Both Veganism and Gluttony lead to Starvation: A Salutation to Thanksgiving.

I take a few moments to reflect upon food, the God who made food for the body, and our Thanksgiving Holiday.

There are many ways to dishonor God with food – I speak of only two here. One, you can abstain from eating meat because you think it is a more virtuous, pious, and greater spiritual level of existence that is superior than eating meat. The apostle Paul addressed this kind of idolatry, saying,

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:1-5; see also Romans 14 for a longer treatment on this subject).

For some time now I have noticed that veganism is just as much of a spiritual approach to life as it is a dietary one. Most Vegan books, essays, websites, and restaurants, promote abstinence from meat as a spiritual pursuit, not purely dietary.

For the third time now, my wife and I went to a vegan restaurant in Chicago and truly enjoyed delicious, healthy food, prepared wonderfully for the eye, the nose, the palette, and the stomach. At “Karyn’s On the Green,” in Chicago, this note of appreciation is imprinted on the wall by the vegan restaurant founder:

“There is no judgment here. No good or bad, yes or no, right or wrong – Just a chance for an earth friendly experience for body, mind, and spirit, for you and your planet. If you don’t take care of your body, the most magnificent machine you’ll ever be given, where will you live? With love and gratitude, Kayrn”

She is right about taking care of the body, the most magnificent machine you’ll ever be given. And I truly can appreciate the culinary, intelligent devotion to good food for the body that the vegan way advises; I would enjoy meeting Kayrn and thank her for an exceptional place to eat. But who gave me this body is not the rotund Buddha that sits on his caboose that she displays throughout her restaurant. Veganism is not True Spirituality. Most of the vegan discipleship community prints books and magazines with religious and spiritual dogmas that only the vegan esoterics have attained. Indeed, “The term vegan was coined by Donald Watson in 1944 when he co-founded the British Vegan Society – it initially meant “non-dairy vegetarian,” although the membership also opposed the consumption of eggs – and in 1951 the society extended the definition of veganism to mean “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.”

I agree. We should not exploit animals. But eating them is not exploitation. It is enjoying a good gift from the one who made them. This helps us understand that part of the problem with veganism is that it does in the heart what God forbids: “Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature (like in India where it is forbidden to eat a cow) rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:22-25).

Whenever animals are elevated above man, that is a sure sign of God’s “giving up” man to his idolatrous heart.

Veganism starves the soul because it does not point the way to the one who made all things for his glory, the one who sent Jesus Christ. It starves the soul because it preaches a false gospel that displaces Christ as the ultimate food for our lives (John 6).

But secondly, there is another way to dishonor God with food. Scripture also says, “Whatever you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31, and that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and that you should put a knife to your throat if you are prone to over-eating (Prov. 23:2), and that gluttony is just as dishonoring and debilitating as drunkenness (Prov. 23:19-21), and that food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food but God will destroy them both (1 Cor. 6:12-13), and that gluttonous eating is not only dishonoring to the body but to others as well, because it says, “My insatiable appetite for food is more important to me than fellowship with you or with my Lord” (1 Cor. 11:17-34).

Like veganism, gluttony starves the soul because it does not point the way to the one who made all things for his glory, the one who sent Jesus Christ. Gluttony starves the soul because it preaches a false gospel that displaces Christ as the ultimate food for our lives (John 6).

Therefore, if you abstain from eating meat this Thanksgiving, do it to the glory of God because you know that God approves eating meat, but you choose not to because you’re trying to keep your body as healthy as possible. You do not believe that an ascetic approach to life is superior, nor do you believe that eating animals is a sin. But you choose a dietary approach to life that you believe will keep your body healthier for the long haul.

If you do eat meat this Thanksgiving, do it to the glory of God because you know that fattening your body is not nearly as satisfying as filling your heart with what God has done for you in Christ: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). This means that you will not gorge yourself on the good food that God created to be eaten with thanksgiving. It really is hard to give thanks to God while you are destroying your body with over-eating and eating things that are truly harmful to the body.

Remember, whatever you do, it is God’s grace that sustains you and gives you what you need to survive. May you enjoy good food from him who has blessed it, and may you enjoy even more, his Son who said, when nearly starving to death, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

And now, I’m off to WV and will not post again until the first of December. It’s Deer Season!

Do you go to the bathroom under a Restroom sign?

