How Should We Respond to San Bernardino?


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Fellow Christians, let’s stop for a moment and consider our response to the specter of domestic Islamic terrorism.

Since the attack in San Bernardino, I have seen a couple different categories of responses on social media. Some are issuing a clarion call to wake up to the threat of Islam, arm ourselves, and stop the flow of immigrants from Syria and other countries. Others are calling for gun control and decrying extremism in any form. Both groups claim the high ground on the issues of personal and national security, protection of the innocent, and plain common sense.

I humbly suggest that we need to wake up to something other than the threat of Islam or lax gun laws.

The San Bernardino attack appears to be an instance of “self-radicalization,” which is a whole different kind of threat than we are used to. At one level, it’s a threat to our national security. How do we prevent seemingly well-adjusted, devoutly religious American citizens from devoting themselves to the type of damage seen in San Bernardino or Boston if all it takes to push them across the line is inspiration from afar? A difficult question, for sure.

But that question suggests a different kind of threat that’s likely to hit much closer to home for many of our neighbors.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a Muslim man living in America. Your neighbors and co-workers consider you fairly devout because they often see you engaging in your daily prayers, your wife and daughter wear the traditional hijab out of respect, and you occasionally engage others in conversations about your religious beliefs. At the same time, you have absolutely zero sympathy for ISIS or other Islamic terror groups.

The attack in San Bernardino ushers in a frightening new reality. Suddenly, the majority of your neighbors and co-workers appear to view you and your family as a threat. Friendly banter across the cubicles at work is replaced with averted eyes and cold silence. Your next-door neighbor makes a show of cleaning his guns on the driveway when your wife is out in the garden. You have to hide multiple professing Christian acquaintances on Facebook because they won’t stop posting tirades against Muslims. Everywhere you go, you face suspicion and mistrust.

We can debate the best measures to take against the ongoing threat of self-radicalization. As Christians, though we have separate and higher duties to our Muslims neighbors:

  • We owe them love – the kind of self-sacrificial love that set us free from our own suicidal religious inclinations (and our licentious ones).
  • We owe them understanding – the kind of understanding that Christ showed in calling us sons, daughters and friends.
  • We owe them truth – the truth that will stand firm when all terrorist acts, guns and political loyalties have melted away.

In short, we owe them Jesus. Let’s not lose sight of that.


Five Reasons to Be Thankful for the Crap


Each year around this time, my social media feeds blow up with people talking about why they’re thankful for their kids, dogs, friends, yoginis, coffee, opposable thumbs, and nine thousand other things. It’s easy for most of us to come up with lists of all the stuff we’re thankful for because those things make us happy.

But what about the bad stuff? To the extent it makes the list, it’s usually just as a point of contrast. This afternoon, parents across the country will try to inspire thankfulness in their little ingrates by appealing to the existence of starving children on the other side of the world.

Think for a moment about the trials in our lives – the petty annoyances, the heartache, the physical pain, the outrages. It would be crazy to say that we’re thankful for that, right? Surprisingly, no. Consider these five reasons to be thankful for the crap.

1. Because It Makes Us Better

You know that friend on Instagram who posts lots of memes with annoying platitudes? If she hasn’t posted something like this, just give it time: “Troubles can make you bitter or better. Choose better.”

That sounds lame enough to actually be one of her posts, but there’s truth behind it. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Trials bring sadness, anger and confusion. But they also can bring joy because we know that they cause our faith to grow, and in turn that causes our character to grow. If we can be joyful in trials because they make us better people, doesn’t that also mean we can be thankful for the trials because they bring us joy?

2. Because It Causes Us to Hope

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul takes the same thought one step further. He writes of the dynamic whereby “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which leads to a hope in the God who is making us more like himself.

My friend David comes immediately to mind when I hear that verse. He was diagnosed a few years back with a rare cancer that causes tumors to grow in various places in his body. He’s had many surgeries, radiation treatments and the like. Cancer has brought a great deal of pain, sorrow and suffering to David and his young family. Those of us who love him continue to pray for healing and deliverance from that suffering.

And yet, as David has walked through cancer, I’ve had the privilege of seeing him become a better father, husband, friend, co-worker and leader. His faith in the God that loves him is stronger than ever. More than that, he loves telling people about how cancer has brought him more life-giving hope in Jesus. And, incredibly, he will tell you that he’s thankful for cancer as a result.

