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March 27, 2008

You’ve probably seen this video. If not, you’ll want to take six minutes of your life and give it a look. It’s Bob Newhart at his best, really. If you’ve heard his old bits about the discovery of tobacco or the invention of baseball you’ll see that not much has changed over the years. He’s as funny as ever. His stuttering, his naivete—it’s the same as it ever was. It’s brilliant.

In the case of this video, though, every time I see it I can’t help but think he’s just a little bit more than funny—he shares some advice that is surprisingly valuable, even if it is both abrupt and hilarious. I keep the video around and watch it every now and again. I think it’s good for me to do so. Sometimes I think that, as a Christian, I can go looking for cures for sin that are long and involved and a little bit mysterious. I can go to friends or pastors or books for counsel and, like the woman in this video, I’m looking for a cure that I can jot down in a notebook and follow step-by-step. I want something I can do twice a day for ten days and watch the sin magically fall away. I want a five or ten step program. Sometimes such strategies work. Often they do not.

In Mark Driscoll’s book Confessions of a Reformission Rev he shares a late-night conversation with a member of his church. This video reminded me of Driscoll’s tale. The man called him in the middle of the night crying and begging for help because he had committed a certain sexual sin yet again. Though Driscoll’s answer was a tad vulgar I think he essentially gave the guy the right one: Just stop it! His counsel to the man was probably exactly what he needed to hear: shut up, grow up, man up and stop sinning. The guy called his pastor looking for a shoulder to cry on but what he got was a lesson in growing up. I hope it wasn’t lost on him.

Some time ago I spoke to a friend about an ongoing sin in his life and tried to show him that the essence of his problem was this: he hates his sin just a little bit less than he loves it. Sure he wants to stop sinning, but even more he wants to keep sinning. And I think he came to agree. My advice was pretty well what Newhart offered the woman in this video: “Stop it!” Are you fighting sin? I’ll pray for you—really, I will. And I’ll recommend that you memorize some Scriptures, some fighter verses, that will help you battle that sin by bringing to mind the promises of God. But I’ll also challenge you to just stop it and to stop it now. You stop sinning by turning your back on it. You do not sit back and wait for God to change you while you remain in your sin. Rather, you join him in the fight, joining your will with His strength. And together you go to war.

I can memorize Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and I can have the whole world pray for me. But there comes a time when forsaking sin, truly putting it to death, requires a decision of the mind and an act of the will. Sooner or later I need to just stop it. And God can give me the strength to do so.

March 24, 2008

Do you know those times where you have a word or phrase bouncing around your mind for days or weeks at a time? I’ve had one of those recently and I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. The phrase is this: “Give your best to your local church.” It is easy, I know, to offer our best to believers other than those in our local churches. There is often affirmation and excitement in ministering elsewhere. Sometimes the local church can seem so drab, so normal in comparison.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching at Grace Fellowship Church (a.k.a. my church) as part of a series we’re doing on the book of Acts. It is a series that is a refresher course, of sorts, reminding us what the early church was all about. When we understand that Acts is meant to be more than mere history, we see that there is much we can and should learn from the example of the first Christians. I spoke on group evangelism in the early church and discussed the local church in Antioch and their example of sending men on foreign missions. I showed how these men were called by the Spirit, commissioned by the church, and then sent by the church and the Spirit. I focused on the fact that these men were not renegade missionaries, sending themselves to the mission field, but that they were men who were called through and on behalf of a local church.

I began my sermon by reflecting on something that had been of interest to me. The three days prior to preaching I had been in Orlando, Florida for the Ligonier Ministries National Conference. It was, by any measure, a fantastic conference. We were able to hear some exceptional messages by some great preachers. We heard from Sinclair Ferguson, Steve Lawson, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul. They brought us the Word and brought it with power. I truly enjoyed the conference and benefited from it. Yet even while I sat there with 5,000 other believers, I couldn’t help but note a tiny little voice in my brain (or was it in my heart?) saying, “I’d rather be at Grace.” It is not that there was anything wrong with the conference. Far from it! It’s just that God has built into me and into all believers a heart for the local church. God has done something amazing in building the local church and in grouping us together in these bodies. The longer I stay at Grace and the more I commit myself to her, the more it feels like home. I took just a moment to thank the people in that church for being that local church to me and to my family.

You know, the more I travel and the more I see of the church at large, the more I come to love her—but even stronger, the more I come to love my local church. These local churches, which can be found from one end of the world to the other, truly are the hope for the world. It is to these bodies, more than any other, that God has entrusted His message. And it is through these local bodies that He seems to do His greatest work. These bodies are the most natural context for all manner of Christian ministry.

