Why I Hate Sanctity of Life Sunday


In a post yeaterday I offered my musing about Sanctity of Life Sunday.  In my reading I also stumbled upon something by Russell Moore, Dean and Vice President at Southern Seminary in Lousville, on his blog, Moore to the Point.  I found his post: Why I Hate Sanctity of Life Sunday to be simple, insightful, and sensitive.

How can I commend a guy who “hates” Sanctity of Life Sunday, when I just finished writing about it with a positive perspective? Well, you’ll have to check out Dr. Moore’s post to find out.

Choose LIFE

Like many conservative Evangelical congregations around the country, our church recognized yesterday as Sanctity of Life Sunday.  It seems only appropriate. We live in a culture that no longer values human life, except, perhaps, as a disposable comodity.  This is evident by not only the continued tragedy of abortion but also the growing, or at least high, percentage of Americans who are OK with euthenasia.  But we value life, because God values life.

Like other Evangelicals, we believe that life – human life – is a reflection of the glory of God. Humanity, and humanity alone, was created by God to bear His image.  Though  vandalized in the Fall, and tarnished by our own sin, all people contine to posess an inherent value because we are still bearers of the image of God, even under all the rubbage. 

One of the things I mentioned to our congregation is that there are several ways to obsereve Sanctity of Life Sunday. The most common, I suspect, is to show support for being Pro Life and opposed to abortion.  Like many others, we partner with the local crisis pregnancey center (which, in our case here in Bristol, is led by a man who preceded me as pastor of Walnut Hill Church).  I also mentioned that adoption is a very important practice. More than that, adoption is a beautiful illustration of the Gospel. (I’ll compose another post to explain that, perhaps tomorrow.)  Another related practice is Foster Care, which is in critical condition here in Sullivan County, Tennessee.  (Perhaps I’ll draft yet another post about this issue, either this week or next.)

But back to the most traditional emphasis connected to the observation of Sanctity of Life Sunday. It strikes me that there are two ways we can go with our observation of this day:

  1. We can celebrate LIFE
  2. We can protest abortion

These are related. And both can be accomplished. But it seems to me the emphasis always leans toward one of these options or the other.

For me personally, I am glad to be part of a church that focuses on the celebration of Life.  The recent tradtion at our church is to launch a competition between the men and women to see which group/gender can fill the most baby bottles with coins during the time between Sanctity of Life Sunday and Mother’s Day.  All the money collected goes to the AACPC here in Bristol.  It is a fun and postitive tradition that focuses on serving those in need more than decrying what we hate. (Though, I do hate the practice of abortion.)

What you will not see at a church that I pastor is a yard full of crosses on Sanctity of Life Sunday – nor during any other time of year.  I am not levying accusations at those who do this each year. There is a place for protest, and I suspect that there are people who are reminded about how monstrously large the abortion industry is in this country.  But my preference, and my position, is that it is better to celebrate and serve LIFE.

There is a practical, and compassionate, reason for my position. 

I often wonder about the message being sent to the women who have chosen to have an abortion – and to a lesser degree, the men who were complicit in that decision.  I wonder what they perceive of the love of Christ for people like them, people labeled “murderers” by the most vociferous anti-abortion activists.  In our churches, and in our pregnancy centers, we caution women considering an abortion that someday down the road they are very likely to feel a high degree of guilt should they decide to terminate their pre-born child’s life.  Reasearch and experiece has proven that to be the truth.  And it is women (and men) like that I wonder about. When they see the crosses covering a church yard, representing the millions of children whose lives are taken each year, including the life their decision ended, what message do they infer the church is sending them?  I am afraid that the message hurting women receive – whether or not it is the message intended to be implied – is: “We told you so.”  Or worse: “We hate people like you (people who kill innocent children).” 

