A Prayer for True Peace

It was suggested that my Pastoral Prayer from May 31st be published. Sometimes. when we don’t know what to pray, having a prayer written down gives us a guide.

From Pentecost Sunday, May 31st, at First Reformed Church.

Our God, our father, our king, our judge

You are the one who sits in heaven reigning over all things. Lord Jesus, Your kingdom is forever and ever. In your kingdom, justice is perfect. In your kingdom, there is no respect of persons.

And we know that we were created to long for that perfect justice. As image bearers, our hearts and our souls cry out for the day when justice will run down like water as the prophet has foretold.

As we wait for that day, Father, fill us with your peace. May our anger be expressed in a way consistent with your nature, as our Lord Jesus did.

Restrain the lawless and the murderer and the reviler and the brawler. And father, may your kingdom come. May we always submit ourselves more and more to you. Govern us by your word and spirit, cast out wickedness in high places, restrain lawlessness, give justice to the oppressed, comfort to the bereaved, peace to the restless.

And on this day of Pentecost, more than ever, we long for the filling of your Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, conform our hearts to the image of Jesus Christ.

As we long for the appearing of our Lord Jesus, teach us to crucify our old nature. We know, dearest Lord, that we must cast off the old man and his deeds – and put on the new man. Forgive us. Search our hearts as the Psalmist teaches us to pray.

Search our hearts to uncover the ugliness there. Like a wise surgeon uncovering the cancer, so uncover our cancer so that we might be healed. Bring light into our darkness. Bring healing to our deadly wound. For the wound is deadly. There is no balm of healing, except for that provided by our Lord and King.

And we long for his coming – when he will come and cast all his and our enemies into everlasting fire, and take us with all his precious people into eternal glory, where justice, truth and mercy reign.

We are so used to justifying ourselves and condemning others. Teach us, instead, to judge with righteous judgment, where there is no respect of persons, no partiality, no bribery, no coverups – that we might be good children of our Father in heaven, who does good to all men, with whom there is no partiality nor respect of persons.

Fill us with your spirit that we might walk in the light. Fill our lives with love and joy and peace. And let righteousness reign. Against these things there is no law.

Father we mourn for our communities, for our cities, for the brokenness of the world. Hatred and injustice are contrary to our creation and quickly become intolerable. Give us wisdom and humility as we seek the way forward. Tear down the walls of hatred and injustice and brutality and lawlessness and let righteousness and peace reign, without oppression, without entitlement, in humility and love. Give our leaders a spirit of justice and wisdom, for rioting and war are never good and cannot bring the righteousness of God.

May the gospel flourish. May the true gospel of our Lord Jesus be proclaimed, believed, embraced. Tear down false prophets, tear down those who feed themselves rather than the sheep. Tear down those who seek to profit off the backs of those who are hurting.

May your word of peace flow down like water, cleansing our hearts from all evil.

Change us, and we will be changed. Convert us, and we will be converted. Give courage to the fearful. Strength to the weary. Faith to the doubting.

And give us peace. Not a false peace of smiles covering a heart screaming in fear and pain; but true peace. Where there is true cleansing, true righteousness and justice, peace between you and us, us and them, us and creation – for we are your people, and you are our God.

We long for that day where the lion and the lamb lie down together, and the asp and the child play together. We long for that day when there is no hurt and no pain and no injustice and no brutality in all your holy mountain.

May that day break forth in this age, Father. Show us glimpses of that kingdom in our own hearts and in our lives. Give us peace. Restrain wickedness, wherever it appears. Cast down the evildoer, whoever they are. In our lives and in our deeds, may all that we do cry out that the Lord God Omnipotent reigns.

Guide my lips today. Bless the reading and preaching of your word. Soften our hearts, fill us with your Spirit. Forgive sins. Heal the brokenhearted. Relieve the fatherless and widow. And may our lives be filled with the fruit of your Spirit.

And let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, Our Strength, and Our Redeemer.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

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Look at the culture

I worked in the Food and Beverage industry for many  years, so that background has become a part of me.

Suppose a family becomes ill with a foodborne illness. Some of you might remember the e-coli epidemic that spread for a while. When people started dying, the authorities tried to find out why. The honorable restaurant owners looked at their own training and procedures to try to determine what it was that was making the conditions favorable to the growth of this deadly bacteria.

It wasn’t the conditions themselves that caused illness and death. It was the e-coli. But there was something about certain restaurants that caused deadly bacteria to thrive. Are the temperatures too warm or not hot enough? Are there appropriate hand-washing techniques in place? Is the staff thoroughly trained on  food safety issues.

The goal of any successful food and beverage establishment is to create conditions that are hostile to the growth of deadly bacteria.

Many years ago, I noticed trends in conservative churches. There were way, way too many instances of abuse of women, degradation of women, despising of women and even criminal activity against women and deadly or potentially deadly assaults.

This trend was accompanied by a trend of child sexual assault by men in authority – pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers. I know that, for the reasons mentioned further down, many will at this point say, “You are exaggerating! You are attacking Christ’s body!!” So suffice it for now for me to mention Anna Salter’s landmark work on Predators where she thoroughly documents everything that I just said.

One thing that Salter mentions is that predators against children find churches to be the easiest targets. As soon as they get out of prison, they lay out their plans to find a church with children, groom the leadership, and do as they please.

