John Piper is still on sabbatical, which was scheduled for a year. I miss his voice.
This was a blessing to me at 12:52 in the a.m.
John Piper is still on sabbatical, which was scheduled for a year. I miss his voice.
This was a blessing to me at 12:52 in the a.m.
I don’t believe roller coasters are something Christians should participate in. Even those who enjoy them confess there is a fear factor involved, a “thrill” if you will. God has given us this natural fear sensation for our good, not our amusement. (We certainly don’t have any indication in Scripture that Jesus pursued entertainment of any kind.) In addition, the Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear and that perfect love casts out all fear. To cultivate fear then, especially for something as frivolous, for the purpose of reveling in fear is spiritually perverted. Given all the suffering in the world, including that endured by our Christian brothers and sisters, riding roller coasters at the very least seems like a poor use of precious time, an obvious violation of Philippians 4:8.
My 7 year-old, Grace, is often deeper than she knows. At lunch today the family was discussing who liked hot sauce and who didn’t. The question came up about being on “Mom’s team” (those who don’t like hot sauce) or “Dad’s team” (those who like hot sauce), and this is what Grace had to say about getting on teams of this sort:
You can’t just decide to like something. Like, you can’t just say, I’m going to like this now and decide to like. You have to actually like it.
I told her that people decide to start liking something all the time. If what she said is true, how does that happen? She said:
You can’t just decide to start liking something. You have to actually like it. Your taste buds have to change or somethin’.
Yes! She was speaking truth deeper than she realized.
The following is a bit from my next book. Titled Gospel Wakefulness, it is coming next year from Crossway.
The kingdom itself is a treasure, often hidden from our spiritual senses while we are seeking satisfactions everywhere else, but once it has been dug up in the rocky soil of our sin and suffering, we will with great joy sell all we have to claim it. Once the tears of brokenness have cleared our eyes to behold the beatific vision of the gospel of God’s grace, we are ready to see the soul-stirring inheritance that is ours in Christ. When we have deeply felt the spiritual poverty of self-rule we will be prepared for the riches of the King, which are immeasurable, unsearchable, glorious, and full.
And, yes, I am praying my family will have its spiritual eyes opened to taste and see that hot sauce is good.
Luther really did say “Sin boldly,” but it doesn’t mean what we think it does. It’s a rhetorical statement that in context takes on more clarity.
Here is the passage from his message to Philip Melancthon:
If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.
Elsewhere, Luther talks about committing a token sin (of sorts) to spite the devil, by which he means if the devil is foisting legalism upon you on matters that are not real sins (drinking, mowing your lawn on Sunday, etc.), you could spite him by doing just that. But in this instance he is not literally advocating sin. He is only saying that Christ died for what sin truly is: bold, willful rebellion against God. Let your sin be named as that. Cop to it. You don’t have to pretend your sins are tame. Be a bold sinner. But be a bolder believer in the redemption of your depravity.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:10
At the time of the Boxer Rebellion, 230 Christian missionaries and 23,000 Chinese Christians were killed in China. In the years following, the number of Christians in China grew to 70,000. Then communist China really cracked down, outlawing Christianity and expelling all Christian missionaries. The number of Christians in China grew 100 fold to 70 million.
In our nation there is some concern among Christians about religious freedoms and the state recognition of Christian expression. These concerns are, for the most part, justified. Arguably. But there are many overreactions, many voicing of concerns that belie the reality of the God who is sovereign over everything, including nations, kings, and laws.
But let’s not presume to think we are presently persecuted. In Matthew 5:11, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Persecution is a blessing. Either he meant that or he didn’t. The Beatitudes are proclamations, not commands, so we don’t need to seek persecution. It’s not the blood of the one with a martyr complex that is the seed of the church. Perhaps socialism is creeping into America. We should be concerned about this and talk about it, against it even.
But let’s also not assume that persecution would be the worst thing to befall us. It could be, actually, that persecution, should it come, is the best thing to happen to the American church.
