Deep Wounds and Hello Kitty Bandaids

Hello Kitty bandaids work better than normal ones; this is scientific fact, indisputable. Ask my nieces. Given the choice between a plain beige bandaid and a Hello Kitty one, they will choose the Hello Kitty one 100 times out of 100. They’re medical miracles. They dry up tears, stop pain, and return a three-year-old to normal play mode as quick as a wink.

They also don’t work on a deep wound.

Everyone knows this when it comes to physical injuries. Your child slices her arm open, and you’re rushing for the car keys, not the bandaids, Hello Kitty or otherwise. Worse, your child is diagnosed with some chronic disease or illness, and you know that no amount of licenced products are going to help.

But reveal a struggle with depression, or anxiety, or panic attacks, or dark, spiraling despair, and suddenly the same people who would advise a 911 call and some prompt medical attention, or long-term medical treatment, are handing out bandaid answers like you just skinned your knee.

Today I read of a husband’s agony as he watched his wife struggle with post-partum depression. The comments section was character bandaids galore: make sure she’s getting enough B vitamins! one commenter insisted. Don’t forget to make confession of sin part of your daily life, said another. No, no, don’t use the Hulk bandaids, no one likes those. Have these bandaids instead!

All I can say to that is… don’t.

Just… don’t do that.

Friends, sin is not always, or predictably, the cause of suffering. Jesus rebuked the pharisees for thinking that a man’s blindness resulted from his sin or that of his parents. Suffering does not always seem to have a purpose; sometimes it doesn’t seem to have a cause, or a reason, or an origin. It’s not always taken away when we pray (2 Cor 12), or even when we treat it medically (Luke 8).

But for the Christian, suffering is always part of the hard providence of God, never escaping his notice or care, never catching him off guard. Satan himself must seek God’s permission to trouble us, and his power is always limited — how much more must the suffering we experience be controlled and limited by a loving and watchful Father!

True suffering defies and confounds tidy, pat answers. If the tools with which we approach it don’t go beyond a range of bandaids with superheros and cartoon characters splashed across them, we will have no comfort to offer those who desperately need it.

Advertisements

Living in One Room

“Do you refuse to take seriously what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say? Then build a room where the Bible doesn’t matter as much as your general ideas of Christianity. Does your version of Christianity refuse all critiques and evaluations? Then build a room where your religion is flawless. Do you want to conveniently divide the world into the good people who nod and smile and the bad people who ask questions? Then build another room.

“Build a room for your money. Build one for your porn addiction. Build one for your flirtations and affairs. Build one for cheating, greed and racism. Build a room where your rudeness, laziness and dishonesty don’t matter. Build one for your ambitious backbiting and betrayals of co-workers. Build a room where you get to see your children the way you want to see them, not the way they are. Build a room that exactly fits your church, then lock the doors. Build a room for your politicians and their worldview. Build a room that controls whatever you want to hear and protects whatever conclusions you are unwilling to ever question. […]

“Or let me suggest another project. Instead of building more rooms, why not tear some things down? Tear out some walls. Become, as much as possible, one person, in one life, for one audience.”

— Michael Spencer

?!??!?!??!?!??!

Believe it or not, in 2009, renewable energy sources had a smaller share of U.S. primary energy than they did back in 1949. Sure, wind and solar have grown dramatically in recent years, but in 1949, renewables—almost all of it hydropower—provided 9.3 percent of the country’s energy needs. In 2009, renewables—again, much of it supplied by hydropower—provided 8.2 percent of U.S. energy.

via Oil and gas won’t be replaced by alternative energies anytime soon. – Slate Magazine.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGH!!!

Lent, Day 2: In which the top of my head shoots off.

OK, I have to get this off my chest. Sorry it’s such a long, rambling bit of nonsense. If it’s too long and rambling and nonsensical, I won’t be offended if you skip it. 😉

Fellas: you are misinterpreting data, to your own frustration and the frustration of many, many single women around you. In 2011, a woman who has a career and a college degree (maybe even an advanced degree) and a mortgage, who pays her bills on time and takes her own car to the mechanic and hasn’t lived with her parents in ten years is not necessarily, by definition a raging feminist who thinks she needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Nope. She is NORMAL. Got that?

Tip: that’s the summary. If you’re sufficiently convinced, feel free to stop right here. Need more persuasion that you oughta change your mind? Read on, my friend.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, women in the business world were rare. The average age of a first marriage was still in the early-mid twenties for both men and women. And the message from Western culture was loud and clear: Sisters, get into work. You can still decide to have children later, after you’ve gone up the ranks in your job, after you’ve accomplished something “real.”

