Is So-Called Gender Reassignment Really a Matter of Rearranging Organs?

gender_identity1Transgenderism is next on the cultural agenda according to Time magazine. The Daily Beast ran a story yesterday reporting that Obamacare will pay for gender reassignment procedures.  What we cannot miss in all of this is that worldview very much influences the whole transgender debate. So much for the worn out phrase liberals like to throw around, “you cannot legislate morality.”  What they really mean by this is “you can’t legislate your morality but we will legislate ours.”

In today’s edition of The Briefing, Al Mohler discussed an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution.”  The author is Paul McHugh, former chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. He made a very important contribution to the transgender discussion. His expertise and experience makes his perspective on this complex issue worth listening to.

“Sex change” is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.

It is worth reading McHugh’s article in its entirety, which you should do to interact honestly and fairly with it.  But what he says makes us realize that this issue is far more complex than simply rearranging organs.  The so-called gender reassignment process may make things worse before it makes them better.

Five Reminders About Pastoral Ministry from Mark Driscoll’s Announcement

140307_mars_hill_bigMark Driscoll is stepping down while accusations against him are reviewed.  Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Religion News Service published the report last night. The video is available on YouTube. Discroll is a lightning-rod figure in evangelicalism. I have not scoured the web for responses to his announcement nor do I care to. However, it has been interesting to trace the developments leading up to this moment.  Driscoll’s announcement led me to five reminders about pastoral ministry.

  1. Pastors are public figures. Pastors subject themselves to tens, hundreds, or thousands of people Sunday after Sunday depending on the size of one’s congregation. This is not inherently good or inherently bad, it is a simple reality. Pastors spend most of their time up front. Many words are spoken in just one sermon. I checked out a few of my sermon manuscripts and most manuscripts contain at least 2,000 words. This gives people plenty of fodder for discussion and/or criticism. The “up-frontness” of pastoral ministry makes it public in nature. Some criticisms will be unfair. However, pastors cannot take the posture that all critics are “haters.”
  2. Pastors have feet of clay. Pastors minister out of their frail and flawed humanity. Each pastor is normally gifted in one or two areas and deficient in many more. Pastors are often seen working out of their area of giftedness but less often seen working out of their deficiencies. This is true in a pastor’s public and personal life. The reality is that pastors are quite vulnerable in diverse ways. James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” and again he says in James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways…”
  3. Pastors are works in progress. Driscoll observed that he moved into a place of leadership to soon. He is a living example of the warning in 1 Timothy. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). There is no way to know for certain whether a man is ready for gospel ministry. Indeed, there is the increasing sense of “who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:16) in the heart of a pastor. Pastors are men who are still growing in Christ. Paul Tripp has expressed some concern with the situation at Mars Hill. Tripp has stated in his book on pastoral ministry that a pastor must never lose sight of his identity, namely, that he is a “…man in the middle of his own sanctification…” (Tripp, Dangerous Calling, 25). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15).  We should never expect a pastor to be perfect but we should expect a pastor to be progressing.
  4. Pastors need accountability.  Because pastors are in the middle of their own sanctification, some accountability structure is necessary. This should include mentors or trusted friends outside the church and leadership in the church.  When pastoral ministry is seen as a platform for carrying out personal ambitions it leads to an attitude that they can act with unchecked power.  I’m not referring to a system of “checks and balances” but a kind of system where there is some sort of accountability for carrying out pastoral ministry.
  5. Pastors need grace. When I watched the video, what struck me was Driscoll’s brokenness and accompanying humility. I don’t think the latter would be present without the former. “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30). This has been years in the making for Driscoll. It seems as if the process is accomplishing a good work in him. Pastors will fail. Pastors will sin. Pastors will wrongly offend people. Driscoll confessed that there were times he was “angry, short, and insensitive.” When pastors sin and repent, give them grace. Give them the kind of grace that you would want in those difficult times. Give them the kind of grace God in Christ has extended to you. These are the times when Psalm 147:3 is most vividly seen, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Devotional Ruminations: Galatians 2:1-10

My devotional ruminations are just that–devotional thoughts that come from my personal time in Scripture. These ruminations include basic observations and questions (some of which will remain unanswered).  I read Galatians 2:1-10 this morning.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. [2] I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. [3] But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. [4] Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—[5] to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. [6] And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. [7] On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [8] (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), [9] and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. [10] Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do (Galatians 2:1-10 ESV).

