Friday, December 30, 2011

Ask RC: What Now?

During my Denise’s battle we were all needy enough that we asked for and welcomed prayers for all of us. The grave issue, the underlying problem, was of course her illness. I too prayed for strength for me, for peace for the children. I prayed that God would use the beauty of Denise’s character to draw in the elect. Most of all, however, I prayed that Denise would be made well, that the cancer would be beaten, that she would be blessed with health, comfort and joy. It is rare indeed when we can see such specific prayers answered so clearly and powerfully.

For nine months I have awakened each morning knowing my wife was weak, fragile, fearful, weary and in pain. She was in danger of sinking deeper into illness. I knew it likely that when I would visit her she would at some point cry in sorrow, and that I couldn’t fix it. I prayed against the weakness, the fear and fragility, the weariness and the pain. I prayed against the tears and the sorrow. And now my prayers have been heard. What we wanted for her she has received, and more. We, His children, all together asked for bread for her. He didn’t give her a stone. He didn’t give her bread. He gave her Jesus. She who awoke pity in the hearts of thousands now has awakened with Him, with more health, more comfort, more joy than all of us combined. Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man all that she has already been blessed with (I Corinthians 2:9).

What though of the rest of us, those left behind? We had prayed for strength, for perseverance, for peace. These prayers He has likewise heard. We are, by His grace, strong enough that we are still here, that we have persevered. And we are at peace in our confidence that He will continue to so bless. We have work to do. I have children to raise, and they have the fruit of the Spirit to cultivate. I have lectures to prepare, sermons to preach, articles and chapters to write, and the fruit of the Spirit to cultivate. But there’s one more thing we have to do, me and my children, my extended family and friends. We need to mourn. A commitment to God’s goodness in calling Denise home, a commitment to God’s goodness in taking her from us, does not put mourning out of bounds. Jesus Himself wept just moments before He knew He would call Lazarus out of that tomb. I am not in the least ashamed of my tears. We mourn, but not as those who are without hope (I Thessalonians 4:13).

We do not fail in our work because we are mourning. We do not fail in our mourning as we work. We beautify each with the other. We will do both in accordance with our convictions. We mourn and we work with hope, knowing that all that we do for the kingdom will withstand that great conflagration of wood, hay and stubble.

Many of you, out of tender hearts, no doubt are concerned about practical matters, about logistics. Raising eight children is a jaw-dropping sized job for two healthy parents. Add in homeschooling and the challenge becomes more daunting. And now we go forward without my wife. What is the plan? The plan is to continue to honor both God’s Word and Denise’s legacy. We will continue to speak of Jesus and His kingdom when the children lie down and when they rise up. We will continue to homeschool the children. We will seek out more help around the house. I will seek to remove a few things from my plate, without sweeping its contents in the disposal. We will work hard and efficiently, still guided by the hand written lists and instructions Denise so loved to put together. I don’t, now that she is gone, need to build the transcontinental railroad. I just have to keep the train on the track my wife has so lovingly built.

Prayers for strength, wisdom and perseverance, are of course not just welcomed but coveted. But do not pray as those who are without hope- that’s just worrying on your knees. Instead pray with confidence to our loving Father. I know how powerfully He is not just able, not just willing, but how eager He is to bless, because I’ve seen what He has done for my wife. What now? Give thanks.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Can You Remember?

Note: RC wrote this two days before Denise died.

Though children tend to see “I forgot” as an excuse, the Bible seems to see it as a condemnation. God is good to us from our births, and we forget. We look forward, waiting and wondering if and when God will give us what we want. In so doing we forget that we got to this point by the grace of God, forgetting His sundry deliverances along the way. We accept the status quo as our rightful starting point, and dare the ask the Lord of heaven and earth, “What have You done for me lately?

Death, on the other hand, can be good for the memory. Considering what my life will be like without my wife makes me consider what life was like before she blessed us. Already I am finding myself making what were once simple decisions without the blessing of her wisdom, and feeling the paucity of my own insight. I am already living the wisdom of that aphorism that reminds us we will not miss the water until the well runs dry.

I suspect the solution here is less “preparing” for loss, and more gratitude for what was found. That is, as I face a future without the spiritual wisdom of my bride it is less important that I bank what I can still receive from her, and more important that I give thanks to God for all the wisdom He has bestowed over the years through her. Looking through the gift of her wisdom to the source of that wisdom makes it less likely that I will miss her wisdom while I miss her.

My wife’s greatest fear today as her final days slip away isn’t about herself. That’s what she’s like. She is worried about me and the children. I seek to put her at ease by reminding her that the source of the wisdom she gave our family isn’t her as my wife, but Jesus as my husband. He has been taking care of us through her. When she goes, He will still take care of us.

Years ago as I expressed to my then young bride my heart’s desire that He would bless me soon with the honor of a martyr’s death she understandably asked, “But who will take care of us?” I replied wisely, “The same Man who has been taking care of you all along.” Now I am facing the same truth, that all that we have received through Denise ultimately came from the gracious hand and loving heart of Jesus. And He already died once, and will not die again.

It was the grace of God that gave us all a blessed life in southwest Virginia. Leaving there didn’t mean leaving that blessing. In like manner it was the grace of God that gave us the blessed life of having Denise for a wife and mother. Losing her doesn’t mean losing that grace. It means remembering where it ultimately came from. To confuse God’s means of grace with His grace is to fall into idolatry. To look beyond and through the blessing to its Giver is to understand how our God works through what He has made. God loves me. Where I live, and with whom doesn’t change that but reveals that. My calling is to give thanks.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Praying Friends

It is not an easy thing to discern where a given soul is headed. The elders of the local church are called with the task of determining the credibility of the professions of those under their care. Because we are all sinners, the presence of sin in a man’s life does not answer the question. Because we all profess Christ, the theological accuracy of ones grasp of the gospel does not answer the question. It is a sticky business indeed.

In our day we, as with every other day, suffer from syncretism, the blending together of the worship of the living God with the worship of the spirit of the age. There are many who profess the name of Christ, who in turn lie like, think like, feel like, hunger like their unbelieving neighbors. Will these prove to be skin-of-their-teeth Christians, or will they prove to be wolves amidst the flock?

Though by no means a cure-all for this challenge, one unexpected test may be found amidst the surfeit of wisdom found in James 5. Who are your friends? When you find yourself in need of aid, to whom do you turn? James tells us, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (verse 16). Now this certainly could be understood as yet another call to righteousness. Do you want your prayers to be effective, to avail much? Pursue righteousness.

That, however, has not been my perspective of late. In this great time of need that the Sproul family finds themselves in, I find myself giving thanks not only for my friends, but for the righteousness of my friends. I am forced to confess my own weakness as a righteous man. I am, however, blessed to confess that I have been blessed with righteous friends. We not only have, literally, thousands praying for us, but we have godly men and women praying for us. As I type my eldest is on the phone with Beall Phillips, a saintly woman and longtime friend of the family. Her prayers, according to James, availeth much, as do the prayers of her husband and children, all of whom manifest the righteousness of Christ in their loyal love to my family.

On my computer, as I type, the music of Nathan Clark George is playing. He too, along with his wife Patsy, are godly, and prayerful for me and mine. My mother, my father, my sister, the Steiman family, the Deweys, Windhams, Murphys, Hays, and dozens more families at Saint Peter Presbyterian in Virginia are praying prayers that availeth much. The saints at Saint Andrews here in Orlando, the saints at Heritage Covenant in Centreville, Tennessee, all of these are not just praying, but praying with power.

My desire here, however, is not merely to give thanks, but to encourage us all to pursue godly friends. Those who make friends with the world have only the world to pray for them. Those who love the saints, on the other hand, have those covered by the righteousness of Christ Himself praying on their behalf.

As the Sprouls move into what we expect to be the most difficult days of our lives, we know not only that we are not alone, not only that we are joined by thousands of pray-ers, but that we have righteous men and women lifting us up to and through the one Righteous Man, whose prayers are not for health and comfort, but that we would be conformed to His image. And His prayers availeth everything.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ask RC: What is Apostasy?

The Bible affirms two important truths that can seem at first blush difficult to reconcile. On the one hand the Bible affirms that all those who are brought to faith in Christ will be kept in the faith, and enter into paradise at their deaths. See I Corinthians 15:58, John 10:28, John 5:24, I John 2:19 and Romans 8. On the other hand the Bible also warns about the dangers of falling away. See Hebrews 6:4-6, Romans 11:17-22, I Timothy 1: 18-19, John 15: 1-2. If nothing can take believers from God’s hand, if those whom He justifies He glorifies, what is going on with those who are cut off, who trample on the blood? Are these warning merely hypothetical, or are we by them assured that what they warn against won’t come to pass? Are they temporarily saved, having received every blessing in Christ, save for persevering grace? No.

Apostasy is real, as is the perseverance of the saints. When God gives a person a new heart that embraces the work of Christ in faith, that person is at peace with God for always. Such a person could never completely fall away from the faith. Apostasy isn’t about those who have been blessed with a faith that trusts in the finished work of Christ alone. Apostasy is what happens when one moves from phenomenologically saved to phenomenologically unsaved, which demonstrates that this person was never ontologically saved.

