Friday, April 28, 2017

A Note to Men on Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31 is a chapter of the Bible which talks in depth about the characteristics of an excellent and godly wife. So it is naturally brought out at women's conferences, women's bible studies, and in books addressed to women.

But men here's a newsflash for you: Proverbs 31 was written to men.

It starts off by saying, "An excellent wife who can find?" So it assumes that men are the ones who need an education on what an amazing woman really looks like. Is this surprising? Who can argue that all young men need a readjustment on their view of which characteristics make a woman amazing, exceptional, godly, and special. I know I did in my teen and 20's!

Now don't get me wrong. I love the women who study Proverbs 31 and pattern their life after it. I'm just writing to the MEN who have neglected it.

If you ask young men what they are looking for in a potential girlfriend/hangout partner/wife the list would probably reflect some version of:
     1. Hotness (because of shallowness)
     2. Limited "Drama" (because of laziness)
     3. Good Job/Family/Class (because of prejudice)

But it should not be surprising to find the Bible pressing our cultural expectations. And if I may add, having been married for over a decade I've watched the marriages of many friends come and go, and I've been blessed by marrying a woman who rocks Proverbs 31. So here are several principles MEN need to take away from Proverbs 31.

1. Stop Being So Passive!
Now I want to be crystal clear here that the opposite of being passive isn't being aggressive, it's taking initiative. Proverbs 31 implies that you should be searching for an excellent wife! Stop living in the friend zone. Ask some ladies out. Get a job, get married, have lots of babies. Don't wait for women to approach you. The Bible says that an excellent wife is far more precious than jewels (v.10), so take some initiative and go find her. It never says anything like that about the perfect job, or a nice car, or a great vacation. After your decision about Jesus, finding an excellent wife is the #1 thing that will shape the quality of your entire life.

2. Find a Woman Who Loves Jesus
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (v.30)  I've personally seen the marriages of my friends and family dissolve because of problems, conflict and affairs. Only a wife who loves Jesus will have the forgiveness and resiliency necessary to stick with your stupidity and sin over the years. On top of that a woman who loves Jesus will have the Holy Spirit guiding her to repent consistently, guard her heart, and love you selflessly. Do yourself a favor. Love yourself. Find a wife who loves Jesus.

3. Look for a Hardworking Woman
"[she] does not eat the bread of idleness" (v.27). Perhaps more than any other characteristic, Proverbs 31 surprises us with just how STRONGLY it commends a hardworking wife. It's all over the chapter. Having married a very hard worker, men, let me tell you that this was probably not even on the list of things I was looking for when I was dating, but as a married man it's in the top 3 now. Surprising? Well, marriage is work and raising kids is 5 times the work. I came home from a business trip this week and my wife, who had been watching our 3 kids alone, had cleaned the house, worked on her master's degree, done the dishes, talked a church member through a problem, washed laundry, and cooked a meal so that I wouldn't have to spend money by eating on the way home. That doesn't happen without some hard work!

4. Look for Strong Character
The rest of the chapter mentions numerous other things about the excellent wife. She is generous (v.20), not a worrier (v.21,25), is dignified (25), speaks with wisdom and kindness (v.26). In other words she has a strong character. One day you will both be old. One day you will both be wrinkly. Find a woman who will be more of a treasure after 35 years because of her character, not less of a treasure because her beauty has faded.

There's undoubtedly more that can be said. And in many ways I'm just writing this to my past self. But I hope to inspire young men to think about wives and marriage the way that God does.

Monday, March 27, 2017

More on the Tower of Babel

This is the 2nd article in a series on developing a better theology for addressing our racialized society. In the first article we looked at The Fall and at the Tower of Babel as an example of how sin is expressed in groups in ways that are surprising and novel when compared to how sin is expressed in individuals. Equally as important for our developing argument, Babel teaches us that the larger the group the less personal animosity is necessary in order to be culpable in an evil system which represents pride, rebellion, or nation-building apart from God.

Today's post looks further into The Tower of Babel and the lessons it contains about ethnicity, people groups, sin, and God's design for the nations. My thesis is that the Tower of Babel is an example story rather than an explanatory story of the rise of ethnic diversity and that therefore the causes of ethnic diversity are not a result of the Fall and are not supposed to be undone in the Church or the age to come.

In the Tower of Babel narrative you find that the corporate pride and rebellion of the city leads to nation building apart from God. A proto-nationalism is present. The reason for this according to the Genesis narrative is that the Garden of Eden was a usurpation of the Kingship of God. The rebellion of people who wanted to be like God (Gen 3:5) is echoed by the rebellion of people who say, "let us build ourselves a city and tower with its top in the heavens." The language is different but the pride is the same. In response to this God "came down to see" which implies the tower came woefully short of its intended purpose. God then confuses their language (v.7) and disperses them over the face of the earth (v.8).

