Transgender Weight Lifter in Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games will mark an historic occasion, and it is not the fact that it is the first Games run through a global pandemic.

Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter representing New Zealand will mark history as the first ever transgender competitor.

The 43 year-old New Zealand weightlifter has been cleared to compete by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) upheld their rules on Saturday. Reuters says the IOC is committed to reevaluating its policy in the future.

“The rules for qualification have been established by the International Weightlifting Federation before the qualifications started,” said IOC President Thomas Bach during a news conference. “These rules apply, and you cannot change rules during ongoing competitions.

“At the same time, the IOC is in an inquiry phase with all different stakeholders… to review these rules and finally to come up with some guidelines which cannot be rules because this is a question where there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Bach said. “It differs from sport to sport.”

Hubbard is ranked seventh in the IWF’s women’s +87 kg division.

Competing before her gender transition, Hubbard set New Zealand junior records in 1998 in the newly established M105+ division with snatch 135 kg, clean & jerk 170 kg, total 300 kg. Those records were later surpassed by David Liti. Hubbard has spoken against what she calls “one of the misconceptions that’s out there” that she had been training all her life before she transitioned to female, stating that she ceased lifting in 2001, explaining, “it just became too much to bear … just the pressure of trying to fit into a world that perhaps wasn’t really set up for people like myself”.

In 2012 Hubbard transitioned to female and became Laurel Hubbard. She began hormone therapy that year. Hubbard competed in international weightlifting for the first time in 2017.

At the 2017 Australian International & Australian Open in Melbourne, she competed at the heaviest 90 kg+ category, winning the gold medal with a 123 kg snatch and 145 kg clean & jerk, for a total of 268 kg at a bodyweight of 131.83 kg. She thus became the first trans woman to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand.

Although Hubbard met eligibility requirements to compete, her win sparked controversy, with some other competitors saying the competition was unfair. Athletes that were critical of the decision to allow Hubbard to compete, while Australian Weightlifting Federation’s chief executive, Michael Keelan, said it was unfair to other competitors.

The decision attracted controversy, with Belgian weightlifter Anna Van Bellinghen stating that allowing a transgender woman to compete in the women’s event was unfair and that the situation was “like a bad joke”. The selection was also criticized by the former New Zealand representative athlete Tracey Lambrechs and Save Women’s Sport Australasia.

Stopping Sexual Harassment

My secular workplace has detailed policies on how to address sexual harassment when it happens, but as a manager, I’d rather stop it before it begins. Do you have any advice on how I might do that?


It is good to know that your company has solid policies in place so that women and men can work without fear, and can be heard and find justice if problems arise. Thank you for wanting to go beyond policies and procedures and create an optimal environment for your colleagues.

God has placed you in a position of influence and fruitful service (Matt. 5:14–16; John 15:1–10; Phil. 2:14–16; Col. 3:17). I trust the Holy Spirit will use your humility and strategic gifts for God’s glory and the good of all around you.

There are two internal dispositions and three practical principles that will help foster shalom in your workplace.

Two Dispositions

The first disposition comes from Genesis 1:26–28: the creation mandate for humankind. Note the order in this passage:

  1. Every person is made in the image of God;
  2. Every person has a job to do as part of the call for humankind to steward God’s creation; and
  3. We carry out our callings as women or men.

This order is important in creating an equitable and harmonious work environment, where everyone is fulfilled and safe. You are affirming dignity and equality, the goodness of work, and that people carry out their tasks as men and women. It is vital that respect is offered equally to both sexes without imposing sinful, subcultural caricatures.

The second disposition is a companion to this biblical anthropology. Simply stated, work to create language and systems that are inclusive and aim for as much diversity and inclusion as possible in the employees and teams you lead.

Three Insights

With these dispositions, three practical insights can help foster peace and perhaps prevent problems (even with the noblest intentions and rules, mistakes will come).

Create Openness

First, in your regular meetings and periodic trainings, create a culture of openness so people feel free to go to colleagues with words of correction and wisdom before situations escalate. Sometimes people act out of ignorance and make others uncomfortable. Encourage folks to say, “Hey, Bill, your last joke was unwise.” Or “Joan, you are a friendly, demonstrative person, but John needs more personal space.” Hopefully most issues are resolved this way.

