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Al Trautwig, Simone Biles, and the Complexities of Adoption

Al Trautwig, Simone Biles, and the Complexities of Adoption

164887As adoptive parents, my wife and I have many times been the recipients of insensitive comments regarding the nature of our parental status.  Most of these comments, generally involving someone wanting to know about our daughter’s “real” parents, are offered in a completely benign manner not wishing to cause any offense.  We have taken the approach to simply let such comments slide and give people the benefit of the doubt.  I have found that most people who are not themselves adopted or who have never adopted a child find adoption to be a wonderful thing, but struggle with how to talk about it in ways they know will be affirming.

The situation surrounding NBC’s Olympics coverage of women’s gymnastics is a reminder that understanding and talking about adoption can be a complicated thing. My family oooed and awwwed at the thrilling feats of Simone Biles- a young woman who must certainly be the archenemy of gravity!  We were even more enthralled with her when we learned of her story- that she had been adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife.  Our adopted daughter especially loves that Simone, like her, is adopted.  NBC commentator Al Trautwig referred to Ron and Nellie Biles in the broadcast as Simone’s grandparents rather than her parents. This quickly drew rage from many on social media.  I personally did not think this was a significant issue, although if Simone refers to Ron and Nellie as her parents, then others should, too.

The rub came when Trautwig responded to one of his critics on Twitter by stating, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.”  Admittedly, that was a dumb thing to say and Trautwig has since apologized.  Yes, we may be playing a semantics game here and trying to grapple with the implied or otherwise use of the term “biological” and “adoptive.”  But what I would like for Mr. Trautwig and others to realize before making comments about adoption is to first and foremost see it through the eyes of the adopted child.  One thing every adopted child has in common is some sense of loss and/or grief.  Those who have been adopted have to work through questions like, “I wonder what life would have been like if I were raised by my biological parents?  What are my biological parents like?  What were the circumstances that caused them to be unable to raise me?”  Some adopted children know these answers in part and some know nothing.  Incidentally, there are those in an adopted child’s life who know these answers but should be sensitive about divulging such information as the adopted child needs to grow into their understanding of their own unique situation.  Questions of “what might have been” and “why did it happen this way,” even in very positive family environments, usually leave an adopted person feeling sad to some degree.

Enter the adoptive parents.  To an adopted child, these people are Mom and Dad.  Period.  Any sense of loss or sadness is relieved to a great degree in the love, provision, and comfort these parents provide.  As such, to the child the adoptive parents are Mom and Dad and equivocations about “real” parents are trifling.  Thus, to Simone Biles, Ron and Nellie are Mom and Dad.  And we should leave it at that.  Was Trautwig’s comment on Twitter some kind of statement that we should not ignore the deficiencies of Biles’ biological mother- especially with the word “not” in capital letters?  I don’t know, but I do know that when a person addresses adoptive families in an attempt to be arbiter or judge of the families’ situation it will have an outcome that is off-putting at best and painful at worst.  And we adoptive parents need to do our best to show grace to those who might misspeak regarding our families knowing that most are simply trying to show they care.

In the end, if an adopted child sees their adoptive parents as Mom and Dad then that’s exactly what they are.  Rest assured the adoptive parents see themselves that way as well.  Adoption is a beautiful, powerful thing.  Let’s do our best to not muddle it with presumptions or ill-thought out comments.  Adoptive parents are very much Mom and Dad.

Is Marriage a Religious or Civic Issue? Why Evangelicals See It as Both

Is Marriage a Religious or Civic Issue? Why Evangelicals See It as Both

Marriage Heart Health

The past few weeks I have noticed a good deal of debate on the Internet among Christian and non-Christian friends about the importance of marriage. Some claim that the biblical definition of marriage is merely a religious perspective on the institution and should not be interwoven with the fabric of civic expectations or norms. Others claim that some Christians place an undue emphasis on sins related to marriage such as homosexuality and polygamy while ignoring other sins such as greed or gluttony. However, most evangelical Christians would disagree with these aforementioned statements based on the fundamental importance of biblical marriage not just in a spiritual sense, but in a civic/societal sense as well.

In his commentary on Genesis 2 (where God creates the institution of marriage), James Boice writes a single paragraph that seems to clearly show why marriage is so important and why most evangelicals hold the position on marriage that they do. Here is the paragraph:

“God established marriage as the first and most basic of all human institutions. Long before there were governments or churches or schools or any other social structures God established a home based on the mutual respect and love of a husband and wife, and all other human institutions came from it. From the authority of the father there developed the patriarchal and later tribal systems of human government. These gave rise to monarchical systems and then democracies. From the responsibility of parents to raise and educate their children came more formal systems of education: academies, institutes, colleges, and centers of higher learning. From the need to care for the family’s health came hospitals. From the obligation of parents to educate their children in the knowledge of God and the ways to worship came synagogues and then churches. One cannot think of a contemporary social or cultural organization that does not have a derivative relationship to the home and marriage.”

I think Boice captures the essence of why marriage is so important to evangelicals and why it cannot be limited to merely a religious issue, but is a core component in the fabric of a healthy society. Just about everything we know and do as a civilization can be traced back to this one fundamental institution that was created and defined by God. There is ample evidence from history and many reasons to believe about the future that the demise of marriage as defined in the Bible will lead to the demise of society.

In regard to making sins related to marriage more important than other sins it is true that sin is sin and all sin should be spoken against and avoided. Yes, Christians must be careful not to harp on one sin at the neglect of others especially if those sins are being practiced or latent in their lives. And yet, the sins of greed and gluttony (just to name two) are not the sins being championed by those who wish to undermine or destroy a biblical worldview. In other words, sins related to marriage get so much time and attention in the debate because that is the issue being pressed by secularists and non-evangelicals.

