T’WAS THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS

 

‘Twas the week before Christmas, incurring indebtedness

Tongues were a-stirring, some with discord and pettiness;

The Bibles were stacked between chimney and chair,

Oblivious to the fact that Christ soon would be there;

The children were nestled all distracted in bed;

While visions of touch-screens helped make them brain-dead;

And mamma in kitchen, and I in garage,

Had anxiety-filled minds from the Christmas barrage,

From up in the air there then came such a sound,

I sprang from my man-cave, tripping over the hound.

Away to the window the wife flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up on the sash.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

The event I had not thought could be oh-so near,

When a little old driver ran her car up my lawn,

I knew in a moment that some would be gone.

More rapid than eagles the angels they came,

One trumpeted, and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now, Mark them! now, harvest! Hear Gabriel, Michael!

On, Foreheads! See Christ’s name! This Judgment Day cycle!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now catch away! catch away! catch away all!”

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

Those belonging to Christ met Him up in the sky;

So on past the housetop, Christ’s people, they flew

With shock and thanksgiving, I saw many I knew—

And then, in a twinkling, of an eye, was The Lord

Surrounded by saints and His heavenly horde.

As I bowed down my head, and was turning around,

Down came The Lord Jesus to judge those on the ground.

He was dressed all in white, a bright heavenly flood,

And his robe was all tarnished, being covered in blood;

A sword came from His mouth to strike down each nation,

Prophetic fulfillment of John’s Revelation.

His eyes—how they burned!  Like His fierce iron rod!

His title, His judgment, said “The Word of God”!

Moments ago were consumed with trivial things;

Now we all saw His robe with the words, “King of Kings”;

An angel then stood in the sun shouting high,

Directing the vultures toward those who would die;

Drunks now sober, and those who lived for career,

They all trembled in terror knowing the end was now here.

Those lusting for romance, or parties, or friends,

Could not laugh when they saw Him, aware of their ends.

A gleam of His eye and a twist of his head

He went straight to His work – raised the living and dead,

As this short, painful chapter of history did close,

All those in the grave who were Christ’s, they arose;

Satan, the Beast, and all of Christ’s foes,

Were cast away, far away to well-deserved woes.

But I heard Christ exclaim, final victory now won—

“I make everything new, and to My saints… ‘Well Done!’”

 

Revelation 19:9-20 NASB – Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ ” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” 10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” 17  Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.

 

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“You can’t legislate morality or ethics!”

“Who are you to judge others’ beliefs and behaviors?  It’s wrong to be judgmental!”

“It’s wrong to try to control people’s lives by pushing your views on others, especially in government!” (e.g., “People are free to love who they want!  You need to stay out of other people’s bedrooms and quit trying to control others’ lives!  A woman should be able to do what she wants with her own body!  Keep your morality and laws away from her ovaries!”)

“Christians need to quit judging others!  They shouldn’t try to legislate their morality or try to control others’ lives!  It’s wrong for them to try to control the lives, behaviors, or decisions of others!”

Hmmm….

leg·is·late

: to make laws

: to control, create, or cause (something) by making laws

judge

: to form an opinion about (something or someone) after careful thought

: to regard (someone/something) as either good or bad

: to make an official decision about (a legal case)

gov·ern

: to officially control and lead (a group of people) : to make decisions about laws, taxes, social programs, etc., for (a country, state, etc.)

: to control the way that (something) is done

: to control or guide the actions of (someone or something)

1.  Therefore, if someone believes it is wrong to legislate morality…

…doesn’t he need to obey his conscience and refuse to vote or participate in the political process because all legislation is simply someone’s ethics and morality being made into a law designed to control the lives and behaviors of other people?  Isn’t every law an example of legislated morality?  For instance, should he oppose all taxation used to financially support the truly poor in social safety nets since his view is that it is wrong to legislate one’s morality?

…will he refuse to participate in or support any game or sport other than “Kill The Guy With The Ball” – since all games and sports have rules that control decisions and behaviors of the participants?  If it is wrong to force subjective rules of behavior on others, shouldn’t one apply that belief consistently in every area of life – since wrong is wrong?

…will he then adamantly oppose all legislation that restricts freedom of religion or otherwise overrides the theology and consciences of Bible-believing Christians?

2.  Therefore, if someone believes it is wrong to judge others…

…isn’t the judicial system by definition, immoral?  And why would he want to get judges in power who are sympathetic to his views?  By definition, isn’t the Supreme Court and every ruling made by the judiciary immoral – especially since they make judgments about laws (which are examples of legislated morality)?

…then can there be any way to objectively determine if something is immoral or wrong?  Doesn’t that require making a moral judgment – specifically judging the beliefs and behaviors of others as inferior to one’s own (or to a fixed moral standard)?

…then how can one make the judgment that “it is wrong to judge others”?  Is this not both hypocritical and absurd?

…then will he adamantly oppose all judgmental words and actions leveled against Bible-believing Christians (including opposition to any judicial rulings against Christians in matters of personal conscience and theology, such as principled stands regarding natural marriage, parental rights in education and corporal punishment, sexual propriety and other male-female distinctions, etc.)?

3.  Therefore, if someone believes that it is wrong to try to control other people’s lives and choices, especially by legislating one’s morality or having judges rule in a way that supports that control…

…does he then advocate total anarchy?  Is he in favor of abolishing all government?  Since government, by definition, involves controlling the lives and behavior of others, shouldn’t those who advocate this position also advocate the smallest possible human government?  Meaning, shouldn’t they (if consistent) support keeping government out of everything, including education, healthcare, business regulation, and so forth?  Isn’t government in the business of controlling other people’s lives and behavior by force if necessary?  Isn’t a better question about determining the proper limits to how much government should be able control people’s lives?

