I didn’t realize that I had groaned aloud. My eight year old daughter asked me what was wrong.

“Nothing you need to worry about. It’s not important.”

“Dad, when you say that it usually means that it is important.”

“You’re right, it’s just nothing you need to worry about.”

I had groaned while reading an opinion peace printed in our local paper. The writer, Susan Stamper Brown, compared Donald Trump to the Apostle Paul. She was writing about Christians who have decided not to support Donald Trump. Brown wrote that the video containing Trump’s now famous locker room talk came years before, what she called, his conversion to Christianity. She noted that in 2011 Trump claimed to be a Christian. Brown wrote that this conversion has led Trump to be pro-life and in favor of conservative judges. She then took evangelicals to task for not backing Trump.

Brown then wrote: “It’s fair to ask what would have happened to Christianity if the apostle Paul was treated the same way some evangelicals treat Trump for his preconversion activities.” She correctly noted that Paul rabidly opposed the church before becoming a believer. Plus, she proof-texted from Romans 7:15 that Paul still struggled with sin after conversion.

Hence, my groan.

The apostle Paul, once the scales fell from his eyes, immediately began proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. He immediately discipled others. Certainly the leaders of the Jerusalem church were doubtful, but God used Barnabas to take care of those hesitations.

Trump, however, does not display the fruit of Spirit. While we cannot truly know someone’s heart, we can view spiritual fruit. At best, if converted, Trump is a carnal Christian.

So, what do we do in November?

I’ve had several church members ask me about the election. I’ve hesitated to write this post because the situation is so volatile. However, I’ve always been very open about why and who I’ve voted for with my congregations, so I’m going to try to be consistent.

First, since my first opportunity to vote in 1996, I’ve always supported the Republican candidate. Like many evangelicals, I’m pro-life, in favor of small government, lower taxes, a strong military, and pro-second amendment, among other stances.

Second, these opinions mean that I cannot vote for Hilary Clinton. It’s not an option.

Third, I cannot vote for Donald Trump.

I’ll give you a second to calm down.

I know. I understand all the arguments favoring Trump. They all make sense.

But, I just can’t do it.

I’ve asked myself if, twenty years from now, I can look my wife and daughters in their eyes and say that I voted for a man who viewed women like Trump does. Notice that I said “does.” After the second debate, in which he dismissed his “locker room” talk, Trump spent time criticizing Clinton’s body, specifically her rear end. He said, “I’m standing at my podium and she walks in front of me, right. She walks in front of me, you know. And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.” I googled “Trump body shames Hillary Daily Beast” to find the article on the news site The Daily Beast. I’m not linking it here because the article contains offensive language when quoting Trump’s hot mic conversation. I’ll let you decide about visiting the page.

I cannot bring myself to vote for a man who would treat my wife and daughters that way. I realize I have a strong protective streak and that this decision probably stems from that instinct. My daughters are going to encounter plenty of creeps like Trump. I’m not willing to help make one of those men the most powerful leader in the world.

Before I say what I plan to do when voting, I also want to address the main issue for many evangelicals—the Supreme Court. I understand that judges need to be put in place who hold to the Constitution’s original intent. I understand the issues surrounding judges and abortion. I understand that Trump has pledged to appoint conservative judges.

Can Trump be trusted to do what he says?

Never forget that Trump is a master negotiator. Commercial real estate is about making deals. Can Trump be relied upon to uphold his pledge if it isn’t politically expedient? What if appointing, or not appointing, a particular judge becomes part of larger political agenda. I believe Trump won’t hesitate to do what Trump thinks is best for Trump’s success.

So, what about November?

I’ve decided to vote for the independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin. He’s a write-in candidate in Tennessee and I plan to do just that. McMullin’s positions are consistent with my own and he doesn’t have the character questions associated with Trump.

I don’t accept the argument that a vote for a third party is a vote for Hillary. I understand that McMullin doesn’t have a real chance to win. Honestly though, neither did Bob Dole, John McCain, or Mitt Romney when I voted for them. But, when I look back on 2016, I have to be able, in good conscience, to say that I voted according to my principles and beliefs. We all do.

