The Gulag Gosnell

“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Kermit Gosnell
Kermit Gosnell

Kermit Gosnell. The man is infamous now. Killing babies born alive by using scissors to snip their spinal cords will do that. In case you are unfamiliar with Mr. Gosnell, he is currently facing multiple counts of murder for killing babies born alive after botched abortions at his Philadelphia clinic. The details are horrific. I can’t even bring myself to repeat most of them. The images available in the grand jury report are stomach turning. The testimony by former staffers is gut-wrenching, heart-rending and nauseating. House of horrors does not even begin to describe it. There is something more sinister here. The darkness is deeper. The evil more palpable.

Continue reading “The Gulag Gosnell”

Skipping Christmas

Today, this thought struck me. Thousands, if not millions, will wake up tomorrow morning, exchange gifts, visit with family and engage in other holiday traditions, all the while thinking they are celebrating Christmas. However, the stark reality is that they celebrate something completely other than Christmas. Why is this? Because they will intentionally and willfully skip services with their local expression of the Body of Christ to take part in other holiday traditions. I decided to share this thought with friends on Twitter and Facebook. I phrased it like this:

Know this: if you skip church tomorrow morning to celebrate Christmas….Christmas is not what you celebrate.

One of my friends from church asked a thoughtful and honest question on Facebook in response to my post. In short, he was questioning whether my statement was correct. Does skipping church on Christmas really relegate your celebration as something less than honoring to Christ? His reaction was that it did not. He reasoned that if it did, the church would need to schedule a worship service on the 25th of December, no matter what day it fell on. I decided that my friend deserved a thoughtful answer to his question. So here it goes.

For over 2,000 years, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has gathered on the first day of the week to worship our risen and reigning Savior. This is what we do. Worship and fellowship with the church has been the priority since the beginning. It is part of the warp and woof of the Christian life. Yet, in the recent years when Christmas has fallen on a Sunday, this strange phenomena occurs. Christians, in droves, skip meeting together (even more ludicrous are the churches that close down altogether…but that’s another issue for another day). Why is this? Why skip church on Christmas? Frankly, it’s just easier. There is family, presents, traditions, breakfasts and lunches to prepare. Church is just an interruption in the day. Church requires getting ready and leaving the house. Church makes it more difficult to coordinate schedules, etc. But what does the choice of ease and comfort over worship in word and song say about us? Can we truly say we celebrate the advent of our Lord and Savior while we cloister ourselves away from the very ones Jesus has saved? Can we call what we do tomorrow morning “Christmas” when we ignore the  weekly gathering of Christ’s body? I submit that we cannot. For in that act, we repudiate the very thing Christmas teaches us. For it was not for ease and comfort that Jesus came into this world. From the get go, his life was difficult. He was the adopted son of a poor carpenter from a backwater town. He had no place to lay his head. He was the suffering servant who bore our sins and suffered a terrible death on a cross that belonged to us. Thank God Jesus did not choose ease and comfort. Otherwise, there would be no Christmas to celebrate.

This is why I firmly believe that you cannot call your celebration “Christmas” and remove yourself from the weekly scheduled gathering which heralds all that Christmas set out to do. It smacks of hypocrisy and poor theology (this is not to say my friend is a hypocrite or poor theologian. I am speaking of those who practice such things). The logical end of thinking one can skip Sunday services and still honor Christ is the abandonment of the church all together. For if skipping the weekly scheduled gathering on Christmas is no harm, neither should any other weekly scheduled gathering. Suddenly, the foundation for worship and fellowship with the church crumbles. And the author of Hebrews warns us against this very thing. The end of those who neglect meeting together is not rest, but wrath. Eternity is at stake in these matters!

Another question I have is why would any Christian want to skip church on Sunday? Is not gathering together in corporate worship a delight? Is it not a joyful reminder of the future that awaits us in the presence of our serpent-thrashing Savior King? How is a bigoted fat man with rosy cheeks and red suit a better option? If skipping church is the desired choice, what does that say about where our joy and treasure really lie?