They make the plans. They carry them out. And the results are well documented.

So after seeing these disturbing trends, and being a pastor charged with the care of the sheep that God has placed in my care, I asked myself a very important question. “What is it in our churches that makes the conditions so favorable to predators, abusers, revilers, adulterers, and tyrants?”

At that point, I began to examine the interpretations of scripture that make the hunting grounds so favorable to wolves. And asked, “Is this really what scripture says?”

Does scripture really say that a woman must endure abuse “for a season” until she can get her elders involved?

Does it say that she must get the permission of the elders before she can get a divorce?

Does the scripture say that the steps of Matthew 18 must be followed before a parent is allowed to report a crime against her child to the authorities?

Does the scripture teach that a woman is at least partially to blame for her rape, no matter the circumstances, for “putting herself in that situation”?

Does 1 Corinthians 6 really say that it is sinful to report criminal activity to the police?

Does the scripture actually say that a man has the absolute right to command his wife to any degrading, insufferable thing that crosses his fancy and she must obey (as long as it isn’t ‘sinful’)? Does submission mean that she must scrub the kitchen on her hands and knees wearing only her underwear, using only her toothbrush, if that is what catches the man’s fancy at the moment (I have actually heard this used).

And I started to see that the e-coli of tyranny and abuse is actually finding the perfect environment to flourish in our churches – especially those trained in nouthetic counseling. We should, instead, do everything in our power to make the culture of the church as inhospitable to abusers and predators as we possible can.

The resistance to that idea is immediate, brutal, unrelenting and harsh. I have found that the unrelenting persecution against those who seek to purify the culture of the church is far, far greater than anything I have experienced from “the world”. People despise change, and the really, really despise losing their power over other people.

It is nothing new. There were many attempts to reform the morals of the church in the middle ages, but those few who dared to question the system that allowed immorality to flourish met with a quick, fiery, painful end.

It wasn’t until the Reformation that the problem was revealed. Immorality was not an anomaly to the Roman system. It was bred throughout every part of it. It was woven into the fabric of the system itself, until there was no hope for it at all. Money, power, control and the status quo are the perfect environment for all manner of evil to flourish.

While I was thinking about this, I watched a white police officer dispassionately kneel on the neck of a black man. He did not lose his temper. He was not frightened for his life. He knew that he was being filmed. And he knew that he was killing the man slowly and painfully, in public, and he didn’t care.

And I ask myself, “What is it about the culture of our systems of power that cause this kind of wickedness to flourish?”

“Well, we don’t know the whole story…” as if something can make a slow, public execution morally acceptable.

“It was one wicked man, not the system…” and yet it happens so frequently that he did not feel the need to hide his actions, cover his actions or make excuses. He wasn’t afraid or timid. He coolly, calmly, and without any emotion whatsoever slowly executed a black man because he knew he could and get away with it.

I hope he doesn’t, and I hope that there will be earthly justice done for George Floyd.

But even more than that, I hope that those in law enforcement and in churches and in positions of authority throughout the country ask themselves, “Why did he think that this was acceptable behavior?”

Was it a secret to his locker room buddies that he had within himself the ability to do such a thing?

Or did they hear his racist rants, and say nothing. How many other violent incidents were covered up, buried, exonerated, or just ‘put in his file”.

If we are going to put the power of life and death in the hands of a few men and women, should we not all hold them to the highest standards?

I love the church of Jesus Christ, and I love my profession. For that reason, I do everything I can to purge out the leaven that causes abusers and predators to flourish.

So please do not think that this is an attack against LEOs. It is a plea. If there are good and honorable men and women in this profession, which I wholeheartedly believe, perhaps now is the time to take a long look at the culture that continually allows this sort of thing to take place.

You will not ever be able to root out all evil. But you could at least make the environment intolerable enough so that it doesn’t flourish and never breaks out again into open murder. The way to stop e-coli is to create a hostile environment to it.

The way to stop predators in the church is to create a hostile environment to them. This is called “Church discipline” and is the mark of the true church.

The way to stop murderers, tyrants and racists in law enforcement is to create a hostile working condition to them.

When murder takes place openly, without fear, without passion, in a calm environment, over a period of 8 minutes, something is desperately wrong.

If you stand up in your own departments and your own agencies and say, “Not here. Not today. Not ever again” perhaps you can make a difference. I’ll stand with you. There is always room for more. In the words of Arlo Guthrie, maybe it could be a movement.

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Filed under Abuse, assault, Race

Recovering with Aimee Byrd

In the past week, I read – among other books – two in particular that stuck with me. I generally tend to have several books going at one time.

The first book was Aimee Byrd’s remarkable book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The second was Us Against You by my favorite novelist, Fredrik Backman. It is a novel about two rival towns within a few miles of one another; two hockey teams; two rivalries – us and you. It is a story of hate and enemies and how quickly hate burns into murder and destruction. It is an account of a politician who thrives on that hate, and keeping it stirred up. Hate is easy, inborn, natural. It is easily confused for righteousness and zeal. Beartown hockey against their archrivals: Hed hockey. Us against you.

The story begins with the star of Beartown Hockey raping the daughter of the General Manager of Beartown Hockey. And the hate begins.

