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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hosea: The Whore's Husband Cont.

Is there anything that God doesn't have the right to do? That's the question I asked yesterday concerning the Old Testament prophet, Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a whore and raise a family with her. There are interpreters who think that such a command by God would not fit into his character or purposes. I disagree.

John Calvin's theory is that the marriage was in a vision for Hosea to act out for the people, but not a real life command. His reason was that Hosea would be "contemptible" before the public "for how could he expect to be received on coming abroad before the public, after having brought on himself such a disgrace? If he had married a wife such as is here described, he ought to have concealed himself for life rather than to undertake the Prophetic office." (John Calvin, Commentary on Hosea)

In writing this, I think Calvin misses the point while dancing all around it. The disgrace and contempt of Hosea is the point! Why was Hosea expected to marry a whore? "Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea was to be a contemptible prophet to put before the people of Israel the contempt with which God had been treated by his bride. Hosea was to suffer in love to show the amazing nature of Israel's husband. Calvin truly understood what was at stake for Hosea to actually carry out what seems to be a clear command in real life. But to explain away the command because of its nasty ramifications is to make the book of Hosea useless. The point of Hosea is that God doesn't run and hide in shame with his prostitute bride.

So we have Hosea and Gomer, husband and wife, living happily ever after. Almost. It appears that Gomer made a habit of running off with other men, and it is reasonable because of the phrasing to assume the second and third kids named by God were fathered by men other than Hosea. Then there was that other thing. Somehow, Gomer got herself into trouble by indenturing herself.

"And the Lord said to me, 'Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley" (Hosea 3:1-2).

Here's where things heat up for our hero. Gomer is gone. God is running everything right on schedule. Hosea has to get his wife back. So he bought her back. She didn't cost much, which might show how far down and out she was. "You want her? You can have her real cheap." Hosea and Gomer, husband and wife, living happily ever after again. That's where we leave off our hero and his wife.

There are at least two important lessons we can learn from Hosea without even hearing the words of judgment that God spoke through him. Just his biography tells us this much:

1. Life is about God. Paul Tripp says it well, "It's not our party." We want to live life like our adulterous whims are the priority. They're not. Hosea was to buy back Gomer because Israel turned to other gods and loved cakes of raisins. That's a peculiar thing to say. "Go buy back your whore wife because my whore wife loves raisin cakes." The point is that God made people for a relationship with himself. Rather than love God, we would rather keep him at a distance and use his gifts. God, as a husband, was dissed for some food. We should be longing for the second that we can be face to face with our God in Heaven. But instead, we try to provide for ourselves little comforts and pleasures on earth. And we'll commit idolatry (spiritual adultery) to get it. Let me give one example to show how this works. Who gives man the ability to create wealth? Is it not God? Of course it is. The ability to make money is one of God's good gifts to us. Now, most of us own a television set. That is bought with God's money. Rather than live our lives the way he wants, we use his money to buy a tv to replace him with. See how that works?

2. For all those who want to continue to complain that God would never want us to do anything difficult in our marriage, like stay married, like forgive sins, like live to please our spouse, like love our wives with all we have, like submit to our husbands without bitterness, like trust God to work it all out; look at Hosea! The guy was told to marry a whore! How God-centered is God? Enough that when he has a lesson for his people, he has no problem inconveniencing Hosea with such a difficult command. Did Hosea say to God, "You know, I've wanted to marry the neighbor girl for years, and her dad is finally coming around, and I know you just want me to be happy, so I think I'll pass on the whole whore wife thing. Thanks for your grace." What did God want? "No Hosea, you can't make what you want out of your life, because you belong to me." God said; Hosea did. Go figure. In addition to the unbending will of God in terms of outward action, God also commanded Hosea to love Gomer. Not just buy her back. Love her. Why? Because God loves his unfaithful bride. Notice the command to feel. "Can't I just go bring her back and give her a wing of the house to live in? There's just no more feelings there God, and I'm sure you understand, knowing my heart." What did God want? "No Hosea, you can't just live with her, you have to feel good about her - in all of her glory." God said; Hosea did. Go figure. I guess that's why he was a prophet, and I guess that's why he'll get a prophet's reward.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hosea: The Whore's Husband

Is there anything that God doesn't have the right to do? Would anything that he expects from us impugn his character? While philosophers and theologians will argue back and forth, trying to wrap their finite and fallible minds around God's parameters, the Bible seems to offer no substantial relief. Consider one of the most perplexing books in the Bible: Hosea. I'll divide this post into two parts for the sake of length and readability.

