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Ireland’s Leftward Shift, Euthanasia in Australia & Millennial Belief Vacuum is Revealed

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

We’ll see what explains Ireland’s turn to the left and on Australian states turn to euthanasia. We’ll see the moral dimension of secularization and the shifting ground of medical authority. We’ll see why the millennials are turning to horoscopes, and we’ll see the belief vacuum at the heart of the modern embrace of the occult.

Ireland’s turn to the left and the moral dimension of secularization

This is going to be a big week at the United States Supreme Court, particularly on Tuesday morning, when the nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments in the case known as Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. That might sound like innocuous language. It might sound as puzzling language. What in the world do cakes have to do with civil rights or religious liberty? But what we’re facing here is a major case that will have a great deal to do with the future of religious liberty in this country, and we’ll be looking at it more fully tomorrow in anticipation of the oral arguments later in the day.

In the meantime we’re going to shift ground to Ireland, a major story that appeared Sunday in the New York Times, the headline, “Demise of the Church’ Tilts Ireland to the Left.”

Liam Stack is the reporter for the article, and what he is telling us is that there has been a massive moral change in the nation of Ireland just in the span of one generation about 30 years. He writes about the fact that it is now likely that there will be a constitutional change in Ireland, a constitutional change to repeal the eighth amendment, which will then allow the legalization of abortion in what had been not only the most pro-life countries on earth, but one of the most Catholic as well. Stack then writes:

“What are the driving forces behind this significant shift in voter attitudes toward abortion and other social issues?”

He concludes, “Ireland was long a bastion of Catholic conservatism, a place where pedestrians might tip their hats and hop off the footpath when a priest walked past. But economic and technological changes helped propel a shift in attitudes that accelerated with the unfolding of far-reaching abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s.”

The key sentence here, “Over a generation, Ireland transformed from a country where 67 percent of voters approved the constitutional abortion ban to one where, in 2015, 62 percent voted to legalize same-sex marriage.”

In this article Liam Stack documents the shift to the left on so many moral and ethical issues that is now undeniable in Ireland, and even as it is undeniable, that shift requires a great deal of explanation. Now in the United States we’ve noticed a similar kind of shift, a shift just in a period that can be documented to about seven years, between about 2007 and 2013 when Americans virtually flipped in terms of the question of same-sex marriage. In 2007 a clear majority of Americans said that they did not support the legalization of same-sex marriage by 2013 that had virtually reversed about 60 plus percent in both cases. As we remarked previously on the Briefing, what makes that particular shift so noticeable is that conceivably it actually involves some of the very same people effectively changing their minds on the question of same-sex marriage in just a process of about seven years. That tells us a great deal about how moral change takes place here in the United States. But in Ireland it’s the question of abortion that is front and center because if there is been any single moral teaching that has been made clear in terms of that country’s Catholic heritage it has been opposition to legalized abortion.

Liam Stack documents Ireland’s shift to the left.

He says that Ireland, “decriminalized homosexuality in 1992, removed restrictions on the sale of contraception in 1993 and legalized divorce in 1996. The Irish voted twice, in 1992 and 2002, to permit abortion if the mother were deemed a suicide risk. In 2015, the country passed a gender identity law favored by transgender rights groups.”

Now those are just several indications in terms of the shift to the left and Ireland, but where the Christian worldview would point us is even deeper than these illustrations. It would be to the fact that this kind of shift on moral or cultural issues requires a prior shift, a shift that is more fundamental than ethics, a shift that is actually in terms of the most basic questions of worldview, most particularly a theological shift having to do with the existence and nature of God. Here we get to the very nature historically of religion. The core of the word of religion includes the sense of binding, and thus where you find genuine religious authority, you find what is called binding authority. This can be explained very easily. A religion is understood to be binding if for instance belief in that religion would prevent you from taking an action or performing an act that you would otherwise do. If you are bound in terms of the teachings of that faith then it is genuinely functioning as a faith and as a worldview in terms of your life. One of the things we need to note is that long before most people declare themselves to be secular the first great step of secular transition in their lives is the fact that religion whatever the religious faith they claim loses its binding authority.

But it’s not just a matter of individuals. What we’re looking at here in Ireland is the fact that the Catholic Church has lost the binding authority of its teachings amongst the citizens of Ireland, and the vast majority of those citizens at least historically have identified as Catholic. And furthermore as Liam Stack indicates in this article, they have even shown a remarkable deference to the Roman Catholic Church and to its clergy. But that was then this is now, a fundamentally changed situation there in Ireland. But this story points us to something else that evangelicals had better note very, very carefully. It turns out that in this article the Catholic Archbishop of Ireland, that is Diarmuid Martin, and Liam Stack the report in this article, agree that there were two basic fundamental shifts that explain the headline of the demise of the church in Ireland tilting to the left.

The first has to do with what they describe as massive social changes. Those include economic and political changes also technological changes. We would simply summarize this under the larger theme of secularization. But the second issue is not so much sociological. It is moral. It is the priestly child abuse crisis in Ireland that appears to have been more than anything else the fuse that exploded the secularization of that historically Catholic nation. And yet knowing the history of Ireland even as reflected in this New York Times article, the Priestly child abuse crisis was only one of the great corruption crises that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland over the course of the last several decades. Archbishop Martin who as Stack says has generally received pretty high marks for how he more recently has dealt with these scandals explained:

“It was a crisis of trust in the church, a crisis of betrayal by the church — and you can’t regain trust just by saying to them, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

So as evangelicals in the United States are wondering in this country how regions that had been closely identified with the moral teachings of Christianity can have moved so far so fast. Well we have at least the first part of the equation here. We have that process of secularization that is clearly taking place and with that secularization comes a liberalization of morality. That’s something that seems to happen in virtually every single case. But in Ireland we have a further warning, a warning that should be heard by all. And that is the warning that once there is a moral crisis that shakes the church to its very foundations from that it is very, very difficult to recover. And thus oddly and sadly enough but important for us to recognize, the eventual legalization of abortion in Ireland might will be traced to a clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. That’s the kind of sobering message we dare not miss.

Australian state turns to euthanasia amid the shifting ground of medical authority

But next we shift to another international story, this one not from Ireland but from Australia on a similar theme. Adam Baidawi reports for the New York Times that one state in Australia has now voted to legalize euthanasia. Now this headline comes even as the Australian government is in the process of legalizing same-sex marriage. But here we’re looking at a very different moral shift, but one we should note that seems to go hand-in-hand with the sexual revolution. Euthanasia is also only made possible morally and legally speaking because of a vast secularization of the worldview in the West. As Baidawi reports, this new law now adopted in the Australian state of Victoria will allow citizens there, “with a terminal, incurable illness — and, in most cases, a life expectancy of less than six months — to obtain a lethal drug within 10 days of requesting it.”

Now as we think of euthanasia the issue arises so often in the news it would be natural to make the mistake of thinking it is legal in many jurisdictions. Of course, it is not. As Baidawi says, Victoria and Australia now, “joins the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Colombia and Luxembourg in legalizing euthanasia.”

Now just note that list of countries. It’s not vast: the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Columbia and Luxembourg. But Baidawi goes on to say:

“Several other countries — and states and jurisdictions in the United States, including California, Washington, D.C., and Oregon — have passed laws allowing assisted suicide”. Now he goes on to say that, “Globally, assisted dying advocates have long argued for it on grounds of compassion and averting prolonged physical suffering for the terminally ill.”