I know there will be some who read this who strongly disagree with me. I do not offer this post to be combative, but to simply try and show why evangelicals think marriage is so important because of the critical part it plays not just in religious belief, but in society as well.

Why I Won’t Be Asking Mother’s to Stand in Church This Mother’s Day

Why I Won’t Be Asking Mother’s to Stand in Church This Mother’s Day

12086328-mothers-day-coupon-codes-2013Mother’s Day is this Sunday and in church we will celebrate Moms as rightly we should.  It’s an amazing and ingenious thing how God created the institution of the family- a father and mother bringing their own respective personalities, temperaments, and gifts to bear on the raising of their children.  Being a mother is a high calling and one that comes with great responsibilities as well as blessings.

That said, I have always felt a bit uneasy with how our church, along with countless other churches, recognize Moms on Mother’s Day- we have them stand.  Again, nothing wrong in the slightest with recognizing Moms and honoring their impact in our lives, but in the last few years I’ve been wondering asking Moms to stand.

Why?  Because having Moms stand on Mother’s Day can be a painful experience for a number of women in the congregation.  I think of the women my wife and I have come to know the last few years who struggle with infertility and desperately want to have children, but have none.  Jamy and I were blessed to have two biological children, but then we were unable to have more children even though we wanted more.  I have often wondered how difficult it would be for us if we never were able to have kids.

God, in turn, put us on the path of adoption, which has been an indescribable blessing.  But then again, we have become acquainted with people whose adoptions fell through.  That is an unbelievably painful experience. What about the woman in the congregation who is unable to have children and attempts at adoption have failed?  How does she feel when the mothers stand on Mother’s Day?

So, you may ask, why have you kept asking the mothers to stand on Mother’s Day if this is the way you feel?  I guess because of tradition.  We’ve always done it that way before (which is generally a terrible reason to do something).  Today I read a blog post that a number of women in our church have posted to their walls on Facebook which finally made me realize we need to do things differently this year in our church on Mother’s Day.  I will not be asking the Moms to stand.  We will celebrate motherhood and dedicate babies this Sunday.  But we will avoid placing women (and their husbands) in an awkward and even painful situation.  I never want people who are hurting to be hurt further at church.  I want church to be a place that brings comfort, support, empathy, and presence of the Lord and others that brings encouragement.

I encourage you to take a moment and read the blog post I mentioned.  Find it here: An Open Letter to Pastors from a Non-Mom

This Mother’s Day let’s be sensitive to those for whom Mother’s Day may be a very difficult day.

Should Women Be on the Front Lines of Combat?

Should Women Be on the Front Lines of Combat?

combatThere has been a lot of buzz about the recent decision to allow women to serve in the front lines of combat.  According to the Associated Press:

Leon Panetta is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

As I have thought through this issue and listened to/read the opinions of others, here are some key issues that arise in connection with this decision:

First, we need to understand that women are already serving in forward areas in combat zones.  I have a friend who is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq explain to me that the soldiers who are more often killed/injured are actually those serving in support roles rather than the front line.  These are soldiers operating the vehicles to equip those on the front line that hit IEDs.  It is in this support role that many of the women in the military serve.

Second, and for me probably the biggest issue in this debate, is what this decision signals in terms of a shift in morality.  Are there some women capable of fighting in combat?  Undoubtedly so.  But the bigger issue seems not to be can a woman be in combat, but should she be?  The long established norm of our society is to protect women and children from harm.  We see this manifested in many ways.  For example, the men who got on the lifeboats ahead of the women/children on the Titanic were excoriated (and in my opinion rightfully so).  Traditionally, when war comes, we don’t send women to the front, but seek to protect them.  In fact, when the horrors of war come to the homes of civilians (many of whom are women/children/elderly), we see that as an especially egregious consequence of war.

Denny Burk wrote a post on this subject and states: (access his blog post here)

Are the fortunes of women in our country really enhanced by sending them to be ground up in the discipline of a combat unit and possibly to be killed or maimed in war? Is there a father in America who would under any circumstance risk having his daughter shot or killed in battle? Is there a single husband in this country who thinks it okay for his wife to risk being captured by our enemies? To risk becoming a prisoner of war? Is this the kind of people we want to be? 

Burk goes on to quote John Piper‘s 2007 article for World magazine in which Piper writes:

If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of women.

Another problem with women in combat is that this same sense of morality will undoubtedly pervade the thinking/reactions of men in combat with women.  As my veteran friend noted, in a firefight one of the first things you do is check to see if everyone is OK.  If two soldiers are wounded and need to be dragged to safety and one is a man and the other a woman, the decision process is most likely going to be affected.  Could some decisions be possibly made by men in the combat unit to instinctively protect the women that might put the whole unit in greater jeopardy?

Regardless of your opinion about women in combat, this decision certainly signals a shift in the cultural norms of our nation.

Third, this decision is almost certainly going to have massive legal repercussions if a draft lottery is ever reinstituted in this country.  It is very possible that men will sue the government on grounds of some form of discrimination if they are drafted instead of a woman.  In addition, it’s one thing to ask a woman to volunteer for the front lines.  It’s another thing to force them there through conscription.  Morally, do we want to force women to fight in combat?  Legally, will women have expanded grounds to resist a draft?

Fourth, I have noticed a number people saying this issue is about equality.  I disagree.  In terms of physical structure, men and women are not created equally.  A friend of mine posted on her wall on Facebook:

For my size and my age, I am strong and in good shape. But … I AM NOT A MAN. And that’s okay. I cannot EVER keep up with the guys, no matter how hard I try. I am different … we are not equal. And I am good with that.