Big words, I know. Their meanings, however, are fairly simple. All we mean by “phenomenologically” is “as the eye sees.” All we mean by “ontogically” is “as it actually is.” To put it more simply, apostasy is when a person who was a part of the visible church, but not a part of the invisible church, ceases to be a part of the visible church. The profession of faith is either no longer professed, or is deemed no longer to be credible by the elders of the church.

This may seem like rather small potatoes. No one’s soul is actually moving from life to death. That, however, doesn’t make it small potatoes. These lost souls (keeping in mind that at least in some circumstances those who “leave” the faith my yet be saved- see the man excommunicated in I Corinthians, who later repented and is brought back into the church in II Corinthians) are people who were, in terms of the visible church, a part of the body. They are not cut off cleanly. We loved them, enjoyed fellowship with them, and naturally mourn when they depart from us.

As a pastor I have seen men I loved excommunicated for unrepentant, gross and heinous sin. It broke my heart. I have seen whole families simply abandon the church (not our church, not even the Protestant church, but the church). It broke my heart. I have seen multiple families reject the Biblical gospel for the false gospel of Cathodoxy. It broke my heart. People I looked forward to spending eternity with, who I loved because I thought we shared a love for Christ, turned out to be imposters. People whom I hoped to see I heaven appeared to be goats.

Apostasy is real. It happens. It ought to break our hearts. And in turn our hearts must be comforted in knowing that He has never lost one of His own, and will never leave us, nor forsake us.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Doing Great Things

When we first learned that my little girl Shannon would always be a little girl, when we discovered about her first birthday that she was profoundly disabled, my father, a deeply compassionate man asked how I was handling the news. I told him that I had been preparing for this moment all my life. If anyone should be able to rest in the sovereignty of God it is me. The sovereignty of God is the cornerstone of Reformed theology, which theology I have been schooled in from my youth by one of its greatest living proponents.

The sovereignty of God, rightly understood, was the very core of my father’s best known work, The Holiness of God. The doctrine came front and center in his next book, Chosen by God. I was a young man when those books were first published. Like many others I ate them up, drank them in, and like too many young men, spat out their wisdom with precious little grace and care. I reveled in God’s sovereignty, and delighted in nothing more than to argue for, to defend, to proclaim that sovereignty.

That all changed, however, when I read still another book by my father, this one born of a family hardship. Surprised by Suffering begins with the still-born birth of my niece, Alissa. From there the book explores not just the truth that God ordains our suffering but why. The point that has stuck with me over the years was this- suffering isn’t something that happens, nor it is just something God permits. It is instead a vocation, a calling. God does not merely say, “I’m going to make you go through this.” Instead He says, “It is My desire for you that you should go through this. Follow Me.”

All of us, when we are brought into the kingdom, in joyful gratitude for the grace of God, want to do great things for the kingdom. Having been rescued by His glorious grace, we want in turn to rescue others, to serve the body, to proclaim the Good News. God has called us to do just that. He calls out heroes who take the message to strange and foreign lands. He calls out pastors who feed the sheep. He calls out teachers, like my father, who explain to the broader body the fullness of the gospel. Some, however, He calls to suffer.

My wife, for this part of His story, is called to suffer. Her role right now is to do this great thing for the kingdom- to be Jesus to us, so that we might be Jesus to her. She is Jesus to us because as we serve her, we remember His promise, that serving the least of these is serving Him (Matthew 25). We, in turn, are Jesus to her, precisely because the church is His body. When we pray for her, she rests in Jesus’ arms. When we bring a meal, she tastes Jesus feeding her. When we dry her eyes, she feels Jesus wiping away her tears.

Hers is not an easy calling. It is, however, a great one. Being Jesus means walking the via dolorosa. How blessed I am to walk that road with her, and with Him.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Headline Blues

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine
Open Letter to Ted Turner

Dear Ted,

Can I call you Ted? Before I get to any of the uncomfortable stuff, first let me thank you profusely for gifting me with year after year of the greatest television show ever put on. It is because of you that I am now the proud owner of 252 of the 259 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. It’s almost enough to make me forget when Sid slid, and my Pittsburgh Pirates went home empty handed. Of course I understand that it wasn’t really a gift to me at all. Rather we had what might be called a business relationship. You agreed to provide the stories of Mayberry, and I agreed, to one degree or another, to watch advertisements. After years of thinking of television as free, I finally discovered what is really happening. The whole show is just a long form infomercial. The shows themselves exist for the ultimate purpose of getting my attention long enough to persuade me to buy this brand of toothpaste rather than that brand. Infomercials, in fact, are the most honest thing going on television.

Which may be one of the reasons that Neil Postman hit the nail on the head when he argued that television is at its worst when it seeks to be ennobling. He was comparatively comfortable with Three Stooges reruns, and, I presume, with Andy Griffith reruns. It was the serious stuff that gets us into serious trouble. That is, someone excusing themselves with, “I only watch the news programs” is something like someone justifying their subscription to Sports Illustrated with “I only look at the swimsuit issue.” News isn’t the savior of television, but its destruction. Which means your visionary, daring efforts are at the forefront of all that is wrong with television. Give them classic movies, but please, turn off the news.

I don’t mean by this, and I say this just so you won’t get bored, that the problem is the leftward slant of what used to be your news channels. This isn’t another tired old conservative screed complaining that you aren’t more like Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. No, this is a comparatively fresh-faced screed complaining that you are too much like Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. My complaint isn’t what you put on television, but that you put it on television. Left versus less left is the same old sham battle you both keep reporting on, as if it made a bit of difference.

Thirty years ago television brought us roughly three hours of news each day. We had the morning shows that spent more time on cooking tips than news. We’ll be broad minded and call that an hour. Then we had, at most, a half hour of local news at noon and at 6:00 and at 11:00. And we had a half hour of national news at 6:30. You, at that time, were bringing us billboards and Braves baseball. You were most famous for winning the America’s Cup half blind from booze, and earning the nickname Captain Outrageous.

But that all changed with CNN and its twenty-four hour coverage of the news of the day. Your challenge wasn’t merely to fill all that time. That was hard enough. The truly damaging work you have done was to persuade us that we need to watch. CNN, to paraphrase a phrase, persuaded our hearts of this alarming truth, that somewhere out there something was going on that we knew nothing about. We have been taught that there’s nothing worse than being caught in the breakdown lane of the information super-highway.

You have changed the landscape of television, which in turn has changed the landscape of the world. Like a Colossus your news empire once sat astride the globe, and shrunk it to the size of utter insignificance. If it becomes news because you covered it, then it never really was news. You have made the world smaller, and made of us not citizens of the globe, but citizens of the tube. You haven’t expanded our vision, you have fit it into a 19 inch box. You have caused distant earthquakes and slavery in the Sudan to become nothing more to us than background noise at supper time. You have spread your smugness, so that we too now are fools enough to think that we are up-to-date, and connected, all through the remote control. Just who does that remote control, anyway? You have taught us to shed a tear over a tsunami, while we can’t be bothered with our own aging parents. We get catharsis on the cheap, the same way we get our headlines.

You should have seen this. You should have known that you were killing what you thought you were promoting. But your eyes were glazed over, and so now, so are ours. Here is some news for you. A day is coming when news once more will be about our neighbors, given out so that we can help. You loved it when the big three networks squealed over the pain the cable networks were creating. You delighted when Wolf Blitzer became the most recognized face in all of Gulf War I. Rest assured your demise isn’t the utter destruction your networks are receiving from Fox, but the growing number, not of hippies, but of Christians, who are tuning out. Your day is done, and now comes the judgment.

As always, we write not merely to castigate, but to call for repentance. Rumor has it that your ex-wife has been given new life. You need to understand that one way or another, that pale Galilean will triumph. His victory is on display 24 hours. Postman, of course, was willing to concede something useful for the television. It is, he used to argue, a rather handy device to communicate certain very important and simple messages like, “Hurricane coming. RUN!” I would agree as well, but add that whenever it is on, because it is on, this is precisely what the television is telling us. We don’t need your education.

What I leave with you is this, a message that is utterly complete without live footage, or Bernard Shaw, a message that is as old as it is timely- Wrath coming. TURN!

In the King’s Service,

Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ask RC: Is it a sin to marry outside ones race?

Yes, of course. Happily, in every jurisdiction I am aware of, it is not even legally possible to marry outside ones race. Though there are some arguing that such should be legal, even the “gay” “marriage” movement, by and large, disdains the notion. The Bible is abundantly clear that marriage is only for those of the human race, and to extend the institution beyond that is wrong.

Within the circle of humanity, God does provide a number of other prohibitions. Marriage, for instance, is, according to the Bible, one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4 -5). Marriage is also only between either two believers, or two unbelievers (II Corinthians 6:14). Leviticus 18 gives us the laws of consanguinity, affirming that we may not marry those who are too close kin. The Bible forbids marrying those who have been illegitimately divorced (Matthew 19:9). The only other biblical prohibition that I am aware of is that one cannot divorce, marry another spouse, and then, after a second divorce, or the death of the second spouse, remarry the first (Deuteronomy 24:4).

Does the Bible forbid marrying outside ones culture, ones skin color, ones nation? By no means. Deuteronomy 21: 11-14 gives explicit warrant for a Jewish man to take a wife from among the women of a conquered nation. Though not as compelling, we in turn have biblical examples of godly men who married outside their national identity- Moses and his Cushite wife (Numbers 12:1), and of course Boaz and Ruth.

