Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Curse: Your Desire Will be for Your Husband

I have been unable to shake a thought my spiritual parents shared with me this past weekend--that our confusion over gender roles has its roots in sin's curse, as described by God in Genesis 3:16:
To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."
Perhaps this isn't hot off the news wire, but here's the part that's stuck with me ... I'd always wondered about the "desire will be for your husband" part. I had the vague sense that this language meant that the woman would be unable to shake an emotional dependency on the man, one which would lead her to bend to his subjugation ("he will rule over you").

But Pastor Allen and Miriam shared with me a different thought. It seems the language of "desire" in this instance is like that in Genesis 4:7b, where God warns Cain, "But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

The New Living Translation tries to capture this language, as it translates 3:16b: "And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you."

This translation captures more closely the power struggle that sin prompts between men and women. It's more than just dependency and subjugation, it is a struggle for control brought upon us by the curse of sin. The woman's desire will be frustrated by the man's physical strength, so she must resort to subtler manipulations to wrest control away. He then responds with his own sinful impulse to crush her resistance.

John Piper captures the problem this way:
So the essence of corrupted maleness is the self-aggrandizing effort to subdue and control and exploit women for its own private desires. And the essence of corrupted femaleness is the self-aggrandizing effort to subdue and control and exploit men for its own private desires. And the difference is found mainly in the different weaknesses that we can exploit in one another. As a rule men have more brute strength than women and so they can rape and abuse and threaten and sit around and snap their finger. It's fashionable to say those sorts of things today. But it's just as true that women are sinners. We are in God's image male and female; and we are depraved, male and female. Women may not have as much brute strength as men but she knows ways to subdue him. She can very often run circles around him with her words and where her words fail she knows the weakness of his lust. If you have any doubts about the power of sinful woman to control sinful man just reflect for a moment on the number one marketing force in the world — the female body. She can sell anything because she knows the universal weakness of man and how to control him with it. The exploitation of women by sinful men is conspicuous because it is often harsh and violent. But a moment's reflection will show you that the exploitation of men by sinful women is just as pervasive in our society.
It is into this power struggle that Paul's exhortation to men and women gains special significance:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
The wife must no longer seek to control but to submit ... the husband no longer to subjugate but to love sacrificially. It is truly counterintuitive to our sinful inclinations, and especially difficult and wonderful in its application.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Taking Command

The past couple of days have been a whirlwind. I took command of the US Air Force Honor Guard yesterday morning, and have barely had time to think since.

I have little time to post, so I will include an extract from my speech:
Now, to the men and women of the Honor Guard, I too am honored to be counted among you. And yet, I know that you do not seek such honor for yourselves, for that is not your mission nor your purpose. Rather, you seek by your commitment to the highest standards to give honor to your fellow warriors. When you perform your tours, drills, parades and ceremonies in flawless silver-piped uniforms and perfect synchronization, you have succeeded not because they remember the skill of the Honor Guard, but because they swell with pride for the selfless service and professional excellence of their Air Force. And when you bear with reverent solemnity the remains of a departed Airman to his final resting place, when you fold the flag and fire the final salute, you are not there as individuals, but rather as representatives of all of us, to in front of family, friends and assembled witnesses, “The United States of America thanks you. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.”

Therefore, the honor of which we speak is now mine, but it is mine also to give, not to receive. I look forward to serving alongside you, that we may continue in this mission of giving honor. This is a purpose and a tradition worthy of our very best, as you have loyally demonstrated.

Finally, let me briefly express my thanks to those whose lifelong love and support I treasure. To my wife Richelyn, you are the love of my life, in whom I find great strength, inspiration, and joy. Brad and Gaille, I am tremendously proud of who you are and all you have already accomplished! Allen and Miriam, I will always give thanks to God for your guidance, your friendship, and your great and enduring influence on whom I have become. To those many here who have given of their time and energy to help me, push me, and shape me, may any measure of success I enjoy be counted as credit to your kindness and sacrifice for me.

Now, let us move forward and, by the grace of God, continue the tradition together. Thank you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My True Father in the Faith

The year was 1982 ... the place was the liberal tourist town of Santa Cruz, California. A middle-aged, Caucasian, former hippie woke up on Sunday morning and decided to take his 10-year-old, adopted African-American son to the neighborhood's conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church. If this story sounds odd so far ... well, they had lived an odd life.

At home in his robe sat the man's older boy, a teenager. The man had decided the teenager was old enough to make his own choices, so the older boy stayed home that day. But the following week, the pastor stopped by and suggested he join his father next time. Of course, the boy blamed his dad for not waking him up in time. His dad didn't get mad ... he got even. The next Sunday the man had both boys in tow.

