Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Embracing Your Inner Man

By Jim Bob Howard

From the Jan/Feb issue of Every Thought Captive magazine.

Psychobabblers tell us, in order to be better men--husbands, fathers, employees, friends, etc.-- we must embrace our "inner child," that that is the "real" us. We need, they say, to tap into, get in touch with, hug that innocent, immature, scared, just-wants-to-be-loved, idyllic picture of our childhood, as though what the world needs is more grown men acting like five-year-olds.

We spend so much time and energy worshipping youth that we ignore the Bible’s reaching that a righteous life produces a hoary head—a silver-haired sage that passes on his faith and wisdom to the next generation, that they would remember and know the Lord. Too many men with hoary heads have embraced their inner imbecile and have gone off traipsing about the globe, running out the clock, rather than showing themselves to be the patriarchal head of their generations. “Kids these days!” . . . have been trained by abdicating fathers these days.

We think we’re mature because we don’t get carded anymore and can grow facial hair. We think we’re responsible because we can manage a team of employees, we have mouths to feed and cars to maintain, and we have managed to land a job that pays the bills. But maturity isn’t age and responsibility isn’t a stack of bills. Maturity is knowing and trusting in the God who made you and growing in grace. Responsibility is fulfilling the mandate to take dominion over creation according to your gifts and abilities, sanctifying your wife, training up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, providing for their needs, spiritually and physically.

“Within your houses, I say, in some cases, you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have instructed them in God’s true knowledge, how you have studied to plant virtue in them, and [to] repress vice. And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least” (John Knox).

Many is a man whose spiritual growth is stunted because he never takes a wife. Many is a man who never grows in grace because he shuns fatherhood. Until you’ve had to lead someone you can’t fire for insubordination, until you’ve trained someone whom you can’t incent with promotion, there are chapters and books of Scripture that will never make sense to you. Ephesians 5 will never go to your inner parts until you have a wife you must love as Christ loved the church, giving yourself for her, sanctifying her by bathing her with the Word, that you might present her to yourself as a glorious bride, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:25-27).

So, if you’re of marrying age but aren’t married, stop reading now and get a wife. See you in a couple of years; this article can wait . . . “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from God” (Proverbs 18:22).

So, you have a wife. Good! Any children yet? No? Go ahead then, this can wait a couple more years. God will teach you more through fatherhood than anything you’ll read from me. “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them” (Psalms 127:4-5a).

You have a wife and children? Great, Let’s proceed.

Children are a great source of training, correction and dying to self, all of which makes us more like Christ; as R.C. clarifies it, sanctification is a big word that means Jesus-ification. Some friends once told us, “with each child God gave us, He revealed some major character flaw in us that needed correcting. After a particular sin of my wife’s manifested itself in one of our children and she was called to discipline the child, she lamented about the event to a godly friend, the proud mother of eight. The understanding reply was ‘Yep, It’s you He’s after!’”

Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, tells us the qualifications for bishops or overseers. “[He must be] one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he care for the church of God?) not a novice” (I Timothy 3:4-6a). To rule your own house well and have children in submission requires self-sacrifice, because God tells us that “he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves his son disciplines him promptly.” You can’t spend much time on the pedestal of personal peace and affluence when part of your job is to not care whether you’re liked, and so you must spank this dear one, whom you love, for his own sanctification. You are not called to be his buddy, but his father—the one who trains him up in the way he should go, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

“Remember that, as you would not have all your instructions and counsels ineffectual, there must be government as well as instructions, which must be maintained with an even hand, and steady resolution, as a guard to the religion and morals of your family, and the support of its good order. Take heed that it will not be with any of you as it was with Eli of old, who reproved his children, but restrained them not; and that, by this means you do not bring the like curse on your families as he did on his” (Jonathan Edwards).

We don’t do our children any favors by being their “friend.” As Rev. Edwards points out, we are to establish boundaries, as well as give instructions. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy our children and have fun with them. But all the time, all the time, when we rise up, when we lie down, when we sit at the table and when we walk along the way, we are to be teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, leading them closer to God. At all times, even when we are playing, Dad is He Who Must Be Obeyed. At any point in the game, we must be ready to train them in proper responses, good sportsmanship, lovingkindness. Our example is the Garden, where God walked with Adam in the cool of the day. God talked with Adam and he with God. But it was Father to son, Creator to creature. He Who Must Be Obeyed to he who must obey.

