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February 23, 2007

Two related new stories caught my eye yesterday. This first came courtesy of The Independent and was titled “Our sexual obsession damages boys as well as girls.” It spoke of the results of a study completed by The American Psychological Association which found “that the portrayal of girls and young women as sex objects harms girls’ mental and physical health.” In his brief commentary at the Reformation21 blog, Carl Trueman sarcastically called this a “stunning and profound insight.” Christians already know this. This report summarized the dangers of these findings like this:

The saturation of sexualised images of females is leading to body hatred, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, high rates of teen pregnancy and unhealthy sexual development in our girl children. It also leads to impaired cognitive performance. In short, if we tell girls that looking “hot” is the only way to be validated, rather than encouraging them to be active players in the world, they underperform at everything else.

But the consequences of sexualising girls are far more devastating than this. Rape is at crisis levels, and one in three women will be a victim of stalking, sexual harassment or sexual violence in their lifetime.

The men who are committing these crimes are not a small number of psychotic individuals, but a wide range of seemingly normal guys who have grown up to see and understand women as existing for their pleasure. Because the report is written and interpreted by the anti-biblical American Psychological Association, some of the conclusions are unbiblical and all of the conclusions avoid any sense of sin and offense against God. But I do agree with many of the conclusions. This one rang especially true:

The sexualisation of girls is not just shattering the lives of girls and women, it is preventing boys and young men from relating to girls and women as complex human beings with so much to offer them. It is preventing boys from forming healthy friendships and working relationships with girls and women. Instead, it is nurturing potentially violent abusers, rapists and johns. Ultimately, it means boys are not free to be themselves, to know their own humanity.

Pornography does prevent boys from forming normal and healthy relationships with girls. Implicit in pornography is the understanding that women exist to be exploited and exist primarily for the pleasure of men. They do not need to be embraced as friends or wooed or admired. Rather, they are to be conquered, used and left behind. Boys that immerse themselves in pornography are not able to fulfill their God-given roles as leaders and protectors. They are, instead, exploiters.

A second study came across my RSS reader yesterday. This one was completed by University of Alberta researcher Sonya Thompson. In early 2003 she provided a questionnaire to 429 rural and urban Grade 8 students aged 13 to 14. “She asked about their exposure to and use of sexually explicit material on TV, DVDs, movies and the Internet, as well as about their interaction with their parents about such material.” She found that 35% of boys and 8% of girls had already watched pornography more times than they could count. Even more alarmingly, the parents of these children were completely oblivious to their kids’ addictions. Her conclusions were similar to that of the American Psychological Association:

She also said sexually curious teens who are watching porn are getting the wrong messages about healthy sexuality and don’t distinguish between actors getting paid to perform and real-world sexuality.

“Parents need to be talking to their kids about porn in a non-judgmental way and to keep the conversation happening,” said Thompson, who is also a sexual health educator.

The fact is that children are increasingly learning about sexuality through pornography, and in particular, through Internet pornography. I find it absolutely terrifying that children are learning all about abnormal, deviant sex before their minds have even begun to grasp normal and pure sex. They are filling their minds with exploitation, rape, homosexuality, bestiality, degradation and brutality long before they would even consider that sex is meant to be loving, tender, reciprocal, and passionate. Not too long ago I was disturbed to read a book where the author, a single woman, reflected on this pornified culture and mentioned that whenever she dates a man now, he wants to have anal sex with her. He wants to sodomize her and often do far worse than that. He wants to do what, by any measure, is degrading and humiliating. Her conclusion is that traditional, normal sex is passe. She realized that men she dated just wanted to use her to act out what they saw when they watched pornography. They didn’t care for her as a woman or even as a person, but saw her only as a means to achieving their porn-induced fantasies. Young boys and girls are growing up now with this mindset. And all the while their parents are unaware and oblivious, not knowing that the children are imbibing endless amounts of perversion.

This is the culture we live in. Our children will be exposed to this, if not through school it will be through the church. It may be through a seemingly-innocent Google search. But sooner or later our children will see pornography movies and images. It is going to happen. And we, as parents, need to be prepared. Here are just a few suggestions:

Prepare to take preventive measures on behalf of your children. The best thing you can do is to ensure that the computer is in a public, high-traffic area. Password the computer so the children can only use it only when other people are around. I have found most porn-prevention software to be utterly useless (either it blocks everything or it blocks nothing) but you may be able to find some that is useful. Do not allow your children to have a computer in their rooms and do not allow them to have their own televisions.

Monitor the use of instant messenger software and web browsers. Let your children know that you will be monitoring what they see, do and say on the computer and that they will not be able to view pornography without you knowing. Be sure you know how to look through a computer’s history to see what your children have been looking at.

Be especially careful with sites like Google Video and YouTube. In many ways these sites, which can seem innocent (and most often are) feed the porn industry. It is a small step from videos of girls kissing and other exploitive videos to pornography. Many of the videos on these sites exist only as a bridge to other sites that are far less innocent.

Talk to your children about pornography and do so before they encounter it for the first time. In my generation, most boys were probably thirteen or fourteen before we were introduced to pornography, and even then it was typically difficult to obtain. Today it is as close as a Google search and most children will be introduced to it far earlier. Teach your children about real sex, and about pure sex, and about God’s plan and desire for sex. Talk to them about pornography, not leaving it as “pornography is filthy and disgusting” but discussing why they might be interested in it, what it will do to them, and how they should react when (not “if”) they are exposed to it. This is not a traditional “birds and bees” discussion that you can have once, but an ongoing conversation you need to have time and again. Continually talk to your children, know your children, and challenge them.

Model purity and love and respect in your own marriage. Let your children see healthy relationships in action so your words about the devastation pornography and the objectification of women brings will be set against what is good and true and natural.

Pray for your children. This is a strange and awful and topsy-turvy culture we live in. We are reaping the “rewards” of generations of feminism run amok and are seeing with clarity that we cannot continue to exploit women and allow boys to exploit girls, without suffering serious consequences. Our children are at risk and only God has the power to save them.

February 14, 2007

American Idol is, once again, a smash hit. Despite being in its sixth season and presenting roughly the same package as the previous five seasons, the show continues to draw viewers. The new season’s premier drew over 41 million viewers. More than that may take in the grand finale, due to hit the screen sometime in May. Where the Grammy Awards were once the annual pinnacle of the music industry, it now seems that American Idol is taking its place. The major draw, the one that drew 41 million viewers, is the early auditions.

These auditions showcase the absolute best and the absolute worst of the people who think they have what it take to be the next American Idol. They are paraded before a panel of judges and before an international audience of viewers. What many people do not realize is that these people have already been passed through between at least two prior levels of audition, the first before early screeners and at least one before the show’s producers. These people weed out the good from the average and the abysmal from the bad. Those who are especially good and those who are especially awful (or otherwise interesting) are sent before the panel of judges: Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. The few who can sing well are complimented and given a ticket to go to Hollywood where they will have another chance to impress the judges. Those who cannot sing are mocked, ridiculed and sent packing.

The ones that remain in the minds of the viewers are the ones who stick out both because of their poor voices and because of some physical characteristic. It is rare that a person appears before the cameras who is beautiful but who has an awful voice. Far more common are people who are both unattractive and have horrendous voices. They sing for thirty seconds and then face the panel expectantly. Randy Jackson, laughing all the while, says, “Aw, come on dawg. You’ve gotta bring it. I was wasn’t feeling it, you know? It was just a’ight. It was just a’ight.” Then Paula Abdul, playing the role of the giddy drunk, says “So you’re a teacher, right? That is a great job and I think you’re blessed that you can do something you love. I just don’t think singing is for you, honey.” Then she stands up and claps. And finally, Simon Cowell unloads with both barrels, feigning surprise that the audition was just so bad (though I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that the cheat sheets the judges have in their hands have already told them that this person cannot sing). “That was horrific. Let me ask you, when you sing how do people usually react?” This is a trick question, of course, though most contestants don’t seem to know this yet. There are not many possible answers to this question. “They cry” will be met with “I don’t blame them.” “They clap” will be met with “I will too when you leave.” “They sing along” will merit the reply “That’s to drown you out.” It’s like that shell game you see street performers do. You’re going to lose no matter what.

It is this cruelty that attracts viewers. We want to see people humiliated and want to see them cry. We want to see people’s hopes dashed. There is something very satisfying about seeing a guy like William Hung, who somehow thinks he can sing, be paraded in front of the nation and made the butt of countless jokes. His very name is a joke now, all because he thought he could sing and because the show’s producers were willing to make him think so for a short while. It certainly didn’t help that he is a gawky and quite unattractive guy. There are hundreds of people who suffer this humiliation every season—people who have been passed through several levels of audition because they think they have a legitimate shot at winning the competition. But then the judges tell them that they are actually awful and that they have just been part of a big joke. They never had any chance at all. They were brought this far only so the world could laugh at them. And then they are sent packing, back to their schools or jobs.

Somehow this humiliation resonates with us. We love it. We lap the show up. 41 million Americans took time on a Tuesday night to watch this. If it were not for the humiliation, that number would have been 4 million. Maybe 14. But definitely not 41.

When I see or read about this show, I realize that it is just part of a wider phenomenon in our culture. We are exhibitionists. An exhibitionist is someone who derives pleasure from exposing his genitals to others. Or more generally, it is a person who deliberately behaves in a way that attracts attention. It is a person who is motivated to do things simply to attract attention. This feeds his ego or provides some kind of sexual satisfaction. American Idol is but one symptom of a greater disease. YouTube is another symptom, a place where people post videos of themselves that are so often, by any measure, distasteful and embarrassing (I don’t spend much time scouring the archives of YouTube, but from what I’ve noticed, it seems that the video distribution is something like this: 25% are videos of girls making out with girls; 25% are people lip-syncing in front of web cameras, and the other 50% are people getting hurt). Reality television is another example, as are the countless video programs that showcase people getting hurt or killed. We have a sick fascination with parading ourselves in front of the world, allowing them to see us at our worst. Fifteen minutes of this kind of fame is somehow better than no fame at all.

We are exhibitionists, but we are also voyeurs. Voyeurism is a practice in which an individual derives sexual pleasure from observing other people. Or, if we move it outside a distinctly sexual practice, a person who derives pleasure from watching other people at their worst. This is exactly what our culture promotes. Without our voyeuristic tendencies, our culture’s obsession with exhibitionism would have no audience.

In American Idol and in YouTube and in countless other manifestations, exhibitionism and voyeurism have collided in a perfect storm of entertainment. We are drawn in by it and revel sometimes in the successes, but more commonly in the failures, of other people. We love to laugh at people who think they can sing when all evidence points to the unavoidable opposite conclusion. We love to laugh along with the jabs and barbs that are sent their way and then to see them cry, swear, and storm off in shame and disgust. This passes for entertainment. And we love it.

I think Christians would do well to think about these things. We need to think carefully about what we endorse as entertainment and what our motives are in watching such things. There may not be anything intrinsically evil about American Idol, but surely some aspects of it are meant to appeal to our baser desires. Always we need to remember that entertainment and what we allow to pass in front of our eyes are not isolated from our lives. Our eyes are like gates to our hearts. What we allow in will stay there, resonate there, and both change and affect us. What we allow in will soon become manifest in what we pour out through our lives.

February 13, 2007

It is the evening before Valentine’s Day. Tomorrow will be marked by billions of pounds of chocolate being exchanged, countless millions of flowers (bought at marked-up prices) being passed between lovers, special deliveries of gifts of all shapes and sizes being received at offices and places of work, and endless amounts of cooing, cuddling and kissing. It is a day to celebrate love and romance. It is a good day.

And yet for some people it is a difficult day. It is a day that offers celebration to some while offering little or nothing to others. It is a day that discriminates against those who are single. I assume it is a day when singles feel their singleness more poignantly than any other day of the year.

I think of my single friends on Valentine’s Day. I wonder what they’re thinking. I wonder if it’s just another day for them or if it really is as difficult as we married people believe it is or must be. I’d like to say something to encourage them. But maybe they don’t need to be encouraged. Maybe they don’t want to be encouraged. Maybe having me even mention the words “Valentine’s Day” makes them miserable. Maybe they don’t think anything of Valentine’s Day and they’ll wonder why I even brought it up.

So I have a question for the single folk. What can we, the non-singles, do to serve you on Valentine’s Day? Is there anything we can do to make this day better for you? To make it special for you? Or should we proceed as if it’s business as usual? Is it best just to leave it alone? Are there some things that are good to say? What are some things we absolutely should not do or say?

I’d love to hear from you before I commit some horrible Valentine’s Day blunder. And even better, I’d love to hear from you so that I and others can honor and serve our single friends.

February 08, 2007

Through the months I’ve spent writing my book on spiritual discernment, I have wrestled with various definitions of the word. While several definitions have been offered by other authors, none struck me as being quite right or quite complete. I have offered a definition on this site and was glad to receive some good feedback on its shortcomings. I went back to the drawing board and eventually arrived at a definition that really seems to accurately represent what the Bible means by discernment. So here it is with a brief breakdown of its component parts. Of course much of the definition’s context is missing, but I do trust this will still prove useful. So here it is:

Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.

When we practice discernment, we are applying the truths of the Bible to our lives. We are attempting to understand the words of the Bible and trusting God’s Word to give clarity so we might see things as God sees them. Our goal in discernment is to do just this: to see things through God’s eyes through the Bible and thus to see things as they really are. Like wiping the steam from a mirror, we seek to remove what is opaque so we might see with God-given clarity.

To aid our understanding, we’ll now unpack this definition, looking at each of the individual components.

Discernment is…

…The Skill…

Discernment is a skill. It is not an inherent ability like breathing or chewing, but a skill like reading or public speaking that must be practiced and must be improved. There is not a person on earth who has been born with a full measure of discernment or who has all of the discernment he will ever need. There is not a person who has attained a level of expertise that allows him to move on and to leave discernment behind. Like the master musician who practices his skills more as his acclaim grows, in the same way a discerning person will see with ever-greater clarity his need to increase in discernment. He will want to sharpen and improve this skill throughout his life.

God graciously enables and equips us practice discernment with increasing accuracy and confidence. Like other skills, discernment increases with practice. An apprentice to a tailor will at first make slow, hesitant cuts to a piece of fabric. His experienced tutor, though, will confidently make accurate cuts in one smooth movement. In the same way, what is at first difficult can, with practice, become more natural. The more we know of truth, the more our ability to discern will increase.

While the Bible does not make it entirely clear, it is likely the God did not immediately bestow upon Solomon the full measure of his eventual wisdom and discernment. It is more likely that God gave Solomon ability but required that he continually sharpen this skill. After all, God also granted Solomon “both riches and honor,” but these surely did not come in full measure that very day. Just as we are required to invest effort in learning what the Bible says and just as we are to strive after holiness, in the same way we are to work at the skill of discernment, attempting to become better at it through practice. This is clear from Hebrews 5:14 which reads “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Distinguishing good from evil, and doing so correctly and consistently, requires dedicated, ongoing practice. It is a skill.

…of understanding…

The Hebrew word most commonly translated as discernment is otherwise translated as understanding. Discernment is closely related to understanding and depends upon a right understanding of God and His ways. Because we can only base what we do on what we know, we must first understand who God is and how He wants us to serve and honor Him. Understanding must precede both interpretation and application. This is clear throughout the Bible, but especially in Proverbs were Solomon continually ties knowledge, wisdom and discernment, not as separate disciplines, but as related. And so to be people of discernment we must be people who dedicate ourselves to studying, knowing and understanding God.

…and applying…

Discernment involves not only understanding, but the application of that understanding. This is where we see the interrelated nature of wisdom and discernment and where we see how difficult it can be to separate one from the other. Discernment is wisdom in action, wisdom applied, and here we seek to apply the skill we have been practicing. We do not only know (understand), but we also do (apply).

…God’s Word…

God’s Word refers to two aspects of God’s revelation: revelation of Himself through the person of Jesus Christ and revelation of Himself through speech, and in particular, the words that were recorded in the Bible. Though in days past God revealed Himself through words of prophesy and other forms of personal address, today we know Him through the Bible which God has given to point us to the Word of God as it exists in the person of Jesus.

God’s Word is Truth. In John 17:17, as part of His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus affirmed to His Father, “your word is truth.” God’s Word is the very source of infallible truth. God’s word is our measure; it is our source. Hebrews 14:13 says that “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” Conversely, then, those who are mature are those who are skilled in the word of righteousness. The word of righteousness, those doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith are synonymous with the word of God.

We can only worship and glorify God on the basis of what we know of Him. In order to be discerning, we must know and understand what is true about God. To do this we turn to God’s Word. And so, to be discerning, we must first be students of the Bible. We must study it, we must read about it, and we must hear it taught from the pulpit.

When we engage in discernment we attempt to use God’s Word to rise above our own limitations so we can see as God sees. Through the truths contained in the Bible, God allows us to see things with His eyes.

…with the purpose of separating…

God’s word is the standard we use to differentiate between what is true and what is false. The concepts of separating and distinguishing are inherent in the words of the original languages translated as discernment. Discernment implies that we are to separate things in order to understand their differences.

Like the laser level that shows with perfect clarity any deviations from what is straight, the Bible teaches what is true, leaving what is false standing out with glaring clearness. We use God’s Word as a tool to separate what is true from what is false. We use it to make the light appear lighter, leaving the dark to appear ever darker.

…truth from error…

A constant theme when discussing spiritual discernment is the importance of distinguishing truth from error. The Bible makes it clear that doctrine is either true or it is false. We are called by God to examine all theology and to make such binary distinctions. When we speak of truth and error we speak of doctrine and theology - about ways of thinking rightly and truly about God. We think about how we think, knowing that we what think inevitably affects how we act. What we think of God will necessarily impact how we serve Him. If we want to serve him in a way that is true and pure, we must think of Him as He really is, thinking of Him without error. Only when we have separated truth from error are we able to rightly worship God.

…and right from wrong.

At times discernment will be concerned with truth and error. At other times it will be concerned with right and wrong, words which indicate a moral dimension to discernment, for this practice concerns itself not only with doctrine and theology, but with the practical application of those disciplines to our lives. Discernment is a skill we need to live lives that are morally and ethically pleasing to God. We need to be discerning first in what we believe and then in what we do. Where the concepts of truth and error concern what we believe, the associated concepts of right and wrong concern what we do and how we live. In this way we see discernment as a discipline that applies to all areas of life. As I wrote just two days ago, there is treasure everything. Discernment allows us to see and to form a theology of everything, a theology that touches and impacts all areas of life.

February 06, 2007

There's Treasure Everywhere

I’ve always loved Calvin & Hobbes. My friend Brian first introduced me to the comic strip back when I was a young teen and I immediately fell in love with it. (Here is a must-have for any true fan: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes). The strip works on at least two levels. There is the philosophical level where Calvin and his tiger discuss topics of science, philosophy and religion that are clearly far beyond the grasp of a six-year old mind and yet are questions most people wrestle with during their lives. And then there is the more realistic level, where Calvin is just a young boy doing what boys do: learning to ride a bike, going to school, imaging himself as a superhero or astronaut, building snow forts, fighting with girls, and digging for treasure. Every young boy is convinced that there’s treasure everywhere. Any boy with a strong imagination will realize that there truly is treasure everywhere.

As you well know, I use this forum to discuss a wide variety of topics. I post personal reflections, book reviews and links to other sites I recommend. I write articles about theology, current issues, sexuality, philosophy and just about anything else that crosses my mind. I may not offer reflections that are particularly deep and original, but surely no one can complain about the variety!

One of the great benefits of having this site and of committing to contribute to it each day is that it has forced me to think a lot and to think widely. My wife will be the first to tell that she often has to snap me out of moments of thought where I am present in body but absent in mind. She will also have to testify that I often use her as an initial audience for what I am thinking about. I am quite convinced that my eclectic range of interests often frustrates and bewilders her. She is good to put up with me. Every day my mind wanders. Sooner or later it rests for a while on a particular subject—some news tidbit I’ve seen on the Internet or a word or phrase or idea I’ve read in a book. And then I just have to let my mind run for a while to see what I think about what I’ve discovered and to see how it relates to the Christian life. I often think best while writing, jotting down my thoughts as they come to me. I often turn to the Bible, allowing the thoughts to lead me through the Bible, helping me understand what God says about the issue.

The more I have thought about different topics, the more I’ve realized that there is theology everywhere. And this is what motivates me to write; it’s what motivates me to read and to think and to explore. Everywhere I turn I see theology, whether in a book about the atoning work of Jesus Christ entitled Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation or in a book about the future of business called The Long Tail. Sometimes the theology is lying on the surface, exposed and easy to see. Sometimes it is hidden within and just needs to be coaxed out. But always there is something to think about, something to wrestle with, something to help me think deeply about how Christians are to live in this world.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not one of these people who watches R-rated movies and tries to read into them some kind of redemptive theology that is simply not present. I won’t ever be writing The Gospel According to Kill Bill. But it seems that every time I read the news and every book I read I find something that is profound, something that is or should be theological. Everything I read seems to provide some starting point for deeper reflection.

And I am seeing now that this is what my site has become. It’s become a place where I try to unearth treasure. It’s a place where I write down and post my thoughts about a theology of, well, everything. When I read about technology I want to understand how this technology will impact the church. When I read about psychology or current events I want to learn Christians need to respond. When I read about history or economics I want to see what the Bible has to say about these things. I want to know how they impact me as a Christian and how I should think about them and react to them to the glory of God.

As I continue to try to grapple with these things, I realize more and more my dependence on the Holy Spirit. He leads me into truth. He leads me into and through Scripture where the answers can be found. And ultimately he leads me to Jesus Christ who in turn points me to the Father, so I can bring the glory and the praise to Him. I can see that I need to improve in my ability to allow myself to be led to the cross and to share the shadow of the cross as it falls over all areas of theology. But I know, and am convinced, that there’s a theology of everything. There’s treasure everywhere. And I get such a thrill out of finding it.

February 05, 2007

Last week I wrote an article about the Christian and birth control. Before I continue this short series, I feel it is important to point out that I do not approach the topic from the viewpoint of a professional doctor or a professional theologian. Rather, I merely offer my reflections based on reading books, discussions with other believers, and study of the Bible. My purpose is primarily to stimulate thought and discussion. Because of this I will not answer every question that could arise, nor will I consider every possible angle. I’ll simply provide the perspective of one believer (me!) who has tried to think this one through.

I closed the first article with the question of whether or not using birth control falls within the realm of Christian freedom. In other words, does God give us the privilege and responsibility of choosing whether we would like to limit the size of our families, or does He expect that we will avoid using birth control and allow Him to set the limits?

It is my conviction that we have freedom in this area. I say this based on what I understand to be the lack of any command to the contrary. The Bible contains no explicit guidance on birth control and I am not convicted that what the Bible does say about sexuality and children is sufficient to point us in a direction other than Christian freedom. I acknowledge, though, that this is a difficult issue and people on one side of the divide often have a great deal of trouble understanding how those on the opposite side could possibly reach their conclusions. It is an issue that must be approached with care.

While the Bible states clearly that children are a blessing and that we are to be fruitful and multiply, I simply do not think we can prove from Scripture that this means we are all to be as fruitful as we possibly could be and that we are to all have as many children as we possibly could. I believe that God has created each of us differently; he has gifted us all differently. I don’t find that there is a one-size fits all answer. We need to exercise wisdom in the issue of family planning just as in every other area in life (This article, compiled by the Desiring God staff, does a great job of addressing several common concerns).

I do believe that Christians must be very careful with their reasoning about why they decide to limit family size and they must be very careful about how they limit their family size. Like everything in life, the issue of birth control has a theological dimension and it is worth thinking about. But, unless I read into Scripture what I do not find there, I am unable to see in the Bible that we must not use birth control. Nor do I see that we must use birth control. And so I have concluded that this is one of those areas where we can choose. Those who decide to avoid birth control and pursue large families can be assured of God’s blessing. Similarly, those who decide to limit the size of their families and who do so for legitimate reasons can also expect God’s favor.

I do believe there are both legitimate and illegitimate reasons to use birth control. This begs the question of what constitutes a bad reason to avoid having children. Here are a few:

Bad Reason #1: Fear of Provision - The Bible tells us repeatedly that God will provide for us. Thus we have little reason to fear that we will end up destitute and unable to provide for our children even if we choose to have a large family.

Bad Reason #2: Dislike of children - The Bible is clear that children are a blessing and are to be regarded as a blessing. People who just don’t like children ought to examine their hearts and look for the reasons that they would regard God’s blessings as anything but a privilege.

Bad Reason #3: Selfishness - There are any number of reasons that could fall under this one. Some people simply do not wish to allow children to interfere with their lives. Some do not wish to have their careers disrupted or disturbed by a family. No matter the specific reason, selfishness is not a valid reason to avoid having children.

Bad Reason #4: Fear of Overpopulation - There is very little evidence that human overpopulation is an imminent problem or that it will ever be a problem. God created this world to house and sustain us and He gave us no cause to worry about overpopulating it.

I could go on. We would not have trouble writing up a long list of really bad reasons to avoid having children. Any reason that contradicts a commandment of Scripture or denies the ability of God to provide and sustain would be a bad reason.

Just as there are bad reasons to use birth control, there are bad methods of birth control. I outlined these in the previous article, but it won’t hurt to go over them again.

Bad Method #1: Abortion - The Bible makes it clear that human life begins in the womb and that it begins at the moment of conception. It is also clear that we have no right to terminate human right on a whim. Therefore abortion as a method of birth control is never an option for the Christian.

Bad Method #2: Abstinence - The Bible makes it clear that spouses are to have sexual relations regularly and are never to abstain for long periods of time. A refusal to have sex based on the fear of pregnancy is not a valid method of birth control. Many couples use brief periods of abstinence as part of the “rhythm method” of birth control. Depending on the length of abstinence this may or may not be a valid method. I would suggest that if one or both members continually struggle with lust during these times, this may not be a valid method for them.

Bad Method #3: Certain contraceptives - Certain contraceptive devices, rather than blocking or preventing conception, instead destroy or disrupt pregnancy. If we believe that life begins at conception, we must also believe that these methods of birth control cause abortions and the death of a human being. Therefore they must be avoided.

While there is a huge variety of contraceptive methods available, most fall into one of two camps: those that prevent pregnancy by blocking contraception (condoms and other blockade devices) and those that prevent ovulation (pills, patches, and so on). If you agree with me that Christians have freedom to choose whether or not they will use birth control, you will likely agree that the first group, the blockade devices, are acceptable choices for the Christian. The second group introduces a little bit of difficulty. I will spend a bit of time on this issue because I know it is of great concern to many Christians. And again, do realize that my medical knowledge extends no further than preventing nosebleeds (“Son, get your finger out of there!”) so what I present here is simply the fruits of my research. I rely on the expertise of others.

The pill is an attractive method of birth control for several reasons:

  • Ease of use - No muss, no fuss. A woman need only take a pill once a day to have near perfect protection against pregnancy.
  • Effectiveness - The pill is highly effective. When used perfectly, the changes of becoming pregnant are miniscule.
  • Convenience - Any couple who has fumbled with condoms or other similar methods of contraception can testify to their inconvenience. The pill also increases spontaneity (which those same couples will admit is a good thing!).

Compared to other forms of birth control, the pill is highly desirable. It offers greater ease, effectiveness and convenience than other methods. It is easy to understand why it has come into such widespread use, even among Christians.

The pill prevents pregnancy by essentially fooling a woman’s body into thinking it is pregnant. There are two main types of birth control pills. The first is a combined oral contraceptive that contains two hormones: estrogen and progestin. Estrogen helps prevent ovulation by suppressing the hormones that would cause the ovary to release an egg. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus which hinders the ability of the sperm to travel through the fallopian tubes. It may also prevent the lining of the uterus from developing normally which means that if an egg were fertilized, it would be unable to implant. The second type of pill is known as the minipill and contains no estrogen, so while it does not prevent ovulation, it does inhibit the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg (both my thickening mucus and by suppressing its ability to unite with the egg) and should fertilization take place, the likelihood of implantation.

It is interesting to note that the “morning-after pill,” a pill which can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy is actually simply a combined oral contraceptive pill that contains both estrogen and progestin. The morning after pill, designed to prevent or terminate a pregnancy is simply a larger does of the birth control pill designed to prevent pregnancy.

A search of resources geared mainly towards women’s health, shows that most doctors affirm that birth control does not cause abortions. However, many of these people would not affirm the biblical understanding of when life begins. If life begins at conception, and we believe it does, then preventing implantation is already causing an abortion. The pill will not, apparently, cause an implanted fetus to be aborted. However, having read the warnings that come with the pill, the companies will not guarantee that the pill will not adversely affect a fetus. It is possible that birth defects and other health problems may be linked to the pill.

Recently some qualified Christians have tackled this issue. These are people who have medical knowledge and who affirm that life is inherently precious from the moment of conception. Such people have a credibility in my eyes that exceeds that of doctors who write prescriptions for birth control on Monday and abort children at a clinic on Tuesday. Interestingly, many of these experts seem to be backing the claims of their colleagues, saying that there is no hard evidence that the birth control pill can cause abortions. A friend forwarded me a couple of interesting statements, one from Focus on the Family (link) and one from Dr. Michael Frields (link), a medical expert at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church. Dr. Frields feels that the birth control pill is in no way an abortive method of birth control. The majority of the experts James Dobson spoke to “feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the doctors feel that when conception occurs on the pill, there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient effect, however remote, to warrant informing women about it.” So while it seems that the evidence increasingly indicates there is little likelihood of causing an abortion by taking the pill, the jury is still out. I suppose this leaves Christians having to weigh the evidence on their own and attempting to sort out the facts. On a personal note, my wife and I have decided we will not use the pill. Until we can be convinced that there is absolutely no chance of the pill causing abortions, we just cannot, in good conscience, use the pill. And to be honest (and completely open), I have trouble understanding how Christians can arrive at a position that the pill is absolutely, 100% safe.

There is much more that could be said. I do not wish to drag this series into a third day, so will stop here. In the end, it seems wise to point out that the issue of birth control is important because it is a heart issue. Our attitude on this point will reveal a lot about what is inside of us. It will reveal our attitude towards children, our attitude towards God’s providence, and our ability to trust in God and obey Him. I am convinced that men and women on both sides of this debate can love and value children, can live in full assurance of God’s providence and can trust and obey God. I am convinced that God gives us freedom to use birth control or to decide not to use birth control. I am convinced that what matters most is motives and a desire to live for His glory.

February 04, 2007

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 two) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right 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 recipient of the award is Irish Calvinist, the site of Erik Raymond. Erik hails from Omaha, Nebraska where he serves as a pastor at Omaha Bible Church. According to Raymond his site “aims to aid us in becoming more impressed with Jesus by promoting and defending the glory of God.” He says his goal is “to promote and defend the glory of God, in so doing I am trying to coral Christ centered thoughts and organize and articulate them in an edifying manner.” I think it must have been about a year ago (or close to it) that I first came across Erik’s site. Since then I’ve returned often and, several months ago made it a near-daily read. And now I commend it to you.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over 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. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

February 02, 2007

Yesterday afternoon a reader of this site sent me a link to a recent article from WorldNetDaily. According to their “About Us” page, WorldNetDaily is “an independent news company dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice and revitalizing the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty. We remain faithful to the traditional and central role of a free press in a free society - as a light exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power. We also seek to stimulate a free-and-open debate about the great moral and political ideas facing the world and to promote freedom and self-government by encouraging personal virtue and good character.” The article the reader wanted me to read is entitled “ ‘Christian’ bookstore features X-rated flicks.” Bob Unruh, the column’s author, pointed to an article by Paul Proctor that had been posted the day before at NewsWithViews.com. Proctor’s article is titled “
Should Christian Bookstores Offer Anything From Bibles to Porn?

OK, escort your kids out of the room - lock the door - sit back down at your computer and go to: Christian Heritage Bookstore

Now, brace yourself and type the word “X-Rated” into their website’s search engine and click on the word “search.”

Get the picture?

Ever think you’d see that on a Christian website?

I followed Proctor’s directions and encountered a list of books with titles such as The X-Rated Bible: An Irreverent Survey of Sex in the Scriptures, Family Survival in an X-Rated World and The x-rated book: Sex and obscenity in the Bible. Three of the books had cover photos included in the listing, each of which was fifty pixels wide. One of them showed a painting of Adam and Eve with only fig leaves covering their genitals. Of the other two covers visible, one had only text and the other featured what appeared to be a picture of two boys looking at a computer screen (though at only fifty pixels wide it was difficult to tell).

Proctor then directs his readers to this company’s “About Us” page. Actually, though, this company does not have a statement of faith on their site, so Proctor, perhaps inadvertently, directed readers to a statement of faith for the company that provides Christian Heritage Bookstore’s service. It is a standard, reasonable statement of faith. And then Proctor directs the reader to search for “x-rated” on this company’s site. And lo and behold, the same list of books appears.

“Friends, we’ve got a serious problem in the online Christian bookstore industry,” says Proctor. “You would think that a Christian bookstore is a place where only biblically sound materials are sold. If you take the scriptures literally, like for instance: ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil.’ - 1st Thessalonians 5:22 - and in your heart, believe them to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, then anything that contradicts it cannot legitimately be considered ‘Christian.’ But, that doesn’t seem to matter anymore, does it?”

He goes on:

Unfortunately, many bookstore owners today believe it is perfectly acceptable to call their online stores ‘Christian’ or imply that they are such, while offering for sale some of the most unchristian merchandise produced. How they justify it before their conscience, their customers and their Christ is beyond me.

By calling their businesses ‘Christian bookstores,’ are they trying to convince us that all they sell is Christian books or that the people who work there are all Christians? Maybe they’re just Christian-owned; or maybe it’s a semantic game they’re playing with us. Maybe they’re actually operating a secular bookstore where only Christians come to shop. Is that it? Technically, any of these could be called ‘Christian bookstores.’ But, doesn’t it seem at least a little deceptive when online bookstores represent themselves as being ‘Christian’ while continually offering the very same junk secular bookstores offer?

And he carries on, eventually concluding that these stores should ‘simply delete the word ‘Christian’ from their name and be done with it[.] At least that would be more accurate… and honest. Then they could proudly peddle their poison to the whole world and nobody would care.”

As I said, Bob Unruh picked up on this story and followed it with one of his own. He dug a little deeper and unearthed other items at this store: “ ‘Playboy: X Mates, Vol. 1 - BMX/Wakeboards,’ and an adult 4-pack of ‘classics’ titled ‘Debbie Does Dallas,’ ‘Deep Throat,’ ‘Behind the Green Door,’ and ‘The Devil in Miss Jones.’” He points out that “Christian Research Service,” a site directed by Bud Press, has awarded Christian Heritage Bookstore its “Shelves of Shame Award.” Press says ” This online bookstore is a ‘CyberMall Warehouse’ of Cultic, Occultic, Heretical, Homosexual, Lesbian, New Age, Sadomasochism, and Transgender Authors, including The Satanic Bible and X-Rated Movies! This website is ‘Sponsored By Christian Book Network’ which contains the same books and materials!”

I decided to do some research. My initial impression when I visited Christian Heritage Bookstore had been “Hey, this looks like an Amazon aStore.” A further few seconds of research showed this to be the case. It says as much on the home page for Christian Book Network. “With our Amazon approved solution, you get your own custom built bookstore that offers a huge stock of high-quality Christian products from Amazon.com.” The “Why CBN” page provides further detail. But the long and short is that this is a service based around Amazon’s aStore feature. According to Amazon, “aStore is a new Associates product that gives you the power to create a professional online store, in minutes and without the need for programming skills, that can be embedded within or linked to from your website.” In other words, it allows anyone to create a quick and easy bookstore that highlights certain products while opening the complete Amazon catalog to shoppers. Those who take the time to create such a store will earn referral fees and perhaps generate a small income stream.

Clearly Christian Heritage Bookstore, quite probably run by a well-meaning Christian seeking to earn a few dollars, signed up for service through Christian Book Network. In return, CBN provided them with an interface to add a few “Our Picks” books and a few other buttons. Neither Christian Heritage Bookstore nor CBN is an actual retailer and, as I understand the aStore program, neither one has any significant control over store products beyond the “Our Picks” section. That is why on the main pages of both of these sites we see links to Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation along with a title by Deepak Chopra. Amazon merely lists “religious” bestsellers.

How Proctor found books that appear to laud pornography through these booksellers is anyone’s guess. The fact is, it is extremely improbable (and perhaps even near-impossible) that a person would find pornography through these stores unless, of course, he was specifically looking for it. And I believe Proctor was. I am not suggesting that he was looking to purchase pornography, but that he was deliberately looking for it on this site to provide fodder for an article. I don’t know of too many people who would visit a Christian bookstore website and immediately type “x-rated” into a search box and can think of no other way that anyone would have found these books. Bob Unruh must have gone even further, digging into the Amazon search function to search for x-rated films. Because the aStore program opens Amazon’s complete catalog to customers, there will be all kinds of products available—some good, some bad and some indifferent. There will be books and bibles, pots and pans, computers and stereos and everything else Amazon sells. These men managed to find the bad. And I’m sure it wasn’t difficult to do.

Now whether or not it was wise for Christian Heritage Bookstore to use this service is open for discussion. I looked into aStore in the past and decided not to do it simply because I wasn’t comfortable with the relatively small amount of control it gave to me as the virtual retailer. But to portray this bookstore—it costs the owner some $8 per month and probably generates only a tiny revenue stream—as a major player in the downgrade of Christianity is patently absurd. In this case, only a small amount of research would have shown that this company is not selling porn at all but was merely reselling items from the Amazon catalog. And yet this site has become the subject of several articles and earned a “SHELVES of SHAME AWARD” from Christian Research Service (the irony being, of course, that it appears they did no research into the true nature of this site). It seems to me that at some point we have to assume that people will not go trolling for pornography through a Christian bookstore’s web site. And even if they do, we can only assume so much responsibility for the deeds of other people. News With Views uses Google as its local search engine. I could just as easily use that search engine to access countless quantities of x-rated material. Would that be their fault or mine? What is our responsibility to protect other people from even the remotest possibility of encountering what is ungodly?

And here is another question. How many clicks is too many? Am I responsible for people who click from my site to another and see pornography on that site? Am I responsible for people who click from my site to another and then to a third site and see pornography there? Just for kicks I clicked on an advertising link from the main page of News with Views. From there I clicked one more link, typed x-rated into a search box and was presented with a list of near-pornographic t-shirts. One was emblazoned with the words “I will NOT take this t-shirt off for cheap plastic bonds. I only take cash.” And that was about the most tasteful one on the page. That was only two clicks and a search away. By my calculations, to get to x-rated videos through Christian Heritage Bookstore takes (are you ready for this?) two clicks and a search. Food for thought. Its also interesting that Proctor is willing to post his articles on a site that features advertising with calls to action such as “Take This And Live Forever” (a site advertising Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil), or “Retire This Year! … and Still Make More Money Than Most Doctors!” (advertising a method of supposedly making heaps of money while working very little). How are these get rich quick schemes and medical miracle sites that prey on the feeble-minded and take their money any better than pornography?

This is a vivid example of “discernment” gone wrong. If we are going to be discerning people and people who show love to one another, heeding Christians great commandments, we must be willing to do research and to get our facts straight. We must be willing to believe the best of other people rather than always assuming that they are in league with Satan. In this case it seems clear that the authors of these stories did no real research and had no real understanding of the nature of the services they criticized. They went on the attack without first equipping themselves with the facts. Scroll down through the main page of News With Views and you’ll see link after link with a heading of “Opinion.” Ironic. And if WorldNetDaily truly wants to be a credible media outlet “dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice,” they are going to have to do better than this.

It may be that Christian Heritage Bookstore should rethink its decision to use Amazon’s aStore. There are clearly some moral issues to consider and the affiliates who run these shops may have to wrestle with issues of conscience. But let’s not make this out to be more than it is.

February 01, 2007

Last week I posted a couple of articles dealing with auto-eroticism. I believe there was some useful discussion following those and was glad to hear from people who felt that they benefited from them. Since then I have received a couple of questions regarding my views on birth control (from people who, I suppose, feel that I’m sufficiently brave and/or foolhardy to tackle the tough subjects). I thought it might be interesting to discuss that topic as well and will do so in a pair of articles I’ll post today and tomorrow.

The Bible is silent on any explicit discussion of the subject of birth control. Still, Scripture says so much about sexuality and human life that I feel that we can look to God’s Word to guide us towards principles that will prove useful to us as we wrestle with this topic. We will attempt to see what the Bible says about whether or not Christians can use birth control and, if the Bible does permit it, what methods of birth control are acceptable.

When I say that the Bible has no explicit discussion of the subject of birth control I know that some people will raise the story of Onan. Let me say immediately that I feel that the purpose of this story is not to teach that birth control is wrong. The story of Onan, as recounted in Genesis 38, goes like this: “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” God killed Onan for his disobedience. But God did not kill him because he used coitus interruptus as a method of birth control, but because he refused to fulfill his duty towards his brother and his brother’s family. He made a mockery of the commands of God and did so in outright mockery of the Lord. While this story may not be absolutely irrelevant to our discussion, it is certainly not the place to being a theology of birth control.

So let’s move on. From what the Bible teaches on related topics, we learn that two methods of birth control are clearly forbidden by Scripture:

Abstinence is forbidden - The Bible tells us that spouses are to have sexual relations regularly and are not to deprive each other. The only exception is given by the Apostle Paul who says that we may abstain for a short time in order to devote ourselves to prayer. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). But as a rule, abstinence within marriage is wrong. Abstinence is not to be used as a method of birth control. It seems to be part of God’s plan for sexuality that there is always the possibility that a woman may become pregnant as long as she is physically able to bear children.

Abortion is forbidden - The Bible places great value on human life. Time and again Scripture affirms that we are to treasure and protect life. And hence we cannot destroy life as a method of birth control. I will have more to say about this in our next article.

There are other principles that can guide us as we consider this issue.

Be fruitful and multiply - We were created by God and as one of our primary roles told to “be fruitful and multiply.” It is our duty as humans to procreate and our special duty as Christian parents to attempt to fill the earth with people who know and love the Lord. So God expects and demands that we have at least some children and raise families for His glory.

Children are a blessing - The Bible is clear that we are to regard children as a blessing and not as a burden. Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” Where our culture too often sees children as a financial, emotional and psychological burden, the Bible tells us that they are a blessing and a reward. We should seek to experience this gift and this blessing in our lives.

Many children is a great blessing - God created us and as one of our primary roles told us to “be fruitful and multiply.” He gave no conditions. He did not say “multiply up to and including eight children at which point you must stop.” At the same time He did not say “be fruitful and multiply until you have exceeded five children.” So there seem to be no hard and fast rules about how many children are appropriate in God’s eyes. We do hear hints, though, that God approves of large families and that many children represent a special blessing. For example, Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” Not too many people would enter a battle with a quiver “full” of only one or two arrows.

God will provide - God tells us time and again throughout Scripture that He will provide for us. When we faithfully follow Him, He promises that He will provide for all our needs. We are to have confidence that no matter how impossible our needs may seem, He will provide. Thus a family with fifteen children can have the same confidence as a family with one child that God will provide for physical and financial needs.

No God-given birth control - God has not given humans the innate ability to enjoy sexual relations while absolutely avoiding pregnancy. In other words, when a man and woman have sex there is always the possibility of a pregnancy unless they use some “artificial” method of birth control or one of them is infertile or beyond childbearing years.

God opens the womb - God is absolutely sovereign. He has foreordained every pregnancy that has ever happened and that will ever happen. Whether a woman has one children or fifteen, God has decreed the beginning and end of each pregnancy.

No command to use birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must or should use birth control at any stage in their marriage.

No explicit command against birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God explicitly command that a couple must not use birth control.

Freedom - Within the boundaries God has created for us, He gives us great freedom. He allows us to spend much of our lives living within the bounds imposed by conscience based on sanctified reasoning. The question that faces us is whether or not the issue of birth control falls within the bounds of Christian freedom. I will turn to that subject (and others) tomorrow.

January 29, 2007

There is always a catch. You’ve gotten the letters, phone calls and emails just as I have. There is always someone wanting to offer us something, but things are never as they seem. There is always a catch. You can have a wonderful vacation in Hawaii, but you’re responsible for paying for your own accommodations and it can only be at this or that overpriced hotel. You can get a free barbecue but first you need to sit through a three hour presentation on summer cottages. You can get a free iPod, but only if you first sign up for a high-fee bank account. People are always giving, but at the same time always taking. There’s always the catch.

I was thinking about this this morning when my iPod began playing Matthew Smith’s rendition of “Come, Ye Sinners,” a hymn written by Joseph Hart sometime in the mid eighteenth century (you can see it and hear a clip here). While there seem to be a couple of versions of it, the one Smith sings goes like this:

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus, ready, stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able, He is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.

Come ye needy, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry ‘til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended;
Pleads the merit of His blood.
Venture on Him; venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

I was gripped by a few of those lines. It occurred to me that the offer of salvation could easily be the greatest catch of all. Come to Jesus but only once you have tidied yourself up and dusted yourself off. Come to Jesus but only once you really feel you need Him. Come to Jesus when you are good and ready. But as Hart says, “If you tarry ‘til you’re better, You will never come at all. Not the righteous, not the righteous; Sinners Jesus came to call.”

So if God does not require that we improve ourselves before we come to Him, if He does not require prior righteousness, what is He after? Hart answers, “All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him.” In other words, we have to desire God and come to Him in repentance. But how can a sinner who is “poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore” desire anything as holy and as good as God? Why would we ever feel our need of Him? We would never clean ourselves up and dust ourselves off enough to feel worthy of Him—worthy of entering His presence.

Ah, but God knows this and has provided for us. “All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him. This He gives you, this He gives you, ‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.” And how does He do this? Joseph Hart answers in another of his hymns, this one called “Free Grace.”

Free grace has paid for all my sin
Free grace, though it cost so much to Him
Free grace has freed even my will
Free grace to the end sustains me still.

God’s free grace frees the will. God changes the will so that it desires what is good. The restless soul suddenly and finally finds it rest in God. It turns to Him. And now we can say, with Hart:

It’s not for good deeds,
good tempers nor frames
From grace it proceeds,
and all is the Lamb’s
No goodness, no fitness
expects He from us
This I can well witness,
for none could be worse.

There’s no catch. It’s an offer of free grace. God asks much, but provides all that is needed. All that he requires he also provides. It’s really and truly free.