Parenting in the Pews

Here’s a great blog from Rachel.

A Daughter of the Reformation

I love seeing little kids at church. As a mother of not-quite-so-little ones, the smiles, the giggles, the sights and sounds of children fills my heart with joy. But parenting in the pews can be anything but joyful at times. Nothing tests the limits of parents’ patience quite like Sundays. From getting everyone dressed and fed and out the door on time to handling disruptions during worship and off-schedule naps and meals, Sunday is a uniquely challenging day for most of us. With all the busyness and struggle, it can be easy to forget why we bring our children to church with us.

For those of us who are Presbyterians, we believe our children are part of the covenant community. We promise to raise them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). But how do we do that practically? How do we parent in the pews?

There…

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Our Desperate Need for Wisdom

From the archives…

My Only Comfort

King Solomon was famous over the world for his wisdom. The Bible gives us an account to show us how Solomon’s wisdom truly was divinely given.  I would like for you to read it carefully:

16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19 And this woman’s child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and…

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Do unto others

It is easy to belittle the overweight man when you eat all you want and never gain a pound.

It is easy to ridicule the chronically ill when you haven’t been sick a day in your life.

It is easy to be exasperated with the parents of a special needs child when you don’t have a special needs child.

It is easy to say, “They just need to spank that kid more” when it isn’t your child.

It is easy to say abuse never happens when it never happens to you.

It is easy to say that sexual assault isn’t that bad, when it didn’t happen to you.

It is easy to say, “I know that guy. He is such a wonderful man. He could never do something like that” if you aren’t the one he has preyed upon.

It is easy to say there is no such thing as a wolf when you refuse to see the sheep’s clothing.

It is easy to rail against welfare and food stamps if you have never been hungry.

It is easy to scoff and mock the one who struggles with same-sex attraction when all of your sexual sins are vanilla and hetero.

It is easy to tell a woman that she has to return to her husband when you have never been in physical or emotional danger.

It is easy to tell a person with anxiety or depression to “get over it” when you don’t have anxiety or depression.

It is easy to say, “Words can’t hurt you” when you have never been subjected to the repeated and regular assault of vicious and contemptuous words.

It is easy to tell another parent how to raise their child.

It is easy to tell your unbelieving neighbor that all they need is Jesus when they are bleeding from wounds you can’t see and couldn’t understand.

It is easy to tell someone that racism doesn’t exist anymore – especially if you are white and middle-class.

What is hard is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

What is hard is to bear one another’s burdens.

What is hard is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What is hard is to “esteem the other better than yourself, in lowliness of mind.”

To do what is hard takes patience. To do what is hard means to give of yourself and be quick to hear. It takes sacrifice and love and empathy and kindness.

To do what is hard means we have to put aside our pride and understand that we are not the measure of a man, and our experiences are not the infallible, inerrant final word. To do what is hard means that we must put on Christ,

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:6-8)

But in order to do that, we must put to death the old man. It is the old man that is the expert on everyone else’s life. It is the old man that is the busybody and talebearer. The wicked are characterized by scoffing, not the righteous.

The new man is different. He is being conformed to the image of Christ, who never ridiculed, never mocked, never belittled. When the poor and the lame and the blind and the deaf came to him, he healed them. He listened. He fed them. He commanded us to do the same.

Paul said that the only one capable of helping someone with a fault is the “spiritual one” (Galatians 6:1). The spiritual one is the one led by the spirit, filled with the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, patience…”

The spiritual one is the one who has learned how to listen, to walk alongside the wounded. She is the one with patience and longsuffering. He speaks words of kindness and edification, not mocking and ridicule.

It takes the new birth to be a spiritual one.

Until you have learned to listen, study to be silent. You don’t know everything. Until then, pray for wisdom. Be diligent to listen. Quit being afraid of people different than you and don’t fear the reproach of men for doing what Christ commanded.

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phi 4:5)

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I wanna know what love is

Yes, I know. A ridiculous song, and an even worse pick-up line.