I’m not trying to tell anyone how to vote. I know that most who read this will be voting for Trump. I understand why and respect that you have thought this through as I have.

What we all need to remember is that no matter what happens, God allows it. Our calling as believers is to be the best citizens we can be, no matter who is in White House. Paul made it clear in Romans 13 that we are to be submissive to government.

Do I fear what happens if Clinton is elected? I’m certainly concerned. I pray that those in Congress can stop the continuing rise of liberalism. If they can’t, we’ll deal with the world we’ve been given. After all, this world is not our home. Ultimately our citizenship is in Heaven.

The great news is that our eternal leader has no flaws.

44 funerals.

At least, that’s how many I can account for. There are probably three or four that evaded my Excel spreadsheet. The first was on June 13th, 2005, during my first year as a pastor. The most recent was August 19th, 2016. It was my fourth funeral in less than a month.

The names include church members, family, and strangers. I shared the occasional service, but mainly it was just me.

I don’t know if that number of funerals in eleven years is normal, low, or high. I’ve never asked another pastor. But, what I do know is that I’ve learned a lot about what’s important when the time comes to say goodbye to a loved one.

First, family is vital. If a family is close, then they can endure grief together. Remaining spouses need the comfort of children and grandchildren. Siblings need shared memories and experiences. Grandchildren need assurances about the nature of life and death.

While each funeral home differs, normally there is a final viewing for the family before the service. I stand near the head of the casket out of respect for the deceased and to be available to the family. In this intimate moment, families are at their most vulnerable. They gather strength from one another. A loving family is gift from the Lord.

Second, church is essential. Many times during these forty four funerals and visitations, people have asked me, “Brother John, I don’t know how someone gets through this who doesn’t have a church family.” I always agree with them. I don’t know how they do it either.

In the two churches I’ve been privileged to pastor, I’ve seen God’s people step up to care for the grieving. Food is brought. Visits are made. Time is given. Without these things, families are left to go through loss unaccompanied. God didn’t design us to grieve alone. We bear one another’s burdens.

Third, Heaven is crucial. Depending on circumstances, Heaven may offer relief or reassurance. Families, though hurting, find relief in the healing that Heaven provides. In tragic cases, the reassurance that the loved one is with the Lord may be the only solace in the early days of loss.

I don’t know how many more funerals God will allow me to preach. Preachers never truly retire, so I suspect I’ll be conducting services for at least another 40 years. But, I believe that these things I’ve written about will always be true, because they come from God. He created the family. He loves the church. He promises Heaven to those who call on His name. Fortunately, He uses these truths when we need them the most.

Rosco 1

My daughters like routine. Especially, when that routine involves doughnuts.

Whenever they spend time with grandparents, I head to the local doughnut shop to buy breakfast before they leave.

To get there, I turn left out of our neighborhood onto a four-lane state highway. The turn can be tricky if traffic is heavy. Sometimes, I need to drive into the turn lane and then ease my way into traffic. I hate doing this, but this trip was during the morning rush hour. It was either creep into traffic or wait until lunch to turn left.

I was turning north, so when the southbound lanes cleared I drove into the turn lane and managed, fairly quickly, to move into the right hand lane.

While performing my Andretti-like maneuver, I noticed a Highway Patrol car driving southbound. I looked into my rearview mirror and saw that the car was making a U-turn to drive back north. Its lights began to flash.

For some reason, perhaps latent criminal tendencies, I assumed that the officer was going to pull me over. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but I also knew that Rosco had me.

Rosco 2

As bad as getting a ticket is, it was an even bigger deal that morning. It just happened that the previous Sunday I had preached about Christian submission to government, from 1 Peter 2:13-17. The example that I stressed was obeying the speed limit.

When I saw the patrol lights flashing, I thought, “Great, it’s Friday morning and all of South Jackson is driving to work. At least half of the church will see me pulled over after I just preached about doing the speed limit.”

In a split second, I decided to own up. Once the ticket was written, I would post about it on Facebook and Twitter and confess my sin publicly, hopefully humorously.

As my resolve steeled, the patrolman passed me and pulled over an 18 wheeler.