"When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, 'Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord'" (Hosea 1:2).

Um, excuse me? What was the first thing God said to Hosea? Go marry a whore. And take care of the children she accumulates because of her lifestyle. That doesn't seem like something God would command. In fact, it seems so unlike something God would command that many fine interpreters try to get God off the hook for it.

John Calvin tries, unconvincingly, to convince us that Hosea is just telling us what God would do if he actually would do such a thing. In other words, Hosea "assumed a character, when going forth before the public, and in this character he said to the people, that God had bidden him to take a harlot for his wife, and to beget adulterous children by her." (John Calvin, Commentary on Hosea)

So in Calvin's mind, the book goes something like this: When Hosea was out in the crowd, he was pretending to be married to a whore for effect. He would say something like, "God told me in a vision that I should marry a whore and raise her kids for her. Not that he would really want me to do such a ludicrous thing, but that's how you people should see me. And I hope it makes you ashamed of yourselves. Look at the depths your sin has forced me to. I have to degrade myself by pretending to have married a whore."

But in reality, he was just good ol' Hosea, prophet of propriety and piety, who would never be stained by such embarrassment, such defilement. So when someone would come up to him and ask him when he was going to settle down and have a family, he would whisper, "SSHHHH! I'm married to a whore, remember? I already have all kinds of imaginary rugrats running around. What are you trying to do, make everyone remember I'm a character actor?" And when people passed him by on the street, they'd say things like: "There's Hosea. Did you hear about his pretend whore wife? Boy the stories I could tell you about her. . . if she were real." And someone would reply, "Oh, I know! It's bad enough that someone would marry a whore in a vision, but then to raise other men's children in a vision is over the top. . . if they were real." And Calvin thinks we'd get the same effect whether God's command was given in reality or in a vision. I strongly disagree.

"So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son" (Hosea 1:3).

Wow. God gave Hosea a vision of marrying a specific imaginary whore named Gomer, daughter of a specific imaginary guy, Diblaim. OR God told Hosea to do something so outlandish, so radically counter-intuitive, so publicly offensive and laughable, that people had to notice. Hosea didn't say, "Let me tell you all about this crazy dream I had." He went out and found a whore, and not just a promiscuous naughty girl. He found a bottom of the barrel, down and out prostitute, married her, and had a child with her. God told Hosea what to name the child. "Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel" (Hosea 1:4).

We'll stop here, but with this thought: God is center stage in the book of Hosea. He's orchestrating the whole thing to say something very important. When the marriage that he called for brought forth children (from both Hosea and other men), God is the one who named the children. There is no need to get God off the hook for being God. We aren't nearly as prudish and undefiled as we pretend. We play the part of the innocent with virgin ears, when all the while God is giving us the most atrocious living illustrations of our many rampant idolatry. I have no doubt that God is well within his character to use one of his clay pots to show the depth of our depravity and the immensity of his condescending love in sticking with our adulterous souls.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Here's a good little line about hospitality.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Hypocrite. It might just be the only insult worthy of a second thought in our pluralistic culture. No one wants to be thought of as a hypocrite. And most Christians would be satisfied if the word had died with the Pharisees. But it hasn't. It's still alive and well and messing with people's minds today. In my last post I shared the not-so-fictional fictional account of a man who was divorcing his wife for another woman because they no longer had any real husband/ wife relationship anyway. The question that comes to mind in situations like this (and it has been brought up before in reality) is "If we stay married even though we don't feel like it, aren't we being hypocrites?"

Now, there is a whole type of counseling theory that says no to that question. Nouthetic counseling in general, and Jay Adams specifically, would say that doing something in spite of feelings is never hypocrisy. Let me illustrate: "It is never hypocritical to obey God. You have fallen into a trap of the devil in thinking that it is." (The Christian Counselor's Manual, pg. 120). Adams would say that a couple should stay married whether they feel like it or not, simply because it is right to obey God. I agree with that, but I don't think it goes far enough. While I respect the strides that Adams is responsible for making in getting counseling back into the church where it belongs, I have to disagree with this quote. Strongly. I lay out an alternative notion in my chapter on love in the Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another.

