Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Apple News

For fans of my blog who are also Apple users, it looks like I've been approved for having my posts published in Apple News format under the title "Grace Grid" if you're into that sort of thing. Feel free to subscribe! I'm thinking I'll start out by posting some older content, then see where things go from there.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Them Lyrics Though

I was part of a very Pentecostal youth group in my younger years and was exposed to many of the popular Christian bands of the 90s as a natural result. The thing was, for us youth group kids, it was never really about the lyrics or the theology of the bands. All that mattered was that they were Christian, so we could justify listening to a more contemporary sound.

One band I enjoyed very much was The O.C. Supertones. They were a ska band and they hit their prime in the late 90s. Again, I was Pentecostal, Arminian by default, and was not exactly sheltered from the occasional prosperity gospel sermon. I had absolutely no clue that one of my favorite bands was in pretty strong opposition to some of my denominational distinctives (not so much the Pentecostal part, but definitely the other two quirks I mentioned). I never could have guessed that this just might be a foreshadowing of some of the theological shifts that were on my horizon.

The crazy thing is, the Calvinist resurgence (of which I'm happy to call myself a part) has only been going on for the past ten years or so, at least on such a large scale. Joining this movement has elevated my love for the Protestant reformation, the sovereignty of God in salvation aka the doctrines of grace, and my hatred for a God minimizing, man exalting, prosperity gospel. Because of this, I had something of an unexpected surprise today as I drove to the Buffalo area and back and randomly decided to go through some of my old Supertones albums from the 90s. I was shocked to realize that these guys were nearly a decade ahead of their time. I figured I would just cut and paste some song lyrics so you could enjoy a little of this rather pleasant experience with me. I'll include some YouTube audio links so you can listen as you read along.

As a result of becoming more theologically reformed, I've become much more passionate about sound doctrine. as a more recent result, I've picked up an interest in reformed/presuppositional apologetics and have been exposed to names like Bahnsen. Who would have thought that I'd completely missed these ideas being thrown at me in a song like "Grounded" all the way back in 1999.

I strike back like the empire
and we'll televise the revolution.
What will save you
From divine retribution?
Do our part, try to make a contribution
Playin' at 11, givin' OC noise pollution.
Think long and hard
about our world today...
what needs to be said,
and what I need to say.
We're a tower of Babel
built on anti-philosophy,
Neitzche in the west
and Krishna in the east.

War rages on through generations.
All of these Christians
abandoned their stations.
A whole world around us,
and we've ceased to reach.
An army of soldiers,
we've neglected to teach.
But, it's dim and not pitch black.
The truth will prevail.
If our God is for us, how can we fail?
No surer hope has ever been rested.
But for our adversary's worthy,
prepare to be tested.

Hoo, Hah.
How will you stand
if you don't understand?

Hoo, Hah.
Fight like a man, scriptures in hand.

And here we stand
naked, barehanded futily prepared
for the blows to be landed.
Presuppositions is all you can stand on.
Can you twist their wrist
when they lay a hand on?
Learn how to fight
from words on a paper.
learn from the shoguns,
Bahnsen and Schaeffer.
Invincible army,
Holy Spirit our general.
Weapons are formed
form most precious of minerals.

Kids in universities,
drowning in an ocean
of apostate philosophy.
We need apologetic instruction...
mental reconstruction.
Ignorance reduction,
to halt the mass abduction.
Evangelical mind
has been scandalized.
Wisdom and truth
have been vandalized,
by the unevangelized.
No truth in a world
that is randomized.
Expose the lies
no matter how they're disguised.


Or how about my more foundational discoveries of the many theological truths that were recovered in the Protestant Reformation by men like Luther? Truths carried on by men like Jonathan Edwards? Who would have thought that the Supertones were singing about this one album later in "Return of the Revolution"

There ain't no stopping us now
I'd like to say that from the outset
Not up in this business just to get what we can get
But bet that
We gonna bring it to you loud and clear
How loud I gotta say it 'fore you people start to hear
I can name our problems
But I know a solution
Bring back the revolution.
The revolution comes and we all stand as one
Rises from the darkness and shines like the sun
As the sun gets higher, our church catches fire
Down from our pride and up from the mire.
It's a dream that I've had and I hope it comes true
I forgot to say the revolution starts with you.

