Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ten Quotes: From the Pen of Pastor Paul

Here are ten of my favorite quotes from Daniel Hyde's book, From the Pen of Pastor Paul, which is a series of published sermons on I & II Thessalonians.  
The pastor's heart towards his people leads to the pastor's labors for his people.
God's Word in preaching is not communicated by skits; it is not conveyed through art; it is not taught to us through music; it is not expressed through deeds; but in words.
A preacher must have total confidence, total conviction, and total assurance of his message.
Paul says there is a real presence of God himself in the preaching of the Word.
[Paul] was so motivated by their [the church] need that despite the great risk of persecution and violence, he opened his heart and mouth to give them what they need-the gospel...He was willing to bring this message despite persecution.
When we do not speak as Paul speaks, personally, sincerely, passionately, and even gently, we fail in our duty as pastors.
What does living in light of the Lord's return look like...What does the Christian life look like in this age between Jesus' first and second comings? It looks like a struggle. It looks like a fight. It looks like a battle.
Deep down our theology and life is about having the assurance that we are saved. I don't want you to know what the doctrine of election is, what the doctrine of limited atonement is, what our view of the sacraments are, what our theology of worship is...unless knowing this increases your certainty that you belong to Jesus Christ in body and soul both in life and death. (ellipsis Hyde's)
A false prophet's mission is to shake believers..alarm believers...and deceive believers.
I don't know about you, but my languishing soul needs this [predestination-II Thessalonians 2:13]. I need salvation to be taken out of the whims and wishes of my mind. I need salvation to be taken away from my sin-stained hands. I need salvation to be removed from my stony heart. I need a God who chooses.
And one:

I really enjoyed this short summary of justification and sanctification. Remember this was preached, not written in a scholarly journal with three hundred foot notes. All italics are Hyde's.
Like justification, then sanctification is a part of the complete work of our Lord Jesus Christ as our Mediator and Redeemer. He is a complete Savior and we need to proclaim this whole gospel.  But there are some differences. In justification Christ works for us in his life of obedience and death, while in sanctification in Christ works in us to make us obedient and to die to sin. Justification is outside of us, while sanctification is inside of us. In justification we are passive, while in sanctification we are active. In justification we are recipients of Christ's work, while in sanctification we are participants with Christ's work. In justification Christ works upon dead men, while in sanctification Christ works in and through those who have been made alive.
Quotes From Other Books
Fool's Talk by Os Guinness
The New Pastor's Handbook by Jason Helopoulos
On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg
How to Exasperate Your Wife by Douglas Wilson
The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney
A Son for Glory by Toby Sumpter 
Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
Making Gay Okay by Robert Reilly 
Christ Crucified by Donald Macleod
Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God by John Calvin

Book Review: From the Pen of Pastor Paul

From the Pen of Pastor PaulFrom the Pen of Pastor Paul by Daniel R. Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful book by Pastor Danny Hyde. This is not a commentary in the strict sense of the word. You will not find chapters on Pauline authorship or the textual issues in these letters. Also this is not a slow, careful verse by verse examination of the text. These are sermons put to paper. Here are several things I enjoyed about the book.

First, it is warm and pastoral. You feel like you are sitting in the pew listening to a pastor bring you the Word of God chapter after chapter. He speaks with passion and directly to the reader. It reminds me of older commentaries, which were basically extended exhortations based on the text. Pastor Hyde is interested in our souls and it shows. This is not as easy to do as it sounds. I have read many sermons put to paper and they does not always work.

Second, several chapters read like mini-pastoral theologies, especially early in the book. I have never read Thessalonians the way it was presented in this book, as Paul pouring out his pastoral soul to the church there. If you are a pastor and find your love for your people growing cold read this book. While I was reading this book I visited one of the families at church. The book changed the way I approached that visit.

Third, Pastor Hyde is straightforward. His goal is to teach and give his congregation meat. Therefore he is clear. The longer I am in the ministry the more I see the need for this. There is a place for in-depth writing or speaking that gets into all the nuances of the text, the Greek, its connections to Roman world, etc. But that place is not in the pulpit. In the pulpit people need a clear Word from God. They need to know what the text says, what it meant for the people who read it, and what it means for them. If they leave impressed, but unchanged then the pastor has wasted his time. Pastor Hyde's chapters are well organized and clear with exhortations to holiness as well as calls to follow Christ. You read them and find yourself examining your walk with Christ.

