Fast & Pray: Election Day 2016

Dear Faithful Readers,

Today we will elect the next president of the United States of America.

Whether you have voted already, will do so shortly or plan to abstain, I respectfully ask you to fast and pray for our country. I have asked the congregation of Trinity Reformed Church to spend today fasting and praying. If you are able, I extend the same request. However, perhaps a little instruction is warranted. To that end, I am hyperlinking an Election Prayer Guide from Harvest Ministries to assist you. The prayer guide not only explains why we should pray, but it also gives practical suggestions for what to pray.

If you visit either my personal Facebook page or that of Trinity Reformed Church, you will see an opportunity to participate in prayer with me as a part of an online community. In the comments, simply type a one sentence prayer or copy and paste an appropriate verse of scripture (I have already done both, although mine is a few sentences long).

In my entire life, I have not seen as much public animosity as in this election cycle. Even Christians are deeply divided about the candidates as evidenced by our social media where we have expressed our opinions and vented our frustrations. In preparation for last Sunday’s sermon, I was convicted that my own heart had been drawn too deeply into the current political struggle.

In Exodus 5:15-23, pharaoh ordered that the Hebrew slaves be made to gather their own straw in order to make bricks. He gave the order as a punishment and a deterrent in response to Moses’ and Aaron’s demand in God’s name, “Let My people go!” The people of Israel were already working at maximum capacity, so sending part of the workforce to search for straw led to a drop in production and they were unable to meet their daily quota. As a result, the Hebrew foremen were brutally beaten by their Egyptian taskmasters and then went to meet with the pharaoh. With humility, the foremen ingratiated themselves as “your servants” three times and “cried out” to him for mercy. But his heart was hard, not merciful, and he sent them back to work. Therefore, the leaders of God’s people blamed Moses and Aaron for their troubles and even cursed them in God’s name.

This passage stands in stark contrast to the end of Exodus 4: “30Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. 31And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” Let us not forget that Moses and Aaron weren’t sent to renegotiate Hebrew labor with Egypt. They were sent to remove Israel from captivity! However, when their conditions worsened to the point of impossibility—despite the promise of God’s deliverance—the people cried out for mercy to the wrong person. When no mercy was given, their confessions of faith quickly turned to cursing. If we’re not very careful, we will suffer the same fate.

Fast. Pray. Vote. Trust God alone.

King Jesus is building a kingdom without curse for those who believe—a kingdom in which everyone and everything is exactly as it should be (Revelation 21:1-7)!

Even so, come Lord Jesus,

Pastor Toby

Posted in Post Tenebras | Leave a comment

His Power’s Revolution

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Acts 5:17-21

Has Jesus caused a revolution in your life? Copernicus caused a world-wide scientific paradigm shift by proving that the sun, and not the earth, was at the center of our solar system. A Christian revolution takes place whenever Christ displaces self as the glorious source of all light and gravity.

Revolutions are about a change of power. Jesus’ advent heralded “the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:35). But when His power was poured out on the Church at the advent of the Holy Spirit, it caused—and is causing—the “fall and rising of many” throughout the world. Although the revolution of which we speak is spiritual in nature, it began with tremendous social and religious upheaval in Jerusalem. Just as convection currents cause the formation of violent storms, the rapid cycle of rising and falling power in Israel developed into a hurricane that forever changed the world.

God’s revolution began at the grass roots. Jesus was born into a family at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder (Luke 2:24). His disciples were “from the sticks” of Galilee and His the inner circle were common fishermen (Luke 5:1-11). His ministry was predominantly to the outcast and disenfranchised (Matthew 15:21-28, John 4:1-45, Luke 19:1-10). When the apostles began their post-Pentecost ministry, they did so among the lame and poor (Acts 3), but with the cooperation of the wealthy (Acts 4:34-36, 5:15). Boy Scouts are taught that campfires are best ignited from the bottom of the wood pile. Jesus kindled a spiritual bonfire in Jerusalem from Galilean sticks.