See wisdom and knowledge is one thing that we lack
You've been a Christian how long and you're still on Similac
So I call on Martin Luther and all the reformation back
Then the common people couldn't read God's revelation
You had to be a monk or a priest or read Latin
That was all before the revolution happened
But the fire cooled down ever since that generation
We put down the Bible and pick up the Playstation
And we can't defend our faith 'cause we don't even know it
We say we love his word but pick a funny way to show it.
The world walks by and we don't have a thing to say
I call 'em as I see 'em
And that's what I see today

Chorus:
The revolution returns
The reformation lives on
The great awakening is now
Sleepers open your eyes
A war is on, our rally cry is no compromise
No compromise, yeah, no compromise
A war is on, our battle cry is no compromise
So throw your fist up and pray the revolution rise
A war is on, our rally cry is no compromise

Our hearts have grown so cold
And we've such numb souls
But shirts and bumper stickers
Man we got 'em by the truckload
Is true religion what you have around your wrist
What does the scripture say of this
"They honor me with words
But their hearts are far away"
I call 'em like I see 'em
And that's what I see today

So I call on Jon Edwards
Who preached us all awake
We try to be emotional but here is our mistake
As a church we lack repentance and we lack true affection
Not only in our minds but our hearts need correction
And man that's true religion, resignation and contrition
To love each other so much that we'd die before division

So what about you
Will you join us
Will you admit that the waters around us have grown
You better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
Do you stand with us or do we stand alone
It's time that we stand up, enlist for the war
I've tasted battle and now I want more
I've known the truth and been cut to the core
But I'm back in the game to even the score
And I mean to go out with both my guns blazing
Amazed at a God who's so truly amazing
To triumph in battle as the spirit enables
Can't turn back the clock but we can turn the tables


As one more example, what about the issue of our necessary battle against the prosperity gospel? Yeah, they tackled that too in "Health and Wealth"

Poor men bound in persecution,
God's their portion everyday.
But we don't know anybody who lives that way.
There the church grows stronger, under politics and chains and whips.
They can't explain how they slipped right through their grip.
A purifying persecution in the politics of Mao Tse-Tung.
I think they got it right, so maybe we got it wrong.

Health and wealth, we help ourselves, and let them play the hand that they've been dealt.
Health and wealth, indulge ourselves, a big fat belly underneath our belts.
Health and wealth we help ourselves, and let them play the hand that they've been dealt.
We'll never understand the Christ they're felt, if we keep on chasing health and wealth.

Here we sit so comfy, rich us, me and you, the USA...so far away from C-h-i-n-a.
We think they need freedom.
We're the ones in prison.
We don't have the time to change the world.
It doesn't take long to figure it out, where all our money goes.
We're the poorest billionaires
Jesus knows.

Health and wealth, we help ourselves, and let them play the hand that they've been dealt.
Health and wealth, indulge ourselves, a big fat belly underneath our belts.
Health and wealth we help ourselves, and let them play the hand that they've been dealt.
We'll never understand the Christ they're felt, if we keep on chasing health and wealth.

And we ask God to refine us and pray that we would be freed from all our comfortable gods our straining and striving and chasing the wind.

Health and wealth, we help ourselves, and let them play the hand that they've been dealt.
Health and wealth, indulge ourselves, a big fat belly underneath our belts.
Health and wealth we help ourselves, and let them play the hand that they've been dealt.
We'll never understand the Christ they're felt, if we keep on chasing health and wealth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Harsh Words and Public Rebuke

Some small remnant of you readers may not be aware of the fact that I have, in the past, not shied away from engaging in rather harsh public rebuke toward certain individuals by means of my blog. I doubt this ignorance extends to very many of you because these posts have received far more views than any of the others. It's pretty much a no contest. This is the case in spite of the fact that these posts make up about 5% of everything I've written about over the years.