Nothing here says that men are “better” than women.  That’s ridiculous.  Yes, I understand that women have served in combat roles in countries such as Israel, but in general men are capable of doing many things in terms of physical strength that a woman simply cannot do.  And in combat that is important.  Again, this doesn’t mean men are better than women.  It just means they are different.  There are many things women can do better than men.  God created men and women this way and we should celebrate this reality, not try to blur the lines of gender roles, responsibilities, and capabilities.

We are living in times of fast, sweeping societal change and the issue of women in combat is one among many.  This is a controversial topic.  I am eager to hear your opinion.

Should Christians Observe Santa Claus?

Should Christians Observe Santa Claus?

Every year at this time I am asked the question by parents in our church, “Should we observe Santa?”  It’s amazing to me how emotive and divisive the issue of Santa Claus can be.  I have read a number of Christian authors who post tempestuous rants declaring that Santa “hijacks” the meaning of Christmas.  To me, I find such extremist responses at worst inflammatory and at best unhelpful to the debate.  Many Christian parents grew up with Santa as part of their Christmas tradition and would like to do the same for their kids, but struggle with the ethics of it- namely in two areas.  One, is observing Santa lying to my children?  Two, does it make the focus of Christmas materialism rather than Christ?

These are fair questions and legitimate concerns that have to be considered and navigated by parents at Christmas.  I think we could add to the concern of observing Santa an emphasis on St. Nick potentially being omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal- all attributes that can only be possessed by God.  So, is it wrong to observe Santa?  I asked a Christian mother whom I respect a great deal to share with me her perspective on Santa.  The following is what she wrote to me and I found in it a great deal of wisdom.  I strongly encourage you to read this and ponder the insight she offers:

I like Santa.  Many are surprised that my family allows him into our celebration at all.  I care very much about this issue because as a Christian mom I want to get this right.  I usually answer the question with something along the lines of, “It’s a game we play in our family…our kids understand and enjoy it.”  I struggle if it is ok to invite Santa into our family’s Christmas celebration.  I understand and genuinely admire those who have chosen not to play Santa.  When I let go of the comparison game, and just tuck this question up with the Lord I always go back to my own childhood.  This game was special and dear to me growing up.  I was raised by Bible-believing Christian parents.  Jesus was clearly taught truthfully ALL YEAR LONG in many creative and traditional ways in both my home and church.  Both of my parents are wise and down to earth and didn’t raise us with a materialistic “keep up with the Joneses’” worldview.

Santa was a tradition of Christmas that we all loved and he didn’t occlude Jesus; or Jesus’ birthday.  Maybe because of the way they led our lives January through November or maybe because our Christmases were simple and sacred and both family and faith focused, I never felt Jesus was threatened or forgotten.  He was honored by a family who loved Him and loved each other.  I felt no more lied to than when my dad would tweak my nose and act like he’d pulled it off as he paraded his own thumb around.  The twinkle in my mother’s eye when she teased about Santa was very different than the passion in her eye when she taught about Jesus.  Both were good for me.  The way God puts families together is different.  Some kiddos are unique in the way they process things and for them the difference I just described would be more difficult for them than good for them.  This makes me glad that He gives us wisdom in every situation and very glad that we can share faith with great celebration and camaraderie even while having different convictions.

When I think about Jesus’ own life as a human child, and the faith culture in which He was raised I consider festivals intended to help a community remember God’s intervention and faithfulness to His people throughout the generations.  I believe THAT should be the center of Christmas.  I wonder if sometimes in our effort to keep the shallow and materialistic out of our Christmases, Christians tend to “over-baby” Jesus, making Him a little bit of a birthday tyrant.  I’m not sure that He would be ok with our over-protecting Him at Christmas while often under-acknowledging Him the whole year through.  In my family I don’t want to prioritize God first, family second, church third… with all the good choices lined up in order next and the bad choices carefully avoided.  I want God to be the center; the only Creative Life from which every choice and action flows.  When that is an intentional goal for everyday then at Christmas He is still the center from which everything flows; even silly fun traditions that keep children and parents young and connected.

The traditional games we play and the generosity we pour out on our children at Christmas time can be very pleasing to the God of “all good gifts” as it reflects His generous faithfulness throughout the year.  The telling of stories of family and faith tradition that make an Invisible God’s providence visible to children learning to move from concrete to abstract thinking can be very pleasing to the God who tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.”  Remembering Jesus the Baby, the Boy, the Minister, the Sacrifice, the Redeemer, the Living Intercessor in the context of family and faith community is the goal for my Christmas.  And FOR US, in our family, the sweet Santa game is powerless to steal that away.

I think this Mom sums it up well.  Yes, there are potential dangers in observing Santa that require caution, but if a family chooses to observe Santa they have not necessarily caused Jesus to abdicate his throne.  For some families, Santa won’t be the right thing to do.  And that’s good.  But for other families, Santa can be a part of the Christmas tradition while still focusing on Jesus.  And that’s good, too.

I believe when it comes to Christians and the observance of Santa we must apply the principles Paul taught in Col. 2:16-17- “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Paul notes that the observance of diets and days is like a shadow, but Jesus is the substance.  God gave the Israelites in the Old Testament specific rules and regulations about what to eat and what to celebrate as a means of aiding their obedience and devotion to God.  But now that Christ has come, we follow and obey God on the basis of grace, not law.  It doesn’t mean we reject what the Old Testament says or think it unimportant, we just understand it in light of Jesus Christ.  All of the dietary laws, observances of days, and animal sacrifices were simply pointing the way to something that was coming which was much better- Jesus.  That’s why he refers to diets and days as a shadow, but Jesus is the substance.  We have to make sure that we are not chasing shadows with our lives.  We must be focused on the substance- Jesus Christ!

