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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who do you trust?

Isn't it funny? It's alright these days to trust just about anyone. Well, anyone not human. I mean, of course you don't trust strangers or the government or things like that. No, I'm talking about life choices. It's okay to trust ... "the Force" or karma or the "spirit that lives within us all". In the movie, Alaska, the young hero was told by the wise eskimo to "trust the bear". And we hoped he would. Hey, in Avatar the really astute ones trusted a tree. Well, of course, that's because the tree was part of the entire life force that encompassed the entire planet and all that was on it. Now, that was commendable. And yet ... try to tell people that you are trusting in God and they'll likely think you quaint, trite, foolish. It's okay to trust a tree, but not the Creator.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Curse of Work

How many times have you seen it? It seems the dream of so many is to be able to stop working. "What would you do if you won the lottery?" "Oh, I'd quit work and live it up!" It seems like for many people "the perfect world" would include no work at all. We hate work ... don't we?

It is a common belief among Christians that work is the curse of sin. You know: "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field" (Gen 3:17-18). See? We have to work because of Adam's sin.

Not changing the subject, but one of the perks in my car is satellite radio and one of the stations I enjoy hearing is the Radio Classics station. They play old-time radio shows from the 30's through the 60's. I enjoy it. The other day they played an episode of Escape about a guy who wanted to get away from all the struggle of life. He wanted to find "the perfect place". And he found it. Except when he did, he found it wasn't perfect. There was no competition, no effort, no direction. He couldn't achieve anything because it was already done. He went fishing and the fish simply gave up and jumped in the boat. He went hunting and the deer lined up for him to shoot. There was no challenge. And it wasn't perfection.

The show highlighted what many of us tend to forget. We were not designed for only leisure. We were designed to do. Before the Fall, Adam was not idle. He wasn't sitting under a tree eating fruit that dropped into his hand. He was tasked by God. "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it" (Gen 2:15). Adam, in his original, sinless state, was not unemployed. He had jobs to do. He tended the garden. He named all the animals. He worked.

What, then, was the result of the Fall? It wasn't the curse of work. It was the curse of hard work. Essentially, God sentenced mankind to hard labor.

What does it say, then, when we complain about having to work? First, it says we're sinful and selfish and don't realize the many benefits of fruitful labor. Even Natural Man can identify the value of work. We're born for it. We inherently desire to contribute, to be successful, to be significant. That doesn't happen without work. And even Natural Man knows "No pain, no gain." But it also says that we are in rebellion against God's justice. Work is a gift. Hard work is a curse. We have to work hard because God justly ordained it so. And we would prefer to remove God from our lives. In other words, when we complain about having to work and having to work hard, we are complaining about God. We are telling the Potter, "Why have you made me thus?"

Work is not a curse. I sincerely doubt that any of us have really hard work these days, either. The next time you find yourself wishing you could quit work and just live a life of leisure, remember whose voice you're hearing. It's not your Maker's voice. It's the Father of Lies. You know, the one who said, "Did God say ...?"

Friday, February 26, 2010

Where are you headed?

My wife recently watched a remake of the movie Fame. (She told me, "You won't like this. Why don't you go do something you'd like?" I have a great wife.) It got me to thinking. The story (as much as I gathered from the other room) is about a school that teaches kids the arts. The goal, obviously, is "Fame". And while the teachers try to expand the kids' understanding of these arts, the goal remained the same: "I wanna live forever." And I had to ask myself, "What kind of goal is that?"

You realize, of course, that it is, in its essence, a purely self-centered goal. It is perhaps one of the most common -- "fame and fortune" -- but it's purely about me. Others may tag their own take onto it, like "power" or some such, but it's still purely selfish. And I got to wondering how many of us are operating on purely selfish goals. Is your job a way to selfish endeavors or is it a vocation -- a calling from God?

When you start considering a career, it is unavoidable that you start with self. That may sound wrong, but it's the way it is. And we who have determined that "self" is always bad haven't been paying attention to the Bible. God commands as the #2 command, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." That makes self love the standard by which you love your neighbor. Paul commanded husbands to love their wives "as their own bodies". He went on to say, "He who loves his wife loves himself" (Eph 5:28). In other words, you start with self love and it is the standard by which you love others. Further, in loving others correctly, you love yourself. And, practically, when you think about it, how can you not start with self when considering a career? You have to consider strengths and weaknesses, inclinations and dislikes, skills and talents -- your own, of course. You see, avoiding being "self-centered" doesn't mean you never consider yourself. It means "in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil 2:3-4). Or, "I am significant, but you are more so. I need to care for my own concerns, but I need to care for yours as well." You start with self and work your way out.

The question isn't the starting point. The question is the end point. Where are you headed? I wonder how many of us view our employments as something for someone else.

Imagine, if you will, the young singer who is considering their chance to try out for something like American Idol. Would he or she ever be considering anything but self? Is there the possibility of a goal that would be for the benefit of others? I think we can all be pretty sure that it is not an other-centeredness that pushes young actors and performers into drug and alcohol addictions.

But that career field just makes the question so obvious. Do any of us take a job thinking, "With this position I'll be able to serve others" or "spread the Gospel" or "make a significant impact on the lives of others" or the like? Some careers, I suppose, tend more toward that. A social worker or a pastor would likely approach it that way. But what about a programmer or an airline pilot? What about a janitor or a CEO? What about a washing machine repairman or a banker? Do we take these tasks simply as a means to get what we want, or is it possible to see a vocation, a calling from God to serve others in these roles?

I don't think it's an easy question, but I believe the answer is a given. We are commanded "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Workers are told to render "service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man" (Eph 6:8), operating "as servants of Christ" (Eph 6:6). We are commanded, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Col 3:23). Your job, then, is not a job. It is a calling from God to serve God where you are. You don't work for your boss; you work for Christ. And you're not there to become rich and famous or powerful or even to collect a paycheck. You're there as an ambassador, an evangelist, a minister.

We are not employed; we are called. And when we realize that we are called to serve God where we are, it no longer is self-centered, is it? You may have decided where to be by first considering yourself, but when your goal is love for others and glory to God, it cannot be called selfish. Nor can it be merely called "a job".

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Names Have Been Changed

I'm going to tell you a story. The names (and anything else that might identify someone) have been changed ... even though there are no innocents.

They were living together, the two of them, with his two teenage kids in a nice place in the suburbs. He was a Christian, but wasn't much for going to church ... or doing anything else that would indicate he was a Christian. He believed it was fine to live with and sleep with his girlfriend because, well, it was the only way he could pay the bills and, after all, they were engaged to be married, weren't they? So what's the big deal?

Well, one night when she went off to work, tragedy struck. He was in an automobile accident. Fault was irrelevant. She suffered fatal injuries and soon after died. It was all very sad. His family gathered around him and wept. Everyone tried to figure out how to help him out. And his response? Well, it was what you might expect. "Why would God do such a thing?" And it wasn't an innocent question. He was mad.

These things are always difficult. We have compassion for the loved ones who suffer through them. And you want to be able to answer their "whys", but, let's be reasonable -- who can say why God does anything? The most common answer, of course, is "God didn't do it; these are just things that happen. God can't be everywhere, you know." This ever-so-popular and well-meaning answer comes from people who obviously don't know God. The Bible is full of people whom God causes to suffer for a variety of reasons. Some are struck dead for judgment. We tend to think this is the only possibility, but it's only one and not the only one. One man was born blind "so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). Saul was struck blind to get his attention. Some people died so they could be raised again as a sign of authenticity for God's prophets. Job suffered specifically not because of sin, but because he served God. Does God cause pain and death as judgment? It would be foolish to deny it since there are so many biblical examples. On the other hand, it would be foolish to suggest that this event or that trial was an act of judgment without God's specific statement to that effect. Bottom line, then ... I cannot answer that question: "Why would God do such a thing?" I can say it was right. And I cannot but affirm that God ordained it. I just can't say what His reason was.

What is really bizarre in these circumstances is that these people who suffer these types of circumstances suddenly shift from practical atheist to learned theologian. They live their lives ignoring what God might have to say about it and then, when He intervenes, they're quite sure that He had no business intervening in their lives. It is the lie we all tend to tell ourselves. We are the most important thing and not even God has the right to interfere. None of us deserve that kind of suffering. That's a lie.

We are all human and we care and we are more comfortable with sinners than with God, so we feel the pain of a loved one in pain. Telling this one "You didn't care what God thought when you chose to live together; why do you care why He does what He does now?" wouldn't be of any service. That would be scant comfort. Jesus's reply in a similar situation wasn't very pleasant. They asked him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with the sacrifices. He replied, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3). Maybe that's all we can do in times like these. Comfort the hurting and look to our own sinful condition. Maybe these kinds of events ought to serve as a call for us to repent. Couldn't hurt.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Religious Pragmatism

Pragmatism is "the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value". Stated like that, it almost appears to be a religious doctrine, doesn't it? But you get the idea. What is right, true, or valuable is determined by ... well ... what works. We all practice this "religion" in every day life, and it's fine. If the laundry detergent you're using doesn't work, you find one that does. Rational. Makes sense. If giving your wife a vacuum cleaner for her birthday doesn't please her, find a gift that does. We can see that. In fact, this was the number one doctrine I heard from those who did not support President Obama in the 2008 Presidential Election. It wasn't that the voters I knew were delighted with their options. They just believed that they had to do "what works" because doing nothing did not work. You know ... "If you vote outside of the party, you'll be throwing your vote away." That's political pragmatism.

