Transgender

 

A couple of weeks back I watched a Sunday documentary about a downhill mountain bike rider who is causing a bit of a stir in the sporting community.  Anton Weatherly rode as a male until December last year.  His performance was average, crossing the finish line midway in the field.  Then Anton switched genders and became Kate and started riding in the women’s division.  In January she raced in the New Zealand national women’s championship in Wanaka and won by almost 13 seconds.  The other female riders are crying foul.

You can hardly blame them.

Sporting bodies in NZ and worldwide are grappling with how to accommodate transgender athletes.  How do you support human rights and diversity while ensuring a level playing field?  No one knows.  Like the saying goes – it’s complicated.  The first thing we need to do is get our heads around what transgenderism is all about.  Let’s start with some terminology.

Transgender terminology

When we use the word gender, we are referring to the social and cultural aspects of being male or female.  Think masculine verses feminine; facial hair verses lipstick.

 Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their own gender, whether male or female or something else.  If I asked you the question, “Do you sense you are male or female?” (not, do you look male or female), I’m enquiring about your gender identity.

The term Transgender (the “T” part in LGBT) is an umbrella term to describe a person who experiences a gender identity that differs from the sex assigned to them at birth.

 Gender dysphoria is the term used to describe a person experiencing distress or discomfort because of a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.  They often use phrases such as being “trapped in the wrong body.”

Tansitioning refers to the steps a trans person takes to live in the gender with which they identify.  Sometimes this involves hormone therapy, medical intervention, surgery, and almost always some kind of counseling.

If you want to know where the transgender trend is heading, just look at the social networks.  Facebook, which is on a mission to be the most “progressive” social network on the web now has 71 gender options to choose from.  They’ve been outdone by Tumblr which has at least 300 (to date).

How did we get to this?

The answer lies where all societal changes lie – in a worldview or a belief system.  Everyone has a worldview.  It is what we use to make sense of life.  There’s a belief system driving transgenderism.  And you need to understand it (I wrote about this in a previous post on Love Thy Body, so I apologize if it appears that I am repeating myself).

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a very well-known Christian thinker and apologist by the name of Francis Schaeffer.  Schaeffer recognized a deep division running through all Western thought and culture, between science and morality; between facts and values.  This division has its roots in the period of the Enlightenment when intellectuals began to put human reason over and above divine revelation.  He illustrated it with the metaphor of a two-story building:

THEOLOGY, MORALITY
Private, Subjective, Relativistic
___________________________________________
SCIENCE
Objectively true, Testable

In the lower story is empirical science – that which is objectively true and testable.  On the upper story is the realm of theology and morality, which is considered subjective and relative.  When you hear people say, “That can be true for you but not for me,” you’re looking at the upper story.

Here is the same fragmented worldview using different terms:

VALUES
Private, Subjective, Relativistic
____________________________________________
FACTS
Objectively true, Testable

Nancy Pearcey points out in her book Love Thy Body this two-story worldview is the underlying current beneath many of the social issues in our society.  What has happened, she explains, is our concept of what it is to be a human being has also become fragmented into an upper and lower story, with the body in the lower story and the real person in the upper story.  The two-story worldview for them looks like this:

PERSONHOOD / AUTHENTIC SELF
Gender
_________________________________________________
THE BODY
Sex

So, you no longer have an integrated but fragmented human being, in which the body is treated as something different from and in some cases disconnected from the authentic self.

How is it possible people think this way?  Because of our dualistic worldview, spawned in the period of the enlightenment, nurtured in our education system, and now bearing fruit in society.  For those who saw it coming, it’s of no surprise.  But it is also tragically wrong.  And I want to tell you why.

Real answers from a Caring Creator

True freedom is not found in asserting our independence and trying to be something we are not made to be.  True freedom is found in being who we are.  Vaughn Roberts describes it this way:

“A fish that decides to make a bid for freedom by jumping out of the water will not be free – because it is created to live in the environment of water. And as soon as we try and become what we are not, far enjoying freedom, we can’t expect to flourish.”

So then, who are we?  How should we as human beings view ourselves?  God, our Creator reveals that to us in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis chapter 1.