Rather than embrace our inner child, we need to embrace our inner patriarch. We must be the sages, the heads of our families who lead by trusting in the God who made us and gave our families to us for our sanctification . . . and theirs.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Enquiring about the Inquisition

It is true enough that the divisions in the church are a scandal. There are literally thousands of denominations in these not so United States alone, and that doesn’t even count the tens of thousands of micro-micro denominations, those “independent,” non-denominational churches that each think they are escaping the problem by forming a denomination of one. Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer that His disciples would be one, even as He is one with the Father. And we, like ill-trained siblings, squabble with our brothers over issues that might one day grow up to be important.

I understand how people get tired of it all. I get tired of it all. What I don’t understand is how some people think they can solve this problem by joining the one true church. Problem number one is that each of these one true churches have the same kinds of divisions that mark the broader evangelical church. The only difference is they have the same letterhead. Their hierarchy may all reach to the same pointy-headed hat, but they are deeply divided. That is, both the doctrines and petty jealousies that divide not just Presbyterians and Baptists but this Presbyterian denomination and that, can also be found dividing the Jesuits and the Franciscans., the Augustinians and the Cistercians. They can also be found dividing those Orthodox who think Gregory of Nazianzus represents the faith once delivered and those who think Cyril of Alexandria is the spokesman of the true faith. These guys play dueling fathers like we play dueling Reformers. The difference is we know how silly we look.

The bigger problem, however, is when we go looking for the one true church we end up shopping around to find the one we like. We might start in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England. They have apostolic succession, or what the Bible calls “endless genealogies.” Sadly their bishops are laying hands where they ought not so we may swim the Tibor for Rome. When the happy ecumenicity of Vatican II begins to put a stench in our nostrils we will join one of sundry “More Catholic Than the Pope” sects. And if we ever try Orthodoxy, we can always shop the Patriarchs, moving from Greek to Russian to Coptic to Antiochan. When we shop for the One True Church are we not of necessity affirming, well, the priesthood of all believers? If I get to choose, I’m still in the drivers seat.

Weirder still is that these practical Anabaptists seek converts not just with the same zeal but the same methodology as regular Baptists. Having stood right here because they could do no other, so help them God, they turn around and appeal to the Scriptures, and to our Protestant consciences, asking us to deny the authority of the elders over us so that we can finally come under the authority of the church. They defy their elders in leaving their Protestant church. They encourage their Protestant friends to do that same. All so we can show how humble and submissive we are to this, no that, no the other one true church.

If these good folks really believed they had found the one true church, they would stop appealing to the authority of my own conscience, and start taking up the sword to win the lost. The Inquisition should come back in style. I just hope they start with each other, before they get to us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ask RC: Does Natural Law exist?

No, and yes. One of my favorite writers, CS Lewis, in one of my favorite books, The Abolition of Man, makes a very bad argument for a very bad understanding of natural law. The entire last third of the book is devoted to an exposition of the Tao, which he describes as a universal moral law by which God Himself is bound. The notion that there is a law, or anything above God, to which He must submit is heretical, broadly speaking a form of idolatry. There is no law above God. He alone is a law unto Himself. In this sense there is no such thing as natural law.

All law is God’s law. It flows out of His own character. It is neither above Him, such that He must submit, nor below Him, such that He can act capriciously. He instead acts consistently with who He is. This is what we mean when we note that God is a law unto Himself.

The God who is, the God of the Bible, however, has revealed Himself, and at least some elements of His law not just in the Bible, but in His creation, through nature. If by natural law we mean, “That law, which the triune God of the Bible reveals in and through His creation” we are speaking of something altogether real. Romans 1 clearly teaches that God is manifest to all men everywhere, and that all men everywhere in themselves reject that revelation, and thus stand guilty before God.

It is not, however, just God that is revealed. His law is revealed as well. There are those, however, who in an admirable zeal to combat the error of CS Lewis, who with an honorable passion to protect the glory of God’s revelation of law in His Word, try to deny that God reveals law in nature. They tend to treat natural law and revealed or Biblical law as if they were competing with each other. If natural law increases, they seem to think, Biblical law decreases. And if we can sufficiently honor Biblical law, natural law will disappear.

There is a profound problem with this position, however. The problem isn’t that it pushes against natural law, but that it denies what the Bible clearly teaches. I have been known, when engaged in debate with these good folks, to offhandedly offer this instance of “natural law”- “Nature teaches that it is a shame for a man to have long hair.” Some, sadly insufficiently mindful of the Bible they seek to protect, retort, “Where? How? What is it in nature that expresses such a law?” Then I get to give one of my favorite answers- “I don’t know.”