If I’ve ever felt that stupid, I can’t remember when.

I was innocent.

I knew I was innocent.

Yet, I acted as if I was guilty.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:8–14, “8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace (NASB).”

As Christians, we understand that we have been freed from the power of sin.

We are free.

We know we are free.

We act as if we are slaves.

If you have surrendered your life to Christ, then you have been freed from the power of sin. This freedom means that each sin we commit comes about because we have decided to sin. God, through the Holy Spirit, has freed us to choose not to sin. We know this. We just don’t act like it.

We also understand that we are not perfect. We will continue to sin until we are with Jesus. But, that general truth is no excuse for our specific sin.

Live free from fear of condemnation because Christ has freed you.

Live free from guilt of past sin because Christ paid the price.

Don’t let the sin you see in the rear Read More

I never did well with organized sports. The few times I played, I was frustrated with the coaches. I didn’t like them telling me what to do. I think that’s why I was so happy when I discovered nine ball when I was eleven years old. No one, other than myself, told me to practice. Plus, every loss or victory was mine alone.

This stubbornness causes me to need to know reasons behind instructions or commands. Fortunately, the Bible teaches that God’s commands aren’t based on a whim. Rather, biblical ethics reflect God’s nature.

For instance, why is murder wrong? It’s illegal, of course. But, God’s word gives us more insight than just “don’t do it.” We are told in Genesis 9:6 that murder is wrong because man is created in God’s image. The command not to kill is based on God’s character, which is displayed in the image of God in man.

Why is adultery wrong? Is it just because it’s a terrible thing to do? It certainly is terrible, but the reasons are deeper. Marriage, we are told in Ephesians 5, is a picture of Christ and the church. Adultery violates that picture. Jesus would never be unfaithful to His bride, the Church.

I’ve been trying to apply this thinking to the question of premarital sex. I’ve always been frustrated with the typical evangelic approach. It has always seemed to me that we only tell our kids not to have sex because it’s wrong, without giving the reason. We warn them against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And, we have mistakenly equated self-worth and being a good marriage prospect with technical virginity. Of course, all of these things are a part of this question, but they are not the main issues.

If we are going to tell our teenagers, young twenty-somethings, or even adults facing a second marriage, that premarital sex is wrong, then we need a better reason that just “don’t do it because it’s bad.” We need to understand why it’s wrong theologically.

Ephesians 5:22-33 is the foundational passage for marriage. In this paragraph, Paul teaches that marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and the church. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Wives are to be subject to their husbands, just as the church is to Jesus (vs. 22-24).

In verses 5:28-31, Paul writes, “28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH (NASB).”

The church is the bride and body of Christ. We see Paul express this by quoting from Genesis 2:24, which records Moses’ commentary on Adam and Eve’s marriage. In both places, married couples are described as being one flesh. This bond pictures the union of Christ and the church, as Paul described 5:28-31.

We find guidance about the wrongness of premarital sex in the phrase “one flesh.” This phrase has many aspects, but one of those facets is the sexual union of husband and wife. Sex portrays the one flesh relationship. Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 6:16. “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, ‘The two shall become one flesh (NASB).’”

So, if marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, then what part of that picture does sex within marriage represent? It represents the church’s intimacy with Christ. The church is His body. He loves us and cherishes us. The church, made up of individual believers, has intimacy with Christ because we are His flesh, His body. Sex in marriage, therefore, symbolizes that intimacy.

Premarital sex, then, is seeking intimacy without the one flesh marriage relationship. It ruins the picture of Christ and the church. Instead, it represents a desire and searching for spiritual intimacy outside of God’s plan. That is, outside of Christ.

We call this false worship.

Or, if you prefer, idolatry.

This truth was regularly preached by the Old Testament prophets. They equated the sin and rebelliousness of Israel, God’s people, with spiritual adultery.

We would never encourage one another to participate in open idolatry. The idea of worshipping a statue or making a human sacrifice seems completely ridiculous. But how often do believers live out 21st century paganism through premarital sex?

This principle doesn’t just apply to teenagers dealing with raging hormones. It also applies to the young couple in their 20s, or the older couple about to undertake their second marriage.