Finally, I appreciated all the quotes from other men, including Chrysostom, Aquinas, Calvin, Spurgeon, Stott, Bruce, etc. By doing this he introduces his readers to these great men and also adds depth to the writing.

I had a few complaints here and there. But this book is well worth your time whether you are studying Thessalonians or not, especially if you are a pastor.

I was given this book freely in exchange for an unbiased review.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Discovering Church Planting

Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church PlantingDiscovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting by J.D. Payne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was okay, but honestly had way more information than was necessary. I am the founding pastor of a church plant that is now almost ten years old. There is not much in this book that would have helped me ten years ago. It felt like overkill for most situations. The best chapters were the ones on ecclesiology, discipleship and caring for one's family. It might be more helpful for those in global situations.

While church planting does bring challenges that a pastor does not find when he goes to an established church, I believe books like this make it more complicated than it needs to be.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Danger of Hearing God's Word

God's mercy is great, but it is not endless. In the life of a man, a church, a denomination, a community, or a country a place can be reached where even God's mercy cannot be found.  II Chronicles 36:15-16 describes one such a circumstance: 
The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 
God loved His people, Israel. He loved them enough to send them prophets and messengers. He loved them enough to send them messengers early and late or as the ESV says, "persistently." He sent Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Hosea, Amos, and others. They came and they preached and they preached and they preached. They risked death and ridicule to bring them God's Word. Why? God loved His people.

But the people would not hear. They mocked, despised, and scoffed at the prophets. They killed them, ran them out of town, threw them into pits, ignored them, and laughed at them. They continued to worship idols, commit adultery with the nations, oppress the weak and poor, commit sexual immorality, and ignore God's law......Until there was no remedy. Look at that sentence. Let it sink in. "Wait," we say, "Isn't God's mercy always there for the taking whenever I need it?" No. There was a point of no return. There was a line where God's wrath could no longer be stayed. His mercy did not just keep coming and coming. Eventually His mercy dried up. Then He sent the Babylonians and they besieged Israel, burned her, led her best men away as prisoners, left the land ravaged, and killed her women and children.

Whenever we hear the Word preached it is God's mercy to us. He is being kind to all, but especially to the hard-hearted. He is saying, "Here is my Word one more time. Now repent and turn." He is saying, "Don't take advantage of my patience. Don't wait. Turn and be saved."  

Sitting under God's Word week after week, month after month is only good if we are repenting and pushing on to greater obedience. Hearing God's Word without seeing the holiness of God, our own depravity, the wonderful provision of Christ, and the need to be forgiven will lead to hearts of stone, eyes that glaze over when the Word is preached, and a life that is not conformed to Christ. Often the hardest hearts in the world are those who hear the Word of God over and over and yet do not repent.

God's compassion can run dry. A man who sits under the preaching of God's Word week after week, but does not turn and change will find himself crying out for help and it will not come (Proverbs 1:28-29).  A denomination that tolerates sin despite the prophets in her midst will find her gates battered and the sheep slaughtered.  A church that allows grievous sins in her midst to go without rebuke and without discipline will find Jesus striking her with sword of His mouth (Revelation 2:16). There comes a point where there is no remedy, where the only option left is judgment. This idea is echoed in Hebrews 6:1-8 and in James 1:21-27, as well as numerous other passages throughout God's Word.

II Chronicles 36:15-16 is a warning for all of us who enter God's house week after week. Hearing is not enough. We must pray that the Spirit will work through the Word to change us. We must strive for holiness and the death of sin in our lives (Romans 6:12). Where we fail we must confess our sins and throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ. Where we grow in holiness we must give thanks to the One who has begun a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). Otherwise we will find ourselves looking for a remedy when there is none. And we will be cast out with those who mocked God's messengers.

Similar Posts:
Are You Embarrassed? 
Two Types of Preaching
Questions on Repentance

The Necessity of Heart Religion

Last week I noted in this post that the definition of morality has shifted frombeing defined by a law to being defined by what harms other people. (See point number six in that post.) Wrong and right used to be linked to a transcendent moral law and for most of Western Civilization that moral law was God's character as described in His Word. But today morality is often defined by the harm it does to others. That could be one reason why in the latest Barna report more people are concerned about consuming too much water than they are about watching porn. Consuming too much water causes harm while porn really hurts no one. At least that is the line we have been fed.

