Sunday, January 14, 2018

False Alarm: Hawaii's Close Call With a Ballistic Missile


Yesterday, the state of Hawaii fell into a state of panic. At 8:05 a.m, the state's 1.4 million residents and hundreds of thousands of visitors received on their cell phones the following alert: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." The alert also blared on Hawaiian television stations.

People took screen shots of their phones and starting posting the pictures on social media. Islanders starting tweeting and texting their goodbyes. Parents lowered their children into storm drains. Friends and even complete strangers hugged in the streets and cried tears together.

Within twelve minutes of the alert, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard posted online that it was a false alarm. But it would take 38 minutes for another push-button notification to be sent out to everyone's cell phones informing islanders of the false alarm, and that there was no real danger.

What could possibly have been the cause of such a message? Very simply, it was human error. "A state emergency management employee apparently pushed the wrong button," reported Hawaii News Now. The state's emergency management was attempting to run a drill, but rather than a test, they accidentally ran the real thing.

Considering the rising tensions with North Korea, it's of little wonder why such testing would be so important. North Korea, under their tyrannical leader Kim Jong-un, has demonstrated their nuclear capability, not only by successfully detonating nuclear weapons but also launching an intercontinental missile that can reach Hawaii and further.

It's important to be safe, but surely the islanders were not happy about the unnecessary panic. The governor also expressed his frustration with the bungled drill. But all things considered, yesterday's false alarm could have been worse. A lot worse. And I'm not talking in the sense that it could have really been the real thing.

Had North Korea received word of the drill, which included the words, "This is not a drill," they might have assumed the United States was attempting to launch a preemptive strike. Maybe the U.S. wanted to alert their own residents of an inbound "ballistic missile threat" to prepare them for an inevitable retaliation.

This false alarm, this mistake, this error, could very well have provoked North Korea into launching a nuke. Like I said, it could have gone much, much worse. Praise the Lord that it wasn't.

I pray there are some strong evangelists on Hawaii's islands that are able to use this terrible experience to share the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ will a population of still-shaky people. What if yesterday had been the day you would die? What would have happened to you? Are you prepared to die? Is your family prepared?

What do you think will happen to you on the day that you die? It is an incredibly important question. The Bible says it is appointed for a man once to die, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). If you appeared before God in judgment, what would He say to you? Would He say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" and let you into heaven? Or would Jesus say to you, "Depart from me, I never knew you," and then cast you into hell?

Everyone has sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Sin is why there is so much misery in the world. It's why there's sickness and disease and death. It's why there's evil and injustice. It's why people fear the itchy trigger-fingers of hot-headed dictators that could annihilate millions at the push of a button -- because this world is full of wicked, fallen people.

What we deserve for our sin and rebellion against God is death (Romans 6:23). But two thousand years ago, God sent His Son to this world as a man, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins. He rose again from the grave in His own body, then ascended into heaven where He is seated at God's right hand. Everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but will have His everlasting life. Our sins are forgiven and we're made innocent before God by faith in Christ.

Everyone who believes in Jesus belongs to Jesus. If you belong to Jesus, you will obey Jesus (1 John 2:4-6). Whoever has Jesus Christ will have eternal life. No matter what happens to you in this life, you will not perish in the next. You will live forever with Him in His eternal kingdom, where there is no more dying, no more tears, no more suffering or panic of any kind (Revelation 21:4).

But whoever does not obey Jesus does not have life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36). The wrath of God is on every person who doesn't follow Jesus. However you meet your end in this world -- accidental death, fatal disease, old age, or a ballistic missile -- it won't even compare with the suffering that you will endure for all eternity if you didn't believe in Jesus in this life.

But if you do believe in Jesus, the suffering in this world doesn't even compare to the glory that awaits us when we meet Him on the other side. You are saved from your sins by faith. Jesus took the penalty from you on the cross. He took the bomb of God's wrath so you won't ever have to know what that's like. Believe in Him, and do not be afraid. The Lord your God is with you.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Bad Examples of Women Pastors (But Great Examples of Godly Women)


In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." The context here is church leadership, an instruction that continues into chapter 3. A woman is not permitted to be a pastor in a church (elder, bishop, overseer, etc.). Only a man can be a pastor.

This instruction is not limited to the time-period in which Paul was writing. It applies to all people in every place at every point in the history of the church. How do we know this? Because Paul goes all the way back to Genesis with his explanation: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (verses 13-14).

So the first reason the role of pastor is to be filled by a man is because Adam was formed first, and Eve was formed from Adam as his help-meet. The differences between the sexes and the different roles they are assigned are not a result of the fall. They were established at creation and have applied to all people in all cultures at all times.

The second reason a pastor is to be man is because Adam was not deceived by the serpent, but the woman was deceived and transgressed the law of God. This might seem unfair because Adam certainly sinned as well, and death came to all men because Adam sinned (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21). But Adam wasn't deceived, and Eve was. So whether we're talking about a perfect, sinless world, or the fallen, sinful one we currently inhabit, God intends that a man be the one to shepherd the flock of God (pastor means "shepherd;" see also 1 Peter 5:1-5).