I think the fear of being called a hypocrite causes us to do some serious twisting to avoid it. But I don't think it's necessary. If I want to divorce my wife because I don't love her anymore, and I want to play the field, being called a hypocrite should be the last thing I'm worried about. Why are we so afraid of earning the label, "Hypocrite"? Some of the most obedient people in Scripture were called hypocrites by Jesus. I don't understand how Adams gets around this in the above quote. I don't just think the Pharisees were called hypocrites because they only perfectly obeyed some of the laws, and not the important ones. I think they were called hypocrites because in their hearts, the desire wasn't to glorify God as much as to please themselves and make much of themselves. External righteousness has its earthly benefits.

So, what is a married couple to do when the love is gone, the feelings have faded, and they're just sharing a house? Repent. Don't get divorced. Don't worry about being a hypocrite. Yes - you are one. But the answer isn't further disobedience. The answer is repentance. Repent for being such lousy lovers. Repent of being such lousy God glorifiers. Don't just repent for actions. Repent for your feelings. It's not enough to act right. God also commands that you feel right. So don't stop with staying married. Repent of your hard-heartedness and your half-heartedness. And follow the example of Jesus.

Did Jesus ever do something, even when he didn't feel like it? I would argue he did not. He always did what he felt like doing, and never violated his feelings. The most glaring time in the life of our Lord when his feelings and actions may have conflicted was the night before his crucifixion. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he clearly did not want to go to the cross. Would it have been hypocrisy for Jesus to go to the cross without wanting to, without feeling rightly about it? Yes, I think it would have been. So what did Jesus do to keep from being a hypocrite? He prayed. He sweat blood. He had angels strengthening him. Why? So his feelings would line up with God's will. He didn't just go to the cross half-heartedly, or with the wrong motives, or with the wrong goal. He went rightly.

So don't be afraid of being called a hypocrite. And don't be afraid of being one. You're far worse than that already. And Christ has taken it upon himself if you're his. Just live a life of ongoing repentance, for outward actions done and undone, and heart issues felt and not felt.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Love on Trial

"I've finally found someone who makes me happy," he said with a dreamy confidence.
"But you're married," his pastor reminded him.
"Well, it's not like we're husband and wife; we don't live like it anyway."
"Then you need to work on that instead of looking for someone else."
"We've been through all that, we're past all that. Besides, I wasn't looking for anyone. God brought Julia into my life for a reason. You always say there's no such thing as an accident - God is always working."
"You think God brought this Julia into your life to commit adultery with?" asked the incredulous pastor.
"No," the man laughed condescendingly, shaking his head at his pastor's simple-minded question. "We haven't committed adultery. We've both decided to wait until we're married for any of that. I do know that Julia is God's relief from all the misery I've been through with Rachel."
"You can't get married. You are married! To Rachel. God gave you Rachel as a wife."
"But God also wants us to be happy, and neither of us are."
"Who told you that?"
"You did, Pastor. You tell us that all the time."
"That's not how I mean it, and I think you know that."
"Well, a loving God wouldn't want his children to live in hell every day. He's not getting any glory from our marriage anyway. At least Julia and I will love each other, and that will make God happy."
"You can't do this. God will not be mocked,"
"Well, I've prayed about it a lot. Julia has, too. We're not trying to mock God, and he knows our hearts. We're not taking any of this lightly. We're both sure this is where God is leading."
"You're wrong. Plain and simple. And you cannot go down this road without consequences," the pastor replied, wondering how eleven years of preaching and marriage counseling led to this.

The above scenario is fiction, but it is based nearly verbatim on comments that have been made by professing Christians concerning their marriages. Maybe you've heard similar things. Maybe you've said similar things. What is it that has led to such cowardly lovers? Where is the emotional ruggedness that seems to fill every page of Scripture? Are we too far gone down the road of therapeutic mishmash to ever find our way back? I don't think so. But coming back will require a whole lot of difficult teaching on who God really is and what his love really means.

When people want to get out of a marriage, they will justify it by any means they can. They often assume God is in the ring with them - not to fight, but to root them on from their corner. So they square off against well-intentioned friends, and legalistic, rigid pastors, quite certain that God has their back. Surely God hates "spiritual abuse" as much as they do. These pastors can't be speaking for a loving God. They must be trying to control people for their own kicks. It never occurs to them that God is unbending.

