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Christian Living

December 01, 2010

We had only lived in our home for a few months when the one next door to us was put on the market as well. It sold quickly and in moved Barb. Shortly after she moved in, her home was given a makeover (an extreme makeover, even). Barb was sent away for the weekend and returned to find her house completely renovated. The volunteers who gave of their time for this program did an incredible job. They replanted and resodded the lawns and gardens, laid new floors, repainted the entire house, themed the bedrooms and added lots of new furniture. We enjoyed watching them do their work and we were there when Barb and the family arrived home. It was a great deal of fun to see their faces, to see their joy, as they explored their new home.

Because the house was a construction zone for three days, it was not a great weekend for those of us who live beside or around the place. We live in townhouses and my house shares a wall with Barb’s home. Sound travels readily through these walls and of all the neighbors, we had the worst of it. For much of the weekend there was sawing, banging, hammering and talking. Groups of people moved in and out from dawn until long after dusk. Television crews milled about to capture video of the work. It was difficult, but the crew seemed to do the best they could to be as sensitive as possible to the neighbors. The only one time I felt compelled to go next door was when hammering at 11 PM was keeping the baby from sleeping. I went next door and asked nicely if they would stop the hammering. They apologized and stopped immediately.

We had a great weekend despite the constant noise and commotion. We were thrilled for Barb that she would have the privilege of having her home renovated and we were willing to put up with almost any amount of annoyance for her sake. Unfortunately, most of our neighbors were not. On Friday evening, one neighbor called the police to lodge a complaint about the noise, even though it was only 8 PM. The police arrived and, recognizing the work from an article in the local newspaper, said they were unwilling to do anything. They promptly left and, I trust, found more pressing concerns. On Saturday I saw some other neighbors yelling at one of the crew members who had parked in the wrong parking spot. On Sunday, a few neighbors were gathered in a small group, muttering amongst themselves, making “choking” gestures towards the workers. On the way to church we were apprehended by a particularly grumpy neighbor who told us we should lodge a complaint because Barb’s lawn had been laid with new grass and our adjoining lawn had not. Sunday afternoon a neighbor tried to draw Aileen into complaining about the house but Aileen would only say how great she thought the place looked. The neighbor scolded, “I just hope they now take good care of it both inside and out.” We learned from the crew that a rumor was going around the neighborhood that Barb intended to sell the house as soon as the work was done.

November 23, 2010

Have you ever stopped to ponder what it might have been like for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, knowing that each day they would completely exhaust their food supply? Have you thought what it would be like knowing that they would go to bed with no food, but that the next day their supplies would be fully and miraculously replenished? It is an interesting, thought, really, and one that is worth considering.

In the Wilderness

MannaImagine that you are an Israelite father or mother and that you have three or four young children depending on you. Imagine putting these children to bed in the evening, knowing that there is not a bit of food to be found anywhere in your tent. Just to be sure, you wander over to the fridge and open it up. The glare from the light shows nothing but the glistening white of the inside of the Kenmore. There is nothing on any of the shelves; nothing in any of the drawers. There isn’t even a mostly-empty jar of relish left over from when you made burgers a few weeks earlier. There isn’t a clove of garlic or an old stick of butter. There is nothing. You close the door and open the freezer and as you wave your hand to brush aside the mist, you see that every corner of the freezer is empty. You turn to the nearby pantry and, looking high and low, see that there is not a bag, not a box, not a jar to be found. You have no food. Nothing.

As you tuck your daughter into bed that night, she says, “Daddy, what will we eat for breakfast tomorrow?” And with utter sincerity and utter confidence you say, “God will provide.” And, despite the bare cupboards and the empty fridge, you are able to go to sleep that night with full confidence that there will be food for you the next day. When you wake in the morning, you unlock the tent door, step outside, and see the world around covered in food like frost on a cold winter morning. You are able to quickly and easily collect enough food for the day, and can head inside knowing that the children will have all the food they need that day. As you nuke their mannapancakes, you whisper a prayer of gratitude that God provided again. Yet again.

But you also know that God has provided for only that day. The manna that lay on the ground was not enough for today and tomorrow. As the sun rises in a few minutes, the manna will melt into the ground and be gone. God has not provided for a week or a month or a quarter—he has provided for only one day at a time. You have heard of people who doubted God’s providence and hoarded manna, packing it into Tupperware and stuffing it into the deepest recesses of their fridges, freezers, and cupboards. But when they took it out and tried to eat it, they found that it was rotten and disgusting, crawling with worms and smelling worse than sandaled feet in a hot desert. You know that as day fades into night, and as you prepare the evening meal, you’ll find that you have just enough manna to eat, and that as you close your eyes in sleep, you’ll lie in peace, knowing that God will provide again tomorrow. But only for tomorrow.