Train in Relational Intelligence

The second insight involves continual cross-cultural, emotional, and relational-intelligence training. This is more than mandatory sexual harassment work (which is really important). Sometimes employees can feel this training is a waste of time—and sometimes it can be—so you’ll need to be wise in choosing curriculum that is practical, God-honoring, and helpful. You’ll also want to lead by example in taking the training seriously.

Cultivating mutual appreciation and increasing sensitivities can only help. Turn potential problems into personal growth. You can help all your colleagues appreciate diverse perspectives and how they help the mission.

Promote Virtue

Third, work with your human-resources department and the executives of the company to continually refine and promote the highest virtues that are essential to the company. Help strengthen the connections between unselfishness and teamwork, mutual respect and productivity, diversity and successful results.

May the Lord grant you courage and wisdom, rooted in love, as you serve in your frontline assignment for advancing God’s mission in our world.

C. Self

Our Looming Catastrophe

No doubt, you’ve heard of it by now: Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.

CRT/I teaches that lower-melanin folks are inherently racist. It’s not if they are racist, but how. CRT/I proponent Robin D’Angelo says, “As a result of being raised as a white person in this society, I have a racist worldview. I have a deep racist bias. I have developed deep racist patterns. I have investments in the system of racism because it has served me really well.” But CRT/I is not only preached by those outside the Christian faith. One Sojourners writer says, “Without confession to the sin of white racism, white supremacy, white privilege, people who call themselves white Christians will never be free from the bondage of a lie, myth, and ideology, and an idol” (77). Ekemini Uwan of the Dallas Evangelical Conference said, “The reality is that whiteness is rooted in plunder, in theft, in enslavement of Africans, in genocide of Native Americans” (71). And there are more.

For CRT/I, racism no longer means hatred for individuals on the grounds of ethnicity, skin shade, or different physical appearance. It now refers to existence in a certain culture and physiology, particularly, American born with low-melanin.

CRT/I holds that if a white person questions the idea that melanin content renders them guilty of the sin of ethnic-based hatred (i.e. racism), they merely portray their racism and white supremacist tendencies. And, using logic and reasoning to dialogue is off-limits. The argument within CRT/I is that these are tools used by the dominant (e.g. white, etc.) to exclude the knowledges of those outside that dominant group. CRT/I holds that those who discovered the methods (e.g. logic, reason, exegesis) of legitimizing knowledge (often white, straight males) built this system of understanding for the purpose of excluding the oppressed groups and their “knowledges.” So, the dominant group is disqualified from using logic, facts, and exegesis to analyze CRT/I.

Thus, identity groups in the oppressed categories have knowledge that cannot be accessed by those in the oppressor category. This creates epistemological hierarchy and righteousness grounded in skin color, gender, and sexuality. Epistemology refers to how we can know what we know. One must inherently exist in particular ethnicities, genders, and sexual persuasion in order to inherently operate in a superior epistemology. Identity group privilege forbids you from the ability to have the true knowledges. Thus, your access to true knowledge is determined by your ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

More could be said, but this hateful, divisive worldview needs to be thoroughly addressed. Voddie Baucham skillfully, biblically, and graciously does that in his most recent book,Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe.

Baucham begins with a captivating testimony and family history relevant to the book. He was raised “poor, without a father, and surrounded by drugs, gangs, violence, and disfunction in one of the toughest urban environment imaginable” (19). After conversion to Christ, Baucham remained what he calls an “Afrocentric Christian,” interested in “Black Power” ideology. Fast-forward many years, and Baucham becomes grounded in Scripture.

Baucham demonstrates how CRT/I is fundamentally Marxist (xii-xiii). This alone should move us in love and truth to abandon it altogether.

In a chapter titled, “Seeking True Justice,” Baucham uncovers data surrounding recent police-involved shootings. In a great illustration of Proverbs 18:17, he reveals more information concerning the many highly-politicized cases, which show a different picture than those painted through mainstream media. Adding to the clarity, he sheds light on tragic shootings you’ve never heard of, demonstrating that much is amiss. For example, Tony Timpa was a 32-year-old schizophrenic, killed by Dallas police in 2016. Timpa called the police, saying he was off his meds and needed help. While in cuffs, police implemented additional restraint by placing a knee and hands on his back and neck for fourteen minutes, during which time Timpa pled, “You’re gonna kill me!” Timpa then went limp, during which time officers mocked him and joked. Though officers killed him, they remained on duty in 2017 with no disciplinary action, and body-came footage was not released for three years. Bauchum provides much more alarming data on popular, high-profile cases.

