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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Favorite Songs - Holding Back the Storm, by Paul Rodgers


(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

While my wife Jill was away for a couple days helping a family in need, this song came on in my rotation and was already on my list to do a blog entry on it, so since I was missing Jill and thinking about her, I figured this was the time to do it.

This is my favorite of a number of songs on this album by Paul Rodgers that I love, because I think he has one of the best voices ever and on this more mature solo album (compared to his Free and Bad Company days), he actually uses it to sing about some important and meaningful issues (rather than "All Right Now," "Feel Like Making Love," "Ready for Love," and their ilk, which are great vocal performances but not very meaningful:). 

"Holding Back the Storm" is actually an ode to a godly woman, a Proverbs 31 woman even, which of course is what my wife is. The song says she flies "on the wings of a white dove," which can only be a reference to the Holy Spirit, and other lyrics in it echo these verses from Proverbs 31:

Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil

All the days of her life....
She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms....
She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy....
Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.... [The song says "Fly on the wings of tomorrow"]
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household....
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,

But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,

And let her own works praise her in the gates.

About the music in the song... As I've said before, powerful rock music can be very appropriate for various emotions that God wants us to feel, such as anger against injustice and other consequences of sin. In the case of this song, I find it very fitting for the celebration of one of God's greatest gifts to the world--a godly woman whose "worth is far above rubies." 

I posted my own song and video tribute to my wife Jill (and "the fruit of her hands") elsewhere on this blog, but here are the lyrics that are sung by a much, much better voice than mine:

Holding Back the Storm

She has the heart of a lion
The soul of a mountain stream
That flows through the heart of the valley of love
Pure as an baby's dream

She has the eyes of a tiger 
Watching her children grow
The power and grace of the love on her face
Sharing the secret she knows 

Hold back the storm
With a love so warm
Holding back the storm
With a love so strong
Holding back the storm

Fly, with the power of love
Fly, on the wings of a white dove 
Fly, away with my sorrow
Fly on the wings of, the wings of tomorrow

Holding back the storm

She has a way of believing
When nobody else gives a damn
She has a way of seeing the truth
Touching the soul of a man

Hold back the storm
With a love so warm
Holding back the storm
With a love so strong
Hold back the storm

My message to you baby, is that I love you, and you hold back the storm...


Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Discernment Exercise re: Progressive Christianity

In the course of my writing work I happened upon this statement of faith (of sorts) on the website of Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, PA, and I thought it would serve as a good exercise in discernment to compare what the statement says with some related passages from the Bible. Ask yourself if these church leaders are teaching the traditional faith of Christians throughout the centuries based on the Scriptures, or if they are creating their own "updated" version of religion in an attempt to improve on both.

The quotes from the church's statement are in bold and the Scriptures I'm adding are in plain print. (I didn't spend much time on this, by the way, but just put in some passages off the top of my head to help you compare the two.)

What We Believe

The mystery of the Christian liturgy well celebrated remains: God is faithful and waits.

So the liturgy in its whole range—from daily prayer, to initiation rites, to Eucharist, to burying the dead—waits patiently for our humanity to be opened to it. The liturgy waits patiently, like the Scriptures, like Jesus, like the whole life of God who, as Tolstoy once observed, “Sees the truth but waits.” (1)

"The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (1 Cor. 2:1-5)

Heaven is revealed upon the earth both in the cup of cold water which is given to the poor... and in Michelangelo’s David: in both the dance of a child and the melody of Mozart. (2)

Alertness is all. (3)

"But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isa. 64:6)

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

"Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil." (1 Thess. 5:21-22)

Belief is appropriately a moving target, which shifts and adjusts with time, circumstances, and the continuing new revelation of the Spirit of God. It’s also so varied and complex—even within a single parish—that any attempt at a summary would be immediately misleading. Belief isn’t a set of ideas or propositions. It’s rather an approach to life and a dynamic engagement with the mystery of God.

"Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Heb. 11:6)

"Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ." (Jude 3-4)

"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory."
(1 Tim. 3:16)

The Episcopal Church is not principally identified by its adoption of a creed or an approved statement of doctrine; we are primarily a community formed by the practice of worship. Praying shapes our believing, and, thus, there are no insiders and outsiders but, instead, we are people who gather prayerfully to seek, across all divisions, peace and unity with God and one another and the joy that comes from sharing love directly and personally. Our churchyard, our church building, our facilities, our programs, our ministries, and our worship are open to all, because openness without limitation is the keenest form of spiritual alertness.

“'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber'... Then Jesus said to them again, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.... I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:1-2, 7-9, 25-27)

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector." (Matt. 18:15-17)

"I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore 'put away from yourselves the evil person.'” (1 Cor. 5:9-13)

Being alert in this way opens to us the reality of God’s heaven in our midst and in our world. Heaven is not merely a distant reward. This is a terrible caricature. Glimpses of heaven are, rather, present to us in the beauty of creation and in our sharing the image of God in our own creativity. They’re also made manifest in many acts of redemption: by our reaching out in care, by our offering forgiveness and reconciliation, and by our making our first delight service to others.

"Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." (2 Cor. 5:9-10)

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31)

"Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matt. 22:35-38)

True belief unfolds slowly, across the spans of lifetimes....

"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

"By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." (Heb. 11:7)

"For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'” (Rom. 4:3).

"Once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation." (Heb. 9:26-28)

Those last verses highlight what is missing from that church's "statement of faith"--the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4)! What Christ has done for us on the cross, the most important truth for us to believe, is not explained in it. Of course, the leaders of that church may not even believe in the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, because denying that doctrine is common in "progressive" or "liberal" circles. It's not my purpose here to defend it or to explain the nuances of the passages I listed above--I just wanted you to see and think about the disparity between the way many people talk about the Christian faith and what is actually contained in the Word that He gave us as a basis for it. But if you'd like to discuss any of this further, I'd be glad to.


Footnotes from "What We Believe":
1) Donald Saliers: Worship as Theology
2) Gerardus van der Leeuw: Sacred and Profane Beauty
3) Michael Fishbane: Spiritual Attunement


Monday, June 22, 2020

An All-Star Team-Up vs. Depression

I wanted to share with you, in its entirety, what I read for my time with the Lord this morning. First because it features three of the most profound and powerful wordsmiths in history--the prophet Isaiah, Charles Spurgeon, and Martin Luther (with God behind it all, of course). Secondly because it cut me to the core after a Father's Day when I struggled deeply with thoughts and feelings of depression when I should have been trusting and praising God, like these literary giants reminded me.

I also wanted to share it because I know I'm not the only one who struggles in that way. "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation," as Thoreau famously said, and though he was using "men" in a general sense, middle-aged males and fathers in particular may be some of the most susceptible targets for depression (especially the "quiet" kind). But, of course, what is said in this excerpt from Spurgeon's comments on Isaiah 41 applies to everyone, regardless of gender or age. The Scripture verses are in bold and Spurgeon's comments (including a great story about Martin Luther and his wife) are in italics...

17, 18. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.

See what God can do. Men are thirsty, they have no water; and lo! on a sudden, behold rivers, fountains, springs, pools, floods; for God does nothing in halves. He is an all-sufficient, overflowing God. When he gives, he gives like a king. He does not measure his gifts of water by the pint and by the gallon; but here you have pools, and springs, and rivers. When he has given waters, he will give trees to grow by the waters. When God gives blessing, he makes other blessings to spring out of it.

19. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together. Making a paradise of streams of water and lovely trees, evergreen trees of the most comely aspect, and of great variety.

See what God can do. Where there is a wilderness, where there were hills and valleys, and all was dry and parched, he makes woods and forests, rivers and fountains. He can do all things. Oh, that we had faith in him! But we forget him: we turn not to him; we look everywhere but to God; we try every method except that of trusting in the living God. Have we a God? If so, why do we act as we sometimes do? 

Martin Luther was a very cheerful man, as a rule; but he had terrible fits of depression. He was at one time so depressed that his friends recommended him to go away for a change of air, to see if he could get relief. He went away; but he came home as miserable as ever; and when he went into the sitting-room, his wise wife Kate, Catherine von Bora, was sitting there, dressed in black, and her children round about her, all in black. “Oh, oh!” said Luther, “who is dead?” “Why,” said she, “doctor, have not you heard that God is dead? My husband, Martin Luther, would never be in such a state of mind if he had a living God to trust to.” Then he burst into a hearty laugh, and said, “Kate, thou art a wise woman. I have been acting as if God were dead, and I will do so no more. Go and take off thy black.” 

