Glenn T. Stanton: The Christian Divorce Rate Myth (What You’ve Heard is Wrong)

Stanton makes a critical distinction in how he defines “Christians” in making his claim. It is spot on, IMHO.

“Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world!” It’s one of the most quoted stats by Christian leaders today. And it’s perhaps one of the most inaccurate.

Based on the best data available, the divorce rate among Christians is significantly lower than the general population.

Here’s the truth….

Read it all. (HT: T19)

Ben Witherington: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Vertical Jesus in a World of Horizontal Analysis

If you have ever wondered if the Gospel accounts of Jesus are true, this is a must read for you.

We are all products of our education, and in case of myself and indeed all of us, we were all trained to analyze the Gospels in detail using source, and form, and redaction criticism.   Now these methods have their pluses and minuses.  They can be useful in getting at certain aspects of things about the historical Jesus, but unfortunately these methods cannot help us very much to deal with the canonical Gospels  if we seek to treat them  as they were intended to be treated by their original inspired authors. More on that in a minute.

These Gospel authors were not operating with the canons of modern secular historiography which tends to have an anti-supernatural bias with its practitioners regularly muttering astoundingly dogmatic things like “that didn’t happen because those kind of things don’t happen.  People don’t rise from the dead.”   I have to say that that sort of dogmatic statement puts the dog back in dogmatic just as much as the dogmatic statements of some fundamentalist TV preachers.     It is especially proper to ask persons who are dogmatic in modern secular anti-supernaturalist ways, just as it is proper to ask persons who are dogmatic in others ways—  ‘How do you know things like that don’t happen?’    And if the answer is ‘I have never seen such a thing happen’  then we realize we are dealing with persons who needs to get out more,  see more of the world of human experience,  but have the arrogance to assume that his or her private, individual experience exhausts what is possible when it comes to the limits of historical reality.    This person is in fact saying “talk to the hand with your miracle reports, the face is not listening.”  What is even worse is when such scholars then take the next step of suggesting that if you don’t have these sorts of presuppositions you are not a critical scholar, and are not doing proper historical analysis of the Gospels.

Take your time and read this post.

Buckles, Last WWI Doughboy, Dies at 110 in W.Va.

God bless you, young soldier. Thank you for your service to our country.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — He didn’t seek the spotlight, but when Frank Buckles outlived every other American who’d served in World War I, he became what his biographer called “the humble patriot” and final torchbearer for the memory of that fading conflict.

Buckles enlisted in World War I at 16 after lying about his age. He died Sunday on his farm in Charles Town, nearly a month after his 110th birthday. He had devoted the last years of his life to campaigning for greater recognition for his former comrades, prodding politicians to support a national memorial in Washington and working with friend and family spokesman David DeJonge on a biography.

Read it all.

Why Read the Bible: To be Reminded to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me [Moses], “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you [Israel] out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me [Moses] at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

–Deuteronomy 4.9-14 (NIV)

If you spend much time reading the Bible, you will probably notice that there is a recurring theme related to remembering. The psalms, for example, are full of cries to God to remember us (see, e.g., Psalm 25). On the cross, the repentant thief asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingly power (Luke 23.39-43). And as we see in today’s passage, God implores his people not to forget him or his mighty deeds. Why is that?

The primary reason we see God reminding his people constantly to remember him is because we forget so easily. We tend to forget the important things of life because most of the time we are so easily distracted. Life gets in the way. We get distracted over our work, over family problems and issues, over relationships, over sports, over current events (take a look at the statehouses in Madison, WI and Columbus, OH if you don’t believe me), and a million other things. Besides the big things in our lives, we also have the ability to let the littlest things distract us and when that happens we forget to keep the Main Thing the main thing, and that is never good.

Take today’s passage for example. Here Moses is reminding his people to keep the Main Thing (living as God’s called-out people; think about the Summary of the Law, which summarizes the 10 Commandments) the main thing in their lives. God understands that we are easily distracted and need constant reminders to focus and refocus on the most important Thing in life (God). That is why Moses urges his people not to think for themselves but to learn the ways of God and to teach these things to their children. Why is that?

