Is it “luv” or is it love?

BTS - Boy In LuvWhen I was high school, I remember having a “crush” on a girl. She was a cheerleader (from an opposing team) whom I met after a football game we had just played. I was all grubby and muddy in my uniform and as I was walking off the field she came up to me and told me what a great game I had played. We had mutual friends that went to her church and just seemed to have a lot in common, including our faith. She got my attention; she was so cute and she was talking with me! Now, I was not a shaker and mover when it came to women, but I also wasn’t stupid. I got her number and told her I would call her so we could “finish our conversation.” Not bad, heh?

She was all I could think about; I couldn’t eat, sleep, and time seemed to stand still until we could talk again on the phone. (Yes, we did have phones in my day, but they were attached to the wall.) Man, I was in love! It was a match made in heaven! I found my “soul mate!” OK all you counselors out there; was it love? It was real, but it was really a classic case of infatuation or what I call “luv” (pronounced “loove,” that’s what the word sounds like in country and western songs). It was a neurological condition that was totally involuntary (BLAM), difficult to control, and temporary. I will spare you the details of how things played out, although I bet you are dying to hear. Suffice it to say it did not last. Thank God that we have not been made to sustain that level of luv for very long because the whole world would grind to a halt, everyone would starve, and no one would be able to sleep.

My brain would not allow me to process any information other than trying figure out how I could be with her and how I could keep other guys away from her. When the fog of luv lifted, my brain was able to evaluate her as a person (and vice versa) and to see who she really was. I often hear people say after a break up, “S/He wasn’t the girl/guy I thought they were.” Those are the words are true and spoken either when you come out of denial or out of the coma of luv.

Gary Thomas in his terrific book “The Sacred Search” says that the nature of infatuation is the very reason we need to wait (he says at least two years) to get to know someone before we marry them. We need to overcome the desire to look for a “soul mate” by a search for a “sole mate.” He says, “A sole mate is someone who walks out with us (the “sole” of a shoe) the biblical command to seek first the kingdom of God. This is all about the shoe-leather application of biblical love… This isn’t a love based on feelings; it’s based on sacrifice (John 15:13). The Bible calls men to act like martyrs toward their wives, laying down their own lives on their wives’ behalf (Eph 5:25). Titus says that older women should train younger women how to love their husbands (Titus 2:4)… Martyrdom on behalf of your wife? Being trained… to love your husband? These passages alone are enough to tell us that within marriage, love is not an emotion; it’s a policy and a commitment that we choose to keep in the harshest of circumstances.”

Using an image borrowed from CS Lewis: luv may be the explosion that starts the engine of marriage, but biblical love is the fuel that keeps the marriage running so that it accomplishes something for the Kingdom of God.

If I Were Offered A Million Bucks…

a million bucksLet me ask you a question: If someone offered you a million dollars, would you take it? Are you serious? Yep. Of course I’d take it; why wouldn’t I? Well, what would you use it for? I don’t know but I’d find something. One more question: If someone offered you a million pounds of roofing nails, would you take them? Probably not. Why not? I don’t need them, and besides, where would I store them. OK, do you need a million dollars? Well, no, but I think could find a use for it; why do you ask so many stupid questions?

Someone has said that wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. Similarly Socrates is supposed to have said something to the effect that poverty does not consist in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed. Thus it would seem that the best insurance against poverty (and greediness) is to minimize our wants, because it’s human nature to keep wanting more and the more you have, the more you want.

I am not trying to minimize poverty, especially the two-thirds-world kind, but here in America possessions do funny things to us. When we have the basics (shelter, food, clothes, job), we are fairly happy, although we do worry about dealing with emergency situations like getting sick or going to the dentist. However; when our wealth increases, we tend to enjoy our new found status and security for a few months. Then something happens; we get used to having more (the new normal) and any downward deviation makes us feel “poor.” Not only that, but we look around at others (usually not those poorer, but those wealthier) and grow dissatisfied with what we have because our wants have increased. When we get more, we want more. When we want more, it is never quite enough. “Just a little bit more, and then I’ll be happy,” our inner voice says.