…will he defend the prerogative of Christian business owners and employers to hire or fire – provide or withhold benefits – even discriminate against certain behaviors in their workplace and among clientele – according to their fair-minded religious scruples?  Will he support the right of physicians and pharmacists to refuse treatments and prescriptions that violate their religious scruples?  Will he fight for those whose medical premiums, taxes, etc.,  are being used (by force of law) to support or promote actions and institutions (e.g., Planned Parenthood/elective abortion) deemed personally repugnant or immoral and theologically unacceptable?

Are these not all basic questions of right and wrong – fairness and injustice?

Don’t the concepts of morality (including the legislation of moral rules through government law-making) and judging (right and wrong, good and evil) demand an objective standard in order to be just?  What could possibly be the sufficient standard that is higher than personal opinions or the concept that “might makes right”?  If a legitimate government power alone determines what is moral and right, doesn’t that make the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements immoral and wrong by definition since they opposed the fixed government standard and “settled law” of their era?

And since concepts like good, evil, morality, right, wrong, fairness, and injustice must mean (literally) absolutely nothing in an atheistic, secular humanist, or scientific naturalist worldview because they are non-physical realities that cannot be proven to truly exist in their materialistic framework – why would those who hold to such worldviews participate in politics, government, and law-making?  Isn’t it hypocritical to try to force what they do not believe in (objective morals) via legislation and court rulings on others (whose DNA alone supposedly determines their life choices – including religiosity – anyway)?

(Satire alert:) In other words, shouldn’t everyone who denies such things as (a) real good and evil, (b) real right and wrong, and (c) objective moral values and rules rooted in the character of a divine Creator – shouldn’t these non-physical reality “deniers” all be exempted from participating in the process of governance that itself is based upon the very non-physical realities they deny?

(Satire alert II:) If society determines that those who deny the existence of non-physical realities (e.g., good and evil, right and wrong, beauty and justice, objective moral values) are sufficiently incompetent, impaired, or illogical, should society institutionalize these “flat-earthers” for their own protection?  Or should they be “re-educated” involuntarily?  Could they be deemed psychologically unstable enough to merit commitment to psychiatric institutions?

(Satire alert III:) Does not the promotion of belief in only a physical, materialistic existence hold the possibility if not likelihood of being used by extremists to unjustly oppress others (e.g., Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kims of North Korea, etc.)?  Therefore shouldn’t those with such worldviews be forbidden from voting or holding political or military power?  Did not the atheistic and secularist regimes slaughter 100 million people in the 20th Century once they attained such power?  Shouldn’t professors and teachers with an atheistic or secular humanist worldview be immediately fired, if not arrested, for promoting such an extreme and dangerous ideology that diminishes the intrinsic value of humans and has already resulted in the deaths of millions?  Shouldn’t children be protected from such hate speech?  Given the realities of the last century alone, if one believes that there should be a firm separation of Church and State, is it not logical and safer to suppose that there should be an even firmer separation of Atheism/Secularism and State?  Though I do not advocate all the points made in my obviously satirical position, is it completely absurd to think that similar questions will not one day be asked by atheistic secular humanists and scientific naturalists about Christians like me?

Porn and the Church

Posted: 10/02/2013 in Uncategorized

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman. For what has God above chosen for us?  What is our inheritance from the Almighty on high? Isn’t it calamity for the wicked and misfortune for those who do evil?  Doesn’t he see everything I do and every step I take?” – Job 31:1-4 

Pornography.  Is there a more insidious, soul-decaying expression of sin that is far too prevalent (yet often unaddressed) in both church and culture?  Is it possible that some of the spiritual lethargy and deadness in many churches are due to a secret infection of porn problems?  The point is not to condemn those who have fallen into sin nor assume that those who do not sin with pornography are immune from temptation.  The church, especially the parents and grandparents that lead families in Christ, must be alert, awake, and hopefully ready to do battle with this soul-killing infestation.

I apologize in advance as it will take self-control for some to even read this article given the links associated with this news organization, but the content of the following article is too important.  I want parents especially to read it:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/Porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html.

Written by a guy who thought porn was no big deal – and even published so-called softcore porn, it is astounding.  The depth of moral depravity that today’s kids are exposed to is mind-blowing.  Notice that much of their exposure comes not just from online exposure but through Facebook friends, and that they can always get around parental safeguards when we are not tech-savvy.

What kind of men will be left to marry our daughters?  What kind of honorable peers will influence our sons for good?  What disgusting expectations will be placed upon our daughters?  What will our children see that they will never be able to “un-see”?  Who will give our kids their “rulebook” on sex, and how will that impact their future marriages?  If the view does not come from God’s word, you can bet it will involve some form of perversion.  How will this secret infestation of porn affect zeal for God, ministry, worship, prayer, and charity in the coming years?  As the brains of many youth are re-wired for porn addiction, do we honestly think this will not affect the spiritual climate and mission of the church?  Should all churches have access to some kind of Biblically-based, porn-recovery ministry?  Should all premarital counseling assume porn issues are being brought into new marriages?  This means those raised in church as well as those who come in later.