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27)

The Bible tells us we are first and foremost creatures.  We are not machines.  We are not just atoms and molecules banging into each other.  We are secondly, embodied creatures.  Our bodies are an essential part of our true selves.  God sees us as an integrated whole.  Third, we see that we are embodied sexual creatures, in the form of male or female.

You might have heard of the “brain-sex” theory.  It claims that sex differentiation of the genitals and the brain takes place at different stages of fetal development[1].  OK, so they are partly right in that.  We had scans on all our kids and their biological sex wasn’t determined until a later stage.  But then they go on to say that a baby in the womb can be developed with male genitals and a female brain.

There are over 37 trillion cells in my body.  There are 46 chromosomes in every human cell. ‘Two of these are specialized chromosomes called sex chromosomes.  I have one X and one Y chromosome in every cell of my body (if you are a female you have two X’s).  These remain in my cells from conception until death and do not change.  I am “hard-wired” to be a male down to every cell in my body.

You say, “Well if that’s true – if we are really ‘hard-wired’ to be male or female since birth, how is it that some people seem to be genuinely struggling with their identity?  Why the disorders?  Why do some men feel they are women trapped in a man’s body and some women feel they are really men trapped in a woman’s body?”

The answer lies in Genesis chapter 3: The Fall.  Sin has corrupted us in two ways: physically, with our bodies and psychologically, with our minds.  The result is we have disordered bodies.  We have sickness and disease.  There are corruptions in the genetic code causing all kinds of defections and abnormalities in our bodies.  But we also have disordered minds.  We struggle with stress and depression and all kinds of mental health issues.  None of us are immune.  Some of us are born with a predisposition toward addiction or schizophrenia or OCD or ADHD.  Some experience gender dysphoria.  It’s all part of the fall.  And it’s not right to point to one group of people over here and say, “you’re queer” or “you’re not normal” because, since the fall, none of us are normal.  We have dysfunctions of one kind or another.  So we need to be understanding to people who are experiencing these strange feelings.

The question we want to ask next is – is there any hope for them (and us!)?  Has God offered any solution?  Yes, he has!  He put into plan something wonderful: a rescue mission, to set right all that had gone wrong.

God sent his very own Son into this world to redeem us.  Jesus Christ was born as a human being – a wonderful affirmation that God values the human body.  He lived in perfect submission to his heavenly Father.  Then he took our place on the cross, bearing our sin, and taking the place we deserve for punishment for our sins.  On the third day, he rose from the dead – bodily.  Again, another powerful statement about the importance of our human bodies.

After his resurrection Jesus told his followers to take the good news to the world: every man, woman, and child can be completely forgiven and renewed, simply by turning from their sin and rebellion and putting their trust in Jesus to save them.  They will, in return, receive a new identity, a new mind, new desires, a new citizenship, a new family (the family of God), and one day, a new resurrected body.

That doesn’t mean that everything changes completely overnight.  The change is sometimes slow, and agonizing.  There will be an ongoing struggle with our disordered bodies and disordered minds.  Some of us struggle with depression and anxiety.  Others struggle with addictions and lust.  There are even those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.  God does not promise to take these things away immediately.  But he does give us His Holy Spirit, which gives us the power to work on them.  He calls us to deny some of those desires, take up our cross and follow Him.  There is pain involved with that.  But the temporary pain is worth every much the final gain.

Conclusion

If you are reading this and you struggle with some kind of sexual disorder – whether it be pornography or same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, Jesus’ message to you is the same for everyone:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29)

I’m not telling you, “Get your sexual disorders sorted out and then come to Jesus.”  That’s not how it works.  I am saying, “Come to Jesus and he will start to put you together again.”

Jesus the rescuer has come.  He has died, he has risen, and he has sent his Spirit to make it possible for us to be changed and transformed to what God, in the beginning, intended us to be – men and women who are made in the image of God, wholly integrated in soul, mind and body.

That’s where I am convinced our ultimate freedom and happiness is found.

[1] Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, p.67.

This post was based on a sermon on Gender Identity.  It is part of a Hot Topics series we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.  You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.

Here’s the Sunday documentary I referred to in my introduction.  It is interesting viewing and runs for around 12 minutes.

