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March 27, 2006

This little devotional, which I wrote partially a couple of years ago and finished this morning, was primarily for my own benefit. It was inspired initially, as I recall, by reading John Piper’s book Desiring God.

I can almost never bring myself to buy greeting cards. When it is Aileen’s birthday, I either tell her how I feel or I buy a blank card and fill it with my own words. For some reason it just seems too fake to give her a card with a little poetic inscription written by someone else - someone who has never met her and knows nothing about her. It seems that a card like that really means nothing to me, and I would rather give her a card that has come from my heart instead of someone else’s. I prefer to invest the time and affection in expressing myself for her benefit.

Have you ever stopped to consider what it must be like to work for Hallmark or another of the companies that create greeting cards? Imagine spending your whole day attempting to come up with wonderful statements of deep feeling – love, remorse, sympathy - yet without feeling any of the emotions. Imagine having to write words that express sympathy, yet not feeling any sympathy yourself. Or imagine having to write words that can express the deep, passionate love a man has for his wife as they celebrate fifty years of marriage, but without having ever experienced that sort of love yourself. It must be unspeakably difficult to spend the whole day writing words of love and passion but then return alone to an empty home and a life lived alone.

I fear that all too often we, as Christians, worship God in just this way. So often we sing songs with the most wonderful lyrics. We sing “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” But when we sing those words, so often it is as if we are single men writing a greeting card to celebrate a fiftieth anniversary – though the words may sound wonderful, they are devoid of any true meaning to us. When we sing “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” do we even try to understand just how amazing God’s grace is? Have we experienced that grace and allowed it to transform our lives? Do we know that the very grace we sing about is the only thing keeping us from an eternity of separation from God? Do we feel deep love and affection to the giver of Grace? Or do we merely speak the words?

True worship relies on both feeling and understanding, or as Jesus said, on spirit and truth. Worship that is devoid of feeling and emotion will be dead worship, for the God we serve is worthy of feelings that express His worth. It is the very height of hypocrisy to pay lip-service to God when we do not truly feel affection for Him. At the same time worship needs to be thoughtful. While it engages our feelings it must also engage our minds. Our feelings must have their basis in what we know about God so that the more we know about Him the greater will be our feelings of affection for Him.

Before I married my wife I heard time and again from the wonderful older couples in our church that after forty, fifty or even sixty years of marriage, they continued to love each other more deeply and more intimately. I marveled that this could be true, yet through the first years of my marriage I have already seen that it is not only possible but it is the way God intended marriage to be. I love my wife in a deeper way now than I did the day we exchanged vows. In the ensuing eight years we have faced trials together and have spent countless thousands of hours talking, laughing and crying together. The more I learn about Aileen and the more time I spend with her the greater my feelings of affection for her. To know her is to love her, and to know her more is to love her more.

Great knowledge of God must produce great feelings of affection for Him. These feelings of affection give me the burning desire to worship Him. I long to express my feelings, not as a means to some devious or selfish end, but simply as an expression of the affection I have for Him. As such, worship is not a means to an end, but it is an end in itself.

March 20, 2006

I love, respect and appreciate the ministry of John Piper. I have learned a great deal through his teaching and am convinced that I will continue to do so in the years ahead. Much of what Piper has taught has resounded deeply within my soul and has helped shape and mold my faith. Yet despite all of this, I find his books difficult to read and truthfully, often finding reading them to be something of a chore. I don’t really understand it. Still, because I have always benefitted from reading his books, I do try to read new ones as they are released.

Yesterday, after seeing it on my shelf for the better part of a year (first in pre-release and now in a printed copy), I decided I would read God Is The Gospel (perhaps because we are moving this week and it is one of the few books that has escaped my wife’s attempt to corral and contain my entire library in cardboard boxes). I was only a few pages into the book when I found a passage, a question, that left me nearly undone. Piper is discussing the gospel and the full message it contains. He asks about heaven:

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

That question led me to put down the book and to spend a few moments in self-examination. I had to admit, to my great shame, that there are many times in my life where I feel that I could be perfectly content to consider a Christless heaven—a heaven that did not include the one who purchased my redemption so that I could be there in the first place.

This took me back to the very first page of God Is The Gospel. There Piper, having challenged the reader to understand that “The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ,” says, “In place of this, we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delight in many lesser things, especially the delight in our being made much of.” Of all the gifts God offers, I continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but Himself. I have a faulty understanding of what it means to be loved. “Our fatal error is believing that wanting to be happy means wanting to be made much of. It feels so good to be affirmed. But the good feeling is finally rooted in the worth of self, not the worth of God. This path to happiness is an illusion.”