I do know, however, that the Bible says just that. No, the Bible doesn’t teach that it is a shame for a man to have long hair. The Bible teaches that nature teaches that it is a shame for a man to have long hair- Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? I Corinthians 11:14.

Natural law, generally speaking, is not as clear as God’s Word. It is not, generally speaking, as specific as God’s Word. But like God’s Word, it is a true revelation of God’s will for all men. To deny it is not to honor the Word, or its Author but to dishonor it and therefore Him.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

It is good, important, nay vital that we never grow dim sighted with respect to our own sin. Gospel courage is that ability to look unflinchingly into the mirror of the Word that shows how hideous we are. We all still see only dimly, but in a grand irony, the more we grow in the grace, the more we mature, the less spotted we become, the more clearly the mirror becomes and the more of our ugliness we see. The more deeply we look into our sins, however, the more we understand and give thanks for His grace.

That said, it is likewise fitting and appropriate that we should celebrate that grace that not only justifies us, but sanctifies us. That is, we are actually getting better, and we do ourselves and the kingdom no favor if we piously seek to deny that gospel truth. We are getting better, and it shows. We get better still when we rejoice over how we are getting better.

Last week I had the privilege of addressing the Christian Home Educators of Colorado multiple times at their annual convention. I enjoyed my time, and was warmly welcomed. I was encouraged the whole time I was there. When the convention ended, however, I left the sheltered confines of this Christian homeschooling crowd and ventured out to a local restaurant. The contrast was shocking.

One group was busy working and learning; the other was busy forgetting and consuming. One group was joyful and peaceful; the other was sullen and crass. One group was gentle spirited and modest; the other was harsh and aggressively sexual. One group looked like the City of God; the other the City of Men. The power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Christians was undeniable. The absence of that power in the world was likewise undeniable.

I am well aware, as a sinful Christian, that Christians sin. I am in turn aware that every human being still bears the remnants of the image of God. But it would be the worst form of political correctness to suggest a moral equivalency between the church and the world. All people are sinners and all people bear God’s image. The church is not made up of good people, but repentant people. But it is also made up of people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who are growing in grace and wisdom, who are not only forgiven, but who are being cleansed (I John 1:9). We are not showing our piety but our ingratitude for the work of the Spirit in us when we deny that we have been and are being changed.

My goal here in turn isn’t to dial up our pride within the church. It is instead to encourage us that we are on the right path, and better still, to push us to greater gratitude for how God is working in us. We ought also to be encouraged in this- not only are we all being sanctified, made more like our Lord and Savior, but we are seeing what I call progressive familial sanctification. Our children, collectively, are doing so much better than we. The gospel is at work in our families. May He make more clear the glory of His Son and His gospel in our children’s children and beyond.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ask RC: Question about foreclosures.

Question: My husband read Biblical Economics and learned much. What is your opinion about giving back our rental/investment property to the bank as a foreclosure?

Not long ago I received another interesting question related to our current economic hardships. A friend wondered if investing in Iraqi currency in anticipation of a steep devaluing of that currency was legitimate. I explained an important but often overlooked element of economics (which also touches on oil speculation and even ticket scalping)- the economic value of sharing risk. If I buy Iraqi denari at x and turn around and sell then at 10x I have not profited illegitimately but have shared in risk that provides genuine economic benefit to the whole Iraqi economy. (Of course I cannot cry if I sell x for a loss either.)

What has that to do with foreclosures? Possibly everything. First let’s cover the easy part. If you agreed, in taking a loan, to pay back that loan, you have an obligation to pay back that loan, whatever might have happened to the value of what you bought with the borrowed money. In this kind of situation that loaning institution is not sharing in the risk. They are simply supplying capitol and you are serving as the risk taker.

But suppose that the language of the loan agreement says something like this- you may either pay back the loan, or you may give the collateral/home back to the lending institution, and lose whatever money you might have put down. In this instance the bank is sharing in the risk of your investment. There is no shame in turning over the keys.

