Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fallout of Shattered Belonging

What is the greatest spiritual and social crisis facing America in the second decade of the 21st century?  Doubtless many different answers would be suggested to that question if it were posed to a large group of people.  I believe the answer is found in a recently released report published by the Family Research Council titled The US Index of Belonging and Rejection.

Just released this month, this report is based upon statistics derived from the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey.  It paints a grim portrait of what remains of family life in America.  At the heart of the study is an analysis of the number of teenagers aged 15-17 who live with both married birth parents.  This population sector was chosen because it represents the oldest segment of children, just before they turn adults at age 18.

The national average is that only 45% of U.S. teenagers have spent their childhood in an intact family with both their birth mother and their biological father legally married to one another since around the time of the teenager’s birth.  That means that the majority, 55% of American teens, has grown up in homes where their biological parents have rejected one other.  The implications of this pattern are enormous and difficult to overstate.

This alarming reality is a factor of several trends.  Approximately 43% of first marriages end in divorce in the first fifteen years of marriage.  Further complicating the situation is the increasing reticence of couples to take the step of cementing their relationship in marriage before having children.  Today, 40.6% of babies are born to unmarried mothers, thus elevating the significance of the divorce rate among the decreasing percentage of parents who are motivated to get married.

What is the fallout of this pattern of shattered belonging?  Every social ill that currently afflicts America is exacerbated by this reality, including poverty, crime, welfare dependency, child abuse, and poor academic performance.  Dealing with these unhealthy patterns has become a major drain upon every sector of society.  The report’s author, Dr. Patrick Fagan, expresses just the financial peril we currently face in dealing with such fallout: “The dysfunctional majority now expects the intact minority to pay disproportionately for these systems.”

Whither the future?  Improvement is absolutely essential if America is to regain its social equilibrium. Scripture warns that there are generational consequences of sin (Exod. 20:5).  Sociologists observe that the dysfunctional pattern of shattered belonging deteriorates further from one generation to the next.  If America is to survive as a nation, men and women must acquire the biblical view of the role of sexuality and the sanctity of marriage.  Marriage is to be entered as a sacred duty before God to establish a permanent home wherein children will be raised according to the Law of God.  That God hates divorce is clearly set forth in Scripture (Mal. 2:16).  The appalling social landscape found in current American society is solemn witness to the consequences of disregarding the moral framework of the Creator. 

Bringing truth and change to bear in this situation is the role of the church, as it proclaims God’s truth and equips individuals and families.  Government policy and legislation cannot remedy a situation that is created principally by internal attitudes and values. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advancing the Kingdom, One Baby at a Time

A week ago our family welcomed to this world our fifth grandchild, John Jeremiah Parry.  The son of our daughter Rebekka and husband Dan, John is their fifth child in less than seven years.  Mothers reading these words can appreciate the fact that Rebekka is not currently looking for any new hobbies to fill her spare time.

In reflecting upon the birth of John, a verse in Proverbs came to mind: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (14:4).  One could paraphrase that verse to fit my daughter’s circumstances: “Where there are no babies, there are no dirty diapers, but much good comes from children raised to the glory of God.”

As I write, my dear wife Sharon is spending ten days assisting Rebekka with domestic duties so Dan could return to his job that pays their bills.  Our daughter Hannah plans to be there for most of next week after Sharon returns home.  Having babies and raising small children entails a lot of hard work.  It is a joy and privilege to be able to assist in the households of our children when such needs arise.

In Sharon’s absence, who normally works full time keeping our home running relatively smoothly, each of us who remain are called upon to contribute in ways not necessary when she is present.  I pondered this reality as I washed and put away more dishes than usual in the past week. 

When we think of “the Lord’s work,” typically the image of a frontier missionary or busy pastor comes to mind as they are engaged in “full time Christian ministry.”  Indeed, God calls and equips people to serve in the vital capacities of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and ministries of mercy.  Such faith warriors are necessary for the work of establishing the Christian church among every people, tribe, and nation.

But the point of this brief essay is that the work of “being fruitful and multiplying” is equally critical to the advancement of the kingdom of God.  Indeed, one could make the case that the ministry of raising and training children in godliness is foundational to all other avenues of Christian service.  For, without a base of godly offspring grounded in orthodoxy and committed to the covenantal responsibilities of being the spiritual seed of Abraham, the missionary enterprise would collapse due to disinterest and lack of support.  Pulpits would remain vacant for lack of qualified candidates.