And he is right. And so we return to the question: If I could have a heaven that was built around all I wanted and all I loved and all I desired at my weaker moments, would this satisfy me? I know in my heart of hearts that it would not, for I know that it would not be heaven if Christ were not present. But in my day-to-day life, I know that I often consider heaven as being a place where what is most important to me is what is most important to me here on earth. This would be true, if only Christ were always foremost in my thoughts here and now.

Piper challenges Christian leaders:

Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No? How do we understand the gospel and the love of God? Have we shifted with the world from God’s love as the gift of himself to God’s love as the gift of a mirror in which we like what we see? Have we presented the gospel in such a way that the gift of the glory of God in the face of Christ is marginal rather than central and ultimate?

In heaven it will be Christ Himself, not His gifts, that are the supreme pleasure. This makes our culture’s obsession with heaven all the more ridiculous. Surveys of North Americans continue to show that most people want to go to heaven and most feel that they indeed will go to heaven. Yet the vast majority of those surveyed are not Christians. Why would a person want to go to heaven if the ultimate pleasure of heaven is a person they hate or deny? What happiness would be found in such a place? What joys could there be for one who has refused to take joy in Christ while sojourning here on earth? Maybe the most difficult question to face is whether this misunderstanding of heaven is one that exists only outside the church, or whether we, as those who profess Christ, have made heaven out to be a place that exists primarily for our pleasure—a place that substitutes something other than Christ as the great and final gift.

Piper closes this short section with a reflection. “Nothing fits a person to be more useful on earth than to be more ready for heaven. This is true because readiness for heaven means taking pleasure in beholding the Lord Jesus, and beholding the glory of the Lord means being changed into his likeness.”

I wrote this article this morning after spending some quiet time with God. I can’t express the longing that I felt in this time to desire Christ above all else. I can’t describe just how much I wanted to long to be with Christ and to desire Him as the great and final gift of heaven and earth. How I wanted to know Him in that way here and now, and not to have to wait for heaven to delight in the Savior in such a way that He is what I want above all else. Oh, that I would desire Christ above health and friends and food and leisure and beauty and and pleasure and all manner of earthly satisfaction!

March 19, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (or so) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is The Rebelution, the blog of Alex and Brett Harris, “homeschooled Christian teenagers from Oregon, have grown up in the stimulating environment of a ministry household.” They are the kid brothers of Josh Harris. Yes, that Josh Harris. Alex and Brett are committed to speaking out for God to their generation. The Rebelution allows them to apply their gifts to the challenge of calling young adults to use their teenage years to prepare themselves for all of life to the glory of God. So what is a Rebelution, you might ask? According to Alex and Brett, it is “a widespread teenage rebellion against the low expectations of an ungodly culture.” Hey, that sounds good to me! I could have used a little bit of that kind of rebellion when I was in my teens.

For the next few days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from The Rebelution in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

March 16, 2006

While I currently work as a web designer, and despite receiving training in another area of the computer field (network administration, for those who may be interested), my most significant training was in history. It was history that I studied while in college and it is, in many ways, still my first love. In the eight or ten years since I completed college I have continued to read in history, and in particular, in church history. Over the past few days I have been working my way through the first volume of The Baker History of the Church. It is a little bit intimidating to find myself only a few chapters into a five-volume set and this has caused me to step back and consider the importance of the study of history.

This morning, as I read about the first-century church, I was struck by the blessedness of living in our generation. As I study the very early Christians I begin to see again just what a legacy we have as Christ followers. The faith as we know it today was not simply handed to us, but was developed over hundreds and thousands of years. The Scriptures have been studied again and again and again, and the general pattern has been incremental steps forward and often larger steps backward. Sometimes God sees fit to allow the church to take a giant step forward, as in the days of the Reformation, but more often the church has slowly and deliberately developed doctrine that accords to Scripture. Today we have unprecedented access to the Scripture and to resources dealing with the Bible. For this we ought to be profoundly grateful.

