Archive for June, 2013

Dodging Dating Disasters

Date 1Recently, I was talking to a friend who is in the throws of the dating scene.  Over the course of our conversation, it began to strike me just how complicated, frustrating, and frightening dating really can be.  Her past few dates had not gone so well.  And she was beginning to lose hope.  “All the good ones are taken,” she said with a definite edge of resignation.  “I’m just going to have to take what I can get.”

The more I pondered her statement, the more concerned I became.  Her willingness to just “take what she can get” seemed to be nothing but a setup for a let down.  After all, if her past few dates had ended poorly because she just settled for what she could get, how much worse would things go if she married someone just because he was all she thought she could get at the time?

Over the years, I have shared with people a taxonomy that helps them consider who to date and who not to date.  The interesting thing about this taxonomy is that it is one we all use or have used, but we often use it only subconsciously.  Pulling this taxonomy from our subconscious to our conscious, however, can help us identify our patterns of thinking and, hopefully, save us from dating disaster.  So it is with this in mind that, if you are dating or would like to date, I would encourage you take a moment and create a three-column list.

Column 1: What I want.

In this column, simply write honestly what you would like in a companion.  And don’t sugarcoat it. If you’re a lady who wants the guy who looks like a cross between The Rock and Vin Diesel, write that down.  If you’re a guy who wants the girl with the perfect hourglass shape, write that down.  Hopefully, you also have some more modest and meaningful desires for a companion as well – someone who has a good sense of humor, a deep intuition, or a knack for solving big problems.

Column 2: What I need.

In this column go the non-negotiables.  The non-negotiables include items such as faithfulness, forgiveness, commitment, and, of course, a hearty trust in the Lord.  Think long and hard about this column and try not to confuse what you actually need with what you think you need.  For instance, you may think you need someone who meets some predetermined standard of outward beauty so that you will be intensely physically attracted to them.  But though physical attraction is important, outward beauty inevitably changes and fades.  Thus, striking outward beauty is not really needed – even if you think it is – because it cannot be kept.

Column 3:  What I’ll settle for.

In this column go the compromises you are willing to make.  And as I did in the first column of what you want, I would encourage honesty.  Sadly, many people are willing to make compromises morally to try to make a dating relationship work, engaging in intimate acts that are rightly reserved for marriage.  But, of course, not every compromise is immoral or embarrassing.  Some compromises are neutral.  For instance, if you want a person with a good sense of humor, but wind up dating someone who couldn’t deliver the punch line to a joke to save their life, that’s a compromise, but can your significant other’s lack of humor can also become endearing in its own right.

Now, think about each of your three columns and consider these questions:

  • How does column three affect column one?  Are there any things you want in a mate that you could live without?  If so, this is good!  This means that you know your wants are just that – wants – and not necessities.
  • How does column one affect column three?  Are there any wants on which you should be willing to at least consider a compromise, but you’re not, thereby treating a want from column one like a need from column two?  If so, you are in a danger zone.  For when you refuse to even think about compromising on a want, you are putting your desires ahead of another person.  And this is selfishness, which leads only to relationship breakdown.
  • How does column three affect column two?  Are there any things you know you need on which you are willing to compromise?  If so, you are in a danger zone.  Compromising on things like integrity, faithfulness, or faith is a recipe for a relationship disaster and great emotional and spiritual harm.
  • How does column one affect column two?  Are there any things that you want in a relationship that are opposed to what you need?  For instance, if you want someone with good looks, does this tempt you to become shallowly infatuated over how a person looks on the outside rather than being committed to who they are on the inside?  If so, you are again in a danger zone.  The righteous needs in column two should always trump the desired wants in column one.

As you can see, what matters most is column two.  Columns one and three are both negotiable.  This is why when I counsel those who are dating, I encourage them to give on columns one and three, but not on column two.  For column two holds the keys to long-lasting relationships.

So if you’re dating, or getting ready to enter the dating scene, think on these things.  Taking just a few moments to fill out these columns now can save you a lot of pain and heartache in the future because these columns can help you keep your priorities straight.  And keeping your priorities straight can help keep your heart in tact.

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June 24, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Bible Is All About ___________

Bible 1The Bible is all about __________.

How you fill in this blank makes a big difference in how you approach not only the Bible, but your life as a believer in Christ.