But when you look at this several things come very quickly to mind. In the first place what is often called assisted suicide quickly becomes physician-assisted suicide, and then that begins to justify euthanasia, first what is called passive but then active. That means taking actions positive actions to actually bring about death, and yet then it’s another slide from what is called voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia. When you look at some of the nations in Europe, including the Netherlands and Belgium, it is now conceivable that one can demand euthanasia simply because one is run out of meaning in life, and furthermore you know have assisted suicide, physician assisted suicide, active euthanasia being applied even to teenagers and children.

Premier Daniel Andrews who is the leader the government there in Victoria state and Australia assures the world that the legislation passed there is in his words the most conservative of any jurisdiction. In his specific words he said that Victoria’s law is, “most conservative voluntary assisted dying model that has ever been proposed — let alone implemented — anywhere in the world.”

Just consider how many words he had to use in order to describe the law he declares to be so conservative: “voluntary assisted dying model.” Opponents of the legislation noting what has happened in so many other nations and jurisdictions warned that the current restrictions that are defined as so conservative are not likely to last very long. But there’s another very important worldview aspect of this story. It’s the revelation that the Australian Medical Association did not support the law. Lorraine Baker identified as the president of the Victoria branch of the Australian Medical Association said this, extremely revealing:

“Historically, for the medical profession, everything is about preserving life. That is such a fundamental ethical principle over centuries. However,” she says, “we’re living in a society where now, in first world countries, life can be prolonged. Therefore, by default, apparent suffering can be prolonged.”

Now just notice how she began the sentence. She began the sentence saying that for the entire history of the medical profession, I’ll use her words again, “everything is about preserving life.”

Dr. Baker even if she appeared to be laying the groundwork for physicians adopting physician-assisted suicide went on to say that the majority of her colleagues unsurprisingly she said were opposed.

Finally on this story another very interesting worldview observation. It has to do with the fact that in this case the head of the medical society said that this is a matter we’re talking here about euthanasia, we’re talking about assisted suicide, we’re talking about life and death, she says that it’s a matter that is larger than medicine. Ultimately she said a matter for society and the government. But just notice how arbitrary that is. How often we are told now that we are to accept the sole authority of science and often specifically of medicine. We are told that when it comes to abortion the only meaningful moral participants are in the words of the Roe v. Wade a woman and her physician. But now you have at least one major physician officer in Australia saying now wait just a minute this is to big an issue for doctors who by the way are overwhelmingly opposed to it. What do we observe here? Well we observe just how these kinds of arguments work in public. When the authority of medicine is for your argument, then cite it. When it’s against your argument, then say it’s an issue bigger than medicine. In both of these cases from Ireland and from Australia the big story is the loss of the binding authority of historic Christian morality and behind that the loss of the binding authority of the historic biblical understanding of the sanctity of human life.

As millennials look to horoscopes, belief vacuum at modern embrace of occult is revealed

Next coming back to the United States, recently a couple of very interesting articles on an upsurge of interest amongst modern Americans, particularly amongst Millennials, in horoscopes and astrology. Kari Paul reporting for Market Watch tells us that Millennials are in her words, “ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology”

The article begins:

“When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t ‘Where do you live?’ or ‘What do you do?’ but ‘What’s your sign?’”

She said, “So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them.”

We’re told that Lang herself is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices. She said, “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”

That’s a very interesting way to express what she sees is behind this upsurge especially amongst Millennials in terms of horoscopes and astrology, “a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”

Then Kari Paul goes on to tell us:

“Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials.”

We are also told surprisingly enough in this article, I quote again, “more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science.”

Now that’s pretty troubling in and of itself that’s a confusion of astronomy and astrology, but it points to an even deeper worldview confusion. By the way that should be contrasted remember that’s more than half of young adults in the United States who confuse astrology with the science. The article tells us that less than 8% of citizens in China make the same mistake. There’s some other interesting dimensions to the article. We are told that, “The psychic services industry,” maybe you didn’t even know that industry existed, it would include, “astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry,” amongst others, identified here as, “metaphysical services.”

We are told that it, “grew 2% between 2011 and 2016.”

In terms of money we’re told that is now worth $2 billion annually. We’re taken to a Brooklyn-based metaphysical boutique where we are told that the store offers workshops like, “‘Witchcraft 101,’ ‘Astrology 101,’ and a ‘Spirit Seance.’”

But in terms of the Christian worldview by far the most significant dimension of this article is a comment made by a proponent indeed a purveyor of astrology who commented about what she calls a belief vacuum in the society. She said:

“There is a belief vacuum: we go from work to a bar to dinner and a date, with no semblance of meaning. Astrology,” she explained, “is a way out of it, a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”

Now what this speaks to for our purposes more than anything else is indeed the belief vacuum that now marks our society. And you also see here a very profound way of revealing a spiritual need. She describes astrology as a way out of it. She means a way out of the vacuum, “a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”

That is exactly a part of what every single human being needs. We need to understand where we fit in the universe where we fit in the cosmos. Now here we must understand that the longing that leads so many people to astrology is not only not going to be met by witchcraft, the occult, astrology or any semblance thereof, but we also have to go further and say it will only be found within authentic biblical Christianity. The only worldview capable of explaining why the cosmos exists and what indeed our part is within it. But it certainly is true that within every heart is a desire to try to place ourselves in the context to use those words again of thousands of years of history and the universe. That is exactly what we all need.

In the article there is also a celebration of figures such as celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow, a former actress, now a corporate CEO in terms of this kind of occultic business. We are told that she and her company offer a variety of spiritual ware including a Jade egg that costs $66 rooted in ancient Taoist practice. She has an $85 Goop medicine bag that supposedly is, “‘inspired by the Shaman’s medicine bag from various indigenous traditions.” And she also offers for $59 a tarot card deck that features mystical artwork that we are told, “mirrors Native American patterns.”

Meanwhile perhaps an even more amazing article by Alexandra S. Levine that appeared in the New York Times. Here she writes:

“Astrology has long had its believers and its cynics, but for a craft so often criticized for being nonscientific and, in some cases, fraudulent, horoscopes still cover the pages and websites of publications in New York and across the globe.”

Now wait just a minute. What in the world does it possibly mean to say that astrology has often been criticized for being nonscientific and then put the words in some cases fraudulent? Does that mean that the New York Times believes that some horoscopes might not be fraudulent? Well I don’t think so. Why? Because this article on horoscopes in the New York Times also explains why the New York Times does not and has never featured horoscopes. The article itself is interesting in every single way. The headline, “Horoscope Writers Lean on the Stars to Help Make Sense of the World.”

But even as within the article there appears to be a debate amongst astrologers and amongst the horoscope writers as to whose legit and whose fraudulent, it turns out that at the end of the day even they seem to understand there is nothing objective to anything that they’re doing. One of the commercial advocates of astrology and horoscopes said:

“Between different astrologers, describing a chart is like poets describing a tree. You’re going to get 20 different poems.”

That source identified as Eric Francisco Coppolino a writer of horoscopes for the Daily News in New York explained the hunger behind horoscopes and their popularity with these words,

“Most people are shellshocked right now. They’re in pain. The world is devastating. People are exhausted. And a purpose of the horoscope at that point becomes a spiritual touchstone.”

That statement again is extremely revealing, but it also points to a hunger that can’t possibly be satisfied by horoscopes and astrology. A hunger that can’t actually be satisfied with anything short of the knowledge of the true and living God. And yet the most devastating refutation of any hope that that hunger can be met and satisfied by astrology is given by the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 47, verses 13-14, Isaiah writes,

“You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you. Behold, they are like stubble; the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before!”

In verse 15 Isaiah concludes:

“Such to you are those with whom you have labored, who have done business with you from your youth; they wander about, each in his own direction; there is no one to save you.”