There is much more to consider than can be discussed here, but let’s at least start with 3 simple things to consider:

1.  Be honest about the soft core (or hardcore) porn you allow in your life, and repent of it.  Walking kids through the checkout at a grocery store has become dangerous business.  What TV, movies, magazines, catalogs, and books are permitted and consumed in front of them?  Do not assume you are so spiritually advanced that you can feast your eyes or minds (fantasies) on materials that would shame you if done publicly before Christ and His Church.  Just because “it’s everywhere”, it still may be “porneia” (translated in English Bibles as “sexual immorality”).  Christian men, including in spiritual leadership, are not immune from these temptations.  Don’t lie to yourself.  The world of Churchanity is filled with social-drunken, bikini-wearing, MTV-values foolishness that makes this even more difficult for some struggling believers.    You play with fire, expect to get burned… badly.  Yes, men have a responsibility to control themselves, but in my opinion, Christians who make a mockery of basic modesty and physical touch-boundaries in our porn-dominated culture are asinine at best and partners with Satan at worst.  They do not walk in love toward their neighbors and weaker brethren, but violate clear New Testament doctrine.  If God’s chief virtues are love and holiness, then please don’t make a mockery of them while claiming to follow Christ.

2.  Do not trust your children’s flesh.  They may be great kids, but the scumbags who troll the Internet looking to exploit kids sexually or for money are more sophisticated than their developing brains can handle.  If this means placing safeguards and restrictions that make you seem too hardcore, oh well.  Elimination of temptation avenues may be a good start.  Can your kids handle their current Internet access/freedom?  Doubt it.  What about the types of entertainment in which you let them indulge?  Are they accessing porn on their phones, including being sexted or having “friends” send them shocking pictures and videos?  Would you even know if they were?  How many of us were exposed to porn in our younger days, and we didn’t even have the Internet or smart phones?  You really think that your kids won’t see porn?  Do they go off to school (even church schools)?  Do they hang out with cousins at family gatherings?  What kind of character do their older siblings exhibit?  I already mentioned examining their home tech access.  Dads, we are called to protect.  You being overbearing may save a soul or a future marriage.

3.  Balance all with LOVE, GRACE, and PERSUASION.  Parents who refuse to talk/listen to their kids on these issues are catalysts for disaster.  Parents who act like sex is dirty and shame their kids with anger and dictatorial rules without a love-based relationship will likely end up disappointed.  Persuade your kids why you take the precautions you do.  Go heavy on grace.  Don’t glamorize your past sin, but perhaps testify to your kids of where you were before God stepped in to rescue you.  If needed, be honest about the baggage you still carry from past porn exposure.  Let all you do be done with love and grace.

This last point must be reiterated:  each individual must overcome porn by walking in the Spirit… by GRACE.  I am persuaded that for every failure among Christians who live in licentiousness (see Jude) and folly while claiming a false or “cheap” grace (see Bonhoeffer), there are a large number of very strict Christians, perhaps militantly hardcore toward all or perhaps just self-loathing, who fall into the porn trap.  Their holiness standard “merit badges” of honor did not keep them from shipwreck or embarrassing failure.  Legalistic Christianity is largely unhelpful against a secret porn problem, other than the “safeguards” of spiritual pride and perhaps added accountability with others.  I actually have more respect for the struggling legalist than with the immodesty-and-drunkenness, false-grace, sleep-around, faux-Christianity out there.  However, if GRACE does not fuel your holiness, you have nothing.  Walk in the Spirit to conquer the lust of the flesh.  Rely upon and live by GRACE, not by a strict religious code that you thought would protect you – only to discover your lusts remain.  That anger and humiliation you feel is a sign that you need to find the pathway of God’s grace.  It will also make it easier to worship and pray.  I’ve noticed a connection: the more time I spend with God in His presence, in genuine communion with Him in prayer and in His word – the easier the ability to live above my fleshly lusts.  The consistent Presence and grace of God work way better than a religious rule book when it comes to defeating our evil desires.

You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. – Colossians 2:20-23

God gives more grace to the humble, so if you want more grace – quit trying to save face.  There is no virtue in airing your dirty laundry in a way that is destructive or that could undermine the faith of the weak or immature.  At the same time, there must be an admission to those over you in the Lord (another New Testament principle!) and to true accountability partners that will shoot straight.  The indulgences of our sinful nature that are most dangerous are usually the ones we will get most defensive about when we are confronted.  Be humble.  Be honest.  What pet habits or sins would you get defensive over if confronted?   What books do you need to put on the altar (or in the garbage)?  What movies or TV shows?  What online forays?  What sporting events or public places?  Is it time to revisit the Arterburn and Stoeker books?  Is it time to cry out to God for mercy and admit the sin?  The world is not getting less pornographic, but we are called to live as a holy nation – foreigners and strangers on this earth.  As evil as society is in this regard, it is time for God’s people to be cleansed and protected in this area.  We forfeit our voice for truth when we forfeit our moral authority.  However, the repentant must speak up.  Give hope to those who are trapped.  Give them footsteps to follow… as you follow Christ out of the evil snare of pornography and its soul-ensaring offshoots.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. – Ephesians 5:1-3

I have heard a saying that has merit in some ways (but is unbiblical in others) when referring to the effectiveness of a particular minister: “He has corn in the crib.”  I do think that the expertise and wisdom of such individuals should be tapped, yet I’ve seen cases where appearances were definitely deceiving.  Particularly since we know that true, lasting results are from God. If crib-corn is the most accurate way to measure a ministry, then Jeremiah would have to be considered a total failure.  The false prophets of his day enjoyed larger crowds and greater status and approval in society.  Jeremiah preached… and almost always got the results opposite of what he wanted.  Yet neither Jeremiah nor his ministry are considered a failure today.  But in his day, one of the many areas of disappointment that Jeremiah ran up against was that his audience viewed the days prior to his powerful preaching as their proverbial good ol’ days.  In essence, “things were great before you started preaching to us about the LORD!  We had plenty to eat, good times, no conflict, living large, and no problems until we came to ‘your church’, Jeremiah!”  We never had problems like we do now until we started listening to the LORD!  