Add to this the shame that generation of feminists heaped on men: you’re irresponsible, power-hungry, insensitive; you’re someone to be resented and competed with, boxed in, restricted, pushed aside, stepped on.

But, guys? That was thirty years ago. Somehow, it seems, too many Christian men are still being taught to see career, mortgage, and financial stability in a woman and interpret that as “feminist, not wife material, run far far away”!

I grew up being taught not to waste time or money sitting on my hands, and that it was ungodly to waste my gifts and opportunities. You know who taught me that? Not just my mother, though she certainly did. No, it was the women who had, thirty years ago, bought the lie that they could subjugate their God-given desires, that those desires were wrong, that “wife” and “mother” were not the most honorable titles they could seek, but that they were rather titles to be avoided. These women, who learned through bitter experience, taught me to cherish my God-given desire for marriage and motherhood, but also to seize whatever opportunities the Lord put before me. They passed on their experience and wisdom, and started to break down that paradigm.

In my bitter moments, I want to sock every Christian single guy who whines about modern women being overly independent, and tell them that, if they didn’t propose to a girl in college, it’s their own fault there are all these career women running around. But in my better moments, I just want to be helpful.  So let me help you.

Most of us, brothers, are working, paying our bills, getting promotions, working on our degrees, and all those other things, not because we  don’t  want to get married and have children.  It’s because we had the opportunity to use our gifts in a job, or use our finances more wisely by buying instead of renting, or develop our skills with an advanced degree, or whatever… and haven’t had the opportunity to get married and start a family. Most of us would happily re-arrange any or all of those things for the right man, if given the chance.

If I have one word of caution, it’s this: guys, you tiptoe toward slandering your sisters when you silently accuse them of selfishness, unhealthy independence, and unbiblical attitudes toward femininity just because they have careers and mortgages — love, after all, believes the best about people. You are misinterpreting the data, and coming to wrong conclusions. Don’t be put off by a woman who makes a decent living at a job she’s good at, a woman with an advanced degree, a woman who owns a home. Don’t assume the worst about her.

Thirty years ago, a power suit and a mortgage might reasonably have meant this was a woman who didn’t want marriage and family. It doesn’t have to mean that anymore. Got it?

From Sunday’s Sermon

A paraphrase of Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks, regarding a person believing himself righteous based on being less sinful than the person next to him: When you are in Hell, suffering God’s wrath for all eternity, will it comfort you to know that you are better than the person next to you?  Gotta love those straight-shootin’ Puritans.

There was apparently a time when people who worked on large wheat farms were taught to escape a sudden oncoming bush fire this way: they were to burn the area around them, stamp out the fire, and try to get down into the dirt as much as possible.  This way the fire would go around and over them but would have no fuel where they were laying, leaving them unharmed once it passed.  In the same way, we cling to the cross of Christ because it is the only place where God’s wrath has already been poured out and spent.  When the day of judgment comes and God’s wrath falls, we will be safe in Christ.

In Which I Am Reminded of An Important Truth

(Incidentally, doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a chapter in Winnie the Pooh?  If it said “Pooh is” or “Piglet is” instead of “I am” especially.  Or if it ended with “Important Truth About Hunny.”) 

I was reminded recently of something very important, which I either didn’t realize or had forgotten.  A dear friend sent me a brief text with just a couple of sentences addressing something I’d been angsting about — honest words that stung a little, to tell you the truth.  It wasn’t a sermon or a long conversation, just something I really needed to be reminded of about my affections.  Which I’ll come back to.

I’m a pretty cerebral kinda gal.  Being cerebral is one of those characteristics that’s a lot like the Girl with the Curl from the nursery rhyme: when it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid.  The good part is that I love to think deeply and ponder and muse and learn and wonder and teach my students to do the same. The horrid part is when I get so far inside my head that I can’t escape, and what ends up happening is that I live an almost parallel life, some self-narrated alternate reality in my head until I’m so wrapped up in it that everything about real life seems less real and far, far more disappointing.

So back to the affections.  Jonathan Edwards wrote of the affections that they “are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.”  Wait, what?  Are you trying to tell me that my affections are exercises of my will?  To be used sensibly and thoughtfully, not merely letting them light wherever they want, but to be directed and applied in a godly way?  Far out.

In that self-narrated alternate reality that’s constantly competing for my attentions, I have allowed my affections to be directed toward things and circumstances and people thoughtlessly.  Rather than choosing to set my mind on — to direct my affections toward — “things above” as the Scriptures say, I have too often chosen to allow my affections to be cast about by my mood, my temperament, my situation, and countless other factors. 

