Sam Allberry on Sexual Ethics & Moral Intuition

I spent last week in Southern California for the Calvary Global Network (CGN) international conference. There was a great line up speakers, including Ray OrtlandJared C. Wilson, Mark Sayers, and Sam Allberry.

All the messages from the conference are available online here.

Sam’s message, “Gospel Confidence in a Sexually Shifting Culture” (video below) was particularly helpful.

Image result for sam allberrySam is a pastor from Maidenhead, England, who also works with Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM), Cedarville University, and writes for The Gospel Coalition.

He recently wrote a short and helpful book about Christian sexual ethics, in which he also talks about his own experience of same-sex attraction, titled “Is God anti-gay?”.

 

Key Points from Sam’s Message

In the West, we live in a place where people’s “moral intuitions” have shifted. People are not morally relative, nor are they amoral. Rather, their “intuition” of what defines morality has changed. People now base their determination of morality on these questions:

  1. Is it fair, or does it discriminate?
  2. Is it freeing, or is it oppressive?
  3. Is it harmful, or benign?

Anything seen as limiting freedom is seen as creating an existential conflict.

As a result, whereas biblical sexual ethics in the 1950’s-1980’s, for example, were considered prudish, they are now considered immoral.

What is needed is for us to learn to listen well, show people the goodness of God and provide a true and better narrative.

It’s worth listening to Sam’s entire message. Here is the video of it, as well as a follow-up interview he did afterward.

Advertisements

Compelling Stories & the True Myth

opened bible on wooden surfaca

Have you ever noticed that many of the stories that you love, all have the same core elements?

This is a reality which played a major role in CS Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, as he discussed it with his friend JRR Tolkien. I told that story in this post, called Addison’s Walk.

Lewis later articulated this concept in Mere Christianity, in which he described how the gospel story of Jesus Christ is the “true myth,” and the fundamental myth, which is written on the human heart, and to which all other myths point.

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

It isn’t only Christians who have observed this phenomenon. Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature who researched comparative mythology, wrote a book titled, The Hero with a Thousand Facesin which he showed how there is a common structure in the mythological stories told in all human cultures of an archetypal hero. This structure has come to be known as the “monomyth.”

This podcast episode gives a very engaging description of the monomyth theory and how  Hollywood has now begun to use it as a formula for writing stories that people want to watch: Imaginary Worlds, The Hero’s Journey: Endgame

I first heard about The Hero with a Thousand Faces while recording a podcast episode for the Expositors Collective Podcast at a training weekend in Bradenton, Florida last December. That episode was released this past week, and you can listen to it here: Expositors Collective, Episode 45: Telling a Compelling Story.

The discussion in that episode is based on a talk I gave at that event on the topic of homiletics (the art of preaching), about how to use narrative format in order to craft compelling expository sermons.

Why Do People Like to Read These Kinds of Stories?

Interestingly, when Joseph Campbell was asked why he thought it was stories contain these common elements, which are all present in the biblical narrative, his response was that the reason people write in this way, is because it is what other people like to read. However, in that response he fails to answer the question and get to the root of the issue, which is: Why do people like to read these kinds of stories?

As Christians, we would agree with Tolkien and Lewis, that the reason for this is because we are created by God, and this story is the true story of the world, which we intuitively know because God has placed it in our minds and put it in our hearts.

This same theme was identified by Don Richardson, a missionary to Papua New Guinea who discovered that there are common virtues and mythologies held in all cultures in the world, and that these shared stories create a basis by which the gospel can be shared cross-culturally, even to people who have never been exposed to the gospel before. He documents and explains this in his books Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

Popular Examples

In our interview, Mike mentions a clip from the Simpsons in which Homer says something profound about the Bible: “Everybody in this book is a sinner… except for THIS GUY!” Here’s the clip:

I recently found out that at the end of the series, J K Rowling revealed that Christianity inspired Harry Potter. In an interview, she stated how she always thought that the influence of the biblical narrative was so obvious that every reader should have noticed it, and that the Bible verses on Harry’s parents’ gravestones “sum up and epitomize the entire story.”