On the rise and pushing into prominence today is the concept of religious pragmatism. No, that's not accurate. It has been the case for a long time. But it's pushing into prominence in Christianity these days, too. What does this kind of pragmatism look like? It was the approach of Bill Hybels and Rick Warren when they formed their churches. Ask people "What do you want in a church?" and then do it. That is, find out "what works" and do it. Religious pragmatism. If this kind of music isn't producing the results you want, change to another. If this kind of worship service isn't drawing in the numbers you want, change to another. If people don't like to hear the Bible in sermons, stop using the Bible in sermons.

Can you begin to see the problem? If "what works" is the defining doctrine for "knowledge and meaning and value", and God's truth "doesn't work", where are we left? When someone tells me, "I tried that 'born again' thing; it didn't work" (emphasis mine), where am I to go? When the congregation tells the pastor, "We don't want to hear about sin and repentance; just give us happy sermons", what is the pastor to do with the other 75% of the Word?

There are places in life where pragmatism works. Christian truth is not one of those places. Too many people are giving ground on biblical truth because it doesn't seem to work. That's because of a skewed concept of "work" in view of biblical truth. Truth, by its nature, is discriminatory and devisive. It doesn't tolerate a variety of opinions and doesn't allow for relativism. In biblical history, the only time that I recall God working in a pragmatic way was when Israel demanded a king. He acquiesced ... but warned them of the outcome. And He was right. So are we sure we want to try to do "what works" rather than what God says is true? Or would it be better to realign our thinking about what is meaningful and valuable to God's way of seeing things?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Faith and Reason

In a recent article by Dr. Albert Mohler he asked the question, "Just how secular can an education be?" The question is in regards to a battle at Harvard University over whether or not undergraduates should have "at least one course in religion". The notion was that they should be prepared, along with everything else their education gives them, to deal with questions of faith. The question, of course, was struck down with vigor. The modern university, you see, must only be concerned about reason, not faith. Stephen Pinker, the most outspoken opponent of the idea, wrote,
The juxtaposition of the two words makes it sound like "faith" and "reason" are parallel and equivalent ways of knowing, and we have to help students navigate between them. But universities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these.
This is what we're up against. It is a common perception, even among Christians, that "faith" means something radically different than "reason" -- that faith is faith and reason is reason and never the twain shall meet. "Faith", it is popularly held, "is believing something without good reason to do so."

I looked the word up. According to a variety of dictionary sources, the primary meaning of "faith" is "Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing." Funny thing ... I don't find anything in that which requires "without reason". In the Encylopedia of Judaism on the topic of faith in the Old Testament it says, "To those who lived in the biblical period, it seemed that evidence of God's presence and activity was so apparent that only willful blindness motivated by self-interest or being misled by a false prophet could explain disobedience." That phrase, "evidence of God's presence and activity", should shake you if you hold that sharp distinction between faith and reason because at its core faith does not require the complete lack of reason.

In the New Testament the word used most often for "faith" is peitho (in its various forms). Strong's defines the word this way: "to convince (by argument, true or false)". In other words, the New Testament concept of faith is reason that leads you to become convinced of something. In fact, without this definition there are commands in Scripture that make no sense. We are told, for instance, to "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). Jude calls us to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

If we acquiesce on faith, making it something without reason, we are giving up our ability to obey these commands. You cannot defend something that has no reason. The root word there is apologia and is the word used in Greek courts for the legal defense. It is defined as "a reasoned statement or argument". Thus, if you allow "faith" and "reason" to be severed, you cannot make a reasoned statement about faith.

Tertullian, a 2nd century lawyer-turned-Christian, asked, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" He was warning against mingling Christian revelation with human philosophy. We've adopted the view by warning against mingling faith and reason. And there are fundamental problems with both. If reason is not an issue, why did Paul reason with the philosophers at Athens? If reason is not an issue, why did Paul use classical logic to argue for the Resurrection? If reason is not an issue, why did biblical writers offer reasons for faith? Paul wrote of eyewitnesses. John and Peter both spoke of being witnesses themselves. Why bother if reason is not an issue? Indeed, why would we be commanded to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is" if faith is without reason, the mind is irrelevant, and proof is pointless?

You'll hear that drivel a lot. Don't buy it. The Bible itself gives us reasons for believing. We are commanded to make logical arguments and proofs. Modern atheists would like to strip away one of the basic positions God requires -- reason -- but don't you let them. Some of faith may have components that cannot be tested in a laboratory, but there is no reason to think that this requires that you fold up your brain and put it away to be a Christian. The Bible demands the opposite. Don't do it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What is Valuable?

I suggested on Sunday that we need a new set of values. Our values since the Fall have become so skewed and so utterly shallow that we have no idea what is really good. It's no wonder Paul echoes the psalmist when he says, "There is none who does good, no, not one." We don't even know what that is. I recommended then that we need to acquire God's sense of values. So, what is it that God considers valuable?

Well, it's not a difficult answer, but I'd like to spell it out to make it abundantly clear. First, we have the problem of sin. You know ... all have sinned. What we often miss, however, is why that is such a problem: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). The remedy to sin is grace and mercy, but why does God offer grace and mercy?
Mercy: "Then you will know that I am the LORD when I have dealt with you for My name's sake, not according to your evil ways or according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel," declares the Lord GOD'" (Ezek 20:44).

Grace: We have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:2).
God deals with our sin by means of grace and mercy. The question, however, is why? Why does He bother to forgive sins? "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake" (1 John 2:12).

God's grace leads us to repentance, and we are saved by faith. For what purpose? Well, Eph 2:10 says we're saved for good works. Why does God lead us to good works? "He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psa 23:3). One of the acts of obedience that is not in question is the Great Commission -- evangelism. Why does God command us to take the gospel to all? "... through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake (Rom 1:5). I could keep asking why, but there is an overarching answer. What is to be the reason for everything we do? "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Indeed, "everything" there is all-inclusive. Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for persevering in suffering, but not merely for the sake of persevering -- it was because they endured "for My name's sake" (Rev 2:3). According to Jesus, even Peter's method of dying had a purpose: "Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God (John 21:19).

It's very simple. In Ephesians Paul writes that the Father has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1:3). Why did He do all that? He predestined us to adoption as sons "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (1:5-6). We obtained an inheritance "to the praise of His glory" (1:11-12). We are sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit "to the praise of His glory" (1:13-14). Indeed, there is one and only "highest thing": Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Your glory above all the earth (Psa 108:5) (see also Psa 57:5,11).

What is God's highest priority? His own glory. All He does is to His glory. There are lots of things we can do to glorify God. All we are to do is to His glory. Scripture tells us that giving thanks will abound to the glory of God (2 Cor 4:15). Confessing that Jesus is Lord glorifies God (Phil 2:11). Obedience in general and sexual purity in particular glorifies God (1 Cor 6:20) (see also Matt 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). Suffering for Christ glorifies God (1 Peter 4:16).

Do you want to share God's value system rather than Man's faulty value system? It's simple. God's glory is God's highest concern. It ought to be ours as well. That kind of top-down value system filters into everything we think, say, or do. It changes perspectives on everything from work to family to Christianity to self. Everything shifts. That's a paradigm we need to adopt.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Value System

I've been reading in Genesis lately. I found chapter 3 particularly interesting. It's the story of the Fall. We're all familiar with that one, right?

It starts with the serpent who was "was more crafty than any beast of the field". Look out! There's a warning there! His first approach is simple: "Did God say ...?" It's so simple. Question God. What did He really say? Was it fair? Was it kind? How good really is this God of yours? Eve overreacts like any good Pharisee. If dancing might lead to sexual sin, then it's best not to dance. If it's possible that drinking alcohol will get you drunk, it's best not to drink alcohol at all. If God said not to eat the fruit, it's best not to even get near it. Unfortunately, it also bears a component that the serpent already suggested: "Is God kind?" I mean, how kind is He if you can't even touch some fruit?

Satan's next attack is to directly contradict God. "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:4-5). Can I share a little secret with you? It struck me as I read this that Satan didn't lie. Everything he told her was the truth. Proof? Well, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit that day and Adam lived something like 830 years. He did not die on the day that he ate it. As for the second claim, God Himself affirmed it. In Gen 3:22 God is quoted as saying, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil ..." -- exactly what Satan claimed.

We're faced now with a tricky question. Who was right -- Satan or God? Satan questioned God, and it appears that Satan was right. They didn't die and they did become like God, knowing good and evil. The problem, of course, is the very same problem we carry around today. It is a problem of values.

