Covering the Altar with Tears

Malachi 2:13–14.
     13      And this is the second thing you do:
     You cover the altar of the LORD with tears,
     With weeping and crying;
     So He does not regard the offering anymore,
     Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.
     14      Yet you say, “For what reason?”
     Because the LORD has been witness
     Between you and the wife of your youth,
     With whom you have dealt treacherously;
     Yet she is your companion
     And your wife by covenant.

The wives in Israel were so treacherously abused that they had no recourse but to cry before the Lord. THEY are the ones covering the altar with tears and bringing their cries to the Lord.

For this reason, God will not hear the prayers or accept the offerings of the husbands. You cannot treat your wife as a slave, a servant, or a beast, without bringing upon yourself the wrath of God.

In fact, Peter alludes to this passage in 1 Peter 3:7

1 Peter 3:7 (NKJV)
7Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

If you treat your wife with anything less than the honor befitting a firstborn heir of eternal life in Christ, you are also dealing treacherously with her.

God hears the cries of the oppressed and he answers them.

Remember, dear ones, that Lazarus received evil things on this earth for a time, but when he died he was carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham, and rests in the arms of Jesus for eternity.

The rich man, on the other hand, who was treacherous to Lazarus, was tormented day and night.

God knows how to deliver the godly and give them peace. The cries never go unheard.

She is a wife by covenant. This does not mean that you can treat her however you wish and she is not allowed to leave you. That is contrary to everything we know about covenants. I have written on that before. Malachi is using Old Testament language to say what Peter says in the New Testament. She is a co-heir of eternal life, a wife by the covenant you made with her, and that covenant can be broken.

Israel understood broken covenants. They had already been cast out of the land because they broke the covenant with their God. And now, as they are resettling the land, they are treating their wives, whom they made covenants with, the same way.

Which follows – they deserve to be cast out.

God is bearing witness of your treachery, and refuses to hear your prayers as long as your wife is covering the altar with tears.

Matthew 5:25–26 (NKJV)
25Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
26Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

In Malachi, the adversary is the oppressed wife, crying out to the judge. Make peace with her before Christ comes in judgment. Repent of your treachery, for there is a God in heaven coming to hand you over to judgment.

In fact, it would be better to give her a divorce and send her away (verse 16).

Therefore, the wise man will hear.

Take heed to your spirit, and do not deal treacherously. (Verse 16)

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Filed under Divorce, Marriage

Co-heirs of eternal life

Have you seen the “trend” going around, where fathers are groomin…oops, I mean “training” – their daughters to serve men, cleaning after them, cooking for them, serving them at the table…?

It is really stomach-churning. But far worse, it isn’t Christianity. Maybe it is God’s desire that we teach our daughters to be more and more like Jesus; perfecting their gifts, using those gifts in their communities, learning to speak without fear, growing in wisdom and stature.

It is true that women, like all of humanity, are called to serve. Men are also called to serve. It isn’t a gender role thing, it is what it means to be like Christ.

Matthew 20:25–28 (NKJV)
25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.
26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.
27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mutual service in Christ isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fathers and mothers that teach their daughters that they are called to cook and clean and pick up after their fathers and brothers, that they are to serve, while the men are to be served.

And here is where it gets interesting. If I name the names of people who teach this (of which there are many) the response will be “Why did you name names? Did you confront them first? I know that they are good men who love the Lord!” And on and on.

But if I DON’T name names, then the response is “I’ve been a Christian my WHOLE LIFE and have never, ever heard anyone teaching this!”

Any reason at all to discount what I am saying. So I would simply invite you to look over my facebook page and see the hundreds of men and women who have been taught exactly what I am saying – that women’s goal is to be married and to serve men. Men are called to be served at home, since they have to do all the hard work.

None of this is taught in scripture. Yes, the scripture teaches women to serve. It also teaches men to serve. It teaches apostles and prophets, martyrs and pastors and teachers to serve.

And not just “I tell them what to do” kind of service, nor the kind of service like the Pope of Rome, surrounded by wealth, power and prestige and calling himself the “servant of servants”. This is not at all the kind of service that scripture calls for.

It calls for us – men and women – to put on the apron, do a load of laundry, mop the floor, bring our loved ones coffee, love, honor and respect one another.

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, it was the work of a servant – THAT is the kind of service Jesus calls us all to.

If you are teaching your boys and girls to have a servant’s heart, you have no argument from me.

It is the teaching that only GIRLS are called to serve. That boys are called to lead and to BE served. None of this is in the bible.

Maybe we can do better. Maybe we can teach our daughters to grow to their full potential, led by the Holy Spirit, with gifts and callings and personalities all their own.

And maybe we can teach them that they can live their lives fully before the face of God without fear and shame, whether they ever marry or not.

Perhaps God’s will for our daughters, just like his will for our sons, is that they be conformed to the image of God’s Son, and thus become fully human, fully alive – without ever having to suppress their voice or their beauty or their wisdom out of fear of insecure masculinity.

Marriage should allow both men and women to be fully who they are before God, thriving and loving as image-bearers, and thus a fountain of blessing to all who know them.

Why isn’t this our goal?

I posted something similar to that on Facebook yesterday and people are losing their minds. I’m being called a hater of God, an unbeliever, a bad influence on Christian women, a pagan, a feminist, a heathen, non-reformed, a Satanist, and so on.

It got me thinking –

Pharaoh lost his mind when Moses said, “Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go.” He didn’t want to lose the work of the slaves. It, after all, was the order that his gods placed on the world. Pharaoh and Egyptian males first, women and Israelites next. Every knows that, right? It is the natural order of things.