November 15, 2010

I dedicate this post to you, the person reading it. Before you were even born, God planned this very moment, the moment you would type the address of this site into your browser or the moment you would click a link from another site to arrive right here, right now. It is no accident that you are here today and you can be certain that God has orchestrated all of this so you could learn what I want to tell you today. So get ready. This is your moment!

Does that make you uncomfortable? It sure would make me uncomfortable if I ran into that statement at another person’s web site. But you know what? The statement isn’t too different from ones I’ve read in a selection of Christian books. Consider the dedication from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life: “This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book. God longs for you to discover the life he created you to live—here on earth, and forever in eternity.” Don Piper’s awful book, Heaven is Real has a similar statement within it, suggesting that God has so orchestrated your life that you are holding the book at that very moment simply so you could learn exactly what Piper seeks to teach you.

I dislike this kind of statement, and they are becoming all too common. It took me some time, though, to figure out why they make me so uncomfortable. And then it struck me. These authors are bludgeoning me with providence. They are peering into the unknowable providence of God and are interpreting it for me. And, needless to say, they are interpreting it in their favor.

November 08, 2010

XXXMost men who are my age or older remember a day when pornography was rare and taboo. Pornography has existed as long as the camera has existed (and before that in more rudimentary forms, I’m sure) but has always been difficult to find and has always carried some kind of stigma. Today the tables have turned and porn has gone mainstream. Instead of being a shameful addiction it is now the punch line in jokes, the subject of sitcom episodes. Porn stars are admired. It’s probably significant that we don’t speak of “porn actors” but “porn stars” as if there is something inherently glamorous in their line of work. Books and magazines encourage us all to enjoy porn, to allow it to add a little spice to our relationships. It’s a lot harder to avoid porn than it is to find it.

And then there are the scary statistics, the scary reality, that men and boys are consuming porn like never before. Women and girls are now being introduced to it and even being encouraged to regard it as normal. An email that haunts me is one I received a short time ago from a girl of 14 who found herself battling addiction to pornography. It’s becoming a part of our culture, a part of our lives.

Amidst all of this, it can be difficult to avoid despair, to truly believe that anyone or anything can curtail the problem. We can look to the future and see a time marked by people who are utterly broken, whose sexuality has been undermined and destroyed by their consumption of never-ending amounts of pornography. We can see our sons and our sons’ sons growing up surrounded by it, giving themselves to it.

And, of course, we can see Christians increasingly viewed as being anti-sex for being anti-porn; in suggesting that the mainstreaming of pornography is harming individuals, families, and all of society, we are already regarded as repressed and repressors. This will only continue and grow.

Yet amidst this kind of despair, I’ve found great reasons for hope and I want to share two of those with you.

November 06, 2010

At the 9Marks Ministries blog I recently came across a brief article that outlined some of the ways church members can (and should!) serve their church on a Sunday morning. These are, in turn, drawn from a Trellis & Vine conference led by Colln Marshall.

Since tomorrow is Sunday, a day when the majority of the readers of this blog will head to their local church, it seems like a good time to reflect on a few of these things. Is there anything that should be added to the list?

Before the Service

  • Read the passage in advance
  • Pray for the gathering
  • Greet newcomers (act like you are the host)
  • Think strategically about who you should sit with
  • Arrive Early

During the Service

  • Sing with gusto (even if you can’t sing)
  • Help with logistics (if there’s a problem, help fix it)
  • Don’t be distracted
  • Listen carefully
  • Be aware of your facial expressions (you may affect others and discourage preachers)

After the Service

  • Connect newcomers with others
  • Get newcomers information
  • Start a conversation about the sermon
  • Ask someone how they became a Christian
  • Stay late

November 03, 2010

Yesterday I posted a review of Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting, a book that discusses the particular challenges that come to those who are Christian and yet who struggle with same-sex attraction. Much of the discussion that followed centered on whether or not the phrase “gay Christian” is helpful. But I hope that did not detract from the overall point of the book. I consider it a very important book as Christians seek to engage the culture and as we seek to minister well to those around us.