Like you, I’ve seen pastors who have sacrificed their families and their churches to the altar of ministry. They travel the world speaking at ministry events, all the while missing the opportunities to minister in their community of faith. They become disconnected from the local church, opting instead to minister everywhere else. But I’m convinced that God calls us first to our local congregations and only then to wider ministry. As I’ve traveled and as I’ve seen churches all across North America, I’ve seen like never before the importance of a commitment to a local church. I enjoyed talking to Steve Lawson some time ago and hearing from him that travel and ministry has only caused him to miss preaching at his own church one Sunday in the past year or so. He speaks at many conferences, but always attempts to be home on Saturday so he can minister to his own congregation on Sunday morning. There are many like him—many men who love to minister elsewhere but who mostly love to minister closest to home.

In my younger days I used to go to many Christian concerts and I would often have opportunities to talk with band members. I often noted how many of these men would continually speak of their families. I took this as a good sign! These men had families they loved and it was clear that, though music was what they did for a living, their hearts were with their wives and children at home. They spoke this way deliberately, I’m sure, and did it to guard their hearts. They took every opportunity to share with others about the people they loved. Likewise, many ministers are thrilled by what God is doing in their local congregations. It is always exciting to hear a pastor share the things God has done and to share in his excitement.

Give your best to your local church.” I am still working out the details of all of this in my own life. I am still working on ensuring that my first commitment to Christians is to those within the community where God has placed me. I’ve begun to reevaluate how and when I travel; I’ve begun to reevaluate the things I write about; I’ve begun to ask how I can give my best to the community of faith closest to me. It’s an ongoing process and one I’ve really only just begun.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have the opportunity to preach once more at Grace. This time I will speak about the importance of prayer in the early church and I hope to take as my text the closing verses Acts 4:23-31—that passage that allows us a glimpse into an impromptu prayer meeting in the early days of the church. Peter and John have just been released after interrogation by a religious council and the very moment they are freed they “went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” They went straight from the council to a gathering of the local church and there they prayed for boldness and for success in ministry. Something here caught my eye. Even with my rudimentary Greek I was able to see that the word “friends” was missing from the original text. This is a translation that takes just a little bit of liberty (which, of course, translations often have to do). Almost every translation offers something different here but what the text really seems to say is simply that upon their release “they went to their own.” And what a great phrase that is! No sooner had they been released than they went to their local church, the most natural context for them to minister and to be ministered to, and together they joined their voices in prayer to God. This passage shows the local church in action; the local church doing what they do best; the local church doing what God decreed that they should do.

It’s this kind of commitment I want to have for the local church—a commitment that considers that church my own. And it’s a commitment I’m sure we can learn from the book of Acts.

March 23, 2008

Yesterday I posted a short story by Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. Well, I thought it would be fun to post one more thing by him before turning to more important matters. The story by Leacock that is usually considered his most humorous is entitled “Arcadian Adventures With the Idle Rich.” As one commenter (who happens to be my mother) posted yesterday, some of the book is “devoted to contrasting an Anglican [Episcopalian] and Presbyterian church—and their respective ministers. Of course, it is a caricature, an absolutely brilliant one…A must- read for Reformed people wanting to laugh at themselves!” Here are two excerpts, one very short and the other a bit longer. If you are Reformed and/or Anglical and/or Presbyterian, you may recognize a caricature of yourself somewhere in here. Enjoy!

* * * * * *

Later on, when Spillikins went into business and into society, the same fate pursued him. He loved, for at least six months, Georgiana McTeague, the niece of the presbyterian minister of St. Osoph’s. He loved her so well that for her sake he temporarily abandoned his pew at St. Asaph’s, which was episcopalian, and listened to fourteen consecutive sermons on hell. But the affair got no further than that. Once or twice, indeed, Spillikins walked home with Georgiana from church and talked about hell with her; and once her uncle asked him into the manse for cold supper after evening service, and they had a long talk about hell all through the meal and upstairs in the sitting-room afterwards. But somehow Spillikins could get no further with it. He read up all he could about hell so as to be able to talk with Georgiana, but in the end it failed: a young minister fresh from college came and preached at St. Osoph’s six special sermons on the absolute certainty of eternal punishment, and he married Miss McTeague as a result of it.

* * * * * *

The church of St. Asaph, more properly call St. Asaph’s in the Fields, stands among the elm trees of Plutoria Avenue opposite the university, its tall spire pointing to the blue sky. Its rector is fond of saying that it seems to him to point, as it were, a warning against the sins of a commercial age. More particularly does he say this in his Lenten services at noonday, when the businessmen sit in front of him in rows, their bald heads uncovered and their faces stamped with contrition as they think of mergers that they should have made, and real estate that they failed to buy for lack of faith.