There have, in the past, been fine and godly men who have argued otherwise. There are likely some fine and godly men who would still so argue. The Bible, however, despite the level of detail to which it does go on whom we may or may not marry, does not so argue. The ancient creeds of the church make no such argument. The great confessional statements of the Reformation make no such argument.

Some have argued that my own position is grounded in worldliness. Those outside the church are always seeking to break down barriers, to deconstruct cultures. Miscegenation, my critics would argue, plays right into the hands of the political and theological left. I would offer two retorts. First, a healthy understanding of the antithesis, of the great battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman doesn’t mean we are to be reactionary, that we are to embrace the opposite of what the world embraces always and everywhere. We aren’t called to walking on our hands because the unbelievers walk on their feet. Because those outside the kingdom of God retain the remnants of the image of God, we should expect to agree with them from time to time.

Second, even a cursory glance of the literature demonstrates that it is actually those who argue against marrying outside ones culture, that were most influenced by worldly wisdom. Darwin’s theory of evolution created a paradigm by which even Christians began to judge one “race” as genetically superior to another. It is true enough that some cultures are better than others. What makes one culture superior, however, isn’t genetics, but the impact of the Christian faith. Low levels of melanin didn’t build Europe, the gospel did. Matching levels of melanin in turn won’t make a godly marriage. The gospel will. Away with legalism that adds to God’s perfect law.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

The Terminal

The yellowing sky confirmed the wisdom of the forecasters, a tornado might well be just around the bend. With one eye scouring the landscape I dutifully herded my then seven children into our basement. One of them, worried, asked me- “Are we all going to die?” Tender hearted father that I am, I told the truth- “Of course…but probably not today.” We survived the weather that day, but we are all still terminal.

As my wife continues her valiant fight against leukemia she too occasionally asks me to look into my crystal ball. She wants to know if she is going to make it. The doctors don’t know, and they are considerably more knowledgeable than I am. So I tell my wife what I do know- “I don’t know if you are going to get well or not. I do know that that day was appointed before all time. Nothing will make it a day later, nothing a day earlier. Cancer cannot determine when you go home. Only your Father can.

God can and does give clues, from time to time. The Bible affirms that He opens and closes the womb. That doesn’t mean that Abraham and Sarah didn’t have reason to be surprised. That Denise is ill, that it is this kind of cancer, that form of leukemia, this other test result suggests that we have more reason to worry about her than me. Seeking to decipher all these clues causes us to ride a roller coaster of hope and fear. I have come to learn, however, that my confidence on a given day is likely more tied to how poorly I slept the night before than it is deciphering the results of a CT scan.

My calling then is to rest in, to believe, to be comforted by what He has spoken clearly. Providence is His, but there He speaks a strange language in muted tones. His Word, on the other hand is both loud and clear. We know, for starters, that God Himself is behind this. God will either defeat the cancer He has sent, or He will have sent the cancer that calls her home (Isaiah 45:7). We know that whether her time is sooner or later, it works out for the good not only for her, but for her husband and children (Romans 8:28). We know that whenever He calls her home He will at the same time heal her fully (Revelation 21:4).

Insofar as I am able, by His grace, to believe what He has revealed, I am able to be at peace about what He has not revealed. Insofar as I seek to learn the secret things, I will fail to believe what He has revealed. One thing we know for certain- He is good. He loves us with an everlasting love. That doesn’t answer the question of the day or the hour. It just makes it not so important.

It is a good and proper thing that I should, and you as well if you are willing, pray that God would make Denise well, that He would allow us to grow old together. It is, however, a better thing to pray that I would be a faithful husband to my love, and a faithful father to the children He has blessed us with. It is less important that He believe me and my conviction, that the kingdom would be better with her here. It is more important that I believe Him and His promise that the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18), and that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 6:10). This train is bound for glory.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine.
Spam, Wonderful Spam

I don’t want to get too technical with the fine points of economics, but it isn’t strictly true, despite what you’ve heard, that time is money. But it is not that particular bit of misinformation I want to get at here. Rather it is this cousin of that nugget- knowledge is power. It too, despite being accepted wisdom, is unwise horse feathers. Truth be told, time is power and knowledge is used to wrap fish.

We live in the information age, in the comfortable suburbs right off the wonders of the information superhighway. There are wonders of efficiency that the computer has brought us. Just consider eBay. Not only does eBay hook up buyers and sellers that would never have found each other otherwise, but it finds the market price for what is being sold through the magic of an auction. I not only don’t begrudge the information age this real triumph, I’m grateful for it. What I’m wondering though, is where that information goes when we’re done with it.

That said, however, we are in an overload situation. For decades now technology has been busy about the business of bringing us more information. When the airwaves couldn’t bring us enough television, we started laying cable. When that failed, we went with satellites. And what fills all those stations, but more information. We have phones that can reach us in our cars, and virtually everywhere (come and visit Mendota sometime. No reception here, I’m usually happy to report.) We have satellite radio as well. Then there is the internet. In less than a decade we went from dial-up to high speed. Hotels, coffee bars, even Laundromats all make their case that we should frequent their establishments, not because of better service, better mocha supremes or whiter collars, but because they have free wi-fi.

Stranger than all this from the last decade is the technology of this decade. We know we have too much information not because of how much information we have, but because we are now looking to technology to protect us from that information. The software that I see advertised (granted, it’s not like I’m some sort of software guru) is that which promises to protect us from pop-ups and spyware. Bill Gates in a recent interview was asked about new innovations coming from his company. What did he talk about? Spam filters.

Of course we have the same things all over the house. We have locks to keep our children from watching certain channels, and DVD players that will bleep every beeping bleep that tried to make it into your living room. And then there’s the spam eliminator for the telephone, caller ID. We invited the monster into play, and now we’re desperately looking for a leash.

We have magazines and websites devoted to television shows, and television shows devoted to movies, and movies constructed from cancelled television shows. We even have a television show that daily recreates, with real actors, the events of the pop star who is accused of seducing his victim how? With information brought to him by Hollywood.

Once again the complaint here isn’t what’s on, but how much is on. It isn’t so much what they’re telling us, it’s how much they’re telling us. When we try to keep up, we show ourselves not to be well informed and free citizens, but easily manipulated slaves. Pop has become our daddy.

But let’s remember our principles. Time isn’t money, it’s power. Each one of us wakes up each morning with twenty four hours. That we speak of “spending” time suggests that we’ve already killed it. Time is what we invest, because the days are evil. When we miss out on a conversation with our children, because we just had to hear what Rush had to say today, we aren’t investing, we’re spending. When we send the children off to watch Toy Story for the thousandth time so that we can share our wisdom with the world through our blog, we aren’t investing, we’re spending. When we can’t seem to find the time to read our Bibles, but can find the time to read other people’s blogs, then we aren’t investing, we are spending.

If we would know something interesting and important, it probably isn’t about the accusations of sin against the King of Pop. It would probably be more fruitful to know more about our sins against the King of All Things. If we want to worry about the sufferings wrought by sin, we probably don’t need to see which tragedy is boosting Fox’s ratings during sweeps month. It might be better to see how you can help those with whom you have covenanted in the church.

It’s true enough that the Bible doesn’t say you can’t listen to talk radio. It doesn’t say you can’t read or write blogs. It doesn’t say, as far as I know, you can’t read magazines from fly-over territory. And as such, I’m not saying it either. But just as we encourage folks to have lots of children not ultimately because we think contraception is a sin, but because we think children are a blessing, so here the issue isn’t whether you’re allowed to drink in this or that from the broader culture. The question is, aren’t there better things to do with your time? And by that I don’t merely mean more work-y kind of things. I mean more joyful kind of things.

Tomorrow night the Kisers are coming over for dinner. We won’t be watching a movie (though we do from time to time.) We won’t be talking about how the latest stats conjured up by ESPN. We’ll eat, and we’ll visit. We’ll worship and we’ll laugh. We may break out our instruments and peel off a song or two. We’ll enjoy some homebrew, and my clam linguini. And all of the sudden, must see TV isn’t any more.

Here’s another axiom for you, a fundamental economic reality. At the end of the day, as you weigh this good and that, it’s people that matter, flesh and blood, three dimensional people will always trump the titillation of tabloid television. Time is power, invest it wisely.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Coarse

My Delaney is 13, and all girl. She is gentle, soft-spoken, beautiful. Yesterday, as she headed off to the field to play her last soccer game of the season I told her what I tell her before every game- “That’s your ball.” I want her to play more aggressively, to not wait for the ball, but to go to it. She hustles, works hard, and is learning that it is indeed her ball.

Later in the game, right in front of me, Delaney’s little girl cousins, and a set of parents, another little girl, playing aggressively for the other team, believing the ball to be hers, found herself on the ground, frustrated and without the ball. She stood, and announced, incredulous about one of Delaney’s teammates- “She f#*%@ing tripped me.”

I was, of course, aghast and appalled, speechless even. The mom next to me asked the girl if she kissed her mom with that mouth. Which got me to thinking about that mom. It’s absolutely true that we are all responsible for our own sins. It is likewise true that our sins tend to beget more sins. What kind of a mother raises a little girl that talks that way? I suspected the kind of mother who speaks that way herself.

After more consideration, however, I have come to suspect that this little girl’s mother may have a reasonably polite tongue, but whose discernment muscles have atrophied away. I suspect the little girl is actually being raised by pop culture. Movies, music, television, video games have all shaped the discourse of those who consume them. We speak what we hear. When what goes in our ears is a sneering, cynical, angry stew, what comes out of our mouths is sneering, cynical, angry words.