I wanted to say a few words about this. I've received varied responses to this type of thing, ranging from "yeah, go get em!" to "how dare you, you unchristlike, arrogant jerk!"

In order to address this issue, I simply want to summarize what my philosophy of public rebuke is as briefly as I can, and then try to extend some applications and precautions both to my readers and to myself.

My first assumption, and this should be obvious at this point, is that public rebuke is a biblical concept. It continues to surprise me how many people are not even willing to consider the fact that this is the case. Public rebuke, including naming names and naming sins loudly and publicly is not beneath the example of the Old Testament prophets, the Apostles and Christ himself.

Second, I believe that public rebuke is only for public sin. Given what my areas of study are, I am mainly referring to the public promotion of false doctrine and sinful living. This is generally the approach we see in scripture. Paul did not shy away from warning against apostates by name (2 Timothy 2:17). Jesus did not shy away from strong words of rebuke and condemnation toward those who led God's people astray (Matthew 23). Peter did not shy away from the most scathing condemnation imaginable when addressing teachers who would lead their followers into sin (2 Peter 2).

Third, I believe a person should make sure they are qualified to engage in this type of thing. I obviously am operating under the assumption that I fall into that category. While it is nearly impossible to try to make this point without risking self promotion and pride (or at least the appearance of it), I will simply point out that I have formally studied theology for several years and have completed a masters degree on the topic. I am also submitted to the elders of a local church who are able to (and have) corrected my failings in this area, as well as others. I also have recently begun teaching systematic theology in that context.

Fourth and finally, I believe that biblical rebuke takes a variety of forms, and these do not exclude solemn seriousness, tears, and pleading. Nor does it exclude harsh words, sarcasm, jokes, even name calling (see Matthew 23 and 2 Peter 2 for the most shocking examples of this).

I think Doug Wilson (notorious for his use of satire) summarized this point well when he said,

"Prophets, the apostles and our Lord Jesus all exhibit a vast array of verbal behavior, including tenderness, love, insults, jokes, anger, and more. What standard do we use to sort this Material out? When this standard is a scriptural one, the same range of expression will be found in those who imitate the Scriptures, and that range will exhibit scriptural proportions. But when the standard is nonscriptural, and has excluded a certain type of expression as being a priori un-Christ-like, it then will not matter how many passages are cited which show Christ being un-Christ-like. And at that point we may take a jibe from Christ's arsenal and say that wisdom is vindicated by her children."

The most difficult aspect of engaging people about this issue is that, even if they concede that such a category of rebuke is necessary, they often have a one size fits all category of what Christlikeness looks like in such a situation.

I will admit, discerning what Christ would say or do is not always easy. I am sure that I've failed at this at times in my writing. The mistake we make is in thinking there is a simplistic feel good answer that will make everyone comfortable.

One of the things we must not do is allow the response of the person being rebuked to be the deciding factor in how we judge the merits of the rebuke we extend to them. What we must realize is that if a person slips into an unbiblical worldview, in part or in total, their taste for language that describes their worldview will inevitably shift as well. The more heretical and vile the error they embrace is, the more heretical and vile they will find your rebuke, unless the Spirit grants them repentance (2 Timothy 2:25).

To extend that thought to my readers as well, this should also compel us to judge our own hearts. If we find the rebuke that a teacher extends to someone (that someone not being us) offensive, there may be multiple reasons for this. It may well be that the teacher has gone too far and is no longer showing tough love. He's just being tough.

However, this offense may come from a shift in our taste buds concerning the doctrine at hand. It may be that we have come to agree with a false teacher where we shouldn't... or we at least don't see his error as being as serious as it actually is. For this reason, we must pray for discernment.

Ironically, I think this often comes down to not being judgmental, a charge that is often leveled at those who practice public rebuke. By judgmental, I don't mean making judgments. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus did not tell us not to judge. He told us not to judge without the knowledge that the same standard will be used against us (Matthew 7:1-5). Hypocracy is a sin, not discernment.

