Happy re-birthday to me

(Note: I wrote this at 11:15pm on Dec. 4th)

              On December 4, 1983 I was baptized; sealed for salvation, through no work or merit of my own, but by the grace of Jesus Christ alone. It’s my re-birthday today, and it’s been an incredible day, blessed in many ways. Yet most of them might have been easy to miss.

                If I’m honest, I know that I haven’t always valued my baptism as much as I should. In fact, there have been times in my life when my behavior has been downright disrespectful to the immense grace that was given and promised to me that day. For many years, I was intensely success orientated, and a success oriented life can easily be one that is not God oriented. 

                A life devoid of God, and his love, is truly a sad thing though. Not just because of the very real threat of falling away from your faith, but because of the joy that you rob yourself of on this side of eternity. A “I’m special because of my resume’” existence will miss the innumerable blessings that God daily bestows in our lives. Eventually, not noticing the blessings and gifts of God will lead us to take them for granted or maybe even revile them. When we’re at that point, instead of daily renewing our baptismal covenant, instead of daily putting to death our sinful nature, we end up daily stepping away further and further from our God and from the gifts on earth we should value the most.   

                Today, on my re-birthday, I was intensely blessed by God, but in all honesty, it would have been easy to miss every one of the blessings.

                The first, and perhaps most dear blessing, was simply to wake up surrounded by my family. Granted, in this case it was literally, because all the kids capable of independent walking were in our bed.  Funny as that is, I know it’s no small gift to have a loving wife and 3 beautiful children, even if the children enjoy kicking me in the liver while I’m trying to sleep.

                The next blessing was an awesome display of God’s artistry. I had no idea there was even a chance of snow overnight, and yet when we awoke we were surrounded by one of the most picturesque, snow-globe like coverings of snow I’ve ever seen. It only further accented the amazing view we have to the Lake. The whole world was white and beautiful. Our little girl squealed with delight that “It looks like a painting outside!” Surprised as I was by the elegance of it, I was taken by the aesthetic beauty. It wasn’t until 11pm at night that the spiritual beauty of it hit me.

                However, we spent very little time enjoying the view because I was barking at everyone to get ready for church. We made it, and I sheepishly snuck in a minute or two late to the adult Sunday school class lead by my friend and fellow seminarian Bryce. I ended up sitting at a discussion table with Pastor Peter Franz and Pastor Jim Rasmussen, among other parishioners. It was a unique opportunity to learn from men with a deep knowledge and experience in the word, and what came out of our discussions (for me at least) was a focus on sanctification. It was powerful and personal reminder that Jesus is not absent from our lives.

                 He walks with us, he sends the Holy Spirit into us, and over time, he improves us. Not so that we can pad our resume and achieve earthly goals. No. He liberates us from that. He gives us faith, and the outpouring of that faith yields fruitful works, glorifying and pleasing to him but pleasing to us as well. Apart from faith in and the love of Christ, our identity and self-worth is tied only to earthly statuses and achievements. We are sentenced to a life of trying to prove our value to the world and especially to ourselves. In Christ, our value and our identity are bound first to the fact that he loves us unconditionally. He loves us so much, he fights for us while we are still his enemy.

                 Sanctification is evidence of Christ’s presence in your life and that we can find our identity in his love for us (what a tremendous gift!). However, sanctification is so easily forgotten, taken for granted, or worst of all, attributed to our own self-improvement efforts that it’s a true blessing to have a reminder of the tangible presence of God in our lives.

                The next blessings came at our church service, but again, the incredibleness of it didn’t hit me until later. Pastor Franz interpreted the snowfall by mentioning it reminded him of Isaiah 1:18-

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isa 1:18 ESV)

                At the time, I thought that was merely interesting, but as I look back on my day, I’m forced to see the snow as bordering on miraculous.

                We took communion in church today. It was another tangible reminder that Jesus gave his body and his blood as a sacrifice for my redemption and justification. I don’t know what the odds are of someone ever, in their lifetime, taking communion on their re-birthday, but I’m guessing they aren’t high. So, how much less likely is it that on the day of my eclipse-like meeting of two of our sacraments, God should bless me with a world painted white? It’s astounding really.

                I don’t know why, but God really wanted to hammer home to me today that my sins are washed away. He succeeded, even if I didn’t put all this together until 11pm.

