Posts tagged ‘Faithfulness’

Discerning Right From Wrong

File:Italy, Bologna, 17th century - Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah (recto) Sketch of Two Men and Other Va - 1939.666 - Cleveland Museum of Art.jpg
Jacob and Laban with Rachel and Leah / Italy, 17th century / Wikipedia

When Jacob marries both the daughters of his uncle Laban in Genesis 29, it is difficult not to suspect that these marriages will go nowhere good fast. The story goes that Jacob falls in love with Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel, and agrees to work seven years for his uncle as a kind of dowry to gain the girl. But after Jacob’s seven years of service are completed, his uncle gives him his older daughter, Leah, instead, insisting:

It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the other one also, in return for another seven years of work. (Genesis 29:26-27)

Jacob is so smitten by Rachel, he gladly obliges. The problem is that now Jacob has two wives – and one is clearly his favorite. Unsurprisingly, this causes a host of problems in both marriages. At first, only Leah is able to bear children for Jacob, which was critical in the ancient world. The continuation of a family line was a primary source of pride in this culture. When Rachel sees that Leah is bearing her husband children, she becomes jealous and gives Jacob one of her servants named Bilhah to sleep with, so he can have children she can claim through this servant. This arouses Leah’s jealousy, who responds by offering to her husband her servant, Zilpah, through whom he can have even more children.

In the middle of this marital mess, Jacob sleeps with Leah and she becomes pregnant. She is delighted and proclaims, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband” (Genesis 30:18).

Really? Leah really believes that God is pleased with her for offering her servant to her husband so he can sleep with her? Morally, this sounds preposterous to us. But it seems to have sounded sensible to Leah. After all, the proof of God’s pleasure at the arrangement was in the gift God gave her – a son.  Right?

The Psalmist once prayed: “Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). Human beings are so deeply sinful that, sometimes, we sin and don’t even know it. This is true of Leah. She is so desperate for her husband’s affection that she is willing to bring an extra woman into a relationship that is already problematically polygamous and then interpret the fruit of that sin as a sanction from God.

A story like this should instill in us a little humility. If Leah could think that something as deeply morally wrong as offering another woman to your husband is right, is there a possibility that we might get morally confused, too?

The prophet Isaiah once warned:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Morally, we can often try to be too clever by half. We cleverly excuse our lies using a cloak of confidentiality. We cleverly cover our gossip with a patina of prayer. And we, like Leah, can cleverly misinterpret a blessing from God as a divine imprimatur on some kind of bad behavior.

To understand right and wrong, morality and immorality, righteousness and wickedness, we must constantly return to the clear certainty of God’s commands. He is the One who can take our worst moral instincts and replace them with a godly conscience, shaped by His Spirit and truth. So, let’s not fool ourselves. Let’s listen to the Lord.

November 16, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Saving Marriage from the Heartbreak Hotel

Wedding Chapel

Credit: Viator.com

It seems as though declining marriage rates are not just changing our society sociologically, but are stressing the wedding capital of the world, Las Vegas, economically.  In an article for Bloomberg, Jeanna Smialek explains how:

Roland August has officiated at thousands of weddings in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed capital of “I do.”

But these days August – who often presides dressed as Elvis Presley – has a rare vantage point from which to observe the nation’s long shift toward “I don’t.” …

The wedding chapels where August works have seen business dwindle, he said, and Vegas is pushing to reverse the decline in an industry that generates as much as $3 billion in economic activity annually. In 2015 the surrounding county introduced a $14 surcharge on marriage licenses to pay for marketing, and local business leaders helped start a Wedding Chamber of Commerce last year.

A drop in weddings, it seems, amounts to a drop in revenue for a city that is known as being flush with cash.  Of course, this is all part of a broader nationwide trend.  The Pew Research Center reports that, whereas 72% of adults 18 years of age or older were married in 1960, now, only 50% are.  But, if the graph published by Bloomberg is any indication, the nationwide decline in marriage has hit Nevada especially hard.

Marriage Decline

In one way, none of this is particularly surprising.  For all the fun and levity, which are not bad things in and of themselves, that I’m sure Mr. August brings to the weddings he performs, vows taken without things like spiritual guidance from a pastor or other religious mentor, serious prior consideration of all the things marriage entails, a commitment to make marriage alone the sacred space for sex, and, often, even a baseline of sobriety do little more than to cheapen and make a mockery out of the whole institution.  And when something becomes cheap, it inevitably becomes expendable.  After all, if Britney Spears can drunkenly marry her childhood friend in Las Vegas and then have their marriage annulled 55 hours later, one has to wonder:  why bother with marriage in the first place?

They key to reversing the decline in marriage and the denigration of marriage is not to try to repristinate the marriage-saturated days of 1960, hoping that, somehow, marriage rates will soar again if we just yell enough at the cultural forces that have damaged the institution.  No, the key to a deeper appreciation of and desire for marriage is to consider what marriage is really meant to reflect.  So here are three things that we can say, as Christians, marriage reflects.

Marriage reflects community in Christ.