Here, then, are some of the reasons that I believe we need to engage in the study of history:

God Tells Us To: The Bible continually exhorts believers to search out and remember the past. The Old Testament in particular is filled with references to God commanding the Israelites to remember His deeds of the past. He instituted ceremony after ceremony, festival after festival, that caused His people to look to what He had done in the past. Veiled in many of these ceremonies and festivals was a glimpse of what would happen in the future. And so, when we look to the past, we may also glimpse just a little bit of what God promises us in the future.

“For inquire, please, of bygone ages,
and consider what the fathers have searched out.
For we are but of yesterday and know nothing,
for our days on earth are a shadow.
Will they not teach you and tell you
and utter words out of their understanding?”
(Job 8:8-10)

To Understand The Present Climate: Because so much of the history and theology of the church is defined in terms related to error and great difficulty, we should study the past to understand the present. The study of history, when done right, is always a humbling experience. It allows us to understand and sympathize with the plight of those who came before us. It helps us understand the blessings we enjoy today that were not always enjoyed by our brothers and sisters in days past. It also prevents us from developing a view of the faith that is irrationally focused on our day and ignores the long, storied history of the church.

To Understand the Future: History is not just a study of the past in an attempt to understand the present, but is also an attempt to understand the future. When we see the patterns of days gone by, we can begin to formulate ideas about where current trends will lead. By understanding the past we begin to understand the future.

To Understand Providence: As Christians we are often guilty of dwelling in the present and looking eagerly to the future while forgetting all about the past. But to do this is to lose sight of the valuable teaching of the past. In past days God revealed Himself in mighty ways, continually providing for His people through trial and persecution. When we study the past, we can see many of the ways in which God’s providence has been already displayed. This can serve as a valuable teaching tool as we prepare to face trials or persecution in our day. It can and should spur us to greater love and appreciation of God and give us greater confidence in His promises. As He has been faithful to men and women of days gone by, He will be faithful to us and to our children. This assurance gives us great stability in our faith.

To Understand Error: In many ways the history of the church is a history of action and reaction. Much of Christian theology has been developed and strengthened in reaction to error and heresy. When we visit the past we can see how error has arisen in the church and we can see which errors have already arisen and have been decided by a consensus of the church. This can be valuable as we face the inevitable error in our own day. Many Christians engage anew in battles over doctrine for which they could receive a great deal of guidance from great theologians of days past. By studying what has happened, we can avoid future errors and even the patterns that precede error.

To Understand People: We all enjoy considering who we would choose to sit for a meal with, were we able to select from all the people who are living or have lived in the past. The reality, of course, is that we cannot speak with our heroes who have lived before us. Yet by studying history we can come to know and understand them. We can come to see the parts of their lives that brought glory to God and the parts that brought Him dishonor. We can see what led to their rise to prominence within the church and perhaps the character flaws that led to their downfall. We can learn much not just from history, but from specific people who lived in a period of history.

To Understand Endurance: Since Christ left the earth, Christians have lived in anticipation of His return. Those who lived in the first century expected that this event would be imminent. And yet, two millenia later, we continue to wait. As we look to history we arm ourselves with the knowledge that Christ’s return may still be far off. As we see how men and women have persevered throughout the history of the church, we are strengthened with endurance, knowing that we, too, shall be witnesses to Christ’s return when the Father sees fit.

March 15, 2006

I recently read David Kupelian’s The Marketing of Evil, a book which disusses how so many of the social ills we see in our society have not merely happened, but have been actively marketed and promoted by men and women with specific, unbiblical agendas (you can read my review of this book here). One pearl of wisdom which Kupelian repeats throughout the book is that the person who frames the terms of a debate almost always wins that debate. In other words, the person who is allowed to set the language in a debate over a particular social issue, will almost always be able to prevail in winning that debate. While we could choose any number of examples to support this, perhaps the most obvious is in the debate over abortion.

The right to abortion was not fought over the right of a mother to kill her child. No lawyer marched into court and demanded that a mother have the right to allow a doctor to probe her womb for a helpless baby and dismember the fetus. And today, as debate rages over partial birth abortion, no one demands that a woman be able to give birth to a premature baby and have the doctor crush that child’s skull. The child has been left out of the equation altogether. Instead, the debate always has been and seemingly always will be over a woman’s right to choose. It was never presented an issue of life or death, but an issue of choice. And who, in a free and democratic culture, could deny a person the right of free choice? The debate was over and won before it began. It was over when the abortionists framed the terms of the debate. Kupelian says, “In one of the most successful marketing campaigns in modern political history, the “abortion rights” movement—with all of its emotionally compelling catchphrases and powerful political slogans—has succeeded in turning what once was a crime into a fiercely defended constitutional right.”

