Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Parenthood: Prepare for Chaos

The following post is excerpted from the chapter, "Prepare for Chaos," in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

We all know them. The people who make statements that begin with, “When I have kids….” Like, “When I have kids, they’re going to be well-behaved.” Or, “When I have kids, I’m not going to allow them to make a mess of the house.” Or, “When I have kids, they’re never going to [insert behavior that the person has just observed and is particularly irritated by at the moment].”

Best not to get bent out of shape about statements like that. Best just to nod and smile and wait for the day when they find out….

Three Young Boys and a Library

I have a personal library that contains several shelves of books, developed while going to school to study English literature and theology. Yes, this all happened before you could get a whole library onto a tablet.

I used to like organizing my books. Fiction arranged alphabetically by author’s name and then by book title. Nonfiction arranged by category. It’s not that I’m an organizational nut. Far from it. Ask my parents about my room when I was a kid. But I liked being able to find specific books pretty easily, and I liked how it looked. Publishers often give books from a single author a similar cover and spine, so putting them together makes it look like they fit. It’s not so random.

So along came Daniel, my firstborn, and although having a baby changes your life immediately—because suddenly you’re responsible for this new life who can’t do anything for himself yet, and he’s crying and waking you up in the middle of the night—your life is changed, but your baby is still contained: contained to a crib, a car seat, a stroller. You, as parents, are still more or less in control. For the moment.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Archie Bunker Effect; or, The Main Mistake Christians Make when Engaging with the World

I grew up watching All in the Family. (Yes, I'm that old.)

All in the Family was an American sitcom that aired in the 1970s. It revolved around the Bunker family: Archie, the loudmouthed, bigoted father; Edith, his dimwitted but goodhearted wife; Gloria, his married daughter; and Michael, Gloria's opinionated, liberal husband. Michael and Gloria lived with Archie and Edith because Michael was in college and unemployed. In the close quarters, Archie and Michael frequently squared off regarding controversial political and social topics.

That was the point of the show. All in the Family was the liberal Norman Lear's vehicle for propagating his views. While Michael was mocked as "Meathead" by Archie, he was actually the mouthpiece for Lear's progressive social and political views. The staging and the dialogue were brilliant. Archie would usually "win" his arguments, but only because he was so stubborn that he would come up with ridiculous rationalizations that no one but he could possibly find convincing. Michael would give up in frustration over Archie's obtuseness, only to fight again another day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Well-Researched 3DM Warning

About a year and a half ago, I published a book review on Mike Breen's book, Building a Discipling Culture. This was in response to my own experience in a church that was adopting the 3DM discipleship strategy, and the flaws I saw in the exegesis and methodology I found in the book.

The book review lay dormant and, as I thought, forgotten for five months, when I began getting comments that turned out to be related to the struggles of North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Comments began to pour in, and at the present time, there are 400 comments on that post, far more than on any other post on this blog--despite the fact that Blogger has problems dealing with more than 200 comments (go down to the bottom and click on where it says "Loading..." to access the more recent comments). In order to foster discussion, I've attempted to play the part of more-or-less impartial moderator (although I clearly have my own opinion). People on both sides have gotten angry at me, so I guess I've done my job reasonably well. :-)

It should be clear at this point that I have chosen not to capitalize on the success of that post by making this an "anti-3DM" blog. I have different interests, and my hope is that some people who find this blog by searching for things related to 3DM will be interested in some of the other things I am interested in.

But I have to break my silence. Bob Highlands from Sonrise Church has done extensive research into 3DM and has an excellent series of posts on his website documenting aspects 3DM. The series of three posts can be accessed from this page. In my opinion, the best of the three posts is the second one, in which Bob breaks down the main exegetical and doctrinal issues besetting 3DM. Bob writes from the doctrinal position of the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana, but most of his arguments can be appreciated from any evangelical position. Incidentally, Bob quotes me at one point, and I fully support and agree with his use of that quote.

Check out Bob's well-researched piece, and thanks to all the commenters who played a part in aiding Bob in that research.

Note (January 7, 2018): I've posted a link to an excellent in-depth commentary on Building a Discipling Culture at I also invite any discussion of 3DM to migrate over to the comments section of that post.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Christian Married Sexuality (part 2)

The following post is adapted from the chapter, "Sexuality," from my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God. 

Check out Part 1 of this series by clicking here.

Sex and the Christian Marriage

The previous post of course leads to the question: what is healthy sexuality in marriage? A favorite text that seems to address this topic is Hebrews 13:4, which reads in the King James Version, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” This looks like an endorsement of marriage itself and of married sexuality (take that, Jerome!), and I recall having heard a number of sermons that focused on this endorsement as an affirmation of the goodness and rightness of married sex. Not only that, but it was pretty much interpreted to mean that anything goes within the marriage relationship. Married couple in bedNonetheless, contextual indicators lead most modern translations and commentators to take the passage as an imperative: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). While this is doubtless the correct translation, it reopens the question of what keeps the marriage bed pure. Is an undefiled marriage bed one in which sexuality is restricted only to procreation? Is it one in which only the missionary position is used? Is there stuff that’s allowable and stuff that isn’t for a married couple?