There is a (somewhat nonsensical) joke told about the rich man who figured out how to take his riches with him to heaven. He loaded up his casket with gold bars and when he arrived at the pearly gates he had a load of gold. Of course, Peter greeted him with a mixed response. "We're glad to see you ... but why did you bring paving bricks?" You know ... streets of gold. I know, not that good. But it illustrates my point. We suffer from a problem of values. It's as if God offers us diamonds and, unfamiliar with such stones, we turn Him down because we're happy with dirt. God's version of "die" is not the same one we have. And God's concern about "like God" in knowing good and evil is not the same as ours. When Eve saw that the fruit was "desirable to make one wise", she ate. God, on the other hand, would have spared her -- us -- that wisdom. So dangerous was this wisdom that God threw them out of the garden lest Adam "stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen 3:22). That would be a bad thing. (Really? Well, apparently God thought so.)

We are so twisted in our judgments. We think of "living" as "the period between life and death" and God thinks of it as a personal relationship with God (John 17:3). We think that extending that period as far possible is grand and God thinks that it would be better to be in an eternal relationship with Him. We think that knowing evil as well as good is wise and God considers it ... fatal. Did Adam and Eve die on the day they ate? Not physically, and that's a massive tribute to God's mercy. Had He killed them on the spot He would have been just. But they did indeed die that day as evidenced by their first act -- to hide from God. Their intimate relationship with God was ended -- God's version of "die". And humans ever since have been stillborn, spiritually dead in sin, requiring a second birth to remedy a problem from Adam's sin. Their "wisdom" presented them with a new set of knowledge -- evil -- and we've been honing, expanding, and perfecting that knowledge ever since.

So how is it that Satan as the serpent managed to get mankind to step into sin? He questioned God -- primarily His goodness -- and he told the truth -- a truth that appealed to Man's shallow sense of values rather than God's genuine values. Satan hasn't changed tactics since. It is still the number one question of humans in general and skeptics in particular. "Is God good?" There is an entire wing of Christian Apologetics devoted to responding to that question. We call it "Theodicy". After that, it gets easy. Just point to Man's skewed sense of what is and isn't valued and sinful perspectives sound so ... wise. Do we have to keep falling for this ruse? Not necessarily. We just need to get a new set of values -- God's version.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Marrying Late

The other day I was talking to a guy who was about my age, just exchanging pleasantries. He asked about kids and I told him about mine. He was surprised when he heard that my oldest daughter is 31. "Wow! You must have married young!"

I never thought I married young, but I had to look into it. According to the Census Bureau, men of my age group back when I got married were averaging just under 25 years old. I married at 22. Yeah, young ... but not very. Unless, of course, you compare it to today. By today's standards, I married very young. Currently males marry at nearly 28 and females at nearly 26. There are more who are not married at all and it is not uncommon to wait until your thirties to get married today. Why do you suppose that is? Why is the average age of the first marriage going up?

The number one answer offered by society today is that career comes first. Before you marry you want to get yourself settled into a lucrative career with steady income, good benefits, and good prospects. In other words, "I need to get myself on track before I settle down." Interestingly (at least to me), the second most common reason offered is a commitment to fun. "If I get married, I won't be able to travel or do all the things I want to do." So they put off commitment because they want to live it up. Marriage, you see, terminates life, at least in some regards. Close behind the desire to live it up is the drive for education. That makes sense, I suppose, given that the first goal was to establish a career. The higher your education, the more you make, right? Stands to reason ... except that in America higher education is dropping off, especially among males. So I wonder.

I'm not really in disagreement with these answers. The reason age of marriage is going up is our personal devotion to self. "I want" occurs long before and at a far higher priority than "I do". I suspect, however, that there are other reasons that aren't showing up on the radar screen of answers. I think, for instance, that marriage has suffered a general decline in terms of reputation. With higher divorce rates lots of people are saying, "Why marry if it's just going to end up in divorce?" A close kin, then, is the "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" Whatever you do, don't analyze that sentence too closely. It's disgusting from all sorts of angles. If "the milk" is sex, the suggestion is that the only reason anyone would marry is for sex. Wrong. And, seriously, what woman (or man) wants to be referred to as "the cow"? And are all relationships really that mercenary? Wrong in so many ways. Also related, I think, is the problem of multiple relationships and breakups. Do that over time and you're going to become gunshy, so to speak. It will leave scars. People who married early wouldn't have as many relationships and breakups to deal with, so they're operating on a different system.

I think there are likely two more factors that you won't find in most studies. First, while most people will disagree with me, I think that today's youth are maturing much, much later than they were in the mid-20th century. Oh, they have more information and more input. They may have more knowledge. They may know more than their parents did at their age. But I'm talking about maturity, the sense of personal responsibility for self and others. They've called the recent generations "the boomerang generation" because so many leave home only to end up back home. They couldn't make it. They still need help. Self-sufficiency isn't an option, let alone commitment to and being sufficient for someone else. The other factor, I believe, is this constant striving to remove differences between genders. In earlier times everyone knew that men were less interested in commitment than women. Women were expected to be virginal, but young men were practically expected to "sow their wild oats". Wrong as that might be, that's the way it was. But Women's Liberation has come along and gender equality is all the rage and now we're encouraging women to be just as bad as men always were. For the longest time "nudie" magazines were for men. Women really had no interest. And it wasn't odd at all. Men were more visually driven while women were more emotionally driven. But Women's Liberation has changed all that. Women are now expected to be as visually stimulated and sexually raunchy as men. So instead of taming the wild male, women are going wild. This would tie into my earlier premise -- the later maturing -- but also into the problem of marriage. I mean, if you are devoted first to your own pleasure and your own pleasure is to have as many partners as possible, then putting off marriage is a given.

There are those, of course, who argue that marrying later is a good thing. Well, of course they would. Since it is already the case, we want to think that we're doing things better now than before. So we feed self-centeredness above all else and commit to personal pleasure rather than responsibility. We demean marriage as a questionable institution at all and then strip it of any meaning at all. We feed immaturity and call it normal and strip away the "gentler" part of the gentler sex and call it progress. To me, these are not good reasons for marrying later in life. Fortunately for me, I married too young.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What I Learned in Farmville

I'm just doing a little brainstorming here. What's up with this?

On Facebook there are lots of games that people can play, primarily aimed at socializing. Fine. One well-known game is Farmville. The concept is that you create your own farm and then work it. You plow fields and plant seeds and when they grow you harvest them and make money to do more. You can grow trees of all varieties and, when they are ready, you can harvest them and make money. There are all sorts of things that are on a farm. There are barns and animals and ... stuff, lots of stuff. Nice.

So, here you are with a nice farm. You grow stuff. You have chickens and get their eggs. You have cows and milk them. You have goats and you milk them. You have calves and you pet them. Oh, wait ... pet them? Um ... okay. You have pigs and you collect truffles from them. Okay, now wait a minute. How many farmers have pigs to collect truffles from them? You have turkeys and you collect feathers from them. Now that's just about enough of that!

You see, on a normal farm there are some animals that contribute by adding things (eggs, milk, dairy products) and there are other animals that contribute ... by dying (meat). There isn't a big market for turkey feathers or even horsehair (another product you can gather from horses). Gathering down feathers from geese or ducks is fine, but you typically gather them from dead geese or ducks, not live ones. In other words, Farmville is not presenting the operations of a real farm.

Now, of course it's a game, so who cares? Well, like I said, I'm just brainstorming here. Why do you suppose the makers of the game did not include the slaughter (and raising) of animals in the game? It wouldn't have to be graphic. They could even make the "ripe time" the time it takes to produce a replacement set of animals to slaughter, so it wouldn't be graphic at all. So why is it that they don't allow the slaughter of animals on a game intended to depict a farm?

I wonder if it could be the PETA effect. You know, who wants to face the rage of PETA for the artificial slaying of artificial animals in an artificial environment? I get it. And maybe that's it. I suspect, however, that it's not that at all. I suspect it's the general user who is in view. We civilized folk have become so accustomed to buying chickens and beef and turkey and such in the store that we've become disconnected with our own food source. We don't like the idea of killing ducks and chickens and such for food. What's wrong with you? We're almost baffled when PETA complains about Kentucky Fried Chicken serving chickens because, after all, don't they buy their meat from the store like everyone else? What's the big deal? And modern times have further removed us from the actual source by packaging it. Most of us don't buy whole chickens to cook. Nowadays you'll see advertisements from Swansons (the frozen meal folk) that say, "Don't eat out! Have a good, homecooked meal with Swansons!" So we have pretty packaged frozen food that resembles some sort of meat along with everything else and to actually think that stuff all the way through to a dead cow or chicken is just a long way to go.