                So what’s the proper reaction to that type of blessing? Worship, of course. In fact, it’s the only proper reaction. We don’t “respond” in a manner to cooperate in our salvation. We don’t keep working hard to re-earn our redemption. We don’t even work hard to keep from falling away. All we do is rest in our faith, and the outpouring of our faith is worship. Now, worship doesn’t have to be singing. You can worship God by going to your job and doing it well in the name of Jesus, but singing is also a form of worship, and it just so happened that on today, my re-birthday, with the snow and the communion, and the blessings of family, etc. etc., that I was also able to be part of one of the most awesome worship services of my life.

                The AFLC School’s Christmas concert is an awesome experience. Picture a large space, yet full of people, and full of sound. The sound, however, is so inspired, so divine oriented, it turns into light. There was so much light and joy in that room, as we all became one body worshipping our conquering, loving God, you could have turned every light and candle off in there and it still would have felt illuminated. A concert goer remarked to me once that it’s like a glimpse of heaven, and by all accounts, I must agree with him. It was a totally dumbfounding experience by itself, but to have no less than three tangible, touchable, observable reminders of the promise of the forgiveness of my sin on the same day… I don’t even know how to describe it.

                I know that a life walking with Jesus will not be made up entirely of days like today, but I also know that very soon comes the day when the joy that everyone in our chapel felt this afternoon, will be the joy we experience (as the song goes) “for ever, and ever, and ever.”

Halleluiah!

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Who wants hate crimes to be safe, rare, and available on demand?

Before we get going, I have to state the obvious, lest someone miss the point-

                Hate crimes are wrong. They are wrong because they are crimes. They are also wrong, because they are hate. I do not want hate crimes to be safe, rare and available on demand. I want them to be non-existent. I would be perfectly happy if the phrase “hate crime” were expunged from our vocabulary for being entirely vestigial.

                I doubt many will disagree with me on that. No one, except for the 3% of LA that voted for David Duke, think hate crimes are “allowable if the circumstances require it.” That agreement is basically the only societal norm we have left.

                That’s our problem. Our society has so entirely bailed on the idea that anyone can actually know what is true that only thing left we’re allowed to sit in judgement of, is judgement and prejudice.

                If you’re hailing that as a great societal achievement… don’t. There’s a thought growing in popularity in our culture that is likely to open a Pandora ’s Box we can’t close again. If unchecked, it’s likely to take us down a path of unholy chaos.

                That thought, despite its danger, is a simple one. The thought is- “what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.”

                This is the same flawed philosophy people must employ to convince themselves its ok to hate someone because of their skin color. It is also used to rationalize killing people because of their skin color, religion, or age (including gestational). This philosophy is called moral relativism.

                The first problem with moral relativism is that it’s not true. It’s a self-defeating, self-refuting statement. To say “what’s true for me isn’t true for you” is the same thing as saying “there are no absolute truths” which is, in itself, an attempt to assert an absolute truth.

                There are absolute truths in this world. One is that murder is wrong. Another is that hate is wrong.

                Everyone agrees (except for the 3% of LA that voted for David Duke) it’s pretty silly to say: “I don’t really like hate crimes, but I respect the rights of people who feel that in defense of their family and culture, they must commit them.”

                If you think abortion is murder, it’s equally untenable to say, “I don’t really like abortion, but who am I to judge a woman who is trapped in that situation.”

                The same philosophical error that allows a person freedom to support hate crimes, is the same problematic basis that supports legalizing abortion. The truth is this: hate is wrong. Murder is wrong. Deny either, and you deny both.

                Look, I’m not trying to get into a political sparring match. The partisan discussions of, “oh you people are SO wrong,” are very rarely based on any ideas of truth, and so they are only serving to divide, rather than unite us. Even the most polite among us will say, “I think we are talking across purposes,” or “We’re really having trouble communicating on this.” When that’s happening, it’s not because one side “gets it” and the other doesn’t (which is, I think, the common assumption). It’s because, in world where all things are relative, different sides can’t even agree on how to define words, let alone societal problems.

(As an aside, but don’t let this totally distract you, if two people disagree on what the definition of a word is, who gets to decide which definition is right?)

                And so, in my opinion, the big divide in our country is not between democrats and republicans. The big divide – the one which is so hard to communicate across – is between people who speak in moral absolutes and those who do not.