Tucked away in Proverbs 30 is a very insightful section (v.7-16) in relationship to money and possessions. The writer prays that God would keep him from two things: “Remove from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty or riches, [but] feed me with the food that is needful for me… lest I be full and deny you…lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” Perhaps it was this section of Proverbs that influenced Paul to write “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Phil 4:11) Then the writer of Proverbs goes on to say, “The leech has two daughters; Give and Give. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’; Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough.’”

Paul learned to be content because whether he was facing want or plenty he was able to say, “Enough.” He learned the secret of contentment because he knew that he “could do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) If anyone had offered Paul a million bucks, I think he would have said, “No, thank you. I have enough.”

Over the next two Sundays, we have challenged the folks in our church to pick one of those Sundays to tithe a portion of their pay for that week or two-week period. We have committed ourselves to raise $25,000 worth of food for Children’s Hunger Fund that we will pack into 2000 boxes as a part of our worship service on March 2. It is also our desire to develop a team of people who will deliver this food over the next several months to folks in our community who are in need, thereby building a relationship with them.

When I tithe, I acknowledge that whatever I have (including what I do not give) belongs to the Lord. Additionally, tithing puts a gun to my greed and allows me to draw a line in the sand and say, “Enough, Lord, I have enough; I trust you for my needs and ask you to muzzle my wants so that others may experience your generosity though me.”

The Dark “Night” of Suffering

NightI just finished reading a small disturbing book written by Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. “Night” is a chilling tale of his experience in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps as a fifteen-year-old. The book is not for the faint of heart because the account of the sheer cruelty of the Nazis is appalling.

Upon his arrival in Birkenau by cattle car, Elie and his father were separated from his mother and sisters, whom they would never see again. The Jews were evaluated to determine whether they should be exterminated or put on the work detail. Elie and his father are deemed fit enough to work, but as they were herded to the prisoners’ barracks, they were taken past an open-pit furnace where the Nazis are burning babies by the truckload.

“The Jewish arrivals were stripped, shaved, disinfected, and treated with almost unimaginable cruelty. Eventually, their captors marched them from Birkenau to the main camp, Auschwitz. They eventually arrived in Buna, a work camp, where Elie was put to work in an electrical-fittings factory… A vicious foreman forced Elie to give him his gold tooth, which was pried out of his mouth with a rusty spoon. The prisoners were forced to watch the hanging of fellow prisoners in the camp courtyard. On one occasion, the Gestapo even hung an eight-year-old boy who had been associated with some rebels within Buna. Because of the horrific conditions in the camps and the ever-present danger of death, many of the prisoners themselves begin to slide into cruelty, concerned only with personal survival. Sons begin to abandon and abuse their fathers. Elie himself began to lose his humanity and his faith, both in God and in the people around him.” I won’t tell you any more of the story just in case you want to read the book for yourself.

Behind the physical and emotional struggles, the book revealed the spiritual struggle of this young Jew raised in the Torah and Cabala (teachings of Jewish mysticism). For me, the key paragraph in the entire book summed up that struggle: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night…Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever…Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams into dust.”

He uttered a similar cry when he witnessed the hanging of the little boy who tragically did not die immediately because he was too light for the rope. “For more than an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes…He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not glazed. Behind me, I heard a man asking: ‘Where is God now?'” How would you answer that question? I am not sure that anyone could at that moment because the absolute evil of that event would have sucked our breath away. However, eventually you would need to process your experience and help someone else through theirs.

The Foreword to the book was written by Francois Mauriac, with whom the author became friends later in life. Mauriac’s words are stunning. “And I, who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner, whose dark eyes still held the reflection of that angelic sadness which had appeared one day upon the face of the hanged child? What did I say to him? Did I speak of another Jew, his brother, who may have resembled him- the Crucified, whose Cross has conquered the world? Did I affirm that the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine, and that the conformity between the Cross and the suffering of men was in my eyes the key to that impenetrable mystery whereon the faith of his childhood had perished?…The Jewish nation has been resurrected from among its thousands of dead. It is through them that it lives again. We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Eternal is Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to Him.”

