Tuesday, April 24, 2012

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Five Reasons You Should Go to Your Local Abortion Mill

I know it is a scary thought. I know it is outside our comfort zone. And so at best we pray for those who go, those spiritual super-heroes that are better than we are. At worst we get angry at them for making us feel guilty. Going to the mill, however, will not save your soul, will not assuage your guilt. Jesus did that. If you will go, however, you will no longer fear, but will know that He is with you, wherever you go. Here then are five reasons you should go, pray, speak.

First, you should go to feel the power of repentance. There is no place, outside the Lord’s Table, more powerful in demonstrating the depth of our sin. Though I am actively pro-life I go and repent for these things. First, for my country. I am a part of this country and so share in its guilt. While we should always and everywhere be grateful for all the blessings we receive, going to a mill cures my head-in-the-sand, proud-to-be-an-American folly. Instead I am rightly ashamed. I am a citizen of a nation that over the last forty years has murdered fifty million babies. Second, for His church. I am a part of His church and so share in its guilt.  We are like the Christians of Germany during the Holocaust, except these victims are murdered in plain sight. Again, though I am to be grateful for how the grace of God is manifest in and through His church, being at the mill cures me of the foolish notion that the church is innocent, that the battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is an “out there” thing rather than an “in here” thing. Third, I repent for myself. Being there never cleanses me from my guilt. I cannot stand there and pray, “I thank you God that I am not like other men. I preach at mills and adopt babies.” Instead I weep for my forgetting, and for my not doing enough.

Second, you should go to experience the power of the devil. Non-charismatic evangelicals are unhealthily skittish about the reality of spiritual warfare. We are practical modernists, believing the invisible realm doesn’t touch this realm. You cannot make that mistake at a killing center. The sense of demonic presence is oppressive, weighty.  Never is that power greater than when proclaiming Jesus to those leading their little ones to death. The devil doesn’t take well to our kneeling before His gates.

Third, you should go to experience the power of conviction. The devil has persuaded Christians and non-Christians that this “procedure” is normal, no big deal. When you are there, without even a spoken word, you are communicating to yourself and others these great truths- that what they are about to do is wicked; that what they are about to do is noticed; that what they are about to do is not normal; that what they are about to do they will regret. When Christians especially show up to murder their babies, they see Jesus in you and often they turn around, repenting.

Fourth, you should go to experience the power of the Holy Spirit. Again, evangelicals, especially Reformed evangelicals, are skittish about the Holy Spirit. We are willing to speak of Him in the abstract, but we don’t expect to witness Him at work. He does work, and nowhere more visibly than at the very gates of hell. The Spirit does great things when we follow Him into great battles.  He tears down strongholds before our very eyes.

Fifth, you should go to experience the power of family. When you are there to watch fathers and mothers murder their babies you cannot help but give thanks that He spared your children, to rejoice that they survived the battle of the womb. When you are there together with your family, you enjoy the blessings of all of the above, together. You will go home united, tearful, and grateful.

You need to go. You don’t need to preach, though you may. You don’t need to carry a sign, though you may. You don’t need to hand out tracts, though you may. But you must go. I have met many who regret not going. I know no one who has ever regretted going. Show them Jesus, and you will see Jesus at work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ask RC: Is there anything wrong with drums and guitars in church?

I am frankly astonished that the worship wars rattle on. The army of praise choruses, light shows and worship bands have left the Psalms, the organ, and our father’s hymnal decimated. The war for all practical purposes ended quite some time ago, and I am on the losing side. It is now harder to find a church that hasn’t bought into contemporary worship than it is to find a church has never been through a split. The landscape is littered with the meeting places of the victors.

So why bother with the question? Because there are a few battle-scarred, dazed, war survivors out there wondering what happened.

What happened is that we fought with the wrong weapons, and naturally lost. We objected to the drums and the guitars for at least two bad reasons. First, because we associated them with a rebellious rock culture, we thought they didn’t belong in church, though they did belong in our living rooms.  We couldn’t keep them out of the sanctuary because we welcomed them into the rest of our lives. While not everything in our work week rightly fits on the Sabbath (work, for instance), Sunday is not the day wherein we are supposed to be good, and the other days when we are free to be bad. So if they are bad, drums and guitars, let them be bad. If they are not bad in themselves (which I would argue) then let’s not object on the basis that they seem bad to us, or that they are often used by bad people.

The second reason was rather unspoken. Too many of the soldiers on our side objected to meeting the felt needs of others in the church not because felt needs are unimportant, but because it means our felt needs are not getting met. If the music with which we worship is decided by popular vote, some of us with unpopular tastes are going to lose. But if our argument in favor of our tastes is that they are our tastes, we can’t expect to win. If everyone agrees we should get what we want, there is no use protesting when they are we and we are on the losing side.

My objection to drums and guitars is not that they are drums and guitars. Few traditionalists would object to kettle-drums. Few would object to all instruments wherein tight bands of steel are struck. That, after all, is what a piano does. The issue isn’t the instruments, but the music. The war did not end when fifty one percent of churches embraced contemporary worship. It ended when we bought into the devil’s lie that forms don’t matter, just thoughts; that media carries no message; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  It ended when we determined to watch the lyric front, but give up the music front.

It’s true the evil isn’t in the instrument; it’s in us. Our worship problems do not flow from drums and guitars. They flow from the sad truth that we are shallow, insipid, easily played, safe, boring and sentimental.  Jesus, remember, didn’t throw the money out of the temple, but the money-changers.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Problem with (some) Young Earthers

It is a subtle, but important distinction. I approve the desire to think God’s thoughts after Him. I fear though that I am sometimes tempted to approve God’s thoughts only when they agree with mine. A few weeks ago during a Question and Answer time at Ligonier’s annual conference I honestly answered a question as to my views on the age of the earth. I’m a young earth guy. Have been for twenty years. Though there were other young earth guys on the panel, and all the gentlemen on the panel are in my judgment fine, godly men, I found myself humbled by the enthusiastic support of the young earthers in the crowd, as if I had taken some sort of odd, bold and prophetic stand.

Despite my respect for those with whom I disagree on this issue, it is difficult not to fear that those on the other side weigh the Bible too lightly, and what they are hearing in His revelation through His creation too heavily.  I know they don’t intend that. They may not even be guilty. But I am at least guilty of finding it less than easy to maintain toward them a presumption of their innocence.

What troubles me more, however, is when my comrades within the young earth camp (and please let’s all remember that these “camps” are all together within the walls of the kingdom) make the same kind of mistake. I fear that too many of us embrace young earth creationism not because of the dependability of the Bible, but because of the fine scientific work of those in the young earth camp.

I’ve seen and been blessed by the work of several “creation” ministries. Insofar as they are about the business of thinking God’s thoughts after Him, all I have is praise. Indeed I suspect my concerns reflect not those who produce pro-young earth teaching, but those who receive such teaching. If a stunning slide show about Mount Saint Helens persuades you that the Bible is true, that’s a problem. If a compelling video about the Great Flood convinces you there was a Great Flood, that’s a problem. The problem is your ultimate allegiance is to stunning slide shows and compelling videos.

Of course because the Bible is true we should expect His revelation in creation to match right up. Because there was a world-wide flood we should expect to find evidence of a world-wide flood. But we should not conclude that there was a world wide flood because our studies affirm such. Instead we’re supposed to believe the Bible.

Now it may well be that we young earthers are the geo-centrists of our day. It may well be that the best, most faithful understanding of Genesis is a Framework view, or some other view that requires an old earth. In short, I could be wrong. Geology, however, biology, astro-physics will not be how I come to know I am wrong. It would take the Bible to do that.

God is true wherever He speaks, whether in His Word or His world. Both natural and special revelation are inerrant and infallible. Only one of them, however, is clear, forthright, straightforward. Before we wrestle over this vexing issue, may we all learn to agree with two things. First, whatever the Bible teaches, that is what we are going to believe. And second, we are going to believe it because the Bible teaches it. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Kingdom Notes: Anything But That

There is a certain type of four fingered writer who always keeps one finger to the wind and five fingers wrapped around the reigns of his hobby-horse. Their self-perceived gift is to take the story of the day, and tie it into the one story that has already captured their heart. Every major news story becomes the occasion to saddle up and ride into the one story the writer can’t give up. Somehow the death of Princess Di, the plight of the Chilean coal-miners, Tebowing, Kony and Trayvon Martin all, in their due time, point out the obvious, that the President is a bad man, or women should dress more modestly, or the Fed needs to be audited, or raw milk is good for you.