Elsewhere, Paul wrote, "As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak at church" (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).

This doesn't mean a woman is supposed to have duct-tape over her mouth from the moment she walks into church to the moment she walks out. The context is teaching the church, or administering the authority of the word of God over the gathered people of God. The role as overseer is set apart for specifically a man to fill.

Problem solved! (Just kidding, sweetheart.)

This also doesn't mean a church that obeys this instruction is oppressing women. Heavens, no! A woman sitting in that church during a gospel sermon is no more oppressed than any man in the congregation. The truth does not oppress those who listen to it -- it sets them free (John 8:31). It is a woman's delight to learn quietly with all submissiveness, and she does this in honor of the Lord.

Women serve an incredibly important role in the church. If a church was all men and no women, that would be a dysfunctional church (see Titus 2:1-8). The church is to be made up of men and women, young and old, complimenting one another in their strengths and weaknesses, working and growing together so that we may be a functioning body of Christ.

But each according to their own purpose. God made men and women different from day one of creation... sorry, day six. He meant for men to fill certain roles and women to fill certain roles. We are one body in Christ made of individual parts, each functioning in their own way. One person is not to infringe upon another or take it upon themselves to do the task given to someone else. We all submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

Bad Arguments for Women Pastors
Over the weekend, a friend got into a discussion over this topic with a feminist, and the feminist retorted with a list of names -- women of the Bible who were more than just "helps" but, in her view, were qualified to be pastors. That list was as follows: "Deborah, Hannah, Miriam, Ruth, Esther, Jael, Proverbs 31, Wisdom personified as woman in Proverbs 8 (present with God at creation), Phoebe, Lydia, Prisca, Mary, Mary Magdalene, [were] all just there 'to help'?"

This is a very common tactic when arguing for why women deserve to be pastors: throw out the name of a woman from the Bible. Boom! But that name is always taken out of context. There are no examples of a woman serving as a pastor in the church. None of the apostles were women, for that matter. I can say "period" and leave it at that. The instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is clear.

But for the sake of teaching, I'd like to go through that list of names and explain why they're actually bad examples. While they are not examples of women pastors, most of them are certainly great examples for being strong women of God.


Deborah
The book of Judges captures a very dark time in Israel's history. In those days there was no king in Israel, and the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25). But God gave them judges to be their leaders, decision-makers, and deliverers.

The pattern of the story of Judges goes like this: the people sinned and worshiped false gods, the Lord sent an enemy to punish and oppress them, the people cried out for mercy, so God sent a judge to conquer their enemies and deliver a semi-repentant Israel. Wash, rinse, repeat. Three of the most famous judges were Samson, Gideon, and a woman named Deborah.

Deborah was a prophetess and a God-fearing woman who judged during a time when there were no God-fearing men. In Judges 4, Deborah confronted Barak, commander of the Lord's army, who was reluctant to do what God had told him to do: gather his troops and fight the Canaanites. Instead, Barak told Deborah, "If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go." So Deborah mommied him and led him by the hand to get him to obey God.

If you had been reading through Deuteronomy and Joshua, by the time you got to Judges 4, you'd recognize Israel's digression in faith and obedience. In Deuteronomy 1:15, the tribes of Israel had wise and experienced men as heads over them. In Joshua 24:1, these men met with Joshua to renew their covenant before God. But within a generation, Israel began worshiping the Baals and forgot what the Lord had done for them (Judges 2:10-12).

It got to the point that the men weren't doing what the leaders of Israel were supposed to do. So God placed a woman over them as though to say, "Sure, I'll deliver you from your enemies. But to your shame, I'm going to send a woman to do what no man will do." It was an embarrassment that Deborah was judge, not a high achievement (consider Judges 9:53 where it was to Abimelech's shame that he was killed by a woman and not a man). In Deborah's song of victory, she praised the tribes that stepped up to fight and lambasted those who stayed home (Judges 5:14-18).

Isaiah 3:12 says, "My people -- infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them." It is the judgment of God upon a nation when women occupy the roles that should be filled by men. Barak should have been the judge of Israel, following in the footsteps of Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar before him. But because he was kind of a weenie, God gave Deborah to do what Barak wouldn't.

So using Deborah as an argument for why it's okay for a woman to be a pastor really isn't a good move. It would be to admit, "There are no godly men here, so a woman is going to have to do this job." When a woman is pastor, the church is immature and disobedient, just like Israel was when Deborah was judge. She is a great example of a God-fearing woman. She is not an example of a pastor.

Jael
I confess, this is one of my favorite Bible stories. Still in Judges 4, when Barak succeeded against the Canaanite armies, Sisera, the commander of the Canaanites, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Moses's father-in-law. Sisera hid in her tent and told Jael, "Stand here at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, 'Is anyone here?' say, 'No.'"