                A couple interesting points on that divide-

                1.) Donald Trump does not subscribe to moral absolutes, or at least he doesn’t appear to. Many people claim he’s seeing the light. He seems to be surrounding himself with people who do believe in moral absolutes. Only time will tell what becomes of it.

                2.) Abortion was not legalized through moral relativism. Abortion was legalized through the argument that the fetus was not an independent human being; rather it was the property of the mother. In Roe V. Wade they weren’t saying, “It’s acceptable murder.” They were saying, “It’s not murder; it’s just a medical procedure.” Abortion was legalized in a context that still believed (or at least pretended to) in absolutes.

                The argument that abortion is not murder, though, only works so long as the embryos can be shown to be indivisible from the mother. Well, IVF has totally obliterated that argument. We can fertilize an egg outside of the mother. We can put that egg in almost any woman we want. Sure once it’s implanted it needs all of 25 weeks undisturbed in there to develop, but as science is showing us it doesn’t necessarily need a specific uterus. Any healthy uterus will do (from the embryo’s perspective.) The idea that an embryo or fetus is not an independent being from the mother is at this point totally indefensible. The way it works is pretty simple. A sperm meets an egg. There’s a flash of light. Boom.  A new person has entered creation.

                This should turn the abortion debate on its head. In some circles, I believe it is. People who believe in moral absolutes (like “murder is crime”) have basically run out of wiggle room. Unfortunately, the camp of people who believe in moral absolutes appears to be shrinking.  

                Abortion is no longer “not murder.” It’s now “acceptable murder”, because, what’s wrong for me is not necessarily wrong for you, and we don’t know the woman’s situation, and men are terrible and irresponsible, and who are we to judge them?

                I recently speculated in a Facebook discussion that because of science, support for abortion is waning. I still hold that view, only I’ve been forced to reconsider it. I now believe that it is only true among those who still recognize absolutes. Unfortunately, with the loss of propositional truth in our society, we may not actually see the political shift that I pray for.

               The loss of truth, and the fact that we’re going on our second President in a row that does not recognize moral absolutes, and the fact that they came from opposite parties, is all pretty scary stuff to me.  Just project out with me where our country is headed when we pick up and run with ideas like “I don’t like murder, but who am I to say?”  

           The chief function of moral absolutes is to protect people, especially the weak and powerless. That’s why you don’t vote on morals and ethics; you protect them in the Constitution. Similarly, that’s why the idea of the Constitution as a living document is terrifying. When a country’s political discussion is spent mainly on morals and ethics, you are already in dangerous territory. In a democracy where the majority (read: mob) rules, how long are laws protecting the weak from the strong  going to exist if those protections are constantly up for debate? Not long. This is why John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

            This is why a country that places caveats on a person’s right to be born is doomed to see every social freedom it takes for granted ripped away from it. If we can kill babies for no other reason than they are deemed to be inconvenient, if we as a society actually agree that there is an acceptable form of murder, then there is nothing stopping us from killing any race, sexual orientation, religious creed, political persuasion, etc.

           This is why, where there is no truth, there is only power. Where there is no unified moral code, based on moral absolutes, there is nothing to protect the weak from the strong. Abandon moral absolutes, and whoever has the most power gets to decide what the rules are. Inevitably, someone gets hurt in that scenario. If it is allowed to go on long enough, lots and lots and lots of people get hurt.

To my politically active friends:

To all my politically active friends: in the current climate there are only two sides. The side of Jesus, and the side of tyranny. Please consider my argument-

If, in all cases, what’s true for you is not necessarily true for anyone else, you must then live in a world with no natural law, moral absolutes, or a Creator and Judge of everyone. That world will never see universal agreement or acceptance of any unified moral standard. In that world, there is then no unmovable conscience, only political expedience. There is no constitution or societal framework, there’s only an unbridled quest for power. There is no reverence for the value and dignity of any individuals, there’s only a forced respect of the group in power. There is no security, peace, or rest for anyone, there is only self-interest and a tireless political or military struggle for power. A tireless struggle which will 100% of the time be rendered pointless, as a life with no hope of an afterlife is guaranteed to end. Regardless of how much progress a great life of noble deeds accomplishes, death renders it all temporary.