Professing Christendom in America is facing a crisis of gigantic proportions: children are departing the faith in epidemic numbers.  One recent survey found that only 1 in 5 young people who are spiritually active as a teen remain so at age 29.  Nearly every church has experienced this sad reality.  Theories abound to explain this phenomenon, but the reality is that parents are doing a poor job of passing on their faith to the next generation.  Or, perhaps the truth is that the next generation reflects all-too-well the mediocre convictions of their parents.

If there is hope for America it will require the repentance of Christian parents who have refused to take seriously God’s command to raise up an abundant, godly offspring.  Psalm 127 extols the man who has a “quiver-full” of children.  Too many professing Christians have engaged in “unilateral disarmament,” to borrow a phrase from the days of the cold war with the Soviet Union, by choosing instead to limit themselves to one or two arrows. Such a posture is imprudent when engaging a foreign military power; it is equally foolish when participating in the spiritual battles of good vs. evil in the kingdom of God.

Yesterday a guest preacher filled our pulpit.  I observed with deep joy his bending down to the level of his six-year-old son who accompanied him and pointing to each word of the hymns as we stood and sang.  Effective Christian parenting takes many forms.  God is not in the business of producing spiritual drop-outs.  It is time that Christian couples take seriously their role in advancing the progress of the Kingdom by the hard, time-consuming work of raising up a new generation of godly men and women who know and understand the Truth and who are determined to remain true to their spiritual heritage.  Referring to the potential of such little children, Jesus declared, “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14). May God bless Dan and Rebekka and all those committed to this vision.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Selective Indignation & the Wages of Sin

There’s probably not an American to be found who was not influenced by the media barrage to fear the effects of the alleged swine flu epidemic.  Doomsday scenarios were constantly being painted, with an urgent call for mass immunizations against this raging killer.  All of the hype, however, did not translate into the predicted devastation.  Yes, thousands were hospitalized and many died, but far fewer than suggested.  Last August a White House report suggested that as many as 1.8 million may be hospitalized in the coming months with possibly 90,000 deaths.  In reality, according to the CDC, there were probably about 11,690 deaths due to the swine flue from April 09 through February of this year.

In an article in yesterday’s The Washington Times, Cheryl Wetzstein documents a much more serious epidemic that is essentially being ignored by the same media and government watchdogs that engineered the swine flu scare: sexually transmitted diseases.
Both syphilis and gonorrhea were once nearly eradicated but have returned in epidemic numbers due to the licentious lifestyles of many Americans.  A 2004 study published by the American Medical Association indicates that every year 20,000 Americans die of diseases associated with risky sexual behavior.  In Wetzstein’s words, “a tsunami of sexual disease is flooding our population.”

And the future appears to be even grimmer.  According to the CDC, gonorrhea is threatening to grow into an epidemic that is largely untreatable.  The bacteria have developed resistance to many available treatments.   Indeed, there is but a single class of antibiotics that remains effective, and resistance is growing even to these treatments.

But, of course, in our relativistic society, the thought of applying the divine solution to such threats is anathema to most journalists and government officials.  The Apostle Paul provided the remedy in three words: “Flee sexual immorality.”  But preaching this message involves condemning the plague of deviant forms of sexual behavior and all forms of sexual activity outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.  (E.g., Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, has noted that the resistant types of gonorrhea tend to appear first in men who have sex with men.)  And so our civil and medical authorities choose to expend their energies hyping other threats of lesser consequence.

America is reaping a devastating harvest of “the wages of sin.”  The answer is not ultimately to be found in some new strain of antibiotic treatment but in humble repentance from our perverted lifestyles and intentional submission to the moral law of God.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Blessing of Obamacare

No, I have not lost my mind.  I have not been corrupted by the pervasive influence of left-wing commentators and the government propaganda machine in the mainstream media.  And, no, I have not been persuaded by the overpowering rhetoric emanating from our President’s teleprompter.

But I believe that the inception of Obamacare may indeed be a blessing in disguise.  For this reason: it will force patriotic, conservative, constitution-loving Americans who believe in a smaller, less-intrusive government to dig in, to intensify the fight, to turn to God in a spirit of humble repentance and cry for help—in a manner which would not have occurred had the healthcare bill failed in the House of Representatives on Sunday.

If our side had won on Sunday, it would have been very easy to have a victory celebration and then get speedily back to business-as-usual, following the same Godless patterns that got us into this mess in the first place.