There are no easy answers to the problem of suffering. However, we believe that at the heart of suffering itself is the Cross and “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:3-5). “And the last word for each one of us belongs to Him.”

Feeling a Little Neanderthal Today?

neanderthal_genes_t470There was an article yesterday in the Chicago Tribune about the latest theory that some of our human ancestors (Europeans and East Asians) mated with Neanderthals. Such trysts gave our forebears important evolutionary advantages, but may have created a lot of sterile males that wiped out through natural selection much of the primitive DNA heritage owed to these cavemen.

The comparison of the genomes from Neanderthal remains and modern humans, published online Wednesday in the journals Nature and Science, identified specific sequences of altered DNA that were shared. Even though much of the borrowed DNA code that helped humans adapt was eliminated, the strongest remnant of our Neanderthal heritage appears to be centered around as-yet unknown changes in skin and hair that likely proved advantageous (also some unhelpful things like diabetes). “The group of genes that stand out are genes that code for things in the skin, particularly keratin, which is a structural component of skin, and another group of genes that are keratins in the hair also pops up,” said geneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, one of the authors of the research.

So I guess you can conclude that if you have zits or are having a bad hair day, just blame it on the Neanderthal in you. Am I making fun of this? Yes. The Bible does not use the term “caveman” or “Neanderthal,” and according to the scripture there is no such thing as “prehistoric” man because the book of Genesis records events which precede the creation of man. “With that said, the Bible does describe a period of traumatic upheaval upon the earth—the flood (Genesis 6-9), during which time civilization was utterly destroyed except for eight people. Humanity was forced to start over. It is in this historical context that some scholars believe men lived in caves and made use of stone tools. These men were not primitive; they were simply destitute. And they certainly were not half ape. The fossil evidence seems to indicate that cavemen were human—men who lived in caves.” (S. Michael Houdmann read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/cavemen.html#ixzz2rwRz2QFn)

Back to the article on Neanderthals; it is one thing to suggest mating, but this “scientific” study claims that the reason why an estimated 1 to 3 per cent of the human genome comes from Neanderthals was because members of the two species may have mated perhaps 300 times about 50,000 years ago! How in the world did they come up with this? Did they have security cameras in the caves back then? Oh, and because the genetic signature is slightly larger among East Asians it was suggested that a “second wave” of mating took place among them; what population geneticist Joshua Akey called “a two-night stand theory.”

To be fair, there is not a lot of agreement about Neanderthals among evolutionists, but these bizarre theories exist because no one wants to admit that God created humankind as a separate and fully developed species. There may have been variations in the size and form, skulls and brains, customs and habits, tools and culture as the years went by, but they were all humans capable of spiritual awareness and worship, communication, society, and development (Genesis 2:19-4:12). Most evolutionary scientists consider the Genesis account a myth and yet they do not even blink at the myth-like theories to which they resort to prove the existence of prehistoric man. “They find a misshapen tooth in a cave and from that create a misshapen human being who lived in a cave, hunched over like an ape. There is no way that science can prove the existence of cavemen by a fossil. Evolutionary scientists simply have a theory, and then they force the evidence to fit the theory.” (Houdmann)

So if you are having a bad hair day, don’t blame it on the Neanderthal in you. Instead, use it as an opportunity to say with the Psalmist “My flesh and heart (and my hair) may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

The Day the Vortex Wobbled…

polar vortexEarly this week, the Chicago area experienced abnormally cold weather that had a significant impact on the schedules, schools, and safety of millions. We learned that the villain was something most of us had never heard of before, the Polar Vortex (or the Arctic Oscillation). “It is a circulation of strong winds that normally surround the northern pole in a counterclockwise direction; a polar low-pressure system. These winds are of sufficient velocity to keep the bitter cold air locked and loaded over the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.” On occasion, this vortex can slow down and become distorted and dip much farther south than you would normally find it, which is exactly what happened this week. I like how one meteorologist pictured it when he said that the polar vortex “wobbled.” He explained that usually it spins around the North Pole region like a top; and just like a top that begins to slow down wobbles, so the vortex wobbled.