If God be alive, why are we discouraged? If we have a God to look to, why are we cast down? Let us rejoice and be glad together; for God will do all that he has promised, for this reason:? 

20. That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.

God wants you to know that he is at work on your behalf. He wants you so to trust him as to see how his promises can be applied to your case, and what his right hand can accomplish even for you. Let us trust him with all our hearts.



Saturday, June 20, 2020

Favorite Songs - Always, by Owl City



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

I'm not a fan of pop music in general, and someone might think that Owl City is the epitome of pop music. But not really, for several reasons. Adam Young's music is just quirky and unique enough to set it apart from typical pop fare--maybe there's something like it out there, but I haven't heard it personally. Admittedly, I'm not heavily versant in pop music, but for me Owl City is unlike anything I else I've listened to. And then there's the fact that Adam is a committed Christian who is not afraid to say that publicly (see this recent Instagram post, for example). That alone takes him out of the category of typical pop star.

Adam might also be criticized for being a sentimentalist, but that doesn't stop me from loving many of his songs. I am, after all, a big Charles Dickens fan, and like Dickens, Adam manages to pull off his sentimentalism in an effective and (again) unique way. No artist I know communicates an innocent sense of wonder and optimism better than he does. And when Adam's sentimentalism is being expressed in lyrics that are truly encouraging spiritually, because they come from God's Word, those songs really hit the sweet spot for me in a big way.

Even though "Always" is tied for my favorite with another song I'll mention below, I've chosen it for this blog entry because it mentions a verse I've studied recently--Isaiah 40:31. It says, "They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." A rare thing happened when I read Charles Spurgeon's comments on that famous verse recently in my time with the Lord: I actually disagreed with Spurgeon! He said that the "running" we do is unfortunate and the "walking" is better, but after looking at the passage further and reading Edward J. Young's commentary on it, I think Isaiah is saying that we will be given grace both to "run" in crisis situations when we're weary and also to "walk" during the normal course of life. In other words, the strength God gives us will not only be a temporary one in a time of crisis, but will continue throughout our "walk of life."

Another great insight I discovered while studying that verse, by the way, is that the Hebrew text uses terminology indicating that God exchanges our weakness for His strength, echoing and presaging the "Great Exchange" of the gospel (see 2 Cor. 5:21). He freely gives us something we didn't have before, something that was completely foreign to our nature--namely, wings in Isaiah and righteousness in the gospel.

The other song that is tied with "Always" for my favorite Owl City song is the short but oh so sweet "Meteor Shower." Even after hundreds of times listening to the song, I still get goosebumps on my skin and in my soul every time I hear it...


Most of Adam Young's songs are not directly about God or spiritual issues, but many are also favorites of mine because of their quirkiness and uniqueness, and because they just make me feel good listening to them. If you could use some of those good feelings right now, check out this playlist of Owl City favorites I made on YouTube. I hope you enjoy them and will feel encouraged...as Adam's music says to us, "There's hope!"


Monday, June 8, 2020

Not Hidden to God – A Tribute to My Father-in-Law Jim Hallman (1938-2020)


“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” 
--George Eliot


First, I wanted to say that I’m so glad that I didn’t wait until after his death to say these things to and about Jim (don’t let that happen to you!). I often told him how loved, admired, and appreciated he was, and just as often he seemed somewhat embarrassed by it (but never as much as when I awkwardly hugged him). I even called him “Dad” since he’s been my only living father for the last 20 years.

On a long flight to Africa a few months ago I thought I was just killing time by watching the three-hour movie A Hidden Life, but I ended up being deeply moved by it (and also loved how almost every frame looks like a painting). It’s a true story about a conscientious objector in Austria during World War II who, as an “unsung hero,” embodied the quote from George Eliot above. After the movie was over and that quote graced the screen at the end, I thought of Jim Hallman.