Warnings against premarital sex aren’t just about keeping our daughters from becoming moms and our sons from becoming fathers. It is about faithfully worshipping God with our sexuality. If we participate in this behavior, we are participating in idolatry.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul wrote, “9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (NASB).”

Sexual sin, like any sin, is forgivable. As Christians, we understand that Christ died for all of our sins. Yet, we also know that sin can negatively impact our relationship with Jesus. When we confesses sin, we aren’t seeking to be saved from that sin. Jesus already paid the penalty. In confession, we acknowledging to God that our behavior has fallen short of His glory. We repent by stopping the sin. The confession breaks down sin’s wall of separation.

If you, a Christian, are guilty of the sin of premarital sex, then confess the sin to God and stop. The Holy Spirit lives in you, so you have the power to quit. In some cases, such as sex and pornography addictions, you may need further help. But generally, Christians have the spiritual ability to walk away from sin.

Your worth is determined by how God values you. If you have repented of this sexual sin, then don’t let guilt or stigma hold you back.

God loves you, despite your past.

His desire is for you to have great future.

childhoods-end-cover

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) — 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Some cite man’s idea of Heaven as proof of its existence. They argue that eternity with God is something we would not make up. The idea would be cruel, in their minds, if it wasn’t true.

Eternity is indeed written on the human heart. World religions address the afterlife. The non-religious often hold to a squishy hope-so view of forever. Others, however, take a different approach.

Science Fiction, whether books, film, or television, is my favorite genre. It allows its creator to wrestle with ideas outside of those ideas’ natural confines. It is much easier to write about race when the conflict is human versus alien rather than black versus white. It’s natural that eternity would also be a science fiction topic.

Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein are generally considered the giants of 20th century Science Fiction. I recently read Asimov for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed Foundation. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress have also challenged and entertained. Clarke was my introduction to the genre.

If you’ve never read Clarke, you may have seen his collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick. Together they created 2001: A Space Odyssey. The theme of eternity ran throughout the movie and its accompanying novel. Dave Bowman’s rebirth as the star-child, indicated that man would exist forever through evolution.

Kubrick and Clarke

Kubrick and Clarke

Clarke wrestled with the same theme in an earlier novel, Childhood’s End.

The book tells the story of an alien invasion of earth. The novel begins with the tension of the 1950s space race. That competition ends when alien ships, possessing far greater technology than any nation, suddenly appear over the world’s major cities. Man stops looking to the stars because he is clearly outgunned.

Spoiler Alert: Any Further Reading Reveals Critical Plot Details

At the outset, the alien’s presence brings peace and prosperity. Nations forget old grievances. Alien technology, on loan from the Overlords (the alien’s official title), improves the world’s economic standing. Hunger, poverty, war, disease, and virtually all evils, are eliminated.

There is one problem. The aliens initially refuse to be seen by humans.

The Overlords wait several generations to reveal their appearance. When they do emerge, they look like Satan, as depicted in religious art. The Overlord’s shocking look is accepted because they have successfully debunked all religions.

Clarke was no fan of Christianity.

The last third of the book focuses on two children, whose parents have moved to an artistic community on a Pacific island. The son begins to have dreams of other worlds and his little sister, still in the crib, develops telepathy. The siblings are the first of a large scale step towards the next phase in evolution. This change takes place only in children. Through the eyes of the final living adult, we see the completed evolution of earth’s children, their merging with the cosmic conscience, and the complete destruction of earth.

Clarke was a brilliant author and scientist. No one can deny his intelligence and imagination, but his conclusions about eternity and “what’s out there” have always puzzled me.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke and Kubrick conjectured that aliens could have been the cause of evolution and man’s advancement. In Childhood’s End, Clarke presents an underwhelmed opinion of mankind. In this view, home sapiens are incomplete. They must take the next step.

Because God has written eternity on each person’s heart, if a person rejects a biblical worldview, he will create his own idea of forever.

Clarke opted for aliens, or a cosmic consciousness. Eastern religions expect oneness. Muslims regard Heaven as an oasis.

