Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Day Alone

Anyone who knows me knows my fascination with everything written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor in the mid 1900's who died at the hands of the nazi's at the close of WWII. While I disagree with some important points of his theology, the one thing I find myself in nearly complete agreement with is his excellent book, Life Together. This book flowed from his practical experience as the leader of a tight-knit seminary. In this book, we find so much treasure on how to get along as Christians in community. Things like: what makes Christian community distinct from other kinds of groups, healthy love that serves versus 'selfish' love that consumes, the tragedy of trying to make others live up to your wishful image of love and community, the danger of allowing your mouth to utter even one word of gossip or slander, the activities a Christian community should do together, the struggle for self-justification at others' expense, the battle for 'weak' Christians to claim power over the 'strong' ones, how 'strong' Christians can dominate the 'weak' ones, the freedom of one Christian from another while living in community, the necessity of public confession and the blessing of the Lord's Supper taken in unity.

Each of these topics is enough for book-length study on its own, and I've piddled around with several of them in past posts. But the one topic that has recently struck me anew is one I haven't mentioned yet: the day alone. Bonhoeffer's chapter entitled, "The Day Alone" is a testament to his depth of thought and insight into human nature. He really thought a lot about these things. I've read numerous books on 'the church' or 'small groups' or 'Christian community' or 'fellowship' and you might have, too. But how many books on being a community have deep appreciation for being alone?

Bonhoeffer wrote, "Many persons seek community because they are afraid of loneliness. Because they can no longer endure being alone, such people are driven to seek the company of others. Christians, too, who cannot cope on their own, and who in their own lives have had some bad experiences, hope to experience help with this in the company of other people. More often than not, they are disappointed. They then blame the community for what is really their own fault. The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium. Those who take refuge in community while fleeing from themselves are misusing it to indulge in empty talk and distraction, no matter how spiritual this idle talk and distraction may appear. In reality they are not seeking community at all, but only a thrill that will allow them to forget their isolation for a short time. It is precisely such misuse of community that creates deadly isolation of human beings. Such attempts to find healing result in the undermining of speech and all genuine experience and, finally, resignation and spiritual death. Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community (italics in the original)."

Every sentence is filled with weight, and you find yourself saying, Wow, after each one. The last sentence is heaviest. My paraphrase: If you can't be alone, you'll suck being around others. That's not my attempt to sound cool. I mean that if you can't be alone for any length of time, content with just you and God, then you will suck from others what you can't get from yourself or God. This is idolatry, making another person or group give you some sense of security or peace or pleasure or significance. It's selfish.

And when you realize the person you're with (like a spouse) or the group you're with (like a church) isn't giving you what you think is your right, then you'll get scared and try your hardest to get them to perform like you think they should. You'll bribe: "Honey, why don't we go out tonight?" (for a spouse). Or "Why don't all of you in my small group come over for dinner?" (for a church). And then you'll measure everything that's said and done to see if it gives you some feeling of comfort. Sometimes that can last for awhile. But when such bribes don't eventually provide the payoff you're looking for, you'll manipulate: "Honey, we used to be so close, and now I feel so far away from you." (for a spouse). Or "I wonder why our church doesn't seem as loving as we used to." (for a church). So you're always expecting someone else to make you feel loved and accepted.

Now, most people love bribes or can't long stand manipulation without caving in, so this kind of unhealthy, idolatrous community can go on for some time unchecked. It's like a cancer in a marriage or a church. But eventually, something has to give, because your spouse, and your Christian community cannot be your God and the problem is you. When the bribes and manipulations don't seem to get you the community you're sure you deserve, you try to punish: "Oh, I didn't even realize we haven't spoken in days, is there something you want to talk about?" (for a spouse). Or "Let's skip church a few weeks and see if anyone even misses us." (for a church). Punishments are painful. Nobody likes them, least of all those who don't know why they're being punished. Most people who can't stand being alone punish people who don't even get it. So it's not going to work. You're just going to make yourself miserable while everyone around you wonders why.

When bribes, manipulations and punishments fail to fulfill the demand for a certain kind of community, it's time for separation: "I want a divorce because we're like two strangers living under the same roof." (for a spouse). Or "We need to find a church that actually loves and accepts us, where we can be ministered to." (for a church). So when you can't stand being alone, you go on a quest for the next spouse or church, hoping you'll finally find your 'soul mate' (for a spouse) or 'a real church home' (for a church).

If you'd just stop in your tracks, stop looking for another human being or group of human beings to bring you what they cannot, then you will have time to look in the right direction. The heart and soul of the day alone is the Word of God. Just you, sitting silently and humbly before God and his Word. What happens when you sit silent and humble before the Word of God? You are confronted. Not your spouse. Not your neighbor. Not your church. YOU. Pride goes to the Word of God to find fault with others, how they're not living up to your expectations. God says the Bible is a sword, but not for you to use against your brothers and sisters in Christ. It's a sword for each Christian to use to kill his own wicked selfishness so that when individual Christians come together, their flesh is too mutilated to kill each other with thoughts and words.

So if you're going to Scripture to accuse your spouse or your brethren, STOP IT! Go to Scripture begging God to help you be satisfied with him alone, so you have no need or desire to judge your brother or sister. Sinners go to the Word of God to talk, using Scripture like lawyers trying to bring suit against others. Saints go to the Word of God to silently listen to God bring them the cut of confrontation and the grace to cover the wound.

Sit before the Word of God and soak it in. Let it pierce and let it heal. Thank God for his beautiful gospel. You know the one, the gospel that tells of a Warrior King who knew how to spend his day alone, who eventually died alone on a cross. You know that gospel don't you? It's the news about the Savior who continues to accept you even though you've proven yourself entirely unacceptable to him. It's the news about a Husband who stays with his bride even when she proves to be a whore. Remember? It's that story about a Savior who laid down his life so that his followers could go to Heaven while using and consuming one another with misguided notions of marriage and fellowship.

The next time you wonder why you aren't feeling loved, the next time you go looking for a cause to your loneliness, the next time you're tempted to blame your spouse or your church for your lack of satisfaction, stop in your tracks and ponder whether you might not be ready to assess the quality of community because you've not yet figured out how to spend the day alone.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What is a Woman's High Calling?

I've been reading some interesting stuff on the net lately about spouse roles. Only recently have I been struck by a disturbing theme that seems to be quite common. The theme has been there all along, I suppose. But only recently have I seen it as off-based. I'm not going to give a list of links and specific quotes because I don't want to seem like I'm picking on anyone, and it's quite a common assertion. I don't think it needs to be personal. Instead, I'll give a few general phrases that I see repeated in some form in many essays and articles, and interact with them. Again, these are not actual quotes of anyone, but only my rephrasing of what I've read and heard through the years. I'm sure they're familiar enough for most Christians to grasp my point.

1. "Motherhood is the woman's high calling."

2. "As a woman, my time, talent and ability couldn't be any better spent than keeping a home and taking care of children."

3. "It's God's design that, as women, we are all to be keepers of the home."

4. "We should be raising our daughters to be wives and mothers."

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. On the surface, these phrases seem to be counter-cultural and consistent with a biblical worldview. They're also pretty widely accepted in most conservative Christian circles. So what could I possibly pick apart in such assertions?

The primary problem I have is that, though they seem so conservative and hearken back to a golden age of Americana, they just don't jive so well with a gospel-centered worldview. Now that's strange to say, because I've actually seen these assertions defended as the most gospel-centered view of womanhood. But the folks making that claim don't usually go to the most gospel-centered texts to prove it. Instead, they go to texts dealing with the creation of Adam and Eve or Proverbs 31 or Titus 2 or 1 Timothy 2:15.

So what texts would I bring up to refute the above phrases? I'm only going to go in depth with one text. The most obvious one for me is 1 Corinthians 7.

1. Paul says that as a concession, he wishes that all people would be like Paul - single (7:7) But if people are going to burn with passion, then they should marry. Are women included in this text? Of course. Then how could a woman's high calling be motherhood if it's not even a woman's responsibility to get married?

2. Paul speaks so strongly about remaining single that he has to remind his readers that if they do actually marry they aren't sinning (7:28). Paul is so cautious about marriage because: "in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is" (7:26). Some think the distress is some local problem like persecution. That's possible, but it's just as likely that he's referring to the imminent return of Christ. Paul's gospel-centered, heavenly-minded focus is so intense that his readers are going to take him as anti-marriage. That's why he has to further explain his position. "The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.... For the present form of this world is passing away" (7:29, 31). "Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that" (7:28). In other words, the gospel is turning the world upside down, and there's not time to lose in our missional mandate. So it might not be the best thing for Christians to get bogged down with relationship burdens. No matter how noble we think marriage is, it's still just a form of this world that is passing away. That has to mean that no matter how high a calling we think motherhood is, it also is just a form of this world that is passing away. How can a woman be faulted for not being a mother when she's rarely encouraged in the New Testament to even get married?