Where it gets fuzzy is when this relationship is not made clear. Consider, for an odd analogy, the game of basketball. Suppose you are a conscientious Christian who desires at all times to abide by the rules. Suppose your team is down just a few points in the waning seconds. The odds say your best bet is to put one of your opponents on the foul line. Do you foul him? Is the foul simply a trade for free-throws, or are the free-throws a punishment for wrong-doing? If the former, certainly you are free to foul. If the latter, even if it costs you the game, you are duty bound not to foul. You cannot do wrong (foul) that good (winning the game) may come.

In these difficult times it is all too tempting to take advantage of systems designed outside a Christian perspective. Bankruptcy is one example. Trading in the keys on an upside down house may be another. At the end of the day, however, the Christian is called, in good times and bad, to let his yay be yay and his nay be nay. If I promised to pay, I pay, even to my own hurt. It is fair, however, to consider what I actually agreed to do. I know many Christians are frustrated in their attempts to talk over their agreements with banks, which won’t begin that process until the Christian first begins to not pay on the loan. Here I would argue we keep our vows to our hurt. We don’t miss payments in order to start a conversation on a short sale or a foreclosure. If they won’t renegotiate as long as we pay, we keep paying.

These matters, in short, are not terribly complicated. We do what we promised to do, and everything will be okay. We need to have faith to believe God sees and honors our integrity.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Babes in Toyland, from Every Thought Captive, 2006

Babes in Toyland, Every Thought Captive Magazine, January/February 2006
By RC Sproul Jr.

It would be our expectation that a given culture would follow the pattern of the riddle of the Sphinx. You remember that Oedipus was asked this question: what begins on four legs, moves to two, and ends with three? Oedipus was allowed to pass on his way because he recognized this as man. We begin as babies, crawling on all fours. As we mature we move to walking. But as age comes, we require the aid of a cane to get around. Cultures do begin young and then they mature. But I’m not sure that the end looks like an old man with a cane. I’m afraid that we may go out less with a whimper than a whine. We will be wearing Pampers, not Depends, and drinking formula rather than prune juice. We will not die, culturally speaking, of too little energy, but too little maturity. We are going to baby ourselves to death.

When the future comes to dig among our ruins, what will they find? Not long ago it became something of a fashion craze for adults to wear pacifiers around their necks. They’ll find us buried in underwear by Sponge Bob Squarepants. They’ll find that we fashion our movies out of comic books and our favorite television shows from when we were kids. And then they’ll find us curled around our indestructible idols, Styrofoam cups from Starbucks, our bottles of choice.

Cultural decline is recognized less by gross moral failure, and more by movement away from the vestiges of the image of God in us. We are moving away from ourselves, for instance, when we move away from our calling. The dominion mandate not only abides for believers after the fall, but is essential to what all men are. But we, because we are children, no longer build. Instead we consume. This is true not only in terms of “work” as such, but in terms of culture as well. We are mining our pasts, consuming our parents. Our architecture copies order forms, at random, not to honor them, but to save the trouble of making any progress. Our visual art looks more like a child’s temper tantrum, than an adult seeking to see the world through God’s eyes.

Economically speaking, it is the same. Children, by and large, consume more than they produce. Which is exactly what we do. I spent years bemoaning the evil of government debt, only to discover that it is dwarfed by consumer debt in this country. It doesn’t take a government bureaucrat to be a fool, ordinary citizens do just fine. An adult labors to leave a heritage to his descendants; a child simply consumes. An adult is someone who delays gratification now, for the sake of the future; a child lives for today. We have an economy of McJobs because we have a workforce of McChildren. We have our meals cooked for us at the supermarket, and our entertainment provided through a co-axial cable. Even the “engine of growth” that is the internet is dominated by sites providing tools for juvenile behavior.

Our heroes are adults who play children’s games. Hollywood is a shrine to the fun of playing dress up. And every city of size has its skyline dotted with temples dedicated to men playing little league for pay. This year the biggest story in football isn’t a story of sacrifice and effort culminating in success, but the “time-out” given to T.O. for his petulant rants against his own team.

We finish school now in our mid-twenties, if all goes well. We marry even later than that. We begin, if we manage to do so at all, to save money in our thirties, after we have paid off the debt we accumulated along the way. And then, being the mature people that we are, we start plotting out early retirement so we can play more, sooner. Once we hit that age, we start clamoring to our Uncle Sam to take better care of us. From cradle to grave we long for the cradle and march inexorably to the grave. And all along the way we rush off to the gym, or the cosmetics counter, or the hairdresser or the plastic surgeon, all so we can hide what the Bible says we should be pleased with, that we are growing older.