What does all this mean for us?

It means that when you read a story that compels you, when you watch a movie that makes you cry, when you read a news story about heroism that touches your heart, there is a very profound reason for that: that story resonates with and reflects the true story of the world, the gospel story of Jesus Christ – the true story of the ultimate problem, the ultimate peril, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, the ultimate story of good overcoming evil, and the ultimate hero.

If you follow the ladder all the way to the top, it will lead you to Jesus. As you enjoy these stories, don’t fail to recognize that what you truly long for in your heart of hearts is nothing less than Jesus himself and the redemption that is found in him!

Foster Care, Jesus, & Living Out the Gospel

May is National Foster Care Month in the United States, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services.

Our Story

Something you may not know about me and my family is that we foster parented, and ultimately adopted the child we had in foster care. He came to us at age 14 and is now grown, living on his own, and pursuing a career. We’re very proud of him.

A Picture of the Gospel

Foster parenting is something very near to my heart, and I believe it is one of the most profound ways in which we can live out the gospel: choosing to make someone family, placing your love on them and caring for them, not because you have to, but because you choose to. That is what God has done for us in Christ! He took us who were strangers, and in Christ he makes us full-fledged sons and daughters. He adopted us into his family! (Romans 8:15).

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Did you know that Jesus was adopted? Joseph, knowing that Jesus was not his biological son, chose to raise him as his son – to provide for him, teach him, and love him, and be a father to him.

A Profound Need

Foster parenting and adoption are some of the greatest ways in which you can make a real, substantial difference in the life of another person. Does it come with risk? Absolutely! But is it worth it? Most definitely.

Take a look at this infographic from Together We Rise, a non-profit which helps families get into foster care, and foster-to-adopt. It shows the number of children in foster care waiting to be adopted in the United States.

Image result for together we rise children waiting to get adopted
Children in Foster Care Waiting to Get Adopted in the United States

I challenge you to pray about if God might have a role for you to play in this important and life-changing endeavor, of living out the gospel by welcoming a child-in-need into your home.

A Counter-Cultural Approach

Many people think of parenting in terms of what a child will do for them, such as give them a sense of fulfillment, companionship or the promise of posterity and an heir. The gospel causes us to think differently about parenting, however, in light of how God has parented us. Rather than thinking about what parenting can do for me, my focus in parenting becomes what I can do for the child, to give them the love, provision and instruction that they need; pouring out myself for their sake.

Further Reading

Our church is involved in two annual initiatives, one at Christmastime and the other in the summer, when kids are preparing to go back to school. You can read more here about Project Greatest Gift and Project Back to School.

Is Life Really Worth the Pain and the Risk?

photography of person walking on road

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

My question is the following: What is the benefit of God’s human project?

If all of history since creation to the final day of judgement is in fact a great tragedy in the sense that there are souls which will ultimately be lost despite the absolute best intentions of God. Based on Revelation, the number of God’s children is only a fraction of the lost ones. Therefore what could represent such value for God which is worth this risk? I can’t name or imagine anything worth the sacrifice of eternal human souls. So why were his plans not “cancelled” after the first sin?

Personally, this is important to me because my wife and I are thinking about having children, and I can see no reason why I should take part in exposing another human to the possibility of damnation, even if the chances are minimal. I simply do not want to risk such a thing, regardless of the odds. And to be honest, even without the eternal perspective I would not force existence on Earth to anyone.

I can see however that this reasoning inevitably leads to the conclusion that God is evil and human existence should end as soon as possible in order to avoid further damage, and it is contradicting to the picture we see from other parts of the Bible (however, maybe this problem is somehow connected to issues such as the genocide of other nations like philistines or amalekites).

Are you aware of something which could provide some insight about this problem?