At the same time, I do not believe churches should schedule a worship service every December 25th (but I am a fan of Christmas Eve services). I am simply critiquing the prioritization of other culturally adapted holiday traditions over Christian worship. Priorities have the tendency to reveal idolatries. And if Christmas falls on Sunday and corporate worship is not the priority, then don’t fool yourself into thinking what you celebrate is Christmas. In fact, you really just skipped it. That’s all I was trying to convey in my tweet (irony: 800 words to explain 140 characters).

As far as it depends on you (because sometimes, it doesn’t), when Christmas falls on the Lord’s day, make corporate worship the priority. The fellowship, the opportunity to sing songs of salvation and the conviction of the Word preached will outstrip any inconveniences that hour and half may cause you. I will guarantee you that one.

I hope and pray that you and yours have a very Merry Christmas.

~sdg

Idols, Scapegoats & the False Hope of Fandom

A while back, I renounced my fandom. I had grown tired of all that being a fan in today’s context entailed. No longer could one casually follow a hometown team. A true fan, a real fan, is one who hates all those who pose a threat to their team. But this hate is not reserved for the opposing teams. No, you must hate the fans of those teams as well. It is not simply enough to enjoy watching the Red Sox. You must hate the Yankees (and their fans). The True Blue fans of Kentucky Wildcat basketball must despise the University of Louisville and disparage their fans as half-wits or white trash (or both). It seems that in the world of fandom, love and hate go hand in hand.

Idolatry is not a word too many in our culture use on a daily basis. The word denotes little golden statues the likes that Indiana Jones crisscrossed the world in search of. In this civilized and enlightened world we live in, we have evolved beyond this belief that golden statues hold any power. A surface look at our culture would agree. Ornate Buddhist or Hindu temples do not dot our landscape as they do in Thailand or other Far Eastern countries. It would seem that our context is quite free from idols. Yet, to so narrowly define idols as little golden statues is to miss entirely what idols are and what idolatry looks like.

Understood correctly, an idol is anything or anyone who has attained god-like status in the heart of a person. When we displace the true God by things He made, this is idolatry and the object of our affections is an idol. Idols are our attempt to fill a longing to worship and longing for security, but at the same time retain control. We place present and future hopes and trust on an object or person rather than God. This is idolatry. And fandom wreaks of it.

It may seem a little far-fetched to call modern-day fandom idolatry. I mean, this is sports we are talking about here. Not religion. And yet, the language of fandom is dripping with religious symbols and concepts. Fans “worship” their team. They “idolize” coaches and players. Long-time coaches or super-star players attain “god-like” status. The list could go on. But even beyond the language of fandom is the behavior of fandom. Here, I think we see an even greater connection to “religious” activity. On game day, the fans gather in temple-like facilities, wearing the colors of their team. They sing the songs and chant the chants. When the team enters the arena, praise falls upon them with raucous cheers. Fans gather together with other fans to enjoy the camaraderie and talk endlessly about their team. You give tithes and offerings in exchange for a hot dog and a soda. Or perhaps you even get one of those foam fingers that declares the position of your team in your eyes. Attending a sporting event can be quite the religious experience. Especially when the team isn’t doing so well. Suddenly, a whole new religious dynamic enters the scene. Scapegoating.

Scapegoats find their origin in the book of Leviticus. In chapter 16, YHWH commands the people concerning a certain feast known as the Day of Atonement. In verses 20-22 we find the instructions regarding the scapegoat. The priest confesses all the sins of the people, all their vileness and impurity, over the goat. The goat is then led outside of the camp and set free in the wilderness. This animal bore the cost of Israel’s sin. It was cast outside the camp. And to be outside the camp was to be outside of God’s favor. To bear iniquity was to bear the wrath of God.