Because God chose Israel to be his agent of redemption for his fallen world. That is the meta-narrative (the Big Picture) of the entire Bible, the story of how God used Israel and ultimately through Israel, Jesus and his body, the Church, to bring about the redemption of his sin-sick world. When God’s people get distracted they lose sight of their calling. For example, when we get distracted we quickly forget that God is active in his world and still fully in charge. We forget that we were created to have a relationship with him, to love and enjoy him so that we could be a blessing to those who do not.

We see this sad reality repeated over and over in Scripture. When God’s people forget to keep the Main Thing the main thing, they do all kinds of goofy stuff. In the context of the OT, God’s people quickly fell into idolatry–they worshiped other gods instead of the one true God. They forgot that God called and blessed them through Abraham so that they could be a blessing to others so that God could use them to redeem his broken world (Genesis 12.1-3). Consequently they forgot to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6.8), and God called them to account because of that. This is why we see God sending his prophets to remind his people not to get distracted. They were to remember God’s mighty acts of power so that they would remember they had a God who is adequate for anything life could throw at them. They were to remember that God led them through the desert wilderness and brought them safely to the land he promised to give them. They had the pillars of cloud and fire as tangible reminders that God was with them but they still forgot, at least partially.

As a sidebar, I often wonder if this partial remembering, at least by the faithful remnant in ancient Israel, isn’t one of the main reasons why they missed the Messiah when he came to live among them. Were God’s people expecting him to come to them in power and great glory the way he had in the desert and therefore missed him completely when he was born to them as a poor infant and itinerant preacher and prophet? Did God’s people remember just enough about God’s power that this blinded them to the reality of God in Jesus as he began to bring about the Kingdom through his acts of healing, mercy, and love?

Regardless of whether these were possible reasons why God’s people missed his coming to them in the person of Jesus, the same thing happens to us in our historical context. Clearly God’s plan of redeeming the world in and through Christ is not yet fully realized. Hence, God still calls us to participate in his redemptive plan. Since Jesus is the culmination of God’s eternal plan to redeem his broken world through Israel, we who follow Jesus must be willing to obey his call to us to follow him. We don’t do that as individuals but collectively as part of his body, the Church.

But this is where we get distracted just like God’s people originally did. We may not be wandering through a literal desert but we are wandering through our own deserts, nevertheless. We get distracted by technology that interconnects the world instantaneously and often in a bewildering fashion. In America, we get distracted by our toys and our narcissism. We get distracted by money, sex, and power. We get distracted by rampant consumerism and individualism. We get distracted by the frantic and frenetic pace of our life, and a host of other things.

All these things keep us from doing what is necessary to help us keep the Main Thing the main thing, disciplines like taking purposeful time for quiet reflection and  prayer before God, studying Scripture, or gathering together with other faithful people to worship God, partake in his sacraments, and encourage each other so as to build up each other. These distractions also delude us and make us believe we really are in charge of things–until life smacks us in the face, that is. Then we remember how very little we control and how precarious is our mortal life. Only then are we more readily open to commands like we read in today’s passage. Only then are we willing to consider making the Main Thing the main thing because we realize the Lie that we are not the Main Thing.

And when God calls us to follow him, he gives us a code of conduct to follow if we heed his call. We cannot act like God’s people on our own power, of course. We need his indwelling Spirit to help us overcome our broken selves. But follow him we must if we ever hope to be his people. This is hard work but if you are looking for meaning and purpose in life and living, here it is. What an honor and privilege it is for us to have God call us to be agents in his Kingdom work brought to its climax in Jesus! We can be agents only and precisely because Jesus was the One to initiate the work in his Incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus can use us because we follow him, not because we are special. It is costly work and living. But it is living as God intended life to be and you cannot go wrong doing that.

Make no mistake. It is only God who can (and will) ultimately redeem his world. But he calls us as his body, the Church, to follow Jesus to help him bring about the completion of his work. When you accept God’s gracious invitation to keep the Main Thing the main thing, you will find power, meaning, purpose, and joy that nothing in this world can rob you of–as long as you remember to keep the Main Thing the main thing, and to do that you will need the active help and Presence of Jesus himself.

