How Much Physical Intimacy Before Marriage? Part One

That’s another question the Purity Movement tried to answer – and the answer given was, Not Much! But like other answers it tried to give, this answer tended to be given as a rule to be followed, instead of a principle to be explored and Biblically understood.

Last week I used modesty of dress as an example of how I try to approach questions of romance and sexuality. I’d like to see if I can spell out that approach even more plainly.

1. The Purity model tried to give an answer to issues such as modesty and pre-marital intimacy, giving reasons that were often Biblical, and sometimes extra-Biblical (often without distinction, so that extra-Biblical opinions were presented as Biblical.) Even when the answer given, and the reasons for it, were sound, it was not infrequently applied in a shaming, condemning way. And there was an implied promise – just do as I say, and a wonderful, sex-filled marriage is assured.

2. The Sexual Integrity, or Sexual Discipleship model begins by advocating an authentic love relationship with God. Sexuality is part of our God-given identity, mutually illustrating and supporting our passion for Him. The model tries to avoid giving specific answers to the myriad questions, pointing us instead to God’s Word, and encouraging us to find our own answers based on that truth.

3.  The Purity model clearly has major faults, while the Sexual Discipleship model resonates deeply with my experience. However, I think there is often extra-Biblical material that is important as we consider these questions. And Biblical answers can require research, prayer and pondering. So it seems good to me to embrace a Sexual Discipleship model, while still presenting supporting information and giving guidance on Biblical principles.

Giving this guidance and information can easily betray my own opinion on a given question, so coming clean with my conclusion, and even advocating for it, seems like the right thing to do.

But wait, doesn’t that land me right back in the Purity model camp? It can, unless I’m very careful. So I try to avoid the old faults, firstly by making sure I’m offering my opinion, not imposing it. Secondly, I need to be clear how Biblically based is my conclusion. Some answers have a very clear Biblical mandate, while others explore hints and probabilities from Scripture where clear answers are not fully stated. I need to be clear when the information is extra-Biblical. For instance, relationship principles, or neurochemical findings on bonding may be reliable, but they don’t carry the weight of Scripture. And I need to make sure I don’t over-promise. Even if you get truckloads of the very best advice, you and your future spouse will have to carefully, prayerfully suss out sex and marriage for yourselves. Finally, if you’ve already blown it in major ways, there’s still a way back. We’re all sexually broken people on the journey of forgiveness and healing.

Well, I didn’t get back to my question did I? So this will have to be Part One, the teaser. Further comments on pre-marital intimacy next week.

GMB

A Little More on Christian Approaches to Romance

Last week I mentioned the Purity Covenant era of the eighties and nineties. Josh Harris became the most well-known voice of that culture, with his 1997 book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”. Josh was twenty-one years old when this book was published, an earnest, articulate young man with a passion for giving the best possible guidance to young people making the crossing into adulthood. As I said last week, the sick-with-testosterone period for me came long before 1997. For my peers and for me it was an era of practically no information, a culture of profound silence on sexual matters.

My initial response to “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was almost entirely positive. Here at last was a voice, a voice declaring much that was sound and helpful. When I heard of Harris distancing himself from what he had written twenty years ago, I was surprised, wondering which Josh Harris I preferred – 1997, or 2017? I’ve discovered since that I like them both quite a lot. The saddest thing of course is that Josh has recently announced that he and his wife are separating, and then that he no longer considers himself a Christian.

What was wrong with “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”? Many things, but most profoundly, that it presented as a kind of rule book, without probing a deeper understanding of Godly sexuality. Rules without reasons is not the way of the Bible, though it tends to be the way of Christian history, and the way of all too much current preaching and teaching.

I deeply appreciate the teaching on sexuality that begins with a deep love for Jesus, growing a relationship with him that builds sexual integrity. My concern is that the swing away from rules and information on sexual matters leaves young people insufficiently informed. Yes, I know, we don’t want to swing back to a “rules and regulations” approach, but I think it contained nuggets of truth that mustn’t be lost.