This is obviously not a merely theoretical question for you, and I appreciate the thought you’ve put into it.

Here are some thoughts:

This Life Matters

We must not diminish the goodness of this life. Sometimes Christians, in their focus on eternal destiny (which is appropriate and right), can forget the fact that when God created the world, he looked at it and said, “It is good,” and he looked at the human life that he had created and declared that it was “very good.” Although sin has led to cracks and fissures in the fabric of that good creation, it has not lost all of its original goodness, nor have we as humans ceased to bear the “image of God.”

What this means is that the joys of this life are indeed joys. The Psalmist says, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

In other words, this life matters and we experience goodness, beauty and truth in this life, despite the fallenness of this world. Life, the Bible describes, is but a mist, but it is a good mist, and a gift from God.

The difference is this: for the person who does not have eternal life, the joys of this life (which are legitimate joys) are the best they will ever experience, whereas for the person who has the hope of eternal life, the sorrows of this life are the worst they will ever experience.

“The Tears of God are the Meaning of History”

You asked the question: Why didn’t God just end it all after the first sin?

That’s a great question which gives us some deep insight into the character of God. I actually have taught on this subject several times. My favorite passage to go to in this, is Genesis 6:5-6, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”

That word “grieved,” as describing God’s feeling, is only found in one other place in the Bible: in Isaiah, where it is used to describe the pain that a woman feels when her husband abandons her. Isaiah 54:6, “like a wife, married young, only to be deserted, and your spirit was filled with pain.” This word describes bitter anguish, deep, unfulfilled longing, and profound frustration.

In other words, God not only created us, but he is emotionally invested to the point where he experiences joy and sorrow based on how we are doing. What that means is that the brokenness of the world causes God pain. When people are lost forever, it causes God pain, grief and sorrow.

The question is, like you asked: Why didn’t God just end the whole thing after Adam and Eve sinned, and save himself (not to mention: us) all the pain and heartache, some of which will last for eternity?

This question has been answered with this phrase: “The tears of God are the meaning of history.” (coined by Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book, Lament for a Sonin which he writes about his grief over the death of his son, and considers why God allows pain and suffering in the world)

In other words, God decided to weep, rather than to save himself from the grief. He decided to allow himself to suffer the pain of sorrow and grief, continually. WHY? Because, as you alluded to: there was something which he believed made it worth continuing…

(For more on this, check out a sermon I preached on this topic called: “The Sigh to End All Sighs“)

Which leads us to our next point…

The Treasure Hidden in a Field

One of my favorite parables that Jesus spoke was Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

This parable involves three elements: a treasure, a field, and a man. The questions are: what is the treasure, what is the field, and who is the man?

Some interpret it this way: The treasure is the kingdom of God and its benefits, and we are the man who must sell everything in order to take hold of the treasure.

I don’t believe that’s the correct interpretation, for a few reasons. One is that in the parable prior to this one, Jesus also uses an example featuring a field, and explicitly states, “The field is the world.” (Matthew 13:38)

The correct interpretation (and the one which fits best with the biblical narrative and the gospel message) is that the field is the world, the man is Jesus, and the treasure? The treasure is us! We are the treasure, which Jesus saw in the field (the world), and sold everything he had (his life), in order to take hold of us.

This changes the thrust of the parable to be from what we need to do to take hold of the kingdom of God to being about what Jesus has done in order to take hold of us.

The other thing it tells us, though, is that God views us as “treasure” – meaning that to him, we have great value, a value so great that he was willing to give everything to take hold of us.

Similarly, Hebrews 12:2 says that it was for the joy that was set before him, that Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame.

In other words, the prospect of saving some was so precious to God, that he considered it worth the pain.

(Here is a sermon I taught on this parable: “Lost and Found“)

The Ultimate Judgment is When God Gives You What You Insist On

In Romans 1:18-33, God’s judgment is described in interesting terms: as God essentially giving people what they insist on. The phrase “God gave them up” – i.e. stopped resisting them and let them have what they wanted, is repeated three times: 1:24, 1:26, 1:28.