Here is good illustration of the shift. Is it immoral to take ten dollars from a multi-millionaire? Is any harm going to come to him when I do this? Many would say it is not immoral because it does not hurt him. What about using porn to enhance my sex life with my wife? What harm comes from that? What about coveting something? Or hating someone, but never acting on that hatred? Does pride hurt anyone?  For many people, even Christians, the standard for right and wrong has moved from a transcendent law to whether or not it does harm. That is why any consensual sexual act is considered okay. No one gets hurt so it can't wrong. This is also why it is okay to steal from the rich, but not from the poor. The rich can "afford" it.  It does not hurt them.

However, what is right and wrong is not defined by the harm it does to others, though it does harm others. Sin is defined by God's character as expressed through His Word. To answer the question, "Is it wrong to take ten dollars from a millionaire?" we don't look to the harm done, but to God's law. The answer we find there is, "Yes it is wrong whether or not it harms anyone (Exodus 20:15). What tangible harm comes from wrong worship?  Yet God says he hates it (Amos 5:21-24). Does lusting after a woman hurt anyone? Yet Jesus clearly condemns it (Matthew 5:28). Many sins in Scripture are internal. They will eventually show themselves and they do harm to the one sinning and those around him. But often these internal sins can remain buried for years and in some cases decades. Are these internal sins, such as lust, coveting, anger, bitterness, etc. still a problem if no one sees them and the harm is minor or unnoticeable? The Bible's answer is yes.

Sin is about me and God. That is the key.  It is not just about me and God. My sin impacts all those around me in various ways. But it is primarily about me and God. That is why David says, "Against you and you only have I sinned" (Psalm 51:4). He had just killed a man after sleeping with his wife. But it was still God to whom he must give an account (Hebrews 4:13). And God does not just see what you do, He sees who you are. Too often pragmatism rules in our pursuit of holiness. I am holy when I am nice, keep fellowship with other people, etc. But holiness is defined by the unchanging character of the living God not by the immediate impact of our actions and attitudes upon other people.  That means what goes on inside us is just as important as what we do. Our heart matters. What we believe matters. Our lusts that no one sees. Our pride that we keep hidden. Our bitterness that is locked away matters to God.  What does this mean for us?

First, why we do something is important.  We can do the right thing for the wrong reason, which makes it a sin. I can be nice to someone so they will pay me back. I can go to worship so other people will believe I am a good Christian. I can tithe so the church will have to do what I say. I can preach for the praise of men. I can read my Bible so I have a tool to use against others. The why matters as much as the what. Our desires and motivations, which no one can see, matter to the Lord.

Second, we can do the right thing and other people get hurt. Holiness is not defined by the harm caused others. Therefore sometimes holiness, that is obeying God's commands, can cause us to do something that harms others. Obviously, harm here is a relative term. But if I rebuke someone they will feel hurt, even if it was the right thing to do. If I turn a man into the police for child abuse he will feel hurt, even if it was the right thing to do. If a woman is excommunicated for her adultery she will feel hurt.  A person's reaction does not determine whether or not an action is right or wrong.

Third, the key deterrent to sin is the fear of the Lord, not the fear of consequences. That does not mean fear of consequences is unimportant. But that is for children in the faith. As we grow the primary motive to holiness is the love of and fear of God. If consequences keep us from sinning then when we cannot see the consequences or when those consequences are small we will sin. That is why so many Christian men can indulge in pornography with little shame and guilt. Or when they get caught all they are concerned about is the consequences, such as losing their wife.

Finally, this means we must cultivate heart religion. We must be students of our hearts. We must guard our hearts, keep our hearts, and examine our hearts. We must hold not just our actions, but our attitudes up to the mirror of God's Word. Holiness begins on the inside. The Bible repeats this theme from beginning to end. Here are a few examples:
Genesis 8;21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 
Psalm 51:6, 10 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Isaiah 51;7 "Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings.
Matthew 15:16-20 And he said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone." 
Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 
I Peter 3:4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 
These passages, along with many others, teach us that sin resides in the heart. There are outward actions that follow from our heart attitudes. But the heart is the key.  Heart religion, an inward fear of and love of God that leads to right action is the goal of the Christian life. We cannot say that holiness is primarily defined by the harm it causes others. If we do that we will inevitably ignore the holiness of the inner man that Scripture demands.