I needed (and am very grateful for) the reminder that my deepest affections belong only to God.

Pride is a Trap. No Really.

A blog-acquaintance of mine just put up some musings about homeschooling and asked about a particular curriculum she’s thinking of using for her kiddos. It got me thinking.  Schooling is one of those topics that can turn mild-mannered Christian parents into red-faced UFC contenders in the time it takes to say “unschooling.”  It’s ridiculous, and I see why it makes people so neurotic — even once you’ve decided on public or private or home, you still have to choose between classical! Montessori! Charlotte Mason! Waldorf!  And then curriculum!  Do you go for the tried-and-true Abeka even though it’s KJV-only?  Or Sonlight?  Or Veritas?  Or one of those online accreditation things?  Or WHAT?  And then methodology — five days a week, 8-3, nine months a year?  Or something else?  Dedicated school room or kitchen table?  Or picnic table?  Or the table in your RV?  No wonder so many threads about homeschooling end with people getting all capsy and BUT YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!  WROOOOONNNNGG!

That reaction?  Is all about pride.

So I was amping up to do a thundering post about pridefulness in schooling choices, when it hit me: I am just that bad about my “stuff.”  People who watch Glenn Beck.  People who send their kids to school with a can of spaghetti-o’s for lunch three days a week.  People who use the N-word.  People who tell rude jokes about Obama.  People who roll their eyes at women who want a natural birth… All those people just get my blood pressure going.

And that reaction is ALSO all about pride.

AUGH.

Criticism

Some days I wish I lived in the pre-internet age.  Or was Amish.  Or something.  Days like today, when I see a beautiful quote from a respected, wise, older brother in Christ, and then I see someone else, someone who claims the name of Christ, making snap judgments and hateful accusations about that man’s character and doctrine.

Friends, we have to learn — I have to learn — to temper our words when we’re on the internet.  We must.  The commands of God not to entertain accusations against an elder without corroboration do not cease to apply online.  I’m convinced that a great many Christians are experiencing personal stagnation in their growth in Christlikeness because they constantly allow bitterness, anger, self-righteousness, lovelessness, and pride to gain a hold on them in the comments sections of Christian blogs.  How often do we see characteristics and actions  that belong to the realm of death in people who call themselves by the name of Christ?  Gossip.  Slander.  Malice. 

How foolish!  How our enemy must laugh with twisted delight when we use God’s language for the Devil’s purposes.

In Which The Lord Takes Me To the Woodshed

An acquaintance of mine just got engaged this weekend.  I was quickly skimming her engagement story, and starting to get pretty sad, and was just about to come write a real emo post about how I need to quit reading engagement stories because they make me feel discontented with what God has given me, blah blah blah.  But just for the heck of it I went to Tim Challies’ blog, and what should appear but this post which links to this prayer which is all about desiring just one thing — to see the beauty of our God.  Ouch.  OK, Lord, I read you loud and clear.

“I will shout on that Day what I sometimes only half-heartedly whisper in this day, ‘My God has done all things well!'”

Lovelessness

Terry’s blog, Breathing Grace, has encouraged me so many times I can’t even tell y’all.  In the midst of a discussion on women’s roles and responsibilities, she said something that CUT ME UP.

“If I homeschool using Charlotte Mason, wear a dress I sewed myself that grazes the floor, cook a gourmet meal every night and melt in your mouth biscuits every morning and have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Ouch.


I’m not a wife or mother, I don’t buy the whole “there’s no such thing as women’s pants” thing, I for sure don’t cook a gourmet meal every night, and if I baked biscuits every morning I would weigh 800 pounds.  But what about all the other externals by which I choose to measure my godliness?


“If I do my morning devotions in the Greek New Testament, have bookshelves full of Puritan writings, can quote big chunks of the Bible from memory, and have not love, it profits me nothing.”


“If I grow my own food, eat only natural, locally-raised meat, make my own cleaning supplies, and bake all my bread from scratch, and have not love, it profits me nothing.”


“If I write insightfully on profound topics, teach classics and languages with theological overtones, read obscure and difficult books, and have not love, it profits me nothing.”


Also, this is my 300th post.  That’s a lot of words.