Let me share a text of Scripture that sheds light on the love of God in a way that many cowardly lovers need to hear.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31-39).

What can we learn about God's love from this text?

1. God is for us. No matter what we go through, God is for us. He gave up his own Son for our sake. He will certainly not abandon us after that. Jesus is our Substitute, dying in our place. And Jesus is our Substitute, giving us his status and inheritance. No one can undo what Jesus did. No one. Not even ourselves. As Christians, we are justified by God and will live with him in eternal bliss.

2. But God being for us in justification does not mean that God is for us in whatever decisions we make on earth. Jesus is in Heaven interceding for us. Wow! The Son of God is in Heaven right now praying for us. The Bible says the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes a lot. How much would Jesus' prayers accomplish on our behalf? Well, we should never have another trial as long as we live with Jesus in our corner.

3. Because of Jesus' intercession, and his sacrifice, nothing can separate us from God's love. His love is stronger than any force in the universe. Why is it important to understand God's rugged love? Because we're going to go through the furnace on earth! Look at how Paul tries to encourage the Romans. Does he promise smooth sailing because of God's love? No. It's the opposite. "God loves you so much that when you go through tribulation and distress and persecution and hunger and poverty and even death, he's still there waiting on the other side." That's Paul's idea of comfort. Not escape from the trials of life. But the promise of God's love through the trial.

4. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of Christ. When God says that marriage is the picture of Christ's love for the church, he is talking about a rugged, durable, strong, non-cowardly kind of love that sticks with its commitments. God doesn't turn his back on his marriage vows, even when we do. And that is our example.

When Christians go through hard times in their marriages, there is a temptation to put God's love on trial. If God is loving, then he wouldn't want me to live this way. And if he does want me to stay married, like the pastor says, then God must not be loving like I thought he was. There is a third option, the right option. God is loving in a more rugged sense than we can wrap our minds around. And he expects no less from those created in his image and capable of such love.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rejoicing Rightly in Christian Hedonism

Christian Hedonism is a wonderful way to explain life, and it has opened my eyes to an entire universe of wonder that I was blind to for the first several years following my conversion. There is not one aspect of my life that CH doesn't influence, from the way I preach and counsel to the way I love my wife to the way I cook a steak on the grill. However, CH can be a very cruel taskmaster for those who don't apply it rightly. The reason for this is because CH refuses to be content with surface behaviors. It gets right to the heart of what drives us. CH has spread like wildfire through the church. I think this a great thing and pray it spreads faster. But in churches like mine, where it is a way of life, this kind of scenario can come up:

CH says, "Don't just obey God - be happy in him." To which we reply, "How can I be happy if I don't feel happy? That can't be what God requires." To which the Bible replies, "Rejoice in the Lord always." And then, as if to mock our crummy feelings, it rubs it in with, "Again, I say, 'Rejoice.'" To which we respond, "I'm really trying to be happy in God here! It's just not working!" And Sunday morning the preacher says, "Here's why you sin - because you're not happy in God." And we leave thinking, "Okay, I'm going to be happy in God today." And then we commit that darling sin, and are reminded of the preacher's words, "You're not happy in God." And now we're not just feeling guilty for committing our darling sin again, we're feeling guilty for not being happy in God. So we go to our CH friend who's read part of a John Piper book, and says, "You know, I think your problem, the reason you're so miserable all the time is because you're not happy in God." AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I realize that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him, and that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. I realize that sin is what I do when I'm not satisfied in God. So I set out to enjoy God. I resolve to rejoice in God so well that the desire for sin will simply fall off like an old scab. Then I wake up. It doesn't work like that. We can't make CH a new work by which to prove ourselves righteous before God. That is a misapplication of CH of the grossest kind.

I find a little couple verses in Romans 5 to be the key that frees me from the potential bondage of CH. "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Rom. 5:10-11). Christian Hedonism was never meant to replace the gospel for how man relates to God. CH is meant to accentuate the gospel, to bring it to the forefront of our ongoing consciousness. This text makes this so clear. This text is pure gospel. We were enemies of God. God reconciled us to himself through the death of Jesus. We had nothing to do with it. As a result of this reconciliation, we will live with God forever. But there's more. Not only do we have the knowledge of our salvation, but we also rejoice in God.