Those looking for specific techniques and detailed strategies will have to go to other writers. However, the immediate context seems to spell out the intent of the author of Hebrews: what would defile the marriage bed is adultery and sexual immorality. That is to say, it wasn’t anything happening between the married partners, but rather when one of the partners committed infidelity of some sort. The kinds of things that defile the marriage bed are the same kinds of things that eventually lead to permissible divorce and remarriage, according to Jesus. When the author of Hebrews says that the “marriage bed [should be] kept pure,” he essentially means to keep other people out of it. (tweet this)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Christian Married Sexuality (part 1)

The following post is adapted from the chapter, "Sexuality," from my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

On the evening when Cecile first came to church with me, a group of us went out afterward to a Big Boy restaurant. Pastor Bill, our College and Career pastor, came out to eat with us—probably to get to know Cecile better and witness to her—and sat down with Cecile, me, and my best friend Dave. He was asking her questions, and I was mostly nervously listening. I didn’t really know this woman all that well, although I knew enough to know she was liable to say anything. I felt that whatever she said would reflect on me, even though it wasn’t as though we were dating or anything.

After learning about her background, her divorce, and the loss of her children, Pastor Bill asked her, “So have you ever thought about becoming a Christian?”

“Well, I did for a while, but then I heard that you had to give up sex, so I thought, Forget that!”

picture of nervously biting lip
Dave snorted Coke out of his nose, and I started slinking under the table. Pastor Bill didn’t miss a beat, though. He simply replied, “Well, that is an obstacle for a lot of people. What you have to decide is, what’s more important?”

Cecile didn’t betray that Pastor Bill was getting to her, but she went home thinking about the conversation, and within a week, she had given her life to Jesus. That was to be the beginning of living celibate for two years before we got married.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Finding "The Right One"

The following post is excerpted from the chapter, "Finding the Right One" in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

The question of whether we married “the right person” hinges on a very faulty and foolish view of marriage. According to this view, God has planned out one and only one perfect person for you, and you need to find that person or your life will be a living hell from that moment on. Everything hinges on that choice.

Is it any wonder that young people are so freaked out by the prospect of marriage?

What this leads to is a very selfish view of what finding a spouse is like. Singles evaluate one another based on how well they think that other person is going to meet their needs, wants, desires, and ambitions. Everyone is trying to find the “right person” for themselves, and no one is trying to become the right person for someone else.(Tweet this!) When we expect someone else to meet all of our needs, hopes, and dreams, we set that person up for failure. No human being can fulfill us in that way. Meanwhile, while we’re constructing the pedestal for someone else to fall off of, we’re also short-circuiting the process by which God might be trying to tell us that our perceived needs, ambitions, dreams, and goals could be wrong. Why should we bother changing these expectations—or even evaluating them to see if they need to change—if the real problem is that we just haven’t found the Right Person to meet them yet?

We’re creating an idol out of that person—whether it’s someone we think we’ve already met, or whether they’re still just a figment of our imagination whom we’re sure is out there, somewhere. We’re putting them in the place of God. When a real person occupies that space, they can’t possibly live up to our pre-made image of them.

Friday, May 01, 2015

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Evangelicalism

For all you post-Evangelicals out there, Matthew Milliner writes an engaging piece on First Things entitled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Evangelicalism." Milliner makes the case that the roots of "shallow" Evangelicalism run deep. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Feed My Sheep

There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks."
--CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Jesus' charge to Peter, recalling him to ministry when Peter seems to have been bent on returning to his life of fishing, was to feed his sheep. It was a crucial moment - Peter seems to have been on the verge of throwing in the towel on the idea of ministry, having failed so badly in denying Jesus. Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves him; Peter keeps insisting that he does. And Jesus' response to him is "Feed my lambs," "Tend my sheep," "Feed my sheep."

It's not enough to say that you love me, Peter. I'm not finished with you. I have a job for you to do. I need you to take care of my sheep.

Jesus' words hearken back to John 10, where he proclaims that he is the good shepherd. He talks about his sheep knowing his voice, and about laying down his life for his sheep. What he doesn't talk about in either John 10 or John 21 is breeding sheep. He doesn't talk about using sheep to get more sheep. He doesn't talk about expanding the flock. He does talk about bringing in the "other sheep that are not of this fold" - presumably, in historical context, those Gentiles who would trust in him. But his focus, especially when talking to Peter, is on care for the sheep.

There was nothing romantic, in Jesus' day, about caring for sheep. Nothing glamorous. It was a dirty, unskilled job that left one ceremonially unclean all the time. It was a humble occupation.