This battle was won with catchphrases such as:

  • “Women must have control over their own bodies.”
  • “Safe and legal abortion is every woman’s right.”
  • “Who decides? You decide!”
  • “Abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her doctor.”
  • “Freedom of choice—a basic American right.”

Interestingly, feminists are now turning against choice. Choice, it seems, has come to haunt feminists. Why? Quite simply, far too many women, in the opinion of these feminists, are choosing to forsake their careers in favor of full-time motherhood. Choice has spilled over the from the abortion debate and has impacted all of feminism. Some women, it seems, are not using their right to choose in a way that pleases the more radical feminists.

In the final days of 2005, Linda Hirshman wrote a harsh critique of such women in a much-discussed article entitled “Homeward Bound.” “ ‘Choice feminism’ claims that staying home with the kids is just one more feminist option. Funny that most men rarely make the same ‘choice.’ Exactly what kind of choice is that?” She documents the failure of “choice feminism” and proposes that the word “choice” be removed as the hallmark of the feminist agenda. She proposes that, rather than offering women choice, society must offer women solutions they can enact on their own. She further proposes three rules that women must follow: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry. Appended to the three rules is just one more: a woman should never have more than one child. “A second kid pressures the mother’s organizational skills, doubles the demands for appointments, wildly raises the cost of education and housing, and drives the family to the suburbs. But cities, with their Chinese carryouts and all, are better for working mothers.” In short, a second child requires a greater committment and increases the likelihood that a mother will enact her right to choose and elect to stay home with the children.

Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists.com, discusses some of the impact of this move away from choice in the future of feminism:

On abortion. The words choice and pro-choice will be de-emphasized. Instead, stress will be placed on weighing the rights and health of the woman against those of the unborn with the clear message that the woman takes precedence.

On sexual harassment. The argument will not change because it has proven successful but the approach will be broadened to include male victims, especially boys. For example, the latest survey from the American Association of University Women on school and campus harassment reports on male victims.

On domestic violence. The argument will not change and the approach will not be broadened significantly. In gender feminist theory, domestic violence is key to establishing that traditional marriage is a dangerous place for women.

McElroy, in disagreement with Hirshman, tell her readers what she feels is the best “feminist line” for our new century. “Your peaceful choices are yours alone and no one else’s business. Be a housewife, love your children without a time schedule…or dive into a 24/7 job that you get on merit. Live your own dream. Be your own woman.”

It is clear that a shift is occuring within feminism. Whether a rift grows along the “choice” fault line or along another, change is afoot. If there is a lesson that Christians ought to have learned from the first few decades of feminism, it is exactly what Kupelian sought to make clear in The Marketing of Evil: the person who frames the debate will win the debate. We, as Christians, need to keep abreast of these changes and, if and when possible, seek to have a voice in the framing of this debate and so many others. Once the terms have been set in stone, the debate may well have already been lost.

March 14, 2006

It was a good couple of months ago that a little article on an obscure web site caught my eye. For some reason, that now escapes my mind, I found myself at the web site of The Peninsula, which describes itself as “Qatar’s Leading English Daily.” I hadn’t been there before and I haven’t been there since, except to read this particular article.

The title of the article is, “400 sheep fall off cliff in Turkey.” Perhaps it was just a slow day for news, or perhaps something about the story tickled the fancy of an editor. But for some reason the publication decided to provide a small article about something that had happened in Istanbul. Here is the complete text of the article:

ISTANBUL: Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 metres to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived, newspaper reports said yesterday. Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the Radikal daily said. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.

I laughed as I read the story. We have all heard of lemmings and their renowed but mythological plunges into the sea. As I child, and especially as a teenager, I was often exhorted not to be a lemming. “If your friends all jumped off of a cliff, would you?,” my parents or teachers would ask. At times I probably would have. But lemmings don’t really plunge into the sea in suicidal droves. That legend was created and supported by a Walt Disney movie filmed in 1958. Lemmings are too intelligent to kill themselves en masse.

Sheep don’t commit suicide, or not knowingly at any rate. The problem with sheep is that they are dumb. Really dumb. Far more dumb than lemmings. They are committed to a leader, and so committed that they will follow this leader even at the cost of their safety. When the leader wanders off a cliff, so do the rest of the sheep. This is both sad and comical. And in this little article we see this kind of leader. He led his entire flock over a cliff. When he fell to his death he was quickly followed by hundreds and then thousands of the flock. They were soon piled so deep that the ones at the bottom were crushed and the ones on top were able to survive, their fall cushioned by the mass of bodies below. After a while it must have been like jumping onto a giant pile of wool.