But when God said, “Let my people go” it upended everything about Pharaoh’s religion and social order. That is why he couldn’t bend.

Similarly, even though the Lord so clearly loves and values women as his image-bearers, and did not create or redeem them to be the slaves of men, yet His cry, “let my people go!” upends the status quo and turns everything upside down. It arouses the same fury in the ones who hold the power.

BTW – I’m not speaking of divorce right now, I am speaking of letting go of the control and domination of wives and daughters and watching them thrive as image-bearers of God.

If the first thing your wife would do if you let go of your control and dominion is leave your sorry a#@, maybe you should rethink your lifestyle.

You could, maybe, learn to make your own sandwiches.

She is your fitting help, not your property or your servant.

Malachi 2:16 is often translated “God hates divorce”. I have written extensively on how bad that translation is. The Hebrew reads “Because he hates, let her go…”

It is the exact same word used in Moses’ instructions to Pharaoh. “Let my people go” or “let (her) go”. Set her free. If you hate her so much that she is odious to you, send her away.

If not, then please treat her as the scripture commands you to – as a co-heir of eternal life.

One day, you will stand before God and answer to how you treated her, a firstborn son, an heir of all things, and the bride of Christ.

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Filed under Marriage, Men and women

Love and the Cross

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Galatians 2:20–21.

A friend recently asked me about the cross. The way he had always thought about it was like this: “God finds me so loathsome that the only way he could accept me was by torturing and killing his son.”

My heart hurt for him.

Another friend could not understand how the cross, that ugly instrument of death and unspeakable agony, could demonstrate the love of God.

I can understand that.

It is especially difficult for survivors of childhood sexual assault or other forms of abuse. The abuser convinces his victims that they are worthless, ugly, stupid, and bad. And then they head off to church and hear a fire and brimstone sermon.

“God agrees with the verdict of your abuser” they hear. “He also thinks you are worthless, ugly, bad and worthy only of abuse and degradation. But he degraded and abused Christ instead.”

This is a twisted presentation of an otherwise correct doctrine known as “substitutionary atonement”. It is true that Christ died in our place. But it is NOT true that God finds us loathsome and hateful. These two thoughts are not contrary, but complementary. It has to do with Christ as the head, we as the body; union with Christ before the foundation of the world; and the justice and mercy of God. I probably won’t be able to get to all of that in one blog.

It is no wonder that so many people have a hard time seeing the love of God in the crucifixion of Christ! Today, my prayer for you, dear reader, is for you to know the depth of the love of Jesus. No matter how great and broad and deep his love, it will never be great and broad and deep enough. We will spend all of eternity learning about his love and never exhaust it.

John Calvin famously said that a shepherd must have two voices. One for gathering sheep and another for driving away wolves. One of the big problems of modern preaching is that the wolves are comforted and the sheep are driven away.

The voice to gather sheep is a voice of welcome, of invitation, of patience and peace, shining the love of God. You can’t throw rocks and garbage at the sheep, screaming obscenities at them (I’m looking at YOU, Driscoll), and expect them to come.

The voice to drive away wolves is a voice of rebuke, sharpness, condemnation – in the hopes that they will see themselves as God sees them and flee to the cross for mercy. A wolf is one who views the sheep as his prey. You will know them by their fruits. They have the right words to say in public, but they are abusive to their families, demand recognition and deference, destroy the wounded soul with words, are constant overbearing busybodies, and live according to the lusts of the flesh.

There is one voice to use for the confident and entitled. Another to use for the weak and trembling soul.

In other words, when you threaten the weak, the outcast, the poor, the afflicted, with words of terror, you wound the weak conscience and drive the hurting heart from the love of Christ.

So with that being said, I would like to look at some of what the bible teaches about the cross of Christ.

First, it is never used as a devise to increase toxic guilt and manipulate shame-driven behavior. “Jesus suffered all of this for you! Shouldn’t you repay him by being a better person?” If guilt and shame were capable of rescuing us from ourselves, Christ would not have needed to die in the first place. It is shame and guilt that drive us away from God in the first place. It is new life that draws us back into fellowship. New life does not come by shame and guilt, but by the putting to death of the old man in Adam, and making alive the new man in Christ. Crucifixion, and resurrection – as Paul writes in Galatians 2, quoted above. Jesus did not give himself for us that we might live by the law; but so that we might live by faith in Him.

“If righteousness could come by the law, then Christ died in vain.”

When the preacher tries to increase your guilt and shame, using the cross as a tool to try to manipulate you into better behavior, then he is missing the point of the cross. Toxic guilt never works the righteousness of God.

There is a place for redemptive guilt. Redemptive guilt is the honest appraisal of the soul, the cleansing light that shines in our dark places and brings us out of hiding. We all have those places in our hearts that we try to keep carefully hidden. We think we have those dark holes under control, until they burst out on us, driving us to sleepless nights and even fear of exposure and punishment. Redemptive guilt is the work of the Holy Spirit, like a skilled surgeon, exposing the cancer so that we might be healed by the blood of Christ. It is the voice of Nathan, pointing the finger and saying, “You are the man!” so that David can finally quit hiding and be forgiven and healed. Redemptive guilt bursts forth into the words of Psalm 51.

