April 06, 2007

One Long Look

In a discussion I was involved in recently regarding men's view of women, the comment came up that 'the first look is natural; the second is sin.' We had been talking about where natural sexual desire ends and the sin of lust takes over – a difficult line in the sand to draw primarily because the tides of conscience keep coming in and erasing the line.

Since many Christians would agree that the second look is problematic, if not sinful, let's be forthright about that first look. If its only natural that men have visual sexual attraction to women, then why not allow that first look to last as long as possible? We don't want to turn away and look back, because that gets us into messy questions about lust and coveting and sin issues. But that first look, if its natural, should be allowed to last as long as possible – right?

Well, the argument goes, of course not. If you look too long, then you are simply allowing yourself to fall into the sin of lust. The long look must, according to this argument, devolve into lust at some point as a man begins to either think wrong thoughts or have wrong attitudes towards the woman.

So, when does the first look, however long it lasts, deteriorate into the second look. Not an easy question. Is it when the man begins to think sexually about the woman? Is it when he first notices that she is pleasing to the eye? Is it the first stir of adrenaline?

More troubling to me are the means that men employ to avoid the second look. There is the 'look away,' ‘the stare ahead,’ ‘the don’t-look-at-anything-but-her-eyes,’ and a host of others. OK…so the sarcasm is probably not necessary. And I do recognize that there is some benefit to making a covenant with our eyes not to look lustfully. However, I think that if this is our only protection against lust, we are in for some deep trouble.

Here’s why. Think of the lustful looks as a top level problem. We become convicted of this top level problem and realize that we need to do something about it. So, we look for the underlying cause. In the case of lustfully looking at a woman, we recognize that the underlying problem is that we are looking at the woman which allows us to think lustful thoughts. So, we avoid looking at the woman.

But if this is as far as we go, then before long we find ourselves avoiding looking at any women. That simply won’t do, so we find ourselves saying that we need to look at women but not feel our feelings. That’s doomed to fail and so we fall back on ‘the first look is natural and the second is lust.’ Not a bad proposition.

But we haven’t gone deep enough. We said the first level is the actual sin of lust and the cause of it – the second level - is our looking at women. However, I would suggest that there is a third level that we rarely desire to go to. It is the heart issue. And it is here that God desires us to change.

You see, it is possible to be convicted of the sin of lusting after women and to avoid looking at women lustfully (or, at least, I’m assuming that the authors of the books that state this have mastered this ability) but without dealing with the heart issue, the sin will simply come up in another way. Its like weeds in your yard. If you don’t get the root, they just come up someplace else. If you don’t get to the heart issue of your sin – the root – it’ll just show up someplace else.

Let me give an example. Say you realize that you lust after women. After great remorse and spiritual exercise you are able to control your looking so that you avoid the sinful thoughts about women. In time, however, you find that you have a deep anger towards your boss who happens to be a male. Now, you might say that there is absolutely no connection between the two and that you are dealing with two different sins. And maybe you are, but its just as likely that you are dealing with the same root sin. The anger is as good as murder (Matthew 5:21-22), murder is a failure to value the image of God in others (Genesis 9:6), and what is lust after a woman but the failure to see the image of God in her?

So, I disagree with the ‘First look natural, second look lust’ mindset because it fails to account for what the first look is telling us about our hearts. That first look tells us that we don’t recognize the image of God in whoever we are looking at because if we did, we would not look with lust. To say that men are more visual than women in their sexual thoughts does not absolve the man from looking at women as though they were in the presence of God.

Now, how you get your heart to look at people in that manner…..


November 13, 2006

A Fear of the Lord Beyond Fear

I was talking with some believers this past week about ‘fearing God.’ I’ve always wrestled with this. Not because I don’t think that God is worthy of fear – He is. Its just that most of the time when I hear what believers have to say about the fear of God it just comes down to being frightened of Him.

Now I don’t doubt that in our sinfulness, coming before the presence of God is a frightening thing. We see this in Adam and Eve, in Isaiah, and in the disciples. Because of our sins, coming face to face with God is a frightening event.

But here’s what provides such hope. God doesn’t want it to remain that way. In the case of Adam and Eve, He seeks them out! He shows them that He is still, even in their sinfulness, their provider. God also provides for Isaiah by bringing the coal to cleanse him so that Isaiah would be prepared to be the prophet that God wanted him to be. One of the most repeated phrases that Jesus tells people in the Gospels is ‘Do not be afraid.’

