Family


Last night I was listening to Dr. Al Mohler preach on I believe “Family Life” as I drove home and heard him give this great quote by Tertullian.  I thought in light of my earlier discussion of John Piper this week, it would be a fitting way to end the week.  I hope you enjoy it.

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.

Peace be with you

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My fellow bibliophile Allen Williams suggested that I read John Piper’s “This Momentary Marriage” after he studied it last spring in preparation for our wedding sermon.  I listen to Piper preach regularly and while I do not always agree with him, I find his insights to be Biblically based and thought provoking.  “This Momentary Marriage” is so thought provoking I finished the book in shock.  Piper dives deep into the Biblical concept of marriage and reminds the reader that covenant marriage is to be a reflection of God’s covenant love for us.  I believe that our not proclaiming this simple truth from our pulpits more often is the reason why so many Christian marriages are failing apart and our society’s moral fabric is being shredded.   Piper writes, while speaking of covenant grace, that “a profound understanding and fear of God’s wrath is exactly what many marriages need, because without it, the gospel is diluted down to mere human relations and loses its biblical glory.  Without a biblical view of God’s wrath, you will be tempted to think that your wrath–your anger–against your spouse is simply too big to overcome, because you have never really tasted what it is like to see an infinitely greater wrath overcome by grace, namely, God’s wrath against you.”    Oh how I wish everyone who was signing up for a “no-fault” divorce would let those words sink deep into their spirits.  Piper spends a considerable amount of time exegeting Ephesians 5 on the nature of marriage.  Southern Baptists have often been skewered because of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message’s statement on marriage and the inclusion of the Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 admonition of wives submitting graciously to their husbands.  I will readily admit that the statement has often heightened my discomfort level because of the immediate negative connotations the word “submission” conjures to mind.  Furthermore, I have seen the use of Paul’s statement abused by husbands, a number of whom are sadly pastors, to the point that it has caused me to think twice about teaching from the text for fear of it being misused.  Piper takes on the subject head-on and paints a picture of submission that is hard to refute.  He uses 1 Peter 3 as his proof text and strongly argues 6 points of what submission is not.  I found it reassuring to see Piper include that “submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the wedding altar,”  “submission does not mean that a wife is to act of fear,” and “submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says.”   Piper spends considerably more time in the book dealing with a husband’s marital duties including placing  sole responsibility for resolving marital disputes on the husband.  Piper asserts that as the husband is the Christ figure in the marriage, he is the one who is to go to his wife and seek reconciliation, just as Christ came to His bride, the Church, to seek reconciliation.  I will say that I have been convicted repeatedly by this after more than one disagreement with Eliza and I am still working to fully implement it.  A significant reason why I left the book shocked is that Piper leaves no stone unturned as it relates to marriage, including intercourse and whether to have children.  My shock though stemmed from my own wonder in why I had failed to grasp the concepts in the light that Piper shined on them and not from any unbiblical assertions.  While there were issues that I simply disagreed with Piper on because of my personal theological proclivities, they failed to warrant enough disagreement for me not to recommend it for every married couple I know.  In fact, should I ever do a marriage retreat, I will probably base it in part on “This Momentary Marriage.” I hope you will check it out and see how best to strengthen your marriage.

Peace be with you.