Backman writes,

A boy, the star of the hockey team, rapes a girl. And we lost our way. A community is the sum of its choices, and when two of our children said different things, we believed him. Because that was easier, because if the girl is lying our lives could carry on as usual. When we found out the truth, we fell apart, taking the town with us. It’s easy to say that we should have done everything differently, but perhaps you wouldn’t have acted differently, either. If you’d been afraid, if you’d been forced to pick a side, if you’d known what you had to sacrifice. Perhaps you wouldn’t be as brave as you think. Perhaps you’re not as different from us as you hope. (page 2)

It is a hard read. Brilliant writing.

In one scene, Backman describes a hockey game between the two towns. The towns have hated each other as long as anyone can remember. The ice rink has a standing area and it is filled with the loudest fans of the rival team. As the game begins, the fans of the opposing team in the standing area search for the names that will bring the most pain, the most rage, the most degradation and start shouting those names. It makes one cringe to read it.

But then, something happens. One girl in the standing area gets up and goes to the seating area. Another one follows. Then another and another. Until, pretty soon, there are only a handful of haters left in the standing area. It turns out that those ugly, shouting, hateful people were not nearly as numerous as everyone thought. There were only a handful of them. But they knew what to shout to cause the most pain. And they were loud.

This calms everything down for the evening, and the two teams play hockey.

Aimee Byrd is not outside the Reformed Tradition. She is under the authority of the church. She subscribes to the Reformed creeds and confessions, and has never written anything contrary to her confession of faith. She is more orthodox that those who founded the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She is not a ‘feminist’. She is a sister in Christ, loved by the Lord Jesus and a member of his body, the church.

But she asks some very valid questions in her book. Do women have more to offer the church than what is generally assumed by the modern conservative church? Do women have the right and the duty to study theology? Do women have the right to sit at the feet of Jesus as disciples and learn from him?

And she writes and gently critiques from within the boundaries of Reformed Theology and the ecumenical creeds. She is direct, but gentle. Insightful and kind.

And the men lost their minds. Without even reading the book, shouts of “heresy”! “Disturber of the peace of the church!” “Feminist!” “Egalitarian!”

Shouting from the stands is easy. It is the cowards way. It avoids actually confronting our hate and our fear and having a rational discussion. Perhaps the men are afraid that the women will get uppity. Perhaps they are afraid that their wives will refuse to make them a sandwich and the might have to get off the couch and do it themselves. Perhaps they are afraid of love.

Because if you learn to love, you have to listen. To listen, means you have to quit shouting and admit that there might be something you are wrong about. To love one another means that you have to put the other ahead of yourself. To love, you have to respect and honor even those who might be different than you.

And that is very, very difficult to do.

It is far, far easier to tell a woman to make you a sandwich than it is to love her. But when we do that, how much have we lost of our own humanity?

I think what it comes down to is fear. In Beartown Hockey, Backman describes that fear behind the hate so perfectly. We fear losing who we are. What will we lose if we admit the truth?

Having been born and raised in conservative Reformed churches, I think I know something of that fear. If you let your guard down for one second, liberals get into the church. Next thing you know, you lose everything. The church goes apostate all because someone let their guard down. I think we are afraid of divorce, afraid of having to wash dishes and learn how to cook, afraid we might have to re-evaluate what we have been taught about men and women. If we let our guard down even for a second, the women take over. We can’t have that. Beartown has to win, otherwise, who are we? Constant vigilance takes the place of love and that means that shouting from the stands takes the place of honest engagement. We can’t be seen consorting with FEMINISTS!

But rather than thinking through the questions that Byrd raises, we are afraid of the answer. Most of those who reviewed the book didn’t even read it. They just shouted what their neighbors shouted. Hate is easy. Listening is harder.

I wasn’t a young man in seminary, at least not in years. But I was obnoxious. I thought I knew everything. It is easy to criticize everything outside of what we think is right, it is easy to pick apart and find fault. But we never grow that way. We never learn. We never put off the old man and put on the new. I wish I had listened more than I did.

Our traditions are deeply engrained. We have a very clear understanding of who the right thinking people are. Us against you.

And our debating too often turns into shouting from the stands.

I for one, am leaving those stands. I’m not a part of that. You won’t hear my voice shouting names and insults. I am going to sit in the stands and think some things through. I would invite you to join me.

Maybe we can all recover from the voices of the loud ones and learn a thing or two from our sisters.

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Entitlement and Pharaoh

I’ve been studying through Exodus. I can’t tell you how many times I have read the account of the plagues.

But there is a recurring theme that is so common that we miss it. I know that this might sound strange, but I think you know what I mean. Something that is repeated so often that we miss how utterly astounding it is, like a shaft of sunlight bursting through the overhanging branches.

The message that Moses gave to Pharaoh was this:

Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go.”

After the 8th plague,when Egypt was almost completely destroyed, Pharaoh said,

Exodus 10:24
Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.”

When you pause for a moment, you realize something astounding. The Hebrews were God’s people. But Pharaoh had a deep-seated belief that they were HIS people. He believed that he was entitled to force them to work, dispose of them how he willed, and do with them what he pleased. He was Pharaoh. They were slaves.

It was a mindset that was so deeply engrained in him that it was unquestioned – a presupposition, to use Van Til’s phrase. “Presupposed entitlement”, if you will.