The little church had seemingly little to offer a teenage boy with deep emotional scars brought on by years of family turmoil and peer rejection. The church was hardly young and fun ... it was Reformed in theology, traditional in atmosphere, somewhat geriatric in population. There was no youth pastor and no youth group. What there was, however, was exactly what the boy needed. There was Pastor Allen Moran and his wife, Miriam.

What the devoted couple gave the troubled youth was priceless--they gave him themselves. He learned about Christ in church, of course, when he wasn't daydreaming out the window. He learned far more in their living room, however, where Allen discipled him while Miriam lovingly served Russian tea.

Eventually Pastor Allen decided the boy was ready to put childish things behind him. He sent him to a camp for young leaders, and he came back fired up. Together they started a youth group, with the young man (now 18) in the lead. It was bold step for a conservative church, and God rewarded the pastor's faith richly. The ministry blossomed and the little church filled with the energy of its young people.

It was but a bright season for the little church, which would face a difficult road in the years ahead. The young man, however, went on to join the military, earn a commission, and start a family. Pastor Allen had cultivated and planted, others would later water, and God made the man's faith grow. When he and his young wife had their first child, he knew the baby boy's middle name would have to be Allen.

It perhaps won't come a surprise if I tell you that Pastor Allen's young protege is the Jailer. Allen Moran is my "true father in the faith", as the Apostle Paul would say. In this way I am my own father's brother, for he too was led to Christ by Pastor Allen.

Tomorrow Allen and Miriam will be coming to visit. They have come to see me take command of the Air Force Honor Guard, and he has come just in time for Father's Day. He is a quiet and humble man, a faithful man, a godly man. He means more to me than I can express.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sprinkled and Immersed (but no Cannonballs)

I've been baptized twice ... first by sprinkling, then by immersion. This is not entirely unique among Christians, though perhaps my particular circumstances are fairly rare. You see, I don't think there was anything wrong with my first baptism.

I was first baptized at age 16 in 1983 by Pastor Allen Moran, the man who led me to the Lord. As this was an Orthodox Presbyterian church, sprinkling was the mode of choice. I was not an infant, of course, so I had made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Eight years later, newly married (to a Baptist) and newly attending a Baptist church in Hawaii, I faced a choice I really had never anticipated. I wanted to join this church as a member, but their by-laws said my first baptism was no good. Meanwhile, I was still a member in good standing with my old church--I merely wanted to transfer my membership. But the old church was uncomfortable with me "denying my baptism" to submit to the rules of the new church, which seemed to say by its stance that the old one practiced an illegitimate form of baptism.

I was at an impasse. I couldn't join the new church without creating controversey at the old one. I had to deal with several issues at once. First and foremost, what did I think about the Bible's teachings on the mode of baptism?

Actually, to this day I'm still pretty wishy-washy on this, though I feel like I see both sides fairly clearly. The immersion camp has been ascendant within the evangelical community in the recent past, and claims the high ground of its particular interpretation of certain Greek words (baptizo="immerse"), lack of a clear biblical example of infant baptism, and the emphasis on baptism as a follow-on to an individual profession of faith, among others. The sprinklers likewise make a compelling case centered on the importance of God's covenant as it extends to the believer's children (reaching back to the covenant of circumcision). They also point to certain examples of baptisms including entire households, and of course to other meanings for the same Greek words (baptizo also means "wash", and perhaps implies pouring, etc.).

I'm sure both sides will feel shorted by the inadequate treatment I give their views above, but exegesis is not my purpose here. Suffice it to say, I was left in a quandry. I remember clearly expressing to the pastor of the Baptist church that my decision was complicated by the fact that I wasn't a Greek scholar. He said, "Well, I am." I told him that didn't help me very much, since there were other Greek scholars I respected at least equally which took the opposite view.

Wanting to join this particular church without creating controversey at the old church, I couldn't square the circle. I was frustrated at both the refusal of the Baptists to accept my Presbyterian baptism on one hand, and the Presbyterians' hard line on the other. Mostly it seemed to me that we just shouldn't divide ourselves over this! Oh, and to make matters weird, my old church was being represented at the time by my father (whom you know as Presbyter). Of course, this further fogged my brain.

In the end, my father wisely recused himself from the process. After several discussions with other authorities within the presbytery, we settled on the idea that I could follow my conscience and submit to a second baptism by immersion without causing great consternation within Presbyterian circles. It was a good end to an awful problem, and I think to this day it was the right conclusion: loving submission trumps strict adherance to theological/methodological purity where debatable issues are concerned.