Can’t you picture the shepherds, their eyes bulging as sheep after sheep disappears in the distance, careening off the edge of the cliff? Can’t you see them running towards the flock, yelling, shouting, drying desperately to distract the sheep from following their leader? Can’t you picture their shame as they look at the mass of writhing, broken bodies, and then look back at their breakfast, now forgotten?

This isn’t really the fault of the sheep is it? It was the fault of the shepherds who had neglected their flock in order to indulge in a meal. They knew their sheep and they knew that sheep are not intelligent creatures. While these men filled their stomachs, they neglected their sheep and hundreds of them were killed, falling to their deaths in a mad, blind rush off the edge of a cliff.

This story could almost be a parable, couldn’t it? I can almost picture Jesus standing on the side of a hill in Galilee sharing this story with his disciples as they sat before him. “A man had a flock of sheep and entrusted them to shepherds. The shepherds, growing weary, allowed the sheep to wander as they ate their meal…”

I sometimes wonder if God doesn’t allow things like this to happen just to provide us with something to chew on, to mull over in our minds. I thought of concluding this article with some exhortations or applications, but I am not sure that I need to. I will say only this: Jesus calls us sheep. Reading a story like this, I am not so sure that he means this as a compliment.

March 11, 2006

Over the past few days, I have been reading J.P. Moreland’s book, Love Your God With All Your Mind. It is a good book; deeply challenging. Moreland says many of the same things Nancy Pearecy did several years later in the much-lauded Total Truth. Like Pearcey, Moreland is concerned with the intellectual environment within Evangelicalism, and increasingly worried about the presence of the sacred/secular dichotomy that exists within the church as much as without.

While several of Moreland’s points have stood out to me, there is one that I thought would make for interesting discussion. In a chapter in which he seeks to sketch a biblical portrait of the life of the mind, he discusses the importance of biblical revelation in developing a Christian mind. He challenges Christians to consider how the Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible. What he believes on this issue is significantly different than what the average Evangelical believes and practices. Here is what he says:

Because of the Bible’s nature, serious study is needed to grasp what it says. Of course, the Scripture contains easily grasped portions that are fairly straightforward. But some of it is very difficult, intellectually speaking. In fact, Peter once said that some of Paul’s writings were intellectually challenging, hard to understand, and easily distorted by untaught (that is, uneducated in Christian theology) and unstable people (2 Peter 3:16). Anyone who has tried to grasp the theological depths of Romans or Ephesians will say “Amen!” to that. The more a person develops the mind and the understanding of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Scriptures), the more he or she will be able to understand the meaning and significance of the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, many today apparently think that hard intellectual work is not needed to understand God’s propositional revelation to us. Instead, they believe that the Holy Spirit will simply make known the meaning of a text if implored to do so. Tragically, this represents a misunderstanding of the Spirit’s role in understanding the Scriptures. In my view, the Spirit does not help the believer understand the meaning of Scripture. Rather, He speaks to the believer’s soul, convicting, comforting, opening up applications of His truth through His promptings.

Moreland goes on to say that there are three passages used to justify this idea that the Spirit helps us understand the meaning of a scriptural text: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, John 14:26, and 1 John 2:27. He spends a paragraph or two on each of these passages in order to show that they do not teach that the Spirit actually helps us bypass the difficult work of discovering what a passage means.

“I fear,” he says, “that our inaccurate emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s role in understanding Scripture has become an easy shortcut to the hard work of building a personal library of study tools and using them. As Gallup poll after Gallup poll has shown, the result of our inaccurate emphasis on Spirit, along with our intellectual laziness, is that modern Christians are largely illiterate about the content of their own religion and feel inadequate because of it.”

And here, in brief, is Moreland’s solution. “We need local churches dedicated to the task of training believers to think theologically and biblically. We must develop intelligent Christians; that is, Christians who have the mental training to see issues clearly, make important distinctions carefully, and weigh various factors appropriately. If we are not planning to see this happen, then at the end of the day, what we are really saying is that a deep understanding of the Scripture, creeds, and theology of Christianity just doesn’t matter that much.”