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these days?” for it is not wise to ask that. – Ecclesiastes 7:10

The problem is that the good old days really weren’t.  The people Jeremiah warned were returning to idolatrous worship of the queen of heaven now that Jerusalem had been destroyed.  Those who were complaining to Jeremiah that their lives used to be great beforehand are a picture of this peril:  God, in mercy, will often tolerate a season of idolatry and unfaithfulness from His people, and they mistakenly think that lukewarm lives and good times must go together.  When the discipline of God comes, often after seasons in which they listen to powerful preaching, they get upset.  The conviction preaching of Jeremiah ultimately gets rejected outright by the Jews in Egypt who had just watched his prophecies come to pass.  It is not uncommon to see people reject God’s word even though they just witnessed the truth of it play out before their very eyes.  Pain, fatigue, stubbornness, confusion, anxiety… these are so dangerous among those who tend toward disobedience.  Bad decisions result. 

“As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you.” Jeremiah 44:16 (The words of the remnant of the Jews in Egypt speaking to Jeremiah after his preaching)

I have seen this phenomenon over the past 20 years.  Preaching that comes with holy conviction seemed to produce more repentance whereas now it more often produces resentment.  Resentment then often gives way to rejection.  Yet the Good Old Days of the Church really weren’t either.  There was always a remnant who believed and obeyed as God saved them, same as today.  God is still saving people today, and a generation to come will likely look at this time period and view this as The Good Old Days… but are they really?  The message of truth must remain, yet the method of presenting truth that promotes repentance (rather than resentment) may necessarily change.  And despite all our needful tactics, strategies, leadership, and effective methodology, some people will get saved and some will still reject God.  Keep proclaiming truth in new and better methods!  Look at your harvest field today.  Pray for understanding of the times and how to proclaim truth in the future.  Don’t be ignorant of the past and its good times, but don’t turn the Good Old Days that Really Weren’t into an idol.  There are no time machines to go back, and we would have suffered and been frustrated in any era.  God chose and appointed us for such a time as this.  In this race, we are to faithfully continue to carry the ancient baton of divine truth without distraction, including the distraction of past “glories.”  The generation we hand it to will have to do likewise.  Same basic temptations.  Same basic foundations.

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.2 Timothy 3:12-15

Back to the Good Old Days that Really Weren’t…  In times of trial or difficulty, we may be tempted to think that life was better for us before we took God and His word so seriously.  Hebrews 12 indicates that God uses pain to promote our holiness not our happiness.  We may romanticize the fun and ease we supposedly had in the days of our unfaithfulness (or lukewarmness).  It is a deception.  Or we may romanticize the times of “real church revival” that were always in the past – forgetting the issues of sin and failure that the church has always had to battle and overcome.  Read about the Corinthian church.  Read about the Thyatiran church.  And on and on.  The Golden Era of revivals of the last centuries still had dark underbellies of false doctrines and apostasies, sexual sins and child molestations, racism and hatred, church splits over foolish matters, gossip and slander, and many other works of the flesh.  We rightly focus on the good that God did in “the good old days,” so why would we tend to dwell so much on the negative in the present?  We fall into the trap of believing in the Good Old Days that Really Weren’t.

Bottom line:  People will get saved, people will reject God’s word and us when we deliver it.  It happened to Jeremiah.  It happened to Jesus.  In their cases, far more people rejected their message than repented at their preaching.  It happens today, and it happened in the Good Old Days that Really Weren’t.  As Pastor Stephen Hill rightly advised me, “Keep your chin up and your knees bent.”  In other words, be humble, and be encouraged.  God knows your situation, and He is in control.    

Perhaps we need to celebrate each small victory we experience in God with more extreme fervor.  One temptation seems to be to focus too much on all that’s bad or wrong – not a godly sorrow toward repentance leading to zeal but a sorrow of discouragement that leads to death.  Another temptation is that we tend to only want to celebrate the large, the grandiose, and the dramatic acts of God.  In our minds, The Good Old Days that Really Weren’t were filled with large and mighty events, while our spiritual life seems mundane.  Be careful.  Celebration of little victories is a habit to be cultivated.  Otherwise, you may inadvertently cultivate the habit of fault-finding, which is even easy to do in the midst of massive Spiritual revival.

God’s view of holy men such as Abraham and David is so encouraging when I read the New Testament because the Old Testament lays bare their sins, flaws, and failings.  When God inspires their legacy to be recorded in the New Testament, He focuses on their good in ways that seem to gloss over their glaring failures.  Thank God He looks at them – and us who are in Christ – through “glasses of grace.” From Heaven’s perspective, God recorded the faith, the obedience, the worship, the serving.  Yet, from the Bible, we know better – God appears to be focusing so much more on the Good Old Days that Really Weren’t.  Yet this is exactly Who we want to do it and how it should be done.  