But how can we do this? Can we truly know our heart? Do any of us operate from pure motives? How does the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Spirit help us in this matter of heart religion? What does justification by faith alone have to do with this? How do we keep from becoming paralyzed from constant examination of our hearts? How do I keep this from becoming self-centered in my pursuit of heart religion? I will look at these questions in a later post. For now, let us understand that God sees the heart, not just the hands. Therefore doing the right thing is not enough. Our hearts must be right as well.

Similar Posts:
Tear Your Hearts
Dangers of Being a Man- Pleaser
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Charles Hodge on Education

Last week the local newspaper here in Morgantown, The Dominion Post, wrote an editorial disparaging a new homeschooling law, which gives homeschoolers more freedom in their educational choices. I plan on responding to the article as well as writing several blog posts explaining why Christians must give their children a Christian education. In the meantime, here is a blog post I wrote in December 2012 which should help prime the pump. The initial quote is from Charles Hodge's commentary on Ephesians. Hodge was a professor at Princeton in 1800's, when it was still Christian. He was of the great American reformed men in 1800's. 
“This whole process of education is to be religious, and not only religious, but Christian. It is the nurture and admonition of the Lord which is the appointed and the only effectual means of attaining the end of education. Where this means is neglected or any other substituted in its place, the result must be disastrous failure. The moral and religious element of our nature is just as essential and as universal as the intellectual. Religion, therefore, is as necessary to the development of the mind as knowledge. And as Christianity is the only true religion, and God in Christ the only true God, the only possible means of profitable education is the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That is, the whole process of instruction and discipline must be that which he prescribes and which he administers, so that his authority should be brought in constant and immediate contact with mind, heart and conscience of the child.  It will not do for the parent to present himself as the ultimate end, the source of knowledge and possessor of authority to determine truth and duty. This would be to give his child a mere human development. Nor will it do for him to urge and communicate every thing on the abstract ground of reason; for that would be to merge his child in nature. It is only by making God, God in Christ, the teacher and ruler, on whose authority every thing it so be believed, and in obedience to whose will every thing is to be done, that the ends of education can possibly be attained. It is infinite folly in men to assume to be wiser than God, or to attempt to accomplish an end by other means than those which he has appointed.” (Charles Hodge on in his commentary on Ephesians 6:4)
Hodge makes some excellent points in this paragraph, a couple of which I would like to draw you attention to.

First, education must include the will and the moral character if it is to be called education at all.  I would add that education will be religious and moral in nature. The only question is will the religion be explicit or hidden. Public schools train our children to worship and form their moral character all the while claiming that they are morally neutral.

Second, God, since he is the only God, is the only right source of education. To try to gain a proper moral formation apart from God is like doing heart surgery with a butter knife. 

Third, notice how Hodge says that the child’s heart, mind, and conscience must be brought into constant and immediate contact with God’s authority. This is a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:7. And here is why an education that excludes the Lord is a lie and is no education at all. God really does rule the world through His Son Jesus Christ and we really are to trust in Him and obey him and his Word really is the foundation for everything. To eliminate God’s authority from education is to eliminate the primary lesson that is to be learned.

Fourth, God is to set the curriculum. That curriculum is to make our children like their Savior Jesus. That does not eliminate math or science or literature. But it does eliminate math or science or literature without Jesus.  This also means that returning some vague, amorphous “god” to public education is not sufficient.  It must be “God in Christ.” This also means the goal of an education is not to pass a test, get a job, get to college or make a lot of money. 

Fifth, any attempt to educate our children any other way is infinite folly and is a guaranteed disaster. We cannot eliminate the Creator and the Savior from our education and not also ultimately eliminate wisdom and joy and beauty and truth and righteousness. 

