Wednesday, November 30, 2011

sex before marriage

Genesis 2:22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib and brought her to Adam. 23 "At last!" Adam exclaimed. "She is part of my own flesh and bone! She will be called 'woman,' because she was taken out of a man." 24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 25 Now, although Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame. (NLT)

There is no proof text verse in the Bible that says "thou shalt not have pre-marital sex" although it does condemn extra-marital sex, AKA adultery, see the 10 commandments series and Exodus 20:14. Some contend that in the ancient near east, whoever you had intercourse with became, by default, your spouse. There are several examples of wedding ceremonies in Genesis that don't make it that simple, for God's people at least. I think it's because God's people knew this Garden of Eden story. The uniting is a gift from God. Now people trash God's gifts all the time and our society tries to restrain it, notice the "no littering" signs. Sex is a big deal. But in the context of a life long relationship, it's a small cog in the entire organism, the new, united flesh. Verse 24 hints at a ceremony, signifying the cleave from one's biological heritage and a cleave into a new heritage. King James says, 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
{Cleave is such a great word because it is a contonym.}

If two people are cleaving to each other without publicly declaring a cleaving from or the cleaving to (which a public ceremony and an exchange of rings and oaths and a certificate signing and necessity for a legal divorce to undo) then they are trashing God's gift. If they are believers, then they are disrespecting their sibling in Jesus Christ. Some have also called this pre-marital adultery. I'm not sure if I can go there all the way with that last one.

My advice for unmarried couples is to keep the Christian romance public and day-lit until after the wedding reception.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

PTSD and the citizen soldier

I watched Restrepo last night. It was very similar to the Danish documentary, Armadillo, Restrepo (film)Image via Wikipediawhich I watched last month. In between I read and reviewed here, What is it like to go to war by Karl Marlantes. I also witnessed a highway fatality for the first time in my life and my dear grandmother passed away. So I've been thinking about death lately. Restrepo got me writing on it.

Both films are the products of filmmakers embedded with squads in Afghanistan, caught in frequent firefights with the Taliban. Death visits both sides of the conflict and is documented on camera. One of the soldiers in Restrepo describes exactly the same phenomenom that Marlantes describes of the firefight "high", which Marlantes calls a transcendent state. The young soldier, without the decades of reflection afforded to the Vietnam veteran and author, can only say the firefight experience exceeds any other sensation one might have known. He doesn't quite grasp that his soul is engaged as well as his body and spirit, the world of transcendence. Later on in the film though, a man considered by all as one of their best dies in a Taliban ambush. The camera captures the anguish in the middle of the firefight of one soldier in particular upon discovering the body. The directors interleave between the Afghanistan scenes interviews with the soldiers in civilian clothes, in a studio, in Italy, not too long after their deployment. The soldiers are still talking about that loss, and their ongoing inability to cope. One soldier can no longer sleep, even with multiple medications. They are exhibiting symptoms of PTSD. A later scene in the movie helps explain the continued issues. The platoon leader calls a meeting to discuss another troop's loss of 9 men in the attempted establishment of another remote outpost like theirs. He gives a pep talk on how the troops can't retrench and seek safety, but must continue to engage the Taliban, then offers a moment of silence for those killed in action. But a moment is not enough. The leader has not been trained in dealing with this thoroughly, or better than a moment of silence. Marlantes' book had not even been published yet. In the firefight, in that episode of transcendence, the soul is most exposed and thus able to imbibe so deeply in life and yet so vulnerable and easily scarred. Hence the inability to sleep. When sleep comes, the memory so deeply tattooed on the soul reasserts itself and like a demon homeless during the waking hours, brings back 7 more (see Matthew 12:45) amplifying the torture. The sufferer prefers insomnia to the poltergeist in their mind, or chooses another demon, like alcohol, to stifle the first. It's not so hard for me to understand why some soldiers choose suicide when they can't exorcise the memories of death and weakness and inability to change the past.