If you have not done so already, what’s holding you back from following Jesus? You will find out what it means to live life to its fullest and not even your mortal death will be able to rob you of that fullness. Why? Because you have the very promise of God himself that you will be part of his New Creation that will last forever, a New Creation that you helped bring about by your humble obedience to Christ during your mortal existence. Is that not just the coolest thing?

Why Read the Bible: To Learn How to Talk with God

I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me.

–Psalm 142 (NIV)

If you have ever wanted to talk with God but don’t know how, take a look at the Psalms. They provide wonderful examples of how to talk with God as well as rock-solid theology. Take today’s psalm, for example. It is ascribed to David and written in the context when he was hiding in a cave trying to avoid being killed by his enemies. You can’t get much more real than that.

Note first the humility that is implicit in the entire psalm. The psalmist acknowledges his need for God’s mercy and his sometimes inability to deal with all that life throws at him (like hiding in a cave to avoid being killed by his enemies). The psalmist consequently turns to God to help bolster his failing courage and perseverance in extremely difficult times.

Note too the honesty contained in this psalm. The psalmist is not bashful in complaining to God about his situation (and the implicit assumption that God will do something about it). We also see the existential human fear expressed that we are really quite alone and forgotten in this world. Here the psalmist asks that God remember him by being his strong refuge.

And what will the psalmist do when God answers his cry for mercy and help? He will praise God for his goodness and justice. Of course, if God is worthy of our praise he is also worthy of our obedience and you can see this notion running throughout virtually every psalm, either explicitly or implied.

What this suggests, of course, is that God is accessible to us. He cares for us and will listen to us, even if he does not always grant our requests. We should certainly be able to understand this latter notion, especially if we have kids of our own. How many times have you had your kids ask for things that you know are not good for them and refused their requests because you love them and want the best for them? How much more so does this apply to God when he deals with us and our sometimes less than stellar requests? And of course as with any good conversation, we should take time to listen for God’s response. A one-sided conversation is called a monologue and in the context of prayer that almost always signals a lack of humility on our part.

Here then are some key ingredients for talking with God (and listening for his response in Scripture). Praise, thanksgiving, humility, honesty, faith that results in a confident expectation that we have God’s ear, and when necessary asking for God’s mercy as we acknowledge our human condition.

Scripture is our living witness that God is accessible to us and will never turn us away. If you find that there are times when you want to talk to God but just don’t have the words, look through the Psalter (the collective name for all 150 psalms) and pray the one(s) that best reflect your situation and/or state of mind. Don’t worry. The whole gamut of human emotions can be found in the psalms.

God loves us and created us to have a relationship with him. Part of developing that relationship is learning how to have an ongoing conversation with him. Is it not very cool that God has even provided examples for us to follow to help us learn how to have meaningful conversation with him? If you are not yet having those kinds of meaningful, ongoing conversations with your Creator, what are you waiting for?

Why Read the Bible: To Learn What Happens When We Follow Jesus

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

–2 Corinthians 3.1-6, 17 (NIV)

As I have written here before, faith in Jesus must always translate into action. People’s lives, the communities in which they live, and ultimately the world must slowly but surely be transformed when we faithfully obey Jesus. In short when we give our lives to Christ, he will heal and transform us and equip us to help him in his work of New Creation.

We see this illustrated clearly in Paul’s writing today. He reminds the Corinthians that the proof of his ministry is in their transformed lives. Paul does not take credit it for any of this, either for the success of his ministry or for the changed lives he sees in the church at Corinth. No, he acknowledges that any success comes from the power and presence of the Holy Spirit living in us.

In practical terms this means changed lives right here and now. It usually doesn’t come quickly or dramatically, but it comes.

“If you want to change the world,” Paul seems to be saying, “then submit your lives to Jesus and obey him. He will equip you with all you need to help others see him in you. In your joy and in the way you conduct your life, others will see that you belong to Jesus and it will make a difference. But if you think you can change the world on your own, you are only kidding yourself.”