All this hypothesizing is a result of the marred, but retained, image of God in man. God created man to have an eternal relationship with Him, but when Adam ate of the fruit we all fell into sin. Sin affects all areas of our lives, including thinking. So, brilliant folks like Arthur C. Clarke conclude, “It must be aliens.”

When you and I understand that God created us to know Him, and that through Christ we can do so, eternity takes care of itself. Aliens and evolution are not needed. Man is God’s ultimate creation. We might be a bit messed up, but if we know Him, we’re getting better.

I’m sure I’ll continue to read Mr. Clarke. But, as I do, I pray that I’m reminded that even the brilliant are often spiritually blind.

I recently jumped on the bandwagon and reread To Kill A Mockingbird.

I first read the book in seventh grade, so I was surprised at how many scenes and bits of dialog I knew. Little details were just as I remembered, like Bob Ewell’s embarrassment at the reading of his name in court.

But, a thirty eight year old reads differently than a twelve year old. Experience and circumstances made several things to stand out.

For one, I now appreciate what a good father Atticus was to Scout and Jem. Atticus Finch, augmented by Gregory Peck’s movie portrayal, modeled the patient and fair, yet understanding, father. It seems that much of Go Set A Watchman’s controversy revolves around the novel’s differing version of Atticus. As a father, I now appreciate the patience and care that Atticus showed to his children.

Or, with four daughters being homeschooled in the classical tradition, I could talk about the novel’s opinion of home versus public schooling. This conflict erupts on Scout’s first day of school. Her teacher, newly trained in the Dewey method, tells Scout that Atticus couldn’t have possibly taught her to read since he had not be trained properly. I highlighted entire pages to show my wife.

But, the thing that really stood out to me was the novel’s condemnation of ultra-fundamentalist religion and its view towards women.

Miss Maudie, whom I didn’t remember at all, was a neighbor and longtime friend of the Finch’s. She was especially fond of Atticus’ brother Jack. Early in the novel, during the mission to lure out Boo Radley, Scout asked Miss Maudie if she thought Boo was still alive. They began to talk about the Radley family and Miss Maudie commented on their religious choices.

 

“Miss Maudie settled her bridgework . “You know old Mr. Radley was a foot-washing Baptist—”

 

“That’s what you are, ain’t it?”

 

“My shell’s not that hard, child. I’m just a Baptist.”

 

“Don’t you all believe in foot-washing?”

 

“We do. At home in the bathtub.”

 

“But we can’t have communion with you all—”

 

Apparently deciding that it was easier to define primitive baptistry than closed communion, Miss Maudie said: “Foot-washers believe anything that’s pleasure is a sin. Did you know some of ’em came out of the woods one Saturday and passed by this place and told me me and my flowers were going to hell?”” (59)

 

Scout was confused, but Miss Maudie explained that the foot-washers believed she spent too much time outdoors with her flowers and not enough time inside reading her Bible. Scout protested and said that Miss Maudie was the best lady she knew.

 

“Miss Maudie grinned. “Thank you ma’am. Thing is, foot-washers think women are a sin by definition. They take the Bible literally, you know.”” (59)

 

While I certainly think the Bible should be taken literally, after all so did Jesus, I don’t understand those who use a literal interpretation to make women into second class Christians.

Later in the novel, Scout and Jem attended church with their housekeeper, Calpurnia. Her pastor, Reverend Sykes, voiced familiar views about women.

 

“His sermon was a forthright denunciation of sin, an austere declaration of the motto on the wall behind him: he warned his flock against the evils of heady brews, gambling, and strange women. Bootleggers caused enough trouble in the Quarters, but women were worse. Again, as I had often met it in my own church, I was confronted with the Impurity of Women doctrine that seemed to preoccupy all clergymen.” (162)

 

I have often marveled at the connection between fundamentalism and the suppression of women. I would hope that those who rightly believe the Bible to be the inerrant, inspired, and infallible Word would also understand its teachings about women.

Paul wrote in Galatians 3:23–29, “23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (NASB).”