The first thing that we must do is prayerfully consider the distinction between toxic guilt and redemptive guilt. Toxic guilt is the voice of Satan, driving you into hiding, heaping on your soul things that don’t belong to you. Toxic guilt pounds into your head at night, telling you that you are worthless; that if you were a better person, he wouldn’t have hurt you; hat if you dressed differently or had a different body, or didn’t show your arms, then he wouldn’t have hurt you. Toxic guilt drives you into hiding, crushing you under heavy burdens and leaving you hopeless, dejected, walled off, silent… My parents rejected me because I’m bad. My mom hurts me because I’m not the right sort of person. It is the voice of the accuser, and it is not designed to drive you to Christ. It is designed to crush your soul in despair. Satan is a liar and a murderer. Toxic guilt works effectively for both.

Redemptive guilt is the conviction of the law designed to call you out of hiding. That time you stole from your employer, drank too much and drove home anyway, cursed your neighbor’s child for walking on your grass, used your words to wither and scald the souls of your loved ones. That time you hurt a coworker thinking you were being funny. The damage you did with that one-night stand when you were younger; the flirting with the coworker that definitely went too far.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of these things, so that we are not overcome with despair, so that shame doesn’t continue to destroy us, so that we can finally understand freedom and peace. We stand under the cool, refreshing water, flowing from the rock, and close our eyes while that water washes away the filth of the soul. But it is not the guilt that cleanses our soul. It is only the blood of Christ. That is, he took all of that shame and guilt and pain upon himself. Like a head suffers when a body is wounded and cancerous. He is, after all, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He joined himself to us and to our dying flesh and took all of the tears and shame and pain and death and sorrow upon himself, because he loves us, and he put it to death. Redemptive guilt drives us to repentance and restitution to those we have harmed.

Toxic guilt is not of God. You are not worthless, you are an image-bearer of God. You are not loathsome in his sight, you are like a wandering sheep, waiting to be gathered by the arms of the shepherd.

Redemptive guilt does indeed belong to you. There are real sins that you have committed, because you are human and a child of Adam. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. God does not teach you about the nature of sin so that you can take part in some kind of self-flagellation exercise. There is no redemption there. God’s desire for you is for you simply to confess your sins and be free from them.

Jesus has already born those sins on the cross. He was crucified so that you might know for certain that he took upon himself the curse that was on you. That curse of shame and death that you bear in your deepest part is taken away completely and fully, so that you might be reconciled to God – because the death of the cross was cursed by God. The curse no longer belongs to you. You have been crucified with Christ in order that you might live by faith, not by law.

Shame and hiding no longer belong to you. Jesus took them away, having nailed them to his cross. You have your voice back, your humanity back, your will back. That is the new man, alive in Christ, a life lived in faith, a life fully human and fully alive.

Jesus went to the cross so that you might know for certain that you are NOT loathsome in the eyes of God, but a beloved child. The cross of Christ creates for us a safe space to come into the innermost circle of the dwelling-place of God, the Holiest Place of all.

Hebrews 10:19–22 (NKJV)
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

And, to clarify another misunderstanding, Jesus and the Father are never at odds. There is only one true eternal God. Jesus is God. The Father is God. The Spirit is God. The Father sent the Son because he loves you. The Son gave himself for you because he loves you. That love in the divine nature is not divided. It is correct to say that God gave his Son. It is also correct to say that the Son gave himself.

But we also need to talk more about the justice of God. But this will take another blog.

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Filed under Christology, cross

The Essence of Humankind

I was brought up in the Reformed Church and nursed on TULIP. As the years passed by, I was more and more dissatisfied with the abbreviation. It is an oversimplification of some tremendous truths. I still hold to the Canons of Dort, which teach more fully those doctrines that are intended to be summarized by TULIP. But I find TULIP to be oversimplified, good as a mnemonic for children, but should probably be left behind when one becomes an adult.

I’ve been thinking about the “T” – Total Depravity. The way I have mostly heard it taught is Jonathan Edwards style – that man and women are loathsome spiders held over the pit of hell by an angry God.

It is emphasized so much in Reformed circles that it is almost as if an essential attribute of humanity is depravity!

It is true that sin is a cancer that has invaded every part of a human being. There is none that seek after God. There is none who do good. No, not one. But we are talking about those kinds of works that can stand before the judgment throne of a holy God. The scripture does not teach the inherent goodness of man. Before God, all of our works must be perfect and we can’t even satisfy our own consciences, much less a holy God. Sin has corrupted us all – body and soul. We have fallen short of the glory of God.

But this does not mean that there is nothing good whatsoever in humankind. Murder is an affront against God because men and women are made in God’s image. To be sure, they are tainted by sin apart from God’s grace, but the image is still there.

Men and women still create beautiful things, have tremendous insights into human nature, and are capable of making relatively wise decisions. We celebrate art and music and humanities, and do not ask whether that celebrated person was in Christ or not. A Hindu or Muslim might teach our children math far better than a Christian could, and this should not alarm us. All gifts of beauty and wisdom come from the Father and are given to the children of Adam and should be celebrated. All humanity needs a Redeemer, but there is something beautiful there to redeem.

There is something in humanity that reflects the nature of God. This is what makes sin such an affront to God. It corrupts his beautiful creation and the dignity with which men and women were created.

That is the bad news. It isn’t the gospel. The gospel is that our Great Physician has redeemed us, body and soul, to belong to him. He has conquered sin and death and misery. He has delivered us from this deadly cancer and has begun the process of our re-creation after his image. We are being restored to his image by union with him. Each day we are his “workmanship – created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

So what if we started treating people as if they were ESSENTIALLY image bearers of God rather than essentially sinners?

What I mean by essentially is that which makes up the essence of what we are. When all of the accidental attributes are stripped away, and when those things that make us different are stripped away, what is left? What is the humanness of humanity? What is the whatness of the essent?