CS Lewis and others have posited that when God judges someone, even eternally, he is essentially just giving them what they have insisted on. Having insisted that they do not want a relationship with God, God does not force them to spend eternity in relationship with him. Having stated that they want autonomy from God, God has given them what they desired.

There are indeed examples in the Bible of times when God seems to have intervened against the will of the individual, in order to “open their eyes” (such as Saul in Acts 9), which leads to a change of heart and attitude and a different approach to God. However, these acts are acts of grace, and grace – by definition – is not owed to, or deserved by anyone. In other words, God is under no obligation to show grace or mercy in order to be fair, right or just. Justice is giving someone what they deserve. Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve, and Grace is giving someone something they don’t deserve. The only one of these which we deserve, is justice. If God gives us what we have earned, then it is only fair.

Beyond fairness, however, God offers grace and mercy freely to all who will receive it. May we be those who receive it gladly and eagerly!

Is It Worth Bringing a Life Into This World?

I respect the fact that you are thinking about the well-being of this child as you make this decision. Many people only think of children in regard to themselves, so that is commendable. I wish more people would think of the child first when planning their family.

Personally, I think that it is worth the risk to bring a child into this world, and I believe that God thinks it is worth the risk as well.

Thanks for your question, and may God bless you!

You Never Outgrow the Gospel

asphalt dark dawn endless

Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells the story of how the church he grew up in began with a great revival, but slowly died over time. When he inquired about what had led to this decline, an older man attributed it to the fact that when the revival had taken place, the gospel was being heralded regularly and powerfully, but over time it became assumed that such gospel proclamation was no longer necessary, since those who attended the church were already Christians.

Lloyd-Jones determined that he would always preach the gospel, no matter who he was preaching to. Not only did he consider it a “fatal assumption” to think that just because someone attends church, they must be a Christian, he also believed that Christians never outgrow the need to hear the gospel. [1]

The gospel is not good advice about what you ought to do for God, it’s the good news about what God has done for you in Christ. Paul says that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Romans 1:16). Paul told the Ephesians that it was when they heard the gospel of their salvation and believed in Jesus that they were saved (Ephesians 1:13)

Clearly those who do not yet believe need to hear the gospel, so they can know who Jesus is and what he has done for them, so that they can believe and be saved. What about those who already believe; what do they need? Biblical instruction? Absolutely. But do you know what else believers need in order to grow in their faith and relationship with God? They need to hear the gospel.

The Gospel is Not Just the Starting Point of Christianity, It is the Beating Heart of Christianity

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote to a group of Christians who, even though they were committed followers of Jesus, they were still trying to be justified before God by their own works. Paul wrote to these believers to remind them of the gospel and instruct them about the gospel: what Jesus had accomplished for them, and what it meant for their lives.

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)

Even though they were already believers, they still needed to be hear the gospel.

An Apostolic Pattern

This is not unique to Paul’s letter to the Galatians; it is a pattern that is seen throughout the apostolic letters in the New Testament. When the apostles wrote to the early Christians, they did not merely tell them how they ought to live now that they were followers of Jesus, rather they reminded them of the gospel, and encouraged them to respond to the gospel in every area of their lives.

The apostles’ pattern was to remind believers of the gospel, as the motivation and the pattern for the Christian life.

What this means is that you never outgrow the gospel. No matter how long someone has been a Christian, they will never get to the place where they no longer need to hear the gospel.

It means that the gospel is not just the means by which people become Christians, it is also the means by which we grow as Christians, as we believe, embrace and apply the gospel to every area of our lives.