One of the great mysteries of Christian teaching is that of the Trinity – that God is one, yet, at the same time, He is also three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, God is in community, in some sense, with Himself.  For centuries, professional theologians and Sunday School teachers alike have tried to explain this mystery in a way that is comprehensible.  My Sunday School teacher, for instance, mused that the Trinity is like an apple.  There is the peel, the flesh, and the core.  These are three parts, and yet they are all part of one apple.  The problem with this illustration, however, is that God is indivisible.  He cannot be divided like an apple.  He is not made up of three parts, but actually is three persons.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with its own object lesson to help us understand the Trinity.  What is this object lesson?  Marriage.  When marriage is given by God, He explains that it is meant to be when “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  In marriage, there are two persons, and yet they are one flesh, even as in God, there are three persons, yet He is one God.  Moreover, throughout this life, a husband and wife ought to be indivisible, as is God.  This is why Jesus says divorce is so damaging – not only because it hurts the people involved, but because it tarnishes the very reflection of God!  Thus, community in marriage, even if it is broken by sin, is meant to reflect the perfect community of the Trinity.

Marriage reflects the sacrifice of Christ.

As anyone who has been married for any amount of time will tell you, marriage requires sacrifice.  It requires laying down your own wants, needs, and desires for the sake of another.  The apostle Paul eloquently explains the sacrificial nature of marriage when he writes:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Paul notes that the sacrifice a husband makes for his wife ought to reflect the sacrifice that Christ made for His church, even if that sacrifice includes laying down his very life, as it did for Christ.  Thus, at the same time marriage gives a community that reflects the Trinity, it also eats away at our proclivity toward selfishness.  Marriage is fundamentally centered not on yourself, but on your spouse, even as God is fundamentally centered on us and on our salvation.

Marriage reflects eternity with Christ.

The best marriage is not the one you celebrate once a year on your anniversary.  The best marriage is the one that is still to come:

I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:1, 6-7)

When the apostle John gets a window into eternity, he sees that every wedding on earth between a husband and wife is ultimately meant to reflect a perfect wedding in heaven between Christ and His people.  Marriage in this age, then, however wonderful it can be, is not an end in and of itself.  It is a sign pointing to something even greater.  This is why Jesus, when He is questioned by the religious leaders about marriage in eternity, says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).  Marriage between people till death do them part is meant to point to perfect communion with God where death no longer reigns.  Marriage, then, at the same time it fills a longing, should also create a longing.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that not even your spouse can meet.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that only Christ can fill in His wedding feast.

This is what marriage is meant to reflect.  It cannot be reduced, then, to a Vegas jag, or, for that matter, a well-planned out and exorbitantly expensive ceremony and reception.  These things are not necessarily bad on their own terms, but if they become the things of marriage, they reduce marriage to something that is entertaining, cheap, and contrived.  But marriage cannot stand if it is this.  Marriage must stand as a gift from God that gives you community, costs you your very self, and points you to the One who gave Himself for you so that, on the Last Day, He can walk you down His eternal aisle.

No neon or Elvis costumes needed.

July 17, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Ashley Madison, Morality, and Legality

Broken MarriageSex sells. Or so the old advertising cliché tells us. But even if it’s cliché, it also happens to be true. And no company knows this truth better than Ashley Madison. They have built their business on appealing to those who want to cheat on their spouses. Their slogan, “Life is short; have an affair,” sums up their business model. They promise would-be cheaters the ability to discretely find each other online, meet up, and break their wedding vows, all the while hiding their infidelity from their spouses. But last month, the security of Ashley Madison’s secretive sex services was dealt a blow. The New York Times reports:

The company behind Ashley Madison, a popular online dating service marketed to people trying to cheat on their spouses, said on Monday that the site had been breached by hackers who may have obtained personal data about the service’s millions of members.

The group of hackers behind the attack, going by the name Impact Team, said they had stolen information on the 37 million members of Ashley Madison. To prevent the data from being released, the hackers said, the company needed to shut down the site entirely.[1]

This story is fascinating on many fronts. First, it is fascinating that the Times refers to Ashley Madison as “a popular online dating service.” Truthfully, it is nothing of the sort. Dating is not the same as hooking up. Ashley Madison is not particularly interested in promoting healthy, stable, long-term relationships. They are interested in helping people scratch their lustful itches.

Second, it is fascinating how Noel Biderman, the CEO of Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, is characterizing this breach of security: “Like us or not, this is still a criminal act.”[2] Mr. Biderman characterizes what has happened to his company only in legal terms. He does not say what the hackers did was wrong. He does not talk about the ethical problems that accompany invading someone’s privacy. He does not cast anything in terms of good or bad, right or wrong.

Of course, Mr. Biderman’s moral ambivalence at this security breach is inescapably necessary. After all, his whole company is devoted to encouraging and enabling that which is deeply immoral. Thus, his only recourse to denounce anything is legal. But when the technicalities of legality displace the standards of morality, humans are left with nothing but depravity. For humans will inevitably bend the law to satisfy and justify their own desires – even when those desires are categorically evil. Legislation cannot fix – and very often has trouble even restraining – human sinfulness.