The ground on which St. Asaph’s stands is worth seven dollars and a half a foot. The mortgagees, as they kneel in prayer in their long frock-coats, feel that they have built upon a rock. It is a beautifully appointed church. There are windows with priceless stained glass that were imported from Normandy, the rector himself swearing out the invoices to save the congregation the grievous burden of the customs duty. There is a pipe organ in the transept that cost ten thousand dollars to install. The debenture-holders, as they join in the morning anthem, love to hear the dulcet notes of the great organ and to reflect that it is as good as new. Just behind the church is St. Asaph’s Sunday School, with a ten-thousand dollar mortgage of its own. And below that again on the side street, is the building of the Young Men’s Guild with a bowling-alley and a swimming-bath deep enough to drown two young men at a time, and a billiard-room with seven tables. It is the rector’s boast that with a Guild House such as that there is no need for any young man of the congregation to frequent a saloon. Nor is there.

And on Sunday mornings, when the great organ plays, and the mortgagees and the bond-holders and the debenture-holders and the Sunday school teachers and the billiard-markers all lift up their voices together, there is emitted from St. Asaph’s a volume of praise that is practically as fine and effective as paid professional work.

St. Asaph’s is episcopal. As a consequence it has in it and about it all those things which go to make up the episcopal church—brass tablets let into its walls, blackbirds singing in its elm trees, parishioners who dine at eight o’clock, and a rector who wears a little crucifix and dances the tango.

On the other hand, there stands upon the same street, not a hundred yards away, the rival church of St. Osoph—presbyterian down to its very foundations in bed-rock, thirty feet below the level of the avenue. It has a short, squat tower—and a low roof, and its narrow windows are glazed with frosted glass. It has dark spruce trees instead of elms, crows instead of blackbirds, and a gloomy minister with a shovel hat who lectures on philosophy on week-days at the university. He loves to think that his congregation are made of the lowly and the meek in spirit, and to reflect that, lowly and meek as they are, there are men among them that could buy out half the congregation of St. Asaph’s.

St. Osoph’s is only presbyterian in a special sense. It is, in fact, too presbyterian to be any longer connected with any other body whatsoever. It seceded some forty years ago from the original body to which it belonged, and later on, with three other churches, it seceded from the group of seceding congregations. Still later it fell into a difference with the three other churches on the question of eternal punishment, the word “eternal” not appearing to the elders of St. Osoph’s to designate a sufficiently long period. The dispute ended in a secession which left the church of St. Osoph practically isolated in a world of sin whose approaching fate it neither denied nor deplored.

In one respect the rival churches of Plutoria Avenue had had a similar history. Each of them had moved up by successive stages from the lower and poorer parts of the city. Forty years ago St. Asaph’s had been nothing more than a little frame church with a tin spire, away in the west of the slums, and St. Osoph’s a square, diminutive building away in the east. But the site of St. Asaph’s had been bought by a brewing company, and the trustees, shrewd men of business, themselves rising into wealth, had rebuilt it right in the track of the advancing tide of a real estate boom. The elders of St. Osoph, quiet men, but illumined by an inner light, had followed suit and moved their church right against the side of an expanding distillery. Thus both the churches, as decade followed decade, made their way up the slope of the City till St. Asaph’s was presently gloriously expropriated by the street railway company, and planted its spire in triumph on Plutoria Avenue itself. But St. Osoph’s followed. With each change of site it moved nearer and nearer to St. Asaph’s. Its elders were shrewd men. With each move of their church they took careful thought in the rebuilding. In the manufacturing district it was built with sixteen windows on each side and was converted at a huge profit into a bicycle factory. On the residential street it was made long and deep and was sold to a moving-picture company without the alteration of so much as a pew. As a last step a syndicate, formed among the members of the congregation themselves, bought ground on Plutoria Avenue, and sublet it to themselves as a site for the church, at a nominal interest of five per cent per annum, payable nominally every three months and secured by a nominal mortgage.

As the two churches moved, their congregations, or at least all that was best of them—such members as were sharing in the rising fortunes of the City—moved also, and now for some six or seven years the two churches and the two congregations had confronted one another among the elm trees of the Avenue opposite to the university.

But at this point the fortunes of the churches had diverged. St. Asaph’s was a brilliant success; St. Osoph’s was a failure. Even its own trustees couldn’t deny it. At a time when St. Asaph’s was not only paying its interest but showing a handsome surplus on everything it undertook, the church of St. Osoph was moving steadily backwards.

There was no doubt, of course, as to the cause. Everybody knew it. It was simply a question of men, and, as everybody said, one had only to compare the two men conducting the churches to see why one succeeded and the other failed.

The Reverend Edward Fareforth Furlong of St. Asaph’s was a man who threw his whole energy into his parish work. The subtleties of theological controversy he left to minds less active than his own. His creed was one of works rather than of words, and whatever he was doing he did it with his whole heart. Whether he was lunching at the Mausoleum Club with one of his church wardens, or playing the flute—which he played as only the episcopal clergy can play it—accompanied on the harp by one of the fairest of the ladies of his choir, or whether he was dancing the new episcopal tango with the younger daughters of the elder parishioners, he threw himself into it with all his might. He could drink tea more gracefully and play tennis better than any clergyman on this side of the Atlantic. He could stand beside the white stone font of St. Asaph’s in his long white surplice holding a white-robed infant, worth half a million dollars, looking as beautifully innocent as the child itself, and drawing from every matron of the congregation with unmarried daughters the despairing cry, “What a pity that he has no children of his own!”