This is what Paul was talking about when he tells us that the letter (think the 10 commandments) kills. It kills, not because the Law is bad, but because we humans cannot on our own obey the Law, which is God’s will for us. We cannot on our own conform our lives to please God because we are by nature rebellious creatures. But when we allow Jesus to rule our lives and obey him, he can make a real difference in our own lives and help us make a real difference in the lives of others. Neither do we have to worry about our eternal destiny because as Paul reminds us, Jesus has freed us from the power of sin and death through his own death on the cross.

Here then is the one and only recipe for finding real joy and meaning in your life. You will find it paradoxically by losing yourself to Jesus. When you do, he will equip you to do his Kingdom work. Your orientation will shift naturally from yourself to others. You will look for ways to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your Savior. You will stop seeking self-aggrandizement and will stop making life all about you. Instead, you will start making life all about Jesus and serving others in loving obedience to him.

Obeying Jesus will arouse the ire and scorn of Jesus’ enemies–and believe me, they are legion and you will encounter them in the most unexpected places–and they will hate you and persecute you. But you will see yourself  making a difference right here and now and you will discover that the scorn of Jesus’ enemies (and consequently yours) is really a badge of honor because it reminds you that you really do belong to the One who loves you and gave himself for you. You will be reminded that not even death can break your relationship with Jesus because you are living your life at the foot of his cross. This is God’s eternal promise to you and it will lead you to engage in a life of humble service and obedience to others. None of this will be your own doing. It will come from the power of Christ in you.

And then there will be those folks in whose lives you will make a difference. They will want to know why you live the way you do, why you would possibly care for them, what’s in it for you. This will give you an opportunity to let them in on the secret, to let them know about this Jesus who has claimed you and made all the difference in the world for you. Best of all, you can do this in the context of your own life. You don’t need to become an ordained minister or vocational missionary. You can do it in the context of your family, your job, your community, your neighborhood, your relationships. See a neighbor in need? Help him out. Talking to a friend who is searching for meaning in life? Help her out. Learn about a sick friend? Visit him and offer him your presence (and Jesus’). You get the idea. The opportunities are endless and you will find yourself being refreshed by Christ in you.

Don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that all will be rosy or peaches and cream. In fact, following Jesus is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. He demands everything from you, not just part of you. He demands that you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. This means that you will have to work each day to put to death those things in you that seek to keep you separate from God and alienated from him. You will be confronted by the forces of evil who will seek to destroy your relationship with God (and sometimes you). It will require that you develop discipline in your life so that you can do the things necessary to cultivate your relationship with Jesus and help him be Lord of your life.

But take heart. You don’t have to do any of this by yourself. As Paul reminds us today, you have the very Presence of Jesus living in you in the form of his Holy Spirit. Jesus isn’t some dead guy. He is alive and well and wants you to give your life to him. He will help you do that. He will also give you help in the form of other believers because he knows you are human and need the human touch. Obeying Jesus will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do but once you try it, you will find incredible joy and life-changing meaning and purpose in your life because he will help you understand that in your obedience to him you are demonstrating your love and allegiance to the Source and Author of all life. And as I used to end my sermons, that is Good News for you, both in this mortal life and for all eternity.

Why Read the Bible: To Understand Living the Christian Faith Requires Accountability

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

–2 Corinthians 2.5.-11 (NIV)

In the west, and especially in the USA, I think there is a mistaken tendency by some to view living the Christian life as primarily an individual effort. That, however, does not live up to the biblical standard of faithful Christian living. As we can see clearly in today’s passage, when we give our lives to Jesus we are expected to live our lives together so that there can be mutual accountability between Christians.

Accountability doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? It conjures up images of nosy neighbors and people prying into our lives, looking over our shoulders, and waiting for us to slip up so they can scold us. That is not Christian accountability, however. Real mutual accountability consists of when we behave in ways that demonstrate our concern for each other. It is motivated primarily by love and the need for accountability stems from the sad fact that we humans are prone to stray from the truth and get it wrong as much as we get it right. Real Christian accountability will always seek to assess behavior based on Christ’s truth as revealed in Scripture (yet another reason to read your Bible regularly). We have to love someone enough to be able to tell them when thy go astray so that hopefully the offender will mend his or her ways and return to living according to God’s standards and truth. Only then can we be confident that he or she is living in the light.