Several weeks ago, I watched the ESPN documentary called “Catching Hell” that took a look at scapegoating in sports. The film focused on probably the most recognizable sports scapegoat in all of history; Steve Bartman. The documentary was like a train wreck. The devastation was horrible, but I couldn’t change the channel. The short version of the story is this: The Chicago Cubs have not been the World Series in about 100 years. During the sixth game of the League Championship Series, the Cubs were only a few innings away from going to the World Series. In the top of the 8th inning, a ball was hit down the left field foul line and as usual, the fans in the vicinity stood for an attempt at a souvenir. One particular fan, Steve Bartman, got his hands on the ball, which prevented the Cubs’ left fielder from catching the ball for the second out of the inning. After that play, the Marlins went on to score eight runs to take the lead and win the game. As the game began to unravel, so did the sanity of the Cubs fans. Bartman received all the blame. It was his fault the Cubs were losing. The situation became so dire that Bartman required a security escort from his seat. As security took him away, other fans hurled insults and beer at the bewildered Bartman. The next day, the Cubs lost Game 7, ending their season and extending Cubs fans’ frustrations. In the days that followed the end of the series, Bartman began receiving death threats, so he went into hiding. Besides a short statement read by his brother, no media outlet has heard from Steve Bartman (despite numerous attempts to contact him). For all practical purposes, Steve Bartman is dead. The ability to lead a normal life died that chilly night in October when the Friendly Confines became anything but. He was led outside the camp, bearing the weight of a city’s sins and impurity; a weight he was never meant to carry. A weight that would only crush him.

It’s funny how we never blame our idols when they fall short of fulfilling our hopes and desires. It is always something or someone else who is as fault. Our hearts are so twisted and wicked that when the light exposes the inadequacy of our god, we blame the light for our god’s short-comings. We want what we want. And so we murder and destroy when we do not get it. Idolatry always ends in failure. It is a false hope. It is a vain search for vindication…for significance.

Have you ever noticed that fans use the word “we”[1] a lot? I catch myself doing it sometimes. “We need to upgrade our outfield.” “We have the best starting five in the country.” “We better figure out how to stop that passing attack soon!” We…we…we…we. The fact that you plop your butt in a stadium seat or in front of a HDTV at BW3s does not make you a part of the team. John Calipari has absolutely no idea who you are. Neither does anyone on the UK basketball team. Your opinions are meaningless. Wearing the team colors and replica jerseys do not make you a part of the team. So why do we say “we” when talking about UK basketball? If we were sane people, we’d stop using “we” when it comes to sports. But idolatry has never been the bastion of sane-thinking people.  And yet, there is something deeper going on with this corporate identity. We say “we” because we were made for “we.” God created us to desire membership in something bigger and more glorious than ourselves. Thus, fans speak in the corporate vernacular. Yet, sports cannot bear the crushing weight of our God-given desire for an ever-increasing glory. Our favorite team will always fall short. They will always disappoint. Even if they win it all, the exhilaration won’t last past your head hitting the pillow. Sports teams make for terrible gods.

Where sports fails, Jesus is more than sufficient. In sports, we must search in vain for a scapegoat that will restore our team to purity and victory. Jesus was the scapegoat who was led outside of the camp and bore our sins, making possible the satisfaction of the craving for a “we” to which we can belong. The Church is the “we” and if we only have eyes to see, glimpses of an ever-increasing glory will pierce the clouds and sustain us until the day we meet Jesus face to face. Then we will experience true freedom. Then we will find vindication. Then we will feel the full force of glory revealed and consummated. Then we will be the “we,” basking the glorious presence of our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever. No sports championship or title can compare.

~sdg

 

Footnotes

Back to Post[1] – See “What Do You Mean ‘We?’ ” by Chris Jones at Grantland

 

CCM, The Church & One That Got Away

Meghan O’Gieblyn writes:

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.

CD Cover for Carman's "The Standard"

You’ll want to read the whole article. I connected with a lot of what she was saying. I remember those same concerts, those same songs and in the end, experiencing those same feelings of emptiness and loss. Christianity had become a commodity and frankly, MTV did it better. Counting Crows, Third Eye Blind and the Goo Goo Dolls all had better sound and more interesting things to say. Which led me to buy what they and other like them were selling. A life about me, by me and for me.

By God’s grace, He saved me (from me). He showed me that Christianity is no commodity, but a relationship with Him, where me dies and yet, a new life is found in Him. I walked a different path that Meghan. I did not leave the faith. I hope and pray that she realizes that she did not need to leave the faith either. For what she described as “Christianity” is not Christian at all.  May church leaders and future church leaders (like myself) be warned of the results of fishing for men with bait we see on TV. They may swallow the hook, but in the end, they’ll be the ones who got away.