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Love Thy Body

LOVE your body?  Somehow it just doesn’t seem to fit right, especially if you happen to be a Christian.  Christians are not meant to love their bodies.  They are meant to beat them into subjection (as least, that’s the impression I got as a new believer).

But it’s a very fitting title for the book from which I want to talk about.  Nancy Pearcey, a leading Christian thinker and author, has put together a very compelling case for providing a clear, biblical answer for a confused and mixed-up generation regarding matters of sex and the body as well as numerous other ethical issues we are faced with today.

I wasn’t actually looking for this book.  I bought it almost by accident when searching for good resources to prepare for a new series we are currently going through at our church.  We are covering some of the “biggies” like euthanasia, homosexuality, suffering and evil, pornography and transgenderism.  I’d read Total Truth, another of Pearcey’s works and thought this would be a helpful contribution to my study.  It was more than that.  It completely altered my thinking and provided a whole new framework for understanding where our society is at today in terms of its worldview.

The introduction and first chapter, “I Hate Me” laid the foundation for the rest of the book.  Once I had that in my head everything else fell into place.  In the introduction she writes:

“The problem is many people treat morality as a list of rules.  But in reality, every moral system rests on a worldview.  In every decision we make, we are not just deciding what we want to do.  We are expressing our view of the purpose of human life.” – Nancy Pearcey

To be strategically effective therefore, she says we must address what people believe about the nature and significance of life itself.  In other words, we must engage their worldview.

Pearcey then unpacks that worldview.  In the past, she explains, reality for most people consisted of a natural order and a moral order, integrated into one unity.  But in our modern age, people think that reliable knowledge only exists in the natural order – that which is scientifically proven and can be tested.  Where does that leave moral truth?  It consists merely of personal preferences and feelings.

Some years ago, there emerged a Christian thinker and philosopher called Francis Schaeffer.  Schaeffer recognized this divide running through all Western thought and culture.  He illustrated it with the metaphor of a two-story building.

THEOLOGY, MORALITY
Private, Subjective, Relativistic
_____________________________________________
SCIENCE
Objectively true, Testable

In the lower story is empirical science – that which is objectively true and testable.  On the upper story is the realm of theology and morality, which is considered subjective and relative.  When you hear people say, “That can be true for you but not for me,” you’re looking at the upper story.

Here is the same fragmented world view seen using different terms:

VALUES
Private, Subjective, Relativistic
_______________________________________________
FACTS
Objectively true, Testable

What has happened, Pearcey explains, is our concept of what it is to be a human being has also become fragmented into an upper and lower story, with the body in the lower story and the real person in the upper story.  The two-story worldview for them looks like this:

PERSONHOOD / AUTHENTIC SELF
Gender
________________________________________________
THE BODY
Sex

So, you no longer have an integrated but fragmented human being, in which the body is treated as something different from and in some cases disconnected from the authentic self.

You say, “So what does that mean about anything?”

  • It means a baby in a mother’s womb is not a person until a certain stage (determined arbitrarily it seems, by our culture).  It’s just a body, a fetus; a thing.  It has no personhood.  It is still on the bottom story.
  • It means, if you are mentally disabled, and you have limited neocortical functioning, and can’t make decisions or exercise self-awareness or plan for the future (the upper story), then you don’t qualify as a person, and may be eligible for euthanasia.
  • It means, in the hook-up culture today, what you do with your body sexually does not necessarily have any connection to who you are as a person.  It’s just sex.  It’s just something you do, like eating or drinking.
  • And for the transgender person, it means you have a sex assigned at birth – male or female.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  Because the “real you” – the authentic self, has no connection to the body.  The real person resides in the mind, will and feelings.  That’s why transgender people often say they are trapped in the “wrong body.”

How is it possible people think this way?  Because of our dualistic worldview, spawned in the period of the enlightenment, nurtured in our education system, and now bearing fruit in society.  For those who saw it coming, it’s of no surprise.  Once you understand the worldview, it makes total sense.

But it is, as Pearcey states, a destructive and dehumanizing view of the body.  The Bible gives us a vastly different view.  The human body is the handiwork of a wise and loving God.  Mankind is the pinnacle of his creative work.  He forms him from the dust of the earth and breathes into him and he becomes a nephesh, a living soul (Gen 2:7).  Man is an integrated whole – soul, mind and body.  He is, in mind and body, an image bearer of his Creator.