Faithfulness, repentance, worship, perseverance… These are what God will use to build a good legacy for us, even though we know better about ourselves.  He does too.  But the Cross changes everything.  Thank God that one day we can hear Him say, “Well done, GOOD and faithful servant, enter in…”  In Christ, our up-and-down lives will be divinely evaluated as The Good Old Days.  Even though we know they really weren’t.  So… hunger for more of God’s grace to provoke you to holy boldness, to sanctified risk-taking, and to productive action in the present.  Don’t pine for some romantic era that never truly was.  

One day, if you remain faithful in Christ, all that will be judged, celebrated, and rewarded will be your acts of love and faith that you chose.  Why not seek to build on that eternal legacy today?  Dislodge yourself from the zeal-sucking discouragement that comes by focusing on the Good Old Days that Really Weren’t.  It’s not too late.  Look up to God.  Look around to the harvest field.  It’s not too late.

 

 

I was encouraged in a perverse sort of way yesterday while reading Jeremiah… “The weeping prophet” is not typically where one goes to receive encouragement, but a principle in ministry emerged that helped me – and hopefully will help others.

 Jeremiah was unique in that he was an Old Testament prophet with a direct line to God that most of us today will never experience, even on a much smaller scale.  His words carried a prophetic authority that ours do not.  However, there are some principles to take away from his ministry when it comes to one of the biggest stumbling blocks for all humanity (and, sadly, born-again folks are no different than the world much of the time):  How we respond to being told something we don’t want to hear, especially if it involves taking a course of action (or inaction) that we don’t want or like.

Jeremiah had an established track record – not just as a legit prophet (which was enough by itself) but also as one whose integrity could be trusted.  His pattern was to fear and obey God more than worry about what people thought about him – leading to much anguish and personal suffering.  It does not often make one popular to tell others what they don’t want to hear.  Yet his track record of being right should have gotten him a lot more credit and understanding with people… but it did not.  Jeremiah’s counsel was repeatedly and tragically ignored over and over again by those who were in a position to know he could be trusted.  So much personal tragedy could’ve been avoided by those Jeremiah warned and instructed if they would have listened to him.  

The principle I read in Jeremiah that is so painfully familiar is this: people, God’s people even with their “issues”, run through so many stop signs, refuse to heed so many detour signs, and end up making their problems so much worse and excruciating for themselves while plugging their ears to the sound of any voice telling them what they do not want to be told.  

Some of Jeremiah’s audience thought his advice was just wrong – thinking that their wisdom and knowledge of God was superior to the prophet’s.  Others feared what others would think if they listened to Jeremiah’s unpopular counsel.  Amazingly, those with the best perspective to judge Jeremiah’s track record – and who swore to do whatever he advised no matter what – turned on him and accused him of lying once he told them what they should do.  The perverse encouragement I got from reading all this was: if otherwise smart people who claim to live for God can blow off such obviously-divine warnings, prophecy, and counsel – I should not be surprised to observe it happen in the 21st century.  

On an emotional level, Jeremiah was undoubtedly troubled at seeing the pain and devastation that could have been avoided if those to whom he spoke would have just been able to handle hearing what they didn’t want to be told.  It is an empty, hollow, painful feeling to watch those you have tried to advise make shipwreck in a stubborn refusal to heed anything but the counsel of their own will or the voices that will only tell them what they want to hear.

We tend to look for those who tell us what we want to hear.  As one who is frequently in the advice-giving and warning business, I am amazed at the small percentage of pastoral counsel that is actually heeded, including by those who earnestly seek it out.  Counseling will kill most pastors – if not their physical health, in terms of their zeal for disciple-making, kingdom work.  This is not because they don’t love people or want to help them but because they realize they are often being invited into what is an emotional situation that guarantees them pain, defeat, or diminished relationships if they tell people what they don’t want to hear.  Think of Jeremiah and his words.  Some people will throw away their salvation afterward.  Some will explode in anger or denial.  Others will split a church over counsel they loathe.  Most will simply do whatever they want to do regardless, not realizing that they are erecting a wall in the relationship that they must maintain for their own emotional survival… most cannot afford to maintain the same respect for a man whose spiritual authority and perspective they willfully disregard.  Again, think of the psychology of those responding to Jeremiah’s counsel.  They must knock him down a few pegs to rationalize their attitudes and actions.  The anxiety that can envelop pastors before, during, and after these times of advising, encouraging, and warning is unlike most pressures many will ever understand.  I have also learned the hard way that most people want an advisor who agrees with them rather than one who tries to give a true, honest evaluation or sage advice.  I thank God for every person and every family that has come seeking godly counsel and acted on it despite the fact they may have not wanted to hear it at that moment.  I think of the success stories in my time as a pastor.  These people are my heroes – not because they heeded me or my designate, but because they were sincere and humble enough before God to welcome painful truth and inconvenient guidance even when they didn’t want to hear it at first.  The fruit of their lives demonstrates God’s favor as a result of their humble faith, and they are truly a privilege to pastor.  My joy comes from seeing their success and avoiding of devastation, not from “being right” or saying “I told you so.”  Alas, some charge ahead like the soldiers on Paul’s doomed ship to Italy (Acts 27).

Now… How do you handle being told what you don’t want to hear?  It could involve an education or career choice, a romantic entanglement, a family or financial arrangement, choice of a church or friendships, involvement in a ministry, spiritual disciplines, work ethic, or any number of things that may seem small in the moment, but are the hinges upon which the door of your life will swing forcefully.  Avoiding personal devastation may hinge upon how well you heed hearing what you don’t want to hear.