I want to follow up with one more article on homosexuality. Again, I do not intend to speak about the morality of homosexuality because I believe the Bible is absolutely clear on that matter. Instead, today I want to look at one very interesting result, one very interesting development, that has come with the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. I have thought about this a little bit in the past but had my mind drawn to it again while reading Al Mohler’s book Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance. In this book Mohler compiles some of his best blog posts and articles dealing with a common theme. In this case he writes about contemporary issues related to sexuality. And while there is much to glean from the book, one issue in particular give me a lot to think about.

I have sometimes wondered if, when The Lord of the Rings was first published, people looked with a certain suspicion upon the relationship of Sam to Frodo and Frodo to Sam. Here are two characters who loved one another deeply and who had a relationship forged in the fire. It is clear that in these characters, Tolkien was describing friendship as he had seen it in soldiers who had fought in the World Wars. He described a kind of intimate friendship that somehow seems so odd to our modern sensibilities. And in modern times many people have read homosexuality into that relationship, wondering if Tolkien, either deliberately or subconsciously, was creating gay characters.

Similarly, I have wondered if, when the men and women of the nineteenth century first learned of Abraham Lincoln’s deep friendship with Joshua Speed, they raised their eyebrows. After all, Lincoln and Speed even shared a bed and wrote letters sharing their love and appreciation for one another. Recent historians have offered this relationship as proof that Lincoln was homosexual.

In both cases we’re seeing clear evidence of contemporary thinking. Today we think nothing of imposing our own understanding on historical texts, interpreting them as we see fit. We think little of original meaning and much of contemporary interpretation. Thus there are feminist readings of literature, gay readings of literature, African-American readings of literature, and so on. Every group, every interest, is free to read history and literature as they see fit. In an age with few absolutes, who can tell anyone else that they are wrong? And when wondering about Frodo and Sam, when wondering about Lincoln and Speed, I am showing evidence of the pervasiveness of homosexuality in our culture. The fact that I would even wonder such things reveals that the presence of homosexuality is always just beneath the surface in our culture. I am reasonably certain that I can answer my own questions: No! When people read The Lord of the Rings they did not see homosexuality and when they first heard of Lincoln and Speed they did not even question whether they had been having sex in that bed. And here is an interesting part of the fallout of the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. We see homosexuality everywhere around us, whether it exists there or not. Things that are pure and normal we see as somehow being evidence or potential evidence of homosexual behavior.

FriendsIn and of itself that may not mean too much. But according to Dr. Mohler, who follows the line of thinking from a Touchstone article written by Anthony Esolen, there is at least one sad consequence: it is marking the end of deep and meaningful friendships between boys. Writing about the scene between Sam and Frodo, Mohler writes “As Esolen suggests, a reader or viewer of this scene is likely to jump to a rather perverse conclusion: ‘What, are they gay?’” This is an “ignorant but inevitable response” to such a situation. It is simply the way our minds work today. “As Esolen understands, the corruption of language has contributed to this confusion. When words like love, friend, male, female, and partner are transformed in a new sexual context, what was once understood to be pure and undefiled is now subject to sniggering and disrespect.” I saw an example of this recently, in reading C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair with my children. There Lewis writes “Though [Jill’s] tongue was never still, you could hardly say she talked: she prattled and giggled. She made love to everyone—the grooms, the porters, the housemaids, the ladies-in-waiting, and the elderly giant lords whose hunting days were past. She submitted to being kissed and pawed about by any number of giantesses, many of whom seemed sorry for her and called her ‘a poor little thing’…” “Make love” has obviously been sexualized sometime between 1950’s England and 21st century North America. How might people understand Jill’s actions today?

November 01, 2010

You may have seen the advertising campaign for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s new mobile operating system (which is to say, the software they’re using to power a new generation of Windows-based cell phones). The commercial pokes fun at the fact that so many of us spend so much of our lives staring at tiny little LCD rectangles. And then it asks the simple question, “Really?”

Microsoft acknowledges that mobile phones are an integral part of life today and that we will be unwilling to get rid of them altogether. So what they quietly suggest is that their software can make your time staring at the phone more productive, allowing you to get in, get out, and get to the rest of life. They want you to “be here now.” Of course Microsoft’s new software is not going to do anything to solve the problem—we all know that. They make a half-hearted attempt to suggest that this software will make a difference but obviously they are hoping that in identifying a problem many of us are feeling guilty about, they’ll convince us that they found a solution. It’s nonsense.

