Friday, September 30, 2011

A Love That Lets You Die

Thanks, Greg Koukl, for blogging about this.  I'm not a lock-step follower of John Piper, but his perspective on pain and suffering is not only solid, it's thoroughly biblical.  In a recent sermon, he noted this: 
"“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore [because of this love], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” He did not hurry to his side.... How is that love? John has gone out of his way to set this up. Jesus loves them... Therefore, he does not heal him but lets him die. Why is this love?
Jesus... said in verse 4: “This illness does not lead to death [in other words, the point is not death]. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” This illness will turn out for the glory of God, and the glory of the Son of God. This illness will put the glory of God on display. It will make Jesus look amazing.
Therefore (verse 6) love lets him die. Love lets him die because his death will help them see, in more ways than they know, the glory of God.
So what is love? What does it mean to be loved by Jesus? Love means giving us what we need most. And what we need most is not healing, but a full and endless experience of the glory of God. Love means giving us what will bring us the fullest and longest joy. And what is that? What will give you full and eternal joy? The answer of this text is clear: a revelation to your soul of the glory of God—seeing and admiring and marveling at and savoring the glory [of] God in Jesus Christ. When someone is willing to die—or let your brother die—to give you (and your brother) that, he loves you."
Here is the potential soundtrack for this sermon from Jon Foreman:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Countercultural View of Marriage

In a blog committed to honesty about life, this needs to be said:  We should be encouraging Christian young people to get married sooner rather than later.

There is a fascinating and depressing article out that you can read here on that very issue. I'm not going to repeat it.  Instead, I offer the following to go with the article.

1) For most of human history, people got married young.  Sometimes it was out of economic necessity, or it was an arranged marriage or the brokering of a treaty.  I'm not saying it was always ideal.  I'm just saying that was the reality. In the past 100 years alone, the average age of marriage in men has risen two years for men and 4 years for women. 

2) The age of puberty is much younger now than it used to be.  In other words, children through most of human history were entering into sexual curiosity and maturity at a later date - sometimes much later.  There is a lot of speculation as to why girls in particular are entering puberty at increasingly young ages, (the average age is 9.7 years now) but nobody disagrees with the fact that they are.

3) Historically, the struggle for Christians who wanted to have sex but had no biblically appropriate way to express this urge was usually short-lived. In Bible times, women were entering puberty at 13-14 and boys at 14-15, and getting married usually before they were 20. True love did not have to wait long.

In other words, there was a biblically moral sexual outlet available for most people not long after the onset of sexual desire; the time required to stay focused on the "wife of your youth" (as Proverbs puts it for the men, with the corresponding "husband of your youth" for the women) was challenging but brief.

So fast forward to the 21st century, where the average age of puberty has now dropped to around 10 for girls, and pornography is available 24/7, and every song on the radio seems to celebrate the hook up culture, and our idols live a life on Jersey Shore that celebrates a mind-boggling amount of promiscuity, and the overall cultural message of "choice" permeates EVERYTHING, to the point that a postmodern generation has a very, very difficult time committing to anything, while at the same time being told they should experience everything.

And we, the church, say: "Wait as long as you want to get married!  Start a career. Follow your heart. Be sure you are financially ready. Date for years and years if you need to. Oh, and don't have sex or even mess around or watch anything with skin showing."

That's a terribly contradictory message. We have bought into the culture of choice, then wonder why our youth choose badly; we believe that self-determination and personal ambition is more important that commitment and self-sacrificial community, then wonder why people are so selfish; we have bought into the cultural lie that marriage stifles freedom and creativity, then wonder why no one wants to get married anymore; we have absorbed the mindset that the financial, physical and emotional drain of children can't possibly be a satisfactory replacement for the privilege of being adult adolescents, then wonder why our kids won't give us grandkids. We are so afraid that our children will marry badly that we encourage a life trajectory that ends just as badly more often than not.