“The Shack” by William Young has proven to be one of the most controversial books to hit Christian bookstores in the last several years and even more mind-boggling is that it’s fiction.  Our purchase was accompanied by a warning letter issued by Lifeway urging caution while reading and countless colleagues have dismissed it as theological garbage.  I cannot say that I agree with every part of the book as I felt that Young sides too often with human free will as it relates to God’s sovereignty such that it flirts too close to open theism for me.   However, I must admit that given all the theological furor that accompanied “The Shack,” I was hyper-sensitive to its theology and most people would probably not notice some of the things that startled me.  The most glaring theological trouble spot for many is Young’s depiction of the Trinity, with the Father being personified as an African-American woman and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman.  I personally do not have trouble with the depiction primarily because it is fiction.  I would have a great deal of difficulty if some new theology text made such assertions as I would find them antithetical to Christian Scripture and tradition.  Yet, because it is a work of fiction we must understand that Young is simply trying to make a point about the fact that in our deepest need God is there meeting it in whatever form necessary.  The main character, Mack Phillips, needed the form of God he encountered to overcome the brutal death of his child.  If we were honest with ourselves sometimes we too would say that sometimes we need to feel God’s paternal discipline and sometimes we need God’s maternal love.  Jesus alluded to this just before His crucifixion when he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”  I personally thought the depiction of the Holy Spirit was dead on and particularly helpful in allowing the average Christian to grasp such an important concept given so many misconceptions about the person and work of the Spirit.   The turmoil the depiction has stirred exposes a serious problem in Evangelical Christendom regarding the arts.  So many parts of our society have become so fact driven that we fail to see the arts as a means to enhancing our understanding of our faith and our world.  Our artistic ignorance has caused us to lose a valuable witnessing tool as the world we seek to evangelize is actively engaged in the arts but will not read our Scriptures.  We must learn to use every tool at our disposal for the sake of the Gospel.  Joseph told his brothers that they meant their actions toward him for evil, but God meant it for good that many might be saved.  Have we become so legalistic that we have made God incapable of doing the same with the arts?  “The Shack” has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 92 weeks.  Can you imagine the number of lost people who have read it and had numerous questions about God fill their soul?  Can you imagine the impact on our world if there were Christians who used someone reading “The Shack” as a means of embarking on a conversation that brought another soul into the Kingdom?  I would recommend reading “The Shack” from that perspective alone and hope that it would stir within you a desire to use the arts as part of your witness.

Peace be with you.

Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History” is considered by many to be the definitive work on Joseph Smith’s life as it intricately details the events surrounding the creation of the Mormon religion.  Brodie’s work is by far one of the most intriguing religious biographies I have ever read and should be a must read for Evangelical pastors everywhere.  The Mormon faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the world and its strenuous morals and family values emphasis makes it attractive to many in America.  Evangelicals should realize that Mormonism is not just another form of Protestantism, but is a separate religion unto itself.  Brodie’s book details the almost God like status that Joseph Smith attained with his followers and provides light on the origin of many Mormon practices and beliefs.  People who believe they are finding the true church of Jesus Christ should be made aware of some of the more obscure of these beliefs such as the doctrine of eternal progression which asserts that ultimately a devoted Mormon will become part of the Godhead.  Brodie’s recounting the creation of the Book of Mormon, during a time of great religious upheaval in upstate New York, should give every Mormon adherent pause about the veracity of their faith’s Scripture.  Smith is portrayed as a grand storyteller who uses the events of the day to create the Book of Mormon’s masterful tales.  Indeed, Brodie points out that the Book of Mormon could be considered simply part of the canon of myths and tales New Yorkers spun to explain the existence of Native American burial mounds scattered across the Upstate.  I find it odd that given Brodie’s retelling of the Book of Mormon’s creation why one does not hear more about the same scrutiny being applied to it that is so often applied to the Christian Scriptures.  Do scholars simply find it fantasy and choose to ignore it?  If so, why do they not choose to treat the Scriptures in the same manner, after all I would think a person “deluded” in one religion deserves to be saved from their delusion just as much as one in another.