Evangelism and the Single Girl

I stink at evangelism. Really. I can’t remember the last time I shared the Gospel, or even had a spiritual conversation, with an unbeliever who wasn’t a) related to me and under age ten or b) my student. No, I can, it was probably with one of my neighbors in the apartment complex I lived in two and a half years ago. The only reason I knew my downstairs neighbor, Jasmine, is because she liked to listen to hip-hop while studying at 1 a.m., and the only reason I knew my across-the-hall neighbor is because he was completely insane, not unlike several of the other people who lived there. I don’t think I ever told you about the time that one of the downstairs residents kidnapped (catnapped?) my next-door neighbor’s cat and refused to return it.

Anyway, I digress.

I live by myself in my condo, which I totally love about 75% of the time, particularly when I don’t feel like cleaning. The other 25% of the time, I feel either like a cloistered nun (who, uh, is on Facebook) or a weird recluse. Good thing I don’t have any cats. I’ve met a few of my neighbors, and they’re nice people, but I haven’t felt comfortable going door-to-door and introducing myself or trying to form relationships with them. And herein lies my problem.

I totally believe that God has put me in this place for this time. It’s not an accident that I live here, or that I have the neighbors I have. But what’s a single girl to do? This is a pretty good-size metropolitan area I live in, and while it’s quite a safe neighborhood, you just never know. I honestly don’t feel right about going out by myself to knock on doors — apart from the safety issues, what do you do with the propriety issues that arise, like finding yourself on the front steps of a house full of college-age boys? But how else besides meeting my neighbors am I supposed to even be in contact with adult non-Christians?

It’s a very angsty issue for me, really. I want to be wise and safe, but I must be obedient.

I don’t have any concluding thoughts, because I haven’t concluded my thinking on this subject. If anyone has any suggestions, insights, or practical considerations, I’m all ears. Or whatever the online equivalent of ears is.

Davidson vs. West Virginia

U.G.L.Y.
You ain’t got no alibi–
You ugly! Yeah, yeah, you ugly!

M.A.M.A.
I know how you got that way–
Yo’ mama! Yeah, yeah, yo’ mama!

Man. Last night’s Davidson vs. West Virginia game, the first of the Jimmy V double-header, was the ugliest basketball game I think I’ve ever seen. The Cats made the Mountaineers look like the JV squad in the first half, ripping up the WVa defense and sending their coach’s blood pressure (which seemed to be an issue anyway) through the vaulted ceiling of Madison Square Garden. The balance of the game tipped seriously in Davidson’s favor when the Mountaineers’ only remaining guard, who had been tiptoeing around the court trying not to re-injure the shoulder that kept him out of WV’s last game, slumped off the court toward the locker room six minutes in, with another shoulder contusion.

Then Davidson spent the next twenty minutes trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as Curry went cold for more than a dozen field goal attempts and the team battled against a reinvigorated WVa defense.

The Wildcats (whose roster boasts players from five states plus Quebec, Sussex, Turkey, and Nigeria) seemed to be trying to give up a win to a team playing without their two starting guards, a team that missed 12 of their 29 free throws, and who never had more than a four point lead. But the Mountaineers snagged a massive 32 offensive rebounds to the Cats’ 12, which kept them in the game — though, as a Davidson fan, I’ll of course chalk this up to the fact that West Virginia is a taller team at every position.

It was a weird game. Davidson’s coach, Bob McKillop, who is a cool character in most situations, exploded at his team during a mid-second-half time out. Even the unflusterable Curry grimaced and shook his head after missed shots, while his cowed teammates tried to keep him fired up.

Finally, in the last five minutes, the Cats gelled, turning up their defense, using clever inbounding strategies, bouncing off screens, and feeding the ball to Curry, who at last sank three after glorious three. I ask you: can that kid cut, or can that kid cut? He’s smart, he’s fast, and he can stop on a dime; WVa’s defenders didn’t have a blessed chance against his quickness and shot selection once he remembered how to play basketball again late in the second half. A drive, some fancy ball handling, two steps back… and voila. A hard-fought win.

Stuff

Random list time!

Stuff Christians should stop freaking out about:

1. Halloween. Dude. What a bunch of wasted energy is poured into the anti-Halloween lobbying that happens every year!! Is Samhain a pagan holiday? Yup. Is Halloween a pagan holiday? Uh, no. It’s primarily the Eve of All Saints, and secondarily a cutesy Hallmark-perpetuated candy orgy/ excuse for little kids to dress up and show off their dressed-up-ness. Let your kids trick-or-treat, don’t let them trick-or-treat. Whatever. But please don’t try to convince me that the Bible says it’s wrong for Christians to let their kids put on Superman capes and go door to door asking for candy. Please.