3. Because It’s Necessary to Bring Us Home

Even if we can grasp the truth that trials are ultimately good for us, most of us still would rather skip the trials altogether, thank you very much. But God’s perspective on trials is different. He sees trial as necessary to purify us in our journey through life on the way to our final destination, salvation.

The apostle Peter wrote:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:3-9)

The focus of this passage is on the future aspect of our salvation. Christians can speak coherently of already having been saved through Jesus, but still also looking forward to a final, decisive salvation where we will come into a full inheritance as brothers and sisters of Jesus. We rejoice in that future salvation, even though we currently are being “grieved by various trials.”

There’s a deeper reason for our joy in the midst of trials. We know that they are “necessary” for our faith to be tested and refined in preparation for the final salvation that we will experience. And that leads to a present experience of trust in God and an inexpressible, glorious joy. Surely we can be thankful for trials if they bring us that kind of joy!

4. Because God Is Working It for Your Good

It’s fashionable these days to criticize the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” But God indeed has promised that he has a big-picture plan for everything in our lives, even (especially?) the rough stuff.

Paul writes: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30; emphasis mine)

It’s the same dynamic as discussed above, but this time it’s all-encompassing. All things work for our good. The things that bring us joy in the moment. The things that drop us to our knees in grief. Everything.

And this dynamic is so sure that Paul can speak of future events in the same way he talks about things that already have happened. God’s purpose behind everything that happens in our lives is to make us more like Jesus. And for that purpose, he predestined us (past), called us to faith in Christ (past), justified us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (past), and glorified us (future).

5. Because God Expects It

This one makes most sense when you consider the others, but God isn’t throwing thankfulness out there as an option. He actually expects it of us.

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

It’s a sweeping set of exhortations. Rejoice in everything. Pray always. Give thanks in everything.

Why does God expect us to give thanks for everything? Because he’s told us that trials will make us better. Because he’s told us that trials will bring us hope. Because he’s told us that trials are necessary. Because he’s told us that he works trials for our eternal good.

Ultimately, God wants us to believe all he’s told us, to trust him in it, and to be thankful for the trials he brings our way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Measles Is Not Just a Rash


Every now and then, I run across an article or blog post in which someone who mistrusts vaccines argues that measles isn’t really all that serious. It’s just a garden variety childhood illness like chicken pox, they assert. Or, as one anti-vaccine blogger recently put it, measles is “just a rash.”

Upon reading that post, it occurred to me that most people have no personal frame of reference for what measles look like. We don’t have a history of seeing friends and family members come down with the disease because measles was all but eradicated in this country. So what we know of measles comes mainly from news reports, blog posts advocating for or against vaccination, or medical websites. The lists we see of measles symptoms and complications come across as either alarming (pneumonia! encephalitis! death!) or exceedingly bland (cough, fever, rash – ho, hum). The vaccine/anti-vaccine debate tends to make matters worse, as measles is portrayed as either a big yawn-inducer or the single greatest public health threat known to man.

Some Perspective

Without wading into the merits of the vaccination debate, I thought the story of my experience with measles may be a helpful reference point for those considering how to respond to the current measles outbreak. Why my story? From what I’ve read, the symptoms I experienced probably could be considered typical – they were miserable and dangerous without being life threatening. Maybe more importantly, my medical history gives me a decent vantage point to comment on the relative severity of the measles. There are many, many terrible maladies with which I have no acquaintance, and in the big picture, I have led a pretty healthy life thus far. But along the way, I have experienced a range of serious and not-so-serious illnesses.

Like most people, on the easy end of my personal spectrum are seasonal colds and the like, and a bit further down are occasional cases of the flu and other mystery ailments. Still further down are things like chicken pox and a number of bouts with bronchitis (more on that later). Typical stomach bugs and food poisoning likely occupy the next range (I hate throwing up), including one sickness that landed me in the hospital with dehydration. From there, we have to travel a bit down the spectrum before we find Legionnaires’ disease, a rare and sometimes fatal form of pneumonia. That one was exceedingly miserable, especially from the high fever and terrible cough. Still further down the spectrum was viral meningitis, which I tried to tough out at home for a day or two because I had never heard that the combination of a fever and stiff/painful neck was a dangerous sign. By the time I went into the doctor’s office, I felt like I was on death’s doorstep. From there, off in the far distance, we can catch our first sight of the measles on my misery spectrum.