Here is a hint: It isn’t sin. Sin came later, a pustulant cancer invading the will and the reason and the emotions. It took God’s good creation and turned it inward upon itself like Narcissus in his stagnant pool.

But God came into this world and took upon himself our flesh – born under the law. He bore that sickness and that infirmity and carried it to the cross, putting it to death once and for all.

And our humanity remained, forever united to the divine nature in the person of Christ, risen from the dead.

And in him, our cancer is being healed. Our doubts, lusts, fears, grumblings, pains, sorrows – are all being taken away, until we stand before our Groom complete, beautiful, whole and free from sin. He takes our gaze and lifts our head up from the stagnant pool so that we can see the glory of God and the beauty of his image bearers. And the day will come when we will be whole again.

And still gloriously human, but without sin.

If we view humankind as essentially sinful, then we will view the world as a place to be afraid. We will never rest for we must continually be on our guard against sin. We must look at every person in every situation and find out what they did wrong so that we can fix them.

We tell the church about the horrific abuse we have suffered, and they tell us what we did wrong, for that is all they know.

Our spouse, who vowed to love and cherish us, abuses us and takes a lover, and the church tells us what we did wrong, and how to dress and how to not be bitter, for they only see the world and humans as essentially fallen. They become C.S. Lewis’s dwarves sullenly hiding in their caves, looking out for themselves.

Because so often the church views people, at bottom, as sinners, rather than image-bearers of God. So we discount emotion, we take away choices, we silence the voice, we consider our neighbor as a poison to be avoided.

But what if, instead, humans were image bearers of God in their essence, as the scripture says,

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

And, yes, sin has tainted all of that. It is a deadly cancer eroding its host and will end in death if it is not taken away.

But the cancer of sin is horrible precisely because it has brought corruption and putrefying sores to something that was in essence very beautiful.

Start there. View your neighbor, the barista with the tattoos and nose rings, the lesbian co-worker, your middle aged boss – first and foremost as God’s image-bearers. Practice looking at the world beyond the taint of sin, to the beauty beneath. There you will find the connection, the common ground – the thirst for significance and beauty and intimacy and belonging.

Your view of the world will change. And maybe you will start to think God’s thoughts after him. For he so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Wrath is coming. But first comes mercy.

Edwards famously compared humans to a loathsome spider being held over the pit of hell by an angry God.

Let’s change that image. Jesus showed us how God views sinners: as lepers who need pity, rather than spiders to be crushed.

The crushing will come in God’s time. But today is not that day. Now, God’s hand of compassion is reaching out.

When the leper asked the Son of God, “If you are willing, you can make me clean”…

Jesus said, “I am willing. Be clean.”

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Filed under Anthropology, Sin and Grace

How I met my wife

The nineties were a heady time. Flannel shirts, grunge, Janet Reno jokes. I remember it well.

It was in the flurries and scurries of the nineties that I met my wife. It is an interesting story.

It starts with a poker game. I was sitting around the table with my brother, a gamer, a pseudo-philosopher and a hacker. The shots were flowing. Uma was dancing with Travolta on the TV and Marlon Brando was sitting by the fire in the corner with Neil Young and Pocahontas.

The gamer was forming a tin-foil hat for his head to keep the alien rays out and so he was distracted. The philosopher folded (you gotta know when to fold-em) and my brother was raising the pot. We kept going higher and higher, with the hacker matching me each time. Finally, my brother was out, and I went all in.

The hacker couldn’t match, but he wanted to stay in. Marlon Brando stopped mumbling and looked over. The pot was huge and the hacker was out of funds.

“Well”, I said, “What do you have?”

He thought for a moment, and then said, “I can hack Santa’s computer.”

I said “No way.”

He said, “Way” – cause it was the 90s.

The gamer said, “Woah…” but he might have been talking about his new tin foil hat design.

Brando and Young muttered something about the exploitation of the elves, but the atmosphere was too thick.

I said, “What would that do?”

“I can get you his naughty list”

“No way.”

“Way”

“Whoa”

And that is how I got a hold of Santa’s naughty list in 1995.

You all know who you are.

But when I saw Susan’s achievements that landed her on the naughty list, I was smitten. I had to meet this woman. Such daring! Such audacity! Such creativity! I had to meet her.

I couldn’t even repeat the things she did that got her on the list, because I don’t want to give the children ideas. But I couldn’t get her out of my head.

I began scheming.

I knew that she was planning on attending church camp with her family, so I signed up. Maybe we could cause some chaos together. Maybe I too could get on Santa’s naughty list! Oh the places we could go together. But banned from Santa forever, but banned together! I have chills just thinking about it.

I dreamed in my bed at night. My sweat soaked the sheets. Oh the naughtiness! What decadence! What a woman. What a woman!

We could run with scissors. We could NOT finish our plates. We could order dessert and skip the veggies! We could stay up all night and watch QVC with a devil-may-care attitude! We could order Mexican food on Thanksgiving. Oh the wickedness we could get up to! So completely and totally improper! We would make the world blush!

When I got to the camp, I stopped for ice-cream in a small shop and in she walked. The silence descended and in my mind’s eye, a chorus began to sing Orff. Her eyes! Her hair! Her wickedness! I was smitten. The future was pregnant with possibility!

So I hugged her. And she hugged back.

Yada, yada, yada – we were married a few months later.