Coming face to face with God is a frightening event…but God does not seem content to leave it at that. He seems to want something else out of our relationship with Him. An understanding of God based solely on the fright that creatures have before the Creator is inadequate.

The normal description of the fear of the Lord that I’ve heard is that it is being awed with or respecting God. Now, much like being frightened by God, this is not incorrect as much as it is insufficient. I can be awed by someone and respectful from a distance. Nor does this awe and respect necessarily change who I am. But the fear of the Lord goes beyond this since the fear of the Lord is life changing.

So, I offer this as an understanding of the fear of the Lord. The other day, we were telling my son that he needed to take a shower before going to bed. His response was that he wanted to take a shower in the morning before he left for school. Anyone who has attempted to get a six year out of bed, fed, clothed, combed, and out the door understands the complexities of adding any additional events to this schedule – not to mention the bustle of other children in this mix.

Trying to graciously counter this request, we asked him why he wanted to shower in the morning. It was a simple answer. Daddy does. My son wants to be like me. Knowing who I am, that scares me to some degree, but it is what it is. In his world, to not do it the way that Daddy does it is the wrong way. There is a fear – albeit, at his age, irrational - in his little life that says that it should be done the way that Daddy does it because he wants to be like Daddy. He fears that doing things differently than Daddy is just not the way that things should be done.

Now notice how this goes beyond fright. Though there are times that I will use discipline to help him understand the best way to go, he’s not changing his shower schedule because he fears punishment. Notice also how this goes beyond awe or respect – he’s not just saying, ‘Wow…my Daddy is a great guy because he showers in the morning.’ No…this is something different that drives my son to fear what is different than what I do or who I am.

I would suggest this is closer to an understanding of the fear of the Lord. A mature fear of the Lord doesn’t cower before God in fright. Oddly enough, those who ought to cower before God’s justice don’t because they don’t know Him and those that do know Him have no need to cower because they have been justified. A mature fear of God goes beyond awe and respect at a distance.

A proper and mature fear of the Lord is one that says, ‘I want to do – think – feel – be such and such because that’s what my Daddy does.’ May we all look like our Daddy.

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November 09, 2006

You're Going the Wrong Way

I think one of the funniest parts of any movie ever is in ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.’ The movie features Steve Martin and John Candy as two men trying to get beyond a host of unbelievable events in an attempt to make their way home for the holidays. It’s a classic comedy.

At one point in the movie Martin and Candy are driving along the highway late at night. Both are tired and unwittingly lost. Additionally, they are driving the wrong way on the highway. Two people in a car on the other side of the highway roll down their window shouting to Martin and Candy that they are going the wrong way. Martin and Candy laugh about what the people are saying, thinking that they’ve been drinking. Candy has the classic line – ‘How can they know we’re going the wrong way – they don’t even know where we’re going!’

In a far more serious manner, the whole Ted Haggard debacle reminds me of this movie. Ben Witherington has an excellent post about how something like this seems so often to hit men in their 40’s and 50’s. His article got me thinking…

How is it that we get ourselves embroiled in these messes? How is it that we allow sin to so insidiously creep into our lives? What are we thinking when we in full rebellion towards God leap into sin that we know isn’t even close to His will for our lives?

Understand this – I’m not talking about Ted Haggard. I’m talking about all of us. We are all encumbered with the flesh and it wars against our souls – seeking to do things which are so clearly not how God would have us live. What are we thinking?

So…let me put myself out there. When I am in this state I’m going the wrong way. I’m not thinking about how my sin is so easily spread to every life that I touch (Haggai 2:10-14). I don’t think about the impact it will have on my wife – my children – the people I work with - the people who serve with me in my church ministry – my neighbors. I don’t think about any of these people. I’m going the wrong way

I don’t think about how the consequences of small sins have a tendency to grow far beyond their original measure – much like yeast. About how a fix of relief from ‘the new’ leads to a life imprisoned by materialism. About how a wandering eye leads to an alter ego that appears revolting even to oneself. About how the assuaging of grief with the pleasure of blessed food becomes an addiction as bad as any drug. I don’t think about these things. I’m going the wrong way.