My wife married me when she was 18. I was 21.  I wasn't out of college; we were broke and naive about a lot of things.  But our paren's said, "If you're going to get married, get married."  Good call.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Stars Are Holding You Tonight

“I remember the time you told me about when you were eight
And all those things you said that night that just couldn't wait
I remember the car you were last seen in, and the games we would play
All the times we spilled our coffees and stayed out way too late

I remember the time you sat and told me about your Jesus
And how not to look back even if no one believes us
When it hurt so bad sometimes not having you here, I sing…

Tonight I’ve fallen and I can't get up…”

    The lead singer of FM Static, Trevor McNevan (who is also with TFK), wrote this in memory of his brother, who died young.  I love how the chorus simultaneously captures the crushing weight of grief and loss ("I've fallen and I can't get up") as well as the hope that gets us through ("the stars are holding you").
     It reminds me of another song about stars from Switchfoot that highlights a much broader human condition, and hints at a much deeper solution.

“Stars looking at a planet, watching entropy and pain
And maybe start to wonder how the chaos in our lives could pass as sane
I've been thinking about the meaning of resistance, of a hope beyond my own
And suddenly the infinite and penitent begin to look like home

I've been thinking about everyone - everyone, you look so empty…
But when I look at the stars…I see someone else”


Thursday, September 22, 2011

"It's Probably Something You Did"

"One of my favorite things to tell a child is if it’s raining that God is crying. And if they ask why I tell them it’s probably something you did. "        ~ Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy.

   Statements based on misconceptions about God can be amusing, especially on Saturday Night Live. But when adults hold the same distorted views, there can be trouble.

    It's very disheartening to know that whenever a major "act of God" happens, an adult follower of Christ will show up on some news show and say the equivalent of what Jack Handy said.  But it's not funny anymore, because the speakers are not cute kids or comedy sketch professionals.  They are people who see natural disasters and genuinely think the best thing to say to the victims is, “It’s probably something you did.” 

What we think about God has in impact on what we think about the world.  If our view of God is flawed, our understanding of the world will be flawed.  

   Baylor University did an extensive study on the connection between a person’s view of God and how they live their life.   The conclusion:  "You learn more about people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God than almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of church attendance or belief in the Bible."  The primary reason for a person’s position on "hot button" issues was not socio-economic status, or level of education or church attendance of belief in the Bible.  It was a person’s view of God. 

We spend a LOT of time lobbying, and writing letters, and facebooking, and emailing, and calling, and spending money to influence how people think about cultural issues.  If Baylor's study is correct, we are completely missing the point.

If we, the people of God, could understand and represent God accurately, perhaps all these other issues would fall into place. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WLJN interview, 9/21/11

After 42 years of NOT being on the radio, I had two book interviews in 3 days.  Thanks, WTCM FM and WLJN.  Here is a video of the interview with WLJN today (really, it's just the audio with some pics in the background so it doesn't get too boring.  But it might get boring anyway...)

Monday, September 19, 2011


     I have a lot more yet to understand about the importance of fearing God, but right now I’m here:  All of us will fear something – it’s part of our human nature on this side of heaven.  

     I have a friend who fears unhappiness, and he cannot find peace until he feels happy. So when he is not careful, he reveres or worships happiness, and he tries to keep the Commandments of the Happy:  Thou shalt never be bored; thou shalt never never do stuff you don’t want to.   And when he feels unhappy, he fears unhappiness even more, and tries to hold to these false commandments even harder. Happiness is hard taskmaster.

    I have a friend who fears being defined by others, so she reveres or worships self-definition (authenticity) and keeps the Commandments of the Self-Defined:  Thou shalt do what you want. Thou shalt not care what others think you should do.  Thou shalt self-express and discover yourself no matter what the cost.  And when she feels defined or trapped by others, she fears even more, and tries even harder to keep the Commandments of the Self-defined.

What do you most long for – what do you revere and worship - and what are the commandments you keep? 