I am aware of this tendency among writers because, believe it or not, I fight that tendency.  I am mildly aware of what everyone in the world is talking about. I am acutely aware of the one public issue that dominates, though not as much as it should, my own thinking. I in turn am quick to see the connections between the two. Sometimes I fight the temptation to connect the two, sometimes I give in.

When I give in the connection is usually the same. I write a piece in which I ask, “Hey, why is the world so busy talking about x, when my issue is so much more important, so much more compelling? Why are Christians at every office water cooler talking about the media’s talking points, instead of my talking points?” I feel guilty for turning what is often a genuine tragedy of a news story into fodder for my cause.

Today, however, I am persuaded that my habit is the result of our deep disease on this issue. That is, I suspect that all of us would rather talk about today’s story rather than the story precisely because the story is too intense, too revealing, too much a window into the grave evil of the goats and the deep cowardice of the sheep. We would rather talk about Kony than abortion, Trayvon than abortion, even Susan G. Komen than abortion because we are less guilty over all these than we are over abortion. We can look into these comparatively distant, petty horrors because they are both distant and comparatively petty. Abortion, however, is as guilty and horror-filled as hell.

I understand that we all have different callings. I do not begrudge a man bringing the gospel to India rather than laboring to stop the slaughter here in America. I wouldn’t complain about a pastor counseling a young married couple, rather than gathering signatures for the Personhood Amendment. I am positively grateful for godly men who repair plumbing problems instead of carrying picket signs. What troubles me, however, is that away from our specific callings, we find the time to discuss the news, even to pontificate on the news, while the murder of babies has become old news. The murder of babies is backburner, boring, banal, as common as sin. This does not excuse our guilt, but exposes it. Darkness has come into the world and we perceive it not. We are called, all of us, to shine the light of Christ into the darkest corners of the world. May we begin with our own hearts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ask RC: Which is the greatest super-hero?

We could, in the spirit of political correctness, suggest that such a question is out of bounds. We could affirm that everyone is special in their own way, and protect the self-esteem of the supers. On the other hand, we could have a debate over the right criteria by which to judge. Are we asking who has the coolest super-power? Who has the best alter ego? Whose transformation story is the most compelling? Indeed once one finds the proper criteria by which to judge, the answers just seem to come naturally.

I have two competing criteria that I value highly. Not wanting to choose I will therefore divide the question in two, affirming which is the greatest classic super-hero and which is the greatest modern superhero. First the classic.

By classic I mean those supers whose beginnings came in the heyday of the comic book. Here we find some astonishing super-powers, some engaging alter egos, and some compelling back stories. The best standard, I would argue, however, is this- who makes the most of what he’s got? Which means, of course, that Batman wins, hands down. Batman, frankly, has no super-powers. He is not from another planet, or a lost civilization.  He has not been infected with radiation, nor visited by ancient gods. No, Batman fights with his wealth, his wits and his will. The first two, wealth and wits, create the technology that is so vital to his battle plan. It is his iron will, however, that brings it all together. Criminals fear him not because of what he can do, but because of what he wants- justice.  In the first “battle” of the first modern movie account Batman holds a terrified petty criminal over the edge of a skyscraper. The terrified thug squeaks out, “What are you?” And Batman had me at “I’m Batman, and I want you to tell all your friends about me.”

I’m not the most physically gifted man in the world. I never was growing up. But I have always been competitive. Will means quite a bit to me, and so Batman receives one crown.  On the other hand, as a dad raising eight children I have in recent years come to see the heroism called for in leading a family. Most supers are socially awkward, isolated, islands. One modern hero, however, exhibits the greatest of virtues- he loves his wife and children. Indeed he loves his wife and children enough to endure the crushing weight of hiding his super-ness.  Mr. Incredible wins my vote in the modern category not because of his astonishing super gifts, but because of his ordinary and therefore inspiring love for his family.  I want not to be like his super-identity, but his alter ego, for that, in this instance, is not only who he really is, but who he really wants to be.

In the real world we value the wrong things. We value skills over drive, abilities over willingness. We think our job rather than our family is our calling.  Which is why it’s good to have heroes, but why we have to choose them with care. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Missing Missing

My wife would be pleased with me. As I do far too infrequently, I uncluttered my desk today. You should see how nice it looks. In so doing, however, I came across another old stack of sympathy cards sent months ago from friends and strangers. I read through them, and found myself lonesome for a surprising time, the day my Denise went on to glory. In a previous piece I wrote about how, crossing the barrier of forty days of mourning made me fear that I would miss Denise all the more. I suggested that the more I mourned the more it seemed she was with me. Turns out I was right.

As I read through those cards I was taken back to that first day. Denise passed very early on Sunday morning, December 18th. After taking care of necessary details in the nursing facility I headed home to tell my children. After we talked and cried and hugged I got myself cleaned up, and headed off the church. My thought was that what I needed most of all at that moment was to meet with Jesus, and to be reminded of His grace, His gospel. Turns out I was right.

As I sat there that morning however, I didn’t have the sense that she had left me. Indeed I felt more like we were going to go through this together, that she would walk me through my mourning. She would speak to me the words of life. She would hold me when I could not sleep. She would encourage me to do the next thing. She would remind me to give thanks. Though I do not pretend to know if she sees me. I believed she would make certain that I sensed her with me.  Turns out I was right.

As I look back on that morning, however, somehow now I look back alone. Of course I still cry. I still mourn, even as I type. I miss her laughter, her hand, her beautiful eyes. But somehow as time moves on what I end up missing is the comfort and closeness she somehow gave even after she had gone.  She doesn’t sit beside me when I’m alone in the car anymore. She doesn’t look over my shoulder when I am typing and crying alone anymore. Somehow the more time passes, the farther she is gone, not because I am forgetting her, but because I am remembering her. The great heartbreak is that she is now becoming my past, rather than my ever present.

Denise was carried by Jesus out of the valley of the shadow of death. She now dances with Him on the mountain of the lightness of life.  She has, rightly, wisely, and through the very love of our Savior, left me. And I feel lost. By His grace, however, I have a path to follow. For His pieced feet leave bloody prints all the way out of the valley, all the way up the mountain. I will follow Him, who promised to be with me, even until the end of the age. He is a blessed man to dance with her. I am a blessed man to follow Him.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Apples to Apples

Because there is such a great divide between the city of God and the city of man, though both occupy the same space, it is not always easy to judge how the battle is going.  To compare the sweetest, most joy filled full-quiver homeschooling family with the most dysfunctional broken family hardly seems fair. That’s because it isn’t fair, though it is equally unfair to compare the government educated spiritual super-hero evangelist with the meth making family that “homeschools” only because such a claim might keep the government at bay.

The hard truth is that the unbelievers’ best sometimes looks a lot more honorable than the believers’ worst. But the more honest question is, how are each of us doing in the middle? Is the average professing Christian living a more God-honoring life than the average unbeliever? In short, yes.

Tonight I attended a celebration of a couple that has been married for fifty years. This couple belongs to a church that was less than fundamentalist, less than conservative. This couple had three children, and sent them all to the government schools, all the way through college.  When the children were young the mom stayed home while the dad earned a living to support the family. 

Compare this ordinary but God-honoring faithfulness with the average unbelieving family. Is it likely that this family is untouched by adultery, divorce, drug abuse? Is it likely that this family is even still a family? Forty percent of children in America are born to unmarried moms.  Another 1.2 million are murdered by their moms. Forty percent of marriages end in divorce. Government dependence, crushing debt, dysfunctional families, substance abuse are average in the average modern family.

The point is not, of course, that Christians are by themselves better people than non-Christians. “Such once were we” is something Christians must never forget.  Nor should we ever lose sight of our continuing struggles with sin. Rather such a comparison actually demonstrates this truth- as the Christian faith becomes an alternate culture rather than shaping the broader culture, decadence in the broader culture will be defined downward. The Greatest Generation were not all Christian. But they knew what it meant to sacrifice for others. My parents’ generation were not all Christians, but they knew a thing or two about commitment.

One of the blessings of a culture leaving the Christian faith is it becomes increasingly difficult to confuse cultural Christianity and the genuine article. Christians have to choose between being normal and being Christian. One of the great disadvantages is watching our neighbors in Babylon create such spectacular car crashes with their lives.  Worse still is when they crash into our lives.