It is very important to note what Paul does not say in this passage.  He doesn’t say, “Forbid people from observing diets and days.”  What he says is that you cannot let anyone judge you.  There is great liberty for believers.  Christians can choose to observe or not to observe whatever they choose so long as it is in keeping with Scripture.  The substance of the observance or celebration must be Christ and growing faith in him.  This becomes a potential issue in the church because there are people and families with a wide diversity of convictions (including Santa).  We have to be careful how we handle these in the context of the body of Christ.  I have talked to some children (and even parents) about what they would be doing to celebrate Christmas and the first thing they say, with great enthusiasm, is they won’t be observing Santa Claus.  I came away from those conversations wondering if the chief end of Christmas was to extol the non-existence of Santa instead of the existence of Christ.  Again, it’s perfectly fine to not observe Santa and for some families it’s the best thing to do.  However, we must be careful how we handle this to not cause division within the church.

If we are to follow the principles of Col. 2:16-17, at issue is if you do not observe Santa, you cannot think that you are more spiritual than others who do observe him.  Paul condemns that in this passage.  Why?  Because it leads to pride and self-righteousness, not Christ-righteousness.  The reverse is true.  If you observe Santa, you cannot think that those who do not are wrong.  Don’t judge others in these convictions and don’t let them judge you.  These are convictions that God has given you.  Realize that God genuinely has not given them to everyone.  We must never let issues such as these divide us.  Our liberty to follow our convictions is part of the treasure we have in Christ.  Our unity and fellowship in the body of Christ is part of that treasure as well.  If we are not careful, pride and judgmentalism can set in regarding convictions and take away our treasure.

So, let the Lord lead you and give you wisdom about what is best for your family regarding Santa Claus.  And whatever he leads you to observe, don’t condemn those who observe differently.

Magic Mike and the True Picture of Masculinity

Magic Mike and the True Picture of Masculinity

I have watched with some interest over the last few weeks the comments and opinions of many on blogs and websites concerning the movie Magic Mike.  What got my attention was the number of women (and some men) who are Christians who have gone to see the movie.  I have been surprised at how few female writers have brought up the glaring, horrific double standard in play regarding this film.  If a group of husbands went to see a movie about women working in a strip club, “the claws would come out” as one female blogger put it.

Christians seeing Magic Mike claim that those criticizing them for seeing the movie are being judgmental.  Perhaps that is true in some cases.  However, after reading reviews of the movie (which would make many people blush) and discovering that the film contains many explicit sexual scenes and over 150 uses of the “f” word, those who have cast judgment in an erroneous way have only done so in an attitudinal sense.

This by the way, is the very definition of being judgmental which is very different from making good judgments.  One of the fallacies of a secular worldview is that to tell anyone they are wrong automatically means you hate them.  That is untrue and certainly not part of a biblical worldview.  I can say that what you believe or what you have done is wrong and still love and care about you (we do this with our children all of the time).  That said, too many Christians do have a sanctimonious attitude in their conveyance of the judgments they make which leads them to the sin of being judgmental.

Yet, none of what I have just written is the main point of this post.  In reading reviews and comments about the movie, it saddens me that our culture’s idea of masculinity is a guy who can work at a strip club and has great sexual prowess.  Movies such as Magic Mike and Failure to Launch seem to communicate that the more a man can put off the responsibility of marriage, family, and career the more masculine he is.  To be married, to go to the kids’ recitals, and to go to a regular day-to-day job is being tied to the ball and chain and in effect emasculated.  In other words, responsibility is a bad thing.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times Magazine ran an article on men in their twenties and the growing epidemic of stretching adolescence well beyond the high school years.  This led Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll to note, “the world is full of boys who can shave.”  The result is that our culture is lauding an indefinite adolescence leaving us with, as again Driscoll stated, “a Peter Pan syndrome where men want to remain boys forever.”

Is being a boy, free from responsibilities and free to gratify any indulgence, the true picture of masculinity?  Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 13:11- “When I was a boy, I talked like a boy, I thought like a boy, I reasoned like a boy. When I became a man, I put childish and boyish ways behind me.”  Males are supposed to move from boyhood to manhood.  So what does real masculinity look like?  Man is created in the “image” of God (Gen. 1:26; 1 Cor. 11:7).  This doesn’t mean we look like God the way we physically look like our parents.  It means we are conscious beings able to reflect the truth, love, compassion, and other attributes of God in the way we live our lives.  As a reflection of the image of God we are called to be creators and cultivators.  This is what God did.  He produced the universe and created a world splendidly designed and crafted for a variety of amazing life forms to exist.  Not only did He create everything, but He sustains and cultivates it as well (Col. 1:16-17).

The problem is that culture doesn’t necessarily view masculinity as creating and cultivating (marriages, families, and careers), but rather consuming everything you can to gratify yourself.  Consider this excerpt from the Driscoll post I mentioned earlier:

“The marketing sweet spot for many companies is young men ages eighteen to thirty-four. These guys don’t know what it means to be a man, and so marketers fill the void with products that define manhood by what you consume rather than what you produce.  The tough guys consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, cars, sports, and fantasy leagues, as if being a man is defined by how much meat you can shove through your colon, how many beers you can pound, how fast you can drive, how stinky you can fart, how hard you can hit, how far you can spit, how loud you can belch, and how big your truck is.

The artsy, techie types consume clothes, decaf lattes, shoes, gadgets, cars (not trucks), furniture, hair products, and underwear with the names of very important people on the waistband. For them, manhood means being in touch with one’s feelings, wardrobe, and appearance.

