“Heartbroken because it had…”

I have been reading through the very excellent (and highly recommended!) Wingfeather Saga of children’s books written by singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson. I’m doing this partly because I’ve been told that they are simply good and epic books, along the lines of a children’s version of The Lord of the Rings. But I’m also doing this to get a sense of them before starting to read to my children.

One of the aspects that I appreciate most about Peterson’s writing is how he deals with real life situations in an honest manner. Much of children’s literature seems to go to one extreme or another: either everything is great and wonderful and could never be bad or the world is a dark and scary place with only a little bit of good in it (usually accompanied by some sort of self-esteem “but you can make it better!” message). Peterson does neither. Writing from a Christian worldview, Peterson writes with humor and wonder and adventure, but he also deals with the occasional difficult-yet-real topic as well.

In the second book, North! or be Eaten, we find the Igiby children’s beloved dog dying as a result of defending them from their wicked enemies (called the Fangs). What I find most impactful about this chapter is how it so plainly and clearly shows an understanding of sadness and evil in the world and yet, for those who trust in the Lord, that sadness and grief is not without hope:

“Janner remembered the day at the cottage when she thought the Fangs had killed Nugget. She had cried little and soon grown silent. That had been far more worrisome to him than the way Leeli now wept. She seemed older, no longer shocked that such a thing could happen in the world but heartbroken because it had. Her tears struck Janner as the right kind of tears.” -North! or Be Eaten, Andrew Peterson, p.65

And, indeed, that is the difference. This is why we cry when somebody dies. Not because we can’t believe that death would ever occur, but because such a terrible thing did occur.

It reminds me of the first time a toy of my daughter’s broke. It was some sort of cheap battery-operated thing that we’d gotten somewhere and it worked for all of a few minutes. At the time, she didn’t have a lot of words, but was clearly trying to express her frustration, and then sadness, as she kept trying to get it to work. She then took it to her mom to fix, but it couldn’t be fixed, for it was broken. Then my daughter brought it to me, knowing that “daddy fix?” so often is all that is needed to get something working again. Alas, I was unable to fix it as well. The tears that came to my daughter’s eyes that day were tears of shock as much as sadness: she had no idea a toy – something which should give her such happiness – could break and leave her without that same happiness.

Now my daughter is older, and one of the most heart-wrenching yet necessary things to see is that she understands that there are things like death and pain and meanness in the world. She still cries when something bad happens, but her tears are no longer tears of shock and betrayal at a world she thought was only good. Now she cries because she knows that there are such pains in the world. And we praise God together that she knows and believes that Jesus will someday take away all of the pain and the horrors and the tears.

So shall it be for all who trust Christ. When we look at the world, we must not approach it either naively nor fatalistically. Instead, we must approach it realistically: we understand that there is great sin now and that should grieve us. But we must always remember that sin will not reign forever. Someday it will be destroyed by our Glorious King. And so, amidst tears and sorrows, we hold fast to hope. To Christ. To salvation. And to the Kingdom which He is bringing with Him.

“Is God anti-gay?”

I believe that one of the most difficult struggles we have as Christians is knowing how to respond both faithfully and gracefully to social issues, particularly ones that we disagree with.

The rhetoric around homosexuality has been heated for a number of years, and lately has devolved into nothing short of an all-out war. On the one side, we Christians who hold firmly to what the Scriptures say have not always communicated the Bible’s stance against homosexual actions with grace and mercy. Too often we have used it as a club to beat over the head anyone who disagrees. Too often we have used it as part of a wider campaign against “the liberals” (whoever those are) in part of the culture wars. We have become a people who are known more for what we are against rather than what we are for.

On the other side, we have those who claim homosexuality as their identity – and those who support them – hijacking the language of tolerance to make their own views look normal and everyone else’s look strange. In their desire not just for acceptance but for affirmation as well, those on this side of the line have changed the idea of tolerance from “I disagree with you but defend your right to say or hold that view” to the radically and ironically intolerant view of “If you don’t agree with me then you must hate me and hatred is intolerant, thus you are intolerant and I can be justified in being intolerant to you.” The irony, of course, is that those who champion tolerance are perfectly fine being intolerant (“shouting down” as one Sioux City Journal editorial said) to those they disagree with.