Our culture is in rapid decline. That decline is more likely to increase rather than reverse. Being salt and light includes preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It includes loving our neighbors, without identifying with them.  It means looking like oranges in a world full of apples. It means also, however, living in peace and quietness with all men, as much as is possible. When a man honors the wife of his youth, when he saves rather than spends, when he commits his time and energy to his children, the beauty of the reign of Jesus Christ shines forth.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ask RC: What should I do when feeling completely overwhelmed?

What should I do when feeling completely overwhelmed, with a "to do" list as long as the Matterhorn is high, while wanting only to pull the bed covers over my head?

Three things. The first is to give thanks. Like most clichés, this one became a cliché because it is a powerful and pithy truth- I cried for having no shoes, until I met a man with no legs. This does not mean that all of us should find one person who is having a harder time than we are, and all of us, save one, the winner of the Job of the Moment award, would perk up. And when the winner loses his title for some other Job, he can begin to cheer up. Rather it reminds us that we all have much for which we should be grateful.  Being joyful for what we have doesn’t tempt us to rest on our laurels, but motivates us to act, to get up and fulfill our calling. If we are in Christ and are ungrateful, we are being blinded.

Which brings us to the second thing we ought to do- repent and believe the gospel. We should in fact be ashamed when we are overcome with that “pull the sheets over our head” feeling. Jesus told us that His yoke is easy, His burden light. When we are feeling overwhelmed we are calling Him a liar. Having faced our failure, having entered into our shame, however, we move quickly to believing the gospel. Jesus died for our shameful feelings. He died for our calling Him a liar. And He not only forgives us, but loves us with an everlasting love. He knows everything there is to know about us, including those sins we can’t even face ourselves, and still, He loves us.

This, of course, brings us back to step one. That is, as we believe the gospel, we once again must give thanks.

The last step is as simple and easy as the first two-I must do the first thing on my list. When it is done, I must do the next thing on our list. Of course, when we give thanks, when we repent and believe the gospel, we notice a few things about our list. It begins to shrink. What we discover is that the more we are persuaded that we have all that we could ever want or imagine in Christ Jesus we discover we don’t need to do this or do that to try to satisfy our souls.

All that ought to remain on our list is loving our neighbors. That may mean doing dishes, or folding laundry, but when we do these chores we are actually loving our neighbors. We are serving them.

Since my wife passed I am constantly asked how I am doing. I am so grateful for people’s concerns. The truth is I do have a long to-do list, even without my honey making me honey-do lists. I also feel the weight of the sorrow of missing her that beckons me to spend the day in bed. I can’t, however, curl up in a ball because of my life’s work. I have eight children to care for, children who miss their mom every bit as much as do. For all my sadness over the loss of my wife, I yet have what we have made, by His grace, together, these precious children. They need their dad more than I need a day in bed. In loving, in serving them, my wounds begin to heal and I am reminded I am not a man without shoes looking at children without feet. I am instead the richest man in the world, because of the children who are my, and His heirs. Give thanks. Repent. Believe the gospel. And get to work.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lambs to the Slaughter

It is a sure sign of the perversity of our world that we find ourselves having to grade, to rate, to rank the perversity of our world. There is not one evil out there, nor even one evil in here. Instead evil has as many faces as the world has fingerprints. It is a second sure sign of our perversity that we succumb to the temptation of grading perversity on a scale of its closeness to us. That is, because we are evil, we judge our own evil to be good, our friends’ evil to be fair, and only evil in distant time zones to be truly evil.

Because I am pridefully averse to jumping on both cultural and sub-cultural bandwagons, I have only just today watched the Kony video. Like everyone else, I was appalled at the great evil of this one man. Like everyone else, I wept with Jacob over his lost brother. Like everyone else I not only wanted Kony stopped, but wanted to help. As the father of eight children there are few things that pierce my crusty exterior than when children are so badly treated. These children, thirty-thousand of them so far, have been taken away from their parents. The girls have been turned into sexual playthings, the boys turned into child-killers.

One need not, however, have a potent imagination to conjure an evil greater still. One need not have an imagination at all. One need only walk down ones own street. There is no Kony in America. There are instead 1800 men and women in this country alone, far more evil, far more perverse than Kony. These 1800 do not steal children from their parents. Instead, the parents, over a million of them every year, give their children freely. Indeed they pay to have them taken away. These 1800 do not turn the girls into sexual playthings, though they do help ensure their moms can continue to be sexual playthings. They do not turn the boys into child-killers. Instead they are child killers, mutilating little unborn babies to pieces.

That the world has been dutifully outraged over Kony’s outrage is not, I’m sorry to conclude, a hopeful sign. I did not come away from the film either discouraged by the evil of men like Kony, nor encouraged by the goodness of those who wish to stop him. I came away sick to my stomach. How many of those earnest young people, I wonder, have murdered their own children? How many of them would show the same passion for protecting their “reproductive rights?” Worse still, how many people like me, convinced Christian pro-lifers, will wear the Kony bracelet, but won’t ask their pastor to preach against the greatest evil of our day? How many people like me, convinced Christian pro-lifers, will be swayed by the magic of viral internet marketing to “get involved” on Kony, who at the same time are embarrassed when hard-core pro-lifers carry around pictures of aborted babies?

Kony, to the minds of most evangelicals, is a war criminal. Abortion, in the minds of most evangelicals, is a political issue. Kony must be stopped in 2012. Abortion, well, we’ll just keep voting in moderately pro-life politicians, hoping they might appoint moderately pro-life judges who might one day hear a case that might one day put a dent in Roe v. Wade that one day might be overturned, but not, thank goodness, until our daughters are all safely married.

There is great evil in the world- an evil that responds with polite, hushed tones to well-heeled white people, living in our neighborhoods, who murder babies for a living. And there is a great evil in me, that I accept this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ask RC: Why did God destroy the city of Sodom?

There are, in our day, two principle competing views on how to answer this question. Because we live in a world where those committing sexual perversion have become a protected class, certain circles of the church have rushed to accommodate them. The up and coming theory, however anti-intuitive it might be is this- God destroyed Sodom not because it was a city given over to perversion, but because it was a city that failed to exercise hospitality. God’s wrath was poured out not because the men of Sodom, pounding on Lot’s door, wanted to sexually assault the angels, but because the angels were not treated with grace and compassion. It wasn’t what they wanted to take, but what they failed to give.

The more conservative wing of the church, of course, takes an older view, a more intuitive view. The narrative here goes like this- Sodom was a city where sexual perversion had taken such deep root, that when angels came to visit they were viewed as fresh meat.  This grave evil that gave birth to this grave crime inspired God’s grave wrath.

While the second view, the more intuitive, the more historical view has more to go for it than the politically correct more modern view, I’m afraid they both seriously miss the point. Yes, the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness. Yes, sexual perversity is both a result of God’s wrath and a provocation of God’s wrath. But a more careful look at the story tells us why Sodom was destroyed. It was destroyed not because of the evil of the unbelievers. It was destroyed because of a lack of a remnant.  God destroyed Sodom because of the failure of the church, of the believers.

Remember Abraham’s careful conversation with God, his virtual negotiation for the city of Sodom. Would God spare the city if there were fifty righteous there? Forty-five? Forty? Finally God agrees that He will spare the city for ten. But Abraham could not find even ten. Don’t miss though what might have been. This dark and evil city would have been spared had there been but ten righteous people.  Despite the perversion, despite the scope of the evil, the city would have been spared for just ten righteous.

We live in a dark and evil land, amongst a dark and evil people. We too, in ourselves, are dark and evil. But we, by His grace, have a righteousness that is not rightly our own. We have a perfect righteousness.  And by that, we can be the very reason God might spare our nation, our culture. We plot and we worry about how to take back this institution and that. We strategize and we compromise, that we might earn a place at the world’s table, for the sake of the world. When what we are called to do is to seek first His righteousness and His kingdom.  What we are called to do is the right thing.

It is possible to retreat from the battle, and excuse our fear as pursuing personal righteousness. We call this folly pietism. I fear, however, that we are falling off the other side of the horse. Here piety is called pietism, and worldliness called being missional. The mission, however, is piety. Rescue your neighborhood. Rescue your city. Rescue your nation. Rescue those who are caught up in perversion. Rescue the Lots of the church. Do it by seeking His righteousness. Remnants save cities.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Savorless Salt

When we are yet outside the kingdom, before we are born a second time, we suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1). This does not mean we are stupid. It does mean we are foolish. We know what we know but because such knowledge exposes our guilt, we suppress it. We are born again when God the Holy Spirit changes us, replacing our hearts of stone with a heart of flesh, when that same Spirit indwells us, and cleanses us.