When Sisera fell asleep, Jael went and grabbed a tent-peg and a hammer and nailed his head to the ground. Yes, this stay-at-home wife pulled a stake from her tent, went over to where the enemy was sleeping, put the spike on the his temple, and with a mallet in her other hand, she pound, pound, pounded that stake through his head and into the dirt, pinning his cranium to the ground. A woman did that. That is so Judges.

The context of this story further emphasizes the lack of obedience among of the men of Israel. Because Barak hesitated to obey God, the Lord didn't give him the victory over his enemy. Instead, He embarrassed Barak by giving the final blow to the hands of Jael, a humble wife who was not even an Israelite. Likewise, when a woman stands in the pulpit administering the teaching of God over His church, it's an embarrassment to all the men under her.

Go on and call a stay-at-home wife weak. I dare ya.

Hannah
Hannah was one of Elkanah's two wives. His other wife, Peninnah, had children, but Hannah had none, and Peninnah made fun of Hannah for being barren. Troubled in spirit, Hannah prayed fervently before the Lord, and this was at a time when even the high priest, Eli, wasn't seeking God. She asked God to give her a son, and if He would so bless her, she would commit her son to His service.

God was gracious to her, and she gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel, meaning "heard of God," because the Lord heard her and granted her request. Samuel became one of Israel's greatest prophets. He anointed Israel's first king, Saul, and then Saul's successor, David. While Samuel grew in the service of the Lord, Hannah was blessed to have five more children.

And that's the story of Hannah. She is an outstanding example of patient submission and steadfastness. The ridicule of others, including the high priest, did not make her doubt God. She sought the Lord with all her heart. But she was not a person of authority and she never had a leadership role. If a woman wants to become a pastor, and she looks at Hannah as an example, she should consider what Hannah said in 1 Samuel 2:3: "Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed."

Miriam
Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron, and not as great an example of godliness as Hannah was. Miriam is mentioned as a prophetess in Exodus, but this is explicitly in the context of leading other women. Exodus 15:20 says, "Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing."

Unfortunately, Miriam is most remembered for opposing Moses, her brother and Israel's leader. In Numbers 12, she and Aaron took issue with Moses being married to a Cushite woman, but this was only a cover for the real source of their animus: Miriam and Aaron believed they were just as capable and qualified to lead Israel as Moses was. They said, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?"

But Moses was a meek and humble man who did not try to defend himself. Instead, the Lord made Himself heard. He called the three siblings to stand before the tent of meeting, and said:
"Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"
When the Lord departed from them, Miriam was struck with leprosy. Moses plead with the Lord on her behalf, and she was healed after seven days. This demonstrated to Miriam that not only was Moses God's chosen prophet, Moses loved her and still interceded for her even when she contested him and thought more highly of herself. It was because Moses did this for her that she was cured. In Deuteronomy 24:9, Moses told the people to remember what God did to Miriam so they would not make the same mistake by forsaking a prophet of God.

Perhaps from this story you recognize the irony of using Miriam as an argument for why a woman can be a pastor. The Lord has spoken clearly concerning this matter: a woman is not to be the teaching authority over a church, no matter how well she thinks she could do that job. She may be a great preacher. But if she thinks that makes her deserving of the position of overseer in Christ's church, she's as prideful as Miriam was.


Ruth and Esther
Just because a woman has a book of the Bible named after her doesn't mean 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is null and void. Context, people! Ruth and Esther were great and godly women, but they weren't pastors. They weren't even authority-figures. Yup, even Queen Esther.

Ruth was a widow from Moab, the daughter-in-law of a Judean widow, Naomi. The two of them were quite destitute when they returned to Judah, Naomi's homeland. But Boaz, their kinsmen redeemer, saw by her works that Ruth was a godly woman (1 Timothy 2:10). He showed kindness to Ruth and Naomi by taking Ruth as his wife. The Lord blessed Boaz and Ruth and they became ancestors to King David and later Christ Himself. Plot twist: the main character of the story actually isn't Ruth. It's Naomi (see Ruth 4:17).

Esther was a queen, but she had no authority. Ahasuerus (or Xerxes in some translations) was the reigning monarch. Do you remember how Esther became queen? Ahasuerus' wife, Vashti, stood up to him because she wouldn't make an appearance at his party as his arm-candy. So the king had her banished and replaced her with Esther, who had so little authority that if she entered the king's presence without being summoned, he could have her executed (Esther 4:11).

When the existence of the Jews was threatened by Haman's evil plot, Esther, herself a Jew, risked her own life to save her people. She was shrewd and she was wise in the way she earned the favor of the king so that an entire race of people would be delivered. The Lord put her in such a position "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14). She was perfectly safe living out her days as queen. But Esther was obedient to God above all else, even if her obedience had cost her everything. Obedience is not a feminist's forte.

Proverbs 8 and 31
The picture of wisdom personified as a woman in Proverbs 8 is in contrast with the forbidden woman of crooked speech mentioned in the previous chapters. Which one will you go after: the adulteress who tempts the sinful passions of the flesh, lusts in darkness, leads to death, and forgets her covenant with God (Proverbs 2:16-17); or wisdom who is virtuous, is the way of kings and princes, walks in righteousness, leads to abundant life, and has been with the Lord since the beginning (Proverbs 8:13, 21-22)? The comparison is summarized in the next chapter. See Proverbs 9.