Many have read this and concluded that the Tower of Babel in Chapter 11 is a mythological origin story for the various people groups. However this ignores the fact that Chapter 10 is explicitly about the rise of various people groups, with their various languages, spreading out across the earth. The Tower of Babel incident is a localized and amplified example of a process which had already begun. The question that interests us is: What does this mean in terms of ethnic differentiation?

As "peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations" in Genesis 10:5 (and 10:20, and 10:31) this is depicted not as a result of the Fall, but rather humans fulfilling one portion of their divine purpose. Namely, be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it. In fact, they are obeying God who in Genesis 9:1 says "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." So the expansion of people across the earth results in the formation of people groups with different cultures here represented through language. This argument is buttressed by the way that God's post-diluvian covenant with Noah functions as a sort of re-creation narrative. It is this obedience to a divine command which results in the myriad of cultures and people groups we find today. Different cultures are not a result of the Fall, they are a natural out-working of people obeying God's commands, wittingly or not.

However The Fall has affected each of the cultures which has been created through the expansion and this is the exact point of the Tower of Babel story. The location of the Tower story in the narrative serves to highlight the character of these cultures during the expansion. They have rejected the rule of God and seek their own power, strength, and glory so that they may rule. Corporate pride always manifests itself by creating new foci for worship, whether a tower in the ancient world or an individual in the Western world. Self-exaltation may be corporate or individual, but it is a natural result of the Fall. Every culture is affected.

It is notable that at Pentecost, when the nations are gathered to Jerusalem, the gospel is proclaimed in a multitude of languages at once rather than just in Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. The existence of these cultures is a beautiful testament to the purposes of God in creating humans. But the necessity of the gospel in every language reminds us of the need for redemption in each culture. In this way, Pentecost can be seen as undoing of the Tower of Babel. The Tower represents the sinfulness of the nations as they are scattered, while Pentecost is the beauty of the various nations displayed and brought under the Kingship of God when they are gathered.

In this way Pentecost gives us a vision for our churches today. The character of the multitude of cultures which may inhabit a single church must be shaped by the gospel message. Each person from each culture must assume that his natural inclinations given by society do not represent a culture under the Kingship of God. But also, the gathering of the diversity of cultures of the saints in one place reminds us that the gospel message allows humans to fulfill the commands of God while simultaneous doing it in a character shaped by the gospel. In other words we can finally be an "us" without judging "them."

The Tower of Babel is a scattering of people. Because of their pride and disobedience to God's good word their language is confused and they can no longer understand one another. They are sent to the far corners of the earth. They become many different people groups.

Pentecost is a gathering of people. Because of their obedience to God's good word (the gospel) the language barrier is destroyed and people hear and praise God in their own languages. They are gathered together from the corners of the earth. And importantly they become one people: the church.

Seen in this light, Pentecost is an undoing of the Tower of Babel brought about by the power and grace of God. The birthday of the church is a celebration that the ethnic or racial divisions which have divided people are being reconciled through the cross of Jesus Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the mark that these people are no longer united against God in sin, but rather they are now united under God in Christ.

Zephaniah 3:9,20 -
“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
and serve him with one accord.
At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

In Zephaniah God promises a gathering of people. Because of God's redemptive purposes he will gather together unbelievers for judgement and believers for blessing. He will restore to them a common language (Zeph 3:9) that they may praise God together. And he will do this at the Day of the Lord.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Post on Race I Couldn't Write

In the church office I was assigned a blog post on race and the church. So I enthusiastically put the post on my priority list. After all there is a serious problem when the Bible says the gospel has the power to tear down the dividing wall of hostility between warring ethnicities BUT Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. But a problem soon became evident.

It just sat there.

For weeks it sat there. Then for a month. Then for several months. My co-workers began to look at me askance. Why wouldn't I write the post? Was I scared of talking about race? Maybe I didn't know what to say? Maybe I didn't want to offend anyone?

It is true that I was delaying, but not for the reasons anyone might guess. The truth is that I couldn't write the article because I couldn't write one article.

One blog article on addressing our racialized churches seemed ridiculous to me. It almost seemed to make the problem worse in my mind as if this elephant in the room could be eaten in one bite. I refused to send people away with easy answers: make a friend who is not your race, don't be mean to other ethnicities, everyone needs Jesus. All these statements are true and mostly unhelpful.

