The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: September 2016 (page 2 of 2)

Coming After Churches

It’s pretty clear:  in the Obama administration (and now the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination) “gender identity” trumps religious liberty.

Read this blog from Denny Burk (Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky) and see the writing on the wall. . .

They’ll never come after churches… until they do

Posted: 08 Sep 2016 08:49 PM PDT

The Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination issued a document last week titled “Gender Identity Guidance.” Among other things, it requires places of public accommodation to acknowledge and affirm transgender identities.

It is not difficult to see the religious liberty implications for such a policy. It means, for instance, that a Christian bookstore would have to make its sex-segregated bathrooms available to persons based on their gender identity not on their biological sex.

It also means that places of public accommodation must “Use names, pronouns, and gender-related terms appropriate to employee’s stated gender identity in communications with employee and with others.”

But here’s the kicker. The new policy even requires churches to acknowledge and affirm transgender identities in events that are open to the public. The guidelines say this:

“Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public. All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation” (emphasis mine).

Over at The Washington Post, Eugene Volokh notes the conflict with religious liberty that this will eventually provoke:

Now, churches hold events “open to the general public” all the time — it’s often how they seek new converts. And even church “secular events,” which I take it means events that don’t involve overt worship, are generally viewed by the church as part of its ministry, and certainly as a means of the church modeling what it believes to be religiously sound behavior.

My guess is that most churches would not turn someone away from a generally open spaghetti supper… But some religious leaders, as well as the church employees and volunteers, may refuse to use pronouns that they believe are inconsistent with God’s plan as revealed by anatomy.

Volokh offers an extended quotation from a blog I wrote a while back about transgender naming. In it, I wrote this:

Truth-telling is always necessary for the Christian (Eph. 4:15). We are not allowed speak in ways that are fundamentally dishonest and that undermine the truth of God’s word about how he made us and the world. Transgender ideology is fundamentally a revolt against God’s truth. It encourages people–sometimes very disturbed and hurting people–to deny who God made them to be. It traps them in a way of thinking and living that is harmful to them and that alienates them from God’s truth. We do not serve them or love them well by speaking as if transgender fictions are true. …

The practical upshot of this principle means that I must never encourage or accomodate transgender fictions with my words. In fact, I have an obligation to expose them. For me, that means that I may never refer to a biological male with pronouns that encourage him to think of himself as a female. Likewise, I may never refer to a biological female with pronouns that encourage her to think of herself as a male. In other words, I have to speak truthfully. And that includes the choice of pronouns that I use.

I have no idea how many evangelicals would agree with the conclusions I reached about transgender naming. For all I know, it may not be very many at all. Nevertheless–whether many or few–Christians ought not be compelled to speak in ways that violate their conscience, but that is precisely what this new law in Massachusetts requires.

What does this mean? It means that the activists are not going to leave churches alone. They are coming for churches to make them conform or risk sanction by the state. It’s already happening in Massachusetts. I expect it to will spread to other states as well.

This is where we are. It looks like Rod Dreher’s “law of merited impossibility” is unfolding right before our very eyes. In this case, it goes like this: “Stop being a Chicken Little. The sexual revolutionaries will never come after the churches, but when they do churches will deserve it!”

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Standing for America’s Anthem

Baltimore Ravens’ tight end Ben Watson recently weighed in on the controversy sparked by fellow NFL player Colin Kaepernick who refused to stand for the National Anthem because of America’s racism.

Watson is a devout Christian and father of five.  Last month he suffered a torn Achilles tendon eliminating him from the entire 2016 season.  His  essay on racially charged events in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago went viral, as did a post he wrote following the terror attacks in Paris last fall.

On Monday, he wrote from his hospital bed . . .


Benjamin Watson


Editor’s note: The following column originally appeared on the Benjamin Watson Official Facebook page.

I will not have the option to kneel this Sunday while the National Anthem is being played.

A week ago, in what would prove to be my last pre-game opportunity of this 2016 season, I stood with my right hand over my heart as the anthem played. And if I am fortunate enough to ever be dressed for another game day I imagine I would be doing the same thing I did in my last. Standing. Not because America is ALL I desire it to be because most assuredly it is not.

Racism still stews, families are fractured, the unborn are trashed, schools are struggling, religious freedom is increasingly under attack, violence pollutes our cities and our suburbs, and there is a growing divide between law enforcement and the community.

I stand, however, because I grew up in NAVY town USA and traveled overseas to support members of our armed forces who follow orders regardless of their personal sentiments. I stand for those who were forced to give their lives building the country that confined them to the tobacco fields and indigo plantations.