Liberal theologians love to use the personification of wisdom as a woman. Heretic author William Paul Young, in his manure-pile-of-a-book The Shack, even made wisdom the fourth person of the Trinity. Young's god was three parts woman and one part man. But Proverbs 8 doesn't mean wisdom is literally a woman any more than Jerusalem was literally a whore (Ezekiel 16) or that our best deeds before a holy God are literally a woman's soiled menstrual cloth (Isaiah 64:6). Point made?

The Proverbs 31 woman I rarely see in a feminist. Okay, I've never seen the Proverbs 31 woman in a feminist. The feminist is far too full of herself. But a woman who fears the Lord, "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and she does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her" (Proverbs 31:25-28).

The Proverbs 31 woman is a wife and a mother who loves her husband and children, works at home, and is submissive to her husband, "that the word of God may not be reviled" (Titus 2:5). If that sounds awful and oppressive to you, you have no joy in Christ. A wife's submission to her husband is not oppression -- it is the delight of her heart, a willful obedience to God as a picture of the way the whole church is to submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Likewise, it is a joy for a woman in the church to humble herself before God, heeding the roles God has designated for men and those He has designated for women. Whether a wife, mother, or single, it is a woman's pleasure to follow in quiet submission and not rebel against what God has ordained.


Phoebe, Lydia, Prisca, Mary, and Mary Magdalene (Bonus: Junia)
Now we get to the grab-bag of names in the New Testment, none of whom are examples of women as pastors. I want to emphasize again that these women are all great examples of godliness. But strong women in the Bible do not equate to being pastors. A submissive woman is a strong woman. When anyone, man or woman, tries to put themselves in a place God has not given to them to serve, that is not strength. It's prideful, self-serving, and rebellious.

Phoebe is the first name mentioned in Paul's list of thanks at the end of Romans. She is a servant of the church at Cenchreae, neighbors to Corinth (which was where Paul was when he wrote to the church in Rome). The argument is often made that Phoebe was a deacon in the church, given that the English word "servant" is translated from the feminine form of the Greek word for "deacon." Wherever one falls in the translation debate of Romans 16:1, you would only be arguing for whether a woman can be a deacon, not whether she can be an elder or an overseer. An overseer must have an ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). A deacon does not have to meet that qualification.

After Pheobe comes Prisca (Romans 16:3). Prisca is a variation of the name Priscilla, wife of Aquila. They were a husband and wife evangelism duo, their most famous convert being Apollos. At the time they encountered him, Apollos was not yet part of the church and did not know the way of Christ (Acts 18:24-28). Women absolutely can evangelize and share the gospel with others. Preaching to unbelievers is not the same thing as being an overseer in the church. It's also okay for a sister to encourage a brother in the Lord. But this should not be done in private. Priscilla was with her husband when they taught Apollos.

Lydia was Paul's first convert in Philippi (Acts 16:14), and it's possible that the church at Philippi met in her home (v.40). She was the matriarch of her household which indicates that she may have been a widow. She was also wealthy as a "seller of purple goods." But she would not have been the pastor or an elder in the Philippian church, and there's nothing that suggests she was.

Mary was the mother of Jesus, a great woman of God. But again, not a pastor. Mary Magdalene was the first to tell the disciples that the tomb of Christ was empty and He had risen from the dead (John 20:1-2). What a gracious and wonderful thing that God chose women to proclaim this good news first, during a time when a woman's testimony was not even admitted in court. Indeed, women are just as instrumental as men in the spread of the gospel. A woman can do that without being a pastor.

Finally, there's Junia. In Romans 16:7, Paul says, "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me." The NASB uses the names Andronicus and Junias, and says they "are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me."

Some interpret "outstanding among the apostles" to mean that Andronicus and Junias were outstanding apostles. But all this means is that Andronicus and Junias were highly praised by the apostles, not that they were apostles themselves. Besides, there's debate as to whether Junia/Junias is a man or a woman.

Conclusion
The apostles were men specifically chosen by Christ, and pastors are men who continue to teach the word of Christ as first administered by the apostles, that we may grow together in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). Though it is not for a woman to fill this role, I cannot emphasize enough how needed women are to the service and growth of the church. The men must include and not hinder them.

Furthermore, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that women grow in godliness and holiness. Listen to the preaching of the word, and do what it says. Your selfish frustration in reading "quietly with all submissiveness" will cause you to miss the instruction "let a woman learn!" A strong woman of God is supposed to be a woman educated in the ways of God. Feminists hate this. They don't want women to be strong in the faith. They want them to be weak (2 Timothy 3:6). Strong women aren't easily manipulated by their lies -- the same lies of that ancient serpent who hissed at Eve, "Did God really say...?" (Genesis 3:1)

Men and women are fellow heirs in the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). Though God made us different and assigned to us different roles, we are to be one in the Spirit and in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:38). Let us do our work without anger or quarreling, bitterness or jealousy. Humble yourself before the Lord, and at the proper time, He will exalt you. Consider others needs ahead of your own, in love and submission to our heavenly Father, to the praise of His glorious grace.