3. Paul doesn't stop there. So people who get married are going to have "worldly troubles." Like what? What kind of "worldly troubles"? "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband" (7:32-34). Paul clearly sees an advantage for the gospel in being unmarried. I wonder exactly what Paul had in mind when writing of divided interests in pleasing a spouse. Might he have been thinking about being tied down to a household chore list? A married person is simply not as free to follow the cause of the gospel wherever it leads as a single person. Now, I've seen it said that women should get married and have all sorts of kids so that they can then preach the gospel to them and the church will grow. There's simply no biblical command that comes close to justifying such a suggestion.

4. I can hear some of the complaints now. "Darby, are you saying you agree with the feminazis out there messing up the culture?" No, I'm not. "Are you saying that Paul thought women and men had the same roles?" No, I'm not. "Do you realize how chaotic and disorderly your version of this text would make things?" No, I don't. And neither does Paul. In fact, Paul is writing all this anti-marriage stuff, "not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (7:35). This is so contrary to our conservative Christian - Focus on the Family - take back the culture sensibilities. We think we can practice good order by focusing on the family. And Paul says we can only have good order with undivided devotion to the Lord, whether we have a family or not.

5. One practical outcome of our modern "pro-family" rather than "pro-gospel" perspective is the difficulty in inspiring couples to be missionaries. Good Christians will say things like: "Well I'm not sure if God is calling me to go to Yemen, but I know he's calling me to be a good mother to my children. If I'd take them to Yemen, I'd put them in all sorts of dangers, so we're just going to stay right here in the suburbs and keep a clean house and a manicured lawn and healthy babies. That's my high calling after all."

I realize any post about such a big and important subject as this is going to be incomplete and open to disagreement. I've left a lot unsaid. But my goal is to stir up further thought on this rather than give an exhaustive explanation beyond refutation. So what do you think?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is Divorce a Bigger Sin Than Adultery?

Statement 1: Adultery is a tragic betrayal of trust and an evil violence done to a marriage covenant. There is never an excuse for it and that sin alone is enough to send a person to hell for all eternity without a Savior to cover for it.

Statement 2: Divorce is a tragic betrayal of trust and an evil violence done to a marriage covenant. There is never an excuse for it and that sin alone is enough to send a person to hell for all eternity without a Savior to cover for it.

I think it's safe to assume most Christians would whole-heartedly agree with Statement 1 as written. Statement 2, on the other hand, would be less supported as written. I think the part that would draw fire is calling divorce a sin and saying there is never an excuse for it. There are Christians who think there are all kinds of excuses for divorce. There are other Christians who think divorce is a sin except for the when a spouse commits adultery. Adultery is the only excuse for divorce. There are also Christians who think divorce is always a sin, and adultery isn't a get out of marriage free card.

While discussing the posts found here, here and here; the question was asked, "Is the one choosing the divorce committing a bigger sin than the one committing the adultery? Shouldn't they receive the same grace?"

I've thought long and hard about that question and hope this response is helpful because I know there are many who wonder the same thing as the person who asked it. So here goes. There is a subtle danger at the bottom of that question. The question assumes divorce is not the best choice, but the necessary choice in order to punish the adulterer and get revenge. "You slept around and hurt me very deeply. So I'm going to divorce you and hurt you back." "You slept around and broke my trust. So I'm going to divorce you and make you lay in the bed you've made." "You slept around and really I'm glad because I've been dying for an excuse to get out of this marriage and still look like the good guy." Of course no one says the last one, but I guarantee you based on things I've personally heard, people think this way. That's the point I took away from the original posts we're discussing.

When one spouse commits adultery, it often ends up showing just how little both spouses care for the covenant they've made for "better or worse till death do us part." Think of it this way. Tom commits adultery. He obviously has little respect for the covenant he made with his wife and little fear of God. When Tom's wife, Jerry, finds out about the affair, she wants a divorce. She also has little respect for the covenant she made with her husband and little fear of God. Otherwise she would do everything she possibly could to keep that covenant intact. Instead, she's just as quick to search for a way out as Tom. Tom grew weary with keeping his covenant and decided to commit adultery. He'll probably give some lame excuse about not getting any or not feeling loved or feeling too much pressure or maybe he'll just fess up to being evil. Jerry has also grown weary of keeping her covenant and has decided to get a divorce. She's giving some lame excuse about not having a faithful husband. When both are so quick to give up the union that GOD joined together, it seems that Tom just beat Jerry to the punch, but neither are all that concerned about God's union. They're both concerned about their own personal glory.

So is the one who gets a divorce committing a bigger sin than the one who commits adultery? Why don't we let God decide on judgment day? Should they receive the same grace? Absolutely. But here's the practical problem this question poses. If Tom or Jerry has an affair, he or she can repent of that and work toward restoration, all the while remaining married. If Tom or Jerry gets a divorce, repentance would mean going back to the marriage covenant they broke. Repentance would not mean, "Oh I guess I shouldn't have gotten divorced, but no use crying over spilled milk. I might as well find a new wife and live happily ever after... or at least until the next affair."

In my experience, spouses who get divorced because of an affair don't think they need to repent of ending the marriage. They think of themselves as victims of their evil adulterous spouse who already ended the marriage with the adultery. But why is adultery the marriage-ending sin? Would someone actually argue that adultery is more damaging to the marriage than perpetual nagging or perpetual harshness or perpetual denial of intimacy? Really? I have a feeling the reason adultery is the one get out of marriage free card is because of a couple of statements that Jesus made. The question is this: If it is determined that Jesus didn't mean for his statements to be a get out of marriage free card when a spouse commits adultery, would the entire face of Christian marriage and divorce drastically change? I fear it would not. I don't think Christians get divorced because they're trying to faithfully live out a text of Scripture (divorce is never commanded). Christians get divorced for the same reason everyone gets divorced. They have hard hearts. Is the same grace necessary? Oh yeah.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is the "Exception Clause" a Pastoral Pass on Adultery?

Here are some provocative thoughts about marriage, remarriage and divorce. Do you think these are good points?

Friday, July 17, 2009

You Don't Have to Yell

Here's a point I agree with absolutely.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Scalpel or a Sword: Surgery or Slaughter?

What's the purpose of the Bible? What can a son or daughter of Adam expect from soaking in the Scriptures? This is an important question because we go to the Bible, not only with preconceived ideas about what it says, but also with predetermined expectations about what it will deliver. This is definitely seen in preaching and counseling. Preachers often hear things like, "I wasn't being fed over at First Holy Bible Church." "I don't want a sermon where I feel beat down or heavy." "The Bible should give us joy, not grief." "The preaching isn't lifting me up lately." "His preaching is too hard to take." "I need steel-toed shoes for his sermons." Each of these statements is pointing to an underlying expectation that the listener is placing on the sermon. And if the sermon is a faithful exposition of the Scripture, then the expectation is also an indictment of the Bible as well. In other words, a heavy text of Scripture should produce a heavy feeling in the heart, or it isn't being taken properly. But a listener of the Word who only wants to be "lifted up" will not be satisfied with that.

In his excellent book, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal, Eric L. Johnson reminds us of "the biblical text as subversive interpreter." What does Johnson mean by subversive interpreter? To subvert is to overthrow or to undermine. So to say that the Bible is a subversive interpreter is to say it overthrows or undermines something. But what? Let's let the Bible speak for itself.

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:12-13).

I've heard it said that the Bible is a scalpel in the hands of God - doing surgery on our souls. I don't know if that's the best metaphor. It seems to me that the writer of Hebrews didn't see the Bible as a surgical instrument as much as a slaughtering instrument. It's a two-edged sword. The Word of God is also called the sword of the Spirit. When Jesus returns, he's coming with a sword from his mouth. What are swords used for? Surgery? Healing? Of course not. Swords are used to kill, not heal.

I fear that we think of the Bible as a scalpel because 1) we think we need a precise instrument to meticulously cut out the evil amidst all the good inside of us, and 2) we'd rather our evil souls be healed than killed. I've been guilty of saying the Bible "does heart surgery on us." I've repented of such thinking. The Bible is a killer, and this life is a battlefield rather than an operating room.

I know this sounds radical, but think through this with me. The Bible is meant to subvert or overthrow and undermine that part of us that we've inherited in Adam. Bonhoeffer said that when Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die. Jesus said in order to live for him, we must first die to ourselves. Anyone who gives up his life for Jesus' sake or the gospel's will gain eternal life. The Christian must go through daily crucifixion to be a disciple. Jesus calls out his disciples to death, and the Bible is the instrument of slaughter.