Every religion has common ingredients: a cosmology, view of the absolute, a proposal of what is wrong in the world, proposal of how to fix it, a standard of righteousness, a priesthood, and canon. Looking at each category, Baucham thoroughly demonstrates how CRT/I is its own, gospel-less religion. This is essential to understand, especially for Christians who propose to hold CRT/I alongside biblical Christianity.

We recommend this as a must-read for every Christian. Our church is reading the book together, and discussing in home fellowship groups. These are days where Christians, like the sons of Issachar, must understand the times and know what to do (1 Chron. 12:32). Fault Lines is also a great book for those who do not profess Christ for at least two reasons. First, it sheds greater light on the manufactured narrative concerning many controversial shootings. Second, regardless of spiritual persuasion, the book demonstrates how CRT/I is its own religion; the newest and most aggressive religion overtaking many places.

E. Davis

Friendship Is Worth the Fight

Some 1,600 years ago, Augustine said, “In this world two things are essential: life and friendship. Both should be highly prized and we must not undervalue them.” He’s right, though based on behavior, it seems many men undervalue the latter.

Studies are confirming what many of us already know by observation and experience: As men grow older, they typically lose close connection with male friends. By the time they reach middle age, many men in Western cultures (including Christian men) have few or no close friends — friends who really know them. It’s a troubling trend. We have a growing population of lonely older men, and we’re discovering that loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking.

But this trend is troubling not primarily because of its deleterious health effects. As Christians, we don’t view friendship as a mere health benefit like nutrition and exercise. Friends are more fundamental to our inner being — to who we are. The Bible teaches us not only that we are made for friendship (Genesis 2:18; Ecclesiastes 4:9–12), but also that we are made by our friendships (Proverbs 13:20; 27:17).

A man, likely more than he knows, owes who he has become to the friends who helped make him. And if he’s wise, he will not undervalue his fundamental need of friends as he ages, for he will need them every bit as much at the end of his sojourn as he needed them when it began.

Men Who Made Me

As I’ve reflected on how needed male friendships are to shape us, I can’t help but thank God for the men who made me. They remain a priceless fraternity extending back over five decades. God has used each of them to shape and sharpen me. Each has left his indelible mark. Each deserves honor. But to illustrate friendship’s fundamental role, I’d like to mention only a few men whose impact has been particularly immense.

Perhaps these examples will remind some of you of the many different kinds of friends God gives to build us up along the way. Perhaps they will also remind you how desperately we need friendships — and how important it is to fight for them.

The Boys Who Raised Me

I met my two best childhood friends, Brent and David, when we were preschoolers. We were brought together in an accident of geography: our parents all bought houses on Southridge Road. But as C.S. Lewis observed, such accidents are no accident:

Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” (The Four Loves, 114)

Our tripartite friendship was forged through spending incalculable hours together after school, on weekends, during sleepovers (where sleep was rare), on long, lazy summer days. We listened to music, and played on the backyard football field and on the driveway basketball court and in the arcade. We schemed new adventures, talked about girls, biked all over the western metro, shared thoughts about God — all with plenty of fighting interspersed.

Through it all, we helped each other navigate the often tricky, sometimes dangerous, sometimes painful waters of childhood and adolescence, and helped each other love and trust Jesus. We saw each other into adult manhood and stood up for one another as each of us married a wonderful godly woman. These boys helped raise me. The goodness and mercy I received through them and from them is incalculable.

Brother Born for Adversity

Jim, my older brother (by five years), came to faith in Christ during his freshman year at college. I was an earnest, Jesus-believing, malleable 13-year-old who looked up to his older brother, and Jim became my first real “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15), and showed me in word and deed what it meant to be a Christian man.

And he has done this over the past four decades. Over the years, we have partnered together in youth and college ministries, overseas missions, inner-city church plants, worship leading, and songwriting. And Jim has walked with me through the deepest, darkest seasons of my life. Next to my wife, he is my most trusted counselor and the pastor who knows me best.

Our friendship has been forged walking together along the hard way that leads to life (Matthew 7:14). He truly is “a brother . . . born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Much of the best parts of who I am I owe to Jim.

