The wrong side of history. It’s the refrain we hear over and over, from political pundits and news media. Evangelical Christianity, and any who share its sexual ethic in particular, are on the “wrong side of history.” The culture has changed. Historic, orthodox Christianity is not only outdated, but wrongheaded and destined to failure. Progressives now claim the moral high ground on everything from sexuality to assisted suicide to abortion—some of which was unthinkable just a decade or two ago. And they have the most powerful social institutions to back them. If Christianity is to have any place in this brave new world, we’re told, it had better get with the program.
Much of this has come as a shock to conservative Christians. For most of our country’s history, it was culturally and socially advantageous to identify with Christianity, even in the absence of genuine faith. For instance, one wouldn’t dare run for political office without first associating with some sort of church.
The opposite is now true today. Exercising the Christian faith in the public square is no longer an asset, but a liability. Religious liberties that once protected that free exercise are now under attack and slowly eroding away. To identify with historic, orthodox Christianity in public is to risk being labeled or marginalized as fundamentalist, bigoted, narrow-minded—on the wrong side of history.
So what do we do with this so-called cultural sea-change? Do we retreat from the public sphere, wringing our hands in self-pitying anxiety? Do we wave our fists in anger, standing in smug condemnation over a hell-bound culture? Do we reevaluate our reading of Scripture and revise the historic tenets of our faith in effort to become more palatable to the next generation?
How do we engage the culture in a meaningful way without compromising the gospel? How do hold together both the truth of God in all his holiness, and the grace of God in all his love, as we interact with friends, family, and colleagues over potentially divisive topics?
These are the questions we’ll be asking at Westgate Church as we move into the next section of our Sunday morning series, The Gospel for All of Life—what we’re calling “The Gospel in the Public Square.” Our goal is to examine some of the cultural questions that often dominate our daily interactions (whether in person or via social or main stream media), and ask how the gospel of Jesus ought to shape our understanding and engagement.
- Sept. 27: Strangers and Aliens: Gospel Faithfulness in a Changing World (1 Peter 2:9-12)
- Oct. 4: The Gospel and Hollywood (Genesis 11:1-9)
- Oct. 11: The Gospel and Social Justice (Luke 10:25-42)
- Nov. 1: The Gospel and Homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
- Nov. 8: The Gospel and Abortion (James 4:1-10)
We hope you can join us for this timely focus.
Learn more about Westgate Church.
What do we think about when we think about heaven?
It’s a pretty important question. If the Christian hope involves eternity with God in heaven, then it’s probably a good idea to understand, as much as is possible, what that looks like. What are we waiting for? What does the Bible actually promise? How does it deal with what’s wrong in this world? And what difference should that make for how we live our lives today in a fallen world?
And yet in my experience and observation, a lot of the common ideas people have today about heaven are not only rather dull and unexciting, but actually fall far short of being biblical.
A Shallow View of Heaven
When I was growing up, heaven was essentially just the place you went when you died. And my theology of heaven came more from Tom & Jerry or Looney Tunes than it did the Bible. Wile E. Coyote was riding a rocket after Road Runner, then goes careening off the cliff; the next frame he’s riding a cloud, with wings and a halo, floating his way up to heaven. It’s just what happens.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who thought about heaven this way. The Far Side comic above serves as the first case in point. But even a century before that, in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck describes his conversation with Miss Watson:
She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. . . . I asked if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.
One of author Russell Moore’s atheist friends captures the same disenchantment from another angle: “At least the Muslims had virgins waiting in Paradise for sex, . . . but who would want to play a harp, at any time, much less for all eternity?”
Somewhere along the way, we’ve come to think of heaven as this eternally disembodied state, with angelic souls floating on clouds, shed of the prison of their bodies in eternal bliss and contemplation—an idea that resonates much more with ancient Gnosticism and Plato than it does the Bible.
But add a little Bible and the picture doesn’t exactly get a whole lot better. Mix in a dash of Revelation 5 and now instead of riding on clouds, we’re spending our disembodied eternity in an unending worship service. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but imagine being stuck in a church service that goes on forever. It’s enough to make the stoutest heart falter. This idea of heaven prompted one former evangelical to write an article entitled, “Ten Reasons Popular Versions of Heaven Would Be Hell.”
But there are other ideas. For some of us, sentimentality reigns. Heaven is basically a big family reunion, where we’re finally reunited with deceased friends and family. This is one of the dominant themes of the spate of best-selling “heaven tourism” books that have come out in recent years—the so-called ‘eye-witness’ accounts of trips to heaven and back (which are problematic in several ways).
For others, selfishness reigns. Heaven is whatever we love most about earth multiplied by infinity. Consider this celebrity survey in People magazine, when asked “what’s your idea of heaven?”:
EDIE FALCO: Finding a parking space in front of my house.
