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Christian Living

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.

October 07, 2010

Social MediaThere are many who doubt or downplay the relevance of the Old Testament to our times. Those people have probably never taken the time to read the book of Proverbs. I read from Proverbs almost every day and I am continually amazed at just how relevant this book is. It seems that wisdom is timeless. The lessons David taught Solomon speak to myself and my children as much as they did to the men and women of ancient Israel. The wisdom of God given to Solomon continues to ring loud and clear in my heart.

If Solomon were alive today and we were to ask him how we are to relate to one another in this digital world, if we were to ask him how we can honor God in our use of all these social media available to us today, here is how he might respond.

Count to ten before posting, sharing, sending, submitting. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (29:20).” How many arguments could be avoided and how many relationships saved if people were only a little less hasty with their words? Before posting an article or before replying to a Facebook status, it is always (always!) a good idea to re-read what you have written and consider if your words accurately express your feelings and if expressing such feelings is necessary and edifying. And while I’m on the topic, a spell-check doesn’t hurt either.

Leave the fool to his folly. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself (26:4).” There are times when it is best to leave a foolish person to his own devices rather than to try to change him. Sometimes it is best just to leave him alone rather than providing him more ammunition to work with. This means that it may be best to ignore the troll, to leave a rebuke unanswered, than to bait him and to suffer his wrath.

Expose folly. “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:5).” Here it is—undeniable proof that the Bible contradicts itself! Are we to answer a fool according to his folly or not? Evidently this “contradiction” is deliberate and is in the Bible to show that there is no absolute law in this situation. There are times when folly must be exposed, either if the fool is one you believe is honestly seeking after wisdom, or if his folly will damage others. If a fool is impacting others, drawing them into his foolishness, he must be exposed for the sake of the church’s health.

Know when to walk away. “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet (29:9).” There are times when you need to walk away instead of carrying on an argument. Foolish people have no real desire to learn or to be wise. Instead, they only seek opportunities to loudly proclaim the folly. Walk away so you can have peace. Shut down, log off, erase—do what you need to.

October 05, 2010

Over the weekend I came across some video of America’s self-proclaimed cheapest family. They got me thinking about frugality, a topic that is all the rage in Christian circles today (or at least in some Christian circles). I have discussed this issue once or twice in the past but want to return to it today. Why? Because a lot of people put a lot of effort into frugality and I think many of them do so without thinking deeply whether what they are doing is right or wrong. They are saving money and this must be good, right? I’m not entirely convinced. So hear me out.

One reality about frugality is that it is contagious. I think it can be especially difficult issue for women. When one or two women in a church emphasize frugality and talk of all the amazing deals they’ve been able to find—how they managed to find a lifetime’s supply of Baby Aspirin for $4 or how they’ve gotten 180 rolls of toilet paper for the cost of 18 rolls—other women may feel like they are being spendthrifts for paying full price. It is difficult to say, or even to believe, that there may be no inherent virtue in frugality. And yet I want to suggest that very thing: there may be no inherent value in it.

Frugality

September 27, 2010

It’s one of the inevitabilities of parenting—the kids just keep getting older and older. And every now and again I pause and consider and realize that my time with the kids is running out. My son is now 10-and-a-half years old, and in just a few months he will be exactly half the age I was when I got married. It’s entirely possible that I’m coming up to the 50% mark of the time he will be living in my home, under my direct influence. Panic!

This can be a difficult thing to think about. I look back on the ten years of parenting and see so many missed opportunities, so many times that I was not available to the kids. I look at where they are now in their spiritual development, in my knowledge of who they are, and I wonder if I’ve already blown it, if it’s already too late.

But at my best I know better than this. I know it’s not too late and that the best years are ahead. So when I recover from my momentary panic, I look forward to what lies ahead, and I especially look forward to increasingly regarding my children as friends. That is something I’ve seen from my friends with older children—that as the children grow up, they make the slow transition from kid to friend. And already I’m starting to see how that is happening. I’ll always be dad to the kids, but I will also be able to regard them as friends.

In the past few months I have been trying to be a little bit more intentional about spending time with the children, trying to grab the moments that exist and trying to create memories. Mostly I’m just trying to know them and to be known by them. And I know that one of the best ways I can do this is by spending time individually with each one of them.

The first thing I started doing was being deliberate about “daddy dates,” taking my kids, one each week, out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Because the kids are in public schools we cannot do this on weekdays. But it’s a lot of fun to wake up early on Saturday and head to Denny’s (which, so far, is their breakfast joint of choice). So each Saturday I wake one of them and quietly head out for breakfast. The kids order something off the kids’ menu and I order the Grand Slam. We just sit and talk. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s a good time. It’s a time with no real agenda except to have the experience alone together. I don’t know how long they’ll continue to be impressed with Denny’s, but for now they think it’s awfully exciting.

I’ve also tried to find at least one more substantial thing I can do with each of the children once or twice in the year (outside of the fun things we do as a family). Last year I took my daughter to The Sound of Music (the musical, not the movie) when it was playing in Toronto, spending the money to make sure we could sit in great seats and see all that was going on. I take my son to a couple of baseball games each year, either just the two of us or with him and one of his friends. We try to time things in such a way that we hang out with a player after the game or find a way to get out onto the field or something else that’s kind of special.

As the children get just a little bit older I will begin to bring them with me to the occasional conference. I have seen lots of speakers do this and I’m looking forward to it as well—the travel and the experience will be very exciting for them, even if they get bored to death sitting in a convention center for 2 or 3 days.

One of the most ordinary things I’ve been doing lately is having one of the children help me with the after-dinner routine every night. Since my wife is generally the one who makes dinner, I’ve always taken it upon myself to clean up after we finish eating. And now that the school year has begun, I usually put together the next day’s bagged lunches at the same time. So what I have been doing is having one of the children join me in this each night. We will do dishes together, make the lunches together, and then do whatever that kid wants to do that night. Sometimes we will go for a walk together, sometimes we’ll read a story, sometimes we’ll play a computer game or turn on the Wii. But in any case, we do the work and then spend some time together doing something fun. This has quickly become a tradition that the kids love. Though they probably wouldn’t complain if we were to scratch the bits that demand work, they are so eager to spend time with me that even doing dishes suddenly seems like fun rather than work. (Similar to this but perhaps geared primarily to slightly older children, Brian Croft tells how he individually shepherds each of his children in this very helpful blog post)

So there we have just a few of the ways that I try to make sure I am being deliberate in spending time individually with each of my children. But I know that I’ve got a lot to learn. I’d love to hear from you about some of the things you do, or perhaps some of the things your parents did long ago, as they sought to love you and be loved by you. How do you ensure you are investing personally in each of your children?

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