I know that most people do not think like this, but it got me thinking about my life. What kind of negative impact do I have when I wobble? I am not describing my physical walk (hopefully I am not wobbling yet), but my spiritual walk. I think of when Aaron wobbled and made a golden calf which led Israel into idolatry; when Moses wobbled and struck the rock for water instead of speaking to it as God commanded and was kept from entering the Promised Land; when David wobbled that night on his rooftop when he saw Bathsheba taking a bath and which led to adultery and murder, or when he wobbled and took the census and caused a plague of punishment to fall on Israel; when Joash wobbled into unfaithfulness at the death of his trusted counselor Jehoiada and then killed the prophet sent to warn him of his disobedience; when Gehazi wobbled and took the reward from Naaman that Elisha refused, and then lied about it and became a leper.

I could keep on with this litany of wobbles, but I need to make application to myself. I know when the velocity of my love for God slows down and I become distracted by things other than God’s Word and my desire to apply it to my life— it is then I begin to wobble. My love grows cold and I have the potential of being a negative impact on others. I know when that happens and can feel it in my soul. It is at that precise point I need to do something and not let the wobble continue. The most important thing I can do is to preach the gospel to myself. It drives me to repentance (not penance) and to the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. Do not misunderstand— I am not saying that I become a Christian all over again. What I am saying is that for the wobbling Christian, repentance and belief in the gospel is in the present tense. The same gospel that saves us is the same gospel that sanctifies us. The repentant heart is the sign of new life and the blood of Jesus Christ “cleanses us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

So are you wobbling? Do something about it lest you become a hazard to yourself and others around you. Repent and believe the gospel!

Disappointed?

feeling-disappointed[My blog is a little longer than usual. It is based on my Christmas Eve (2013) meditation preached after a dramatic presentation of the book of Ruth.]

Perhaps some of you were a little disappointed with the content of our service tonight. It may have seemed strange that we told the story of Ruth and Boaz instead of Mary and Joseph. “Didn’t seem very ‘Chrismassy’ to me; not what I expected” you might have said.

However, life doesn’t always happen the way we expect, does it? Naomi never expected her husband or her sons to die. Ruth never expected her husband to die and to have her life become entwined with her mother-in-law Naomi. No one prepared them to live as widows in a culture where one had to have a husband or a son to protect her. In addition, no one expected Naomi’s distant relative (Boaz) to fulfill the role of redeemer; marrying Ruth and providing protection and care for Naomi, as well as a grandson, who became the grandfather of the great King David, and the 24x great grandfather of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed. -Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. -Linus

Poor Charlie Brown; life is like that though, isn’t it? There is often a gap between what we expect and what really happens, which is what often leads to disappointment. Maybe some of you are disappointed in your marriages because they are not what you had hoped they would be. Still others of you are disappointed in what your life has become; it is not anything like you had dreamed about when you were young. Maybe for others, like Charlie Brown, Christmas has become a disappointment because you have recently lost a loved one, or you are going through economic hardship, or maybe you just think that God no longer cares for you.

Our disappointments, on the one hand, are an ever-present reminder of the brokenness of life. On the other hand, our disappointments are a reminder that we need a redeemer. One website psychologist offered this advice for dealing with disappointment: “We might try and prepare and devour some delicious food, with our favorite beverage… in the company of family, of lover, of friends. Also, we might try and do some magic breathing exercises of power, or we might try and do some more social sport, some swimming, or go and diligently till a garden, so that we may forget that our life is so boring, or so disappointing.“

However, like most of us know, escapes are momentary, but brokenness stays until we are put back together again. Boaz redeemed the brokenness of Ruth and Naomi by his action. The word redeem means more than just to buy or take back; it also means to repair, to restore, and to help. It is a beautiful word; and so Boaz was a redeemer to these poor women.

