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Why I Am Not Egalitarian
June 30, 2016

I’ve got just two articles remaining in this series I’ve titled “Why I Am Not…” Week by week I am describing why I have rejected some theological positions in favor of others and my purpose is not so much to persuade as it is to explain. There is a story behind every position I hold and each of these articles tells one of those stories. I have already told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, paedobaptist, or dispensational. Today I want to tell why I am not egalitarian.

I ought to begin with a couple of key definitions. Egalitarianism is “the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society.” That position is contrasted by complementarianism “which holds the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles in life and in the church.”* Both positions affirm the absolute equality of men and women in their being, personhood, dignity, and worth but differ when it comes to whether there are distinct God-given roles and functions associated with each gender, especially as it pertains to home and church.

I am not egalitarian and never have been, but that is not to say that I have not been challenged by the strengths of the position or the excesses of some definitions of complementarianism. I have carefully examined what I believe about manhood and womanhood. I have read widely and, as much as possible, with an open mind and open Bible. I have worked carefully through the relevant biblical texts. As I have done all of this, I have become more and more persuaded by the complementarian position but also more and more concerned about those who misuse or full-out abuse it. In that way I have not only had to define myself as complementarian but to define what kind of complementarian I am.

Let me back up a little bit. Aileen and I both grew up in traditional middle-class Canadian homes where the dads provided for their families while the moms focused on caring for the home and raising their children. We did not often hear words like “leadership” and “submission” but saw them quietly and seamlessly lived out in a context of mutual love and respect. I grew up attending various churches and these were, likewise, always very traditional in their understanding of the complementary roles of men and women in home and church.

As Aileen and I began to consider our future together we assumed we would follow patterns similar to what we had experienced in our childhood. To my recollection, our first real discussion came when choosing our wedding vows. We wanted to use traditional Anglican vows, largely because of their proud tradition and beautiful wording. But we had to discuss the word “obey.” These vows would have me promise to “love and cherish” Aileen while she would promise to “love, cherish, and obey” me. While we did not love the word “obey,” neither did we have strong objections to it or wish to break with tradition. Those are the vows we made to one another.

Despite our vows, we did not get off to a great start as a complementarian couple, and I am convinced this was largely my fault. I was passive and immature and easily intimidated even by my sweet wife. An older couple had told us that the husband’s leadership role involves little more than exercising his authority as a tie-breaking measure. Since we rarely disagreed about anything consequential I saw no reason or opportunity to lead. It took me years to understand that passive leadership is an oxymoron. It took me longer still to understand that a husband’s leadership is not first a matter of breaking ties or solving impasses, but a matter of being the first to love, the first to serve, the first to repent, the first to forgive. The call to lead is the call to display Christ-like humility and Christ-like love. While I have too often failed at this, it has at least become my aim.

There were a few books that strengthened my convictions: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper & Wayne Grudem was one I referred to many times while Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt also proved especially helpful. There were others besides, though their titles now escape me. At the same time I was challenged by the growth of the biblical patriarchy movement and quickly came to see that in too many ways it goes beyond what the Bible teaches and dangerously disempowers women. While this did not shake my conviction in complementarianism, it did alert me to one of the ways even good theology can go bad when it extends beyond the Bible’s good boundaries. There are dangers on both sides of truth.

Why, then, am I not egalitarian?

The primary reason I am not egalitarian is because I believe the position fails to withstand serious biblical scrutiny. Certainly it can prevail on a popular or emotional level, but I see no way for it to overcome on a biblical level. The complexity of words like ezer and phrases like mutual submission are far more easily resolved by complementarians than “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” is for egalitarians. Paul’s appeals to Adam’s priority in the order of creation, the distinct male focus in the qualifications of an elder, the extended teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5, the deep mystery and metaphor within marriage—all of these provide challenges to the egalitarian position that I consider insurmountable.