The gospel has purchased our enjoyment of God. Let me repeat that because it's the most important part of this post. The gospel has purchased our enjoyment of God. Jesus came to give us eternal joy in God. Let me assure you of something. The God who made sex and steak and Mountain Dew and roller coasters and that sensation you get when you free fall from a perfectly good aircraft and everything that you enjoy has to be better than the things he has created. All the pleasures of creation point to the One who made them. In his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).

This is what Jesus bought for us at the cross. Notice that we rejoice in God through Christ. CH is not garden-variety joy in God. It is very specific. CH is fueled by the gospel. Nothing else. And when we try to buckle down and be happy in God, it backfires on us with a vengeance, and we feel more guilty than ever. The only way to ensure CH is a blessing and not a taskmaster is to keep the gospel at the center of your thought-life. The more gospel-centered you are, the more you will naturally be a Christian Hedonist - even if you hate the term. Being happy in God won't take away the guilt of sin. But the gospel will. Get well-acquainted with the gospel so that you know how to rejoice in the Lord rightly.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

That's Life, Man

One would have to live in a desert without senses to not see the drama triangle of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie. Here's some news from the front lines in the magazine W:

"What people don't understand is that we filmed ['Mr. & Mrs. Smith'] for a year," he told the publication. "We were still filming after Jen and I split up. Even then it doesn't mean that there was some kind of dastardly affair. There wasn't. I'm very proud of the way that it was handled. It was respectful."

This is the kind of frivolous, cowardly mush that comes from folks who can act like tough assassins, but love like fickle school children in reality. The break up of marriage wasn't dastardly. In fact it was respectful, something to be proud of. No, wait, not just proud. Very proud. Even God is impressed with the civility of it all, I'm sure. How do Brad and Jen relate since the respectful divorce?

"We still check in with each other," Brad said. "She was a big part of my life, and me hers. I don't see how there cannot be [that]. That's life, man. That's life."

The profundity of this statement is just one of the many reasons that people look up to actors as the role models they are. I can see why congress invites such people to pontificate about world affairs, and the U.N. makes them "ambassadors" to hurting hoards. It's nice to know that Brad still checks in with the wife of his youth. After all she was a big part of his life - joined together by God and all that. It had to be at least as important as teenage acne - a big part of life. Surely something as profound as marriage - created by God to express the unending love between Christ and his church - is going to require checking in with each other when it's ended. After all, "That's life, man. That's life."

The Cross Work of Christ

When Jesus died on the cross, multiple things were happening through that one event. It's difficult to boil the cross down to one thing that was accomplished there. The cross is the climax of man's existence on earth and the fulfillment of everything written in the Old Testament. There are many different historical and biblical themes that converge on the cross. Here are several things that Jesus accomplished at the cross:

Satisfaction of God – When Jesus died on the cross, a legal debt was satisfied with God. God has a standard of righteousness that must be perfectly kept, and all mankind has failed in this task. As a result, the wrath of God is being poured out on all mankind because of unrighteousness. Though we have failed to live up to our obligations before God, Jesus took upon himself the punishment that our sin had earned. God saw the work of Jesus on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. This is what we mean when we say that Jesus is our substitutiary atonement. Instead of punishing us for our sins, Jesus was punished as our substitute on the cross. It's important to realize how intentional and specific the cross was. Jesus knew exactly what sins he was dying for, and exactly how God's law has been violated in each individual. He didn't just die to make salvation possible, and he didn't just die to be an example of humility or love. He died to pay the specific debts of specific people as a propitiation for their sins. Propititation is a big word that means to turn aside God's wrath – to change God's disposition toward us from burning anger to loving acceptance. At the cross, God exchanged our sin for Christ's righteousness. He took the wages due for our sin, and placed them upon Jesus; and he took the righteousness that Jesus merited and placed it upon us. God's sense of justice is satisfied by Jesus' life and death on behalf of his people. (See Isaiah 53; Acts 4:24-28; Romans 3:23-26; 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 2:14-17; 7:26-27; 9:23-28; 10:14; 1 John 2:2; 4:9-10)