I wonder how inclined a woman, feeling the weight of a decision she cannot retract, would be to seek counselling for her grief from a church that has marked her sin with a Scarlet Letter “A” – for Abortion – in the form of a garden of crosses out on the lawn.  I wonder if these women drive by and sense the love of Jesus flowing from such an expression of the Body of Christ.  I am sure many have received help, forgiveness, and hope through these congregations. But I ask myself, “How many more women drive-by fearing they will never be forgiven or accepted in such a place?”

Again, I am not indicting those churches, nor those Christians, who choose to observe Sanctity of Life in this way.  There is a place for advocacy on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves (in this case, the unborn).  What I write here in this post are only my thoughts and concerns.  But they are real thoughts and real concerns, deeply held. And for those reasons, whatever others do on this day each year, I will CHOOSE to CELEBRATE LIFE!

9 Church Diseases

According to Peter Wagner:

Healthy churches build an immune system to resist disease. It is much more advisable to prevent an illness than to contract one and then have to cure it.

The following are the most common diseases that infect churches.  By recognizing some of the symptoms my hope is that we will turn to the Great Physician, the Gentle Healer, and seek necessary medical attention.

I am using Wagner’s terms here, and have added my own commentary:


Ethnikitis is fear or disregard for others of different ethnicities and/or races.  This disease is caused by contextual factors, usually revolving around a static church (in-grown and non-growing) in an ethnically transitioning neighborhood.

Ghost-Town Disease

Another contextual illness, this illness is found in communities where old residents are moving out, and no one is moving in.


This malady is directly related to a lack of understanding of the significant differences between diverse people groups within the community.  It occurs when churches fail to consider how those differences may impede evangelism efforts.


Wagner says: “When everyone is responsible for evangelism, no one is responsible for evangelism.  Local-church evangelism is much more effective than city-wide cooperative efforts.”

This malady occurs when local congregations loose their distinct identity because the church is too committed to being part of something else.  There is nothing wrong with partnering and cooperative ministries. But if the only ministry a church does is under the umbrella of others, and the church does not bring any distinct character to the joint-effort, it may be a sign that the church is not healthy.

The healthy alternative is not to forgo all partnerships and joint efforts, through isolationism or competition. Instead each church should develop its own distinct personality which it can then contribute to the community and cooperative efforts.


Koinonia is the Greek word for fellowship.  Koinonitis occurs when interpersonal relationships within the church become so deep and mutually absorbing that we ignore the needs of the community and world around us. When Koinonitis is present church programs tend to become centripetal rather than centrifugal; entirely attractional rather than missional and incarnational.

Sociological Strangulation

Wagner says: “This is a slowdown in the rate of church growth caused when the flow of people into a church begins to exceed the capacity of the facilities to accommodate it.”

In other words, this occurs when the building and sanctuary are too small to accomodate more people.  The general rule here, in suburban communities is 80% capacity = FULL.  In more rural communities, where people are used to having more elbow room, the rule may be as low as 50% = FULL. 

Another aspect that George Barna deals with, more than Wagner,  is when growth occurs at a rate too fast to effectively assimilate new people into an existing church community.  Barna suggests that healthy churches grow at a rate of no more than 10% – 15% anually.  Thus, if Barna is correct, a church with a 6% or 7% growth rate may be healthier than a church that is growing at 20% rate over an extended period of time.

Arrested Spiritual Development

Wagner: “When people in the church are not growing in the things of God or in their relationships with one another, the total health of the church deteriorates, and the church cannot grow.”  To this I will add, if the church did grow, it really has nothing to offer those who come, nor to the community where God placed them.

St. John’s Syndrome

When Christians become Christians in name only; feel that their faith is only routine; when church involvement is largely going through the motions, and belonging to church is nothing more than a family tradition or social nicety, St. John’s Syndrome is likely at work.

Why is this called St John’s Syndrome?  I have no idea. At least I do not recall off the top of my head. But I agree that the symptoms described are unhealthy, no matter what you want to call it.


Hypo-pneumia is a condition caused by a subnormal level of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of the church.  This is a church that depends upon talent of the members and the resources on hand.  It is a church that may pray, but is not depending upon prayer.