And when Isaiah speaks, Isaiah has the last word.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Reaching Millennials In the Church

This episode is the second part in Jon’s look at Millennials in the church. Jon gives ten characteristics of millennial-friendly churches.

What does the Bible say about Millennials?

  1. The are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)
  2. They are sinful (Romans 3:23)
  3. They are loved by Jesus (Romans 5:8)
  4. We are called to make disciples of them (Matthew 28:18-19)
  5. They can be gifted by Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12)
  6. They are our present and future (Psalm 78:4)

10 Characteristics of Millennial-friendly churches: Reaching Millennials In the Church

  1. The Gospel
  2. Be Authentic
  3. Create Connections
  4. Create experiences
  5. Provide mentors, not maestros.
  6. Talk about Jesus instead of God
  7. Call people to be a part of something bigger
  8. Embrace social media
  9. Giveaway leadership in all areas of the church to Millennials
  10. Use Apologetics in every ministry

(This podcast is by Jon Morrison. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central

and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

 

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Growing Leaders in a New World with Andrew McPeak

This week in the “Shed” is our tool of the week – Andrew McPeak.

Growing Leaders in a New World with Andrew McPeakAndrew is co-author of “Marching OFF The Map”, millennial speaker, and content developer with Growing Leaders. His experiences as both presenter and curriculum designer have led him to become well versed in communicating to and about the next generations.

The Growing Leaders Philosphy on leadership development for students

  • It’s an inside job before it’s an outside job.
  • It’s a process more than an event.
  • It’s a right-brain function before a left-brain function.
  • It’s more about a disposition than a position.
  • It’s more caught than taught.
  • It’s learned through both uploading & downloading.
  • It’s about an experience not just an explanation.
  • It’s more about service before it’s about success.
  • It’s about relationships before it’s about results.

EVENT AND PROCESS

Growing Leaders’ goal is to equip and mobilize one percent of the world’s population under the age of 25 (30 million students) to think and act like authentic, life-giving leaders. We help students discover their purpose, equip them for leadership, and prepare them to use their gifts to serve the world around them.

In this episode Andrew and Tim discuss:

  • What is the vision and purpose of Growing Leaders as an organization?
  • How do you define “millienial”? What makes a millienial unique?
  • What makes working with millennials unique or uniquely challenging?
  • What is a “Habitude?” – how did Habitudes come into being? Why are they so effective?
  • How does all of this play into the new book Marching off the Map?  What is this Brand New World?

Andrew closed this conversation by answering the below questions and giving us some amazing tools…

  1.  What’s a tool we can implement right now/today as parents, teachers. Mentors, or coaches to help us grow healthier and more intimate relationships with the next generation?  (Also, what’s something we should STOP doing, a “tool” we should put down that is driving the younger generations away from us?)
  2.  If I’m a millennial or Gen X/Y listener, what’s a tool I can implement into my life right now that will help me build healthier relationships and prepare myself for life?

This episode is loaded with tools we hope equip you to build stronger relationships. Hope you enjoy!

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We recently received this question from a soon-to-be pastor in the UK: “Greetings Pastor John! I’m about to graduate from seminary and start a job as an associate pastor in four months. I am a complementarian. However, from observing local churches in my county, it’s discouraging as it appears more and more of them are submitting to egalitarianism simply out of social norms and expectations of church leadership from a secular point of view. With the legalization of gay marriage rights, this move seems even more harmless now to a lot of churches in the west. With that in mind, what do you view the future of male headship in the home and church? Is it now a lost cause? A losing cause? Or do you think it will endure?”

Is Male Headship A Lost Cause?Complementarianism will endure. It is not a lost cause. The reason I think it will endure and is not a lost cause may not be exactly what you think. Let me give you three reasons it will endure that are not the reason I’m going to give. I think there are a lot of reasons why it will, but these three are the ones you probably thought I would give, so I’m going to give them and then give the one I really want to give.

  1. Reason number one why it will endure: It will endure because it is true to God’s word. Paul says in Ephesians 5:22–25that wives take their cues in submission from the church’s relation to Christ and husbands take their cues in love from Christ as the Head of the church. Then he quotes the Old Testament foundational text fromGenesis 2:24, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). And then in Ephesians 5:32 he gives the explanation, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” When all of that happens, he’s teaching that manhood and womanhood, in marriage, are a parable of the covenant love of Christ and the church.

This complementarian role of man and woman in marriage is deep, historical, biblical, beautiful, satisfying, and in harmony with our true nature. Therefore, it will not go away. It is too profound, too integral with both nature and grace, both creation and salvation. That’s reason number one that it won’t fade away.

  1. Complementarianism will endure because this deep embeddedness of the meaning of manhood and womanhood in creation and redemption carries over explicitly into the way God has ordered his never-dying church for her greatest flourishing. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). That’s Paul’s way of ordering the church.

This call for the authoritative leaders and teachers of the church to be spiritual, Christlike men is not random or arbitrary or merely competency-based or cultural. It is rooted in the created nature of manhood and womanhood. Paul argues from creation, here in 1 Timothy 2 as well as in Ephesians 5. He does not argue from culture. This complementarian vision for the church is seamlessly part of the fabric of complementarianism in the home.

Complementarianism is not a fringe on the fabric of home and church. It is part of the single fabric that binds the two together. That’s number two.

  1. The one that I didn’t want to give but am giving. Complementarianism will endure because God is good and God is sovereign. He loves his church and the people that make it up. He cares for us. I love that sentence from 1 Peter 5:7. He cares for his church. He cares for us and he designed complementary relationships between men and women for our joy. If God stops loving us, then complementarianism will cease. But as long as God is good and strong and loving, he will see to it that there is a remnant who embrace his design for men and women.

Now, those three reasons why complementarianism will endure and is not a lost cause are not the main reason I want to focus on here. The reason I want to focus on here is that when we look at the future long-term, we know there are terrible times coming for Christians. There always have been terrible times for Christians somewhere in the world, but there’s good reason to think, from the Bible, that near the end, there will be unusually terrible opposition. What will become of complementarianism in the hardest of times when it is most difficult to be a Christian, let alone be a complementarian?

Here’s a description of the sort of thing I think we can expect. This is Matthew 24:9–13:

“They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Here’s what’s remarkable about those words, “The love of many will grow cold.” “Many will fall away.” Some will be put to death, but in all that opposition, all that falling away, all that coldness of heart, some will endure to the end and be saved — and who are they? They are not the ones who grew cold. They’re the ones who did not grow cold. Christians with cold hearts don’t make martyrs. Those who endure to the end remain red-hot with trust and love for God. That’s why they’re willing to die rather than compromise. That is why they would suffer rather than stop believing.

We read about them in Revelation 12:11, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Which implies that these amazing Christians who are willing to give their lives rather than compromise their faith will be the kind of Christians who do not surrender the truth of complementarianism under cultural pressure. I’m not saying that only complementarians have the courage to be martyrs. Let’s get that distortion out of the way. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that those martyrs are the kind of people who are not blown around like leaves in the wind of changing culture. Therefore, those in that number who see complementarianism as biblical and beautiful and true will be the kind of people who hold fast that truth to the death.

So, the reason among all the other reasons that I mentioned and could mention that I believe complementarianism will endure is not a passing fancy — is not going to go away — is that no matter how great opposition to Christianity becomes, there will always be a remnant of complementarians willing to die for the truth, and they will be the kind of people who will give their lives rather than conform to a nonbiblical culture.

 

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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I’m gonna get a lot of email about this commentary, so let me say this up front: I like animals. And pets are wonderful things. But. . .