“Love the church; hate the institution.” So many say.
Doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like saying “I love my wife; I hate marriage.”
Many fans of disorganized religion, I guess.
Here’s Eugene Peterson answering some interview questions on the “institutional church” in a now-classic exchange called “Spirituality For all the Wrong Reasons” (published in total at previous link).
So how should we visualize the Christian life?
In church last Sunday, there was a couple in front of us with two bratty kids. Two pews behind us there was another couple with their two bratty kids making a lot of noise. This is mostly an older congregation. So these people are set in their ways. Their kids have been gone a long time. And so it wasn’t a very nice service; it was just not very good worship. But afterwards I saw half a dozen of these elderly people come up and put their arms around the mother, touch the kids, sympathize with her. They could have been irritated.
Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they’re Lutherans. They don’t mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans!
And this same church recently welcomed a young woman with a baby and a three-year-old boy. The children were baptized a few weeks ago. But there was no man with her. She’s never married; each of the kids has a different father. She shows up at church and wants her children baptized. She’s a Christian and wants to follow in the Christian way. So a couple from the church acted as godparents. Now there are three or four couples in the church who every Sunday try to get together with her.
Now, where is the “joy” in that church? These are dour Norwegians! But there’s a lot of joy. There’s an abundant life going, but it’s not abundant in the way a non-Christian would think. I think there’s a lot more going on in churches like this; they’re just totally anti-cultural. They’re full of joy and faithfulness and obedience and care. But you sure wouldn’t know it by reading the literature of church growth, would you?
But many Christians would look at this church and say it’s dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.
What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naive criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it.
Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.
So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.
In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation — what it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s no idealization of the church in the Bible — none. We’ve got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?
“Oh, it’s so cute.”
The photo is of the building in which Middletown Springs Community Church, the church I pastor, gathers each week.
The quote is something I’ve heard several times — that or something like it — typically from friends and family hailing from some steamy portion of Six Flags Over Jesus where church buildings are indistinguishable from office parks or the galleria.
Our church is “cute.” Because it’s small, old, traditional. “Cute” is the backhanded compliment for those who’d never go to a “cute” church, but want you to know they admire it and perhaps even those who aren’t privileged enough to go to a church “successful” enough for a building that is big, impressive, full-service. You know, not cute, but rather “awesome.”
But our church isn’t “cute.” It’s beautiful like a bride both blemished and perfect.
Our building is just a building, but it has stood for over 200 years on the stony soil of the oldest part of our nation, the land of Christian pillars Whitefield and Edwards, of the Great Awakenings, of Puritans and patriots, of Green Mountain Boys and hundreds-of-years-old family farms. The building is just a building but it has weathered over 200 years of harsh Vermont winters, not to mention pastors strong and weak, congregations passionate and passive, spiritual ebbs and flows of Old Testament proportions. Once upon a time the church kicked out Joseph Smith’s secretary for heresy.
Our building is just a building, but it’s not just a building. It’s a symbol of the enduring evangelical presence, small but hearty, in this least-churched state in the nation, and of the endurance of the great salt-of-the-earth people who are the church that gathers in the building for which they’re called.
The gates of hell will prevail against espresso bars and KidzTowns. But not our church.
Our church is not cute. It is epic.
You never hear the word “sin” there.
You hear the word “sin,” but only briefly or redefined as “mistakes.”
You can’t remember when you last heard the name of Jesus in a message.
The Easter message isn’t about the resurrection but “new opportunities” in your life or turning over a new leaf.
On patriotic holiday weekends, the message is about how great America is.
On the other weekends, the message is about how great you are.
There are more videos than prayers.
People don’t sing during “worship,” but watch.
The pastors’ chief responsibilities are things foreign to Scripture.
There is more money budgeted for advertising than for mission.
The majority of the small groups are oriented around sports or leisure, not study or service.
You always feel comfortable there.
Church membership just appears to be a recruiting system for volunteers.
You only see other church people on Sunday mornings at church.