I don’t think about how one day I will stand before my Savior, holding before Him the talents He has given me. Some I have invested well. Some I have not even buried but instead have selfishly spent upon myself. I don’t think about what my Savior will say then. I’m going the wrong way.

I find myself going in the exact opposite direction than I should be. Rather than looking ahead and seeing the outcome of what my sins will be, I find myself looking backwards - wishing that somehow, through my sins, I could return to days gone by. Return to days when I could spend indiscriminately without worry of payment because ‘someone’ would get me out of my debts. Return to days when the appeasement of my hormones was matched with opportunities for appeasement. Return to days when somehow my metabolism worked overtime so I could eat anything and still lose weight. But in all these pursuits, I’m going the wrong way.

Of course, when I look back on those days, I see the irresponsibility of my actions. Debt catches up and if people love you, they will eventually not bail you out. There are consequences to promiscuity. Metabolism is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card for an unhealthy treatment of God’s temple.

If I’m going the right way, I’m moving towards spiritual maturity. I begin to see life from a broader perspective. I see the consequences of sinful desires, bad choices, and dumb behavior – and hopefully, combined with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit can empower me to be Christlike, I will leave those things behind.

I’ve been challenged in all this – which way am I going?


August 30, 2006

A Glimpse into a Person

I’ve been reading some materials on the importance of the church to be rigorously intellectual. The argument from these articles is that we’ve moved away from intellectual pursuit in exchange for emotionalism and that to return to intellectual acumen would be a return to historical Christianity. I understand the argument, but disagree with it on many fronts.

But in thinking it over, I came up with a picture of anthropology that I thought was helpful (at least to me :) Without getting into the arguments surrounding how many parts makes a person, I’m going to use the heart, soul, body, and mind breakdown used in several places throughout scripture (here and here). Let me start with some definitions:

The heart is our will. It is what propels us through life in whatever direction we go. It is what pursues the food we eat, the relationships we have, and the fulfillment of a million other types of desires.

The soul is our personality. It is what makes us who we are as opposed to being someone else. Most would say it is our body that separates us from others, but that is not true in the case of identical twins. Though our bodies help to differentiate us, there is something more to it than just the physical. Our soul differentiates us from all other people. I believe that the biblical term ‘spirit’ is interchangeable with this part of us.

The body is…well…our body. It is the material aspect of who we are. Interestingly, it is not alive. In fact, scientists have known for quite some time that if you took all the different cells that make up our body and disconnected them, they’re all just dead. This is why a soul/spirit is so critical to mankind since without it, we are lifeless matter.

The mind is our intellect. It is our ability to think – which includes reasoning, extrapolating, propositioning, communicating, learning, and dreaming.

The dangers of articles that focus on any one area of a person – such as the mind – as being the primary focal point of our spiritual walk is that they are compartmentalizing a person. We are not such simplistic creatures.

Does the mind impact the heart, soul, and body? Undoubtedly. But cannot also the heart mislead the mind? Can’t the soul cause the body to act in a particular way? Can the body not effect the heart? We are far more holistic creatures than some appear to understand. Thus, a pursuit of the panacea of spiritual development that does not take all the aspects of our being into consideration – or even worse, takes one part of our being and makes it penultimate over all other parts – is doomed from the start in providing the answer being sought.

Conspicuously missing from my definitions were emotions. It is purposeful. Is it possible that the emotions are an indicator of where a person is in their spiritual walk? That the heart that pursues things (greedy), the soul that is predisposed to anger (hatred), the body that is sick (apathy), the mind that determines its superiority (pride) are all communicated through our emotions?

Lest one think that I’ve fallen into my own trap, I’m not suggesting that emotions are the panacea or penultimate pursuit of spiritual development. They simply are an indicator of areas in our life – heart, soul, body, and mind – that require our attention if we are to live the lives that God will find pleasing.

Does this seem like a picture of men and women that parallels what Scripture tells us?

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August 29, 2006

When God Says No

It’s a simple statement – I want to serve God in whatever capacity He gives me to serve Him. It communicates my willingness to submit myself to God’s will in my life. It leaves the door wide open for Him to work in ways that are far beyond my expectations. It recognizes that He is God and I am His to do with as He pleases.

But it’s hard to live.