Pearcey summarizes with this,

“The Bible does not separate the body off into a lower story, where it is reduced to a biochemical machine.  Instead the body is intrinsic to the person. And therefore it will ultimately be redeemed along with the person – a process that begin even in this life.

A biblical ethic is incarnational.  We are made in God’s image to reflect God’s character, both in our minds and in our bodily actions. There is no division, no alienation.  We are embodied beings.”

You see then, what this means.  It is a game-changer in terms of how we view all the difficult ethical issues of our day, from euthanasia, abortion, and sexuality.  Christians need not be throwing their arms up in despair.  Armed with helpful resources such as this, we can tackle these issues head-on, wisely, respectfully and biblically.

There is so much about this book I haven’t said.  This post doesn’t really do it justice.  I would encourage you to get this for your shelf.

Better still, put it on your coffee table for all to see.

Nancy Pearcey is considered by The Economist as “America’s pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.”  She presently serves as professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University.  She is co-author with Chuck Colson of How Now Shall We Live? and is the author of several other books including Total Truth, The Soul of Science, and Saving Leonardo.  

The Right to Die

 

Last Wednesday, a distinguished scientist bid farewell to his home in Australia to fly half way across the world to Switzerland, where it is legal to end your life.  He had no terminal illness nor was he suffering from any disease.  He’s just old – 104 years old, to be exact.  The tipping point for him was his diminishing independence.

“I’m not happy. I want to die. It’s not sad particularly. What is sad is if one is prevented.” – David Goodall

Prevented?  I found that interesting.  No one is preventing him from dying.  He will die; and most likely fairly soon.  Age will take him.  And if he is under medical care, he will die peacefully and comfortably.  So then, what’s the problem?  The problem is he wants to die when he says so.

It’s another example of mankind’s desire for personal autonomy, only to the extreme.  It is human rights pushed too far.  Most of us in the West are privileged to live in a democracy.  We all have certain rights –  irrespective of our age, ethnicity, culture, religion or sex.  But those rights only go so far.  We don’t have “rights” to do anything we want.  The law places limits on us.  And where the law doesn’t place limits, God does.  We don’t decide, for example, the day we are born.  Nor are we to decide the day we die.  Unless of course we override God’s plan and do what we want – which seems to be what is going on here.

This whole issue is receiving a lot of media attention in our country lately with the latest End of Life Choice Bill, which had it’s first reading in Parliament and is now being presented to the Justice Select Committee.  Currently, all forms of euthanasia including Voluntary Euthanasia (VE), Non-voluntary Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) are illegal in New Zealand.  The administration of drugs with the intention to relieve pain however (even though the effect will result in the shortening of life), and the withdrawal of life-preserving medical treatment that is not accomplishing anything useful, is lawful.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM 2013) states:

“Treatment that is appropriately titrated (measured and adjusted) to relieve symptoms and has a secondary and unintended consequence of hastening death, is not euthanasia.”

Doctors and palliative care-givers administer heavy pain medication with the intent of relieving suffering.  They may foresee that same medication will eventually bring about an early death but that is not their primary intent.  There is a clear difference and our legal system recognizes the difference.

There are a number of sound, rational, and practical arguments against euthanasia.  One is the risk of abuse.  Those vulnerable to a law change include the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and disabled, the emotionally distraught and so on.  Along with this is the slippery slope argument, which states once society accepts one form of termination of human life with a given set of conditions, it will be difficult or impossible to confine VE to those conditions.  Another is the ‘right to die’ could soon become a ‘duty to die.’  The elderly and terminally ill may come to feel euthanasia would be the right thing to do as they do not want to be a burden to their family. In fact, according to a health report from the State of Oregon (where VE has been legalized), one in three patients requesting euthanasia reported that part of their motivation was because they felt a “burden on family and friends.”

The concern is a subtle coercion placed on the vulnerable to end their lives.  In the Netherlands, where VE has been legalized for over 30 years, if a patient does not want to be killed by their doctor, they must state it clearly orally and in writing, well in advance.  A change in law allowing people to ‘opt in’ for VE or PAS will eventually become so normalized that people will feel pressured not to ‘opt out.’

