Thursday, August 2, 2018

Trump, Kavanaugh, and Roe

President Donald Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has caused the national conversation to turn once again to Roe v. Wade. Supporters of abortion are nervous that this right might be taken away, while those of us who rightly believe that abortion kills an unborn child would love to see this slaughter brought to a halt.

In my book which was released last Friday (Asleep in Heaven’s Nursery, 2nd Edition) I included a new chapter that deals with why the Judicial and Legislative Branches need to act. I analyze the majority opinion in Roe, highlighting Justice Blackmun’s conclusion that the Court disagreed with any notion that a woman should be able to have an abortion at any time and for any reason, and how women should have a consultation from a responsible doctor before having an abortion. The abortion business has taken us light years away from that decision.

Most people think the Supreme Court waded knee-deep in science and expert opinions before issuing its ruling; the reality is there was no settled science, nor was there a consensus among religious institutions. What the Supreme Court called for was an agreement from the religious community, for scientific data, and for legislation from lawmakers. Now 45 years later, the science could not be clearer, and the faith-based communities could not be more in agreement that life begins at conception. Now it is time for the law to change.

Many think the Supreme Court saw a woman’s right to kill her baby in the Constitution, but again, the majority opinion shows us otherwise. Blackmun conceded that the unborn child’s right to life would trump the mother’s right to privacy, but in 1973 there was no way to prove that the unborn child was alive. Now we know they are alive, and by Blackmun’s own words, the baby’s right to live should trump the mother’s “my body, my choice” mantra.

To read the full analysis of this topic, or to read about all the other topics covered, please check out the new expanded 2nd Edition of Asleep in Heaven’s Nursery. The book is available wherever books are sold, including at the links below:

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Language of James

The author of the epistle of James, who I believe to have been the half-brother of Jesus, was quite the wordsmith. There are at least a dozen words or phrases in his short letter that appear nowhere else in the New Testament (two of those words he used twice), and it is possible that one of those words is one he invented. Additionally, there are at least three other words used by James that only appear one other time in Scripture.

1.     Double-minded (1:8, 4:8)
Literally “double-souled,” (dipsuchos) James uses this word first to apply to those who pray for wisdom, but lack faith when they pray. The double-minded man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. The second usage appears in the back half of a Hebraic parallel, an ancient form of Hebrew literature in which the same thing is said twice, but the second time is more specific than the first. In 4:8, James says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Just as purifying the heart is more important than cleansing the hands, calling someone double-minded exposes the greater problem than simply being sinners. James is speaking to the root of the problem, and showing them how to repent. 

2.     Ought Not (3:10)
This stern warning comes on the heels of addressing the hypocrisy of the tongue. The tongue is a fire, James says; something small that can cause major problems. From the same mouth they were pronouncing blessings and curses, something that ought not (ou chre) be found in the life of a Christian. This is an emphatic way of saying, “Absolutely not!”

3.     Understanding (3:13)
James associated understanding (epistemon) with wisdom. The Greek word is akin to having a specialty, someone who learns a specific job as opposed to a jack-of-all-trades. The nature of this passage seems to indicate that many in the audience were boasting in their skills, but James told them to prove it with their actions, not their words. Wisdom from above naturally manifests good works.

4.     Unwavering or Impartial (3:17)
Going along with number three, the wisdom from above is a pure wisdom; it will lead the Christian to actions that are peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, full of good fruits, sincere, and unwavering (adiakritos). The Greek word means to not be divided, and James used it to show that Christians should not show partiality in how they treat each other.

5.     Friendship (4:4)
Friendship comes from the common word for love, phileo. Many have heard this word for brotherly love contrasted with agape, two verbs that describe different ways of showing love. James is the only one to use a noun form of phileo (philia). If he had used the verb, it would literally say something like, “brotherly-loving the world is enmity with God.” (John used the verb form in 1 John 2:15—“Love not the world.”) Either way, James is teaching that whoever chooses the sinful system of the world (cosmos) is by default choosing to be an enemy of God.

6.     Be Miserable (4:9)
In four of James’ “10 Imperatives (4:7-10),” he gives the unusual commands to (1) be miserable, (2) mourn, (3) weep, and (4) let your laughter be turned to mourning and joy be turned to gloom (another Hebraic parallelism). Be miserable (talaiporeo) is used in its noun form a few times in the New Testament, but only James uses it as a verb. As a command, it means to feel deep regret and remorse over a person’s actions. The four imperatives in 4:9 together show unbelievers how to turn from their sin and turn to God for salvation.