Friend Who Loves at All Times

I’ve known Barry for about six years, and he is “a friend [who] loves at all times,” no matter how I’m doing or what I’ve done (Proverbs 17:17). The past couple of years have been a difficult season of life for me, and Barry has been a sanctuary of safety, a city of refuge. He’s “a man of understanding” who, like few others, is able to draw out the “deep water” of my heart (Proverbs 20:5). When I’ve come to him as a “bruised reed” and “smoldering wick” (Matthew 12:20), with a remarkable mixture of kindness, gentleness, and forthrightness, Barry has applied the salve of God’s grace and truth to tender places in my soul.

Being a relatively new friend, I can see the formative influence Barry’s having on me. I am learning to love others in the 1 Corinthians 13 ways I’ve received from him. What price can you put on such a gift?

J. Bloom

Removing the Hook

I was recently reminded about the time I went fishing with my sons.

I must admit I am someone who gets grossed out very easily. Touching bugs, snakes, and sadly even fish, grosses me out a bit.

But not my oldest son. Unlike his dad, he’s courageous when it comes to touching animals. But it was his tender care that really struck me that day.

Like most children he has a soft spot in his heart for animals. He doesn’t like stepping on bugs and would rather relocate them than exterminate them. When we caught the fish, we had a dilemma. We weren’t going to keep him. So, we had agreed that if we caught something we would remove the hook and throw him back in the water. My son wanted to be the one to remove the hook. Probably because he thought I would do it as quickly as possible (to minimize the contact with the fish) and would not do it well. 

So, against all odds I caught a fish. It wasn’t a huge guy, but it was big enough to have had his mouth caught on the hook. 

I watched as my son, who had never done it before, carefully and gently remove the hook from the mouth of the fish. He had to manage to keep the fish’s mouth open, and gently push the hook down deeper in his mouth, in order to cause the least amount of damage as possible. And he did it with such tenderness and such care that it moved me emotionally. 

Not too long after that I preached Galatians 6:1.

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…

And immediately I was reminded about my son and that fish.

It is imperative to confront.

Too many Christians are scared to say something. They don’t want to get their hands dirty. They don’t want to ruin a relationship. They don’t want to do the hard work of church discipline or help a brother or sister overcome an addiction. Or they don’t want to even do the work of keeping a brother or sister accountable. Too many Christians are cowardly when it comes to the vital task of confrontation. 

Maybe they think it is the pastor’s job. Maybe when they read this verse and see the word spiritual, they think it’s talking about super Christians or Christians who’ve been saved for decades. But the clear meaning of the text is talking about a person who possesses the Holy Spirit. In other words, anyone who is saved and walking in obedience to scripture. 

One who is obeying scripture can’t hold back the truth. The person who is in sin needs to know the consequences of their sin. They need to know that God hates sin. They need to be reminded about the danger of an unrepentant heart. They might need to be reminded about the danger of hell and that unrepentance might mean that they might still be unregenerate. 

I mean the fish caught in the hook is in grave danger! They desperately need the hook to be removed, and the situation is so drastic that they need a brother or sister to come and help them. 

It is imperative to confront gently

Obviously the one being confronted can’t sit there and assess whether the confronter is being gentle enough or not. His role is to listen and be humble. Because of his love for Christ and his understanding that he or she has blind spots they are open to confrontation by fellow believers. 

That said, it is imperative that we have gentleness as we confront. Too many times, especially in our circle, we can be rough with the truth. We can come too strong and our tact in the counseling room can be terrible. Gentleness is of course a fruit of the Spirit. And the one who has been transformed by the Holy Spirit will grow over time in his ability to deliver the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in a gentle way. 

Gentleness does not mean withholding truth. But gentleness does mean that the delivery will be different because of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the deliverer’s life. 

Obviously, a lot of the time when the confronter isn’t gentle it is because the confronter is approaching the sinner with the wrong theology. Paul deals with the theology of the “spiritual” person who is helping his brother in sin.

In verses 1 and 2 he gives to attitudes that the confronter must possess to aid us in our confrontation.

Humility of knowing that my heart is capable of much worse, as we see in Galatians 6:1 and a servant’s heart ready to carry the sinner’s burden with them in Galatians 6:2. These attitudes when accompanying the confrontation, will assist the confronter in being gentle. 