When I say judgmental, I'm talking about thinking you can magically see what is in a brother's heart, a feat only God can pull off (1 Samuel 16:7). God does not call us to judge someone's heart, but rather what comes out of their mouth and life. You will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). Yet we often turn this around and defend a false teacher, whose teaching is clearly a bad fruit, by appealing to the fact that we don't know their heart. We do this while simultaneously rebuking someone who tries to correct the false teaching, thinking we know the state of their heart. This is of course based on what we perceive to be the harshness of their words. We cannot assume that strong rebuke is bad fruit. It often is only treated as such because the person doing so has an unbiblical and unexamined presupposition concerning what kind of rebuke is or is not appropriate.

In summary, my goal here is simply to encourage us to be more well rounded when it comes to following scripture. We often times think we know what this means, but our definition is based on our personal sensitivities more than the Bible itself. This applies to me as well as all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have definitely had to repent for my words before, and I'm sure I will have to again. At the same time, I know there are some of you awaiting repentance on my part, but it may be time for you to realize, depending on what offended you, that there just might be none forthcoming.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Realms

There are two ways of living in this world. We live with God as Lord of our hearts, or live our lives in attempt to claim rulership over God. Every human being that has ever existed, is existing, or ever will exist, dwells in one of these two realms. There is no realm of neutrality in between. That is not to say that the process of being converted, by the spirit, into a worshipper of God is not a lifelong process. It certainly is. Nevertheless, at the foundation of our being, we look up to God in reverence and are learning to do so more and more, or we look down at him in blasphemous condescension. We are either born of God, and are being conformed to the likeness of his Son, or we are not.

When we finally embrace this biblical truth, we are at once placed in a position to rightly interpret what we see, not only in the world, but in the church. Many Christians who claim to hold scripture in high esteem, cringe when sharp distinctions like this are made. This may well reveal an unwillingness to live consistently with their confession that God brought the very fabric of time and space into existence.

To be made in the image of God and to live in this world is all that a creature needs to be worthy of condemnation for not bending the knee.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse
(Romans 1:19-20).

As always, the ink in Paul's letter is still wet. We see this suppression of the truth every day in the world around us. We see human beings, made in God's image, writing books with the fingers God formed, shouting their unbelief with lungs that God gave them, breathing air that God blessed them with, and inventing words like "atheist" to proudly wear on their shirts. Fortunately God does not believe in atheists, and to the extent that we do, we trust the word of man over the word of God. To the extent that we make this exchange, the unbelieving world will sense our lack of faith in our every gospel presentation.

Not only do we see these two fundamental realms in the world out there, but as I mentioned, it can be seen in the church as well. Every professing Christian claims to have given their life to God. Yet even those of us who claim the name of Christ have the most subtle ways of subverting his rule in our hearts.

God blessed us with means of connection with him. God blessed us with glorious promises in the gospel. God is the end for which God made the world. God is the end for which God made us. We don't eat ice cream in order to earn the pleasure of washing the bowl. The ice cream is the point. We don't worship God for anything. He is the reward.

Yet when our hearts deceive us, we seek out other devices. The deception as Christians is that the devices often look strangly religious.

We see this in worship. Rather than worship God for God's sake, we worship for the sake of his gifts. Sometimes we get them. When we do get them in the midst of such a mindset, we cannot be thankful for them. We worshipped our way to them after all. Such hard workers we are... choking down that pesky ice cream.

We see this as we bow in prayer. We either see prayer as a means of releasing our burdens onto the only sovereign, knowing he works all things for good, or we try to twist his arm with our "sovereign" prayer, thinking we can work all things for good.

We see this as we contemplate the Gospel. We either think that grace, given through Christ on the cross, was an unmeritted gift to underserving sinners, or we think that it was God's apology for giving us a standard we "good" people should never have been expected to live up to.

We either think God chose us in love, in spite of ourselves, before the foundation of the earth, to bring glory to himself through our glorification, or we think that we chose God, because of ourselves, to bring glory to ourselves.

