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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Dirty Underwear and The Meaning of Life

The life of an Old Testament prophet was nothing glamorous by human standards.  They simply did whatever the Lord told them to do.  Said whatever He told them to say.  Numerous times God commanded the prophets to act out unpleasant scenes to serve as timeless visual aids for us.  One such scene is found in Jeremiah 13.  It involved the ultimate meaning of life and dirty underwear.  

The Lord told Jeremiah to buy a new loincloth (the ancient equivalent of underwear).  He told him not to wash it, but just to wear it for a while, then to bury it beside the Euphrates.  Jeremiah did it, no questions asked (Jer 13:1-5).  “After many days,” the Lord told him to go and dig up the underwear.  This was never-been-washed underwear.  Wasn’t washed before it was worn.  Wasn’t washed after it was worn.  It was just worn and then buried beside a river for “many days.”  Now the Lord wants that underwear.

I’ve been accused of being a germaphobe.  I resent the charge.  However, I admit that if I were Jeremiah I might have suggested some alternatives.  “Why don’t we imagine the underwear?  Or maybe we could finish this with claymation.”  But Jeremiah was a good prophet: Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing (Jer 13:7).  

No kidding.  Dirty underwear buried for who knows how long?  “Good for nothing” is an understatement.  I wouldn’t touch it with salad tongs on the end of a ten-foot pole.  So what’s the point?  (That’s the thing with Yahweh’s one-act plays - there’s always a point.)  The Lord explained:

“Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.
 This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.  For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen” (Jer. 13:9-11).

This gets to the heart of life’s ultimate meaning.  God created His people to be good for something.  They do that by clinging to Him, as a loincloth clings to the waste of a man.  The context indicates that “clinging” to God equals serving and worshiping Him alone.  In worshiping the Lord, they fulfill a great and meaningful purpose.  They are His people - they belong to Him.  They are His name - they have an eternal, significant identity.  They are His praise - they live to magnify Him.  And they are His glory - they reflect His character to the world.  

Only to the extent that man clings to the Lord, worships Him, and therefore makes much of Him is he good for anything.  On the other hand, if he follows his own heart and worships other gods, he is good for nothing.  

Did you catch that last sentence?  What is the chief characteristic of the person who is like good-for-nothing underwear, according to Jeremiah 13:10?  He follows his own heart!  Yes, Disney princess movies notwithstanding, the truth is the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer 17:9).  It will inevitably lead you away from the one true God and toward gods of your own making.  10-20 seconds of introspection will testify to this, will it not?  When we follow our hearts, we don’t follow God.  

And when we don’t follow God…we are good for nothing.  Nothing.  What a shameful lie we believe when we think the pathway to meaning is to make our own way.  Pride is at the heart of that endeavor.  That’s the point of Jer 13:9.  Pride motivates us to follow our own heart instead of God.  We want to make much of us, not of Him.  Just like Eve in the Garden.  Ironically, our pursuit of personal significance leads to one place - meaninglessness.  Like rotten underwear.

What a powerful image - the more tightly we wrap our arms around the waist of God, the more privileged and significant our existence will be because we will live and breathe to make much of the Creator, who alone is worthy.  The less tightly we hold to Him the more certain it is that we will be good for nothing.

Toward what false gods is your heart pulling you right now?  Recognize what is going on and resist.  Don’t listen to your heart.  Listen to the Lord and cling to Him.   Be for Him a people, a name, a praise, and a glory.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Feminist Is Right

I’ve just read an article in the Washington Post by Suzanna Danuta Walters, professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University.  The article was entitled, “Why can’t we hate men?”  In it, Walters justifies hatred of men because of the many centuries of abuse that women have suffered at their hands.  Her solution to the problem? "So men, if you really are #WithUs and would like us to not hate you for all the millennia of woe you have produced and benefited from, start with this: lean out so we can actually stand up without being beaten down.  Pledge to vote for feminist women only.  Don't run for office.  Don't be in charge of anything.  Step away from the power.  We got this."  The final payoff of the article: “We have every right to hate you.  You have done us wrong.”  