Now, do I care about Farmville's depiction of a farm? No, not really. I just see it as a metaphor for life. The guy who says "I have never cheated on my wife" doesn't see the lust he had toward a woman he only saw a picture of in a sexual act he's never even considered on a computer monitor as adultery. It is, but he doesn't see it. To be fair, the "faithful" wife who never even looks at another man but lives out a fantasy life in her favorite Harlequin romance novels is just as guilty. Some couples even share the vices, watching pornographic images together without considering that they're watching someone else having sex. But who needs porn for that? We have scantily clad people parading in front of us on prime time TV doing things that would be vile if we did them and we call it "entertainment". Like Farmville, we allow the packaging to remove us so far from the reality that we don't even see it anymore. Then we wonder why our world is so confused about terms like "marriage" and "fidelity" and "sexual purity" and where we get our food ...

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Have you ever noticed how much lying is a part of life? I'm thinking at the moment about advertising. It seems as if we get a constant stream of lies offered as truth and it is so prevalent that we barely notice it. Me personally ... I'm sick of being lied to.

There is a glut of advertising on the market right now for weight loss. "I tried this product and lost 47 pounds the first week!" she may tell you. It's only in the fine print that you'll find the disclaimer "results not typical". But the lies go deeper. There is the unspoken suggestion that if you lose weight you'll not only be healthier, but sexier, happier, and likely wealthier. You see, all of that seems to hinge on how much you weigh. Didn't know that, did you? Well, that's what I'd conclude from the commercials. And, of course, it's a lie.

Advertising has always used sex as one of its key selling points. One after shave for men was named for the skills you would need to fight off the women if you used it. Of course, I've never seen anyone having to fight off women because they smell good. But if you use their products -- if you smell good or drive their car or wear their outfits -- you'll be in such demand that you won't know what to do. Some of these claims are explicit. One TV ad for a product essentially claims, "Use our product and you'll have great sex!" More of them are implied, with sexy people and sexy images used for selling. None of them are true.

Then there are the dating sites on the Internet. You know the ones. They will find you the love of your life. Just sign up and you'll find romance, lifelong happiness, that "one true love" who has eluded you for so long. He/she is right there on the other side of the wire just waiting for you. And while they use a variety of methods and make a variety of promises, they're all quite sure that love is just a few keystrokes away -- a claim, of course, that is not genuine.

Even outside of advertising we get these same types of lies. I saw a "helpful" bumper sticker that sagely suggested, "Treat your wife like a thoroughbred and she won't be a nag." That's a common notion. Treat other people well and they will all treat you well. The truth is that you are more likely to be treated well if you treat others well, but being a nice person is no guarantee. And that's just one example.

The one that bugs me the most is the false advertising I hear from Christians. Give your life to Christ and everything will be wonderful. We hear it directly sometimes, but generally it's just a suggestion. "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." That may be true, but God's "wonderful plan" could be martyrdom for His sake. I'm pretty sure when we think "wonderful plan" we're not thinking "incredible suffering". The biblical promise for believers, however, is just that. "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:12). "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12). Indeed, the Bible views suffering for the sake of Christ as a gift (Phil 1:29-30). The abundant life we are promised is something not of this world. The Christian's peace is a "peace that surpasses all understanding" (Phil 4:7).

We live in a world of lies. It's part of the nature of the beast, so to speak. We have hearts that are deceitful. Okay. So we recognize it and live with it. The wise person does well to analyze the advertising with which we are bombarded to find the lies and avoid them. They're everywhere, spoken or implied. The believer, however, has no business offering lies on behalf of God. He has true joy and genuine peace and more to offer, but it's not the cheap joy and peace we know in this world. Let's not tell people lies to trick them into the kingdom. That's a strategy that's sure to backfire. Lies are not God's strategy. That's from another father.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Verbal Brainwashing

You likely don't recognize it, but most of us are victims of verbal brainwashing. It's very subtle, this brainwashing. You hear a term used a particular way and you hear it repeated. It becomes a part of the vocabulary and pretty soon you're unaware that you've accepted new concepts as true.

One that has struck me of late is the term "actor". For most of my life there were two forms of the word. One was "actor" and the other was "actress". The difference between the two was simply gender. "Actress" was simply defined as "a woman who is an actor". You don't hear "actress" used much anymore. Actresses have discarded the term. They don't want to be recognized as women who are actors. Gender is irrelevant, you see. Despite the protests, the move to eliminate gender differences has gotten a firm foothold in Hollywood simply by eliminating a term -- "actress". Of course, that elimination has been popping up all over the place. You won't likely find a spokesman or spokeswoman anymore. They are all spokespersons. You no longer have a mailman. They are all mail carriers. It's everywhere. The language is shifting to eliminate gender differences, and we go with it, hardly aware that it's happening.

One of the most obvious places it occurs is in the language of homosexuality. Think about it. I bet you use the terminology pretty freely without even considering its ramifications. The first one is pretty easy to see. I've complained about it before. "Gay" used to mean "happy" and now ... it doesn't. But "gay" has shifted even more. While I think of it as "homosexual" (and only use that term), there appears to be only gay men because homosexual women prefer to be termed "lesbian". (Thus the LGBT -- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual -- designation.) But we've also appropriated an entire philosophy into our language that is hard to avoid. You are probably quite comfortable with the term "gay lifestyle" or the like. It references not a way of living, but a complete person. Mandatory in the term is the position that a person who has homosexual desires is born that way and is fundamentally different in how they live than those who have heterosexual desires. In other words, the term "lifestyle" in that context requires that "gay" or "homosexual" is a condition, not a choice or activity. If you use the term "lifestyle" in that context, you are agreeing that a person who has homosexual desires is a person with the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, economic level, etc., that together constitute the mode of living of a group we recognize as "gay". If you would like, from that point, to argue that "homosexual" is a choice, you've already lost the argument. It is a lifestyle, not a preference.

Oh, and we've bought it there, too. A simple shift in terminology and we've gone from "sexual preference" to "sexual orientation". No one speaks about "sexual preference" anymore. It's not a matter of the gender with whom you prefer to have sex, you see. It is an "orientation". By succumbing to the "orientation" terminology, you are admitting that there is something inborn, something fundamental, something intrinsic in this. This is flawed at its core. You see, I may have a tendency to be attracted to females rather than males, but I don't have to act on it. What one does with one's preferences is a choice. But we accept "orientation" and "lifestyle" and are happily moving toward philosophical positions that are neither true nor relevant.

Step from there to "gay marriage" and you've gone farther. You haven't brought equality to people who have a sexual preference for the same gender. You've loosed the term "marriage" from its original moorings and cut it adrift. It is no longer the core of society, the life-long joining of two people into one unit for the purpose of procreation and perpetuation. All of that is gone ... with a simple acceptance of a term.

Try it sometime. See how far you get. I know I have to work hard at not using terms that admit to beliefs I don't have. The minute you use the term "homosexuals", for instance, as a reference to a group, you've likely used it to mean a group of people who not only have sexual preferences, but also have their own "lifestyle", their own morals, their own attitudes, their own orientation, and so on. They are born that way and have no control of their actions. That is, they cannot choose not to act on their sexual desires for the same gender. In fact, you've made sex a divine right. I mean, you can't ask someone who has sexual desires for the same gender to be celibate, can you? That wouldn't be fair! Now, you may not have meant it that way, but that's the way it will be interpreted. The same is true with "gays", "gay lifestyle", "sexual orientation", and so on. We've been moved from personal responsibility, individual choice, and sex as an option to automatons who have no options in their preferences or the way they live ... simply by use of language.

And it doesn't stop there ...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Christian Morality

Ask just about anyone. They'll tell you. All religions are about morality. Ask most Christians and they'll tell you the same thing. Christianity may not be all about morality, but it is certainly a big part. The object is to make good people. That's the primary point.

It's not true, you know. Oh, in all other religions it certainly is. That is the sole measure of where you end up when you die. Be good ... or else. And the vast majority of folks figure it's the same with Christianity. But that's because the vast majority of folks, within and without Christianity, have failed to understand.

Most religions are a system of rules that you follow. Christianity is a relationship. There is a basic problem that has to be overcome. That problem is that we're dead in sin. Now, the "in sin" part is just the descriptor. We're dead because we're sinners. Fine. We got that. But that means that simply being good isn't a solution. "Dead" is the problem. Being a better behaved dead person won't solve the problem. What is needed ... is life. That's what Christ offers.

So, having been reborn, Christians have new life. That life is eternal life. That is, it comes from God who is eternal. Eternal is not the same as everlasting. Everlasting is from here forward. Eternal is certainly that. But eternal means that it never started, either. This is the life that is injected into the Christian, the life of God. We are given the Holy Spirit. We have Christ in us. We are, in fact, something entirely new.

So, the question becomes, "How does this new kind of person live?" This new person lives in accordance with the new nature -- in accordance with God. This new person loves "because He first loved us." He works out his salvation because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." He can commit sins, but cannot tolerate it for long because "he has been born of God." And so it goes. While the rest of the dead world is either working hard to be better dead people or giving up entirely, the Christian operates out of a new nature that produces a new desire to do new things motivated and powered by God in us. The morality isn't the issue. The new nature is the issue. Like a lion who eats a zebra or a natural-born skater who skates, the new nature produces a standard output that the world recognizes as "morality". And, indeed, it is moral, even though that's not the point. If "being good" is your aim as a Christian, you missed the point. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). It's much simpler than "being good". It's being what we are -- new creations.

