Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's not the kissing, it's the fights....

...and what you do afterward, that makes a marriage. Obviously, love and sex are big parts of the equation, for no one would get or stay married without love, and sex is the great gift which not only bonds, but also heals wounds, protects, delights, and comforts in addition to producing children. But I think that at the center of God's purpose for a loving marriage is that it would serve as a tool to make us holy. And making us holy means love mixed in with fights. 

If you really think about it, the reason that we fight with our spouses is because of sin, either theirs or ours, and often some of both. Our wounds, inflicted by their sin, lead us into conflict, and seeing the hurt we inflicted on the one we love, when we are repentant, leads us to change so as not to hurt them in the same way again. Meanwhile, forgiveness and grace extended after the fight do their work to bring healing from pain and the elimination of the wall that would otherwise be built between husband and wife, so that further hurt is a possibility, but so is deeper love. Over time, repentance, healing, forgiveness, and love make us look more like Jesus than we would have if we had never loved, and fought with, our beloved. 

Thus I can truly say, with Martin Luther, "Marriage did for me what no monastery could."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The End of a Ministry

I got the official word today. The rumors are true. Another husband and wife team whose ministry I respected and from which I benefited greatly are separated and probably headed to divorce court. That theirs was a marriage and family ministry only makes it worse. And I am sad. I'm not shocked. It no longer surprises me when seemingly great marriages flame out or crash on the rocks of sin and rebellion. But I am still grieved. I am grieved because I hope that Spirit empowered love and romance will conquer sin, betrayal, lust, and foolishness. Yet more times than I'd like to count, seemingly "good examples" fall and fail. I can count the examples of people I personally know in the church and only have a couple fingers left. Among them are people who taught me, mentored me, and served as pastor to me.

Sadness therefore grips me again today, reminding me of old scars even as fresh ones are inflicted. Yet from these things, I also gain a warning and renewed commitment. The warning echoes back through time, from an older man who taught me about David (and later fell into David's sin) that "Satan is willing to wait 50 years if he has to, in order to take a man down." Our Enemy is indeed patient, and unrepentant, private, "little" sins and darkened corners of the heart have a way of revealing themselves publicly if the wait is long enough. I remember too what the Scriptures say: "Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall." And I tremble with fear, knowing that many better men than I have fallen victim to selfishness, pride, and sin. So I, like Billy Graham said, "run scared" and try never to put myself in a situation where temptation can run wildly into life destroying sin. And I also renew my commitment, both to my bride and my Lord and King. There is no greener grass, and I will rejoice in the wife of my youth until the day we die, till we are no longer young, till we can't see, hear, or eat with our own teeth. By God's power and through His great grace, we will make it, loving each other before the Lord until the last breath.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Eschatology and the Mission

Over the past decade or so, the American Church has spent enormous energy pursuing theological renewal in the areas of soteriology and ecclesiology. Movements like the emerging/Emergent church have challenged traditional notions of what it means to "do church" and to be the church in a postmodern culture. They have also brought renewed clarity to our understanding of the Gospel, both what it is and isn't. Through movements like the Gospel Coalition, we are now discussing issues like the place of what is rather inelegantly labeled "social justice" in our gospel proclamation. These debates are all healthy and contribute, I think, to the renewal of the Church.

I think it is time for a renewal in eschatology as well. Among many of my brethren, the study of the last things is regarded as either the province of weirdos with charts or among the "things indifferent," about which Christians may disagree but which really don't matter. But in the New Testament, it is the in eschatological passages in which we most often find exhortation toward both mission and personal spiritual renewal. And so, as we approach the time when there are fewer American missionaries than there once were (as many are now old and starting to retire), I believe it is time once again to remind people of the Bible's great teaching about the last things and motivate a new generation to sanctify themselves and complete the task of world evangelization.