Almost none of this is true. Some of it is, but as far as I know, she has never been on Santa’s list. Marlon Brando might have been a dream. The nineties were weird. We did pick up Mexican food on Thanksgiving once and she still doesn’t finish her plate, and sometimes she eats pie for dinner, so all of that is true.

Oh the other things I could tell you, too!

But here is what is true.

Her eyes smile peace, and when they lock with mine, I am home.

Today, December 27, we have been married for 27 years – I think. Neither one of us can do math.

What is the secret to a long and happy marriage?

Neither one of us read marriage books, go to conferences, or follow the fads. We are just gloriously ourselves, respect each other, love each other and always defer to each other.

We have never asked “Who is in charge” because when the two become one flesh, that question is an unwelcome intruder, like a mother-in-law on the wedding night.

Just keep your marriage vows and ignore the experts. You’ll be fine.

Lots of love, my wicked awesome wife! You are spectacular.

And the future is still pregnant with possibility. Even more, I should say.

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Filed under Marriage

Masculinity, femininity, and minas

It is no secret that those outside of the Christian faith are sometimes confused about gender identity. The confusion has reached the point where some cities are mandating gender neutral restrooms for those who do not identify as either. This post really isn’t about that.

One passage that seems to be quoted frequently in the discussions of gender  is Matthew 19:4-6, where Jesus affirms that God created humankind male and female, and established marriage as an unbreakable union between a man and a woman. I affirm this.

However, as Jesus goes on, even though God’s standards of purity and wholeness are exactly as they were when he created us, there is the reality of the fall that has taken place since the first man and woman. Now we live in a world where sexual brokenness, abuse, shame, gender dysphoria and the other effects of the fall have twisted and corrupted the original beauty.

Can we, as Christians, uphold the perfect standard of the wholeness of Eden and at the same time acknowledge the reality of the fall and confess our need for redemption? I think we have to, to be consistent with the scripture. We might long for the days of Eden, where marriage was without spot and blemish, for example, and still acknowledge that divorce is sometimes necessary “because of the hardness of your hearts”, as Jesus says.

With that being said, I would like to speak of masculinity and femininity. I am not so concerned with the viewpoint of those outside of the Christian religion, except to affirm the image of God in all, even in those we find distasteful. But I am very concerned about gender confusion in the church.

It seems to me that as those outside move farther and farther away from our cultural norms, and even begin to embrace sinful lifestyles with more abandon, the church seems to respond in fear, beyond the bounds of propriety.

We must remember that our guide for faith, for right and wrong, and for our life is the scripture alone. Jesus forbids us to elevate the opinions of men or even cultural observations to the level of canonical status, but the voices of the loud and authoritarian men often seem to shout down all propriety. I, for example, was once ridiculed as “effeminate” for an online picture in which I was wearing a pink shirt.

So I have taken upon myself of talking a bit about masculine and feminine and will attempt to stay as close as possible to the teachings of our Lord found in the scripture.

The first thing to note is that the scripture seems frustratingly silent on “masculinity” or “femininity” as ethical constructs. In fact, our guide for ethics (the Ten Commandments) doesn’t address it at all, except to acknowledge the reality of male and female in the 5th commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.”

Other than that, you simply won’t find instructions on godly femininity or godly masculinity at all. When you find instructions geared towards women (meek, still, submissive, obedient), you will also find the exact same instructions in other places geared towards men.

When men are commended for courage, strength, fortitude, you will find women commended for the same things. I can think of no example of a command in scripture that is exclusively gendered. To clarify, there are case laws and applications that are different for men and for women, but God’s standard is the same for both. The sacrificial system acknowledges men and women, boy children and girl children, but the duty of sacrifice as an act of faith is universal in the Old Covenant, and not gendered.

Again, to keep things sober, our ethical standard is summarized in the Ten Commandments. The distinctions between men and women are certainly acknowledged in the scripture, but the ethical requirements are the same.

I realize at this point that there may be many who will comment “What about…” and bring up something. That’s OK. I will try to answer the best I can as time permits.

However, although ethical standards are never gendered, scripture throughout assumes the distinctions in the sexes. It acknowledges that there are men and women, young men and maidens.

Since God created humankind male and female, there are generally observable traits that are associated with each sex. Sometimes those traits are culturally conditioned. Sometimes they seem to be inborn. Traditionally, men are associated with hunting, sports, competitiveness, aggression, warfare, and power. Women are associated with gentleness, home, nurture, receptiveness, nourishing, softness. Testosterone and estrogen seem to play a role, but there is also mystery. The problem is when we take these generally observable characteristics and make them ethical requirements.

The reality is that even those these traits are more or less observable in the sexes, there are enough exceptions listed in the scripture to throw a wrench into assigning ethical categories to “masculinity” and “femininity”. In other words, there is no such thing as “biblical femininity” or “biblical masculinity” as ethical categories.

Esau was a hairy outdoorsman, his father’s favorite because Isaac loved the hunting stories. Jacob was a homebody, his mother’s favorite. But God loved Jacob and rejected Esau, not because of gender categories, but because of God’s promise and election (Romans 9). There are condemnations of Jacob’s deception, but not of his personality. Esau’s murderous rage was condemned, as was his unbelief, but not his “masculine” traits”

One of the things you see when you read the scripture without the lens of sexism and misogyny, is that believing men and women have many different personality traits. All of these gifts are given to them by God. Whatever gifts these men and women are given, they are commended if they use those gifts faithfully, and condemned if they use those gifts treacherously. Gender roles don’t come into it.