Whether we go by the term "believer" or not, we are living in one of these two worlds. Either we are using all of our God given faculties to dethrone God, or we have decisively been placed, by God's sovereign grace, into the right world. If the latter, we are growing into that world by that same grace, learning not to look back.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Praise God, I'm Worthless (Edited for theological clarity)

After some good conversation, I have edited this post for greater theological clarity and precision. I hope you enjoy it:

Good theology takes time. It takes the time required to not only learn it, but to see it... to experience it. Often times we as Christians latch on to a cliche, a one liner, or a bumper sticker doctrine. Then, because it has proven very useful to us, we find ourselves latching onto it even when the word of God begins to prove it questionable. Meanwhile, God has a much more profound and satisfying truth to reveal to us once our pet doctrine has been laid down.

I would like to talk about one of these very popular doctrines and attempt to replace it with one that, while wildly offensive at first, has far more to offer the sinner's soul.

What more popular doctrine could there be in our culture than the doctrine of self-esteem? Outside of the Christian faith, it is well established that a person must first come to a deep love for self before they can truly express love to others.

However, this post is not primarily directed toward the non-Christian. It is directed toward believers and teachers of believers. Many of us have already decided that the secular dogma of self-esteem is not exactly a good thing. We understand that scripture teaches the sinful nature of man and the supremacy of God. Nevertheless, there is a subtle way in which I have begun to see this popular doctrine creep in.

While many of us may well point out our unworthiness before God, our deep depravity, and our need for a savior, we will then pause and draw out inferences based on the fact that God chose to save us. The danger is certainly not in pointing to God's saving work, but in what we infer from God's saving work. We say something like, "it is certainly true that we are not worthy of salvation because of our sin, but that does not mean we have lost our value. If we had no value, God would not have reached out to save us. There is a difference between being worthy and valuable."

This seems reasonable on the surface, doesn't it? However, definitions are everything. This statement assumes that being worthy (full of worth) and having value are foundationally different. But what truly is the difference between worth and value?

Here's a thought, let's look in a dictionary.

Some definitions of worth include, "Usefulness or importance, as to the world, to a person, or for a purpose." Or how about this one, "Value, as in money." Wait... What?

And what about the word value? Well, you find definitions like, "Relative worth, merit, or importance" or "estimated or assigned worth; valuation." In short, for all intents and purposes, worth is value and value is worth. To be worthy is to be valuable.

With definitions like this in place, certain texts of scripture become even more devastating,

"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless" (Romans 3:10-12).

Excuse me? Worthless? As in without worth? As in without (gulp) value? How is this good news? How does this help? How does this even make sense? If this is true, then why DID God reach out to save me?

And there it is. THERE is the right question. So long as we continue to look to ourselves in ANY sense when seeking the reason for our salvation, we will come up disappointed. God is the reason for our salvation. we are not. God was not compelled by anything but himself in the moving of himself. He is what many have called the "unmoved mover." God's affections are commanded by God.

Before I continue, I should clarify the kind of value and worth I am talking about. In scripture there is a difference between what we might call our worth and value as creatures who bare the image of God, as opposed to our legal value before God as sinners. As image bearers, we have immeasurable value that must be recognized as we relate to our fellow human beings. Otherwise there is no basis for a just society. There would be no reason to obey scripture when it says to do good and treat others with honor, even those outside the church. Scripture is clear that God pours out blessings on all, whether they are in relationship to him or not.

However, legal value and worth before God is completely different. Because of the depravity of our hearts and the sins we commit as a result of our fallenness in Adam, neither our value as image bearers, nor our fallen legal standing are enough to cause us to attract the saving work of God. I will expand on this even more when I talk about the doctrine of election.

This complete lack of worth or value before God may be devastating news to some, but it shouldn't be.

Why?