In her 1992 novel, “The Children of Men,” P. D. James told the story of a world where it has been 25 years since the last child was born. In this dying world, kittens and puppies are pushed around in prams and receive the treatment previously afforded to human infants.

Twenty-five years later, it seems that life is imitating art, though in James’s novel, childlessness was the result of a mysterious and catastrophic collapse in male fertility. Today, it’s the result of people’s choices. But in both James’ dystopia and today’s celebration of personal autonomy, the result is the same: Animals have become substitutes for actual children.

This substitution was the subject of a recent article by Bradley Mattes of the Life Issues Institute. In it, Mattes told readers that “according to government statistics, an increasing number of women from the millennial generation are opting out when it comes to having babies.”

without children, pets give millennials their fix of oxytocin“Instead,” Mattes continues, “it appears they’re finding an alternative more to their liking.” That “alternative” is what might be called “pet parenthood” and its substitute progeny, “fur babies.”

What’s more, many millennials are approaching pet ownership the way previous generations approached first-time parenthood: preparing “for their impending bundle of joy by reading books and consuming other available research.”

Now the obvious question is “Why?” Several people Mattes quotes help us answer that question. One thirty-year-old told the New York Post that “It’s just less work and, honestly, I have more time to go out.”

Another thirty-year-old, writing in Charlotte Magazine, wrote about how she went from wanting to be a stay-at-home mom to a pet parent. In her words, pets “give us a greater purpose without making our lives mainly about theirs.”

While there is something “stunning” about such “self-centered transparency,” as Mattes put it, we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s the logical outcome of the triumph of personal autonomy in the West. We exist for our own benefit and pleasure, as do our children and our pets.

Whereas having children was historically thought of an as act of obedience to a divine command, an obligation we owed past and future generations, today it’s an act of self-fulfillment. Children are now a means to an end, not ends in and of themselves.

For many, having a child is just another bucket-list item; something we do (or don’t do) to “complete” our lives, preferably after we’ve experienced the other things we believe make for a “complete” life, like a successful career and travel, etc.

The problem with this idea is, with kids, the “feel good” phase passes pretty quickly, and is replaced by a long, hard slog of raising them with all the sacrifice that entails. If you get struck by the travel bug, you just can’t board your kids at a local kennel.

Now if you’re a Christian, this shouldn’t be a problem. We get—or at least we should get—concepts like “obligation” and “self-sacrifice” and “self-giving.” But if what matters most are our “needs” and desires, pets can sound like a preferable alternative to children.

After all, as one person quoted by Mattes put it, “Who needs children when research has shown that certain hormones that increase when we cuddle children also increase when we cuddle our pets?”

So get your fix of oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” and you still get to live however you want. What’s the problem with that?

The problem is there’s literally no future in a world of “fur babies.” The England of James’ novel is a hopeless dystopia, not a paradise. As the principle character writes in his diary, “without the hope of posterity, for our race if not for ourselves, without the assurance that we being dead yet live, all pleasures of the mind and senses sometimes seem to me no more than pathetic and crumbling defenses shored up against our ruins.”

This is where the enshrinement of autonomy and self-fulfillment will take us as a culture. It’s a dead, loveless end. And no amount of oxytocin or fur can change that fact.

Visit Breakpoint.org to get further information about the many great books and other resources available there and you can link up to our social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

By Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.

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With a New Year comes a lot of new resolve and new goals and renewed life purpose — all a good thing.

In the vein of this discussion, we have an email question over social media platforms and the pursuit of Christian fame (if we can call it that). Daniel writes in to ask this:

“Pastor John, is it a sin to desire to be famous? In this day of blogging, Instagram stories, and all the social media outlets out there, I feel like I’m seeing this growing desire to be famous, even ‘Christian famous’ — to be well known, and well liked, and ‘shared,’ and to have something on the side that gives you purpose. I see this especially in mothers with little children. What are some red flags in this digital age for Christians who might desire to be well known for their books, or blogs, or podcasts, or sermons, or images, or anything they produce?”

Is it a sin to desire to be famous? Yes, it is — though it may not be a sin to desire to be influential. And the problem arises when the pleasure sought in being made much of is greater than the pleasure sought in being of service. So, there is the rub. It is not a sin to desire that those who know us think well of us, provided that our hope and our prayer and our effort is that they will see the grace of God in us and give glory to God and, in that sense, make much of us or think rightly or well of us.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That is a great challenge. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor” — favor with other people — “is better than silver or gold.” So, no one should desire to be known as a fool or a thief or a braggart or a glutton or a loafer or lustful. None of this would adorn the doctrine of God with our behavior, which is what behavior is for in God’s economy. We should want our lives to commend the truth that we profess. So, the good name that is rather to be chosen is to be known as a person who has found God all-satisfying. That is what makes a human name a good name: to be known as a person who has found God’s promises completely trustworthy — the person whose joy is overflowing, even in suffering, in the pursuit of other people’s joy in God. That is what a good name is in the fullest biblical sense.

John Piper: Is It Sinful to Seek Fame Online?

Image: Barnabas Piper

So, I say: Yes, it is a sin to want to be famous; that is, to want to be known by more and more people who will make much of us and praise us. It is a deadly craving of the fallen human ego to want to be made much of — even for the good that we do, let alone the evil that we do. You might think this is contrary to the teaching of Galatians 4:18 that says in the ESV it is good to be made much of (see “Galatians 4:18 and ‘Being Made Much Of’”). I am not going to talk about that again here, but it is not a contradiction, and you can see why. Jesus seems to be more concerned about this than many other things. He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Now, I think that is about as clear as you can make it. Don’t do what you do in order to get the reward of human fame, because then you won’t have the reward of God. He explicitly indicted the Pharisees in Matthew 23:5, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” And in Matthew 6, of course, Jesus gives three examples of how not to do this — or how to avoid that kind of pharisaic mistake.

1) He says, “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.” Now, they may be famous. “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:2).

2) Or again, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5–6).

3) And then, again, a third time, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:16).

So, all those warnings, it seems to me, are meant to give us tests to see if God is our true reward. All of them say: If you seek satisfaction in man’s praise, you will not have your Father’s reward. The whole focus is on: Where is your heart? Where is your treasure? Is it in fame, or is it in God? And remember, Jesus said to his disciples after a remarkably impactful ministry, an influential ministry of triumph over the devil, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). In other words: Is God your reward? Or is successful ministry your god?

But let’s end where we began. Yes, it is a sin to want to be famous. However, it may not be a sin to want to be influential. In fact, it may be a sin not to want to be influential. We should want to win more and more people to Christ. It is a sin not to want our lives to count for winning more and more people to Christ. We should want to do more and more good to relieve suffering, especially eternal suffering. I love the quote of John Wesley — at least, he is credited with saying this. I haven’t tracked it down to the actual source, but here is what lots of people say he says. He said:

“Do all the good you can by all the means you can in all the ways you can in all the places you can at all the times you can to all the people you can as long as you can.” – John Wesley

I love it. Yes.

In other words, have a great impact in doing good for people. Paul saw his ministry as God’s instrument of blessing in the lives of an ever-increasing number of people. He said, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf” — in other words, owing to our ministry and influence — “for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11).

But let’s all admit how deadly difficult this distinction is. Wanting to be a blessing to more and more people on the one hand, whether through social media or however, while wanting to be known and made much of and more and more people, is deadly difficult. But that is precisely where the battle must be fought: in our own hearts. It is the difference between the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit (Romans 8:5–7). And this is precisely where we need to do battle. Do we find satisfaction in the praise of men, or do we find satisfaction in God himself and an ever-increasing number of people finding that same satisfaction in God?