Here's where it gets tricky. We like to assume that Christians identify more with the Spirit than with the flesh. So we don't realize just how much of us still needs to be laid bare by the Bible. Most of us hear about the old self and new self, the flesh and the Spirit, this life and the life to come, earth and Heaven, old creation and new creation, and we convince ourselves that we're on the side of the new self, the Spirit, the life to come, Heaven and the new creation. We just assume that our default position is righteousness and humility. This is hogwash, and cannot be sustained by the Bible. Let's not forget that most of the Bible, including the New Testament, was written as a response to man's selfishness and pride!

So the Bible is designed by God to kill the old self that we love to coddle. We can't just assume that we want to hear what the Bible has to say, or a preacher or counselor or husband or wife who speaks the Bible to us. There is a very stubborn and evil core in us that doesn't want to be subverted. It helps us to know this up front. Reading and meditating on the Bible, though pleasant to part of us, is also almost always painful to another part of us. If all you get from the Bible is uplifting and positive feelings, you're likely not reading it rightly.

I'm a very positive thinking person, and very little gets me down for more than a couple minutes. However, I rarely read the Bible without the weight of it crushing my soul. Yes, the gospel brings me hope, but only after it has first thrashed my sin. Where's the hope in all this? The hope lies in the fact that Jesus doesn't let us live as rebels. His word kills the rebel within us, little by little now, and fully at the resurrection, so that we will be fit for eternal bliss in Heaven. My next post will flesh out how seeing the Bible as a sword works practically in the life of a Christian.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why is Sex Such a Sore Subject?

"When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.”

"Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love."

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine;"

Are these the three points to the latest Mark Driscoll sermon? Ahh, no. These are texts of Scripture - the perfectly holy, perfectly perfect, perfectly sufficient Word of God. Why have I placarded them on my blog? Because I want to warn against trying to be more holy than God - so holy, in fact, that God could be accused of crudeness and crassness.

In my treks across the internet, I see two disturbing trends. The first trend is to use sex as a church-growth technique. I see a lot of cookie-cutter church plant websites advertising the gratuitous sex sermon series. One or two "famous" pastors preach a series on sex and a flock of wannabes across the country follow suit. Are we to believe that is what all these churches need to hear right now, or are some impressionable young preachers just jumping on the too cool for school hip trendy bandwagon? I fear it's the latter.

The second trend is to act like sex is inappropriate to discuss except with one's spouse in bed. This is simply not true. Is it any wonder that the two greatest sources of sin in the church in America are sex and money - the two areas where Christians call foul if they're addressed in any kind of direct way? Make no mistake, matters too private to preach about are also private enough to pierce with many soul-killing pangs.

I am disturbed by the attempts to be more holy than God. I fear that the reason sex is such a sore subject to many Christians is because it's an area that hasn't been fully redeemed by the Gospel. This is why I'm so concerned with this issue. Sex is not dirty and neither is sexual talk. Sex and sexual talk is either righteous and God-glorifying or wicked and Satanic depending on the way it's used. But there are many who act as though any talk about sex in everyday normal language is automatically pornography. That's just wrong. And that kind of thinking is not helping our marriages and children.

It's time for pastors to stop pretending that the church in America doesn't have a problem with rampant sexual sin. It's not preaching that is causing all the porn problems and teenage pregnancies in the church. Pastors have been not preaching about sex for an awful long time. How's the "mum's the word" method of dealing with issues of sexuality working? And when pastors do preach about sex, it's with winks and corny double-talk and euphemisms to keep from saying what everyone is saying everywhere except for the one place where sex should be talked about - church.

I don't accept the common notion that talking about sex will stunt sanctification. That's absurd. Sanctification is being stunted because pastors refuse to talk about sex in a responsible and God-glorifying way. How can talking about a biblical subject in common language lead to sin? Do we believe that about any other biblical subject? Isn't preaching about putting biblical truths into common language? Why do we stifle and box in the Word of God when it comes to sex? Is it because we're more holy than God? God knows our sexuality. When he wants to chastise his people for their idolatry, he does it by bringing up images of "donkey members" and "horse issues" to stun us. If pastors speak this way today, it's considered sinfully crude. What is that saying about God?

I remember about five years ago I was chastised for saying in a sermon that Heaven will be eternally orgasmic. An older lady told me she didn't appreciate me saying orgasmic when her teenage grandson was in the room. How did I respond? Did I repent in dust and ashes? Not exactly. I explained that her teenage grandson definitely knew what an orgasm was. I knew her grandson. Then I explained that someone had better start explaining why Heaven is worth staying pure for in a language that we can actually understand. I still hold that view today. And I'm not sure the lady is even in church anymore.

I've never preached a series on sex. But sex is a pretty common theme in my sermons because that's where people struggle. Sex was created by God to be a foretaste of Heaven and a picture of communion with God. It has been usurped by the adversary, and the church has given up the ground. I think it is possible and proper to discuss sex openly in a way that doesn't devolve into Porky's and American Pie. And I think it's equally possible and proper to discuss sex in a way that is pastorally responsible, rather than a method to entice people to come to church. People coming to Christ have questions about sex. It has been a primary area of struggle for most of their lives. They need to know how to do it godly. Let's not forget why the "missionary position" is called that. Can we blame a couple for wondering if another way is sinful? Are we too holy to even discuss it?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Why Most Marriage Helps Don't Help

I'm reading Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. This is a very good book. Horton is professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California. The premise of his book is that much of American Christianity has given up the gospel of the imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for a false gospel of "moralistic, therapeutic deism." The reason for this is because we are more concerned with having our best life now and making for ourselves the glory of Heaven without the cross it takes to get there. Mankind is legalistic by nature, and moralistic, therapeutic deism is how Horton describes the legalism that has crept into the Christian gospel message. Moralistic, therapeutic deism is described through the following points:

1. God created the world.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Horton believes the above points describe much of Christianity in America today. Much of what passes for Christian teaching and sermons are really nothing more than ten steps to a better you. Horton writes: "Of course no one has to explicitly deny any article of the Christian creed in order to shift the focus from the public truth content of Christianity to the subject, pragmatic, and therapeutic categories of 'how-to' religion. Christ may still be called Savior, but we really save ourselves by knowing and following the steps of the new birth and 'victorious living.'"

According to this view, it's not so much that God saves anyone as that God provides the tools for his people to work their own salvation by following the steps - moralistic.

Horton continues: "When we adopt a human-centered approach that assimilates God to our own experience and happiness, the world is no longer God's creation; is too, like God, exists for our own personal well-being. Everything that exists is there for us to consume for our happiness. So, for example, drugs and sexual promiscuity are not wrong because they offend God, according to most of these sermons, but because they cannot compare with the joy and happiness of living God's way. They're not wrong as much as unfulfilling; they wear off. . . . In these sermons, another recurring emphasis is that human beings are victims and being lost no longer means damned but lacking direction in life."

According to this view, man's problem isn't that God's wrath is on him because of sin, but that man doesn't know how to make life work out rightly. And the good news isn't that Jesus has come to remove the wrath and pave the way to Heaven, but that God has given us all the help we need to make life work out rightly - therapeutic. And oh, by the way, Heaven is thrown in after all.

More Horton: "God is basically the ideal Secretary of Homeland Security - Homeland defined as my own personal happiness, or national health, whether defined by the political left or right. Of course, when the affairs of the universe center on me and my happiness, this generic deism becomes therapeutic, especially focusing on 'God as daddy' and 'God as sufferer.'"

According to this view, God is deconstructed and rebuilt in man's image. Instead of a God who lays down a demanding law that will kill all transgressors, God is seen as sky santa who is always available to lend a helping hand when called on, but doesn't show up unless beckoned - deism.

The rest of the book fleshes out moralistic, therapeutic deism using real life examples from real life preachers and churches. I agree with Horton's assessment of things, and I'll tie it in with gospel-centered marriage now.

Christless Christianity
puts words to my concerns with much marriage counseling. Horton has written far better than I ever could the reason why certain "marriage helps" are so subtly dangerous. Why is it that so many marriage helps don't help? The most recent one I wrote about was Love Dare. That study is still selling like hotcakes. But to what end? Is Love Dare popular because it shows its readers how to use marriage to make much of God? Or is it popular because it shows its readers how to use God to make much of marriage? After reading the book and watching the movie twice (which I thought was okay), I fear it's the second option. In fact, in my review, I listed as one of my concerns how believing the gospel was relegated in the book to one more step among 39 others. Then I see in Horton's book that this is exactly the kind of step-by-step therapeutic counsel that he is warning against.

