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Christian Living

October 14, 2013

Every guy has received a warning about “the second glance.” Here’s how it works: When you see an attractive woman, you are morally responsible for the second glance, not the first. Because you cannot help seeing what is there in front of you, the second glance is the one where you will display sin or virtue. It is here that you make the moral choice—the choice to lust or the choice to direct your eyes and your thoughts to something that honors God.

I have never been completely comfortable with the second glance logic. More on that in a moment, but first we need to see that this is not only a guy thing.

Women can have the same issue or one that is very closely related. For some women the issue is identical—looking with lust. For others it may be something else, such as alighting your eyes on someone who doesn’t fit in and then allowing yourself condescending thoughts about her. It may be thinking unkind thoughts about the immodest woman or the too-modest woman or the woman whose children are dressed so perfectly or so imperfectly. Whether you are a man or woman, you will be tempted at times to allow your eyes to direct you to people who will then take your thoughts in unholy directions. It is a universal problem.

Back to the question: Is it only the second glance that counts? Yes and no.

October 09, 2013

If I had any doubt about the potential evils of the Internet, they were permanently erased when I wrote a book about pornography, and followed it with one on life and faith after the digital explosion. In the aftermath I received email after email describing what pornography and other online dangers had done to individuals and to families. Since I have traveled around speaking on the subject of technology, I’ve learned even more about just how harmful it can be to allow children or teenagers free reign when it comes to their devices and their access to the Web. We are handing power tools to children and acting surprised when they get badly hurt.

My children are growing up fast—my son is 13 and my daughters are (almost) 11 and 7. They are asking for and in some cases even needing greater access to computers. Their friends are starting to get their first cell phones. My son just opened a Facebook account. Even my seven-year-old loves to write emails to her grandmother.

I am getting nervous. I know all the facts about what they may encounter out there, but have done too little to protect them.

I am about to strengthen my plan to protect my family. I thought it might be helpful to share this plan and this journey with you, both to get your feedback on it, and to allow you to see how it progresses. I intend to report back in a month or two to let you know what we have learned along the way.

Goals

I have four main goals:

Goal #1. I want to guard my children from seeing or experiencing what they don’t know exists. I want the innocent to remain innocent. In other words, I do not want my children to see pornography or to experience dangerous situations before I have been able to discuss these things with them. I have already had several of these discussions with my son, but not yet with my daughters. I believe this is a talk to have with them when they are old enough—probably around 11 or 12.

Goal #2. I want to prevent them from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists. I am under no illusion that they will never want to see what all the buzz is about  and what their friends will inevitably be discussing. So I want to make it as difficult as possible for them to access dangerous or pornographic material, even if they want to.

October 07, 2013

In some Christian traditions they are emphasized to the point of exhaustion; in others they are so diminished as to barely exist at all. Whatever we believe about the spiritual gifts, we at least need to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit gives a great range of gifts to his people and that they are given to glorify God as we use them to serve one another (read 1 Corinthians 12).

Yet since we are sinful people, we can take even the good gifts of the Holy Spirit and use them as a means of discouragement. This can happen in at least two ways: when we envy the gifts given to others or when we assume that others should share our giftings. In his book Accidental Pharisees (which, incidentally, is currently $2.99 on Kindle), Larry Osborne refers to the first of these as gift envy and the second as gift projection.

Gift Envy

Whatever gifts I have been given, evangelism is definitely not among them. But I know people who have this gift. They are the ones whose hearts leap with excitement when they think about standing on a street corner and preaching to a crowd of strangers. They are the ones who have the ability to make every conversation a gospel opportunity and to do so without making it weird. They come to prayer meetings with a long list of people to pray for that they have met and evangelized in just the past week. They love to strike up conversations on planes or busses or wherever else they find a captive audience. They have met every person in the neighborhood and told them all about Jesus. They make it seem so easy.

I am not so gifted. My ideal flight is the one where the seat next to me remains empty so I can settle in with a good book. I am pretty sure I would pass out if I tried to do street preaching. When I attempt to steer a conversation toward the gospel, it always feels so unnatural. It’s not that I don’t want to do the work of an evangelist and not that I haven’t done it plenty of times in the past. It just comes with great difficulty and with little skill.