If we are not gentle, we might even successfully remove the hook from the mouth, but we will perhaps cause irreparable damage to the one who was confronted. 

It is unacceptable to not confront a brother or sister in sin. Obviously, there is need for much wisdom to know when and what sins we must confront but we must for the church’s spiritual health and for their own spiritual health, confront them and try to rescue them. 

At the same time, it is unacceptable to confront that person without gentleness. 

So, as we do our God ordained job of confronting a brother or sister in need of rescuing, we must be gentle. Out of love for them and love for their soul we must go to them delivering the entire truth, but we must do so in a way that pleases the Lord.

Let me also say that even though somethings will not be repaired in this life, that nothing is irreparable. If you have confronted harshly nothing is holding you back from going to the person and asking for forgiveness. Remind them of your love for them and that the reason why you went to them in the first place was because of concern but ask them for forgiveness for the way you confronted them and ask them to pray for you to learn to be gentler in the future.

J. Standridge

He Is There and He Is Not Silent

I first read He is There and He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer in 1992.  Multiple readings have ensued and I turn back to Schaeffer’s book again and again for help with apologetics. Readers will be pleased to see this new edition by Crossway Books with a revised cover in time to meet the current needs of our time.

Schaeffer argues for three basic areas of philosophical thought: metaphysics (being or existence), morals (the dilemma of man), and epistemology (the problem of knowing). Philosophy and religion are essentially devoted to the same questions, namely, metaphysics, morals, and epistemology.

Philosophy is concerned with either an academic subject or a person’s worldview.  It is the later, that Schaeffer is concerned with in this volume.  Schaeffer contends that every man is a philosopher of sorts because it is impossible for humans to live without a worldview.

Metaphysics

There are three basic answers to the question of metaphysics.  The first answer is that “everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing.”  Naturalism’s answer suggests no energy, no mass, no motion, and no personality.  This answer is, as Schaeffer calls it, “nothing, nothing.”

The second answer is that everything had an impersonal beginning.  This answer leads automatically to reductionism.  “Beginning with the impersonal must be explained in terms of the impersonal plus time plus chance,” writes Schaeffer.  This answer poses many problems.  But the two primary problems fail to answer the major philosophical question: the need for unity and the need for diversity.

The third answer is the biblical answer.  The third answer is the only rational and satisfying answer.  This answer suggests that we must begin with a personal beginning.  And to have an adequate answer of a personal beginning, one must have a personal infinite God, and personal unity and diversity in God (found the holy Trinity).

Schaeffer concludes: “The reason we have the metaphysical answer is because the infinite-personal God, the full Trinitarian God is there and he is not silent.”

Morals

There are only two basic answers to the question of morals.  The first: Everything had an impersonal beginning.  The is the answer of atheism.  Schaeffer never minces words.  He writes, “Beginning with the impersonal, there is no explanation for the complexity of the universe or the personality of man.”  When one begins with the impersonal, one eliminates the possibility of morals or ethics.

The second answer is the biblical reality of a personal beginning.  Man was created by an infinite-personal God.  Man sinned or “made a decision to change himself” as Schaeffer notes.

“The starting point,” writes Schaeffer “to the answer (of the question of morals) as with metaphysics is the fact that God is there and he is not silent.”

Epistemology

Schaeffer concludes by setting forth the problem concerning epistemology and the epistemological answer.

The epistemological problem concerns the tension between nature (particulars) and grace (universals).  When nature becomes autonomous, the universal is lost with the hope of giving the particulars meaning.  The problem is that when nature becomes autonomous, nature “eats up” grace.  Schaeffer argues that when we are left with only particulars, we become lost in the areas of metaphysics, morality, and epistemology.

The epistemological answer was summarized by the Reformers.  The Reformers did not allow for a dichotomy between nature and grace.  The reason: they had verbal propositional revelation.  The Reformers were vocal about the reality of God’s existence and the reality of his revelation.  Schaeffer popularized this view in the title of his book, He is There and He is Not Silent.  God has spoken truly about himself.  However, he has not spoken exhaustively about himself.

Schaeffer urges readers to come face to face with two gigantic presuppositions – “the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system and the uniformity of natural causes in an open system and in a limited time span.”  Ultimately, readers must determine which worldview fits with the facts.