An example is the matter of modesty of dress. I think there are more important examples, but this one will do to begin with. I understand how modesty was used in the bad old days to pressure and shame young women. I am deeply saddened by that. But I think modesty still needs a mention. It needs a mention because it doesn’t jump immediately off the pages of Scripture. The principal reason given in the past for modesty of dress was that guys will be unfairly stimulated by displays of legs, cleavages and the like. That is true, and it’s important information, but it isn’t the most important reason for modesty. The real reason for modesty is that a young woman is proud of her body, and glad about it, much too glad and proud to put it on display, or invite peeking, mental undressing, or teasing glances. She anticipates offering the beautiful gift of her body exclusively within the future safety of her married nest.

As above, although I sit very comfortably with a sexual integrity approach to romance and sexuality, there were issues raised by the older Purity orthodoxy that I think are still important. Misapplied back then, but still important. I will probably comment on more of these in coming blogs.

GMB


Christian Approaches to Romance - The Development of an Idea.

I’ve been reading and praying about Sexual Integrity, and Sexual Discipleship for a while now. Mostly as per Dr. Juli Slattery’s books, podcasts and blogs. I think she has become the primary spokesperson for a modern, refreshing, Biblical understanding of God’s economy for romance. I am impressed by the personal faith-base from which she speaks. She is teaching ideas that I have been expounding in counseling sessions and seminars for some years, so I am excited to recognize the personal giftings she brings to her teaching.

Part of Dr. Juli’s focus has been to evaluate the previous Christian romance orthodoxy, namely the Purity covenant era. I was out of the loop for much of the eighties and nineties, so have been late catching up with how young people were being taught at that time. It has been enlightening for me to read more of this movement, and its more destructive effects.

For me, the relevant era was the late fifties and early sixties. So that makes me quite the greybeard! At that time, we were basically told nothing. We knew sex was to be kept for marriage – I don’t remember anyone telling us that, but somehow we knew. It was also generally understood that some kissing and cuddling was to be expected, but no “petting” which basically meant breast fondling and/or undoing any buttons. (Zippers were just beginning to replace buttons at that time!) Apart from that, it seems we were expected to work things out for ourselves.

So for me, the Purity era, for all its faults, was at least an attempt to supply some guidance.

My novel A Thousand Tears from Home begins in the pre-Purity, “no discussion” era. Its characters encounter some elements of the Purity approach, and it contains many nuggets of Sexual Integrity truth. The latter are scattered throughout, but the discerning reader will notice them. Part of its appeal is that it represents the development of an idea.

I had an inspiration last week for another short book that discusses all this in more detail. Let’s see if that idea develops.

GMB

What is a Christian?

I’ve talked about this before, but I want to give some background on why it’s an important question to me. I grew up in a strongly Christian home, attending Sunday School, then around teenage time graduated to Bible Class and Youth Group. There was a bunch of us. We thought of ourselves as Christians. We were baptized, we attended church and Bible Class regularly, we went each Easter to the Bible Class camp. Saturday evening we were usually at the church Youth Group, which was largely a social gathering – we were there to hang out and have fun. I guess there must have been some sort of “devotional”, but I have no memory of it.

And Jesus was spectacularly absent from our conversation. We were generally pleasant and easy to get along with, but I saw no evidence of an indwelling Holy Spirit among us, no fire, no passion. No aspirations to serve God in demanding ways. We didn’t “witness” as we knew we were supposed to do, in my case at least because there was so little inner reality to witness to. With rare exceptions, our adult leaders showed no concern at the blandness of our supposed Christian faith.

I said there was “so little” inner reality to my faith. But there was some. I felt very alone and confused, though I couldn’t have articulated even that until a long time afterward. By my first year at college the realization was beginning to dawn – the life I had lived as a Christian until then was very unsatisfying. I wanted no more of the emptiness of the life my “Christian” peers and I had been living.

It took many years for the inner substance of faith to grow. And it’s still growing. That’s what the Christian journey is about – an ever-deepening connection with Jesus. But my story has given me an abiding discomfort with sham, counterfeit faith. I fear that for myself, and I fear shallowness and emptiness becoming the norm in the church. I fear a culture of low expectations among church leadership, that communicates low expectations to the congregation.

Postscript.