Most marriage helps don't help because they fall into the moralistic, therapeutic deism category. God wants you to have "your best marriage now" and he has given you all the steps you need to make it happen. Why go through life stuck in an unfulfilled marriage? God is here to help you with that. Just turn to him and he'll give you the kind of marriage you've always dreamed of. Or not.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Real Help for Those Hurting Financially

I promise I have some substantive posts coming in the near future. In the meantime, if your family is feeling the financial crunch, perhaps a quick trip to Japan's god of poverty might do the trick. It's apparently working for many already.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Limit on Idiots

Shouldn't we limit the number of idiots allowed on the planet, what with all the environmental concerns running rampant in the world today? Why is it that all the wackos in the world who want to limit other people's right to existence are never concerned enough to start by killing themselves? What am I talking about? This.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Most Married Woman in the World

Wow. This article is interesting. If you marry once for love, and again for money, what do you marry your 23rd time for?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Love Dare Review

I just read the Love Dare book everybody in churchianity is talking about. My wife brought it home for me yesterday evening (at my request). It took me a few hours to read it cover to cover. It consists of a forty day series of devotion-type writings, a dare to implement some challenge from the authors and a journal to record the outcomes and lessons learned. I'll give a preliminary thought and then review the content.

This book is all the hype right now and I'm sure Gary Chapman of Five Love Languages fame, and Emmerson Eggerichs of Love and Respect fame are really happy that the newest marital quick-fix has dethroned them for awhile. Bummer. Love Dare is currently ranked #11 on Amazon.com. The little sticker on the front of the book advertises it as a #1 New York Times Best Seller "from the hit movie Fireproof." That's funny. I've not seen Fireproof yet, but I don't know who's world one has to live in for it to be described as a hit. Actually, I'm afraid I do know. I'm not sure which came first - the book or the movie. In other words, I don't know if the movie was made as an outlet for the book, or if the book was written because it was referenced in the movie, thereby creating a market for the book. I don't suppose it matters much, but I'll admit it's a distraction for me. It seems like a lot of hype to me.

The movie and book piggyback on each other, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But I hate the hype. Does the movie have to be described as a hit movie in order for the book to help my marriage? The Dark Knight is a hit movie. I dare say Fireproof is not a household name, even if folks think it should be. Why is the movie on the cover of the book? Hype. Why do the publishers have to remind me the book is a #1 best seller? Hype. Can the book deliver? Maybe so, maybe not. But judging the book by its cover, it better.

I am happy that so many couples are saying this book is helping them in their marriage. Just the number of positive reviews on Amazon says a lot. Marriage is threatened on many fronts in our culture, so it is wonderful to have tools to strengthen them. I'm also thankful that the writers are finding innovative ways to penetrate the culture through media like Facing the Giants and Fireproof. I'm sure there are people God has called out of the darkness and into the marvelous light using this material. So in giving this review, I am not at all trying to diminish the work of faithful Christians.

Now for the content. The content seems rushed to me. It seems like the writers said, "We need this list of challenges for the movie plot," so they put together a loosely knit set of dares based on some loosely formed thoughts about love and marriage. They put it in a forty day format because it worked so well for Rick Warren, the publishers stamped it together in a book and pushed it like crazy, and presto! The Love Dare sweeps across churchianity. This doesn't mean there aren't helpful things in the book. There's just not a lot of order to them, so that it seems like it would be difficult to connect the dots from the front of the book to the back.

It could be argued that coherence wasn't what the authors were going for. Their intent was to give a list of things that would revitalize a failing marriage. If that was their intent, it might work for awhile to lift up marriage. But here's the reason I find it ultimately lacking: It is not gospel-centered. I measure the quality of any marriage book on how gospel-centered it is. Life is about the gospel, not marriage. So if a book is going to promise me a better marriage, it had better do it in a way that puts Christ in the center and not a spouse.

Now, to be fair, let me say that a form of the gospel is in there, though it focuses more on how man is supposed to respond than on what exactly God accomplished. It's on day 20 of 40. Under the title "Love is Jesus Christ" we read a few random verses about Jesus, and then come to this: "Dare to take God at his word. Dare to trust Jesus Christ for salvation. Dare to pray, 'Lord Jesus, I'm a sinner. But you have shown your love for me by dying to forgive my sins, and you have proven your power to save me from death by your resurrection. Lord, change my heart, and save me by your grace.'" Under this dare we see this: "____ Check here when you've completed today's dare."

Wow. The reader is dared on day 20 to pray the sinner's prayer and to check when that step is accomplished. The gospel is given as one dare among 39 others on the way to a better marriage. I think this was intentional from what I can tell. I think the reason the gospel is put in the middle of the book is because the first half of the book shows the reader how doing the things that love requires is impossible without help. So the book is set up to crush the person under the law of trying to measure up to love's perfect standard. Then on day 19, the reader is led to realize how difficult (impossible) it is to do these things. Day 20 gives the gospel to show how the difficult work of love is truly motivated. Because God "unconditionally" loved you, you can do the same for your spouse. I find this format unhelpful.

Readers have been led to carry out acts of "love" without any gospel motivation for half the study. What is motivating them over that time? The desire for a better marriage. Whatever the authors had in mind, the reader is left seeing how the gospel serves marriage, rather than how marriage serves the gospel. This is flat backwards to how it should be, and I couldn't see how the book recovers from this fatal flaw.

By the time the reader gets to day 21, entitled "Love is satisfied in God," he has no grid through which to filter such a statement. The reader is shown "There are needs in your life only God can fully satisfy. Though your husband or wife is able to complete some of these requirements - at least now and then - only God is able to do it all. Your need for love. Your need for acceptance. Your need for joy. It's time to stop expecting somebody or something to keep you functioning and fulfilled on a non-stop basis. Only God can do that as you learn to depend on him." That should have been on the first page of the book, rather than halfway through after the reader is counseled to do a bunch of stuff the book claims is impossible without help. The book has already laid out 18 or so days of using "love" to make much of marriage. Then the old bait and switch tactic comes along to pull the rug out. God is put at the center for a couple days. Then the other 18 or so days are back to ways we can use biblical principles to make much of our marriage.

I hate giving out a negative review, especially of something so popular. But Love Dare consists of forty days of "do this and live" with a little "God is great" thrown in the middle for flavor. You can see this without ever buying the book by reading the reviews on Amazon. The positive ones are from those who have used the book to successfully make much of their marriage - "This book is better than sliced bread because our marriage was almost over but now we get along great." The negative ones are from those who couldn't manage to carry out the dares - "This book isn't that good because my husband won't do none of the dares." These aren't real quotes from reviewers, but my distillation of them. Marriage problems are God problems. Marriage is an idol for most people in our culture. So I want to read a book about marriage and come away with a bigger God. I don't want to read a book about marriage and come away with more focus on marriage.

If you want a couple books that are far less popular, but not as fluffy, read When Sinners Say, "I Do" by Dave Harvey or Love That Lasts by Gary & Betsy Ricucci or This Momentary Marriage by John Piper. They keep the gospel at the center rather than the fringe.

Friday, January 30, 2009

When a Wife Should NOT Submit

A short trip around the Christian blogosphere will reward one with various opinions on when a wife should and shouldn't be willing to submit to her husband. Is she supposed to be a mindless doormat with no opinion? Sometimes the counsel is good, and sometimes not so much. I base my assessment of good or bad counsel on how much Christ is kept at the center. I often see women banding together with other women to take a stand against all this submission talk. It's more rare to see this banding together to be more than bellyaching. Rarely is any of the talk related to Christ's glory. It too often seems to be about maintaining personal comfort by hook or crook.

That's why this account never gets old to me. I just got my new Voice of the Martyrs magazine today. I devour every one I get. And I'm continually reminded of an amazing wife, a leader in every sense of the word. Pray to God for more wives like her!

I encourage you to read the entire story of the amazing Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand here. I will zoom in on the section that I find very inspiring for women and men:

"In 1945 Romanian Communists seized power and a million 'invited' Russian troops poured into the country. Pastor Wurmbrand ministered to his oppressed countrymen and engaged in bold evangelism to the Russian soldiers. In the same year, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand attended the Congress of Cults organised by the Romanian Communist government. Many religious leaders came forward to praise Communism and to swear loyalty to the new regime. Sabina said, "Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ." Richard warned, "If I do so, you lose your husband." She replied, "I don't wish to have a coward as a husband." Thus Richard declared to the 4,000 delegates, whose speeches were broadcast to the whole nation, that their duty is to glorify God and Christ alone. Between 1945 and 1947, Richard distributed one million Gospels to Russian troops, the books often disguised as Communist propaganda. Richard also smuggled Gospels into Russia."

That's no doormat! There is an example of womanly strength that I rarely read about on the blogs. What does a Christ-centered wife do when her heavenly Husband is slandered? She calls on her earthly husband to go and die! What does a Christ-centered wife do when her earthly husband questions her sincerity? She doesn't give an inch. Do it or you're a coward, and I'd be embarrassed to be your wife. Wow! That is heavenly-mindedness to the max.