2. Disputable issues like consumption of alcohol, R-rated movies, tattoos and piercings, birth control, etc. Read Romans 14, and remember that we’re not to look down on people who don’t feel freedom in these areas, nor judge those who do.

3. Politics. Christians can vote, be involved in their community political processes, argue passionately for their political positions, and even (in some circumstances) run for office. Should they hang all their hopes of their country being transformed for the better on a political party, politician, or ideology? Definitely NOT. The Kingdom of God isn’t Republican or Democrat or Green or Labour or any other such thing, and it won’t be advanced by the (conscious) efforts of secular political machinery. God will advance his Kingdom.

4. Anecdotes that “prove” our points. We’re so eager to latch onto this or that bit of scientific or archaeological or historical or sociological evidence that confirms our positions (like in this Boundless article), but we roll our eyes when pagans and atheists do the same (like with the ossuary found a few years ago containing the bones of a dude named Jesus son of Joseph). We ought to take an attitude of quiet confidence when it comes to these sorts of discoveries. Of course history, archaeology, and the like will confirm and support the Scriptures — God did, after all, create everything and all truth belongs to him — but that’s not why we trust the Scriptures. We trust them because God has, by his incomprehensible grace, enlivened our hearts and enabled us to see in the Scriptures the testimony of Christ, his perfect Son and our atoning sacrifice. So we should be glad, knowing that the Scriptures are true, when some new affirmation of their historicity comes to light, without placing our hope or confidence in those discoveries.

Stuff Christians should get more fired up about:

1. Nominal Christianity and twisted “Gospels.” Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, TBN, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Ann Holmes Redding (the Muslim Episcopal priest), and Jeremiah Wright should not be given a free pass by Christians and pastors around the world. Just because someone claims to be a brother in Christ and uses churchy-sounding words does not make him a Christian. And don’t even get me started on hip-hop artists who give a shout-out to Jesus when they win a VMA for their hit single about making sure one ho don’t find out about another ho.

2. Manhood, womanhood, and families. The Scriptures we (supposedly) hold dear are full of instruction about and examples of what godly men, women, and families look like. Something is not right when people who call themselves Christians divorce with impunity, reject and despise God’s blessing of children, and in all other ways look just like the world in the way they live as men and women, and the way their families work. Early apologists and historians appealed to the morality and purity of Christian families as evidence for the truth of the Christian faith. Pretty tough to do that now, huh?

OK, that’s enough ranting and randomness for the day.

Maybe one more thing. I’m watching NCAA basketball RIGHT NOW. AWESOME.

Discernment

In the church, there seems to be an idea that “discernment” means “praying and waiting for God’s specific, personal direction on every decision in my life” — see John Eldredge’s book, Walking with God for a classic example. But is that the view of Scripture? I think not. Such an understanding of discernment leads to several errors:

1. A separation between Christians who “know God’s will,” i.e. the super-Christians that God speaks to, and the “ordinary” Christians who seem not to hear from God about stuff like the color of their wallpaper.

2. Using “discernment” to excuse unwise behavior and even sin. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “Well, I’ve prayed about it for months and the Lord has told me it was OK,” even if “it” was buying a $300,000 house when you’re $60,000 in debt, or living with but not sleeping with your fiance, or being slack in disciplining your kids. Those are not areas about which we ought even to pray. The best advice I can give people who encounter this “God told me” business from people is to remember that it’s not a trump card. We have a responsibility to one another in the body of Christ, and letting someone off the hook just because they played the “God told me” card is hardly showing love to our brothers.

3. Total paralysis in decision-making, stemming from not using your brain and instead waiting for some sign or feeling to show you that God has given you direction. I strongly believe that for the Christian, the ordinary way of making decisions goes like this: Learn, study, and love God’s word. Use the mind that God is sanctifying to make wise decisions. Rinse and repeat. But too many people seem to think that’s just not “spiritual” enough. A Christian’s life IS spiritual — it’s life IN the Spirit! And it can look very ordinary, but an ordinary life lived faithfully still results in “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s not to say that I don’t think God sometimes uses other methods to reveal his will to us — I certainly do believe that he does! But the ordinary way seems to be knowing God’s word and living wisely in accordance with that.

Discipline

There’s been a bit of a dust-up over on Boundless Line lately, regarding a pretty great summary of Mark Dever’s view of church discipline. The usual comments ensued — you can’t kick people out of church for sinning! We wouldn’t have a church! Doesn’t the Bible say, Judge not, lest you be judged? Who are you to say what is a bad enough sin to kick people out? Since when is “membership” a biblical concept anyway? Etc. etc.