But we are not changed fully and instantly. We are still dirty. We are still, in ourselves, guilty. And we still seek to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Consider those Australian “ethicists” who recently published a “scholarly” article outlining why they thought “after-birth abortion” ought to be considered ethically acceptable. Their reasoning has a diabolical logic to it- there is no real difference between the baby before it is born and after it is born. We are free to kill the child in the first instance, why not in the second? This is a rather telling illustration of Romans 1 level foolishness. It ought not, however, surprise us. We’re dealing with unregenerate people here. This is the kind of thing they come up with.

It seems however that Christians are indeed surprised by this revolting development. Not just surprised, but outraged, furious, indignant and morally flabbergasted. We write learned pieces decrying this new evidence of cultural decline. We cluck and fret on twitter and facebook. And, as is our wont, we miss the point. Because we are still dirty, we miss the blood on our own hands. If it is true, as these “ethicists” argue, and it is, that there is no moral difference between the practice of abortion or pre-natal infanticide and after birth abortion, or infanticide, why do we, who have been blessed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, get up in arms about one, and yawn over the other? Why the moral outrage over the moral outrage du jour, and the lack of moral outrage over the moral outrage of our generation?

We in the church are blind because we walk backwards, in the face of a decadent culture, drawing perpetual lines in the sand, boldly declaring “Thus far, and no further.” We’ve done it so many times we have forgotten where we came from. Our salt has lost its savor, and we are trodden underfoot. Abortion, the murder of babies in their mothers’ wombs, has, by virtue of the church’s relative ease on the matter now become distasteful, uncouth, and normal, like Playboy magazines behind the counter at the convenience store. The Australian “ethicists” are not pushing the boundaries of their ethics; they are embracing the norms of our ethics.

We expose our hypocrisy, our callowness and shallowness when we protest after-birth abortion, sex-selection abortion, partial-birth abortion, late-term abortion, unsafe, unregulated abortion, Obamacare funded abortion, all the while living a business-as-usual life in the face of babies being butchered in our neighborhoods every day. The evil of killing babies is that they are babies, no matter their age, no matter whether they are born, no matter how they came to be, no matter what butchering technique is used. We, the living, must repent. Lord have mercy on our souls, and the souls of the babies we destroy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Love God? Sometimes I Hate Him

So Luther responsed when queried about his love for God. He was honest enough to admit that while God is altogether lovely, Luther was a sinner, and his response to God showed it. We can have a love/hate relationship with that which matters to us for one of two reasons, or a combination thereof. In Luther’s case God doesn’t change, but Luther does. Sometimes, however, the object of our love changes while we don’t. Sometimes that which we love behaves in an unlovely way, and our love flees. Still worse, sometimes that which we loved changes so radically that love is difficult if not impossible.

I love my country, for at least two reasons. First, it is my country.  It is good and right and proper that we should have an affection for that which is closest to us, even if that thing is not the best. Though I’ve never met any, I’m quite certain there are children better behaved than my own. Should I meet such a child, however, it would be wrong to unseat my own children as the object of my love. I love my children because they are mine, and I love my country because it is mine.

Second, my country began as an experiment in liberty. The founding principles of limited government, of freedom of religion, of self-sufficiency, these resonate with me. Many of our founding fathers were true heroes, seeking sagely to apply God’s wisdom to the question of proper government.  I still believe in those principles.

Which in turn drives part of why I often don’t love my country. Too often, naïve Christians see modern America through the lens of our history, and miss the hard truth that our nation, both its government and its citizens, have turned their backs on those founding principles. We have become a nation with intrusive government, officially endorsed secularism, and a cradle to grave welfare state. Our money has become debt, and our debts are being repudiated. Our culture has become a moral cesspool, and our children spend their days in state institutions where the state’s instructors may not mention Jesus’ name.

All of which pales in comparison to our great evil. We live in a country where nine justices, chosen by presidents of both parties, approved by Senators from both parties, have determined that mothers may kill their unborn children at will. That, of course, is bad, wicked, Nazi-like government. The government, however, does not kill any of those children. My country is not just its government, but its people. Those people, over a million of them every year, kill their unborn children.  The rest of us know all about it. We know it happens in our neighborhoods, every day. Yet we go to bed each night wondering about this sale at the mall, that big game over the weekend, the latest release from this band. We honestly don’t care. Is this a country worthy of being loved?

We live in what once was a great country, which has now embraced a great evil. Can I love a country like that? Sadly, yes. Am I deeply, profoundly, ashamed to be part of such a country? Not as much as I should be.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ask RC: How can I encourage my pastor?

Pastors are human too. That means, of course, that they sin, but it also means that they have ordinary human needs. While no one joins the ministry in order to receive riches or accolades, honor or power, while shepherds are called to serve others rather than themselves, such doesn’t mean that they are not given to discouragement.

Most of us, most of the time, love our pastor, and are grateful for him.  Few of us, however, understand that he needs encouragement. What even fewer of us grasp is how we can be an encouragement to him. Here are three simple ideas.

First, pay attention to his labors. Though we do not have a duty to be at the church every time the doors are open, one thing that discourages pastors is our unwillingness to simply avail ourselves of his gifts.  When the pastor labors in his study to prepare a Bible study lesson, or writes a blog post, and the sheep under his care pay no attention, it is discouraging.  It says to the pastor, “I do not value what you do for me and my family. Your efforts have no effect because I won’t even be bothered to read, or to listen. I will download the sermons of celebrities that don’t know me. I will read the wisdom of those with book contracts.”  It’s not that your pastor is jealous of the gifts of others. It is instead that he is jealous for you and your growth in wisdom. A less gifted man who knows and loves you is far more potent in your life than a more gifted man far, far away.

Second, speak well of him to others. When you speak well to the pastor, if he is prone to discouragement, it might not have the impact you wish it to have. Such kind words can easily be written off as kindness rather than gratitude, as flattery rather than sincerity. But if word comes back to him, and it will, that you have spoken well of him, to others in the church, or even to those in your community, he will have to take your good word to heart.  It might also encourage those with whom you speak to have a deeper appreciation for your pastor, and that’s usually a good thing. Of course the one you should be speaking to the most about your pastor is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Pray with gratitude for the man Christ has given you, and the man will be encouraged.

Finally, pursue godliness. Because he loves you, what your pastor wants more than anything else is for you to grow in grace and wisdom, to become more like Jesus. What is most discouraging for him then isn’t how poorly he may be treated, how badly he may be honored, but how poorly his sheep are doing. He is encouraged most, however, when you are doing well. When he sees your wife’s beaming face, he knows it is because you are seeking to be a godly husband and father, and is encouraged. When he sees you turning the other cheek in your relationship with your pew neighbor, he is encouraged to know that the leaven of the kingdom is spreading among his flock. When he sees you visiting the widow and the orphan, he knows you are practicing true religion, and rejoices.

Don’t, in short, tell your pastor how smart he is, nor how brilliant his sermons are. Don’t tell him how funny he is, nor how dignified. Show him how his labor in showing you Jesus is making you more like Him. That is the desire of his heart, because that is the desire of His heart. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ask RC: Why are gas prices so high?

There are ultimately only two ways by which prices are determined, by market forces of supply and demand, or by government forces imposing themselves in markets. When the nation experiences the pain of rapid price increases it does not take long for people to grow angry at the oil companies. They become the scapegoat. Those slightly more sophisticated may give the oil companies a pass, but blame oil speculators, or futures traders. Neither, however, are to blame.

Prices are determined, ultimately, by the consumer. When prices go up, and we don’t change our behavior, we end up paying more than we’d like (which we always do. We’d all like everything we buy to be free) but not more than we are willing. When prices go up and we change our behavior, whether by car-pooling, fewer or shorter trips, or driving cars with better miles-per-gallon, we are decreasing demand.  We demonstrate our unwillingness to pay x for y amount of gasoline.