Presupposed entitlement is the assumption, partly inborn, partly acquired through culture, that one is entitled to exert power over another, simply by virtue of their ontology.

Pharaoh was Pharaoh. Of course he was entitled to do whatever he wanted to with the Hebrews. They were Hebrews.

This thinking is common with all fallen men and women. And it is so deeply engrained that we think it before we can even think. For this reason, it is very simple to gather a following, instill them with a sense of superiority over a group of people, and foster that presupposed entitlement. Whole cultures are consumed by it.

Just this past week, two white men were arrested. Three months ago, they got their guns, and got into their truck and followed a black man down the street. The black man was jogging. They demanded that he tell them what he is doing in their neighborhood. He, being afraid, lashed out and ended up getting shot.

There were no prosecutions until the video went viral. The men claimed that they thought he was responsible for a string of burglaries. It was assumed by EVERYONE in law and order that these two men had the right to do what they did. I do not wish to try the case, but I do want to look at some of the rhetoric surrounding the release of the video.

“He was told clearly to stop. He didn’t listen to instructions. He should has stopped and done what he was told to do.”

“It was self-defense”

The two white men were not police officers. They were not authorized in any way to command anyone to do anything. And right there is a perfect example of presupposed entitlement.

We are white. He is black. Of course we have the right to stop and question him.

This morning, a white man stopped a black delivery driver and demanded that he explain what he is doing in the neighborhood.

I have often marveled at the similarities between the arguments of patriarchalists and the arguments of slavery apologists . The similarity is right here: “We, as men, have the God-given right, by our creation, to order women around  – oops, I mean “lead”. We have God-given ontological superiority (woops, I mean “role of authority) and women have the God –given ontological role to submit.”

Substitute “white” for male, and “black” for female and you have the exact argument of the slavery apologists of the nineteenth century.

Perhaps this is why patriarchalist like Doug Wilson also defend chattel slavery as good for the black man…the heart of the issue is the same: White men have ontological entitlement to own and sell black slaves by virtue of their ontological superiority. Males have ontological entitlement over women for the same reason.

 

I have gotten pushback in certain circles for criticizing the “Bible belt culture” – accused of attacking the church.

I was not attacking the church. But I was indeed criticizing the “Bible Belt Culture”. The sort of entitlement that fills one’s head – where they believe that they have the unquestioned right to command a black man, or command a woman as they see fit – does not come overnight. It is engrained by the culture that one is in.

It is true that this entitlement is inborn, because we are all born of Adam. But what I am really talking about is this: only in an entitled culture could two white men use these excuses to escape prosecution for months.

“They thought he was a burglar. They told him to stop. He didn’t stop as he was commanded to.”

Presuppositional entitlement. “I will allow them to go, but they must leave their little ones at home.”

I have the right to command people as I see fit.

This has nothing to do with Christianity.

25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called`benefactors.’
26 “But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.
27 “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. (Luke 22:25-27 NKJ)

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Filed under Men and women, Patriarchy, Race

Abuse and Conspiracy Theories

Once again, I am being bullied into “taking a stance” on conspiracy theories. I wish it would stop.

There are certain advocates of abuse victims that write about satanic ritual abuse, conspiracies to molest children, satanic rituals in high places, and so on. I don’t pay a lot of attention, so I don’t know if I know all of the details. I don’t have an opinion as to what they should do or what they should write.

But I have publicly separated from certain groups over it, so I thought I would explain again – as it tends to crop up again. This is just me. I have no intention of dictating what anyone else should do. This is my own conviction.

So here are a few points on my conviction.

  1. I have no doubt whatsoever that great evil exists in high places. I have no doubt that there is indeed ritual satanic abuse, pedophile abuse, conspiracies to cover up and deny the most horrific acts that mankind can commit. That is called “Total depravity” and I have always confessed it and believe it.
  2. I also believe that those with great power in the church and in the state commit great wickedness. It has always been that way.
  3. That being said, I also know that Satan thrives on fear, superstition, unrest, and suspicion. Scripture warns us against that as well. If he can sidetrack us with rumors of symbols, rituals, secret handshakes, hidden messages, then he can convince us that God is not powerful and good, and that Satan is truly in charge of this world.
  4. Satan also thrives on gossip and slander.
  5. Christ has defeated the enemy through his death and resurrection. It is the proclamation of the gospel that casts out all demonic activity, no matter what form it takes (Luke 10; Rev. 12)

So with these points in mind, here is my commitment:

I will not spread around any reports of Satanic ritual abuse, hidden messages, names of “Satan worshipers”, secret pictures, handshakes, conspiracies, rituals, or such like.

I also will have nothing to do with the propagation of such things.

It is NOT because I do not believe that they exist. It is because I believe that darkness thrives on fear, superstition and unrest, and I will not give that to them.

My calling as a preacher of the gospel is to proclaim deliverance and peace through the blood of Christ, not become a sounding board of the restless, superstitious and fearful.

Furthermore, if I spread around the reports that Pastor so and so is involved in ritual abuse, or President so and so eats children in his satanic rituals – these things MAY INDEED BE TRUE! – but if I pass them along I will only accomplish giving more power and more authority to the devil than he actually has. If these things are NOT true, however, I am guilty of great sin in the eyes of God.