Monday, February 15, 2010


What would Jesus do? The wave is just about past, but not entirely. Offer up a "WWJD" just about anywhere and they'll still know what you're talking about. Me, personally ... I never liked it much. In some things it was too obvious and in others far too vague. Bottom line, I never felt like I had a good handle on the right answer because Jesus always did the unexpected and what He did always varied based on the circumstances. What would Jesus do? He'd love His neighbor and spread the Gospel. That was too easy ... and too vague. I'm left with an unsatisfied feeling.

Back in the Al Gore/George Bush presidency campaign there was a point where they asked Mr. Gore how he would run his presidency. He responded that he'd ask himself, "What would Jesus do?" Now, the fact that no one blew up about that is a little puzzling, but, face it, most people didn't actually believe him, so no one really cared. Still, I was left wondering how to possibly answer the question. Here, move forward to today. If Jesus were president, what would He do? How would He handle the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? How would He deal with the economic problems we're facing? What would He do with taxes, health care, education, poverty, and on and on? You see, I cannot even begin to offer an answer. Nothing He did in the Bible would answer them. I don't even believe He'd serve as President. You see, He was always a people person, one-on-one, in among the masses. Politics wasn't His concern. The Gospel was His concern. He came to seek and to save the lost. A job like President would just get in the way. So how would I answer how Jesus would deal with matters of State?

So I try to bring the question down to simpler things, more personal things. How would Jesus handle life in the United States? Would He be a voter or not? I don't know. Would He campaign against liberalism or start a "seeker-sensitive" church? I doubt it on both counts. Would He use the media? Again, seems unlikely to me. How animated would He get if you were His disciple and asked Him what He thought about health care? How concerned would He be about the government ... or the Church in America? You know, even down to simpler things I find it hard to answer.

I am a follower of Christ. You'd think I'd have a better handle on what Christ would do. Still, I'm not sure that was ever a question I was supposed to answer. My question is "What would You have me to do?" That may or may not be the same answer.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Verses

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).
The marks of a true believer: love and joy. No, these are not the only marks, but they are two key marks.

How about you? Are you characterized by love for Christ and "joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory"? Or is it simply "the salvation of your souls" that makes you a Christian? I'd think that simply being saved would be insufficient. It's that love for Christ and joy inexpressible that I want to experience every day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Problem is ...

I could probably leave the rest of that title blank and most of us would be perfectly able to fill in the answer without any help from me. You see, pointing out the problem is pretty easy for most of us. Actually offering solutions seems to often be more elusive.

In a dialog last year, I explored the passage of Scripture where Paul assures us, "There is no one who does good, no, not one." I held that this meant, "There is no one who does good, no, not one." (Innovative, I know.) I was assured that this was not the case, that lots of people do lots of good lots of the time. This is the kind of thing I'm pointing to. Let me put it in terms of problems/solution. Problem: "What does Paul mean in Romans 3 when he says, 'There is no one who does good, no, not one'?" Solution: "He does not mean what it says." Can you see that this isn't a solution? Or we can try it another way. I said, "It means what it says." It was argued "Problem: It cannot mean what it says." Again, that's not a solution.

Oh, I'm not even talking about that specific situation, nor am I talking about a particular side of a discussion. How many times have we heard something like this? "There are too many gun deaths in America." "Well, guns don't kill people; people kill people." Umm, okay ... but that's not a solution. Problem: Gun deaths. Solution: Guns don't kill people. Nope ... nothing there. So, while it certainly may be true that Paul didn't mean what he said or that guns don't kill people, neither of these are solutions to the problems.

Identifying problems is a good thing. If you don't know what the problem is, you can't fix it. That's easy. But simply identifying problems is not helpful if it ends there. Solutions are helpful. That would be a good thing. Maybe -- if all you have is the problem identified -- maybe it would be best to look for possible solutions before bringing up the problem

Friday, February 12, 2010


Ellen stood at the kitchen sink washing the dishes from breakfast. She wasn't really looking out the window to the front of the house. She was mulling over her condition in life. Sure, she had chosen to be a "stay-at-home" mom, but it was tough at times. Her husband barely made enough to support them. She wished for a night out or a new dress. It wasn't all bad, but sometimes, just sometimes ...

Her reverie was broken by motion out of the corner of her eye. At first she thought it was the other neighborhood mom, Sally, across the street, but she could see her through her front window. No, it was something else. He came into view walking down the sidewalk, a stranger to the neighborhood. Trying not to overreact, she kept at her dishes while keeping an eye on him. He came to a stop right in front of her house. He pulled a paper from his front pocket and looked around, comparing addresses on the street with the one on the paper. Then he looked at her front door and headed up the walkway.

What should she do?! Don't overreact! Don't overreact! Not every stranger in the neighborhood is dangerous.

He rang the doorbell. She peeked through the eye piece and then answered through the door, "Who is it?"

"Mrs. Avery? My name is Ken. I'm just here to give you something."

Keeping the chain on the door, she opened it slightly. "What?"

He smiled and said, "Here, Mrs. Avery. This is for you." He pushed a crisp, clean, $100 bill through the opening.

"What's this for?" she asked as she took it from him.

"Just because," he answered and turned to walk away.

She was torn. Keep it? Run after him and give it back? Was it even real? This sort of thing just doesn't happen, you know. But she closed the door and went back to the window to watch him walk out of sight.

That evening she told her husband about it. They celebrated their good fortune with a dinner out. It was a nice change of pace, a pleasant break. She pushed aside her concerns and enjoyed the evening.

The next morning she was back at her sink when she caught sight of Ken walking down the street again.

"I knew it!" she thought. "It was a mistake. He's here to get his money back."

Sure enough, he came to her walkway, verified the address again, and walked to the door. She answered the doorbell already explaining.

"I'm sorry. We don't have the whole $100 anymore. We had dinner out last night. But I can give you what we have and get the rest ..."

He interrupted her. "No, no, Mrs. Avery, I'm not here to get it back. I'm here to give you another." And he handed her another $100 bill and walked away.

She was stunned. How could this be? What was going on? Why should she be so fortunate? She wondered about it all day, but her husband told her to tuck the money away and enjoy it, so she did.

Ken showed up every day that week. Once she was vacuuming and he had to ring twice for her to hear him. Once she had to get out of the shower and cover up quickly because someone was at the door. But every day he returned with a crisp, new $100 bill. Ellen didn't know what to do with herself. For no reason at all as far as she could tell someone had dropped $500 in her lap. It was marvelous! She was working toward accepting it as true because it was just too wonderful to imagine.

Well, by the third week, Ellen had her routine down. No matter what was going on, at the same time every day she would be waiting for Ken. Once he was late and she figured, "Well, I knew it was too good to be true. The money is over. But it was so good while it lasted!" She was wrong. He came around the corner five minutes late, verified the address, and handed her another C-note. And so it went.

Well, the month ended and Ellen was happy. She had spending money. She had extra cash. And she hadn't done a thing to earn it. It was just a gift! How great is that?! She mused over this as Ken came around the corner again at his usual time. She stood out on her front step, waiting. Ken came down the street, stopped at her walkway, and pulled out the paper from his pocket as he always had. But he looked away from her door even though she was waving at him and looked across to Sally's house. Then he headed across the street to her front door. Ellen could see Sally open the door cautiously and receive the surprise gift. She watched Ken walk down her front walk and head back down the street.

"Hey!" she called after him, angrily. "Where's my hundred dollars?!"

So it is with us. We receive grace we don't deserve and are grateful. Then we become complacent. And then it is our right, our demand, our entitlement. Gratitude is lost. God owes us. Or ... does He?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The "R-Word"

Much ado lately has been made about the dreaded "r-word". Now, in terms of automotive use, the term "retarded" is perfectly suitable to describe what the mechanic did to adjust the timing. No problem there. You can't use the term, however, to describe a human being, you see. That would be wrong.

Of course, earlier terms weren't much better. They included "moron", "half-wit", "idiot", "imbecile", and "cretin". Well, of course we all understood that those aren't nice terms, so we substituted "retarded", a description of the fact that a certain group of people were slower mentally than others. After all, that's all the word means. Something that is retarded is simply something that is slower than other things. Retard the timing on an engine and you've slowed it down. No big deal. Unless, of course, you're speaking about people. Then it is a term of disparagement.

Or is it? According to, there are substitutes for that term: "learning disabled, developmentally delayed, special needs, learning delayed, or simply disabled." And we have a term for those terms. The word is "euphemism". A euphemism is the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague term for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive. There you go; all fixed.

