Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TULIP - Total Depravity

A few months ago I posted the following article over at the North East Michigan Reformation Society blog. I never got around to finishing the series (on each of the 5 doctrines), so expect more in the coming days.


Sometime ago I was invited to speak at a college-age Christian retreat. My discussion had nothing to do with Calvinism, but during one the breaks several college students invited me to participate in a ‘round-table’ discussion. They had several theological/biblical questions they wanted to discuss. As I sat down, a young lady jumped right to the point, “I hear you’re a Calvinist. How can you believe that sinners can’t choose God?” I smiled and gently said, “Where did you hear that? Calvinists do believe people choose God.” Quite intelligently, she replied, “But you don’t believe people choose God by their own ability”. “That’s right”, I said, “because without God’s intervention how can something that is evil ever choose a good God?” I continued to ask her questions: “Do you believe all people are born sinners?” Yes. “Do you believe sin makes us an enemy of God?” Yes. “Do you believe sin affects our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds? Yes. “Do you believe sin makes us unable to save ourselves? Yes. “Do you believe it makes us unwilling to be saved?” Well, not always. I think many people recognize their sinfulness and turn to God. I replied, “Therein lies your problem, you rightly recognize the reality of depravity, but not its totality.”

The spectre of Pelagius still haunts the majority of Christendom. Radical Pelagianism denies the inherent evil of mankind. It claims whatever effects sin may have had, many exist for who salvation is not necessary. Even if someone has fallen into sin, they are both able and (many times) willing to save themselves.

While orthodoxy has rightly claimed such a teaching heretical, Roman Catholicism and much of contemporary Evangelicalism has never fully moved away from this idea. All Christian groups today teach the reality of depravity—that doctrine which states that mankind is born into sin and separation from God. Our hearts are inclined to evil and at enmity with the Lord. They strongly disagree with Pelagius’ assertion that human beings are able to save themselves, but they agree with him that many are willing to be saved.

If sin has truly distorted every dimension of the human person, it must have also affected our wills (what we want) and our minds (what & how we think). In other words, we do not desire God, we do not want God, and we will not allow our minds to turn us toward God. There is no such thing as the ‘noble pagan’ who, of his own power, recognizes his sinfulness and cries out to God for assistance.
Certainly pagans do cry out to God, but it is by God’s power alone that this is possible.

Both Arminians and Calvinists recognize the reality of depravity, but only Calvinists recognize its totality.

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Sometimes weddings just go badly

I've made my fair share of mistakes at weddings, but nothing close to this (warning: it has been pointed out to me that there may be some inappropriate language in the background. I can't seem to make it out, thus I haven't pulled the video, but I do want to caution you).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Christians, we must be passionate about racial reconciliation

[Gleaned from online sources] On September 25, 1957 nine black students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School and set off a national crisis. On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court issued its decision on the now famous Brown vs Board of Education. The decision declared all laws establishing segregated school to be unconstitutional. But in the deep South change came slow. Waiting over a year, the Superintendent of Little Rock Central High School submitted a plan to the school board to slowly integrate black students (i.e. only admit a few at a time), which was unanimously accepted.

However, the segregationists were up in arms (literally). Governor Orval Faubus, betraying his own racism, supported the segregationists and deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists as they blocked the nine black students from entering the school. Regarding the accompanying crowd, one of the nine black students, Elizabeth Eckford, recalled "they moved closer and closer". "Somebody started yelling, 'Lynch her! Lynch her!' I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd — someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me."

Under immense pressure from Washington D.C., the governor eventually backed down and withdrew the National Guard. The Little Rock Police Department took their place and quietly ushered the nine students into the school. Hundreds of protesters, mostly parents of the white students attending Central High, remained entrenched in front of the school. When the protesters learned that the nine black students were inside, they began confronting the outnumbered line of policemen. When white residents began to riot, the nine students were quickly (and wisely) escorted out of the school.

To solve this growing crisis President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. He even federalized the 10,000 member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Governor Faubus.