Caring for God's people - which is what Jesus was charging Peter with doing - is still a humble occupation. It's messy and difficult and frustrating, and it's unsurprising that so many pastors strain against it. We're told that the most effective form of church leadership is not to be a shepherd, but rather a rancher. This accords well with the American idea that bigger is always better, that the only alternative to growth is stagnation, and with the romantic idea of the cowboy on the lone prairie. It just doesn't accord all that well with Scripture, especially with Jesus' charge to Peter.

What I most object to about the rancher model is not that things like hospital ministry and counseling can be done by people other than the pastor, or that people's gifts should be encouraged so that the body ministers to the body. These things I strongly agree with. What I object to is the focus of ministry leadership being continually outward. 

If you want to get needs met by the church world today, the best place you can possibly be is outside it. Be a prospect, not one of the faithful. The faithful are there to bring more people in, not to have their own needs met. That's the way it is, out on the ranch.

Somehow, that doesn't match what Jesus said about the world recognizing us as being his disciples because we love one another. Or what Acts says about the early believers providing for one another's needs, not as an outreach effort to those on the outside, but out of mutual love. And it doesn't match Jesus' simple command to Peter:

Feed my sheep.

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, What's Wrong with Outreach?

What's Wrong with Outreach?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

New distribution for Marriage, Family, and the Image of God

I'm happy to report that my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God, is now available for the Apple universe on iTunes, as well as in ePub format at Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other online retailers.

It's also still available for Kindle on Amazon, and as a paperback at CreateSpace, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.

If you're interested in the big picture of what marriage and family are all about, and if you're interested in seeing how that connects with us being created in God's image, please check it out! And if you like it, please post an honest review on the site where you purchased it. That would really do a lot to help me spread the word. Thanks!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Fivefold ministry paper on the Studies page

I've collected a series of four posts on the so-called "fivefold" ministries of Ephesians 4:11 into one paper on the Studies page. The original posts are still some of the most frequently accessed on this blog. I hope they're a blessing to people collected together. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why I Married a Divorced Woman

Shiela over on To Love, Honor, and Vacuum has a very thoughtful, carefully-considered post entitled, "Why I'm Anti-Divorce and Pro Remarriage." I wouldn't necessarily dot every i or cross every t precisely as she has, but she has the main idea dead-on right: that even though God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), he doesn't hate divorce in isolation, as though he just thought up something arbitrary to hate. He hates it for a reason, and that reason--stated in the verse--is because divorce is a form of violence against the person one has married. If he hates it for a reason, then there might be reasons why it would be allowed, if the marriage itself has become a form of violence, if one person has made it clear that he or she is refusing to honor the vows taken when they married. This is precisely what Jesus said: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Matthew 19:8). God never intended marriage to be temporary, at least within this lifetime, but because people's hearts are hard, it had to be allowed to prevent the worse evil of someone being trapped by a marriage covenant that the other person has no intent to honor.

All of this became very real to me when I began getting to know my wife, Cecile, who had been divorced several months before I met her. The full story is told in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God, but I want to share here, briefly, why a young man who had grown up in the church, was waiting for sex until marriage, and had dedicated his life to pursuing God's purposes, chose to marry a divorced woman.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Not-So-Romantic Tale of Jacob, Rachel and Leah

Those of us who grew up in the church are familiar with the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. After fleeing for his life from his brother Esau, Jacob comes to his relative Laban in Haran to find a wife, and meets Rachel, Laban's daughter. He falls in love with her at once and makes an arrangement to work for seven years to earn her hand in marriage. At the end of the seven years, Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Rachel's older sister Leah instead, and Jacob works another seven years for Rachel. The story is almost always presented as a beautiful love story with a touch of intrigue thrown in. Laban is considered a rotten trickster, Leah his accomplice, Jacob is viewed as receiving a bit of poetic justice after having tricked his brother and his father out of the oldest child's traditional birthright, and Rachel has the role of the hapless heroine, caught in the middle of this mess through no fault of her own. It is often pointed out that "Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her" (Gen. 29:20).

We are told that "Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel" (Gen 29:17-18). Commentators are not agreed on what the "weakness" of Leah's eyes means. Most seem not to believe that it reflects poor eyesight or blindness; the majority seem to believe that her eyes were simply unattractive--possibly blue, which may have been considered a defect in the ancient Middle East. Adam Clarke has an intriguing suggestion: that the "weakness" of Leah's eyes reflects not a negative quality but a positive one--that she did have pretty eyes, but by contrast, Rachel's entire "form and appearance" were attractive, and therefore Jacob gave his love to Rachel. One way or another, it was Rachel's beauty that swayed Jacob. There's nothing wrong with this, in and of itself: many significant women in the Bible are described as being beautiful. But if we look at the respective characters of Leah and Rachel, and the results that came from the two marriages, a picture emerges that is very different from the romantic one usually taught.