Recently I was approached for a new ministry opportunity. I was excited. They were excited. It looked as though things were going to move forward. I think it would have changed the way that I serve God in both significant and valuable ways. I trust that He could have used me to impact people in a positive way that would have helped them to spiritually mature and in all things to bring Him glory.

But God said ‘No.’

Well…technically, I guess the church said ‘No.’ But all my prayers that revolved around this were of the sort ‘If it’s not your will then don’t allow this opportunity to start.’ And they said ‘No.’ So, I see that as God saying ‘No.’ And there is a part of me that is content with that because, ‘I want to serve God in whatever capacity He gives me to serve Him.’

But it still hurts.

As I thought through why it hurts so much, I keep coming back to Isaiah 6. I haven’t had the same vision that Isaiah had, but I’ve had much the same experience in my life. I’ve seen God’s glory in a many practical, epiphanal, and evocative ways. I’ve been made aware of my own sinfulness before Him. I’ve fallen down before Him declaring along with Isaiah ‘I am a man of unclean lips.’ The very holiness of God has touched me through Jesus and my guilt has been taken away and my sins have been atoned for. I’ve heard the call of God, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ With great enthusiasm I stand up and with an almost Horshack-like demeanor wave my hand and yell out, ‘Here am I. Send me!’

But then its like God says, ‘You – put your hand down. I wasn’t looking for you, I was looking for the person right there - behind you…’

And that’s what hurts. Feeling as though God is asking for me to be prepared to go on to…something - but not knowing what it is that He wants me to go on to. I guess, my statement should really state, ‘I want to serve God in whatever capacity He gives me to serve Him – NOW!!!!! Lord, I need patience…

But God is still in control.

I was reminded of that recently during a sermon. God is in control. I may not understand the end that God is directing my life towards. I may not understand all the reasons why He brings the successes, failures, joys and hardships into my life – but He does. He sees the end that He is bringing me to. When I stand before Him one day - and am everything that He ever created me to be - I will understand better.

So, for now, I grieve a bit. I rejoice a bit. I remain thankful that God even considers me to have a part in His kingdom. When God says ‘No’ I remember that He has only ever said that in the past when it was for my best. He sees more than I do… And so, I want to continue to serve God in whatever capacity He gives me to serve Him.


A Sigh of Relief – A Tinge of Disappointment

Every so often I get an opportunity to speak to groups of people. Sometimes, it’s within a church or church-like environment (i.e. amongst mostly believers). During those times, I get some stomach jitters. Usually these are not too bad because I know how to ‘fall back’ on shared terminology and past lessons if something goes wrong. I can pretty much dig myself out of most holes that I might get myself into in these environments.

At other times, though, I get a chance to speak to non-believers. These times bring on the jitters BIG time. I want to communicate the hope that I have in Jesus, the reality of our relationship together, and do it in a way that neither skimps on the truth nor loses the aspect of ‘good news.’ Not always an easy task to do, in my opinion. Some might say ‘Just proclaim it!’ but that doesn’t seem to comport with the finesse that Jesus, Peter, Paul and many others in scripture used when communicating to widely divergent groups of people. I think a proclamation of the gospel requires as personalized a presentation as possible and thus can’t ‘just be proclaimed.’

I practice every word for these events. Every nuance of what I will say, how I will say it – I get more meticulous for these events than almost anything else I do.

Thus, when I was asked recently to give a ‘faith message’ after a local sporting event, you can imagine the ramp up to this. Nine innings of good baseball completely wasted on me because my mind was on the post-ninth inning happenings. A great night out with my children and a good friend – not so much lost as much a glossed over. I didn’t enjoy the night at all because my mind was in constant preparation mode.

The announcement is made that if anyone wants to stay to hear testimonies and a faith message, to go behind the first base dugout. I head onto the field still preparing for what might happen not realizing I was completely unprepared for what would happen. Nothing happened. Not a single soul shows up behind the first base dugout. We wait. A second announcement is made. There does not seem to be any reconsideration from the crowd of people still in other parts of the stadium. No one shows.

And I let out a sigh of relief. The nervousness, the tension – it all instantly releases. Not in the same way as if I had delivered the message. The release is different. All of it – the preparation, the apprehension, the anxiety – it now all seems so…pointless. But I’m still relieved. Not so overwhelmed by relief that I don’t remember to look somewhat sullen to the person coordinating the event as she tells me that we should probably cancel. I think she sees through it.