By the end of September 1957, the nine were admitted to Little Rock Central High under the protection of the U.S. Army, but they were still subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse (spitting on them, calling them names) by many of the white students. One of the students had acid thrown into her eyes. The others were verbally confronted and physically tormented. One of the students, Minnijean Brown, while being taunted by a group of white, male students in the school cafeteria during lunch, dumped a bowl of chili onto the boys. She was suspended for six days but the white boys received no punishment. Two months later, after another white-initiated confrontation, she was expelled.

Christians, will you continue to take a stand against the heinous sin of racism? Perhaps the worst racism in this situation was not the state-sponsored hatred of the Governor but the subtle and almost unprovable hatred the nine students experienced in the cafteria, classrooms, and school hallways. The racism of a tyrant is no small thing, but racism in the hearts of the average person is far worse still. At least tyrants can be overthrown.
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Introducing Mary

I just discovered a wonderful blog by a young mom & wife named Mary. Not sure where she is from, but she does mention that her husband is a "cowboy" & that they have 22 laying hens---so I think its safe to assume they are not urban dwellers. She is a committed Christian and her blog has much to do with family life that is purposefully "old-school" (gardening, canning, baking, etc). I was particularly touched by her most recent post titled "Reasons to Read Aloud to your Children".

Check out her blog.

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Obama parody

I have to admit this is perhaps the funniest political parody I've ever seen. Enjoy!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Green Latern Trailer

Keep in mind this movie does not actually exist. The trailer is a fan-made work with edited images gleaned from over two dozen films.

[10/1/09 Update: OK, I guess I should have watched the entire thing---because a friend just e-mailed and told me there is one crude word at the very end.].

The Days of Elijah - A devotion for Monday, 9/21/2009

The Days of Elijah

"Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite..." (1 Kings 21:28--ESV)

I remember once attending the worship practice at a friend's church when a dispute broke out over a song. The group had just begun to practice "The Days of Elijah" when a congregant (also observing the practice) began to vehemently complain. He forcefully stated "these are not the days of Elijah! That song is theological wrong and we shouldn't sing it!"

The worship pastor smiled and patiently asked "so, what are the days of Elijah?" After some resistance the man ultimately admitted he did not know. With great tact the leader then asked, "well, if you don't know what this phrase means then how can you claim the song is wrong?"

The fact is that these certainly are the days of Elijah--at least in the sense that we (like Elijah) are charged with declaring the Word of the Lord. The entire point of the song is that just like the ancient believers of old, we exist to embrace and live out a radical, counter-cultural faith.
Notice the words of the two main verses of this song listed below:

These are the days of Elijah,

Declaring the word of the Lord:
And these are the days of Your servant Moses,
Righteousness being restored.
And though these are days of great trial,
Of famine and darkness and sword,
Still, we are the voice in the desert crying
'Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

These are the days of Ezekiel,

The dry bones becoming as flesh;
And these are the days of Your servant David,
Rebuilding a temple of praise.
These are the days of the harvest,
The fields are as white in Your world,
And we are the labourers in Your vineyard,
Declaring the word of the Lord!

Will you boldly declare the Word of God as did Elijah?
Will you zealously seek to live in righteousness as did Moses?
Will you embrace the Spirit-given life as did Ezekiel?
Will you build a temple of praise as did David?
Will you labor in service to Jesus as did the apostles?

These are the days.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

An excellent video by Mark Driscoll that highlights the sin of "ministry idolatry".

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heart Idolatry - A devotional for Tuesday, 9/15/2009

Heart Idolatry

"Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts'" (Ezekiel 14:1-2a--ESV).

During my last travels through India the presence of idols was hard to miss. They are in every Hindu home and place of business. Even the taxi-cab drivers have them mounted to the dash or dangling from the rear-view mirror. As a modern-day Western Christian it was almost as if I entered the New Testament time period. All the passages of scripture that referred to idols suddenly had all new significance. During my entire time in India my thoughts kept returning to the foolishness of idol worship.