Enter Sam Allberry’s helpful little book “Is God anti-gIGAGay?” What is most striking about this book is not it’s size (about 90 pages), nor how winsomely it argues for the Bible’s stance on sexuality in every circumstance, but rather that the author himself has the qualifications to write on this subject: you see, Pastor Allberry struggles with same-sex attraction. And yet, by God’s grace, he lives a celibate life because he is convinced that the Bible restricts sex to a married man and woman only.

This little book is a gem: Allberry is thoroughly Biblical – even knowing that to be so will call his own struggles out. And yet, unlike so many, Allberry does not believe that his struggles with same-sex attraction are what defines him. This enables him to see Christ as what is most important about his life, rather than making the issue about “identity” or “who I really am,” because who Pastor Allberry really is, is a sinner saved by grace. And that’s who I am and who every Christian is. I would suggest that this is one of the key issues that we who are Christian need to be clearer on – and not just with respect to homosexuality, but in all manner of sins – we are made new in Christ. What is most important about us is not whatever demographic or marketing category we fall into, nor is it our politics or where we live. What is most important is that our Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ.

The book is chock full of helpful insights as well. Allberry reminds us that we need to not treat those who identify as homosexual as being beyond the grace of God. He tells us as well that we need to understand that though this is a massive, sinful, issue; at the same time what a person in the homosexual lifestyle needs most is not ten reasons why they are wrong (though that particular sin DOES need to be addressed at some point), but instead what they need most is to know Jesus as their Savior from sin. In other words, start with Christ and work outwards, rather than starting with sin and trying to somehow bridge to Jesus. Allberry himself argues that he struggles with other things far more in life than he does sexually. Therefore to only address him (or someone like him) on that one front is only part of the problem.

Another thought-provoking point that Allberry makes is that churches have often made it more difficult for those struggling with same-sex attraction because we have oriented so many of our outreaches and ministries around serving couples and families. If we want to uphold the Bible’s stance on sexuality (i.e. only between a man and a woman and only if they are married), then we need to also uphold the very high value that the Scriptures place on singleness as well. Too often the church has failed at this, and so – unknowingly – we have played a part in making marriage (and now, homosexual marriage, as is being argued in the public square) the issue of the church. I – too – have noticed that the church seems to not know what to do with single people. When we act as if singleness is a disease that needs to be cured we devalue those who are single and, for those who are single perhaps because they are struggling with same-sex attraction, we twist the knife even more. Allberry does a great job of both surfacing this issue as well as providing some practical helps on good ways to change the course.

At any rate, my review of this book has grown quite long, which is ironic given how short the book is. So I will conclude by ending with the highest praise I could give in a review of a book such as this one: every Christian should read this book. Every Christian should take to heart what it says. If you care about understanding what Scripture says regarding homosexuality, get this book. If you care about seeing all kinds of people come to Christ (those who identify as gay or straight, married or not, rich or poor, European or African, etc.), then you need to read this book. Its influence is the Bible and its applications are driven by holding Christ high, realizing that we all fall short, and then being reminded of the cross of our Lord.

Innocent as to Evil

“We do well to know why we are not Mormons or Roman Catholics or why we believe same-sex marriage is wrong. But it can be dangerous to immerse ourselves in false teachings and false teachers. It can be dangerous to assume that we need to have a deep understanding of error in order to hold fast to what is true.”

This is the balance and the challenge that Tim Challies’ puts forth in a recent blog article: how do we both know what we believe (and why) and yet not immerse ourselves in that which is false, evil, and untrue? His concern – which I tentatively share at times – is that Christians spend too much time trying to know every intricacy of a false doctrine or an unfaithful teacher and yet don’t spend equal – or more! – time knowing what God has actually said in His Word. Put another way, we should be experts on what God has said first and foremost. If you spend more time studying false teaching than you do studying right, true, and good teaching then your priorities are out of whack.

Read the rest of the article here.

II Samuel 8 Friend or Foe?

Please click on the video below to watch the sermon.

Friend or Foe?  2 Samuel 8:1-18
The Defeat of God’s Enemies
(8:1-8)
A Friend of Israel
(8:9-14)
Cabinet of the King
(8:15-18)
Are we friends with the Lamb or friends with the world?

II Samuel 6 The Ark Returns

Please click the video below to watch the sermon.

The Ark Returns  2 Samuel 6:1-23
The Ark: Blessing or Curse?
(6:1-7)
David Abandons the Ark, David Retrieves the Ark
(6:8-15)
Michal Despises the Ark
(6:16-23)
God is Holy: How do we respond?