Someone once noted the hypocrisy of television executives who trudge down to Washington and appear before Congressional hearings, promising that all the sex and violence doesn’t impact people’s behavior. These same men then meet with advertisers and promise that commercials can change people’s behavior. The forty minutes of programming won’t change a thing. The twenty minutes of advertising will change everything. They can’t have it both ways.

The truth is we are responsible for what we do. No one can stand before God and declare, “NBC made me do it.” The truth is, however, that media matter, and even our most sophisticated worldview grids do not make sludge safe to drink. Our discourse has grown coarse because we drink from the sewers of pop culture.

We spiritualize our self-poisoning, because we are poisoned. We think we have to be hip to this new band, or play that video-game so that we can be relevant, so we can reach the lost. The truth is, the lost are reaching us. As Charles Swindoll once said, “If you drop a white glove in the mud, the mud doesn’t get all ‘glovey.’” The world doesn’t need us to become more like them. “Gritty, edgy, real” is just Christian for “geek who wants to fit it.”

We don’t need salty language to be salt, nor dark language in order to bring light. We need instead to speak the language of heaven. To learn to speak that language, we need to learn to hear it- to read God’s Word, to sing His Psalms, to meditate on His promises. Then grace will flow from our lips.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ask RC: Why are college and medical care so expensive?

Every year we can count on two costs outpacing the rate of inflation- medical insurance and college education. Some might think this is because of how important these two commodities are, but the cost of food does not rise as quickly year after year, and it stands even higher in anyone’s hierarchy of needs. Some might think it’s because both are labor intensive, and the labor must be highly trained. But the cost of a cab ride in New York doesn’t rise as quickly year after year, and there is precious little more labor intensive than having one person driving another around. And if you’ve been in New York traffic, you want a well-trained driver.

The real answer is much more fundamental. In both cases we are seeing government pouring more and more money into each. To understand why this drives costs up we need to first disabuse ourselves of a common bit of economic “wisdom.” We are told, by left and right both, that taxes on businesses are always passed along to the consumer. The government can’t, these folks argue, actually extract money from businesses. Utterly false. The truth is that the price a consumer is willing to pay for a good or service has nothing to do with where the money goes. The price is set by supply and demand. Raising prices, for whatever reason, reduces demand. Imagine, for instance, that Washington determines to impose a $15,000 luxury tax on all new cars. Can Detroit, or even Tokyo, just “pass that on” to the consumer. Would you spend $30,000 on a car you value at $15,000? The artificially high price reduces sales, hurting the business’s bottom line. This is not just an abstract suggestion. Check out what happened to the luxury boat business after the first President Bush broke his no new taxes pledge.

Now back to government subsidizing education and medicine. How much would you be willing to pay for a college education? If that number for most people is $15,000, a year and the state stayed out of the equation, then the cost of an education would stay around $15,000. But suppose the state comes in offering scholarships, grants, and guaranteed loans. Now how much are you willing to pay? Still $15,000. That’s how much you value the education, and so that is what the college can get you to pay. Nothing at all wrong with that- it’s a free trade. How much though, would you be willing to pay of other people’s money? The trouble is that they can charge others, taxpayers, another $15,000, and still get your $15,000.

Don’t believe me? Well, consider the difference in the rates the uninsured pay at the local walk-in clinic compared to the insured. Why are the uninsured given this break? Is it because of the altruism of the medical profession? No. If I am willing to pay $150 to have my son’s arm x-rayed, that is what they will charge. If they can get the state, however, to pay $150, they will seek to charge $300, the $150 I am willing to pay, and the $150 the state is willing to pay.

All of this, in both instances, involves people receiving goods and services that they aren’t paying for, which increases demand. Increasing demand increases prices. Increased prices increases demands for government to “do something.” More government money is poured in, increasing demand, which increases prices. This friends, is how bubbles are blown up. We’ve lived through a tech bubble. We have lived through a stock bubble. In both these instances it’s a more nuanced argument to lay the blame at the feet of the state. We are still recovering from a real estate bubble. The education and medical care bubbles, however, are here. What’s next is when those bubbles pop.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Unknown Rock Stars

There are two things necessary to being known as a great man of God- being known, and having a reputation as being a great man of God. It is not in the least necessary that you actually be a great man of God. The same skill set by which one labors to become known works quite well in creating the illusion of godliness. This is not to suggest that all well-known men with a reputation for godliness are frauds. It is to suggest, however, that listening to a heartfelt Christian ballad, reading a winsome and insightful book, or being moved by a dramatic sermon is not sufficient evidence. In order to know if someone is a godly man you have to know the man. And in order to know the man, you have to know his family.

I am privileged to know, though most not well at all, many of the past and current rock stars of the evangelical and particularly Reformed world. The men who impress me the most, however, the ones I am quickest to give thanks for, typically are not so well known.

Lyndon Azcuna ministers to men in prison, not the clearest pathway to evangelical rock stardom. He teaches born again men how to fulfill their callings as fathers, even when their past sins separate the men from their children. Better still, however, Lyndon has a wife that clearly and joyfully loves him, and children who concur. Their ready smiles reflect his constant smile. He leads his family by being constrained by gospel joy.

Mark Dewey once had tens of thousands cheering him on, when he pitched in the major leagues. Now he is cheered on by fourteen, his twelve children, his glowing wife and me. Theirs is a household built on the rock of God’s Word, whose rafters shake from laughter. Were it not for his friendship with me I would say he had perfect judgment. Were it not for his frequent morning grumpiness, I could not think of a sin to lay at this man’s feet.

Marion Lovett, Robert Barnes and Laurence Windham all have something in common. They faithfully shepherd the Lord’s flock in small churches. They are not invited to sit on seminary boards or address large gatherings of pastors eager to know their secrets. But they have secrets, important and potent secrets. Each one of them loves his wife openly and clearly. Each one of them delights in his children. Each one of them showers his flocks and his friends with hesed, loyal love. These are men I can count on to do the right thing. And when they fail, they do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Finally, I know two unknown rock stars who rightly should be rock stars. Randy Winton, whose songbook is covered with blue grass strains, and Nathan Clark George, who milieu is more blue like jazz, are wonderful musicians making God honoring music. But I know them personally. I know, enjoy, respect and admire their wives and quite literally, one by one, their children. I hope their music tops the charts one day. I know, however, that today their Father in heaven delights in them.

The kingdom of God does not come through fame and influence. It comes through believing the gospel, and loving our wives. It comes through giving thanks and laughter. It comes through humble service and simple friendships. I give thanks for these men, and many more just like them.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ask RC: Do all those who die in the womb go to heaven?

I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. It is certainly possible that they do. It is also possible that they don’t. It is, in turn, possible that some go to heaven when they die and some do not. Christians have, over the years dealt with this heart-wrenching question a number of different ways.

Some suggest that such children have no need to be saved from the wrath of God because they do not stand guilty before Him. While most of these would agree that even the youngest are tainted by sin (see Psalm 51:5), a few go so far as to suggest that the very young are without sin. Both positions suggest that the Bible leaves room for what they call the “age of accountability,” an unknown time (some suggest age 13 on the basis of the practice of bar mitzvah, when a Jewish boy becomes a man) when children do become responsible before God for their sin. The closest supportive text here is II Samuel 12:21-23.

Some suggest that the children of believers are welcomed to heaven, and leave open the question of the end of the children of unbelievers. The best text in defense of this position is I Corinthians 7:14, where the children of at least one believing parent are said to be “holy.”

Still others take the position that the elect among those dying in the womb go to heaven, and leave open the question of whether or not all or only some such children are elect. Finally, some take a mildly agnostic position, suggesting that “the God of heaven and earth will do rightly.”

I, though I agree that all and only the elect will enter into heaven, and that the judge of all the earth will do rightly, embrace none of these positions. In the end I believe that the texts cited do not warrant the conclusions drawn from them. Thus my bold response- I don’t know. What I am persuaded of is this. All humans, from conception, are sinners and stand guilty before a holy God. Their only hope is the work of Christ applied to them. That work is applied always and only through faith, and that only the faith of the one saved. Babies in heaven are there not by virtue of their age, nor their election, nor their parents. They are there by virtue of Christ, applied to them by their Spirit-given faith.

But can unborn babies believe? Not by themselves, just like you and me. It takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to make that happen. Do we have reason to believe that He sometimes makes that happen? II Samuel 12:21-23 suggests He might. I Corinthians 7:14 suggests He might. Add to that John leaping in the womb at the presence of Christ (Luke 1:41) and we have reason to hope.

This could, of course, include all children dying in the womb. It could include none of them. Either way the Judge of all the earth would have done rightly. This is, clearly enough, an emotional issue. It is not, in my own life, merely abstract. My wife and I lost seven children to miscarriage, and have one precious 14 year old with the capacities of a one year old. Our emotions, however, should not lead us to add to the Bible, nor to muddy the precious saving waters of the work of Christ given to us by faith. Our hope for them is the same as our hope for anyone. We are all sinners, and all without hope save for the work of Christ. But praise be to His name, He came into this world to save sinners.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Let My People Go

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine.