Second to that, I am not egalitarian because complementarianism has proven itself to me. In the context of Christian community both Aileen and I have been able to see and imitate godly couples and mentors. Theology that may be difficult to describe in the abstract is often beautifully displayed in the lives of other Christians. And in our own marriage we have seen that complementarianism works, that it brings order, that it brings consistency, that it frees each of us to serve the other in ways that appear for all the world to be so consistent with God’s design. It could be that I’ve learned more about complementarianism from Aileen than from anyone else simply by living these eighteen years alongside her.

I am complementarian but far better, we are complementarian. I rely on Aileen, I seek her wisdom, I heed her counsel. I am joyfully and unashamedly dependent upon her and wouldn’t want it any other way. All the while I seek to lead her by pursuing and imitating the One who leads me.

How Much Television Do You Watch
June 29, 2016

How much television do you think you watch? No, honestly, how much? And how much time do you give to other screens—your mobile phone, your tablet, and whatever it is you use to watch Netflix? A brand new study from Nielsen suggests that it is a lot. A heap. A ton. Way more than you would guess, I’m sure. Let me walk through some of the most interesting findings.

First, this:

Nielsen Report

Even while we hear so much about Netflix and podcasting and other new forms of media consumption, radio and television remain dominant. That said, smartphones and PCs are racing up behind them and, presumably, will someday displace them.

Nielsen 2

Next we see how adults spend their time today. Tally it up and you see that the average American adult (and I’ll presume Canadians are not too different) currently spends 10 hours and 39 minutes each day consuming media. This represents an amazing 1-hour jump from just a year ago. Television consumes the biggest portion of the day at 4 hours and 31 minutes. Radio is just behind it at nearly 2 hours and coming in third is the smartphone with a showing of 1 hour and 39 minutes.

Mark Zuckerberg Covers His Laptop Camera
June 28, 2016

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently shared a picture of himself celebrating a milestone: Instagram now has five hundred million active users each month. There was Zuckerberg in his office holding an Instagram-like frame in front of himself. The picture would have been unremarkable and quickly forgotten but for this: Astute observers noticed that his laptop was on the desk behind him and that he had placed tape over the camera and the microphone. Those are small but significant details.

There was a time, and it was not so long ago, when we laughed at people who said things like, “The government can control your computer” or “the government can tap into your webcam.” Then Edward Snowden proved that this is actually being done. The unnerving reality is that governmental bodies and skillful hackers actually do have the ability to turn on your webcam without your knowledge and without triggering the indicator light. They actually do have the ability to turn on the microphone and listen in without your knowledge. Conspiracy theory has given way to reality. Mark Zuckerberg would make an especially high-profile target for hackers and for that reason has taken basic but effective measures to protect himself.

Zuckerberg While I try to avoid operating by fear and fringe, I’m not convinced that he is over-reacting. I’m not convinced that his response is irrational or alarmist even for those of us with much less to lose. There are some things every one of us can and ought to do to protect ourselves in this digital world. But my foremost concern is for Christian leaders—from pastors with a voice to their community to denominational figures with a voice to their nation. There are some measures such people should at least consider as a means of protecting themselves, their ministries, and the gospel. Here are a few of them.

Use Good Passwords & Two-Factor Authentication

The most simple and obvious measures of protection are using good passwords and two-factor authentication. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll direct you to an article I’ve written about this very thing: 5 Things You Must Do to Protect Yourself Online. That article explains how to create a great password and why it is so important (and so simple!) to activate two-factor authentication. Seriously, do these things. Lock down your services and lock down your devices.

Address Your Character

Before we talk about technological solutions, let’s talk about character. We tend to believe that problems created by technology can best be addressed by more technology. As we discuss things we can do to protect ourselves from electronic snooping and data gathering, our tendency will be to look for software and devices that can help us. That’s a good idea, but it comes second in order of priority. First we need to understand that the first and most important measure of protection is to avoid whatever is sinful. Having nothing to hide is the absolute best protection for yourself and your ministry. Think honestly about what you do, access, and search for online. If there are unwise patterns or inappropriate habits, take action against those things today. Don’t leave sin unaddressed.