When I look at those friends who are greatly gifted in this way, I am tempted toward guilt and from guilt it is only a short step to envy. I hear them describe all the opportunities they had, they created, they took, and I feel my heart sink a little. I can begin to envy this gift, to wish I had it. Why shouldn’t I be gifted in this way? I want to reach the lost, I want to be a skilled evangelist, I want to share the gospel with friends, family and neighbors.

September 27, 2013

I love the theology of Paul’s epistles, learning who this God is that we trust and serve. And I love the practical view of Christian living that always follows this unfolding of the person and works of God. Sound theology always finds expression in the way we live.

In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul encourages one church toward a life that is pleasing to God and he encourages them in three ways: to be sexually pure, to work hard, and to love one another. And as he discusses love for one another, he draws out four interesting little principles of love within a local church.

God Is Our Teacher

The first and most foundational thing to know about love between Christians in a local church is that God serves as our teacher. Paul writes, “you yourselves have been taught by God to love.” In the school of love, God is the instructor.

How does God teach us to love? That’s easy! More than anything else, he teaches us by example, and the cross of Christ is the best and highest possible example of love. This church was already excelling in love for one another so that Paul could say, “You have no need for me to teach you about love.” Yet he could still call them to love all the more. He was not dissatisfied by what he knew of their love for one another, but knew that when the cross is the example, Christians always have room for greater growth.

September 17, 2013

I often use this blog as a place to think through questions that have been perplexing me or ideas that just need some reflection. I don’t really know what I think or what I believe until I have processed it through the written word. For a few weeks now I have had a note in front of me saying, “see evidence of God’s grace in what that person could have been.” That’s weird, I know, so let me explain.

I’ve explained before that at Grace Fellowship Church we have tried to be deliberate in developing a culture of encouragement rather than discouragement, of pointing more to evidences of God’s grace in one another than in the too-obvious evidences of human depravity. We succeed better at some times than others and find this an area that requires constant rekindling. Still, we trust that this church community remains an encouraging place to be and a place where we actively look for grace.

I have been reflecting recently that some of the greatest evidences of God’s grace in the life of the Christian are the things that person could be or inevitably would be without the active presence of the Holy Spirit and without a commitment to the pursuit of holiness. Sometimes we see evidences of God’s grace in what a person is or has become; sometimes we see evidences of God’s grace in what that person would otherwise be.

I think of the young man who was raised with very few advantages, whose family has seen generations of addiction and failure, and yet who has been saved by grace and has become the one exception. Literally, the one exception. Of all the things he could be, he has chosen instead to be a Christian and to live like one. And it shows.

I think of the woman who grew up as part of a broken family and who was once convinced that she, too, could only fail at marriage. And yet by God’s grace she has endured difficult times, has built stability into her marriage, and has one of those God-glorifying, Christ-displaying marriages that will last till death parts them.

September 12, 2013

Yesterday evening I enjoyed a mid-week prayer service at a little Presbyterian church down here on the coast of Scotland. Before prayer the minister spent a few minutes leading a study on Revelation 12, and as is so often the case when I listen to the teaching of God’s Word, there was one idea above all the others that arrested my attention and got me thinking.

Every Christian is told to pursue a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We have all seen the consequences of dead religion, of people who claim to worship Jesus, but who do not seem to know him. They relate to Jesus like they relate to the king or president or to a fictional character. There is nothing real about it.

But we are told time and again that we have the joy and the responsibility of relating to Jesus in a personal way. He is real. He is alive. He is a genuine person. We can and should and must relate to him personally.

However, as much as we emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we tend to view Satan and his evil forces as an abstraction. We believe that we need to relate personally to the Savior but that we can relate impersonally to the enemy as if Jesus is a person while Satan is merely an idea. What the minister said yesterday was simply this: You need to have a personal relationship with Satan as well.

We need to be careful here, obviously. We do not equate Jesus and Satan in some yin and yang kind of relationship. They are by no means equal. Jesus is creator and Satan is created; Jesus is the conquerer and Satan the conquered; Jesus is alive forever while Satan knows his time is short and that he must soon be thrown into the pit.