Frankly, I'm stunned at the naïveté. The idea is that if we just don't use that term, no one will notice that there are people, for instance, who aren't as mentally agile as others. And by using a term like "developmentally challenged", they won't know that they're different from others in something other than a good way. Never mind the fact that truth is jettisoned here. I mean, seriously, is development not a challenge for a lot of people? Don't we all have difficulty learning some things? Isn't it a fact that each and every person has some special needs? So why are we stripping these phrases of their clear meaning to make them mean something else? But moving on from that, is it reasonable to assume that "special needs" people won't figure out that "special needs" is another way of saying "retarded"? And I'm not talking about "retarded" in an unkind sense. I'm simply referencing a way of speaking about people who aren't as quick to learn as others. So when they figure out that "special needs" means the same thing, the response will be the same. They will feel insulted. And we'll need to figure out another way to point out the problem without hurting their feelings. In other words, it is simply a problem delayed.

You see, any term that identifies someone as something other than equal to or better than the norm will be taken as insulting. None of us want to be identified that way, even euphemistically. None of us. So we have to decide. Are we going to go out of our way to try to avoid hurting someone's feelings, or are we going to tell the truth with love? You see, if we can help them see the truth, then they have a way to go and a method of dealing with it. Telling a kid who's not so good at math "You can do anything you want" won't help him learn to deal with math. Telling him "You aren't so good at math, so we'll work at it together", on the other hand, tells the truth in love with the intention of making his life better.

Look, no one likes to hear that they have shortcomings. And I'm not suggesting we be insulting. But I would much rather speak the truth in love than lie to spare the feelings of someone. Let me illustrate. I made a stupid choice in life. (I've made a lot of them, so the particulars aren't important.) Before I made it, I asked people I trusted for input. They all told me, "We're with you all the way." When the truth came out that my choice was a foolish one, several told me, "Yeah, well, we saw that coming. We just didn't know what to say." Really? How about, "We see this coming"? I mean, I may or may not have made the same foolish choice, but at least I would have had a friend who cared enough to tell me the truth. So now I have a foolish choice to deal with and the sad awareness that I don't have people who will tell me the truth when I ask for it. Much better off, don't you think?

I don't much care about the event that spawned this "r-word" discussion. Nor am I just referencing the whole "special needs" terminology or folks. When we choose to lie to people for the sake of sparing their feelings, it is still a lie. Wouldn't it be better if we learned to speak the truth in love ... you know ... like the Bible says?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Open Letter to the News

(In the interest of full disclosure, this letter is not genuine. It was never sent. None of the events described in the letter actually happened. On the other hand, all of the news items referenced are genuine news items from one source.)

Dear Channel 5 News,

I wanted to write and thank you for your hard-hitting news reporting. Your headlines and no-nonsense investigative reporting has, without exaggeration, changed my life. Because of you, I am in a completely different place today.

For instance, you did that piece on how people were stealing identities at gas station card readers. I immediately stopped using my debit card at gas stations and only used cash. But you had a follow up story about how easy it is for people to steal your identity at any card reader, and so I stopped using the card altogether. My wife gave me grief about that, of course, but it was important to me that we not get ripped off. And when you ran that story about how inaccurate some of those price scanners were, I insisted that we stop going to stores that used price scanners and only used low tech stores. Sure, it was more expensive, but you have to be safe, you know? Then you did that exposé on the hackers that broke into the bank databases. Well, it didn't take me long to empty my accounts. No more identity theft for me.

Of course, my wife wouldn't have stood for that last step, but your other stories changed all that. When a predator broke in and shot her, I knew better than to call an ambulance because of your investigation into how unsafe the ambulance services were in our area. And you had recently aired that investigation on how unreliable the police department was in investigating major crimes, so I didn't bother calling them, either. My wife died because I couldn't get her to a trustworthy emergency room on my own without the ambulance to take her. (I couldn't remember which one in the area you said could be trusted.) I didn't notify the family that she had died either because they would all have wanted to fly in to her funeral service and you ran that story about how unsafe it was to fly these days. Wouldn't want to endanger the rest of my family, would I?

Well, of course, the police found out and didn't really understand my reasoning and didn't believe that I didn't trust ambulances and police and felt like my withdrawal of all our funds was somewhat questionable and that it was extremely odd that I would fail to tell anyone about it, so they charged me with her murder. Today I'm safe and sound in the penitentiary serving a life sentence. No more fear of identity theft or ambulances or unsafe flying. You've revolutionized my life. Thanks so much.

A Fan

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Most To Be Pitied

1 Corinthians 15 is a fascinating chapter for a variety of reasons. It is there that we find the simplest presentation of the Gospel in all of Scripture (1 Cor 15:3-4). We read of Paul's astounding apologetic for the Resurrection -- eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:5-8). We have that interesting exercise in logic -- "If there is no resurrection of the dead ..." (1 Cor 15:12-20). And who can forget the classic "mom" line: "Bad company ruins good morals" (1 Cor 15:33). This chapter includes the glorious "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55) and that wonderful promise of being changed from perishable to imperishable "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor 15:51-57). Lots of good stuff.

I recently referenced 1 Corinthians 15 when I suggested that Pascal's Wager violated the biblical view.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19).
In his book, Desiring God, John Piper sees this as an indictment of western Christianity. I think he's right. Think about it. Given life in today's "Christianized" world, in what sense are we "most to be pitied"?

Paul lived a radically different Christianity than we do today. He was "in danger every hour" (1 Cor 15:30). He fought wild animals in Ephesus (1 Cor 15:32). In his second epistle to the Corinthians he has a whole list.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Cor 11:24-27).
And lest you wish to chalk all this up to Paul and his times, he offers the alternative. What would his life be like if he wasn't a believer? "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor 15:32). Paul's suggestion is a two-sided coin. On one side, the rational life without Christ is to simply enjoy life's pleasures. That just makes sense. The other side of the coin is that Paul didn't.

Contrast that with western Christianity in general and American Christianity in particular. While most of us haven't succumbed to the "health and wealth gospel", that false gospel that suggests that all true believers deserve to be rich, we're not too far off. According to reliable studies, only a third of church goers actually give financial support to their churches. Christians worldwide give an average of about 2% of their income to Christian causes, with only 3-5% actually tithing. While it may be true that something like $103 billion went to churches in 2007, it still begs the question as to what they're doing with all that money. Most of it is spent on buildings and salaries and events rather than Christ. And this is just in terms of money. How about time? Is your time your own, or is it the Lord's? Or your job? Is your job your business or is it God's business? There are so many of these questions. Family, future, retirement, vacation, leisure, charity ... on and on it goes. Where are your priorities?

Why does Paul consider us to be "most to be pitied" if we only have Christ in this life and not the hereafter?
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:8-11).
It's all right there. Assuming that Christ is raised, that Christianity is genuine, that what we believe is true, Paul says that it completely revamps your value system. Status, birthright, income, all of it goes away. It falls in the "loss" column. The only thing of any value is "knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". The deepest longing of Paul's heart was to share in the sufferings of Christ.

You may think I'm pointing fingers. Trust me. It is my own sense of conviction that weighs most heavily on me. I am not a modern example of Paul's Christian values. I do not die daily. I live a comfortable life and would be hard-pressed to do otherwise ... to my own shame. I have wrong values. I suspect, however, that I'm not alone. So I thought, while I'm mulling over my shortcomings, that maybe you'd like to join me to see if you have some similar problems. Where are your values? Do you consider comfort and lifestyle more valuable than knowing Christ. Is "sacrificial giving" a term that makes you uncomfortable? Do you see suffering for Christ's sake as a necessary evil at best? (The Bible describes it as something of great value.) Are you offended if there is a hint that you might have to suffer some loss of some sort for your belief in Christ? Then maybe you have some value problems just like I do. Because the way American Christianity works, we are not the most to be pitied, are we?

Monday, February 08, 2010


Tolerance is the rule of the day. People are fine if you want to believe what you want to believe ... as long as you don't believe that those who disagree are wrong. They're perfectly happy for you to be a Christian (well, perhaps not perfectly happy) as long as you don't suggest that being a Christian is the only way to go. And if you want to hold a position in the Bible, that's fine -- just don't tell others that their position on the same subject is wrong. You're not allowed to do that. No, no. We need to be tolerant. We need to not only allow others to disagree; we need to accept their views as equally valid.

It starts as a mistaken step. In America, our freedoms of speech and of religion mean that varying speech and religions are equally protected. The next step, then, is to assume that they are equally valid, and this is a mistaken step.

Setting aside (for a moment) truth claims, it becomes readily apparent very quickly that "equally valid" makes no sense whatsoever. In the easiest of examples, a grade school student that claims that 2 + 2 = 4 and his classmate that claims that 2 + 2 = 5 may both enjoy protection in expressing these claims, but it is impossible for both claims to be valid. That is, 2 + 2, whatever it is, cannot be both 4 and 5. That's not just poor math; it's poor logic. So when religions claim "Ours is the exclusive truth", whatever you may conclude about that religion, you cannot conclude that all religions with exclusive truth claims are valid. Logic forbids it.