For those who read this article a second time, you might notice a few changes. Nothing was omitted, but a few additions were made. I took a nap and had a couple more thoughts. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review of Just One Scene


In case you've been living under a rock, and under that rock you dug a deep cave, and at the end of that cave you fashioned a bunker with thick, steel-reinforced concrete walls, cutting off the outside world, and making yourself impervious to any kind of radio, television, or internet frequency -- the latest Star Wars movie is out, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I've seen it, and it's a Star Wars movie. Don't worry, I'm not about to spoil it. Well, much of it anyway. There's just one tiny little scene I wanted to bring up, and then I'm going to spoil the outcome of that scene at the end of the blog. I'll put up a spoiler alert when I get there. If I remember.

If you saw the The Force Awakens (everyone dogged on that title, but I thought it was fine), then you might remember the rather disappointing conclusion when Rey found Luke Skywalker, handed him his lightsaber, then cut to John Williams music and blue credits. Luke had more dialogue in the previews leading up to that movie than he did in the movie.

Well, fret no more! We pick up at that exact spot in The Last Jedi (I won't spoil how Luke responds to getting his lightsaber back, but it's perfect). Rey wants Luke to teach her the ways of the force so she can become a Jedi knight like her father... er, wait, that was a different Star Wars movie. She wants Luke to teach her to become a Jedi. "I want to find my place in all this," she says.

Where Luke ended up going -- the most hidden part of the galaxy according to him, but apparently not hidden enough -- was an island where the last Jedi temple rests in an old, dead tree. There inside the tree is a single table with a few books -- the ancient Jedi texts.

So fiddle faddle fum, plot-plot and sub-plot, Luke won't leave with Rey, so she leaves on her own to  help the resistance/rebellion without him. Because Luke fears Rey is becoming like Ren/Ben, he decides to burn the whole Jedi thing to the ground. Literally. He lights a flare and walks up to the tree/temple. But before he can torch it, he's visited by a cameo appearance of Oz/Yoda.

Luke hesitates to act on his impulse, so the Green Goblin burns it down for him (in dead-Jedi fashion, of course). Having a change of heart, Luke is absolutely beside himself. You destroyed the last Jedi sacred texts! Yoda replies, "Did you ever read the texts?" And Luke stammers with an answer that was probably about to be, "Well I was going to!" Yoda says, "Page turners, they were not."

The whole Jedi thing has always been an excuse to put magic in a sci-fi landscape. There's nothing mysterious or deep about the Jedi religion; the filmmakers are just making it up as they go. Now the Jedi have ancient texts, and there's apparently only one copy left.

But the texts are not important. Of course they're not. Because being a Jedi is about feeling the force, not reading about it. There's no reason for texts. Remember Obi-Wan's first lesson to the young Luke: "Stretch out with your feelings." In this movie, Luke gives Rey that same advice. So what's the point of having a text if you don't need it? He never even read it! Which is the point Yoda makes with Luke.

Trusting your feelings is the lesson in almost every epic or adventure film I've seen: Follow your heart! Believe in yourself! It's the way of the world, exemplified in virtually all blockbusters. You can say, "Oh, it's just a movie." Sure, I won't argue with that. It's a cash-grab. I pay the money to be entertained just like you do. But all movies have messages, and that under-whelming philosophy is usually that you make your own way and your own truth.

The Bible says the opposite. You cannot make your own truth, and your feelings are not dependable. Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool (Proverbs 28:26), and the heart is so deceptively sick that no one can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9). You're following a dumb, sick guide when you follow yourself.

The Bible is our only objective, unchanging source of truth. On the days that you don't feel like you know your "place in all of this," you need the text to remind you. You were created in God's image for a purpose, and that is to worship God with everything that you are, giving thanks to Him in all that you do. There is a place for you in His eternal, imperishable kingdom.

But wicked men don't want to be with God. This world is fallen and subject to judgment along with everyone who is part of it. They will be destroyed when Jesus returns "with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12). That's not a truth you can feel. You read about it in the Bible.

For those who are in Christ Jesus, God has promised to deliver you and will give you an inheritance in His eternal kingdom. When this world gets to be too much, you will forget that. When the world looks alluring enough, you will give in to temptation. You would fall with this world if it wasn't for the fact that God upholds you by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

So you go back to God's word to be reminded of the truth. You're reminded of your sinfulness and your need for a Savior. This is what it says will happen to those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 7:15-17):
Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve Him day and night in His temple;
and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat. 
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and He will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Knowing the truth of Christ fills us with joy, something far more invincible than happiness or chills. You can feel goosebumps sitting in a movie theater with surround sound and lightsaber battles to John Williams music. But God's word is not verified by how you feel. It is verified by the never-ending, never-failing character of a gracious God, who gave us His word so we would know His love and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Okay, and now here's a spoiler. Am I supposed to put that in all-caps? Is that the proper online etiquette for a spoiler alert?