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Grief over death is a tricky thing. It is different for everyone. It moves in a unique way in each of our lives. But we all know one thing for sure: our loved one is simply not here anymore.

What consoles us? Logic? Logic says everyone dies. Culture? Culture says many things, sometimes conflicting things. Time? Time dulls. Religion? Religion gives us advice. But what does God do? God gives us good news. Jesus died the death we should have died, rose again, and conquered death forever. And this is what consoles us.

Kellen Nichols had reservations about leading his first Missional Community group at the Austin Stone Community Church, but he knew God had called him to invest in a community that would serve one another and the Austin area. He said yes to God and leaned into one of his favorite quotes: “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called.”

Kellen and his group of mostly extroverted and sociable twenty-somethings had no idea what sort of journey God would use to equip them for service, but they were ready to take it together.

In late April of 2013, Kellen Nichols received a call we all fear: his father was killed in a freak accident at work. In his grief, Kellen sent a text message to his Missional Community to notify them of his father’s passing. Moments later, he began to receive texts and phone calls in response. From that moment on, his community stepped up and became a physical picture of what it looked like to obey God’s command to “bear one another’s burdens.” During his five-hour drive from Austin to his home in Hemphill, Texas, Kellen felt God take the weight of his burden from his shoulders and evenly distribute it among the willing shoulders of his Missional Community.Bearing grief together as a community

Before his father’s funeral, Kellen received another phone call, one we would all welcome: his Missional Community wanted to know if they could attend the funeral to support him and his family during this time. Gratefully, Kellen agreed.

During the group’s trip to Hemphill, the environment in both cars slipped in and out of fervent prayer and levity. The friends prayed and laughed until they got lost in the piney woods of East Texas. However, being lost did not stop this crew from pulling over to take pictures. A smile stretched across Kellen’s face when he received the pictures via text message of the group gathered against the towering pine trees.Bearing grief together as a community

The Missional Community made it to the funeral service and Kellen felt strengthened by their prayers and presence. Kellen, his brother, and his sister delivered the eulogy and all three preached from the Scriptures boldly. The children wanted to pay their respects to their father, but the end goal of the service was to exalt God. And that was exactly what happened as they preached the gospel, piercing the hearts of their family and friends. God was at work, wooing his people to himself through the paradoxical pain of losing a father, friend, and family member, and the celebration of a godly man going home to be with his heavenly Father.

After the funeral service, the group asked Kellen if they could go with him to his house to fellowship, eat, and be with his family for the afternoon. Again, gratefully, he agreed. As his friends gathered around him and his family, they ate, laughed, cried, played bocce ball, and helped clean up after everyone headed home. Through this, Kellen’s mother saw the many ways in which the community served and loved Kellen, her family, and each other. God was still at work, softening her heart and wooing her closer to himself through Kellen’s community. Once the group left, Kellen remembers his mother crying, moved by the love she witnessed and experienced from his Missional CommunityBearing grief together as a community

For this light-hearted and fun group, the ride home would not be complete without writing and recording a rap song to send to Kellen. Again, a smile stretched across his face when he received their song via text message.

Back home in Austin, grief still moves in Kellen’s Missional Community, but the group still bears this grief together. And together they do not grieve as people without hope. Rather, they grieve as a people waiting for the day when Jesus will wipe the tears away from all of our faces forever.

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Based on the inbox, Pastor John, there are a lot of Christians listening to the podcast who did not expect to be single entering 2017. Ashley, one of our listeners, is among them. She writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, my struggle is singleness. I’m 28, an elementary teacher, and that’s not really a profession to meet single men. I know that with the age of Tinder and hookups, casual sex will leave me empty inside, and it’s not a lifestyle that I’m seeking. At the same time I feel alone as a Christian single. I feel the church only sees me as ‘serving’ material because I have ‘time to serve.’ In addition to the lack of men at church, I am an extrovert. I do have a life outside of my singleness and try to live as if my singleness doesn’t define me. Everyone tells me I’m attractive, outgoing, and have a lot going for me. Well, everyone but a Christian male. Which is hard not to take personally. How do I have hope in something uncertain? I’m not promised a life of marriage. How do I cling to the truth in a world lying to me about the satisfaction of ‘hooking up’? How do I not turn to the world when I feel like the church, Christian men, and even God himself, seems to have no place for me?”

There is so much there that we could talk about. What is clear from the way Ashley asks her question — and I am going to determine what I say here because of what I hear in the way she asks the question — what is clear is that she knows at one level the essence of the right answers to her own questions. She asks with regard to a future husband: How do I have hope in something uncertain? And she answers: I am not promised a life of marriage.Will I Be Single for the Rest of My Life?

In other words, she knows we don’t hope in uncertain things. We don’t put our hope in what we are not promised. If we do, we are bound to be crushed. We hope in things that are certain, not uncertain; things that God has promised, not things that we may rightly want, but have not been promised and may receive or may not receive. We hope in what is sure, what God has absolutely promised, and he watches over his word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). Ashley knows this. And so, she asks: How do I not turn to the world when I feel like the church, Christian men, and God have no place for me? And she answers: The world is lying to me about the satisfaction of hooking up. She knows it is a lie. She knows it is a lie.

Now, my concern for Ashley — and many are like her, and we are all like her from time to time — my concern for Ashley is that the lie is already starting to creep into the way she asks her question. This is exactly the way Satan insinuated his lie into Eve’s mind in Genesis 3. And I don’t want Ashley to become another Eve in the garden. Here is what God said: “Now the serpent was more crafty [or subtle] than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’” (Genesis 3:1–2). Now, you see already what he is doing. God only forbad one tree. But Satan is insinuating the thought that God is stingy and forbad all the trees. Tragically, that seed of God’s stinginess took root in Eve’s mind and you can see it immediately.

The text goes on, “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden”’” — and then she adds, — “‘“neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’” God did not say that. God did not say, “You shall not touch this tree.” But Eve was already feeling the lure of resentment against God. God is withholding something from me in my life and I don’t like it. He is a stingy God. He is a narrow God. He doesn’t have my best interest at heart. So, when Ashley says, “I feel like the church, Christian men, and God have no place for me,” we may understand and empathize with the feeling, but alarm bells should be going off in her and our minds that the lie of Satan is taking root in the statement: God has no place for me.

So, in answer to Ashley’s question, “How can I not turn to the world?” even though she knows the world is lying, my answer is: Swim in the truth. Swim in the truth of God’s word and promise about you, Ashley. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free from the lies of the world and the devil. That is what Jesus meant when he said that in John 8:32.

Let me point you, Ashley, to one truth. We could do dozens. But here’s one truth big enough for you to swim in for a long time: When Jesus was teaching about marriage and he told his disciples there is no back door — once you walk in, you are committed for better or for worse till death separates you: no back door — the disciples were stunned that Jesus shut the back door of marriage. And they said, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).

Then Jesus said something even more amazing: Not everyone is able to enter this relationship with such a high demand. And then he uses the word “eunuch” to describe different kinds of people who don’t enter marriage. Here is what he says in Matthew 19:11, “Not everyone can receive this saying” — this high expectation of marriage without a back door — “but only those to whom it is given” — in other words, only divine grace. “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this, receive it” (Matthew 19:12).

