Friday, May 28, 2010


Special thanks to Tammy Wynette for giving me the title for this post.

If there is a word that accurately summarizes Jesus' teaching on most subjects, its probably the word hard. As people said about another subject he taught on, "This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (John 6:60). Jesus is simply so stark, so unequivocal, so absolute, so hard to follow.

In our day, there is probably no subject (other than perhaps sexual morality) on which it is more difficult to proclaim Jesus' teaching than the subject of divorce. Self-identified Christians (at least according to Barna) get divorced at about the same rate as non-Christians, with 30% or so eventually walking away from their covenant partner. This is a tragedy, a demonstrable failure of discipleship of huge proportions. Listen to the Pharisees and Jesus from Mark 10:
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

"What did Moses command you?" he replied

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate."

When they were in the house again, his disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
This is hard teaching. It cuts completely across the grain of our modern culture, both in society at large and, sadly, also in parts of the church. Here's a summary:
  1. Divorce occurs because repentance doesn’t. Divorce always involves sin. Often there are greater and lesser degrees of sin by the two spouses, but at the root of divorce is sinful selfishness and a declaration that “I will have my way.” There’s no such thing as loving divorce, is there? Not according to Jesus. Can a man divorce his wife? Yes. But doing so is evidence of a hardened heart toward God and that person to whom you made your vows.
  2. Stop looking for loopholes. Jesus' called the Pharisees to look not just at the part of the Law that permitted divorce (Deut 24:1-4), but at the whole Law, including the part which made clear God's design for marriage (from Gen. 2). They were focused on the exceptions and "loopholes" to obeying God rather than focusing on obeying God and following his blueprint for marriage, which includes a permanent union. Though the Law permits hard-hearted people to divorce, such was never God's purpose, plan, or ideal.
  3. Divorce and remarriage = adultery. Jesus himself recognizes adultery as legitimate grounds for divorce in Matthew 19, and in that same passage seems to say also that a person who got divorced under those circumstances can remarry without restriction or breaking God’s commandment. In the same way, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 permits believers to divorce their unbelieving spouses who abandon them as a consequence of their commitment to Christ, though Bible teachers disagree over whether Paul allows people to remarry in such a case. But we should be careful about allowing our commitment to "interpreting Scripture with Scripture" to rob Jesus' words of their force and hardness here. I think Jesus doesn’t mention any of these exceptional circumstances for the very simple reason that he knows that we will fixate on the exceptions so as to justify our actions and never have to come face to face with our hardened, sinful hearts and actually repent and glorify God in the midst of the ups and downs of our marriages.
What would happen to us in the church, I wonder, if we actually embraced Jesus' teaching in all of its glorious hardness and tried to live it out by God's grace and with the empowerment of the Spirit?

A kiss is just a kiss...

This is simply "too good to check," as they say...

According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington was recently faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick, they would press their lips on the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them, and the next day the girls would put them back.

Finally, the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night (you can just imagine all the yawns from the little princesses). To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it.

Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

Friday Afternoon humor

Johnny's Mother looked out the window and noticed him "playing church" with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back To the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water.She called out, "Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!" Johnny looked up at her and said, "He should have thought about that before he joined my church."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Hell

As a Gospel preacher, I find that one of the most uncomfortable parts of sharing Christ is telling people about hell. I'd really rather not do so, especially in the midst of a culture in which preaching about hell is considered not just unspeakably gauche, but also a big reason why evangelicals like me are regarded as intolerant, unloving bigots. Yet Jesus is certainly one of the most acerbic preachers on the topic I've ever seen. Here he is, in his own words, from Mark 9:43-48:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
If we're going to share Christ with people, we must do so as Jesus did, not merely inviting people into a life of following Christ, but also warning them out of hell. We must tell them not just the good news of Jesus sacrifice but also the "bad news" of God's holy eternal wrath against sin for which Jesus' death is the only acceptable propitiation.

I know that I am perhaps guilty of preaching to the choir on this, as this is a completely obvious truth to most of my readers. Yet I think it's a point worth making because I find even in my own heart both a deep love for non-Christians as well as a hesitancy to tell them about the full seriousness of their sinful condition. And I dare not let the latter dominate the former, lest I become an unfaithful Christ follower.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Soup Kitchens and Salvation

Christian people of my generation have "rediscovered" Christian social action. This is particularly true among a certain subset of evangelicals, most of whom describe themselves as "missional" Christians. They have become convinced that a true understanding of the Gospel, rightly applied, will inevitably lead Jesus' followers to feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for the downtrodden, etc. Moreover, a whole lot of them criticize their brethren for being too focused on mere proclamation of the Gospel itself without any accompanying relief of people's physical needs.

So far, so good, especially in a country with 17% real unemployment. But a part of me still worries. Maybe it's the amateur church historian or maybe it's the part of me which is sympathetic to warnings of the old fundamentalists like J. Gresham Machen and Lewis Sperry Chafer, but I get the distinct feeling that we in the church have been here before and the results weren't good. Please understand: I am not saying that churches shouldn't feed the poor or care for the widow and the orphan. But what I am saying is that what we define as the central and primary "mission" in all of our "missional" activity matters, and that if it isn't the spread of the Gospel which gives eternal life, then we are deeply in error. Being "missional" without being about that which Jesus defines as our central mission in Matthew 28:18-20 is to be successful at the wrong things. And church history does tell us that where the Gospel is assumed rather than actively proclaimed as the primary part of our mission, then it soon is not even assumed any more. Organizations like the YMCA and Goodwill are just two examples of formerly para-church organizations, and what used to be called the mainline denominations trod a similar path, to their own destruction.