I think the greatest danger that Brodie’s book exposes is the that the Mormon religion is an American creation, grounded in the American dream.  Smith’s continued quest for power and fortune is often depicted to be central to his actions, as if he needs these things to find fulfillment.  True Christianity teaches that the pursuit of power is not what our Saviour intends for us.  We must remember to follow His example, that He came not to be served, but to serve.  Joseph Smith’s life tragically proves that to fight against Christ’s example will lead a person down a path of destruction.  It was Smith’s grab for power that ultimately cost him his life and forced his followers to barren Utah.  The American Church would do well to heed Smith’s warning before it follows him down the same path.  Finally, Brodie’s work should awaken within every pastor a desire to provide their flock with theological tools to combat Mormonism and other new religious movements.  Pastors are supposed to be God’s under-shepherd and part of our job is to protect our flock from outside attack.  A failure to teach the errors of Smith’s “taste like chicken” theology and those like it is a failure to protect our own.  For example, the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage, an essential plank in their very attractive family values position, flies in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching that there is no marriage in Heaven.  The average Christian I know would not even think about making that point and the blame for that starts in the pulpit.  Now, let me be clear, I do not mean that we should step into our pulpits and rant against these groups.  I think such actions are counterproductive.  I do believe though that we should once more teach clear doctrine from our pulpits to the point that people will know when they are hearing unorthodox theology.  We must recall that just as Joseph Smith will one day have to account for his misleading people, we will have to account for failing to simply lead people.

Peace be with you.

I picked up Ron Suskind’s “A Hope in the Unseen” while leafing through the current events section at Edward McKay and thought the story sounded compelling and well it was only $2 so I did not have much to lose.  The truth is that there is a great deal to lose by excluding Ron Suskind’s look at the high school and early college career of Cedric Jennings from your library.  Cedric Jennings is an African-American honor student being raised by a single mother in the middle of inner city Washington, D.C.  Cedric works mightily to attain his goal of being accepted in an Ivy League school and escaping both inner-city poverty and the prison fate of so many African-American inner-city males, including his father.  Cedric’s decision costs him popularity and leads to derision by many of the other students in his school.  One continuing thread of the book is the fact that Cedric’s decision impedes, severely I believe, his ability to interact socially.   Indeed, the roller coaster that Cedric experiences as he learns these skills is part of the driving force of the book.  There are other important threads such as the development of Cedric’s faith and his relationship with his mother that are at the forefront throughout that are also commendable.  Cedric proves that one can successfully have a deep and abiding evangelical faith while holding reason in tension.  I fear we lose that view far too often these days as Evangelicals either surrender their college students to the supposed terrors of a liberal arts education by failing to adequately equip them for the concepts they will be exposed to or we impair them by sending them to like-minded Evangelical institutions where open exposure to such concepts are muted.  Yes, as Cedric proves, there will be ups and downs to reach this tension, but it seems that Peter took a similar path in understanding the person and work of the Christ and it was to his benefit that he did.  The thing that disturbed me most about Suskind’s account is that it lays bare severe deficiencies in the American education system.  My heart broke as Cedric is sitting in one of first classes at Brown University and fails to comprehend a reference to Ellis Island.   Can you imagine anyone passing through the halls of an American high school and not being taught about the portal through which so many entered the American melting pot?  Cedric wonders if he has reached too far because of the difficulties he experiences during his Brown tenure, but I believe America and not Cedric’s reach is at fault.  We have too long thrown money at the education system while not demanding significant returns for our investment.  I am sorry, but what good is it to require our students to pass standardized exams when we have people teaching them who have no business doing so.  Please do not think I am bashing the education system.  My beloved wife is a teacher and I would defend to the death the right to public education.  I just think the Cedric Jennings’ of the world deserve better.  Additionally, if the majority of our congregations are supposed to learn the critical skills of reading, reasoning, and comprehension through the public education system the Church deserves better.  How do we expect folks to be transformed by the reading of God’s Word without these skills?  How do we expect them to begin to be able formulate the phrases needed to share their faith if they have never been taught how to expand upon ideas?  I cannot encourage you enough to read “A Hope in the Unseen” and gain inspiration from Cedric and motivation to fight for the countless thousands like him.

Peace be with you.