But until then, Satan is alive and on the prowl. He despises those who have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ and both desires and seeks their destruction. So until the time Christ returns and casts Satan into that pit forever, we need to relate to him as well. This does not mean that we pray to Satan or even speak to him, but it had better mean that we pray to Christ about him and pray to Christ against him.

We need to believe that Satan exists, that he is powerful and that he will stop at nothing to hurt, hinder and destroy us. He is not an idea. He is not a theory or hypothesis or explanation. He is real, and it is crucial that we remember and believe it.

September 02, 2013

It is Labor Day today. That’s Labour Day here in Canada. It struck me this morning that among all the holidays Labor Day is unique in that we celebrate it by ignoring the very thing it is all about. On Christmas we remember Jesus; on Canada Day or Independence Day we think about our nations; on Thanksgiving we count our blessings and give thanks; on Memorial Day or Remembrance Day we remember those who died while serving their countries. But on Labor Day we do all we can to not labor and to not think about labor.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about labor, about work, and this formula has been in my mind: “disposable time + disposable income = ?” I haven’t known exactly what it equals, but I know it equals something. It has to. It probably equals something a little bit different for each of us.

We live at a time of amazing privilege. Almost all of us have the luxury of disposable income so that after we have paid our taxes and paid our bills and put a check in the offering basket, money remains. For some that amount is far greater than for others, but almost all of us have at least something left over, whether it is enough to head to Disney once a year or just enough to subscribe to Netflix. This puts us in a unique place in human history. Even the poor and middle-class among us have privileges today that rank with society’s elite from days gone by.

And it’s not just money that we have in abundance. It is also time. Many people today survive, and even thrive, on a 40-hour work week. Maybe in your case it is 50 or even 60. Regardless, even with that number of hours you have time to spare, time to dedicate to a hobby or serving at church or hanging out with your family or making use of that Netflix subscription.

When you take disposable time and you combine it with disposable income, something is going to happen. It is too powerful a combination to do nothing.

As I ponder the effect in my life, I keep coming back to the word entitlement. In my life disposable time + disposable income = entitlement. As I have lived in a culture where so many of us have an abundance of time and money, and as I have benefited from doing labor that allows me both luxuries, I feel a growing sense of entitlement. I begin to believe it is my right to have more money than I need and my right to use time in self-serving ways. I find that I begin to desire more of each.

I would prefer that my mind would go to opportunity, and this is how I am challenging myself. Disposable time + disposable money = opportunity. It represents an incredible and unique opportunity to do good, both through serving and through giving. It is an opportunity and privilege to be faithfully and joyfully stewarded.

August 26, 2013

Why sheep? Why not cheetahs or wolves or ligers or another animal with a bit of flair, a bit of class? But the Bible tells us often that we are sheep. We are sheep and God is a shepherd. That sheep/shepherd word picture is at the heart of the best-loved Psalm—Psalm 23. I spent some time with that psalm lately and tried to gain a better appreciation of why God saw fit to tell us we are sheep.

I will admit I am not the world’s foremost expert on sheep. I grew up in the city and even now live in an area of town that explicitly forbids owning livestock. In place of first-hand knowledge, I spent some time reading about sheep. It was funny. And kind of humbling.

Do a little bit of reading about sheep and you’ll soon see they are not survivors. They are not strong and independent creatures, not proud hunters or fierce predators. They’re actually kind of pathetic, entirely dependent upon a shepherd for at least three reasons. Two of these reasons are related to the brain of a sheep and the other is related to its body.

This is a real news story that aptly tells us the first reason sheep need a shepherd: because sheep are dumb.

Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 metres to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived. Shepherds from a nearby village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.

One sheep wandered off a cliff and 1,499 others just followed along. Can you picture it? 1,500 sheep, each walking off a cliff, one after the other. Soon they were piled so deep that the ones at the bottom were crushed to death and the ones on top were lying on a big downy-soft pillow. It is completely absurd and tells us one important fact about sheep and the first reason sheep absolutely need a shepherd: they are not the smartest animals in the world. In fact, they may well be just about the dumbest animals in the world.