Oh, and you'll be glad to know that I never even once contemplated baptism by cannonball:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Political Church

I am, by vocation, a servant of the United States, and I care deeply about her future. As a Christian, I hope and pray that her future will be one of obedience to God's precepts, and that hope and prayer is reflected in my political activity (which is mostly represented by my voting habits). Generally speaking, I take it as a net positive when faithful Christians are involved in the political process.

I must admit, however, that I get nervous around Christian political movements for several reasons. First is the inevitable corrupting influence of temporal power on spiritual leaders, which I think history has proved over and over again. When the church gains temporal power, it is her sinful habit to abuse it. The most obvious example of this is the spiritual/political structure (Sadducees, Pharisees, etc.) in Israel during the time of Jesus, against whom He struggled throughout His ministry and to His death.

Moreover, I think that politics can offer a false hope to Christians, that such-and-such a leader will offer deliverance and rescue our spiritual ambitions. Scripture and history also teach us that we are not to trust in princes, and that our citizenship is in heaven.

I also find that politicians can present positions which are ambiguous (at best) as "God's will". This is very dangerous territory. On one hand, I think God's revealed will towards issues such as the sanctity of life and of marriage is pretty clear, and that is reflected in how I vote. But how much organizing on behalf of these issues is healthy before the church becomes lost in the process? (Of course, I hope it goes without saying that we must roundly condemn atrocities such as murdering abortionists as unqualified evil.)

Let's take the question a step further: Has the Creator presented us a clear position on which environmental regulations He requires? Has He determined that compassion dictates how much foreign aid the US must devote to fighting AIDS in Africa? Closer to home (for me), does being a peacemaker require that we take up arms (or not) in the war against international terrorist organizations? Does God require prayer in public schools, and what does that mean when the state is not openly Christian--or is essentially anti-Christian? You can see that this process becomes a very slippery slope very quickly.

Assigning God positions on myriad political matters is a conceit which goes far beyond Scripture and divides the church along political lines, and can ultimately lead us into some scary places. For example, how many past Southern Christians justified slavery on the basis of Scriptural example?

It also leads us into alliances that may result in unequal yokes. If we become indistinguishable from a particular politician or political party, then we become associated with his/her/its positions, which are often irrelevant or even contrary to our core principles as believers.

Today I listened to a podcast from RC Sproul in which he gives several other reasons I find compelling to find laboring for God's church better than politics:
  1. "I like to be on the winning side."
  2. "Too many Christians today are looking for the state to do the work of the church, and that scares me to death."
  3. "The government only reflects the prevailing customs of the people ... if we don't like the government, then we need to change who we are ..."
By the way, I still remain interested in political matters, and I still hope to elect people whom I believe will lead our country toward a better, more obedient place. And I believe I serve God by serving my country--and by serving those who serve her. But on the whole, I find that my work for God's church is more promising and fruitful with respect to the things that matter most.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Old-Time Religion: The Aging Local Church

The local church is getting grayer.

I remember during my time in Germany how the neighborhood churches seemed to be filled with seniors (especially compared with our abnormally young military chapels). At the time, I attributed this to Europe's modern, secular culture--young Europeans were increasingly rejecting their parents' religion. Now that my family has moved back to a "normal" suburban American neighborhood, however, it's clear that this isn't merely a European phenomenon.

Why is the local church aging, and what are the implications?

First, populations across the developed world have steadily aged over the past several decades. Moreover, we are clearly becoming a more secular society, and increasingly anti-institutional in terms of our spirituality. We are also more mobile than ever before, so that young people grow up and move out of their parents' neighborhoods. When we do move away, we tend to look for churches that match our demographic station in life, so that our young churches stay young, and our old churches age further.

The effect of this on the neighborhood church is really rather discouraging: large buildings sparsely populated with a dwindling number of senior saints. While these elders ought to be passing along their years of accumulated wisdom to the next generations, instead they are often left to keep one another company through their twilight years. They look fondly backwards, remembering glory days gone by, and unable to recreate the effect moving forward.

The younger people who remain in these churches are often overworked, as they supply much of the physical energy on which the church depends. I recently had a conversation with a couple of such members. Their frustration bubbled to the surface as they observed how some of their seniors seemed detached from the need to reach out, but instead attached a creepy fascination with maintaining memorial rooms, commemorative plaques, and portraits of departed members. As they put it, "This is a church, not a mausoleum!"