But there is a greater and more powerful case against euthanasia.  It has served as the basis for the moral and ethical code in our country since it’s foundation.  It is called the sanctity of human life, which states that all human life, in whatever state or condition, able or disable, is of intrinsic value and cannot be taken.

In Genesis chapter one, verses 26-27 we find this:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”

We are image bearers – made in the likeness of God. This includes the mentally impaired, the deformed, the diseased and the terminally ill. Each one, in some way, bears the image of God.

The bible gives us another reason we must not take human life: God alone has authority of life and death. Deuteronomy 32:39 states,

“See now that I alone am he; there is no God but me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal. No one can rescue anyone from my power.” 

Psalm 139:6 says that God ordained every one of our days before even one of them began.  That means we cannot add or detract one second of our lives beyond what God has decided.

And as to the matter of suffering – the bible has something to say about that too.  Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3-5

“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 

Suffering develops character.  Suffering reminds us of the temporal nature of this world and causes us to long for the new world to come.  Suffering teaches us about mercy and kindness and compassion.  In fact, the word ‘compassion’ literally means to “suffer with.”  True compassion is the willingness to suffer on behalf of others and helping them to bear their burdens.

It saddens me to see an individual like David Goodall, who has lived a long and healthy life and who is not suffering from any illness, wanting to take his own life.  If only he knew how valuable he was in the sight of God, that God knows him intimately since the day he was formed in his mother’s womb, and that Jesus has provided a way for him know and love God, have his sin forgiven and receive eternal life.

Perhaps that might have changed things for him.  For death would not be the end, but a doorway to a new beginning.

Note: This post was based on a sermon on Euthanasia from our “Hot Topics” series.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.  You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.

Why your worldview matters

We are about to embark on a new series in our church called “Hot Topics.”  We are going to cover a lot of the issues troubling both Christians and non-Christians such as euthanasia, homosexuality and gender dysphoria, pornography, the problem of suffering and evil and so forth.  Our people are getting excited about it and are even inviting some of their friends (the series kicks off this coming Sunday if you live near).

Someone made the comment to me last week, “You are going to have your work cut out.”  They are not wrong there.  The amount of material I’ve had to cover in preparation for this series is colossal.  There are books and medical journals and articles littered all over the place.  I feel like I’m back in theological college.

One of the things that has become quickly apparent to me in my reading all this material is the importance and significance of one’s worldview.  Don’t be put off by the term; it’s not as scary as you think.

“Worldviews are like belly buttons.  Everyone has one, but we don’t’ talk about them very often.” – James Andersen

A worldview, as the word itself suggests, is an overall view of the world.  It’s the lens you use to interpret everything that is going on around you.  It represents your fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the world and human life.  It’s what you use to answer all the big questions of life such as:

  • Is there a God?
  • If there isn’t a God, does it matter?
  • What is truth and how we determine what is true and what isn’t?
  • Where did the universe come from and where is it going – if anywhere?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Am I simply a collection of random cells that came together by chance or is there more to it than that?

You get the idea.  Your worldview will determine how you answer those questions.  And it also has a big say in your ethics and morals.  Your worldview will frame how you think about abortion, euthanasia, same-sex relationships, gender dysphoria, environmentalism, animal rights and almost any other major issue of our day.

For example, let’s look at the issue of euthanasia (I’m covering this one on Sunday so it’s fresh on my mind).  It quickly became apparent to me, in reading all the various views on this subject, how one’s worldview comes in to place.  If you hold to a secular humanistic worldview, you believe human life is a cosmic accident, a jumble of cells and chemicals that came together purely by chance over millions (or billions) of years and has no ultimate meaning.  Your opinions about euthanasia will be based purely on utilitarian and rationalistic reasons: Does it benefit the individual?  Does it promote human autonomy?  Does the majority of the population support it? Is it working in other places in the world? etc, etc.

If, on the other hand, your worldview is influenced by the Bible and a Judeo-Christian ethic, your views about euthanasia will be based on theological reasons.  A quick examination of the Scriptures will tell you that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27) – whether they be diseased or terminally ill or physically or mentally handicapped; that life is a gift from God and must not be taken (with a few exceptions – i.e. killing in self-defense) and the ending of human life is a divine prerogative shared by no one but God (Deut 32:39).