SPOILER ALERT!!

At the end of the movie after Rey... well, never mind... Fin goes to a drawer on the Millennium Falcon to get a blanket, and when he opens it up, gasp! It's the Jedi books! Apparently Rey swiped them before Luke/Yoda could destroy them. You see them for just a flash, but my daughter Annie and I agreed they were the Jedi texts.

Whatever's in those books, the script doctors will make it up by the next movie (unless it's a plot twist they decide to drop). But I'm willing to take a guess: the books describe what the Jedi feel when they experience the force.

That's not what the Bible talks about. As Peter said of the testimony of the Scriptures, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:16). We follow the truth.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Rooftopping Daredevil Falls to His Death

Wu Yongning, a 26-year-old Chinese rooftopping daredevil, fell to his death while performing a stunt from atop a the 62-story building. The Xiaoxiang Morning Herald reported on Saturday that Wu was taking part in a rooftopping challenge that promised 100,000 yuan ($20,400) in prize money.

The former movie extra had been attempting to climb the Huayuan Centre, the tallest building in Changsha, capital of China's Hunan province. On social media Wu was referred to as "Chinese Superman" since he scaled such tall buildings without protective gear or safety harnesses, relying upon martial arts training and careful timing to perform these risky feats.

He'd post his videos on Weibo, a Chinese social media site similar to Twitter. Millions of followers watched as he would tiptoe along a skyscraper, stand atop a high tower, or hang by his fingertips over a ledge. His fans noticed that he'd stopped sharing videos online, and that's when his family broke the news.

His step-uncle Feng Shengliang told the Straits Times that Wu planned to propose to his girlfriend the day after completing the stunt.

Wu Yongning performing some of his risky stunts.

Wu is one of many who have died while rooftopping, a craze also called "urban exploration." This fascination involves amateur stuntsmen, or self-confessed skywalkers, scaling tall buildings or high-rise structures in order to snap the perfect photo. Some are so dedicated to this hobby that they travel the world taking such pictures.

There are many tragic stories of people falling to their death performing such stunts. One of the most notable is 17-year-old Andrey Retrovsky, who died while doing a building-hang in Russia, where the rooftopping craze is huge. That same year, 24-year-old Conner Cummings was killed in New York City while trying to climb the Four Seasons Hotel, a 52-story building.

Despite regular fatalities, rooftopping continues to increase in popularity. It's about more than just thrill-seeking. A GoPro video from a selfie-stick that goes viral promises millions of hits and thousands of dollars in revenue. It can also increase star-power. Some models have taken high-rise photos to set themselves apart from other models, attracting more attention.

But they are literally risking their lives for fame and fortune. For Wu Yongning, it cost him everything. Said the China Daily editorial, "With all the likes and comments, he overestimated his own abilities and finally lost his life because of that feeling. Had Wu not been so popular on live-streaming apps, he might not have died."

Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Regarding daredevil rooftopping, that's quite literal.

When a person falls while doing pretty much anything else, they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again, learning from the mistakes they made. But when a rooftopper falls... that's it. One wrong move and life is over. The mark they leave on the world will be the stain they left on 57th street when their body hit the pavement.

Do not think to yourself, "Well, I'm not putting myself up there to fall and die like that so I've got nothing to worry about." They might be taking greater risks than you are, but your life is still just as fragile, and your fall might be today.

"You do not know what tomorrow will bring," it says in James 4:14-16. "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

Peter said, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time, He may exalt you, casting your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, Resist him, firm in your faith" (1 Peter 5:6-9).

Believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. You have nothing to fear of death, for Christ has raised you up and seated you in the heavenly places with Him. Seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. And when Christ who is your life appears, you will be with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

But if you do not humble yourself before the Lord, your fall will be greater than a slip from atop a sky-scraper. God in His righteous judgment will cast you into the hell of fire for all eternity. Life is too short and too fragile to take such a risk. Believe in Jesus today. Call out to Him for forgiveness. And the Bible promises that He will save you, as only Jesus can.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Would Jesus Bake a Gay Wedding Cake?

The Supreme Court of the United States listened to arguments today from a case formally known as Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was approached by two gay men, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, and asked if he would make them a wedding cake. When Mr. Phillips declined, he was sued.

Phillips said that he was glad to sell them any other product from his shop regardless of their sexual orientation. But he would not make them a wedding cake since it would be a romantic endorsement of something that as a Christian he did not believe was morally right. Marriage was created by God to be a life-long covenant between a man and a woman. Phillips is an artist, and he did not want to use his artistic expression to present a message he didn't believe.

When the two men took legal action against Phillips, the state of Colorado agreed that he had violated the state's anti-discrimination ordinance -- this was in 2012, before gay marriage was even legal in Colorado. Nonetheless, the state brought legal action against Phillips which was upheld by the lower courts. In an article published yesterday in USA Today, Phillips said that since being sued, he has received "hate mail, obscene calls, and death threats." So much for love and tolerance.