I believe it is simply true that:
  • If we don't really believe in Hell as the Bible teaches, then no one will sacrifice the comforts of home to make sure people they've never met don't wind up going there.
  • If we don't really believe in the coming of both King Jesus and His Kingdom, then no one will be willing to suffer martyrdom to reach the Muslim world (which is most likely the price that will have to be paid to do so). 
  • If we don't really believe that Jesus could return today, then no one will ever develop any sense of urgency about repenting of their sin and reaching their neighbors with the Gospel.
  • If we don't really believe in the Tribulation and God's wrath, then we will never warn anyone about it or share with them the Way of escape.
And that, I believe is the problem. Many of us affirm these things, but we don't really believe them enough to allow their truth to transform our day-to-day lives. So we sleep in comfort as the world quite literally goes to Hell.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A woman like you...

This year marks 16 years of marriage to my favorite feisty redhead, and as this song says, "honestly I don't know what I'd do, if I'd never met a woman like you." I'd probably have a lot more guns and take a lot more out-of-state hunting trips, but my life would be immeasurably poorer in all the ways that matter. I'd have missed the joys of loving and being loved by the one person one earth who always "gets" me, to say nothing of the delights of being Dad to the four best kids that ever walked. I am blessed far beyond what I deserve:

Friday, March 2, 2012

On politics and religion

Jonah Goldberg is not a Christian. I don't know what his faith commitments are, though my guess would be some variety of Conservative (as opposed to Orthodox or Reform) Jewish. Regardless, his comments from today's G-File are among the best and most reflective that I've read anywhere about the role politics currently plays in modern American life. Here's the meatiest part:
 If you clear the public square of what we traditionally call religion -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism etc. -- we will not have a public square free of religion. We have a public square full of religion fighting under the false flag of "secular values" -- with no opposing sources of moral authority to resist it.

The utopianism, millenarianism and radical egalitarianism at the emotional core of liberalism are fundamentally religious in nature. That doesn't mean liberalism is evil or totalitarian. But it is less than totally self-aware. The nice thing about traditional religion is you know where it comes from. The unwritten faith of liberalism masquerades in the costumes of modernity, progress, social justice and the like without recognizing that liberalism requires leaps of faith, too.

Liberalism's lack of self-knowledge about its nature makes it very powerful and very dangerous. Liberals can simply claim -- without seeming like they're lying, because they actually believe it -- that they are cold, rational presenters of fact and decency. Comte's "religion of humanity" has forgotten that it is a religion at all. But forgetting something doesn't make it any less real. Wile E. Coyote forgets there's no land underneath him. His ignorance doesn't keep him aloft.

This is how the New Class of experts and helping professions become secular priests of a wholly political religion. We confuse credentials for ordinations, regression analyses for consecrations. And without a conception of a higher authority, without a more enduring and transcendent dogma to inform our consciences, we are left following the captains of rudderless ships leading us to ruin.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fairness and the Cross-a meditation

"It's not fair!"If I have heard that charge come forth from one or another of my children's lips once, I have heard it 500 million times (I exaggerate only slightly!). Each time, I have had two standard responses: 1) "Life ain't fair, so buck up and get used to it" or if I'm feeling more patient, 2) Extended explanation of how such-and-such circumstance the offended party was involved in was favorable to him/her and thus this circumstance brings the universe into rough parity. I'm getting more inclined toward Option #1, because somehow, Option #2 never seems to quite satisfy, for no matter how eminently reasonable my explanation is, one's child never feels they have received justice.

I'm sure that every parent out there can empathize with my exasperation, trying to reconcile a child's sense of justice with a world that is fundamentally unfair. It's an impossible task, at least partly I think, because part of being made as humans in God's image is precisely the awareness of right and wrong, fair and not, and the deep sense that things in this world aren't the way they are supposed to be. Moreover, who among us hasn't similarly cried out "It's not fair!" about many more serious problems in our adult world? Thus, one of the lessons we try to impart to our children is precisely that truth, that this world ain't fair and you better tighten your chinstrap and get used to it, because that's life.