Then I got on the plan and returned home. The contrast was pointed and sharp. Two countries could not be more different--yet they shared a deep similarity. In their own way, both places were full of idols. India has its statues and America has its possessions. Hindus worship Vishnu while Americans worship wealth or even themselves.

But notice that this passage from Ezekiel is speaking about the spiritual leaders of Israel (the 'elders'). These were the good guys, yet God is accusing them of what we might call 'heart idolatry'. It is amazing what Christians can turn into an object of worship--even things we pretend are God-centered. Some worship theological systems (such as Calvinism or Dispensationalism), others worship family, still others worship schooling preferences (homeschooling, public schooling, etc). Christians can even worship music forms or a particular style of worship. What happens in every case is that we demonize anything that threatens our idol. People who "idolize" traditional worship styles demonize contemporary worship. Those who worship the King James Version demonize all other translations. Public school devotees verbally assault or belittle homsechoolers (and vice-versa). When our god is challenged we go on the offensive and attack.

As Mark Driscoll says, far too often we take a good thing, pretend it is a God-thing, and that is always a bad thing. What are you worshipping?

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Twisted Truth - A devotional for Monday, 9/14/2009

Twisted Truth

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
(Jeremiah 17:9--ESV).

A very common scene at our house involves one child tattling on another. In rushes the first child, eyes full of tears, telling the tale of the betrayals and wrongs committed by one of our other children. Always, without exception, the one telling the story is clearly presented as the victim who simply wanted peace and mutual goodwill. Then along comes the second child and we ask, "is this true? Did you do these things".

[Child two]: "yes"

[Parent]: "Why?"

[Child two]: "because he walked up to me and hit me."

It is so very easy to lie. It comes naturally, almost with no effort at all. We can communicate lies even with our body language, tone of voice, or by choosing to leave out important bits of information. We have a disturbing ability to paint ourselves in the most positive light and to demonize those with whom we are angry.

Yet this problem is not regulated to children. In fact, it is a practice we perfect as adults. Throughout the years it never ceases to amaze me how my words can be twisted by those who are angry with me (or, truly, how I can easily do the same to theirs). My statement "I think your tired and need a break" is changed into "Pastor fired me and does not want me to serve anymore". Even the heartfelt statement of "I love you" is twisted into "Pastor said he hates me". Don't even get me started as to how many times I've sinfully twisted my wife's comments in order to paint myself in a better light. Where does such nonsense come from?

It comes from the deceitfulness of our own hearts. Even as Christians we find it hard to resist the urge of desiring that all of life revolve around ourselves. If we cannot be the hero then we will manipulate the truth to become the victim---whatever it takes to become the admired (or pitied) center of the story we are spinning.

I've found it helpful to ask myself this question: "Is the way I am phrasing this the way the other person would phrase it if they were here?" If not, then most likely I have twisted the truth and drifted into deceitfulness.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Incarnational Worship with Shai Linne

Though this style of music does not really speak to me, I found this to be a beautiful example of incarnational worship. Praise God for raising up such men, and praise God for such a faithful witness and worshipful spirit from within the Christian African-American community. To deny that this is reverent, Christ-exalting worship is to misunderstand worship (and to misunderstand Christianity).

Notes & Comments on Hebrews 11:1-7

I'll try to get more of these documents up in the coming weeks. I generally prepare these for each Sunday morning sermon---it is not my sermon, but rather the background work before I actually write the sermon. Blessings--jg

Hebrews 11.1-7 Exegetical Study Notes

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Pledge Video

The following video has caused quite a stir among conservatives and politics pundits. Featuring a whose-who of A-list (and 'off-A-list') celebrities, the video does attempt to highlight taking personal responsibility at making America a better place. Frankly, many of the causes that are mentioned in this video are noble (though certainly several are trite and superficial). Yet some elements of the video were disturbing, most particularly the near-worship status given to the President. See it for yourself.

Satan's plan for the church

Satan's plan for the church can be summed up in three words: division, diversion, and destruction.

He divides us over secondary issues, tertiary doctrines, and personal preferences--all while we pridefully exaggerate the importance of our personal opinions and perspectives. God, forgive us of our prideful, self-centered stupidity.