 Measles and Me

I was a senior in high school when a group of students returning from a trip to New York brought the measles back with them. Mine was one of the early cases before a measles outbreak was declared, so we had no reason to think that the sickness I came down with was anything other than a bad cold or flu. For the first couple days, I experienced a steadily worsening fever, cough and sore throat, eventually landing me in the doctor’s office. The doctor diagnosed it as bronchitis and gave me some antibiotics and prescription cough syrup. The syrup did nothing for my cough. It continued to get worse until I was racked with fits of painful coughing. I would cough until I threw up, then start the whole process again. My stomach and mid-section grew very sore and tired from the almost continual coughing. Around that point, we went back to the doctor (a different one this time, as we had lost confidence in the bronchitis diagnosis).

I remember the look of fear on the pediatrician’s face and the sound of panic in his voice when he looked in my throat. He shouted out to the receptionist, “Clear the office! Get everyone out of here right now!” He then explained to us that I had measles, and because it was extremely contagious and very dangerous, they would have to take me out a different exit. I wasn’t exactly given the ebola treatment, but the message was clear:  measles was not to be trifled with.

From there, the symptoms continued to pile on as I spiraled downward into sickness. I developed a rash over my whole body that dominated my waking thoughts because it itched terribly and brought shots of electric pain when my skin would brush against my clothes, etc. On top of that, I still had a terrible cough, nausea, fever, and headache. Then new layers of misery were added when I developed a painful sensitivity to light and sound that made it impossible to watch TV or do anything but lay still in the darkness. I lost quite a bit of weight and muscle mass because I found it difficult to drink and could eat little or nothing at all. By the time the symptoms subsided, I think I missed more than three weeks of school.

When people asked what the measles was like, I would say, “Think of all the illnesses you’ve had over the course of your life. Take each symptom, multiply it by five, and add a couple new and exotic symptoms. Then put them all together at once and have them stretch out for a long time, and that approaches what it was like.” Looking back, I can say with confidence that measles is BY FAR the worst illness I’ve ever had.

There were complications after the fact, too. Over the following months, I contracted bronchitis a number of times as my immune system apparently struggled to catch up. It took a long time for me to recover my physical strength as well. The doctor warned us that I could have been rendered sterile from my bout with measles, though that thankfully did not come to pass.

Don’t Let Fear or Ignorance Drive the Bus

At the end of the day, measles is not ebola. Don’t get so caught up in the current hysteria that you let fear drive you to mistreat those that jump on the anti-vaccine bandwagon. Neither, though, is it chicken pox. Don’t fall for the whole “measles is just a rash” narrative. If someone had written off my experience that way, I would have been tempted to punch them in the face.

Some people who get the measles will have an easier time than I did. A few will die. Most will struggle with a miserable illness that they would not wish upon any but their worst enemies. Consider the implications for you and your loved ones and act accordingly.

Let’s Not Keep Christ in Christmas


One might get the impression, from the way many Christians talk, that Christmas in 2014 is a holiday under siege. We shout, “Keep Christ in Christmas!” and get up in arms when other religions want to horn in on our holiday displays. Kirk Cameron even released a movie this year called Saving Christmas that was aimed at defending the Christian-ness of our cultural holiday celebrations. At the risk of being removed from your Christmas card list, I submit that it may be a bad idea to try to keep Christ in Christmas.

At the outset, let me define some terms to distinguish between Christmas the holiday celebration, on the one hand, and the historical events we celebrate during Christmas on the other.

There is no question that the celebration of Christmas is a distinctly Christian thing, albeit one that was grafted onto existing pagan celebrations and that has borrowed freely over the years from non-Christian elements of various cultures. But behind the celebration of Christmas is a historical event that occurred about 2,000 years ago, the incarnation. When Jesus was born, God became a human, such that Jesus was fully God and fully man.

So, when I say “Christmas,” I’m talking about the holiday celebration (whether it includes distinctly Christian elements or not), and when I say “incarnation,” I’m talking about the birth of Jesus.

 Exclusive or Inclusive?

The main reason I think we should not try to keep Christ in Christmas? It puts the emphasis in the wrong place and makes the whole affair exclusive when it was meant to be inclusive. Christmas may be for Christians, but the incarnation was for everyone.