So to my brethren who want to start soup kitchens and similar ministries, I offer this a final word: Be blessed, my friends, and save a place for me to come and serve from time to time. But don't forget that "Man does not live by bread alone." Don't forget to give the Living Water even as you offer a cup of cold water in Jesus name. And don't forget which one comes first.


When I was growing up, as least as I remember it, much more was considered private than is today. It was considered bad manners to inquire too deeply about someone's health, their income, personal habits, politics, marital status, and such. If you were a friend (i. e., a real, rather than simply a Facebook friend) you knew most of this already. If you weren't, you didn't. And more to the point, you did not expect to. Today, of course, we live in an exhibitionist culture and our private lives are no longer all that private. Obviously, as the keeper of this humble blog, and a Facebook member besides, I am something of a contributor to that culture, even if a small one. But occasionally, I think back on the older culture, the one in which it was still possible to move somewhere new and start over fresh if your old life didn't work well, which it often didn't and still doesn't. As a believer in sin, but also in redemption, I wonder sometimes if what we have lost in our mad rush to embrace ever more technology is more than what we have gained.

Here's Peggy Noonan today, from her Wall Street Journal column, echoing my thoughts:
An odd thing is that when privacy is done away with, people don’t become more authentic, they become less so. What replaces what used not to be said is something that must be said and is usually a lie. ("The Eyes Have It," WSJ, May 21, 2010)
Read the whole thing.

The "Boys of Pointe du Hoc"

I like Peggy Noonan. I've liked her ever since I learned she was the speechwriter who wrote "The Boys of Pointe du Hoc" speech for Ronald Reagan's D-Day commemoration (the 40th anniversary) all those years ago. After Lincoln's Gettsyburg Address, I don't think better words were ever spoken by a U.S. President in honor of men who sacrificed, some of them their lives, in service to a cause of ultimate nobility. The anniversary of that day approaches soon, on June 6th. Here's just a portion:

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, two hundred and twenty-five Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.

Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.

And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."

It's easy to forget, in these troubled days, that our nation has faced far worse calamities in the past. We who are worried about the fate of the Euro, the rise of Islamist terror and Iran and Pakistan's "Islamic bomb," and the weakening of the U.S. need to remember that we have seen worse. The blood of my grandfathers ran strong, and they clawed back the continent of Europe from the Nazis and re-took the Pacific from Imperial Japan. My father's generation fought the Soviets in hard places all over the world and finally set free the half of Europe which Roosevelt and Truman permitted to fall under their boots. We are not a perfect nation, nor are we a perfect people within it. And our generation may yet prove to be made of limper stuff than that of generations past. But I do not believe that this is so. I believe that we will rise again, by God's grace, as a force for good in the world.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Man Cake

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day, who told me that he had really gotten into cake decorating. I told him that no matter what they show on Ace of Cakes, this seems to be as much of a man card violation as being a dude who takes up figure skating. He told me that no, I just hadn't seen his cakes. I'm still inclined to think I'm right, but I ask you, dear reader, what do you think? Can you be an authentic man and be into cake decorating?

Here's his example of a manly cake. Apparently, the big football, the logos, the benches, and the Gatorade buckets are all edible.

Don't forget to cast your vote...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Our new Supreme Court Justice

So President Obama has nominated Elena Kagan, former dean of the Harvard Law School and veteran of the Clinton Administration to fill the latest vacancy on the Supreme Court. Me? Well, Karen and I both think she should have stuck with the movies. She made a wonderful addition to the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders is probably the most controversial European politician of whom Americans have never heard. Mr. Wilders is a member of the Dutch Parliament who is currently being prosecuted by his own government for the "crime" of standing against the Islamification of his own country and with it the extinction of freedom. His political party (the PVV or "Freedom Party") is poised to win the majority of seats in Parliament in the June general elections, yet is invariably described as "far right" and "extreme" by the press on both sides of the Atlantic. Wilders himself considers Maggie Thatcher his role model for effective government, but I guess how "extreme" and "far right" a person seems depends on where you stand. The PVV has called for an end to "non-Western" immigration to a country where Mohammed is already the most popular boy's name. So the man who may be the next Prime Minister is on trial for defending his party's platform, which is an intriguing thing for a Western politician to experience, to be sure. In addition, even before his trial, he was accompanied 24/7 by armed guards, who are necessary to protect him from the various excitable folk who are eager to put him to death in the name of Allah. Ironic, isn't it? The people group threatening death to the country's most popular politician are neither prosecuted nor even labeled as extremists, while the one man who stands most in opposition to their evil is treated as a criminal.

The lights of Western culture are being turned out, one by one. Since when do Western governments start prosecuting people for their opinions (especially in Holland, of all places?!). Apparently, it is since we started thinking it is better to appease the Islamic minority in our midst, lest some of the lads among them start blowing people up. Yet when the norms of a culture go undefended against even violent opposition, it is not long before that culture goes extinct. And who would trade the West's glories for a gradual transformation into another of the world's Muslim tyrannies? I think the supply of those is already more than sufficient, thanks very much.

It is past time to wake up. Islam is on the move again, after centuries of relative somnolence. Where Islam conflicts with anything else, peace is rare and never lasting. Concessions made in the name of peace turn quickly into legal rights to be enforced against all citizens, whether Muslim or not. We cannot keep doing what we are doing. If the lamp of freedom is extinguished in the West, who knows how long it will be before it is re-lit, or even if it ever will be again?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Contemporvant Church

This video is funny, in a bitingly sarcastic way. It skewers so many of the modern evangelical megachurch's methods all in one video. But it also grieves my heart in a way too, precisely because it is a necessary corrective. A motive to reach people can slip so easily into manipulating people to get the results we want to see, but which only truly come by God's power.

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.