We as Christians have a difficult position to take. In America we are free to believe what we want. So we believe that Christ is our savior, that Christianity is true, and that the Bible is the Word of God. And no one can complain because we have that freedom. They do complain, though, when we state these things as true. If we are to be faithful followers of Christ, we must conclude that Christ is the only way, not because we're arrogant and intolerant, but because He said so. For us, true arrogance would be to acknowledge that God Incarnate said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me" and say, "Yeah, well, that's not true." Genuine conceit would be to recognize that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" and then say, "But, of course, all roads lead to heaven." Yet this is the demand of those around us. In other words, we can believe what we want ... as long as we don't genuinely believe it. You're free to hold as true whatever you wish as long as you don't hold it as true.

And, for us, it only gets worse. Assuming that Jesus is the only way and faith in Christ is their only hope and anything else is eternal damnation, what are we to do? They would tell us, "Be more considerate and just don't tell anybody." Really??!! "Excuse me, but you're about to drink poison." "Please, just let me do what I want. You shouldn't be so rude." We're told that we're overbearing if we try to warn people that they're going to hell. We should just ... let them? How is that kind, caring, considerate? How is that a nice thing to do to people?

I get it. Some people (of all religions) can be abrasive. Christianity carries around its share of poor examples of Christianity. Some people are intentionally rude and unkind when they express Christian truth. I'm not suggesting that's a good idea at all. The gospel is already offensive enough; we don't need to be offensive in our presentation of it. On the other hand, if we are allowed to believe that Christianity is true, we are required to believe that Christianity is exclusive. If we are going to be caring people, we are required to speak the truth in love. We are promised that we won't always be warmly welcomed with our message, and we shouldn't complain when that promise comes true. On the other hand, we dare not succumb to a twisted sense of tolerance that eliminates truth and silences genuine love. Tolerance -- accepting as valid -- that terminates truth and love is not a virtue. (Oddly enough, from the other direction, tolerance that accepts as valid the Christian claim to truth seems to be unnecessary. Why is that?) So we're forced to let our lights so shine before men and let God do the work. I guarantee it won't always be pleasant. But, really, what choice have we?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lesser Pleasures

For some Christians the simple idea of pleasure is suspect. We don't seek pleasure. That's bad. We seek ... well, something else. And we know this because we can read wise sayings from the Bible like "Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man" (Prov 21:17). We are warned that in the last days men will be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim 3:4). We know that some of the seed falls on thorny soil and is "choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life" (Luke 8:14). Bad. We know it's wrong to be "slaves to various passions and pleasures" (Titus 3:3). So some conclude "Pleasure = Bad" and we end up at the stoic, sour-faced Christian stereotype.

On the other hand, this becomes problematic if we take all of Scripture seriously. We read, for instance, "Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding" (Prov 10:23). Solomon argues that "everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil -- this is God's gift to man" (Ecc 3:13). David writes to God, "In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psa 16:11). Apparently, then, it is not pleasure that is the problem. It is what brings you pleasure.

The psalmist says that the blessed (that's pleasurable, isn't it?) man is marked by having delight in the law of the Lord. We are told to "Delight yourself in the Lord." In the list that is the fruit of the Spirit we find joy and we are, in fact, commanded to "rejoice evermore". No, that's not sufficient. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord" (Phil 3:1). Not satisfied with that, he repeats it: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice" (Phil 4:4). He tells the Thessalonians, "Rejoice always" (1 Thess 5:16) because, among other things, "this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess 5:18).

Pleasure, you see, is not the enemy. Our problem is not a love of pleasure. Our problem is that we are too easily satisfied with lesser pleasures. We find pleasure in lust when the greater pleasure is in genuine love. We find pleasure in material goods when the greater pleasure is in heavenly treasures. Some (too many) find pleasure in pornography which robs them of real pleasure found in genuine love and godly relationships. And, of course, in all things there is a still higher pleasure -- the ultimate pleasure.
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:18).
There is the highest of pleasure. If we delight in the Lord, there can be no higher joy. Lesser pleasures become boring and pointless when we have an eye to the abundant joy of our relationship with Christ. Paul counts them as trash.

Are you delighting in trash or are you seeking genuine pleasure? Are you satisfied with dung (the King James word) or is your real joy found in Him? Seriously, are you happy with stuff when you could have Christ? That would be a pitiable pleasure. Become a pleasure seeker; delight yourself in the Lord. That is surpassing value.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Pray for my Kids

When I was in junior high school, someone told me this little story. I've never forgotten it because, well, it made too much sense to me.

Do you know what double petunia is?
Well, a petunia is like a begonia.
A begonia is a kind of sausage.
A sausage and battery is a crime.
Monkeys crime trees.
Trees a crowd.
A rooster crowd and made a noise.
A noise is the thing between your eyes.
When you vote, there are eyes and there are nays.
A colt nays.
If you go out in the rain with a colt, you wake up with double petunia.

Pray for my kids. That's the kind of father they grew up with.

Friday, February 05, 2010

No Need to Ask or Tell

This is going to sound like a moral rant or something, I'm sure. I am, of course, morally opposed to homosexual behavior. Obviously, then, this must be about that. Well, it isn't. It isn't a rant. It's a serious question. And I've not heard any serious answers, so maybe someone can help me out.

The President is moving toward eliminating the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military and allow homosexuals to serve openly. Top military brass are troubled by "a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are." So the goal of those who testified before the Senate are hoping that heterosexual and homosexual will just serve alongside and everything will be hunky dory. Yes, hunky dory -- I believe that was the very term they used.

Now, I'm not questioning whether or not a homosexual can serve well in the military. Admiral Mike Mullen affirmed, "I have served with homosexuals since 1968." That's fine. There is nothing about people who are attracted to the same gender that would preclude them from being able to do the tasks required by the military. And while I obviously have a moral objection to their sexual behavior, no one could safely argue that the military is a bastion of high moral character even among the heterosexual population. And, frankly, I think that whole "shared blood may bring about AIDS" is a specious argument. I mean, heterosexual members may have diseases (STDs, hepatitis, even HIV or AIDS) as well, so let's not even go there. In all cases you screen for bad stuff and hope for the best. I'm fine with that. And prejudice in the military against homosexuals will just have to be dealt with. They dealt with racial prejudice. They always have to deal with a whole host of other prejudices. Deal with it. No, none of those "standard" problems disturb me. My problem is in envisioning how to ... how do they put it ... "accommodate" homosexuals.

Given "normal" conditions, you have men and you have women in the military. Men and women do not share accommodations. Why? Well, it's quite obvious. There is this standard condition which almost all humans encounter in which they prefer not to be made constantly and without invitation a sex object. It is standard for women to not undress in front of random men and, despite what some might thing, the same is true in reverse. Especially in the military, but anywhere else, public encounters are stressful enough without the accompanying sexual tension that opposite sexes bring. That, of course, is under "normal" conditions. So, a group of guys in a dorm room in the military aren't too concerned about being in various states of undress around a group of heterosexual males because there is no sexual tension there. Ditto for women. Have someone of the opposite gender walk in and it's "cover up quickly". We all know this. And so we house male and female separately.

Currently, under the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, we don't quite have these conditions. We understand that there are those males being housed with males who may be sexually attracted to males or females with females. Some estimate that it's up to 60,000 of them. That's roughly 4%. So it might be (has been) argued that heterosexual and homosexual members of the military are already living alongside each other. Here's the problem. First, in a "No homosexuals in the military" environment, it would be highly unlikely that this would be the case. But even in a "Don't ask, don't tell" environment, while the odds are higher (4%), you just don't know. So, here I am, Joe Hetero, serving in the military, living in a dorm with other guys. Are any of them possibly looking at me with lust? Well, there is only a 4% chance that they are, and I'll not know if they are. Therefore, I can tell myself it's not a problem and be done.

Now we shift to the third scenario -- from "no homosexuals allowed" to "Don't ask, don't tell" to openly homosexual. How do we now deal with this new demographic? Most guys would be uncomfortable living openly with males who might be producing this sexual tension. So what do we do with the homosexuals? We can't put them in their own housing because we'd be building in sexual tension. I suppose, since they're not attracted to females, we could put them in with the women, but that would clearly not be the right thing to do. Besides, wouldn't the male homosexual population be uncomfortable in those circumstances? You can be quite sure that housing female homosexuals among the heterosexual males would be a catastrophe. It seems like the only answer would be to house each of them separately from the rest. But that's not practical at all. Without bringing up any of the moral issues, questions of their ability to serve, or the vague "threat of AIDS", how would we accommodate the homosexual population in the military? Often the military is housed in group settings. How will the military deal with this thorny problem? I don't have an answer. I can't even imagine an answer. Is the best we have to make the rest of the male (and female) population suffer? I can't see where this is going.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Fruits of Marriage

A friend of mine is the manager of the produce section at the local grocery store. He has a lovely fiance and I asked him when they planned to be married.