Equally sound was his theology. No man was known to preach shorter sermons or to explain away the book of Genesis more agreeably than the rector of St. Asaph’s; and if he found it necessary to refer to the Deity he did so under the name of Jehovah or Jah, or even Yaweh in a manner calculated not to hurt the sensitiveness of any of the parishioners. People who would shudder at brutal talk of the older fashion about the wrath of God listened with well-bred interest to a sermon on the personal characteristics of Jah. In the same way Mr. Furlong always referred to the devil, not as Satan but as Su or Swa, which took all the sting out of him. Beelzebub he spoke of as Behel-Zawbab, which rendered him perfectly harmless. The Garden of Eden he spoke of as the Paradeisos, which explained it entirely; the flood as the Diluvium, which cleared it up completely; and Jonah he named, after the correct fashion Jon Nah, which put the whole situation (his being swallowed by Baloo or the Great Lizard) on a perfectly satisfactory footing. Hell itself was spoken of as She-ol, and it appeared that it was not a place of burning, but rather of what one might describe as moral torment. This settled She-ol once and for all: nobody minds moral torment. In short, there was nothing in the theological system of Mr. Furlong that need have occasioned in any of his congregation a moment’s discomfort.

There could be no greater contrast with Mr. Fareforth Furlong than the minister of St. Osoph’s, the Rev. Dr. McTeague, who was also honorary professor of philosophy at the university. The one was young, the other was old; the one could dance the other could not; the one moved about at church picnics and lawn teas among a bevy of disciples in pink and blue sashes; the other moped around under the trees of the university campus with blinking eyes that saw nothing and an abstracted mind that had spent fifty years in trying to reconcile Hegel with St. Paul, and was still busy with it. Mr. Furlong went forward with the times; Dr. McTeague slid quietly backwards with the centuries.

Dr. McTeague was a failure, and all his congregation knew it. “He is not up to date,” they said. That was his crowning sin. “He don’t go forward any,” said the business members of the congregation. “That old man believes just exactly the same sort of stuff now that he did forty years ago. What’s more, he preaches it. You can’t run a church that way, can you?”

His trustees had done their best to meet the difficulty. They had offered Dr. McTeague a two-years’ vacation to go and see the Holy Land. He refused; he said he could picture it. They reduced his salary by fifty per cent; he never noticed it. They offered him an assistant; but he shook his head, saying that he didn’t know where he could find a man to do just the work that he was doing. Meantime he mooned about among the trees concocting a mixture of St. Paul with Hegel, three parts to one, for his Sunday sermon, and one part to three for his Monday lecture.

No doubt it was his dual function that was to blame for his failure. And this, perhaps, was the fault of Dr. Boomer, the president of the university. Dr. Boomer, like all university presidents of today, belonged to the presbyterian church; or rather, to state it more correctly, he included presbyterianism within himself. He was of course, a member of the board of management of St. Osoph’s and it was he who had urged, very strongly, the appointment of Dr. McTeague, then senior professor of philosophy, as minister.

A saintly man,” he said, “the very man for the post. If you should ask me whether he is entirely at home as a professor of philosophy on our staff at the university, I should be compelled to say no. We are forced to admit that as a lecturer he does not meet our views. He appears to find it difficult to keep religion out of his teaching. In fact, his lectures are suffused with a rather dangerous attempt at moral teaching which is apt to contaminate our students. But in the Church I should imagine that would be, if anything, an advantage. Indeed, if you were to come to me and say, ‘Boomer, we wish to appoint Dr. McTeague as our minister,’ I should say, quite frankly, ‘Take him.’”

So Dr. McTeague had been appointed. Then, to the surprise of everybody he refused to give up his lectures in philosophy. He said he felt a call to give them. The salary, he said, was of no consequence. He wrote to Mr. Furlong senior (the father of the episcopal rector and honorary treasurer of the Plutoria University) and stated that he proposed to give his lectures for nothing. The trustees of the college protested; they urged that the case might set a dangerous precedent which other professors might follow. While fully admitting that Dr. McTeague’s lectures were well worth giving for nothing, they begged him to reconsider his offer. But he refused; and from that day on, in spite of all offers that he should retire on double his salary, that he should visit the Holy Land, or Syria, or Armenia, where the dreadful massacres of Christians were taking place, Dr. McTeague clung to his post with a tenacity worthy of the best traditions of Scotland. His only internal perplexity was that he didn’t see how, when the time came for him to die, twenty or thirty years hence, they would ever be able to replace him. Such was the situation of the two churches on a certain beautiful morning in June, when an unforeseen event altered entirely the current of their fortunes.