What we want you to know on this Christmas Eve 2013 is that the brokenness of your life can be restored by the One who is greater than Boaz—Jesus Christ. We are not saying that He prevents bad things from happening—like Sandy Hook, just a year ago—because our world is broken. We are saying, however, that Jesus can restore, repair, and help you in your brokenness. He has promised to those who trust in Him, “‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5)

This is the essence of what Pastor Martin Niemoller (himself a prisoner) preached to a bunkroom of skeleton-like prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp on Christmas Eve 1944: This is what is so singularly (unique) in the Christian message of salvation, which tells us, “You need not go to search for God; you should not imagine that he is far from you and is not concerned with what crushes you! He is here and is close to you in the man who, as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, was lying in a manger. All your need is so far from being alien to him that on the contrary he gave himself freely to bear it with you.” Whoever can grasp this in faith is not forsaken in prison and in death; for in the worst darkness he may say, “Thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me.”

An incredible message of hope embedded deep within a world of despair! Is Jesus Christ your Redeemer? Have you come to him in all your brokenness and sin and asked him to forgive you and help you? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

I close with this quote from J.C. Ryle, a 19th century Anglican Bishop and lover of God: Oh, you who want unfailing comfort, I commend you to Christ! In Him alone there is no failure. Rich men are disappointed in their treasures. Learned men are disappointed in their books. Husbands are disappointed in their wives. Wives are disappointed in their husbands. Parents are disappointed in their children. Statesmen are disappointed when, after many a struggle, they attain place and power. They find out, to their cost, that it is more pain than pleasure, – that it is disappointment, annoyance, incessant trouble, worry, vanity, and frustration of spirit. But no man was ever disappointed in Christ.

“Butt-dialing” and the Providence of God

Butt-dialing-cell-phone-005Last week, Reuters carried this story with the headlines: ‘Butt-dial’ call foils suspected Arkansas murder plot. The more discreet of us would call it “pocket-dialed.” Anyway, a would-be Arkansas murder plot came undone when one of the suspected co-conspirators sat on his phone and “pocket-dialed” the targeted victim, who heard details of the planned hit and alerted police. James Macom, 33, last week overheard his former employer Larry Barnett, 68, telling a suspected hit man to “make the killing look like an accident.” The potential victim contacted police and filed a report at the station and returned with police to his home, where an intruder had apparently broken in and started a gas leak. Barnett apparently “was looking up Macom’s contact information on his phone to give to the hit man and accidentally dialed the number from his pocket” [so it was pocket-dialed], police said. Barnett was arrested last week for conspiracy to commit murder. Jonesboro, where the incident occurred, is 120 miles northeast of Little Rock.

I have been preparing to preach a sermon this Sunday on Tamar and Judah from Genesis 38. This account is a part of the larger story of God’s providential care for Israel (through Joseph and his famine-relief plan) and ultimately for the world through the Messiah, whose lineage is traced back to this unlikely couple, Judah and Tamar. Divine providence is the means by and through which God governs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things. This includes the universe as a whole (Psalm 103:19)), the physical world (Matthew 5:45), the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human birth and destiny (Galatians 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of his people (Psalm 4:8). Islam also has a very interesting belief in the decrees of Allah (Qadr), but that will be for another time.

Some folks would argue that this concept of God destroys any possibility of free will. If God is in complete control, how can we freely make our decisions? In response, I would ask a few questions of my own. Is it really true that in order for our will to be free, there must be some things which are outside of God’s sovereign control? What if that were true? Would it not possible for us to somehow slip through the cracks? Paul says in Philippians 1:6 that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” If God is not in control of all things, then how can we believe that he can make good on his promise?

In addition, if God is not sovereign, then he is not All-Powerful because there would exist contingencies outside of God’s control—namely, our “free will” which can trump providence. In my recent blog on this subject, I mentioned that the solution is not found in pitting human freedom against divine sovereignty or creating a hybrid of the two (as in Islam). Rather, we should keep the tension by holding them in “antinomy”; the apparent incompatibility between two seemingly irreconcilable truths which are both held as undeniably true. Thus divine providence does not destroy our freedom, but mysteriously works together with it and through it to accomplish God’s justice and righteous purposes in this world.

Dave, are you trying to say that this butt- (I mean pocket) dialing incident is part of God’s providential care for his universe? Yes. Are all pocket-dialing incidences providential? Probably not, but then again we don’t know what they eventuate in, do we? We do know that not every evil situation is prevented from happening by God’s providence, however, a biblical worldview would suggest that there may be more than we will ever know.