Schaeffer summarizes, then, the basic presuppositions in historic Christianity.

1. God is there.

2. God is the infinite-personal God who has made man in his image.

3. God made man a verbalizer in the area of propositions in his horizontal communications with other men.

4. God communicates to us on the basis of propositions, viz, he is there and his is not silent.

Schaeffer maintains, “Under the unity of the apex of the infinite-personal God, in all of these areas we can have meaning, we can have reality, and we can have beauty.”

D. Steele

A Good Story Despite Boko Haram

One of 276 girls abducted from their school in Chibok, northern Nigeria by the infamous Boko Haram has just graduated from university – the very thing her kidnappers fight to oppose, according to Open Doors UK & Ireland.

“Boko Haram roughly translates as ‘western education is forbidden’,” says Open Doors UK & Ireland CEO Henrietta Blyth.

“This is a powerful sign that young people across Nigeria want the chance of an education, and no amount of intimidation is going to change that, especially not the chance for girls.”

Mary Katambi is one of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Chibok State Secondary School in April 2014, later escaping from the radical Islamic group. She completed her degree in Accounting at the American University (AUN) in Yola, Adamawa State. Her graduation ceremony took place this month at the university.

The proud parents on graduation day.

“Honestly, I never thought that my daughter would escape the hands of Boko Haram,” said Mary’s father Katambi. “As I watched Mary collect her certificate, tears dropped from my eyes. I never imagined that my children would ever study at university. I am just a peasant farmer, trying to provide for my family. But God did the unthinkable.

“I remember when our children were abducted in 2014, the world were praying along with us. We received encouragement cards and trauma healing from (Christian charity) Open Doors. Today I am here to testify that God has answered the prayers of his children.”

Saratu, her mother, said she shed tears of joy as she watched her daughter in her graduation gown. “I never thought I would see Mary again. But the prayers of believers have brought her out of captivity and now she has graduated from university. Yesu na gode – thank you Jesus!

Mary is one of several of the kidnapped Chibok girls to study at AUN, but the first to graduate. A number dropped out from their studies, too traumatised by their time in captivity to apply themselves to the course.

“Mary has been an exceptional student,” says Yakubu Nkeki Maina, Chairman of the Chibok Girls’ Parents’ Association. “She is determined and focused, and today she is graduating with a degree in Accounting”.Mary was 16 at the time of the attack.

Around 30 men burst into the girls’ dormitory and told the girls, “We are soldiers here to protect you from Boko Haram.”

“Then they set the school on fire,” Mary recalls. “They asked us to move. We didn’t know where we were going. We just followed the instructions because (we knew) if we tried to run, they would definitely kill us.”

Then about a dozen trucks and cars drove in and the girls were forced onto the trucks.

“We travelled all night and arrived at the last destination around 2pm. It was a very big forest.”

Escape

As soon as they arrived, Mary started planning her escape.

“About seven or eight girls from my village gathered while the other girls were cooking. We agreed to find a way to escape.

“As I was searching for a way to escape, I saw another girl, Deborah. We tried to sneak into the bushes, pretending that we wanted to (relieve ourselves). Then the guards noticed that some other girls had escaped, and they started arguing. While they argued, we escaped.”

Mary and Deborah walked for days. “We walked past about three deserted villages Boko Haram had destroyed,” remembers Mary. They were finally delivered home to Chibok by a stranger with a motorcycle.

In the following seven years, many more of the girls either escaped or have been freed. However, 112 of them are still unaccounted for.

‘Forbidden’ education

Not long after her escape, and having received trauma counselling from Open Doors’ partners in Nigeria, Mary was offered a private sponsorship to study at the American University. Finally, after seven years, Mary has a degree in accounting.

“Mary is a testimony. Please don’t stop praying for the other children that are in the hands of the abductors,” urges Katambi. “Pray that God will bring them out and one day, we will come and celebrate more graduations.”

P. Wooding

Beware the Moralist

One of the bad side effects of moralism (the idea that our good works earn us God’s love) is that the moralist thinks he should run everyone’s life.

Why Controllers Control

We have all come to our own conclusions about life and how it should be lived, and will fight hard to protect the sometimes thin veneer those beliefs represent between us and insanity. Because, listen, if I accept that your belief is true and mine is a pile of junk, then I’ve been living my life as a lie.