Now, however literal we may take the word “eunuch” here, the implication is that there are various reasons why people are not called into marriage. Some forgo it unwillingly, some willingly. What does the Bible have to say about God’s grace towards them? What about their happiness and blessing? And the answer that God gives is found most beautifully in Isaiah 56. He pictures two kinds of people who feel explicitly or especially excluded: the foreigner, the Gentile who is not part of Israel, and the eunuch who feels fruitless and like there is no future for him because he has no family. Here is what he says:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. (Isaiah 56:3–5)

Now, pause there and let that sink in. Do you believe this, Ashley? That is the question. God says he will give a monument and name that will last and be more satisfying than any husband’s names and children’s names and people surrounding you with family. And then he goes on, “I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:5). Do you think your name or your identity will not be perpetuated because there are going to be no children bearing your name — no one carrying your DNA? There is something better, God says, something better that God has for you: an everlasting name.

So, Ashley, you are asking, “How can I turn from the world?” The way to turn from the world with its lies is to stop focusing on the world and its deceptive images of pleasure, but rather to focus on the infinitely superior promises of God. And this is one of those hundreds of promises. I don’t know if God has marriage in your future. He might. You never know. But I do know this: He will give you in his house and within his walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters, an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And don’t miss the thing that you are most concerned about; namely, that God has no place for you. It says: I will give you this in my house. He does want you there. He wants you there. And to be wanted by God is better than being wanted by a thousand men.

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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AS 2017 DAWNS, THE WORLD ANTICIPATES TRANSITION OF AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATIONS

It is amazing how quickly we transition from one year to the next. But note this: we are very careful as human beings to mark time. This is testimony to the fact that God made us, His human creatures, as temporal beings. We cannot think without reference to time. We are in a constant thoughtfulness in terms of past, present, and future. This is a very key issue in terms of the distinction between the Creator and the creature. The Creator is eternal; the creature is very temporal. We feel that temporality in our bones. We see it in the world all around us. Theologians refer to this as the infinite, qualitative distinction between time and eternity. But as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, God has implanted within his human creatures a yearning for eternity. That’s a testimony to His own existence and to the fact that we are made in His image.

Image: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

One of the things we need to note is that human beings, as chronological creatures, need to mark time. And that marking of time has a great deal to do with the fact that we mark the new year, and we celebrate that in terms of the passage of time, reflecting on the year past and looking forward to the future. And that of course is the year 2017, no longer the future but now very much the present. Three days into 2017, it is already clear that this will be a significant year as virtually every year is. But right now in the United States all eyes are on the incoming presidential administration of Donald Trump. There was at least some break from the political speculation and from the political headlines over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, but it was a very brief respite from the constant barrage of headlines we’re going to face as we now move toward January 20 and the Presidential Inauguration.

At the same time we have to recognize this means that we are watching the waning days of the Presidential Administration of Barack Obama. And make no mistake, President Obama has signaled that he intends to make news right up into the very end of his administration, and furthermore he has sent strong signals that he intends to continue to be involved in American politics. Something a bit strange for an outgoing President, but this is also a President who has announced that he will continue to live in Washington D.C. We should note carefully that the last president to decide to live in D.C. after his administration was Woodrow Wilson virtually a century ago.

In coming days we’ll take a closer look at issues and events related to both the incoming and the outgoing presidential administrations. That’s going to frame most of the cultural and political news in the United States at least for the next two to three weeks.

IN THE FINAL DAYS OF 2016, TERRORIST ATTACKS IN BERLIN AND ISTANBUL AGAIN SHOCKED THE WORLD

On the global scene over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays there were terror attacks in cities like Berlin and Istanbul. In Istanbul on New Year’s Eve, terrorists attacked a nightclub that included people gathered from at least 18 to 19 different nations. In Berlin, the terror attack took place just before Christmas, and it was claimed by the Islamic State. Once again a terrorist drove a truck into a crowd—this time people who were gathered in a Christmas market place, right in front of Berlin’s historic Kaiser Wilhelm Church.

Image: Rex Features

This location is one of the most iconic in Berlin, tying together Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, and modern Germany. It is named for one of the last emperors of what we now know as Imperial Germany, and then it was rebuilt after being destroyed by allied bombing as a symbol of the destructiveness that was brought on Germany by Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. It is also a symbol of modern Germany. Its modern architecture in terms of the church behind that very historic tower that was so damaged by allied bombing, and thus this was more than just a crowd chosen at random. This was an attack upon the very idea of Berlin and the very idea of Germany.

Also in headlines just before Christmas, an assassin killed the Russian ambassador to Turkey even as the ambassador was speaking at the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara, Turkey’s modern capital. These headlines along with ominous others remind us of the unsettled state of the world. It’s a world that appears to becoming more and not less unsettled, a world in which terrorism poses greater and not lesser threats, not only in other parts of the world, but right here as well.

GLOBAL GOVERNMENT AND THE UNITED NATIONS: UN SWEARS IN NEW SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES

And of course when we’re looking at the world scene, at least some took note of the fact that the United Nations now has a new leader, a new Secretary-General. Antonio Guterres was the former Prime Minister of Portugal. He was also formerly head of United Nations refugee programs. I said few people took notice, and that’s because if you took a poll very few Americans almost assuredly have any idea of the name of the Secretary-General of the United Nations—either the new Secretary- General Antonio Guterres or the outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The reason for that is quite simple: the United Nations is not that important.

The United Nations as we know it today is a successor to what was hoped to be the League of Nations after the disaster of World War I. That was championed by then-American President Woodrow Wilson who in the end was unable to sell the idea even to the United States Senate. But fast-forward to the end of World War II and the idea was resurrected once again by the triumphant allied powers, and they put together what we now know as the United Nations in the hope for some kind of transnational, even multinational, government would create a new era of world peace. To state the matter bluntly, it hasn’t happened. Rather than becoming a very effective global authority, the United Nations has become increasingly discredited and shown to be increasingly incompetent.

Looking through the lens of a Christian worldview, we come to understand that the very idea of a global government is very problematic. It is, according to a biblical worldview, far more likely to eventuate in some form of autocratic power or bureaucratic inefficiency rather than in it any kind of government that would function to bring about peace and stability and prosperity. The Biblical doctrine of sin functions to remind us of the dangers of pretensions to power and of the accumulation of power. The very idea of a global government brings a haunting realization that any government that would have the power to rule over the entire globe would be a government that would end up in tyranny, almost by definition. It would also end up in incompetence, and that’s because problems at the human level, at the human scale cannot be solved globally, they can only be addressed and sometimes resolved locally. This is the principle of subsidiarity that reminds us that the government that will govern best is the government that is closest to where human beings live. It is also a reminder that as we look at the spheres of responsibility and authority that God has given us, you can’t solve a problem, for instance, that emerges with the breakdown of the family by any kind of imposition of government.

And furthermore, a government that might be headquartered say in Brussels or in Geneva, or in Washington D.C. for that matter, is not a government that can adequately and competently address problems, very real human problems on a human scale, virtually anywhere in the world beyond its sight. And when you get the representatives of 193 different governments together in one room in the UN General Assembly or even represented in the UN Security Council, you really do not have 193 voices, rather you have a constellation of networks and special interests and power blocks. All this is a recipe for disaster as we saw affirmed and underlined in recent days with UN resolution 2334, a resolution having to do with the state of Israel. The resolution we will look at more closely in days to come.

WHY THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER

But in this first edition of The Briefing for the year 2017, the year in which we will observe the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation among other very important remembrances, we also need to recognize that December 25, Christmas Day of last year, marked the 25th anniversary of one of the most important events in our lifetimes, the Fall of the Soviet Union. It tells us something that 25 years after the Fall of the Soviet Union there was so little attention to what is by any estimation a monumental event in terms of world history.