We see this illustrated clearly in the passage above. We don’t know if the individual to whom Paul refers is the dude from 1 Corinthians 5 or if he is someone Paul had to deal with during his “painful visit” to the Corinthians, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is what Paul tells us regarding discipline and accountability. Clearly the offender, whoever he was, has repented of his unacceptable behavior and here we see Paul reminding the Church to restore him and stop punishing him. You see, punishment for the Christian should never be about exacting revenge or seeking to hurt the offender. It is all about restoration because it is driven by love, not malice.

This takes some doing on our part because love, mercy, and forgiveness don’t come naturally to us and so mutual accountability is hard to practice. We don’t like to hurt others’ feelings nor do we like it when people call us on our unacceptable behavior and ask us to stop engaging in it. But if we really love each other, then we must be willing to hold each other accountable. As Paul reminds us, if we don’t, we also give Satan a toehold within the Church and that is never a good thing. How so? Refusing to hold each other accountable means that we think it is OK to condone wrong or harmful behavior. It can also lead to rumor mongering and innuendos of all kinds if the offender is not directly confronted by the offended because we start triangulating others to help us solve our disputes and problems. This, in turn, provides Satan with an opportunity to further exacerbate an already bad problem.

When we give our lives to Jesus we must also be willing to give our lives to each other, especially fellow believers in our own congregations so that we can help hold each other accountable. As long as we have the requisite humility and Christian love, mutual accountability can be a wonderful thing. It reminds us that we are loved and can count on someone else to help us in our faith journey and its accompanying struggles. When I was a young man headed off to college, I wanted nothing more than to get away from my home town so that people wouldn’t have their noses in my business. After a couple of years living in an urban environment basically alone and in isolation, I gradually came to realize that having someone to love me enough to hold me accountable wasn’t such a bad thing after all. It sure beat living alone and having nobody care if I lived or died. And this love–Christ’s love manifested in part through his body–is exactly what the Church can offer us.

In a society that is becoming increasingly fragmented, this can be a welcome blessing in our lives. Will we always get it right? Everybody knows that answer. But just because we are imperfect does not make the idea of mutual accountability a bad thing.

At its best when we humbly submit to God’s Holy Spirit and seek to obey his will, we can have the further assurance that he will provide us with the necessary means of grace to help us live our lives as Christians. Mutual accountability is one of those blessings–yes, I said blessings–and we can thank God and our fellow believers that they love us enough to want the best for us. Not “best” as we define it, but rather best as God defines it. That’s a challenge. But living in obedience to God’s will inevitably bring us joy, meaning, and purpose in our lives, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

So if you have not yet given your life to Jesus, go ahead. Try it. Don’t wait to find out the hard way like I did that living your life together is much more desirable than living your life alone and in isolation. When you become part of  Christ’s body, the Church, you will soon learn that you are never alone and you will never have to worry about or wonder if anyone really cares about you or remembers who you are. Not only will you have your fellow believers to love on you (and be loved by you), you will also realize by God’s grace that they are tangible reminders of the wondrous and mind-blowing love that Jesus himself has for you.

Why Read the Bible: To Learn More About Our Marching Orders

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

–Matthew 5.13-15 (NIV)

The Gospel not only gives us hope and assurance about life eternal, it also gives us our marching orders right here and now. To see the Gospel as only some future hope with no relevance regarding how we live our lives here and now ignores massive chunks of the Gospels. No, if we live in hope that we will get to live for all eternity with God, that hope starts right now and we’d best start acting like we believe it.

In today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us of our marching orders. We are to be stewards of his Kingdom. We are to help him bring about his Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven (remember that clause in the Lord’s Prayer?). We are to be his salt and his light. Salt, of course, preserves and light is biblical language that refers to God’s presence. It is an awesome privilege and honor to think that God calls us to help him bring about his Kingdom by being his salt and light. Is that not way too cool?