Choose Your Medium Carefully

There are conversations we have via email, text, or other electronic media that may be better had face-to-face. Conversations that are had with formality and gravity in the real-world are often marked by informality and thoughtlessness when conducted electronically. Not only that, but these conversations are recorded and preserved in their every detail. They are just the kind of conversations that can be dug up and used against us later on. Email conversations on confidential topics that are torn out of context, posted publicly, and interpreted by the person who shares them—we have already seen the damage these can do. It is far better to have such conversations face-to-face and, if necessary, to record formal minutes. Choose the medium that is most appropriate for a conversation. Do not assume that electronic conversations will remain forever confidential.

Check Data Policies

Our devices and services leave behind a constant trail of data. Your email, your web browser, your mobile phone, your social networks, your accountability software—they generate lists of sites you have visited, locations you have been, searches you have made, and so much more. This data could prove devastating if it falls into the wrong hands. This is true even if you live by very high moral standards. Just think of the searches you have made to address medical concerns or the pictures that have popped up even when you haven’t wanted to see them. All of this exists in your data trail. Many Christian leaders would have their ministries seriously compromised if such data were to become public.

(Note: Google CEO Eric Schmidt is among others who has made the argument that the best protection is having nothing to hide. I agree as it pertains to the individual. But as it pertains to those who offer services, they need to take every possible measure to protect our data, knowing that even completely moral things can bring great embarrassment or be terribly misinterpreted.)

You owe it to yourself to research the policies of any company that has access to this trail. I have asked companies questions like these: How and where do you store my data? How long do you store my data and what do you do with it after that? Do you have a system that reports when employees are looking at my data for no good reason? I have immediately stopped using certain services because their answers have been so unsatisfactory There are many companies that make every effort to collect information about you but almost no effort to protect it. You have to assume that unless a company has a very strict data-destruction policy, they will keep your data forever. You have to assume that unless a company has a very strict data-protection policy, they may at some point allow it to be compromised.

Consider the Zuckerberg Approach

Finally, some people may need to consider the Zuckerberg approach. For most people in most situations there is probably no good reason to cover your webcam and microphone. If the computer sits in your office facing a wall and if your conversations are non-confidential, there is not much to gain or lose. But consider the computer that sits in your bedroom with a camera facing the bed. Knowing what you know, might it be a good idea to cover it up? Perhaps so. Even while it’s very unlikely that anyone will ever access it, there is still some measure of risk. If you keep your phone on a bedside table, at least angle the camera away from your bed. For leaders who have a particularly high profile, I would think even more carefully about such precautions in your home and workplace. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Do a bit of research online and see what the experts are saying.

The thing is, we really don’t know who is collecting information about us and what they are doing with it. But we do know that bodies like the NSA are collecting massive amounts of it and storing it all away. If they are, so too are others who may have even more dangerous designs. Though your data may not be used against you today and though it may not come to light tomorrow, it is still there. In an age of ubiquitous data collection, there is wisdom in taking some basic measures of self-protection and self-preservation. I saw many articles from tech-savvy writers remarking on Zuckerberg’s laptop; I didn’t see one that was mocking him or accusing him of over-reacting.

Look Into the Mirror
June 27, 2016

There is something comforting about peering into a mirror every now and then. It’s not so much a matter of gazing into your own reflection as it is looking for those things that are out of place, those things that don’t belong, those things you don’t want to see reflected back—the parsley between your teeth, the chocolate smeared on your chin, the hairs pointing in all the wrong directions. You don’t have to be image-obsessed to grasp the importance of the occasional glance in the mirror as a means of protecting yourself from awkwardness and embarrassment.

The mirror is probably one of my favorite biblical metaphors—the Bible as a mirror. I’ve reflected and written many times about the value and purpose of that mirror as we see it described by James.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

James portrays the Bible as a kind of mirror that reflects back the heart. As the mirror hanging on the wall reflects the outer man, the mirror of God’s Word reflects the inner man. For this reason every Christian needs to gaze into the mirror of the Word to assess the state of his heart. This is not a one-time glance but a regular stare. We need to study the image reflected back to understand who and what we really are. God’s Word has the unique ability to give clarity to what God demands and expects of us. It unmasks our sin, our rebellion, our foolishness, our immaturity, our idolatry. It displays the sin that remains, the sin that needs to be rooted out so we can be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. We are fools if we do not make it a daily habit to gaze into this mirror.