More importantly, my father-in-law embodied this quote from Scripture: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Jim’s work ethic was legendary among those who knew him, all the way up until he could not physically work anymore. He was also known for his quiet demeanor, except when an opportunity arose to talk about his baseball career. But actually, though he would discuss sports to get a laugh or make conversation, you could tell that his favorite topic was Jesus and the Scriptures. He listened regularly to Bible teaching on the radio and loved to share about what he had heard.

I don’t want to make him out to be a saint (in the Catholic sense), as if he was perfect. I remember him crying with regret a number of times, several of which were because he was physically unable to take care of our property anymore (okay, he was a saint). But, seriously, I remember him crying one time after his health problems began, wondering if it was because of sins he had committed. No, he was human, which is important for us to know because many of the stories you’ll hear about him make him seem superhuman, and rightly so.

Walking almost five miles to work when there was too much snow to drive, writing a letter to Jill every single week for over ten years while we lived in California and he in Pennsylvania, doing all the landscape work on our big property and others well into his 70s, and of course all those legendary baseball stories. He also had an amazing trust in God and the gospel (the fears mentioned above were just an understandable speed bump on his spiritual journey). He faced death with faith and thankfulness, which he expressed over and over, and some of his last words were a prayer in which he mentioned every member of his family by name and begged God that we would all be true believers in Christ.

Though Jim was a superhero in those ways and many others, there weren’t many people who knew about it. His multiplied good deeds will not go down in the history books and there won’t be large crowds of people at his gravesite. But the depth and quality of his influence on those of us who knew him and the exponential effect it will have on countless others through us will be obvious in eternity, which started for Jim recently when he heard these words: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:31).

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Favorite Songs - My Eyes Are Dry, by Keith Green


(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

Facebook is often referred to as Fakebook, and with good reason. Our posts are more about what we wish our life would look like than what it really looks like. Well, this post (which I will share on Facebook) will be a dose of reality.

I was recently reminded of the song "My Eyes Are Dry" by Keith Green when I did my Bible reading for the first time in a while (that's a big part of my problem, by the way). I read Isaiah 35 and then Charles Spurgeon's comments on it, and I realized that one section unfortunately described me.

Spurgeon was commenting on Isaiah 35:3, which says that God's people will "rejoice even with joy and singing... they shall see the glory of the LORD and the excellency of our God." He says:

A wonderful sight to see, for there is one of the most lovely sights in the world when the glory and excellency of God are to be seen in the works of his grace in his own people. It is such a sight that it makes men first rejoice in their hearts, and then rejoice with their tongues. They shall “rejoice with joy and singing,” which is the double rejoicing of the heart and of the lip. Well, these must be a favored people who, wherever they go, can make others glad after this fashion. Brethren, they must be full or they could not overflow! They must be themselves alive, or else they could not quicken the desert places. They must themselves be in flower, blooming like the rose, or they could not make the wilderness so full of verdure. The Lord grant that we may be in that state that we may be able to go into the wilderness. There are some of God’s people that cannot trust themselves to go where they are wanted, because they have not grace enough. They are so weak that they are like the weak man standing on the river’s brink, who cannot leap in to pull out a drowning man for fear they should be pulled in themselves. But, oh! they are blest indeed who dare go into wildernesses and into the solitary places, and carry the transforming benediction of heaven with them till the wilderness changes its dress, and the brown of the and sand gives place to the ruddiness of the rose, because God has come there with his people.

The part of that quote that describes me in recent days, I realized, is the negative part in the middle (in bold). I haven't been rejoicing in the Lord and receiving His grace as I should, so I haven't had much to give to others spiritually, and haven't even wanted to at many times. I realized that I was not at a good place and the song "My Eyes Are Dry" came to mind. So I started to sing and pray it to the Lord, as I have at many such times of spiritual dryness in my life. That's one of the reasons it makes my list of favorite songs, along with the fact that it has such a beautiful, haunting, moving, and memorable melody.