The Soviet Union intended to dominate the world and for many decades during the 20th century it appeared that it just might. This is an anniversary that is not only of importance in terms of history, but also in terms of worldview analysis, because the death of the Soviet Union should have spelled the death of Marxism, and in particular, the death of communism. But as we shall see, it actually did not.

To understand the fall the Soviet Union, you have to go back to its birth, especially in the Bolshevik revolution in the second decade of the 20th century. You go back to the years 1918 to 1919 and come to understand that even as the 20th century was born out of the ruins of the 19th, on the left the two major competing worldviews were Marxism and anarchism. And as we shall see, it was Marxism that gained the upper hand.

Karl Marx, one of the most important philosophical minds of the 19th century, along with his colleague Friedrich Engels, wrote what was called the Communist Manifesto. But Marx also offered a nearly comprehensive worldview, a worldview that was based upon atheism and upon the idea of Hegelian Dialectics—that is going back to Georg Friedrich Hegel, the idea that history moves in terms of a sequence, of thesis and antithesis, and eventually synthesis. Marx looked around the world as he saw it in the 19th century and identified the major dynamic in terms of human activity as economics, and he identified the economic oppression of those who were without capital, that is without major private property, as being the major dynamic of human oppression. He saw capitalism as the thesis. He then saw a form of revolution, even a violent revolution, as the antithesis. The synthesis that he promised that would inevitably come out of a communist revolution would be a communist utopia. After the thesis would come the revolutionary antithesis and after the antithesis would come a new era of prosperity and peace under the rule of the people known as the Soviet.

Of course, all this came by means of a bloody revolution led by Vladimir Lenin and his theorist Leon Trotsky. And of course the revolution was bloody from the start as had been prophesied by both Marx and Lenin. Within months of the beginning of the revolution, the royal family had been murdered, including the Czar Nicholas II, the Czarina Alexandra, the young Tsarevich, or crown prince, and all of the Russian princesses. The revolutionaries went on to murder a great deal of the Russian nobility, but this is not where they stopped. And this is one of most profound lessons of our times. By the time the Soviet Union fell at least officially in 1991, the death toll of that revolution and the revolutionary governments that followed would amount to tens of millions, perhaps even over 100 million dead. Rather than bringing about a stable and prosperous regime that honored human rights and human dignity and freedom, the Bolshevik Revolution actually led to one of the most oppressive regimes that also ended up with world power that has ever taken place in history.

Overall, the verdict on the Soviet Union is that rather than bringing prosperity, it brought poverty. Rather than bringing freedom, it brought oppression. Rather than bringing about the arrival of a new utopia of communism, instead it led to one of the most brutal regimes repressing its own people, and furthermore it even led to a complete distortion of morality. The Soviet regime claimed for the State ultimate authority and loyalty, seeking to turn even children against their parents, and husbands against wives, wives against husbands, generation against generation. It was an officially atheistic state. Even as Karl Marx understood religion as the opiate of the people, the Soviets sought to crackdown on all religious expression, but most particularly on Christianity. The state effectively idolized itself, much as had the Roman Empire in which Caesar claimed to be God. In the Soviet Union, it was claimed that there was no God, And that all that was left was the Supreme Soviet acting on behalf of the people.

We also need to understand that in the name of equality the Communists put together a system of government and a state-controlled system of economics that was if anything even more unequal in terms of economics than had been the system criticized by Karl Marx, even in the 19th century. This led George Orwell, one of the prophetic voices of the 20th century, in his famous novella, Animal Farm, to state that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, aptly summarizing the morality and the economic system of the Soviet regime.

Economically the Soviet Union was a spectacular failure, but it was a far more serious moral failure. By the time you get to the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin in the middle decades of the 20thcentury, the Soviet Union has fallen into even greater moral disaster with purges of the party and show trials with summary executions. It is estimated that tens of millions of persons died under the regime of Joseph Stalin, sometimes for no obvious reason whatsoever. In the moral formula of the Soviet Union once you are declared to be an enemy the state, you became effectively a nonperson. You simply disappeared.

The Soviets maintained oppressive party control with an entire system of political prisons known as gulags. Some of the most horrifying narratives of the 20th century came from those few who survived the experience of being imprisoned in one of those gulags. You also have to look at the fact that at the end of World War II and throughout almost the rest of the 20th century, the main issue in terms of the world dynamic is what was known as the Cold War. It was an epic battle between two great superpowers: the United States, allied with modern Western democratic governments in the West, and the Soviet bloc, headed by the USSR or the Soviet Union. They were competing not only for territory, but for souls and for minds and for political influence around the world. One of the noteworthy arenas of that competition was, we simply have to note, the floor of the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations.

But the Cold War was sinister in so many other ways as well. At the end of World War II, Joseph Stalin took the opportunity with the collapse of Nazi Germany to claim much of the property that mother Russia had wanted, had coveted for so long. This included the nations of the so-called Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe that included not only a good portion of Germany but also Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and a host of other nations. And sometimes the Soviet Union just baldly claimed and grabbed power and land such as in the Baltic republics. The great horrifying symbol of the Soviet Union was actually not in Russia at all but in Germany in the city of Berlin. The Berlin wall that went up early in the 1960s dividing the city of Berlin virtually in half, a wall that came to represent not only the communist government of east Germany and furthermore the evil intentions of the Soviet Union, but the very reality that this totalitarian regime was willing to put up a wall in which to imprison its own people and to shoot and to kill anyone who sought to leave that territory.

In the bigger picture the seeds for the destruction of the Soviet Union were sown by the Soviets in their own revolution and in their own tyranny, but we also have to note for the historical record that in terms of the battle of worldviews, there arose a very different situation in the 1980s with the arrival on the world scene of three very powerful personalities who were willing to stare down the Soviet Union and the ideology of communism. Those three were British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the American President Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II. In the last case we’re looking at the fact that breaking centuries of tradition, the Roman Catholic Church elected a Polish Pope. That may seem less significant now than it was then, because in electing a Polish Pope, they were electing an enemy of communism, an opponent of the communist regime there in Poland.

It requires no theological compromise to recognize that on the world scene Pope John Paul II was a very effective, prophetic voice against communist tyranny, but so were Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. And when they arrived on the political scene, especially the height of their powers in the 1980s, both of them understood not only that communism was an evil ideology but that the Soviet Union could be a temporary reality. Winds of change began to become very apparent blowing through the Kremlin and elsewhere during the late 1980s when Mikhail Gorbachev became the President of the Soviet Union and the head of the Communist Party. He brought about what was called a process of perestroika, or change within the Soviet Union, and it was basically an admission of the failure of the Soviets to deliver on their promises. But it was more than that. In economic terms, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan led an arms race that effectively made clear to the Soviet Union that it was not only technologically backward, but that economically it simply could not keep up with the NATO powers and especially with the United States.

In political terms, it also became clear that the Soviet Union and its leadership was losing confidence in the very idea of the Soviet Union, and when winds of freedom began to circulate amongst peoples in Eastern Europe and even within Russia, the Soviet Union lost the will to oppress them. Seizing the opportunity, parties of freedom gained control in several of the satellite states, the Eastern European governments that had been a part of the Eastern bloc began to distance themselves from the Soviet Union, and eventually the Russian Federation replaced the Soviet Union in terms of the power that was at the center of the government. The Soviet Union effectively ceased to exist on Christmas Day of 1991.