Oh No, Not Predestination!

rubber bandIf there is one thorny theological issue that has totally baffled some and completely angered others, it is the issue of predestination. One cannot escape from the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty and that human affairs are ordered according to his divine will. At the same time, one cannot deny that the scripture genuinely assumes the very real responsibility of humankind for its free choices and actions. How can you possibly believe in both without diminishing one or the other?

I think that the problem lies in the conflict that arises by our efforts to reconcile both of these biblical realities into a rational system in order to escape the tension of holding them separately. What usually happens is that we end up majoring in one while minoring in the other. It may come as a surprise to many that the Arminian/Calvinist controversy originally began when Jacobus Arminius (who was a Calvinist) did not question election, but the concept of unconditional election. However, I don’t want to get into that.

I was reading 1 Kings 12, a very strategic chapter about the division of Solomon’s kingdom due to the unwise actions of his son Rehoboam. In verse 15, we read: So the king (Rehoboam) did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which he spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. In other words, the Lord had already planned to divide the kingdom by giving the 10 northern tribes to the usurper Jeroboam. Here is an example of how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility crash into each other and produce confusion. How can we understand this without defanging God or making robots out of humans?

We cannot try to synthesize these concepts by our finite reasoning. This will always produce a hybrid that is even worse than the Affordable Health Care Plan. We must hold both of these concepts (God’s sovereignty and human freedom) together without trying to figure out the middle ground between them. J.I. Packer, in a classic that should be in your library, “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” uses the word antinomy to describe a helpful way of thinking about this apparent discrepancy. He defines antinomy as “an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths….exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable….each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other.” Antinomy differs from a paradox in that the latter is a figure of speech or a play on words that tends to unite polar opposites. Antinomy holds two truths together in the tension of divine mystery.

Thus God’s plan for Israel was carried out not by the poor robot Rehoboam, but by the free choice of the new king to accept either the counsel of the old wise guys or the foolish counsel of the young whipper-snappers. However, in the end, God brought forth Redemption from the tribe of Judah through the Messiah. We need to hold such a mystery in antinomy in order to understand the wide-sweep of scripture, as well as the profound meaning of oft-quoted passages, such as Romans 8:28: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The understanding that “the good” is being accomplished in the face of life’s suffering can only be grasped by those who believe that God is utterly sovereign, and who, at the same time, freely love him.

LOSER!!!

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute wrote her thoughts about this week’s passing of the Gay Marriage Bill in the Illinois House of Representatives. She shared some of the emails received from “ardent supporters of genderless faux-marriage. “You Lose. Loser!!!!!!!!” “How does it feel? Really bad? Imagine a lifetime of people as evil as you against birth of a child living in misery. No more! Retire, all your work did nothing and means nothing!!! Marriage equality wins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yayyyyyy, slam dunk in your face, freak!!!! “Reminder, Score: equality 1…Illinois Family Institute and NOM – ZERO!!!!! F U !!!!” “Ha ha! Ha ha, Laurie. You do still have the blood of gay-bashing victims dripping off of your bigot fingers, yet you live in a state where the gay people are going to have federal level equality. Your life is a waste. I think it would be a good idea for you now to kill yourself.”

Certainly not all the supporters of gay marriage are as intolerant and hate-filled as the people who wrote the above responses. Ms. Higgins opined that the defeat of Biblical values was due in part to the fact that “far too many religious leaders claim the church should not be involved in political issues. But what if political issues are first biblical issues? During the slave era, should churches have remained silent as Scripture was twisted to justify slave-holding (just as it is twisted today to justify same-sex pseudo-marriage)? Was it right that so many Christians refused to stand for truth during Hitler’s reign of terror? Should Christians have refrained from participating in the Civil Rights marches in the 1960’s?”

Something in that criticism does not ring true anymore. The slavery issue, Nazi Germany, and even the Civil rights issue were played out against a Christian consensus. In other words, the dominant culture was Christian and functioned on a biblical value system. This is no longer the case today. Our culture has past the point of no return where decisions are no longer made on the basis of biblical morality. In fact, the time has now come when biblical values are not only seen as intolerant, but as bigoted and unjust. In the not too distant future, mark my word, Christianity will be targeted as uncivil and may even be legislated against (like it was in the 1st century). We already see this is small ways—a case before the Supreme Court where a town council in upstate NY was sued because they had prayer before their meetings that was of a distinctly Christian nature.