Relieving yourself under a restroom sign in the mall is like being miraculously healed of a disease and not turning to go and worship Jesus. Just as the restroom sign points you in the right direction to the real place of comfort, Miracles are signs to point you in the right direction to Something Greater; they are not meant to eclipse or distract or stop you short of “Someone Great.” No one feels completely relieved until they are in the restroom that the restroom sign pointed to. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. And no one is to feel relieved until their hearts are satisfied with Jesus himself – regardless of a physical healing.

When the crippled man was healed of his infirmity from birth recorded in Acts 3, Luke says that the healing was a sign that pointed to the Person of Jesus Christ (4:16, 22). If you see, experience, or seek a miracle without ever coming to a deeper knowledge of who Jesus is, it is like taking a whiz underneath a restroom sign. That’s NOT what signs are for. Signs are not the destination, they point us to the destination that we seek. If you walk into the presence of a miracle, and get all gushy and fascinated about it without ever worshiping Christ, then you are like the sign-seekers that Jesus rebuked: You really don’t want to worship and know Christ, you only want to see and experience miracles/signs (Mark 8:12; John 6:30-35). Jesus knows the difference in the heart between sign-seekers and Jesus-seekers.

I’ll offer two experiences. You decide which one is preferable.

You’re a leper who is healed by Jesus. You go on your way healed, having met him. But you don’t return to thank him because you really don’t respect Jesus for who he is. You do not see that you need your sins forgiven and you do not feel in your heart a love for him. But you’re healed – and that’s all that matters (Luke 17:11ff). Or,

You’re a very poor man with diseases so bad in your body that the dogs lick your boils that will not stop oozing their foul and putrid fluids. You’re sick. And you’re hungry. You lay there at the entrance of a palatial estate, hoping for some wealthy man to pay whatever it takes to get you healthy. Even Jesus is somewhere in the vicinity but he never shows up to heal you. But you believe in your heart that he is the real deal. Salvation is in that man because he alone can forgive your sins and make you right with God so that when you die, heaven will be your home. But, he doesn’t heal you and the rich man won’t pay for medical care. So . . . you just lay there starving to death while sepsis sets in, and by morning time, the dogs quit licking because your heart quit ticking. You’re dead. But you’re with the Lord (Luke 16:19ff).

Which is preferable to your desires:

1. To be healed of all your diseases by Christ himself but remain cool and distant from Christ, satisfied with the healing without knowing the healer?

2. Or, to die of terrible disease and starvation but all your hope and trust was in Jesus as Lord and Savior?

Miracles are not the goal and they are not an end in themselves. Even the cripple-from-birth in Acts 3 was never healed by Jesus though Jesus knew the man and saw him often because he was laid at the entrance to the temple everyday to beg for money. And Luke says that he was more than 40 years old, which means he was born before Jesus and lived his whole life as a cripple in Jesus’ presence (4:22). How many times then did Jesus walk right by him? Clearly then, Jesus did not heal everyone who needed to be healed. But that’s the point. Physical healing is not our greatest need. Better to be a cripple all your life with faith in Jesus, than to be healed and not see who the healer is. Miracles are only signs that point to the future presence of the Lord when you are raised with a new body. Some things are made new now, everything later.

This does not diminish the place of Miracles if you happen to know or experience a work of God outside natural law and design that God has embedded into his creation, like medicine. But this does help us recalibrate our pursuits and identify miracle-seeking as idolatry.

One final thought is that all Miracles of physical healing, without exception, are temporary in duration and therefore, their impact upon this present life is limited. They are not ultimate because everyone still dies. The healed leper still died of some kind of disease. The blind man who received his sight still got old and possibly developed cataracts or glaucoma. Lazarus raised from the dead still underwent the whole funeral gig again. Can you imagine poor Lazarus developing pneumonia the following winter: “Oh no – not again . . . cough, cough, whiz, whiz . . .” Dead again.  Serious bummer!

Jesus said, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – he said to the man who was paralyzed – “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Luke 5:24). Let the Miracles recorded in Scripture direct you to know and worship the risen Christ who alone can forgive your sins – that’s their purpose.

What is Gospel Centered Sex?

Here is an excellent read on an important subject by Marci Preheim, a little long, but well worth our time. Enjoy!