I said last blog that I’m walking around in a minefield with these thoughts. You’ve probably realized that God is dealing with me, teaching me new things. And while that process goes on, these blogs have become somewhat bogged. So I promise a moratorium. I do have some different thoughts, some more to do with the themes of A Thousand Tears from Home. Let’s see what God prompts for next week. 

GMB 

The Christian Journey As A Demanding Calling.

Alright, so I described two basic insights on life as a Christian. Firstly that it is a demanding calling - demanding of us all we can give. And secondly that it is exuberant, filled with reassurance, joy, and inspiration. Last blog I described the church prayer meeting as part of the joy dimension, something you wouldn’t want to miss. Although a quick glance around suggests most churches haven’t discovered this yet – usually very few people attend.

This week I turn to the other dimension. And I pause, daunted. So much flows from this insight, yet every path we might take at this point turns out to be a minefield.

It’s okay if I stay on the strictly personal level. I personally find the Christian calling to be significant, purposeful, worth giving my life to. It’s different from joining the tennis club, or the bingo club, or honing my skills with video games. Those pursuits may form my character in some ways, but they aren’t ultimately satisfying. No, Christian faith is the only calling worth my total engagement.

Even thus far, there may be some red flags waving. Does it sound as though I am claiming perfect, total engagement with Jesus, 24/7? No, tain’t so. But it is my desire. I pray for that constantly. Oops, even that sounds perilously close to self-praise. Let’s just say I’m one of those who constantly seek a deeper experience of Jesus. And there are lots of us.

But you see, I can’t just stay at the personal level. I care about what I see among the saints around me. There are many aspects of church culture that do not serve us or our God well. Let’s just pick this aspect for now – our level of expectation that we will come together to experience God, and be prompted to outside-the-box exploits for him. Some churches experience the vibrant presence of the Holy Spirit during the singing and prayer part of the service, but for the most part it seems we are surprised when God shows up. I have the feeling that if someone talked about contemplating a daring step of faith, the rest of us would be surprised, doubtful. And we would regard that person as having extraordinary faith and daring. Nope, that’s just the way the Christian life is – trusting God big time.

I’ve blundered around the minefield for a bit. How am I doing? Maybe I’ll try describing the demanding Christian journey a little more in coming weeks,

GMB 

Corporate Prayer

A number of issues flow on from the insights I proposed in my last blog. The first one taps the joy dimension of Christian experience, having to do with corporate prayer. I’ll tackle others in coming weeks.

God’s people coming together to pray has been a subject close to my heart for some years now. The church prayer meeting. A meeting notoriously under-attended - which is not surprising, because until very recently, and going as far back as I can remember, it was deadly dull. How many times have I dozed off during the church prayer meeting?

Of old, the prayer meeting may have opened with a hymn, but apart from that it was all about intercession, asking God for things. Intercession is fine, with lots of Biblical precedent. But when we turn to the Psalms, or to significant portions of Isaiah, we get a quite different impression of coming together for prayer. It’s much more about praising God, giving thanks, listening, yes listening for his whisper, joyfully seeking his presence. Wow, that’s different! What saint of God wouldn’t want to do that?

By and large, prayer meetings are still announced as being “for” something. “All welcome to the pre-service prayer meeting, where we will pray for the service.” But the idea that it can at least begin by simply sitting together in God’s presence, opening our hearts to him, sharing our experiences of him, being inspired by what he has been saying to our fellow saints, is slowly, slowly gaining ground. Many churches will use the ACTS acronym (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I don’t much like this acronym, but at least it focuses most of our attention on God, before we come to what we want to ask of him.

And, yes, intercession still definitely features. But it occurs much more naturally, overflowing from hearts freshly Spirit-filled. God prompts from his heart to our hearts the people and issues he wants us to pray for. Prayer lists still have their place, often informing us of prayer needs we may be unaware of, but let’s be Spirit-led, not list-led.

The fact that I regularly faded out during the old prayer meeting regime undoubtedly reflected a lack of awareness and compassion for the issues and people listed for prayer. And the great majority of saints announced by their absence a similar lack. I’m so much more motivated by the joyful, vibrant approach beginning to make its mark. But so far as I can see, that mark has just barely touched a few leaders, and has yet to change the church’s culture of prayer in a perceptible way. When leaders catch the fire, there’s a chance the rest of the church will be set ablaze.