But we shame men for not conforming to our self-declared masculine stereotypes, and we shame women for not conforming to “biblical femininity”. The question is this, “On what basis are we shaming and condemning those who don’t conform to our norms?”

On what basis to we condemn a woman for being competitive, a strong leader, single, headstrong or having strong leadership qualities? Which commandment is she breaking?

On what basis do we condemn a man for writing poetry, playing music, despising sports, no stomach for hunting and no love for stag parties?

And this brings me to minas. Jesus told a parable about a nobleman going away to receive a kingdom and giving his servants minas. He commends the ones who invested his gifts, and condemned the one who buried his gifts.

Christ came to set us free to serve him without fear. It seems to me that it is contrary to the Christian faith to require someone to act a role or pretend to be something that they are not. Either directly or by shame and exclusion, the culture of the church is requiring believers to bury their minas. Men must act in the approved manner, and women must act in the approved manner. The books are multiplied and inflicted on fearful believers. “Here is how to be Masculine men and Feminine women and if you don’t do it right, you deserve to be shamed, beaten, outcast and miserable”. This is how you must be to attract a mate, to be accepted, to fit in, to be approved.

In the extreme, those who step outside of the prescribed roles are mocked and even cast out. Women who wear pants and like to compete in extreme sports. Men who shave and don’t follow sports and really just want to be home, or whatever nonsense is currently being spouted.

Here’s my point. Instead of burying your mina in the ground, use that gift for the glory of God. Instead of teaching our boys and girls that there are “things that boys do” and “things that girls do”, we should instead teach them to use whatever gifts God has given them to encourage, edify and strengthen their neighbor and glorify God.

When men and women are free to be who they are, to invest their gifts without fear, the glorious diversity of the people of God will truly shine.

The Psalmist said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. Perhaps instead of teaching our gifted and beautiful children that God somehow made them wrong if they don’t conform to our extra-biblical gendered stereotypes, we should teach them to use whatever gifts and personalities they have faithfully and without fear, serving God and one another. If your girl wants to fix cars, let her. Teach her. Praise her for her strength and teach her to be industrious and honest. If your boy loves fabrics and colors, teach him to design, to develop, to create and to be industrious and honest. And above all, teach them both that the fruits of the Spirit are so, so much greater than the fear of man and enforced conformity.

Let’s create safe spaces for our children to thrive. There is already enough risk and fear in the investing of our gifts without heaping the risk of exclusion from the community of God’s people for doing it wrong.

And one more thing:

The scripture generally uses the masculine pronoun to refer to God, while at the same time acknowledging that male and female do not apply to him, as he is spirit. Attributes generally associated with the feminine are ascribed to him, such as nurturing, sheltering, mothering, birthing, and nursing, to describe the indescribable and incomprehensible God. And attributes generally associated with masculine are ascribed to him, such as kingship, fatherhood, husband, bridegroom, and so on.

These descriptions are anthropomorphic. They are words given to us by God designed to reveal something about himself by way of analogy. God frequently uses human terms to condescend to our level so that we can understand him. He speaks of his arm to describe his strength, even though we know he does not have a physical arm. He speaks of his eye to denote his omniscience, even though we know that he does not have any organs, since he is spirit. And he also uses both masculine and feminine characteristics to describe himself, even though he is neither male nor female, but a spirit, a wholly other, incomprehensible, transcendent being that has revealed himself in his word.

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Why didn’t she speak up?

What a remarkable, wonderful gift the gift of speech is! We were created wo commune with God and with each other with words. Think of it!!

God created us to bear his image, and that image is first seen when the first human named the animals. He used words and connected them to ideas and filled them with content. And thus he was able to receive the revelation of God.

Adam named the lamb, and when God became flesh and entered the world, he told mankind that he was the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Words. With words we pray. With words we speak the truth. With words we encourage. With words we say, “I love you” and “your hair is beautiful” and “I love the shape of you and how you fit with me and the way that your neck smells like I belong.”

But sin is now in the world, and that which was meant for beauty and truth was twisted into ugliness and lies and silence. Satan was a liar from the beginning.

Satan does not want the image of God reflected in words. He twists the words to make them ugly and hateful, and he silences the cries of the oppressed. For the darkness reigns when the dark places remain dark. It is for the advantage of the evil one that secrets remain secret and crimes remain hidden behind non-disclosure agreements.

When you read through the Psalms, you see godly men and women crying out, lifting up their voices to the Almighty One, whose Voice called them into existence.

They speak of praise and joy, pain and sorrow, laughter and anger, oppression and helplessness, despair and elation. And all of it is expressed in words.

He hurt me. He plowed my back. He is telling lies. He oppressed and afflicted me.

Because when the light is on, salvation is near. When the light is hidden under a bushel, bondage still reigns.

God would have us turn the lights on, and he calls us to use words.

But the church, which is to be the place where the light is on, is using her voice to silence the oppressed, the plowed-under, those who are crushed under unspeakable sorrow. Instead of using the voice to bring light into darkness, the voice is silenced by guilt and shame.

When one is buried by decades of silence and the heart has grown numb and buried by walls, the soul sinks into despair. But then, where the gloom has buried hope, a light finally arises and the curtains are pulled back.

And the helpless one finally finds her voice. She is finally able to speak of the atrocities done to her and bring them out into the light and look for healing.

And then those who are appointed as overseers of the soul speak.

“Did you follow Matthew 18?”

“Did you have two or three witnesses?”

“What were you wearing?”

“Where were you when this happened”

“Why didn’t you tell people earlier?”

“Why did you call the police?”

“Why didn’t you call the police?”

“What did you do to cause this?”

