Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fatherlessness and the church

'Father/Son A and B' photo (c) 2008, heymarchetti - license: columns aren't typically known for underscoring the importance of fathers, but then Rick Reilly's final column as a sportswriter wasn't typical. At age 56, the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year opened his farewell column last week this way:
I am the son of a drunk, a man who was much too concerned with where his next whiskey was coming from than where I was going.

He didn't discipline me. Didn't advise me. Didn't father me. . . . [M]ost of the time he didn't even know where I was. And my trembling mother was much too terrified of him and his sloppy temper slamming home to worry about what I was doing.

So when I got a regular byline in the town paper before my 21st birthday, I was as wild and unruly as the mop of hair on my head. I had a voice and a license to use it, but not one lesson in how. I hurt people just to make a name for myself. Just because I could.

My first beat was the Colorado women's basketball team and I came out slashing. Until, one day, a retired coach named Sox Walseth came up to me. His hair was white, with matching caterpillar eyebrows, and he wore a cardigan. He put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Son, you're not going to get very far writing articles like the one you did today. These people shouldn't have to read the cheap shots you're taking at them. You can do better than this."

I looked right back at him, stuck out my bottom lip, and began to cry.

I was so starved for a father that this man I hardly knew was suddenly thrown into the job. I'm sure he was as confused about what was happening as I was, but he took me to his chest and hugged me.

As I sit here and write my last column as a sports writer, I see now how that moment changed my life.
It brought tears to my eyes as I read it. (That will not suprise my family.) Reilly's account demonstrates once again the kind of power the loving, faithful presence of a father or father figure can have, as well as the kind of power the unloving, faithless absence of a father can have.

A father can be either a bridge or a barrier to understanding God as Heavenly Father. It certainly is true in Christian homes. It seems as if it can be true even in non-Christian homes. It can be true both for sons and daughters.

Reilly's painful experience of the 1960s and 1970s has mushroomed into an epidemic of fatherlessness and father absence in America. An estimated 33 percent of American children live apart from their biological fathers, and that figure is expected to grow to 50 percent by the next century at the current rate. The fallout from this trend is well documented in a number of social indicators.

What does this plague of fatherlessness mean for the church? Well, of course, it is a reminder Christian fathers should be faithful and loving husbands and dads. But it means more than that. It means the adult men in our churches have the opportunity to be spiritual fathers to boys and girls, young men and ladies who have not known the love, acceptance and guidance they longed for from the men whose genetic makeup they share.

This will cost us as Christian men. It will cost the church. But isn't that what it means to be a Christian man? Isn't that what it means to be the church? After all, we follow the God who became man and served us at great cost to Himself. He suffered and died for spiritual orphans who had no loving father. May we die to our own interests and comforts in order to be the kind of father figures who can provide a bridge to our Heavenly Father.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Truth and grace on the transgender issue

'10070031' photo (c) 2012, moodboard - license: transgender issue is quickly gaining attention in our culture. I addressed it when I began a preaching series titled "Gender, Sexuality, and the Purpose and Power of God" June 1. The text that morning, Gen. 1:26-27, says God made man -- which refers to human beings not just males -- in His image and closes with these words: "[M]ale and female He created them."

God has not changed. He still makes each of us either male or female. And we are to embrace how He has made us. Yet, as a race infected by sin, some people identify themselves as a gender different than their biological sex. As the transgender movement gains acceptance, increasingly confused children and adults find encouragement to believe they should live as a gender different than that given by God and even to change their bodies to fulfill that identity.

The Southern Baptist Convention, meeting this week in Baltimore, approved the first resolution in its nearly 170-year history specifically on the transgender issue. You can read the entire resolution here. It is a statement filled with both truth and grace:

-- It affirms gender "is determined by biological sex and not by one's self-perception."

-- It expresses "love and compassion" to people who struggle with a conflict between biology and gender identity.

-- It invites all transgender people to trust in Jesus and welcomes them "to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership."

-- It recognizes transgender people as image-bearers of God and denounces abuse directed toward them.

-- It also opposes efforts to change a person's "bodily identity" by gender reassignment surgery and other treatments.

I made some of the same points near the close of my June 1 sermon. Based on my manuscript, I put it this way:

1. We should not be surprised that such misguided thinking as that of transgender people is found in human beings. They, and we, live in a fallen world where the sin nature blinds us and causes us to believe lies. But we also should not surrender on this reality of Scripture and creation: God has made us male and female.

2. We should not see those who have what is described as a gender identity disorder as mutants or freaks. They, like all other human beings, are made in the image of God.

3. We should love, care for, serve, evangelize -- and hopefully -- disciple them. They, like all other sinners, need the gospel. And once they have received the gospel of Jesus, we should help them see, as Russell Moore has said, that part of repenting and following Jesus is not rebelling against their Creator but accepting the gender they were given by God.