It is this type of church Francis Schaeffer had in mind when he asked his wife what she thought would happen if the Holy Spirit departed from the local church.  Their joint conclusion was that in the vast majority of churches nothing would change, and few people would notice.

Missing the Missional Mark

To read something I disagree with on the Internet is not an unusual thing.  When what I disagree with comes from a source that I respect – highly respect – it makes me somewhat uncomfortable.   When the source I respect seems to oppose what I hold, well that is just down-right disappointing.

But that is the experience I have had these past few days while reading 9 Marks January/February 2010 e-Journal.

Continue reading

Haitian Hope

The eyes of America are turned toward Haiti, and hearts are going out to that poorest country in the Western Hemishpere, too.  Like many, it is with great interest I am watching the news and hearing of all the tangible aid that is going to the people who were tragically impacted by that 7.0 eathquake. 

I am glad to see people moved in this way – both people of faith and faithless people.  I am glad because every resident of Haiti is a creature made after the image of God – as am I, as are we all.  As those made in the image of God the people of Haiti have an inherent value.  Thus all attempts to alleviate their suffering is a proper response to their present plight. Their inherent value as bearers of the image of God demands it.

But one question remains in my mind: What is the objective of this relief?   Are we simply trying to help these people to put thier lives back together the way they were before the earhtquake? 

That hardly seems much better than their current circumstances. 

If you know anything about Haiti you know it is a vivid illustration of contrasts: The natural beuaty of creation inhabited by the ugliness of  humanity.  Not only is it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but it is also perhaps the most corrupt, unstable, and ungodly.  By no reasonable measure was life good even before the earthquake that has rocked their world. 

Here is a little background on Haiti:

Explored by Columbus on Dec. 6, 1492, Haiti’s native Arawaks fell victim to Spanish rule. In 1697, Haiti became the French colony of Saint-Dominique, which became a leading sugarcane producer dependent on slaves. In 1791, an insurrection erupted among the slave population of 480,000, resulting in a declaration of independence by Pierre-Dominique Toussaint l’Ouverture in 1801. Napoléon Bonaparte suppressed the independence movement, but it eventually triumphed in 1804 under Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who gave the new nation the Arawak name Haiti . It was the world’s first independent black republic.  (Source: Countries of the World)

What is less known and less reported is that during the 1791 revolution the slaves in revolt dedicated the island to Satan.  In their eyes, Satan was seen to be the opposition of the (pretense of) Christianity their oppressors instituted.  Subsequently and consequently, despite a long history of being a Roman Catholic Church-State, (which ended in 1987,) Voodooism is the real religion of the island.  Even 75% of the professing Catholics in Haiti practice voodoo. 

With voodoo as the prevailing religon, is it any wonder that instability, injustice, and treachery are marks of this civilization? 

As aid pours into Haiti, my hope is that it would be accompanied by even more prayer.  Haiti needs a change at its very core.  The people who live there, made after the image of God, need a major work of God.  My hope is that this earthquake has prepared the people to recieve it. 

Let me encourage you, each time you see Haiti on the news, in these coming days and week, in addition to any tangible assitance God may lead you to offer, take a moment to offer prayer for the transformation of that island.  To aid you in aiding the people of Haiti through informed prayer check out Operation World: Haiti

May God make beauty from the ashes of Haiti. (Isaiah 61.3)

Minutemen for Haiti

While hearts were breaking in Tennessee on Tuesday, because a football coach bailed and jumped onto a Trojan ship, lives were being shattered in Haiti.  It is amazing how such news puts things in proper perspective.

During this week friends and church members have asked if there is anything they can do to provide relief to the effected islanders, if there is any avenue through which they can contribute.  There are many good organizations working through this tragedy, but I want to take a moment to highlight one: Minutemen for Missions.

Minutemen for Missions is an arm of Mission to the World.  Those who sign up to be Minutemen (and women) are kept posted about disasters around the world, prayer needs, and opportunities to send support.  There is no specific expectation every time there is a natural disaster, but you will be notified and kept informed about the situations. It is up to each individual to determine what, or if, they will do in response.