It seems to me, in my experience with these kinds of discussions, that people’s misunderstandings about church discipline fall into a few categories:

1. They don’t understand the nature of the Church.

2. They don’t understand the nature of church membership.

3. They don’t understand the seriousness of sin.

4. They don’t understand the nature of church discipline.

Let’s start with the first one. People who get their knickers in a twist about church discipline often seem to view “church” as an activity for people who call themselves Christians — something they do on Sundays and Wednesday nights, a group they’re a part of by choice, but nonetheless and organization that doesn’t necessarily have the right to make any claims on their lives — maybe slightly more that their book club or union or Facebook group, but not much more. They come to Sunday services to get blessed or “be fed” spiritually.

But what is the Church, really? Two things: 1) the Church is true followers of Christ everywhere, at all times throughout history, and 2) the Church is the local gathering of Christians in particular times and places. Paul’s letters, for example, are written to both groups — the church at Rome in the 1st Century A.D. and by extension to all believers everywhere at all times. Let me emphasize what I think is an extremely important point: if you are a Christian — a genuine follower of Christ, not just a “Christian” by default — you are, by necessity, a member of the first group. All believers at all times in all places are members of the first group. But the first and second categories were never meant to be thought of separately. Read Paul’s letters and see if you think that the pioneer of the early church had any category in his mind for a person who was a Christian but not a part of any local church. (I’ll give you a tip to save you a little time: he didn’t.) It’s not optional for a follower of Christ to be consistently out of fellowship with a local body. In fact (brace yourself, people, this is pretty serious), I would go so far as to say that if you steadfastly refuse to join yourself with a local congregation of believers, you are in serious danger of revealing that you are not a follower of Christ at all. And now I’m just going to back away… slowly… slowly…

That leads to the second misunderstanding. There is a whole group of folks in the church, as I mentioned in my previous post, who glance through their Bibles, don’t see the word “membership,” and conclude that any formal affiliation with a church is unnecessary at best and unbiblical at worst. First, I have bad news for those people — the word “trinity” isn’t in the Bible, either. Ruh-roh, Raggy.

Second, there is substantial evidence throughout the New Testament that the pastors of the early churches kept very precise, formal records of the believers they had charge of. I would basically defy anyone to do a careful study of the Jerusalem church in the book of Acts, the job description of an Elder in the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus), and Hebrews 13 and come away with the idea that it’s cool for a believer to sorta hang out on the fringes of a church and never commit to it.

Side note: one of our teaching pastors, Daniel, tells a pretty great little story at the beginning of our membership classes about a guy who falls in love with this amazing, beautiful girl, spends all his time with her, can’t shut up about her… and then three years later, they’re still dating, but not married or even engaged. Of course she’s frustrated, all his friends are saying, “What are you waiting for, dude?” but he keeps telling her, “We don’t need to get married to prove I love you, right, baby?” Well, obviously the story is about us and the church. Of course we don’t “need” to join a church to prove we love it, but we also can’t reap the benefits of commitment unless we’re actually committed!

Well, what are the benefits of commitment to a church, i.e. formal membership? First off, when a church admits you to membership, they’re saying, “We testify to your salvation. We believe and acknowledge that you are a Christian.” (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why walk-the-aisle, sign-the-card “Baptist” membership is so pernicious — if your pastors don’t examine you and make sure you’re actually saved, how on Earth can they be accountable before God for your soul?) What a precious testimony this has been in seasons of doubt! I have often countered the lies of the enemy and of my sinful heart about my salvation by saying, “No! 417 other people, including my pastors, daily witness to my salvation! They see fruit in my life! They believe I am a Christian!” Second, formal membership provides a structure of accountability in a way that mere attendance cannot. You are consciously, intentionally placing yourself under the authority of your pastors, and humbly opening yourself up to be held accountable to a life worthy of the gospel. You’re also taking on the responsibility of bearing the burdens of your brothers and sisters in the church and being willing to call them out when they sin as well.

Speaking of sin… Sin. I’m always surprised to read the “Dear Boundless” letters that deal with couples having sex or living together outside marriage — the writers almost always characterize their behavior as “mistakes” or “slip-ups” or “crossing the line” or some other such convenient phrases; rarely does anyone write in and say, My boyfriend and I have been violating the standards of a holy God every Friday night for three months. We’ve also been dragging the name of Jesus through the mud by our behavior, and we’d like some advice on how to stop being an offense to the Gospel…

But that’s just what sin is — defiance against the rightful Ruler of the universe. Listen, I don’t know if you know this, but God, as the Creator of all things, has the right to rule the universe as he wishes. You don’t go to Iran, dance around on a picture of Muhammad in a town square in a bikini, and then think you’re going to get away with it by calling it a “slip-up” when somebody throws your butt in jail. Sin is a serious, serious matter — why would we look at our brothers and sisters in the church falling into persistent sin and look the other way? We should feel shame at the thought of standing idly by while those who bear the name of Christ deny him with their actions when we could do something about it!