OK, so that’s a very strong example.  And we don’t normally deal with that on a daily basis.  There are all kinds of decisions however, that you do make on a daily basis that are influenced by your worldview such as the books you read, the movies you watch, the clothes you wear, the people you hand out with, how you go about dealing with a difficult neighbour, how you treat the elderly, how you spend your money, how you discipline your children – the list, literally, goes on and on.

What do you do when your boss asks you to fudge the date on a building inspection?  What about when a friend wants you to lie about where he was on a certain date, or aks you to download a pirated movie?

You can see worldviews are intensely practical and influence almost every decision we make.  Hitler had a worldview that resulted in the mass extermination of millions of people.  William Wilberforce had very different worldview, which resulted in the abolition of the slave trade, putting an end to untold human suffering.

Over the next few weeks, those in our congregation will have their worldviews put to the test.  What will be the outcome I wonder?  Like it not, these issues will force us all to talk about our “belly buttons.”

Note: If you are looking for a starting guide on this subject, I highly recommend a little book by James Andersen called, What’s Your Worldview?  He takes you on an interactive journey of discovery of your world view by asking some of life’s biggest questions.  Not only that, he even helps you to improve and change it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you can never win (especially if you’re a Christian)

homophobia

noun: intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality

That’s what Israel Folau is presently being accused of by the Australian and New Zealand media.  But they are wrong.

It all started with an innocent post on instagram about his disappointment with a hamstring injury.  Folau quoted from James 1:2-4 –Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance…”  Seems harmless enough so far, right?  Then, in the comments on that post, someone asks him about God’s plan for gay people.  So he tells it straight – perhaps a little too straight for some of us; but it was honest and from the heart.  Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God, they will be going to hell.  Now he’s a homophobic, a menace and a danger to society.  I think this gives a clear indication of just how far society has moved in the past few years as well as how much Christians have been marginalized.

Folau’s initial post on Instagram. Everyone went for the comment. No one considered the context.

Chris Rattue, sports writer for the New Zealand Herald writes,

“I don’t really care if Folau’s homophobic raving occurs away from official rugby duties. Free speech is free speech and the Folau family is on a roll.  His wife, Silver Ferns netball star Maria Folau, is standing with God and by her man and his views. They are no doubt mightily relieved to be enjoying such a healthy and inspirational non-same sex marriage.”

Ouch.  When Folau saw some of the media frenzy, the misrepresentation of Christianity and potential damage to Australian Rugby, he felt compelled to provide some kind of explanation.  So he wrote his own article on Players Voice.  This is some of what he wrote:

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.

I have sinned many times in my life. I take responsibility for those sins and ask for forgiveness through repentance daily.

I understand a lot of people won’t agree with some of the things I’m about to write.

That’s absolutely fine. In life, you are allowed to agree to disagree.

But I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life.

I hope this will provide some context to the discussion that started with my reply to a question asked of me on Instagram two weeks ago.

I read the Bible every day. It gives me a sense of peace I have not been able to find in any other area of my life. It gives me direction. It answers my questions.

I believe that it is a loving gesture to share passages from the Bible with others. I do it all the time when people ask me questions about my faith or things relating to their lives, whether that’s in-person or on my social media accounts.

Two weeks ago, I tore my hamstring quite badly in the opening minutes against the Brumbies. I was told I would be on the sidelines for a month. Finding out I would miss three or four games so early in the season was disappointing and frustrating, but I accepted the news and started looking ahead.

That afternoon I put up the following Instagram post, referring to James 1: 2-4:

 “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.”

In the comments section of that post, I was asked a question by somebody about what God’s plan is for gay people.

My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings, specifically 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

I do not know the person who asked the question, but that didn’t matter. I believed he was looking for guidance and I answered him honestly and from the heart. I know a lot of people will find that difficult to understand, but I believe the Bible is the truth and sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear.

I think of it this way: you see someone who is about to walk into a hole and have the chance to save him. He might be determined to maintain his course and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. But if you don’t tell him the truth, as unpopular as it might be, he is going to fall into that hole. What do you do?