What has been dawning on me over the past months is not just the value of gazing into this mirror, but the value and the challenge of believing what I see there. It is so easy to look and doubt, to look and deny. But if God’s Word is good and pure and holy and perfect, if God’s Word really is God’s, then it is absolutely trustworthy. This means that it’s not simply a matter of looking, but a matter of looking and believing. I need to trust what I see there. I need to trust this mirror more than I trust my own eyes, my own assessment. I may not like what I see there, I may not agree with what I see there, but I need to believe it. I need to believe that as the mirror hanging on the wall is an accurate portrayal of the outside, the mirror of the Word is an accurate portrayal of the inside. I need to believe that the Bible more accurately reflects the state of my heart than the mirror in my bathroom reflects the state of my body.

It is a privilege to have God’s Word, to have God’s mirror. It is a joyful responsibility to gaze into it, to study the reflection, to believe what I see, and to take action. It is a joyful responsibility to thank God for what I see there of the image of Christ and an equal responsibility to seek his forgiveness and to pursue repentance in all those areas where I do not see the image of Christ. The mirror is an opportunity to gaze and thank, gaze and repent, gaze and change.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Bestsellers
June 24, 2016

In this ongoing series of articles I am taking a look at books that have won the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes books that have achieved one million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the ten million mark. Today we turn our attention to a bestseller meant to help men battle and overcome sexual temptation.

Every Man’s Battle by Steven Arterburn & Fred Stoeker

Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time lists three names on its front cover: Steven Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. The story is that Stoeker wrote the book and passed it to Yorkey for a substantial edit. Yorkey’s editing led to the offer of a contract from Waterbrook Press, but the publisher believed it would thrive with the voice and name recognition of a respected counselor. For that reason they enlisted Arterburn who as founder and chairman of New Life Ministries had begun a chain of mental-health facilities, was hosting a nationally syndicated Christian counseling talk show, and had already authored more than thirty books. He was just the man they needed. In the introduction Stoeker explains that he had once been held captive by sexual sin and that he wrote the book to help other men liberate and cleanse themselves from it. “Are you anxious to get started? Good…so am I. We need real men around here—men of honor and decency, men with their hands where they belong and their eyes and minds focused on Christ. If roving eyes or sexually impure thoughts or even sexual addictions are issues in your life, Steve and I are hoping you’ll do something about it. Isn’t it time?”

Arterburn begins the book with an account of his own history with lust. He describes a time he let his eyes and imagination wander and ended up causing a car accident. This story has gained notoriety for its explicit detail about the woman he was ogling—her actions, her clothing, her shape, her desirability. “My eyes locked on this goddesslike blonde…” He tells that for the first ten years of his marriage he was held captive by this kind of lust. Stoeker follows with his own description of sexual sin, manifested through casual sex, addiction to pornography, and habitual self-gratification. In contrast to such sexual darkness the authors lay out a plan to recover sexual purity. “God offers you freedom from the slavery of sin through the cross of Christ, and He created your eyes and mind with an ability to be trained and controlled. We simply have to stand up and walk by His power in the right path.”

This path of self-control involves replacing old destructive habits with new and better ones. “While sexual impurity works like a bad habit, sexual purity works like a good habit.” The two-part habit they teach is bouncing and starving the eyes. “Your eyes have always bounced toward the sexual, and you’ve made no attempt to end this habit. To combat it, you need to build a reflex action by training your eyes to immediately bounce away from the sexual, like the jerk of your hand away from a hot stove.” The authors state that after six weeks of doing this it will become established as a habit and lust will lose its power, halting the cycle of sexual fantasy.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Every Man’s Battle released in July 2000. It sold briskly for the first few years and in 2004 was awarded the Gold Sales Award for selling a half million copies. Sales would slow but remain steady until by 2013 it sold its one millionth copy and was awarded the Platinum Sales Award.