A legion of moms and girlfriends enable these boys who can shave. They pay his bills, pick up his messes, loan him their car, and refill his sippy cup. Girls need to know this: you want a guy you can marry and have babies with. You don’t want to marry a guy who’s a baby.  Men are supposed to be producers, not just consumers. You’re defined by the legacy, the life, and the fruit that come out of you, not by what you take in. But most guys are just consumers.

I don’t care if you buy a truck or play some video games or rock out on your guitar. The problem is when those are prevalent and predominant in your life. Some guys would argue and say, “It’s not a sin.”  No, but sometimes it’s just dumb.  You got fired because you were up trying to get to the next level [on the video game]. That’s dumb.  You work one part-time job so you can play more guitar or Frisbee golf.  That’s dumb.  You spend all your money on a new car or truck, or toys, or gear, or clothes, or gambling, or fantasy football. Dumb. Some of you say, “Well, it’s not a sin.”  Neither is eating your lawnmower.  It’s just dumb.  There are a lot of things that Christian guys do that aren’t evil, they’re just dumb and childish.”

With the growing trend of masculinity being consumerism with no responsibility it’s difficult to find a man in his twenties at church.  The call to follow Christ and grow in discipleship is a call to sacrifice, selflessness, and responsibility.  Being a man is not about how much you can consume, but what you create and cultivate.  Being a man isn’t about sexual conquests, it’s about committing to one woman and loving her as Christ loves the church- for whom He loved so much He gave His life.  Being a man isn’t being a kid, but spending time with and nurturing your kids.  Being a man is about giving, not taking, and as Driscoll notes “that’s what Jesus, the real man, did.”

Read the Mark Driscoll post referenced in this article here: Driscoll Post in WP

I Do Agree with Obama on One Thing…

I Do Agree with Obama on One Thing…

Yesterday, President Barack Obama publicly affirmed his support of gay marriage.  I am somewhat surprised that many people have acted surprised about this announcement.  It seems clear that Obama has held this position for some time.  Perhaps the splash is over the fact that for the first time in history, a sitting U.S. President has publically affirmed gay marriage.

My point in this post is not to wade through all of the political ramifications of this announcement.  Also, I’m sure I will be criticized for “hating” gay people for even writing about this topic.  If you think that, you don’t know me.   My point is to express how grieved I was that President Obama used Scripture to defend his stance on gay marriage.

Here is the statement from Obama on which I agree: “We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.”  I take that to mean Obama inferred other Christians.  My first thought when I heard this was, “Yes, Mr. President, I agree with you that you are at odds with other Christians, first and foremost the Apostle Paul.”  Obama then went on to reference the death of Jesus and the Golden Rule as helping him form his opinion on gay marriage.  To infer that Jesus and the Bible condone gay marriage is, as John Piper put it, contemptible.

If you are reading this and think the Bible is an archaic, out of touch document then that is a debate for a later time.  My belief is that the Bible contains God’s eternal, absolute, and propositional truth.  I firmly believe that truth is not something we create (as many believe), but rather something we find- namely in God’s Word.  Scripture is clear in what it teaches about homosexuality (Gen. 19, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11).  The biblical design for marriage is a lasting covenant relationship between a man and a woman.  To deny this is a complete abrogation and abandonment of the plain meaning of the biblical text.  A person cannot honestly say that the Bible condones homosexuality and gay marriage without eviscerating the authority and divine origin of the Bible.

The President has every right to his opinions and express them as he sees fit.  Yet, his use of Scripture and the Christian faith to back his position was a tragic flaw.

 

What Jesus Said About Divorce

What Jesus Said About Divorce

Last Sunday I preached from Mark 10:1-12/Matt. 19:1-9 on Jesus’ instruction about divorce.  I have received a tremendous amount of feedback asking for this sermon’s availability on podcast. Until we can get the podcast loaded, I thought I would post this amended version of my manuscript from Sunday. I think the sermon is better, making clearer explanation/transition/application, so listen to that if you get a chance.  Also, I have not documented the numerous sources I used in preparing this manuscript.  In short, the church needs to have a prophetic voice against the world’s flippant, cheapened view of marriage and ease of divorce. At the same time, the church needs to reach out to those dealing with the pain of divorce and be a reflection of the love and grace of Jesus.  As always, I am humbled and honored that anyone would want to read/listen to my blog/messages. God bless!

A major magazine published an article entitled, “Is Anyone Faithful Anymore?”  In it, the story is told of a young married woman having lunch with eleven of her friends.  During conversation, one of the women asked, “How many of you have been faithful throughout your marriage?”  Of the twelve women, only one raised their hand.  That night, the young woman went home and told her husband about the conversation.  She revealed to him that she was not the one who raised her hand saying they had been faithful.  Her husband was shocked and devastated.  But she quickly replied, “But I have been faithful.”  “Then why didn’t you raise your hand?” the husband asked.  “I was ashamed” was her reply.

How did we get to a place in society where someone would feel ashamed that they were faithful to their spouse, instead of the other way around?  The reason is that the cultural agenda of our society is “self-fulfillment,” “self-realization,” and “self-actualization.”  So pervasive is our society’s preoccupation with these matters that we have made commitment to one of the most sacred institutions conditional on the question, “Am I getting fulfillment from this?”  In regard to marriage, authors John Adam and Nancy Williamson wrote a book titled, “Divorce: How and When to Let Go” where they write:

“Your marriage can wear out.  People change their values and lifestyles.  People want to experience new things.  Change is a part of life.  Change and personal growth are traits for you to be proud of, indicative of a vital searching mind.  You must accept the reality that in today’s multifaceted world it is especially easy for two persons to grow apart.  Letting go of your marriage- if it is no longer fulfilling- can be the most successful thing you have ever done.  Getting a divorce can be a positive, problem-solving, growth-oriented step.  It can be a personal triumph.”