   Do you fear poverty?  The commandments of the rich control you.  In Wall Street we trust, and we panic when we lose a AAA rating, as if that rating will make our lives good.
   Do you fear loneliness? The commandments of the Noticed control you.  Reality TV is easy to make fun of, but a lot of people who don’t get on TV will do anything to be seen.
   Do you fear sickness? The commandments of health gurus control you.  I am astonished at how we follow fad after fad for one less wrinkle and an extra year of life.
    If you fear these things, you will obey the commands of the moneymakers, the attention-grabbers, the health gurus, and they will fail you.  
     There is only one thing we can fear that can also save us, and that’s God.  The very things that can scare us – His power, His holiness, His purity, His Presence- are the only things that can give us ultimate hope.
    Ancient advice still rings true: “What does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Dueteronomy 10:12)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Job and Suffering

I've always been under the impression that Job's friends were idiots.  I have usually skimmed their speeches because Job said they were wrong, and because God rebukes them in the end.   So I was surprised yesterday when I was reading the first speech to Job and thinking, "This sounds pretty good, actually."  I felt a little... unsettled.

Job's response didn't help.  Job didn't say "You speak falsely."  Job's response is basically, "This does not apply to me."
I've finished the first round of speeches, and so far I'm observing that Job's friends are correct in what they actually say in a broad, general sense (as in, they are speaking proverbs and maxims about God and life that usually apply) but the distortions creeps in in what they don't say. They have seen God, but not clearly. They understand part of God, which is very different from understanding all of God. From a Christianity Today article on Job and his friends:

Where then did Job's three friends go wrong? They reduced all evil to "retributive suffering," which is caused by sin and disobedience to God. But there are seven other types of suffering mentioned in the Bible: educational or disciplinary suffering as in Proverbs 3:11 or Hebrews 12:5-6; vicarious suffering, as in the case of our Lord's death on the cross; empathetic suffering, where one person's grief affects many others, as Isaiah 63:9 illustrates; evidential or testimonial suffering, as in the first two chapters of Job; doxological suffering for the glory of God, as in the man born blind in John 9; revelational suffering, as in the case of the prophet Hosea's wife abandoning him; and apocalyptic or eschatological suffering that will come at the end of this age.

While we cannot deny that the issue of suffering in the lives of God's people, such as Job, still contains a good deal of mystery, it is just as much a horrible misconception to declare that suffering is God's normal route for every believer as it is to declare that God's goodness means life will always result in prosperity and riches for those who serve the Lord.

Monday, September 12, 2011

America's Idol; China's Revival

     The BBC has noted an interesting development  in China.  The rise of capitalism is driving Chinese young people away from not only Marxism, but also away from community and family. The Chinese societal structure is rocking, and oddly enough, Christianity is the beneficiary: 

For the young, in the stampede to get rich, trust in institutions, between individuals, between the generations, is breaking down.  As one of China's most eminent philosophers of religion - Professor He Guanghu, at Renmin University in Beijing put it to me: "The worship of Mammon… has become many people's life purpose.  I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied... will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly."
      I have written before about the dangers of capitalism's siren call. Odysseus lashed himself to the mast so he wouldn't give in to the song of deception; we download it in our ipods and use it as a soundtrack for our lives.   I love the free market system, don't get me wrong, but as an economic system it has it flaws.  Capitalism does not equal godliness, as we so often conclude.  What lesson should we Western Christians take away from what is happening in China?  We embrace capitalism as the proper economic way for Christians to express themselves and use their money; in China, that very same economic principle is driving people to Christ because they are empty and disconnected.  
Hmmmmm.  Either the Chinese Christians or the American Christians don't understand the spiritual implications of capitalism.  I'm going with us.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In a Daydream, I Couldn't Live Like This...

In my quest for facing life honestly, I have been drawn to the music of needtobreathe.  I love the music, but I am at times profoundly moved by their lyrics.  Here is verse one from one of my favorites, "Something Beautiful":

"In your ocean, I'm ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin' on my feet
It's like I know where I need to be
But I can't figure out, yeah I can't figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There's only one way to figure out
Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown?"