There are at least three different ways to despise the state, two of which are flat wrong. The first, I would guess, represents none of you. There are, nevertheless, in this world, people who hate the government precisely because from time to time they manage to be a terror to evil. That is, sometimes the state arrests thieves and murderers, and thieves and murderers don’t take too kindly to it. Commiserating with this crowd about the evils of the state probably isn’t the wisest thing to do.

The second group is by far the largest. These are the folks who hate the state because it all too often is a terror to good. Our service to others is hindered by their roadblocks, while our own comfort is hampered as well. When my move-in date to my new house is delayed because some building inspector determines that, in case of fire, I need to be able to turn off the electricity to my house from the outside (and who, pray tell, gave us this legislation, the State Association of Cat Burglars?) I get frustrated and angry. When I must pay this tax and that, rent on my own property, I get frustrated and angry. When the state seizes my wealth, hinders my travel, and gums up the operation of my life, I get frustrated and angry. When I am traveling down the road only to be stopped that I might show the state my “papers,” I get frustrated and angry. I’m not suggesting that the beefs aren’t legitimate. They are indeed. The problem with them, however legitimate they may be in themselves, is that they are selfish. God did not put me on this earth with this instruction, “Now, make sure, whatever else you do, that you keep 70% of your income.” Neither did He tell me not to pay Caesar when Caesar mistakes my land for his. Their foolishness is a real burden to me, about the equivalent of walking a mile or two.

The rarest group of state haters, however, have an altogether different motive. One such man prayed this way, “You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Here he speaks to God, about the state. That’s a rather more potent complaint than grumbling under your breath while writing a check to Internal Revenue. What drives this kind of righteous rage? A righteous complaint- “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’”

The psalmist’s complaint isn’t that the state has done wrong to the psalmist. Rather he objects to the state’s rebellion against God and His lawful authority. What ought to concern us isn’t getting our toes stepped on, but seeing God dishonored. If we were consumed with God’s glory, and indifferent to our comfort, we would always get this right. To put it another way, the problem with the state isn’t so much what it does, but what it thinks it is. The evil thing about the state is that it seeks to sit upon God’s throne. It claims the power and authority of the state, an affront to the living God.

The problem with Pharaoh, in a manner of speaking then, wasn’t that he enslaved the children of Israel, but that he remembered not Joseph, nor in turn the God of Joseph. God, speaking through His servant Moses speaks what may be the most stirring words in all the Old Testament, “Let My people go.” Pharaoh’s response seals his doom, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” Here is the great evil, that he would not submit to the Word of God, and thereby would not submit to God Himself.

Moses shared the psalmist’s line of thinking. He stood before Pharaoh, he succeeded in his calling, precisely because his beef was neither personal nor earthly. This is what separates heroes who stand up to tyrants, and rebels who bring destruction on themselves. This is why, as the exodus drew to a close, that Joshua asked the wrong question of the captain of the Lord’s hosts. You remember as Joshua contemplates the challenge set before him, as he walks alone outside the city, only to discover he wasn’t alone. He approaches the warrior and asks, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” Jesus answered rightly saying, “No, but as the Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Our warrior king reminds His soldier whose war they are about to fight. The problem, as Achan forgot, wasn’t that the people of Jericho were sitting in the city that belonged to Israel. They were sitting on God’s city, the city He consumed first in defeating it, and then consumed again as a whole burnt offering. Those who aligned themselves with either Egypt or Jericho were destroyed. Those who fought for themselves were likewise destroyed. Those, however, who enrolled in the Lord’s army, tasted the victory.

Nothing has changed. Worse perhaps than both wrong versions of people who hate the state are those who love the state. These are they who beseech the state for their daily bread, who ask the state to lead them not into temptation, who cheer on a president who crosses land and sea to deliver us from evil. Their judgment will be the same. There is but one safe haven, one safe loyalty, and that is to Christ and His kingdom. All others are the broad path to destruction. It is not just kings but all of us who must learn to be wise, to be instructed, to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. We too must kiss the Son, lest He be angry and we perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are those who put their trust in Him.

From Every Thought Captive magazine, a production of Highlands Ministries

Monday, November 7, 2011

Praying Like Crazy

A crazy person is one who has a break from reality. Those of us who have not embraced postmodernism understand that reality is something outside ourselves that exists, how it exists, quite apart from our agreement or understanding of it. If we think a tail is a leg, a dog still only has four legs. What we think has nothing to do with it.

Which is why I suspect that we are all as crazy as a spectacularly crazy thing. So much of our pathos, so much of our pain, so much of what we seek to escape isn’t about what is, but what we think is. Because we don’t believe in “the” reality, “our ““reality” becomes a place of sorrow and fear.

Imagine if you would, what would happen to your sorrows and fears if God Himself, the maker of heaven and earth, the Father of our Lord, the sovereign One, were to come to you, wrap you in His almighty arms and say to you, “I love you with a perfect love, exactly as I love My Son. I will never stop loving you, no matter what. I am completely, utterly for you. I promise, on My own life, that I will do you good every day of your life. And because I control all things, that means My good is all you will ever experience from this time forward.” What if the Holy Spirit were to say to you, “I am with you wherever you go. I will purify your heart, and fill you with my courage.” Suppose Jesus were to cup your chin in His scar stained hand, look you in the eye and say, “You are My beloved, and I will never forsake you.” Now, would you ever be afraid that He was displeased with you? Would you ever fear the world? Your own flesh? The devil?

Would you, if this had ever happened, ever be dissatisfied? Would you ever lose sleep? Would you ever be short with others? Would envy ever find a toe-hold in you? The truth, the objective, 2+2=4 truth, the “Squirrels have bushy tails” truth is that this is precisely what has happened. These are precisely the present day promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only problem is that I’m just crazy enough not to believe these promises.

Which is why I pray. I do not ask that God would do more for me, save that He would help me grasp all that He has already done. I do not ask Him that He would allow me to see the future, but that He would allow me to believe the present. I don’t ask to be made super spiritual. I don’t ask to be a pillar of piety. I don’t ask become an icon of integrity. I only want to be sane, to submit to the blessed reality in which I already live. I only want to believe the One who is the Truth, whose Truth promises to set me free. Pray with, and for me.

Highlands Ministries

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tending Your Tongue

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine.

There are probably two reasons why some warnings against some sins are given more often in Scripture than others. First, it may have something to do with the power of a particular temptation. It is certainly a sin to, for instance, put scars all over your body. But God need only say that once in Scripture and that is enough. Not difficult to understand or resist doing, at least for most of us. (Of course, once is enough for any sin.) Conversely, God tells us often to beware the temptation to covet, because it seduces so many of us so often. I’m sure I don’t need to give examples here. The second reason some sins carry more warnings in scripture may be the damage that comes from those particular sins. Adultery isn’t simply a matter of hurting the feelings of the offended spouse (though surely there is nothing simple or light about that); it sprouts all manner of other evil. Therefore, God speaks about adultery often.

How often does God warn us against the sins of the tongue, especially us ladies, and especially referring to gossip? If we would beat this sin, we must face the truth that we are given to it. Perhaps it would help if we understand why. Women tend to be more relational, which means in part that we are interested in how other people are relating to each other. If, for instance, Mr. and Mrs. Jones are late for a dinner date with us, and we learn that they had a flat tire on the way, I would wonder how frustrated each of them must have been, since I already knew Mrs. Jones had had a difficult day at home. R.C., on the other hand, might wonder about what kind of jack the Joneses have in their car, and where they might get the best deal on a new tire. He’s like that.

This relational bent that we ladies have may be exacerbated (read: elevated to the nth degree) by our calling to be keepers at home. That is, because we are still somewhat worldly, we feel that we are missing out on what is happening out in the world (or in our friends’ kitchens and on their porches, etc.) What is happening, I hope, is that our children are being fed and directed in the ways of the Lord and that we are showing hospitality to family and God’s people. One of RC’s frustrations is that when he comes home tired and wanting rest, I can’t wait to hear what’s going on, "out there." Did you see so-and-so? What did they say? How is so and so feeling? Anything happening with their house?

The solution, as with much of our lives, is that we would learn to tend our gardens. That doesn’t mean we don’t care for and pray for others and their needs. We just don’t have our world revolving around ‘news.’ We don’t need to be the first one to share information with others, convincing ourselves it’s so that others can pray. Encouragement to pray is a good thing. Needing to be the one in the know that tells everyone else is not. And if that regularly describes us, I don’t see how we would have the time to be doing the things we should.

I need to know – do I need to know this information? This applies whether I am interrogating my husband for information or talking over the backyard fence with coffee cup in hand. I need to not only not start gossip, I need to know how to stop it. I hate the idea of embarrassing anyone, just as I hate the idea of being embarrassed. But might we not help each other beat this sin if we make it our habit to politely ask each other, “Do I need to know this?” “Is this my business or would it just be interesting to hear?” I’m not saying we can’t pass along happy news. Part of the question ought to be, “Would I say this in this way if the person involved were actually in the room listening?”

We need to remember, in this age of exalting information, that we don’t need information, we need sanctification. It’s not going to help me in having a gentle and quiet spirit to know that Suzy had her nails done yesterday or that Rachel’s new car cost how much?!! Insignificant information is not going to help me help my children pursue godliness. Also, I don’t know about you, but I believe that adage about losing brain cells with each pregnancy. I can’t afford anymore to fill my head with information that doesn’t concern me. Anytime I’m tempted to listen to something I shouldn’t, I should remember what we tell our children when they’re being nosy about their siblings’ business: it’s not your concern. We’ve taught them that so well that when one asks why another one was disciplined, at least one of them will say to the questioner, “Not your concern.” Period. End of story. I should strive to be that cut-and-dried about my own need to know. We need to hunger to grow in grace, not to grow in being in the know.