If your church meets one or more of these, it might be a spiritual pep rally, a religious performance center, a Christian social club, or something else entirely, but it is probably not, biblically speaking, a gathering of the biblical church.
Previously: You May Not Be a Church If . . .
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
John Wesley, Journals (London, 1836)
I have heard some scoff at this account. “Pietistic” was the word used, as if that settled it. I’m not big on man-made labels one way or the other. But what God gave Wesley that evening I revere as biblical, I cherish as personal, I respect as powerful. I believe in theologically aroused heart-religion. It is the gospel getting traction inside us where it really counts.
God helping me, I will promote this glorious power to my dying day — and consider it a privilege.
1 Corinthians 7:1-5:
1Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Within the marital covenant, sexual intimacy can be a joyous, mutually satisfying, and mutually encouraging gift. But many husbands and wives don’t know how to “get there.” In 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Paul is telling Christian married couples to not think of their bodies as their own, but as existing for the service of their partner in one-fleshedness. In his excellent book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas writes, “Sex is serving each other with our bodies.”
Perhaps we may recapture the cultural circumlocution “making love” and recast it in the vision of grace-driven sex as the fruit of a grace-driven marriage, a marriage relationship that is captured by the grace of God in the atoning work and resurrection of Jesus Christ and therefore seeks to glorify God in Christ in Spiritual power through the daily “drudgery” of the marriage. If a man carries around in his heart the question(s) “Do I have what it takes? Am I a real man?”, and if a women carries around in her heart the question(s) “Am I desirable? Am I lovely? Am I acceptable?”, grace-driven sexual intimacy then can answer these questions affirmatively and simultaneously, thereby “making” love.
Apart from (what Paul David Tripp calls) “body parts issues,” what are some practical ways that husbands and wives can submit to each other and sacrifice for each other in pursuit of grace-driven sex?
3 Practical ways wives can submit their bodies for grace-driven intimacy:
1. Be visually generous – You likely know that men are visually wired and therefore easily captivated. A wife can engage and captivate her husband, then, by becoming generous with how she presents herself to her husband, appealing to him sexually in the (un-sinful) ways in which he’s wired. Maybe it means keeping the lights on. Maybe it involves flirtation and seduction. Maybe it means bringing the lingerie out on more than just Valentine’s Day. But even outside the bedroom, there are many circumstances in which men may feel as though their wives have given up seeking to captivate their vision. We all see the “funny ’cause it’s true” humor in the wife in sweatpants and baggy tees, but is this much different than a husband who gives up on becoming presentable, putting the pressure on his wife to give grace to his sloppiness? Do you dress to “impress” for people more than for your husband? A wife can rightfully say, however, “But shouldn’t my husband accept me as I am? Shouldn’t my home be a place where I can just be myself and not have to try to impress anybody?” Of course. And your husband should love and accept and cherish you no matter how you look. But I think the overarching question, the one that gets most at the heart is this: Whose vision are you interested in captivating?
2. Engage/enjoy – There are certainly exceptions, and many men are willing to settle, but the majority of men are not merely interested in sex for the release. In Shaunti Feldhan’s For Women Only — highly recommended, by the way — she reveals the results of her survey question, “With regard to sex, for some men it is sufficient to be sexually gratified whenever they want. For other men it is also important to feel wanted and desired by their wife. How important is it to you to also feel sexually wanted and desired by your wife?” A whopping 97% said it was “very” (66%) or “somewhat” (31%) important to feel sexually wanted and desired by their wives. Only 2% said it wasn’t important so long as they got enough sex.
What Feldhahn discovered, to her surprise, is that for men, sexual satisfaction is tied only superficially to sexual release — it’s not less than that, but certainly more — but also to feeling desired, accepted, encouraged, adored, and attractive to their wives. She concludes — and most men would affirm — that it is important for wives not just to be willing, but to participate, cultivate eagerness, to engage and enjoy. (I am not saying getting to that point is easy; I’m only saying that that point is the point of your husband’s greatest satisfaction, so from a grace-driven perspective, I would hope a Christ-revering wife would at the least be interested in getting there.) The absolute best biblical example of this, of course, is the bride’s disposition in Song of Songs.
