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.

Reflections from Shepherds Conference 2014

I attended the Shepherds Conference for the first time this year (SC hereafter).  Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA hosts this annual Shepherds Conferenceconference.  SC had an impressive line-up of keynote speakers, including John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever.  I want to offer several reflections on the conference related to the content, experience, and collegiality of the conference.

First, the content of SC was superb.  The conference had general sessions and breakout seminars.  The general sessions were outstanding.  A general session by Mark Dever on Isaiah 34-35 and a general session by Al Mohler on Romans 1 proved to be personally enriching and the two best general sessions from my perspective.  The conference offered a number of seminars so one could not attend very many of them.  I attended a session titled “Small Church, Big Impact.”  Unfortunately, it was broader that the title of the seminar so I went away a little disappointed.  I would also add the music was great.  One of the highlights from the music was the singing during the plenary meetings.  There were over 3,000 conference attendees.  The Grace Community Church worship center was packed.  There were skilled vocalists that provided musical ministries as well as some different choirs.  They all did a great job.  But for me, it is tough to beat the sound of 3,000 men heartily singing.

Second, the experience at SC was outstanding.  Grace Community knows how to put on this conference.  They had over 750 volunteers working.  These volunteers were sincerely welcoming, readily willing to serve, and graciously assisting in any way possible.  Food was abundant, breaks were a nice length, and the schedule was full but not insane.  A person who attends the conference is immersed in hospitality.  The volunteers were efficient too.  They made sure to keep lines moving to minimize wait times.  This leads me to another observation.  The conference was sold out.  If there is a critique I would offer is that it was packed.  Sometimes seating was hard to come by in the main sessions and the breakout seminars.  However, this is probably more a reflection of the success and appeal of the conference.  One of the memorable moments at the conference was when the power went out during John MacArthur’s general session.  Evidently, this was a first in the history of the church.  What did he do?  He kept preaching.  It was a great moment.

Third, the collegiality at the conference was phenomenal.  This is a conference geared toward conservative evangelical pastors.  This means that the vast majority of men at SC were like-minded on the larger issues.  So it would be easy to meet a stranger and immediately have enough things in common to carry on a good conversation.  However, I didn’t attend SC alone. I attended the conference with seven other pastors from Minnesota.  The time spent with these men made the trip worthwhile.  We stayed in a small house and just had a great time.  We discussed ministry, associations, and any other topic entirely unrelated to the conference.  We laughed hard and often.  We spent some time in prayer.  Incidentally, we experienced a 3.2 earthquake while we were praying.  It was so Acts-like (cf. Acts 4:31).  We also enjoyed some time at the Santa Monica pier and promenade.  This trip strengthened our bond as brothers in Christ and fellow pastors.

Santa Monica

In summary, the content of SC was superb, the overall experience at SC was outstanding, and the collegiality at the conference was phenomenal.  This was a memorable trip.  Conferences are like tweets on a Twitter feed, there are just too many to get to.  SC is one conference I would love to attend annually, especially with my pastor brothers.

P.S. I want to mention the group of pastors who went from Minnesota (in alphabetical order): Joel Albright, Steve Brower, Greg Linscott, Matt Morrell, Dave Stertz, Micah Tanis, and Shad Vork.  The time spent with these men had to be the highlight of the trip.

MN Crew

Christopher Hitchens and Lessons for Evangelicals

Al Mohler had a thought-provoking post yesterday, “Learning from Christopher Hitchens: Lessons Evangelicals Must Not Miss.”  The entire post was good.  The specific part of the article that captured my attention was lesson five:

5. Hitchens revealed the danger of cultural Christianity and exposure to tepid, lifeless, superficial Christian teaching.