Feminism has inundated our culture with sissified men who only know how to be selfish. It has achieved the opposite of what it set out to do. Feminism demanded that men treat women the same way they'd treat other men, and men obliged. The more responsibility women wanted to heap on themselves, the more men let them. Now it's difficult to get a man to even work for a living, much less die for a conviction.

We need thousands of Sabina Wurmbrands to finally stand up to their sissy husbands and say, "Husband, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ." She can't care that she might lose her husband. She can't care what such a call might cost her. She can't care that her husband might take her seriously and the comfort of their household be destroyed. She can't take this stand so she can get the upper hand in her marriage. She must take this stand because her heavenly Husband is being dishonored every minute of every day somewhere. She must stir her husband up to battle, and get him off the Playstation and away from full days of football and footlongs. Every time an issue of Voice of the Martyrs hits the streets, and every time the persecuted church around the world gets a voice, you can think back to one second of one day in a giant rally against Christ, when a young woman shoved her husband from his seat and forced mere flesh to be a hero. Sabina Wurmbrands of the world - unite. Women should not submit to their husbands' desires to waste their lives.

Iceland Revisited

The one true God as he truly is is better than a thousand gods of our own design. A few days ago I posted a little thought about Iceland's economic and governmental collapse. It seems my sense of irony left a bad taste in at least a couple people's mouths. However, I think the issue is worth exploring a little because we all will struggle with difficult times at some point in our lives. How do we make sense of them? There are several ways.

1. Deny the existence of God altogether. When something like a financial or civil collapse hits a nation, we just accept it as the culmination of human decisions and natural forces all working together to bring about the resultant catastrophe. There's not God to turn to and no God to question and no God to bring relief. There's just the cosmos. Deal with it.

2. Acknowledge the existence of God, but get him off the hook. This is what theologians might label "theodicy." In some people's minds, God doesn't easily co-exist with evil. Sometimes people who want to deny the existence of God will say something like, "A good God could not allow so much evil in the world, so either he doesn't exist or he isn't good." Christians, suckers that we are, fall head over heals for this attempt of rebels to deny their Creator through self-righteous mental gymnastics. I can understand why non-Christians have a problem with God. They hate him. What I can't understand is why Christians feel like we have to dignify the rebellion. God doesn't. God never calls on Christians to get him off the hook for being God. Nowhere in the Bible do we see God apologizing for being God, and nowhere in the Bible do we see God as being anything other than absolutely sovereign over every single little thing that happens in his world.

3. Acknowledge the existence of God, and worship him in awe. I think this is the appropriate response. The problem of suffering and evil does not present a problem for God. It shows the stubborn rebellion of mankind in its love affair with death. We don't need to get God off the hook for the problems of mankind. We need to worship God in the midst of them. We don't have to give up central themes of Scripture in an attempt to make God look compassionate. His sovereign hand over the affairs of man is a beautiful part of who God is.

Here's what I wrote about Iceland: "Okay, this has nothing to do with anything except further proof that God's sense of humor is still intact. Only God could orchestrate the irony of collapsing the government and economy of the nation that the U.N. recently assured everyone was the best place in the world to live. Truth is stranger than fiction when all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols." In writing this I was asserting that God orchestrated the reported collapse of Iceland's government. I don't even know the depth of the "collapse," but I know whatever it is, God wants it that way. My reason for writing this was the irony of it. Recently, Iceland was named by the U.N. the best place in the world to live. If one knows anything about the success rate of any U.N. venture, one would immediately see the irony. "It's official. Iceland is the best place to live. It's got the perfect mix of socialist freedoms, low crime, good healthcare, high employment, and it doesn't even need a military because the United States is its protector." After reading propaganda like this, it's strange to see a headline about the collapse of its government. That was my point. My point wasn't the suffering of the people. My point wasn't that man's poor decision-making had nothing to do with it. My point was that God makes the wisdom of man look very foolish. Hence the last sentence where I asserted that "all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols."

Now, it might be offensive to some that I wrote that this whole affair proves God has a sense of humor. I didn't mean to offend at all. Maybe I should have written God has a sense of irony rather than humor. At least that way it wouldn't have appeared that God is in Heaven laughing at the suffering of a bunch of rebels in the midst of their rebellion. However, we've been going through the book of Isaiah on Sunday mornings in our church. Two things are certain in that book - all mankind is in deep revolt and God is sovereign over it all.

I don't think I overstepped Scripture writing what I did. "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, 'Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.' He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 'As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill'" (Psalm 2:1-6). Here we see that people of earth are conspiring together against God and Jesus. What is God's response? Laughing wrath. Terrifying fury. I guess I could have written that instead. "The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming" (Psalm 37:12-13). Here we see the wicked plotting and oppressing the righteous. What is God's response? Laughing foreknowledge. Impending judgment. I guess I could have written that instead.

I didn't write this post to defend what I wrote about Iceland. I wrote this post because I'm a pastor, and people come to me often for counsel. Some may lament that, but it does happen. And when they come to me with struggles in their marriage or with a sick child or with a job loss or with a personal illness or with an addiction or with any number of other issues, I have to give them hope. That's my job. The Bible says of itself that it was written so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Each of the above methods of dealing with evil offers its own brand of hope. But only one offers real hope, a hope that lines up with what is really happening in the world. The first method says, "Take heart, this world is all there is. Make the most of it, and you can rest in the fact it will all be over soon." Does that bring hope? Yes. Is it real hope? Not so much. The second method says, "Take heart, God is just as shocked and dismayed and grieved by all this as you are. You can rest in the fact that God would have done something about all this if he was sovereign over the decisions of man. But some day you'll be with him in Heaven and he'll wipe away all your tears with his big soft hands." Does that bring hope? Maybe, but leaving more questions than answers. Is it real hope? Not so much. The third method says, "Take heart, God is on his throne. Mankind is in deep revolt and it has left this world a mess. But God is sovereignly working all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Not a sparrow falls from a tree without his will, and you're worth more than many sparrows." Does that bring hope? Yes. Is it real hope? Yes. It is real hope because it lines up with what is really going on in the world, not because it feels like real hope (although it does feel like real hope for those humble enough to accept it).

In revisiting Iceland, I hope you come away with: 1) the world is messed up because of man's sin, according to the plan of God before creation, 2) God is working all things in this world for the glory of his Son, Jesus Christ, from before creation, 3) that knowledge should both humbly terrify and joyfully comfort us as we worship this God in awe. "Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you" (Isaiah 41:23-24).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Should All Christians Homeschool?

Someone asked the question, "What's your view on homeschooling?" in the comment section of my post on going secular for righteousness' sake. To give that question the thought it deserves, I figured it would be better to write a post on it than a book in the comment stream. I'm no expert on this subject, and there are differing opinions on what to do. For example, in the denomination to which our church affiliates, high profile men like evangelist Franklin Graham and Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, have fallen on differing sides of the issue at a recent annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting. So adding my small voice and puny intellect to the mix could be risky. But I'll try to give my thoughts in a logical and concise manner.

1. Educating children is the parents' responsibility. In God's wisdom, children are not born to governments or the church. Children are born to men and women who will be held accountable for how they are raised. For instance, in God's list of charges against the Old Testament nation of Israel, we read: "And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, 'Why does he not?' Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 'For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless'” (Malachi 2:13-16). In another place, we read: "He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments" (Psalm 78:5-7). Paul's version: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). So it is the parents' first responsibility to raise children to set their hope in God.

2. All education is indoctrination. This is something that Christians seem ignorant of. At best, this ignorance is just a lack of belief in what the Bible says and what history has proven. At worst, it's a willful ignorance, because to accept this notion means parents will be faced with many inconveniences they don't want to think about. So I fear many parents put their kids on the big yellow buses and go back in the house with their hands over their ears yelling, "LA LA LA! Everything's okay!" But it is undeniable that he who controls education controls the future. It is impossible to teach anything without an underlying philosophical worldview coming through. It grieves me that I even have to make this point because it's so obvious.

3. No indoctrination is neutral. If all education is indoctrination - not just passing on facts, but handing down values - then we must accept that indoctrination is aimed at something. Here's a basic lesson in worldview: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3). The world is set up against God and under the blinding power of Satan. People aren't neutral toward God. They are actively, willfully opposed to him. So education is not neutral toward God. Again, it grieves me that I even have to make this point because it's so obvious. Just look at when children start to fall away from the things they've always believed.

4. Government education cannot build love for God, but it can destroy it. If we don't start with the right theology, everything else goes downhill from there. Government school is not interested in God. It's interested in the earth. This is understandable since the whole institution is under the control of Satan. If this sounds radical, go back to the Bible and learn the basic principles of the gospel all over again. Now, having said this, I'm not suggesting there aren't people who teach in schools that want what they think is best for children. But what they think is best is not always best, and many kids and parents have the scars to prove it. I don't know many kids coming out of school that say they're faith is strengthened because of school. But I know of kids who left behind dumb, hick, unsophisticated religion for the facts of natural humanism.