In addition to praying the words of that song, I went on YouTube and downloaded a couple dozen songs by Keith Green that used to be a regular part of my listening diet but I haven't heard for a long time. I'm adding them to my regular rotation, and I encourage you to rediscover his music or discover it for the first time, whichever may be the case. Here are some of my other favorites by Keith, all of which are especially helpful when our eyes are dry and our hearts are cold:

Create in Me A Clean Heart
Dust to Dust
I Don't Want to Fall Away from You
Grace By Which I Stand
Cut the Devil Down
I Want to Be More Like Jesus
Make My Life a Prayer to You
Romans VII
Rushing Wind
When I Hear the Praises Start
Oh Lord, You're Beautiful

(I made a playlist of those songs on YouTube, for myself but also for you. Would you consider taking just about 30 minutes to listen and pray through them?)

The good news is that I feel revived after hearing those blessed songs and praying their words to the Lord, but the bad news is that if I don't keep filling my mind and heart with His Word and making use of the other means of grace, I will quickly slip back into spiritual coldness and deadness, like a branch cut off from its vine.

However, if I do abide in Him, I will bear much fruit, as Jesus said, and the positive side of Isaiah 35 will be true of me. Here are verses 5-6 and Spurgeon's comment on them:

"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert." See what the presence of Christ does. See what the presence of Christ’s people will do when he comes in them and with them. They make the wilderness rejoice. But, besides that, the dwellers that are found in the wilderness—these lame and deaf people—get the blessing. Oh! may God make us to be a desert to others of this sort.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

What God has joined together... (A Biblical understanding of divorce and remarriage)

In March of this year I had the gracious privilege of speaking to about 40 pastors and their wives at two conferences in Kampala, Uganda. During part of each conference, I presented what I believe is a biblical understanding of divorce and remarriage that takes into account all the relevant passages of Scripture and brings them together in a consistent system. As a summary and teaching tool, I used some carefully worded propositions with supporting references, which those Christian leaders (and others through the years) have found to be helpful.

I realized recently that the propositions weren't available anywhere online, so I'm remedying that with this post. Much of my learning about this issue can be found in this statement by the elders at John MacArthur's Grace Community Church, where I served on staff and wrote the original draft of the statement. But I've always found that these propositions are a simple and helpful format for teaching and discussion, so I'll reproduce below the one-page version of them that I've often printed out for those purposes.

At the center of my "system" for understanding and reconciling all the relevant passages (and also at the center of the propositions page, interestingly) is Jeremiah 3:6-10, which is often overlooked but absolutely critical to these issues. I think my best contribution to the thorny questions about divorce is how I point out that since Jesus used only one word for his "exception" in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, his Jewish audience must have known what he was talking about, and undoubtedly they would have been familiar with Jeremiah 3:6-10, a striking and memorable passage where God divorces Israel. And the word porneia that Jesus uses in Matthew is found four times in four verses in the Greek Septuagint version of that passage. So when they heard that word, they would have understand that Jesus was talking about unrepentant sexual sin, because that was the grounds for God's divorce of Israel (twice it says "she did not return"). It then follows, like I say in the propositions, that the only time divorce is acceptable to God is when reconciliation to a monogamous, cohabitant relationship is not possible.

I've also recently added a proposition (IV) about criminal physical abuse, because the issue always comes up in discussions about grounds for divorce and is in the spotlight now more than ever (see this post about a well-known theologian who changed his view).

Limits on time and space keep me from elaborating about all this further as I do in my teaching, but you can listen to the recordings at the link in the first paragraph below and also correspond with me in the comments or any other way. I welcome any and all dialogue about this important issue. But here are my propositions:

WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER...

by Dave Swavely

The following propositions, summarizing my views on the biblical teaching about divorce and remarriage, are the result of many years of considering the exegetical, theological, and practical issues facing the church today. An explanation of the biblical basis for each of these propositions is available in a series of audio files that can be streamed at…

I.   Because of the sacredness of marriage and the seriousness of covenant vows (Gen. 2:24; Eccl. 5:4-6; Mal. 2:14-16; Mark 10:2-12), all biblical means should be exhausted to keep any marriage together (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 7:12; 1 Pet. 3:1‑7). Divorce is only allowed by God in rare and extreme circumstances (Matt. 19:8-10; 1 Cor. 7:10-15), and long-term separation as often practiced today is neither biblical nor wise (Matt. 19:6; 1 Cor. 7:1-5, 15).