March 22, 2008

As I was writing yesterday’s article I kept thinking of a rather popular short story by Stephen Leacock, a Canadian writer who lived from 1869 to 1944. His most famous book is probably Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, though if you aren’t Canadian you probably haven’t heard of it. You should. Leacock was downright hilarious as evidenced by a few favorite quotes: “Many a man in love with a dimple makes a mistake of marrying the whole girl.” “Each section of the British Isles has its own way of laughing, except Wales, which doesn’t.” “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.” “Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

Anyways, here is his story entitled “My Financial Career.” Chances are that if you went to grade school in Canada you’ve read it.

When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.

The moment I cross the threshold of a bank and attempt to transact business there, I become an irresponsible idiot.

I knew this beforehand, but my salary had been raised to fifty dollars a month and I felt that the bank was the only place for it.

So I shambled in and looked timidly round at the clerks. I had an idea that a person about to open an account must needs consult the manager.

I went up to a wicket marked “Accountant.” The accountant was a tall, cool devil. The very sight of him rattled me. My voice was sepulchral.

Can I see the manager?” I said, and added solemnly, “alone.” I don’t know why I said “alone.”

Certainly,” said the accountant, and fetched him.

The manager was a grave, calm man. I held my fifty-six dollars clutched in a crumpled ball in my pocket.

Are you the manager?” I said. God knows I didn’t doubt it.

Yes,” he said.

Can I see you,” I asked, “alone?” I didn’t want to say “alone” again, but without it the thing seemed self-evident.

The manager looked at me in some alarm. He felt that I had an awful secret to reveal.

Come in here,” he said, and led the way to a private room. He turned the key in the lock.

We are safe from interruption here,” he said; “sit down.” We both sat down and looked at each other. I found no voice to speak.

You are one of Pinkerton’s men, I presume,” he said.

He had gathered from my mysterious manner that I was a detective. I knew what he was thinking, and it made me worse.

No, not from Pinkerton’s,” I said, seeming to imply that I came from a rival agency.

To tell the truth,” I went on, as if I had been prompted to lie about it,” I am not a detective at all. I have come to open an account. I intend to keep all my money in this bank.”

The manager looked relieved but still serious; he concluded now that I was a son of Baron Rothschild or a young Gould.

A large account, I suppose,” he said.

Fairly large,” I whispered. “I propose to deposit fifty-six dollars now and fifty dollars a month regularly.”

The manager got up and opened the door. He called to the accountant.

Mr. Montgomery,” he said unkindly loud, “this gentleman is opening an account, he will deposit fifty-six dollars. Good morning.”

I rose. A big iron door stood open at the side of the room. “Good morning,” I said, and stepped into the safe.

Come out,” said the manager coldly, and showed me the other way.

I went up to the accountant’s wicket and poked the ball of money at him with a quick convulsive movement as if I were doing a conjuring trick.

My face was ghastly pale.

Here,” I said, “deposit it.” The tone of the words seemed to mean, “Let us do this painful thing while the fit is on us.”

He took the money and gave it to another clerk. He made me write the sum on a slip and sign my name in a book. I no longer knew what I was doing. The bank swam before my eyes.

Is it deposited?” I asked in a hollow, vibrating voice.

It is,” said the accountant.

Then I want to draw a cheque.”

My idea was to draw out six dollars of it for present use. Someone gave me a chequebook through a wicket and someone else began telling me how to write it out. The people in the bank had the impression that I was an invalid millionaire. I wrote something on the cheque and thrust it in at the clerk. He looked at it.

What! are you drawing it all out again?” he asked in surprise. Then I realized that I had written fifty-six instead of six. I was too far gone to reason now. I had a feeling that it was impossible to explain the thing. All the clerks had stopped writing to look at me.

Reckless with misery, I made a plunge.

Yes, the whole thing.”

You withdraw your money from the bank?”

Every cent of it.”

Are you not going to deposit any more?” said the clerk, astonished.


An idiot hope struck me that they might think something had insulted me while I was writing the cheque and that I had changed my mind. I made a wretched attempt to look like a man with a fearfully quick temper.

The clerk prepared to pay the money.

How will you have it?” he said.


How will you have it?”

Oh”—I caught his meaning and answered without even trying to think—“in fifties.”

He gave me a fifty-dollar bill.

And the six?” he asked dryly.

In sixes,” I said.

He gave it to me and I rushed out.

As the big door swung behind me I caught the echo of a roar of laughter that went up to the ceiling of the bank. Since then I bank no more. I keep my money in cash in my trousers pocket and my savings in silver dollars in a sock.