5. Kids without proper training are not missionaries. I almost ended this sentence with an exclamation point. If I hear one more parent tell me how little four year old Johnny is going to go to school to be a missionary, I'll puke. This line of reasoning just doesn't make sense, even though I've heard otherwise smart people say it. I was in the Army. You don't send kids into battle. You train them first. There's a phrase we used to have for untrained soldiers going into battle. It's called DOA - Dead on Arrival. Not only is it foolish to send untrained saved kids to government school to be missionaries, most the people that use this argument have kids that aren't even Christians yet. So how does this idea hold water with them?

6. School isn't for convenience no matter what you choose. I know of some who homeschool for the convenience of not having to deal with the evil in the world. They want to shelter their kids from anything bad like monks. I don't think this is a good reason. At some point, children are going to grow up and face the evil in the world. They better be ready for it. So we don't homeschool in order to hide out in a fortress. If God wanted us to be safe, he'd take us to Heaven right now. He wants us in the world without being of it. On the flipside of this, I know of some who send their kids to school because they don't want to have to deal with their kids all day. Some parents talk about school like it's their break time from parenting. Or they don't want to give up a paycheck to keep them home. Both, keeping your kids at home to shelter them, and sending your kids to school because it's easier for you is sacrificing your children on the altar of convenience. It's a type of idolatry. So what's the alternative?

7. Intentionally train your children. Parents need to teach their children the ways of God and the sinfulness of the world. It is not the school's responsibility to train children how to function in the world, and it's not the church's. It is the parents'. The parents can delegate this role to others, but they're still responsible for how it all works out. Kids have to become gospel-centered through continual training. This kind of gospel-awareness must start at birth and be tailored to each child as they grow. The goal of this is simple: we're intentionally training ambassadors for Christ. So if you've trained your children, if they understand the gospel, if they know what to expect from government school, and if you keep abreast of their progress daily, then send them to school to be that light you think they could be. But if you think school would crush their faith, then come up with an alternative like homeschooling.

8. Evaluation should precede evacuation. Some parents get scared to death because they're child comes home talking about sex or global warming or evolution. Make no mistake, this stuff is taught every day to all ages of children. I'll never forget the time one of the children in our church couldn't figure out how Adam and Eve fit in with the prehistoric caveman ancestors of modern man. That's the danger of teaching a young head full of mush two opposing theories of everything. But that doesn't automatically mean you should pull your children out. Evaluate your child and the situation. Is your child a strong Christian who is wise to the ways of the system? Then teach them the folly of what they're learning and why those poor people think that way. Is your child weak in faith or knowledge and is truly falling in line like a zombie with all the indoctrination? Then you may want to reconsider your decisions based on conviction rather than convenience.

9. Your child is not a social experiment. Don't send your child to government school to prove wrong all those radicals who think homeschooling is the answer. And don't homeschool your child to prove to your family and friends that you're more righteous than them. My goal with my children is to raise them to become strong missionaries for God, wherever they happen to live and work. My wife has always homeschooled our children. We have five of them, and my oldest is eleven. Our oldest, Jason, is probably headed for government school next year for the first time. We haven't come to this conclusion lightly. We wouldn't even consider it for our other four, and don't know if they'll ever go that route. But Jason is a Christian with a strong mind, but soft conscience. He isn't a follower. He's also been trained from the time he was a baby in the gospel and the culture. He has non-Christian friends and he's a light to them (while still being just as ornery). Why are we sending him? Because I think he's trained well enough to be an effective missionary to his culture, so long as he has the daily encouragement and support and oversight of his parents. I'm not convinced of any of that for the other children yet.

10. This issue isn't cut and dry. If I thought homeschooling was commanded in Scripture, then this post would have been about three sentences. But it's just not. In a way, it would have been much easier if God would have commanded one way or the other. But I think he left it open because he wants us to know all of Scripture. In a way, the whole education debate is a small picture of the age-old debate about how the church is supposed to relate to the world. Wisely is my only answer. But I'll leave it to the conscience of each parent what that will look like. My strongest advice is whatever decision you make, make it based on a conviction shaped by the Bible, and not out of convenience.

There are tons of books written on this subject, so a blog post is going to be weak. I think the goal of child-rearing is missions. Period. And if that's your goal, I think it will guide your decision-making in this area in a way that is both wise and faithful.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ironic: Is Iceland Still the Best Place to Live?

Okay, this has nothing to do with anything except further proof that God's sense of humor is still intact. Only God could orchestrate the irony of collapsing the government and economy of the nation that the U.N. recently assured everyone was the best place in the world to live. Truth is stranger than fiction when all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.

Going Secular for Righteousness Sake

Today I'd like to give some missional advice to all recovering fundamentalists. What I'm going to suggest will be freeing to some and offensive to others. But I think I'm on solid ground. I'll start with a disturbing text of Scripture.

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though a absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you'" (1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

Like many churches today, the church in Corinth was filled with all sorts of messiness. However, their messiness wasn't stemming from people in the usual cycle of repentance-sin-repentance. Their messiness was stemming from a pride in debauchery that passed itself off as liberty. They were proud of their "liberty" in Christ to do things like have a relationship with your step-mother. Paul was struck by their lack of discernment, so he blasted the daylights out of them in this chapter. Basically he said, "Since you're having a hard time figuring out that this is wrong and don't want to be judgmental, I'll judge for you. Kick this guy out so that he might actually be saved."

Now, church discipline is in the dumps overall across America. It is very inconvenient and messy to have to remove a member from your church. It might even result in media coverage and lawsuits. So many churches just don't bother. Rather than openly deal with unrepentant sin, churches have become masters at covering it up and putting on a happy face. Lord forbid someone ever open the closet door where all the members' sins are kept neatly tucked away. Now I'll give the irony of it all.

Out of a desire for purity in the church and a good name for Christ in the world, Paul told the Corinthian church to not associate with anyone who is involved in "sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one." The church is full of such people today. Just pull back the sheet a little and it's all there. So we're not doing so well at following this command.

On the other hand, we're doing a great job at following a command that Paul didn't give. Paul said, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." This text is probably one of the most twisted and misapplied in the Bible. We do the exact opposite of what Paul said to do. Paul was worried about the sin in the church and the church abandoning the world. Today, we hide the sin in the church and judge the sin of the world.

Paul deliberately said he didn't mean we shouldn't associate with the sinful people of the world. But we don't associate with the sinful people of the world. Paul was concerned with the sin in the church. But most Christians today wouldn't be caught dead interacting with the sinners of this world. We do all we can to avoid these people.

Now for my controversial suggestion. Go secular for righteousness sake. Many Christians avoid anything "secular" for righteousness sake. They don't want to get defiled by breathing the same air as sinners, in a bar or bowling alley perhaps. Yet they get drunk and fight with their spouse at home. They don't want to have their ears defiled with cussing in some secular environment, like an assembly line perhaps. Yet they have their chosen cuss words for use at home. It is very tiring to hear Christians lament the wickedness of the lost world when the church is full of the same sins. It's just wrong. Get the sin out of your own heart. Work together with your spouse to get the sin out of your own household. Pray for God to remove the sin in your church. But don't try to avoid the sin in the world.

Jesus calls us the light of the world. No one can see a lamp in the daytime. There's too much light. Light needs darkness to be seen. Go to the darkness. Don't be scared of it. Love those in it. Go secular for righteousness sake. Or go die in a monastery safe from everyone but yourself.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Heavenly-minded Husbands

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body" (Ephesians 5:25-30).

While it is women who usually get offended by the Ephesians text, and it is women who usually have their feet held to the fire concerning this text, I think the text has more to say to men than to women. I think men don't get offended by this text because those who preach it don't do a good enough job calling men to account for their cowardly, sickening, sappy, bratty, half-hearted, half-baked, half attempt at love.

It really is disgusting to hear women take a beating over their role in this text, only to hear an add on at the end of the sermon, "Oh yeah, husbands are supposed to love their wives like Christ loved the church." Yeah, naturally. Then pastors and husbands will say things like, "Actually, the husband has the hard part in this text, because he has to love like Christ." Well, when is he going to get around to it? While it's true that men have the harder role, it's a little disingenuous because the husbands never seem to be held to the standard that the wives are. What good does it do to say that husbands have the hard part if they're never held accountable to do their part? Is it the hard part after all?

I'll admit up front that I think Christian husbands collectively need a good head bashing. I often hear women encouraging one another to submit to their husbands and to be respectful and to keep trusting God for the results. But I rarely hear men stirring each other other to love their wives, even when it hurts. And if there's a problem in the marriage, it usually comes down to: "Well, if you were just more submissive to your husband, things would go smoother and iron themselves out."