Similar Posts
C.S. Lewis on Education
A Plea to Flee Public Schools

Friday, February 5, 2016

Similar Liturgical Practices Do Not Create Unity

The fact that two churches are going through the same liturgical actions does not mean there is unity. What someone thinks they are doing matters greatly. When a Roman Catholic celebrates the Mass they and the priest are doing something very different from what a Presbyterian pastor and his congregation are doing even though there is bread, wine, prayer, etc. Therefore unity cannot be built solely around doing the same liturgical actions.We must believe we are doing the same things and be doing them for the same reasons. When one group says,
The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. (Roman Catholic Catechism, 1376)
The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:
"[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit." [Quote from the Council of Trent] [RCC, 1366]
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner."[Another quote from the Council of Trent, RCC 1367]
The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. the Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering. [RCC, 1368]
And the other groups says:
Do then the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ?
A: Not at all: but as the water in baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ, neither is the washing away of sin itself, being only the sign and confirmation thereof appointed of God; so the bread in the Lord's supper is not changed into the very body of Christ; though agreeably to the nature and properties of sacraments, it is called the body of Christ Jesus.
Why then does Christ call the bread "his body", and the cup "his blood", or "the new covenant in his blood"; and Paul the "communion of body and blood of Christ"?
A: Christ speaks thus, not without great reason, namely, not only thereby to teach us, that as bread and wine support this temporal life, so his crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink, whereby our souls are fed to eternal life;  but more especially by these visible signs and pledges to assure us, that we are as really partakers of his true body and blood by the operation of the Holy Spirit as we receive by the mouths of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of him;  and that all his sufferings and obedience are as certainly ours, as if we had in our own persons suffered and made satisfaction for our sins to God.
What difference is there between the Lord's supper and the popish mass?
A: The Lord's supper testifies to us, that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself has once accomplished on the cross; and, that we by the Holy Spirit are grafted into Christ,  who, according to his human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven, at the right hand of God his Father,  and will there be worshipped by us.  But the mass teaches, that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshipped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry. [Heidelberg Catechism Questions 78-80]
In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same: so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect. [Westminster Confession of Faith, 23:3]
The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.[Westminster Confession of Faith, 23:5]
That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ's body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries.[Westminster Confession of Faith, 23:6]
...There is not unity in any meaningful sense. Two churches having a minister, bread, wine, prayers, and the Word during the Lord's Supper does not mean there is unity. We must also believe we are doing the same thing.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Recycling vs. Porn: Thoughts on the Latest Barna Report

Below you can see a poll taken by the Barna Institute n the summer of 2015. Note this is not a poll of Christians, but of the general population. Polls are not airtight. What the specific question was, how many people were asked, what their background was, etc. can all play a roll in the final statistics. But polls like this can give us a general feel for the trajectory of a society. Sometimes when we hear a presidential candidate is ahead in the polls by 10 percentage points we know that poll does not sync with reality we see around us. Something is off. However, with this Barna poll, we are not surprised by what we read. What the poll says is lines up with what we see in the world around us. When the poll says that 76% of people under the age 24 do not think it is wrong to watch sexually explicit scenes on TV or in a movie is anyone surprised? You can read the whole report along with some analysis here. Here are few randoms thoughts I had from the report.

First, it is clear that the younger generation is not bothered nearly as much by sexually explicit material whether pornographic or otherwise. I am not sure there is much difference between a sexually explicit scene in a movie and porn. Many shows on HBO and Netflix contain graphic sexual content. I am 38 and this comes as no shock at all. I am surprised the numbers are as high as they are. But remember porn is the fruit, not the tree. The tree is loss of the authority of God's Word to dictate both actions and attitude. 

Second, but even in the older generation 46% of people do not think it is wrong to view porn and 63% do not think watching sexually explicit TV shows is wrong. Those are still awful numbers. We are so dead to this sin that we consider it a victory when roughly one out of two people think porn is bad. 

Third, my guess is the question  about "reading erotic or pornographic content" is directly connected to Fifty Shades of Grey. There were erotic stories around before that book. But that book popularized the erotic story, though sex scenes in romantic novels are common place.  

Fourth, the discrepancy between recycling and porn among the younger generation is striking. 56% of young people think it is always wrong or usually wrong to not recycle. While on 32% would say the same about view pornographic images. Not recycling is a moral failure much greater than porn. Young people think it is a greater moral duty to put aluminum cans in the recycle bin than it is to avoid watching other people have sex.  

Fifth, the third item in each list is lying. But among the younger generation the percentage who think it is wrong has dropped by 16 points. Lying is still considered a moral failure, but by fewer and fewer people. Almost 3 out of every 10 folks under 24 think it is fine to lie. This disturbs me almost as much as the porn statistic. 

Sixth, I am not sure about this, but my guess is that the reason certain actions are higher is because they directly affect other people.  Why would porn be so low, but adultery be so high? Both are sexual sins. According to Jesus porn is adultery on some level (Matthew 5:28). But porn is considered innocent because no one is harmed while in adultery someone is harmed. I would also guess that is why theft still remains so high. We are taking something from someone else. Here we see the shift from sin as an affront to God's character and a breaking of His law to sin as that which harms someone else. Once this switch is made the only question becomes, "Does anyone get hurt?" If the answer is no then it cannot be wrong. Why is recycling so high and watching Game of Thrones so low? Not recycling hurts our planet and ultimately our children. Watching sex and nudity on TV does not harm anyone or so the culture says. Until the church once again preaches the fear of God and man's need for obedience from the heart she will find her members defining sin less and less in line with God's character as given in His Word and more and more in line with what the culture considers "harmful." 