And here is the mistake that the oppressed make. They think that if they do everything right, say it just right, dot all of the eyes and cross all of the ts, then the shepherds will HAVE to listen. After all, they are the guardians of truth.

But here is why it is a mistake. If they believe you, their whole world must collapse. The reality of the brutality that you have experienced doesn’t fit their worldview, and therefore it cannot be real. In their worldview, those kinds of crimes happen to other people, outsiders, gentiles, not in our own camp.

If they believe you, then they have choices to make, investigations, confrontation, and cutting out a cancer. And it is far easier to ignore the cancer, pretend that it isn’t there, and go on with life than it is to do what has to be done with cancer. It is easier in the short term to silence the one who warns of cancer than to deal with the cancer.

So they don’t want to hear, and it won’t matter how it is said, they will find some reason not to believe you. They will twist words, they will pull out their verses, they will hire a PR firm, they will issue statements, they will do everything they can think of…

Except believe you.

And this is actually encouraging for the psalmist of every age, crying out for justice.

Listen closely: It isn’t you. It isn’t because you did something wrong, or said it wrong, or didn’t say it at the right time, or didn’t follow the right procedure or whatever other excuse the gatekeepers throw at you.

That isn’t it.

It is because they are of their father the devil and the works of their father they will do. He was a liar and a murderer from the beginning and the truth was not in him.

Speak anyway. Because when you speak, you shine a little light into the darkness.

But even more than that – you show yourself to be a child of the light.

Arise, shine, and Christ will give you light.

And the darkness hates the light. It always has because it loves the darkness. It is easier to hide in the darkness that to be exposed by the light.

Speak anyway. You will find that there are those who walk in the light who hear you. Who understand. Who see you.

Jesus sees you. He knows. He wants you to speak to him. He calls you to come down from the tree. Come out of hiding.

“Who touched me?” he says.

If that was you, tell him everything. He knows already, but he created you with a voice. Don’t let the Evil One silence that voice, because that voice is beautiful in your Father’s ears.

He hears you. He keeps your tears in his bottle, and every one of them will be avenged.

So speak. Write your own psalm. Speak your truth.

You won’t ever do it correct enough or have enough witnesses for the children of the devil to listen. They aren’t going to listen, not even if you sent an angel from heaven to thunder in their ears.

Speak anyway, because you are a child of light.

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Grief and Gratitude (a thanksgiving meditation)

I remember the last time that I cried. I was perhaps 10 or 11 years old. We were in a restaurant and I was suddenly overcome with emotion and just started crying. I didn’t know how to explain that I was just overwhelmed and exhausted, so I said something about my food.

My dad was furious. He was definitely of the “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” school of thought. He lectured me on gratitude. If I am thankful, then I wouldn’t be crying…

I started to learn how to mask any tears. Tears are always associated in my subconscious with sinful weakness. Maybe one day I will have a breakthrough and learn how to ugly-cry again. I think I might need it.

Anyway, the reason that I am bringing it up is that there is a discussion on Twitter about depression. Someone stated, “Jesus never suffered from depression.”

In order to make that statement, you would have to define depression. If you mean it colloquially, as in, “someone so overwhelmed with grief that they feel like they are dying, then it is easy to demonstrate that Jesus did indeed suffer from that kind of grief”. He was sorrowful to the point of death at Gethsemane.

If, however, you mean the clinical definition of depression, we don’t have the evidence one way or another. He also never got the flu (at least that we know of from scripture) but I am hard-pressed to know what the point is.

I think that the point of the original post is that depression, however you define it, is sin and if someone had proper gratitude then depression will flee away. Just in time for thanksgiving, someone always resurrects the idea that if one is truly thankful in everything, then there is no room for sadness, grief or depression.

Lose a child? Chin up. You can always have another.

Divorce? You’ll find someone else.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Count your blessings.

Be thankful, and all your worries and griefs will be whisked away.

Codswallop.

12 years ago, I lost a child two weeks before thanksgiving. That is a long story, one that I might have the courage to tell one day.

So I want to write this to everyone who is having a hard time counting their blessings this year. I get it. The food tastes like sawdust in the mouth. The painful lump in the back of the throat. The tears that are always threatening, and the subconscious effort to make sure that they don’t burst the dam.

You don’t want to ruin everyone’s thanksgiving. And so you try to be a bit more thankful. If only you would repent of your ingratitude, then you wouldn’t be a bother to anyone else.

Please take this as an encouragement. This world is so, so often a valley of tears. And gratitude and grief often reside in the same breast.

And that’s OK. In fact, that is exactly what redeemed humanity looks like this side of glory. We take up our crosses with him. We cry out with him in Gethsemane. And we remember the joy that is also set before us. It isn’t here.

My dad, who hated any displays of emotion, also would say, “God would not have us be too much at home here.” Our affections are where Christ is seated, at God’s right hand. This is where our thanksgiving is. That God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

The tears will be wiped away. The curse of death destroyed. The presence of God will be with a redeemed humanity, where the lamb is the light and there is no more sea of uncertainty and danger, no more night of weeping and cold sweats and relived trauma.

But today is not that day. Today, we live by faith and not by sight.

Which means that grief and gratitude reside in the same breast.

Let your children cry. Even for no reason. Let your friends and family weep.

Let them be downcast and mourn, for sometimes the weight is so, so heavy. Spend your thanksgiving with friends and family who know how to weep together, as well as rejoice together. This doesn’t mean that they are unthankful. It simply means that they see the gap between the already and the not yet.