Americans have been riveted by the ongoing situation involving a Baptist church group attempting to bring a group of Haitian children to the United States for adoption.  I applaud the sentiment expressed in their actions, if they prove true, because Haiti’s orphans  are certainly struggling.  I have had several people talk to me about adopting one of the Haitian orphans who I would never expect to be even mildly interested in adoption because they see how great the need is and their heart breaks.  I think their benevolence is commendable, albeit short-sighted.  I do not wish to sound harsh or cruel as I describe the sudden interest in Haitian orphans as little more than an oversensitive reaction to the ongoing crisis.  Haiti’s orphans have been living in deplorable conditions for years and yet I cannot recall ever hearing a rallying cry for Haitian adoptions.  Adoption is often treated as the ugly step sister of American family life.  When people start to think about adoption, they are often met with the question of “well, don’t you want one of your own?”  My response has been, “Of course, that’s why we are adopting a child.”   The Haitian crisis is bad, but there is another crisis right in our own backyards that we never hear about.  There are thousands of children right now who need adopting, but because they are not a cuddly baby or amusing tot they are left to languish in foster care.  The state will support them up until they are 18 years old and then they are left with no home, no family, and for all intents and purposes no future.  Recently, the New York Times published an article detailing new initiatives to find permanent homes for these teenagers.   One of the plans is to locate existing biological family members to encourage them to adopt.  I think this is a marvelous idea, because is not that what families are supposed to be about—-strength and support?  The article also details that part of the reason why it is so difficult to adopt these older children is because they come with serious baggage that most people do not wish to touch.  I believe that older, seasoned parents would be perfect matches for these children, but no one ever mentions that.  After all, these mature parents should have mountains of experiences to assist them in dealing with what some would define as difficult children.  Furthermore, why are those fixated by the quiverfull movement not advocating for these children?  Is not adoption an expansion of the family?  I wish that our churches would stress the need for adoption of these abandoned children because their situations perfectly match our theology.  Do we not teach that the Father because of no other reason than His sheer love for us adopted our “baggage” filled souls and made us a permanent part of His family?  God does not desire our theology to simply be a dusty tome sitting on a shelf, but a lived out example of His actions to the world.  It is why Eliza and I are committed to adoption and why I hope if you are not so called you would at least consider helping to finance adoption by visiting the ABBA Fund.

Peace be with you.

Yesterday, one of my deacons took me to lunch and afterward asked if I had time to also drop by the quick lube while he had his oil changed.  I said sure and sat down in the waiting area with an assortment of folks.  I sat near an African-American mother and young son, who turned out to be rambunctious tot.  The mother continued to deal with the child’s disruptive behavior until finally she had enough and using a racial epithet told him she was about to use physical discipline.  I was shocked to say the least that she had used that word, a word that has such an abusive history, with her own child.   Yet, I should have not been shocked at all given its continued use in various entertainment forms, particularly hip-hop music.  Therein I believe lies the problem behind the mother’s statement, no one around me seemed phased by it’s use.  However, if the use of such epithets is problematic when part of our society employs it, would it not carry over to the whole of society?   Why is that child no less affected when one person uses it as when another does?  Dr. Martin Luther King stated in his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech that the civil rights movement and to a greater extent the African-American community would not be satisfied “as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only.”   Is not that mother’s statement yesterday robbing her son of dignity?  I know of no American who can truthfully say that our country’s race relations struggle has left them without some sin in their heart.  Yet, we must all recognize the perpetuation of that sin even by the smallest most insignificant action, regardless of skin color, continues the struggle for which so many have already fought and died to end.  Dr. King’s dream, hearkening back to Isaiah’s prophecy,  included a day when “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”   Such a day will remain a far distant dream as long as we continue to operate by two sets of acceptable behavior.  I am told that such behavior is acceptable because it allows for cultural expression.  I am afraid I cannot buy such a notion because it is antithetical to Christian teachings.  Let us recall that the child of God is a resident alien in our culture and we are called to not conform to our world.  I long to see the glory of God revealed in our world, but I know it will not be seen as long as myself and every other American fails in this fundamental task of dealing with even the most culturally accepted sin in our lives.  We are fast approaching the Lenten season and it would behoove us to spend part of this time reflecting on how best to eradicate that which lies dormant within our hearts.  The expression of God’s glory depends on it.

Peace be with you.

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