I feel as though what I have to say might take a while and it won't be particularly conducive to the blog format. When I told this to the team they encouraged me to just do it anyway. "We don't care if it digs deep and it takes a while. People will stick with you," they told me. So I'm writing and I'm starting at the beginning.

I believe the church deserves more, better, and sustained thought and dialogue so I'm going to write. I am inviting you to stick with me through these posts. When they trickle out over time, I want you to find time to read, process, and digest these long-form posts.

Thanks for being that kind of church.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Exploring Racism, Discrimination, and Prejudice in the Bible


Why has the church been less than effective in addressing the racialized society of America? Because if you start with the wrong diagnosis, you'll end up with the wrong treatment. The evangelical church has rightly addressed the cause of racism as original sin, but it has downplayed the extent to which sin affects not just individuals but also groups. In fact, I believe the white evangelical church in America has held a theology of sin which is correct but incomplete.

White evangelicals correctly diagnose that sin causes personal harm and separation of individuals from God, but we neglect the biblical teaching that sin cripples families, clans, and ethnic groups in ways that transcend the cumulative effect of sinful individuals. We have downplayed the systemic evil inherent in concepts like "the world," and we have outright ignored the biblical teaching that evil powers and principalities exercise their demonic influence through political powers and principalities. This over-individualization of sin has led to a shallow and ineffective response to our racialized society. To return to the medical metaphor, we have found a patient with lung cancer and misdiagnosed him with a cough. We keep feeding him cough syrup, wondering why nothing changes, then blaming the patient for getting sick!

In order to make progress toward true racial reconciliation and an abatement of our racialized society we must look afresh at the true nature of sin.

Let's Look at The Fall Again.

Trick Question. Where can you find The Fall in the Bible? 

If you are like most Christians you answered Genesis 3. In fact, my ESV Bible does the work for you as Genesis 3 is titled "The Fall." And this is no surprise, look at the content:
  • The serpent tempts Eve (v.1)
  • Eating the forbidden fruit (v.6)
  • Feeling shame and covering themselves (v.7)
  • Hiding and separation from God (v.8)
  • Blaming one another/marital strife (v.12)
  • God's curse on Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (vv.14-19)
  • Expulsion from the garden (v.24)
Sure looks like The Fall. Sure feels like The Fall. So why isn't chapter 3 The Fall? The answer is that Genesis 3 is the beginning of The Fall. Look closely between Genesis 3 and Genesis 11 and you'll see sin ripple outward affecting not just individuals, but families, clans, and ethnic groups. The narrative of The Fall takes nine chapters to unfold until, in Genesis 12, God finally intervenes to turn back this tidal wave of sin. This is foundational enough that it is worth tracing the outline of the spread of sin.

The Spread of Sin

Right after Genesis 3 ends you move on to Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. This is not a new story which is intended to teach us a moral lesson about jealousy and anger. This is the continuation of The Fall. Separation from God, environmental impact, and degradation of the marital relationship happen first, the destruction within families follows in chapter 4. This is followed by an incident with an evil man named Lamech (Genesis 4:22-24) who is said to take revenge seventy-sevenfold. Through this we see sin affecting inter-family or clan relationships. This is the birth of the cycle of violence which sees clans seeking vengeance instead of justice. This is followed by the unfortunate incident where the "sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them." Whether this incident reflects kings behaving badly or fallen angels behaving badly it clearly furthers the case that sin is spreading into and destroying new realms of human life. Next comes the Noah narrative which serves to highlight the severity of sin, the certainty of God's judgement against sin, and the need to be rescued from sin. And finally in chapter 11 you arrive at the culmination of sin in the Tower of Babel. The end result of which is that God scatters people and speech which speeds the creation of different ethnic groups and, quite frankly, leads to people being divided against one another in their sin, rather than united in rebellion against God.

Greatly simplified, it looks like this:
  • Genesis 3: Broken Relationship with God, with spouse, with creation
  • Genesis 4a: Cain and Abel, sin spreads to intra-family relationships
  • Genesis 4b: Lamech, sin spreads to family clans
  • Genesis 11: Tower of Babel, sin spreads to various ethnic/people group
The point that sin spreads outward and amplifies from Genesis 3 through Genesis 11 is obvious and well acknowledged by biblical scholars (Kline is my favorite here).