Most people recognize that Christmas originated as a Christian celebration. The whole idea of setting aside certain days as public holidays (holy days) is a vestige of Christendom, a time when religious and governmental authority were inextricably intertwined. The modern “Holiday” season retains a lot of religious elements, but they have become obscured over the years by many other secular and traditional elements. So today, we see many Christians hunkering down in an us-versus-them fight to retain things like public manger displays, and generally bristling against the widespread secularization and commercialization of Christmas.

By focusing on and fighting for the distinctiveness of Christmas as a religious holiday, we risk losing sight of the more important fact that the incarnation is for everyone – Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and yes, even Christians.

 Good News for Everyone

The angel who announced the birth of Jesus said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11.) The incarnation was good news for all the people because all the people needed a savior.

The angels then broke out into a song of praise for the peace that the incarnation was to achieve between God and man: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14.) The coming of the Prince of Peace also was good news for all the people because everyone was in a state of rebellion against God.

Jesus is not the provincial deity of those who follow certain religious or cultural traditions. He is the savior of all those who will turn to him, whether for them December is about winter solstice parties, Festivus poles, giant inflatable reindeer, or little plastic baby Jesuses.

Put another way, if you are a Christian in America, you probably love you some Christmas and a good many of its religious and secular trappings. If you’re a non-Christian in America, you probably love you some Happy Holidays and maybe a different mix of the trappings (more Santa & Elf on a Shelf, less Tiny, Infant Jesus). To many billions of people living in China, India, Indonesia, Somalia, and dozens of other countries, though, our Christmas traditions mean essentially nothing.

As for me, I’m going to keep celebrating Christmas. Our lights were up the day after Thanksgiving, and my wife and I can’t wait to surprise our kids with gifts on Christmas morning. At the same time, I’m not going to spend a moment worrying about how or whether others want to celebrate this holiday season, much less try to foist a Christian holiday on those who don’t treasure Christ in the first place.

But I’m also going to pray that this season brings an opportunity for many others to experience the joy of the good news of the incarnation of Jesus.  That joy is cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, and speaks across every boundary line known to mankind.  If you’re human, the incarnation was for you.

The Greatness and Insignificance of Humanity

Have you ever noticed that people are really good at celebrating the greatness of humanity?

We love to watch, talk about, and read about great human achievements, whether they come on the sports field, the silver screen, the concert stage or the pages of a book. Right now, your Facebook feed is littered with people declaring, “Look how great this is!” Our culture particularly loves to lift up the collective achievements of mankind – think, for example, of the national pride that swelled up when we first put a man on the moon.

You might hear a different message from your Christian friends. Sure, they might celebrate the Giants’ World Series win with you, or talk breathlessly about the latest movie from their favorite director. But they also may talk about how insignificant – or downright bad – humanity is. Especially if you frequent church circles, you might get the impression that mankind is nothing terribly special, that we’re all really just wretched, lowly worms.

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With apologies to Morpheus, what if I told you that our culture has it right, and that Christians can tend to wrongly downplay the significance and greatness of humanity? And what if I told you that Christians have it right as well, that the culture at large tends to over-esteem our significance? There is a great tension at play here between the insignificance and greatness of humanity.

Our Insignificance

What does it mean to say that humanity is insignificant? The Bible is chock full of reminders for us of how insignificant we are, at least as compared to God.

When King David gazed upon the night sky and considered the awesomeness of God’s works in the heavens, he penned these song lyrics: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). David’s mind was blown by the greatness of the cosmos, and even more so by the magnificent God who created them, as it were, with his fingers. He sees the heavens and thinks, “How is it that the great God behind all of this gives a passing thought to something as lowly as man, much less cares for him?”

In a different song, David again highlights the insignificance of mankind in comparison to God: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103:14-16). God shows compassion to mankind because we are mere dust. Our days are like the fleeting life of grass in the field, which sprouts up one day and is gone the next.

These same themes – mankind as grass or dust – are echoed elsewhere in the Bible as well. Isaiah uses grass to compare the passing nature of our flesh to the immortal nature of God’s word: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8). Mankind’s collective worth fares no better in comparison to God’s worth: “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.” (Isaiah 40:15-17). Gather up all the billions of people in the world today, and they stand before God as nothing.

David’s son Solomon picks up on the theme of mankind as mere dust, noting that humanity shares the same fate as the beasts of the field: “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). Cows come from the dust, have a brief breath of life, and return to the dust. So do people.