This is not unique to pastoral ministry.  We observe family or friends – God-loving people – and they charge ahead with questionable, life-impacting decisions that result in spiritual, emotional, and family devastation.  Why?  Often they did not want to hear that they could be making a mistake.  They did not want their judgment questioned (We Americans HATE being told what to do – even when we’re wrong).  They did not want to reveal all the hidden details and their personal anxieties for fear someone will plead with them to back away from their chosen course of action.  Even in the midst of their “charging ahead”, opportunities for helpful advice are disregarded by decent people who genuinely love God and His word.  Why?  They will not receive wise counsel during those times because they simply do not want to hear it.  Tragic devastation that gnaws at the soul is usually the predictable result.  I have lost count of the times I have lamented to my wife at how much needless pain and anguish God’s people bring upon themselves simply because they cannot handle being told what they do not want to hear.  Usually “their way” isn’t even the most enjoyable of their possible paths! 

Jeremiah was a true friend and helper to those he warned, but when he told people what they did not want to hear, many made him into their enemy.  They hated the one who loved them enough to warn them and tried to prevent their needless suffering.  They abused Jeremiah.  They hated Jeremiah.  They wanted to kill Jeremiah.  They accused Jeremiah of speaking evil and speaking discouragement.  They mocked and gossiped about Jeremiah, awaiting to celebrate the failure of his prophetic counsel.  Most of us can relate to Jeremiah’s emotional desire to just shut up and not say anything because it’s no fun to be considered the bad guy, especially when you see the dangers but know your warnings will be disregarded.  May God forgive the times I lacked the courage of a Jeremiah in this regard.

 Jeremiah humbly confronted when he knew his counsel would be either ignored or attacked.  Many of us fail in this since we know that the accusations of being unloving or controlling or unethical or abusive or wrong are sure to follow.  It’s just emotionally easier to say nothing.  The 21st Century American church is so similar to ancient Judah in this regard – we may tend to despise those who humbly tell us what we don’t want to hear when it comes to specific behaviors and decisions in our lives.  We may love “hard preaching” in general (and a quick trip to an altar that follows) – or the ease at which we can look at another pew and hope someone else is hearing it.  But when specific actions are personally evaluated and found wanting, all bets are off.  

I never cease to be amazed at the psychology of those who take out their anger with disliked pastoral counsel by mistreating the pastor’s family – directly or indirectly.  Happens everywhere in every denomination, which is why many studies confirm what few on the pew realize – pastors and their families often pay the price for this “call” in the hard currency of frequent loneliness and rejection.  There are wonderful benefits too, but always remember this fact the next time you hear guys declare that they feel called to preach or pastor or start their own church.  If so, they are going to ante up in unique types of pain, loneliness, and rejection – and their families will not get to jump off that train once it leaves the station.  The (seemingly) easiest way to pastor in America today – never tell people what they don’t want to hear.  You will be considered the most loving, least controlling, least abusive, kindest, most encouraging and tolerant, and on and on and on.  Jeremiah probably would have loved such a cushy ministry assignment.  

But it is not just for pastors.  The body is called to edify itself while pastors equip, yet I remain amazed at two wonders:  (1) Christians who refuse to confront real wrongdoing in their brothers and sisters (leaving it for “Pastor Bad-Cop” to deal with) because of the realities I’ve described, and (2) other Christians who confront for the wrong things or in the wrong spirit, usually in a haughty, self-righteous manner.  Jeremiah was not perfect, but he was not an arrogant nitpicker.  He addressed root issues.  May we all learn from his example.

Baruch the scribe ended up in danger for being such a close associate of Jeremiah.  Humbly telling others what they don’t want to hear out of love and godly motives?  Don’t be surprised when those closest to you feel also the wrath of your audience.  It is almost impossible not to take it personally.  Our pride doesn’t like when we are disregarded.  Good luck getting mercy from God for wounded pride.  It’s when those you are trying to help turn you their enemy – that is the wounding that hurts the deepest.  No matter the purity of your motive nor the fact that you did not intentionally wrong them in any way, you will be thrown under the bus.  Any misstep in your words, tone of voice, location, etc., will be faulted.  You will be demonized, and others will believe the slander against you.  Ask Jeremiah what that’s like.  The ones who disregarded him had to paint Jeremiah as a liar, a false prophet, a man with evil motives, a traitor, a discourager.  For emotional survival and saving face, many people must turn an angel into a devil once they are determined to disregard the angel’s counsel.  As no man is an angel, our flaws give critics plenty of raw material.  Pastors are an imperfect lot that are quite easy to “Monday morning quarterback”, often deservedly so.  But always remember, an imperfect messenger does not necessarily invalidate the message.  God has used outright sinners who didn’t attend church to speak truth into my life in ways that have shaped my destiny.  It comes down to training your ear – through prayer and knowledge of Scripture – to hear what God’s counseling.  Truth will resonate even when the content or the messenger is annoying or unworthy.  So how will you handle it when the same Spirit that came upon Jeremiah uses some shlep around you to tell you what you don’t want to hear about your course of action or the attitude on display?    

Some questions to consider when it comes to this…

1.  Is there a a course of action that I am afraid to let people confront for fear I will have to change it or do something I don’t want to do?  Whatever you are afraid to put out on the table for scrutiny is a good indicator of a potential problem.  Whatever area you get most defensive about will likely demonstrate your biggest sin struggle and where you are likely to get burned by disregarding sound counsel.