When Paul instructed the Ephesians about marriage, he didn’t tell husbands and wives to love and respect each other because it is “the right thing to do,” rather he instructed them about marriage on the basis of the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33)

When Paul wrote the Corinthians about generosity, he didn’t tell them that this is what they have to do because they are Christians, rather he appealed to them on the basis of the gospel, saying, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

This is motivation on the basis of the gospel of God’s grace. Whereas laws can control behavior, they do not affect the heart. Conversely, when the heart is changed by the love and grace of God, actions will follow.

The apostolic pattern in the New Testament is to preach the gospel both to unbelievers and believers, and to show how the gospel speaks to every area of life. May we be those who follow this pattern by applying the gospel to all of life, and faithfully proclaiming it whenever we teach or preach, no matter who our audience.

Sri Lanka & the Hope of the Resurrection

Image result for sri lanka jesus statue covered in blood
Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka after the attack on Easter Sunday

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)

Yesterday, as people around the world gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, terrorists attacked three churches in Sri Lanka, killing nearly 300 and injuring over 500. [source]

The irony of the situation is profound: The goal of terrorism is to incite fear by taking lives, but they carried out their attacks on the day when Christians revel in the fact that we can live without fear because of the hope that we have in eternal life.

What Jesus’ resurrection means for Christians, is that not only did Jesus die to forgive our sins, but he rose from the grave to conquer over death forever, so that we can have eternal life.

1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of those who are going to be resurrected to eternal life, and because that is true, death has lost its sting! Death will not have the final word.

As a result of this great truth, we who have this hope of eternal lives are free to live without fear. We are free to be courageous and generous, because we have nothing to lose – and the greatest gain is already ours!

Paul the Apostle put it this way: “If the dead are not raised, then we should just eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) The idea is that, if this life is all we’ve got, then it would make sense for us to be selfish and short-sighted with the time we’ve got, since this is all we have. However, if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, and we will too – then “to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Philippians 1:21)

If you have the hope of eternal life, then this life isn’t as good as it will ever get for you, rather, this life is as bad as it will ever be for you. If you know that you’ve got a thousand, million, billion years ahead of you, in which you will experience joy, security, adventure and love, then you are truly free to use the little window of time you’ve got here on Earth in the service of others, and in the service of God.

If you have the hope of eternal life, you are free to love sacrificially, and to give without holding back!

In other words: Jesus’ resurrection makes us brave, because it gives us hope.

Jesus’ disciples who saw him after his resurrection were so transformed by it, that they went from being timid and fearful to being bold, to the point where they came out of hiding and publicly proclaimed their faith, unwaveringly – even in the face of violence towards them and their families. As Paul says in Acts 13:31, they became “witnesses to the people”; rather than fearing for their lives, they boldly carried out a mission.

Our hearts break, and our prayers go out for those who are suffering from injuries, as well as for the families who were affected by this horrible act of violence. Our hearts ache as we look around and see the brokenness in the world, manifesting itself in hatred and violence. But as Christians, we must refuse to live in fear.

Instead, we set our hearts and minds all the more on the fact that we are pilgrims in this world, and our purpose here is not comfort or security. The time for comfort and security will come – fully and forever! But our time here on Earth is to be dedicated to courageously doing the will of God and carrying out His mission in the world, to bring to others the love of God and the good news of Jesus: the light of the world, who conquered death, and through whom we can have eternal life.

Joaquin Phoenix is Playing Jesus, but Refused to Reenact One of His Miracles

image.png

Joaquin Phoenix is playing Jesus in the film “Mary Magdalene,” which releases this week on Good Friday, and attempts to look at the story of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene.

Check out: Is Good Friday Actually Good?

The movie takes a few liberties with the story, however. For example, in the case of the healing of the blind man in John 9, the man is replaced by a woman, and Joaquin Phoenix refused to act out how the actual miracle took place: by making mud with saliva and dirt, and rubbing it on the blind man’s eyes.

Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:6-7)

Here’s what Phoenix told CNN about why he wouldn’t reenact this particular miracle:

“I knew about that scene from the Bible, but I guess I had never really considered it. When I got there, I thought, ‘I’m not going to rub dirt in her eyes. Who the f— would do that?’ It doesn’t make any sense. That is a horrible introduction to seeing.”