Ask yourself, has anyone let you down more than you have? Has anyone lied to you more than you have? Has anyone broken more promises to you than you have? If indeed we are the motivators of God's saving work, whether by our false righteous deeds or by some remnant of the image of God within us apart from our works, then there is no telling how motivated God should be. But if God's saving work cannot be provoked by us, then it cannot be hindered by us either.

To say that our value caused God to save us is to say that there is a power that exists outside of God that is not dependent upon him. On the contrary, we are never meant to see a value existing within ourselves without simultaneously seeing ourselves in relationship to Christ. We were chosen in HIM. We were crucified with HIM. We were raised with HIM. The cross did not happen because God was drawn to us. God is drawn to us because of the cross, in Christ.

As creatures, our value is created by God and we are owned by him. As fallen creatures who have lost any value that would draw God to us. God's saving work makes us doubly owned and doubly dependent on him for value.

Let me talk to my fellow Calvinists for a moment because I've heard some of these subtle errors in our circles as well. As believers in the glorious doctrine of unconditional election, this false distinction of worth and value in explaining the cross should be far from our minds. We believe the words of Paul that God "chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). We believe him when he reminds us of God's insistence that, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (Romans 9:15). We believe scripture's insistence that faith is not a quality produced by man in order to impress God, but is a supernatural gift of God to his elect people (Ephesians 2:8, 6:23, Romans 12:3). Therefore, we reject any idea that God was drawn to his chosen people by a faith that he foresaw. Rather, he was the one who infallibly decided to bring faith about.

However, if all human beings contain a value that inherently draws God to extend saving mercy, even if it is the remnants of the image of God, then Paul must be mistaken in communicating that God has an electing love that is unconditional. It is most certainly conditional and most certainly not extended to a specific and covenant people. It is merely offered to all with no guarantee of results since human will can so simply thwart the saving work of God.

Since the image of God is universal to all humans and election is specific, then even our value that comes from bearing God's image did not draw God's saving love. Not only that, but since we are at odd's with God's law by nature, it is certainly not our legal standing that has saved us.

Arthur Pink did an incredible job putting this truth into words, so I will close with a quote from him,

"If then there is nothing in any member of the human race to attract God’s love, and if, notwithstanding, He does love some, then it necessarily follows that the cause of His love must be found in Himself, which is only another way of saying that the exercise of God’s love towards the fallen sons of men is according to His own good pleasure.

In the final analysis, the exercise of God’s love must be traced back to His sovereignty or, otherwise, He would love by rule; and if He loved by rule, then is He under a law of love, and if He is under a law of love then is He not supreme, but is Himself ruled by law."

If God's love is built upon his people, it will fail. If it is built upon himself, it is indestructible. Our preaching and teaching is foundationally meant to center the people of God on God. To turn that backwards and to cause them to turn inward yet again will only lead to an unstable faith.

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:33-36).

Friday, May 1, 2015

Matthew's Banana Monkey

Once there was a man named Matthew who was walking down the road to paradise. There were trees on either side of him and a clear sky above him. On his back was a rifle and a monkey. On the monkey's back was a bunch of bananas.

When the journey began, the Master said to Matthew, "now that I have set you on the path to paradise, you must live according to my words. If you truly trust me, you will not eat the bananas in the forrest. You may eat the fruit of any other tree, but if you eat the bananas, you will regret it and forget for a time that you know me. Your joy on the path will be hindered. I have given you all you need for the journey. Don't neglect my gifts."

Many days later, these words still echoed in Matthew's ears. However, the monkey, for what seemed like the thousandth time was dangling a banana in front of Matthew's face. Matthew knew the monkey did it on purpose just to annoy him. The aroma was glorious. "I've forgotten what bananas taste like" thought Matthew. "Perhaps if I just take a deep smell of the fruit, it will be enough."

Matthew inhaled the scent that was before him. Unfortunately, it only made the craving deepen. He walked a bit longer, but soon could take it no longer. "Surely the master knows how difficult this journey is? And why would he allow this monkey to ride along if he knew this would happen?" When the thought had fully played itself out, Matthew grabbed the banana and took a large bite.