Redemption from Bondage
– When Jesus died on the cross, he redeemed those for whom he died by paying the ransom for their deliverance. Jesus told his disciples that he came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus said, “This is my body which is given for you.” A ransom is the price paid to release a slave from bondage. When Adam sinned, the world was cursed by God and given up to bondage under Satan and death. For mankind, this means that everyone born in Adam must die – first, because of their relationship with Adam, and second, because of the sin they accumulate themselves. Jesus died on the cross to “buy back” those who are under the curse. Jesus has once for all set free those for whom he died, and they will never again be slaves to sin or cursed because of it. In redeeming man, Jesus also triumphed over Satan and the forces of evil, rendering his temptations and accusations impotent. In addition to the redemption of man, Jesus redeemed the entire created universe from the consequences of the curse. The apostle Paul describes the entire creation as “groaning” under its bondage to corruption because of man's fall. The cross has purchased the entire universe back from the curse. Because it is God who cursed the world as a punishment for Adam's sin, and because it is God's glory that has been offended by man's fall, it is God who must receive the ransom to buy it all back. In the eternal counsels of God, it was decided that Jesus' death on the cross would be a satisfactory payment to free the world and sinful man from bondage. (See Psalm 49:7-9, 15; Isaiah 35:10; Zechariah 3:1-5; Mark 10:45; Romans 8:18-25; Galatians 3:10-14; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14; 2:13-15; Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 2:14-17; 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9)

Reconciliation with God – When Jesus died on the cross, he reconciled us to God, or restored a relationship that had been broken since the fall of Adam. Everyone has an inherited natural hostility toward God, and God recognizes everyone as enemies. Jesus mediated between God and man at the cross, taking upon himself the enmity between God and those for whom he died. Reconciliation is closely related to the satisfaction gained by Christ's propitiation and the redemption bought by Christ's ransom. As the wrath of God was turned away at the cross, the channel of God's blessings was also opened to those who had been God's enemies. Since God's justice is satisfied, and man's ransom has been paid, nothing hinders God from granting his people all the blessings of adoption. God brings those who were his enemies into his family as children, and enables us to rejoice in him rather than hate him. He promises us eternal life in a new earth where there will be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. (See Romans 5:1, 6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 4:1-7; Ephesians 1:5-10; Colossians 1:21-22; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:15)

Example for Man – When Jesus died on the cross, he provided an example of loving humility and perseverance in suffering. The cross was the place where Christ not only became the substitute, but also the example to be followed by those for whom he died. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, yet he left all the comfort and pleasure of his status behind to live as a man and die on the cross. In this event, he reconciled us to God and he also reconciled us to one another. In the same way that man is a natural enemy of God, man is also a natural enemy of other men. The heart of man is full of hatred and futility. By looking ahead to the reward of Heaven, Jesus was able to endure the suffering of the cross, taking our wrongs upon himself. In doing this, he gave us an example to follow, in that we can also take the wrongs of others upon ourselves for the joys promised in Heaven. (See 2 Corithians 8:8-9; Philippians 2:1-8; 1 Peter 2:2:20-25)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Can Anything That Difficult be True?

We live in such a comfortable country, with such amazing temporal prosperity, indoctrinated with so much therapeutic garbage, bombarded by messages espousing perpetual personal satisfaction at any cost that I doubt the following text of Scripture will even penetrate our ears.

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it" (Matthew 19:3-12).

As various cultures seek to make sense of the world, and force what they want out of life, they will naturally come up with acceptable ways of thinking and behaving. In Israel, the culture had grown to the point where they had marriage, divorce and remarriage in a similar method as we have in our own culture. The Roman culture was very similar in values to Israel's in this area, except that they didn't have all sorts of rules to make it all seem righteous. Rome was an open free for all, whereas Israel was a subtle, manipulative free for all - thus, the charge of hypocrisy. So our host cultural values in America seem like a kind of meld between the two - certain sexual lifestyles consistent with Rome's values are shunned as they would have been in Israel, but folks have found their ways around the rules to indulge the same desires as the Romans. It was into this kind of mess that Jesus first spoke his words, and they fit well with our own context today.

I'll give the simplified version of the above text for the sake of brevity:

"So whatcha think of no-fault divorce, Jesus?"
"The same thing I think of all divorce - it's wrong."
"Well if it wasn't God's will, why did Moses tell the people to get divorced, Mr. Radical?"
"Because you're a hard-hearted rebel, Moses let you divorce, but those days are over. You don't get divorced unless you find out the one you're engaged to has sex behind your back before your wedding day. Only then can you decide to not consummate the marriage. If you're already married, and you get divorced and remarried, you've committed adultery. You can't separate what God joined together."