March 17, 2008

In the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Al Mohler has written a chapter entitled “Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections.” He provides seven useful principles that can serve as a framework for a Christian response to the issue of homosexual marriage. They are:

  1. We, as Christians, must be the people who cannot start a conversation about homosexual marriage by talking about homosexual marriage.
  2. We must be the people who cannot ever talk about sex without talking about marriage.
  3. We must be the people who cannot talk about anything of significance without acknowledging our absolute dependence on God’s revelation - the Bible.
  4. We must be the people with a theology adequate to explain the deadly deception of sexual sin.
  5. We must be the people with a theology adequate to explain Christ’s victory over sin.
  6. We must be the people who love homosexuals more than homosexuals love homosexuality.
  7. We must be the people who tell the truth about homosexual marriage, and thus refuse to accept even its possibility because we love and seek the glory of God for all.

As part of his third point, Mohler writes about the “yuck factor” that exists in the minds of many Christians and serves as their attempt to deal with homosexuality. Yuck factor is a term that I believe was first coined by C. Gerald Fraser in the early 80’s. It refers to “A revulsion or discomfort that influences a person’s attitude toward a thing or idea.” In other words, and to use Mohler’s definition, “it is an attitude of disgust that lacks any serious moral argument” (page 116).

I am convinced that the “yuck factor” towards homosexuality comes quite naturally to men (and boys). I think all men can remember their school days and think back of times when we expressed disgust at homosexuality. The very thought of what homosexuals do and celebrate brings boys to express the worst insults by implying these acts. It is possible that this shows some cultural conditioning, but I believe boys react naturally at the thought of men doing together what God designed for only man and woman to share (just as we feel natural revulsion to something as unnatural as death). After all, the union of man to woman is part of the perfect Creation ordinance and one that God has surely written on our hearts. Paul tells us as much in Romans 1.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

God will give people up to passions that are in no way natural. What a warning this is to us.

Back in the days before I began my own company and started working from home, I worked at an office (with other people). I became friends with Scott, a practicing homosexual. He was known around the office as “Scott the Fag,” a moniker he used of himself. His story was probably quite typical. He had grown up in a weak church, came from a broken family, and up until university had chased (and often caught) girls. But during college he began to be attracted to men and soon became a practicing homosexual. He marched down the streets of Toronto on Gay Pride Day and brought boyfriends to office parties. He was proud of his lifestyle.

I would often talk to him and ask him pointed questions about his lifestyle. I asked if it was true that homosexual relationships bred abuse, and he felt that was true. I asked if it was realistic that the average homosexual man had twenty or thirty or even more sexual partners in a year, and he felt that if anything those numbers might be a little low. He told me about practicing a lisp and teaching himself how to walk like a woman in front of a mirror in his room. He was quite willing to admit to me that there was nothing inherently natural about the homosexual lifestyle. He knew this, but as humans are prone to do, justified his behavior as freedom of choice. At times I cannot deny that I felt some of the “yuck factor” towards him. When he and his boyfriend took to the dance floor, swirling across the floor, cheek-to-cheek during the ballads, it was more than a little difficult to feel normal about it. When he boasted about the fun he had during Pride Week, I had to walk away (though I walked away from many co-workers talking about their heterosexual exploits as well).

I found, as has Mohler, that while the “yuck factor” may be instructive, it cannot be trusted as a moral argument. Though we should not simply ignore our immediate reactions, we also cannot place too much emphasis on them. We must note that “human beings have demonstrated time and again that we can overcome any amount of disgust if we are determined to rationalize behavior.” We are masters of rationalization, able to turn anything to our advantage. I’m sure that as a child Scott found homosexuals just as yucky as the average boy. But as he gave himself over to sin, and even more so as God gave him over to sin, he began to rationalize it all away. We should also note that before the believer has been regenerated, he harbors the same “yucky” attitude towards God. The unregenerate man, in his heart of hearts, feels the same was towards God as young boys feel towards homosexuals.

As Christians it will be most helpful to keep the “yuck factor” to ourselves. I do not know that we gain anything in our conversations with and about homosexuals by expressing our disgust towards their actions. We can always plead “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but this falls flat when we can barely look in their eyes because of the disgust we feel for what they do. The “yuck factor” is not consistent as a moral argument. We must dig deeper than that.

It is most instructive to heed Mohler’s advice and to love the homosexual more than the homosexual loves his homosexuality. Do note that we can show love and grace to the homosexual while still hating and condemning homosexuality. All sin is dark and disgusting in the eyes of God. We often do things that are vile before the eyes of a perfectly holy God. He could as easily avert His gaze from us in His disgust. But we know that when we were at our most vile, He came to us and loved us more than we loved our sin. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “God is infinitely more willing to forgive your sin than you are to commit it.” Similarly, God is infinitely more willing to love us despite our sin, than we are to continually pollute ourselves with it. Should we not show the same grace to others?

March 16, 2008

I’m going to keep it simple today. I just want to ask you a question and to hear your responses to it. This is a question that has been running through my mind for some time and one that arose after emailing back and forth with a friend.