While I doubt that many readers of this site would argue with Moreland’s proposed solution (increased intellectual training within the church) I do wonder how many would disagree with his understanding of the Spirit’s role in helping us understand the Bible. And so I appeal to you. Do you believe that the Spirit’s primary role in helping us understand Scripture is making known to us the meaning of a text? Or is it, as Moreland says, primarily in helping us apply what we have learned through diligent study of the Scripture, aided by the resources available to us? Or should we take a middle ground, suggesting that the Spirit is inexorably involved in both of these activities?

March 08, 2006

It is always enjoyable to me when I see secular experts stumble across something they think is revolutionary, yet it is merely something that Christians have known and believed for years.

Associated Press writer Samantha Critchell recently reported on a pair of recent studies which conclude that children, and girls in particular, are greatly influenced by their parents, and especially their fathers, in their attitudes towards sexuality. The first study seems to indicate that sexuality is a topic children should slowly grow accustomed to, rather than being a topic that is off-bounds until they are teenagers.

“If adolescent girls perceive their parents’ disapproval of teenage sex, she is less likely to have a sexually transmitted disease six years later, according to the study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Carol Ford, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, lead researcher of the 2005 study, says the findings indicate that parents should make their view on sex clear to their children.” This study concluded that parents should discuss sexuality with their children, not making the topic secret or forbidden, but simply discussing it naturally as it appears in conversation. “[I]t seems the earlier that parents start talking about sex, the older that children are when they lose their virginity…’Even if parents aren’t talking about sex, kids are hearing about it, so it’s best for parents to find a way to discuss it, too. Talk about what’s on TV — and indicate whether you think it’s acceptable or unacceptable behavior. What you say will vary depending on the kid, the family’s values.’” Ford goes on to say that waiting until a child is an adolescent and then suddenly broaching the topic of sexuality is less effective than simply incorporating the topic into every day conversation. A parent need not be explicit about the subject, but he also does not need to hide the topic. “Ford recommends simply keeping sex as part of parents’ vocabulary, not harping on it but not shying away from opportunities to let their thoughts be known. Also, consider your own children’s ability to comprehend what you’re about to say, she says.” She goes on to say that “The ‘don’t-have-sex-until-you’re-married’ edict might carry a clearer message, but it might not have as much weight as a series of conversations about why parents believe that and why they want it for their children.”

This is the attitude I have witnessed time and again within Christian homes. It is the attitude that my parents adopted. They discussed sexuality, though not explicitly. As we grew older we were introduced to the topic slowly and incrementally until we were mature enough to learn the full story. Of course in Christian homes children will naturally be introduced to certain topics of sexuality simply by being taught from the Bible. They will learn about being fruitful and multiplying. They will learn, at least to some extent, what a virgin is. A trip through the Old Testament will discuss laws of hygiene and any number of stories dealing either subtly or frankly with sexuality.

So it seems to me that this first study says nothing more than the obvious: parents should carefully, but lovingly and consistently, introduce topics of sexuality from their children.

A second study published by the Journal of Family Issues and spearheaded by Mark Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, found that girls with close relationships with their fathers tended to put off having sex. This study was an attempt to gauge the effect of religion in sexual decision making. It turned out religion didn’t have much of an impact, but when examining adolescents who live in intact, two-parent families, Regnerus did find that a strong father-daughter bond played a significant role. “For girls, my best assessment of why fathers are so important is that teenagers of all sorts are ‘connectional beings.’ As adolescent girls age, they move from a relationship with their fathers to relationships with boys or young men. In the absence of a good quality relationship with their father, the shift happens earlier…It’s not that girls are hellbent on having sex; it’s more about the transfer of relationships with men. Girls with a healthy relationship with dad don’t need to look for male love elsewhere.”

That is a sobering thought for fathers, is it not? This study has concluded that fathers hold a great deal of influence over the circumstances through which their daughters become sexually active. Even more sobering, it shows that many girls may not become sexually active so much out of sexual desire but out of a desire for a “connectional” relationship with a man. Unfortunately, such a relationship outside of the God-ordained father-daugther relationship will usually become sexual, even if it is not a marriage relationship. And so it stands to reason that fathers must maintain close relationships with their daughters.