One of the things we need to recognize 25 years later is the danger of failing to remember the horrifying lessons of the Soviet Union, and furthermore the horrifying lessons of the communist revolutions. We also need to recognize with embarrassment that a good many Western liberals saw the idea of a communist revolution and even of the Bolshevik Revolution as a brand-new adventure that would lead to great promise on the world scene. One of the most famous of these was Lincoln Steffens, an American reporter who reported back from the Bolshevik Revolution saying,

the fall of the Soviet Union

Image: Saul Newman

“I have seen the future, and it works.”

Of course it did not work. In 1919 Lincoln Steffens apologized for the Soviet Union saying that Soviet Russia was a revolutionary government with an evolutionary plan. In other words, he was saying, “Wait and see, and when you see it will work.” He explained away the bloody tyranny of the revolution by calling it “a temporary condition of evil, which is made tolerable by hope and a plan.”

Well, the hope disappeared, and the plan was a colossal failure. The philosophical and political left in both Europe and the United States continued to serve as apologists for communism in general for Marxism as a philosophy and even for the Soviet Union virtually until the fall of the USSR 25 years ago. Writing concerning this anniversary in the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Clark, the executive director of the group known as Generation Opportunity, he himself a millennial asked the question,

“Is Communism Cool?”

And then he says, if you dare,

“Ask a Millennial”

Pointing to the fact that many millennials in the United States and in Europe today have a romanticized idea about not only the Soviet Union and communism, but about Marxism in particular. He writes,

“Millennials are one of history’s luckiest generations. We were fortunate to be born around the end of the Cold War a quarter century ago, when the tyrannical Communism embodied in the Soviet Union came tumbling down, also knocking socialism down a few pegs along the way. We have grown up in a world where, for the most part, economic and personal freedom are the rule rather than exception.”

And then he continues,

“And apparently we hate it. How else does one explain why so many millennials seem to long to live in government-run economies, or worse?”

Part of the background of Clark’s concern, of course, is the unexpected popularity of the openly declared Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic presidential nomination. As Clark points out, many of the young followers of Bernie Sanders actually have no idea what socialism actually is, nor how socialism actually played out on the ground. They often point to Scandinavian countries and cultures as those that they would wish the United States to emulate without recognizing that those Scandinavian countries actually abandoned socialism decades ago. Something not brought to our attention by Senator Sanders.

Clark concludes his essay by writing,

“Young people living in Communist and socialist countries today don’t deserve U.S. millennials’ envy, but their concern and pity. There was nothing to admire about the Soviet Union, and there is even less to admire in countries that seek to perpetuate its failed philosophy at the expense of liberty and prosperity. Our generation is lucky it hasn’t learned this firsthand—and let’s hope we never have to.”

I hold in my hand just now the transcript of a conversation that took place between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the American President George H.W. Bush that began at 10:03 A.M. on Christmas Day of 1991. In that conversation as it took its most crucial turn, President Gorbachev said to President Bush,

“I have here on my desk a decree of the President of the U.S.S.R. on my resignation. I will also resign my duties as Commander in Chief and will transfer authority to use the nuclear weapons to the President of the Russian Federation. So I am conducting affairs until the completion of the Constitutional process. I can assure you that everything is under strict control.”

President Gorbachev continued,

“As soon as I announce my resignation, I will put these decrees into effect. There will be no disconnection. You can have a very quiet Christmas evening.”

And so to quote the poet, the Soviet Union fell, we should be thankful, not with a bang, but with a whimper, and with ironically and tellingly enough, a call that came from the President of the Soviet Union informing the President of the United States that he was resigning and his government was collapsing and then wishing the American president a Merry Christmas.

In this first edition of The Briefing for the year 2017, I would argue we dare not miss the lessons and the worldview implications of that anniversary that took place just a few days ago, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union, Christmas Day 2016.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Daren Streblow

This week, I’m joined by my great buddy, world class comedian, amazing juggler and just all-round superfluous person, Ron Pearson.

Ron just had to get something off his chest this week: today’s young people – the Millennials – are so entitled, it’s unbelievable. He recently performed at Arizona State University and noticed that surf and turf – steak and seafood – is served at the dorm cafeteria each week. These kids are dining better than their parents do!

When we were in college, we had to tough it out… we became tough because of our experiences. A balanced meal was Top Ramen and a Coke!

Image: NewBostonPost

Image: NewBostonPost

How will these kids survive when they graduate? They’re actually going to step down instead of stepping up into real life after college.

I remember “dining” at the college cafeteria. You’d eat a meal and then physically see it and feel it coming out of your pores over the next several days. Every day was like Russian Roulette with a surprise greasy something sliding on your plate.

But, maybe the problem with today’s young people is us… the “old people”. Ron, for instance, has a son with some special dietary needs to they have to shop for groceries at Home Foods instead of the local chain big box store. As Ron puts it, Whole Foods should be more aptly named “Whole Paycheck”! His son has to eat only gluten free, dairy free, soy free food… but the reality is that none of it is free. It all costs a fortune!!

This is how Ron describes Whole Foods Market: Take your typical grocery store and remove every ounce of food from the shelves, then remove every bit of flavor and goodness from each of those food items and replace everything back onto the shelves. Finally, re-label everything “healthy food” and charge triple for each item. That’s Whole Foods.Ron Pearson

Switching gears, Ron dives into the roots of his comedy, which like many other comics, may have its roots in tragedy. Ron had some incredibly abandonment issues as a young person, probably due to his father dying when he was just nine-years-old. As a boy, Ron seemed to know that God’s hand was on his family and would take care of them, but he never really mourned the loss of his dad. Then, as the days, months and years passed, they didn’t talk about his dad much. In fact, once his mother remarried and Ron’s stepfather moved in, they weren’t allowed to talk about his dad at all. And, while his stepdad was a calming force in his family, there still remained a silent undercurrent throughout his home that you never talked about certain things and you never went to anyone with your personal problems.

Everyone was very supporting and very loving. They loved to celebrate the good things in life. But, no one ever discussed any problems that might exist.

By the time Ron entered college, he had learned to put walls around himself in order to preserve himself and save himself from heartache. He was nice to others and would freely help people, but he would never allow anyone into his own life for fear of being hurt, lest he start to actually feel like he needed someone.

His shields were up!

The biggest problem is that this pattern went totally in opposition to his innate need for intimacy. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he (like all of us) had a deeply seeded need to be known and loved. But, he had suppressed this for so long, he was completely unaware of it.

Eventually Ron, like almost everyone who goes through this, found himself full of resentment. He had pretty much sabotaged his relationship life by not letting anyone really know him, then he felt angry at the world because no one really knew him.

What he really needed was a group of safe friends who could befriend and love him for who he was – good, bad and ugly.

The tough thing was the level of isolation he had built into his career. As an up-and-coming stand up comedian, there were years when he was on the road over 235 days out of the year. That’s less than three days a week at home. By constantly jumping around, he couldn’t draw close to friends or family, even if he wanted to.

After years and years of taking hard looks in the mirror (and professional therapy), Ron has learned to stop spinning his wheels so fast, let people into his life – his successes as well as his struggles and failures – and be “present” around people.

And it’s contagious. As Ron’s friend, I have learned so much from him and so eagerly look forward to our conversations – even when they get vulnerable!

So, if you find yourself unable to connect with others and feeling the pain that comes along with this, start out by finding some safe people to befriend. Good, Christian counselors are typically good people to help you get the ball rolling. If they are good, they should be able to point you towards people who are already in your life. As Ron has found, small groups at church also tend to help fill this gap as well.

The key is to avoid letting past frustrations and heartache from getting in the way of making new healthy relationships. The bottom line is that the Bible tells us that it’s not good for us to be alone, and Ron and I both have found that it is well worth the risk to have healthy, safe friendships and loved ones in our lives!

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