“I hear the veiled frustrations of men. Why doesn’t my wife want to have sex more often? Women, in their counsel to one another, unapologetically deem sex as a necessary evil, but their duty nonetheless. Both genders seem to believe the cure for low-sex marriages is for women to get over themselves and give more sex. After all, it is a job only she can fulfill, right? But an unhealthy sex-life is only a barometer of a deeper problem. Sex is not the priority of marriage. It is an expression of the health of it. I think I would reverse the comments above to read like this: If a couple consistently applies the implications of the gospel to the marriage, they will inevitably have a healthier marriage bed.

It has been said that a married man and woman, naked together and unashamed, are as close to a pre-fall relationship as anyone will experience this side of eternity. But how many of us can view it that way? We can scarcely mention Song of Solomon without blushing or cringing. It brings us face to face with our sexual baggage. What do we do with this book? There it is in the middle of the Bible, in all of its “rated R” beauty. We all want what that couple has. We’re afraid to cry out: we don’t have it!

An Appetite of the Heart

Several months ago, I taught about the sin of idolatry to a group of female addicts at the Nashville Rescue Mission. I touched on all kinds of idols from (obviously) drugs and alcohol to co-dependency, sex, and food. Afterward, the group of ladies from my church had a vigorous discussion about how the gospel could possibly apply to our eating habits. Surely a certain amount of law was necessary to lose weight. Defenses were up. Each woman had a comment about what had worked for her. A couple of the women reluctantly shared their guilt and failure to keep food in its rightful place. Others jumped in to excuse and justify why they were carrying an extra 10 pounds. We could all readily understand the effects of applying the gospel to something OTHER people struggled with but. . .you gotta eat right? Various diet plans were evaluated based on how much law and how much indulgence they allowed. Other suggestions came pouring out about making healthy food taste good and exercise fun. I could hardly believe I had just taught about idols and here we all were defending ours.

We will never be satisfied with more and better food. There are consequences for trying to be so. Most diets don’t work because they don’t lead their participants to fall OUT of love with their idol of food. They only transfer that love to healthier food, organic food or my favorite: “super-food”. They don’t break our idolatrous worship of self-indulgence. On the contrary, they actually increase it. I know when I am on a diet, I think about food 24/7. I am always planning to eat. What can I eat? How can I make flax seed taste like white flour? How can I consume the least amount of calories and get the most full? What low calorie dessert can I enjoy two amazing bites of? How can I be satisfied?

Ok, you say, I thought this article was about sex? Well, I am a woman. I gotta get there through food. We don’t end up losing weight, and having a proper perspective, and yes, even enjoyment of food, until we stop living for food (or skinny-ness or whatever related idol). We won’t be free from our insatiable desire for food until we stop worshipping it and worship Christ instead. The same is true of sex. You cannot have more sex or better sex by seeking more and better sex.

Guilted Into Giving

I recall many bridal shower devotionals where the young blushing bride-to-be was told to never refuse her husband (I probably even conducted a few like this I’m sorry to say). I believed this was good advice because it was always followed by a devastating description of what refusals do to a man’s psyche. When I was engaged and given this advice I thought to myself: Are you kidding? Why would I refuse him? I am looking forward to that part of marriage as much as he is. The two of us could hardly keep our hands off of each other as our wedding drew near.

A few weeks after the wedding and honeymoon were over I understood. My husband and I both had full-time jobs and we lived in a tiny apartment by the beach. One evening I came home late from work with a bag full of groceries. I put the groceries away, cooked dinner and then washed the dishes. My husband slinked up behind me as I was drying the last dish and said: You almost ready for bed? The look I gave him made it abundantly clear that I was ready for separate beds.

The next morning I felt guilty, believing my refusal had done irreparable damage to my husband’s soul. He felt guilty that he had watched football while I was killing myself to be a “godly wife.” We confessed our guilt to each other, but rather than turning to Christ to remove our guilt and shame, each of us determined in our hearts (and to each other) we would do better next time. From that point on, I cooked, he washed dishes, and the negotiating began.

For some couples, this is as deep as their marriage ever goes. It centers around needs and how to motivate the other person to meet those needs. We all feel the guilt of “meeting needs.” We understand the tendency to determine in our hearts to “do better”. Many people limp through their entire married life feeling guilty for their own contribution to their marriage and disappointed in their partners.

The truth is my refusal did do irreparable damage to my husband’s soul. My husband’s choice to watch football instead of serving me did irreparable damage to mine. The sin of selfishness crept into our marriage and marred it with the ugly stains of shame and mistrust. Shame led to the determination to do better. Mistrust led to the determination to self-protect and avoid being hurt like that again. We didn’t withhold our bodies from each other, but we did withhold pieces of our hearts. When shame and mistrust build-up over time in a marriage, it leads to withholding bodies—a symptom of withholding hearts.