On the other hand, I think a certain "unfairness" is also at the very heart of the Gospel. It certainly isn't "fair" that God laid the sins of deeply sinful people on His only begotten Son, enabled those who believed in the Son to trade their sins for the Son's righteousness, and by the Spirit's power to be adopted as sons into God's own family. It isn't fair that Jesus was flogged and we were healed. It isn't fair that Jesus bled and we were cleansed. It isn't fair that He was crowned with thorns that God might reverse the curse that brought forth thorns. It isn't fair that the Innocent died in place of the guilty, or that the Creator died instead of the creature. It isn't fair that He cried out "I thirst!" so that none of us would have to cry "I thirst" from Hell.

It isn't fair. But it is grace. And it is ironic and unexpected, but nevertheless gloriously true that God is using the supreme act of unfairness to put this unfair world full of unjust people back to right. And there is coming a day when "justice will flow down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream..." Until then, I rejoice in the fact that God has not been fair with me and does not treat me like I deserve.


I had breakfast the other day with a friend who is a new Christian. One of the things which greatly bothers him and hindered his own coming to faith is the hypocrisy he sees among Christians. I assured him that the problem is not news. In fact, it's worse than he knows: It's been my experience that all Christians (including this one most assuredly!), are hypocrites. We all profess to believe better than we live. But I hardly think this is discrediting as much as some people seem to think. In fact, I think it affirms one of the central truths of the Gospel--that all humans are sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation. Thus, the issue then is not whether people will be hypocrites, but whether their hypocrisy will be forgiven by God along with their other sins.

That being said, there are a number of warnings against hypocrisy in the Scriptures and seven biblical reasons why a professing Christian might be guilty of it:
  1. False Profession. In the American church, we tend to think that anyone who claims to be a Christian is one. Yet biblical warnings against false profession abound as do warnings that those who claim to be Christians should examine themselves to ensure that is indeed the case. (Cf. Matt. 7:21-23; 13:24-30; 22:11-14; 2 Cor. 13:5; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; 2:20-22; 1 Jn 3:8-10).
  2. Rebellion. Though it does not speak well of them or the depth of their Christian faith, it is nevertheless true that even true sons sometimes wander from their Father and need to repent (Cf. Jas 1:13-15; 1 Jn. 2:15-17; Heb. 12:10; Lk. 15:4-7; 11-32).
  3. Treating Sin As If It Isn't Serious. We sometimes act as if sin isn't that big a deal because, after all, our sins and their penalty were already paid at the Cross. Yet this is a serious presumption on the grace of God and abuse of the Savior whose blood paid that price. It is so serious that God sometimes judged even his own people with premature death for engaging in it (Cf. Matt. 5:27-30; 1 Cor. 10:5-13; Heb. 12:4; 1 Jn. 5:16). 
  4. Failure to Confess. Though I don't affirm the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession as a "means of grace," confessing sin to each other is a biblical practice and I personally know no one who has overcome serious sin who has done it solo (Cf. Jas. 5:15-16, 19-20; Gal. 6:1-2).
  5. Failure to Repent. True repentance includes confession, but many Christians "confess," and do not repent, and thus continue in the same sin(s) they were entangled in before (Cf. Ezek. 33:10-11; Zech. 1:3; 2 Cor. 7:10; 12:21; Jas. 1:22-24). 
  6. Weak Faith. Sometimes sin is committed unintentionally simply because someone new or weak in their knowledge of Christ was deceived and led astray (Cf. Eph. 4;13-14; 1 Jn. 3:7). 
  7. God Allows Sin to Persist to Serve His Purposes.  I have the hardest time with this one, but it is true. God could (and one day will!) eliminate the sin nature immediately from all who trust in Christ. Yet He chooses not to do so, that He might be glorified even through our struggle to trust, obey, and follow (Cf. Rom. 7:21-25; 11:32; 2 Cor. 12:7-9; Rev. 22:14-15).