That was my work-out music this morning, and then – because, you know, Valentine’s – Susan and I listened to my new Ed Sheeran album.

In one of his songs, he says something like “I can’t love you unless I love me first” or some such thing.

Whatever it was, it was the same sentiment as “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all” which plagued the airwaves in the late 80’s. I am not sure if it was more offensive philosophically or aesthetically, but that is neither here nor there.

It goes back to 1 John.

I just finished preaching through 1 John. You can’t preach through 1 John without meditating on the nature and definitions of love. I like precision, and as a minister I believe we need to be precise in our words. I strive for precision, not sound-bites. So I think about words.

John tells us that “God is love.” Love is an essential attribute of God. God cannot be divested of love any more than God can be divested of Godhead. God’s attributes and his essence are identical, to put it into theological terms.

If you would like to learn more about this (and I think you should) I would recommend this excellent book by James Dolezal.

This means that there was never a time when God didn’t know what love was, for God is love, and God’s knowledge of himself is perfect.

Which leads to the next question – if God is love, and this is identical to his nature, then whom did God love before he created the heavens and the earth. We, of course, do not believe that creation is eternal. There was a time before creation where there was only God – before time and space and angels and men. God is the eternal I AM.

So whom did he love before he created? Love must involve a lover and a loved. There must be more than on person in order for there to be love. So whom did God love? The answer lies in the Trinity.

Jesus prayed,  “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

So here is where my mind is going after Ed Sheeran and Whitney Houston: is self-love possible? By the very nature of love, the subject must reach out to an object outside of itself. To say that one must love oneself is to say that one must somehow divide into knower and known, subject and object, lover and loved, and turn love back on itself. Is love simply dissociation made into a virtue?

I think we must be precise in our language. Love, by it’s very definition, needs a lover and a loved. Two parties, at a minimum. Narcissus staring at himself at the pool is a mental disorder, not love. He has divided himself into subject and reflection, and has become an object of pity rather than a healthy human in God’s image.

In the words of Dylan – “He worships at the altar of a stagnant pool and when he sees his own reflection he’s fulfilled.”

So what should we call it? Dylan’s image certainly wouldn’t make a good valentine’s card. I don’t think “love” is the right word. It is a mental disorder, not love.

I think I know what they are getting at when they say, “love yourself”. But I would ask for more precision. I think that the world has enough narcissism. But at the same time, a person filled with shame and self-loathing is stuck unable to reach out of themselves to fully love another being.

So there is some truth to saying, “Love yourself”, it is just that the language is wrong.

How did Jesus put it:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
(Matt 22:36-40)

And there, I think, is the key. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. But, it might be asked, how does one do that without first becoming a narcissist?

The answer, I believe, is in the first commandment. Love God.

If you love God, you also recognize and acknowledge the good gifts that God has given you. You refuse to despise and loathe your body, for God made it. You don’t reject the abilities God has given you, but understand that you have many good gifts given to you by your good Father in heaven.

You also know that Jesus came into the world to bear your sin and shame, so that is taken away and you have been born again. You are no longer the “worst sinner you know” but a child of the king, cleansed, sanctified, and in the process of being conformed to the image of God’s son.

This means that you are in the process of becoming more and more beautiful. You are chosen by God, loved by God, given every good gift by God.

So perhaps instead of saying “love yourself”, you should say, “loved by God.”

We love him because he first loved us, after all.

What this does is nip arrogance in the bud, condemn narcissism, and lifts our head above our own reflection to see that there is a whole other world besides the one in our head. There are people out there who need your kindness and love. There are people who need the glass of cold water from your hand and the meal from your larder. There are empty seats at your table. And you can only fill those seats in your heart when you look up and see the beauty and goodness and bounty of our loving God.

Correct perspective also nips shame in the bud. Forgiveness wipes the record clean and the new garments of Christ’s righteousness are made perfectly for you. A bespoke suit.