I ask myself, when it comes to the latest conspiracy theory – is it true? (almost always I cannot know for certain.) If it is, is it edifying? (almost always, it is simply providing fodder for the gawking crowds). Will it accomplish any good? (Almost certainly not.)

So why would I involve myself in matters beyond me – matters of darkness and great wickedness? The only thing that will defeat such things is the proclamation of the gospel, which is what I do anyway – on a daily basis.

It is one thing to write strongly about heresy or error, refuting someone’s own words. I do that frequently, and will continue to expose satanic doctrines and bad theology. But it is quite another to accuse someone second or third hand of horrible crimes based upon the word of someone you have never met. I have no knowledge of those crimes firsthand, and am quite aware of Total Depravity in bearing false witness, and the thrill of a really juicy story, and will have no part of it. The few times that I have shared on social media someone else’s story I have almost always regretted it.

I do not need to be a crusader against every evil simply because someone demands that I do so. Some abysses I have no interest in exploring, and would suggest that you all do the same.

If someone in my acquaintance or in my congregation suffers from severe satanic abuse, I would believe them. I would tell them the gospel. I would comfort them with Christ and his death and resurrection, and the promise of the second coming and judgment. I will never, ever underestimate the power in the blood of Christ, or his authority as the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

If it were possible, I would support them reporting crimes to the proper authorities.

But I would NEVER encourage or support their taking their accusations to social media to titillate and tickle the ears of the mob. There are already too many sons of Sceva out there. We don’t need more.

14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. (Acts 19:14-18 NKJ)

Do you see how the powers of darkness were overcome? Magnifying the Lord Jesus, confessing sins, believing the gospel.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy– meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8 NKJ)

There is tremendous power in the blood of Christ. I will not get sidetracked by “satanic symbols”, rituals, cults, rings, filth of every kind and other stories designed to titillate the readers. I had enough of that in the 70s with the whole “backmasking” thing. No more. Nothing good comes of it. There is already too much unrest in the world.

This is not a flight from reality. It is the exaltation of the light over the forces of darkness. The gospel alone drives out the darkness, and that is my calling.

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Filed under Faith, Wisdom

Thoughts on “Recovering from …”

Some books I skim. They’re pretty good. Other books, the really good ones, cause you to put it down for a while and think.

This is the best recommendation I can give for “Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”, by Aimee Byrd. Of course, many are already so fixated on male and female roles that they won’t actually read the book, and this will be a huge mistake. Before you critique, digest it. Roll the ideas around the mind. Like a good wine, slurp it, slosh it around the tongue and think about it.

That way, if you do wish to critique, at least you will sound intelligent while you do so and not just a ranting puppet of the establishment.

So, that being said, there is one thing unique about the book. I don’t know what I feel about it. There are several repeating metaphors – one is explained in the introduction. If you don’t read the introduction, you won’t understand most of her references to yellow wallpaper, peeling it back, and other references to a rather obscure 19th century novel. It is a great metaphor and illustrates what she is saying quite effectively.

Another metaphor is found on page 133. As a pastor, I learned many years ago about the perils of using your children as examples, especially if you have not given them the previous veto right. So my first thought, when reading it, was “Oh, I really hope Solanna knew she was going to be in her mom’s book!!”

But that thought quickly passed. I am sure (!) that permission was granted and veto privileges allowed. That story is central to the metaphor of that chapter. Her point is a good one and the illustration holds up.

The reason that I am not sure about my feelings on it, is that it makes it rather difficult to pull out quotable material. There is so much that I would like to quote and to discuss, but in the middle there is an odd reference to wall paper or pizza or taking it out of the oven – which is illustrative and apt – but doesn’t translate into a quotable book.

But that is a quibble. There is so much that I would like to discuss about the book!

Back to my thought at the beginning, before I got sidetracked by wallpaper or pizza (you see how difficult it is??). There is a section (among many) that caused me to put the book down and follow the rabbit trail of my own experiences. Here’s a quote:

Disciples of Christ are initiated into a covenant family. We are baptized within the covenant community of our church, and this marks the church’s responsibility to teach us – not some – but all Christ commanded. It also marks our responsibility to learn as disciples (p162)

She is exactly right, and I love her chapter on discipleship and what it is. Reformed and Presbyterian churches have emphasized the teaching ministry of the church since their inception. Calvin preached 5 times on Sunday and throughout the week to hungry parishioners, according to some historians.

Christ teaches it clearly in the Great Commission:

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

Byrd is on point and it really got me thinking in this excellent chapter. First of all, about pizza – and secondly, about the nature of the teaching ministry of the church.

There are pockets of people in my extended community who have bought the teaching of the extreme patriarchal teachers. These teachings almost always come with heavy doses of theonomy, reconstructionism, dominionism, and separationism. One aspect of what they believe is that Sunday school classes for kids and membership classes for kids are unbiblical, since God gave that responsibility to the fathers. It is extremely attractive to controlling and abusive men, to have no accountability – even in the church.

In our congregation, our tradition is to do what is called “confirmation”, where I as the pastor spend several years with pre-teen and teenage baptized children and teach them catechism, bible history, theology proper, and just talk about everything on their minds.

These patriarchal types have argued with me about that frequently. There is a movement called “Family Integrated Worship” that teaches that the father is the covenant head, and therefore responsible to teach, to open and close the Lord’s Table, and lead worship. Effectively, it bypasses the church in favor of the family. One man hesitated when I mentioned catechism class, and finally reluctantly agreed, but only if he could participate. It didn’t last long.