Here are a few observations I took away from this passage.  I was impressed by six characteristics in Paul’s life.

  1. Commission.  Paul was driven to carry out the commission given to him by Christ.  “…in order to make sure that I was not running or had not run in vain” (v. 2).  Paul was committed to his Christ-given commission.
  2. Conviction.  Paul was held by the unwavering truth of the gospel. “to them we did not yield is submission even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (v. 5).  Paul was driven by unwavering gospel conviction.
  3. Courage.  Paul’s gospel conviction led to courage.  “…what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality” (v. 6).  Paul wasn’t wrongly swayed by influential people.
  4. Calling.  Paul had a very clear and compelling sense of calling on his life.  It was specific.  “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised” (v. 7).
  5. Community.  Paul recognized that he had co-laborers in his gospel work.  “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (v. 9).
  6. Compassion. Paul was a man driven by conviction yet he was compassionate. “Only they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (v. 10).

These characteristics remind me of the kind of intentional and missional life that grow out of a person who holds to and is held by the gospel.

Devotional Ruminations: Romans 16:20

There are occasions when we encounter a verse or passage of Scripture that makes us do a double take. Romans 16:20 was one of those verses for me. I included the verse followed by five devotional ruminations.  The ruminations will include basic observations and questions (some of which will remain unanswered). You will be disappointed if you are looking for exegetical discussions and conclusions.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (Romans 16:20, ESV)

  1. The primary observation is the striking contrast between “…God of peace…” and “…will soon crush…”  The terms “peace” and “crush” are not normally in such close proximity.  This is further highlighted by the unexpected inclusion of a violent word like “crush” between two graceful Christian virtues like “peace” and “grace.” We should not pass over such arresting language too quickly.  This is the kind of language that compels us to reflect.
  2. The co-existing acts of bringing peace and crushing the enemy are not contradictory. There is a divine “peace through strength” component to this verse. Is the crushing of the Evil One a reference to Revelation 20:7-10?
  3. Paul expresses a confidence in the fulfillment of the promise that goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15.  “The God of peace will…” He knows this will happen in the fullness of time.  God’s purposes cannot be thwarted.
  4. Paul expresses an imminence to the defeat of Satan. “The God of peace will soon…”  God will carry out His victorious work in the near future.
  5. Paul expresses a personal aspect to this.  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” What does this mean?

William Seward: The First Methodist Martyr

SEWARD1Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  A man named William Seward lived from 1702-1740.  He died at the age of 38 from unnatural causes in October of 1740.  Here is a brief account of Seward’s life and death:

Born at Badsey [England] in 1702, William went to London as a young man and there he acquired considerable wealth as a successful business man; he also enjoyed a reputation as a generous benefactor of the poor… [He bestowed Badsey Church with many expensive tangible gifts].

In 1738, William met the Reverend Charles Wesley and soon became closely involved with the evangelistic campaigns of the early Methodists.  One of the group, George Whitefield, wrote in his diary in April 1739, “went to Badsey and preached in Mr. Seward’s brother’s yard.”  In all, Whitefield preached at Badsey on three consecutive days, on the third occasion to “a weeping audience.”

In 1740, following his return from a trip to America, William Seward commenced open-air preaching on his own account. He encountered hostile crowds in South Wales and then at Hay-on-Wye [which is on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English border] in October he was heavily stoned by a particularly aggressive mob and a few days later died from his wounds, thus becoming the first Methodist martyr. He is buried near Hay, in the village churchyard at Cusop. The church there has a memorial tablet, which was dedicated in August 1978, 238 years after Seward’s death.
(Terry Sparrow, A Brief History of Badsey and Aldington).

Seward is known as the first Methodist martyr.  Every indication is that Seward was a man who was faithful up to and including death for the sake of Christ.  In light of the persecution that the early Methodist revival encountered, Charles Wesley devoted his time to writing a series of hymns for “times of trouble and persecution.”  In the section “Hymns in Times of Persecution,” hymn #15 is titled, “A Prayer for the First Martyr,” likely written with William Seward in mind (Hymns for Times of Trouble and Persecution, 40, n. 20).  Wesley wanted to contribute hymns to prepare Christians for the persecution they would likely face in his time.  Wesley writes,

While in affliction’s furnace,
And passing through the fire,
Thy love we praise, which knows our days,
And ever brings us nigher.
We clap our hands exulting
In Thine almighty favor;
The love divine which made us Thine
Shall keep us Thine forever.
(Charles Wesley, “Head of Thy Church Triumphant,” 1745)

We need Wesley’s eloquent reminder.  Wesley’s poetic expression echoes the exhortations of the Risen Christ to the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, ESV).  The risk-filled gospel requires much of us if we give ourselves to the task of being witnesses for Christ.  Even so we must press on with the words of Christ: “Do not fear” and “be faithful unto death.”