Instead, Phoenix chose to lick his thumb and rub the woman’s eyes. [source]

However, I think that Joaquin Phoenix, in claiming to know better than Jesus, is actually detracting from a major aspect of what made that miracle significant.

On my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit the Pool of Siloam, which is currently being excavated. I even had the chance to teach about this miracle from John 9, right on site to our group.

IMG_8672.jpeg

IMG_0919.jpeg
Teaching at the Pool of Siloam after having walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel

One of the key features of the parable is that the way Jesus healed this man required the man to respond in faith to what Jesus did and said. Jesus didn’t simply touch this man and he was healed; he did something which would have seemed odd and confusing (applying mud to his eyes) and then told him to do something which also seemed to not make sense: to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.

The Pool of Siloam was originally used to provide water for the Temple. Water was brought from outside the city, via the Gihon spring, through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, to the pool, where it was collected. In the time of Herod the Great, other pools were created, closer to the Temple, such as the Israel Pool, and those were used in the service of the Temple instead; the Pool of Siloam was then used as a public mikvah, or ritual bath, used for Jewish purification rites.

Here’s why the way Jesus performed this miracle matters:

1. It required the man to respond in faith and obedience

Faith has been defined as “trusting God enough to do what he says.” This man had probably washed his face many times in his life; how would washing mud off his face on this day help him see? It didn’t make sense, and yet that’s kind of the point: it required faith for him to obey rather than cynically refuse to do so, saying “Why would that help?” or “Why would today be any different?”

2. It communicated a theological message

The theological message implicit in Jesus covering this man’s eyes with dirt and telling him to wash in a ritual bath, was that we need to be cleansed.

But beyond that, here is Jesus – God incarnate – the one who created humankind out of the dirt of the Earth, yet we are now broken and fallen as a result of our sins and failures. And so here is the creator, come to us to heal our brokenness, once again putting his hands in the dirt and re-forming that which has become broken.

It’s a powerful picture. What a shame that Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t get it and robs the audience of it.

3. It was public, not private

When this man was healed in this public pool, many people would have seen it, as John 9 tells us they did. This was not a private thing between Jesus and this man; it was done for all to see, to bring glory to God.

Let’s stick with letting Jesus’ words and actions stand on their own!

Here’s the trailer of the Mary Magdalene movie:

Mary Did You Know? – Questions About Jesus’ Childhood

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

A few weeks ago I created a page where you can submit questions or suggest topics. A reader sent in this question:

In John 2:3-5, Mary asks Jesus to do a miracle in order to save a wedding feast where they have run out of wine.

How did Mary know to ask Jesus for help? Was she even asking for help?

Did she know who he was and what he was here to do?

Why are there no stories of Jesus’ childhood, except in the gnostic gospels?

I recently taught this section at White Fields, during our Advent series. In the sermon I talk about how this first of Jesus’ miracles points to the eschatological hope of the gospel. You can listen to that message here: From Shame to Joy

Let me answer each of your questions in order.

Was Mary Asking Jesus for Help?

Yes, I think that is clear from two things we see in the narrative:

  1. Jesus’ apparent frustration with the request.
  2. Mary’s instructions to the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.

How Did Mary Know to Ask Jesus for Help? Did She Know Who He Was and What He Was Here to Do?

Yes, Mary absolutely did know that Jesus was the Messiah! This is the woman who got pregnant without having sex. I think that’s something that would be hard to forget.