How do you think folks who heard that conversation would respond? Would you believe Jesus? What if you were someone who was contemplating marriage? Would you second guess your decision? What if you were stuck with a jerk spouse? Would you have any hope of improvement upon hearing Jesus' words? We know how the disciples responded. Again, I'll break it down for our modern ears to hear:

"Good grief, Jesus! If marriage is that permanent, I can't imagine why anyone would want to get married at all. Now I know why they call it a ball and chain! It's just not worth the risk of getting a loser spouse."
"Oh, I know it's hard to hear. It hurts your ears so badly that only the ones who are given understanding will even accept it."

So the disciples responded exactly how we would respond upon hearing the radical nature of marriage. According to Jesus, you have one shot. Let me repeat. According to Jesus, you have one shot. Just one. If you blow it, and pick the wrong one, too bad. If your spouse turns out to be a jerk, too bad. If your life is really hard because your spouse is a terrible decision-maker, too bad. If your "true love" finally walks into your life five years into your marriage, too bad. If your spouse gets an injury that prevents sex forever, too bad. If your spouse has lost that lovin' feelin', too bad. If your wife is contentious, too bad. If your husband is selfish, too bad. If your wife burns everything she cooks, too bad. If your husband refuses to take out the trash, too bad. If all you ever do is fight all the time, too bad. If you are from Venus, while your husband is from Mars, too bad. If you are from Mars while your wife is from Venus, too bad. If Brad Pitt happens to see you in the mall and falls head over heals for you, too bad. If Angelina Jolie stops by your house to ask for jumper cables and wants to run away with you, too bad. If Oprah and Dr. Phil and Uncle Sam all join forces to tell you it's alright, too bad. If every religious leader you come to says it'll be okay this one time, too bad. Too bad, too bad, too bad. If you're not dead, you're not free.

Does that sound too difficult? We have this way, in our comfortable therapeutic age, of dismissing as untrue anything that sounds too radical to be happy with. We place the highest value on self-determination. No one, including God, has the right to demand from us what we don't want to demand from ourselves. If it gets in the way of our self-actualization or our self-fulfillment or our selfish desire for immediate pleasure, then it simply cannot be reality. The same was true in Jesus' day, in people's hearts even if it wasn't flaunted as a cultural value.

That's why Jesus brings up the eunuchs. Eunuchs, among other things, served in courts of royalty because there wasn't much danger in them getting the hots for the female members of the household. How does a eunuch illustrate Jesus' point? Well, first of all, eunuchs are servants. Servants serve. They aren't self-determining. Others make their decisions for them. Second, eunuchs from birth probably didn't have much say in that little bit of surgery that would affect the rest of their natural lives. Maybe they wanted to have children someday. Too bad. Maybe they wanted to have chest hair. Too bad. Maybe they didn't want to be around a bunch of rich, hot chicks while not being able to want them. Too bad. Maybe they didn't want their anatomy to be treated like a pet dog. Too bad. What was done to them at birth, or at capture, would be carried with them the rest of their lives. Once the deed was done, there was no going back. They were eunuchs till death, with no chance of altering the future.

Then there are the ones, like Paul, who might as well have been a eunuch. Without actual surgery, Paul declared himself to be a eunuch by his actions. Jesus did as well. What do I mean by this? I mean that certain parts of their anatomy were totally useless because of the priorities they set in building the Kingdom of God. So as the disciples started pouting, "Why get married at all then, if you gotta stay that way the rest of your life?" Jesus answered, "Oh, poor babies. Might as well be eunuchs." And in using eunuchs as an example, Jesus was just as surely pointing to himself. He denied himself the pleasure and burden of marriage.

I think the reason folks want to get divorced is because they're looking ahead. I know very few who get divorced and not remarried. Surely Jesus wouldn't demand that we stay in an unhappy marriage, especially when there's so many other "eligible" people out there. Surely Jesus wouldn't deprive us of the highest satisfaction we are able to achieve for ourselves. Surely Jesus wouldn't expect us to stick with a decision for the rest of our lives. Surely the words, "What God has joined together, let no man separate" was just a rhetorical flourish and overstatement for the sake of the ceremony. Can anything that difficult be true?