The question has to do with giving money to charities or to ministries or to other organizations. Though the laws of Canada and the United States are the ones I am familiar with, I assume similar laws exist in many other nations. In North America we are able to give donations to organizations that have a certain kind of charitable status. At the end of the year we are given a receipt for any money given to them and all or a portion of this money becomes tax-exempt. In the end, charitable donations are able to lower your tax bills. It is an attractive way of inviting people to give money to an organization and it is not unusual to read a request for funds and at the end to see “Tax receipts will be provided.” Organizations know that this is a perk or a benefit.

Laws that allow us to lower taxes through charitable donations are a blessing, no doubt. But I sometimes wonder if they can also distract us from people or organizations who may be in desperate need of funding. Perhaps we can be hesitant to donate to organizations that will not reimburse us with a receipt that will in turn put a few dollars back in our pockets. Is it possible that, even in our sacrificial giving, we can allow ourselves to be swayed but what we might gain in return? Do we give with an eye to our tax returns?

My question is this: if the laws of the land eradicated the tax benefits of charitable donations, do you think you would change the way you give of your tithes and offerings?

Maybe these questions will help if you are not sure what to say: Would you give more of your money? Would you give less of your money? Would you be more likely to give to individuals rather than organizations? Would you be more creative in finding organizations to give to?

I look forward to your replies.

(And please, let’s not get distracted here by whether or not tithing is mandated in the New Testament.)

March 10, 2008

I am about to spiritualize (and very possibly even trivialize) one of the great laws of physics. As you no doubt remember from your days in school, Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, in its simplest form, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Take a look around and you will see this law in action every day.

Have you ever seen a slow-motion replay of a big boxing match where the broadcasters show the punch that finished the match? A gloved fist flies towards a face and at the moment of impact you can see the law in effect. As the glove meets the face, it reacts according to the amount of force applied to it. When the fist meets flesh, the point of impact is compressed inwards - perhaps a cheek is pressed into the boxer’s mouth. As that happens, the force of the punch pushes the entire head in the same direction as the fist is traveling. The opposite cheek sags eerily outward and a spray of sweat flies off the man’s body. The action of the fist striking with stunning force produces an equal and opposite physical reaction.

While this law is true in the physical world the framework of this law applies equally to truth. Through history we have seen that for every truth God reveals about Himself, there arises an equal and opposite error. Whenever God has chosen to reveal new truth about Himself, an opposite falsehood has arisen to lead people astray from the Lord.

The history of truth’s progressive revelation to mankind is not constant. Through history we have seen that for truth to progress, God must first reveal it in an objective sense. There must then be a combined effort on the part of God and men to subjectively reveal that truth to church or society. Where the objective revelation may take place in a moment or a day, the subjective revelation may take years or ages. Consider God’s revelation of His Law to Moses. In just a short while He wrote the Law on the tablets, objectively giving His Law to a particular man. It was then the combined task of God and Moses to subjectively integrate these Laws into society.

History, then, when viewed through a wide lens, is a series of these great epochs as God first makes an objective revelation and men then slowly integrate this truth into society. The first is an action on God’s part and the second is a reaction on the part of men. While there is always a positive action in reaction to truth, there is also an opposite negative reaction that arises in direct opposition.

J.A. Wylie describes the waves of action and reaction as being similar to the tide rising on a beach. A great wave crashes down on the beach, and for a moment it seems that the beach and the land beyond must be flooded. But in a moment the ocean’s fury is spent and the wave retreats, washing back towards the sea. But a careful observer will see that not all the ground that was gained by the great wave has been lost. Before long another wave crashes on to the beach and more land is gained by the ocean. And thus, by a series of advances and retreats the tide flows in and the beach is gained. And so it is with truth.

I want to briefly consider this in the contexts of four of the great epochs in history: God’s original revelation, God’s revelation to Moses, early Christianity and the Reformation.

Revelation After Creation

At the close of Creation God created a man in His own image and placed him in the Garden of Eden. The crowning achievement of His Creation, man was given a position of great honor and responsibility. Man was given dominion over the earth and entrusted with the responsibility to tend it. Everything was given to him but a single tree - the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man walked in perfect communion with God. We do not know what truths God revealed to man at that time, but we can presume that it was just exactly what he needed - no more and no less. God told man what he needed to know to thrive in a perfect world. It was in this beautiful world that there arose the first error as Satan convinced man that He could be like God. In opposition to the truth that man is limited and God is infinite, arose the opposite error. Satan convinced man that he could be like God. The waves receded so that by the time of Noah the Bible tells us everyone on the earth, with the exception of Noah and his family, hated God and sinned continually.

Truth gradually progressed in society. But as truth had progressed, so had error. Paganism took root as the opposite of the pure worship of God. The tower of Babel arose as men reached to the heavens to usurp the glory due only to God. We see that paganism, though in a primitive form, arose and thrived as the evil alternative to God.