By the way – don’t thank people for coming to the church prayer meeting. That’s the old regime. It’s like thanking a bride for coming to her own wedding! That’s the vibrant, joyful perspective!

GMB

Two Insights on the Christian Journey

Last week I commented that I have been making observations on the Christian life, some of which may raise eyebrows, but without making a clear statement of where I’m coming from. So I may have sounded like a loose cannon, firing random shots. Not very appealing. So let’s see if I can explain myself a little better.

Insight One. The Christian life is a stern, demanding calling. Biblical grounding for this abounds. The first commandment – love the Lord God with heart and mind and soul and strength. Not much room for half- heartedness there. The rich young ruler who came to Jesus. A modern evangelical would probably have told him, “Sure! Welcome aboard.” Perhaps along with the hope that he might learn about stewardship somewhere along the way, but maybe not even that. And those who came to Jesus volunteering to be followers, only to be told, “I often don’t have a bed to sleep in. It’ll be under a hedgerow somewhere tonight. Is that the lifestyle you want?” Come on Jesus, you’re supposed to be hooking any converts you can get, not putting them off! “Take up your cross and follow me.” Pause for a moment and think how that invitation would have impacted First Century hearers.

A corollary of this insight – can you find one instance of a Biblical character being commended for some exploit of outstanding faith and courage? The centurion’s faith - “I’ve not found such faith in all Israel” - is about the one example I can think of. Generally, outrageous faith is treated as ordinary. Just the way it’s supposed to be. For example, Peter walks on the water to Jesus. Is he commended for this act of daring? Nope!  He’s chided for letting his faith slip. “Come on Peter! It’s me, remember?”

So far, Insight One might not sound very appealing. It probably sounds legalistic, hard, raising visions of the judgmental, joyless Pharisee. That’s why it must go hand in hand with ……

Insight Two. The Christian life is refreshing, appealing, exuberant. In Jesus’ story of the man who bought a field that contained hidden treasure, have you noticed that he tells us why the man bought the field? For joy. In fact, that story is not a lesson in ethical business practice – it’s a story about joy. Jesus promised that when he left, the Holy Spirit would come to live within believers. Wow! What could be more exuberant than having the Creator God living within as friend and comforter? Back in December, I posted a blog entitled “He Who Commands?” It pointed out that although Jesus is our authority, he doesn’t come to us as he who must be obeyed. He comes to us as friend, the one we follow out of joy.

I often tell my clients, “Jesus waits for you to wake up in the morning so he can bounce on the trampoline with you.

So, two insights to be embraced together. That is why in past references to the Christian journey, I have used words like “difficult, demanding, confusing”, right along with words like “exuberant, exciting, fulfilling”. I think that in the Narnia stories, Lewis does a good job of intertwining sternness with joy.

Trust the above makes my meaning clearer.

GMB

Am I Winsome?

Last week’s blog ended with the sentence, “What matters is whether you’re all in, extravagantly committed to the exultant, severe, demanding, fulfilling  journey of being a Jesus person.” Yes, I know, I’ve been saying this in various ways for a long time. Back in March I commented that this theme may be getting tiresome, and I think I’ve managed to avoid it at least some since then.

This week I wondered if I sound not only tiresome, but blaming, guilting. It happened like this. During the weekend I heard someone saying many of the things I’ve been saying. That the Christian life is purposeful, it’s demanding. More like joining the Marines than joining the local golf club.

You’d think I would have loved it. But I didn’t. It was an appeal to my head, not to my heart. I felt admonished, cajoled. I began praying, “Lord, how is it he was saying the things I have been saying, but he sounded so different?”

Oh! Oops! Oh! Did he sound different from me? Or do I also sound guilting, cajoling, blaming? I’ve been guilted for a good part of my life, so it would be upsetting to think I am still doing this myself.

This is what I have been musing and praying about. What do you think? Please let me know on the Facebook link. I think I at least need to describe more clearly what I mean as I talk about the Christian journey. That will be for next week.

GMB

Fatal Hypocrisy

I’ve been reading recently in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. Chapter Five begins strangely, with the story of early Christian believers Ananias and Saphira.