He diverts us by getting us to focus on anything other than our mission, whether it be by discord or delight. Far too often we willingly play the harp while the word around us spiritually burns. God, forgive us our evangelical laziness and Gospel apathy.

He destroys us
by replacing grace with judgmentalism. Instead of being a place of unconditional love, too many congregations are more characterized by gossip, slander, and distrust. God, forgive us for failing to truly love.

This week I have spoken with four different pastors and two parachurch ministry leaders who are dealing with the effects of Satan's well executed plan within their ministries. But, and this is the really cool part, Jesus has an even better plan. This plan is founded upon the Good News that Jesus is Lord (and Satan is not), which means in the end Jesus wins--and we are called to humbly serve him.

Let Satan do his worst for Christ's love conquers all.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Mocks Traditional Marriage

Did you ever imagine that we would live in a society where even Ice Cream is used as a tool to undermine godly values and traditional marriage? Ben & Jerry's, the Ice Cream manufacturer based in Burlington Vermont, recently renamed one of their Ice Cream flavors in order to show their support for the legalization of gay marriage in Vermont. Their website reads, "In partnership with Freedom to Marry we are gathered here to celebrate Vermont and all the other great states where loving couples of all kinds are free to marry legally. We have ceremoniously dubbed our iconic flavor, Chubby Hubby to Hubby Hubby in support, and to raise awareness of the importance of marriage equality."

"Hubby Hubby" pictures a wedding cake with two men being betrothed. Long known for their commitment to socially liberal causes, Ben & Jerry's have been long-time supporters of gay marriage. Walt Freese, the Chief Executive Officer of the company wrote in an official press release “At the core of Ben & Jerry’s values, we believe that social justice can and should be something that every human being is entitled to”. He went on to state that “From the very beginning of our 30 year history, we have supported equal rights for all people. The legalization of marriage for gay and lesbian couples in Vermont is certainly a step in the right direction and something worth celebrating with peace, love and plenty of ice cream.”

The move is largely symbolic as "Hubby Hubby" brand will only be sold in select Ice Cream shops in Vermont. Nationally, the "Chubby Hubby" brand will remain unchanged.

I still like Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, and more than likely this will not impact my future purchases. Perhaps one of the worst things Christians can do is to organize a boycott---a meaningless gesture that will ultimately be unsuccessful.

The greatest response we can have is to go out, buy a tub of ice cream (Breyer's is my favorite) and enjoy it with your wife. We do not protest culture with counter-cultural speeches, but rather with counter-cultural lifestyles.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Need for Theologically-Driven Ministry: Part 2

The following discourse is part of an internal discussion currently taking place among the leadership team at my church. As we are looking at our church's core documents (statement of faith, constitution, values/vision/mission statements, and philosophy of ministry), these posts are intended to help frame and guide these conversations.

Part 2: The Deity of Christ

In my last post on this subject I openly explored how the humanity of Christ (and in particular the doctrine of the Incarnation) needs to thoroughly impact our approach to ministry. Yet there is another side to this Christological coin. Only when we fully embrace both Christ's humanity and his deity can we ever truly develop an approach to ministry that in inherently Christ-centered.
Theologically this could be expressed by the terms transcendence (e.g. God stands above us) and immanence (e.g. God is with us).

The tensions between Christ's humanity and his deity are not simply logical or theological issues. These tensions play out, perhaps unknowingly, within every Christian congregation. On every level of thought the finite and the infinite appear to be incompatible. The paradox of the Christian faith is that Christ held these two truths together despite their apparent incompatibility. Whereas the incarnation makes the inherent demand that ministry must be thoroughly embedded within the culture, the deity of Christ demands that ministry point towards a reality that stands above culture.