The book was widely praised for its man-to-man tone and its practical advice. It put into words what many men had grappled with—the lust, the desires, the wandering eyes, the self-gratification. It was published at a time when Internet-based pornography was beginning to run rampant but before the problem had been widely acknowledged. Many men turned to this book in shame and despair and many of them found help in its pages.

However, the book has not been without its critiques, the foremost of which is its lascivious tone. Many readers and reviewers have despaired to find that their imaginations are fired rather than freed by the authors’ detailed descriptions of their lust and the objects of their lust.

Of greater concern is the book’s habit-based solution to sin in which the authors offer a behavior-modification approach instead of a gospel-grounded one. They teach the reader to deal with bad habits by replacing them with good ones, but they do not sufficiently explore the root of the sin of lust. The core of any sin is idolatry, a deep heart condition that replaces satisfaction in God with satisfaction in something else, worship of God with worship of something created by God. As Erik Raymond says, in the moment you look lustfully at pornography (or a woman who is not your wife) “you have just declared that these images are chiefly beautiful and worthy of your desire. You have elevated your selfish lust to a position of supremacy above what God has called beautiful. You have exchanged the beauty of God for the beauty of a fleeting image. Your sinful heart has just robbed the glory of God of what is due him by ascribing glory and beauty to this image.”

The Every Man’s Battle approach focuses too much on externals and too little on internals. In that way it offers a faulty and often short-lived approach. Bad habits need to be replaced with good ones to be sure! But habits without the gospel are an insufficient, works-based approach to holiness. So yes, bounce your eyes! Starve them, shut them, pluck them right out of your face if that’s what it takes! But don’t do any of this apart from a deep grounding in the gospel.

Since the Award

The book spawned a plethora of related titles including Every Young Man’s Battle, Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle, Every Man’s Challenge, Every Man God’s Man, Every Young Man God’s Man, Every Man’s Marriage, Every Single Man’s Battle. Then there were the similar books for women: Every Woman’s Battle, Every Young Woman’s Battle, Every Single Woman’s Battle, and so on. There are at least 16 books in “The Every Man” franchise. The books for men continued to list Arterburn, Stoeker, and Yorkey on the front cover while the books for women listed Shannon Ethridge with forewords and afterwords by Arterburn. In 2013 Every Young Man’s Battle and Every Young Woman’s Battle both surpassed 500,000 sales.

Both authors have continued to write books and both speak at conferences, though Arterburn has by far the bigger platform. Today he has some eight million books in print, his daily radio program is heard on more than 180 radio stations across American, and he founded the Women of Faith conferences which have now seen over 5 million women attend.

Perhaps the most unusual thing to happen since the book’s release was an article featured in a 2006 issue of GQ magazine. A journalist wrote about the evangelical abstinence movement and in doing so interviewed Arterburn. As he did that, he discovered a surprising fact: Arterburn had recently been divorced for the second time and married for the third. “As my meeting with Arterburn is winding down, I notice a photo on a desk of a fresh-faced blond knockout I take to be his daughter. He corrects this impression: She’s his third wife, Misty. She’s in her early thirties, he informs me; he met her a few years back at one of his seminars, they corresponded through e-mail for a while, and he’s been married to her for nine months. She’s also pregnant with their first child.” Arterburn expressed concern that this might impact his ministry, but his fears were unfounded.

A Personal Perspective

I read Every Man’s Battle in 2003 and offered just a short review. This was long before I had given substantial attention to sexual sin and purity, but even then I found myself dissatisfied with the habit-based approach. “Primarily I find I am disappointed that the authors have no better solution than bouncing the eyes. I would like to believe that God can truly free men from sexual sin rather than having them live their lives masking this sin.” Even then I knew that God must be able to do a deeper work than merely retraining a man’s habits. Can’t God actually deliver a man from the sin of lust? I need to believe God can do a deeper work in a man than merely training him to bounce his eyes.

A few years later I wrote a series of articles titled “Sexual Detox” and these turned into a book by the same title. In some ways that book was my own attempt to right some of the weaknesses of Every Man’s Battle. Far and away the most common feedback I have received is something like this: “Thank you for writing with dignity and not writing in such a way that you cause me to lust even more.” I know exactly what they mean.