In his childhood, Hitchens was exposed to the mild Christianity of his father and the Hitchens home. (Later in life, he discovered that his mother was, in fact, partly Jewish.) As a schoolboy, Hitchens received the customary dose of tame religious instruction. In God is Not Great, he wrote of Mrs. Jean Watts, “a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith,” who taught him religion at his school near Dartmoor. Even as a boy, Hitchens was not impressed by her emotivist expressions of doctrine and her answers to his questions. He wrote also of a school headmaster, who seemed, among other failings, to believe that belief in God served a mainly therapeutic function. Hitchens described himself then as “quite the insufferable little intellectual,” but the damage was done. Unlike others who, as he wrote, might have rejected belief in God because of abuse or “brutish indoctrination,” Hitchens simply developed indignant contempt for a belief system that seemed so superficial and fraudulent. An exposure to tepid, lifeless, thoughtless, and intellectually formless Christianity can be deadly (emphasis added).

This is a particularly important point for Christian parents, pastors, and church members to note well and never forget.  We have to own and be serious about our faith if we intend to pass it down to the next generation.  We can blame the world, the public schools, evolution, atheists, etc., etc., etc.–all the “culprits” we can think of–but the reality is that the greatest enemy to Christianity is a professing Christian who shows little to no interest in living like a follower of Jesus.  In this sense, the biggest enemy of Christianity may be inside the walls of the church not outside of them.  Of course, the best thing believers can do is to own their faith and live it, love and serve Jesus in a way that is so inter-woven with their daily lives that it is impossible to separate the so-called sacred from the secular.  Our aim should be the sincere kind of Christianity Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (ESV):

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? [17] For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

God Still Speaks, So Simply Preach His Word

Google makes an astounding number of words available to us.  Whether the words are spoken in podcasts or written on blogs, articles, and books, it is simply staggering.  The availability of so many words is both a blessing and a cursing.  It is a blessing because one can download outstanding Biblical preaching and teaching from some of the finest Christian preachers and teachers alive today.  It is also a cursing because, conversely, one can also just as readily access some really bad preaching and teaching.

Please understand, I do not say this from the perspective of one who has arrived as a preacher.  While I work hard to bring expository, doctrinally rich, and practically useful sermons, I know I miss the mark more often than I’d like.  You can listen to our church podcast and draw your own conclusion.  Nevertheless, to observe that the one can quickly discover some really bad preaching on the internet is simply the frightening reality.

Contemporary preaching may be devoid of truth or lacking in conviction or both because we lack the confidence that God has something to say today.  God not only spoke in times past, recorded in the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-2), but because we hold God’s word in our hands, God still speaks.  The notion that God still speaks is at the heart of this piercing quote from Albert Mohler in his book He Is Not Silent.  His words are a pointed call to all of us preachers to preach expositionally and to do so with passion and conviction or go do something else.  They are also an important reminder to all Christians of the timelessness and timeliness of God’s word for our lives in this generation.   

I fear that there are many evangelicals today who believe that God spoke but doubt whether He speaks.  They know and talk about the fact that God spoke in the Old Testament but think now that He no longer does so and that they must therefore invent new ways to convince people to love him.  But if you call yourself a preacher of God’s Word, and you think that all of God’s speaking was in the past, then resign.  I say that with deadly seriousness.  If you do not believe that God now speaks from His Word—the Bible—then what are you doing every Sunday morning?  If you are not confident that God speaks as you rightly read and explain the Word of God, then you should quit.

But if you do believe that—if you truly believe that God speaks through His Word—then why would you substitute anything else in place of the expository preaching of the Bible?  What is more important for your people than to hear from God, and how else is that going to happen unless you, like Ezra, open the book, read it, and explain it to them?  Just as in Deuteronomy, this is a matter of life and death, and far too many pastors who deeply believe that God does speak have abandoned His voice in Scripture (R. Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 57-8).   

A Striped-Candy Easter

Bay Area Fellowship (BAF) of Corpus Christi, TX gave away $2 million dollars in gifts on Easter Sunday (HT: Tim Challies).  The church has seven locations and is the largest church in the city.  According to their website, “the ultimate giveaway” continues this coming week.  You’ll find the CNN interview on YouTube below.

Head Pastor of BAF, Bil Cornelius says, “We’re doing this cause we want to reach people, bring them in, and tell them how much God loves them.”