And as always, we need to remember that there is one who not only knows everything, but knows us as well. We need to rest in His sovereignty, knowing that He works all things for His good pleasure. He will tend those things that are not in our gardens, because everything is His garden. He may use our prayers as a means to certain ends, but He will do just fine without our meddling. The world won’t collapse if we don’t know certain things. And we need to know that He loves us, that there is our peace, our security and our adventure. Stop looking ‘out there’ for those things that only He can give. We need to learn and remember this over and over again until we know it in full. That’s one of the most important things we should seek to know.

By Denise Sproul

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Diagnosing Diagnostics

When you have a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. In like manner, when you have a wrench everything looks like a bolt. Any given tool empowers us and tempts us. It makes easier the task for which the tool was designed, while tempting us to think that every problem will be solved by it, every question answered by it.

The computer is quite adept at, well, computing. The advent of the internet, while broadening radically how we use our computers, hasn’t changed its capacity for computing. Indeed some of the niftiest tricks our computers/web surfboards can do is compute our own surfing style, and the surfing habits of others. I suspect that blogs would never have taken off were it not for sundry attached diagnostic tools. Facebook, likewise, is powered more by the like button, and the size of our friends list than what it actually communicates. What fun is sharing our thoughts with the world unless we can know how many hits, how many “likes” we have had, or where we rank in the polls down at Wordpress? Are we prompted to get busy and save the world from errant teacher X through our Discernment Ministry blog when we see people are checking in from Montana, Monterey and Mozambique? Soon enough our message is being driven by the numbers, just like the message of that slick, worldly preacher we’re faithfully seeking to take down.

One need not, however, have the Grinch-sized heart of the attack blogger to fall into this fallacy. We are all tempted to measure our success by tangible numbers, both individually and corporately. Just today I read a headline that noted that Bible apps, in all their iterations, are now being downloaded more frequently than Angry Birds. I’m sure that’s a good thing. I’m just not sure how good a thing that is. It may well be that the best thing about it is that people are finally getting tired of Angry Birds. That the Bible has topped it, however, means about as much as the certain truth more homes have Bibles in them than Cabbage Patch dolls. It does tell us something about our spiritual state. But I’m not sure it’s good news.

First, the giddy celebration that “we” beat Angry Birds betrays a profoundly unhealthy and a-historical understanding of the church. We’re not in a race with any software, any technology, or any fad. To even acknowledge such a “competition” is to lose. We celebrate the faith once delivered. Jesus isn’t the newest kid on the block, here to topple Justin Bieber from his throne. He is the Ancient of Days.

Second, the progress of the kingdom, the progress of the sanctification of the church, of the nation, of my family or myself, cannot be measured electronically. Bible downloads isn’t a measure. Bible reading isn’t even a measure. The fruit of the Spirit, that’s the measure. Becoming more like Jesus, that’s the measure. Dying to self, that’s the measure. So far the geniuses down at Google have not come up with a string of algorithms to measure any of those.

Our desire is not that the Bible should topple Angry Birds. Our goal is not that our favorite rock star preacher would trend on twitter. Our hope is the sure and certain truth that our Lord is bringing all things under subjection, is conquering all His enemies, including all the folly that remains within His own. We don’t need diagnostics to know how the story ends- Jesus wins.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ask RC: What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?

The Regulative Principle of Worship is simple enough. It affirms that Christians ought only to incorporate into their worship those things that God has expressly commanded. The locus classicus for this perspective is Leviticus 10, where Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Levi are struck dead by God for offering “strange fire” before the Lord. The principle is both historical and sound. Its application, however, has often proved to be problematic.

The Bible does indeed give a detailed explanation on exactly how God demands to be worshipped. The challenge is that this explanation is given in the Old Testament, prior to the coming of Christ. The Bible tells us what sacrifices should be brought, how they should be killed, how they should be cut up, how they should be cooked, and who should eat what. In the New Testament all we have are scattered mentions of what the saints actually did when they gathered together.

Because we rightly affirm that Jesus was the once for all sacrifice, and to go back to the shadows would be to deny His coming (see the book of Hebrews), we are left in something of a pickle. We can’t follow the Old Testament requirements, and the New Testament doesn’t contain a clear order of worship. Some solve the dilemma by building what might be called a Frankenstein model of worship. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a part of the service is taken from here (where the saints are said to take up a collection) another part from this other text (where they saints are said to celebrate the Lord’s Supper), and still another from this third place, where we see preaching going on.

This patchwork approach, for all there is to commend it, has a few disadvantages. First, like Frankenstein’s monster, it is clumsy. There can be precious little beauty and flow from a service of disparate parts forced together. Second, while it happily avoids the bloody shadows of old covenant worship, it lacks the unifying theme of the sacrifice. Old Testament worship was sacrificial. Though the once for all sacrifice has come, He left us with a fitting ways to remain sacrificial, while not going back to the shadows, while no longer spilling blood- we touch sacrifice when we praise, when we give, and most of all, at the Lord’s Table.

Just as in the Old Covenant, we come to worship because we are called, commanded to appear by the Lord of Hosts. Just as in the Old Covenant we come in ourselves still sinners, and so confess our sins. On this side, however, the sacrifice has already come, and so we who trust in that once for all sacrifice are assured of our pardon. Out of this flows a sacrifice of praise, as we sing the glory of the Redeemer. Having been redeemed, we are in need of direction, instruction from our commander. And so the Word is preached. Just as in the Old Covenant we respond with sacrifice, standing to return to God His tithe, not because the tenth is His, but because all that we have, and all that we are are His. We respond to the call of His sermon with “Here I am. Send me.”

And then He feeds us. Then we share the fellowship meal, wherein we are welcomed to His table, not as soldiers, but as friends. Not as servants, but as children. Finally, just as in the Old Covenant He pronounces His blessing on us, and we depart to make known His reign, until we can come again. Here then we dance, we feast, just as we will at the marriage feast of the lamb.

The Regulative Principle of Worship is a wonderful gift from our fathers. We need to remember, however, that our fathers include not just the Puritans, but Calvin and Luther, as well as Aaron and Levi.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Wish Those Days Would Come Back Once More

What a strange and wonderful providence that this machine that sits on my lap, that is capable of astounding wonders, that employs the latest and greatest of technology and design spends most of its energy as a “Way Back” machine. Sure, I write things, I edit things; I study things with my laptop. But the one app that is operating more than any other is iTunes, playing music from my childhood. Here’s a little playlist confession- when I booted up this morning iTunes started with Stevie Wonder’s hit for which this piece is named, followed by the Four Tops ode to my beloved bride, “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got.”

There are, I believe, two great triggers to nostalgia, music and smell. The two come together sometimes for me. If I listen to a few Nickel Creek songs in row, or a certain Alison Krauss album suddenly I detect the scent of my own previous chemo. When I went through Hodgkins lymphoma five years ago Alison and Nickel Creek were on constant rotation.

In like manner nostalgia and music come together when Stevie Wonder sings of the glory of the days of his own youth. One would think, based on our adult obsessions, that what we long for from our youth is health and beauty. I would dearly love to have again a thick head of hair, and would love to be able to run about a soccer field for hours at a time again. What I suspect we miss more, however, is innocence.

I remain committed to the biblical doctrine of total depravity. That doctrine applies to children, babies, even unborn babies. We are all sinners, every one. We all stand guilty before the judgment seat of God. The innocence of youth then isn’t a lack of sin and guilt. It is instead a relative ignorance of that sin and guilt in ourselves and in others. When we were young we didn’t yet know how stained our souls already were. We didn’t know all that we were capable of. We didn’t have a long string of spiritual failures behind us. Nor had we yet, for the most part, experienced the great evils others would pour out on us.

An old friend, who sadly, several years ago, had been excommunicated from the church where I served for many years, made the news recently. With no one closing in on him he went to the police to confess to sexually molesting a mentally handicapped sixteen year old girl. As the father of a fourteen year old mentally handicapped girl I am peculiarly angry. As a sinner my heart breaks for both of them, and for the same reason, she for coming to know how evil and cruel men can be, he for coming to know what an evil and cruel man he is. This is how bad we can become, proving depravity isn’t a doctrine but the very font of evil in the world.

When we were young, unless we had been victimized, we didn’t even know such things could ever happen. When we grow older, one way or another this perversion, or alcoholism, or spousal abuse, or abortion, sooner or later touches us all. And we wish we could go back. We long to again be innocent, like a child.

As I sit with my suffering wife as she battles leukemia I have two great comforts. First, Jesus has gone before her. There is no suffering we can experience that He did not experience before us. Second, because He suffered, those days will indeed come back once more. The specter of death that haunts us wears a leash. Jesus has conquered the Grim Reaper, and so his bloody scythe is the very chariot that carries us home. When we are home we will know sin no more. We will be children again. We stand innocent, in Christ, before His judgment seat now. But then we will be innocent in ourselves. Then we will be back in the Garden, to stay. Those days, for we who are in Christ, are coming again.