As couples develop patterns of self-protection, intimacy erodes and the relationship is reduced to negotiation: What does he need to “do” to get sex? How can she use sex as her most powerful tool for getting what she needs (wants)? Both feel resentful: He for having to beg for what he feels entitled to, she for having to prostitute herself to earn what she feels entitled to. When kids enter the scene, expectations are exposed, negotiating heightens (and fails), and couples find themselves fighting over seemingly trivial things like who works the hardest and who should do what housework.

The world’s remedies to this battle of the sexes are feminism and pornography. Each gender convinces itself that it doesn’t need the other. Women stomp off to find their self-worth in a career and perhaps a house full of cats (maybe even a ministry or friendships). Men hole up in dark rooms and believe the lie that their need is merely physical. We can’t just tell women to have more sex. We can’t tell men they are pathetic for wanting it. God created both sexes to need and want each other—not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

Hide Me!

After the fall, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness. Their knee-jerk reaction to the feeling of shame was to hide their sexuality, but why? The same reason couples do this today. They no longer trusted each other. Their shame left them feeling exposed before God and each other. They tried to cover their sin by covering their bodies. This is the bad news. Because of our sin we will do irreparable damage to each other’s souls in marriage. With the increase of sin comes the increase in fear to be vulnerable with each other—usually the wife with her body, the husband with his heart. Shame and fear lead to the desire to self-protect.

Christian couples want to be uninhibited with each other but it’s not safe. We have perverted what God intended to be pure and we’re not quite sure how to go back. Both husbands and wives long to return to the garden of Eden when the two could be naked together and unashamed, but our sin keeps getting in the way, marring our marriage beds with shame and mistrust.

Shame On You? or Grace On You?

Romans chapter seven gives an illustration from marriage. It alludes to two husbands—the law and the gospel. The first husband was demanding. He had an unending list of requirements for his wife, but she could never meet them. Nothing was good enough for him. He was never satisfied. He motivated her with shame and fear. She was ugly and unworthy. He was righteous and angry. He required her to not only fulfill her duties perfectly, but to do them with pure motives. She was required to lay herself naked and open, body and soul to his demands. She did so because she had to, but she resented every minute of it. She couldn’t leave him or she would be an adulteress, and wretched in everyone’s eyes, rather than just his. Her only hope for release was for one of them to die. And what do you know? It happened. She re-married.

The second husband was kind and self-sacrificing. He had the same list of requirements for his wife but because he knew she could never meet them, he met them for her. She was accepted by him at their betrothal and reminded every day after that she was his. She ran to him for protection from abusive men and he defended her. There was nothing she could do to earn his affection but he gave it freely. He wooed her away from her fears and she trusted him. He gave her clothes to wear that made her beautiful for their wedding day (Revelation 19:7-8) and he desired her. He promised to meet every need she had and to never forsake her. His love for her was not conditioned upon her performance.

This second husband’s irresistible love awakened desires in her she didn’t even know she was capable of. Even though nothing was required of her, she wanted to do everything for him. She wanted to be even more beautiful for him. She knew she had nothing to offer him, but she dreamed of ways to express her love recklessly and unashamedly—maybe even in ways that other people would deem inappropriate (Luke 7:36-50). She had no fear that he would reject her and no longer feared rejection from others. What did it matter what they thought since her beloved had accepted her? She would do anything to express her love to him without inhibition—including opening herself up body and soul. He would not reject her for this. On the contrary, he was pleased to receive it.

The gospel dives down deeper than duty. It changes desires. It seems Christians are afraid to motivate each other with the gospel. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we remind fellow believers that they don’t have to do anything to earn God’s favor, they won’t do anything. Just the opposite is true.

When Christians talk about sex and marriage they usually jump right to the requirements. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. Wives submit to your husbands—and on goes the sermon about how this plays out in ACTION. The wall of division between the sexes seems to grow, rather than fall, when these passages are preached. Neither side leaves content that the preacher has explained the duties of their spouse thoroughly enough. We head home with an extra measure of shame for ourselves and guilt for our spouse.