Before competition, as I stand in shoulder pads and cleats, my helmet in my left hand, adrenaline flowing and my heart raging under my right, I never forget the ills of America but for a moment I envision its potential, remember its prosperity and give thanks to God for the land He has placed me in and the people I love who live in it.

I stand because as a child, I saw my father stand. A man who lived the tumultuous transition from “separate but equal” to the times surrounding the Civil Rights Act when angry people who held signs at his new school viscously screamed “NIGGER GO HOME!”

I stand because, on the contrary, no one held such a sign when I walked into my grade school.

Before competition, as I stand in shoulder pads and cleats, my helmet in my left hand, adrenaline flowing and my heart raging under my right, I never forget the ills of America but for a moment I envision its potential, remember its prosperity and give thanks to God for the land He has placed me in and the people I love who live in it.

I stand, because this mixed bag of evil and good is MY home. And because it’s MY home my standing is a pledge to continue the fight against all injustice and preserve the greatest attributes of the country, including Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel.

Kaepernick’s actions and similar actions by figures of the past and present are a vital part of our journey and a key component of the equation for social change and should be respected as such.

From the country’s inception, such displays against the status quo are distinctly American. My hope, though, is that these actions bring more attention to the PROBLEM than to the PROTESTOR. And that ensuing dialog discover truth and that truth give birth to justice in legitimate situations where there is none.

My hope is that in this time of toil and discord we collectively use our positions in public and private life to take responsibility for our role and collectively seek solutions, not because we HAVE to but because we CARE to.

Sometimes listening is of greater value than speaking. As elusive an aspiration as it may be, our goal, especially in the arena of race, should continue to be to create an America where eventually everyone can, in good conscience, stand. No matter the historical context or the present circumstance that is the unity I, perhaps naively, imagine when I see our flag and listen to our anthem.

Conflict when handled correctly strengthens. Conflict when mismanaged destroys.


Benjamin Watson is a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, a writer and speaker, and a widely read and followed commentator on social media. He is the author of “Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us” (Tyndale Momentum, November 17, 2015). He attended Duke University as a freshman and transferred to the University of Georgia, where he majored in finance. After an all-SEC senior campaign, he was drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. He won a Super Bowl ring in his rookie season and appeared in another Super Bowl following the 2007 season. After a three-year stint with the Cleveland Browns―including the 2010 season in which he led the Browns in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns―Watson signed with the Saints in 2013. Watson serves on the executive committee of the NFL Players Association and is the founder of the nonprofit One More foundation along with his wife, Kirsten. They live in Baltimore with their five children.

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Like a Thief in the Night

Trying to sleep at night, I sometimes imagine what I’d do if someone broke into our house.   I see myself grabbing my gun (two steps from my bed—closer I might shoot myself in the foot while asleep).  Then I quietly sneak from bedroom to living room to find the bad guy.  My imagination has complications:  (1) in my condition it takes at least a full minute to push out of bed to get the gun; (2) I’m guessing an old bald guy leaning on a walker won’t strike the fear of God into the thief.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Paul answers the question, When will “the Lord himself descend from heaven” (4:16, ESV)?

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (5:1,2, ESV).

Apparently Paul had explained the “when” when he’d visited  (Acts 17:1-9).  No need to write it, still he does:  “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  Question:  When will the Lord Jesus come again?  Answer:  “the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Before unpacking that, let’s camp briefly on “the day of the Lord.”  It was a familiar Old Testament term, which Paul uses here of Jesus’ Second ComingHere are three representative passages from among dozens . . .

Prophesying against unfaithful Israel in the 8th century B.C. Amos warns, “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him” (Amos 5:18,19, ESV). 

Calling God’s rebellious people to repentance, Joel cries,  “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations (Joel 2:1,2, ESV).  They did repent and[t]hen the LORD became jealous for his land and had pity on his people” (Joel 2:18, ESV).

The day of the Lord would bring, not only the Lord’s wrath, but prior to it,  the outpouring of his Spirit.  “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.  “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls” (Joel 2:28-32, ESV).  

We conclude that the Old Testament “day of the Lord” would be the day when he would both execute his wrath and consummate his salvation.  The New Testament writers identify Jesus Christ as the Lord of that day.  He fulfills all the Old Testament “day of the Lord” prophecies.   The “day of the Lord”, then, includes the rapture of believers, but also wrath on unbelievers.

