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.