You are dressed for reception in the halls of the great king, who loves you and gave himself for you.

Isn’t this far, far better than “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”

I apologize for getting Foreigner stuck in your head.

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Liberty

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Gal 5:1)

Let these words sink down into your soul. Grapple them to your heart, bind them as frontlets before your eyes.

You are complete in Christ. You are a dearly loved child of God. The curse of the law said, “Do this and live”. But that ensnared you in an endless cycle of attempting keeping up with a standard that you had already broken. How can you love God with your whole heart when God is angry with you because of your sins.

In the law, you can only approach God as a judge; never as a father.

But Christ fulfilled that law perfectly in your place. The curse of the law was placed upon him and he died instead of you.

And now you are set free. Set free.

Not to fulfill your lusts and to walk in hatred and enmity, but set free to love God and love your neighbor. You can now love freely without fear. You can walk in the commandments of God, which are good and give life and freedom of conscience. And when your conscience is free through the gospel you are free indeed.

So why are we so eager to be ensnared again in the endless cycle of “Do this and live”? Why do we spend thousands on books and conferences to tell us all the ways that we disappoint God, that we don’t measure up, that we have failed?

Why do we allow the celebrity preachers tell us that our clothes are too feminine or our voices are too high? Why do we allow the elite to tell us to “quit acting gay” whatever on earth that means? Does it mean that I am not supposed to like poetry and art? Does it mean that the schoolyard bullies were right and I am somehow not a man because I don’t play sports and don’t like hunting and can’t imagine sitting through an entire baseball game, much less playing one?

Why do we allow someone we have never met put us again in bondage by telling us how to submit to our husbands more, be more feminine, be meeker, be better, do more…? And then we pay them for it??

Does this make any sense to you?

God gave us Ten Commandments, and he added no more. As Christians we seek to please God. So here is what is pleasing to God. Love him and love your neighbor. And please quit paying celebrities to tell you how to be more manly, more feminine, more submissive, a better leader, what to eat, what to wear, what businesses to shop at, what businesses to avoid, what music to listen to, what books to read.

Why did we allow someone we never met convince us to never, ever allow our kids to read Harry Potter? Why did we allow someone we never met, who was never ordained and not married tell us to not allow our kids to date? Why did we allow an organization that spent hours and hours watching pornography so they could tell us how bad it is teach us about “family values”?

Does this make any sense to you?

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

If you like beer, buy one. If you want to wear a flowered pink shirt because you like the colors, wear it. If you like romantic movies and tear up at the end of Babe when the farmer says, “That’ll do, pig”, then by all means to so and don’t let some half-baked, self-promoting pseudo-guru continue to plague you with guilt because he has rolled his crystal ball and decided that you weren’t manly enough, or feminine enough, or submissive enough, or a good enough leader. (I need a deep breath after that sentence.)

Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of the never ending line of rich, popular preachers continually adding more and more to the commandments of God?

Instead of continually searching your heart to see if you desire God enough, look at Christ and what he has given you. Instead of continually searching your wardrobe to make sure you clothes are manly enough, look at Christ, the Son of man and the son of God, and live boldly. Instead of searching the blogs to see if you are a submissive enough wife, simply look to Christ and live.

Stand fast in the life and liberty that he purchased for you with his precious blood.

Every time a new commandment is invented, we sell a little more of our liberty for a mess of pottage. It is the mentality of the slave. Quit making the bricks for Pharaoh. Quit giving these guys clicks. Quit going to their conferences and quit buying their books.

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

Look that transgender fellow in the eye and stop being afraid. Take your gay friend to lunch and stop being afraid. Love your wife boldly and quit fearing the opinions of people that you won’t ever meet.

As for me, I will continue to listen to Barbra Streisand and Lady Gaga, if I want to. And Pink Floyd and Queen when I want to, because sin isn’t something you catch off of a record. You might catch me listening to Gorecki or Passenger depending on my mood, but I certainly don’t check the opinion of some blowhard before I decide what kind of music I like. This is what liberty is.