A Pivotal Point

However it is at this point that we must stop and deconstruct a misleading argument about how sin works. It would be easy to assume that sinful individuals make for sinful groups and that this is all the explanation you need to account for our present world. This oversimplification is true on the surface, but it ignores a horrible truth. When you combine sinners into various kinds of groups you get new, novel, and surprising expressions of sin which were incomprehensible with sinful individuals. It is clear that sin bursts forth in surprising ways when it is applied to groups rather than individuals by looking at the Genesis narrative. In individuals sin leads to shame, hiding, and blaming (GN 3:7-12). Within families sin leads to jealousy, lying, and anger (GN 4:5-). Between families sin leads to cycles of escalating violence and vengeance (GN 4:24). Within societies sin leads to corporate pride and community rebellion against God (GN 11:4). Note that in the Bible the expressions of and participation in sin are overlapping yet different when sin is examined in different size groupings.

The Tower of Babel as an Example

Let's consider the changing expression of sin within groups by thinking more about the Tower of Babel. The building of the Tower teaches us something new about sin expressed within a society. If we only had Genesis 3-10 then we would expect the city of Babel to be full of people who reject God's good word, experience shame, hide their true selves from one another, get jealous and angry at family members, and engage in never-ending cycles of increasing violence toward other family clans. No doubt this was the case. Yet in Babel we find that sin has affected the city in a surprising new way. Now it manifests as corporate pride in a shared identity and the building of a tower which directly expresses their rebellion toward God. Since the creation of the tower was a religious expression which would have required the participation and energies of the whole community it is not unreasonable to suppose that the systems and structures of Babel were corrupted and put to use in the corporate rebellion against God. We have corporate sin with corporate expressions which are different yet just as destructive.

This last point is important because as sin spreads to groups, personal animosity toward God or other people becomes less important (certainly less noticeable) in the expression of sin. One only had to carry bricks up the steps of the growing tower and earn an honest day's wage to be culpable for the sin of the whole community. Actually, that is going too far. Those in the city which did not build, but watched and lived their lives in the shadow of the growing tower were ultimately just as culpable in God's eyes as the king of Babel-everyone was eventually scattered. In this example maintenance of or participation in an ungodly system is enough to be guilty. That was heavy so let's say it again: maintenance of or participation in an ungodly system is enough to be counted guilty by God.

Before dealing directly with racial reconciliation in the Bible it is important to note that sin springs forth in surprising and unexpected ways when expressed through groups. And it is important to note that the larger the group the less personal animosity is necessary in order to be culpable in an evil system which represents pride, rebellion, and nation-building apart from God.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

5 Steps to Reinforce Values Weekly

How do you anchor values in Scripture, tie them to behavior, and make them inspiring? That's not a skill everyone possesses, but it is a skill everyone can learn. All ministry leaders-paid and unpaid-must reinforce their values to their team on a weekly basis. There are many creative ways to do this, but the simplest way is explaining it to people each week. 

For example our children's director will be rotating, on a weekly basis, through her mission, questions, and values.
Mission: A safe, fun place for kids to learn about the gospel. 
2 questionsDid you have fun? What did you learn? 
ValuesSafety, Creative Bible Teaching, Age-appropriate, Relationships, Fun.

Here are 5 simple steps to accomplishing this on a weekly basis.

1. State and Explain the value
2. Share a Scripture that illustrates or highlights this value and explain it
3. Tell a story from the ministry where you saw this done well or poorly
4. Tell what will happen if we all embrace this value
5. Remind people what to do this week to make it happen

1.) You know our five values spell SCARF. It just works out that way :) And the last value is Fun! It's also one of the two questions parents are asking their kids every week, Did you have fun? We want the answer to be a resounding YES! We want this to be a fun place for kids.
2.) In Proverbs 17:22 it says, "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." You never know what kind of week a child has had and sometimes the smile and joy that come from having fun are exactly the medicine they need. Ecclesiastes also reminds us that "there is a time to laugh" if it's not children's ministry, then I don't know when that time would ever be!! God made us to have fun, and when we have fun we are speaking the love language of children.
3.) I saw this just last week when Katherine led the game where all the kids were laughing and smiling. That is exactly the kind of environment we want to create. The more of that we have the better!
4.) Imagine if we do this so well that kids are literally dragging their parents back to church. It should be so much fun that kids are bringing their whole family to hear the gospel every single week! 20 years from now I want kids remembering how great church was when they were a kid.
5.) So remember to get down on to their level and when the time is right it's ok to be a little silly.

Of course, there are hundreds of ways to do this creatively, but when it comes to a new skill you need to nail it before you scale it. If you are brand new to this consider writing out what you want to say ahead of time for each of your values. I hope this is helpful. I just wanted to put the cookies on the bottom shelf.