My experience was not a soldier's experience in a firefight. But I could have lost my family in a car accident as I drove down the narrow Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. A driver bounced off the jersey barrier to my left and lost control, swerving in front of our minivan, I braked hard, and watched the car collide straight on with a three foot diameter tree that did not give. I pulled over trying to be a good Samaritan to see if the guy was OK. But he wasn't. The police showed up very quickly, but there was nothing to be done for this soul. I think spending the time giving a witness statement to the police was somewhat therapeutic, but so was the next hour in the car with the family, as we prayed and sat silently, listening to music without words, classical and jazz. We could be solemn and reflective. We did not have to listen to a pep talk telling us to buck up and move on. We could linger and respect the life lost. This was not unlike the service for my grandmother. A spiritual event supplemented with humorous anecdotes and proud reflections by her family.

Marlantes says our modern army needs something lost in the modern army, rituals for the dead. A moment of silence is not enough. The Bible refers to our lives as grass. Our lives really are fragile. Even for those of us who have security in an after life with Jesus, can still be haunted, see Nate Self's memoir Two Wars.

Armadillo's subjects experienced casualties, not deaths. It also dealt more with the boredom between engagements. Restrepo's soldiers received near daily engagement. Perhaps the wounds on their souls never got the time to begin healing because the frequent firefights kept exposing them. I pray these soldiers get the healing they need, so they can get on with life without the night terrors and medications, licit or otherwise. I pray their demons finally go away.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

bottle brick construction

First Kelly Hart, at the earth bag building blog, posts a link to the bottle brick house in Africa. Then I found a BBC report on it. Eventually I ended up at Eco-Tec Soluciones Ambientales, which I think is the Latin American nexus of this technology. This video seems to explain how it started way back in 2000. My brain is exploding with excitement especially about applying this to Haiti, which has an abundance of trash water bottles all over Port-au-Prince.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

book report: The Grace Effect by Taunton (2011)

Larry Taunton's book, The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief (2011), sets in contrast his friendly conversations with New Atheist Christopher Hitchens about evil with his experience of evil as he tries to adopt a Ukrainian orphan with HIV. In a post-debate conversation with Hitchens about absolutes he posits
Then it seems to me...that the question is this: which philosophies or religions restrain our darker impulses, and which ones exacerbate them? ... Christianity...begins with the premise that man is evil and that he needs to be saved from himself. Atheism, on the other hand, offers no compelling reason why I should not do precisely as I want to do. pp. 4, 5.
I never thought about it from this angle so I was really intrigued how Taunton would develop this.

He tried to demonstrate it through his experience with the extremely corrupt Ukrainian government as he tried to adopt a young girl living in the awful conditions of an orphanage, which his wife and son had visited on a short term missions trip with their trip. It was on that trip that the vivacious girl made such an impression on them. They considered adopting her, but really did not consider it possible until God motivated people to open their wallets to them. There are official costs to adopt then there are the unofficial bribes necessary to adopt. Taunton uses the former Soviet way of life as an example of the atheist dystopia. He writes,
In the biblical worldview, the state is a temporal institution meant to serve man, an eternal being. In the socialist model, this is reversed: man, a temporal being, serves the eternal state. p.84
Any possible sympathies Taunton might have had to socialism were crushed after his experience in a still-recovering socialist state, Ukraine. He has little positive to say about the Ukrainian government workers or its nihilist culture, although he tries to show some sympathy for them be reviewing their history. He is extremely critical of the Orthodox church before the communists and since the communists. His national adoption advocates, in contrast are presented as wonderful human beings, showing that not every Ukrainian is a miserable, greedy wretch because of their country's communist past. The up and down story of his daughter's adoption is a story that stays with you and calls you back after you close the book for the night. We know they get her, but how?

Taunton wants us to see that communism offers no restraint to our wicked nature. He also wants us to see that those seeking to bring life and hope to orphanages are Christians on sacrificial missions, seeking the good of others and not themselves. He wants us to know that atheism is a selfish philosophy that reinforces this wickedness. But he also wants us to know that God offers grace and redemption, as subtly hinted at, but not loudly proclaimed, by the example of their adoption.

His ministry, Fixed Point Foundation, looks like a great resource for the defense of the Christian faith.

Many thanks to Booksneeze for the free book in exchange for my review.

Thomas Nelson has been recently offering many excellent books interacting with New Atheism, see below.
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instead of video campuses for growing churches...