God’s revolution causes heat at the top. As a result of all the signs and wonders performed by the apostles, the religious rulers were “filled with jealousy”. Because of their social and spiritual superiority, the Sadducees wanted God’s power for themselves, but instead, He poured spiritual gasoline into the Galilean gutter of Peter, James, and John and created a spark with signs and wonders. Interestingly, zealous and jealous come from the same Greek word which figuratively involves “heat”. Sadducees went from zealous to jealous very quickly—how? They were what the apostle Paul described as “zealous for God without knowledge” (Romans 10:3). What began as a consuming passion for God became twisted because zeal without knowledge is passion—as raw and unruly as fire. Zeal without knowledge is what Saul of Tarsus was before he met Christ on the road to Damascus. When self-righteous religion—instead of Jesus—is the object of one’s zeal, God leaves us to be burned up.

God’s revolution can’t be contained. For the second time in as many chapters, the apostles found themselves in jail at the hands of the Sanhedrin. On the first occasion, they were arrested for preaching the resurrection of Jesus and kept in jail all night. However, God did not suffer their detention following their second arrest and sent an angel to execute a midnight jail break. The Sadducees were powerless; they could not keep Jesus in the grave, nor could they keep those preaching His resurrection in jail. Truly, what He opens no one can shut (Revelation 3:7).

God’s revolution gives freedom. To celebrate the friendship of their two nations, Prime minister Junichiro Koizumi was invited to the White House by President George W. Bush. With his warm, Texas hospitality, the president described the prime minister as one of his “best buddies in the war on terror”, and further introduced him by saying, “Decades ago our two fathers looked across the Pacific and saw adversaries, uncertainty and war…Today their sons look across that same ocean and see friends and opportunity and peace.” As he rhetorically contemplated how mortal enemies had become great allies, Bush extolled “the transformative power of freedom.”

How did God, our mortal enemy become as close as “the Word became flesh”? Only the transformative power of freedom in Christ makes enemies friends and children of wrath into children of God.

Has His revolution transformed you?

Posted in Post Tenebras | Leave a comment

What Do We Tell Our Kids About Transgender Students?

Recently, Stars and Stripes and NBC have been reporting on a transgender student at Ramstein Middle School. There are at least two transgender students that I know of and some reports have said there are as many as four in the Kaiserslautern Military Community here in Germany. We, at Trinity Reformed Church, have students and teachers at two schools with transgender students. Therefore, a pastoral word on this matter seems to be in order.

This is not intended to be a whole-Bible teaching on transgenderism. But my goal herein is to begin a conversation and issue a call to action. Let’s establish a few biblical principles which will function as a foundation for teachers, students, and parents of students at schools where there are transgender students.

Our God is the Creator of gender.

As a starting point, we must acknowledge what God says about gender in Genesis 1:26-27, 31:

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good(emphases mine).

Whatever else may be said about this subject, God created two distinct genders—male and female—in His image and blessed them by calling them “very good”. Both masculinity and femininity are reflections of God’s nature and neither is inherently more God-like, nor is one gender better than the other. Two equal, but different genders must come together to make what God describes as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). Since God created two distinctive and equally good genders, we must agree with what God has done by affirming the goodness of the gender he has given to each one of us.

Is gender fixed or fluid?

Some people believe human gender exists on a continuum and the expression of gender is up to an individual’s feelings and choices. Those who accept and live this philosophy are called Gender-Fluid. A gender-fluid person may be born as a biological male, but wake up one day feeling like a female, the next day like a male, and on the third day as neither. Transgenderism is based on gender-fluidity (I’m referring to gender-fluidity as a philosophy, because there is very little hard science involved the study of it). However, what, if anything, does the Bible say about the transgender person?

Transgenderism is condemned. Effeminate is a word found in some translations of the Bible. It is used to describe male prostitutes in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:17, 1 Kings 22:46) and men living as women in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The Greek word translated “effeminate” means “soft and delicate” and is listed separately from homosexuality which means the words are not synonymous. The effeminate were men who had rejected their masculinity to live softly and delicately as a female. In the strongest terms possible, God says, “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, not effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Likewise, women dressing and behaving as men is described as an “abomination to the LORD your God” in Deuteronomy 22:5.