If you look at my library, you will find Calvin and Berkhof, Stephen King and Nora Roberts. And I won’t ask your opinion before I buy a book I like. Because sin isn’t something you catch from reading the wrong books – otherwise Christ would not have died. If we could have been saved from our sins by proper censorship, we would not have needed Christ to die for our sins.

I will wear my sparkly paisley shirt and my lavender tie, and wear my stripey socks and use soap that makes me smell nice just because I want to, and I am created in God’s image and have no problem reflecting his beauty and strength and wisdom.

I will continue to moisturize because I like how my face feels when it isn’t all dried out and I just don’t give a fig anymore if some testosterone-challenged, knuckle-dragging, schoolyard bully thinks I’m effeminate or not. My wife likes me just the way I am and she’s the one who has to live with me.

And more importantly, God calls me his child. He has put my sins far, far away from me and calls me to live in liberty for his glory, and not according to the doctrines and commandments of men.

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Thoughts while doing Cardio

First, as a disclaimer, I am not a “work-out” guy. I use an exercise bike under protest because my doctor told me it would help with my health issues.

That being said, I try to find ways to make it to the end without stabbing myself through the face. This morning it was the classic album “In through the out door” by Led Zeppelin. Yes, I know the kind of people they were.

But I had some thoughts zipping through my brain as I was listening to “Fool in the Rain”. I cannot fathom the kind of skill it takes to play drums like that. John Bonham was an astoundingly gifted drummer.

And so I was thinking – to play drums like that, one would have to have a single minded focus for years. Hours and hours and hours of practice until perfection is reached. The drive must be there to accomplish that, as well as the follow through.

We rarely see that kind of dedication in music anymore. I can’t think of one modern drummer that has mastered the art to that degree.

So follow me – my mind wanders on the bike. (Keep pedaling, keep pedaling, keep pedaling. don’t scream, don’t stab, aaaauuuuuuuuughghghghghhghghg)

If I am going to fight against the chronic illness plaguing my body, I need to force myself through this…

If you are going to play drums like John Bonham, you need to put some effort in…

 

And then my mind goes to Paul:

7 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.
8 For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. (1Timothy 4:7-8)

We are not naturally followers of God. We are not naturally Christ-like. We do not naturally practice love and kindness. We are not naturally quick to hear and slow to speak.

If a hedonist like John Bonham can exercise himself to the goal of drumming, should we not, as children of God, exercise ourselves to godliness?

And, no, I am not talking about the “godliness” of the Pharisee – polishing the outside while the inside rots away. I am talking about the humility to listen to what others have to say, to practice viewing people different than us as image-bearers of God, to practice patience and consciously choose to hope.

This is not our natural state. Our natural state is to follow “old wives fables” and every wind of doctrine. Our natural state is suspicion and anger and turning a deaf ear to the poor and needy. Our natural state is to look with contempt on those who think differently.

God would have us imitate him in love and kindness – with the promise of life now and life to come. And it isn’t our natural state.

This means we need to be uncomfortable for a while. We need to do those things that aren’t natural. Pick up the sticks and learn how to hold them. Keep your feet moving on the stupid machine even though every fiber of your being is telling you to quit.

Practice godliness. Practice stopping the mouth and listening. Practice submitting yourselves one to another. Practice kindness. Practice stretching your comfort level. If your preacher has never caused you to question a deeply held belief, he either isn’t doing his job, or you aren’t listening.

If godliness doesn’t come naturally, and if we are required to attain it, then we must exercise ourselves to it. This means that we will be different now than we were 5 years ago, 10 years ago.

If I do not stay on the exercise bike, my health will suffer. If John does not practice, he will never play drums. If you never change your mind, you will go to the grave alienated from God. Our default is failure, because of Adam. We must change, or die. And this includes AFTER we have become saved. If we do not grow, we should rightly question whether there is any life there at all.