This is the point where the gospel steps in and detonates a nuclear bomb on all of our misconceptions of marriage. The gospel doesn’t just apply to marriage. Marriage is the ultimate illustration of what the gospel is. Christ is the second husband! Ephesians 5:31-32 says this: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (and by “one flesh” he means the sexual union and all that entails). This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Let that profound mystery sink in for a minute. Two people becoming one flesh is an illustration of Christ and His church!

We miss the real pleasure of the marriage bed because we miss the profound mystery of Christ and His bride. He doesn’t command us to get over ourselves, take off our clothes and be vulnerable with each other in a merely physical act. He has removed our shame so that we can! When shame is removed, the result is an eagerness for this kind of vulnerability. When selfishness is removed, it becomes safe, and therefore pleasurable for both parties. It is only through His grace, we get glimpses of the Garden of Eden. He has taken our shame on Himself and given us His righteousness as our covering.

Our measly little marriages are only a shadow of the true marriage that is to come. When our marriages here disappoint us, it causes us to yearn for our eternal marriage that will never disappoint. The Lord does not shy away from the subject of sex. In fact it is front and center as an illustration of the intimacy of Himself and His bride. Here’s where it gets good.

The beauty in the illustration (from Romans 7) for us as Christian married couples is that both husband and wife have been “wives” to both of these husbands. This thought may not sit well at first with men but women understand it right away. It is life-changing truth. When Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, they should understand what that means because they are the church. They are the unworthy recipients of the lavish love of this second husband. They have been set free from the demands of the law that they could never meet. Both husbands and wives are led willingly and joyfully when led with grace, rather than law—the husband by Christ, the wife by the husband.

Since both husband and wife have experienced what it is like to be under the authority of the demanding husband, and the gracious one—how much sense does it make for us to treat each other like the first husband, but expect a response like the second husband received?  If we shame each other and motivate each other by guilt, we have become like the first husband. The evidence of this will show up in our responses to each other in the bedroom—perhaps going through the motions out of guilt (the epitome of hypocrisy), a lustful grab of self-gratification (the epitome of selfishness), or avoidance altogether.

Am I Safe In Your Arms?

I don’t know what goes on in the mind of men (that is an understatement) but I know women. We were created to be responders. We saw the example of the same woman responding to two different husbands in two different ways. When a woman feels protected and cherished by her husband, she trusts him with her heart. If she feels she can open her heart to him and that he will be careful with her feelings, then she can also be vulnerable with her body. On the other hand if, instead of protecting her, he protects himself from her emotions, shames her, is harsh with her, or treats her like a sexual object, she will feel unloved and used. She will want to withdraw from him, or lash out at him. She will get her emotional needs met by a friend. If he won’t protect her, she will protect herself by building an emotional wall. He can’t have her heart and he definitely can’t have her body. Christian women know this is a sinful and non-gracious attitude and so they might give in to the guilt that comes from reading 1 Corinthians 7:5 every now and then. Guilt, however, only “gets her through.” It treats the symptoms but not the root of the problem.

So what am I saying? Men need to do better? If they want more sex, here’s the formula? I bet a lot of men would like a formula—10 ways to serve your wife that will make her want to give you more sex. I could write that book and I bet it would be a best seller. I could call it The Proverbs 32 Man. But it would not be the gospel, or the solution to an unhealthy sex life. It would be a list of requirements that he could not fulfill or a manipulative formula that feeds selfishness. It would be just as unproductive as commanding a wife to go home, get over herself, and give her husband more sex.

Our problems in marriage don’t stem from the quantity of sexual encounters or the quality of sexual encounters. The problem is our sin and our spouse’s sin. Not just our sin, but also our desire to cover it up rather than expose it, repent of it and be freed from it.

A Couple at the Cross

Husbands lead whether they realize it or not. Women respond whether they believe it or not. God created us this way. Christian husbands either lead their wives to follow Christ or fall away from Him. If he leads her away from Christ to follow himself and his worldly pursuits, she will struggle to trust him. She will protect herself from him, and there we have the subject of this article. However, as a husband draws near to Christ for wisdom, strength, humility and gentleness, it becomes easy and joyful for his wife to trust him, submit to him, respect him and yes, open herself up to him body and soul. Only the husband can lead them as a coupleto the cross to heal the mistrust between them.

Sounds like I’m putting it all on the husband “to fix” but I’m not. I’m putting it all on Christ. This article is about remedying “the marriage bed” and truth be told, a wife cannot lead that effort. She has to get over the guilt of thinking that she can. In fact, if a husband has a lust problem, she might be enabling him if she submits to his increasingly perverted demands in their bedroom. The “marriage bed” can only be remedied by dealing with the shame and mistrust that has built up in the marriage. Only the husband can bring them as a couple before the cross.