Gender is eternally fixed.

Jesus was born as, lived as, and identified himself as a male (Luke 1:31-33, Acts 2:36). After Jesus rose from the dead, he was identifiably male. In the garden, Mary Magdalene called Jesus “sir” and “Rabboni” which are male titles (John 20:11-18). On the mountain of transfiguration, Peter, James, and John beheld Jesus with Moses and Elijah—three glorified men (Matthew 17:1-8). As he was being stoned, Stephen saw the God-man “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-60). Jesus was God incarnate—a Jewish male—before, during, and after His death, burial, and resurrection. When we see him in glory, he will still be male (1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49). In John’s vision of the Church Triumphant gathered around the throne, he saw “elders” and “people from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:8-10). People in heaven will have distinctive gender and ethnicity because they will bear the gloriously redeemed image of God—both male and female.

God created two distinct, eternal genders, they are both good, and they should not be confused or re-defined.

How should we respond to those who identify as transgender people?

Tell them the good news about Jesus! The account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is not a perfect or direct correlation with the transgender person. However, consider the similarities. The eunuch had been sexually mutilated. Most likely, as a child, he was sold by his parents and emasculated so that he could serve around the women of the royal harem in Ethiopia. As such his gender was not fully-realized or celebrated as something God-given and good. His masculinity, to some degree, was stolen from him. He would never have a wife or children nor a son to inherit his name. He was married to his profession. We are told he had gone up to Jerusalem to worship, but he would not have been allowed to enter the assembly because of being a eunuch (Deuteronomy 23:1). Consider, however, the passage he was reading aloud from Isaiah as he travelled along the road to Gaza: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth” (Isaiah 53:7-8). In a sense, the eunuch’s life had been taken away from him also, but the Holy Spirit directed Philip to come along side him to “tell him the good news about Jesus”—the one who gives life. A man who was so profoundly hurt by his parents and who could have no family was adopted into the family of God.

Philip, in order to share the Gospel with the eunuch, would have had to set aside any racial, national, religious, and even gender-related biases. Had Philip looked through the eyes of his culture, he would have seen an educated, wealthy, sexual deviant, not necessarily the image of God. But the Holy Spirit gave him better eyes and a willing heart.

How do you see transgender people?

Let’s not be political, but prevailing!

As the news has developed over the last week, shockwaves have been felt throughout our community. Some of us have been deeply offended by the inclusive stance the Department of Defense Schools has taken (e.g. transgender kids are not being made to use separate bathrooms). Has any one of us not rolled our eyes while mumbling “political correctness”? But instead of protesting or writing our congressman, what if we went in a different direction? Instead of being afraid of a few transgender kids, retreating from them and hunkering down safely with our conservative Christian community, what if we advanced and moved into their territory for Christ? Jesus said “the gates of hell would not prevail against” His Church. Our children don’t have to be afraid of transgender students and neither do we. We have the truth and the power.

One of my sons has a transgender student in his class, so this is not an academic exercise for our family. We have encouraged our son to befriend the transgender student, sit with her at lunch, listen to her without arguing, protect her if necessary, be a true friend, and pray for opportunities to talk about Jesus with her.

Do you remember the social difficulties of middle and high school? Do you remember the cruelty visited upon the girl who was unlike her popular and pretty peers? What about the bullying of the boy who was awkward, small, or not particularly athletic. Were you ever laughed at, shamed, or ostracized? Whatever your experience of school was, can you imagine how rife for rejection and ridicule a transgender student is?

Let’s be clear, we can not condone transgenderism or gender-fluid beliefs, but let’s also confess that we worship the God who created us male and female and is alone able to redeem His image within us. His son died to save the transgender person as much as anyone else. Could it be that God sent us to Germany, for such a time as this?

Jesus commanded us to catch fish, not clean them. Cleaning them is His job. When we try to clean before we catch, we accomplish neither. Maybe that’s why fisherman say “I caught a whole mess of fish.” Let’s go catch our mess!

Posted in Post Tenebras | Leave a comment