And what is God thinking and feeling in all this? If my relationship with my children in any way reflects my relationship with Him, I would guess that there is a tinge of disappointment. I’ve been in those situations – I’m looking forward to some exciting event that my child will participate in. They are anxious about the whole event and when it is cancelled, they can hardly hide their relief. But I feel disappointed – not in them per se, as much as in the fact that somehow I’ve missed seeing a part of who they are come to life.

I realize it’s different with God – He knows all. There’s really not any part of me that He misses or doesn’t see. He knew this event wouldn’t happen so there probably shouldn’t be a sense that He ‘missed’ anything. But I still wondered as I walked back up into the stands - still relieved - what He must be feeling… does He take enjoyment from seeing parts of me come to life the same way I do with my kids?


August 14, 2006

And On the Eighth Day…

I’ve been reading through the Catholic Catechism lately and have found little nuggets of value scattered throughout. Here’s an example.

Under the section about the creation of the visible world the catechism speaks about how God created the world in six days. It goes on to describe the Sabbath rest that God instituted on the seventh day.

So far so good with the Protestant theology I was raised on. But then it goes on to talk about the eighth day! Here’s the quote:

“349 The eighth day. But for us a new day has dawned: the day of Christ's Resurrection. The seventh day completes the first creation. The eighth day begins the new creation. Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendor of which surpasses that of the first creation.”

This idea does fit quite nicely with the creation account in Genesis 1. Prior to God’s creation our lives are “formless and empty” with “darkness over the surface” of our hearts. But even in the midst of that hopelessness, the Spirit of God hovers around us.

What a beautiful way to think of the redemption – that God’s creative work has begun over again in the redemption of Jesus. Paul says as much when he tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation ; the old has gone, the new has come!” Sunday represents the beginning of the new creation!

Perhaps this is what the writer of Hebrews was also hinting at when he said that “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”

Not only do we find on the eighth day a new creation for those who are in Christ, but we look forward to a final Sabbath rest together with God. But if the first creation started in the simplicity of ‘light vs. darkness’ and culminated in the complexity that is man and woman – body, soul, heart, spirit, mind, emotion, not to mention the relational aspects – then what do we have to look forward to on that day when we will all finally rest with God for eternity…?

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August 08, 2006

The Lesson of Job

We never stop trying…We’re just like Job. We start out much like him – “God, why. Why the brokenness in this world? Please have mercy on me and tell me why…” (Job 7:17-21)

Tim over at Challies attempts the same in his recent post on mercy. Well, to be fair to Tim, he doesn’t actually ever say whether he agrees with this in either the article or the comments. But either way, a pursuit of THE answer as to why God has allowed sin into His plan is a futile pursuit at best.

The quote that Tim uses suggests that it was necessary for God to allow sin into His plan so that He might show mercy, an attribute that He had no outlet for within the Trinity. I’m not sure that I can agree with this approach for two reasons. First, God has always been who He is for all of time and the timelessness that existed before time. He must have been known to Himself as merciful, just as much as He was known to Himself as loving. To state that He had the attribute of mercy but no outlet for that mercy comes dangerously close to suggesting that His creation of mankind in some way ‘completed’ God (by providing an outlet for mercy that He did not have in Himself), something that does not fit within an orthodox understanding of God. Thus, if God is merciful (and I believe He is – I know who I am!!), then He must have been able to be merciful within the relationship of the Trinity. How – I don’t know. But the alternative is unacceptable to me since it undermines God’s total self-existence.

My second reason for disagreeing is that it is a pursuit of one single overarching reason for God allowing sin. Does it have to do with mercy? I’m certain it does. Does it have to do with God desiring to have relationship with us in Jesus? I’m certain it does. Does it have something to do with Him receiving glory? I’m certain it does. God’s reasoning for what He does is far more complex than we can begin to imagine. I don’t mean to suggest by this that we cannot know reasons – and the emphasis there is on the plural – but that we cannot connect all the reasons together into one penultimate final answer. God is more complex then that.

Sadly, a pursuit of those penultimate answers – and we pursue them not only in our questions about sin, but in our questions about salvation, God, the incarnation, etc. – leads us to end up where Job was – “I deserve to have God tell me why there is brokenness!” (Job 31:35-37)