2.  Do I seek the counsel of those with proven track records of giving sound, Bible-based advice and input?  Those with the wisdom of experience and a perspective I lack?  Or do I only want someone as immature as I am to tell me what I want to hear?  King Rehoboam blew off the counsel of Israel’s elders in favor of the counsel of his peers and it split the kingdom of Israel in devastation.  In this case, and arguably in the Judah of Jeremiah’s day, many didn’t realize that God was using their stubbornness to refuse wise counsel to bring judgment on them.  Is it possible that the reason some refuse to listen today is that God is disciplining and chastening them?

3.  Is the counsel I am receiving consistent with the rightly divided Scripture in doctrine or principle?  Is it coming from a recognized source that is operating from my best interest rather than trying to manipulate me?  Am I afraid to pray earnestly over my course of action for fear that God will tell me ‘no’?  (If so, this is a warning light flashing)

4.  Do I know of tragic circumstances that could have been avoided if those involved could have handled being told what they didn’t want to hear?  How might those life-circumstances have been different?  What can I learn from those examples?

Ultimately, no mature Christian adult can abdicate responsibility for their decision-making to someone else.  Advice and counsel, calls to repent of specific sins, encouragement to pursue certain goals, etc., – these are all to assist people to make the right decision for themselves before God.  Neither a stop sign nor a green light drives my car for me.  They simply assist me – and protect me from needless pain and destruction as I do the driving.  I have been very, very angry getting stuck at red lights, but I still heeded their message because I knew the alternative could be worse for me and those in my car (usually my family).  We don’t have to enjoy being told things we don’t want to hear, but we should at least consider the possible impact of stubbornly or foolishly running red lights.  Jeremiah, like the traffic cop of old, was not on an ego trip, desiring to control God’s people.  One role of the prophetic voice or the traffic cop is to try to prevent pain and devastation while helping people get where they need to go with minimal problems.  Perhaps reading Jeremiah would be a good place to start as we evaluate ourselves and seek to avoid making life needlessly painful and tragic.  It’s difficult enough without our making it harder!  

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:2-6

Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. – Proverbs 12:1

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:11

 

OK…  I’ve got to thank Mike Ruiz & my wife for repeatedly chewing by rear to get serious about writing.  Even my friends, “Dr.” Dulle and the Campus Ministry Godfather/Belarusian Nuke-man want me to write for them.  Juggling… juggling…  Pray that I be delivered from unholy demons of procrastination and perfectionism!  Content forthcoming.

Some interesting stuff I gleaned from a posting from the U of Notre Dame regarding the standards that Hollywood executives agreed to during the development of the Motion Picture industry.  I am convinced that the dangerous gradualism that has eroded spiritual and moral sensibilities is a temporary thing – the frog is put in lukewarm water and the heat is gradually turned up until it becomes obvious the frog will boil to death… at which time the frog is removed and put in the microwave until it is cooked to explosion.  Movies are a prime example of boiling the frog slowly, only to explode him quickly in the microwave.  What do we watch on TV, online, and in movies? Consider:

The Hollywood Production Code of 1930

(Films were not rated for different ages by the Production Code Administration. They were either approved by the Code for release or not, and the major studios would not release a film without the Codes seal of approval.)

Some of the original Production Code guidelines followed by Hollywood filmmakers from the mid-1930s until the 1960s listed below:

 

  • They affect the moral standards of those who thru the screen take in these ideas and ideals.
  • No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it. This is done:
    1.   When evil is made to appear attractive, and good is made to appear unattractive.
  1.  When the sympathy of the audience is thrown on the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil, sin. The same thing is true of a film that would throw sympathy against goodness, honor, innocence, purity, honesty.

(a)   That evil is not presented alluringly. Even if later on the evil is condemned or punished, it must not be allowed to appear so attractive that the emotions are drawn to desire or approve so strongly that later they forget the condemnation and remember only the apparent joy of the sin.

(b)   That throughout the presentation, evil and good are never confused and that evil is always recognized clearly as evil.

(c)    That in the end the audience feels that evil is wrong and good is right.

 

  1. Law, natural or divine, must not be belittled, ridiculed, nor must a sentiment be created against it.

life should not be misrepresented, at least not in such a way as to place in the minds of youth false values on life.

1)      The triangle, that is, the love of a third party by one already married, needs careful handling, if marriage, the sanctity of the home, and sex morality are not to be imperiled.

2)      Adultery as a subject should be avoided:

  1.   It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.

Scenes of passion are sometimes necessary for the plot. However:

(a)   They should appear only where necessary and not as an added stimulus to the emotions of the audience.

(b)   When not essential to the plot, they should not occur.

(c)    They must not be explicit in action nor vivid in method, e.g. by handling of the body, by lustful and prolonged kissing, by evidently lustful embraces, by positions which strongly arouse passions.

(d)   In general, where essential to the plot, scenes of passion should not be presented in such a way as to arouse or excite the passions of the ordinary spectator.

5)      Sexual immorality is sometimes necessary for the plot. It is subject to the following:

 GENERAL PRINCIPLESregarding plots dealing with sex, passion, and incidents related to them:

All legislators have recognized clearly that there are in normal human beings emotions which react naturally and spontaneously to the presentation of certain definite manifestations of sex and passion.

(a)   The presentation of scenes, episodes, plots, etc., which are deliberately meant to excite these manifestations on the part of the audience is always wrong, is subversive to the interest of society, and a peril to the human race.