Certainly, the Bible is specific about male and female roles. Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2 are clear. But, those roles do not define a person’s worth. Jesus retained His deity and position in the Godhead while obeying the will of Father. A wife who follows the leadership of her husband does not lose spiritual significance.

Rather, the Bible is clear that both male and female are created in God’s image.

Genesis 1:27 says,God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (NASB).”

At this point you may be saying, “I don’t oppress women,” or “I wouldn’t put up with the kind of attitudes you’re talking about.”

I hope you are saying that, but I want us to think a bit deeper about how we treat women, especially our younger women.

Take, for instance, the Purity movement. Beginning in the 1990s, churches encouraged teenagers to take a pledge of sexual purity before marriage. The well-intentioned goal of the Purity movement is to provide a safe outlet for teens to openly express their commitment to waiting.

I, of course, believe that sex was created for marriage. There is a subtle danger, however, in this movement.

In her book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex, Beth Felker Jones, argues that sexual purity is not about being faithful to your future spouse. Rather, the more important aspect of sexuality is faithfulness to God.

Felker listed what she believes to be the understood rules of the purity movement. First, those who take the pledge should expect to get married as a reward for obeying the rules. Second, a person must work diligently to retain virginity before their wedding night. Third, Felker believes the purity movement assumes that its cause is more important for girls than boys. Fourth, physical virginity makes a person pure. (84)

Felker criticized the first rule by writing that Christianity is not about following rules, rather it is about grace. Also, she wrote that these assumptions deny the value of those who live as single Christians. (85)

Regarding the second rule, or what she calls “teeth-gritting” effort, Felker wrote, “This teeth-gritting, desperate waiting also tends to create atrophied and legalistic definitions of what sex is. The purity paradigm turns sexual intercourse into the ultimate act that two human beings can engage in. This creates damaging cycles of behavior in which couples committed to ‘waiting’ for marriage escalate physical intimacy in every way possible while avoiding actual intercourse.” (86-7)

Felker responded to the purity movement’s unstated focus on girls by writing, “Not only does this belief make our bodies out to be merchandise, it makes female bodies into merchandise in a special way. Male bodies, maybe, can be seen as human, as personal, and the tangible lives of human beings who bear the image of God, but female bodies are downgraded. Women and girls here are treated as property and our bodies are placed on the market.” (87)

She wrote that the fourth rule, which attaches purity to physical virginity, “makes virginity into a thing that one needs to cling to in order to retain value. It tells the graceless lie that we are more valuable spouses for someone if we have this thing. It tells the demonic lie that our market value is what makes us precious to God.” (91)

These attitudes and beliefs are exhibited when men criticize women for dressing provocatively. Some Christian men actually blame their lust on women. Modesty is important and biblical, but a man’s sin is his own responsibility.

Men, how about we look the other way. Or, choose not to dwell on sinful thoughts. If we are truly Christians, then the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 leave us no excuse and do not allow us to blame others for our sin.

In her final chapter, Felker summarized, “Healthy, happy, holy sexuality – lived in married faithfulness and celibate singleness – is an emblem in this world of the relationship God has with his people. As God is faithful to us, our faithful bodies testify to his faithfulness. Our faithfulness is possible only by grace, only by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us. The faithful body is visible in the world as a testament to who God is and to what God can do.” (95)

For some reason, which I will never understand, God gave me a house full of women. With one wife and four daughters, conservative Christianity’s failings toward women are important to me.

Do I want my daughters to live with sexual purity? Absolutely.

Do I want my marriage to be one of faithfulness? Of course.

But, purity and faithfulness do not increase anyone’s worth in God’s sight.

Rather, purity honors God and His holiness and faithfulness.

I’m sure Miss Maudie would agree.

 

Sources:

Jones, Beth Felker. Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.

Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

This past Friday, the Supreme Court made gay marriage the law of the land. States must now issue marriage licenses for gay couples and honor homosexual marriages from other states.

As Bible-believing Christians, we agree that gay marriage is contrary to God’s Word. God’s pattern, shown in Adam and Eve, is for one man and one woman to be married for life.