I have no doubt that most Christians would fill in the blank with “Christ.”  After all, a respectably orthodox theology demands no other answer.  “The Scriptures…testify about Me,” Jesus declares (John 5:39).  But what we say about the Bible and what we want to know from the Bible are often two very different things.

I once had a lady who felt the need to give me some preaching advice following one of my sermons.  “The problem with you,” she began, “is that you always end your sermons the same way:  by talking about Jesus.  I already know what Jesus did,” she continued. “I want to hear about what I need to do to live a better and successful life!”  She expressed publicly the way a lot of people feel secretly.  To learn about Jesus is fine and good, but what we really want is to learn about ourselves – how we can be successful.

Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, calls such a desire “reading the Bible narcissistically.”  He explains:

We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual…Even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans, the place we go for the help we need to “conquer today’s challenges and take control of our lives.”[1]

But this is not the purpose of the Good Book.  The Bible is not about us being better.  It’s about Jesus being perfect.

“But what about me?” someone may protest.  “I have concerns I need answered!  And they’re not just concerns about how I can go to heaven after I die, they’re concerns about how to deal with things while I’m still alive!”

This is where we can modify how we fill in the blank a little bit.  Because the Bible is indeed all about Jesus.  But Jesus came for us.  Jesus lived for us.  Jesus died for us.  And Jesus rose for us.  The Bible is all about Jesus who just happens to be for us.

Tchividjian continues:

The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue; our sin with His salvation; our failure with His favor; our guilt with His grace; our badness with His goodness.

The problem with the way so many people approach the Bible is that they skip over Jesus to get to themselves.  The Bible is indeed about us, but it’s about us in light of Jesus.   And it is when we read the Bible in light of Jesus that we discover that we are more deeply sinful than we ever thought, unable to improve our lives under our own power and will, and Jesus is more magnificently gracious than we ever imagined, able to save us from our sin and our selves.  You see, Jesus is not only the key to reading the Bible correctly, He is the key to reading ourselves correctly – as sinners in need of a Savior.  It is when we see Him as the center of the Scriptures that we find we need Him as the Savior of our lives.


[1] Tullian Tchividjian, “Reading The Bible Narcissistically,” The Gospel Coalition (6.10.2013).

June 17, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Law of Retaliation

"Saul Tries to Kill David" by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, 1850's, Wikimedia Commons

“Saul Tries to Kill David” by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, 1850’s, Wikimedia Commons

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we discussed the importance of friendship.  Every person needs a friend for encouragement, for challenge, and for consolation. In the words of Proverbs 17:17:  “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  For good times and for bad, everyone needs a friend.

Perhaps the most famous example of friendship in the Bible is that of David and Jonathan.  These two guys far more than just bar buddies.  1 Samuel 18:1 describes their relationship like this:  “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.”

Though David and Jonathan’s friendship was strong, it was also fraught with peril.  Jonathan’s dad, Saul, the king of Israel, hated David and wanted to kill him.  But Jonathan was so deeply devoted to his friend that he went to bat for him, telling his father:

“Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.  For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the LORD worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” (1 Samuel 19:4-5)

In my sermon, I talked about how Jonathan, in order to defend his friend, appeals to the lex talionis, a Latin phrase referring to the “law of retaliation.”  This law is classically expressed in Leviticus 24:19-20:  “If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.”  This law, of course, is not meant to promote violence, but to contain it.  The lex talionis stipulates that “the punishment must fit the crime.”  If someone takes your eye, you can’t take his arm.  The example I used in my sermon is, “If someone steals $100 from you, you can’t sue him for $1 million because of emotional pain and suffering.”

The way Jonathan uses the lex talionis in 1 Samuel 19 is especially fascinating.  For rather than appealing to the lex talionis responsively to punish a crime, he appeals to it preemptively to prevent a crime.  Jonathan’s essential argument to his father is this:  “You can’t kill David!  The law of retaliation says you can only hurt someone if he first hurts you!  And David hasn’t hurt you!”

I have gained a deep appreciation for Jonathan’s argument to his father because Jonathan essentially turns the lex talionis into a catch 22.  You can hurt someone, but only if he hurts you first.  Someone else can hurt you, but only if you hurt him first.  This means no one can hurt anyone because no one can make the first move to hurt someone because, by sheer chronological necessity, there would be no prior just cause for such an injury, thus breaking the lex talionis!  Far more than regulating violence, the lex talionis prevents it.

