.

When we see racial injustice, we ought to reply in a way that’s distinctively Christian.

When we see oppression, we ought to reply in a way that’s distinctively Christian.

And here’s why that should happen. When a Christian grasps—I mean when she really begins to understand—what Jesus accomplished on her behalf on the cross, it’ll change everything.

When she begins to understand that it wasn’t because she was such a lovable person that Christ loved her, it’ll change everything.

When she begins to understand that before she came to Christ, she was God’s enemy (cf. Romans 5), and that while she was still God’s enemy, God sent his only Son to die for her, it’ll change everything.

The reason many of us aren’t regularly amazed at God’s great love for us is that we think that we somehow deserve his love. We think we had it coming. It’s almost as if we say to ourselves, “It’s the least God could have done for me.” That seems to be the attitude that many people have.

But no, no, no, friends, listen. We don’t deserve God’s love. We deserve God’s wrath. But listen closely, friends. Here’s the glorious news. Even though we deserve God’s wrath, God sent his wrath on his Son Jesus as he hung on that cross. Jesus took the wrath that we deserve. And in return God sent his love to us.

It’s what Martin Luther called the great exchange. Jesus takes our sin, and God gives us his Son’s righteousness. And why did he do that? For the joy set before him (Heb 12:2)—because he loved us.

And because he loves us, his love transforms us. John the apostle said it this way. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

His love transforms us. Because he loved us, we’re able to love even the vilest of sinners. Because he loved us, we’re able to love our enemies.

Do you see? Because of his love for us, our attitude toward others is changed. We now have an attitude of love for others—and not just those who love us in return.

So, why should we love our enemies? Because the love of Christ has transformed our hearts and his love for us compels us to love our enemies.

Was I Born This Way?

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a number of different answers about why some people are attracted to people of the same sex.

Some attribute this desire to the results of the fall (Genesis 3).

Some claim that unnatural maternal hormonal levels cause the fetus to gravitate to same-sex attraction.

Some claim that sexual attraction itself isn’t fixed. Sexual attraction is endlessly fluid. Today a person may be attracted to individuals of the opposite sex and tomorrow they may be attracted to individuals of the same sex, and then the next day they are simultaneously attracted to both sexes.

Because we live in a fallen world, there may be any number of reasons why people are attracted to individuals of the same sex. So, how are Christians to think about this? This topic is far too complex to address in a short blog post, but here are some principles through which the Christian should think.

First, we must be firmly committed to recognizing the dignity of life in every human person. To be “pro-life” is more than taking a stand against abortion. To be “pro-life” is to recognize the image of God in every human person—from the time of conception until natural death.

This means that we treat all people with dignity and respect. While Christians should rightly conclude that same-sex sexual activity is a sin (see below), we nevertheless treat those who are engaged in this lifestyle with dignity and respect. They bear the image of God. We don’t treat them as “untouchables” because of their sin any more than we treat a gossip or a liar or a person prone to angry outbursts as “untouchable.” These individuals need to know that God sent his Son for those engaged in every manner of sin.

Second, we must recognize that same-sex attraction by itself isn’t sinful. We live in a fallen world. The fallenness of this world has affected people in any number of ways. Many of our desires have been affected in negative ways. For some, there are inappropriate desires for food (i.e., gluttonous). For others, there are inappropriate heterosexual desires. And for others, there are inappropriate homosexual desires. But the desire itself isn’t sinful, just as temptation by itself isn’t sinful. Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). Just as it’s possible for a heterosexual to live a chaste single life, so to can a homosexual live a chaste single life.

Third, we should acknowledge that the vast majority of individuals who experience sexual attraction to individuals of the same sex did not choose this lifestyle for themselves. They have genuine feelings for same-sex individuals much as heterosexual individuals have genuine feelings for opposite-sex individuals.

Fourth, the Bible clearly condemns same-sex sexual behavior as sinful. There are a number of biblical passages that address homosexuality (e.g., Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:26–28; 1 Cor 6:9–11; etc.). With any honest reading of the pertinent texts, one will see that, without exception, the Bible condemns homosexual behavior.

We can’t allow individuals to make reasoned excuses for why it is acceptable to engage in sinful behavior. God’s Word must stand as supreme over cultural pressure. There may very well be biological or cultural reasons for why some people engage in same-sex relationships. Again, the fall has affected us in ways in which we may not even understand. But this does not give us license to engage in what the Bible clearly calls sin.

For example, there is ample scientific evidence that the brains of individuals who view pornography are essentially “rewired.” This “rewiring” of the brain causes the individual to want more pornography, not less. But just because a person’s brain has been “rewired,” it doesn’t then follow that it’s now OK for that individual to view pornography. No, pornography is a sin every time and all the time.