One of the most dangerous things about it is that it sounds almost right – until you peel away the wallpaper. It is true that the father and mother have the responsibility to teach their children (Deut. 6) and to bring them to worship, fulfilling their baptismal vows.

But Byrd’s point is an excellent one. According to the great commission, the responsibility to disciple and teach is given to the church. Parents receive that authority as members of the church and are to carry out their duties to their children as members of Christ, not as tiny little popes. But the Great Commission was given to the church, not the heads of families.

The same is true of the sacraments and the ministry of the word. The apostles were NOT chosen because of their status as heads of families. In fact, their marital status and amount of children they had is not mentioned at all. The last genealogy in scripture ends with Christ, which speaks volumes.

Ideally, the pastor, elders and parents all work together. The church making disciples of Christ and teaching them everything that Christ teaches us; the parents bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The goal of the discipling of the church is that we all grow together, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)

In the context, God has given the church its officers (pastor – teachers being one) and has given them their commission. Teach. Teach and teach some more. Make disciples of Christ.

To a certain extent, God has given this ministry to the whole Church. As members of Christ, we are all “prophets” and called to rightly confess his name. But the commission to make disciples is given to the church.

This is a forgotten doctrine that needs to be recovered today.

And, of course, the church is not to teach whatever comes into their heads. They are to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of men. We use a catechism that goes back 500 years and has been used by churches all over the world.

We don’t create new doctrine, we teach the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” – but that is another blog.

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Male and Female

The biggest bullies on social media are those who have defined for themselves what masculine and feminine traits are, and then ridicule, mock, and belittle anyone who doesn’t fit that definition. Their definitions usually come from their own opinions based on their observations in their circles. I would multiply examples, but a few moments in a “Reformed” social media group or a few moments on Twitter will give enough examples.

So many are quick to label someone effeminate, or “tom-boy”. Feminist, egalitarian, effeminate, sissy, are thrown around carelessly like arrows, and they are not directed towards sin. They are directed towards clothing, hair style, manners, personality traits, pitch of the voice, or even dialect.

I was recently reviled publicly for wearing a pink shirt, for example.

So now that I have a few minutes, I would like to share a few thoughts with everyone concerning the gospel and good works.

God made humans male and female. There are two sexes, and only two sexes. We do, however, live in a fallen world so there are at times confusions in the biology. These are the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Both male and female are human beings in God’s image. Neither is less or greater than the other. Neither has closer access to God than the other. The only access that anyone has to the Father is through Christ alone. And in Christ, there is no male or female. We must therefore be careful to avoid pride ( “I thank God I am not like the others”). We also must be wary of implying that there is another mediator between God and man, as “covenant headship” theologians often do. The man is not closer to God that the woman, nor is he a covenant mediator. Contrary to so many “sanctified testosterone” types, the male does not image God differently than the female does, as a simple reading of Genesis 1 and 2 clearly show.

Furthermore, God also gives gifts to human beings as he sees fit. There is a diversity of gifts, and diversity of personalities, a diversity of talents. There is nothing in Scripture that states or implies that God gives “masculine” gifts or “feminine” gifts.

We must be careful not to confuse gender observations with ethics. God gave Ten Commandments, and he added no more. Sin is widely spread and diverse, but it is defined, at bottom, as want of conformity to divine law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, and not in the opinions of men. Understanding this is the first step to liberty.

Over the centuries and through the cultures, you can observe certain characteristics in women and certain characteristics in men. These characteristics are seen everywhere. Some are cultural, some are inborn, some are gifts, some are learned. I admit it freely. The Bible acknowledges it. The rich diversity between the sexes is part of the beauty and wonder of creation.

Here is where the problem occurs – when you take the observable and general differences between men and women and make them ethical requirements in addition to the Ten Commandments.

For example, a boy likes the feel of fabrics and loves to experiment with colors and shapes and design. He has been drawn to dressing dolls stylishly since childhood. Are these masculine or feminine characteristics? Is there sin involved? And what is that sin?

Do you see what I am getting at? Instead of encouraging this young man to develop his gifts as a man in the kingdom of God, glorifying Him for all his gifts and benefits, our culture and even our church leaders have mocked him as being “effeminate”, told him he was gay, and tried to force him into more “manly” endeavors. The scripture tells us that it was the Holy Spirit that gifted Bezalel to work with fabrics and colors and jewelry and design and he built the tabernacle in the wilderness.

Are design, art, poetry, music, fabrics, textiles, colors feminine values? Should we be concerned if our children do not follow our cultural stereotypes? What sin is involved? Before you throw the word “effeminate” at me, that word (1 Cor. 6:9) refers to the act of homosexual sex, in violation of the seventh commandment. It does not refer to violations of some guy’s opinion as to what masculine and feminine traits are.

Here is another example. Suppose a woman is drawn to sports, hunting, wearing jeans. Or she is drawn towards the study of theology and wishes to pursue those studies.

Or she is drawn to medicine or law, and desires to pursue careers in those fields. What sin is she committing? Higher education, careers, advancement, sports, and  such things are not “masculine” characteristics. Are we taking a subculture of the fifties or the opinions of some guy and elevating them to the status of the canon of scripture?