We are all the bride of Christ. We are each individually dependent on Christ’s leadership, righteousness and His Holy Spirit to transform us. If a husband will not lead, his wife cannot make him do it. She may try to take on that role for a while but there are certain things, as a woman, she just cannot do. What she can do is run to the Savior who promises never to leave her or forsake her. He will be her husband. He will protect her. She can draw near to Christ through faith and be vulnerable with Him. He will meet her emotional needs if she will let Him. She can experience with Christ a closeness that she longs to share with her husband. She cannot make her husband come with her, but she can go there alone and find the grace to withstand what she lacks in her marriage. Women are uniquely designed to yearn for their bridegroom. It is often through the disappointment in her earthly bridegroom that she finds satisfaction in her eternal one.

That famous verse in 1 Corinthians 7:5 says: “do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” I think it is interesting that Christians hardly ever look at that exception. What prayers are so important that they constitute a time of abstinence in marriage? The rest of the chapter goes on to describe how marriage complicates people’s lives, divides their attention, and even invades happiness (7:40). Sex plus sin complicates relationships. Sinful women use sex to get relationships. Sinful men use relationships to get sex.

In the sexually depraved society of Corinth, it may have been difficult to see even glimpses of the purity and selflessness God originally intended for the marriage bed. Our culture is not too different from theirs. Matthew 24:12 predicts: in the last days “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Basically, in the last days people will use each other, rather than love each other. Maybe it’s healthy to take a little time as a couple to pray and realign your perspective on your sex-life. Sex is a powerful force either for good or evil. What does your sex life reveal about your marriage?”

Something Better than Verbal Waterboarding Your Child

As I reflect upon the days of my parenting, I wish that I had better known and seen the difference between wise counsel that lovingly confronts error with a smidgen of righteous anger, and drowning my kids with words, words, and more words. What I call, Verbal Waterboarding them to death.

I wish I had:

1. Listened more, talked less. True, at times they didn’t talk – which is what was frustrating. But their silence and their reason for it, was not a cue for words, words, and more words – glub glub, sputter sputter!

2. Been much slower to anger, for the anger of man does not produce much righteousness in the home. In the face of real rebellion, sometimes I would either go passive-duh, or adopt a scorched earth policy. No middle ground for patient understanding and dialogue, or patience for the sake of patience.

3. Said what needed to be said, then ask, “Did you hear what I said? Tell me what I said,” then close my mouth. The desire to know for certain that they adored my words with real conviction was a lost cause; I can’t see the heart. I know that. But as a parent, we so desperately want to. So frustrating. The temptation is to just keep pouring and pouring and pouring words until we get some satisfactory response. Strange: drowning my kids with words took their breath away. No wonder they couldn’t respond.

4. Spanked more, talked less. I think it was the futile attempt to avoid spanking when it was deserved that led to verbal waterboarding them. When I saw that waterboarding was not working, sometimes I would spank as a last resort, but by then, my body temperature was so high that if I accidentally said, “flame on,” the house would have burned down.

5. Prayed more for the eyes of their heart to be opened to receive life-giving words. I spent more time talking to them than talking to the Lord about them.

6. Permitted just a little more disagreement without fearing their total rejection of me. As a parent, I tended to think at times that if I don’t hold them down to what I believe is right and best in the gray areas of life, then they’ll lose their focus on the essentials; dark gray leads to light gray and light gray leads to lighter gray and before you know it, they’re so far away from the truth that they’ll never find their way back. This reasoning is like Barney Fife saying that one piece of bubble gum paper thrown on the side-walk leads to a street full of gang-bangers. Maybe, but unlikely.

7. Allowed them to say dumb things sometimes, without immediately getting all worked up about it. God allowed Job to talk and talk and talk and say a lot of dumb things, then God verbally water boarded him: “Be quiet. Stand up. Time for me to do the talk’n now.” Sometimes we rob our kids the joy of finding out how “smart” they are by prematurely cutting off their super-duper ideas. Sometimes the best thing to do is allow them to apply their “wisdom” and see how things turn out.