The flavor was rich and pleasing, but only for a moment. Guilt filled his heart and spoiled his satisfaction before the aftertaste had faded. Not only that, but he realized the banana did not taste nearly as good as he'd hoped. Certainly not as good as the other fruits he'd found in the forrest.

Just when this thought had ended, the monkey leaped from Matthew's back and stood in front of him. After giving a loud shriek. The monkey kicked Matthew right between the legs with profound force. Matthew fell to the ground in agony.

After about twenty minutes, Matthew struggled to his feet. His mind was fuzzy. The pain had mostly faded, but his insides were numb. He began to stagger forward and continued on his journey. He looked back and saw his friend the monkey following close behind. Obviously he was angry with the monkey. However, he'd grown fond of the creature throughout his journey and was sure there was a rational explanation for what had happened. Eventually he allowed it to hop back onto his shoulder to continue the journey.
Another day or two passed and soon Matthew forgot the pain. Feeling began to return to his insides and thoughts of the Master returned to him. He then realized it had been a long while since the Master had entered his mind. Some remnants of guilt remained, but as he thought more intently on the Master's promise of paradise, joy began to fill his heart again.

However, the purity of this joy did not last for long. After a few more days, the monkey began to return to his old tricks. He would dangle a banana in front of Matthew's face every so often, even though Matthew would push his hand away. Soon the aroma began to drift into Matthew's nose yet again. His stomach would begin to grumble. For several miles, Matthew was able to fill his stomach with different fruits. He often found he was not in the mood for them with the thought of bananas on his mind, but he would eat them anyway. They always proved more satisfying than he had hoped.

However, before long, he ran out of fruit he had packed for the journey and began to grow hungry again. He looked into the forrest and saw fruit that he could pick to replace it. However, before he worked up the motivation to go and get it, the thoughts of fresh banana rushed into his mind. Sure enough, the monkey hung one in front of his face just when his craving was at its peak. He ate the fruit before he even gave himself time to think.

Only moments after he'd experienced the flavor, guilt rushed back into his heart. Sure enough, the monkey jumped off his back again and stood in front of him. Before he had time to brace himself, the monkey kicked him once more. Matthew fell to the ground, barely able to breathe.

This pattern continued for several weeks. The pain would slowly fade, followed by the guilt. Thoughts of the Master would return, but would soon be followed by the monkey's irritating distraction with that accursed fruit. Matthew would resist for a while, but eventually he would run out of the fruit he would pick for himself and would give in to the monkey's cruel offer.

Eventually, a day came when Matthew's hope had nearly faded. Yet again the monkey was torturing him when his craving was at its peak. Just then, the Master's words returned to Matthew's mind "Do not neglect my gifts." He suddenly was reminded of the gun on his shoulder and began to feel its weight. He immediately pushed the monkey off his back, whipped the gun off his shoulder and began to aim it at the monkey's face. He yelled, "Get rid of those bananas or I'll shoot you right here and now!" The monkey began to jump up and down and shriek at the top of its lungs. After screaming like this for several moments, the monkey threw the bananas into the forrest and climbed calmly back onto Matthew's shoulder. Matthew sighed with relief...

The journey continued.

Matthew felt peace in his heart for a time. However, he soon noticed that the monkey would take occasional trips into the trees. Each time it would come back with a few bananas. He tried to think nothing of it, but the pattern continued. Eventually the monkey had just as many bananas on its back as before. Sure enough, the monkey whipped up the courage to begin torturing Matthew again. Matthew didn't wish to go through another ordeal, so he resolved in himself that he would fight to resist temptation from here on out.

He stuck to his commitment... for a few hours.

Sure enough, Matthew found himself on the ground once more, recovering from the incredible pain. His insides were numb yet again. The monkey stood nearby with a blank expression. With what little emotion he had, Matthew decided he was angry. He was angry with himself and angry with the monkey. However, without truly knowing why, he decided to continue as he had before. He hobbled forward, and the monkey assumed its position on his shoulder.