That last statement is dangerous if for no other reason than it is easily misunderstood. Far too often church leaders mistake a current form of ministry (which theologically belongs to the humanity of Christ) as an essential expression of the deity of Christ. On the other hand, the deity of Christ cannot be understood, communicated, or applied without appeal to his humanity. Christ can only be our Lord if he is first our substitute and he only reigns over his people in heaven because died for them on earth. Or, perhaps more clearly, we only recognize that he stands above us and beyond as God because he stood next to us as a teacher, brother, and friend. In similar fashion, the glory of Christ is only truly communicated in our ministry when it is thoroughly embedded within the personal and cultural context of the hearers.

Still, the goal of ministry is not relevance. The great mistake of the so-called 'seeker-sensitive' or 'emergent' churches is, whether by design or result, to see relevance as an end in itself. Relevance is only a redeemed concept when it is a means of communicating the fullness of the Redeemer. The goal of all ministry must be nothing other than displaying and enjoying the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

This idea is by necessity radical and all-encompassing. How is Jesus' Lordship displayed in our preaching? In our music? In our scripture readings? Even if we feel these are clearly definable, we must dig deeper. Is Jesus' lordship being most effectively displayed in our current Children's ministry? In our concept of youth ministry or nursery ministry? Would Jesus' lordship better be displayed in our families by keeping or eliminating Sunday School/children's church? Does our current practice of Church government fully embody the truths about Jesus that we regular preach? Does our current model and practice of tithing (passing the plate) enhance or detract from allowing Jesus to be Lord over our wallets & purses? How does our greeting ministry or print advertisements reflect on his lordship? These are the questions we must ask about every aspect of what we do.

Failing to ask these questions condemns us to being something less than fully biblical and fully Christ-centered. It also locks churches into struggles over preferences and traditions.

Summary - Key Statements:

Whereas the incarnation makes the inherent demand that ministry must be thoroughly embedded within the culture, the deity of Christ demands that ministry point towards a reality that stands above culture.

2. The goal of all ministry must be nothing other than displaying and enjoying the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Seeker vs Missional Churches

The Need for Theologically-Driven Ministry

The Need for Theologically-Driven Ministry

One of the projects our church's leadership team has undertaken is a complete rewrite of our core documents. This process rightly calls everything into question & discussion--our beliefs, mission, identity, and processes.

I list them in this order because only when we fully understand what we believe can we begin to accomplish what we are supposed to do. Far too often Evangelical Christians and congregations find themselves believing rightly but practicing in such a way that is not informed by those beliefs. Yet theology was designed to be inherently practical. It is no accident that so often in Paul's letters he spends the first half discussing theology (e.g. Eph 1-3) and the second half working out the implications of that theology (e.g. Eph 4-6). Thus, whenever churches begin to assess what to do or how to do it, we must look first and foremost at our beliefs. Over the next few days I will try to tease out implications of how our theology must drive our ministry.

Christology - The implications of the incarnation:
The incarnational aspect of our Lord’s ministry went beyond the theological truth that Christ was literally God in flesh. It means that he localized himself in a particular place, culture, and time in order to "seek and save the lost". He did not camp in Jerusalem and build a ministry around a physical building or campus. Instead, he met people where they were at, spoke a language they could understand, and taught in a way that connected to their lives. Perhaps the biggest failure of the modern American church is that we have stopped being Christlike in our approach to ministry. Most church services are disconnected from culture both in belief (which is supposed to be counter-cultural) as well as in style (which was never intended to be so).

The missional church, by contrast, is an assembly of Christ’s followers that understands that they must penetrate the culture with their presence. We are called to take God's unchanging truth and apply it to changing cultures. Certainly we are to be counter-cultural, and Scripture clearly calls us to separate from the evil practices of the world. The doctrine of Christ's divinity (and therefore his holiness) drives us towards a radical rejection of evil and a refusal to tolerate it within our own lives. But a fully embraced doctrine of the incarnation should drive us to recognize we are in the world even as we understand we are not of it. Jesus was out among the people, going to their parties and reaching out to them in love. During his teaching ministry he connected with his audience in ways to which they could relate and understand. The missional church sees its mission as the same as the Lord’s. Christians should be spiritually distinct from the world, but we are not called to be socially segregated from it. God wants us to be a living Christ-like influence in this world, and to do that our personal lifestyles as well as our Sunday morning services must be embedded within our specific cultural context.