~sdg

The Riots Are Coming…

Theodore Dalrymple writes:

It is one of the tasks of civilisation to tame our inherent savagery. But who, contemplating contemporary British culture, would recognise in it any civilising influence, or rather fail to recognise its opposite? It is a constant call to and celebration of degradation, not only physical but spiritual and emotional. A culture in which Amy Winehouse, with her militant vulgarity and self-indulgent stupidity, combined with a very minor talent, could be so extravagantly admired and feted, is not one to put up strong barriers against our baser instincts, desires and urges. On the contrary, that culture has long been a celebration of those very urges. He who pays the savage never gets rid of the savagery; and this is only the beginning.

You can read the whole article here (HT: JT).

As I read the bit about Amy Winehouse, I couldn’t help but replace her name with Lady Gaga. The riots will come to America. You do not teach a generation of people a worldview that there is no God, there is no higher authority, that what’s true is what you believe is true and then expect them to restrain the savagery simmering within the human heart. Why should they? They were born this way. There is nothing wrong with them. This is where I think Dalrymple misses the point somewhat. Yes, civilization has a role in civilizing people. British riots are the fruit a particular type of civilization. Civilization does not make people more moral, more honorable. It only inculcates the values it holds true. What the British need is the Gospel. What America needs is the Gospel. For it is the Gospel that teaches us that there is an authority above us in front of whom we cannot stand (Psalm 130:3). But at the same time, there is forgiveness aplenty (Psalm 130:4). We, therefore, are able to stand. We can fight the evil that lurks within us. We can crucify the desires of our flesh. And we can live peaceably with our neighbors without the need for government to terrorize us into submission. For there is a higher authority that we fear. God is a far more terrifying foe than any government regulation or even gulag. So it is no surprise that those who do not fear God, do not fear any authority, any consequences. Revival is the only hope for a nation in decline. May God grant that true revival would fall and that America might be spared the destructive and deadly rioting that has gripped British towns and cities.

~sdg

Is Twitter A Thought Killer?

John Piper doesn’t think so. He writes:

Tweeting is to preaching what the book of Proverbs is to the book of Romans. It’s the difference between epigram and argument. In fact, if you need a biblical warrant for the literary form suitable for Tweeting it is the book of Proverbs.

I think Piper is on to something. Brevity is not the enemy of thinking. What might be worth pondering further is what is the enemy of thinking. Whatever that enemy is (for it could be different for many of us), that is more dangerous than a communication tool that constrains us to 140 characters.

~sdg

Happy 4th of July

I hope that you and your family are having a restful day off as you celebrate the 4th of July. I pray that as you celebrate the freedom we have in this country, that your thoughts would be drawn towards the day when the house of God will be full of celebrations as the ultimate freedom will finally be consummated in the visible reign of our Savior King.

Happy 4th of July!

 

~sdg

Review: Midnight in Paris

Movie Poster (Image Credit)

Generally, when my wife and I go to the movies, we go see action flicks. We don’t see too many “chick flicks.” But, Amanda was wanting to see this new movie “Midnight in Paris.” So I took my lovely wife to see this new flick.

As soon as I saw the name Woody Allen, I knew we were about to get something we hadn’t expected. The movie is about an engaged couple who accompany the girl’s parents to Paris for a business trip. Gil (played by Owen Wilson) is in love with the city. Although, he’s in love with Paris as it would have been in the 1920’s, during the literary and artistic renaissance. One night, Gil decides to walk back to the hotel instead of going out with his fiancee and her friends. Some how, Gil is transported back to that time (1920’s Paris). He meets his heroes:  F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Cole Porter.  As he is pulled further into the past by night, his present (by day) seems to be unraveling. Although he is engaged to be married, he finds himself falling in love with a mysterious woman during his midnight adventures with his literary heros. As he continues to revel in the past, he begins to realize that that those who are living in his idealized “golden age” don’t think their present is that golden. They have their own notions of a “golden age” and it’s not their present. It’s further in the past. Gil begins to realize that maybe the pull of nostalgia was too much for him. So he leaves his mysterious love only to return to his present and find it completely unraveled. Yet, Gil is curiously unaffected. He just moves on. Through his midnight strolls, he realized that the present he was living was a fraud. So he sets out to write a new chapter. Roll the credits.