Remember the revival that swept our country immediately after the tragic events of September 11, 2001?  Churches were filled in a manner not seen in decades—for the first couple of weeks.  Then, slowly but surely, the population of the U.S. resorted to its practice of forgetting God and going its own way.

The election of President Obama caused many Christians and conservatives to wring their hands in despair and fear.  But his radical policies have awakened a slumbering giant in our land—the great majority who care about the principles upon which this country was founded.  Had McCain won, we would have continued in the same direction toward national destruction but simply at a slower pace than Obama is taking us.  Obama’s victory has spurred a revival of our core principles in a way that McCain would not have done.

I expect the same, but intensified, effect from Obamacare. Yes, it may be excruciatingly painful in the interim.  But the nature of this legislation and the manner in which it was forced upon Americans who overwhelmingly reject its tenets can prove to be beneficial long term.  It will generate a deep-seated, long-lasting resistance movement that may well, over the long haul, be far more beneficial to our country than would have the defeat of this legislative monstrosity last Sunday.

By these comments I do not mean to endorse the corruption, the sell-outs, the lies and distortions, and the spineless resistance on the part of professed pro-lifers that were the human factors leading to the victory for Obama and company.  But God has demonstrated that He is an expert in using the evil machinations of depraved humans as a means to effecting good things.  There is a need for radical, invasive surgery in our national soul, a process that will require far more than a political victory to accomplish.

Let us not be overcome with despair but rejoice in the providence of our God.  Let us recommit ourselves to following His righteous principles as the standard for our personal lives and work to see them instilled once again in our national consciousness.  “Blessed in the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Friday, March 12, 2010

What Ails America?

The majority of Americans, as indicated in recent polls, believes our nation is headed in the wrong direction.  And with good reason.  Whether the issue is educational achievement, societal morality, financial stability, or integrity of leadership we are not what we once were.

To what do we attribute this obvious decline?  And what is the remedy?  This week, thanks to a tip from Gary DeMar at American Vision, I came across one of the finest expositions I’ve ever read of the American dilemma, its diagnosis, and the only cure.  The assessment is in the form of a study project from an unlikely source: the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA.

It was written in 1992 by then Lt. Col. R.L. VanAntwerp, who went on to become General VanAntwerp, serving with the U.S. Army as Chief of Engineers and Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Titled, “The Greatest Threat . . . Spiritual Decay,”  you can download a copy of his paper here.

Hope for America is not ultimately to be found in politics, revolution, or self-renewal.  The only solution to the national malaise infecting our land on nearly every front is a return to the faith of our forefathers.

I commend to your thoughtful and prayerful consideration the discerning work of Gen. VanAntwerp.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stoning Heretics

Reading in Deuteronomy this morning I came to the hard sayings of chapter 13.   Like a sharp jab to the face, these stern words get your attention!  In this age of tolerance, when about the only sentiment that merits condemnation is the audacity to claim to have found the truth, Deuteronomy stands out for its stark contrast.

God, through Moses, instructed the Israelites to be on the highest alert for even the hint of heretical idolatry.  After ordering the execution of confirmed false prophets, the Lord gets more personal.  Should the apostate be a member of your very own household, even your brother, your son, your daughter or “the wife of your bosom,” action must be taken.  Thus, if even one of the closest people to you on earth should secretly try to entice you to compromise your allegiance to Yahweh, the one true God, you were to respond with resolute action.  Such a person is to be put to death, and you are to cast the first stone!

These statements are so far removed from the sentiment of 21st century society, including the American evangelical church, that it is difficult to even contemplate such reaction to the secret enticements of an apostate.  But these are God’s inspired words.  Like the rest of biblical revelation, God expected absolute obedience by His people to whom the statutes were given.

The United States of America cannot be equated with the ancient Israeli theocracy.  We do not simply transfer the Old Testament penal sanctions and codify them as modern law.  Nevertheless, such texts are vitally important as they reveal the mind of God on the seriousness of heresy.  It does matter what you believe.  The exclusivity of the Christian gospel must be preserved at all costs.  We have no biblical grounds for ignoring professing Christians, whether family members or not, who espouse a view of God that departs from the historic, orthodox teachings of the church.

At the very least, Deuteronomy 13 should instruct us that it is critical that in our homes and churches we treat the study and confession of sound doctrine with the importance that God does.  The Old Covenant demand that those who compromise the truth be executed should cause all who truly know the Lord to sit up and take notice.  What you believe is infinitely more important than any other dimension of life.