Praise God the Supreme Court has decided to take the cake... er, case... and already Justice Kennedy, likely the deciding voice, has said that Colorado has been "neither tolerant nor respectful" of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs. This is not just about freedom of religion, but also freedom of speech: Can the United States government force a person to express a message that person does not believe?

I became familiar with Mr. Phillips this past summer when a video was circulating featuring him and his lawyer answering questions on The View, the morning talk-show that has become a bastion of integrity and fairness (I'm being wildly sarcastic). The question Mr. Phillips was asked that made the video so popular was whether Jesus would make a cake for a gay wedding. Comedienne Joy Behar said He would, Mr. Phillips said He wouldn't.

If I were on The View, this is how I would have responded to their line of questioning. This is not a knock on Mr. Phillips' responses. My answers would be a little different than his because a) I'm a pastor, and b) I'm not being sued (which could change tomorrow in our current cultural climate). The following are actual quotes presented by the ladies in that interview. Their comments are in bold and my responses follow.

From left to right: Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin, Paula Faris, Jack Phillips, Kristen Waggoner (Phillips' lawyer), and Sara Haines. Forgive me but I could not identify the woman on the end, so she will be called simply "Host."

Host: I understand the concern people have about government dictating to private businesses what their business should look like. But on this religious freedom argument, I struggle. It violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, for example. Do you then, when straight couples come in, do you ask them if they've had a child out of wedlock, for example, if they participate in premarital sex, if they -- (audience applauds). Because, where do you draw the line then? Because that all could be deemed sinful, or sinful to someone who's religious as well.

That's a common argument when addressing cases of this kind, but it doesn't apply. Who is coming into a cake shop saying, "Hey, I'm having premarital sex. Could you bake me a cake?" In this particular case, two men have specifically asked for a wedding cake to celebrate something that Mr. Phillips doesn't consider moral.

I'm sure that if he was asked to participate in anything else he believed would be an endorsement of that behavior, he would decline. Mr. Phillips has said so: if someone asked him to bake a cake for an adult-themed party or Halloween or a KKK celebration, he would have refused in those scenarios as well. He has been consistent in his convictions.

Joy Behar: What exactly is your belief that prevents you from making that cake? What is it?

As Mr. Phillips expressed, he believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, as God created it to be. The Bible clearly teaches it.

Behar: But there are other things in the Bible I'm sure you don't believe.

No. I believe every word in the Bible, and I teach all of it. As a pastor, I go word for word through the Scriptures to help the hearers understand what God has said through His prophets and apostles.

Sara Haines: Well that actually brings me to my question, because one thing that's always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it.

Thank you, I have.

Haines: I was raised in the church, and it says do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. But it also says don't judge others. We're not the final judgment. It also says love thy neighbor. There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality which ones to go with, because in my mind, whether you believe in it or not, you should definitely not marry a man (laugh). But if someone else does, it's not my place to judge them because God will ultimately judge them (audience applause).

First of all, the Bible doesn't say not to judge at all. In John 7:24, Jesus said, "Do not to judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." You're making judgments now regarding Mr. Phillips. Secondly, God created marriage, and He said it is to be between a man and a woman. Jesus made this point also in Matthew 19:4-6. Whoever is having sex outside of that definition of marriage is guilty of sexual immorality.

We read in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that those who practice homosexuality or sexual immorality of any kind will be excluded from the kingdom of God. Revelation 21:8 says they will be cast into the lake of fire. God has already said what that ultimate judgment will be. So out of love for my neighbor, I do not want to encourage him in sin that will exclude him from the kingdom of God. Jesus died to forgive sin such as this, not so someone would persist in sin such as this. Wouldn't you agree it is actually unloving to encourage someone in behavior that will harm them?

Host: There are artistic endeavors that have no relation to same-sex couples at all that you decide -- I just want to be clear about that, because these other things that you do not (indiscernable). They're not related to gay marriage, or...

Okay.

Paula Faris: I have a question for you, too, kind of bouncing off of Sara's question. I know that you're a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low; the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself: What would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think maybe Jesus would have said 'I don't accept this, but I'm going to love you anyway'? Do you think that maybe would have had a more powerful testimony?

Jesus would not have encouraged someone in behavior that positioned them under the wrath of God on judgment day. He told the sinners to go and sin no more. Your question accuses Mr. Phillips of being unloving by refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple. On the contrary, he told them they could buy anything from his shop regardless of their sexual orientation. But he could not encourage behavior the Bible says is destructive.

Faris: So you don't believe that -- I just ask, what do you think Jesus would have done in that situation?

He would have told a sinner to repent before something worse happened to them, as He did in John 5:14.

Behar: Oh, come on. Jesus would have made the cake.

Faris: Jesus could turn water into wine. He could do whatever He wants to do.

Behar: You can believe the Bible and everything, but Jesus, that's a deal-breaker. Jesus is gonna make the cake. 

The devil told Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Jesus replied, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." And what has come from the mouth of God is that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Mr. Phillips is attempting to live in accordance with what God said.