II.   When even serious sins like abuse, sexual immorality, or separation occur in a marriage, but repentance occurs and reconciliation to a monogamous, cohabitant relationship is possible, then the faithful partner should forgive and reconcile (Luke 17:3‑4; Matt. 5:23‑24; Eph. 4:32). Reconciliation after divorce is not possible when one partner is remarried or is an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14ff; 1 Cor. 7:39), but it is a necessary fruit of repentance when two believers have been divorced and are able to remarry one another (Mal. 2:13‑16; Matt. 5:32, 1 Cor. 7:11).

III.   When one partner resists all means of reconciliation and refuses to maintain a monogamous, cohabitant relationship (through unrepentant sexual sin or desertion), then the faithful spouse cannot fulfill his or her covenant obligations and is released from the moral responsibility to do so (Jer. 3:6‑10; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 7:15). When that marriage bond is severed through divorce (Deut. 24:1-4, 1 Cor. 7:11), the faithful spouse is then free to marry another Christian (1 Cor. 7:8‑9, 27‑28).

IV.   Criminal physical abuse often falls into the category of “desertion” (1 Cor. 7:15) because unrepentant abusers prove that they do not want to live with their spouses. Such abuse should be reported to the police as well as the church (Rom. 13:1-5, Matt. 18:15-17) and an initial separation should occur for the safety of the victim (Prov. 22:3, 27:12). If abusive partners do not repent and change significantly, they should be treated as unbelievers who don't really want to live with their partners, because legal and/or safety considerations would keep the abused partners from returning to the home.

V.   Believers who have been divorced prior to their identification with Christ and the church, and cannot be reconciled because their former spouse is an unbeliever or is remarried, are free to remain single or marry another believer (1 Cor. 7:20, 24, 27; 2 Cor. 5:16‑17).

VI.   In cases where an unbiblical divorce has taken place in a single person's past, the leaders of the church should help that person to repent and "unscramble the egg" according to biblical principles (Heb. 13:17; Matt. 18:18). If true repentance has taken place and reconciliation is not possible with the former spouse, then the forgiven believer could pursue another relationship under the oversight of his or her spiritual authorities (1 Cor. 7:27-28, 36-39; 1 Tim. 5:11-14). 

VII.   In cases where believers have been divorced and remarried unbiblically, the answer is confession and repentance (Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:8-9) and then continuing in their current marriage according to biblical principles (Eph. 5:21-33), because they are now bound to the obligations of the covenant made with the new spouse (Deut. 24:1-4; 1 Cor. 7:17-24). 


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Monday, April 27, 2020

Favorite Songs (Coronavirus Edition) - Nobody But You by James Taylor



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

I've named this as one of my favorite songs (top two or three actually) ever since I was a kid--I grew up on James Taylor so I had to include one of his songs toward the top of my list. But over time and life experience it has taken on new meaning for me, which became even fuller recently when I remembered it and thought about it in light of one of the great lessons in the coronavirus crisis. I'll get to that below, but first let's talk about the song...

What I love about it musically: It's short, just the right length that leaves you wanting more. It's the perfect mix of sadness and hope in tone and feeling. It's catchy, and it saves the catchiest part for the end and only the end...if commercialization was the goal, the ending "chorus" would have been repeated over and over again. But Taylor, having aced the commercial thing already with the albums Sweet Baby James and Mud Slide Slim, wanted to do something more "concept" with this album (One Man Dog, still tied for my favorite with Dad Loves His Work) and he was aiming more for art than for sales. I love the guitar solo and that little roll on the drums at the end of it, and every other little thing about the song. It's perfect and so so smooooooth.

What I don't understand is why Taylor never plays it live (as far as I know...maybe someone can tell me differently). This doesn't make sense to me, especially since in his later years he's revisited so much of his obscure early stuff...even "Chili Dog" from this same album (you can't get any more obscure that that).

The lyrics are about everything letting you down except one person. Money, career, family, and even religion have now left this normal "Joe" empty and unsatisfied like Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Yes, some folks have been good to him in some ways. But only one person really understands, really cares, really is there for him in all the details of everyday life.