They see the gap between Eden and East of Eden, and they are longing – so, so much – to be back home in Eden, where Christ is at the right hand of God.

Doesn’t the bride weep while the groom is absent?

When the groom appears, all tears will be wiped away. Until then, friends, don’t be ashamed of the tears. The groom is coming.

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An Abusive Man’s Toolbox

It is in the best interest of an abusive man to use religious coercion to hold onto access to his victims.

Godly sounding “christianese” sometimes serves that purpose very well.

One phrase that sticks in my craw is this one:

“God designed marriage to make you holy, not happy.”

I can’t explain how this one became so popular, except by the first sentence above. But it is wrong.

God instituted marriage before the fall, when Adam and Eve both walked in God’s presence in the temple of Eden.

Adam was already holy when God presented him with Eve. Even was given to Adam as a fitting helper, and Adam exclaimed with joy, “At last! Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!” And God saw it and said, “Behold, it is very good.”

Man’s lack of holiness came AFTER the fall, when he was driven from Eden, away from God’s presence. That holiness is only restored in the Second Adam.

By union with him, we are made what we are not. We are holy, because we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. He has consecrated himself so that he might consecrate us and present us to God, a bride without blemish and without spot. If you belong to Christ, you ARE holy, and you will be MADE holy – whether you are married or single, widowed or divorced, male or female.

But the design of marriage is the same as it has always been. For the happiness and joy of the two entering into marriage.

So that brings me to compassion. We are called to enter into the suffering and pain of others, especially of the body of Christ. When one member hurts, all members hurt. We are called to hurt and suffer together as well as rejoice together. But that is costly.

It takes time to enter into someone’s pain. It may cause you to re-evaluate everything that you thought was solid. It may cause sleepless nights, wrestling in prayer. It may cause you to weep, which is always uncomfortable.

But it may also cause you to have to step out of your comfortable worldview, where “we are all nice Christians here” and into a worldview where wolves terrorize sheep and the sheep are often left scattered and alone and vulnerable.

And that is never a comfortable zone for anyone to be in.

So when a sister or brother tentatively reaches out about pain in marriage, about the abuse she is suffering at the hands of her husband, about the horrible things that human beings can do to each other, it is far safer and more comfortable for the hearer to bounce it back, put up a “I-am-so-not-interested” wall and say,

“Marriage is designed to make you holy, not happy.”

Then make some mmm, mmmm, mmmm sounds. Grasp her hands and make a sad face, and send her on her way.

That way you don’t have to disrupt your own life with uncomfortable truths.

But it is wrong.

As members of Christ, we are to be as he is. We enter into suffering as he does. We walk with the wounded as he does. We pay the cost to sit with the vulnerable and suffering, because Christ paid the ultimate cost and we are honored to take up his cross with him. He paid the cost so that we might be delivered from the hard bondage of sin and misery and the kingdom of the devil.

And it should be our greatest desire to lead others to the paths of liberty. What a great joy when a sheep escapes from the mouth of a wolf!

So listen to the uncomfortable stories. Tear down the wall that you think is keeping you safe and learn to walk with the wounded. Bear the reproach of Christ, and the insults.

It is tremendously costly. Ask anyone who has made a habit of it, and they’ll tell you.

But when you do so, you will have the honor of being more and more like Christ, reflecting his comfort, righteousness and beauty to a wounded and hurting world.

“Be ye holy”, he says. “For I am holy.”

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9 things (November 3)

Jesus has promised that he is gathering together the outcasts, the afflicted, the exiled and the despised. He is clothing them, cleansing them, and embracing them as family. Some days the longing for that Day is pretty intense.

Under the sun, it sometimes seems as if it is better to be greeted in the marketplace than it is to be an outcast. But Jesus tells us that he has a special care for the outcasts. He knows what one needs to compromise in order to be greeted in the marketplace.

For the last two days, I have seen headlines about a missing verse in the song, “You’re so vain” by Carly Simon. They are trying to convince me to open the headline, with the temptation that this verse might reveal who the song is about. I am having a hard time believing that anyone actually still cares. Of course, I have a hard time believing anyone EVER cared.

I recently read an article mocking what the author called the “victim mentality”. I cannot fathom what certain Christians think they are trying to accomplish by mocking victims of crimes. Sometimes I think that pastors are only concerned with not being bothered. When you mock certain people for having a “victim mentality” all that you are accomplishing in ensuring that your sheep will never, ever speak to you about what is actually on their hearts.

Throughout the world, men, women and children are being cast out of the churches, just as Jesus said they would (John 16:2). Bob Dylan sings, “It’s not dark yet. But it’s getting there”. The wolves are entrenched. The sheep are cast out. But Jesus is working. Nothing is outside of what he has already said would happen. And he is gathering his outcasts together.

Everyone likes to complain about social media. But the Lord is doing something wonderful through it. He is connecting his outcasts together and giving them hope. How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim good tidings, even when those tidings are proclaimed  in unexpected ways.

Fall has arrived in Northern California. There is a crisp tang in the air. My wife is making fabulous apple crisp. The soup is on and the wine is flowing. Fall speaks peace to the soul, that the God of color, light, sunsets, smells, and tastes is the God who made us, cares for us, and is our Husband. Your maker is your husband (Isaiah 54)! What a thought! The leaves can rest and so can we.

Brahms’ Symphony #4 brings joy in a profound and intense way.

God gives his beloved ones sleep; but he gives it by strengthening our faith – that HE builds the house, protects the city, provides redemption, and calls his people to the Jerusalem which is above. (Psalm 127).

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