Taken together, these theological truths must drive every congregation back to the fundamental question: How can we best impact our specific local culture with the Gospel? Does our current methods, programs, church name, style of worship/preaching, order of service, and even church decor aid us in our theologically-driven ministry? Too often Bible-centered church focus solely on the questions, "Is our style theologically deep?" or "Are we being deeply biblical ?" This is, of course, wonderful and necessary. But if we are to truly engage our biblical mission we must also ask "is this particular form or method the best way to engage the local culture which surrounds us--which includes both the redeemed and unredeemed?" The theological commitments of the apostles must be held along with their missional commitments.

Key questions:
How should an incarnation/missional approach impact:
a. preaching styles?
b. music styles?
c. song selection?
d. service times?
e. "atmosphere"?
f. order of service?
g. ministry programs?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Right Way - A devotional for Wed, 09/02/2009

"By Faith, Noah being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."
Hebrews 11:7 (ESV)

The Right Way

It is hard for people today to understand words like “righteousness”.
It isn’t a term we generally use in our everyday language. Yet it’s hard to talk about the gospel without coming to terms with the word “righteousness”. In fact, the New Testament uses the term in one form or another no less than 228 times, at least 40 in Romans.

The word “righteous” goes back to a word that basically means to “move in a straight line.” Thus, “righteous” (rightwise) means “in the straight (or right) way.” Used with reference to morality, “righteous” means living or acting in the right way. But what is the “right” way? In our society, people commonly say that everyone must determine what is right for oneself. For example, during his campaign President Obama was interviewed about his faith. When asked about sin, he defined it as “being out of alignment with my values”. However, Scripture offers a different standard. God’s character reveals what is absolutely right. He is the measure of moral right and wrong.

No one can measure up to that standard (Rom 3:23). Thus all of us stand guilty before God. We are all “unrighteous.” We have all “sinned” (literally, “missed the mark”). But the message of Scripture is that God has done and is doing everything that needs to be done to restore things to the way He originally intended—to the right way. For example, He dealt with sin through Jesus’ death on the cross (5:6-11), and He transfers the righteousness of Christ to those who trust in Him (5:1-2). As believers, we can enjoy a restored relationship with God.

By faith Noah was made an heir of righteousness. In other words, he was accepted by God and given eternal life! That is an inheritance worth having.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Daily Devo - Tuesday, 09/01/2009

"By Faith, Noah being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith." Hebrews 11:7 (ESV)

Condemning the World

There is a clause in verse 7 that troubles many people. Most are OK with the idea that Noah had faith in God and was saved by the ark. But many struggle with the phrase that says “by this Noah condemned the world”. After all, Christians are specifically commanded not to judge, right?

Think of it this way. Pretend you lived during the 2nd century during the height of the Roman Empire. Abortion was practiced on a large scale. They had devised ways, even in that ancient time, of killing the child while it was still in the womb. Some times they would give birth but then leave the child in the city dump—either to be killed by exposure or by animals (this, as well as other methods of post-birth killing, was called infanticide). Chronologically, infanticide came earlier and was fully sanctioned by Roman law. In fact, to us the very word “infanticide” sounds evil, but the Romans looked on the term favorably. The male head of the household, called the pater familias, had power of life and death over his offspring. The moment the child was born he could have it either killed or allow it to live. He could tell his, either the wife or concubine after she conceived, either to abort or bring the child to term at birth.

Now imagine you are a Christian. Instead of killing your baby you begin to rescue them from the city dump. You urge other Romans to stop this murderous practice. These very actions warn as well as condemn. In a real sense, your whole life is a protest against an evil world. Noah condemned his world in the sense that he chose God while the world around him refused. As John Owen says, “he condemned it by his doctrine, by his obedience, by his example, by his faith”. The very presence of good exposes evil for what it is.

Pray that you live with such loving faithfulness that your very presence exposes the wretchedness and ugliness of evil.

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