In this case, we are talking about sin as the Bible describes it, not just homosexuality, which I think has been lost on a lot of people.

There are many sins outlined in that passage from 1 Corinthians and I have been guilty of committing some of them myself.

No man or woman is different from another – if you sin, which we all do, and do not repent and seek forgiveness, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.

As it is written in Acts 2:38:

“Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

I believe when Jesus died on the cross for us, it gave us all the opportunity to accept and believe in Him if we wanted to. To enter the kingdom of Heaven, though, we must try our best to follow His teachings and, when we fall short, to seek His forgiveness.

That sure throws a different light on things.  I only hope that when I’m placed in a similar jam that I will answer as clearly, honestly and truthfully as Folau.  Thank’s Israel for being faithful when many stars before you haven’t.

No April Fool

This year April Fool’s Day falls on Easter, which is a rarity.  The last time that happened was 1956.  The reason is because Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover, which is always celebrated on the first full moon after the spring equinox, hence the clash.  As expected, there were plenty of Christianity-bashers out there making the most of it, posting scoffing remarks on social media about the ‘fools’ that actually believe in the resurrection.

Take this one for example from Atheist Revolution:

What does April Fool’s Day have to do with Christianity? Everything. This pseudo-holiday, recognized but not celebrated, is about gullibility. As gullibility is a vital friend to religion, it seems that Christians should recognize this as an important holiday. April Fools is about playing pranks, about telling lies, and about trying to convince someone that something is true when you know it isn’t. The parallels with Christianity are striking.

But are they, really?

In 2015, BMW put a front-page advertisement in the New Zealand Herald offering a new car to the first person who showed up on April 1 with their current vehicle and the coupon.  Now who would take that seriously?  One woman in Auckland did, turning up in her 15-year-old Nissan.  She was taken to the showroom and handed the keys of a brand spanking new Beamer with the number plate, “NoFooL.”

Now that has to be the ultimate in April-Fool’s reversal – right?  What most people thought was a cheap ruse was in fact, the real deal.  Well, the way I look at it, the resurrection of Jesus tops that.  The world threw everything they could at Jesus.  They tried him, beat him and put him on a cross, and then just to make sure he was good and truly dead, thrust a spear into his side.  Then they sealed his body in a tomb, with a very large stone.  They thought that was the end of it.  Three days later however, Jesus springs back to life.  Mary saw him, Peter and John saw him, as well as 500 of his followers.  Even ‘doubting Thomas’ couldn’t deny the facts when he saw with his own eyes the risen Christ and put his finger in the holes in his side.

The resurrection isn’t a trick or a ruse.  It’s the truth.  The facts are undeniable and the evidence irrefutable (find yourself a Bible and check it out yourself – it’s there for the world to see).  It’s not those who believe in the resurrection who are the fools, but the ones who don’t.  There’s coming a day however, when all will be brought to light; when we all, like Thomas, will see him with our own eyes, holes and all.

Guess who will be having the last laugh then?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking out against Assisted Suicide

If you live in New Zealand, you will be well aware of another push to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, led by David Seymour, leader of the ACT Party.  The NZ Parliament has just voted the “End of Life Choice Bill” through its 1st Reading and it is now being considered by the Justice Select Committee.  A similar bill went before the Select Committee two years ago and the majority of New Zealanders opposed it, so that it never made any ground (see my post “Please New Zealand, don’t support assisted suicide” in January 2016, along with my submission against the bill).

Well here it is again, with a new twist.  This new bill involves a law change.  If passed, it would allow assisted suicide or euthanasia by deadly drugs for virtually any New Zealander 18 years or older, who has a disability, a longstanding or ageing-related condition, a mental illness, or even severe depression.

Family First recently published a very helpful and informative leaflet on the issue, which helped clarify a lot of things that were on my mind.

“Safe euthanasia is a myth. Euthanasia will remove the ‘choice’ of many vulnerable people, and fails the public safety test. Most disturbingly, promotion of assisted suicide is a message that will be heard not just by those with a terminal illness but also by anyone tempted to think he or she can no longer cope with their suffering – whatever the nature of that suffering. This is the real risk to young and to vulnerable people, the disabled and elderly people if NZ follows the path of promoting – and allowing – assisted suicide” — Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

To me it seems rather odd, and somewhat hypercritical for many of our country’s leaders and politicians to be making such a big issue about suicide (which is truly out of hand) and then, in the same breath, support assisted suicide for the weak and vulnerable.  Cannot people see this?