Doubtful. And the reason it's doubtful is because the wife is not the problem. The husband is. Let's look at this text and see what the problem in every marriage is. "Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There, I said it. This text is plain scary. And impossible. Think about this. Women are told to submit like the church. Have you seen the church lately? I'd say the women I know are outdoing the church overall when it comes to their role of submission. The church is a flawed group of people. But husbands have a much higher standard - Christ himself. Love your wives like Christ loves. Who can stand?

Let's think about how Christ loves. First Christ loves thoroughly. There is no mixture. If he is for his beloved, then he is all out for her. His affections aren't split, and they don't diminish in any way over time. He never tires in loving his bride and never takes her for granted. Second, Christ loves sacrificially. There is a tremendous cost. He loves his bride when it is incredibly inconvenient. And I'm not talking about listening to your wife when she's talking over the game. I'm talking about taking the punishment for her sin. I'm talking about the bloody, unrecognizable, nauseating hunk of flesh that hung on the cross. I'm talking about the wrath of God being poured out on his head after men had done all they could to him. Third, Christ loves winsomely. He has a fickle, adulterous bride. He never turns his back on her. When she strays, and it is often, he wins her back. He doesn't leave her and never forsakes her. He isn't ashamed of her, though she's worthy of all shame. When she departs from him and then returns, he doesn't punish her or cast her off. He doesn't throw her sin up in her face. He forgives her. And he treats her like she's the most precious object in the universe, like none of it ever happened.

I could go on, but you get the point. Christ's love is so high above anything we've ever seen. And that is how a husband is to love his wife. Every marriage problem is the husband's problem. Period. This doesn't mean that the wife never sins. She may sin often. But it does mean that if there's an ongoing problem, it's his fault. He has to love harder. He has to forgive quicker. Forgive more. Forgive better. Love more thoroughly, more sacrificially, more winsomely.

"Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies." Who does this? How often do husbands expect more from their wives than they do from themselves? One example. I've heard husbands say things like, "I work hard all day, and when I get home I just want to relax a little." Let me translate that. "I've worked for eight hours, maybe hard, maybe just killing time, and when I get home I don't want a list of things to do around the house, and I don't want my television time interrupted." I know many women who work steadily all day long. When I say all day, I mean all day. Not all of an eight hour work day. I mean all day. And into the night when the duty calls for it. Husbands, do you want for your wife the same level of peace and comfort and relaxation you want for yourself? Do you do everything you can to make it happen?

If husbands are going to love like Christ, it's going to take a heavenly-mindedness that can free them from the desire to get everything they want now. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. Too many husbands are worried about their comfort in the here and now. When their wives ask something from them, they make excuses and bellyache like adolescents. When their wives are irritable, they push back, rather than absorbing it upon themselves with a smile. When their wives offend them, they find ways to punish, rather than forgive and move on. When their wives are less than respectful, they withhold love, rather than winsomely earning it back.

Husbands, let's not insult our wives by pretending we have the tougher job. Let's honor our wives by proving we have the tougher job. I fear the reason husbands have to remind their wives that they have the tougher role is because they rarely appear to in reality. Don't expect your wives to submit to you when you're a lazy, selfish, half-hearted, hard-hearted lover. Look at the heavenly-minded love of Christ. And then treat your wife the same way.

Women and Abuse?

Hit this link and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Heavenly-minded Submission

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands" (Ephesians 5:22-24).

These are three of the most controversial verses in Scripture. Why? Because these verses tell a woman to submit to her husband, and many people find that notion downright offensive. It doesn't matter how carefully and humbly one tries to lay out the meaning of these verses. If one comes down on the side of the wife's submission, then that person will be accused of oppressing women, opening the doors of spouse abuse, re-writing the Bible to make it say what it doesn't, stealing Christmas and eating the last oatmeal cream pie.

At the risk of being called a cream pie glutton, I'm going to give my take on these verses. I'm not writing about this to try to engage or challenge or convert the people I just described. I'm writing for the sake of those who really want to know what this verse means. I'm writing to those who really want to follow God and glorify the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm writing to those who will let this text say what it says and try to live it out. I'm not writing for the sake of those who use all sorts of silly mind games to explain this text away. Here goes.

Ephesians 5:22-33 deal with marriage in the church. The key to understanding verses 22-24 is verses 31-32. "'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Paul says that marriage is a profound mystery, pointing to the relationship between Christ and the church. When God created marriage way back in Genesis, he was laying the groundwork for the gospel. Until Paul came along and revealed this mystery, we didn't have the full understanding of the significance of marriage. But Paul gives the ultimate purpose of it. So the question is how marriage points to the relationship between Christ and the church. Ephesians shows how the husband's love for his wife points to Christ's love for the church. And it shows how the woman's submission to her husband points to the church's submission to Christ. So there is a lot more going on in these verses than who gets to decide what we're having for dinner.


This text is very clear. It tells a wife to submit to her husband. If the woman would ask why, the text responds, "For the husband is the head of the wife..." For is the important word there. Why should a woman submit to her husband? Because he is the head of his wife. What does it mean that the husband is the head of his wife? Naturally, there is disagreement. Some say it points toward leadership, while others say it points toward source (like Eve came from Adam's rib, so Adam is Eve's head). I think the debate is silly, because whatever it points to, it resembles Christ and the church. Paul says that the husband is the head of the wife, "even as Christ is the head of the church." Some people try to explain that head has nothing to do with position in the marriage. But whatever tinkering someone does with the meaning of the husband's headship is also being done to the headship of Christ. But people try and try to explain away a husband's headship while leaving Christ's headship intact. It can't be done because Paul has forever linked the two.

How extensive is the wife's submission? "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands." That's pretty extensive. Many people think this sounds like good old fashioned slavery. It puts womanhood back a billion years, washing away all the strides made for women's rights. Some try to explain away the clear meaning of these verses by pointing out what Paul says in verse 21, "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ," and suggest that husbands and wives should equally submit to one another - mutual submission. I could buy that if they mean the husband submits to his wife by loving her like Christ does the church. But that's not usually what they mean. They mean that there should be little distinction between the way a husband and wife submit to each other. I don't think that view is valid when three verses later, the wife is told to submit in everything to her husband. The husband is never told to do that. Ever. But he is told to love his wife so much that he'd live for her and die for her. So in that way, it is a tremendous submission on the part of the husband. But it's a different kind of submission.

When a wife submits to her husband, she is giving a beautiful picture of what it means for the church to submit in Christ. Some women are afraid that submission is about keeping one group of people permanently under the thumb of another. They're afraid of their husband's headship. I think this fear flows from a lack of heavenly-mindedness. Some women are more concerned with how good of a life they can make for themselves here than how good of a life Christ has promised them in the next world. They're more worried about their husbands making much of them than they are about making much of what Christ is doing in the world. They're afraid they can't self-actualize under the thumb of their husbands. What's worse, they think Christ agrees with them. They think the central message of the cross is that traditionally oppressed people are now liberated from the bondage of others.

There are some real similarities between the feminist understanding of what Christ has come to do and all liberation theology. Liberation theology puts the emphasis of Christ's work in this world. It's not heavenly-minded enough. It thinks Christ came to bring "equality" on earth, and punish the oppressors. That's why Marxists always try to use liberation theology to advance communism. The problem with all liberation theology is self-righteousness. Those who hold to it are always looking at the sins of others, and always trying to fight for their rights. They think that's what Christ wants. Instead of personal repentance and gospel-zeal, lib theology preaches power to the oppressed. And of course, most who hold to liberation theology think they're among the oppressed rather than oppressors. So they fight against anything that stands in the way of their self-advancement. This explains why they always claim the rights of the victim.

Christians women, daughters of God and sisters of Jesus Christ, you are not victims. You are more than conquerors through him who loves you. Being a humble, submissive wife is not a victim's role. It is a conqueror's role. How? Because only those who truly understand what Christ has come to do through the gospel can afford to give up their claims to autonomy and submit to someone else. By submitting to your husband, you are showing that no one on earth has the power to enslave you. No one can take from you what you freely give. Such upside down thinking is a powerful light in a selfish world, even if it is offensive to those who only care about comfort in this life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jesus: Family Unfriendly

We have family friendly radio stations, family friendly movies, family friendly churches and family friendly businesses. Some are so family friendly they "focus on the family." But I have to ask: Is Jesus family friendly? The reason I ask this question is because, it seems to me, there is a type of family friendliness that kills conviction. There is a type of focus on the family that is good. And there is a type that is very dangerous. Many churches want to be considered family friendly churches. Everything in the church revolves around family - serving the family and strengthening the family. This isn't bad in itself. After all, Paul told Timothy that an elder had to "manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?" (1 Timothy 3:4-5). So it seems that the church is a big "household" or family. Here's where I see the problem come in.