Is that one person God, or more specifically Jesus Christ? I don't know and can't find anything online that tells me, and of course Taylor could have been merely thinking of a lover or a friend. But it's not out of the question when you consider the fact that just two years earlier he wrote this in another favorite song of mine, "Fire and Rain":

Won't you look down upon me, Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way

So I like to think of "Nobody But You" as referring to Jesus. Only He really understands, really cares, and really is there for us in all the details of everyday life. And only He can provide the true satisfaction we need, especially in regard to the truth we need to know to have a good relationship with God and others (not to mention eternal life).

In contrast, if the coronavirus crisis has proven one thing, it's how much we as humans don't know. Consider these "lockdown rules" I saw on Facebook (sorry, I don't know who wrote them, but kudos to whoever did):

The Rules:
1. Basically, you can't leave the house for any reason, but if you have to, then you can.
2. Masks are useless, but maybe you have to wear one, it can save you, it is useless, but maybe it is mandatory as well.
3. Stores are closed, except those that are open.
4. You should not go to hospitals unless you have to go there. Same applies to doctors, you should only go there in case of emergency, provided you are not too sick.
5. This virus is deadly but still not too scary, except that sometimes it actually leads to a global disaster.
6. Gloves won't help, but they can still help.
7. Everyone needs to stay HOME, but it's important to GO OUT.
8. There is no shortage of groceries in the supermarket, but there are many things missing when you go there in the evening, but not in the morning. Sometimes.
9. The virus has no effect on children except those it affects.
10. Animals are not affected, but there is still a cat that tested positive in Belgium in February when no one had been tested, plus a few tigers here and there…
11. You will have many symptoms when you are sick, but you can also get sick without symptoms, have symptoms without being sick, or be contagious without having symptoms. Oh, my God.
12. In order not to get sick, you have to eat well and exercise, but eat whatever you have on hand and it's better not to go out, well, but no…
13. It's better to get some fresh air, but you get looked at very wrong when you get some fresh air, and most importantly, you don't go to parks or walk. But don’t sit down, except that you can do that now if you are old, but not for too long or if you are pregnant (but not too old).
14. You can't go to retirement homes, but you have to take care of the elderly and bring food and medication.
15. If you are sick, you can't go out, but you can go to the pharmacy.
16. You can get restaurant food delivered to the house, which may have been prepared by people who didn't wear masks or gloves. But you have to have your groceries decontaminated outside for 3 hours. Pizza too?
17. Every disturbing article or disturbing interview starts with " I don't want to trigger panic, but…"
18. You can't see your older mother or grandmother, but you can take a taxi and meet an older taxi driver.
19. You can walk around with a friend but not with your family if they don't live under the same roof.
20. You are safe if you maintain the appropriate social distance, but you can’t go out with friends or strangers at the safe social distance.
21. The virus remains active on different surfaces for two hours, no, four, no, six, no, we didn't say hours, maybe days? But it takes a damp environment. Oh no, not necessarily.
22. The virus stays in the air - well no, or yes, maybe, especially in a closed room, in one hour a sick person can infect ten, so if it falls, all our children were already infected at school before it was closed. But remember, if you stay at the recommended social distance, however in certain circumstances you should maintain a greater distance, which, studies show, the virus can travel further, maybe.
23. We count the number of deaths but we don't know how many people are infected as we have only tested so far those who were "almost dead" to find out if that's what they will die of…
24. We have no treatment, except that there may be one that apparently is not dangerous unless you take too much (which is the case with all medications). Orange man bad.
25. We should stay locked up until the virus disappears, but it will only disappear if we achieve collective immunity, so when it circulates… but we must no longer be locked up for that?
🤪
 


Nobody But You

Everybody knows that I'm just a Joe that likes to hang around,
Talking about my problems, bringing other people down.
Well this may be so, but not long ago, I was sitting on the top of the world.
Sure is strange how things can turn themselves around.
When I'm in need of a little bit of consultation, used to call on my Uncle John.
Took a trip down to West Virginia, found him dead and gone.
And as some sort of silly little consolation, they gave me a ticket back.
What you gonna do with folks like that?
You can talk about bands of angels,
And they think you come with your soul in your hands to set their children free.
But you talk about little bit of understanding, things that happen day to day.
Some of you folks sure enough have been good to me.
You come on talking about angel bands,
And they think you come with your soul in your hands just to set their children free.
But you talk about little bit of understanding, things that happen day to day.
Someone has been good to me.
Nobody but you, nobody but you, nobody but you, nobody but you.
Nobody but you, nobody but you, nobody but you, nobody but you.
Nobody but you, say nobody, nobody, nobody, nobody, nobody but you.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Can I pray to God now, even if I've not been doing it?