7.     Lawgiver (4:12)
The Lawgiver (nomothetes) is clearly God, although that is an inference from the text. Lawgiver is used in conjunction with Judge, showing that it is not the believer’s job to pass condemnation on others; we neither wrote the law nor judge the accused. “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” does not mean that we should not use discretion and evaluate people; it means we are not to pass condemnation on a person’s eternal fate. We leave that up to God. 

8.     Come Now (4:13, 5:1)
Come now (age nun) is used here to call the listeners’ attention back to James. It is similar to saying “Listen up!” James used the phrase in these passages because he was addressing different groups of people (“you who say” in 4:13, “you rich” in 5:1). 

9.     Howl (5:1)
Howl (ololuzo) is another imperative, joined together with weep. Together, these words command the listeners to mourn and cry out in despair due to the punishment that is coming their way. They made their bed, and James is telling them to lay in it. Their great offense was mistreating the poor. They had been hiring day laborers, but at the end of the shift they were refusing to pay either any or the full amount. The poor laborers had no way to represent themselves in court, and the rich knew how to take advantage of them. James knew they would soon be howling in misery.

10. Rotted (5:2)
The riches accumulated by the rich would not do them any good. They stockpiled their stuff instead of sharing. Their extra garments became moth-eaten, and their coins were corroded. Rotted (sepo) is used in extra-biblical writings to refer to spoiled food and rotten wood, so James must be referring to what they had hoarded. Their stockpiled food rotted before they could eat it, but they refused to give it to the less fortunate. What is the point of hoarding things that can never be used? James indicts them for their refusal to help the poor.

11. Lived Luxuriously (5:5)
Continuing his soliloquy against the rich, James points out how they have lived in luxury (truphao) and self-indulgence. They had everything they wanted, yet never lifted a finger to help others. In a prophet-like judgment, James says they fattened their hearts (a term used to refer to intentionally fattening an animal to sell or eat) in a day of slaughter. Just as a cow would be fattened for the slaughter, so their fattened hearts from a life of luxury would end in their own slaughter. 

12. Full of Compassion (5:11)
The rich man had no compassion, but James points out one who had extra compassion. Referring to Jesus as literally “many-boweled” (polusplagchnos), a word James probably made up himself, James contrasts the man with no compassion in his bowels with the Lord whose bowels were full of compassion. Bowels was an idiomatic expression in their time that referred to the inner parts of a person, similar to how we say, “she has a big heart.” We are not referring to the organ, but to the love and compassion she shows. James’ use of the term bowels referred to the compassion of a person, and his coined phrase “many-boweled” shows that Jesus is full of compassion.

The three words James used that have only one other usage in the New Testament are:

1.     Miseries (5:1, Romans 3:16)
2.     Self-indulgence (5:5, 1 Timothy 5:6)
3.     Sick (5:14, Hebrews 12:3)

I find James to be a fascinating man. In many ways he comes across as an Old Testament prophet. He called out social injustice; used multiple forms of poetry, metaphors, and idioms; spoke in paradox; loudly called his readers to attention; personified inanimate objects; composed his letter in a chiasm; and boldly called people to make a choice, leaving no room for middle ground. The next time you read James, pay attention to his choice of words, notice the color in his language, and most importantly, see if there is something in your life you need to change.

“Therefore, whoever knows the right thing to do, and fails to do it, to him it is sin.”

James 4:17

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Southern Baptist Convention '18