One time I did do this successfully by God’s grace. Joshua and I disagreed over the first car that he would purchase. I explained briefly that “this 89 Camaro RS” is not going to turn out well . . . but it’s your choice. It’s got too much power for traction in snow, drinks the gas, and has the suspension comfort of a cheap go-cart with wooden wheels. He bought it and after a year, hated it. Life Lesson Learned without verbal waterboarding, and he got to scratch his muscle car itch and get it over with.

8. Had warned more often: “I’m not going to keep talking to you and talking to you about this until you get it. There comes a time when it is best to stop giving wise words if all you do is trample them into the ground (Matt. 7:6). I’m going to leave you alone in your foolishness. If you want to talk – I’m ready. If you end up damaging your life but you see the error of your ways and you want to return – I’m here, but if you . . . mmumpwa – mmumpwa – mmumpwa wa (from Charlie Brown’s classroom).

See how easy it is for me to just start talking and talking and talking – I hear those gasps for air!

That’s it. Just reflecting. Hope you take it to heart that there is a difference between offering wise counsel and torture: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Prov. 25:11-12). I’m still working on applying this to other areas as well. So pray for wisdom, pray for your children’s hearts, and learn to speak wisely and calmly (read and pray Proverbs).

God does feel sorry, feel regret, and relent, but not that way.

There are two reasons for regretting or relenting: One is because I am finite and limited in knowledge and understanding and therefore make decisions that are not best. For example, purchasing a car with a faulty engine that was disguised with some clever mechanical wizardry. But then in a month, the real engine appeared, and now I regret ever setting my eyes upon that hunk of junk.

Another reason for regretting is because of the emotional impact of a choice while maintaining that you would do it again. For example, as a parent I can honestly say that I regret spanking my children – I hated it because of the feelings it created in me and of course the pain that I saw in my children. But I would do it again because of the good outcome it brought. Another example would be the experience of a soldier in combat coming face to face with the enemy. You either kill him or he kills you. You think of your country, your family back home, and your own life. You do not wish that his wife become a widow and his children become fatherless. But you kill him anyway. He is dead and you are alive, and now for the rest of your life you will feel a real regret in your heart for what you did. But if you were faced with the same circumstance again, you would pull the trigger. Why? Because there is something greater to your heart and worth the pain of knowing what you did, than if you had not: Living your life with your family is worth feeling the regret of taking another man’s life. In fact, you knew in advance the regret that you would feel in your heart but yet you willfully, voluntarily, and with full knowledge, did something that would break your own heart because something of greater value was at stake that makes a lifetime of regret worth it.

It is this later example that explains how God can truly feel regret while maintaining his full and perfect knowledge of the future. God does not regret like the first example, like we regret due to lack of knowledge or understanding of the outcome of our decisions. God does not make mistakes.

1 Samuel 15 is helpful. In verses 10 and 11 it says, “The word of the LORD came to Samuel: I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” Verse 29, “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” And also verse 35, “And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

Depending on your English translation, the word that is translated as “relent,” “repent,” or “regret” is the same Hebrew word in all passages. Notice that there is a way that God does and does not relent.

We know that God knew in advance what kind of king Saul was going to be because in chapter 8 the Lord warned his people that Saul was going to be a wicked king who will take and take and take from them (vss. 10-18). But the Lord gave them what they wanted with full knowledge of his own feeling of regret in advance, much like what dad experiences when he gives his rebellious child the consequence of his actions. The parent was not making a mistake just because he now feels sorrow and regret over the discipline of his own child; if he had to do it over again – he would. The Lord disciplined his son Israel for not wanting Him as their King. That the Lord feels sorrow over his own actions does not mean that he regrets “as a man” does.

Other scripture passages on this subject come from Moses. In Genesis 6:5-7, we read, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart . . . for I am sorry that I have made them.” Again we see God’s heart for the brokenness of mankind. How else is God to feel? But as in the Samuel passage also here as well, this text does not mean that God did not know that man would sin, or that God did not know his own response of flooding the earth that would cause him to feel sorry for his own actions. Scripture teaches that God knows everything in advance because he has ordained everything that comes to pass. And at the same time, God appropriately feels in the moment the grief and joy of his own actions. How else could Jesus cry, “My God, My God – Why have you forsaken me?” and it be genuine real-time despair even though the Son of God knew in advance the cross and the reason for the cross? Future knowledge of pain does not lessen the feeling of sorrow nor does it imply stupidity of decision.