So how do we do that? By imitating Jesus and obeying his commands. We don’t have to be rich, famous, or powerful to follow Jesus. We simply need a servant’s heart and his Spirit living in us to enable us to be his agents of transformation. This means that we start to make a difference in God’s world wherever we are or whatever it is we do. We are Jesus’ salt and light to our families. We are Jesus’ salt and light in our work environment and neighborhood. We are Jesus’ salt and light to our friends and yes, our enemies. Jesus will use our personalities and the gifts and talents he has blessed us with to help remind the world who he is. We will make a difference because we are living to bring Jesus honor and glory, not ourselves.

This is why it is important to read the Gospels to see how God in Jesus is bringing about his Kingdom here on earth. We might not be able to raise the dead or give sight to the blind, but we sure can serve and love others. We sure can work to bring justice to our neck of the woods. We sure can love and forgive our enemies and pray for them. We sure can act with integrity and a good will toward everyone we meet. We sure can feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We sure can love our families and serve them in our respective roles as husbands, wives, and children. You get the point. The list of opportunities is endless and in obeying Jesus, you will find that your obedience will bring you joy, fulfillment, and purpose to life that will satisfy your deepest needs and longings.

Are you being Christ’s salt and light to his world? If you don’t know how, sit down and start reading the Gospels so that you can better understand how to do that. Ask Jesus to come live with you and show you how he wants to use you to help transform his broken and hurting world and people. Then be prepared for the ride of your life. You will face opposition, scorn, and criticism. But you will also find that in obeying Jesus and imitating him, life will be richer and more meaningful than you ever dared imagine.

Mark Regnerus: Sex Economics 101

From Christianity Today.

A provocative, troubling, and thought-provoking read, especially for anyone who has a young daughter.

No News Flash: The West is facing an economic collapse whose effects will stretch on for decades. News flash: The West is also facing a challenging marketplace economy in sex and marriage, at least according to Mark Regnerus. “Neither a strong gender constructionist nor a strong gender essentialist, but a sociologist” (at the University of Texas-Austin), Regnerus describes the traditional marriage economy this way: Most men want sex more than do women and have traditionally gained access to sex via marriage. In turn, most women have given sex for marriage, which has brought economic security and commitment.

Take some time and read the entire interview, especially if you are a parent of a young child. Then reflect on what it has to say and start talking to your kids about sex and marriage, if you have not already. What is apparent from Regnerus’ interview is that these topics cannot be limited to just “The Talk” that both parents and kids of age dread. It must be an ongoing conversation if you really love them.

Memorize [God’s] laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and foreheads to help you obey them.
–Deuteronomy 6.6-8 (CEV)

CT–Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World’s Poor, Unemployed

Yesterday I wrote about how real faith always leads to action. I agree with what Jim Wallis says below but I also want some follow-up data to this survey, data that would tell me why evangelicals support what they do. Could be that many do believe in supporting the poor and most helpless in our society, just not via governmental agencies. The proof would be in looking at how much and to whom evangelicals as a group give their money.

That said, I absolutely think we need voices like Jim Wallis and Sojourners to be continually vocal in their reminder to us as Christians to care for the least, lost, and most marginalized in society. Real Christian faith is always transformative. Always.

“The moral test of any society is how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. And that is exactly what the Bible says, over and over again,” said Sojourners president Jim Wallis. “Taking the cutting knife to programs that benefit low-income people, while refusing to scrutinize the much larger blank checks we keep giving to defense contractors and corporate executives, is hypocritical and cruel. I’ll go even further and say that such a twisted moral calculus for the nation’s fiscal policy is simply not fair, and not right. It is not only bad economics, but also bad religion.”

Do take some time to read it all and reflect prayerfully on these data.

Why Read the Bible: To Find Examples of Faith in Action

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

–1 Timothy 5.1-8 (NIV)

This passage has been curiously omitted from the daily lectionary, but it warrants a look nevertheless because in it we see a couple of powerful examples of faith in action. At first blush, it looks like Paul is giving Timothy (and us) a bunch of arbitrary rules to follow but this would be a serious misreading of the passage. A much more satisfactory reading would be to read the passage through the lens of learning about how faith in Christ can change us and others for the better. Here we see two different examples of how faith works in our daily lives.