He continues, “Think about it, most churches back in the day and even still today  do Easter egg hunts to draw kids in so they can tell them about the love of God.  I just can’t find any Easter eggs large enough to put one of our cars in.”

Ummm.  Thinking . . .

Even CNN’s T.J. Holmes, the interviewer said, “Come on, now . . .”

Cornelius again, “[the ultimate giveaway] is a giant illustration of pointing to the ultimate gift, which is the gift of heaven”

Later in the interview Holmes asks, “What do you think this says about us these days.  This day and time, that it takes something like this [the give-aways] to bring certain people into church.  Just what does this say about us all, as a society as a whole.” 

Cornelius replies, “I think it says that, frankly, we’re not heavenly minded.  And so, it’s funny how we’ve been giving heaven out for free for thousands of years in churches all around the word and suddenly one church adds a car and a bike to it and the whole world goes crazy.”

Interestingly, The Crossing, a large church in Elk River, did something similar.  They gave away three cars this weekend.

WIN A FREE CAR
Easter Weekend at The Crossing!

First-time guests (age 18+) at The Crossing’s Easter weekend services will be entered into a drawing for one of THREE free cars! One finalist will be drawn from each service, and a winner will be selected from the Elk River Saturday services; the Elk River Sunday services; and the Zimmerman Sunday services.

Undoubtedly there have been rumblings about some of the edgy outreach The Crossings has done in the past (not unjustifiably either; they have and continue to push the envelope) so the lead pastor of the church, Eric Dykstra, put this out on his blog,

Ignore the criticism.  Whenever our church does something crazy like give away some cars, some church people get all uptight.  Ignore them. Bless them. Don’t return the fire.  We are on a mission to change our city and our world and we don’t have time to listen to or respond to the haters. Jesus is going to get honor this weekend.  Lives are going to be changed.  PRAY AND STAY ABOVE THE FRAY!

I have not met Eric but I will say this.  He was the only area pastor to call and welcome us when we were launching our ministry.  I have a favorable personal perception of him because of this.  I do not doubt his good intentions, or the noble motives of these men.  But there are unintended consequences to such an approach.

Incidentally, Rick Warren had the Jonas Brothers out for their Easter services, marking Saddleback’s 30th anniversary.   

Motives and intentions alone do not justify noble activities.  A shocking example of this is Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:6-7; cf. Numbers 4:15).  It certainly stunned King David that Uzzah’s noble intentions were not enough to justify his action that brought a fatal, unintended consequence.  In fact, it made him angry (2 Samuel 6:8).

But really, what does the pastor of young, small congregation (we run in the 50s or 60s on a Sunday) have to say about this?  Bay Area Fellowship, The Crossing, and Saddleback are ministries running in the thousands with multi-campus ministries.  If it’s about the number of campuses and people, I have nothing to say. 

But it’s not all about numbers.

Don’t get me wrong.  I admire aggressive ministry outreach.  Perhaps our ministry is not being aggressive enough.  But to turn to the “striped candy” approach is not aggressive outreach, it is ecclesiastical bribery.

My title employs the phrase, “striped candy,” coined by A.W. Tozer.  I’ll allow the words of Tozer, who saw this coming, to close this post.  I could not provide a better analysis or concluding words about this year’s striped-candy Easter.

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction.  It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend meeting where the only attraction is God.  One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movie, games and refreshment.

This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture designed to house the golden calf.

So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice.  The striped-candy technique has been so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted.  Its victims never dream that it is not a part of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

Any objection to the carrying-on of our present golden calf is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!”  And winning them to what?  To true discipleship?  To cross-carrying?  To self-denial?  To separation from the world?  To crucifixion of the flesh?  To holy living?  To nobility of character?  To a despising of the world’s treasures?  To hard self-discipline?  To love for God?  To total commitment to Christ?  Of course, the answer to all these questions is, “no” (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 136 in Tozer in Mohler, He is not Silent, 25-6).