Four Ways to Prepare for Palm Sunday

palm-sundayPalm Sunday marks the beginning of what we know as Passion Week or Holy Week.  Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The term “Passion” in Passion Week refers to the inhumane suffering Jesus experienced on the cross to make redemption possible for mankind.  The Passion Week is crowned with Easter or Resurrection Sunday.  Christians make much of the Easter season because the events, Jesus’ death and resurrection, are the two pillars of the Christian good news.  “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).  The gospel is the sun in the universe of what Christians believe.  In sum, the events we remember during the Easter season display that fundamental truth God did for us in Christ what we could never do for ourselves.  “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  Because the Easter season sets before us the most precious and essential truth of the gospel, we should prepare ourselves so that we can spiritually benefit from the Easter season.  In the spirit of preparing ourselves to spiritually profit from the Easter season, here are four ways to prepare for Palm Sunday.

  1. Read the triumphal entry passages in the gospels.  All four gospels record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.  All four accounts reveal the significance of the triumphal entry.  It was a profoundly important event in Jesus’ life.
  2. Reflect on the significance of the triumphal entry.  Jesus was introduced as King!  This has major implications for here & now and then & there.  The here & now implication is that we should pay homage to the King and give our lives in service to Him.  The then & there implication is that He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 7:9; 17:14; 19:16).
  3. Delight that the King came to deliver you from the kingdom of darkness and that, by grace alone through faith alone, He transferred you into His kingdom.  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, [14] in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).  Do this corporately on Sunday.  Gather with other kingdom constituents and worship the King.

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise
(Robert Grant, “O Worship the King,” 1833)

  1. Commit or recommit yourself to the King.  There is no better time than Palm Sunday than to yield yourself to the King for the first time or anew.  Is Jesus your King?  If not, why not?  There are are only two ways to live.  If He is, does your life reveal complete allegiance to Him?

An Outreach Parable

The year is 1621 in Massachusetts.  The English settlers have endured a brutal winter.  Their numbers are fewer; some contracted illness Massachusetts Winterand died.  Others survived.  And now it’s finally Spring.  A man wakes up to the melodious sounds of birds singing.  The man knows that the time has come to prepare the soil and plant the crops.  Supplies are dangerously low and they will last the man and his family until harvest but no longer.  This man contracted a severe illness along with others but as Providence would have it, he survived.  Though he is much improved, his body is still feeling the effects of the illness.  Even so, he knows in spite of his personal discomfort he must labor in the field.  The lives of his wife and children depend on it.  He goes out to the field and labors but before too long he is tired and his health rapidly deteriorates.  Based on his level of discomfort, he leaves the field.  One day passes and then another.  Days turn into weeks.  The field is never prepared and no seeds are ever sown.  The family prays for an abundant harvest because their rations are nearly depleted but they pray in vain because no seeds were ever sown.  Harvest comes.  The family eats their final meager portions.  The man now sees the irrevocable and tragic effects of his decision to consider his own comfort before the well-being of his family.  Their supplies are spent.  The man and his family die.  Unknown to this family, many of the other settlers also experienced severe personal discomfort while laboring in the fields but they persevered because the lives of others depended on them.  They prepared the soil and unsparingly sowed seeds.  They prayed for God to bless their labors.  He rewarded them with a bountiful harvest.

There are two lessons on outreach from this parable.

  1. We are often quick to succumb to our personal discomfort when it comes to being a witness for Christ.  Sadly, this means our discomfort is more important to us than the lost souls of men. So are you willing to move beyond your personal discomfort in being a witness for Christ, especially this Easter season?  Are you willing to labor in the fields of the gospel for the sake of others regardless of the personal cost?
  2. We cannot pray for a gospel harvest if we never sow gospel seeds.  God cannot and will not bless outreach efforts we never carry out.  Are you praying for God to bless your non-efforts?   Conversely, we can and should pray for God to bring forth a harvest of souls when we faithfully and liberally sow gospel seeds.  The gospel is still the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes!