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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.

January 25, 2007

This article continues the discussion I began yesterday on the topic of self-centered sex. Because sex is created by God and to be used for His glory, it is not purely a physical or sexual or emotional issue, a theological issue. Thus in yesterday’s article we built a brief framework in which to understand sex from a biblical perspective. We saw that sex is: a Gift From God; intended only for marriage; for giving and receiving pleasure; a means of building intimacy; intended for procreation. Today we will continue this discussion to encompass autoeroticism, the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself.

Before I continue, I would like to address one concern that was raised in the comment section yesterday. One commenter wrote “A happily married man’s advice to lonely, sex-starved, Christian singles may be theologically right on the money but nevertheless leaves the reader cold, unmoved, even resentful. It’s easy to dispense advice on how to diet while stuffing your face at the buffet table, after all.” I would suggest, though, and despite what this commenter says, that this is an issue that applies to married men as well as single. Men or women who masturbate when they are unmarried may not find that having regular sex with a marriage relationship will necessarily or immediately remove the desire to masturbate. Sex and masturbation, while similar in some ways, are also dissimilar. One is pure, the other is sinful. One is selfless, the other is selfish. One requires effort, the other is quick and easy. When a person has many years of selfish sex in his background, he may not find the transition away from that to be simple. Sin cannot always be removed as easily as simply replacing it with something else. More often it requires dedicated effort and many pleas for the aid of the Holy Spirit for sin to be eradicated.

Blindness, Baldness and Hairy Palms

I suspect my childhood is typical in that I heard many rumors about the physical effects of autoeroticism. I was told that people who did it went blind, lost their hair, grew hair on their palms or went crazy. But as James Dobson says, “If it did [cause such afflictions], the entire male population and about half of females would be blind, weak, simpleminded and sick. Between 95 and 98 percent of all boys engage in this practice — and the rest have been known to lie.” My parents certainly never told me such lies and neither did any of my teachers or youth leaders. Yet these rumors were passed from boy-to-boy on the playground, usually long before any of us had ever given serious consideration to sexuality. We did not know what the act was, but we did know the supposed repercussions.

While these rumors are clearly unfounded, they continue to be told simply because autoeroticism is a topic that breeds guilt and shame. It encourages worry that a person will be found out. Yet there is no physical reason to deny oneself this sexual pleasure. As Josh Harris writes in Sex Is Not The Problem (Lust Is) (the book from whence I stole the title for this series of articles) “masturbation isn’t a filthy habit that makes people dirty. It only reveals the dirt that’s already in our hearts.” The physical act of masturbation simply points to a deeper problem within. So while autoeroticism is not filthy and does not make a person filthy, there can, however, still be a mental and spiritual toll as many people struggle with feelings of guilt, remorse and shame because of their habits. This may be a convincing reason for some people to avoid participating, but for many it is not. Sadly, guilt is not enough of a motive for many of us to curb our sinful behavior.

Purity of Mind

The most common reason given why people should not engage in autoeroticism is that it pollutes the mind. Sexual gratification is not merely a physical act, but one that engages the mind. In speaking with men who struggle with this sin, one will find that the act brings far less guilt than the accompanying fantasies. These fantasies run rampant during acts of autoeroticism. This type of fantasy can be dangerous in at least two ways.

First, as most adults have learned the hard way, reality is rarely as wonderful as fantasy. Many people create expectations for sex in their minds that the reality cannot meet. I dare say that rarely has a teenage boy created a fantasy in which his partner gently and lovingly rebuffs his advances because she is too tired. Neither has he concocted a fantasy in which she declines participation in a particular act because she finds it uncomfortable or distasteful. The fact is that fantasy can create unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of sex.

Second, fantasy will rarely involve legitimate sexual partners. A teenage girl has no legitimate reason to pursue sexual fantasy, for she has no God-given partner with whom she can consummate such desire. While it is perfectly legitimate for a husband to dream of a sexual encounter with his wife, autoeroticism may encourage him to fill his mind with thoughts of other women, or even to gaze at pornographic material to fuel his mind.

Fantasy is dangerous when left unchecked. Autoeroticism is wrong when it violates the Lord’s teaching about moral purity. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Fantasy can also be dangerous when it creates unrealistic expectation.

Some will protest that when they engage in autoeroticism it is merely a physical act and one they do to relieve stress or boredom. They will insist that they do not succumb to thinking inappropriate thoughts. In his book When Good Men Are Tempted, Bill Perkins writes, “It appears to me that masturbation is amoral. Under some circumstances it’s acceptable behavior. On other occasions it’s clearly wrong” (page 122). He goes on to provide three tests which will gauge whether a particular instance is right or wrong: the thought test (whether the act is accompanied by inappropriate fantasies), the self-control test (whether the act becomes obsessive) and the love test (whether autoeroticism leads to a person failing to fulfill the needs of his or her spouse). I found it interesting that in a book about sexual purity this topic was covered in only two pages and that the pages were at the very end of the book, almost as if this topic was an afterthought. Millions of men and women will tell you that it is far more than an afterthought.

James Dobson teaches a similar view of autoeroticism being amoral. When I was young my parents gave me his book Preparing for Adolescence and I remember this teaching well. He believes that every boy (and most girls) try it and that the guilt brought about by the act destroys many children. Thus he believes parents should rarely speak to their children about it, and if they do, to reassure their children that such practices are normal. Here is what he says on his web site (and thanks to a commenter for digging this up):

It is my opinion that masturbation is not much of an issue with God. It is a normal part of adolescence that involves no one else. It does not cause disease. It does not produce babies, and Jesus did not mention it in the Bible. I’m not telling you to masturbate, and I hope you won’t feel the need for it. But if you do, it is my opinion that you should not struggle with guilt over it. Why do I tell you this? Because I deal with so many Christian young people who are torn apart with guilt over masturbation; they want to stop and just can’t. I would like to help you avoid that agony.

This response is shockingly humanistic. The way to avoid the agony of guilt is not to ignore sin, but to focus on the gospel. Dobson feels that this is an issue young people should not be expected to agonize over. Speak honestly and open to young people, though, and they will tell you that they do want to talk about it and that they do want to be reassured that it is wrong and that they can and should overcome it. The guilt they feel is not irrational but is good guilt, guilt brought about by sin and intended to help correct it.

Like Perkins, Dobson does not engage in a biblical examination of this particular topic. Like Perkins he concludes that autoeroticism is amoral because there is no specific bible passage that allows or condemns the practice. Steve Hays, who writes at Triablogue also wrote recently about the potential amorality of masturbation. “If masturbation is a sin, then it’s a little odd that Scripture would leave the believer guessing about its moral status.”

Yet, as we will see, the Bible is not silent and does not leave us guessing. While Scripture may not mention masturbation explicitly, I would suggest that this simply points to the fact that it speaks so much and so thoroughly about sexuality that there is no need to speak about masturbation (just as Scripture speaks so thoroughly about murder and the value of human life that there is no need to speak explicitly about abortion). I believe the Bible’s teaching on sexuality proves that masturbation is sinful whether it is an act accompanied by sinful fantasy or an act that is purely physical.

God’s Purpose in Sexuality

Yesterday we learned that the purpose of sex is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings. A close examination of the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality will uncover no reason to believe that God ever intended sex to be a private pursuit. The heart and soul of sexuality is the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure. Sex is intended to be a means of mutual fulfillment where a husband thinks foremost of his wife, and the wife things foremost of her husband. As they fulfill each other’s needs, they have their own fulfilled. It is a beautiful picture of intimacy! As any married couple can testify, the more selfless the sex, the better sex becomes. The more each spouse seeks to please the other, the more fulfilling and gratifying the act becomes. It is beautiful in that regard. As we might expect the opposite is also true. Sex that is completely selfish is sex that is demeaning and unfulfilling (rape, an act of utter selfishness, may be the ultimate expression of selfish sex).

Sex is so important to a marriage that the Bible forbids us from neglecting it. “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). This deprivation can refer not only to time but to activity. A man should no more deprive his wife over a period of time than he should deprive her by private sexual activity. As married couples can attest to the importance of sex, I’m sure most can also look to times when they neglected this activity and can testify to the difficulties in caused in their marriage. God intends for husbands and wives to have sex with each other and to do so regularly.

And this, the mutual giving and receiving which lies at the heart of God’s purpose for sexuality, is exactly what autoeroticism cannot provide. It strips sexuality of its divine purpose of mutual fulfillment. It takes an act God intends to build relationship and makes it an act of selfish isolation. Masturbation and fantasy attempt to create a false intimacy rather than the true intimacy between a husband and wife that God has built into the marriage relationship.

I remind you again of the passage we looked at yesterday. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). A man’s body does not belong to himself, but to his present or future wife, and ultimately to God. A wife’s body belongs to her husband (and to God). Likewise, a single woman’s body belongs to her future spouse and is to be kept pure for him. Neither spouse has the right to express sexuality apart from the other. When the Bible tells a man that he is to express his sexuality exclusively with his wife, why do so many interpret this to mean that he can express his sexuality with his wife or by himself?

How Bad?

By now I think it should be clear that masturbation is a sin—one that ought to be repented of and one that Christians need to fight against. Sadly, though, for many young Christians, it becomes an issue that begins to define their spiritual state. Some people feel such guilt for this act that they begin to question their salvation and begin to see themselves only through the lens of this sin. There is no doubt that this is a serious sin, but it should not be given so much prominence that people can see nothing past it. Josh Harris writes wisely, “When we inflate the importance of this act, we’ll either overlook the many evidences of God’s work in us or we’ll ignore other more serious expressions of lust that God wants us to address.”


I want to add a brief word here about pornography. I feel this is relevant to the discussion simply because pornography and masturbation are so closely allied. Despite this connection many discussions of pornography shy away from also discussing masturbation. Yet the whole point of looking at pornography is to fuel sexual fantasy and to culminate in masturbation or another selfish form of sexual expression. Few Christians would argue that pornography is acceptable and yet countless numbers are attracted to it or ensnared by it. Like masturbation, pornography is inherently self-centered. It creates a false intimacy between an anonymous person in a magazine or on a screen and the viewer. It provides escapism and release, but requires no effort and no self-denial. It creates a selfish, self-centered, self-focused perversion of the true, sacred act.

Not A Selfish Pursuit

Do you see, then, how autoeroticism denies the very purpose for which God created sex? Sex was not meant to be a selfish pursuit. It was not intended to focus a person’s thoughts on himself and his own needs. Rather, sex was designed as a means of fulfilling the Lord’s command to esteem another higher than oneself. The pleasure of sex is not meant to be enjoyed in isolation, but to be enjoyed while providing that same pleasure to another. Autoeroticism cannot fulfill God’s design for sexuality, and thus has no place in the life of one who calls himself a Christian.


For those who struggle with this sin, take heart, for there is hope. The blood of Jesus was shed for sins like this one and the power of the Holy Spirit has been given to us so that we can overcome sins like this one. This is not a sin that is beyond the power of God to overcome. You can be set free from it.

January 24, 2007

Twelve or eighteen months ago I wrote a couple of articles about the always difficult subject of autoeroticism (i.e. masturbation). This is a subject I hesitate to write about and yet one that I feel is both important and relevant. It is a subject that takes us outside of our comfort zones but hiding our heads in the sand and pretending it is not a real problem is almost unfair. I have had opportunity in recent days to speak to young men and to hear about the struggles they face. And I know that this is a near-universal struggle. I was recently convicted that if the church won’t speak out about this issue, no one will.

This is the type of issue that I suspect only Christians really wrestle with. It is an issue that our culture regards as irrelevant. To question the morality of masturbation is folly to those who accept and seek to honor no higher authority. “If it feels good, do it!” is the wisdom of our age. But this is no wisdom at all. I know that many Christians have questions about this issue and are troubled by it. And hence I will write about it again in the hope that it can help Christians understand God’s design for sexuality.

In what I anticipate will be a two-part article I would like to bring a biblical perspective to autoeroticism, or the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself. The Bible is silent on explicit discussion of the subject of autoeroticism. There is no place in Scripture where we will find a clear statement allowing or condemning the practice. Thus we have to begin our study by attempting to come to a biblical understanding of sexuality - God’s purpose and design in human sexuality. Once we understand this we will have a foundation upon which we can build an understanding of autoeroticism.

God’s Design for Sex

We will begin by providing the groundwork for a theology of sex. This is a topic that could consume as much time and space as we chose to give it, so we will discuss it only briefly. Consider this nothing more than a framework. Much of the following was drawn from Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney. Much of that book is available as a chapter in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. Both books are well worth reading.

A Gift From God

Andy Warhol said, “Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” Andy Warhol was dead wrong. Sex is a gift of God and it is inherently good because the God who gave us sex is good. God created us in such a way that sex is a natural part of what it means to be human. We glorify God when we use this gift in the way God intends and when we use it to His glory. In Genesis 2 we read about the creation of a woman. After God gave Eve to Adam the Bible tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is God who designed sex and who gave it to us. It is a good gift and one that must be used as the Creator intends.

For Marriage

When God gave sex to humans, He provided a restriction. He decreed that sex is to be enjoyed only within marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). God gave us this restriction not to be burdensome, but to increase the pleasure and intimacy found in God-glorifying sex. As the creator of sexuality, He was free to place any restrictions He felt necessary. And thus, so that we could benefit from sexuality in the way He intended, He placed this simple restriction on it.

For Our Pleasure

God created sex to be pleasurable. What more evidence do we need than the clitoris, a part of the body that has only one function - to receive and transmit sexual pleasure. And not only is sex pleasurable, but it is mutually pleasurable, allowing the husband and wife to give and receive pleasure at the same time. This leads to mutual sexual fulfillment. A servant’s mindset is crucial in the marriage bed so each partner primarily seeks after the interests of the other. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). Sex is pleasurable because God made it to be pleasurable. We are not to feel guilty or burdened by sexual desire or by sexual pleasure.

For Intimacy

Humans are not entirely capable of comprehending the depth of intimacy brought about by sexual union. The word “know” is often used in Scripture to speak of the deep, intimate knowledge brought about by sex. God also speaks of the husband and wife being of “one flesh” through this act. Carolyn Mahaney writes, “Marital sex is the pinnacle of human bonding. It is the highest form of the communication of love - a language that expresses love without words. It calls forth the deepest, most powerful emotions. It creates intimacy within marriage like nothing else. In fact, as we give and receive the gift of lovemaking, this intimacy will grow stronger and more precious as the years go by. Each encounter will lead us to a deeper ‘knowing’ of the one we love” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 107). One of God’s deepest purposes in creating sex was to use it to bond husband to wife and wife to husband. It is something they are to share only with each other and something that will bring a deep and intimate knowledge reserved only for a spouse.

For Procreation

Sex is a means of pleasure and intimacy, but also has the purpose of procreation. Through the joyful act of sex God works through us to create new life.

These five points provide a framework for a biblical understanding of sex.

Culture and Sex

Our culture promotes a view of sex diametrically opposed to what Scripture teaches. This is a view that makes sex appear as little more than a biological function like breathing or urinating. In this view men have a sexual appetite they must fulfill and hence they hunt around much like a male dog seeks out a female who is in heat. Like a dog, a man can barely even help himself from fulfilling his craving. Television and movies now portray women in a similar light - as sexual creatures who are able to separate love and marriage from the act of sex. Yet biblical sexuality is far different.

Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 brings wisdom that reads more like a commentary on this passage than a translation of it. “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one.’ Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never ‘become one.’ There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for ‘becoming one’ with another.” And not only do we violate our own bodies, but the bodies of those with whom we have sex. Sex outside of marriage is a perversion of God’s intent.

Perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on sexuality is found in the Song of Solomon. This book portrays a man and woman who are desperately in love with each other. “These two desperately desire to be together, but not simply so they can experience sexual gratification. They want to be together because they are in love, and the sex they enjoy with one another is an expression of that love. Their mutual attraction is not primarily hormonal. It is primarily relational” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 85). The sex that is so beautifully depicted in Song of Solomon, (the great sex!), is founded primarily on relationship, not technique or the mere fulfillment of animal urges. The consummation of the sexual act is only one place on a long continuum filled with relationship, loving words, expressions of desire and finally physical intimacy. If we were to read Song of Solomon as a textbook on how to have sex we would misread Solomon’s intent. The book is a guide on how to build a loving, intimate relationship. It shows a view of sexuality that is far different from what we see on television or the movies. It is love that leads to sex rather than sex that leads to love.

God’s purpose in sexuality, then, is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings, and this is a large part of what makes marriage so unique.


God’s plan for sex is clear and so is God’s expectation for how we will use this gift. If we recklessly violate this gift we ought to expect to suffer consequences. The book of Proverbs makes this clear: “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished. People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house. He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:27-32). There are always consequences to sin. If we want to be people who honor God and if we want to avoid the consequences of sin by avoiding sin, we must be people who think deeply about issues, and even issues as difficult as this one.

In our next article we will build upon this theology of sex and discuss autoeroticism.

January 22, 2007

This is probably another one of those articles that discusses something everyone else already knows and has already thought about, but for which I am a bit late to the party. I’m not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer and sometimes you need to give me a little extra time to figure these things out. So bear with me. A little while ago, as I was sitting around waiting for something exciting to happen, I began thinking about the phrase “selfish prayer.” I’m not quite sure why, but the phrase just struck me as one that would be worth thinking about. And so I did. It turns out that it was well worth pondering.

As I first considered “selfish prayer” I thought about the obvious applications for it: prayers that revolve around me—my needs, my wants, my desires and my dreams. I pray selfishly when I focus primarily on what I want from God rather than what He wants for me. And I pray selfishly when I focus on what I want at the expense of what others may want or need. Though we read a good deal about prayer in the Bible, we still do not really know how it works. We know that God hears the prayers of those who are His children and that He sometimes chooses to answer prayer and sometimes chooses not to. We know that he warns against prayers that are offered in a spirit of pride, of prayers that are offered in a spirit of selfishness, and against prayers that are offered as testimonies to my own goodness rather than to God’s grace. Ultimately, we know that prayer is part of the secret counsel of God and much about it is hidden to us.

But these are things I have considered before. I have often thought of the strange fact that, during many of the wars that have raged in days past, men on both sides of the conflict have prayed to God for protection and victory. Perhaps the American Civil War was the most notable of these for there were God-fearing men, men who are known for their godliness and desire to honor and serve God, each trying to defeat the other and each pleading for God’s assistance in doing so. Why God ultimately chose to answer the prayers of Abraham Lincoln rather than those of Robert E. Lee is something we do not know. Somehow it served God’s purposes. These are difficult issues, but issues I’ve thought about and wrestled with in the past.

As I continued to consider selfish prayer I was struck with my own lethargy in prayer. I was struck by the fact that so often I am simply too lazy, too tired, too distracted to pray at all or at least to pray as I should. And this comes on the heels of witnessing some amazing answers to prayer and hearing testimonies about God’s goodness through prayer. Just yesterday our pastor hinted at some amazing things that are unfolding in and around our church and remarked “and this comes just after our church’s week of prayer.” Just this morning Dr. Mohler published an article in which he reflected on his time being critically ill. A lesson he learned in this crisis was the value of the blessing of friends and the reality of the Church. He was ministered to by members of his local church as well as believers he has never met. “Their concern was a great encouragement” he writes, “and their prayers were incredible gifts.”

This just confirmed what I had been thinking about yesterday. Prayer is not just something I do for myself. Prayer is not something I do even primarily for myself. Rather, prayer is something I do for God. My focus in prayer is not to be on me, but on God. My focus is not to be on what is important to me, but what is important to God. It may be, and should be, that these are one and the same. I do hope that I am captivated and stirred by what is of importance to God. Somehow, along this journey of life, and despite reading some very good books on the subject, I have adopted a selfish view of prayer that places me at the middle of the prayer. Instead of focusing on God and His will, my prayers have far too often focused on myself and my will. This has led to far too many prayers that go barely beyond myself.

A while back I read John Piper’s description of how he prays and it struck me that I pray in much the same way. He speaks of praying in concentric circles, beginning with himself, moving to his family and then his church and then growing ever-wider to communities, nations and the world. I love this method, but have realized how often I expend a great deal of time in that small circle in the middle. I put less time into the next circle and may just stop there. Maybe on a good day I move a little bit further. But sooner or later my prayers peter out and I see that I’ve given a lot more time to myself than to the rest of the world combined. This is selfish; it’s selfish prayer. In my laziness and in my selfishness I have denied others prayer that is rightfully theirs. In forgetting to pray for my community, I have robbed them of prayers I ought to have provided for them. Who else will pray for these people if I do not? Who knows the opportunities that have been lost because I have not been faithfully praying for them. In forgetting to pray for my friends, I have robbed them of prayer that should be an expression of my love for them. And who knows what pain may have been avoided and what trials they may not have faced if only I had been faithfully praying for them. As I move from the small circles to the large I see just how selfish my prayers have been.

So what is selfish prayer? It seems to me that perhaps the most selfish prayer of all is the prayer that is never uttered. It is the prayer that focuses on me and never reaches to others who are so desperately in need of God’s grace.

January 21, 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 (in theory) 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 Unashamed Workman. This is a blog owned by Colin Adams, a pastor who serves at Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland (a city I lived in for the better part of a year back when I was a teenager). His blog exists primarily to discuss issues relevant to those who preach the Word. He writes, “There are several preaching blogs already which I appreciate. … Nevertheless, there is still fairly little blogging being done relative to such an important task as preaching. I hope this blog will help fill in this gap. From a personal level, its a space for me to think through how I can be a better ‘workman’ who ‘correctly handles the word of truth.’ I speak as a student and learner of preaching, not as a teacher and expert.” Colin’s blog follows a fairly strict format with different emphases from Monday to Saturday (you can read about the format here. While Colin is still quite new to blogging, I can see that his site will fill a niche and become a valuable part of the Christian blogosphere. I admire his passion for preaching and hope that he can maintain his passion for blogging, especially when it follows such a rigorous and demanding format!

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.

January 20, 2007

Inspired By...The Bible Experience: New Testament Audio CDThe Bible Experience is a unique product. Featuring a unique cast, it offers what is surely a unique recording of the Bible.

Hear the words of the Bible brought to life like never before. Inspired By…The Bible Experience: New Testament Audio CD is a fully-dramatized reading of the Bible performed by an unprecedented ensemble of distinguished African-American actors, musicians, and personalities. The cast, including recognizable voices as Denzel Washington, Blair Underwood, and Angela Bassett, reads the Bible using the accessible and trusted Today’s New International Version (TNIV).

While people commonly speak of attempts to “bring the Bible to life,” I object to using this expression in connection with Scripture. After all, Hebrews 4:12 tells us that Scripture is already alive: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” While people who speaking of “bringing the Bible to life” may not necessarily be making a statement about the nature of the word of God, I do feel it is best to avoid this kind of careless language lest we feel that the Bible, read with expression or dramatized, is somehow more living and more active than the Bible read quietly or silently.

That small critique aside, this product is really just a recording of the Bible (in the TNIV version) read by an ensemble cast of popular African American actors, musicians and other celebrities. It is “lightly dramatized” meaning that it is read with a good deal of passion and expression, and there are ambient noises, crowd reactions, and so on. Unlike versions of Scripture read by a single narrator (think Max McLean reading the ESV), this one has different actors reading the words of the different biblical characters.

Inspired By…The Bible Experience breaks new ground in the presentation of the Bible. Unique among audio Bible productions, Inspired By…The Bible Experience is a captivating performance of the Bible presented by an ensemble of today’s-top name artists, musicians, directors, and award-winning producers.

Inspired By…The Bible Experience features a cross-generational and cross-cultural roster of talent that connects a wide variety of entertainment genres and personalities. With nearly 200 celebrities and notable personalities recorded to date, this historic production features stars from across the entertainment spectrum.

Cast members include:

  • Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of God
  • Blair Underwood as Jesus
  • Denzel Washington as the Lover of the Song of Solomon and his wife as the Beloved.
  • Angela Bassett as Esther
  • Cuba Gooding Jr. as Judas

The New Testament is currently available in stores and will be followed in 2007 by the Old Testament. In all, the cast numbers over 200, all of whom are African American celebrities. It is available digitally or on CD.

I did not listen to the entire series of CDs (there are nineteen of them for the New Testament) but the portions I did listen to, primarily from the gospels, were really quite well done. This product is certainly different, but I can see nothing inherently wrong with it! There were some strange moments, and there is something more than a little strange about hearing voices that are well-known though in far different contexts. Still, the recording is done well and the dramatizations are really quite good. This isn’t a product I am likely to use very often, but I can understand its appeal. I certainly hope it can find a market and that the words of Scripture can go beyond the ears of those who hear it, beyond the mouths of those who read it, and penetrate their hearts, just as we would hope and expect for words that are living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword.

January 18, 2007

When I was a kid, my family would travel to the United States every year or two. We would visit friends or family or just find some new and exciting place to settle down for a short vacation. I always enjoyed this trips to the U.S. but noted some peculiarities about American culture. This tends to surprise Americans, but things really are quite a bit different up here in the Great White North.

In recent years I have had far more opportunities to travel to America. My parents moved to Atlanta about seven years ago and since then we have made the long drive at least once or twice a year. And since I began liveblogging, I have visited all kinds of American cities (with a whole lot more being on my itinerary this year). I have found there are some things about America that I strongly dislike (and a few that I really like). So here I present to you a look at Sixteen Things I Hate About America (And A Few Things I Love). It all starts at the border with the…

Border Guards. It seems that the American border guards simply assume that once I am in their country I will never want to leave. This seems to be a problem that plagues the southern border of the U.S. more than the northern one, but the attitude definitely presents itself even up here. Unlike their Canadian counterparts, American border guards seem to feel the need to wear guns just to keep people out! I don’t suppose it ever occurs to them that perhaps, just perhaps, I really do want to leave their country someday (and someday soon, in all likelihood). Other gun-toting grumps in the US include the…

Police. Canadian police exist to keep the peace. This means that they rarely make an appearance unless they are absolutely needed or if you are seriously breaking the law. There is a 20 kilometer an hour buffer. As long as you drive with 20 kilometers per hour of the posted speed limit, it’s almost like having diplomatic immunity. In America the police are out to get you. They lurk at the sides of highways and byways, just waiting to slap you with an outrageous speeding fine for driving 2 miles per hour over the limit. They have a particular affection for slapping out-of-country drivers with these tickets. Thankfully I’ve long-since learned to take it easy on American highways. And continuing on this subject, what’s with the…

Speed Limits? If you’re driving on a Canadian highway you can rest assured that the speed limit is 100 kilometers per hour. You can drive clear across Ontario and this speed limit will pretty well never change. And all Canadians know that on the highways there is a 20 kilometer per hour grace period whereby the police will never bother you until you exceed 120 kilometers per hour (and even then there are usually enough people doing 140 or 150 that the cops only worry about the really bad speeders). In America the speed limits are constantly changing and are strictly enforced. They change from state-to-state, city-to-city and situation-to-situation. They are always in flux and seem entirely unpredictable. Drivers need to be constantly on the lookout to monitor the changing limits lest they wind up with nasty fines. While we’re talking about miles, let’s talk about the…

American System of Measurements. I have three questions about this system. Who made it, what medication was he on, and where can I get some? I assume if I take a bit of this I’ll be able to finally figure out the logic behind the Imperial system. Continuing to use this completely nonsensical system may be about the greatest display of American obstinacy. It simply makes no sense whatsoever. And speaking of greatests, what is with the American obsession with…

Greatests, biggests and longests?. Everywhere you go in the United States you see signs advertising the biggest this or the longest that. I’m quite sure this is largely an American phenomenon. What I want to know is this: is there a governing body that examines claims to be the biggest and longest? Is there a Bureau of Biggest or Commissioner of Comparison that examines and verifies these claims? If I am going to spend my hard-earned money at Fulton County’s largest flea market, I want to have some sort of assurance that it really is the largest flea market! One thing I am sure of is that America does not have the world’s nicest…

Money. Why is American money all the same color (and I’ll grant that this is slowly beginning to change as a tiny bit of color has been introduced into more recent bills)? Color-coding is a good thing. With just a glance one can tell the difference between the bills, rather than having to examine the face of an ex-President. Another annoyance with American money is the fact that there is…

No Two Dollar Denomination. Two dollar bills are a good thing. Two dollar coins are an even better thing. Having twenty 1 dollar bills in my wallet is always a bad thing. Of course one of those 1 dollar bills is enough to purchase a can of…

Coke. It seems many people do not know this, but there is a difference between Canadian and American Coke. In the American recipe the Coke is sweetened with corn syrup while in Canada it is sweetened with sugar. The corn syrup leaves a strong and unpleasant aftertaste while the sugar simply burns off your taste buds so you couldn’t possibly know if there is an aftertaste. An informal poll I conducted shows that 66% of people prefer the taste of Canadian Coke. You probably would too if you were able to compare. Another bad aftertaste comes from…

Grits. I can’t believe grits are considered food fit for human consumption. It is with good reason that they are not available up here. I couldn’t have imagined anything could have a worse combination of bland taste and disgusting consistency than porridge, but grits came through! Of course of you like grits you probably also like…

Waffle House. My brother-in-law tells me that the Mason-Dixon line is going to be renamed the IHOP-Waffle House Line. It seems that the moment you cross into Kentucky Waffle Houses appear at every exit of the Interstate. Their bland, yellow signs that look like a throwback to the sixties ruin the scenery across the South. If I wanted to see something at every exit and every corner I would want to see a…

Tim Horton’s. Canada’s best donut chain dots the Canadian landscape (and Canadian military bases around the world), but America seems almost devoid of Timmy’s. Where do Americans go for a great cup of coffee and a good donut? It’s a shame, really, that they can’t go to Tim Horton’s. I have, however, noticed one or two of them in…

Ohio. It seems to me that the United States would be better off without Ohio. As I see it, it is a state that has no real function other than to increase the distance between Canada and Atlanta by a few hundred miles. So I propose that Ohio be eliminated. This would require moving the NFL Hall of Fame from Canton, but I am sure there are many states that would be happy to take it on. I think the phrase “being inducted into Albuquerque” has an even better ring than “being inducted into Canton.” I suppose eliminating a state would be considered bad manners. And speaking of bad manners, why do Americans always…

Leave Their Shoes On In The House. In the rest of the world it is considered impolite to leave your shoes on inside someone else’s house. Yet in America it is considered perfectly normal behavior. Go ahead and tramp through water, snow and mud and then walk into the house, cross the carpet and why not put your feet up on the coffee table? Americans like to put their feet up while they watch…

Sports. The American obsession with sports is unparalleled. Canadians find it both shocking and hilarious to see Americans obsess with amateur sports such as those at the high school and college level. In Canada a high school football team plays before a handful of the players’ moms. In college they play before a handful of girlfriends. And yet in America, high school teams play before the entire community and can attract tens of thousands of fans. High school football has more fans in the U.S. than professional football does in Canada. On an unrelated note, do you really need…

150 Foot-Tall Signs beside the highway? In Canada we have rules about how high signs can be and trust me, it is a good thing. Everywhere you go in the United States you find signs reaching hundreds of feet into the air. Five hundred thousand candlepower lights illuminate these signs, lighting up the countryside for miles around. Sometimes the extra light comes in handy, though, especially when using the…

Highway Entrance and Exit Lanes. Is there any particular reason these have to be so short? Rather than having a couple hundred meters to make your way over and prepare to exit, in America you have to wait until the precise moment to rip your car into a 45 degree turn to exit the highway. When entering the highway, you have all of two or three car lengths to merge with the traffic. I have just one more complaint and it has to do with the word…

Huh? Since when is this considered a polite way of responding to a question? In the same area of the world where children refer to their parents as “sir” and “ma’am” why is it acceptable to say “huh?” when you do not understand something? What happened to “pardon?” or “excuse me?” My sisters used to be so polite. Now that they are American they just keep blurting “Huh?” all the time. It appears to be chronic.

I do not want to give the impression that everything about America is bad. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of great things. Here are a few:

Border Guards. “Wait!” you say, “I thought you hated them.” Well I do, but at least they seem to care about who gets into America. The Canadian border guards seem like they couldn’t possibly care less who or what crosses the border. I suppose they just figure that not too many terrorists are beating down the doors to exit the U.S. in order to commit horrifying acts in Canada. One thing that hasn’t crossed the border is…

Chick-Fil-A. Now that is some good eating. The chicken sandwiches are delicious and I really dig those waffle fries. Mmm mmm good! In-N-Out Burger is another chain that I would love to see up here. Another thing that is good is…

Driving North to South. I love how the mileage signs count down the miles before you hit the next state. It’s a great way of keeping track of just how far until the next Chick-Fil-A. I don’t think you can find any Chick-Fil-A’s in…

Pennsylvania. After visiting this state many times in my youth I have developed something of an attachment to it. I guess I can say I consider it my favorite state to visit. Going there helps me understand…

American Patriotism. In Canada we are proud not to be American. In America people are proud to be part of what they truly believe is the greatest country in the world. There is something to be said for believing so strongly in your country. And as an apathetic Canadian, I can’t help but admire it. As Canadians we are mostly just glad not to be American and in fact, that is pretty well how we define ourselves. Americans love to be American. Canadians just love not being American. It’s a strange thing.

So there you have it. There are things about America I hate and things I love. Please don’t hate me for that! If an American would like to take on Canada in similar fashion, feel free and I’ll link to your effort (hint: Canada is the country immediately above your own).

Please note that this article is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I really do love America. Or I like it, at any rate. Long-time readers may recognize this as being awfully similar to an article I posted several years ago. What can I say? I got to thinking about these things again…

January 16, 2007

Last week Paul (who, for those who haven’t made the connection, happens to be my pastor) wrote about an article in the Canadian media which stated that “The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada will recommend next month that all expectant mothers undergo screening for fetal abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome — not just those over the age of 35, as is the practice.”

Dr. Andre Lalonde, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Ottawa and the executive vice president of the SOGC, said the society decided to issue the recommendation so that a greater number of women would have the option to terminate their pregnancies should fetal abnormalities be detected.

“Yes, it’s going to lead to more termination, but it’s going to be fair to these women who are 24 who say, ‘How come I have to raise an infant with Down’s syndrome, whereas my cousin who was 35 didn’t have to?’” Dr. Lalonde said. “We have to be fair to give women a choice.”

“The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada will recommend that all expectant women younger than 40 be given nuchal translucency screening, followed by genetic counselling and amniocentesis if their risk for Down’s syndrome appears high.” Based on this article, Paul wrote:

I reject this proposal from personal experience. Although we rejected amniocentesis as an option in our son’s pregnancy (for the simple reason it might have killed him), we were given indicators through non-invasive testing that there might be a genetic problem. Readers of my blog will know that my son was born with a genetic defect labelled Williams Syndrome - a full-orbed physical and mental disability.

Is my son an accident? A faltering of the progressive cycle of evolution? A drain on society and its money? A thing not as valuable as a fully-functioning “normal” person?

My son is my flesh and blood and his worth is bound up in the fact he was made in the image and likeness of God, knit together in his mother’s womb and held together by the grace and power of Jesus Christ right now. If he never moved a muscle, never spoke a word, never made my life happier at any point, he would be no less valuable to the One who made Him. And no less valuable to me.

One does not have to be at our church for long, or to be with Paul and his family for long, to see how much joy this little boy brings to his parents, his sisters, and his church family. He is greatly valued and treasured because he is a treasure of great value. But in a sense this is really irrelevant, for the value of life is in the fact that it comes from God and is not affected by our desires, whims or preferences. Paul and his wife had no right to interfere with that life (and thankfully had no desire to interfere with it).

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends genetic counseling to those whose tests turn up anomalies or abnormalities. This counseling will, of course, address the issues that will be faced in raising a child with Down’s syndrome or another similar condition. It will raise abortion as the preferred course of action. In an article he published in response to discussion over the first article, Paul described his experience with genetic counseling:

When my wife was pregnant with our son, we were advised to seek “genetic counseling” due to some statistical abnormalities that appeared during routine blood work. We made an appointment at the Credit Valley Hospital and met with a genetic counselor.

We were told that there was a small percentage that our son would be born with Down Syndrome and advised to have an amniocentesis. The counselor spoke in hushed tones with a very serious look on her face then left us to watch a video.

The video showed two boys of equal age playing in a living room. One of the boys was cute and active and bright. The other was drooling on himself, with a disfigured face, frumpy clothes and awkward small motor skills.

The video asked us: Is this what you want?

The question, of course, is irrelevant. We do not get to decide if this is what we want. God gives life and we are to accept it as the treasure it is.

It has struck me recently that the issue of abortion has evolved from “Is this what you want?” (a matter of personal inconvenience) to “Is this what you want for your family?” (a matter of wider inconvenience) to “How can you do this to us?” (a matter of societal inconvenience). Those who learn that their child may be born with Down’s syndrome or another condition will feel pressure to abort this child for the good of society. They will be told, even if only tacitly, that to bring a disabled child into the world is unfair to everyone in society. It is, after all, my tax dollars that will need to support this child through special education and special vocation, and my children whose tax dollars will pay for his retirement. Paul felt this pressure, for he writes “Parents are placed under enormous pressure when they walk in to medical establishments that pop off lots of statistics, show propaganda and use the power of suggestion. In our situation, I can identify all three of those things.”

On the weekend I decided to put my copy of the Outdoor Bible to the test in a variety of situations. I placed Matthew and Mark in the freezer, put Luke out in the snow, let my daughter chew on Acts, and stuck John to the wall of the shower. I happened to read the ninth chapter of John while it was hanging there (tricky business, this concurrent showering and reading) and came across the story of Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth. I was so grateful that God sovereignly arranged things so that I might encounter this passage. You know the story. The disciples asked Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied simply “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Those words, “that the works of God might be displayed in him” took me right back to Paul’s article and to the deeper issue of aborting any children who are deemed abnormal. Not many parents today would wrestle with the issue of who sinned that a child was born blind. Neither would they wrestle with whether this child should even be born. Blindness would be sufficient cause for many parents, and perhaps even most parents, to abort the child and try again, hoping for a better result the next time. And yet this particular blind man was to serve a purpose that had been sovereignly ordained.

F.F. Bruce makes an important point about this story: “This does not mean that God deliberately caused the child to be born blind in order that, after many years, his glory should be displayed in the removal of the blindness; to think so would again be an aspersion on the character of God. It does mean that God overruled the disaster of the child’s blindness so that, when the child grew to manhood, he might, by recovering his sight, see the glory of God in the face of Christ, and others, seeing this work of God, might turn to the true Light of the World.” John MacArthur summarizes “God sovereignly chose to use this man’s affliction for His own glory.”

I love Matthew Henry’s treatment of this passage. He draws out two applications for the fact that this man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. The first is that “the attributes of God might be made manifest in him.” Among the attributes of God seen in the life of this man are God’s justice in making sinful man liable to such grievous calamities and His ordinary power and goodness in supporting a poor man under such a grievous and tedious affliction. God’s goodness was specially and miraculously manifested in curing him. The second application is “that the counsels of God concerning the Redeemer might be manifested in him. He was born blind that our Lord Jesus might have the honour of curing him, and might therein prove himself sent of God to be the true light to the world. Thus the fall of man was permitted, and the blindness that followed it, that the works of God might be manifest in opening the eyes of the blind. It was now a great while since this man was born blind, and yet it never appeared till now why he was so.” This man had been born blind so that the power of God might be displayed in him.

Henry draws a final application: “the intentions of Providence commonly do not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you can apprehend the sense of them.” Those who abort their children do not read to the end of those long sentences. Rather, thinking selfishly and looking only a few words ahead, they make the terrible decision to end a life, destroying the gift of God. Henry also writes “Those who regard [God] not in the ordinary course of things are sometimes alarmed by things extraordinary. How contentedly then may a good man be a loser in his comforts, while he is sure that thereby God will be one way or other a gainer in his glory!” (You may, as I did, have to read that last sentence a few times to gain the sense of it.) Those who choose abortion are unwilling to lose their comforts that God may gain His glory. This glory may not be miraculous as it was in the case of the man born blind, but God is glorified in every life that enters this world. Every one of us testifies to the Creator’s wisdom, power, love and goodness. Countless millions have been destroyed and tossed away and we have never been able to rejoice in the gift of life God gave them. We have not been able to marvel in the attributes of God displayed so clearly in their lives.

When we abort those who are infirm, physically or mentally, we destroy boys and girls, men and women, in whom we ought to see the works of God displayed. We miss out on marvelous opportunities to see the works of God displayed in their lives. We miss opportunities to see God’s glory increase, even if this involves a requisite decrease in our comfort. This ought to be a small price to pay.

January 15, 2007

The issue of profanity in the church is one that continually surprises me. To myself and to many other Reformed types, what is most shocking about the profanity discussion is that we need to have it at all! That we should avoid foul speech seems obvious and beyond dispute. And yet here we are. There is little consensus in the church about this particular issue.

One thing that I find is often missing in discussions on profanity is the connection between the heart and the tongue. We need to realize that the tongue is not an isolated instrument in the body. The tongue or the mouth speaks for the heart. Said otherwise, what proceeds from the mouth is a sure indication of what is in the heart. If a mouth pours forth filth, it is a sure indication that there is also a filthy heart. If a tongue spews forth rebellion, there is rebellion in the heart. If the tongue pours out praise, there is godly joy in the heart. We see this most clearly in the books of Proverbs and James. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth” (Proverbs 10:20). Note the parallel between the tongue and the heart. “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5). So while the issue of profanity so often centers around words, the issue strikes deeper—as deep as the heart.

As you may know, John Piper recently made public an apology for his use of an inappropriate word at the recent Passion07 Conference. Speaking in a breakout session Piper said that sometimes “God kicks our ass.” Needless to say, some people were surprised by this and questioned his decision to use that particular term. I had not heard anything about this situation until Piper addressed it, so I assume that his use of this word was not widely known. I hope that those who questioned him did so in a way that was humble and respectful. I am grateful that (to my knowledge) it was not widely discussed and debated in the blogosphere and beyond.

Piper began his reply by stating “I regret saying it. I am sitting here trying to figure out why I say things like that every now and then. I think it is a mixture of (sinful) audience titillation and (holy) scorn against my own flesh and against the devil, along with the desire to make the battle with Satan and my flesh feel gutsy and real and not middle-class pious. There is a significant difference between saying that God disciplines his children and saying that he ‘kicks our ass’ (the phrase used at Passion)—the effect of the first can produce a yawn and leave students with no sense of how real I mean it. I think ‘He kicks our backside’ would have sufficed. And even better might have been some concrete illustrations of the Lord’s firm spanks.” But while he regrets using the word, he is not entirely sure that it is always necessarily sinful to do so. “If I wanted to take the time, and I felt more defensive than I do, I could probably go to the Bible and find language as offensive as that in the mouth of prophets, and even God when dealing with the grossness of evil. But I doubt that the moment in the breakout session called for something that extreme. Sometimes maybe. I hope the Lord turns it for good.” He shows this again in his closing paragraph where he writes “I think if I had it to do over, I would not say it. On the one hand, I don’t like fanning the flames of those who think it is hip and cool to swear for Jesus. That, it seems to me, is immature. On the other hand, I want those hip people to listen to all I say and write, and I hope that the Lord may get a hold of them and draw them out of immaturity and into the fullness of holiness. But it backfires if one becomes unholy to make people holy. I suspect there was too much of the unholy in my heart at that moment.”

I admire Piper for posting this response and for acknowledging the deeper heart issues of profanity. It was good of him to address this issue and to do so publicly. He could just as easily have done what many other evangelical leaders do and have done and sent this reply only to those who specifically requested it. He could also have feigned surprise that some people were concerned or taken the opportunity to cast doubt on their hearts or their intentions. Instead, he took the humbling step of making the information public, not only apologizing publicly but letting many more people know about the “controversy.”

I was a little bit surprised at Piper’s reply. It did not seem entirely Piper-like (and not only because there was not a single hyphen in the entire three paragraphs). It seemed to me to lack a little bit of the conviction or firmness that Piper is known for. He was willing to say that he felt it was wrong for him to use that word in that circumstance, but less willing to comment on profanity in a more objective sense. It is unusual for him to arrive at something other than a firm conclusion and in this case he seemed uncertain and perhaps unconvinced. Reading between the lines, it seems that Piper has just not considered this issue enough to feel confident making any kind of a declaration.

Enter Wayne Grudem. Grudem wrote a letter to Piper that was subsequently posted on Desiring God’s site, further proof of Piper’s humility. Grudem mentions that he saw Piper’s initial response and says “I’m glad you said that now you regret saying it and thankful that you were willing to say this.” Grudem then offered his opinion on profane words. In so doing he pretty well summarized what I believe but what I have never been able to adequately formulate in my mind!

I’m not sure if this will be helpful but I’ve thought of such language as a question of having a reputation for “cleanness” in our speech, as in the rest of life, out of concern for how that reflects on the gospel and on God whom we represent.

A number of different words can denote the same thing but have different connotations, some of them recognized as “unclean” or “offensive” by the culture.


  • urination: taking a leak, pee, “p–”
  • defication: poop, “cr—”, “sh—”
  • sexual intercourse: sleeping with someone, “f–”
  • rear end: backside, “a—”

He then turns to Scripture, and I was grateful to see that he avoids any kind of clumsy legalism or tearing Scripture out of context. Instead he makes an argument based on the Christian’s reputation for cleanliness:

Speaking of these things and using different words for them is not contrary to any biblical command (and so it is different from taking the Lord’s name in vain, which is explicitly forbidden), but we are also commanded to maintain a reputation for cleanliness:
  • ESV Titus 2:10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
  • ESV Ephesians 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
  • ESV Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • ESV Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

And then he gets to the crux of the matter: “Using the words commonly thought to be offensive in the culture seems to me to be sort of the verbal equivalent of not wearing deodorant and having body odor, or of going around with spilled food on our shirts all the time. Someone might argue that not wearing deodorant or wearing dirty clothes are not morally wrong things in themselves, but my response is that they do give needless offense and cause others to think of us as somewhat impure or unclean. So, I think, does using words commonly thought to be ‘obscene’ or ‘offensive’ or ‘vulgar’ in the culture generally. Plus it encourages others to act in the same way. So in that way it brings reproach on the church and the gospel.”

I don’t think there is much more I could add to Grudem’s response. I agree entirely that we can bring reproach on the church and the gospel in many ways. We can do so in a wide variety of ways, such as by being unclean and as Grudem says, this can be physical or verbal. As Christians we need to ensure that we do not give others cause to think of us as impure and unclean.

Grudem’s next paragraph was interesting to me since he dealt with Piper’s comment that the Bible often uses “dirty” language. This is an issue I have wrestled with in the past as friends and acquaintances have sought to convince me that not only does the Bible not prohibit vulgar speech, but that it actually promotes it. The common argument revolves around Paul’s use of the word “skubalon.”

As for your comment about finding language “as offensive as that” in the Bible, I’m not sure. It’s difficult for us to be sure about the connotations of words in an ancient culture. When I was in seminary I remember another student arguing that Paul’s use of skubalon in Philippians 3:8 (For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ) was just like using “sh—” today. I thought that sounded right. But later I found that the word has a broader range of meaning and I’m not sure it had the offensive overtones that “sh—” does today in English. (BDAG: useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, refuse, garbage [in var. senses, ‘excrement, manure, garbage, kitchen scraps’]). In translating the ESV we rendered that term in Phil. 3:8 as “rubbish,” not as a more offensive word. I think that was a good decision.

The “skubalon” argument has long struck me as being akin to the “Junia” argument regarding the role of men and women in the church. It is a classic case of arguing from the narrow to the wide—of taking what is vague and using it to overrule what is clear. Now I do not want to accuse John Piper of making this argument. Rather, I am simply commenting on Grudem’s refutation of it. Sometimes we use the Bible to really change and impact us, and other times we use the Bible to reinforce what we really want to be true. I consider the “skubalon” argument to be just that, an attempt to permit what we know is wrong. And in so doing we override the commands that are clear (which is to say, the commands that Grudem listed above). This is not to say that we cannot consider “skubalon” in our discussion, but simply that we should not argue from the use of a single word about which we know little.

Grudem closes simply “All this is to say I think you were right to express regret for saying what you said.” And I am with Grudem. I think Piper was right to express regret and hope he will consider Grudem’s further argument. I know there is a lot more that could be said on this issue and am convinced that Grudem could write a 1,000-page book on the topic! And yet I think his concise argument is a very good one and well worth pondering.

Exchanges such as this make me so proud to be a Christian and to be a family member with and a brother to these two men. I love the way Christians seek to think so deeply about important issues and to live their lives in a way that is consistent with a higher, better standard. I love to see how others seek to pursue godliness and to help others to pursue godliness. I love it when Christians treat each other as family members, gently rebuking, correcting, encouraging and edifying. God is gracious to make us not just friends, not just colleagues or associates, but family members. And God is gracious to have gifted us with brothers like John Piper and Wayne Grudem, men who would be humbled that the church may be edified.

January 14, 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 (in theory) 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 Pro-Existence, the blog of Rick and Nancy Pearcey (and the official blog of Pearcey Report). Rick and Nancy have been family friends for as far back as I can remember and I can think of many times when, as a child, we would spend the day with them. I have long respected them as Christians and as cultural commentators. Rick has always had a knack for finding interesting news stories and for the past year or two has been linking them from The Pearcey Report. Now, with Pro-Existence, he is providing more first-hand writing from his pen (and, on occasion, from Nancy’s). I’d encourage you to make The Pearcey Report and Pro-Existence a daily or near-daily stop in your internet travels.

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.