With all of this said, I would not wish to deny that God used Every Man’s Battle to challenge and sanctify many of his people. God does not use only perfect books (which is good since there is only one of them). God does not change only those people who have a perfect understanding of sin and how to battle it. He saw fit to use this book. However, since 2000 hundreds of others books have been written that tackle issues of sexual sin and purity and many of them are far superior. Here are my recommendations.

Why I Am Not Dispensational
June 23, 2016

As you know, I am well into a series that tells what I believe by discussing the things I do not believe. To this point I have told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, or paedobaptist. That means we are hastening toward the end of the series with just three articles remaining. Today I will tell why I am not dispensational, and I warn you in advance, it may prove disappointing. Each of us has areas in which our theological convictions are deeply developed and others in which they are not quite so much. In this area I have not carried out the same level of study as, for example, the doctrines of salvation or scripture. My convictions are developed but not nearly as much as I might hope and, indeed, as you might hope.

If you are still reading after that warning we will move on to definitions. All Christians profess with the Apostle’s Creed that at some point in the future Christ will come “to judge the living and the dead.” But exactly how and when this will unfold are matters of intense and ongoing debate. This field of study is called eschatology which Greg Allison says “covers the return of Christ and its relationship to the millennium (amillennialism, postmillennialism, premillennialism) and the tribulation, the resurrection, the last judgment, the eternal blessing of the righteous and the eternal judgment of the wicked, and the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth.” In other words, eschatology is the study of what’s next and of what’s last.

Dispensationalism is a kind of framework for history that is organized around seven dispensations—seven orders or administrations. Particular to this framework is the eschatological position known as “premillennial dispensationalism” which holds that Christ will return prior to a literal one-thousand-year reign on earth. When I say I am not dispensational, this is primarily what I mean—I do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism. Allison points out “It differs from historic premillennialism by its belief that prior to the tribulation, Christ will remove the church from the earth (the rapture); thus, it is also called pretribulational premillennialism. Revelation 20:1-6 pictures Christ’s rule over the earth (while Satan is bound) for a thousand-year period, which is followed by Christ’s ultimate defeat of a released Satan, the last judgment, the resurrection of the wicked, and the new heaven and new earth.”

As I’ve mentioned before, most of my childhood was spent in Dutch Reformed churches and Dutch Reformed schools (despite, as I’ve also mentioned, my complete lack of Dutch heritage). This means I was raised on a steady diet of the Heidelberg Catechism which my parents supplemented with the Shorter Catechism. Neither one of these documents places much emphasis on the end times. For example, the Westminster simply asks, “In what does Christ’s exaltation consist?” and answers “Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day; in ascending into heaven; in sitting at the right hand of God the Father; and in coming to judge the world at the last day.” There are no follow-up questions about that coming judgment. Most who treasure these catechisms adopt amillennialism or postmillennialism and, indeed, I was raised amillennial. It was my understanding that the world will continue roughly along its current tragic trajectory until, at last, Christ returns. (Allison: “With respect to eschatology, the position that there is no (a-) millennium, or no future thousand-year period of Christ’s reign on earth. … Key to this position is its nonliteral interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6: Satan’s binding is God’s current restraint of him, enabling the gospel to advance everywhere. Saints who rule are Christians who have died and are now with Christ in heaven. At the end of this present age, Christ will defeat a loosed Satan, ushering in the last judgment, the resurrection, and the new heaven and earth.”)

The first I ever heard of an alternative was through Christian music. In my teens I began to listen to Petra and though I discovered them in the Beyond Belief era, I eventually went back and bought their older albums. There I encountered songs like “Gonna Fly Away,” from their 1974 self-titled debut. It is hardly brilliant songwriting, but does discuss Christians being removed from the earth while non-Christians remain.