Worse than all this folly that so infects the broader culture is that we in the church have drunk so deep in it. Our Book commands that we honor our fathers and mothers, but we treat them just like our neighbors treat their mothers and fathers, as burdens to be managed, rather than precious resources to learn from. Our Book tells us to honor the hoary head, but we cover it over with hair coloring. Our Book instructs us that we should seek out wisdom, that we should aspire to become patriarchs and matriarchs and we at best joke about and worst lie about our age.

This is an opportunity, a chance to be a city shining on a hill. If we would jettison the foolishness of our age and begin to honor age, we would not only stand out, but we would be blessed as well. Remember that our Father not only calls us to honor our fathers and mothers, but promises that if we will, it will go well for us in the land. If we would honor age, we would be blessed with wisdom from on high. If we would speak well of our fathers, if we would rise up and call them blessed, then our Father in heaven would speak well of us. He would rise up and call us blessed.

The call here isn’t to turn our backs on the exciting, flashy and new to embrace the drab and dusty. Instead it is to enter into riches, to a wealthy that is immune to rust and moth. When we honor those who have entered their golden years, when we long ourselves to enter into our golden years, then we will have a harvest of gold. Then we will have gold to pass on to our children, who will in turn cause us to stand in the gates.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ten Ways Not to Look at Children

Wisdom is a narrow path. Folly, on the other hand, is a wide, gaping desert. Our conversations in the church about children tend to be contentious and emotional. Few things touch closer to home. Which is why we need all the more to develop a careful, thoughtful and sober understanding of the Bible’s wisdom on this issue. Below are ten common ways we err in our thinking. May He give us grace to fill our quivers with blessings, and our hearts with wisdom.

10. Children are a hassle to be avoided. What has become conventional wisdom in the world is now conventional wisdom in the church. We quip about longing for school to start, about dreading when they outgrow children’s church. We make the same stupid jokes- Do you know what causes that?, flaunting our folly. We are so biblically illiterate in the church we have no idea we are calling God a liar, who tells us children are a blessing from His hand (Psalm 127). We are so historically illiterate we don’t know that every denomination in Christendom condemned practices designed to avoid blessings from the beginning of the church until little more than fifty years ago.

9. Children are more precious than rubies and must be attained at any cost. On the other side of the above spectrum are those who see having children as the only blessing, and their purpose on the planet to conceive as many babies as humanly possible. The truth is that wisdom is more precious than rubies. God, however, is the one with all wisdom, and so is best equipped to plan our families. Seeking to pry babies out of His gracious hand, employing sundry technologies and timings, ironically, like the above problem, separates the blessing of the marital act from the blessing of children. What is to be a joy, on both counts, becomes a duty on both counts.

8. Children can be ordered like new flatware from the Pottery Barn. The Bible reminds us that God is the one who opens the womb, and the one who closes the womb (Genesis 16). To suggest that you can have children of this sex or that this far apart or that is hubris of the highest magnitude. If you want children, God may bless you, or He may not. If you don’t want children, God may bless you or He may not. In the meantime you look pretty silly sitting in your baby car seat turning your toy steering wheel, thinking you are driving.

7. Their lack of children is a sign of God’s peculiar disfavor. I’d like you to meet your friend Job. To affirm that children are blessing from God does not mean that those who have not been so blessed are not God’s friends. God has many kinds of blessings and He gives them, in His grace, as He sees fit. You can no more measure a man’s piety by the size of his quiver than you can by the level of his suffering. Neither is someone’s family size proof of any error in their thinking on children. You can’t rightly assume that those with small families are guilty of error #10.

6. My abundance of children is a sign of God’s peculiar favor. The flipside of #5, only here the pride is slightly easier to see, and yet equally ridiculous. Children are a gracious gift, not a paycheck.

5. Children are an unalloyed blessing. That the blessing is alloyed doesn’t mean it’s not a blessing. It does mean that children, even the ones in large families, sin, wake up in the middle of the night, throw up and break things, sometimes even our hearts.

4. Children are God’s version of the “Hitler Youth.” Our children fill our quivers in the battle against the seed of the serpent. We are drill sergeants, raising them for battle. And they are soldiers right now. But the Bible doesn’t call us to do this only for the sake of battle. Instead the Bible says children are a blessing, a joy. If you are not enjoying them, you’re doing it wrong. If you think the kingdom comes by breeding, you are missing the point. The kingdom comes by joy, and joy comes from many places, including the blessing of children.