3. Talk – Men are not wired very well for context clues, and because a woman’s body has ebbs and flows to what she may find desirable, arousing, etc., men often feel lost. (e.g. That thing “worked” the last time, didn’t it? Why isn’t it working now?) Meanwhile his wife feels he doesn’t know her at all. Look, men may not ask for directions, but they’ll accept them if given lovingly. Most men really do want to please and satisfy their wives and find pleasure themselves in doing so. It is odd that many women will want to talk about everything on their mind but this one thing. It’s okay to ask for something, to guide a man’s hands, etc. And while, of course, it would be great if he just already knew exactly what you wanted/needed, nobody gets good at something without practice and direction. Given enough of that over time, a man of average intelligence and interest will learn how to satisfy his wife. Don’t give up; give instructions.
3 Practical ways husbands can submit their bodies for grace-driven intimacy:
1. Listen and remember. – Men, cherish your wives. This means actively listening when they’re talking to you and remembering what they say. What does this have to do with sex? Almost everything. For women, preparation for sex begins long before you hit the bed. The more cherished the average wife feels, the more interested she will be in (and more enjoyable she will find) sex with you. Women above all want to be wanted for more than their bodies. This means you cannot reserve affection and conversation solely for times you are interested in leveraging them into sex. Love your wife’s whole person and love her wholly. A wife will most engage in sexual intimacy — emphasis on the “intimacy” — when she feels safe, when she feels that you are interested in her heart and mind, not just her body. So listen to her all the time and remember what she says so she knows you really were listening. Remember that emotional connection comes first, sex second.
2. Make your wife your standard of beauty. – There is almost nothing more shaming to a wife than to feel as though her husband’s vision is captivated by someone else, even if it’s just a pretty stranger who happens to pass by. Over time, as couples become more and more familiar with each other, and bodies change, etc., a wife’s fear of losing her husband’s eye typically grows. Husbands, make it your firm commitment — a covenant with your eyes — that you will not measure your wife against anybody else, real or imaginary. If measurement takes place, they must measure against her, and they must all fall short. In Proverbs 5:18-19, the father warns his son against adultery and says:
18Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
The Hebrew word there that is rendered “breasts,” by the way, is of course best translated as breasts. This is not metaphorical, and it’s not temporary. May the breasts of your young wife satisfy you at all times, which means even when neither of you is young any more. Is your wife skinny? You like skinny. Is she not? Then you like “not.” Maybe her body changed. Well, then, you changed too. And this can’t be something you just say; it must be something you actually feel.
3. Forethought is foreplay. – Someone wrote a book called Sex Begins in the Kitchen, and they weren’t talking about gettin’ wild. They were talking about preparing of a wife’s heart, about romancing her, and this, in the context of children and family, domestic duties and chores, routines and schedules, and just the weariness of age and days going by way too fast, means really taking care of your wife. It means having a vision of sexual intimacy that begins with “unromantic” romance like babysitting the kids so your wife can get away with friends or have time to breathe and chase a hobby or study the Bible, doing the dishes and cooking dinner so that’s one less thing she feels wearied by. A woman’s mind becomes cluttered, and when her mind becomes cluttered, her body becomes tired. A grace-driven husband, then, will recognize that foreplay isn’t just the lighter touches and affection that immediately precede intercourse, but all the romancing he can do in the days and hours leading up to “hitting the hay” by way of removing obstacles and stress from his wife’s way. Rescue her body long in anticipation of having access to it.
Many men and women will have reluctances or objections to some of these steps, and some of these hesitations will be legitimate. None of these steps are to say that the precious gift of mutually satisfying sexual intimacy is easy to achieve, but merely to say that couples interested in selfless love of their spouse in the area of sexual intimacy could do a lot worse than the ideas mentioned.