BILLY BOB THORNTON: Living on a lily pad with all the German chocolate cake and fried okra I could eat, with all my children.
UMA THURMAN: It would be sweet, intimate, pretty and really private.
ADAM MESH (Average Joe): All-you-can-eat buffets where you never get full, a basketball court where I could dunk—and I’d still have all my hair.
LUDACRIS: A life of no work and just spending money. There’s no limit to what I can spend money on.
We might mock that kind of unbridled selfishness, but when we look at some religious descriptions of heaven today, what we find is not much different. One devotional called A Travel Guide to Heaven declares that “paradise is ‘Disney World, Hawaii, Paris, Rome and New York all rolled up into one’—the ‘ultimate playground, created purely for our enjoyment.’”
And for still others, particularly on the secular side, heaven is less about pleasure and more about closure. Think of the immensely popular works of Mitch Albom—The Five People You Meet in Heaven and Tuesdays with Morrie. New York Times columnist David Brooks writes:
the heaven that is apparently popular with readers these days is nothing more than an excellent therapy session. In Albom’s book, God, to the extent that he exists there, is sort of a genial Dr. Phil. When you go to his heaven, friends and helpers come and tell you how innately wonderful you are. They help you reach closure. In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It’s all about you.”
Adam Kirsch makes a similar point in Slate.
What these visions of heaven have in common is their refusal of transcendence. They are unable to believe in anything more important than the individual human being or more significant than his or her earthly suffering. . . . heaven means a chance to get our inner lives right at last. . . . Instead of angelic choirs, it now seems, we will be greeted in heaven by the sound of a billion voices, all talking about themselves.”
Friends, Jesus died for much, much more than this.
We Need a Better Vision of Heaven
The problem, of course, with these popular notions of heaven is not only that they are unbiblical (or at least sub-biblical), which they are. The problem is also that none of them are worth hoping in.
What we often find ourselves hoping for in the name of heaven is not only too shallow to actually satisfy the deep longings of our hearts, but falls woefully short of addressing what’s really wrong with this world, or realizing the plan of God’s good creation from the beginning.
We need a better vision of heaven—a biblical one: the new heavens and new earth. And that’s what we’re going to talk about at Sandy Island this weekend.
- Longing for Home: A Groaning Creation (Rom. 8:18-25)
- The Firstfruits of Home: Resurrection and Regeneration (1 Cor. 15:20-26)
- Finally Home: New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21:1–22:5)
There’s still time to join us if you’re interested; find out more here. And we’ll try to post the talks in some format afterward.
 Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1996), 6. As cited in Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2004), 7.
 Russell Moore, Onward (Nashville: B&H, 2015), 1.
 Anthony DeStefano, as cited in Adam Kirsch, “Paradise Lite,” Slate, Feb. 5, 2004. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2004/02/paradise_lite.html.
 David Brooks, “Hooked on Heaven Lite,” New York Times, March 09, 2004.
This morning thousands of people across the nation joined to protest Planned Parenthood at 320 of their clinics. I had the privilege of joining several friends at the clinic in Marlborough, Mass., where we spent our time in prayer.
My friend, Lina Demers, prepared a prayer guide for the morning, which I found to be beautiful, pointed, and on target. We started each section with a Scripture reading, and then prayed about the topic in light of that passage. I thought it would be helpful to share it here (with her permission), as we continue seek our Creator and Savior in light of this devastating situation.
PRAYER OF ADORATION FOR GOD
Reading: Psalm 96; Psalm 2
PRAYER FOR PREGNANT MOTHERS IN CRISIS AND THEIR BABIES–may God protect and preserve them both.
Reading: Psalm 91
PRAYER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE HAD ABORTIONS–may they find forgiveness and cleansing in Christ
Reading: Psalm 32
PRAYER FOR MOTHERS WHO HAVE CHOSEN TO HAVE THEIR BABIES–may God provide proper care and support.*
Reading: Psalm 121
PRAYER FOR EMPLOYEES OF PLANNED PARENTHOOD–may they experience God’s mercy, grace, and salvation.
Reading: Psalm 25
PRAYER FOR OUR NATION–may God open our eyes to the dark realities of abortion and bring an end to this atrocity, beginning with the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Reading: Psalm 94
Reading: Ephesians 6:12-13
BENEDICTION: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21)
*Along with this topic, it’s important to pray for crisis pregnancy centers, and also for the church to become a safe place for women in crisis, as well as cultivating a culture of adoption and foster care within our churches.
This Saturday, Aug. 22, from 9:00-11:00 am, people will be protesting Planned Parenthood in 43 states and 180 cities as part of a nationwide movement to seek federal defunding of the nation’s largest abortion provider. This comes in light of the recent undercover videos exposing the even darker atrocities of the organization.