This is not the sort of thing I usually read to relax, but I truly appreciated the article for its honesty.  I found that this feminist author is undeniably right in a couple of particulars.  However, she is tragically wrong about other things.  While Walters is considered by many to be a militant feminist, where she’s right and where she’s wrong is true of mainstream feminism, as well.  So where is the feminist right and where is the feminist wrong?

The feminist is right…about men hurting women.  It is not only perceived inequality that motivates the feminist.  Women have been harmed by males abusing their authority.  Women have been wronged by men.  Who can deny this?  Read the newsRead the Bible.  Woman, in her natural state, is miserable and it is largely due to how she is treated by man.

The feminist is right…that something needs to be done.  A problem as old as recorded history calls loudly for a solution.  The feminist is right to recognize this and to expect one.

The feminist is wrong…about the fundamental problem.  She’s wrong on at least two points.  First, the fundamental problem has nothing to do with the existence of authority structures between the genders.  God created different roles for the genders, including differences in authority, and those differences were part of His pre-Fall, good creation (Gen 1:31; 2:18-25, cf 1 Tim 2:12-14; 1 Cor 11: 8-9).  Male leadership, as God created it, is what is best for men and women.  Gender roles are created to be an inherently good thing.  

Second, the foundational problem is not exclusively male brokenness.  As a result of the Fall, man does have a sinful propensity to abuse his authority, either through passivity or domination, but the Fall had corresponding consequences for the woman (Gen 3:16, cf 4:6-7).  One consequence is that propensity of males to abuse their authority.  The other consequence is that her heart is wired to desire to dominate him, a desire that is not elicited by his abuse of authority.  In other words, she would rage against his authority even if he didn’t abuse it.  The foundational problem then is sin in the hearts of both man and woman.  The human race is tainted by sinful wills that are bent against the opposite gender, man against woman and woman against man.

The feminist is wrong…about the solution to the problem.  Because the feminist misses the underlying issue of sin, she prescribes a solution that will never address the true source of her misery, but will only exacerbate it.  The solution is not for women to become more dominant and men to become more passive—that’s the original cause of this mess.  In fact, when you read Genesis 3 carefully, you find that the feminist solution is exactly what led to the Fall in the first place - a woman leading a man while he sat passively by and watched her.  

Further, her solution could be characterized as a generous helping of more of the curse.  That is, the feminist prescription to the woman is, “give in to your desire to dominate men,” an impulse that God levied as a punishment for the original woman’s sin.  This simply means that the more a woman follows the feminist’s prescription the more miserable she’ll become, diving further into the curse itself.  You see, feminism doesn’t help women.  It hurts them by misdiagnosing their problem and then providing a solution that is itself a curse.

The true solution is for men and women to be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ so that they rightly live out God’s good design for gender roles.  Sin’s curse twisted the hearts of men and women against each other.  This is what we’re seeing in men abusing their authority and women raging against them.  They both need to be changed from the heart out.  

In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul shows that God gave His Son to be killed, raised, and exalted to free us from our slavery to sin’s curse.  Through repentance and faith, the grace of God works in us so that we are no longer dead in sin, but alive in Christ, created in Him for good works.  Among those good works (we find just three chapters later) is the right functioning of men and women toward one another.  

It should be striking to us that the gospel’s answer to the gender wars looks nothing like the feminist’s.  In Ephesians 5:22-33, we do not read that the gospel calls women to function just like men and calls men to let them.  Of course, it doesn’t.  Again, Genesis 3 shows that’s precisely how the Fall occurred in the first place.  No, because of the gospel, men and women are enabled by God’s grace to function according to God’s original design - wives respectfully, joyfully submitting to their husbands, and husbands lovingly, selflessly using their authority for the ultimate good of their wives.  