When self-fulfillment becomes our guiding principle in life, we call failure “success,” disintegration “growth” and disaster “triumph.”  What a tragedy!  The elevation of one’s own self-fulfillment as the ultimate good functionally reduces the Word of God into an optional guidebook to meet one’s emotional needs.  What a huge error to replace the inerrant Word of God with a humanistic values system.  More important than self-fulfillment, or even our own happiness, is obedience to God’s Word.

All of that said, God cares about our well-being.  He wants us to enjoy life and be satisfied and be fulfilled.  But the path to fulfillment is not marked by signs that say “my happiness first” or “self-realization.”  Prov. 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of the path is destruction.”

Confusion About Marriage in Jesus’ Day

We need to understand the context to which these words were said.  We cannot understand these words in Mark without looking at the more detailed passage in Matt. 19:3-9 which gives us the background of Jesus’ day on this issue.

Matt. 19:3 states, “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  Their question is clearly based on Deut. 24:1- “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce…” In Jesus’ day there was a great deal of confusion about marriage and divorce based on differing opinions of this verse- namely what constituted “indecency?”  In general, there were two schools of thought that stood on opposite extremes of the issue: Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel.  The Shammai school took a very rigorist stand on divorce and said that it was not allowable for any reason at all.  The Hillel school took a very loose stand and interpreted the word “indecent” in Deut. 24:1 to mean anything from the wife burning the toast to becoming plain and ugly over the course of marriage.  In short, anything was justifiable grounds for divorce.

So the question arises partly out of confusion, but also out of the Pharisees desire to entrap Jesus as Matthew notes they were “testing” him.  Why use divorce to trap Jesus?  Recall that it was the issue of divorce and remarriage that landed John the Baptist in jail.  He openly told Herod that he should not have his wife, who was not his first wife.  In anger, Herod threw John in jail.  Perhaps the Pharisees are hoping to get Jesus to say something about divorce that will get back to Herod and get Jesus put in jail.  Jesus in his masterful wisdom confounds the Pharisees by showing the true teaching of Scripture about divorce and turns the subject back to the heart of the matter- the nature of marriage. The Pharisees have turned the sacred institution of marriage into a farce.  Some of them are saying you can get a divorce for any reason and all of them are using the institution of marriage to carry out their evil and selfish plan to get rid of Jesus.  The real heart of the matter isn’t the argument of grounds for divorce, it’s the nature of marriage itself.  Jesus says the reason you all have such trouble with divorce is because you have forgotten what marriage is all about.

Confusion About Marriage in Our Day

Can we say anything differently for our day?  We have made a mockery of marriage.  I fear we really don’t understand what we are monkeying with when it comes to marriage.  Realize that marriage is an institution.  What does that mean?  For 6,000 years of recorded human history marriage is the one institution that all peoples in virtually all cultures for all of time have generally honored and practiced as the thing that maintains society and allows it to have a future.  What our society is doing with gay marriage, cohabitation among unmarried couples, and the non-commital, disposable approach to marriage puts us in uncharted waters.  Society has never done on the same scale what we are doing today.  And the world is doing it with apparently little thought as to what altering marriage will do to society today and certainly tomorrow.  Like in Jesus’ day, we have made a mockery of marriage.  We have made it a plaything to suit our sinful and selfish desires.

The Permanence of Marriage

The Matt. 19 text makes it clear that Jesus is not at all in favor of divorce. His response to the Pharisees in Matt. 19:4-6 reveals that Jesus opposes divorce because of the permanence of the marriage bond- “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”  Consider these two aspects of the permanence of marriage:

  • A Physical/Intimate Bond

A husband and wife become “one flesh.”  This means they share the deepest form of human relationship.  I was amazed at the instant and close bond I formed with my children when they were born and how that bond continues to grow.  But it will never be as close as the bond I have to Jamy.  Such closeness and intimacy implies that this is a union that is not to be broken.  From the very beginning in Scripture there was no thought of separating the marriage union.  We see it here in Jesus quoting from Genesis and we see it in Malachi:

2:14-16- “The LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel… ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

God’s ideal was and is, monogamous, intimate, and enduring marriage. Henry Ford, on the occasion of his 50th wedding anniversary, was asked his rule for marital bliss and longevity.  Ford replied, “Just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.”

  • A Spiritual Bond

Another thing that Scripture teaches about the permanence of marriage is

what it represents spiritually.  Why did God create male and female and have them bond through the institution of marriage?  Was it for the purpose of procreation?  No, although that is one aspect of marriage.  The purpose of marriage is to illustrate the relationship we have with Jesus.  The bond of marriage represents the bond of the church to Christ.  In Eph. 5, Paul spoke of a wife submitting to the leadership of her husband and a husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church. He summarizes in Eph. 5:32- “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”  So the sacredness and permanence of marriage is seen in the most important relationship it represents- our relationship to Christ.

The Permission for Divorce

So we come to the most difficult aspect of the passage- the issue of divorce.

Given what we have just learned about the importance and permanence of marriage, divorce is a difficult and undesired thing.  But Moses did give an allowance for divorce in Deut. 24 and the Pharisees were pressing Jesus about it. As usual, Jesus shows where the Pharisees have interpreted the Scripture wrong.  Notice in Matt. 19:7 the Pharisees say Moses “commanded” divorce.  But Jesus corrects them and says he “permitted” divorce.  The Pharisees wanted to interpret the Scripture in a way that would make it easy on them and allow them to fulfill their selfish/sinful desires.  But Jesus always sees the Scripture differently. It calls for great commitment and sacrifice.  This is needed in all walks of life as we follow God, especially our marriages.  Jesus tells them that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of the people’s heart.  So, divorce wasn’t something you just walked in and out of, it was reluctantly given as a permission because of the weakness of people.