At that time, believers were selling property, and giving the proceeds to a common purse that supported the community of believers. The preceding verses tell of Barnabas who sold a field, and contributed its selling price. Others were doing the same with their houses and lands.

Enter Ananias and Saphira who sold a piece of property, then agreed between themselves to keep back part of the money, bringing only the balance to the common purse. Did they have a particular project that would need a little capital? We don’t know, but my guess is that they were hedging their bets, committing themselves to this new belief and way of life, but keeping some seed money just in case it didn’t work out.

Either way, keeping part of the money would have been fine if they had not pretended. It seems they wanted to be seen as just as generous as those around them, to be known as another couple who gave all they had. So when Peter asked them about it, they lied.

Peter’s supernatural knowledge that Ananias and Saphira were lying is noteworthy. He was already being recognized as a man through whom God was performing miracles, and here is a miracle of another sort.

But the curious thing is the penalty exacted for this hypocrisy. They were both struck dead. A little over the top? I can’t think of anything I’ve done that is quite the same, but I’m sure I’ve been guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy of at least the same order. Peter’s response to each was that they were lying not just to men, but to God. Yes, I’ve tried to fudge it with God before today. And God hasn’t struck me dead.

I’ve looked at a few commentaries, but the explanations don’t satisfy.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. It seems to me that this is just another example of God making it very clear, right from the get-go, that the Christian life is serious business. It doesn’t matter whether you have vaguely pleasant notions about God, whether you go to church occasionally, whether you’ve “accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior”. What matters is whether you’re all in, extravagantly committed to the exultant, severe, demanding, fulfilling  journey of being a Jesus person.

GMB

Is Faith Obscurantist?

Dr. Harold Sala’s column “Guidelines for Living”, May 21, brought to mind this quote from Augustine:-

Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.

The skeptic will leap on this immediately. See how these Christians will believe any silly thing, with no basis in fact, and call it “faith”!

Do Christians embrace rational thinking about a stable, structured universe? Of course. In significant ways, science grew out of Christianity. And Christians embrace principles of relationship, discovered at least in part by scientific enquiry. I work with those daily.

But Christians also embrace what Wordsworth called “intimations of immortality”, the things we apprehend, often without much comprehension. The things we can’t measure. (Do you think there will ever come a day when my delight at seeing a field of daffodils will be measurable? I surely hope not.)

And so in our relationship with God, we embrace something not completely understood, but enlivened by Holy Spirit promptings, we make the leap of faith. And find it fits. It increasingly clarifies our understanding of creation, of life, of relationships, of marriage, of the increasingly vexed questions a post-Christian world throws up.  And increasingly it deepens our love for the One who daily leads us on new adventures.

Nice one Augustine.

GMB

Attempts to Evade to Obvious

I have another matter brewing in my cranium, but it’s not quite ready. So for this week, just a brief reflection on the lengths to which people will go to avoid admitting that our world is a created world, and we are created beings.

Stephen Hawking opens his book A Brief History of Time with the story of a well-known scientist, possibly Bertrand Russell, who gave a public lecture on astronomy.  At the end of his lecture, a little old lady spoke up. She told him that his story was rubbish, that the world is really like a large plate, sitting on the back of a giant tortoise. The speaker asked her what the tortoise is standing on. After a moment’s thought she answered, “You’re very clever young man! But it’s turtles all the way down!”

But just a minute. Don’t laugh too loudly.

Two or three weeks ago I was chatting with a man at a wedding reception. The conversation turned to origins. He told me he used to be a young earth creationist. I didn’t quite catch why he had turned away from that position, but he moved to the idea of life on earth being seeded from an alien source. Life from outer space. He seemed to have done some reading and thinking on the issue, so I asked him about the origin of the alien life. He smiled apologetically and said, “Yes I know. But it’s the best we have, the explanation that best fits the data.”

Well, he’s not alone. Other keen minds have seriously proposed the same idea.

Turtles all the way down.

GMB

We Choose Our Experts According to Our Opinions.

Yes, we do.  Instead of the other way around.

We’re all subject to this habit. When an expert gives an opinion that differs from what I have believed, I will remain skeptical, disbelieving. But if the opinion is in line with my beliefs, I gladly, and perhaps uncritically, accept it.