This use of the lex talionis is nicely in line with Jesus’ commentary on the rule:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).  Jesus essentially says, “Even if you are unjustly wounded, never give anyone a reason to use the lex talionis on you.  Self-control, even in the midst of terrible adversity, is paramount.  If you don’t hurt someone else, then that other person has no ground on which to stand if he hurts you.”

What tensions and quarrels do you have with others?  The best way to end them is to refuse to give the person with whom you are in conflict any reason to retaliate.  Your cool and collected response to someone who is angry may just be what diffuses a fight, ends a conflict, and restores a friendship.

June 10, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Tornadoes and Satan

Moore TornadoCrises have a strange way of calling people to faith.  In a day and age where many are bemoaning that our nation is becoming increasingly secular, the devastating EF 5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 gave rise to an abundance of prayers and cries to God.  Ed Stetzer paints the scene well in his article for USA Today, which is worth quoting at length:

Times of grief reaffirm our identity as a religious nation. Shortly after the horrific news of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, “#PrayforOklahoma” quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending list as millions shared their prayers for the people who lost loved ones and had their homes destroyed.

In times of prosperity, far removed from tragedies, many people in our culture reject expressions of faith. In the moments of hopelessness, however, the desire to reach out to a higher power is an instinctive reflex.

Some may say, “But that’s Oklahoma – it’s the Bible Belt.” Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was struck by the comment made by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy referencing our collective religious heritage:

“In the coming days, we will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe: that there is faith for a reason, and that faith is God’s gift to all of us.”

Many are embarrassed by this national identity – until it is time to grieve.  Then, politicians, celebrities and reporters can unashamedly say they are praying for those affected.  News networks will show church bells ringing in memory of those lost.  Nightly news shows feel the need to broadcast excerpts from sermons delivered by pastors in the area.  Journalists interview religious leaders about how God can help us through.

And yes, that is where the discussion often begins. We consider why this would happen. Some people representing faith groups may speak quickly (and unwisely), assuming they can connect the dots between something in our culture and the most recent tragedy.

Others simply ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?”[1]

Tragedies of the sort that struck Moore, no matter how supposedly “secularized” our nation has become, call forth faith.  And, as Stetzer duly notes, they also call forth questions.  Most often, tragedies like the one in Moore call forth the question that Stetzer poses:  “How could God allow this to happen?”  But in the wake of the tragedy at Moore, I received another question that, though less common, is certainly worthy of a moment of our reflection:  “Can Satan cause a tornado?”  When a tragedy strikes, most people wonder about God’s power to prevent tragedies and His ultimate purpose in allowing them.  But it is also worth asking what kind of prerogative Satan has to wreak havoc in our world.

Satan does seem to have some power to cause trouble in our world.  One needs to look no farther than the story of Job.  In nearly an instant, Job’s life goes from riches to rags.  A quick sequence of four calamities, instigated by Satan himself, robs Job of nearly everything he has.  The fourth of these calamities is especially instructive for our purposes:  “Yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you’” (Job 1:18-19)!  Notice that it is a windstorm that Satan sends to destroy Job’s family.  Satan, it seems, does seem to have limited power to incite natural disasters.

It is important to note that, as the story of Job clearly delineates, Satan incites calamities on a person not because a person is somehow particularly sinful or deserving of such calamities, for Job was “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  No, Satan incites calamities out of depraved delight – he enjoys watching people suffer.

Certainly we cannot know, nor should we speculate on, the transcendental cause of Moore’s devastating tornado.  The most we can say is that natural disasters are part of living in a sinful, fallen world and Satan takes cynical delight in the effects of sin on our world.

But there is hope.  For even if Satan can incite calamities, his ability to do so is severely – and blessedly – limited.  Jesus describes Satan as a “strong man” whose fate is sealed:  “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man” (Matthew 12:29)?  Satan may be a strong man.  But Jesus is the stronger man.  And He came to tie up Satan by defeating his favorite calamity – death – on the cross.

Ultimately, then, no matter what the spiritual causes of the natural disasters that plague our world may be, in this we can take consolation:  no matter how much strength sin and Satan may have for ill, Jesus is stronger.  He’s so strong, in fact, that “even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Matthew 8:27).  He has things under control.  And He holds Moore’s victims in His heart and hands.  May we hold them in our prayers.


[1] Ed Stetzer, “We still cry out to God when tragedy strikes: Column,” USA Today (5.22.2013).

June 3, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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