For those who are interested or moved in our area, protests have been organized for the clinics in Boston and Worcester. But those in the Metrowest may not know that there is also clinic in downtown Marlborough (91 Main Street).
Some of us from Westgate Church will be gathering in Marlborough at the park across the street from the clinic (Union Common, corner of Main and Bolton) for a silent protest of prayer—no signs, no yelling, just taking our concerns and heartbreak to the Lord of creation, who is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows (Ps. 68:5).
We will pray for pregnant mothers in crisis, and for the children they carry–that God would protect and preserve both mother and child. We will pray for those who have had abortions, that they would find forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. We will pray for moms who have chosen to have their babies–for proper care and support. And we will pray that God would open the eyes of our nation to the dark realities of abortion, and bring this atrocity to an end, beginning with the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Let me start with a confession: I don’t like politics. I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to the political system. And I’m relatively busy—it’s a lot to keep up with. Not very good excuses, but an honest admission.
But if we’re Facebook friends, then you may have noticed that I have been posting a lot of articles recently about abortion and Planned Parenthood. I thought I’d take a minute to explain why. Here are four reasons:
1. I believe abortion is a life and death issue. Women’s healthcare is critical and important. But it does not have to be bundled with the destruction, dissection, and sale of unborn humans (at least half of whom are women).
The practice of abortion is not a healthcare issue; it is a termination of life issue. Saying that it’s okay to terminate your child in the womb but not once it’s born is like having a law that says it’s okay to murder your child in the kitchen but not in the bathroom. Anyone honest enough to look at the medical, rational, and biblical evidence can see this. And if we fail to care for the wellbeing of those who cannot care for themselves, we are on our way to becoming less than human ourselves.
That doesn’t mean abortion is the unforgiveable sin. There is grace and mercy and cleansing for all who come to Christ in faith and repentance. But holding out the sufficiency of grace, which we must do, doesn’t mean we downplay the sinfulness of sin.
But you don’t have to be a Christian to recognize truth when it stares you in the face: abortion is involves ending a human life.
2. I am troubled that so many remain either unconvinced or unconcerned about this critical issue. Despite what appears so clear to so many, not least the co-founder of NARAL, the abortion industry is alive and well in America, having legally terminated the lives of 57 million people since 1973. More than that, America’s loose standards for late-term abortion place them in a category shared only with China, North Korea, and Canada.
I, like many, find this outrageous. Not because I have everything figured out, or think I’m more righteous than the next guy (I am a sinner saved by grace). But because I am sickened by such a widespread, callous disregard for life. And I don’t believe I have the luxury of remaining silent. As many have said, if we don’t speak for those who have no voice, who will?
3. I believe that we are witnessing a unique historical moment. The recent undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress have created an opportunity unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years to expose the dark realities of the abortion industry, and the particular atrocities of Planned Parenthood. Many of us who care deeply about this issue had hoped that Gosnell would have a similar effect, but the main stream media blackout effectively silenced the conversation. After all, for those who paid any attention, Gosnell was just a twisted guy—most abortion clinics aren’t that brutal or sadistic. Except they are, and these videos have now shown us that the evils of abortion are not the stuff of back alley hack jobs, but mainstream, federally funded clinics—the very face of the abortion industry, Planned Parenthood.
The brutality of abortion itself should be repugnant to anyone. But for those who have fallen asleep to this atrocity, the realization that Planned Parenthood sells baby body parts is “disturbing” wake up call—even to liberal politicians. After all, what is it that makes so-called “fetal tissue” (read: liver, thymus, heart, brain, eyes, arms, legs) so valuable for research? The fact that they are human. If an ultrasound doesn’t convince us of the humanity of the unborn, watching a doctor pick through the body parts for sale certainly should.
Since Planned Parenthood is selling human body parts, there is no legitimate basis for receiving federal funds. There are a lot of ways to fund women’s health without feeding the blood thirsty monster that preys on the unborn, particularly among minorities.
But this is admittedly about much more than Planned Parenthood. Defunding Planned Parenthood, in my dreams, will be but the start of a national repentance on the issue of abortion.
4. I want to do what I can to keep the conversation on the table. It is for these reasons that we need to do everything to not let this conversation die until real and lasting change happens. As many have said, abortion is our abolitionist cause. It took William Wilberforce 42 years to move the British Parliament to end slavery; we need to approach this issue with the same resolve. And one of the most critical tactics for opening blind eyes is showing people again and again the bloody truth of abortion they have been thus far happy to neglect. This is why Planned Parenthood and others who profit from abortions are seeking legal injunctions to block the release of more videos—they don’t want you to see the truth. Because as Wilberforce reminded us, once we see, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
And so I post. Because I want everyone to see. And social media provides a platform when main stream media refuse to do their job, as they often do on this issue (not least when they’re bullied by Planned Parenthood itself).