Jesus explains why divorce is permitted and the reason he gives is adultery.  Remember in the OT that if adultery was committed, the marriage was terminated not by divorce, but by death!  But by Jesus day, the Roman legal system had made death sentences hard to obtain, so there were two rabbinical schools arguing about divorce.  Everything here hinges on the word “unchastity.”  It is the Greek word porneia, which was used for prostitution and basically any kind of sexual immorality.  To me the plain teaching of this text is:

  1. If you divorce and remarry for any reason other than marital unfaithfulness, you are the one who becomes the adulterer.  Jesus puts this in such stark terms to teach the importance of the marriage union.
  2. If marital unfaithfulness occurs, divorce is permissible, but not commanded.  If you discover your spouse is unfaithful, you have grounds for divorce but not a license to do it.  Given the importance of marriage, my personal belief is that God would want a couple in this situation to earnestly seek God’s forgiveness and to reconcile to one another.
  3. The whole point in Moses’ day for a woman to receive a certificate of divorce was for her protection and not for the man’s convenience.  A certificate of divorce basically gave social safeguards for a woman.  This means that the security of a wife and children is very important. If a woman is in a situation where she is being abused and the children are endangered, it is clear God does not expect her to stay in that situation.

Finally, as bad as divorce is, it is not the unpardonable sin as some in the Christian community treat it.  If there is divorce in your life there is forgiveness and restoration in Jesus.  Sadly, blended families, divorcees, and single parents are many times kicked off the edge of the cliff through the judgmentalism that can occur in church.  The church needs to be a place where all people can come and seek the Lord and be loved by believers.

 

 

 

 

Who Gets the Best of Me? Lessons I Learned from a College Student

Who Gets the Best of Me? Lessons I Learned from a College Student

The other day I was running on the indoor track at the Wellness Center on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University.  This is a small track in which 10 laps make 1 mile.  On one end of the track, there is an area with several exercise machines and workout mats.  On this particular day, I happened to notice a young man standing in the exercise area doing absolutely nothing.  Typically, people are stretching, using the machines, or doing some other form of exercise.   However, he was just standing there.  After the second or third time I passed him, I noticed him looking a little nervous.  He was looking around and wringing his hands.  I started to get a little concerned for the young man, but then when I passed him the next time he had positioned himself to see the front door to the building.  Each time I passed him, his gaze was fixed on the door.  It was at this moment that it dawned on me- this guy was waiting for a girl!

I have to admit, running on that small track for any length of distance can make you lose your mind.  So, I was glad for the distraction of watching this drama unfold.  Obviously, the girl was late and the guy was getting nervous.  Each time I passed him, I could see the mixture of panic and heartbreak on his face.  I was starting to feel sorry for him.  One thing was for sure, whoever this girl was had his total attention!  His gaze never moved from the door.  On the next lap, I noticed he wasn’t standing in the exercise area.  Had he given up?  No, she showed up!  I looked ahead of me and there they were walking on the track.  For the next several laps, I subtly observed them as I ran past them.  He was looking carefully into her eyes when she spoke.  He had a smile on his face that no one could have wiped off.  I could tell he was giving perfect attention to the situation to let this young lady know of his interest in her!  From an outsider’s casual observation- this boy was in loooove!  I smiled to myself happy for this guy.

It was then that I had one of those moments, while still running on the track, that you feel the Lord slap you upside the head.  As if God was saying to me, “Hey, did you see that guy? Learn a lesson!”  I realized that day that I need to be like the guy waiting on the girl.  God taught me about the importance of devotion.  Pastoring a thriving church, teaching classes, speaking at events, and training for a marathon have my schedule entirely too busy.  Unfortunately, there are days when God and my wife and kids only get the leftovers of me.  My focus and attention is scattered in a million places.  But I was reminded that day while running that I must be devoted to what matters most.  For the young man, that girl was of utmost importance.  She had his undivided attention.  Nothing was going to distract him from focusing on her.

And so it should be for me and us on the relationships that are most important in our lives.  God first and foremost deserves my full and complete attention.  He deserves my full devotion and the best part of me.  After Him, comes my wife.  As I went round and round on that track I reflected on the need I have to give my wife my full devotion.  Like the young man, do I focus on her every word and am I careful with every word I say to her?  Does she have my undivided attention?  We always make time for the things we consider most important.  And the most important things get our full attention and devotion.  In our lives, we need to always monitor what is getting the best of who we are.  Is it stuff that in the end really doesn’t matter?  Or is it the most important relationships in our life?

 

Should Christians Watch Harry Potter?

Should Christians Watch Harry Potter?

For years, I have been asked my opinion of the Harry Potter books and films, but always politely replied that I had not seen them.  They were never really an option for my family in the first place since my oldest child was four when the first movie was released.  I was also disinclined to read the books or watch the movies because of the witchcraft contained within them.  However, with the huge build up in recent months about the last Harry Potter movie I have received more inquiries about a Christian perspective of the series.  So, I decided to “inform” myself and over the course of some very late nights watched all seven movies available on DVD.  I then watched the final movie in the theater.  Since I went to this effort, I figured it would be prudent to write a post about my perspective (not to presume that my perspective is one to be coveted!).