These kinds of reminders are not limited to the Old Testament. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul exhorts them to have the humility to count others more significant than themselves, pointing to the ultimate example of humility in Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7). The fact that Jesus took on human nature was so striking because of the humility it took to bridge the vast gulf between the dignity of God and the lowly state of humanity.

Our Greatness

If humanity is so insignificant, where does that leave us? Doesn’t that idea run contrary to other ideas commonly embraced by Christians about the sanctity of life, etc.? While God wants us to know the place of humility we occupy before him, he also wants us to know how great we are.

The greatness of humanity is not a separate category from God’s greatness. Our greatness is tied to the fact that God made us in his image. Putting aside issues of exactly when and how God created mankind, the account in Genesis clearly communicates that God made man and woman to reflect his image in a way that was not true of the rest of his creation:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27).

When I was a kid, I had the notion that our being created in the image of God meant that we somehow look like God in our physical form. That makes little sense, of course, in light of other places that describe God as spirit and without physical form. For example, Jesus says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and elsewhere that “a spirit does not have flesh and bones.” (Luke 24:39).

The fact that we are created “in the image of God” means simply that humans are like God and that we represent him. We can see that most clearly in the one perfect man who ever lived, Jesus. He is described as “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:3). In other words, Jesus showed what man as the image of God was all about because he was just like God and represented him perfectly.

We, on the other hand, are not completely like God, and quite often do not represent him very well. Unlike Jesus, we have a broken, sinful nature. Nevertheless, there remains in all humanity something of the image of God. That is why we can speak intelligibly about the dignity of human life, for example, and make distinctions between human beings and other sentient life that don’t just boil down to “might makes right.”

The Bible does not give us an explicit list of the ways in which we are like God, but we can pretty easily discern ways in which people are more like God than the rest of creation, including:

  • Our sense of morality, justice and accountability
  • The fact that we have a spiritual life that transcends the physical realm
  • Our ability to think logically about the world around us
  • Our use of the spoken and written word to communicate
  • Our innate creativity and love of beauty, and
  • The depth and character of our relationships and love for each other

Because people uniquely bear God’s image, we occupy a very special place in his creation. Right after David marvels over the fact that God is mindful of something as lowly as mankind, he turns with wonder to our high position: “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” (Psalm 8:5-6).

That high position has tremendous implications. James says our tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison,” because “[w]ith it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:9). The great offense of speaking evil of people is that they bear the inherent dignity of the likeness of God!

In a larger sense, that is also the tragedy of the fallen state of mankind. The glorious image bearer of the great and glorious God of all has traded the truth for a lie and traded that glory for lesser things. (Romans 1:18-25). People who were created to be like God and represent him well have instead rebelled against God, turned their backs on him, and now misrepresent him in word and deed. That’s a tragedy and offense beyond our ability to comprehend.


Ah, but there is good news. Humanity’s insignificance and greatness come together in Jesus. After pointing to Jesus as the ultimate example of humility in that God took on human nature, Paul goes on to explain how Jesus’s humility led to his exaltation:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11).

Through Jesus’s death and resurrection, the door was opened for the restoration of humanity to our intended position as God’s image bearers through the forgiveness of our sins:

[I]f anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself . . .; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them . . . . We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

So now, we who have trusted in Christ are being progressively changed back into the image of God. As Paul put it, we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Indeed, that was God’s purpose in calling us broken sinners to himself in the first place, to “be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29). And we have the hope that some day, we will be made like him in the fullest sense, reflecting and imaging his glory perfectly instead of misrepresenting him and denigrating his glory.

Embracing the Tension

In the end, we are left with two truths in tension. First, there is greatness in humanity. Namely, all the ways in which we bear the image of God, even in our fallen state. Christians would do well to acknowledge and celebrate the greatness of mankind, even though the image of God in man has been marred in so many ways. Second, in comparison to God, humanity is very, very insignificant. The greatness of humanity is not worthy of comparing to the greatness of God. Christians need to hold these truths in tension so that we can be true ambassadors for Jesus, imploring people as Paul did to be reconciled to God so that we can stand in humility before him, while also taking our rightful place as the bearers of his great image.

Gaza, Iraq and the Most Moral Genocide


Genocide in Gaza

Are you aware of the genocide in Gaza? The sides dispute the actual casualty figures (of course), but there’s no question that hundreds of Palestinian women and children have been killed by Israel in Gaza since early July. Many people see Israel’s attacks as a form of genocide against the Palestinian people. That sentiment is especially common for those who view Gaza as an occupied territory whose inhabitants have understandably – and maybe a bit heroically – risen up against an unlawful occupying force.