Mosaic Revelation

Many years later God’s children found themselves in bondage to the Egyptians. It must have seemed like the world contained nothing but darkness and surely the Israelites must have felt that God had abandoned them to their sin. But this was not so. Just when it seemed that things could not deteriorate any further, God providentially raised up Moses. After leading the people from their slavery, God gave Moses new revelation about truth. Over the course of many years, this truth was subjectively integrated into the Israelite society. The tabernacle and later the temple were built as places to worship God. The feast days were integrated into the calendar and the ceremonies into times of worship.

During this time error also increased in direct opposition to the pure truth of God. Baal worship progressed in its influence and in its evil. The ceremonies of pagan worship grew in proportion to match the ceremonies of god-ordained worship. God’s people were continually led astray by more developed forms of pagan idolatry that directly contradicted true worship.

The Early Church

Jesus’ death marked the end of the Mosaic era. The ceremonial and judicial laws were fulfilled in the Savior. In place of law and ceremony God planted a church - a church that was not merely an extension of His plan for His people but was the fulfillment of His plan. His eternal plan led to this church, composed of men and women, Jew and Gentile, black and white - a church of people from all races united in their love of God. But the laws of truth were in effect even then, and there quickly arose opposite errors. The simplicity of the early church was polluted as jealous men fought for rank and position. Whatever God instituted was quickly matched by a corrupt opposite. Simplicity gave way to symbolism, free grace to man’s work and sacrament to ritual. The early church gave way to a Roman religion that for over a millennium seemed to hold back the tide of truth’s progress.

The Reformation

Once more the waves receded so that the beach again appeared to be bare. Once more it seemed that God had allowed the shadow to cover the earth. But there, in the 16th Century a great wave crashed against the shore. God allowed one man, Martin Luther, to take a stride forward in truth. Following in Luther’s footsteps other men came to rediscover great truths that had seemingly been lost since the time of the apostles. Within just a few years this truth had been integrated into Christianity in the movement that came to be known as the Reformation. Similarly, within a few years, there had arisen errors to match these ones. As truth unfolded in a more complete form, so more complex errors were invented. Arminianism arose as a means of lessening the terrifying prospect of God’s absolute sovereignty. Catholicism continued its corruption, attacking the principles of Protestantism - Christ’s sufficiency, His completed work and God’s free grace.

And So On

And so it continues. Even in our present day, hundreds and thousands of years after these great revelations, truth marches on. The truths God revealed to Adam, to Moses, to the apostles and to the Reformers continue to challenge the church. There is little reason to doubt that more epochs will unfold, or perhaps are unfolding even now, as God more fully reveals truth. As truth progressively unfolds, error continues to oppositely assert itself.

It is of foundational importance to understand that while each truth further strengthens its position, each error further corrupts the attempts to undermine God’s revealed truth. Each truth draws closer to perfection while each error draws closer to destruction. Just as a child lies to his parents and as his fictitious story progresses it becomes less and less plausible, so error upon error progressively undermines the position of those who fight against truth. Truth is a constant—what is true today will always be true. But error is fleeting—errors arise and fall, they are constructed and dismantled in quick succession. We love and study truth because it never changes. God’s truth must and shall prevail. In the end error will be destroyed; truth will reign supreme and shall be fully revealed. We will know truth even as truth knows us. Truth will win in the end.

This is based on an article I wrote years ago and one that somehow got lost in my archives. Funny how that works…

March 09, 2008

As I mentioned last week, I’ve decided to read John Stott’s The Cross of Christ before Easter this year. I’ve been reading it a bit slower than I might like, but have been enjoying it immensely. To this point the chapter entitled “The Problem of Forgiveness” has been my favorite. This is a quote that stood out to me. This is Stott’s exhortation to hold fast to the biblical revelation “of the living God who hates evil, is disgusted and angered by it, and refuses ever to come to terms with it.” Here is what Stott says:

The kind of God that appeals to most people today would be easy-going in his tolerance of our offenses. He would be gentle, kind, accommodating. He would have no violent reactions. Unhappily, even in the church we seemed to have lost the vision of the majesty of God. There is much shallowness and levity among us. Prophets and psalmists would probably say of us, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In public worship our habit is to slouch or squat; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before God. It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands with joy than to blush with shame or tears. We saunter up to God to claim his patronage and friendship; it does not occur to us that he might send us away. We need to hear again the Apostle Peter’s sobering words, “Since you call on a father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives. . in reverent fear.” (I Peter 1:17) In other words, if we dare to call our judge our Father, we must beware of presuming on him. It must even be said that our evangelical emphasis on the atonement is dangerous if we come to it too quickly. We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won only after we have first cried, “Woe is me for I am lost.” In Dale’s words, “It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”