3. Children are given for our glory, or our comfort. It is true, and a blessing that godly children bring honor to their parents. But that honor comes to us not as they live for us, but as they live for Him. My children do not exist to spread my fame, but to manifest the glory of the reign of Jesus Christ. There is a thin line between letting your light shine before men and praying on street corners like the Pharisees. You will only know which side you are on by humbly and honestly examining your heart.

2. Children are no longer needed; the world is overcrowded. There are plenty of thoughtful arguments to gainsay this folly, filled with statistics and sound economic theory. The simplest one is this- God said to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. We’ll know we’re done when He tells us we’re done.

1.We have to have more children before the west is overrun. Though the west has been profoundly blessed by the impact of the gospel, it is the gospel, not the west that matters. We don’t need more white children; we need more covenant children. We don’t need more Americans; we need more Christians. We don’t need more Republicans; we need more citizens of the kingdom of God.

These mistakes, of course, come from all sides. Large families can make some, small families others, and some both sides can make. We would go a long way to combat all of them, however, if we believed this simple truth- children are a gracious gift from God who opens and closes the womb, for His glory and for His kingdom. We might go even farther, however, in combating these errors this way, by being certain to hug and bless the children He has given us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Pathway of Death

It is my habit, once each week, to write a brief piece answering a question from a reader. I also write one piece each week wherein I set my own agenda. Truth be told, even the question answering pieces tend to morph into something on my agenda. These pieces are published and promoted in sundry corners of the world wide web, many of which leave opportunity for comment. Earlier this week I was asked about the Bible’s response to polygamy and concubinage. Though there are missionaries who have to deal with such things, I doubt many of my readers are tempted in this particular direction. I took the time to answer the question, however, because it gave me an opportunity to address something that interests me, the patient way God deals with our folly.

In one particular corner a discussion ensued that touched on how rare this problem is, and why oh why didn’t I address a far more important question related to sexual fidelity- pornography. And so here I am. I suspect there are not a handful of my blog readers, Facebook friends or even twitter followers who have been seriously tempted to take a second wife or a concubine. I suspect that less than a handful, at least among the men, are never tempted by pornography, and that literally thousands of them are caught in its terrible grip. I suspect, however, the whole of that universe of people who read me on the internet have another related problem- we don’t believe the Bible.

I could here take some time to collect some shocking statistics or share some anecdotes related to pornography. I could discuss my own theory on why this evil is skyrocketing- (the short version is that the internet is the first pornography delivery system that does not involve doing business with a human being. The shame of buying a magazine or renting a video, when you, the salesman and everyone else in the store knows how this product is “used” is a fairly potent deterrent.) Instead I want to share the wisdom I preach to myself, to my sons, and to those sheep who have been under my care over the years. Pornography isn’t merely a sin. It isn’t merely a shameful sin. It isn’t merely an assault on your marriage bed and the whole of your family. Pornography, according to the Bible, is the very pathway to death:

With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, With her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, Till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, He did not know it [would cost] his life. Now therefore, listen to me, [my] children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths; For she has cast down many wounded, And all who were slain by her were strong [men.] Her house [is] the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death. Proverbs 7:21-27

We are as foolish as the young man whose liver was so struck, not because we succumb to the temptation of pornography, but because we succumb to the temptation to belittle God’s Word. We think this is just talking about, you know, real adultery, not the kind Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. We think this is but a word picture, an analogy, a metaphor designed to scare us away. What it is instead is the Word of God, designed to warn us away from death.

Though I can’t cite them, I have read studies have shown that what men look at the most when viewing pornography is not what is usually covered in public. They look instead into the face, into the eyes. There she speaks the lie that she is ours, that we can enjoy the blessings of sexual union apart from covenant fidelity, that she will give herself to us. She lies as she seeks to lead us to death.

Our problem isn’t pornography. Our problem is that we don’t believe God. Her words lead downward into the chambers of death. His Word is a lamp unto our feet. Whatever internet tools you need to fight this, get them. Whatever books you need to read, read them. Whatever Biblical counseling you need to be set free, heed it. But above all, remember to believe His Word. Believe her and you will die. Believe Him, and live.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ask RC: Is there a moral law against polygamy?

"The Bible never condemns polygamy or having concubines. Is there a moral law against them?"

Yes there is a moral law against them because the Bible actually does condemn them. Jesus Himself said, “From the beginning it was not so…” He commands that marriage be between one man and one woman. He notes also that the relative lax standards for divorce in the old covenant were the result of our “hardness of hearts.” (See Mark 10 for this discussion.)