"Well, we cantaloupe because I have a honeydew list that would kill a kiwi. Besides, I think we could berry get by on what I make. I would get a second job, but I have to ask myself, 'How far should a mango?' I have some collectible books that are in cherry condition I could get rid of, so maybe after I visit the book celery might consider saving up for a wedding. I mean, she's a real tomato and we make a wonderful pear. She's been a great date. I'd have to be out of my gourd not to marry her. I'd have to be some kind of a nut. And all that stuff about 'You have to be ready' is a bit corny to me. Besides, I don't really give a fig if we're rich or anything, so we'll be wed someday, kumquat will. I'll come up with the cabbage somehow. Something will turnip. If we didn't marry, I'm pretty sure it would make artichoke. He's going to be my best man, you know. So I yam sure we'll get married soon. But I gotta get to work, so, when we get married, orange you going to come? If so, I'll cashew then. Lettuce catch up then, okay, Herb?"

I didn't have the heart to tell him my name wasn't Herb. And I should have known better than to ask in the first place.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


A new movie came out at the end of January. The title was Legion. The tagline: When the last angel falls, the fight for mankind begins. The premise: The archangel Michael comes to earth to fight to save mankind. And who is Michael fighting? Well, as it turns out, "When God loses faith in humankind, He sends His legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse."

Now, I know ... it's Hollywood. Don't expect good theology from Hollywood. It is not, after all, Holywood. Fine. I'm there. So I haven't seen the movie and I'm not planning to, nor do I plan to review or complain about it. It's Hollywood, after all. What I do wish to point out is the very popular view that God might have faith in mankind.

Let's set aside the multiple errors like the remote possibility that God could lose anything or that Michael could stand against God or that there would be any question of the outcome. Again, Hollywood can do anything they want. But the real problem here, Hollywood aside, is that most people believe that God highly prizes mankind in general. The fundamental source of this high value God places on humans is ... well ... we're highly valuable. We are intrinsically valuable. We deserve to be valued. God owes it to us. That is, any rational being can see that humans are important and God would be foolish not to think so. Thus, it comes as a sad awakening (in a movie like Legion) that God would discover that humans are failures.

Trust me, even those of us who are trying our best to be theologically correct slip into this thinking. We believe that God values us because we're valuable. We believe that it would be wrong of God, for instance, to simply eliminate the human race. It would be wrong. It is that belief that makes, as an example, the whole idea of reprobation -- that God would choose some not to be saved -- so abhorrent. We're too valuable for that. God values us all and desperately wants all of us to be saved ... because we're so valuable. We apply this to evil in general. Theodicy is the defense of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil. The only reason it is necessary is because God should eliminate evil because we're so darned important! So it's a sticky question for most of us, and don't suggest otherwise.

Well, let me suggest otherwise. The question is one of value. In business (and most of life), value is determined by a simple formula: Benefit - Cost = Value. Think about that for a moment. From God's perspective, what are the benefits of human beings and the cost of human beings? The benefits are near zero and the cost is His Son amongst everything else. That puts a negative value on humans. No, no, let's not have God figure our value that way. If we're going to have any hope, let's bank on God placing value on us in relative terms. You know, like "sentimental value". He is so endeared with us that we are valued simply by being, not by calculation. There, does that help? No, not really.

When kids today come across an arrogant kid, you might hear them offering some sage advice: "Get over yourself." It's their way of telling people, "You hold too high a view of yourself. Step it down. Give up the drama and the hype. You're just not as important as you think." And we would do well to learn from that advice. God has no faith in humankind. We're just not that valuable. Our only value is assigned, not intrinsic, and that is a variable that God alone knows and places -- based solely on Himself. Don't count on your cuteness to get grace from God.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Against Predestination

I was wondering whether or not Martin Luther taught the doctrine of Predestination, so I did some research. The answer, it turns out, is "yes" and "no".

Some in Luther's day latched onto his view that God was sovereign to assume that all things were predestined. Indeed, Luther affirmed that "everything is absolute and unavoidable." That is, it is a given that if God works all things after the counsel of His will, that if He is sovereign and omniscient, then what will happen will certainly happen and it can't be changed. Thus, Luther affirmed predestination.

Luther also countered the concept. He didn't object on principle, but on practice. Those in his day would argue, "If I am predestined, I shall be saved, whether I do good or evil. If I am not predestined, I shall be condemned regardless of my works." This isn't the principle of predestination; this is the application (or misapplication) of the principle. Luther held that God was sovereign and all things were set, but we didn't know what they were. That meant that we couldn't operate as if we did. Thus, Luther denied predestination.

The problem really is in the application. We can know in theory that "everything is absolute and unavoidable", but we can't live that way. You see, God is a God of means. He has methods by which He operates. Easy examples would be that He provides for families by having us work for a living or He makes converts by the preaching of the Word. He could provide for His own by simply giving us what we need, but He doesn't use those means. He could convert people simply by speaking it, but He doesn't use those means. Thus, while all things are predetermined, since we don't know what those things actually are, we are obligated to operate through God's means.

A similar objection has often been lodged against predestination in terms of evangelism. If God chooses whom He will save, why bother spreading the Gospel? I can offer two very quick reasons. First, God commanded it. That settles it, doesn't it? That should be sufficient reason. Go and make disciples not because you understand, agree, or are the power source for such an enterprise. Go because you're told to go. That's all we really need. But the second reason is precious to me. God has ordained, by use of such means, that His people should take part in His work. We do this by obeying "so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." We do this by preaching the Word because "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" We do this by praying "that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

Intellectually, if God is sovereign and omniscient, then we can be sure that everything that occurs is predetermined. We can be sure intellectually. The danger comes when we misappropriate that certainty to prevent us from doing what God commands. We are commanded to be holy. We are commanded to pray. We are commanded to share the Gospel. If we try to use the hidden will of God as an excuse to defy God, it will surely end badly for us.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Origin of Marriage

In the debate about whether or not we ought to redefine "marriage", we are not allowed to bring into the discussion our religious views. For those who disagree with our beliefs, they simply say, "Well, that's fine for you, but you can't force your views on us." There is, in fact, some truth to that. We can't force our views on others. You can't force someone to believe. Okay, fine. So this discussion isn't for them. It's for us.

Are you aware of the origin of marriage? A lot of Christians would say "Yes" and point us back to Genesis. In chapter 2 we read, "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). That's it, the origin of marriage. Jesus quoted it in Matthew 19 as the reason why we shouldn't allow divorce. Paul quoted it in Ephesians 5 as the reason why husbands should love their wives. The origin of marriage is the union of a man and a woman. See?

I think it would be a mistake to agree with me there. Look at the Ephesians 5 passage:
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32).
Do you see that? Paul just disagreed with me.

Marriage didn't originate in the union of Adam and Eve. According to Paul, the concept of the union of a man and a woman originated in God's plan to unite Christ and the Church. Marriage, then, is simply the human representation of the divine concept. In other words, marriage, properly understood, should be a representation of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Look back at the Ephesians passage again. We see there that wives (who represent "the Church") are to submit to their husbands (who represent "Christ") "as the Church submits to Christ". See that? Wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord because the first purpose of marriage is to illustrate the relationship between the Church and Christ. Husbands (who represent "Christ"), in turn are to love their wives (who represent "the Church") "as Christ loved the Church". Again, the first purpose of marriage is to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the Church.

You can spend some time considering the ramifications of such imagery. We know, for instance, that the Great Commission to the Church is to make disciples (that is, to bring people to Christ and then "raise them" in the training and admonition of the Lord). The great commission (no capital letters) for a marriage is to bear children, bringing them into the world and bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Or, from another perspective, we know that there are different roles for Christ and for the Church, so we shouldn't be surprised that there should be different roles for husbands and wives. We know that Christ is the head of the Church and we know that the husband is the head of the wife. We know that the Church is supposed to adore Christ and we read that wives should respect their husbands. We read how Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church and we read that husbands ought to do the same for their wives. And so it goes.

If you agree with the premise, there are two very important applications. First, does your marriage provide a good illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church? Are you as husbands providing the headship and care that the wife needs? Are you as wives providing the love and support that the husband needs? Are you seeking to reproduce and, if you are/have, are you making it a priority ("great commission") to disciple those children? Frankly I think that if we can get it through our heads that marriage is a picture of that relationship between Christ and Church, it will clear up a lot of confusion many of us have over what marriage should look like.

The second application is in the public sector. If we allow "marriage" to be redefined, what then? Where are we going to go to provide the biblical image? If they redefine marriage to something else, they've already stripped off all the useful imagery. There is no submission, no reproduction, no connection whatsoever to the relationship between Christ and the Church and, therefore, God's design for marriage. I'm not concerned at all about the fact that sexual relations between two people of the same gender is sin. Fine. That's a given. But if we allow God's definition of marriage as an image of Christ and the Church to be stripped away, the consequences are much worse than we realize. Think, for instance, what happened to Moses when he struck the rock rather than spoke to it (Numbers 20). Moses destroyed the image of the Rock once struck that could now be appealed to by prayer, and it cost him entry into the Promised Land. God takes His imagery seriously. Those who engage in sexual immorality (whether they are homosexual or heterosexual) will bear the consequences of their own sin, but we need to be careful not to give up too easily in defending God's imagery of marriage.