I understand that this post has the potential to be very controversial.  I have discovered people get emotionally intense over Harry Potter- both positively and negatively.  Some will condemn my decision to be informed by watching the movies, saying that is the same as if I said I want to be informed about pornography so I better look at some.  Of course, that is not in any way a fair comparison.  Others will also scoff that my analysis of the Harry Potter movies is not to summarily condemn them pell mell.  Many of you may be surprised and/or disappointed that I do not excoriate the series.  In my estimation, a rational and objective analysis of these movies warrants a balanced, albeit cautious approach.  I do admit, my thoughts in this post are my initial thoughts.  Perhaps upon longer and deeper reflection, my conclusion may be altered somewhat.  Also, my perspective on this issue may be hindered to some degree as I have not read any of the books.

The recent article in Relevant Magazine entitled “The Redemption of Harry Potter,” has caused something of a firestorm in the evangelical community about the Christian response to Harry Potter.  In this article, author Ryan Hamm states that Harry Potter is one of the most Christian symbols in modern pop culture.  In my opinion, I think that statement is overstated.  The effort by some to label the Harry Potter series “Christian,” is also an error.  Hamm infers that Harry Potter is a type of Jesus Christ, although is clear to state the sacrifice Harry makes for his friends is nothing to that of the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.  Many are uncomfortable with the comparisons Hamm makes of Harry Potter to Christianity- and rightly so.  Many times the things we read in books or see in movies that seem to be comparative to Christianity are skewed.  For example, the “heaven” scene in the last Harry Potter movie does have broad comparisons to Christianity, but the lesson portrayed is that you get to heaven based on the good deeds you do- clearly not what the Bible teaches.

And yet, we must admit that a number of the themes Hamm lists from the Harry Potter series do, in fact, reflect principle themes of the Christian faith: championing the cause of the poor and oppressed, sacrificial love, and the obvious triumph of good vs. evil.  The loyalty, courage, and strength to resist evil are all character traits of Harry Potter we would like to see in our own children.  In other words, it seems difficult to deny that there are positive elements in the series.

Despite the good things about Harry Potter, there are negative things as well.  Parents should be wary about letting small children see the movies.  In each subsequent film the scary images, intensity of violence, and “darkness” increases.  The latter movies have a rating of PG-13.  The most troubling elements about the books/movies are obviously magic and witchcraft.  To me, the greatest problem in regard to this issue with the Potter series is not necessarily what we find in the books/movies themselves (Rowling never, at least from what I can tell, states the source of the magic), but in the spin offs generated by the series.  Evidence reveals that every time a book/movie was released, there was a spike in interest in magic, witchcraft, Wicca, and the occult.  These are very dangerous and most definitely anti-Christian.  The Bible clearly condemns the practice of witchcraft (Lev. 19:26, 31; Deut. 18:10-11; 2 Chron. 33:6).  Additionally, you can peruse Amazon and discover a host of books full of spells and other topics related to witchcraft that are connected with Harry Potter in effort to increase sales.  As Christians, and especially Christian parents, we must exercise extreme caution in ensuring that we our children or ourselves never get involved in the practice of witchcraft.  My advice to families would be that if they do choose to allow their children to read the books/watch the movies, they need to do so with their children and talk with them along the way.  If a family decides to pass on the Harry Potter series simply on the potential danger of witchcraft, I think they are rightfully justified to do so.

That said, we need to be careful of falling into the trap of a double standard when it comes to Harry Potter.  I have heard some condemn the Potter series, yet laud the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Yes, I understand the two series are not perfect comparisons, but we must be honest to the fact that the Lord of the Rings series does contain magic and witchcraft- and quite a bit of it.  Yes, the allegorical elements of the Lord of the Rings appear to be overtly Christian (although Tolkien always denied the books were Christian allegory), but that does not lessen the presence of magic/witchcraft in the series.  I was glad for my teenage son to see the Lord of the Rings because I wanted him to see the bravery, courage, loyalty, and sacrifice of the characters- not to mention good triumphing over evil.  Oddly enough, many of the characters in the Potter series share these same characteristics- as well as good winning over evil.  In addition, it seems that we could include the Star Wars series in the debate.  “The Force” certainly connotes elements resembling magic, yet people love this series for the very same reason they love the Lord of the Rings and consequently, Harry Potter.  Finally, I find it interesting that the same amount of concern and even uproar over Harry Potter is not also aimed at books/movies such as the Twilight series, the Vampire Diaries, and even Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place- all of which are centered on elements of the occult.

My point in all of this is that we should look at Harry Potter with balance.  There are potentially dangerous and insidious things that can result from fascination with the Harry Potter series.  Yet, there are good things that can be drawn out as well.  Thus, it seems that Christians need to follow their conscience on the decision they make to read the books/watch the movies and whether they will allow their children to do the same.  In doing so, we need to be careful not to pass judgment on our fellow Christians in how they respond to Harry Potter.  Paul’s words to the Corinthians about food offered to idols (1 Cor. 8 ) and to the Colossians about observing festivals (Col. 2:16-23) seems to be the guideline we should follow in this debate.  These were emotionally charged topics that, in Paul’s estimation, both sides of the controversy had a place of acceptance in the Christian faith.

For example, in our church we have families that home school and families that attend public school.  We have families that observe certain traditions at Christmas that other families believe strongly against.  Yet, the biblical admonition is that we are not to judge others who disagree with us in matters of conscience.  To the Corinthians and the Colossians, Paul said we are free to embrace the beliefs dictated by our conscience so long as those dictates do not violate the truth of Scripture and holy living.   It is interesting to note in both the Corinthians and Colossians passages, Paul makes reference to being “puffed up” in our handling of such disputes.  In other words, home school families are never to think they are better, holier, or more in tune with truth than public school families.  And the reverse is true. Public school families must never disdain those who choose to home school.  This is how the body of Christ is supposed work.  It seems this is a wise approach to Harry Potter.  There will be families who enjoy the series and others who think it dangerous.  Both sides appear to have merit to their arguments.  Thus, each one must follow their conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.