I enjoyed my time at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Dallas. It was my first time getting to attend the annual meeting, although I have attended several of our state conventions here in South Carolina. I was there both as a student at Southwestern, and as a messenger from Putman. 
            On Sunday afternoon we got to  attend the Text-Driven Preaching Micro Conference led by Dr. David Allen. There was a panel of pastors and professors that make up the SWBTS School of Preaching, including Mac Brunson and Kyle Walker. Dr. Allen asked them questions and took questions from the audience. Sunday night began the Pastors' Conference where we heard sermons from Juan Sanchez, James Merritt, and Tony Evans.             
            On Monday we were privileged to attend the closed-door questions and answers time with the members of the Executive Committee, which was very educational. Throughout the day I attended the other nine sessions of the Pastors' Conference, listening to Bryan Carter, Cameron Triggs, Jack Graham, Ray Pritchard, Frank Pomeroy, Robert Smith, Daven Watkins, Charlie Dates, and J.D. Greear. 
            On Tuesday morning I got to observe open motions from the floor. That time slot can provide fireworks for the next day and a half, and it is the place where both problems and progress are born. As much as it can be a nerve-wracking time, it is necessary and a foundational element of the SBC. With millions of Baptists and thousands of messengers, it is incredible to think that any person can grab a microphone and speak, especially considering that the president has no indication as to what is about to be said. 
            Motions should be submitted in writing prior to the convention, but sometimes issues come up after that deadline has passed. Two such issues occurred this year: the removal of Dr. Patterson and the late addition of Vice President Pence to the schedule. Several motions were made from the floor in light of these events. One motion was made that the SBC adopt a policy that says no person running for public office shall speak at future conventions; this motion included a concession that the local mayor or person of equivalent office can deliver a welcome as Governor Abbott did this year. Another motion was made that called for the immediate removal of each of the members of SWBTS’ board of trustees’ executive committee; a less severe motion was also made that would officially review the actions taken that precipitated the removal of Dr. Patterson. Each of these motions received a second and was moved on to the next phase.
            The motion involving politicians speaking to the convention will appear on the ballot in 2019, while the motions surrounding the SWBTS boards were set for debate and vote on Wednesday. After the debate was over the messengers overwhelming voted to keep the board of trustees, a decision I was glad to see. The other significant debate occurred Tuesday morning when we were voting on the next budget. A motion was made to amend the proposed budget in the book of reports to defund the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which again I was glad to see overwhelmingly voted down. It was an honor to be able to raise my ballot in defense of these issues. While I may have personally found these motions to be misguided, it is the ability of any messenger to have equal say that makes the convention so strong. In the '90s a teenage girl once made a motion that led to adding events for teenagers during the convention, and this year a nine year old boy made a motion to add a new day to the special events calendar (Children’s Ministry Sunday), so it is true that every person has a voice.
            One part of the business I was looking forward to was the seminary presidents’ reports. I had been looking forward to it just as a Southwestern student, getting to hear a live report from my president, but the shakeup obviously added a new element to it. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Bingham, and I knew all eyes would be on him. As I knew he would do, he masterfully addressed the elephant in the room without throwing anyone under the bus. He was tactful and graceful. I think he may have filibustered for a few minutes knowing that he was going to be barraged with questions, and when they came he handled them very well. I also applaud the other five presidents for answering tough questions well and standing with Dr. Bingham; this could have been a time for competition among the schools, but it looked like teammates pulling together.
            While each of the reports was interesting, I think the most exciting was the International Mission Board report given by David Platt. After giving examples of how many things were heading in the right direction, he said, “In other words, the IMB is open for business.” That line drew applause because the IMB was in trouble just a few short years ago. Platt has done a great job, so I will be sorry to see him go; I did not know until he mentioned it his report that he is leaving to return to the pastorate, so I will be praying that a successor is found soon. The WMU, like Platt, shared stories that gave me goose bumps. It was exciting to hear about great things God is doing through Southern Baptists around the world.
            We also had to elect officers for 2019, as Steve Gaines concluded his second term this year. The Convention President for the annual meeting in Birmingham will be J.D. Greear, with First Vice President A.B. Vines and Second Vice President Felix Cabrera joining him. Stephen Rummage was elected to deliver the convention sermon, with Josh Smith on standby as the alternate. We also learned that 9,583 people served as messengers this year.
            While I am personally a big fan of Vice President Pence, and was opposed to the efforts to stop him from coming, I do have to say I was disappointed with his remarks. Much of what he said was appropriate for the occasion—speaking up for the unborn and moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and defending religious liberty, for example. But much of what he said was touting the Trump agenda on matters unrelated to the SBC and our core convictions. I feel that our convention was used as a campaign rally for Trump/Pence 2020, and I can certainly see why some would want to end speeches by elected officials. I am a Republican, but if Jimmy Carter, a Democrat Southern Baptist, wanted to speak, it would be an honor to see him, but I think that respect for the office is an endangered species. It seems these days people only respect leaders of their own party and vilify all others. I don’t think we will be having politicians come back any time soon.  
            Alicia attended a pastors' wives session led by Beth Moore, and together we attended the Southwestern Alumni Luncheon on Wednesday (neither of us is alumni, but I will be in December and that was a requirement for one of my classes). 
            We were challenged by the report from the North American Mission Board. While there is reason to celebrate the number of reported baptisms, the reality of declining membership exposes a problem. The challenge put before us was to refocus on discipleship, not just evangelism, and the 80by20 Challenge will hopefully help with that. NAMB’s research showed that only 45% of professing believers read their Bible at least once a week; the goal is to get that number to 80% by 2020. Dr. Gaines had a good line that I would like to include here. There was a lot of focus on the negative, like the NAMB report and the issues regarding the seminaries, but Gaines reminded us “There’s a lot more good going on in the SBC than there is bad.” It is good to keep that in mind.