Wait, that’s not genocide! Israel is doing what it must in defending its people against terrorist attacks. Hamas is responsible for the tragic civilian deaths in Gaza because it purposefully operates among the general population, firing rockets, taking refuge and storing arms next to homes and even in schools. Israel even fires warning shots to allow civilians to flee from bombs aimed at Hamas targets – that’s hardly genocide.

Genocide in Iraq

Well, perhaps you’ve heard of the ongoing genocide against Christians and children in Iraq. In its push to establish an Islamic caliphate, ISIS (or is it ISIL? IS?) has basically cleansed northern Iraq of its former Christian population. And, according to an Iraqi activist in the US, ISIS even has been “systematically beheading” children. Many are describing ISIS’s actions as genocide aimed at a Muslim-only nation.

ISIS’s actions against Christians in Iraq sound more like religious cleansing than genocide. It’s terrible that so many Christians have been driven out of their homes. But the videos ISIS has posted of mass killings appear to involve mass extermination of Shiite Muslims, not Christians. And other than the claims by the one activist, there’s no evidence of mass beheadings of children by ISIS. It’s a bit of a stretch to call any of that “genocide.”

Okay, then how about the genocide against the Yazidis? ISIS views the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq/Kurdistan as devil worshipers. When ISIS swept into their area, thousands of Yazidis were killed when they refused to convert to Islam. Meanwhile, tens of thousands more fled to Mount Sinjar to escape the ISIS onslaught. Cut off by ISIS troops and with no food, water or shelter, the Yazidis trapped on the mountain faced almost sure extinction. Worldwide, cries went out against the impending genocide of the Yazidi people, and the US responded by striking back against ISIS and making airdrops of food and water to the people on the mountain.

Yeah, I’ll grant you that we could have been faced with genocide of the Yazidis. But it looks like that crisis has been averted, with tens of thousands of people already having been rescued from Mount Sinjar. Maybe we should refer to ISIS’s actions there as “attempted genocide,” just to distinguish them from the horrors of actual genocide.

Forget the F Word

Whatever you think of these particular examples, the fact that we invoke the name of “genocide” in all of them points to something broader. People generally still agree that genocide is bad. Really, really bad. We are quick to use the G word as hyperbole to garner sympathy for the plight of people caught up in war. Some even have referred to the shooting in Ferguson as part of a larger genocide against young black men in the US.

It’s no mistake that we use the G word, either. That word calls to mind the prototypical genocide of Nazi Germany, from the horrifying images of piles of corpses in concentration camps to the staggering numbers of Jews and other undesirables murdered in just a few short years.

As the more recent examples show, genocide doesn’t just strike us as wrong because of the high body count. We are offended most by genocide because it involves killing whole groups of people simply because of who they are.

The Most Moral Genocide

Even today, though, there’s an ongoing genocide that escapes most people’s attention. It’s not limited to a small strip of land bordering the Mediterranean – this genocide is happening all over the world. No one is about to come to the rescue of the people being killed in this genocide.

The targets of this genocide are being wiped out in mass. In Taiwan, 96% of their population is being extinguished. In Europe, 92% are killed. In the US, upwards of 70%.

And these people are being killed not because of anything they have done, but solely because of who they are. Their community reaches across gender and across national and ethnic boundaries. The thing each of them has in common is some extra genetic material on their 21st chromosome; we know them as having Down Syndrome. Disdain for these people is nearly universal: 90% of women choose to terminate the pregnancy when their baby tests positive for Down Syndrome.

Wait, we’re talking about abortion?  Here we go again.  Abortion as genocide:  yawn.

Yes, we’re talking about abortion. But to a certain extent, abortion as the instrumentality of their death is beside the point. We recoil from Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews not mainly because he used gas chambers to accomplish his goal. The main evil we see in his actions is that he slaughtered millions of people simply because they were Jews, along with smaller numbers of people simply because they were Gypsies or homosexuals.

Similarly, what matters most in the ongoing genocide against those with Down Syndrome is that they are targeted because they have Down Syndrome.

In any event, this issue does not break down along traditional battle lines of Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life. Many people that identify generally as pro-choice remain queasy about the sheer number of people with Down Syndrome that are aborted. There’s something a bit dark and sinister about an entire generation of Down Syndrome children being wiped off the map worldwide.