If you have never changed your mind about anything ever, you are a drummer that has never practiced. Quit playing. No one wants to hear you beat your drum. Go home and practice. Then perhaps you will find yourself with something to say…

(I get snarky when I have to exercise…)

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Come to me and rest

13 “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying:`Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (Exo 31:13)

If I did more, maybe I will be worthy of love. If I accomplished more, maybe I can leave a mark and not go down into the void.

If I worked harder, maybe people would like me more. If I wasn’t so lazy, perhaps I could get my father’s approval. If only I could have a few more hours, a few more moments, a little more strength…

If only I didn’t just spend an extra hour today resting, maybe I could have accomplished something…

It is subtle, but it looks just like the so-called puritan work ethic. Lazy boys starve and are cast away. Stupid boys are beaten and mocked. We’re just a little better than that. Read McGuffey. How will your kids learn Latin if you don’t work harder. That Ezekiel 4:9 bread won’t make itself. If you don’t work harder, your family might have to eat store-bought.

Stay vigilant. Don’t mess up. Don’t slack off. Even on the Lord’s day. God hates idleness. You are supposed to be taking a Sabbath, not slacking off. This is what makes this country great. Hard work, hard men. Let the others slack off. We’ve got work to do.

Don’t miss a trick. Don’t miss an opportunity. Pull up your man-pants and do more, do it harder, do it better. How will you get to college if you don’t get straight A’s. Slackers don’t win and losers don’t need to apply.

Perhaps if you weren’t such a lazy slacker, you could get God to pay attention to you. Perhaps if you weren’t so stupid and slow and good-for-nothing, you would be worthy of love…

 

And to all of these hateful voices, God says, “Stop.

“Take a rest. A Sabbath. You no longer work for the Egyptians. You no longer are a slave to sin. You no longer have to pretend to earn my favor. Child….rest.

“I commanded you to keep my Sabbaths so that you will learn that I the Lord sanctify you.”

I sanctify you…think of those words. Jesus himself pours his water over your head and cleanses you. His blood covers your sins from the sight of God. His righteousness fits your body perfectly. Your body – he made it. He made your mouth, he made your lips. He gave you your words, your speech, your tongue.

He knows that you are dust. This is why you don’t have to work for his favor. He knows you can’t. He carries you. He clothes you. He covers you. It is his pure water that washes all of the filth away.

Just rest, child of God. Just rest. One day in seven.

Silence those voices that tell you that 6 days and 24 hours a day are not enough. He knows you are dust, and need a rest. Buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and take a day. No dishes. No cooking. No cleaning. And just rest. Stop.

God gave this day to you, so that you would know that your Father loves you and knows that you are finite, weak, and human. Your bones need rest. You need rest.

Just stop. One day. Not a work that you do to earn God’s favor, but just stop and rest in his love. He sanctifies you.

25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
28 “Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Eze 36:25-28)

 

This is the Sabbath of God. The Pharisees turned it into a work to do to keep God from killing you. If you do it purely enough, then maybe God will leave you alone.

They missed everything. God gave the Sabbath so that man would know that Jesus is coming. He pours the water. He sheds the blood. He gives the Spirit. He gives rest to the weary soul.

And he gave us very practical instructions. One day in seven, rest. God gives you your daily bread. Your significance is found only in Christ. Your name is already written in the book of life. Your sins are already put away.

You already have God’s approval in Christ. How could you gain more? You already have treasure stored up for you in heaven. How could you gain more.

So rest. Let that email go for today. Let that phone ring for today. This is your day – God has given it to you. It is the Lord’s day, for he has risen from the dead. But he rose from the dead so that you could rest.

Rest, child. Let it go. Put it off. Gather with God’s people. Listen to the Lord grant you grace and peace. Sing praises to him. Pour out your heart to him.

Raise your voice to heaven. Watch the baptismal waters flow and remember that he has cleansed you from all sin.

Taste the bread and drink the wine and remember that his body was broken and his blood shed for you. For you.