The videos will keep coming. So will the articles and posts. You don’t have to look. But if you don’t see, I want it to be because you are unwilling to see, not because the truth was hidden from plain sight.
“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 33:18-19)
Apart from sleeping, there are few things we spend more time doing in our lifetime than work. The average is somewhere in the 90,000-hour range. That’s just over 11 years if you’re counting.
Work is consuming. And it’s rarely easy.
- 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs.
- 25% of employees say work is their main source of stress and 40% say their job is “very or extremely stressful.”
- 64% of Americans canceled vacations last year. One-third did it for work-related reasons.
- 25% of people check into work hourly while on vacation, via email and phone.
For something so overwhelming and often consuming for so many in our congregations, it’s interesting that work receives relatively little attention in our gathered worship services. David Miller captures the common predicament Christians find themselves in: “Many who are Christians complain of a ‘Sunday-Monday gap,’ where their Sunday worship hour bears little to no relevance to the issues they face in their Monday workplace hours.”
What difference does the gospel of Jesus make in our work? Or as Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger ask the question, “How can I do my work, not just as a way to put food on the table, but as a sold-out disciple of Jesus? What’s the point of work, anyway, in a Christian’s life? Is there any meaning to it beyond providing goods and services, making money, and providing a living for myself and my family?”
Many have offered answers to these questions, and many of those answers are quite helpful. Yet they can also feel simplistic and confusing, even competing at times. Tim Keller summarizes some of the key ideas commonly advocated as the main way to apply one’s Christian faith to work:
- The way to serve God at work is to further social justice in the world.
- The way to serve God at work is to be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues.
- The way to serve God at work is just to do skillful, excellent work.
- The way to serve God at work is to create beauty.
- The way to serve God at work is to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end.
- The way to serve God at work is to work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs.
- The way to serve God at work is to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion.
- The way to serve God at work is to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.
Certainly there’s a element of truth to all of these. But they can’t all be the main way at the same time, can they? What difference does the gospel of Jesus actually make for our work?
We won’t claim to sort all of this out, but we do hope to find some clarity and direction as we focus on this subject beginning in August at Westgate Church, in our series, “The Gospel at Work”:
- Aug. 2: ‘As Unto the Lord’: A Theology of Work (Genesis 2:1-3, 15; Col. 3:23-24)
- Aug. 9: True Success (Luke 12:13-21)
- Aug. 16: When Work Stops Working (Ecclesiastes 2:18-25)
- Aug. 23: A Gospel Performance Review (Ephesians 6:5-9)
- Aug. 30: Witnessing in the Workplace (1 Peter 3:8-17)
- Sept. 6: Balance: Work, Home, Church (Matthew 6:25-33)
We hope you can join us.
 See Alyson Shontell, “15 Seriously Disturbing Facts About Your Job,” Business Insider, Feb. 14, 2011. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/disturbing-facts-about-your-job-2011-2?op=1
 David Miller, as cited in Tom Nelson, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 15.
 Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 13.
 Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2012), 21-22. Kindle Edition.
I know, I know—it’s summer. No one wants to think about school when they come to church. At the same time, summer offers just the kind of breathing room we need, between the weight of academic deadlines and the flurry of extracurricular activities, to let ourselves reflect on a few deeper questions about life and school.
Questions like: What’s the point of school anyway? What is my (or my kids’) education really for? Is this all about me—achieving my dreams, landing a great career, making my parents happy? Is it about having fun, finding approval from my friends, being the best at something, whether art or sports or grades or goofing off? Or is there something more, something deeper to this season of life? What role does my faith play? What role should it play? Is faith capable of playing any role at all?
Our goal at Westgate during the month of July is to help answer those questions by pointing us all to the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The gospel of Jesus is not only about how we can be forgiven our sins and have an eternal relationship with God (though it’s certainly not less than that); it’s also the power of God to change us and guide us right now as we seek to follow him.
So far we’ve had a chance to explore the true purpose of knowledge—not just to know more stuff, but to love God with our minds (Lk. 24:13-32); the honesty and hope Scripture offers when we find ourselves in a crisis of faith (Ps. 73); and how the gospel address our innate need for approval by rooting us in our identity in Christ (Eph. 4:17-32). (Follow the links to find these recent sermons.)
This Sunday (July 19) our Student Minister, Lawrence Klingsheim, will help us wrestle with the question of whose approval we’re living for (“Peer Pressure and the Love of God”), and on July 26, Associate Pastor Bruce Daggett will help us explore our drive to achieve (“Gospel-Centered Ambition”).
We hope you can join us.