Seventh, while adultery is still high it does drop over 13 points between generations. 

Finally, notice the drop in covetousness or as the poll so delicately put it "wanting something that belongs to someone else." There was a drop of 25 points from the older generation to the younger one. 68% of those 24 and under think it is fine to covet. More people think it is wrong to consume too much electricity than it is to covet. This is not surprising at all given my sixth point. Sin has become something which harms others. How can lusting after my neighbor's car or my neighbor's wife be a problem when no one gets hurt? What I find interesting is for Paul coveting was the key to showing him his own need for Christ (Romans 7:7). 

There is one way this data could be interpreted more positively. Young people are often ignorant and foolish to the results of certain actions. As they grow up their beliefs change and generally become more conservative. It is possible that many of the 20 year olds who think porn is just fine now and recycling is so terrible will not think the same thing when they are 40. However, this requires that they be taught, learn, and grow. It also usually requires marriage, children, and a job. And while this has often been the pattern in the past, I am not holding my breath that it will repeat itself in the coming decades. My fear is that our educational system, impotent pastors and fathers, a failure to preach God's Word in all its fullness and to exhort people to obey it, a government that keeps men dependent, a hatred of women, children, and marriage, and a coddling of minds and bodies will not lead to the 15 to 20 year olds growing up. At the current rate and in the current cultural situation, it is hard to view these statistics getting better. 

Psalm 119:17-19~Help for Pilgrims


Psalm 119:17-19 reminds us that the grace of God is essential for obedience to his Word and understanding of his Word. The Psalmist understands that he is weak and blind. He knows that God’s Word requires much of him. He knows that God’s Word is often shrouded in darkness. The meaning and the application of it can be hard to discern. He knows the human heart is like a rock unable to receive the seed of the Word. He knows that we are fallen, weak men who need God’s strength to help us obey.  Therefore he begins this third section of Psalm 119 with a plea for help.

He asks God to deal bountifully with him. This word is used in several other Psalms to express God’s great kindness (Psalm 13:6, 116:7, 142:7). The psalmist is asking the Lord to open up the treasures of his grace and pour out his goodness upon him. The psalmist is a servant of the Lord. But what does he ask God to do for him? He wants God to be kind to him by helping him walk according to God’s Word. What a great prayer!  Oh, Lord show me your grace so that I might obey your commandments. The Psalmist understands that grace, God's unmerited kindness, precedes obedience. If he is going to live and keep the Word, grace must come first. 

Next the psalmist cries out to God for understanding of his Word. The phrase translated “wondrous things” means something that is surpassing in its greatness, but at times hard to understand. God’s Word is wonderful and filled with treasure beyond all the wealth of this world. But it can be difficult to grasp. There are passages that we must think about a long time before we come to understand them. Sometimes we understand what a passage means, but are not sure how it impacts our lives.  The psalmist knows that he is blind. He needs God to remove the scales so that he can understand and obey. Verse 18 is a great little prayer to recite prior to reading God’s Word or hearing the Word preached.

Finally the psalmist asks God to unveil his Word because he is as stranger in this world.  He, like all Christians, is passing through looking for that final house whose builder is God.  It is the nature of man to find himself too at home in the world. He forgets eternity and his own immortality. He becomes too entangled in the affairs of this earth and the end becomes blurry. An older author described this as putting anchors down in the world. We become tied to this world by a thousand ropes. While Christians can and should enjoy the many gifts God gives in this life, our eyes should not lose sight of the final destination. Calvin says we are to “aspire after the place we are invited.” We are to long for our heavenly home. But why does this lead the psalmist to pray that God would not hide his commandments from him? What is the connection between being a stranger in this world and seeing God's commands rightly?