In between prices set by the market and prices set by the state, are prices set by the market, where the state is interfering. Right now prices are rising because of geo-political issues in the middle east. Iran rattles its sword at Israel. Washington rattles its sword at Iran. And those trading in oil futures think there is some chance that the result of all this will be decreased supply, which will create higher consumer prices. They then are willing to pay more for futures contracts (agreements to buy oil at a given price in the future) which makes prices rise now. In like manner, when Washington refuses to allow drilling in its vast holdings, or refuses to allow an oil pipeline to cross our border with Canada this too suggests less supply in the future, pushing prices up.

Doesn’t this mean the speculators are to blame? By no means. Speculators are not economic vampires sucking the life out of us. They perform an important economic service in spreading risk.  Oil producers begin exploring a given region, looking for oil. They don’t know what they will find, nor what what they find will be worth when they find it. A futures trader, however, can guarantee a specific return on their investment by buying the contract.  The futures trader also cannot predict what gas will be selling for when the gas is delivered. He is taking a chance, shouldering some of the risk. Sometimes he wins; sometimes he loses.

Why is it, I wonder, that those who complain against the oil companies or futures traders when gas is going up in price never sing their praises when prices are going down? When consumers grumble about greed, at least in a free market, they don’t realize that their own greed is showing. We are not owed gas, at this price or that price. No one is cheating us or gouging us when we freely buy their goods, whatever the price. Our calling, at all times, is to give thanks. There is one who knows not only today’s and tomorrow’s gas prices, but knows that we need food, and clothing. And He told us to stop our fretting, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Would that we hungered for these more than we hunger for lower prices.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Have Friends

It was, I suspect, somewhat early on in the growth of the “accountability” movement. I had heard the concept but had not given it much study. The deacon at the church I attended as a young married man apparently had studied it. And so, seemingly with the approval of the session, he sat perched by the entrance of the sanctuary.  He asked me, as he asked everyone passing by, with all the tact and enthusiasm of a carnival barker, if I had an accountability group. Being young and naïve I stopped and asked, “What’s that?”

“Well,” he explained, “it’s a group of men who are active in your life, that care for you enough to challenge you when you fall into sin. They watch out for you, support you, and encourage you to grow in grace and wisdom.” “In that case,” I retorted, “I do have an accountability group. It’s just that I call them my friends.”

Twenty years later I find myself having the same kind of conversation. When people find about the loss of my wife, they suggest that I find myself a group. Though I seek to mask my skepticism, it apparently shows through. “Really,” folks tell me, “you need people that you can talk to, that you can be real with. You need people you can count on to be there for you.” The answer is the same. I understand the need. And it is well met in my life, by my friends.

Now I have nothing against accountability, nor accountability groups. I am positively in favor of grieving, and have nothing against groups built around that theme. What puzzles me on both counts, however, is how we have lost what is natural, and sought to replace it with programs. What does it say about the culture, both inside and outside the church, that callings normally born by friends now are met by something so artificial, so inorganic. These groups strike me as the emotional equivalent of a multivitamin. Sure enough many of us are not getting enough vitamin D or zinc in our diets. But isn’t eating a few more veggies a better way to solve the problem?

Institutional solutions to relational problems at least do this for us- they expose our relational weaknesses. If our lifestyles make healthy meals a challenge, we need to change our lifestyles. If the transience and cyber-ness of our relationships make, well, friendship, a problem we need to change how we relate.  We need to love near, and serve near.

And if, on the other hand, we have healthy relationships- real, personal relationships where we encourage one another toward righteousness, where we are free to be ourselves, where we talk with depth, and love with sincerity, we yet have this to do- we need to give thanks. We need not create a gratitude committee at our local church to create a gratitude program. No, we need to give thanks. So here I do. I have friends and family that love and care for me and my children.  They check up on me. They look me in the eye when they talk to me. They hug me when they see me. They tell me they love me, and joyfully receive my love in return. They mourn when I mourn, as I rejoice when they rejoice. And I pray that they know that I give thanks to Him for them. I have friends, more and better than I deserve.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ten Suggestions For My Unbelieving Friends

My life, I am persuaded, would fall apart in a heap in a moment were I not a servant of the Lord. Though it is true that Jesus is the very font of my happiness, that is not why I follow Him, nor how I would encourage you to follow Him. Rather I trust in His finished work, and embrace His Lordship because I believe His Word to be true. I pray the same might soon be said of you.

That said, though I fear if you do not repent and believe on His name that your after-life will be too horrible to contemplate, because you are my friend I hope for you the best possible life on this side of the veil. What follows are things you can do, or at least try to do, without embracing Jesus. To the extent that you succeed, your life will be better.

First, live for something bigger than yourself. You may be persuaded that there is nothing above, no transcendent goal, but I suspect in your more honest moments you would confess that you, yourself, you are definitely not a sufficient reason to live. Serving self will make for a miserable life. If you fail, you will be bitter and frustrated. If you succeed, you will face the vanity of it all. And then you die.

Second, turn off the idiot box and its incestuous cousins. Television does not provide rest, but agitates. It is eye candy, which is as healthy for you as nose candy. Youtube, Halo, Hulu and Netflix are just more of the same. These are machines, made by men’s hands telling stories taken from men’s minds. There is more, even under the sun.

Third, show some respect. Learn to honor that which is honorable, and flee from the cynical, the lowbrow, the snarky and the knowing. When all your life is mockery you make a mockery of your life.

Fourth, take some time off. No one ever went to their grave wishing they had put in more hours at work. Bodies need rest, real rest. Yes, work hard, but give yourself a break..

Fifth, do as you are told. We all, by nature, are rebels. And so are the people in authority over us, whether in our families, in our work, or in our community.  Everyone has their weaknesses, including those above you in authority. Whatever you might gain in breaking the law, in defying your boss you lose in worrying about getting caught. I know it’s silly to stop at that red light in the middle of that cornfield. But the time you think you’ll shave off your trip will be counterbalanced by having to be hyper vigilant watching for the state police.

Sixth, be nice to people. Don’t hurt them, yell at them, gossip about them. I know people can be jerks. After all, I know me, and I know you. But we can still keep from hating each other, can’t we? Being bitter towards anyone, whether friends or foes, is eating poison and hoping they suffer.

Seventh, and this is a tough one, love on your spouse. You promised to forsake all others. Keep that promise, not just for your spouse’s sake, but for your own. I know how wonderful the mystery dance can be. But I can tell you that everyone who ever stepped out lost more than they gained, even if they were never caught. It destroys you, because it is breaking the most solemn vow you are able to make.

Eighth, don’t take what isn’t yours. Don’t go on the dole and steal from your neighbors through the proxy of the state. Don’t cheat on your taxes, or your time card. Don’t borrow stuff and fail to return it. And don’t steal from your future by constant debt. I know it’s in my holy book, but one need not believe the Bible to see the wisdom of owing no man anything save the obligation to love.

Ninth, tell the truth. There is so much less to keep track of, so much less shame. And you’ll find it rather a pleasant thing to have a reputation for truth telling. And while this may surprise you I would insist that it is also vital that “to thine own self be true”principle. Here I don’t mean the sophomoric notion that you must be true to who you are, but instead that you must be true toward you about you. Tell yourself the truth about yourself. Self-delusion is deadly, for it’s a box we can’t escape from.

Finally, be grateful. I’ve never known anyone, Christian or not, who grumbled and was happy. I’ve never known anyone either who was grateful and unhappy. If you follow the ninth suggestion, you will know that what you have is well more than you deserve.

You won’t, of course, be able to do all this. I don’t do all this. Only one person ever did all this. And He solved our inability by suffering the Father’s wrath that is due to us. Better than all the above is that you would confess your failure, and cling to that Man. He has promised us a wonderful life, a life filled with death and heartache, persecution and broken relationships. And Him.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ask RC: Is Social Security an old age insurance program?

No. While we are often encouraged to see it this way, the truth is that Social Security is a wealth transfer program, an entitlement program.  Money is taken from one person, and then given to another. To help us understand this it might be wise to go back to the beginning.

Social Security was a creation of FDR’s New Deal. On the income side it began with a payroll tax on employers, which was in turn matched by employees.  This money, however, was not set aside, invested, hidden under a mattress. No, it went right into the out-go side. A farmer can’t harvest his crop until after he grows it. With Social Security the aged harvested what they did not plant. My grandparent’s taxes, went, after Washington’s administrative cut, to checks written for their ancestors. The promise to them wasn’t that they would receive their savings back when they reached the appropriate age. Instead the federal government promised to tax the next generation, ad infinitum.