I have to question all my previous decisions, weep over lost time and effort, and rebuild, in sometimes massive ways, what it means to live. And that’s just the average person.

One of the bad side effects of moralism (the idea that our good works earn us God’s love) is that the moralist thinks he should run everyone’s life.

I once had a twenty minute argument with someone who said that Miracle Whip and mayonnaise tasted the same (I’m serious about condiments), only to realize by the end of the conversation that they’d never actually tried the whip with the tangy zip! That’s the level of severity to which we’re (well, at least me) willing to go to defend even our most superficial beliefs.

Imagine what happens when you add a deity to the mix.

Can you see how someone might think it’s so important that you believe a certain religious thing, in a specific way, that they will do anything—including duplicitous, manipulative things—to get you to their way of thinking?

Why We Fall For it

If you were brought up to believe that people with a certain amount (or lack thereof) of melanin in their skin were inferior to you, that might be a hard belief to be talked out of. The same is true of the brand of religion you were brought up in.

If you were brought up to believe in an angry god, it’s going to be difficult to see God as anything else. And when you have a deeply seated belief, based on fear at some level, that belief can then be used to control you. And, because we hold that belief, or desire, so dear, we will not question the controller who is using that belief to control us. Because, if they’re good enough at their manipulation, that would be like questioning the belief itself.

Why the Gospel Can’t be a Weapon

The amazing thing about the gospel is that it isn’t based on fear. It’s anti-fear. It frees us from the deadly demands of religious authority. It labels us forgiven and clean once and for all and sings acceptance over us. There’s no room for manipulation in a true rendering of the gospel. We are made at peace with God by the sacrifice of God’s own son. Our response to that kind of love is, well, love.

The moralist hates the gospel because it undoes them. It takes away all of their power to control others. That’s how you know it’s the gospel. The burden falls away. Guilt is only meant to lead you back to God. There it turns to peace. Commands are no longer sharp sticks that poke your raw conscience, but signposts, pointing to the best way to love God and others. The controller, in short, loses their ability to control. And we are free. Even to gently love them. Who knows, maybe they’ll turn from their evil ways, finally seeing the truth (2 Tim 2:25).

E. Gusman

Can Our Loved Ones in Heaven See What We Are Doing Here

It’s odd to me that so many assume people who are now in the present Heaven are completely ignorant of what’s going on here on Earth where the great drama of redemption is unfolding—wouldn’t we think they’d be more enlightened, not less?

From what we see in Scripture, it appears people in Heaven have at least some idea of what’s happening here. Now, I’m not making the claim that they know or pay attention to everything that’s going on. But take, for example, the martyrs in Revelation 6, who knew that God hadn’t yet brought judgment on those who killed them. It’s likely that they knew many other things about what’s happening on Earth:

“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” (Revelation 6:9-11)

This passage demonstrates that those in Heaven are the same people—only relocated. There’s continuity of identity from this life to the next. Those we love who are there now are part of what Hebrews 12:23 calls the “righteous men made perfect.”

Notice that the martyrs are aware of what happens on earth when they ask God, “How long… until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” They know those who killed them haven’t yet been judged. That means the martyrs remember their lives on Earth, even that they were murdered. Some say people in Heaven can’t remember or see life on earth because knowing of evil would diminish Heaven’s happiness. But that’s not true. The key to Heaven’s joy isn’t ignorance, but perspective.

When called from Heaven to the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah “appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). They seemed fully aware of what was transpiring on Earth, and what God was about to do.

Also consider this: Christ referred to “rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7). Similarly, He said, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). It doesn’t speak of rejoicing by the angels but in the presence of angels. Surely this includes saints in Heaven, who would be overjoyed by human conversions, especially of those they knew and loved on Earth. To rejoice over conversions on Earth, they must be aware of what is happening on Earth—not generally, but specifically.

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” It evokes the image of Greek competitions watched by throngs of engrossed fans sitting high in ancient stadiums. The saints who’ve gone before us are called a “great cloud of witnesses.” This imagery suggests those saints—veteran spiritual athletes—watch us and cheer us on from the great stadium of Heaven. (Note that the witnesses are said to “surround” us, not just to have preceded us.)