The parable of the talents applies to both men and women equally. Why are women to be excluded from pursuing the gifts that God has given to them?

God made them male and female. By taking the woman from the side of the man, he made an equal – a “helper as face to face” (literal Hebrew in Genesis 2:18). This, by the way, was what “meet” meant in 1611 when the King James version was translated. Face to face. Not looked down on; not to look down on. But face to face.

And beyond that, in Christ both male and female are partakers of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12-14), and both are considered firstborn sons who inherit the earth. As children of God and members of Christ, we are partakers with him in all his treasures and gifts (Heidelberg Catechism 55, 1 Cor. 12:12-13). Who are we to determine that some of those gifts are masculine and some are feminine? Scripture certainly does not.

There are no male commandments and female commandments. There are only ten and they are addressed to everyone. And he added no more. There are no pink parts of the bible or blue parts of the bible. “Quit you like men” is addressed to both men and women.

As are these:

“Be strong and courageous.”

“Be gentle and kind.”

“Do all to the glory of God.”

“Love one another”

And this one:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Gal. 5:1)

God despises the multiplying of commandments and will judge those who seek to hold his children in bondage to the opinions of men (Heidelberg Catechism 91, Deut. 12:32; Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:9)

Instead of talking about “masculine” and “feminine” roles, let us use the biblical words. Men and women are obedient or disobedient. Faithful, or unbelieving. In Christ, or cut off. Let’s stop with the rest of the nonsense. We as believers are to not be conformed to the world, which certainly includes following the political arguments thrown against women during the time of women’s suffrage. Those arguments were based upon Darwinism, not Christ.

Instead of wondering if you actions are masculine or feminine, just do all you do in faith, in liberty, and giving glory to the one who made you. Seek to put off the old man and put on the new, and stand fast in liberty.

Don’t let anyone tell you what color of shirt to wear, what hobbies to enjoy, what job you should have or where you should be. Love God, and do as you please.

Let the peace of God rule your hearts and minds.

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Just a little more…

“I’m supposed to be writing something, but I can’t think of anything to write!”

I complain to my daughter.

“What?” She says.

“What should I write about? I can’t think of anything.”

It’s been a long two weeks. At first I was looking forward to a time of exile. Perhaps I could accomplish something. My life is the endless quest to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish….but it seems as if God always has other plans.

I am doing dishes. The dishwasher is broken, so I do them by hand. And it never fails. I drain the water. And clean the sink. And I find one more. Just one more. Just finish that one, and then you can sit. Then you can write. Then you can read. Then you can learn that sonata you’ve wanted to learn. Just one more.

But after that one, there is just one more….

But life doesn’t give you the instruction manual. I see myself at sixteen. I am full of ambition and hope. I see my High School yearbook, full of promises and dreams. I read the “Stay in touch!” from the people that I haven’t spoken to since they wrote that close to 40 years ago…

My brief foray into video games happened at age 15. It was 1978. Asteroids, or some such. I put my quarter into the machine and waited for the instructions to tell me what to do. And while I waited the machine beeped. And then it said, “Game Over”.

I never played again. I don’t like feeling stupid.

At 20, I’m in college trying to fit in, trying to be someone else. I am trying so hard not to be the guy who can’t even figure out Asteroids. I don’t know how people behave. I am keenly aware that I look at the world differently and I loathe myself. I study what other people do and try to imitate them. I don’t know how to matter to anyone, and in my quest to matter to anyone, I lose the friends who care about me. The game was over before I even started.

But there is always another change. So move. Get another job. Pay some more bills. Try to get to a point where I am not paycheck to paycheck and I might even get a few dollars put aside.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and so many of them are working, working, working. And there are bills. And they pile up. And you have to put food on the table. And there are diapers. I’ll get to writing after just one more. Pay off one more loan. Work one more job.

If I could accomplish something, maybe I could get my father to pay attention and see me. If I could just do more maybe my life would matter. Maybe I could leave a legacy behind…

I think about it from time to time. But there are 12 hour work days. One right after another. Horrible pay. No advance. Year after year. Putting food on the table. Paying bills. Just one more, and then I can start my life’s work, my life goal.

Maybe then I won’t end in a mass grave where no one knows my name…

Do more. Work harder…and finally, you hit middle age and then come the chronic illnesses.

For many, many years now my wife and I have had one life-threatening, rare illness right after another. Some have no cure. Some involve surgeries. Some we just live with. Constant pain. Dislocations. Heart trouble. Ruptured colons. Ehlers Danlos. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Maybe I can get something accomplished when the next round is finished. But there seems to always be just one more…

And then you hit fifty five and the machine starts to beep at you. The day when the neon flashes “Game over” is far closer than it used to be. And I still haven’t written that book. I still haven’t done anything that really matters. I still haven’t finished that Sonata. Wrote that music. Accomplished anything, really. I’ll get to it someday.

And then the exile. Quarantine. Outcast, unclean. Locked away.

I say to myself, “This is my life’s goal! I now have plenty of time and nowhere to go!”

But my wife is so sick she can’t get out of bed. My daughter needs full-time care. The dishes need done. The laundry is piling up. Just one more…

“What do I write about, Maggie?”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t get those words…but look, the tree is starting to get yellow…”

And I look, and sure enough the broom bush is starting to blossom.