Washington showed its true colors when it, during the many years that it spent more money that it brought in, kept a budget for Social Security apart from the federal budget. When Social Security, because of the baby boom, began to run a surplus, Social Security’s income was brought into the federal budget. (Keep this in mind the next time someone suggests that for several years President Clinton ran a surplus. He did, in a manner of speaking. More money came in for several years than went out.  The promises to pay, however, far exceeded what was brought in. This would be as if I spent $5,000 on new furniture, while bringing in $3000. If my payments were delayed a year, and I spent only $2500 on my other expenses that month I could, though I shouldn’t, claim a surplus.)

That great big aardvark-in-a-python baby-boom bubble, however, is coming home to roost, as that generation approaches retirement. The cash they put in went to their parents, and to the annual budget. Washington did put IOU’s into a bank somewhere. Trouble is, what Washington means by IOU is, I Own You. That is, it is a promise to tax other people. Remember Washington has nothing that it did not first take from someone else.

Social Security has run headlong into three demographic walls. First is the baby boom already mentioned. Second is the pleasant reality that people are living much longer than they once did.  And thus, as in a Ponzi scheme, most Social Security recipients receive much more than they put in. Third, not needing actual children to care for them, thanks to the federal government, families radically decreased in size. And so we have fewer people paying for the needs of more people. Bankruptcy is inevitable.

What do we do? If push came to shove I would argue that we cannot accept Social Security. It is asking the state to take the wealth of others for our own gain. On the other hand, people were lead to believe, wrongly, that this was an old age insurance program. So I have no fervent beef with older people who depend on Social Security. I wish it were not so, but the greater wrong-doer here is the federal government.

If you are relatively young, however, you will not have to wrestle with the moral dilemma over whether to take Social Security. It won’t be there for you. When politicians insist that they will protect Social Security what they really mean is, “We’re going to keep taking your money, but we won’t have any to pay out to you.” No one ever wants to be in a position where they must trust Washington for anything. It is no insurance program. It’s a shakedown. Plan on being taken, but do not plan to receive. The Bible calls this going the extra mile, turning the other cheek. It’s what homeschoolers do every year, paying school taxes for schools they don’t use. The God of heaven and earth sees. And He, not Washington, it is who gives us our daily bread.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why can’t we all just get along?

The story is told of the man who was rescued from a desert island twenty years after being shipwrecked. As he proudly showed his rescuers around the island they came to three grass huts. Our Robinson Crusoe pointed out that one of the huts was his home, and the other his church. When asked what the third hut was he replied, with a note of disdain, “That’s where I used to go to church.”

We can’t get along, and the reason is simple enough- we are sinners.  Now let’s break that simple answer down a bit, working back to front. What do we mean by sinners? I don’t, of course, mean unsaved. Of course believers, in the eyes of God, are just. That’s what we mean by “justified,” to be declared just. But Luther himself affirmed that Christians are simul justis et peccator, at the same time just and sinner. That sin causes us to believe things that are false. It means we have appetites and desires that are dishonorable. It impacts what we think, feel, say and do.

“Are” of course, reminds us that this is presently true of us. Sin is not behind us yet. We still struggle with it. A day is coming when we will no longer be sinners, but for now, while here, we are.

But what do I mean by “we?” Because we are sinners we are tempted to conclude that the reason we can’t get along is because people are sinners, and by people we mean, other people. “I” could get along with “you” if you would stop doing what you are doing.  This process, stay with me as we get grammatical here, happens in the plural as well. That is, “we” could get along with “you” plural if “you” plural would quit doing what “you” plural are doing.

Now the truth is that the other guys, whether we are talking to or about them, are sinners. There are heretics in the land, wild elephants let loose in God’s vineyard.  There are also sheep who think it wiser to calm the elephants down, rather than drive them out of the vineyard.  To be more clear, one reason “we” can’t get along is because sometimes we’re not we together. Wheat doesn’t and can’t get along with tares. To profess the name of Christ is not to possess the name of Christ. Because they are sinners, wisdom means recognizing that. It means some appropriate level of skepticism, some fruitful usage of shibboleths.

But we must not lose sight of the hard truth that I am a part of we. I too am a sinner. I need to be skeptical most of all about myself, and my motives.  My moral indignation over your error, or your refusal to confront evil just may be a smokescreen to keep me from having to confront my own evil. A necessary consequent of “We are sinners” is “I am a sinner.” And as a sinner my desire is, if I must confess my sinfulness, to forget that confession as quickly and as deeply as I can.

There is a right perspective on the Elephant Room 2. I’m happy to confess that host, questioner and answerer all badly dropped the ball. The problem is that I’m happy to confess this is because it distracts from all the balls falling on my own feet. Because they are sinners, we need to call out sin. Because I am a sinner, I must always confess my own sin, to be on guard against proclaiming before our Lord, “I thank you Lord that I am not like other men. I roundly condemn heresy wherever I see it, and in turn condemn those who won’t condemn heresy. I read all the orthodox blogs. And tithe only to the purest coalitions.” Instead, may we, those who name the name of Christ, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, cry out, “Lord, be merciful to us, sinners.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine the Brave

As a rule, men are relational dolts. From an early age girls develop sophisticated communications arrays, whereby they are able to simultaneously translate what anyone says, whether with words, expression or body language, into what they actually mean. They know from birth that when a genteel southern woman tells them, “Well bless your heart” that war has been declared. Men, on the other hand, are tone deaf and body language blind.

Women in turn understand the intricacies of social interaction. They don’t have to be told to write thank you notes; they compose them on the way home from a dinner with friends. They don’t have to be told to send out birth announcements- they start filling them out while in labor. Men, on the other hand, bring their favorite beer to a buddy’s barbecue not as a “host gift” but to make sure there is enough. We watch SportsCenter during labor.

Which is why, perhaps, western culture has constructed one day a year for us, to make it simple. We know our marching orders- a card, flowers or candy, perhaps a gift and a nice romantic dinner for two. We can do that, once, or twice, or four times a year- birthday, Mother’s Day, and the hardest one, our anniversary. When we succeed on these days we tell our wives that we really are trying. We really do love them, and want them to know. We’re fighting our man weaknesses as best as we are able.

What we ought to be doing, however, is fighting her woman weaknesses. The Bible calls us to dwell with our wives with understanding (I Peter 3:7).  Women, by and large, crave security. They are given to relational worry. When husbands and wives fight, often the husband is merely annoyed, while the wife fears the end is near.  Peter doesn’t call us to turn our wives into men, but calls men to see it from her point of view. We fight her fears by putting her at ease.

A godly husband, then is not one who four times a year takes up the aggravating task of trying to be relational, in order to keep his wife from getting grumpy. Instead a godly husband is tasked with the constant call of communicating his love and commitment to his wife. This is not a few days a year, but every day. Too often husbands get frustrated, even offended by this hard reality.  “Doesn’t she think I’m a man of my word? I promised ‘Until death do us part’ and I meant it.”

Such reasoning shows our relational weakness. She doesn’t want to know that she can count on you to grimly see your vow through to the end. She wants to know that you would make it all over again today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. She doesn’t want to know that you will stay with her, but that you want to stay with her.

A year ago on Valentine’s Day I bought my wife a nice gift, and we shared a nice meal together.  There were not candles on a linen covered table. There was no table. Denise was in a hospital bed, having been diagnosed with leukemia just days before.  Chemotherapy had already begun to erode her appetite for food. Assurance, however, she still desired.  She apologized for our surroundings for our celebration. What I heard was “Please tell me we will be okay.” I replied, “Our location is this- we are in the loving hands of our heavenly Father, who will never leave us nor forsake us. And I, by His grace, will joyfully walk with you every step of the way. There is no place I would rather be than right beside you.”

My counsel for you today is to get the flowers. Enjoy a nice meal together. But tomorrow stop, hold her chin, look her in the eye and tell her, “I give thanks to God for you. I would marry you all over again. You are a joy in my life.” And then, the day after that, do it again. Repeat.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Little Deaths and Big Deaths

Whether its source is old-fashioned American individualism, new-fangled notions of libertarian social theory, or the pietistic error of sealing the gospel off from positive social change and sealing our sins off from negative social change, we have, as a culture and a church come to the dubious conclusion that what goes on behind closed doors is nobody’s business, and affects only those behind the doors.  We, as a culture and a church think when we take our pants off with someone not our spouse, as long as everyone is there voluntarily, the worst thing that can happen is that God might get miffed at us. And He, of course, is rather famous for having a rather forgiving nature.