First, note the transformative expectation that is implicit in Paul’s writing. He is essentially telling us that faith always leads to action. It always seeks to alleviate human need and suffering where it can, in this case in the context of the family. Why is this so? Because what Paul is talking about here is driven by the two great commandments, or what we refer to as “the summary of the Law.” We are to love God with all that we are and have, and that must necessarily by made manifest in part by how we treat humans. In other words, if you claim to love God you will show him (and others) that you do by how you treat your fellow humans, even the most unlikable among us.

For example, notice the concern for human dignity that jumps out at us in this passage. “Don’t abuse old or young people,” says Paul, “in part because it is the wrong thing to do and in part because the oldest and youngest represent the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.” How often do we see old people shoved off into nursing homes because their families do not want to deal with their aging and infirmity or do not know how to deal with these problems? “We don’t marginalize people for our own convenience,” Paul seems to be saying. “People are made in God’s image and are therefore worthy of our utmost respect despite where they are in the seasons of life. Being created in God’s image is what gives people dignity, not power, wealth, or prestige.”

Of course, not every family puts its old members in nursing homes because the old people are an inconvenience. Sometimes it is medically necessary to get our loved ones help when their needs surpass our ability to address them. But to ruminate over this example misses Paul’s point about the dignity of every human being and the need to care for society’s weakest and most vulnerable. The Christian will always seek God’s guidance for how he or she can best demonstrate God’s love to others. The Christian faith will always lead us to be on the lookout regarding how we can best help society’s weakest and most marginalized.

We see this same principle made manifest in Paul’s discussion of widows. Like the elderly and young, widows represented some of the most vulnerable in society in Paul’s day. They still do in ours. Here Paul reminds families of their Christian duty. “Take care of your own,” Paul says. “Otherwise your faith is dead and you show yourself to be the rank hypocrite you are. Not only does that make you look bad, but worse yet it brings dishonor to the Lord Jesus.” Yikes!

Like the elderly, the widowed are made in God’s image too and are therefore worthy of our respect. If we claim to love the Lord, we should want to obey him and charity starts at home. Faith should always seek to make a difference in people’s lives and it doesn’t have to be something spectacular. To the contrary, we have multiple opportunities to alleviate human need and suffering in the ordinary circumstances of life. As you look at your own faith (or lack of it), you should be able to see where you are making a difference for someone, especially in the ordinary situations of your life.

But to do this, we need to be fed and reminded of our responsibilities. We need to constantly remember Whose we are and what our responsibilities are to the One who loves us and claimed us from all eternity. Why do we need to be fed and reminded constantly? Because we are easily distracted in the living of our lives and prone to forget. Just as an athlete needs to eat well to help his body perform up to its maximum capability, the Christian faith needs to be nurtured and fed by God’s word in Scripture, by worship, by Christian fellowship, and by partaking of the sacrament of Holy Communion. All these disciplines feed us, remind us Whose we are and that we are not alone, and consequently help us put our faith into action. Just look at the life of Jesus if you need a further example. Mark tells us that before every major decision in his life, Jesus spent the preceding time in prayer. He understood that he needed to be firmly rooted in God’s strength and power and to know God’s will before he acted. Likewise with us.

If you are looking for meaning and purpose in your life, here is a wonderful opportunity to find it. You find it by giving yourself entirely to Jesus and then developing the recognized disciplines mentioned above that will feed your love for him and for your fellow humans. When that happens you will be amazed at how your own life will be transformed as you live and work to put your own faith in action to help others in need.

If you have not already done so, take the chance and commit yourself to following Jesus. As you do, read about the lives of the saints in the Bible. You will find them to be just like you in a million ways–ordinary people who responded to God’s call to them, which in turn transformed them into extraordinary saints. It can be just like that for you too. You too can tap into God’s extraordinary power to help you love him and others in the context of the ordinary days and people of your own life. Is that not just way too cool?

Why Read the Bible: To Learn Why We Need to Read the Bible

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

–1 Timothy 4.1-10 (NIV)

Paul was writing to his young protege, Timothy, and giving him advice on how to be a good elder for the church in Ephesus, but his advice holds true for all of us. Paul is reminding Timothy what he (and we) must do to establish and grow in our relationship with Jesus; and like all relationships, that is not always an easy or straightforward thing to do.