So you can rest under his wings.

Rest.

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The Death of Death

4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.
6 Now when He said to them, “I am,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
(John 18:4-6)

Jesus had just spent an agonizing night in Gethsemane. It isn’t just that he knows that he is about to be beaten to a bloody pulp and nailed to a cross to die. It isn’t just that he knows that he is despised and rejected of men. It isn’t just that he knows he is about to be numbered among criminals and reduced to a slave.

It is that he knows that he will bear the sins of the world. He knows that it is the Father’s will that he take the infinite blackness and ugliness and hatred of sin upon himself and be forsaken by God. He will experience in his soul the pains and torments of hell, the forsakenness, the pain, the immense suffering of the wrath of God. He who was righteous was made sin for us. And he willingly bore it.

He knows that God’s wrath against sin is infinite, fixed, unchanging. And he is about to bear the full brunt of it. God will consider Jesus to be worst than the worst. Jesus will take the full weight of God’s wrath against idolatry, murder, blasphemy, rape, torture, adultery, cruelty, oppression, slander, wicked speech and wicked actions, and drink the cup to the very bottom.

And the soldiers come to arrest him.

Jesus says, “Whom do you seek?”

They say, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

He says, “I am”. The same answer the God gave Moses when Moses asked his name. The same name that God gave to his covenant people. The name above every name, the name that the Jews considered so holy that they wouldn’t pronounce it. “I am”.

And then the divine majesty of God shines through the form of the servant. This weak, tired man…Jesus of Nazareth…speaks “I am” and the ray of uncreated light breaks through the dark night and the soldiers fall flat on their faces. This is the majesty of God revealed.

This is not what it seems. It seems as if Satan has won. It seems as if Jesus is about to lose control of everything. It seems as if there are events that are taking place that will carry Jesus along like a tidal wave and end up with his death. It seems as if Judas, the soldiers, the Jews, and the Romans are in charge and Jesus is about to be eliminated.

But then Jesus says, “I am” and God’s majesty shines forth. The Word was made flesh, and for a moment that flesh was pulled back and a tiny glimpse of the infinite beauty, majesty and power of almighty God was revealed.

“And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.”

And with one word, the soldiers could not even stand in His presence.

Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For us and for our salvation he became flesh for this very reason – to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the very bottom – so that we might be called the children of the living God. This is why it is not fitting to pity him. He was not an unwilling victim. Instead, we worship and adore, we bow before him in wonder. We fall to our faces in astonished silence and then cry, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him forever and ever!”

This is the great exchange – his righteousness is mine. My sin is his. And he bore it away, he drank the cup wrath to the bottom. The majesty of God is seen in the suffering of Gethsemane, the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb.

The majesty of God is revealed in the death of death on the cross of Christ. It was not the soldiers in charge that day. At any moment, Jesus could have put an end to all of it.

The human tendency to flinch at a whip was overridden by the majesty of God and the infinite love of Jesus. He willingly bore every stroke, every nail, every spit, every mocking word. He hung on the cross while the sun refused to give its light and bore God’s wrath. In the darkness, God hid from our eyes his judgment against sin for we could not have borne to even see it. But Jesus bore it.

Every splinter, every thorn, every drop of the wrath of God.

The majesty of God, the infinite beauty of God, the infinite holiness and justice of God, and his infinite love came together that day. Find it there, or not at all.

“Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?”

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What is your name?

From last year, but very relevant. Did we get any better at listening?

My Only Comfort

Have you ever stopped to think about how tremendous words are? Words, more than anything else, display our creation in the image of God. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1) and when he created, he gave names. He called the light, “Day”; and the darkness he called, “Night”. But when he created the animals, he didn’t name them. He created a man in his image and commanded him to name the animals. What a tremendous thought!

Our speech is the connection of our soul, our ideas, our bodies, with creation (the molecules of the air vibrate with our vocal cords shaped by our tongues and lips). The molecules vibrate from our mouths and cause the same vibrations in the membrane of the ear of another image bearer and our souls and ideas and bodies are connected in fellowship! What an astounding thought!