“It’s possible dad also put the kibosh on dating, and because the girl values his opinion, she delays a romantic relationship, which usually means delaying sex,” Regenerus concluded. As I read this study I was reminded of a chapter Douglas Wilson contributed to the book 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life, edited by Alex Chediak. Wilson, reflecting on a father’s role in the life of a daughter who is becoming interested in a relationship with another man, writes:

[M]any parents make the mistake of neglecting their children over the course of many years and then, just as their daughter comes to the age when young men begin coming around, her father suddenly develops very strong and rigid views on how the young man has to “get through him first.” In terms of authority on paper, this is quite true and is right at the center of the courtship model [which Wilson espouses]. A young suitor should approach a young woman’s father. But if the father in this situation has been abdicating for years, he cannot suddenly conjure up moral authority. When counselling fathers in this kind of situation, I have explained to them that whether they have the right to sign a check in their checkbook and whether they have any money in the account are two entirely seperate questions. A father might say that he should be able to tell this suitor no. This is right—he should be able to. But he should have thought of that fifteen years earlier when he was busy building fundamental distrust in his daughter.

There is little difference between Wilson’s exhortation, built upon biblical principles, and Regenerus’ conclusions, based simply upon a sociology and statistics. So what we see is that fathers must invest themselves in their daughters while the girls are still young. A father who has a close, meaningful relationship with his daughter will protect her from seeking alternative male companionship before she is adequately mature. And at the same time, parents can speak discreetly about sexuality in the presence of their children and so prepare them to face the issues they will encounter later in life.

Did we really need sociological studies to tell us these things?

You can read the AP report here.

February 27, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s honoree is Coffeeswirls, the online home of Doug McHone. Doug was one of the first bloggers with whom I made a genuine personal connection. He has become a good friend, first via email and then in “real life.” We spent a weekend together at last year’s Desiring God Conference and will be spending the week together this coming week at The Shepherd’s Conference. As I am liveblogging the event, Doug will also be posting reflections on the week in L.A. So be sure to stop by his site this week for further information about what is happening at the conference.

For the next few days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Coffeeswirls in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

February 23, 2006

Cindy KlassenCindy Klassen is the toast of Canada. Yesterday she won a gold medal in the women’s 1,500-meter long-track speed skating event. It was her fourth medal of the games. She had previously won a bronze in the 3,000-meter event, a silver in the team pursuit and a silver in 1,000 meter competition. She still has one event left to compete in: the 5,000-meter which will take place on Saturday. While it is not her strongest event, who can deny the possibility that she might walk away from Turin with a fifth medal?

Klassen, like Canada’s last great speed skater, Catriona LeMay Doan, is a Christian. Like LeMay Doan, she is outspoken about her beliefs. This is a rarity in Canada where celebrities and athletes do not commonly boast, and rarely boast lightly, about their Christian beliefs. Living Light News says “Klassen desires to be as open about her faith as former teammate and gold medalist, Catriona LeMay Doan, who told City Light News, ‘It’s my relationship with Jesus that gives me true significance.’ Inspired by Doan’s boldness, Klassen says, “I want to use the publicity I’ve gotten through my success for His glory. I go back to my old high school and talk to the students. I … let people know I’m a Christian.”

“At McIvor Mennonite Brethren Church and Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, cards have been distributed encouraging prayer for her during the competition. ‘Cindy asks we pray that God is first in her life as she maintains good health in the face of the very best competition,’ the cards say, along with pictures of her and a schedule of her races.” Ken Reddig, director of the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, says “Her faith in Christ is very important to her. She does not ask that we pray for her to win, just that she can perform at her peak. I greatly respect that humble, confident but also mature attitude.”

Klassen, in words vaguely reminiscent of the great Eric Liddell, says, “I’m thankful for everything God has given me…God has given me this gift to be able to skate and race, and he wants 100 percent of me.”

It has been inspiring to watch Klassen compete at these Olympics, knowing that she does so for the glory of God. After the 2002 Olympics, in which she won a bronze medal, she reflected on the value of that honor. Her words are surely as true today as they were four years ago. “I’ve won a medal, but that’s nothing compared to the crown I’ll get in Heaven. I see a lot of people in sports who think when they reach a certain level they’ve got it made, but really, you can only find happiness in the Lord.” It seems that Klassen is taking seriously the admonition of Jesus Christ who said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I, and millions of other Canadians, will be cheering for Cindy on Saturday. But as a Christian I also have the joy and responsibility of praying for her, that she would use this platform she has been given for the glory of God. I pray that she will, for in so many ways, Canada is a dark nation desperately in need of some light.

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