The Apostle Paul tells us that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. In Ephesians 5:22-27 he wrote, “22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

While it is certainly true that the Bible teaches heterosexual marriage only, it also true that heterosexuality is not the single defining characteristic in a Biblical marriage. We Christians must be careful, and introspective, when we say we support Biblical marriage.

I would argue that many support Biblical marriage in word only, not in practice. We rightly say that we oppose two men or two women marrying, but we also must ask if our own marriages are Biblical.

Husband, do you love your wife as Christ loved the church? Are you the spiritual leader of your home?

Wife, are you following the spiritual leadership of your husband? Paul’s command to your spouse is for him to love you. Paul’s command to you is to respect your husband. Ephesians 5:33 says, “33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”

Our opposition to gay marriage is weak if our marriages are unbiblical.

A henpecked husband is unbiblical, yet we laugh at his situation.

A beaten down wife is tragic, yet we often look the other way.

Our marriages only reflects Christ and the church when we fulfill our God-given roles as husband and wife.

Many have wondered how we are to respond to the event of the past few days. The most productive thing we can do is to live out Biblical marriage. We can’t control anyone else’s relationship. But we, as a husbands and wives, can ensure that our marriages are Biblical.

Do you support Biblical marriage?

Is your marriage Biblical?

James-Kirk-001

 

Today is National Signing Day.

It’s interesting that a qualifier isn’t necessary. We all understand that high school athletes are signing with colleges to play sports. These kids deserve admiration. Each one has natural talent, but that only goes so far. Many talented high school athletes never ran across a college field. Those who sign today have also worked hard to earn the opportunity.

As much as I admire these kids (and we would all do well to remember that they are kids), I can’t help but notice all this attention is a bit out of balance.

We are used to headlines like: UT Snags Top Five Recruiting Class or Saban and The Tide Reload.

How would we react to this headline: UT Signs Five Star Mechanical Engineering Prospect or Experts Name University of Memphis Incoming Education Majors the Best Ever—Possible Dynasty

Consider a few statistics from the NCAA.

According to statistics found here (http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/probability-competing-beyond-high-school), only 6.5% of high school football players will play college ball. 1.6% of those players will go on to the pro level. In men’s basketball, 3.3% make it from high school to college. 1.2% of college basketball players will play pro hoops.

Now math was not my strongest subject, but I’m pretty sure these numbers mean that only a tiny fraction of athletes, including those signing today, will ever make a living at their sport.

So, where am I going with this?

We’ve made heroes out of athletes. If a child is talented and skilled enough to play at the college level, then they have probably been highly esteemed for that talent and those skills for many years. They may have even enjoyed celebrity status among their peers and in their community.

Please hear me. I’m not saying that athletic scholarships and our admiration of these students is wrong.

What I’m saying is that there are just as many academically and artistically talented students, but I’ve never heard of a national signing day for criminal justice majors.

And, what about that solid B student who works hard, does the best they can, and goes on to be a success in their chosen field. Shouldn’t we admire their tenacity as much as we admire talent?

Most importantly (and this applies to the athletes, brains, and “normal” kids), what about their character?

Do these teenagers emulate Christ with their goals and actions?

Does the wide receiver practice his routes, not just for the coach, but for God’s glory?

Does the future educator spend hours on class projects because of potential influence on non-Christian students?

Does the future mechanical engineer slave over equations because all truths, even those holding up a bridge, are God’s truths?

Are your children great athletes? If so, I hope they work hard and reach their full potential. But one day, they won’t be able to run quite so fast, jump quite so high, or see the baseball quite so clearly.

Are your children gifted academically or artistically? I hope they will be able to use those talents to their utmost. But, someone will always be smarter, someone will always be more insightful artistically, and someone will always achieve greater things.

I’d just like to see us all keep these things in balance.

Let’s teach our children and grandchildren that their worth is in being created in God’s image.

This image provides the talent and ability we celebrate.

Let’s celebrate it for the right reasons.

1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. – 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (NASB)

October 12, 2014 was one of those Sundays.

It began at 8:30 in the sanctuary with the deacons. We were celebrating the Lord’s Supper that morning and needed to review assignments.

Next, I taught for one of our adult Sunday school teachers. I accused him of ducking out on purpose, since the text was Hebrews 6:1-8.