And God himself speaks to…

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“Masculine men only”???

I’ve been occupied for a while. This morning I’ve been catching up on articles and blogs that I missed when they first came out. I’ve been saving them for the quiet coffee moments, which are sometimes few and far between.

Some of these articles have been quite good. But some have been very disappointing. Take this one, for example.

Normally, I would give an article like this one a raspberry and simply move on. But it has been floating around and getting some attention. It also gives me an opportunity to perhaps cause someone to think a bit before they speak.

Words mean something. We can hurt and drive away, or we can gather, heal and restore. Since we are first of all Christians, and second of all, pastors, we should take a great deal of care with how we use words. I do not believe it is adequate to simply say, “Well, people shouldn’t be so sensitive” and ignore the cries of those who are crushed and broken under our foolish tongues.

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Mat 12:36 KJV)

18 Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death,
19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?” (Pro 26:18-19)

We may dismiss and cover over idle words, but our Lord certainly does not. So it would do us well to think about the words that we use.

I do not wish to spend a lot of time on this article, but there were three things that struck me as I read it.

First, the goal of the article, as stated in the title, is not a biblical goal.

The title is “On getting and keeping masculine men in church.” Notice, however, that the author nowhere quotes any scripture, but simply assumes that this is a goal that every church should have. But is it a biblical goal?

Is “masculine men” a biblical category? Are we speaking now of a third gender? Male, female, and masculine men? I don’t believe that the author had this in mind, but he certainly did not define what he meant, nor did he go to the scripture to justify his goal. Why masculine men, and not just men? Are there now two categories of men, one of whom we want in the church and the other we just want to go to hell? What about women? Are they OK if they accompany men? What if they come alone?

He seems to imply that a large ratio of women in the church is a problem. As if they are OK as long as there aren’t too many of them. But what if there are 30% masculine men, 20 percent effeminate men, and 50% women. Would that be OK. How do we decide who to put into which category?

I would like to remind the author that Paul preached the gospel to Lydia and her friends down by the river, and didn’t once bemoan the lack of “masculine men”.

The second problem somewhat follows the first – the elimination of “effeminate men” as qualified for church office.

1 Timothy 3 has been ignored by the church for decades, but now we seem to simply be inventing our own categories. “Effeminate men”. I hate this word. Really, really hate it. It is the word of school-yard bullies, ignorant cretins, loudmouth, abusive men. I hate it.

He seems to define it as someone with “effeminate characteristics” or a “high voice”. Once again, no biblical text to back up his statement. He simply states it. Now we are left to define for ourselves what that means.

“I don’t like his necktie. I don’t like his pastimes. I don’t like his voice. I don’t like how he walks. I don’t like how he gestures.” He has now given an excuse to every hardhearted man to ignore the preaching of the word if the pastor’s voice is too high. Is this really where we want to go?

There is always danger whenever we condemn someone apart from scripture. There is always the leaven of Pharisees involved whenever we say that someone has a quality or a personality that God condemns. Whenever we go outside of scripture for our ethics or our ecclesiology, we become authoritarian and oppressive.

We could ask the same question that God asked Moses. “Who made man’s mouth?” Who are YOU to tell God that he made this person wrong. His voice is too high, God. You made him wrong. Effeminate. You made a mistake.

What appalling gall! I hate that word. Hate it.

Before anyone quotes that King James translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 at me and condemns anyone with a high voice to hell, let me remind you all that this is not what that word means. Paul is talking about immoral sex, not personalities, voice frequency, or mannerisms.

Now here is where the hatred of our words come in. Suppose there is a young man whom God loves. God made him with a beautiful voice with a high register. Perhaps he sings like an angel. Now comes this author, speaking on his own authority, without any backing from scripture, denying him a place in the kingdom of God. “You cannot be a pastor, because God gave you a high voice.”