Behar: Listen, I'm not judging what he did. I'm just speaking for Jesus right now. (Audience laughs and applauds.)

Jesus has spoken, and what He has said is in the Bible, which is the word of Christ.

Sunny Hostin: Let me ask you this, because we talked about this same issue yesterday on the show, and I can see both sides of this argument. When I put one hat on, when I put my legal hat on, I think it's a closer call than I think we're giving credit for. When I put my human hat on, I think, "Just make the cake." But let me ask you this. Lower courts have found [that Jack] broke the law, because there is an anti-discrimination law in Colorado. So lower courts have found that you discriminated against this couple, but you're taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just make the cake?

If your argument is, "Why make a federal case out of this?" you need to ask that of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins. They're the ones who sued Mr. Phillips. Remember that this happened in a year in which gay marriage wasn't even legal. The state discriminated against Mr. Phillips, and so has everyone else who has threatened him and his family. As far as I can tell, he's been nothing but kind and respectful through this ordeal. Doesn't he deserve to have his case heard before the Supreme Court?

Hostin: Now, he's received death threats. [Has he] lost business because of this?

The court ruled that Mr. Phillips had to make wedding cakes for gay weddings. He had to. So Mr. Phillips stopped making wedding cakes, a significant portion of his business. Who's to say someone wouldn't try to bait him into refusing to bake a cake for another gay couple? He would face more lawsuits while this one is still pending.

Behar: You're losing business! It's a bad business decision!

I agree, it is a bad business decision -- made by the state of Colorado, not Mr. Phillips. This is a form of authoritarian oppression more akin to fascism.

Behar: But there's a large issue here. I mean, some people are saying you could set back the law. You know, the case would set back the law fifty years. Because anyone would say I have religious freedom to deny you my wares.

Denying a person their freedoms of speech and religion, which are expressly protected by the constitution, is usurping the law in this case. The right for two gay men to marry each other and demand a wedding cake be made for them is not a right guaranteed by the constitution. Over the last 60 years, sexual liberty has taken precedence over the basic fundamental rights protected by the constitution.

Hostin: It certainly is a close call, but let me tell you, we reached out to the couple's, the gay couple's attorneys. They declined to comment at this time. But on the day that the Supreme Court announced that it would be taking up this case, they said, "The law is squarely on David and Charlie's side because when businesses are open to the public, they're supposed to be open to everyone. While the right to one's religious beliefs is fundamental, a license to discriminate is not." (Audience applauds.) What's your response?

Well, Mr. Esseks of the ACLU, who issued the statement, is discriminating against Mr. Phillips. He believes his clients are right and Mr. Phillips is wrong to run his business based on his moral convictions. That's discrimination. Everyone discriminates. The NBA and the WNBA, the PGA and the LPGA -- these are discriminatory labels. The question here is whether or not the discrimination was legal.

Does Mr. Phillips have the right to refuse to participate in an activity that goes against his fundamental religious beliefs? The constitution says that he does. I hope the Supreme Court agrees. Again, I must reiterate this because the point seems to be getting lost: Mr. Phillips did not refuse business to anyone. He simply refused to make a specialty cake. They could still buy anything else they wanted from his shop.

Haines: That's evolved in a lot of those religions. Because my brother's gay and in our church, it's fine for him to get married. (Audience applauds.) And I was raised in the church, so there are a lot of God-fearing Christian gays who are accepted and loved and they are choosing to love someone else, and, so I do think that the Bible has not changed because it was written thousands of years ago and translated sixty-some times, so what we're reading even, if you studied the Bible is interesting enough. But faith has changed and it has evolved to accept people.

There is no such thing as a God-fearing Christian gay man. He would be choosing to be gay precisely because he does not fear God. It doesn't matter how religious convictions have evolved on the subject. Jesus said in Mark 13:31, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

Hostin: But is he allowed to have his faith? 

Haines: I totally agree with that, but I do feel it should be: I should know that when I go in, because when my brother walks in and can't buy a cake from him, I don't want to put my business there. It's my personal freedom. (Audience applauds her again, apparently able to make more sense of her than I can.)

Hostin: And what do you say to that? Because we discussed this. I know that we're running out of time, but we discussed this again yesterday. Would you be willing to put up a sign that says, you know, this is a Christian bakery, this is a Christian establishment, I will not make cakes for A, B, C, D.

Behar: He won't get any Jews buying cakes either, or Muslims, if you do that. You might be putting off other religions. 

Haines: I don't think a Jewish person would not buy a cake because he's Christian.

Behar: No, but if he said, "This is a Christian store," that could put people off.

Haines: Well he could list adult parties, Halloween, gay marriages, and just let everyone know: these are the things I do. 

John the Baptist was beheaded for having a biblical view of marriage, so I do understand the culture is always going to be against those who follow the teachings of Jesus. But I still hope that justice will prevail in this case on behalf of Mr. Phillips, and that is also for your benefit. May the Holy Spirit convict your hearts of sin and righteousness, and for your sake I hope you come to an understanding of who Jesus really is before the day of judgment comes.