Minutemen is a hand of compassion as an extension of MTW’s regular, church plating, ministries.

Happy Birthday, ‘Ho’!

OK. I know. A lot of people don’t like Tony Campolo. A lot of my friends don’t like Tony Campolo. I know he’s  “too liberal”.  I know John MacArthur flatly states that Campolo “misses the central teaching of the Bible“.  I know he was once tried in ecclesaistical court for heresy. 

But still, you must admit, he can tell a great story!  And sometimes he makes a great point.

Watch the video above. Then tell me:

  1. Is there anything overtly theologically wrong in what he says?
  2. How does his example move you?
  3. Is this something you see would meet with Jesus’ approval?  How about the approval of the Aposte Paul, who, in Galatians 5.6, wrote: “…the only thing counts is Faith expressing itself through love.”?
  4. Would you want to be part of a chuch that does things like this?
  5. Ask yourself: How would the community around you respond to a church that does things like this?

 “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.”

…We’re From Tennessee!

When I had the privelege of playing football for the University of Tennessee in the early-mid ’80’s we had a tradition, in the locker room after every win, Coach Johnny Majors would lead the entire team in a resounding song, to the tune of The Old Grey Mare:

“We DON’T give a D-MN about the whole state of [Fill in the Blank], the whole state of [blank]; We DON’T give a D-MN about the whole state of [Blank]. WE’RE from TENNESSEE!!”

One of the awesome things about playing football for the Volunteers was taking part in the wealth of this tradition-rich institution.  Many of the traditions had been observed since General Robert Neyland instituted them in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Some of these traditions, such as the reciting of General Neylands maxims, are so integrated with the sport of football that they have been adopted by other colleges and high schools across the country.

But evidently the Tennessee traditions were not much to the liking of our now dearly departed coach, Lane Kiffin.  Author and blogger Clay Travis writes in Fanhouse that Kiffin apparently had his own rendition:

“I don’t give d-mn about the whole state of Tennessee, the whole state of Tennessee, the whole state of Tennessee; I don’t give d-mn about the whole state of Tennessee, My love’s for USC.”

OK, maybe that’s not exactly what Travis reported. But in a column titled: Kiffin Never Embraced Tennessee, we can see how close the Vol Nation came to being victim of a covert hostile takeover. 

Not that I needed one, but here is yet another reason I am glad Tennessee will get a fresh start under a new coach.

Kiffin Takes Fast Lane West

I think it was Horace Greeley who said: “Go West, young man.” Apparently Lane Kiffin has taken that to heart.

At a news conference tonight Lane Kiffin announced he will end his 13 month tenure as the coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.  While Facebook is lighting up with posts from throughout Big Orange Country, interchangeably crying and cussing, I say simply: “Good Riddance!”

I will try to refrain from saying: “I told you so.”  But I will say Al Davis is looking like a wise old sage. He is the one who warned Tennesseans that Lane Kiffin was a “scoundrel”.  Davis also said Kiffin was a liar.  Both seem to be dead-on assessments tonight.

I must admit, my first thoughts were: “What a jerk!” 

But then it dawned on me.  Tennessee fans got what they deserved.  We received the same loyalty from Kiffin as many Vol “faithful” (using that term very, very loosely)  extended to Philip Fulmer.  

Fulmer is a class individual. He loved his players and the University of Tennessee.  He had a clean recruiting record. And, in addition to having coached the Vols to a NCAA Championship, he was the third winningest active coach in the NCAA Division 1, before he was unceremoniously shoved out the door by AD Mike Hamilton.  It was those same Vol “faithful” who are reeling tonight that cheered Hamilton and jeered Fulmer. 

Fulmer stood for all that is best in college athletics. But that was not enough; not nearly enough. So fans across the state, marching to a tune played by the Pied Piper John Adams, and others of his ilk, turned ugly. They wanted a newer, sexier model.  So they got one.