Let’s not make biological or cultural excuses for why it’s OK for some to engage in sinful behavior. The Bible calls us to walk in holiness, forsaking all sin.

Fifth, the only answer for all of humanity’s sinful choices is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is as true for the homosexual sinner as it is for the heterosexual sinner. We are all sinners (Rom 3:23) in need of the grace and mercy of God. We all need Jesus (John 14:6).

What Are We to Make of President Trump’s Transgender Ban for the Military

President Trump is no stranger to controversy. This was true long before he became our nation’s 45th president. And now, President Trump has once again stepped into the firestorm. In three successive tweets on July 26, POTUS wrote,

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow . . . . . .

. . . . Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming . . . . .

victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you

The political and media firestorm that has erupted from these tweets was to be expected. While the firestorm on this issue has since died down, a church member asked me how Christians should think about transgender individuals in general and about the proposed transgender ban in the U.S. military in particular.

First, it may be helpful to clarify what is meant by transgender. Here is a commonly accepted definition. A transgender person is someone whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. According to this system of thought, gender and birth sex are not the same. Indeed, according to this system of thought, gender is not even binary. Gender is fluid, and it exists along a continuum.

A related, and some say, synonymous concept is gender dysphoria. By definition, gender dysphoria is the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be different than one’s biological sex. This dysphoria would manifest itself with an “intense desire” to have a physical body that corresponds to one’s perceived gender identity. According to medical experts, this dysphoria would also be accompanied by feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and restlessness, so much so as to interfere with a person’s normal life.

As Christians, we should have compassion for those who struggle with gender dysphoria. We should acknowledge that these individuals did not choose this struggle for themselves. They are often deeply torn, and they are men and women created in the image of God. They deserve to be treated with love and compassion.

Furthermore, we acknowledge that mankind’s fall into sin has affected all of creation. This does not mean that every person struggles with gender dysphoria, but the fall has manifested itself in the lives of some people in this way. We may or may not struggle with gender dysphoria, but we have all been born into this world under the burden sin, and as Christians, we recognize that the gospel is the only answer for our sin (see Romans 6–8). So, we dare not cast stones, rather we show love and compassion and proclaim the gospel.

But also as Christians, we should not accept the current cultural thinking regarding gender identity. We recognize the inherent sinfulness in rejecting God’s good gift of gender and pursuing our own gender identity. We must not encourage people to be their “true selves.” We must acknowledge that God made us in the beginning male and female (Genesis 1:27). Gender was created by God, and God called his created order “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Now, what are we to make of the military ban? Let’s rehearse a bit of recent U.S. history.

The ban on transgender individuals openly serving in the U.S. military was lifted in the waning months of the previous administration’s term (specifically, June 20, 2016) so the practice of allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the U.S. military has not been in place for a long time. This fact, in and of itself, does not argue for the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any policy decisions. This is mentioned only because some on the “progressive left” portray those on the “conservative right” as intellectual Neanderthals for disagreeing with the “new sexual norm,” when, in reality, this “new sexual norm” is a brand new development and even most of those who identity with the progressive left did not believe the things they are now saying just a matter of months ago.

As for a Christian response to transgender individuals openly serving in the U.S. military, arguments can be made on both sides of the issue.

Perhaps the strongest argument to allow transgender individuals to serve is the anti-discrimination standard. Our country is not a theocracy. While Christians desire men and women to live holy lives that honor God, we recognize that the only way to make this happen is through gospel-transformation. We do not keep people from serving in our nation’s armed forces just because they are sinning. For example, while adultery is a sin, we do not forbid adulterers from serving in the U.S. military. Since this is obviously true, why should we ban transgendered individuals from serving their country in the military?

If, however, the “sin” keeps the individual from properly carrying out his duties, then individuals could be banned from service in the military. It could be argued that by the very definition of gender dysphoria that transgender individuals are not suited for service in the U.S. military. Would it be prudent, for example, to give weapons to individuals (who by current medical definition) have strong psychological desires that include anxiety and depression?

There is a second argument that is often put forward against transgender military service. This second argument is a fiscal argument. The medical treatment (e.g., hormonal treatment and gender-reassignment surgery) and psychological treatment (e.g., counseling) for transgender individuals is often extreme. Two questions arise as a result. First, is it right to spend an inordinate amount of our limited defense budget to care for such a small population of individuals? And second, is it right to use taxpayer funds to pay for things that many find morally questionable?

These are questions that must be carefully thought through before reaching to a conclusion. May Christians allow the gospel to shape our hearts and minds, and may we have the wisdom to navigate these questions with clarity and compassion.

 

*** Albert Mohler posted an audio podcast discussing the current administration’s military transgender policy on August 25. See here to listen.