The worship service included a short-ish sermon from Romans 8:9-11, to prepare us for the Lord’s Supper. The ordinance was a worshipful time.

After lunch at home with Donna and the girls, I headed back out for a hospital visit.

Later that afternoon, I officiated a wedding.

Leaving the wedding, I managed to walk into our evening service after the opening welcome. Fortunately, by God’s grace I believe, we had a guest speaker.

I finished the day with our monthly deacon’s meeting.

It was one of those Sundays.

I’m not sure what I was doing on October 12, 2004. But, I do know it wasn’t anything like 2014. In October 2004, I was a third year seminary student, occasionally filling the pulpit at my home church and others. Just over a month later, my life changed.

Ten years ago tomorrow, November 21st, 2004, I began my ministry as the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Bartlett, TN.

Reflecting on these ten years it is so obvious how God has blessed me. He has given me a great family and two great churches.

I am most grateful for Donna’s support during this first decade. For six of these ten years, I was a student. My life was late nights, early mornings (sometimes back to back), and impending deadlines. She always encouraged me. And, even more than that, she proofread all of my papers. That poor woman has reviewed class presentations, seminar papers, and a dissertation. In the midst of supporting me, she has been a godly mother to our four girls. I thank God for Donna.

My family has a lot do with any success I’ve had since 2004. Donna, the girls, and I would not have been able to do much of what we’ve done without my parents and Donna’s.

When I began seminary, I didn’t know anything about anything. The professors at Mid-America taught me how to be a pastor. I’m especially grateful for Dr. Tim Seal and Dr. Jere Phillips.

Other pastors have had a large impact on my ministry. John Allen gave me many opportunities to preach and minister, while being an example of a true shepherd. Chuck Herring and Danny Sinquefield continue to be friends and mentors. I owe much to these men.

I can never fully express my gratitude towards the people of Fellowship Baptist. I was honored to be their pastor for 8 ½ years. They endured my early preaching and pastoral ministry with grace and encouragement.

It was at Fellowship that I learned to love people. Our Associate Pastor, David Bock, constantly reminded me that our calling is always about people. This lesson can’t be learned in a seminary classroom. It’s learned in the hospitals, the funeral homes, and the personal conversations. God taught me that through David.

Because of what God taught me at Fellowship, when the time came, I was ready to embrace another group of God’s people. When others ask me about Meridian Baptist Church, I always say that I could not have handpicked a better situation. The church has embraced my family and me. I’m blessed to be the pastor.

When God moved us from Bartlett to Jackson, His plan for our lives varied from His normal design. Fellowship and Meridian are quite different. In fact, whenever I tell other preachers about the change in my ministry their reaction is normally, “really, you almost never hear about that kind of move.” I have no explanation for why God chose to do this, but I’m grateful that He entrusted me to shepherd Meridian.

This first decade has convinced me of two things.

First, pastoring is as much about presence as anything. People invite me into the most important events in their lives. I’ve held newborn children and stood bedside as loved ones passed away. I’ve led people to Christ and hurt as church members grieve over lost family. I’ve performed weddings and listened to marital difficulties. In all of this, I don’t always know what to say. I do know, however, that being there is more important than words.

Second, there is no substitute for expository preaching and teaching. I’m sure I’m leaving something out as I think about this, but I know I’ve preached through Luke, James (3 times), Colossians, Malachi, Ephesians, Genesis, John 1-5, John 13-17, Haggai, Ezra and Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter,  and 1,2, 3 John. Plus teaching through, either during Sunday school or on Sunday or Wednesday night, Exodus 1-21, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Daniel, Acts, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Revelation. Plus, preaching non-series expository messages from many other Bible books.

God has used and continues to use this teaching and preaching to change lives. The Bible transforms us. It convicts the sinner and grows the saint. I’ve had countless conversations with God’s people about Him using His Word to encourage, challenge, and convict them. I merely report what God has said. He does the changing. I am so grateful for my calling to bring His message to His people each week.

So, ten years down and however many more to go.

I can’t wait to see what He’s going to do in this next decade.