Which is as it should be. I need to be appropriately incredulous.

But what if I’m wrong? It takes some courage to pursue and thoughtfully consider a contrary opinion. To begin with, I need some incentive to take it seriously. Perhaps I have external reasons for respecting this expert. Or perhaps I have a vested interest in showing his conclusions to be wrong, only to find in the end that it is I who am wrong and need to recant. Lew Wallace, Lee Strobel, and many others have walked that path in their attempts to expose Christian faith as rubbish, and have ended proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

Occasionally I have gone looking among authors espousing a humanist view of origins – origins of the earth, the universe, of life – looking for thoughtful critiques of young earth creationism. Those critiques are virtually non-existent. I find some creationism bashing, and some patronizing comment on how young people who have absorbed this “heresy” from their parents must be treated gently and with sympathy as they are slowly guided into more “orthodox” thinking. But finding such an author who has actually read and considered the best creationist literature is a difficult search.

To be honest, I’m not up to date in this area. Perhaps some honest critiques have appeared since I last looked. I have seen debate on the findings on Helium retention in Zircons, and some attempts to refute Robert Gentry’s work on Polonium 218 halos in primordial granites. It’s reassuring to see this kind of debate.

But most of us watch the experts from a distance, drawing our own lay conclusions. Let’s at least be aware of our inclination to choose our experts according to our opinions.

GMB

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath, Well, yes, it does!

I’ve been thinking about last week’s post on Israel Folau’s comment made on social media. He said that drunks, homosexuals, adulterers and others are on their way to hell. The blog heading suggested Folau was not giving a “soft answer” to the people on his list. Perhaps my answer to him was not so soft either.

Oops.

After all, Israel was just giving a rather rough rendering of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. My impression was that his comment was made without much humility, and was not oriented towards building bridges. But I don’t really know that. And even if he was being inappropriately judgmental, he, and I, and those on his list are all in the same boat, all in need of grace and forgiveness.

I suggested that Folau was “shooting his mouth about other people’s sins”. Guess I was shooting my mouth about his sins. Oops. When will I learn?

I mentioned other Christian sports stars, “who really are growing as devout Christians.” Implying that Folau is not.

I guess my only excuse is that I’ve recently been reading about, and interacting with, people who tend to throw judgmental labels around, complacent in their own righteousness. Israel Folau sounded like one of them. Perhaps he is, or perhaps he is not.

Sorry Israel.

GMB

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath

Israel Folau is a brilliant Australian rugby player. Or at least he was. Recently he posted social media comments on “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”, saying that all these are bound for hell. Rugby Australia was not amused, so it is probable that his days as a representative rugby player are numbered.

A category missing from Folau’s list was “those who shoot their mouth about other people’s sins.” Jesus had something to say about this when he commented, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

It’s true that Jesus did have some harsh things to say about some of those he met. But his verbal arrows were not directed at any on Folau’s list. No, those people were met with compassion.  Jesus’ anger was directed at the religious leaders, those satisfied with their own righteousness, and inclined to condemn others they deemed less righteous.

No sin can be taken lightly – Israel is right about that. As he falls more deeply in love with Jesus, humility will grow. He was described in the media as a “devout Christian”. Sad, because the mud of his immature rant will tend to stick on others, especially sports stars, who really are growing as devout Christians.

GMB

The Power of Logical Thinking

I was talking recently with a young man and the conversation veered toward the subject of abortion. He told me that he was pro-choice. I was a little surprised, but not too much. As we talked it became apparent that he hadn’t given the subject much thought, but adopted “pro-choice” because that was the attitude acceptable in his circle of friends. In fact, some of his comments didn’t sound very pro-choice at all, but I don’t think he’s going to give up the label any time soon.

The thing that really surprised me was his total inability to discuss the subject in a rational way. He would make a comment without having any sense of the proposition underlying it – it simply “felt” right, and that was that.

For example, he mentioned the case of a woman having an abortion because the child would seriously undermine the quality of her life. I asked about the case of a woman killing her abusive husband or boyfriend because his behavior seriously undermined the quality of her life. His answers didn’t address the question, but slid obliquely from place to place. But here’s the real problem – he didn’t seem to be deliberately evading an answer, but simply had no idea that he was missing the point. The notion of taking a principle posited in one situation and testing it against another situation was just beyond his experience.