Now back to Jesus the thief.  Well, that’s not precise.  Paul doesn’t call Jesus a thief; he explains the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night:  suddenly.  “My imaginary thief” won’t ring my doorbell to announce he’ll be back in 30 minutes to break in.  He’ll come abruptly, without forewarning, all of a sudden.

Nothing more to explain about when.  Especially since Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).  But Paul does picture world conditions surrounding that day . . .

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (5:3, ESV).

The world will feel quite capable, thank you, of providing peace and security through governments and guns.  How blind and arrogant the sinful mind!  Even today, with the Middle East burning, the threat of new nuclear powers, and rampant violent crime in America, we slog on making political promises, ratifying treaties, arranging deals, marshaling military to find the right combination that will enable “people of good will” to create a peaceful, secure world.

But “they will not escape”.  Like “labor pains come upon a pregnant woman”.  “Honey, I think it’s time.”  “Honey” jumps as if jabbed with a live wire.  He’s shocked silly.  Nor did mother-to-be expect tonight would be it.  Look at them.  Barely-controlled chaos.   So it will be for the world when the Lord comes again.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.  For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness (5:4, ESV). 

Believers “are not in darkness”, which here means more than ignorance.  The world is morally, spiritual dark; in that dark realm unbelievers reject Jesus and his message.  Jesus’ followers “are all children of light, children of the day.”  Not just in their knowledge of Jesus coming, but in their faith/Spirit connection to the new eternal age that has dawned.  Consequently, they are not surprised when the trumpet sounds.  They belong to the one who comes calling.

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (5:6-8, ESV).

“So then” introduces how, according to Paul, believers should respond to the message of Jesus’ coming “like a thief in the night.”  Not by taking to a mountain, donning a white robe and gazing heavenward.   Rather, believers shouldn’t sleep the sleep of indifference.  They should be watchful and on guard, lest the world’s ways and their own sinful nature “drug” their minds.  They must be controlled, clear-headed.  The anti-model is the drunk staggering at the bar.  The model is the sentry at the gate.

Paul doesn’t imply that we believers should become moralistic, as if refraining from the mind-dulling partying of the world will save us.  Instead, he calls us believers to live practicing we are in Christ—people who belong to the “day”, who know they’re in a spiritual war.  We’ve already “put on” (in military analogy) “faith and love” as a breastplate and “the hope of salvation” as a helmet.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing (1Thessalonians 5:9-11,ESV)

Ah, but such spiritually/morally “sober” living in a spiritually/morally “drunken” world means fighting and winning a war.  Who among us has what it takes, especially given our track record?  We are warriors critically wounded in countless battles.  How can we be encouraged to fight the fight to be ready for the day of the Lord’s coming?

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God plans to save all who trust Jesus for their salvation.  On that day, we will boast of his saving work, not our moral obedience.

Furthermore, Christ died for us.  Neither our worst sins nor most embarrassing fickleness will bring us God’s wrath, rather his salvation.  He died so  whether we are alive (“awake”) or dead (“asleep”) when Jesus comes, we will “live with him”.  That’s why he died for us.

Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  We are not to fight the war to maintain readiness for Jesus’ coming as if on a one-man mission.  We are to “encourage one another.”  We are to “build up one another” in the Gospel of Jesus’ return.  We are to be a team of warriors, who model for each other, how to live now in anticipation of then.

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
How are we doing at living ready? 

Better, I hope, than I am with my gun in a shaking hand and my disabled body leaning on a walker!




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The Living Dead

Jesus will come in our generation!

That’s what early converts to Christ envisioned.  Paul, too.  He wrote to the Thessalonian church:  “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15).  (Several years later, he apparently revised his thinking:  “ . . . knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us [this is, from death]with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence”—2 Corinthians 4:14.)

No convert questioned the promise of Christ coming again.  No apostle either.  Nor do we Bible-believing Christians today.  We’ve pages of questions about when and in what relation to other end-time events and so on (not to mention all sorts of “certainties” about details).  But the New Testament is clear:  he’s coming.  The Thessalonians, too, had a question, which they apparently relayed to Paul via Timothy’s visit.  (From Athens, Paul had sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to encourage these new converts in the faith—3:1-3,6.)

Question:  Will fellow-believers who’ve died miss some of the glory of Christ’s second coming because they won’t be alive when he comes?  That’s the implicit question Paul answered:    “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  He had taught them about Christ’s return (1:10); but this question probably arose when some of their number died (maybe in the persecution?).  What will happen to them?  Will they miss the explosive beginning of glory?