Any stranger in a foreign land needs maps and brochures to keep him from straying and to bring him safely back home. God’s Word furnishes us with a map for navigating this world. We are strangers, but the Word can give us direction. It tells what to believe and not to believe. It provides us with a picture of sin and death. It reminds us of God’s purposes for this world and how it can be used to his glory. But it also reminds us that our final home is not here, but there.  The Word provides comfort when we grieve in this fallen world by pointing us to the next world.  Finally, the Word draws our eyes forward to the new Heavens and Earth when we will swim in the glory of God, when all things will be made new, when all pain, death, and sorrow will be eliminated, when our old bodies will put on incorruption, and when we shall Christ as He is.  He prays Psalm 119:19 because God’s Word provides direction, comfort, and vision for wandering pilgrims, like us. 

The key point of these three verses is that we need the grace of God to obey his Word, to understand his Word, and to use his word to guide us in this world. 

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4
Psalm 119:7
Psalm 119:9
Psalm 119:11
Psalm 119:13
Psalm 119:14
Psalm 119:15-16

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Flash and Fornication

My family has been watching The Flash  on Netflix.  Overall we have enjoyed the show. It is difficult to find shows that most of my kids (ages 5-16) will enjoy.  The Flash is not as well-written as some more adult oriented shows (i.e. Daredevil,  Breaking Bad), but it is suspenseful and fun.  I recommend it. But as my title indicates, I am going to pull out a negative aspect of the show. After all, I am a Calvinist. That is what we do.

One part of the show that bothers me is the fornication. The show assumes that a couple will sleep together and usually quickly. (None of this explicit, at least as far as we have watched. It is all implied.) One character gets a small box from her boyfriend. What was in that box? My younger son guessed an engagement ring. An older son was wise enough to know better. Engagement and marriage are not part of a single's worldview in our age. It ended up being a key to his apartment. She has been sleeping off and on in his apartment since they started dating but now they are going to live together. The girl's father is heartbroken over her leaving home. This used to be how fathers reacted to a marriage proposal. Now they react that way to their daughter leaving home to go sleep with a man who refuses to commit to her. Another example, Barry, aka The Flash, is on a second date with a girl and they begin making out, which had it not been interrupted by a bad guy, would have certainly led to sex. The underlying assumption is that singles will sleep together. That is just what happens.

What is most frustrating about shows like The Flash is they do not take sex seriously.  Sex does not mean anything really. There are no long term consequences, such as babies. There is no sense of betrayal or loss or shame or guilt or even rebellion. They try to treat it with respect, but it falls flat. It is hard to treat something with respect that has no power, causes no problems, and is not limited in any way. Sex doesn't matter.  I do not watch a lot of TV shows, so my sampling is pretty small but my guess is it is common in other shows besides The Flash. Sleeping around, especially among singles, is like decoration. It is just there.

There are a couple examples of sex being taken seriously in TV shows, but usually these are in the context of a marriage. Two examples that come to mind are the adultery of Skylar White in Breaking Bad and the adultery of Woody Harrelson's wife in True Detective. In both cases adultery was rebellion by the women involved. The men were destroying their marriages so the women had affairs. My guess is many Christians would find the depiction of adultery in shows like Breaking Bad more offensive than the fornication in shows like The Flash.  But I think the opposite. The depiction of adultery in those shows indicates that sex means something, which is closer to the truth than the round robin fornication with no consequences we see in many shows. But again this was in the context of an already existing marriage. I have not seen a show where fornication, sex before marriage, is taken seriously and has long-term ramifications for a person's well-being and future. Single people have sex and move on.

If there is fornication in a TV show or a a movie, at least make it mean something. But I am not sure our culture can do that.  Sex has lost all meaning in our age. What kind of sex has lasting consequences in our age? Rape and pedophilia. According to our culture, these sexual acts leave scars. Other sexual acts do not.  Prostitution, fornication, adultery, and sodomy are "normal." It is like choosing what to eat or buying a new piece of furniture. It takes some thought, but matters little in the end. I realize this is simplistic. But overall do you get the impression from TV shows that sex, in particular fornication, is a big deal? When someone decides to sleep with someone else is it a big decision with lasting affects?

When sex is limited to marriage and a man and a woman it retains its power and glory, but it is also normal. Every married couple does it (at least I hope so!) and yet that sexual bond is the sin qua non, the absolutely essential thing necessary, for the covenant relationship between a man and a woman to exist. Like many of the best things in life sex in marriage is both grand and glorious and as normal as the sun rising. But for the world sex must either be this great idol (think porn or many romantic movies) or it must be meaningless. As Christians, who keep sex in its proper bounds, we don't have to choose between the two. We can have our cake and eat it too.
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8