Highlands Ministries

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ask RC: Is a Christian school a better or worse choice than homeschooling?

I am, and have been for decades, a strong advocate of homeschooling. The key reason for that is my conviction no child can be properly educated unless they are taught day in and day out the Lordship of Christ over all things. This, of course, is not possible in the public schools that are by law and conviction secular, no matter how many godly teachers and administrators a local school might have.

I have a friend who is rather well know in classical Christian school circles. His conviction is that homeschooling is the best choice for those who don’t have access to a classical Christian school. When one gentlemen sought to get my friend and me into a scuffle over that conviction I told my friend, “When we can get Christian children out of the public schools (roughly eighty percent of evangelical parents send their children to the secular public schools) then we can have a fight over homeschooling versus Christian schooling.” In short, the real issue is the secular perspective of the public schools, more than the methodology of homeschooling versus Christian schooling. I am in favor of, I happily support any educational approach wherein the name of Jesus can be proclaimed at all times.

Within that broad paradigm, unlike my friend in the classical, Christian school movement, however, I am persuaded that homeschooling is the better choice. Not the only possible or proper choice, but the better choice. Here are three simple reasons:

First, God commands that parents teach their children the things of God “when they lie down, when they rise up, when the walk by the way” Deuteronomy 6). When God gives me a job to do I’m not comfortable delegating it to someone else. God could have said, “See to it that someone talks to them of these things…” but He didn’t. I suspect He may have told us to do it because one thing you can’t delegate is learning. Parents learn a great deal through the process of teaching. We, the parents, more faithfully remember the Lordship of Christ as we more faithfully teach the same to our children.

Second, schools tend to promote peer identity. By having children segregated all day every day by age we encourage our children to see themselves not as servants of the King, not as members of their families, but as part of a particular demographic group, with its own dialect, music, style, even ethic. When God mentions age groups He calls for them to come together, not to be separated (see Titus.) Some Christian schools combat this tendency better than others, and no doubt some homeschooling families fall into the same temptation. Overall, however, this problem is far more likely to rear its ugly head in a school setting.

Third, homeschooling allows for far greater liberty. While I might be able to find a Christian school that shares many of my convictions, when I am the teacher I can teach my children all that I believe the Bible teaches. In addition, as a homeschooler my schedule is not set by a larger institution that must take into account the wants and needs of multiple families.

Finally, one bonus reason- we just love doing this. My children delight to have their mom and dad as their teachers, and we delight to have them as our students, to disciple them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We love to be with them, and they with us. We are having way yonder too much fun.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Come as You Aren't

Too many conversations are far too predictable. Praise the sovereignty of God in salvation and someone will inevitably remind you that God didn’t make robots. You will then remind said friend that dead people are passive people, only to be reminded that God is not willing that any should perish. Warn against the dangers of too much wine, and someone will in turn present the biblical praises for wine, and before long in the back and forth you can count on someone pointing out that sometimes oinos means grape juice. As soon as the conversation begins we know how it will end.

It is the habit of my family to dress for church. I have, on more than one occasion, argued in print that we casually worship a casual god because we enter into his presence casually. I have suggested that on the Lord’s Day we should dress as if we were going to meet the King, because we are going to meet the King. I know, from experience, that it won’t take long for someone to point out the obvious, that God looks not at the outward, but at the heart.

This nugget of wisdom is designed to make us comfortable, even in our comfortable clothes. The implicit message is Jesus doesn’t care what you wear, because He can see what a wonderful person you are. Unlike the modern day Pharisees who are always judging people, Jesus has the insight to really understand you. It is true enough that Jesus is far more concerned with what is in our heart than He is with what is on our backs. It is likewise true that Jesus knows exactly what is in our hearts. What confuses me, however, is how this is supposed to comfort me. Would I rather have Jesus judge me on the basis of my recently dry-cleaned suit, my well ironed dress shirt, and my just-so necktie, or would I rather He judge me on the basis of my desperately wicked, self-deceiving, black as ink heart?

What our “Come as you are” dress says about us is that we are meeting a “Come as you are” god. But if we come as we are, because of what we are, we are walking straight into the wrath of God; we are walking straight into hell. The God we worship is not a come as you are god. He is instead the true and living God who cannot even look upon sin. He is a consuming fire, who insists above all else that He be treated as holy.

The glory of the gospel is that God isn’t looking at my clothes when I come to worship. Whether I am dressed to the nines or dressed in flip-flops, He isn’t looking at my clothes. He is, however, looking at what I am wearing. And praise God what I’m wearing not only covers my body, but covers my heart as well. What I wear to worship is what I wear the rest of the week. I do not come dressed for a formal dance. I do not come dressed for a picnic on the beach. I come instead dressed like royalty. I come dressed like a prince. For I wear the righteousness of the Son of God. I do not come as I am. I come as I AM is.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine

All Quiet On the Western Front

It probably says more about what defines our moments, the television, than the moments themselves, that we keep multiplying defining moments. For my parents’ generation, it was the death of John F. Kennedy. Everyone remembers where they first heard, or more likely saw, the news. Since that time we have added a moon landing or three, two shuttle disasters, and 9/11. We no longer can be certain what will follow, “Do you remember where you were when you first heard…” I was not yet among the living when JFK died, and was barely four when Neil Armstrong took his small step. But the rest of them I remember not only the events, but where I was for each of them.

Each of these events, however, was more startling than shocking. That is, while we weren’t expecting these things to happen, neither were we thinking, “It will never happen.” Presidents have been killed before, and technological marvels, and failures, are virtually a staple of American life. What truly shocked me, on the other hand, was the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and all that it symbolized, the collapse of the Soviet Union. There we had the curious marriage of both bang and whimper. The speed was bang-like. The events themselves were but a whimper.

Because we are such an a-historical people, we tend to forget that empires come and go. Greece and Rome, because they were both so long ago and so long lasting, are given virtual immortal status. Because we can still find Greece and Rome on a map, we think they’re still with us. The Ottoman Empire, along with the sundry dynasties of China, are just too far east to really count. What we are left with then is the Soviet Empire, and the American Empire. As a child of the Cold War, this was the very air that I breathed, the very water in which I was swimming. Until we woke up one day to discover that the evil empire was no more. We watched the hammer and sickle brought down as hammers and chisels chipped away at that wall. And like the good Americans we are we thought, “Wow, I wonder what those little pieces of the wall will sell for?”

We tend to make one of two mistakes in contemplating our corporate cultural future. For a small few of us, being hip to the rickety nature of our economy, and understanding something of the destructive power of the state, and perhaps even hoping that those who reject the wisdom we have to offer will get their comeuppance, and who ironically have an optimistic view of the long term future, we lean toward Chicken Little. In the 1970’s we were certain that inflation would destroy us. In the 1980’s, we learned to fear AIDS. Then in the 1990’s we feared a far more deadly virus, the millennium bug. Yet here we are, still alive while waiting for the Muslims to overrun us. And with our president’s fiscal policies, the ghosts of phantoms past haunt us again.

The other mistake is more common. When I was busy warning folks (with all due decorum and hedging) about the potential dangers that came with the turning of the clock a few years ago the strangest objection I heard was this, “Don’t you believe in the sovereignty of God?” The unspoken assumption there corporately is the same one that messes us up individually. God is in control. Everything is supposed to be comfortable for me. Therefore nothing bad will happen. Well, there is a difference. It is true for the Christian that God is in control, and that nothing bad will happen to the Christian, understanding that “Bad” should be defined as anything that isn’t helpful in the believer’s sanctification. Comfortable is another matter altogether. But when it comes to this nation, things are different. God is in control still. But everything isn’t supposed to be comfortable for this nation. And of course bad things can happen here.

With both of these mistakes, however, comes a third mistake. Whether you are waiting for judgment, or are sure it will never come, in both circumstances what you have missed is the judgment that has come and continues to come every day. What might cultural judgment look like? Would it look like growing sexual insanity as described in Romans 1? Would it look like a culture where thousands of people each year are murdered by their neighbors? Would a culture under judgment be one where tens of thousands of people each year take their own lives? Would it look like a culture where over a million moms murder over a million babies every year? We keep waiting for God to judge us for these things, and miss the obvious truth, that these things are His judgment against us.

That the economy continues to teeter along, that foreign powers do not rule within our borders, that you can still go out and enjoy a fine meal and a play in turn isn’t a mitigating of the judgment, but an exacerbating of the judgment. Because He has not yet chosen to topple our idols we are fooled into thinking we’ve avoided His judgment, and so we continue down the path of destruction. We miss the opportunity to repent, and that is judgment at its most severe.

When He was but a boy, Jesus performed the first anti-exodus. God’s people had sinned so deeply, that the only safe place for the boy was in the nation of Egypt. Then He returned, and over the next sixty years or so systematically drove out the children of Israel, just as they once drove out the Canaanites. The world was turned upside down. In like manner, not long after the demise of the evil empire, where do we find ourselves, but at home and at peace in the evil empire? We now impose our will not over a few satellite nations in Eastern Europe, but over the whole of the Middle East. We now impose our own cultural decadence on nations that haven’t bowed the knee to our particular utopian scheme. They spread communism, while we spread consumerism. Which is more dangerous to the soul?