On my way back from my recent trip to Uganda, I made a new friend on the interminable flight from there to Brussels. She was a wonderful young lady with many exciting and interesting life adventures. She was also a self-described agnostic Jew who was scared to death of flying and struggled with panic throughout the trip. I shared with her how my wife had a similar issue for many years but God helped her to overcome it. I asked her if she had ever prayed and she said something like, "Yes, but it kinda seems unfair." I was pretty sure she meant that praying in a crisis would be an insult, or at least pointless, when she didn't pray any other time. So I mentioned that even if my older daughter only talks to me when she wants something or has a problem, I'm still glad to hear from her and I'm still happy to help her out. Because I love my daughter and am eager to hear from her at any time, regardless of whether she ever talks to me otherwise.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and among many other things, that young lady came to mind and I prayed for her. Then I opened my Kindle to read something from God's Word, as I usually do in such situations, and amazingly this was the verse I read (Isaiah 26:16), followed by some comments by the great Charles Spurgeon:

LORD, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.

That is true of hypocrites; but it is also sweetly true of some whom God is bringing to himself. Child after child has died, loss after loss has broken down the business; now they turn to God. Oh, it is a blessed loss that makes us find our God! What we gain is infinitely more than what we have lost. What a mercy that God is willing to hear us in the time of trouble, that all our putting-off and rejection of him do not make him put us off! I remember one who wished to hire a conveyance to go to a certain town, and he went to the place where he could hire it, and asked the price; he thought that it was too much, so he went round the town to other people, and found that he could not get it any cheaper; but when he came back to the place visited first, the man said to him, “Oh, no, no! I will not let my horses to you. You have been round to everybody else, and now you come back to me because you cannot get what you want elsewhere; I will have nothing to do with you.” That is man’s way of dealing with his fellow man; but it is not the Lord’s method of dealing with us. When you and I have gone round to everybody else, the Lord still welcomes us when we come back to him. Yes, just as harbours of refuge are meant for ships in distress that would not have put in there except for the storm and danger, such is the mercy of the Lord God in Jesus Christ. If you are forced to accept it, you are still welcome to it. If you are driven to it by stress of weather, you may come in, for the harbour was made for just such as you are.

Wow, can you believe that amazing "coincidence" of God's providence? It could be helpful for my friend on the plane, of course, but I believe it was given to me for all of you to read and consider also. I think we all struggle to some degree with the fact that we pray a lot more in times of crisis and wonder if God will hear us if we haven't prayed as much as we should have before. But we need to realize that He allows difficulties (like a scary situation) in our lives precisely because He loves us and wants us to talk to Him more. "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13), and the "whoever" includes even those who are calling for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.

Consider Hebrews 12:5-11:

Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

You might say, if you're thinking along with me, "Isn't that passage written to those who already believe in Christ?" Yes, but like Spurgeon wisely says at the beginning of the quote above, it is also "sweetly true of some God is bringing to himself." Many people have found that when they cry out to God in a time of crisis, even for the first time or the first time in a long time, He sends a person or message to them that will lead them into further knowledge and understanding of His truth. That's because He has already chosen to love them before the foundation of the world and planned to adopt them into His family through the redeeming work of Christ.

Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us about all that:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
So don't let the fact that you haven't prayed enough keep you from doing so in the middle of a problem. If you do find yourself talking to God, it's probably because He loves you and is bringing you into a relationship with Him. You were created for that purpose and will only find your ultimate satisfaction and reason for living when you embrace it. As Augustine said (and experienced personally), "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him." And as Blaise Pascal wrote, "What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."