Thursday, November 20, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I think there are some huge lessons from the Titanic tragedy, and every tragedy for that matter. But here's one lesson for couples to consider. The people on board the Titanic had a crisis thrust upon them that demanded their immediate and ongoing attention. They had no choice but to deal with it. The supreme question of the the evening was who gets on the lifeboats and who drowns. There were no other pressing decisions to be made that night.
Love is different in a crisis than in every day normal life. Couples in Iowa could go to bed the night of April 14 and enjoy intimate love with each other. Men in Australia could work in the factory to lovingly provide for their families as the Titanic sank. Love looks one way in the daily grind and another way in a crisis. What would we think of a man who wanted his new bride to sneak below for some intimacy while the life boats filled on deck? Would he be loving to his wife? Maybe in normal life, but not in a crisis. He'd be at best stupid, and at worst a selfish jerk.
How do we understand a text of Scripture like 1 Corinthians 7:26-31: "I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away."
I think we have a difficult time understanding a text like this because we don't understand what happened when Christ came to earth. In the same way that the Titanic struck an iceberg, the cross of Jesus Christ struck the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the most catastrophic event to ever happen in the world. It makes the Titanic look like a walk in the park. The whole New Testament is written in a tone of voice that can only be described as "crisis-mode" when you actually stop and think about it.
Why are husbands supposed to live as though they have no wives? Why are those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it? The apostles, and especially Paul, obviously thought that Christians should live in crisis mode rather than daily grind mode. It's the only way texts like this make sense. It doesn't make sense for someone living in daily grind, non-emergency mode to reorient his life in such a way that his wife might feel less than provided for. But it makes perfect sense if Paul sees the whole world in a mode of crisis.
We don't have a sense of the weight of glory that happened at the Gospel. Paul says, "The present form of this world is passing away." Do you understand what he's suggesting? It's no less disturbing than "The watertight compartments are filling more quickly than we can pump it out." What does that mean? DEATH IS COMING. Your decisions, all the ones you'd like to be able to make, have just been narrowed down for you. Are you getting on a life boat or going down with the ship?
The Gospel is God's judgment on the world. On the cross, the world was reconciled to God. God judged the sin of all who would believe in him on the cross. And he declared guilty all who wouldn't believe in him on the cross. This world is going down like the Titanic. It has not been business as usual for two thousand years, or roughly two days in God's time. We are in the last days, and the end is imminent. It took the Titanic three hours to sink. How many days will it take God to call out his elect?
Christian couples can rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic all day long. They can do all they can to make sure the death of those around them is as comfortable as possible. And some might even call it loving. "Can I get you another drink, Mrs. Smith, before the table collapses beneath us?" Or some might call it foolish. Are you loving in daily grind mode or crisis mode?
Monday, November 10, 2008
For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.” With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
This little quote is a masterpiece - more raw than Steinbeck and more eloquent than Shakespeare. I guess we should expect that considering the author is God, and the quote is Proverbs 7. The society that Solomon wrote to may have been less technologically advanced than ours, but it was no less crude. Solomon warns young men against an imaginary married woman who runs the town while her husband is away on business. She ensnares her prey with seductive speech and sensual promises. The poor young dopes think they're getting lucky, when in fact they're being led to slaughter. Solomon describes her bed as "the chambers of death." That sounds appealing.
This text is as graphic as the pornography that is plaguing the hearts of so many men in our churches. And while women are the fastest growing demographic for porn consumption, men are still the primary partakers and targets. The methods may be different than the woman in Solomon's picture, but the message is the same. "Look at what we've prepared for you." "We've acted out for you everything you're missing out on with your boring, drab, selfish wife. We can get girls to do what you can't, but wish you could. Money will motivate in ways love never can." "You can even pretend you're the one using these lovely young creatures - the ultimate in reality tv." "And the best part is, no one needs to know. You don't have to face the lady at the checkout counter anymore. These submissive starlets are at your beck and call, in the privacy of your own home."
Men, if there was ever a time to cut off hands and pluck out eyes, it's now. The promises of porn are the same promises offered by Solomon's lovely adulteress. They are absolutely sure to satisfy, and just as sure to kill your soul. I have read several sources that suggest (and my own counseling experience verifies) that porn is more addictive than any substance known to man. The recidivism rate (people who return to their old way of life) is incredibly high. If you've never experienced pornography, let this be a warning like Solomon's. Don't start! It promises fullness of joy, but it's really just dining at death's door.
If you're already stuck in the trap, know this - no one gets out of a trap without a cost. I hate to be the one to tell you that. But it's true. Maybe you've heard of wild animals that chew off a leg that's caught in a trap. The bad news is, they lost a leg. The good news is, they saved their life. If you are stuck in the never-ending cycle of indulgence, guilt, fake repentance, re-indulgence, deeper guilt, more earnest fake repentance, re-re-indulgence, soul-crushing guilt, fake repentance with tears, re-re-re-indulgence, love-killing guilt, secret fake repentance that doesn't require the death of yourself, re-re-re-re-indulgence, marriage-wrecking guilt, secret fake repentance with a promise that this time was the last time, re-re-re-re-re-indulgence, nearly suicidal guilt, more fake repentance with a list of rules added in, re-re-re-re-re-re-indulgence, giving up the battle and accepting that you'll be a depraved sicko for the rest of your life - there is hope for you!
All it will cost is your leg! It's great if you can get through life avoiding traps. But for all those who aren't wise or fortunate enough for that kind of safety, this life is crummy and it requires your death to escape it. How does a Christian die to pornography? How does a Christian chew off his leg to get out of the trap? It's not difficult to do, but it's painful. Confession. Consider this word from Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his excellent book Life Together: "The root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be for myself; I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The spirit and flesh of human beings are inflamed by pride, for it is precisely in their wickedness that human beings want to be like God. Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one's pride. To stand there before another Christian as a sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. By confessing actual sins the old self dies a painful, humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian... It is none other than Jesus Christ who openly suffered the shameful death of a sinner in our place, who was not ashamed to be crucified for us as an evildoer. And it is nothing else but our community with Jesus Christ that leads us to the disgraceful dying that comes in confession, so that we may truly share in this cross. The cross of Jesus Christ shatters all pride. We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found, to the public death of the sinner. And we refuse to carry the cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession. In confession we break through to the genuine community of the cross of Jesus Christ; in confession we affirm our cross."
Indulging in pornography is dining at death's door. Make no mistake. You're killing yourself. You're killing your ability to love others. You're killing your ability to delight in God, and your ability to desire your wife, or marriage if you're single. You're killing your eternal soul, for the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It's better to die at the cross than at the judgment. Chew off your leg. Don't wait till it's too late to take that radical step. Confess your sin. Set up accountability. Don't fake repent. Truly repent. Don't forgive yourself. Chase after God's forgiveness. Don't pronounce a word of grace upon yourself. Let a brother or sister in Christ pronounce God's grace over you. You may be scared, but you won't regret it.