And here’s a second reason sheep need a shepherd: they are directionless. Sheep are prone to wander. Even if you put them in an absolutely perfect environment with everything they need (things like green pastures and still waters), sooner or later they will just wander off. If a shepherd doesn’t manage them, if he doesn’t micromanage them and keep them under constant surveillance, they’ll wander off and be lost.

August 23, 2013

I have often heard my mother say that women have a near-infinite capacity for guilt and that husbands and children intuitively know this and are adept at exploiting it. Not surprisingly, a common theme in books and blogs is the mommy guilt, the weight of unrealistic expectations. So many women, and mothers especially, believe they are meant to be so much more than they actually are. It can prove a life-long burden.

Of course guilt is not the exclusive domain of women. Men can and do carry it as well. I have a practical bent and, while not quite immune to guilt, it tends to be a minimal struggle in my life. Yet there is one area where I feel that weight, that daddy guilt. I struggle with guilt in times of rest, and especially times of vacation.

Over the years, from reading books and listening to conference talks and talking to men I admire, I have picked up this idea that the best dad is the dad who dedicates his times of rest to entertaining his children, to providing them with the ultimate vacation. The dad who loves his family best is the dad who puts full effort into a vacation, who does not prioritize his own rest, but who instead spends that week finding fun things for his children to do, and who allows his wife to be the one who relaxes. That guilt can tell me at times that unless dad comes away from vacation exhausted, he has been selfish and unloving.

Last week was my first week of vacation in some time. I did not leave home utterly spent and burned out. Not at all. I was feeling strong and energized, and I had plans for the time. We would set up in a cottage on a small lake an hour north of Montreal. One day we would go into Montreal and tour the sites. Another day we would head to Mont Tremblant and find fun things to do there. There was more—water parks and hikes and interesting restaurants. It was going to be awesome for the whole family.

Then I got to that cottage. I got to that cottage and settled into a comfortable chair by a giant window overlooking a lake. And as I sat there I was suddenly experiencing rest of a unique kind. The world slowed down. I forgot all about the stack of books I brought along and instead dug up a collection of poetry and spent hours reading poems and even memorizing a bunch of them.

August 14, 2013

Every night my girls want me to pray with them and for them. If I do not tuck them in at night, or if I forget to pray when I do tuck them in, I can be sure that sooner or later I will hear feet coming down the stairs and then the question: “Daddy, will you pray with us?” Sometimes I think they are expressing a good and heartfelt desire and other times I think they are merely being superstitious, as if bad dreams will plague them and every shadow will frighten them if I do not pray. Either way, I never refuse them.

The other night I neglected to pray with them. It was at the end of a long day, I had fulfilled my parenting duties, I had gone off the clock, I wanted some “me time.” And then I heard the footsteps on the stairs. I groaned inwardly. “Daddy, you didn’t pray with us!”

So I called them over and prayed with them. It was a perfunctory prayer. It was lacking in enthusiasm and joy and confidence. I have shown more interest in taking out the trash. I sent them back to bed and went back to what I was doing. It was just another little moment in the life of a normal family.

The next morning I woke up and spent some time reading God’s Word. My devotions took me to Philippians where, right from the start of the letter, Paul tells that church how and why he is praying for them. Paul deliberately opens up his prayer life in order to teach this church how they ought to pray. In his commentary, Dennis Johnson writes, “How can we learn to pray? Instruction helps, but example is the key.” We learn to pray by hearing other people’s prayers.

When I had spent a few minutes in the passage, I went for a walk. And as I walked and prayed, and prayed and walked, this thought struck me: When you pray with your children, you are teaching your children to pray. When my girls had crept down the stairs the night before, they gave me an opportunity to teach them. And I had taught them. I had taught them that prayer can be monotone, that prayer can be done in a quick and uninterested and perfunctory manner. I had taught them that prayer is duty more than it is delight. The lessons were not all bad. I had taught them as well that they can, and should, entrust their cares to God and that he is the one who provides for our needs. But still, if that prayer was a teaching opportunity, it was one I mishandled and one I regret.

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