Or, if in all cases, that which is truth is true for everyone, then the truth is this- God exists and so does his universal moral Law. No one has kept it or ever will, excepting one man. That man is Jesus Christ, who is also God. Through Jesus we are offered atonement, justification, righteousness, and eternal bliss. Through him we are offered the chance to rest in his work, rather than die in our own. There is one question in life that matters infinitely more than any other (including and especially all political questions), and this is it- What is going to happen to you after you die? The only peace and rest in this life, comes from a confident knowledge of a person’s eternal life. The only confident answer to that question comes from faith in Jesus. Without that assurance, you have no security. For this reason, moral relativism condemns people to a lifetime of striving under their own limited strength to gain power so they can protect themselves from the world’s tyranny (which results from everyone else striving for power). For the unbeliever, no matter how bad it is in this life, this is as good as it gets. For those who place their hope and faith in Jesus, no matter how many political wins they amass; this is only a shadow of the joy of Heaven.

That is why moral relativism (the idea that what is good or right is not the same for everyone) is a fatal virus for democracy. Moral relativism condemns its adherents to a lifetime of fear.

Moral relativism is only possible where the truth of God’s love and God’s justice has been excluded. With no universal power to find solace in, the battle for political power will be viewed by all engaged in it as too important not to be violent. Why wouldn’t it? If there is no universal right or wrong and no Supreme Judge, not only is anything permissible, but doing everything conceivable becomes necessary. No means to an end is off limits if the stated goal of your work falls into your definition of the “greater good”, and anything less than the most effective methods, however heinous those methods may be, is simply not trying hard enough. It starts as breaks in political decorum, and progresses until even the rules of war mean nothing and no basic human dignity is maintained. Eventually no iniquity is off limits. Despite whatever emotions you may feel, you simply have to hold your nose and do that thing, call that person that name, tell that little white lie, imprison or silence that person… pull that trigger… blow up that marketplace… eliminate that race. You just ignore your reservations and do it. It’s for the advancement of society. It’s for the greater good. Moral relativism respects only power, so moral relativism always leads to tyranny.

“Just because I don’t agree with your moral code doesn’t mean I’m going to commit genocide” the relativist might retort. Well, the reason people sense that doing those things is wrong, even when they operate in a world with no shared moral code, is that God has stamped his law on our hearts. So, relativists can pretend they are beyond the reach of God’s Law, but it simply isn’t true. Fighting against evil does not automatically place you on the side of good. God’s Law ultimately will be what we’re judged against (in a courtroom way scarier than anything we can currently imagine), and ignorance will not be a defense. The vain maneuvers of men to seize power, however altruistic they may convince themselves they are, will once and for all end when, one day, every knee will bow and recognize who the real power in this world is, and what his moral code is. Ignorance will not be a defense.

That is my point here. It seems to me like most people in our country who are actively engaged in politics need to be shown or reminded that there are bigger questions in life than who will be the next President.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ entering the political arena, I’ll say this- Your faith grants you a Sabbath Rest that no unbeliever can know. Your Lord and Savior has told you to be anxious for nothing, and with good reason. For all your striving and political wrangling, what can you add to Jesus’s victory when you labor outside His will? He’s told us “Apart from Me you can do nothing”. If you cut corners, if you start judging your efforts in the political arena by their potential outcome rather than the measuring line of the Law, that’s not a victory for Jesus. Pursuing your own ambitions while claiming to be walking in His mandate can actually be carrying His name in vain. After all, Jesus did not qualify Matt 5:22 with “unless they are from a different political party than you” so stop calling people idiots. Whoever they are. Jesus is not running for the fleeting political offices of man; he doesn’t have too. His battle is as much for your heart as it is for your Congress, so guard your heart.

To my friends who disagree with me on the majority of this- Our nation is hurtling toward the inevitable epoch of all modern political conflict. We are about to endure a battle for supremacy between fascism and socialism, and if the past is any indicator, the damage will be incredible. I simply say this- please, don’t be on the losing side. Don’t even be on the winning side. If you are outside the will of God, the safest place to be is to be part of the flexible herd of sheeple the Machiavellians desire you to be. Besides, the inevitable result of either ideology is totalitarian tyranny anyways, so what does the ideology really matter? Consider the utopian paradises of Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, or North Korea for evidence of this. A society based on moral relativism will be a society based on power alone. A society based on power alone will not commend you for the beauty of your ideology if that ideology opposes those in power. Heck, you can even be a stalwart bastion of the ruling powers, and still end up on the end of a long knife (consider the S.A.). The battle will soon be all around us, so guard yourselves. Guard your body, while we in the body Christ pray for your soul.  