This young man is no dummy. He’s been through the school system, and holds a respectable undergraduate degree. I know a little of his home background, which didn’t give him a good start. But clearly his education hasn’t taught him to think either.

In his novel 1984, Orwell coined the term “doublethink”, but this isn’t doublethink, this isn’t even halfthink. But it’s happening all around us in this post-truth world. For example at the Yale Law School (see Breakpoint 04/23/19). It’s just scary when you come across a face-to-face example.

 GMB

Anointed for Burial

Jesus accepts our service, even when we don’t get it quite right.

In ancient times, a body would be prepared for burial first by washing, and then anointing with aromatic spices. The purpose was to cover the odor of decaying flesh. For those who could afford it, the spices might be very expensive.

When Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointed Jesus we’re told that the perfume she used was very expensive. A poignant outpouring of love and service, which Jesus associates with his burial. And he commended her highly – wherever the gospel is preached, this story will be told.

When Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body from the cross, the task of preparing him for burial would have been gruesome. His back was essentially torn off, his limbs dislocated, his side lacerated. What love, even awe, they must have brought to their task. The spices they used were aloe and myrrh, two of the costliest anointing perfumes. And the quantity was more than three times what was needed. What lavishness!

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and others with them came to the tomb early on the first day of the week. They knew of the anointing by Joseph and Nicodemus, but apparently wanted to contribute their own act of love with the spices they brought.

We don’t read of Jesus thanking Joseph, Nicodemus, or any of the women, but his gratitude to them could hardly have been less than it was to Lazarus’ sister Mary. Yet none of them had it quite right. They were confused, distraught, grief-stricken, not knowing that the anointing they offered would become superfluous by Sunday. They gave all they could offer, and it was gladly accepted.

GMB

Planned Parenthood

On Sunday my wife and I saw the movie Unplanned. Very sobering, moving. But is it authentic? Does Abby Johnson’s experience give a true picture of how things are at Planned Parenthood? And if it does, did the movie give an unbiased impression of what she experienced?

We talked about it briefly with an APRN who has often referred women to Planned Parenthood, not for abortions, but for the other services they provide. She speaks highly of them as a resource to low income women, especially in rural districts.

So what to think? The focus of the movie was on abortion, and the concerns that arise from abortion, though it did make clear several times that Saturday was abortion day, and the other days were entirely, or at least mostly, for other services.

I’ve done some follow up. My opinion is that Abby Johnson was not exaggerating. For example, that she and other directors were told to double their abortion quotas, because that is where the money is. That ensuring abortion is safe, available and rare is not Planned Parenthood’s real agenda. (Do the Clintons and Obamas of this world know this, or are they genuinely self-deceived? I think probably the latter.)

Then we have the fetal body parts scandal. A few decades ago, that would have brought down a government. But in today’s world, it seems no-one cares. So those making the exposé are pursued by lawsuits instead of Planned Parenthood.

We’ve heard of PP’s creative accounting practices designed to support the assertion that abortion is only a tiny part of their operation. And they have to peddle the thoroughly discredited notion that an embryo is just a clump of cells that can in no way be counted as human. And there’s the blatant euphemism of “women’s health” to describe abortion.

 So I think the mantle of infamy does fit on PP’s shoulders, though it sits uneasily over a much gentler, supportive cloak. I think there needs to be more acknowledgement of this.

I haven’t turned to the implications of these conclusions, but this will have to suffice for now.

GMB

The Link with Middle Eastern Hospitality

Was thinking this morning about Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” I reflected that in this Middle Eastern setting, sharing a meal establishes a kind of bond, almost a covenant. You’re saying, “We’re brothers, we’re a team, we’re loyal, we won’t let each other down. I’ve got your back!”

Wow! Doesn’t that add a wealth of meaning to this verse?

And so my thoughts went on to Judas, and his betrayal of Jesus. Not only was this treachery, but it was even more treacherous as Judas left that special Passover meal he shared with Jesus and the others, and went to carry out his betrayal.