Despite the efforts of some to suggest that God has moderated from the perceived harshness of the Old Testament, Scripture repeatedly affirms that God never changes.  Because of the eternal consequences of apostasy, because of the potential for damning your soul through unbelief, the cancer of heresy must be destroyed.  We must treat these matters which the seriousness that a capital crime demands.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

If You Don't Vote . . .

Yesterday, as I executed my daily run through scenic Pigeon Cove, some thoughts came to me about the responsibility that Christians bear to effect changes in our society.

The Apostle Paul famously warned the Thessalonians that “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”  Some had evidently decided to sit back and wait for the Lord’s return without exercising due diligence to provide for their own basic needs.  Yes, Jesus had taught us to ask the Father for our daily bread.  But such prayer was obviously not meant to negate the importance of individual responsibility to work to provide for the needs of one’s family.  Elsewhere Paul wrote that failure to do so makes one “worse than an infidel.”

In 1 Timothy Paul charges believers to pray for civil authorities “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”  Now, following the analogy of daily bread, the call to prayer does not negate but rather assumes personal responsibility to work for the fulfillment of the prayer.

Some Christians refuse to vote because, in their mind, doing so somehow taints them with worldliness.  But utilizing the daily bread analogy, not only are we to pray for a peaceful and stable society conducive to godly living, we must work to make it happen.  One fundamental means of doing so is to cast intelligent votes for candidates who will support principles that undergird a Christian-friendly society.

Refusing to vote, out of a misguided concept of worldliness, or just plain lazy indifference, yet praying in the spirit of 1 Timothy 2, is akin to refusing to work while trusting God to provide food.  

Scripture indeed teaches that our primary citizenship is in heaven.  But such an identity does not negate temporal responsibilities in this world.  Prayer, without  accompanying human action, disregards clear biblical principles and vainly puts God to the test. 

So, if you are concerned about the direction America is taking, earnestly intercede for our leaders.  And vote in every election to demonstrate that your prayers for our nation are not empty rituals.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wanting Tim Tebow to Fail

Rush Limbaugh has famously declared that he wants President Obama to fail in his quest to transform America into a socialist state.  Picking up this same language, Sports Illustrated columnist Jeff Pearlman posted on his blog for February 2nd that “I want Tim Tebow to fail.”  Specifically, Pearlman was referring to Tebow’s potential as a player in the NFL.

Now why would a famous sports writer wish ill of perhaps the most celebrated college football star to ever play the game?  Pearlman made it clear that he was not wishing harm to come.  “I don’t want him physically injured; h***, I don’t even want him to live anything but a happy life.  But I want him to fail in the NFL nonetheless, because a famous Tim Tebow is a dangerous Tim Tebow.”

What has the seasoned columnist and best-selling author so agitated?  By all accounts, Tim Tebow is a likeable person, respectfully dealing with his celebrity status in an exemplary manner.  Not a hint of the snobbish, arrogant spirit that has afflicted other star athletes.

Mr. Pearlman doesn’t let any room for speculation; he boldly declares his concern: “Tim Tebow scares me, and … he should scare you, too.  Tim Tebow doesn’t play football merely for the joy of the game.  He plays football because he wants to spread the word of Jesus Christ.”  

Pearlman’s chief concern seems to be not that Tebow is a Christian, but that he is motivated to share the gospel with others and urge them to embrace the Christian faith, or suffer the consequences in hell.  “This is not merely Tim Tebow’s opinion—but he knows it, in his soul and heart and mind” laments the upset sports analyst.

Now this incident is instructive on two accounts.  First, it is an in-your-face reminder of the visceral abhorrence that the Kingdom of Darkness maintains for the Kingdom of Light.  Jesus declared that if the world hated Him it would likewise despise His disciples.  When a young man of the likeability of Tim Tebow generates this kind of response, be assured it can and will happen to anyone that takes a bold stand for the gospel.

Second, Pearlman’s analysis should cause us to examine the credibility of our own testimony.  While he is critical of Tebow’s faith, he has no doubt as to its genuineness or the depth with which it is held.  Can critics level the same change with regard to your profession?  We would do well to take heed to the nature of our witness.  May it be accurately said of me, and you, that our faith permeates every corner of our soul, heart, and mind.  God expects nothing less, and the world is rightly scornful of those who only half-heartedly proclaim their Christianity.