Moses also says in Numbers 23:19, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” Here we see that God’s character is completely reliable. If God says that he will bless his people – it’s as good as done. If you try to speak a curse against what the Lord has planned, God will turn your curse into a blessing. The point is that God does not change his mind because he made a mistake or erred. If God says that he is going to do one thing if you sin and another thing if you do not, that is not a mind-change. It is simply God’s promise that if you do one thing, then he’ll respond accordingly. If you do another, then he will respond to that. He is not like us who say we’ll help clean the house this Saturday and make those long overdue repairs on the house, but then one of our buddies calls up and offers free tickets to a Chicago Bears game that day – and we “punt” our previous words of commitment.

What have we learned then?
1. There is a way that God relents, regrets, repents, and says “sorry” and a way that he does not.

2. God foresees his own regret and sorrow as a result of his own actions and those feelings are valid and real without undermining his character or sovereignty.

3. He Relates to us as Persons. He “gets his hands dirty” along with us. Not that he sins with us but that he genuinely interacts with us. While his sovereignty assures us that his plans and purposes can never be threatened, his relating to us assures us that he treats us with integrity as persons. God does not relate to us as robots or machines but as real persons. God’s regretting is an expression of empathy that is fitting for the present circumstance. We stand in amazement and wonder that the God who needs no relationship apart from his eternal relationship with the Son and the Spirit has deemed it good and wise to design, create, enable, empower, pursue and even be affected by us for his glory and for our good.

God has not only chosen to affect his creation but he has chosen to be affected by it.

4. God will always be God. Though man attempts to make God in his own image He will never be anyone else than the multi-emotionally complex God that he is. God is capable of weeping and rejoicing at the same time for thousands of prayers. He is able to feel complete mercy and white-hot anger at the same time for tens of thousands of sinners. This gives us deep confidence that God will never fail in doing what is right and good, with perfect and appropriate feelings for all of our circumstances.

When God relents and regrets his own actions in your life, don’t quiver in fear that he has botched things up, but draw near to him for he saw not only his own actions in advance, but his emotional response of his actions as well. He genuinely grieves over what he has done while maintaining full control at all times to bring about something greater than if he had done nothing.

Jazz, Veterans Day, and the Common Grace of God

P1030354

Last week Cheryl and I went to one of our favorite spots for a date: Andy’s Jazz Club in Chicago. Listening to jazz performed live is like watching a painter begin to express what she sees with her eyes; there are rules of color mixture, shades and shadowing, positive and negative light, but the artist is also interpreting and experimenting as brush touches canvass. Likewise with jazz artists. As R. C. Sproul reflects on God’s character demonstrated through jazz:

“Jazz contains improvisation, but improvisation is not chaos. These musicians obey the numerical relationships between tones that establish music. Their impromptu riffs only work because they follow the protocols of rhythm and harmony. Jazz virtuosos spontaneously increase the complexity of a piece as written while maintaining the rules of their craft.”

Spoken like a true theologian who understands the common grace of God. Common, because God is so good to bless Christ-rejectors with amazing skill at the piano, drum-set, guitar, and saxophone: The sun shines on the just and the unjust as it also rains on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Common grace, because God gives to all men, life, breath, and everything good that pertains to humanity (Acts 17:25). Common, because God is impartial to ethnicity, creed, class, caste, and credential. Common, because God is un-obligated and un-beholding to anyone – he does not have to be so kind and generous to anyone.

Today is Veterans Day – and this day too is owing to God’s common grace. The fact that so many can enjoy this day in relative freedom while not giving thanks to God for sending his Son to die for their sins is proof of God’s abundant mercies. It is a tragedy of sacrifice to enjoy the freedoms of this country and yet remain unthankful with contempt towards our democracy, our constitution, and our soldiers; Alec Baldwin and everyone else who spurns the Common Grace of God for the freedoms we enjoy really should turn in their citizenship and move wherever they think they can enjoy better freedoms. But what is a more grievous tragedy of sacrifice is to enjoy ANYTHING, and yet spurn the sacrifice of Christ on a horrific cross. If Christ had not died upon the cross there would not be a single, relaxing, pleasurable moment experienced anywhere by anyone for any reason. You think War is Hell? A Christ-less, Cross-less World History would be Hell for everyone immediately, for then there would be no covenant and no over-arching (think: God’s Covenant to Noah to not destroy the earth, signified by a rainbow) common grace to hold back the wrath.

O the Common Grace of God to give us so many things to be thankful for. Today, I am thankful for so many proofs of God’s long-suffering to so many insufferable people – including me. Aren’t you?