The next step in my train of thought was to consider the “Communion” or “Lord’s Supper” Jesus instituted at that Passover. I have some reservations about the way this “meal” has become for us such a symbolic, token meal, but that’s another subject. Today’s point is that the hospitality tradition adds depth to that celebration too. When we share this meal together, we are in effect renewing our bond of loyalty to each other and to Jesus. Jesus is saying to us, “We’re bonded together! My familiar friend! I have your back!” So we are renewed in our gladness that our trust is in the One who is trustworthy.

In John 6:35 – 59 Jesus deepens the significance of the imagery even further. He says, “I am the bread of life. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” There’s shock value there! And many of those followers couldn’t take it – they left. Seems Jesus was deliberately separating the wheat from the chaff.

So what about me? What about you? Wheat or chaff? Meal-bonded brother, or deserter?

GMB

Is Christianity Performance-based?

I heard a remark this week from a solidly based Christian, that Christianity is a performance-based religion. There’s some shock value in that! We want to say, “No! Believing in Jesus is about grace!” And of course, it is. But it’s also about living for him. If faith doesn’t show, then maybe it doesn’t exist. James talks like that. Faith is a verb as much as it is a noun.

But I realized I’ve been beating this drum, or something like it, quite a bit. Am I beginning to sound tiresome on this theme? A bit judgmental? Why does it concern me so much?

I think it concerns me because I talk with so many people who believe a milksop version of the Gospel. They “accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior” years ago, though they have virtually no connection to him now. But that’s OK. They know that things “should” be different, but at least they once did the “get saved” thing, so they’re in the clear. And they think the same things about their children. They wish that their son or daughter would go to church sometimes, or pray or read the Bible sometimes. But at least young Mary or Joe is “saved.”

I think that evangelical preaching often supports this lifeless version of the Gospel. The sinner’s prayer usually begins with admitting one is a sinner, and thanking Jesus for taking the penalty. There’s a mention of Jesus as “Lord”, but no vision-raising, inspiring description of what that might mean. When did you last hear someone invited to the confusing, hair-raising, disciplined, rewarding, exuberant, oh so demanding journey of the life devoted to Jesus?

OK, I’ll try to leave this theme alone for a while. But no promises! It strikes at the heart of my own experience, as well as the lives of others around me.

GMB

A Small Matter, or an Important Matter?

This morning I listened to Ron Hutchcraft on my local Christian radio station. He was talking about choosing our battles, not wasting time and energy over small matters, when there are many huge issues to deal with.

Well, maybe it’s just me, but there are some issues that I think most Christian would regard as “small matters”, but which seem to me to have considerable significance. One such issue is the use of the King James Version of the Bible.

There is the “King James Only” camp which regards KJV as the only true English version, and all other versions as corrupt. This opinion has been disposed of in a courteous, scholarly way by James White, in “The King James Only Controversy”.

But there are many people who are not in the KJV Only camp, but who never-the-less continue to use this version. For example, most of the teachers featured on the above-mentioned Christian radio station.

My objections? Number one would be that using a quaint, “religious” language helps to make Christian life and experience something other than an everyday, market place affair. Secular people, and sadly enough, many people who think of themselves as Christian, tend to push all things religious into a special category, divorced from everyday life. Religion is all very well in an echoing cathedral, but has no place on my commute, in my office, with my sports team, or especially in my entertainment. So let it hide behind its quaint language, and stay away from the real things of life.

Secondly, KJV creates a social barrier. Bible translators around the world work heroically to give the local people a Bible in their own language. Why do we settle for a Bible in 400-year-old language? I think people need to hear the Gospel in their own language. Goodness knows, there are enough cultural barriers for a young Millennial to leap when he enters the local church, without adding ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and many, many other words found only in old works of literature.

The language we use at church tends to take on this quaint flavor in a more general way. For example, when did you last come across the word ‘supplication’ in one of your favorite authors? Yet such words may be heard frequently at your church.

Some say they just like the cadence of the sweet old words. That’s fine for your private use, but if you use the Scriptures in any public way, please don’t obscure the Gospel by using such an old dialect.

So what do you think? A small matter, or does it have some importance?

GMB