My first church was a neighborhood church after a similar mold. I was one of the group of teen-agers who came of age at about the same time, and the church enjoyed a brief surge of energy before we all moved away. The church folded shortly thereafter, while those who remained--including many wise, spiritually mature elders with much to teach--were left to talk wistfully about the by-gone "time of the young people".

Is the local church an endangered species?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What if God Hates our Worship?

I listened to a wonderful sermon this morning based on Psalm 50. There were many great points, but the one idea that stuck with me was this: Israel's problem was not that they were unfaithful in the activities surrounding worship. Rather, it was that the worship itself lacked the one quality God most desired: it didn't come from nor feed back into lives lived in loving and sincere obedience to Him. This idea brings to mind Samuel's familiar charge to Saul:

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
Animal sacrifice lies outside our present experience, of course. Yet clearly we must be willing to apply this to the "stuff" (preaching, programs, songs, buildings, clothes, etc.) of our worship.

What if our worship works great for us, but God hates it, because when he scratches down below the surface, he recognizes it's all about us?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Blocked in Beijing

I was recently informed by Disciplemaker that the Jailer is blocked in China. No blogger likes to hear that his material is unavailable to potential readers, of course, but I suppose I'll take it as a badge of honor. And since Beijing works actively to block any reference to the "June 4th incident" of 1989, I suppose I'll go ahead and lock in my banned status by commemorating (a day late) the massacre at Tiananmen Square of 20 years ago.

Despite the horrific events of that day, there is evidence that God has used the events of that day to sprout an expansion of the Chinese church as Charles Colson testifies:
How has God used the Tiananmen tragedy to build his Church? Before the massacre, the house churches were mainly in the countryside, Pastor Yujian noted. But after June 4, the churches “spread to urban areas and into intellectual circles.” In these arenas, in the aftermath of the massacre, students were suffering from a sense of passiveness, depravity, and loss— but then they began to listen seriously to what house church pastors had to say.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Public Schools and the Christian Family

Seth has started a firestorm over at Contend Earnestly (and on Facebook) over the issue of public schools. It really is quite remarkable how this issue gets so emotional. Here's my take.

Like Seth, I came up in public schools, but then we weren't a Christian family until I was in high school (when Presbyter and I came to Christ). By then I'd been exposed to plenty: alcoholism, two divorces, racial tensions and violence, emotional breakdowns ... you get the idea. Moreover, many of the teachers and subjects I encountered in school were openly secular. Of course, atheistic evolution is taught as fact; premarital sex is inevitable so make it "safe"; homosexuality is genetic, etc. I distinctly remember my disdain with which my sex education teacher talked about the so-called "Christian view": "Sex is for reproduction". Period dot.

So when we sent our kids to school, we chose ... public schools. Really. Let me explain why:

1. I have no beef with people who make other choices. We have often considered them ourselves, and reserve the right to go another direction based on the circumstances. So far it hasn't come to that.

2. There are financial considerations. I thought about putting this last, but that would communicate a false high-mindedness ... frankly, the alternatives aren't free, and some are quite expensive.

3. Family dynamics also play into it. For us, home-schooling just didn't seem plausible given our family's temperament. For example, my son has a hard time concentrating on schoolwork at home (he generally gets his homework done at school). My wife finds it much easier to teach other people's kids than her own. I can be borderline ADD (brilliantly self-diagnosed). Home schooling just didn't seem like the best option for us.

4. There is a reason for Christians to be in the public square. I touched on this idea in a couple of places, including my recent posts my high school friend George and about the secessionists. In the former, I spoke of the impact a faithful Christian boy had on my early spiritual growth (George had transferred in from a private Christian school). In the second, I quoted 1 Peter 2:12 and asked how we can live good lives "among the pagans" if we don't actually live our lives among the pagans. Even kids can be a light to their world.

5. There is something to be said for kids having the opportunity to learn how to live and defend their faith from an early age. They will need to learn it eventually. Believe me, I met my share of private school kids during my early years in the military. Many had led such sheltered lives that they were completely unprepared for the onslaught of peer pressure that hit them once they had left the nest.

Now, let none of this suggest that I look down on anyone who makes choices different than ours. Chief teaches in a private Christian school. As mentioned in my previous post, Jailbreaker's kids went to Japanese public schools and received supplemental home-schooling (and have turned out wonderfully). This is clearly a place for Christians to make informed judgments based on Scripture, the Spirit's leading, good advice, and their own particular circumstances.

One final note on this--for those who make the same choice we did, I would encourage a lot of classroom involvement by the parents. My wife has remained very involved in the kids' schools from the early days. Even as she has gone back to work, she has maintained close contact with the kids' teachers (of course, it doesn't hurt that her work has been as a public school teacher).