Third, Mr. Biderman’s characterization of what has happened to his company in strictly legal terms aside, what has happened to Ashley Madison does represent a supreme moral irony. Ashley Madison is a company that has built its reputation and fortune on deceit – on providing people a way to cover up their sexual dalliances. Now, a group calling themselves the Impact Team, who some security experts have suggested may be a group of insiders, has deceived the masters of deceit by managing to hack into Ashley Madison’s most sensitive information. Deceit has been laid bare by deceit. And what the hackers will do with this information next is the source of great apprehension.

Whatever comes of the hacked data, this much is sure: Ashley Madison needs to change their slogan. They may tell you “life is short” so you can “have an affair,” but when your spouse catches you, the havoc you will have wreaked in your marriage won’t feel short. It’ll feel like an eternity. And that’s why you ought to think long and hard before you log on to Ashley Madison. Because if you do, you won’t. And that would be good.

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[1] Dino Grandoni, “Ashley Madison, a Dating Website, Says Hackers May Have Data on Millions,” The New York Times (7.20.2015).

[2] Wilborn P. Nobles III, “After hackers expose cheaters, AshleyMadison hookup site offers ‘full delete’ option,” The Washington Post (7.20.2015).

August 10, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

True Confessions

Confesson 1I love to read all sorts of things. Theological tomes. Biographies.  Histories.  The Bible.  I love to read op-ed pieces in newspapers and long form journalism – an art form I am concerned is all too quickly disappearing – in newsmagazines.

I love to read. But I don’t always like what I read about.

Case in point. This past week, I was scrolling through my newsfeed when up popped a story about a pastor who had to resign from his church because of serious ongoing turpitude. I wish I could say I’m surprised. But I’m not. I’m not surprised because I’ve seen far too many of these kinds of stories for them to shock me.  I’m not surprised because I know the human heart can be a dark place, leading people to do dark things. I’m not surprised because I know my heart can be a dark place, leading me to do dark things.  I’m not surprised.  But I am heartbroken. I am heartbroken when I think about the pain, regret, and fear this brother in Christ must be experiencing. I am heartbroken by how his story is being talked about on social media.  An Internet mob has predictably descended on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and comment walls to attack and destroy this man in a sickening display of schadenfreude. This man is in my prayers and, if I can be so bold, he should be in yours.

It is out of my heartbreak that I want to sound a warning not only to my brother pastors, but also to all Christians: Satan hates you and is out to destroy you. This is why Revelation 9:11 calls Satan “the Destroyer.” Satan wants to destroy you along with all the people you love and all the people who love you. Indeed, the sin of this pastor has not only compromised his security and livelihood, it has also deeply wounded his congregation – exposing them to ridicule in the hot spotlight of a nationally trending news story – as well as, I’m sure, emotionally devastating his family.

A few years back, in The Asbury Journal, David Werner asked an important question: “How is your doing?” He asked this question in the spirit of John Wesley, who took great care always to connect “how one was doing internally (in one’s soul) … to what one did, or how one lived out the Christian life externally (in one’s actions).”[1] In other words, Wesley wanted Christians to seriously consider how well their actions comported with their words and worldview.

So, let me ask you: How is your doing? Are there any “doings” that you are hiding? Is there a sin that remains secret? Now is the time to confess it, repent of it, and receive forgiveness for it. Now is the time to share it with a pastor, a counselor, or a trusted friend in Christ so you can be held appropriately accountable for it and, ultimately, be absolved of it.

The apostle Peter exhorts us to two important “doings” when he writes, “Be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). Both parts of Peter’s admonition are critical. If you cannot control yourself, your ability to help and lead others will be inevitably compromised and, in some instances, discredited and destroyed. And if you are not continually vigilant, watching out for Satan’s tricks and traps, he will use your slumber toward righteousness to take you down before you even know what hit you. Being self-controlled and alert is key.

But even more important than Peter’s admonition is Peter’s invitation in the verse prior: “Cast all your anxiety on God because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Sin tells a sinister, but enticing, lie. It promises you that if you fall to it, it will release you from your anxiety. “Imbibing too much alcohol can help you lighten up and have fun,” whispers sin. “Misusing God’s gift of sex can give you a much needed thrill in a hard knocks world,” says sin. But, in the end, sin never helps your anxiety. Instead, it only adds to your anxiety pain, hurt, brokenness, and guilt.

Peter reminds us that only God can take our anxiety because only God has taken care of our anxiety by taking care of our sin on the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ. So lay your anxiety – and your sin – on Him. In the words of the old hymn:

I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all, and frees us
From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus,
To wash my crimson stains
White in His blood most precious,
Till not a spot remains.

There is a chance that this man who has had to resign from his church will not serve again as a pastor.  But even if his vocation as a pastor has passed, his vocations as a husband and as a father still stand.  My prayer is that, out of his pain, this man serves in these callings from God repentantly, patiently, and lovingly and that he finds his comfort in what God has called him:  His forgiven child.

My prayer is that you find your comfort there too.

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[1] David Werner, “John Wesley’s Question: ‘How is Your Doing?’” The Asbury Journal 65, no. 2 (2010): 68.

May 25, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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