We are at war.

We are at war with an ancient terrorist.

A few days ago I stumbled across a news story that I’m really struggling to sort through. The Pals family was a Minnesota family of 5. They were driving, on their way to missionary training, when they were hit from behind by a semi. Sadly all five members of the family perished in the accident. (http://www.inforum.com/news/4085641-family-5-all-killed-crash-way-missionary-training) The story hit close to home for me because you could easily copy/paste the faces of my family into their beautiful family picture. The fate of the Pals family could or can just as easily be the fate of the Hall family.

I can’t just ignore it. As random and senseless as this accident may appear (although accident may not be the right word; the semi driver has been charged with vehicular homicide), I believe it to be a deliberate act of war. Our enemy is Sin, and Sin’s grand leader is Satan. He is not merciful and he is not messing around. He is a defeated foe who is merely counting the days until he is thrown into a pit of eternal torment and punishment. With no prospect of victory and nothing to lose, he seeks only to capture and enslave whoever he can, or maim and terrorize whoever he cannot capture. He is evil, he leads evil, and he delights in torturing believers simply to see if he can make them curse God to his face. The untimely taking of the Pals family from us is a tough reminder that he is still out there, working and scheming to spread war, terror and pain.

Clearly, the Pals family would have been an impressive tool in God’s hand had they made it to Japan, which is one of the reasons their loss is so tragic. Their passing was less a slight at them, as they are now in paradise, as it was to the many heartbroken friends and family they no doubt left behind. But though they hurt and grieve now, it’s comforting to know that they don’t have to grieve as people who have no hope. Sin and Satan, from time to time, still succeed in their evil works, but very soon all evil will be accounted for and reconciled, and all who fall asleep in Christ will be united with him.

To the friends and family of the Pals family, I want to say how stunned I was to read about their passing. There are many tragic things in the news, and often social media is whipped into a flurry of hashtags and altered cover photos. Whether that happens for them or not, I know there are many in the body Christ praying for comfort and peace for you.

I’ve also felt bad for the people in Japan that would have been reached by the Pals family’s ministry, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they were in the hands of the Holy Spirit before the Pals family passing, and they are just as much now. Just as its Jesus’s strength that will destroy all evil, not ours, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit that evangelizes, not ours.

To anyone reading and thinking to themselves “It was just a car accident, you don’t need a bunch of supernatural mysticism to explain it” I want you to know that you are the battlefield, or more specifically your heart is. Satan uses all manners of lies and half-truths to get you to harden your heart to the good news. Lies like “Satan and the supernatural war don’t actually exist”, “Evil exists only in the minds of men”, or “if you are fighting against evil you must be on the side of good”. Here’s the truth- evil exists and seeks (for you individually) to divide you from God. God exists and so desperately seeks to restore you to him he sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for you. In his character are both perfect love and perfect justice, both of which you can enjoy through faith in Jesus Christ.

That’s really the important point here though. The car accident appears to be a random act because we know from human experience that trucks slam into vans full of unbelievers too. Only, when that happens, we can’t have any of the hope, joy, and the sense of victory that accompany our pain and sense of loss for the death of those who fall asleep in Christ. When we lose friends who have not put their trust in Christ’s grace and mercy as the way to heaven, we are left with two bitter realities. First- that friend is lost to us for eternity. They’ve missed God’s perfect love. Second- the courtroom our friend has chosen to stand in and defend himself, and the prison our friend has chosen to serve his (eternal) punishment in, are scary beyond human comprehension. It’s a fearful thing to encounter God’s perfect justice without a mediator.

Please, don’t miss this. If you feel a tugging at your heart or any curiosity at all about God, do not dismiss it. I don’t know when Jesus is coming back to end this war, nor do I know why he’s waiting, but I know one benefit of his delay. He’s given cold, hard hearts time to repent. There’s never a guarantee the next moment won’t be our last. The time to trust him is now. He has set eternity in the hearts of all men and women, so that includes yours. But people very easily harden their hearts to the truth of God by lining our souls with the infectious propaganda of our eternal enemy. That enemy who we should never forget wants only to deceive, kill and destroy us. The enemy who, until Jesus comes back, we remain at war with.

Some more links about the Pals family-

https://www.gofundme.com/joyofjapan

https://joyofjapan.org