Matthew wasn't sure what to do. He knew the pattern would continue if he didn't act. But what did the Master expect of him? How far was he to go? The Master's words returned to his mind "Do not neglect my gifts." Just then, the monkey dangled a banana in front of Matthew's face. Hunger pangs seized him.

Matthew stopped in the middle of the road. He felt the weight of the gun on his shoulder yet again. He closed his eyes. He reminded himself of the pain he had now experienced over and over. Moments passed.

...Matthew opened his eyes... his decision was made.

In one swift motion, he took the monkey by the neck and threw it to the ground. he whipped the gun around and pressed it right between the monkey's eyes... He pulled the trigger.

BLAM!

The noise echoed throughout the forrest. Matthew looked down at the corpse of the monkey... bananas scattered all around it. Blood drained out of its head and it's tongue was hanging to the ground.
Matthew stared for several moments. He put the gun back on his shoulder, grabbed an apple from his sack, took a bite, and kept walking.

His journey continued in peace. Paradise could not be far now.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

50 Shades of Porn: A Post for My Christian Sisters

Hello Christian sisters.

I do believe this will be the first time I've written directly to women, but it's Valentine's Day, so what better time.

Well, it's become quite consistent now. I see women who are old friends from school, from church, and women at work talking about it. They've been passing the books around, swooning about the movie, and are setting up girls' nights out to see it.

50 Shades of Grey. I remember when I first heard my sister scoff about it and I had no idea what it was all about. “It's nothing but erotica” she said. “I can't believe my friends are reading it.”

I've often heard that women are tempted with sexual sin in a drastically different way than men. “Women tend to be tempted emotionally, whereas men are tempted visually” is usually the kind of thing you hear. While I know there's some truth to this, I've never entirely bought into the dichotomy, mainly because I've never found it to be true in myself. I find the emotional and physical desires for relationship tend to rise simultaneously in the depths of my soul.

Because of this, I'm no longer surprised when I hear that the porn industry has a growing audience among women.

That said, I see a very different challenge rising in our culture for Christian women. Where we men generally have to call porn what it is when indulging in it, women are now being offered the opportunity to indulge in temptation while giving it a different name. I believe at one point I heard one critic call 50 Shades of Grey a “tasteful love story.”

As a man who has had the porn industry take numerous bites out of his soul, there is a very pointed anger that arises in my heart when I see my sisters taken captive in this way. Indeed, the lines between Hollywood and the porn industry are growing increasingly blurry.

As a man who continuously fights this battle, I need to know that not only my brothers, but also my sisters are fighting along side me. If I fail in some measure, I need to know that I am not the only one who sees a reason to get up and fight tomorrow.

The devil is a liar. A mighty good one at that. With the release of 50 Shades of Grey as a movie, many of my Christian sisters are now under the impression that they can step into a theater to see it and call it something other than a surrender in the midst of a war.

As a man striving to look like Christ, the last thing I need is another excuse to compromise. The last thing I need is to look at my shortcomings and call them anything less than a betrayal of the beauty of the gospel.

Nothing makes me loath my own failures in this area more than having to look at you, my sisters, knowing that, in my heart, I've treated you as less beautiful and less valuable than you truly are. But now, in the midst of that battle, I see many of you treating yourselves that way without my help.

Many of you are swooning over a story that glorifies your objectification. You pass books around that make innocence something to be mocked, and depravity something to be celebrated. You are setting up girls' nights out to see images that you would rightfully be disgusted with your boyfriends and husbands for viewing.

I don't write strong words like this because I am immune to temptation, but because I am undeniably aware of my incredible weakness.

Sisters, if you're considering reading these books or going to see the movie, please don't. Don't surrender in the midst of war. If you already have, I know that in your heart of hearts you feel the shame that is in it. A shame that many men and now many women have experienced.

There is grace for you in the gospel. There is grace for all of us. Because of the cross, Christ has taken our shame. Not only that, but we now carry the beauty and righteousness of Christ. We can let that truth cause us to get up and fight another day, even if we have failed today.