You are a second class citizen. In fact, we don’t even want you in church. We want 50% “masculine men”, not you with the high voice. Why not cast away the left handed people, those who have red hair and those who are too short as well?

Third, he calls women and children the property of a man.

In the context of touching a woman or a child, which the author forbids, he writes,

When you refrain from touching another man’s stuff, you subtlety communicate your respect for him

Really? Can we all just stop and think about these words and what they convey?

“Don’t touch a woman or a child because if you do, you are touching another man’s things. His property. It shows a lack of respect for a man.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Take this to its logical conclusion. A man has the right to his property to do with it as he pleases. A man’s family is his “stuff”. Not heirs together of eternal life, not beloved of God, not firstborn sons of God – but my stuff.  I can smack them around a bit. Use them as I see fit. They are my “stuff” after all. That’s my first problem.

The second is this – if a woman is molested, is the problem that there was a sin against God and against the woman, or is the sin that someone showed a lack of respect for a man’s stuff?

Don’t blow me off. It is a serious question. If we do not get a handle on this, we will never even understand the problem of sexual assault in church, domestic abuse in church, and we will have no communication whatsoever with the millions of women and children who have been abused, oppressed, despised and condemned by those supposed to be representing Christ to them. We, as the church of Jesus Christ, have become the school-yard bullies. But far worse than that, we have failed to uplift and edify and encourage. Instead we used words that are an offense against God and our neighbor by speaking that which was not right. Every idle word. Every man that you dismissed as effeminate, every woman that you dismissed as a man’s stuff, every child you turned your back on, you will have to give an account for your negligence on the day of judgment.

You don’t think this is a problem? Look at it again. “Get your hands off my stuff” – talking about a human being, created in God’s image!

I am floored.

The author admits that this flows from “common sense” rather than, apparently, the scripture. But I would prefer that he keep this kind of “common sense” to himself.

Instead of this, let me suggest an alternative for pastors:

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (2Ti 4:2)

Do you remember that? It’s what we are supposed to be doing. Preach the word. Not attracting “masculine men” and “feminine women”, whatever those words mean. We are to preach Christ and him crucified.

Christ crucified means that there is no hope whatsoever in your maleness, your testosterone, your estrogen, your body parts. There is no hope whatsoever in the flesh. Whether you are a man or a woman, with “masculine” or “feminine traits”, Christ crucified puts an end to all of it.

So preach Christ. Preach Christ to men, to woman, to slaves, to free, to every race, every kindred, every tongue. Put to death your pride in your testosterone, your body parts, you maleness. Quit putting your trust in your personality or the frequency of your voice. Quit pointing at the others and saying, “I thank God I’m not like other men – like that “effeminate guy” over there” and just stop.

Stop, stop, stop. Remember Jesus said that the one pointing at the publican did not go away justified. He died in his sins. You cannot take pride in the flesh and embrace Christ. You cannot build the church of God and brag about the “masculine men” there. It doesn’t work that way.

Preach Christ, and him crucified. Open wide the doors. Quit preaching yourself and your testosterone, and preach Christ. Mortify the flesh. Welcome the sinners of every kind and give them Christ.

Welcome the people like you, and the people unlike you. Welcome the ones that grunt and sweat and talk about big holes and football and monster trucks, and welcome the ones that paint and sew and make music and like colors and fabrics. Because salvation isn’t in those things.

I would hope that anyone visiting First Reformed Church would not count the masculine men and the feminine women, but would simply notice that it is a church where Christ is preached, full of sinners saved by grace, made new by the blood of the lamb.

Christ crucified. That’s it. When we step, even a hair, away from that, we no longer have the right to stand in Christ’s pulpit. Get down, and let someone else do it, someone who knows what the gospel is.

And for the love of everything holy and good and beautiful and lovely, quit saying effeminate. It is a horrible word, every bit as bad as Raca, and every bit as destroying.

Thanks for listening.

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Filed under feminine, Gospel, Masculine, Men and women