And that’s just what church discipline is, people. Church discipline, at heart, is the Body of Christ refusing to allow the beloved children of God continue in sin unchecked. It is a reminder to those who have ignored the Spirit’s whispers that danger lies ahead.

99% of the time, church discipline does not involve “excommunication.” Usually, the preaching of the Word, worship, the sacraments, and community life are the means the Lord uses to discipline his people. Occasionally, a brother or sister will have to call you out for a particular sin. Less often, someone will have to be confronted in love by the pastors if they continue to live in unrepentant sin. Usually, that person will repent in the course of one of those events. If not — if that person continues to refuse reconciliation and ignore the pleas of his brothers and sisters, acting like he is not a believer — then the church is to treat him in the way he is acting! The problem is, people see Paul’s command to the Corinthian church to treat the adulterous man in their midst “as an unbeliever” and think that means they kicked him out. But doesn’t your church welcome unbelievers? Don’t you pray that unbelievers will show up? Don’t you invite unbelievers to your services?

Church discipline is a beautiful ministry of the local body; I for one am blessed to be a part of a congregation that has the structures for church discipline in place — it reminds me of both the grace and the judgment of God. I pray that I never have to be placed under formal discipline by my church, but I know that my fellowship with them is part of what ensures that I never will!

DAAAAAANG!!

OK, seriously, seriously, people. RUN, do not walk, over to Pulpit-Pimps.org right now. Melvin Jones, site-owner, former Word of Faith/Prosperity church member and, from what I can tell, all-around incisive theological black-belt, is mad as Hell and he is really, no for rilz, not gonna take it anymore. His excellent site is dedicated to exposing the heinous lies, distortions, and perversions of the Gospel that characterize the “ministries” of Word of Faith preachers. Get your heinies over there and read up. You’ll learn, you’ll mourn, you’ll be amazed. Lord willing, you’ll repent and be strengthened in the Gospel. You will definitely be motivated and equipped to kick some righteous tail (metaphorically speaking) the next time somebody suggests that Creflo Dollar and Benny Hinn are ok dudes.

Just a note: those with no sense of humor or appreciation for satire will probably find it offensive. But send the link to your TBN-watchin’ friends anyway. 😉

Look, I gotta include an excerpt from a comments thread. Just imagine. If the comments are this salient, this on point, this compelling, what must the posts themselves be?

Christians in the Sudan are getting tortured and killed by Muslims in the 100s of thousands. Christians in China are forced to go underground because of the tyrannical government. Christian persecution is very alive and well in the world. My question is where is their dominion? Why does the Pastor in the underground Chinese Church only have tattered clothes and MAYBE a complete bible seeing that most are confiscated?

When the Sudanese Christian cries out to the Lord Jesus while his head is getting severed by a Muslim why doesn’t God give him a way out?

Why are Churches NOT speaking out against Homosexuality, abortion, murder, and drug use. Why are the Churches NOT teaching fear of the Lord, repentance of sin, crucifying the flesh, and giving to less fortunate Christians? How many Sudanese Christians could have been sponsored and allowed to come to America with the 10s of millions of dollars spent on the mega churches?

How many Bibles could have been made and sent to China for 10 million dollars instead of the purchase of a new plane? How many Christian mouths could have been fed with the Bentley Paula White purchased for TD Jakes? How many people in American churches may actually sincerely repent if they heard the word of God rather than a feel good whooping and hollering dance session.

When was the last time people left a Church and left with tears of conviction of their sins? When was the last time you felt the awe of such a righteous God in light of your sinful flesh? What are the young in Churches today doing on the weekends? Answer: Living just like the world.

When was the last time a preacher said NO! to sinful behavior and YES! to living a righteous life? When was the last time you taught God was God versus YOU are a little God (Blasphemy)? When was the last time a preacher said that worldly possessions are idols and that these idols of Big homes, cars, planes, and fine suits will one day vanish. When will a Preacher speak up against this vanity which will rot and decay just like our mortal bodies will some day. When?

Well, what are you waiting for? Get over there!!