I am part of a growing church. Expansion on site might not result in much expansion after all. So the leaders are kicking around ideas on how to accommodate the growth. One idea that is in use with some mega churches is a multi-site model in which the sermon from the parent church is video recorded and either broadcast live or shown after a week's delay. It seems to work well for those big churches using it. My own experience is that of a regular attender to the overflow room where I watch a live video feed. Because I'm only a few footsteps away from the live venue, I don't feel disconnected from the main body, especially during the between service coffee and mingling time. But the overflow room is not too full, which is something I like. I also like I can get out of my seat without offending the speaker. So it works for me, but mostly because I enjoy less density and more freedom to move around, not really spiritual reasons.

A friend shared an article at the blog, the Gospel-Driven Church that was critical of the video-venue concept. The last point does nag at me. "Video venues assist the idolization of and over-reliance on preachers." The sub-points really drive it home for me (you'll have to go there to read them). The opposing ideas are made more strongly at this blog, Multi-site churches are from the devil, an intentionally provocative title. Another point made is that video, by definition, cannot be incarnational (in the flesh). I did the typical annoying parishioner thing and forwarded these blogs to my pastor. In response to the last point he noted that Paul asked his letters to be read in the churches, Colossians 4:16, also not incarnational. Again, wisdom is proved right by her children.

I didn't know how to progress from there. But then Bradley Wright, whose books I've reviewed here and here, contrasted the expectations on him as an academic lecturer vs. that of a preacher and wondered why the preacher has to do it the hard way? His blog post is also intentionally provocative, Why pastors should plagiarize in their sermons. One commenter noted his positive experience with a church that taught through Chuck Swindoll's commentary on Nehemiah. That one rolled around in my head for a while and gelled into a proposal for the video campus churches while I biked home yesterday.

Why not have people in the pulpit of each satellite campus preach through the same outlines from the same source? Whether they be the parent church's pastor's notes, or an external commentary writer, someone contemporary like Swindoll or Warren Wiersbe, or someone recently passed, J. Vernon McGee or Tozer, or someone from a "better" time, Spurgeon or Edwards, or someone ancient, a church father like John Chrysostom. Ultimately, the church could go back to reading Paul's letters aloud, but a good teacher wants to explain the difficult parts and show the relevancy to today's culture. In this proposal, I envision the pastors getting together every week to discuss the passage and the commentary which is the basis for their sermon. They strip out what doesn't work, keep what works, and supplement based on their congregation and current events. After a few years of doing this, a satellite preacher would be ready to take the campus to independence and become a true church plant. The preacher has saved time, but learned to preach well, has left time for pastoral care, and might even be keeping the day job until the church plant has grown enough to support a full time worker. Of course, everything is acknowledged, unacknowledged would be plagiarism, there is nothing to be ashamed of, and, if the sermons are based on a book, the source material could be made available to the congregation for deeper reflection.

I don't think this is original. but I'm thinking of how to apply it to new situations in our culture. I wonder if it sticks to the wall or not. It does seem icarnational to me.

update: Thanks to commenter Joe R. who goes to a multi-site church, which he attends, that has live preachers at every site instead of a video, preaching from the same text each week, New Life Church in Arkansas.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Perfectionism vs. Compassion in ministry

I don't know if my responses to the terrible experiences at Teen Mania described at Recovering Alumni deserve attention at their blog. But as I read Lacey's story I heard over and over again a focus on perfection, which is not realistic for a Christian group. Compassion, on the other hand, is. The prevailing culture based on one or the other can strengthen or devastate a believer, which honors or dishonors God. The following contrasts are in response to Lacey's experiences.

Perfectionism repeatedly tells people to suck it up. Compassion does not have a goal to be equally hard on all the kids.
Perfectionism demands attention from sleep deprived teens and humiliates them when they fall asleep by making them stand in their exhaustion. Compassion makes sure everyone has enough sleep and remains healthy. One beats the sheep, the other protects them.
Perfectionism demands rigid order: a tight line, the same pace, the same silence. Compassion is generous.
Perfectionism insists on one way to point people to Jesus. Compassion knows that we have all come to Jesus in so many ways with imperfect knowledge, including the knowledge of hell. But compassion tends to focus on the good news that Jesus loves us and wants to give us eternal life. Compassion also knows that God hits home runs with crooked bats and that it's really fun to watch God do that instead of insisting on the more perfect bat.
Perfectionism does not tolerate contrary opinions in public. Compassion does not snuff out a smoking wick or break a bruised reed. Compassion is humble and seeks to hear and understand and learn. Compassion is necessary for fellowship.
Perfectionism tries to force the outliers into conformity, compassion leaves the 99 similars to find and hang out with the 1 and seeks to integrate them.
Perfectionism is only interested in healthy people. Compassion seeks to bring healing to broken hearts, broken bodies, broken ankles, broken skin rashes, and violently upset stomachs.
Perfectionism sees laziness where compassion sees exhaustion.
Perfectionism sees one (unachievable) standard, compassion recognizes and commends progress.
Perfectionism uses fear as a motivator. Compassion uses love and encouragement.