Earth is center stage, awaiting the universe’s climactic event: Christ’s return. In Heaven, Christ watches closely what transpires on earth, especially in the lives of believers (Revelation 2-3). If God’s attention is on earth, why wouldn’t the attention of His loyal subjects be here too?

My mom was one of the closest friends I’ve ever had, and she’s been in Heaven for almost forty years. I can’t wait (but I will) to see her again. Mom died just four months after our Angie was born. I said at both our daughters’ weddings, in the summer of 2001, that I believed their two grandmothers were watching from Heaven. And since Nanci’s mom had been blind her last few years here, she was seeing the wedding in a way she couldn’t have even a few months earlier before she died.

I firmly believe this is true, but even if I was wrong on that point (since of course I can’t know exactly when God allows people to see events on Earth and when He doesn’t), I would not be wrong in praying “Lord, please tell Mom her precious granddaughters love You with all their hearts and married young men that do too. That will mean so much to her.”

My guess is that Mom knows all that anyway, and that she is enjoying seeing God at work in the lives of our grandchildren, her great-grandchildren she hasn’t yet been able to hug.

So, I believe Scripture clearly suggests our loved ones now in Heaven are witnessing, in at least some capacity, God’s unfolding plan on earth. They live in a place where joy is the air they breathe, and nothing they see on earth can diminish their joy. Their happiness doesn’t depend on ignorance, but perspective, drawn from the Christ in whose presence they live.

If you’re following Jesus, no doubt your loved ones there are rejoicing over you and looking forward to the great reunion. In fact, when we enter Heaven, I think our family and friends will among those right there with Jesus to give us a “rich welcome” (2 Peter 1:11). 

R. Alcorn

Thrones and Crowns

My travels have led me through many castles in many kingdoms, my journey through many palaces in many places. I have seen the grandest edifices ever designed by the mind of men to display the value, the worth, the grandeur of their inhabitants. I have seen throne rooms devised to dazzle the eyes and overwhelm the senses. I have seen scepters and crowns carefully composed to symbolize the power, the authority, and the majesty of pontiffs and potentates alike.

In many of these castles and palaces I have paused to observe thrones—thrones overlaid with gold, thrones adorned with precious stones, thrones that are set on great platforms so the one seated upon them is in a place of prominence, a place of preeminence, a place that is elevated above all others. These thrones tower high above to symbolize the unique power, the unique might, the unique worth of the ones seated upon them. The steps to the thrones of monarchs invariably lead up, not down.

This is, after all, a world oriented toward the strong, toward the wealthy, toward the powerful. It is a world that rewards those who strain to get ahead, those who are willing to tread others underfoot, those who elevate themselves at the cost of friends and foe alike. It is a world where men battle for power, where men vie for money, where men will stop at nothing until they have not just enough to satisfy their needs, but to have excess, to have abundance, to have more than anyone else.

But beyond and within this visible world, is an invisible one that runs on very different principles. Beyond the swaying and tottering kingdoms of men is the fixed and constant kingdom of God, and it turns everything on its head. For in this kingdom the way to the heights passes through the valleys, the way to riches passes through utter bankruptcy. The way to reach the highest place is to seek the lowest, the way to attain wealth is to seek poverty, the way to be counted much is to esteem oneself as little. It is in this kingdom that the last are counted ahead of the first, that the weak are counted mightier than the strong, that those who weep are counted greater than those who have only ever laughed.

Where men grasp and strive for power, God values those who seek after humility. Where men gladly subjugate others in order to get ahead, God values those who are meek and mild in temper. Where men hunger and thirst for riches and prominence, God promises satisfaction only to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Where men demand justice for everyone but themselves and satisfaction for every transgression but their own, God loves the merciful and promises they are the ones who shall receive mercy. It is those who are persecuted who shall stand in the end and who shall see the fullness of God’s eternal kingdom.

If there are scepters in God’s invisible kingdom, they are not grasped in clenched fists but joyfully surrendered to the true king. If there are crowns in God’s invisible kingdom, they are worn only so they can be removed to be thrown at his feet. If there are thrones in God’s invisible kingdom, they are adorned not with gold or jewels but with words of gentleness and deeds of kindness. And the steps to these thrones do not lead up to a place of preeminence that those who sit upon them can be seen and glorified, but they lead down—down to the place of humility, the place of service, the place where the King himself has led.

T. Challies

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