October 26, 2010

BalanceThis blog is full of false starts and dead ends—series I decided to write and gave up on or articles I meant to continue and just plain forgot about. A friend recently pointed out that just about a year ago I discussed Chasing Delight and in that post wrote about Proverbs 11:1: “It is one of my favorite Proverbs, for reasons I’ll explain at another time. It says simply, ‘A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.’” As you may have guessed by now, I never did return to that verse. So, to close out that loop, let me write about it today.

Proverbs 11:1 must be one of the most mundane of all of Solomon’s proverbs. It deals with something that hardly seems at all significant—weights and measures. It tells us that a false weight is an abomination to God. According to Tremper Longman, the first phrase is used “to indicate the utmost divine censure against something. It offends Yahweh’s ritual or moral order.” The KJV captures a bit of this when it says “The Lord abhors dishonest scales.” The English language does not offer too many words stronger than “abhor” and “abomination.” So this is serious stuff.

God abhors a false or fraudulent scale. The scale that is described here is exactly the kind we’d imagine—two plates that would be suspended from a bar. Weights would be added to one side in order to measure what was in the other. When the scale was properly balanced, you would know the weight of your goods and, on that basis, the amount you would need to pay for them. You can imagine that there would be many ways that someone could manipulate the results: he could mislabel the weights, perhaps, or he could try to add extra ones without the customer noticing.

October 19, 2010

Last week I wrote about Sex & Assurance of Salvation, using that post to bring together two ideas that had been floating around my brain. Today I want to do that one more time—I want to use a post to smash two ideas together.

Many Christians talk about seekers, those who are in the midst of pursuing God. Of course this is a little bit of a misnomer since the Bible makes it clear that no one truly seeks after God. As Romans 3 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Case closed. Sinful man does not pursue God.

What this means is that no one initiates a pursuit of God—the kind of pursuit that would lead to salvation. Instead, it is God who is the initiator and the pursuer. It is God who seeks us. R.C. Sproul says “from our vantage point it seems to us that unregenerate people are in fact seeking after God. But God is not hiding. He is in plain view. His creation clearly and manifestly displays his glory. Fallen humans are not by nature seekers after God. We are fugitives from God, fully intent upon escaping from him.” We do not pursue; we flee. And there is a sense in which we do not need to pursue, since evidence of God surrounds us all the time.

Yet this can be hard to believe because it often looks as if unbelievers truly are seeking God. It seems, for all the world, as if they are truly seeking and yet not finding—as if they are seeking and God is keeping himself hidden from them. Aquinas offered an answer to this dilemma, and again, I turn here to R.C. Sproul. “He explained that the unbeliever desperately seeks happiness, peace of mind, meaning and significance in life, relief from guilt, and a host of other things we link inseparably with God. We make the gratuitous assumption that because people are seeking things that only God can give them that they are therefore seeking God.” So what, then, is the real situation? “People seek the benefits of God, while all the while fleeing from God himself.”

So what appears to be a pursuit of God may well be the exact opposite; something that seems noble may well be utterly evil. While it may seem that a person is pursuing God, he is actually simply seeking what only God can provide, all the while hating God himself.

October 12, 2010

One of the joys of reading widely is in finding interesting connections between things that might otherwise seem to be unrelated. Let me explain.

I recently read through R.C. Sproul’s book What Is Reformed Theology? Actually, I’ve recently read through almost all of R.C. Sproul’s books and have noted that he has several recurring emphases. One of these is the importance of a right understanding of God’s work of preservation. Of course this emphasis makes sense when you know that Sproul is a long-time teacher and defender of Reformed doctrine.

Sproul’s concern with understanding the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is not purely a theological one; it is not simply that he wants to have his theology right. His concern is practical. “There is clearly a link between our assurance and our sanctification,” he says. “The person who lacks assurance of salvation is vulnerable to a myriad of threats to his personal growth. The confident Christian, certain of his salvation, is free from the paralyzing fear that can inhibit personal growth. Without assurance we are assailed by doubt and uncertainty with respect to God’s promises, which serve as an anchor for our souls.”

What Sproul wants people to see is that assurance of salvation, a doctrine which flows out of God’s act of preservation (Sproul says rightly that the doctrines may be distinguished from one another, but never separated), is critical to spiritual growth. Those who lack assurance that they are saved often become bogged down by concern for their salvation. They have trouble growing in their faith because they cannot see past the uncertainty about their own spiritual condition. And this makes perfect sense, right? It is difficult to grow in the deeper things if we are still wrestling with the very basics. This is why every Christian should seek assurance of his salvation.

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