And the jasmine is breaking open its perfumed buds into tiny white flowers; and the roses are in bud; and birds are singing.

And I think about it….

I put some tomato plants into the ground, and I think about it.

I trim some bushes and I think about it. I pick some mint and make a mojito and I think about it.

This evening I zoomed with my grandson in Colorado. He laughed at my ostrich puppet and called me “Grandpa”. I thought about that too.

And I thought that maybe I have been looking at this whole thing all wrong.

Maybe I’m not just sitting by the asteroid machine waiting for it to start. Maybe I’ve been knocking them all back one after another my whole life. Or maybe life isn’t a video game without instructions after all and the smartest thing I ever did was just walk away from that stupid game and went outside. I just wish I could have embraced that about myself a lot earlier.

Instead of life being about how much we accomplish, maybe we should just learn how to rest. Maybe that is what it is about. It isn’t about putting away more money in the bank, or leaving a legacy, or making your life matter, or getting a high score – because in the long run, none of those things will make me matter at all.

Maybe it is finally realizing that I DO matter, because Christ died for me and has restored me to his image and not a hair can fall from my head without my heavenly father…

And maybe I’ve been so busy trying to win some imaginary game, hoping that some imaginary person might recognize my worth that I forgot how to just live.

Youthful habits are hard to break, though. But I am going to try.

I’m going to try to just sit and listen to the birds. I’m going to see the jasmine and watch the roses open.

And most of all, I’m going to love my wife, continue to perfect Lebanese Hashweh and maybe just play the piano because I enjoy it, and not because I have anything to prove.

And I pray above all else that my heavenly father will forgive me for all the time I have wasted trying to prove something that didn’t need proving. And instead, I need him to teach me how to just stop and rest and finally know what it means to be accepted in the Beloved – to listen to the music. To quit talking. Quit overthinking everything. And just walk through the woods. Listen to that bullfrog outside. Smell the jasmine. Watch TV with my wife and daughter and praise God that I have them to walk through this valley with.

Sometimes I forget what a tremendous blessing it is to have a wife. And not only that, but a wife with whom I am never alone. 25 years of marriage, and I have not had one day alone, even when she is ill. Not everyone can say that, and that, it seems to me, is far greater than any earthly blessing. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So I gave my daughter a hug. Now I know what to write. I’ll get to it in a minute. After one more dish….

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Filed under Abuse, Coronavirus, Hope, Trust

Judging God in a Time of Covid-19 — Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

For “Megan” – thank you for your comment. This might help answer some of it. I will add my response when I can…

via Judging God in a Time of Covid-19 — Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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April 2, 2020 · 7:40 am

What to say?

I’ve been having a hard time finding words to say. Perhaps it is because I’ve said them before, or perhaps I am just tired. The world now is experiencing what many of us have experienced for years.

Some of us know what it is like to have a debilitating, and perhaps deadly, illness that doctors can’t do anything about.

But I really don’t mean this to be a “I told you so” post, because it isn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. I mean it to be a comfort with the same comfort that my wife and I have learned over the years of struggling with isolation and illness.

It has something to do with idols. Where do we turn when we don’t have any answers? Where do we go when we don’t have any strength? Where do we place our trust when the world is upside down.

When it strikes hard, your idols are revealed. That is painful, and it is a hard ride, but it is glorious in the end. As long as you learn what the Psalmist finally learned:

(Psalm 33:16-22)  16 The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
  17 A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
  18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
  19 To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
  20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
  21 For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.
  22 Let Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in Thee.

Remember all of the money that you spent on conferences? Remember all of the power that you gave your favorite celebrity pastor? Remember the televangelist that promised you that you would be healthy, wealthy and wise?

Remember all the books you bought? The long theological debates that you had online?

Remember when you thought that the person you voted in office would really save you from all your troubles?

All of the times you thought that your righteousness and your own hand would save you?

Just 6 weeks ago, I spoke to someone who told me that these kinds of diseases only happen in other countries, where they don’t know how to eat healthy food, and sanitize themselves, and live like proper Christians….

And to a certain extent, we tend to think the same way. These kinds of things happen to others. Not to us.

We are God’s people. We are American Evangelicals! We finally won the cultural wars! We are back in the business of building that “city on the hill” for the whole world to see. The American dream!

Funny how things disappear, isn’t it? Funny how it proves true, over and over again, that we are but dust. Like the flowers of the field, we fade and die.

And God sends things to remind us that the greatest assets that men and women have – wisdom, righteousnesses, social charity, cultural wars, armies, battleships, money, power, institutions (even “Christian” ones) – will all fade and die and be forgotten. One tiny virus brings the world of men to its knees, until the Keeper of Time says, “stop now”.

It is interesting how and illness that no one can do anything about can change our perspective.

And why is this? Because God will never give his glory to another.

So here is the comfort. God has ways of stripping away our trust in horses, armies, kings, medicine, doctors, politicians, elections, church leaders, celebrities.

And the purpose for all of it is for us to finally fall on our knees and say, “Our soul waits upon the Lord. He is our help and our shield.”

We can’t even get toilet paper unless he decrees it. And that is a wonderful thing, for he is good and his lovingkindness is forever.

We hope in YOUR lovingkindness, O Lord. Remember us, for the sake of Christ. He is our help and our shield.

Amen.

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