What’s so important about knowing the answer?  Because Paul isn’t writing a theology of Christ’s Second Coming.  He’s not answering every eschatalogical question.  Why is it important to know that?  Because unless we limit his answer to what they’re asking, we  may carelessly read into Paul’s words what he never intended, trying to establish a more complete end-time theology.

Example:  Let’s suppose I’ve just had back surgery and you, my friend, email me from California to ask how everything went.  Together with my health I include the procedure they used.  My explanation is accurate, but it doesn’t include everything about even my surgery, let alone all back surgeries.  We should keep that in mind in Paul’s text here.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep (a common euphemism for death), that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13, ESV).

Paul writes this, not just to give them  knowledge about believers who’ve died, but “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  This isn’t a theology lesson (though the theology is correct); it’s pastoral encouragement for the grieving.

A 2nd century condolence letter to a couple who had lost a son contained these words:  “I sorrowed and wept over your dear departed one as I wept over Didymas (the son he’d lost) . . . but really, there is nothing one can do in the face of such things.  So, please comfort each other” (1 & 2 Thessalonians, F. F. Bruce).  That’s grieving without hope.

These days, however, it seems virtually everybody has the idea that after death comes heaven.  In the 2nd century the error was “no heaven for Jesus’ followers”; in the 21st century “heaven’s the next stop on the journey for everyone.”

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (4:14, ESV).

Here’s why the Thessalonians and we “may not grieve as others do who have no hope”—“ . . . we believe that Jesus died and rose again.”  The resurrection of Christ’s Second Coming is founded on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in his First. “God will bring with [Jesus, when he comes again] those who have fallen asleep.”    Jesus’ historical resurrection will be repeated over and over and over again as every believer is raised out of the grave!  This is our hope (expectation, future).  Grieve?  Yes.   But not as the hopeless.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep” (4:15, ESV).

Those who’ve died believing in Christ won’t miss any of the glory by being bodily resurrected after the living are bodily raised. The opposite will be true.  Those who died will rise first. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (4:16,17, ESV).

On that day, writes Paul, will come “the Lord himself”.  Not a vision or an angel, but “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command.”   That’s not a whisper in the ear; it’s a military term that raises the dead!  Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived during the time of Christ, spoke of God gathering his people from the ends of the earth with one shout of command.

Together with that command-call will come “the voice of an archangel” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.”  The blast of a great trumpet called the Jewish exiles home from Assyria (Isaiah 27:13).  And even now these words are spoken in synagogue worship:  “Sound the great trumpet for our liberation; lift up the ensign to gather our exiles . . . “  So on that day the great trumpet will call us “exiles” home to our Lord.

Those who died “in Christ” (that is, “connected to Christ by faith and by the Spirit” will rise first.  Those alive who are left will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air . . . “  The Greek arpazo, translated here “caught up”, is used of the crowd that tried to take Jesus by force; therefore, it can also be translated “snatch, seize, take away (forcibly)”.  The Latin term for arpazo is repere, from which we get the English “rapture.”  That word has nothing to do with time in relation to other events; it has to do with the manner in which we believers will rise. Our Lord will enter again a seething, corrupt world and “snatch us up” to be with him.

And rapture raises a question:  Does Paul here teach a “secret rapture” of believers before the Great Tribulation?  (If that question means nothing to you, good!)  For what it’s worth, here’s my understanding  in this brief quote from F. F. Bruce:  “When a dignitary paid an official visit (parousia) to a city in Greek times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escort him back on the final stage of his journey was called the apantaysis (the meeting).”  Paul doesn’t say if Jesus then leads the risen believers to earth or to heaven.  (I think to earth.  We’ll all find out the correctness of our eschatology some day!)

In any case, we believers will meet the Lord in the air and from then on “always be with the Lord.”

Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:18, ESV).

Thessalonians grieving over departed loved ones?  Will they miss out on some of Christ’s glory when he comes again?  Take courage!  Be comforted!  The Lord himself is coming!  And they will meet him in the air first!

Who-goes-first isn’t our problem.  Ours is that groundless view that virtually everybody who dies goes.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is the dead “in Christ” who will rise.  Therefore, the most important eschatalogical question is this:  “Have you turned your life over by faith to the crucified, and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ?”

The final issue is this: 
Except for that last generation, we will all die,
most enduring the harsh aging process. 
But we can be confident of this: 
At the end of this life,
what’s coming is not the grave
but our Lord whom we’ll meet in the air.




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