It's really worth listening to the whole thing.   

     We tend to view all threatening oceans as coming from other people, or a corrupt culture, or Satan, and they all can certainly play their part.  But how often do we attribute the tide to God Himself?  Satan desires to "sift us" to destroy us; God desires to drown (or consume us) us to bring us back to life.  It is an idea that will either undo you or invigorate you.
      Their is a lot of uncertainty as we go through life:  What's around the corner?  Where will I be in five years?  Will my job survive the economy?  Will my marriage get better?  What if my kids go to jail?  Is this sickness going to go away? Can I handle the next thing God allows or sends my way?  
     To quote the song, there are daydreams in which we have all we want.  God makes our lives perfect in this dream; the oceans of life will never be more than ankle deep.  But as the song says, "When I wake up..."   When we wake up,  we will see a life permeated with the presence of God in everything,  and we will realize that what we want and have are insignificant compared to what we need: something beautiful that can be found only in the depths of Christ. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Saddest Song Ever Written

    When Gene Eugene of Adam Again divorced Riki Michele, he wrote what he called "one of the saddest songs ever written."  He used an analogy between his marriage and an odd event in Cleveland, Ohio:

"And i could be happy and you could be miserable;
I'll pull a metaphor out of the air: 
The Cuyahoga River on fire." 

    In addition to the haunting melody, River on Fire captures how stunning the breakdown of our lives can be.  The analogy works on several levels.  First, there are times we look at events around us and think, "This can't be happening.  I must be dreaming."  It's what we feel at accidents; at funerals; at court hearings.  Second, it captures how distorted the world is on this side of heaven.  Rivers should not be on fire.  Marriages should not have to fail.  Children should not have do die.  The economy could not have taken my job...
    I confess: I like melancholy songs. The remind that this world is not my home.  There is a place where rivers and fire will know their proper places, and the Gene Eugene's of the world are finally  at peace. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Absent Fathers; Empty Kids

     Speaking honestly about family can be difficult as more and more of us experience the ripple effect of fractured homes.  To really acknowledge the importance of an intact home can appear to be mean or insulting to the people involved, or seem to put a scarlet D on parents - and children.  But if we can't speak truly about the family, what can we speak truly about?
     In an article today, Science Daily has some interesting things to say about parents, particularly dads:  

"Compared with other children with absentee dads, kids whose fathers were active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behaviour problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older -- even among socio-economically at-risk families...."

     The study showed that kids don't necessarily do poorly without their fathers, but on the average the impact of a father is crucial.  This is not the first study to show this, and I'm sure it won't be the last.
     As a son blessed with a good father, I grieve for those who have not or will not experience the blessings of a good dad.  As a teacher and coach, I will do my part to fill a void in the kids whose dads are gone.  As a pastor, I will pray that God provides a Father's formation in those whose dads have left them alone.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I remember after dad died wondering whether memory was a blessing or a curse.  Some thoughts were so sweet and real, that I reached out, eyes closed and arms extended, to futilely and longingly hug my long gone father.  Other times, I would see pictures or videos in which he strutted the stage falsely - he was no longer alive - and I wished my memory would fade. The water of my tears could not spring new life from the graves of the dead. The photo albums gathered dust.  My cheeks remained dry.  I took the "me" out of memory. 

I was reading a post at Dawn Eden's site today (The Dawn Patrol) featuring a great quote from an article by (then) Cardinal Ratzinger on the importance of memory:

"[It] is only the person who has memories who can hope. . . . Recently a counselor who spends much of his time talking with people on the verge of despair was speaking in similar terms about his own work: if his client succeeds in recalling a memory of some good experience, he may once again be able to believe in goodness and thus relearn hope; then there is a way out of despair. Memory and hope are inseparable. To poison the past does not give hope: it destroys its emotional foundations."