Dreamin’ about flyin’ since I was a boy
Never thought I’d see the real McCoy
I think it’s safe to say, I finally found a way

Gonna fly away
Gonna fly away

Every day I’ve been looking in the sky
Hope it’s not raining when I start to fly
I bet you think I’m strange, wait until I’m changed

Where you gonna be when the trumpet blows?
All that’s left of me is gonna be my clothes
I’d really like to see, you flyin’ next to me

It wasn’t until twelfth grade that I actually met someone who held to this position and could explain it to me. I heard her explanation—rather a good one, I think—but couldn’t reconcile it with my understanding of the Bible. I realized quickly that premillennial dispensationalism was going to have a long uphill climb if it was ever to displace my latent amillennialism. To this day it never has.

So why am I not dispensational? I’d like to say that I have studied the issue very closely, that I have read stacks of books on eschatology, and that I can thoroughly defend my position against every alternative. But that’s not the case. It’s more that my reading of the Bible, my years of listening to sermons, and my study of Christian theology has not been able to shake or displace the amillennialism of my youth. To the contrary, it has only strengthened it. Paul Martin’s recent sermon series through Revelation strengthened it all the more. The very framework of dispensationalism appears to me to fall into a similar category as paedobaptism in that they both, in the words of Tom Hicks, “wrongly allow the Old Testament to have priority over the New Testament.”

While I am not dispensational and do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism, I do wish to express my love and respect for many who hold this position and especially to John MacArthur who has been as important as anyone in forming and shaping so many of my convictions. I am thankful that this is one of those issues in which Christians can joyfully agree to disagree.

How Will You Serve and Surprise This Week
June 22, 2016

I am a dutiful person who is usually happy enough to carry out life’s basic responsibilities. I am a husband with responsibilities toward my wife, a father with responsibilities toward my children, a pastor with responsibilities toward my congregation, a neighbor with responsibilities toward the people who live around me. My success as a husband, father, pastor, and neighbor is dependent upon being dutiful in all of these relationships.

Dutiful is good, but not good enough. Living well involves duty to be sure, but it also involves delight. Living well is made up of those things I must do, but also those things I get to do. For this reason I take time every week to consider each of life’s areas of responsibility and to ask not only how I can be dutiful in that area but also how I can express delight in it. I do this by asking a simple two-part question: How can I serve and how can I surprise? (I owe “serve and surprise” to a series of articles written by C.J. Mahaney.)

Like most people, I live within a kind of system that brings structure to my life. I spend a few minutes each morning getting my day organized, deciding which of the many things I could do today I actually will do—or at least attempt to do. Once each week I take a look at life in a broad way, and this is where I prayerfully pause to ask, “How must I serve this week and how can I surprise this week?” Or “What have I got to do this this week to fulfill duty and what do I get to do this week to express delight?”

The question of service is usually quite simple. To serve my wife I need to ensure I am present in body and mind, to serve my children I need to ask them about their friendships and to make sure they are completing their homework, to serve my church I need to be present at our services and to come well-prepared to lead them, to serve my neighbors I need to spend time with them. Those are all good and basic duties that fall to me, and I am happy enough to carry them out. But I want to be more than dutiful. I want to go beyond the basic duties of my life to also express delight. I don’t want to merely serve but also to surprise.

The question of surprise takes a little more thought and creativity. It requires me to know others and to understand what brings them joy and pleasure. How can I please Aileen and let her know that she is loved? How can I surprise my children and bring them joy? How can I express delight in my church? These are the kinds of questions I ask and then, in one way or another, I answer them by turning them into actions or plotting them into time. I may choose to take certain actions in the week ahead: Buy flowers for Aileen. Rent a movie with the kids. Send a gift to someone in the church. Or I may choose to reserve time on my calendar so we can do things together: Take Michaela out for breakfast. Have a family night of silly games and activities. Invite some church families over for Sunday lunch. These actions and activities go beyond basic service to pursue and express delight.

Do you see it? Life is never less than duty, but at its best it is so much more. Duty usually comes easily enough whereas delight requires thoughtfulness, effort, and creativity. Duty can be impersonal—the duty of one father toward his children may not differ very much from the duty of another father toward his children. But delight is customized and requires study, it requires personalized knowledge (another strength of Mahaney’s approach.)

If we are to live in such a way that we bring glory to God by doing good to others, we owe it to them to serve and surprise, to fulfill duty and express delight. So who do you need to serve and surprise in the week ahead?