The feminist is right - she has a problem begging for a solution.  But where she is wrong will only perpetuate her misery.  Only a man can fix her problem.  His name is Jesus.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dangerous Preaching - It's All Around You!

I recently came across a conservative thinker who has become somewhat of a sensation in North American in the last couple of years.  He’s extremely articulate and defends conservatism in a far more thoughtful and logical fashion than is typically found on conservative media outlets.  As I’ve read some of his writing and watched some of his interviews, I’ve been intrigued - even drawn in.  He makes sense.  He’s a formidable debater.  He’s right on so many issues.

I found myself wanting to read more, wanting to buy his books.  But then I began to hear hints of spiritual confusion in his thinking and philosophies, many of which were driven by pragmatics, completely contrary to biblical wisdom and teaching.

The Holy Spirit put on the brakes and brought Colossians 2:8 to my mind: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

So much of what he said was true.  And yet his philosophy, particularly as it addressed the heart of man, was anti-biblical and hopeless.  How easily this man could use his truths to desensitize people to his untruths.  This is a potentially spiritually deadly issue because it leads people to a gospel-less place using things they already believe and agree with.

It occurred to me that the entire time I was listening to this man, I was listening to preaching.  Anyone who has a worldview for which they contend verbally is a preacher in this sense: they are seeking to convince others that what they are saying is true.  They are seeking converts.

We listen to preaching when we read any book, listen to any song, watch any movie/TV/YouTube video, or even have a casual conversation.  Everyone has a worldview from which they think and speak.  When they speak from that worldview, they preach that worldview.  Everyone does it.  It is inevitable.  You are a preacher in that sense.  Everyone who articulates an opinion is a preacher.

Who is driving these sermons?  In the case of non-believers, the sermons are not simply driven by their own opinions.  The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).  They are of the domain of darkness, held captive by him to do his will (Col 1:13; 2 Tim 2:26).  They willfully follow the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2).  Therefore, the preaching of the world will be a conduit for the lies of the enemy for the purpose of leading the minds of believers astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor 11:3).  

In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns specifically about the elemental spirits of the world.  The apostle is  referring to demonic spirits behind human traditions and philosophies.  What the world peddles as common sense, pragmatic solutions, and public opinion in many cases could more aptly be characterized as doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1).  

What’s the solution?  How do we inoculate ourselves against the danger of the dark preaching flowing into our ears all the time?  The preceding verses hold the key: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Col. 2:6-7).

The key is to walk in Christ, and Paul gives three ways of doing that.  First, we must be rooted and built up in Him.  This is Paul’s answer to the John 15 “abiding in Christ.”  We must live in constant fellowship with Jesus, engaging with Him daily, seeking our spiritual sustenance from Him and enjoying Him.  Enjoying Jesus is such a powerful remedy against the alluring lies of the world.  When we are rooted and built up in Him, we know how empty are the bogus pleasures offered by the world compared to His fullness.  

Second, we must be established in the faith.  This simply means to be constant students of the word, the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  “Established” speaks of more than just knowing doctrine, though.  It entails allowing the Scriptures to mold our thinking and how we view the world, which entails voluminous reading and studying of the Scriptures.  We must allow the truth to be the glasses through which we view the world.  With a firm grasp of the Scriptures, we will have a much easier time spotting the traps of the enemy.

Third, we must abound in thanksgiving.  To abound in thanksgiving requires one to keep an eye on what he’s been given.  As believers, it requires us to keep our eyes on the inheritance that is ours in Christ through His death and resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-5), as well as the giver of those gifts (Heb 12:1-2).  

The frightful truth is that we have a malevolent foe who is preaching to us all the time and we rarely realize it.  He uses everyday conversations and social media and movies and books to dress his lies up to look very much like truths we already believe.  He does this to slowly chip away at our interest in and affection for Jesus and replace them with illicit worship.  And since we don’t consider that this is happening, we don’t defend against it the way Paul has commanded.