This is the woman who had the angel Gabriel appear to her to announce that she was pregnant with the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). This is the woman who sang the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-56). This is the woman whose cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah also had a visitation from the Lord. Joseph also had a visitation to tell him the identity of the child (Matthew 1)

Lest we forget, this is the woman who also experienced:

  1. The visit of the shepherds who had heard the divine proclamation (Luke 2)
  2. The visit of the magi who came from the East following the star which proclaimed the birth of a new king (Matthew 2)
  3. Interactions with Simeon and Anna in the temple (Luke 2)

Furthermore, this is the woman who had to flee with her baby in the night to Egypt, where they stayed for several years as refugees until Herod the Great died, because he was committed to killing this one who was the rightful heir to the throne of David, i.e. the promised Messiah.

Mary and Joseph had an acute awareness of who Jesus was, and I would expect that they also talked about this with Jesus. One question that theologians debate is whether Jesus innately knew that he was the Messiah, or if it was revealed to him by the Spirit. I expect that his mother and father would have talked to him about it as well, recounting to him as a young child why they had to live as refugees in Egypt, and telling him stories of the angels’ visitations and all the crazy stuff that happened at his birth.

The word Messiah means anointed one. There were three people in ancient Israel who were anointed with oil as a symbol of the Spirit of God upon them to empower them for their ministry: Prophets, Priests and Kings. The eschatological Messiah was known to be one who would be the perfect fulfillment of all three of these offices: he would be the ultimate priest, the true prophet (remember Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 of the prophet whom God would raise up… the Jews understood this to be a Messianic prophecy – see John 1:21), and the true king (for more on this, read: If Jesus is God, Why is He Called the Son of God and the Firstborn of All Creation?)

Being that Jesus is the true and greatest prophet, it would be expected that he would perform miracles, like the “wonder-working prophets” Elijah and Elisha. This is why one of the expectations of the Jews from Jesus was that he validate his ministry through performing miracles. Jesus pushed back at this, knowing their hearts – but the fact is that he did perform many miracles.

Why are there no stories of Jesus’ childhood, except in the gnostic gospels?

It says clearly in John 2:11 that this was the first of Jesus’ miracles, or rather “signs”, by which he manifested his glory. This, by the way, goes to show the dubious nature of the childhood narrative of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which purports Jesus doing miracles to heal birds.

My guess is that the reason there isn’t more written about Jesus’ childhood is because there wasn’t much to talk about. He spent his first several years in Egypt, then at age 12, his parents noticed that he had a keen desire to know the Father and study the Scriptures. Beyond that, Jesus and his parents would have always known that he was the Messiah, but he didn’t do anything in that role until his baptism at age 30.

Thanks for these great questions! Keep studying the Word, and feel free to send more questions to me by filling out this form.

Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’ and the Need for Hope

Image result for being mortal atul

I recently finished Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal. It was given to me by a friend from church who recommended I read it, and I’m glad I did.

The Author and his beliefs

Atul Gawande is an American medical doctor, the son of two doctors who immigrated to the U.S. from India. He was raised nominally Hindu, but by his own admission he is functionally secular and non-religious, and the focus of his book is not at all on giving hope beyond this life, only on dealing with the death from a clinical perspective.

However, I would argue that whatever you believe about the future invariably affects the way you interpret the meaning and purpose of life, as well as how you cope with mortality, and this does come through in some of his conclusions.

Content and Highlights

The book begins with a description of physical changes that happen as people age, beginning at age 35.

Dying Well

Next, Atul Gawande gives a brief history of nursing homes. I found this part very interesting. About 50% of Americans die in nursing homes. Some might say this is very sad, which in some ways it is – however, understanding the way that most people died in the past makes you see that this is actually a great improvement over 100 years ago, when many people died in state-funded “poor houses” which even at their best had awful conditions.

He then goes on to describe the development of “assisted living” facilities, and how many have now deviated from their original purpose and design. He also tells stories of people who have sought to improve these facilities through innovation, such as bringing living things, e.g. plants, animals and children into these homes to improve residents’ quality of life.

While the author does say that the older model of a multi-generational home in which elderly people are cared for at home until they die has some benefits, he also shows its limits and downsides, using his own grandfather as an example.