I have been chastised at times, in different settings, for too closely resembling Paul's perspective on life: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again" (Philippians 1:21-26).

If I say something like Paul said, it is inevitable that someone will bring up my family. "You should be ashamed of yourself, wanting to go to Heaven when you have such a nice family." I cringe when I hear this. It reminds me of Peter rebuking Jesus for being too Jesus-centered; you know, the time when Jesus called him Satan. No matter what priority we want to give our family, one thing is certain - family is a shadow, not the reality. Christ is to be our longing.

If I say that Christ has to be our longing, then I'm chastised with this: "I understand that Christ is to be our longing, but you also have a responsibility to take care of your family, not escape your duty." If I remind my chastiser that my family is not mine, but God's, I'm reminded of this: "But God gave them to you to take care of, and that's your primary responsibility on earth." I then tell my chastiser that I think I am meeting that responsibility, but I still desire to go to Heaven regardless. It is far better, after all. Then I usually get this: "You should be ready to go to Heaven if that's what God wills, but you shouldn't want it right now. That's selfish. You should want to stay here and take care of your family."

It's right here in the conversation that an idol is discovered. The idol is not my desire for Heaven. The idol is my chastiser's desire for something other than Heaven. Paul's desire was Heaven. Paul did not say that he was willing to go to Heaven. That's just absurd, though many in this Disney World we call America say that very thing. With country singer, Joe Diffy, they can say, "Lord I want to go to Heaven, but I don't want to go tonight." Or with country singer, Hank Williams Jr., they say, "If Heaven ain't a lot like Dixie, I don't want to go." Of course, they might not want Dixie, but they fill in their own thing.

The fact is, the intense longing for Heaven was Paul's default position. It guided everything he did, and everything he didn't do. Here's where the rubber hits the road in our Christian idea of family. Though Paul said he was convinced that he had fruitful labor left on behalf of the young Philippian church, he didn't do anything to assure he could carry it out. Paul did not say, "Oh, the church needs me, so I have to do whatever I can to not get arrested. And if I get arrested, I have to do whatever I can to get out so that I can return to them. Poor things." Paul died after writing this letter. He never got out to go make much of the Philippian church.

Family is an idol for many American Christians, which is why Paul's mindset is so difficult to grasp for many of us. I think there are those in America that seriously lament the "breakup" of the family. They see things like high abortion rates, attacks on marriage, widening definitions of what a family is, children raised without fathers, frivolous divorces and they gasp in horror, longing for the golden age of the family. So when they hear my desire for Heaven, I automatically get lumped into the group that thinks family isn't that important.

Our focus on the family has crippled the inherent desire in Christians to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of the gospel. We've somehow confused Jesus' desire to rescue the dying for Jesus' desire to wipe our kids' noses. Now, wiping noses isn't a bad thing. In fact, it seems quite loving, and easier on the eyes. The problem is, we never move beyond wiping noses. We've made a virtue out of doing nothing but focusing on our own little family to the neglect of the very thing our family is left on earth to accomplish.

Let me make this as clear as I can. Offensively clear. God cares more about the gospel than my children. This is a fact as sure as gravity. How can it be proven? Children can be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. Parents can be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. But the gospel can never be sacrificed for the sake of family. Ever. Not without serious consequences from the One who came to "set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:35-39).

While we're working 50 hours a week to provide a nice house and comfortable car with a DVD player and all sorts of toys for our children; while we are spending hour upon hour ushering our children to all sorts of unredeemed recreations and experiences; while we are focusing on the family, supposedly out of love for them (though it fosters little more than a love for the world); there are people in the world who are focusing on Jesus, and leaving an incredible heavenly-minded example for their children. They show that Jesus might not be the kind of family friendly God that Americans think he is. In fact, he might just be downright family unfriendly depending on where your heart is.

"Many Colombian believers face death daily for Jesus because they refuse to stop sharing about him (Romans 8:36). Colombian "Pastor Marco" was warned by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas not to preach or meet with other believers. Yet, he risked his life to attend a secret Christian meeting. He was caught. The FARC, who seek to overthrow the government and establish communist rule, hate Christians for choosing to take up the cross instead of guns. In June 2007, with his congregation, family and the whole town looking on, Pastor Marco paid the ultimate price for this choice. His children, ages 7, 11, and 13, stood next to his wife as he was shot four times. Still, Marco did not fall and kept encouraging his family never to forget the Lord. When the guerrillas returned and found Marco still alive, they shot him five more times, finally killing him. Marco's wife and children are struggling to adjust to life without Marco." (Voice of the Martyrs, Special Issue, 2008).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Should Men Work Outside the Home?

Yes. Next question.

Should Women Work Outside the Home?

Okay, here's the question everyone loves to answer. You can't win no matter what you say, because someone will be offended either way. But if your church is interested in living for God's glory, then this question will come up because I believe husbands and wives want to know that the choices they make are right.

I must admit off the bat that I've been all over the map on this issue and have even written new maps to continue my journey. I went through a time as a young pastor where I thought women should stay home. This was not an attempt to keep my wife down, but a real attempt to live in a biblical manner. This didn't come without cost, because at the time I arrived at this conclusion, my wife had a partnership in a pizza restaurant, and we had high hopes. But she gave it up out of a shared conviction that we should stop sending our two toddlers (at the time) to the babysitter's. While my views have evolved since that time, my wife hasn't worked outside the home since then, even though we struggle to live even a simple lifestyle. Our five young children are more important to us than the money my wife could earn or any battle for for supremacy of the home.

Having said that, the Bible doesn't command women not to work outside the home, and truth be told, we see examples of women doing work besides housework (Priscilla seemed to make tents, and Lydia was a business woman). We also see Paul's high regard for all the women who were fellow laborers in spreading the gospel. So I think anyone who makes the dogmatic claim that it is unbiblical for women to work outside the home has overstated.

But I don't think the Bible leaves the whole matter up for grabs either. There are texts and themes that guide our thoughts without making dogmatic claims. We're unwise to throw them away without considering their force. Titus 2 is an example.

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled" (Titus 2:3-5). I don't think this text is that hard to understand, even if it is difficult to hear. Older women are to train the younger women. What did Paul think it was important for younger women to be trained in? Love for family, self-control, purity, housework, kindness and submission to their husbands. While work outside the home isn't mentioned in this text, one kind of work specifically is mentioned - housework. So I can argue from silence that a woman's place is in the factory or on the front lines of battle, since the Bible doesn't seem to forbid it; or I can argue from what is clearly written.

It's important to see that the women Paul is referring to in Titus 2 seem to be married. I think that makes a huge difference. Here's why. By becoming a pastor, I've cut myself off from other options. At one time, I had a guaranteed commission as an Army officer and I tossed the opportunity. That door is closed now because of choices I made. I don't see why it is hard to understand that in terms of marriage and career. If a woman wants a career, more power to her. If she wants to go be a missionary, better still. But if she chooses marriage, why is it hard to imagine she is "boxing herself in" a specific role? I'm not offended that I boxed myself in the pastorate. I don't feel oppressed by that decision.

I think we must be very careful in forbidding what Scripture doesn't and in allowing what Scripture doesn't. In the case of women working outside the home, I think there are those who want to live what the Bible says. Some of them are women who work outside the home, and some are women who don't. I think each should be convinced in her own mind. I also think there are men who want to make the Bible say that women have to stay at home because it gives them a form of control they wouldn't otherwise have. That's the wrong motivation. I also think there are women who want to say the Bible has nothing to say about this because they find it repugnant that God might have gender roles. This is also wrong motivation. The motivation for everything we do should be the glory of God.

So what do you do if you're wondering if you should work? I realize I haven't helped much. That's because there's not as clear a line as some try to say there is (on both sides of the issue). I think single women should try to advance in education and opportunity to the best of their ability for the glory of God. This just makes sense for wherever life leads.

As for married women, that's a decision to be made by her and her husband together. If a couple decides that rather than raising children, they want to work strong in the marketplace for opportunities to share Christ, then they should go for it. But if they are wanting to glorify God through raising children to hope in God, then she should seriously consider how she's going to do that if other people have her kids more than she does. I see this all the time, and it doesn't work out as well as we pretend it does. The default position for mothers is with their children. Are there times of exception? I think so. Is a couple going through a tough time, and legitimately needs the extra money? Is the husband's ability to earn somehow hindered temporarily? Then maybe she should work for awhile, especially if he can take care of the kids. Or maybe there's a way for her to work on an ongoing basis without sacrificing anything of her household or family. But I find that these are exceptions rather than the rule.

The guiding principle in deciding this issue should be the glory of God. Not the exaltation of individual rights. Not the fighting of oppression in its many forms. Not the assumption of gender equality. Not the desire for liberation. The glory of God is the guiding principle. Will God get more glory from a woman's work outside the home, or in it? Let each be convinced in her own mind - humbly.