Dr. Moore beat me to reviewing this movie. His analysis is excellent (as usual).  He writes:

“Memory is hunger,” Hemingway said, and I think he’s right. Our warm memories, of times we have known or of times we wish we’d known, point us to a deep longing within us for a world made right.

Towards the end he adds:

We all feel nostalgia, and, often, we realize that this nostalgia is all too illusory. But that doesn’t mean we should squelch it. We are made for nostalgia for the future.

I think Dr. Moore is right. We were made for nostalgia, but one that is in tension.Yes, we long for a time before our own where man walked in the Garden. It was a world without defect. “O, to return to Eden” is the cry of every man’s heart (whether he realizes it or not). But we cannot return. Not in the way that we wish. So we look forward. We believe that the only way to achieve the past is to move forward to the future. Whether it’s technology or philosophy or psychology or some other “ology”…we seek to recreate what we once had: a perfect world.

Yet, without the Gospel as the filter by which we see the world, nostalgia will destroy us. For we will be engaged in the building of a new Tower of Babel. But if the Gospel is what colors our nostalgic impulses, then we are on the path of wisdom. We realize that yes, we want that perfection that was lost so long ago. We desire perfect relationships with God, man and creation. We also realize that there is nothing we can do restore those relationships. We are powerless. But we are not without hope. For, God has sent His son, Jesus, to do that which we could not do. And one day, He will return to fully consummate His rule and reign and all those nostalgic impulses will wash away as we bask in the reality of more than we hoped and longed for.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ both fuels and satisfies the nostalgic impulses that course within our souls. They exist to point us to something, to tell us something. The world is not right, but it will be. Just as Dr. Moore said, The Gospel is a “nostalgia for the future”. A nostalgia in tension. Longing for the past by hoping for the future.

So revel in the past a bit. Smile at the memory of sleeping in your little league uniform the night before a game or breaking in that new glove. Smile at ballerina recitals, tea parties and Barbie dolls. Ponder the slower, simpler times of your youth or of the youths of history past. May it all fuel the desire to see His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

~sdg

Hard Words For Dads

Doug Wilson writes:

But children need fathers to be fathers. They need fathers to draw a line, to set a boundary. They need limits. But they need these limits from a man who has established his wisdom in drawing them. The limits are not set for their own sake, but for the child’s sake. And they are not set all by themselves, but are balanced in the context of a gracious relationship — just as the numbers on checks should be balanced in the context of the numbers on deposit slips.

You can read the rest here.

Frankly, I’m a little scared of fatherhood. I’m still trying to figure out husband-hood. But, the more I think about it, the Gospel teaches me that I have a model to follow. For, my Father has done for me exactly what he calls me to do for my own (future) children. You’ll need to read the rest of article mentioned above for this to make sense, but God deposited more cash in my account than I could ever imagine. This is why He gets to write checks that are larger than I think I can handle. Like a kid. Or cancer. Or our very life. Because of what the Father did for us through the Son, there is nothing He cannot ask of us. There is nothing that He cannot ask us to endure. He’s drawing on an infinite deposit.

Now a human father’s relationship with his children is only “like” the one the Father has with us. So I think Doug is onto to something. Depositing into our children’s lives is the only way we write checks on their lives and not destroy our relationship with them. And writing checks on the deposits made is the only way to not destroy the child.

As Father’s Day approaches, I hope that we might do more to pray for fathers. Tis a narrow road with deep ditches on both sides that all fathers walk and we should all seek the grace of God on their behalf. May God help all men who seek to model Him in their homes.

~sdg

A Scary Thought on Sanctity of Life Sunday

“But Lord, we preached pro-life sermons, we voted for pro-life candidates and even gave a pro-life pamphlet to an unwed pregnant teenager. And we did all this in your name, Jesus!”

Yet, to many, Jesus will respond “Away from me, you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you!”

Father, Please protect us from the tendency to make causes our gospel, our god. May we fight abortion with everything in us, because that is what a heart gripped by the gospel will do. May our generation be the one who sees the end of abortion in America. May our generation produce a thousand William Wilberforce’s. May I be one.

In Jesus name I pray.

~sdg