There is irony here. Most of the time we squirm over the harshness of the Old Testament and find the New kinder and gentler. Here Jesus narrows radically those circumstances where divorce might be permitted, and in the process rules out polygamy and concubinage. Which raises this question- what does Jesus mean by “because of the hardness of your hearts?” Why were these things seemingly permitted in the Old Covenant?

For all its radical calls toward complete holiness in our lives, the Bible also shows remarkable wisdom and grace in how it deals with our corporate sins. God, in the Old Covenant, though He established the pattern of one man and one woman in the Garden, and though it was the notorious Lamech who introduced polygamy, began to remake a world twisted by sin through regulating certain practices rather than ruling them out altogether. He established rules for how concubines and their children were to be treated. He established rules for not only the care of slaves, but for their eventual freedom. Even in the New Testament we see how delicately Paul deals with Onesimus, the runaway slave. He does not thunder from on high that all slavery must end, but does push toward that ideal in a more natural, organic way.

When we come to understand God’s patience with us we may be tempted to presume upon His grace. Or, we may find ourselves having to answer for what He permitted, as if He were the one that created slavery and polygamy, or the circumstances that led to them. Unbelievers delight to throw these cultural differences in our face, as if they prove something wrong with His character rather than exposing what it wrong with ours.

One thing should be clear from all this. Jesus was abundantly clear that God made marriage to be between one man and one woman. That does indeed rule out polygamy and concubinage. It also rules out that oxymoronic modern notion of “Gay marriage.” There is no such thing, and never will be. “Gay marriage” is not merely wrong, but is utterly nonsensical. We need not denounce “Gay marriage” any more than we need to denounce square circles, or noisy silences. Remember this nugget of wisdom- if we call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Four. You can call a tail a leg all day long but it doesn’t make it so. Dogs have four legs. Marriages have one man and one woman. Jesus said so Himself.

We would do well to remember this as well. Whenever something in the Bible embarrasses us, we should be ashamed. Not of the Bible, but of ourselves. God is true though every man be a liar.

Friday, June 3, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes

My dear wife spent May 21, that day Harold Camping predicted the end of the world, in the hospital fighting leukemia. Though the war is not yet over, just as she has done twice before, she has cancer on the ropes. And, in case you missed it, the world did not end May 21. The confluence of these two events, however, has, as they might for anyone, encouraged me to think about my end. Bucket lists, “what would you do if you knew this were the last day of your life,” and the pearly gates have been on my mind. Whether we are goaded by this nugget of pop wisdom or that, whether we wake up determined to live this day as if it were our last, or determined to live mindful that today is the first day of the rest of our lives, the question is the same- what am I supposed to do? Whichever the perspective, the answer is likewise the same- seek the kingdom and His righteousness; love better the Lord God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength; grow in grace and wisdom; become more like Jesus.

My calling, your calling, whatever the future holds, is to pursue sanctification, that we would be more like Jesus. Which may seem like something of a waste. I once had a man ask me a series of questions that led to his one real question. “Isn’t it true,” he asked, “that all of us, when we become Christians, start at different places in our sanctification?” “Yes, that’s true.” “And isn’t it also true that while we will all grow in grace, we will all grow at different speeds?” “Right again” I told him. “None of us will ever be fully sanctified before we die, right?” “Uh-huh, that’s right.” “”And we will all be completely sanctified when we die?” “True enough” I told him. “Okay, given all that, what is the point in seeking to become more sanctified now?”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Paul describes our sanctification as a race. But it’s a race with different starting points, different speeds, in which none of the contestants will finish on this side of the veil and all will finish on the other. Why knock yourself out? I answered his questions with two of my own, “Are you looking forward to heaven?” “Of course,” he replied. “Would you like to have more now?” He got it; he understood. If one of the most precious promises of heaven is that we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is (I John 3:2), doesn’t that mean that the more like Him we become now the more heaven we experience now?

Every day I get a one day closer to heaven. This is true, of course, because each day I draw one day closer to my death. But it is also true because each day I draw one day closer to my life. The distinction between glorification and sanctification has its place. So, however, does the identification of the two. Being made perfect at death is not a different thing from being perfected during life. We therefore each day not only get closer to heaven , but we get more heaven each day. We move from grace to grace. Can’t wait for tomorrow.