It is helpful in all of this, to have a clear understanding of what assisted suicide is and what it is not.  Have a look at this short video by Euthanasia-Free NZ – you’ll find it very helpful:

There are some clear warnings from other countries where a similar bill has been passed:

  • OREGAN:  In 2016, 48.9% of those who died under the Death with Dignity Act cited “burden on family, friends/caregivers” as a reason for accessing assisted suicide.
  • THE NETHERLANDS:  At least 23% of euthanasia deaths are not reported each year, despite reporting being required by law. In 2012, mobile euthanasia clinics began providing euthanasia to patients whose doctors had refused; by 2014, there were 39 of these clinics, again without recourse to Parliament for a change in the law.
  • BELGIUM:  In the region of Flanders, roughly 30% of all euthanasia deaths are non-voluntary; that’s roughly 1.8% of all deaths in the region.
  • CANADA:  Between June 2016 and June 2017, 1,982 people died under Canada’s Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) Law– 1,977 were euthanized, and 5 people committed assisted suicide.

Some may argue those stats are one-sided; there must be positives to this law change.  But even if these are one-sided, and given say – 10% margin of error, they are still very concerning.  Besides, I still personally struggle to see what “positive effects” such a law change may bring about.

As a Pastor, who has ministered to the elderly and dying for the past 24 years, I strongly oppose this law change.  As a family member, who has sat at my dying parent’s bedside, I oppose this bill.  As a citizen, who foresees massive problems where this could go in our nation, I oppose this bill.   And as a God-fearer, who will one day face his Creator and give an answer for how I stood (or did not stand) for truth and the sanctity of human life, I oppose this bill.

Here is the submission that I made to the Select Committee:

To the Justice Select Committee,

I am writing to oppose the End of Life Choice Bill.

Firstly, I oppose this bill for legal reasons. The bill, if passed, would require a major change to the Crimes Act – namely, that some people should be allowed to intentionally end the lives of other people. The ultimate choice and control will be with the system and its agents, not with the person who dies.

Secondly, I oppose this bill for social reasons. As a pastor, I devote a considerable amount of time caring for the elderly. Many of them struggle to get through each day as their health deteriorates; others suffer with debilitating disease. It pains me to see them in this condition. Yet I also see the love, care and support shown by family members, health professionals as well as people in my church and community. Such loving service is what makes communities truly human. It is right and good. What message are we sending to our children when, for the sake of convenience, the lives of the weak and suffering are simply terminated? I believe such a law would have a profound negative influence on our society.

Thirdly, I oppose this bill for ethical reasons. This bill, if passed, would violate one of the most important principles of our Judeo-Christian heritage (which was foundational to the forming of New Zealand society); namely, the sanctity of human life. EVERY life in this nation of our has inherent worth, able or disabled, healthy or sick.

Lastly, I oppose this bill for personal reasons. Several years ago, I sat at the beside of my dying mother, who was suffering terribly in the last stages of cancer. Her death was not sudden, but long and drawn out. The care given by the medical team at the hospice was exceptional. They monitored her pain levels constantly so that she was not in any discomfort. The drain on myself and my five siblings however, was noticeable. It meant time away from our jobs and family, loss of income and considerable emotional anguish. During this time, none of us were in a fit state to make rational decisions – particularly a decision on whether a person should live or die. We were simply coping. My concern, if such a bill was passed, is that individuals in a similar situation may act emotionally or reactively to end a loved one’s life, or the one suffering may feel pressured or coerced to request a premature death.

Some of the most precious time spent with my mother was during those final days. Hurts were healed, relationships were restored, and loving words were uttered. I believe every human being is put here on this earth by their Creator for a purpose. That purpose is not fully complete until their allotted days are over. We do not have the right, nor the wisdom or foresight, to aid in the ending on another individual’s life, whether they request it or not.

Respectfully yours,

Peter Somervell

Some helpful and informative websites:

You can make your own online submission here.