(b)   Sex and passion exist and consequently must sometimes enter into the stories which deal with human beings.

(1)   Pure love, the love of a man for a woman permitted by the law of God and man, is the rightful subject of plots. The passion arising fromt his love is not the subject for plots.

(2)   Impure love, the love of man and woman forbidden by human and divine law, must be presented in such a way that:

a)      It is clearly known by the audience to be wrong:

b)      Its presentation does not excite sexual reactions, mental or physical, in an ordinary audience;

  1.      It is not treated as a matter for comedy.

But in the case of impure love, the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which ahs been banned by divine law, the following are important:

(1)   It must not be the subject of comedy or farce or treated as the material for laughter;

(2)   It must not be presented as attractive and beautiful;

(3)   It must not be presented in such a way as to arouse passion or morbid curiosity on the part of the audience;

(4)   It must not be made to seem right and permissible;

  1.   In general, it must not be detailed in method or manner.

 Frequent presentation of murder tends to lessen regard for the sacredness of life.

(b)   Brutal killings should not be presented in detail.

  1.    Killings for revenge should not be justified, i.e., the hero should not take justice into his own hands in such a way as to make his killing seem justified

The name of Jesus Christ should never be used except in reverence.

Obscenity

Obscenity is concerned with immorality, but has the additional connotation of being common, vulgar and coarse.

(1)   Obscenity in fact, that is, in spoken word, gesture, episode, plot, is against divine and human law, and hence altogether outside the range of subject matter or treatment.

(2)   Obscenity should not be suggested by gesture, manner, etc.

(3)   An obscene reference, even if it is expected to be understandable to only the more sophisticated part of the audience, should not be introduced.

(4)   Obscene language is treated as all obscenity.

Costume

GENERAL PRINCIPLES:

(1)   The effect of nudity or semi-nudity upon the normal man or woman, and much more upon the young person, has been honestly recognized by all lawmakers and moralists.

(2)   Hence the fact that the nude or semi-nude body may be beautiful does not make its use in films moral. For in addition to its beauty, the effects of the nude or semi-nude body on the normal individual must be taken into consideration.

(3)   Nudity or semi-nudity used simply to put a punch into a picture comes under the head of immoral actions as treated above. It is immoral in its effect upon the average audience.

(4)   Nudity or semi-nudity is sometimes apparently necessary for the plot. Nudity is never permitted. Semi-nudity may be permitted under conditions.

PARTICULAR PRINCIPLES:

(1) The more intimate parts of the human body are male and female organs and the breasts of a woman.

(a)   They should never be uncovered.

(b)   They should not be covered with transparent or translucent material.

  1.    They should not be clearly and unmistakably outlined by the garment.

Obscene dances are those:

(a)   Which suggest or represent sexual actions, whether performed solo or with two or more;

(b)   Which are designed to excite an audience, to arouse passions, or to cause physical excitement.

HENCE: Dances of the type known as Kooch, or Can-Can, since they violate decency in these two ways, are wrong.

 Dances with movements of the breasts, excessive body movement while the feet remain stationary, the so-called belly dancesthese dances are immoral, obscene, and hence altogether wrong.

Locations

Certain places are so closely and thoroughly associated with sexual life or with sexual sin that their use must be carefully limited.

(1) Brothels and houses of ill-fame, no matter of what country, are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth.

IN GENERAL: They are dangerous and bad dramatic locations.

(2) Bedrooms. In themselves they are perfectly innocent. Their suggestion may be kept innocent. However, under certain situations they are bad dramatic locations.

(a)   Their use in a comedy or farce (on the principle fo the so-called bedroom farce) is wrong, because they suggest sex laxity and obscenity.

(b)   In serious drama, their use should, where sex is suggested, be confined to absolute essentials, in accordance with the principles laid down above.

Religion

(1) No film or episode in a film should be allowed to throw ridicule on any religious faith honestly maintained.

(2) Ministers of religion in their characters of ministers should not be used in comedy, as villains, or as unpleasant persons.

NOTE: The reason for this is not that there are not such ministers of religion, but because the attitude toward them tends to be an attitude toward religion in general.

 Religion is lowered in the minds of the audience because it lowers their respect for the ministers.

  1. Ceremonies of any definite religion should be supervised by someone thoroughly conversant with that religion.

ILLEGAL DRUG TRAFFIC must never be presented

 Because of its evil consequences, the drug traffic should never be presented in any form. The existence of the trade should not be brought to the attention of audiences.

4. THE USE OF LIQUOR in American life, when not required by the plot or for proper characterization, should not be shown.

  The use of liquor should never be excessively presented even in picturing countries where its use is legal. In scenes from American life, the necessities of plot and proper characterization alone justify its use. And in this case, it should be shown with moderation.

Many scenes cannot be presented without arousing dangerous emotions on the part of the immature, the young or the criminal classes.

 a. They should not be introduced when not essential to the plot.

 b. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.

  1. In general, passion should be so treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.

SEX PERVERSION (homosexuality, etc.) or any inference to it is forbidden.

SEX HYGIENE AND VENEREAL DISEASES are not subjects for motion pictures.

 

Given what used to be the norm for Hollywood and the moral language used in the industry production code, what other institutions that undergo de-moralizing and destabilizing will be coming to a culture near you?  (Marriage, family, religion/theology, government, and many more)  This is not trivial or unimportant historically.  Just thinking…