The moment we stop thinking of the Christian life as a war is the moment we stop thinking biblically and become low-hanging fruit for the enemy (2 Cor 10:4; Eph 6:10-18; 1 Pet 5:8).  We’re listening to preaching all the time.  Are we being captured by it?  

Thursday, June 7, 2018

New Sermon Series

Over the years, I have developed a preference for not announcing ahead of time the next book we’ll be studying on Sunday mornings.  Keeping it quiet builds anticipation and guarantees a good turnout on the first week!  

However, this time I believe it would be prudent to give you a heads up.  What’s the least likely book you’d expect an expository preacher to walk through verse-by-verse?  It’s a book so unconventional that the discomfort of preaching it from a literal perspective (and hearing it preached!) is believed by some to have dictated the way it was interpreted for about 1,800 years.  In other words, for many hundreds of years preachers wouldn’t touch it without allegorizing the text.

Yes.  The Song of Songs.  AKA, the Song of Solomon.

Why the Song of Songs?
I’ve mentioned to a handful of people that Song of Songs is next.  Almost to a person, the first word out of their mouth was, “why?”  

First, we’ve just spent nine months gazing at the love of Christ and having our affections stirred for Him.  To be honest, I’m not ready to stop doing that.  Song of Songs gives us the opportunity to continue.

Second, for at least a couple of years, I’ve wanted to do a special series on the greatest danger to the institution of marriage.  What is the greatest danger to marriage today?  Probably not what you’d think.  I’m not going to spoil it in this article, but Song of Songs will lead us right into those waters. When I look at the state of marriage in the church today, this book cries out to be preached.

Third, after my sabbatical, I asked the elders for guidance on what to preach after John 13-17.  The consensus?  Something from the Old Testament.  

Christ's love and marriage instruction from the Old Testament?  It's got to be the Song of Songs.

Isn’t this inappropriate for a church setting, especially for younger ears?
No one has asked this, but someone is thinking it.  Most of our members and regular attenders who have school age children send those children to their own classes prior to the message every Sunday, so those families have nothing to think about here.  However, some families prefer to have their younger children with them during the sermon.  What should they do?

Here are some things to consider: I’m not going to do an R-rated walk through this text.  Other preachers have done that.  I don’t think that’s helpful or necessary.  Allusions to sexual relations will not be mined for all they’re worth.  They will be referred to as “allusions to sexual relations” or “depictions of consummation.”  However, the text itself mentions the beauty of certain body parts.  The most explicit of these biblical words is “breasts.”  It’s highly likely that the only time those words will be spoken is during the reading of the text itself.  If you let your children watch almost anything on network TV or Netflix, there should be no issues.  If you still prefer to have them not hear the message, they can join their friends in the children’s area for this short series.

Regarding the idea that this might be inappropriate for the church in general: Let’s remember that this book is as inspired as any other book in the Bible.  Therefore, it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  For me, especially as it pertains to my teenage kids, I would much rather these things be discussed biblically and framed with the gospel than allow our main source of indoctrination on sexual issues to be a godless culture.  And let’s be clear: indoctrination is precisely what the world is seeking to do.

By barring this topic, and this book in particular, from the pulpit, I fear we would allow the culture to sully God’s good gift of sexuality and marriage, commandeering it as a tool for shame.  But marriage is God’s.  Sexuality is God’s.  It points to His Christ.  If it can’t be discussed among His Church, I’m afraid something is terribly wrong.

Won’t this leave out everyone who isn’t married?
Absolutely not.  Certainly, there will be much for our married folks to glean from the text, but the Song has much to apply to singleness.  On top of that, my view is that the application to marriage and singleness is derived from the Song’s picture of Christ and the Church.  Everyone should be moved to greater affection for Jesus, regardless of their marital status.  My suspicion is that by the end of the series, we’ll love Jesus more, and all will be more Christ-centered in marriage and singleness.

So, I look forward to opening the Word with you to Song of Songs in a couple of weeks.  But before then, we have seven more verses in John to relish.