Six innocent men went to their death at Ai because a different man, Achan, took for himself booty from Jericho. Who would know, I suspect, Achan wondered. Why would we think sexual immorality is any different? “Husbands and wives stray. What’s the big deal? Happens all the time. “ It does indeed happen all the time. And when it does bombs explode in the homes of little children.  Hearts are scarred. Fear replaces the departing spouse. These children grow up thinking the deepest betrayal possible to be normal, acceptable, just a part of life. That there is nothing they can depend on. They grow up believing that mommy, or daddy loved their sexual appetites more than they loved them. And they believe rightly.

It could, of course be worse. One need not be married to witness the extent of the destruction that follows in the path of sexual immorality.  Simply visit the inner city. There boys without fathers grow up to too often become criminals. They likewise become baby-daddys, creating still more fatherless children. There girls, never having the loving nurture of a father, too often, seek comfort and connection in fornication. And we, if we are concerned at all, are concerned about the economic disadvantages of all things. We think condoms are the solution.

It could be, indeed it is, worse still. Men and women, not married to one another, rollick. Believing their behavior affects only them, they are in turn flabbergasted when another person enters the equation. Here though the child does not end up growing up in a single parent home. No, here the result is murder. 

Go and stand outside your local abortion mill. You are unlikely to meet there the poor, bewildered girl whose parents threatened to kick her out of the home and who was lied to, told that all she had inside her was undifferentiated cells. No, what you will meet there is someone angry that anyone would dare discourage her from murdering her shame. Babies both come from sleeping around, and get in the way of sleeping around. So they must be dispatched. Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of our desires.

 You cannot separate the great evil of abortion from the raging fornication that defines us as a people.  Thus more birth control is not the answer. You cannot bring the fire of lust to your bosom without knowing that not only will you be burned, but that the same fire will consume your own home. You cannot witness the flames of Moloch that burn the unborn and forget it all starts with a spark, of illicit desire.

Sexual folly gives birth not just to our own deaths (Proverbs 7: 21-27), but to the deaths of the innocent. Our groping hands are not mere private moral stains. They are instead covered with the blood of our own children. Our cultural obsession with sex isn’t a social problem. It is the war machine that creates the wretched daily stench of thousands of dead bodies, buried in dumpsters. God give us the grace to repent.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ask RC: Should a Christian become good friends with pagans?

The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14). The text at least ought to raise the question in our minds. Would Paul’s admonition here preclude close, personal friendships with those outside the kingdom? To answer properly we need only to answer this question- is such a friendship being bound together? Is it a partnership? Is it fellowship?

This text, for instance, clearly forbids believers from marrying outside the faith. There is no human relationship more tightly bound than husband and wife. I would suggest in turn that this text does not preclude us from doing ordinary business with unbelievers. I am not bound together with my internet service provider. I am not in partnership with the local newspaper. I am not in fellowship with the dairy farmer who provides my family with milk. Where it gets tricky is in between these two extremes. Can a Christian doctor share a practice with a non-Christian? And can we have close personal friendships with those outside the faith?

Though it’s not terribly dramatic, the answer, as usual, lies in wisdom. Nearly seventeen years ago, on the day I wed my dear wife, the man standing next to me was not a Christian. When we first became friends in college he professed to be a Christian. After college he left that profession behind. Our friendship continued and it continues to this day. I think of this man often, and even prayed for him and his family yesterday during corporate worship, that God would be pleased to grant him new life. We speak on the phone a few times each year, catching up on the news, and remembering our times together in the past. On the one hand, this relationship is “close.” On the other, it is not.

My life, day to day, is not caught up in his. My focus, day to day, is on the lives of my wife, my children, and the saints at my church. I have neighbors that are “friends” that are outside the faith, neighbors that I likewise pray for. There is nothing wrong with such friendships, as long as they are loose. But my soul can only commune with those whose souls commune with our Lord. Whatever we might have in common, in terms of the image of God, with unbelievers, we are defined by our faith.

Each Lord’s Day we remember that on that day we gather with all the saints around the world, the church militant. We remember that we are all lifted up into the heavenly places, to the New Jerusalem where we meet our Lord, and join together with the souls of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12: 22-24.) We remember that we join together with the church triumphant. We remember that we are one body, because we confess one faith. Our loyalty, our hesed, or covenant love, is for those within the body. We are indeed free to reach out to those outside the kingdom, remembering that such once were we. We are not free, however, to juggle our loyalties.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Kingdom Notes: Treasure In, Treasure Out

My beautiful wife loved nothing more than to beautify.  She devoted herself to creating a beautiful home. She planted flowers, bushes and trees outside. Inside she hung, placed, painted and etched.  Even when she was not well, this was where her heart was. Over the course of the last nine months of her life, most of it spent in sundry hospitals, she watched, I suspect, more Home and Garden Television than all of HGTV’s executives combined.

Her pursuit of beauty, however, did not have its end in a pretty house, but in a godly home.  She worked to beautify me, and our children.  This morning while I shaved I looked to the shelf she placed between our sinks. There she had placed two small plaques. One reads- “Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). The other reads, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25). I cried in gratitude to hear her voice, and to hear His gospel.

As the tears dried, and I began to mentally work on this brief piece, I thought about the simplicity of it all. My eyes passed over God’s Word, and everything changed. I thought in turn about what usually enters not just my eye gate, but ear gate. Like most Christians I live in a decadent culture, and consume far too much of its “wisdom.” My eyes are filled with images made in Hollywood, my ears filled with the wisdom of Nashville. My soul is a veritable sluice gate through which pours more filth than my ancestors could have dreamed of.  It should not surprise me then that I don’t speak with the wisdom, the grace, the discretion, the honor with which my ancestors spoke.

Nor should it surprise me that my wife spoke into my life such graces. She adorned her home with God’s Word, and so adorned her life with the words of life.  A godly woman builds up her house. She did not know, when she placed those plaques on the shelf, that one day I would be anxious about living without her. She did not know that the loss of her light would dim my hopes. She did not intend to whisper to me this morning from a better country. But she did. She whispered the gospel to me.

The next time you are alone in your car, turn on the oldies station. Sing along with as many songs as you can. Then turn off the radio, and begin to sing the Psalms.  Then ask yourself what I ask, having failed the test so miserably- who has the words of eternal life, the Beatles, or Jesus?

Uptight evangelicals, which might just be a synonym for fundamentalists, are quick to decry the baleful influence of the broader culture. It’s all too terribly true. Better, however, that we should celebrate the influence of God’s Word.  Treasure in, treasure out. Hope in Him. He cares for you.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Kingdom Notes: Be Reasonable

In the great war launched in Genesis 3 between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent there are two other great battles. On one side of the battlefield stands the enemy. The seed of the serpent hate God, would kill Him if they could. They hate His people, and all that they stand for. But they have a battle waging inside themselves because, for all their sin, all their fallenness and depravity they still bear the remains of the image of God. Their great dilemma is that because they are made in God’s image they want to live in a world that makes sense, that is understandable, and coherent. Because, however, the objective reality is that they are under God’s wrath, they must construct a world with no God, or at least, no judgment.  It is impossible, irrational.

The other great battle is the mirror of this one. We are the seed of the woman, reborn, remade, reflecting the image of the Son, the express image of His glory. But we still sin.  We have an old man with which to do battle. We want to serve God, to manifest His reign, to become like Jesus. But, we also want to be loved, to be respected, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, to be normal. Which weakness the devil is rather adept at exploiting.

Consider, as an example, politics.  Because Jesus is our King, because He has set us free, we don’t, generally speaking, want bloated government. Because we aspire to honesty, we want a government of law, that will stay within its Constitutional bounds. Because we honor our fathers in the faith who labored through such issues with great care, we understand that just war is defensive war. Trouble is, the broader culture has veered so far from these basic ideals that to espouse them is not to be considered wrong, but to be considered unsophisticated, ignorant, crazy, unreasonable.

And so we retreat. We back down. We begin to scout out a new line of defense. We move leftward. Oh we’re careful to steer clear of the convictions of the seed of the serpent. We don’t go over to the dark side. We just get close enough that they won’t laugh at us.  We do all that we can to maintain loyalty to Christ, while looking sane to the world. And we fail.