There is a line from the film Wall Street that comes to mind.  Martin Sheen, playing the role of the wise, blue collar father, tells his young, arrogant, ambitious son (played by his real life son, Charlie):

“I don’t go to bed with no whore. And I don’t wake up with no whore.  That’s how I live with myself. I don’t know how you do it.” 

Well, Vol Nation, you now know what it is like to wake to a coaching ‘whore’.  What did you really expect? Love and long-term commitment?  You were only kidding yourselves. 

Truthfully, I feel pretty good tonight. If you check my past posts, I was never a Kiffin fan.  Some have mistaken my non-embrace of this guy as “hate”, but that is to misread my sentiment.  I wanted to like the guy. I wanted him to succeed. (Read: An Open Letter to Lane Kiffin and Kiffin’s Concerns)  But as I suspected, he never gave me the chance.

Now Tennessee goes back to the drawing board – hoping to find a coach who can salvage the recruiting class that will sign in just 3 weeks.  Hoping to find a coach who, as one person wrote me tonight: “…wants to win, loves the players and the University, and will teach the players to win and love UT too.”

My simple response was: “We had one.  And he was ridden out of town.” 

But now we begin again.  This time let’s shoot for character above charm. And check the references from his previous employer.  Maybe someone should have listened to Al Davis.

Gospel in Word and/or Deed


For the past couple of days I’ve been involved in a discussion on Justin Taylor’s blog, Between Two Worlds.  The discussion was prompted when Justin posted a Tweeted quote from J.D. Greear:

“Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words” is like saying: “Tell me your phone number, if necessary use digits.”

Greear’s clever and pithy defense of the importance of preaching and substantive evangelism is set up as opposite of the quote famously attributed to Francis of Assisi:

“Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.”

The original quote, whether by Francis or not, is intended to express the importance of Gospel-driven actions.  However, it is also a quote that has often been associated with those who promote a Social Gospel – an attempt to meet tangible needs, often with little or no concern for regeneration, conversion, or spiritual transformation.

The conversation includes people who both agree and disagree with Greear.  As one who wants to see both Word & Deed – who believes both Word & Deed are necessary to properly reflect the ministry of Christ and the Kingdom of God – I have really appreciated comments from all sides.

I will not restate my comments in this discussion in this post.  If you are interested, you can check them out for yourself.  But I will say, for those who choose to check it out, my comments are slanted toward one side of this discussion in a way that does not completely reflect my more holistic view.  But, when I first commented, one side far out-numbered the other.

To check out or join the discussion, click: A Wordless Gospel.

McGwire Got the “Point”

So Mark McGwire has admitted to using steroids during his playing days.  No! You don’t say?!  Next someone will tell me that O.J. Simpson was not a Ward Cleaver-like husband.  What would be next after that?

Actually I am glad McGwire finally came clean.  But I don’t think I believe he has offered complete disclosure. For instance:

I am not sure I can buy as fact that his sole motive was the medicinal value.  McGwire stated that he began using steroids during a stint on the DL, hoping that they would help him recover more quickly. Ostensibly he continued to use them both to recover from the nicks and pains of the long seasons and as a preventative measure against further injuries. 

Even if that was the initial motive, Mark, at no time during usage did you ever consider the competitive advantages?  PLEASE!

Secondly, when asked if he thought he would have hit the requisite number of homers to break Roger Maris’ single season record had he not been on steroids, McGwire offered a lame, indefinite response. In effect, he said: “I had good seasons and bad seasons when I used steroids. I had good seasons and bad seasons when I did not use steroids.” 

One way to measure the effect, Mark, might be to take your 3 best HR seasons into consideration, and tell us if you were on the juice during those seasons.  If the answer is “Yes”, then I think you might safely surmise that your performance was supplemented.

My questions aside, I am glad McGwire has made the admission.  He has apparently got the point (needle pun intended) that American sports fans are often more willing to overlook the indiscretions of those they believe are forthcoming.  Maybe Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will soon follow. 