Teen Mania has been given gifts, but the lack of compassion/charity/love have made its efforts hollow for some, questionable for many more, and irrelevant to others. The practices of sleep deprivation, criticizing people, accountability cards, peer pressured fasts, abandonment in the Texas countryside, neglect of physical injuries, disinterest in emotions or fatigue do not seem to line up at all with Paul's description of love. Maybe, as long as they have an Honor Academy instead of a Love Academy, its culture may never change. I pray it will though.

update from Warren Wiersbe's commentary on Romans, Be Right, specifically on Romans 7.
"In my pastoral experience, I have counseled many people who have suffered severe emotional and spiritual damage because they have tried to live holy lives on the basis of a high standard. I have seen the consequences of these attempts: either the person becomes a pretender, or he suffers a complete collapse and abandons his desires for godly living. I have seen too that many legalists are extremely hard on other people—critical, unloving, unforgiving. Paul wanted to spare his readers this difficult and dangerous experience. "

Critics of Teen Mania also want to spare interns from that difficult and dangerous experience as well.

1 Corinthians 13
1 If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn't love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn't love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody.
3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud
5 or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.
6 It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear.
9 Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

honoring marriage

I find a certain blogger provides good fodder to get my writing juices going. For some reason, Dr. Tony Jones, an adjunct theology professor at Fuller Seminary, who has demonstrated his dim view on marriage by refusing to legalize his union with his partner, quotes without comment, another culture watcher who asserts that marriage is not holy because quickie divorces desecrate the institution. The quotee may not be a Bible reader, but I expect Dr. Jones is. Here is what I read in Hebrews 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Because some do not honor marriage, does not mean marriage is not honorable, nor sacred, for believers. In the same way, some gnu atheists have had fun desecrating communion hosts, sneaking into the service under the pretense of being a believer, then sneaking out, with the host, in order to post pictures of their attempt at desecration. This desecration did not result in invalidation of the holy ceremony of communion. It exposed a heart hardened to holy things. For the secular person, when someone steps on a United States flag or burns it, that action did not harm the ideals of this nation that the flag represents to its citizens at large. Nor should laws against flag desecration be repealed because some continue to break those laws. It's a childish opinion held by the essayist Dr. Jones honors by quoting.

Because the ideal fails, ten states in the US have enacted laws requiring pre-marital counseling. In the same article at, the authors suggest pre-divorce counseling may be even more effective and should also be legislated. How can marriage be honored? By honoring the bed, a euphemism for sexual purity and fidelity. My previous post discusses these topics in more detail. Sexual fidelity starts before one even starts dating. The pre-spouse devotes their sexual expression to the marriage bed, and abstains until they are in the bed with their spouse. It honors their own bed and all other beds as well. Certainly, those who do that still get divorced, but virgin wedding nuptials are not the only thing that keep a marriage together. Even after marriage, the spouse must still endeavor to keep their purity, by keeping their fidelity, abstaining from the physical affections of others or mental attractions to others (lust and pornography). It's the pre-marital efforts to do the same things that assist in the post-marital state. That sacrifice of self-satisfaction is an ideal expression of holy love that honors marriage. This kind of love runs counter to our culture's norms, so it needs support within a holy community, not criticism by those in the same holy community.

Jesus says marriage is something God does and should not be undone except for severe reasons, see Matthew 19. Marriage should involve preparation, see this great article. As Bradley Wright shows, divorce among Christians who demonstrate their faith by doing Christian things regularly, is nowhere near the level of the culture. More of this can be found in his first book, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...

Jesus says that marriage is only for this life, and not the next. Let's honor it while we can.