First, notice Paul’s insistence on learning true and sound doctrine. Why is this? Because even in Paul’s time, false teachers had arisen in the Church and were teaching all kinds of goofy things (and we don’t have to look very far in our own day to see that things haven’t changed much in this regard since Paul’s day). Here Paul identifies and exposes a false asceticism for what it is and explains why it is false (always a mark of a good teacher). So we learn from Paul that our human condition makes us susceptible to all kinds of errors. That is why we need to delve deeply into God’s word in Scripture to learn about truth. You don’t have to read many of Paul’s letters to quickly realize that he would have scoffed at the post-modern notion that there is no universal truth. If there is a true and eternal God, there perforce is eternal truth that flows from God.

That is why Paul is so insistent here (and elsewhere in his letters) on sound doctrine and the correct teaching of Christian doctrine. If the Christian faith is not taught correctly, we really won’t have a snowflake’s chance on water of getting our relationship with God correctly. So what do we do? Read Scripture everyday and then come together regularly with other believers to talk about what we’ve read. Reading Scripture is both an individual and corporate effort and we need each other so that the Spirit can help us grow in our knowledge and faith. “Do this,” Paul says, “and you will be engaging in an exercise program that will last you far beyond your mortal days.”

What I hope you see here is that Paul is commending the classic Christian disciplines of prayer, Bible reading/study, fellowship, and worship as God-given antidotes to help us in our weakness and to equip us with the proper knowledge we need to develop and grow in our relationship with Jesus. As I have written before, that relationship is not one of equals but one of Creator and his creatures. This changes the rules of the game dramatically and since we are so prone to getting it wrong as often (if not more so) as we are in getting it right, we need to do our part to help counteract that nasty dimension of our human brokenness.

Will engaging in these disciplines ensure that we get it right all the time? Hardly. No human gets it right all the time. But we must have faith in these God-given disciplines and engage in them if we are to have any real hope of growing in our relationship with Jesus. We may not like it, but those are the rules and if we want to be able to live our lives with meaning, hope, purpose, and power, we must grow in our reliance on Jesus’ power working in us rather than on our own abilities. As Paul reminds Timothy here, spiritual disciplines are essential in helping make that happen.

Reading Scripture and making it our own will not only help us in our relationship with God but also with each other. As the psalmist reminds us,

Your word, O LORD, is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119.105).

Most of us need a light for our path in life because it gets complicated, doesn’t it? Need a light for your family relationships? Let God’s word serve as your lamp. Having a vexing problem with a relationship or two? Let God’s word serve as your lamp. Need guidance regarding an ethical issue or conflict resolution? Let God’s word serve as your lamp. Looking for meaning and purpose in your life? Let God’s word serve as your lamp. Are you afraid and/or feeling all alone? Let God’s word serve as your lamp. Do you just feel beaten down (or up) by life? Let God’s word serve as your lamp.

Doing so will not make your problems magically disappear nor will they make you immune from hurt, heartache or disappointment. What God’s word will do for you, however, is to help you navigate through the storms of life and provide you real comfort and help. Learning God’s wisdom will also help you avoid harmful and hurtful things in the first place (prevention is always better than a cure) and give you real wisdom and insight into the things and workings of this world. Who couldn’t use some of that?

Life is not always pleasant. In fact, it can be more difficult than it can be pleasant. But take heart and hope. You don’t have to go through life alone. You don’t have to rely on your own inadequate abilities to help you cope. You have the very promise and Power of God in Jesus to help sustain you and give you what you need to live your life well. But it comes at a price. You will need to give your very self to Jesus and then start behaving in ways that are consistent with your words. You won’t get it right all the time but the good news is that that is not contingent on you having a meaningful relationship with the Lord and Creator of the entire universe. How do we know this? Because we have seen him hang on a cross for our sake before we watched him ascend into heaven to assume his rightful place as Lord and King. In other words, we know that God in Jesus is for us, not against us (cf. Romans 8.31-39). What a great and wondrous love and hope that is!