Enter Dawkins

Ah, but not to Richard Dawkins! For the uninitiated, Dawkins is a leading figure of the modern atheist movement and something of a hero to those who may have softer views on religion, but still admire his progressive, humanistic thought leadership. Dawkins garnered some attention last night for weighing in on the (theoretical) plight of a pregnant woman who learns that her baby has Down Syndrome:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

Dawkins backpedaled a bit in the face of criticism, suggesting that he wasn’t actually telling her what to do. But he stuck to his guns on the main issue, insisting that the decision to abort a Down Syndrome baby is the “most moral” decision a woman can make:

Women have a right to early abortion. Choice is theirs. Down Syndrome is 1 of the commonest & most moral reasons to exercise that right.

The statistics would suggest that, deep down, most people agree with Dawkins. We hate genocide. But this is an acceptable genocide. This is even a moral genocide because . . . Choice. The highest good here is not the protection of an entire population of people. The highest good is protecting would-be parents of these children from the burden of raising them. Better to wipe out entire generations of among the most vulnerable individuals on the planet than to burden our society with the feeding and care of those individuals.

Better to protect the purity of Choice at all costs. Substitute the purity of Islam, and that’s a genocidal argument ISIS could get behind.

The First Thanksgiving


Before we dig into the turkey and whatnot, let’s take a moment to remember the history behind Thanksgiving, shall we?  Feel free to print this out and read with the whole family.  



It was autumn of 1621.  The Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth had just struck a decisive blow in their battle against the local indigenous people, thanks to their large cache of handguns and a well-timed bout of smallpox.  In celebration, landowners all across New England took a much-needed break from burning witches and gathered in a large, muddy field in upstate New York to hear a stirring speech by heroic General George Washington.  Against a backdrop of well-amplified patriotic hymns, Washington announced the institution of the first national holiday of Thanksgiving.  The holiday was to be commemorated with a three-day feast beginning at midnight on the first new moon after the second Thursday of the second-to-last month of the year.

Dissent immediately sprang up among the local villagers, who complained that the schedule would force hundreds of them to work while others were stuffing their faces and watching the Redskins take on the Lions in the Coliseum.  The villagers eventually put away their torches, however, when they remembered that vacations hadn’t been invented yet.

Getting Ready

For the next four weeks, preparations were made for a grand feast, the likes of which had not been seen in the New World since notorious party boy Chris Columbus dropped in to visit.  Farmers emptied their storehouses of dried corn, tobacco, and whiskey.  Villagers suffered through long lines at their local turkey slaughterhouses and pumpkin patches.  In the “Waste Not, Want Naught” spirit of the day, famed brewer Samuel Adams released a special Turkey Gizzard Ale for the occasion.

A crisis set in on the eve of the first Thanksgiving feast when housewives all over New England realized they had made many more apple and pumpkin pies than ever could be consumed by the settlers who had survived the Great Famine of 1620.  Invitations were hastily issued to the local natives, who presumably wouldn’t notice that they had only recently been added to the Evite list.

The Party

The first day of the celebration went off without a hitch.  The people spent Thanksgiving day huddled around small tables piled high with the bounty of the land, feasting on carcasses of local birds, cornbread, corn cakes, corn-on-the-cob, popcorn, creamed corn, and corn.  They spent that evening and late into the night gathered around fires, giving public proclamations of thanks.  Not thanks to any specific deity, mind you.  Instead, the participants encouraged more enlightened expressions of general thankfulness for being lucky enough to stay well-fed that year.  This was New England, after all.

On the second day of the celebration, things took a dramatic turn for the worse.  Never having been warned of the dangers of botulism, villagers had unwittingly unleashed a dark plague on the populace by serving from bloated, infected cans of cranberry sauce.  By Friday evening, huge piles of bodies of the dead were gathered in town squares across New England.

The Aftermath

The leaders of the surviving settlers assembled the following day at Washington, D.C.  They opened the meeting by swearing a solemn oath never to forget that Black, Black Friday.  A day of prayer and remembrance was rejected as too boring and out of step with their Puritan values.  Instead, they would remember that day by encouraging everyone to buy stuff.

For the next several hours of the meeting, they made plans to institute a national healthcare system to avoid the ravages of future plagues, only to abandon them when they reached an impasse over selecting a qualified programmer to build the website.  The remainder of the meeting was spent sharing recipes for what to do with all those leftovers.