Judgment has come. Judgment is here. And judgment will come. The only escape is repentance, recognizing that we are Egypt, a stubborn and foolish nation of hardened hearts.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Patience, NOW

Patience, right now, is in short supply. As so many have been faithful to pray for my wife’s health, and for the emotional weight on the rest of the family, I find my own peculiar weaknesses growing worse. My fuse, which in the best of times is measured in inches rather than yards has gone metric, and is now measured in millimeters. I have a house full of eight children whose lives have been turned upside down. They are struggling with fear and uncertainty, but most of all they miss their mom. They aren’t thinking, “Wow, this must really be hard on dad. We will bend over backwards to make this difficult time for him easier. We will play quietly, get along like angels and put away our toys the moment we finish with them.” No, they’re thinking, “Our lives are being turned upside down. And to top it all off, Dad’s fuse has shrunk to a new low.” Which is a decent approximation of what I’m thinking. Someone needs to find more patience, and as strange as it may seem to me, I am the most likely candidate.

Patience, I believe, comes with self-awareness. That is I will be more gracious toward the hardships of others as I note how hard the hardships are for me. The very shrinkage of my fuse is a clue to tell me why my almost two- year old keeps having these fingernails-on-a-chalkboard meltdowns. Moments ago he was in his highchair, well equipped. Dry pants- check. Milk cup- check. Delicious quiche made by friends- check. So why was he crying, screeching, skipping rope on my last nerve?

The devil had a good laugh at my expense. I responded with all the grace of a Steeler linebacker. I told the crying toddler through clenched teeth, smoke streaming out of my ears, to quit the crying, and now. I gruffly filled his mouth with quiche, and that, of course, calmed him right down. He saw that he was in sin, and contrite, became as quiet as a church mouse and spoke his first complete sentence- Thank you father for the delicious breakfast, ever so sorry to be troubling you with my crying. Will try harder. Pip pip.

Well, no, that’s not what happened. Instead Donovan looked deep into his reserves and found the strength to cry harder, despite a mouthful of quiche. Now what? How can I possibly fix this? And that’s when the Holy Spirit stopped the braying laughter of the serpent. The Spirit reminded me of what we are to do when we sin against a brother. I drew near to my son, and I repented. I asked Donovan, and our Father, to forgive me. It was as if He were trying to teach me something because as soon as I repented, Donovan became quiet.

Repentance, I am persuaded, is good for what ails us. It heals strained relationships. It cultivates patience. It taps into the infinite strength of God most high. It teaches me who I am, not the helpless victim of a crying toddler, but the source of the crying of my child, a helpless victim of an impatient father. God have mercy on my children.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ask RC: Is it a sin to celebrate Halloween?

I don’t know. And what’s more, I don’t care. First let me quickly deal with I don’t know, before moving on to the far more significant I don’t care.

The Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not celebrate Halloween.” It certainly doesn’t say, “Though shalt not dress thy little girl as a princess, walk with her through the neighborhood and collect tasty treats.” It does, however, far more than we Christians, take very seriously the supernatural realm. When God established Israel He commanded that witches there be put to death. The same for necromancers. He understood that these are not games to play with, but deadly serious matters. To the extent that celebrating Halloween means playing fast and loose with such things, I would strongly discourage it. That said, even if we confess that this was its origins, it still doesn’t mean dress up and candy are sins. As long as we stay clear of the macabre, I’d argue it’s a meat offered to idols issue. If your conscience is troubled, steer clear. If not, I won’t fuss at you about it.

That said, this is a question I’m not in the least concerned to answer. In my family this is a non-issue. We do not celebrate Halloween, but not because we’re certain doing so is a sin. We don’t celebrate Halloween for this simple reason- because we’re far too busy and far too giddy celebrating something far more significant. No, it’s not a harvest festival. (Indeed I would argue that the sanitized Christian substitute version of Halloween, wherein we call it something else, and dress up as Bible heroes may be the worst possible choice. We copy the ways of the world, badly. It’s the October 31st version of what goes on every Lord’s Day in happy clappy churches, a third rate copy of the world’s inanities.)

We don’t celebrate Halloween because we are too focused on celebrating the Reformation. October 31st marks the anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 these on the church door in Wittenberg. We rejoice that God in His grace emboldened Martin Luther to stand on the promises of God. We give thanks to God for recovering for His people the clarity and simplicity of how we might have peace with Him through the finished work of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the recovery of the Bible as our alone final standard of faith and practice, the ending of the Babylonian captivity of the church. This is not some bland Christian substitute for Halloween. This is the real deal.

Saint Peter Presbyterian Church holds a wonderful three day celebration starting with a bonfire and s’mores party, then a day-long festival, complete with crafts, booths, food, games, contests, the reading of the 95 theses, the retelling of the story of Martin Luther, music and dancing and then a joint worship service on Sunday. The puny and pathetic parties of the world won’t hold a candle to ours. Halloween is a dead issue. The Reformation, that’s life.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ask RC: What is wrong with the church?

What is wrong with the church is what is wrong with Christians, sin. Because of our sin, however, we tend to think of sin as something we do, rather than something we are. Because of our sin, in turn, we are more interested in covering our sin than fighting it.

We cover it in at least two ways. The first is misdirection. That is, if we can define sin as that which we are less apt to struggle with, we miss the real problem. So we vow not to drink, smoke or chew and not to go out with girls that do. We behave in nice, respectable ways, and mistake this for growing in grace and wisdom. We show our brothers our sparkly white teeth as if this is how one recognizes a shiny white soul. My business is successful, my wife is happy, my daughter is on the honor roll and my son captains the football team, and because I am a successful American, I must be a faithful Christian.

The second thing we do is baptize our real sins, framing them in the best possible light. Our real problem is our pride, but we call it “protecting our reputation.” Our real problem is our malice, but we call it “zeal for righteousness.” Our real problem is envy, but we call it “encouraging others toward humility.” We devour each other, jockeying for position, hungering for accolades, all under the guise of service to the Suffering Servant.

The bizarre fruit of our sin is that though the church is made up of those who must profess to be humble we are the very picture of pride. We enter in through confessing how utterly unworthy, unable, unattractive we are. We are the body of the base, the weak, the foolish (I Corinthians 1). The very core of our message is, “I can’t possible please God. Only Jesus can do that.” And yet we pretend to do just that, please God, and in pretending gravely displease Him. We cry out to God not to look at us, but to look at Him, then turn around and try to get the body to look at us.

Perhaps worse still, what defines us is that we have precisely what we not just foolishly long for, but what we sinfully pursue. The way in is confessing our unworthiness. But what is on the inside is a banquet feast in our honor. We are the children of God, loved as deeply as He loves Jesus. He is ordering that the robe and the ring be brought forth, that the fatted calf be killed in our honor and we are down at the bunkhouse conniving and backbiting to secure the “Employee of the Month” pin and parking space.

What is wrong with the church? We don’t believe the gospel. We don’t believe that we were dead in our sins, desperately wicked. We don’t believe that He, not we, made us alive, nor that there remains much in us that needs to be put to death. We don’t believe that He suffered the wrath of the Father for us, and that therefore the Father embraces us as His sons. We’re such a mess, there is no program, no book, no preacher, no strategy that can fix us. Only the gospel will do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ask RC: How does one learn to suffer well?

I want to suggest two points that relate directly to suffering, and two that do not. First, you learn to suffer well by watching others suffer well. When we weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn we are not merely offering comfort to others, but are receiving instruction from them as well. We can’t do this, however, unless we enter in. If illness makes us uncomfortable, if we refuse to visit His own who are poor or in prison, if we insist on spending our time exclusively in the village of the happy, pleasant people, we will learn precious little. Visit instead the oppressed outside your local abortion mill. Go where the suffering is, and enter in. God has peculiarly blessed me in giving me a beautiful example to witness in my precious bride. As she is assaulted once again with chemo in an attempt to push back her leukemia relapse I watch her both fight and fear. Through it all, however, there is a bedrock trust in her heavenly Father. Seeing her strength, I am strengthened.

Second, practice. When Denise was first diagnosed with leukemia eight months ago some seemed to fear that after battling breast cancer, after it later metastasized to her back, that her stamina in suffering, and that of our family, might somehow run out, as if God grants us a finite amount of faith, and then bleeds it out through suffering. No. Suffering is like a muscle. The more we use it the stronger it gets. Ironically, each time our family suffers some sort of setback my biggest fear isn’t the setback itself, but wondering, “What future hardship is God trying to get me in shape for?”

The first key to suffering well that isn’t directly related to suffering itself is this- we have to know our Bibles. Because the Bible is the autobiography of God what we find there is God revealed. In His relations with us what stands out most is hesed, the Hebrew term for “loyal love.” When we are steeped in a biblical understanding of these twin truths, that God is all-powerful, and that God loves us unchangeably, we enjoy the peace that passes understanding. When we know our Bibles well we know our purpose isn’t ease and comfort, but to be conformed to the image of the Son, which brings me to the last point.

The second key is to know well Jesus. He, the Bible tells us, is a man well acquainted with sorrow. As we have been dealing with Denise’s battle with her leukemia relapse I am constantly turning back to this precious truth- Jesus was here before me. There is nothing we are going through that He hasn’t been through first. Though the famous Footsteps poem surely has it right, that there is only one set of footsteps because He is carrying us, from another perspective there is only one set of footprints because He is walking in front of us, and we walk in His blood stained footprints. If we know Him, then we know that wherever He goes, we want nothing more than to follow. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is both where He walks and is the very pathway to heaven.