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I Forbid You To Say These Things at My Funeral
June 20, 2016

YouTube told me I ought to watch a clip from a recent episode of America’s Got Talent. After all, who doesn’t like to see some unknown person make it or blow it on the big stage? In this case the young man did a tremendous job of imitating Frank Sinatra and, of course, received thunderous applause for his effort. When the cheering had subsided he was told by the judges that his dear grandmother must be looking down from heaven aglow with pride. Somehow that kind of clichéd syrupy sentimentality is just what people want to hear in those moments. It got me thinking about some of the absurd statements I’ve heard over the years, and especially the ones I’ve heard at funerals. Here are a few things I sincerely hope no one will say about me at my funeral or any time thereafter. In fact, I hereby forbid it.

He is looking down on you. The Bible gives us little reason to believe that the dead keep an eye on the living. And, frankly, I rather hope they don’t. When I am dead I will finally, blessedly be more alive than I’ve ever been because I will be free of sin and its consequences. I can’t help but think that the very last thing I’d want is to look down (or up or sideways or whatever direction earth is in relation to heaven) and have to witness more of sin and its effects. I love you all plenty, but I don’t particularly want to kick off forever by watching you sin. Not only that, but there’s no earthly or heavenly reason you’d want or need me to. Surely you aren’t indicating that God’s watchful eye is insufficient and that it somehow needs to be supplemented by mine, are you? No, I’m not looking at you. I’m looking at Jesus as he’s looking after you. You’ll be fine.

He’s with the angels now. This one gets me. Listen, I’m eager to meet some angels and to learn what they are all about. I’m especially eager to meet the angel who comforted Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. What I wouldn’t give to know what words he spoke in that moment! But here’s the thing: When I die I won’t be with the angels. I’ll be with Jesus. To say I’m with the angels is like watching a man walk into Buckingham Palace and saying, “He’s with the queen’s secretary now.” While that is strictly true, it’s also completely missing the point. He’s with the queen! And when I’m no longer with you, I’ll be with the king.

God needed another angel. Please don’t say this. Please don’t say this because if you know me you know that I’m no angel. But even more, don’t say this because it completely misrepresents both men and angels as if human beings aspire to evolve or transform into some kind of supernatural being. Angels and humans are completely different orders of being! Iguanas don’t die and become giraffes and men don’t die and become angels. I’m a human being now and will be a human being for the rest of eternity.

He was a good man. He is now, but he wasn’t always. He is good now that he’s in that place where he has been perfected by an instantaneous act of God. He is good now that God has transformed him to take away all desire for ungodliness and unholiness. He’s good now, but he wasn’t on this side of the grave. Frankly, he could be kind of a jerk at times. He could be moody and arrogant and self-centered. He was bad. But he was also forgiven and battling to kill his love of sin and desire for sin. He was learning and growing and displaying God’s grace. But he wasn’t good. Not like he is now. Not like God had created him to be.

He wouldn’t want you to cry. Go ahead and cry. You don’t need to cry for me, of course. But I wouldn’t tell you not to cry at all. Every funeral is an opportunity to consider the harsh reality of human mortality and the treasonous acts that made this mortality inevitable. There is no virtue in a stiff upper lip. There is no virtue in suppressing grief. There is no virtue in thinking that the joy of one man entering heaven ought to dispel the grief of those who are left behind. Funerals are a perfectly appropriate time to mourn—to mourn for the one who died, to mourn for others you miss, to mourn your own mortality, and to mourn the One who died so we could live.

We’re not having a funeral; we’re having a celebration. Why pit the two against one another as if only one can be true? We are having a funeral and it is a genuinely sad occasion. Yet we do not, can not, must not mourn as those who have no hope. A Christian funeral marks both a departure and an arrival; it provides an occasion for both grief and joy. As the poet says, “One short sleep past we wake eternally, and death shall be no more.” A sunset brings cold darkness but also the warm hope of dawn. Death brings the end of a very short life and the beginning of a never-ceasing one. It’s as wrong to refuse to mourn as it is to mourn without hope.