Palliative Care

Atul also describes the benefits of palliative care for elderly people, which is focused on improving a person’s quality of life rather than on invasive treatments which may reduce a dying person’s quality of life even though they have little to no chance of curing them or significantly prolonging their life.

Even though palliative care has been shown to help improve and often prolong a person’s life, one of the sad things Gawande points out is that many insurance providers have stopped paying for palliative care, but they continue paying for invasive treatments, even if they are unnecessary or unhelpful to patients. This perpetuates a cycle of doing everything possible for patients, even if those treatments are not likely to lengthen their life and will probably make their quality of life worse.

The Big Point

Atul Gawande’s main point is summed up in this statement:

“Over and over, we in medicine inflict deep gouges at the end of people’s lives and then stand oblivious to the harm done.”

He argues that as people live longer and more die of old age, we should be focused on helping people stay in control of their lives as long as possible, achieve their goals, and die with dignity.

A Reason for Living

It is impossible to talk about dying without some sort of existential discussion about what gives life meaning and purpose.

At one point, Atul Gawande references the Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce, who said that “simply existing – merely being housed and fed and safe and alive – seems empty and meaningless to us.” He goes on to explain that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves, and it is in ascribing value to the cause and seeing it as worth sacrificing for, that gives our lives meaning.

Royce said that this reason for living was the opposite of individualism. An individualist puts self-interest first, seeing his or her own pain, pleasure and existence as their greatest concern. For the individualist, self-sacrifice makes no sense, but since their own self is the highest cause for which they live, their life has no meaning other than to make themselves happy. Ironically, it is for this reason that happiness and satisfaction will always elude them. For the individualist death is meaningless and ultimately terrifying.

It is for this reason, Gawande explains, that we all need something beyond ourselves and outside of ourselves to live for, and this is why elderly people who have pets, for example, tend to live longer lives.

The problem with Gawande’s search for meaning

The problem with Gawande’s search for meaning, is that he has identified a real need, and yet he basically says in the end that since he doesn’t believe there is anything beyond this life, therefore it is better to give someone the illusion that their life has meaning and purpose and value beyond themselves, even though no such thing really exists.

He does mention that people want their lives to make a difference after they are gone, but what he fails to answer is: to what end?  Why should anyone care about what happens after they are gone, if life is actually meaningless, and after this light burns out there is only darkness? From this same logic, a totally selfish existentialism could also be argued for – such as that of the Epicureans: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” – in other words #YOLO – since we only live once, who cares what destruction we leave in our wake for others to deal with?! It’ll be their problem, not ours!

The solution which only the gospel gives

In this search for meaning and purpose, I would argue that it is only the gospel message of Jesus Christ which gives a satisfactory answer to humankind’s search for meaning and hope beyond this life.

It is only the gospel which gives us real hope beyond this life, and a real mission in this life which has more than just illusionary results. In the gospel we have hope for life beyond this one, and the effects of our mission are eternal in nature.

As CS Lewis put it at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia:

“For us, this is the end of all the stories…but for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” – CS Lewis, The Last Battle

In order to truly “die well”, what we need is not just dignity, but HOPE. And this is found only and ultimately in the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Should you read it?

I would recommend Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. It was full of important thoughts about the process of dying in Western society today. However, I recommend reading the book with an eye to its one glaring shortcoming: it fails to address the need for and the source of HOPE both for this life and the one to come.

Martin Luther King Jr. On Christianity and the Gospel

31 Powerful Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, the day when we commemorate the civil rights leader, who was also an ordained Baptist pastor.

I’ve written before about MLK Jr.’s letter to fellow pastors from his jail cell in Birmingham, and about his most famous speech.

Here are a few things he said about Christianity and the gospel:

1. “The end of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.”

2. “There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have worshiped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived.”

3. “The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

4. “If any earthly institution or custom conflicts with God’s will, it is your Christian duty to oppose it.”

5. “We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word . . . Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests.”

6. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”