Now, go ahead, put McGwire in the Hall of Fame. Let’s put this all behind us and move on.

There is a real sense I am not sure I care that he was on steroids. At least not from a baseball standpoint.  The fact is, while people talk about his “cheating”, there was no rule against using steroids in Major League Baseball

I am not being soft on steroids. I am glad that professional sports are cracking down on these synthetic performance enhancers.  But, in short, if he didn’t break the rules, he should not be excluded from the fraternity. 

While it is questionable that he would have had HOF numbers apart from the drugs, let’s get real: It is a Hall of FAME, not sacred post. And few players have ever been as famous for their play – legal play, mind you – as McGwire was during the late ’90’s.

If someone needs to be hung in effigy, it seems to me it ought to be Baseball Commish Bud Selig.  He knew full well what was going on around the league, but chose to look the other way AND keep the performance enhancers legal. And more recently he has violated promised immunity to players who willingly submitted to drug tests so that MLB could ascertain the extent of the steroid epidemic. 

Selig is the snake. 

McGwire and the other players were just stupid.

Theology for Life

As a pastor from a confessional denomination one of the more difficult tasks I regularly – even constantly – encounter is helping people past a distatse for doctrine. 

I understand why so many are so often hesitant to embrace any system of doctrine.  “Doctrine divides” is a commen lament. And, regretably, it is often an accurate one.  I see many who are at odds with others over secondary principles.  Another issue is that sometimes those who are the strongest proponents of sound theology carry rather “ugly” attitudes.  Looking at life, and the church, with a singular perspective (as opposed to tri-perspectival) some assume that mere apprehension and submission to a system of doctrine is the only thing that matters.  As one of my old pastors often said: “Their theology is dead right – but mostly dead.” 

Of course there are other reasons to be considered. 

The historical influence of the Second Great Awakening continues to infect large portions of the American church.  One of the most significant effects is that many Christians, and a number of church traditions, are flarly anti-intellectual.  Their faith is almost entirely “feelings” built aroud a few simple theological propositions.

And maybe the biggest hurdle is that developing a comprehensive understanding of a system of theology is, simply, hard work.  Like learning anything, it is challenging and takes time and study. 

Whatever the reasons for hesitancy, I maintain it is still important.  In this brief video Tim Keller affirms the benefits of sound doctrine. In fact he asserts, I believe correctly, that everyone already lives out their theology…

If this so, it would seem important to think it all through.

Tide’s Tarnished Trophy?

Hats off to Alabama’s Crimson Tide. A dominating defense carried them to their eighth NCAA Football Championship – the first in nearly 20 years.  Two 100 yard rushers on offense not only drained the clock, but in the end also drained what was left of the spirit of the out manned Texas Longhorns.  Texas played a commendable second half, but the outcome was almost completely in the books before the first quarter ended.

Despite the Tide’s dominating performance Thursday night, more than one headline I have seen since has declared Alabama’s undisputed National Championship “mysterious”.  What was the mystery?  People can only wonder what would have been had Texas All American QB Colt McCoy not suffered a game ending shoulder injury during the first drive. 

I think specualtion is good, though.  Taking nothing away from Alabama, this game will be far longer remembered because of the “What If” than for any other reason.  It lends an element of specualtion to non-Alabama supporters.  It promotes enjoyable arguments about who was really best that will go on until the ball is teed-up next September – and maybe longer than that for Longhorns left wanting.

It also shows that college football does NOT need a playoff.

Despite the TV commentators and executives who are crying for a championship, what would that prove? If the argument is that the championship should be settled on the field because any other way leaves a shred of doubt as to who is the actual champ, this game shows that even if a game is played the outcome can still be shrouded in doubts.  What will a series of such games prove – other than the networks can make a few more dollars?

But I think this “controversy” is good for the game, and for the sports fan.  It gives people something to talk about.  I don’t think a playoff would add anything. In fact I will hate to see it when it eventually comes to be.

Alabama is the champion. They earned it.

BUT what if…?