Entitlement programs, all of them, even the ones we like, are unconstitutional, unbiblical and indefensible.  We cannot defend stealing from our neighbors and burdening our children with crushing debt for these programs, while politely arguing that we shouldn’t for those programs.  Preventative assassinations, bombings and wars are also unconstitutional, unbiblical and indefensible. We cannot defend spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives for this strategic objective, but object to doing the same for that strategic objective. Abortions, all of them, even the ones that hide our shame, keep the numbers down among the underprivileged, or take down the human result of rape or incest are unconstitutional, unbiblical and indefensible. We cannot support candidates or legislation that seek to slow, limit, regulate murder.

My point, ultimately, isn’t about politics, but about our unbelief, our fear. We are willing to confess Christ before men, as long as the Christ we confess is palatable, normal, reasonable. We are willing to be Abraham’s kin, as long as we can pitch our tents close to Sodom. I fear, however, that while we think we are Lots, the truth is we are Lost.

We live in a post-Christian west. It will become Christian again not when we can gently reason the world back home, but when we are again willing to be fed to the beasts in their stadia.  Our faith is eminently rational. It is not in the least reasonable. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ask RC: Does God really decide, and care who wins a football game?

I began asking this question myself long before Tim Tebow was even born. I was a little boy, deeply committed to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember praying that they would beat the Oakland Raiders in an upcoming playoff game. When my prayer ended fear set in- what if there were a little boy just like me, somewhere in Oakland, praying that the Raiders would beat the Steelers? My father comforted me by explaining that no real Christian would ever pray for the Raiders.

The truth is God does decide, and He does care. He not only decides who will win the Super Bowl, He decides who will win the game of hearts I play with my children. He decides, or rather decided, everything. There are no places, let alone no playing fields, where God stays on the sidelines. 

We need to remember that everything that happens must have a sufficient cause. And we must remember that every sufficient cause eventually traces its way back to God before time. This happens because that happened. That happened because this other thing happened. Eventually this takes us to “God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”

Of course God works in and through secondary means.  He gives the gifts. He creates the weather. The one who numbers the hairs on our heads softens the ground where a defensive back slips, and a playoff game ends on an eighty yard touchdown pass. There is no thing, no cause, over which He is not sovereign.

Isn’t it, though, somehow beneath His dignity to be concerned with such things? Yes, of course it is. God has only one concern- the manifestation of His glory. And that is how He determines what will happen in a football game, and what will happen in an election, and what will happen in a cancer ward. His goal isn’t ultimately to make little boys in Pittsburgh happy, or little boys in Denver happy. His goal, which cannot be thwarted, is to show forth who He is.

Does that mean He plays favorites for the likes of outspoken Christians like Tim Tebow or Drew Brees? Of course. Because God loves those who are His, even as He loves His own Son, God is certain to favor them. That favor, however, isn’t a path to winning a football game, but is instead the path to true victory, becoming more like Jesus. God isn’t glorified in giving Tim Tebow unlikely victories that somehow redound to God’s glory. No, God is glorified in making His children, including Tim Tebow, more like His Son. Sometimes that means leading them to the thrill of victory. Sometimes it means leading them through the agony of defeat.

The more difficult and pertinent question for me isn’t does God care, but should I?  I don’t pray for Steeler victories. I do pray that I, along with my parents and my children, will make memories together. And I pray that we would have grace to accept His providence, even when the Steelers lose.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ask RC: Sin in Heaven?

The Question: If "The Fall" was caused by just one sin from the very first humans and all humans since have sinned, what are our chances of remaining sinless in heaven?  I assume we would still have our gift of free will, so surely someone would sin?

There is no chance whatsoever that we will, once we are in heaven, will fall again into sin, for at least two important reasons. First, God has so promised. The picture we are given of the eternal blessing we receive in Christ includes our being utterly pure, white, without spot or blemish. That we will stay in this state will at least come to pass on the basis of God’s promise. Remember when God stood with Joshua looking out at the city of Jericho and its rather substantial wall. God said, “See, I have delivered the city into your hands.” God’s Word is so certain that what He has spoken, though it has not yet come to pass, that it can be spoken of as in the past tense. I call this tense, “God’s prophetic past.”

Secondly, and perhaps ironically, it is precisely our free will which will be the means by which God’s promise is brought to pass. All moral beings, men, angels and even God Himself are free to choose. All of them, however, in their freedom, always choose according to their nature. God, for instance, could sin, if He so desired. But He does not so desire, for He is altogether good. He is “free” to do evil in one sense, but not free in another sense. No one forces Him to do good, but He will always and only do good.

When we enter into our reward, we will be fully and finally sanctified. That is, we will be fully and finally holy. There will be no more sin, no more desire for sin in us. We will have no more sin nature in us; we will be altogether good. We, like God Himself, will be free to do evil, were we so to desire, but we would never so desire because we will be altogether good. This is one of the greatest promises of eternity, that the struggle within ourselves between the old and the new man, between the Spirit and the flesh will be over. We will be at peace; we will enter into rest. Our warfare will have ended.

The more difficult question is how it is that Adam and Eve, who were created good, could in turn fall into sin in the first place. That answer is well outside the scope of these little missives. I do, however, address it in my book Almighty Over All, as well as in our sound teaching series, “How Strong Is He?” if you are looking to look into that conundrum. It is good and right for us to mourn the fall, to look deeply into all the destruction wrought by our parents’ first sin. But we must in turn look forward to the fullness of the promises of God. We will walk with Him in the garden again, unashamed and at peace. This is what Jesus has brought to pass for us, His beloved bride. We will be what we were made to be, and will stay so forevermore. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Kingdom Notes: Forty Days of Mourning

My deepest gratitude to all of you who have walked with me through my grief. Your prayers and encouragement have buoyed me up in the long and dark hours. It is possible that the below will be my last piece committed to this difficult journey.  Rest assured, however, that the deep wound will not fully heal on this side of glory, and even then my scar, like His, and yours, will beautify eternity.
Because we are modernists and Gnostics we love to pretend that symbols and rituals have no meaning, that all that matters is what is in our hearts. Because we are humans, and image bearers, we find we cannot escape symbols and rituals. When my wife and I were married almost twenty years ago there were precious few surprises.  Black tux for me, white dress for her. Traditional hymns were sung, traditional vows were taken. She processed with her father, and recessed with me. And in between, we exchanged rings- simple, traditional, gold rings. The only twist remained within the tradition, inside the ritual. Inside our rings we had inscribed Joshua 24:15- As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Too many pundits tell us that if we want to have a successful marriage we need to make Jesus the center of it.  He is the glue, the center, the guide. There is wisdom here, but also danger. Is Jesus a means to a happy marriage? No, He is the end. Jesus does not exist for our marriages. Rather, our marriages exist for Him. Denise and I married not for ourselves, but that we might serve the Lord. We committed from the beginning not that I would die to self for her sake, nor that she would die to self for mine. Instead we would both strive to die to self for Him. We would pursue not our own happiness, but His glory. And in losing our individual lives, we found our one life together.

Jesus did not, forty days ago, take Denise from me. She was never mine to begin with. He placed her under my care. He blessed me with her wisdom, with her example, with her love. But she was then what she is now, and will always be, His. 

I too belong to Him. I asked Him to give me forty days to mourn- to devote time, space, energy to entering into my loss. Those forty days have drawn to a close. Crossing this barrier, stepping out of the ash-pile, however, hasn’t changed my heart.  Indeed despite recognizing the objective wisdom of my friend who suggested that I give myself over to mourning for forty days, I find myself not wanting to let go. I know, as I knew from the beginning that moving past this forty days will not end my sadness. I fear, however foolishly however, that it will end her, that she will pull further away from me.  I fear that I would be giving up the ghost, which seems to be all I have left of her. The dust of her death has become my familiar familiar.

The irony is the matching fears. That is, in putting that ring on Denise’s finger, in that ritual pregnant with promise and meaning, I was afraid. Could I be the kind of godly husband she deserved?  Would I be faithful in leading her? It is the same fear that haunts me now. Will I honor her memory by being the man she helped make? Will I be faithful to her memory, and our pledge? And the mirror of that fear is in the mirror of the ritual. On this, my fortieth day of mourning my beloved, I remove the ring she put on my finger. I cried through putting her ring on, even as I cry in taking mine off.

The ring reminded me not that my life was committed to Denise, but that our lives were committed to the Lord. Its absence, I pray, will remind me still of the message inside. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. God called me to be a husband for almost twenty years. He has called me to be a servant, a soldier, a disciple and a friend for always. Pray that I would be faithful.