This cultural shift has been taking place for a long time and we need to see that is the pattern of rebellion against God’s truth that is present in every age. However, it will be more and more characteristic of every culture as we move towards the Day of the Lord. The Bible never gives us the idea that our world is going to get better and better before our Lord returns and yet somehow we are totally bummed when we lose a battle in the culture war. 2 Timothy 3 vividly portrays the godlessness of the Last Days, and Paul specifically says “in fact, everyone who wants to lie a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It may be gay marriage 1 and biblical marriage 0, but remember the lions (not Detroit) always outscored the Christians in the Coliseum.

I was a pastor of a church in Massachusetts where on May 17, 2004, that state became the first one to legalize gay marriage. In spite of all our efforts, the measure was passed, not by the legislature, but by the State Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote. I know what it is like to be slandered and hated because I was not in favor gay marriage. I never thought it would be possible that such a situation would ever take place in America. However, I had a choice to make; either to seek victim status and try to distance myself and my church against my culture, or to see the increasing desperation of my culture to find happiness apart from God as a greater opportunity to live out and speak the gospel. I was reminded of that last night as I watched My Hope by Billy Graham. It is the message of the Cross that will change and transform. Somehow the darker things are, even the faintest light makes a difference.

A Family Tragedy … 2

www-St-Takla-org--20-David-weeping-over-the-death-of-AbsalomOne of the most tragic portions of the Old Testament is found in 2 Samuel 18:33, “And the king (David) was deeply moved (upon hearing his son Absalom had been killed) and went up to the chamber above the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” Last week I asked you to think about what the key issue was that if properly addressed might have prevented this tragic family situation? Many of you responded very perceptively and I think that most of you noted it was because David did not deal properly with the rape of Tamar—in fact, he did not deal with it at all. He was not only the King but also the Judge of Israel and yet, he did not do justly. Amnon was not confronted, nor was he made to take responsibility for his deed.

Absalom was not only angry at his half-brother Amnon for the rape of his sister, but also angry at David for his lack of justice. While Absalom’s murder of Amnon two years later cannot be justified, it can be understood. Once again King David made a terrible mistake and allowed a crime to go unpunished, because it was committed by a member of his own family. David did not carry out God’s justice for disobedience to his laws and commandments and allowed his ambivalent family relations to get in the way of conducting righteous leadership.

Absalom returned to Jerusalem and two years later demanded to see his father David. “Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” Absalom essentially sought a full pardon, but showed no sign of repentance. He believed his father would not put him to death. When he went in to see the king “he bowed down with his face to the ground. And the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam 14:32). King David indulgently forgave his son and gave him a semblance of reconciliation with the royal family, but totally ignored the need for repentance and justice. David was not authorized to pardon his son because of his conflict of interest. A court of impartial judges should have dealt with the matter.

These mistakes in godly leadership eventually led to the fulfillment of the curse Nathan pronounced on David years earlier for his sin with Bathsheba. 2 Sam. 12:10-12, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.’” Does this mean that all of this tragedy was inevitable as a punishment, or did it mean that God knew David’s heart (just like he knew Pharaoh’s) and he knew the outcome? I think the latter. If David was half as concerned with his family, and sought God’s wisdom for it as much as he was about beating up on the Philistines, he could have prevented this tragedy. It could be argued that Absalom might have rebelled anyway, but it wouldn’t have been justified (in his mind, at least) by his father’s indulgent passivity.

A general application of all this is certainly the importance of dealing with issues as they arise. Don’t let them fester or else they might create complexities that seem overwhelming and impossible with which to deal. The other take away is meant particularly for fathers. If you were as passive and detached in your job or ministries as you are in your family, where would you be right now in your employment? Might I suggest you would be unemployed or without a ministry? Turn your heart and your attention towards home. May you weep for your children now, so you won’t need to weep for them later.