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Sadness of Happiness

Mark Buchanan is a great communicator with a lot of good things to say about life.  From a recent blog post:
      "I know the sadness of sorrow is great. But the sadness of happiness is great, too: to have loved and been loved, deeply, and then to endure the inevitable separations and losses life brings. Love makes us vulnerable. Simply, in love we wound easily."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unwashed masses yearning to be clean...

    I spent the weekend participating in ceremonies full of symbolism.  At a wedding the bride and groom mixed colored sand to show the intermingling and beauty of their new life together, then exchanged rings to visibly show that their marriage, like the metal on their fingers, would endure. On Sunday, our church baptized 11 people.  These were all just symbols, right?
   Yes, I suppose they were, but symbols intertwine with our lives.  Think of our national flag, of the Statue of Liberty, or your college's colors you wear on the weekend no matter even if you are a U of M fan.  They're not just a colored cloth, or a metal statue, or dyed sweaters.  Symbols mean something. I have worn a ring for 20+years; it is a symbol, but it is more than that, too.
    I was reminded during the baptisms today that I love the symbols of my faith. 
     Somewhere inside, all of us know we could be better.  As Switchfoot sings, "The sickness is myself - I've made a mess of me; I want to get back the rest of me."  Christianity is honest about this dilemma.  We feel dirty and unclean, and no amount of scrubbing we do seems to fix the problem.  Jesus offers to clean us up and set us free from the stain of our failure, our sin.  
     We read in the Bible of baptism as a symbol of commitment to Christ, but it is simultaneously a symbol God uses to send us a message, too:  We, the unwashed masses, can finally be clean.  Our feet are dusty; our clothes are soaked with sweat and grime; our faces are streaked with the trails of tears trickling through the dirt and shame on our faces.  
    Baptism shows the world our commitment to Christ, and reminds us of God's ability to make our hearts and lives new. 
     We, the once unwashed masses, can finally be clean in the ways that matter most. 
     And who can sing about this better than needtobreathe?


Saturday, September 3, 2011

When Crying is a Privilege

If we could look at life honestly, without filtering real life through the lenses of what we wish were true (as opposed to what is true),  our lives would be more satisfying, our future less stressful, and our faith more stable.  There are a lot of areas in which we struggle with this tension - sex, money, popularity, comfort, relationships, emotions...  God made them all, of course.  He understands the world, and He understands us.  His Word is meant to help us view life as He sees it, not as we want it to be.
   More on our perspective on pain and grief from (in an article entitled "Pain"):

He comes to share our burdens, and we say "Couldn't you just make us comfortable?" He offers the privilege of sharing His sufferings so that we may share His glory, and we say "You call that a privilege?" Yes, and when He promises that one day He will wipe every tear from our eyes, we say "We would rather not cry in the first place."
We want a God whose goodness is of some other kind than His holiness. And so when John Donne writes "Truly ... affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it," we gape as though Donne were a madman — and to the eyes of the world, I suppose he is.

Friday, September 2, 2011

China's abortion policy: "Boon" or "Gendercide"?

The AP seems to think China's one child police is a boon for girls (see the First Things link below). From the article:

"Crediting the one-child policy with improving the lives of women is jarring, given its history and how it’s harmed women in other ways. Facing pressure to stay under population quotas, overzealous family planning officials have resorted to forced sterilizations and late-term abortions, sometimes within weeks of delivery, although such practices are illegal.
The birth limits are also often criticized for encouraging sex-selective abortions in a son-favoring society." 

Hmmm. Doesn't sound like a boon.  The UN has the facts, and UNICEF has a more brutally realistic view:

"Still, 43 million girls have “disappeared” in China due to gender-selective abortion as well as neglect and inadequate access to health care and nutrition, the United Nations estimated in a report last year.
Yin Yin Nwe, UNICEF’s representative to China, puts it bluntly: The one-child policy brings many benefits for girls 'but they have to be born first.'”