The Sum of Their Parts

Wow. Wow. This op-ed in The Australian is so insightful that it gave me chills (ht:Craig). Check it out:

Too many girls are trying to imitate half-starved celebrities and airbrushed models in a quest to be hot and sexy. We have allowed the objectification and sexualisation of girls in a culture that is becoming increasingly pornographic. The embedding of sexualised images of women in society has become so mainstream, it is hardly noticed. Everywhere a girl looks, she sees sexualised images of her gender. She’s expected to be a walking billboard for the brands of the global sex industry.

But while redolent of truth about sin working itself out on our young women growing up in an over-sexualized culture, the article turns to the wrong place for its solution. The author suggests:

Positive body image programs in schools should be mandatory, teaching media literacy skills that help young people recognise damaging messages from popular culture.

Unfortunately, no school program could ever hope to address the underlying issue of sinful hearts. We live in a world so fallen that our very culture is an emissary of darkness, and our only hope of restoration comes on the whip-torn back of a bruised and bloody Savior, the God-Man who stood in our place, dying to purchase his bride and rising to conquer sin.

When our Warrior-King returns to set His world right, there will be no need for “body image programs” or campaigns against Botox and crash dieting. Come, Lord Jesus, and restore your perfect Bride!

EDIT: Here’s a link to a video entitled “Evolution” that shows in a pretty fascinating way the deceptive nature of the “beauty industry.”

OK, More Linkage

Pastor Lance, a black Reformed minister in West Philadelphia (born and raised!), has written an appropriately scathing critique of what he calls The Baal Network (TBN). Seriously, welding helmets and HazMat suits need to be in place before you read the full article. Just a taste:

And why did the Lord of glory endure such grievous pain and death? So that you could sow your seed offering, claim your blessing and have yet one more thing to put in your Public Storage locker.

Folks, enough is enough.
These people aren’t in error, misguided or confused. They’re deliberately prostituting scripture, the cross and Jesus Christ to engorge their own debauched greed.

Pour it on, brother, pour it on.

The Chief of Sinners

Dave Harvey, author of the acclaimed book, When Sinners Say “I DO,” gives this beautiful perspective on the sinfulness of our hearts, in a July 2007 interview with Discerning Reader.

I actually borrowed [this phrase] from the apostle Paul in his words to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:15). But it applies to all of us. Yes, really.

Paul didn’t say ‘I was.’ He said ‘I am’—the ‘present-tense’ apostle Paul saw himself as the chief of sinners. […] And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he knew he was capable—given the right circumstances—of the worst of sins and the vilest of motives. Paul was a realist. He wanted to see God and himself truly. No hiding behind a facade of pleasantness or religiosity for him. It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “Look, I know my sin. And what I’ve seen in my own heart is darker and more awful; it’s more proud, selfish, and self-exalting; and it’s more consistently and regularly in rebellion against You than anything I have glimpsed in the heart of anyone else. As far as I can see, the biggest sinner I know is me.”

But in the very next verse Paul says, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”

With the passing of each day, two things grew larger for Paul: his sinfulness in light of the holiness of God, and God’s mercy in the face of it. Knowing both God and himself accurately was not at all discouraging or depressing. Rather, it deepened his gratitude for the vastness of God’s mercy in redeeming him, and the patience of Christ in continuing to love and identify with him in his daily struggle against sin.

Paul’s confession to Timothy presents us with a stunning example of moral honesty and theological maturity: Paul’s acute, even painful awareness of his own sinfulness caused him to magnify the glory of the Savior!

As I’ve studied Paul’s example, I’ve found it to be true in my own life as well.

(ht: Pure Church)

Ouch AGAIN!

OK, OK, Lord! Geez, let it go, will ya? I get it!

Those of us who have very young children know how difficult waiting can be. We live through their annual anguish of waiting for birthday parties. Each day of the week—or, in some cases, the month—before their birthdays roll around, they wake up with the question, “is it my birthday yet?” Finally, the great day arrives, and you immediately have to convince them that 6:30 a.m. is not the ideal time of day for a party. By 6:45 a.m. they are thoroughly convinced that you don’t love them, and that all this talk of a party is nothing but a cruel hoax. At this point, you know it’s going to be a long day!

Don’t we often act toward God like little children? We kick and fuss and scream because we want what God has promised, and we want it now. Never mind that preparations need to be made and that other people need to be invited. But, like a patient and long-suffering parent, God bides his time, neither delaying nor hurrying, until everything is in place. Then—and not a moment sooner—he gives us the good things he has promised.