Same Ole Same Ole

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” It never ceases to amaze me how these words of Solomon’s, written 3,000ish years ago, are so precisely true today. Solomon’s words especially ring true when you look at the theological and spiritual trends that are popular today. Theologically speaking, there is definitely nothing new under the sun.

In theology, the two biggest controversies of the early church were the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Any disagreements on those doctrines today? Um…yeah! There are tens of millions of adherents to pseudo-Christian cults that deny the deity of Christ and/or the Trinity. In the pages of the New Testament, several writers had to deal with disagreements over the role the Old Testament Law has in the life of the Christian. The whole “Hebrew roots movement” that is gaining steam today is nothing but the Judaizers of the New Testament being revived (Galatians 2:16; 3:11; 5:12).

We have followers of Christ who attempt to use the grace of God as a license to sin (Romans 6). We have followers of Christ who go to the opposite extreme and turn the Christian life into a list of dos and don’ts (Colossians 2:21). We have entire denominations of Christians who do the exact opposite of what Paul prescribed in 1 Corinthians 14. We have churches dividing based on their favorite famous teacher (1 Corinthians 3). Many of us have still not grown past elementary matters (Hebrews 6:1-2).

Even in those who attack and oppose the Christian faith, there is nothing new under the sun. There has been a recent reinvigoration of the claims that the “legend” of Jesus Christ is nothing but a copy of the ancient myths involving Horus, Mithras, Osiris, etc. The early church fathers refuted these claims centuries ago. Morally speaking, the biggest complaint against Christianity has been, and always will be, that it forbids people from having sex with whomever and whatever they want, whenever they want.

There is nothing new under the sun. That is why the Bible is so eminently relevant. The issues it addressed 2,000 years ago are still issues today. The people it describes experienced the same trials, temptations, and struggles that we do today. The doctrinal and theological confusions and disagreements the early church debated are still being argued today.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

S. Michael Houdmann

Three Score and Ten

As time passes, I find myself increasingly drawn to old authors and old books. I scour the used bookshops to look for lost treasures. At the back of one such nineteenth-century work I found this old poem by Edward Morris. I don’t know who Edward Morris was or when he lived, but I’m grateful for the sweet poem he left us, a poem which celebrates the days so many lament—the days when life has grown long and death draws near.

To me the years have gentler grown,
And time more gracious now than then,
Though here I sit and muse alone,
Threescore and ten.

The best of living is the last,
And life seems sweetest at its close;
And something richer than the past,
These days disclose.

I mourn not now the silvered hair,
The trembling hand, the failing power,
As here I wait and calmly dare,
The coming hour.

What dreams of honor or of gain,
Of wreaths or crowns to grace my brow,
Once stirred my spirit, none remain,
To stir me now.

The tossing life, the hope and fear,
The strife, the pain of earlier days,
On these, all past, I look with clear,
Unshrinking gaze.

And even when I sorrow most,
Yet happy are the tears I shed,
And bright the memories of the lost,
The pious dead.

The increase of the corn and wine,
And growing gladness in the heart,
And wondrous grace and joy are mine,
From men apart.

Alone, but not alone, I stand;
Around, above, a Power divine
Is shining, and a heavenly hand,
Is touching mine.

Strange glories gild my closing day,
And one bright star from out the west
Calls me in tender tones away,
From work to rest.

And voices which amid the din
Of outward life I could not hear
Are gently whispering within,
Their words of cheer.

So, welcome is each flying year,
And welcome is this silent bliss;
Nothing the noisy world can yield,
Compares with this.

And so, reclining on the slope
Of life, apart from busy men,
I firmly grasp this larger hope,
Threescore and ten!

Tim Challies

Is It Cruel to Ask Women to Keep Their Unborn Child?

Despite their emphasis on choice, the pro-choice movement leaves many women feeling that they have no choice but abortion. Abortion is constantly portrayed as the preferred choice. After all, a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy wonders, what’s the alternative? Raise a child she seemingly can’t afford, and who will disrupt her life choices like going to school and pursuing a career? Or experience the heartbreak of giving up a child for adoption?

But “abortion or misery” is a binary trap that keeps women from pursuing—and society from providing—positive alternatives. It’s a terrible thing to present pregnant women with inadequate choices, leaving them in an apparent no-win situation. We must reject this trap of presenting the choice between abortion and misery, as if there were no misery in abortion, and as if there were no alternatives.

Why does Planned Parenthood, with its over one billion dollars from tax reve­nues and foundations, not devote itself to a third alternative, such as adoption? Since it makes millions of dollars from abortions every year, giving it huge vested interests in abortion, how can Planned Parenthood be expected to offer real and objective choices to pregnant women in need?

Do they share the stories of women who kept their children, and are grateful they did? How about the stories of women who chose adoption, and though it was difficult, have been left with a sense of peace, knowing they have given someone the gift of life? Or how about the wonderful stories of women who have been reunited with their birth children years later?

Does Motherhood Mean Poverty and No Opportunities?
Many women attest that being a mother doesn’t ruin their lives, as is sometimes claimed, but expands and enriches them in beautiful ways, even when it’s challenging emotionally, physically, and financially. Unfortunately, that possibility is likely the farthest thing from the mind of a woman who finds herself pregnant and wishes she weren’t.

Maria Baer, a volunteer counselor at her local pregnancy resource center, writes:

Women facing an unplanned pregnancy often have reasonable, here-and-now fears. They may fear the loss of financial stability—or the loss of the ability to ever reach it. They may fear the loss of an already teetering status quo in which every available ounce of food is already consumed at home—perhaps by other children they’re already parenting. Pregnant women may lose a job, or they may not get the job they were hoping for. They may fear a violent boyfriend or father.

They may even fear pregnancy itself, which is often full of terrifying sickness, physical pain, loss of emotional control, and embarrassing bodily problems. …That means one of our first steps in ministering to a woman facing a crisis pregnancy is to acknowledge her fear. Don’t judge it, don’t shrug it off, but take her seriously. It is scary. Don’t offhandedly offer adoption as a quick solution. Don’t immediately start in on the logical fallacies of pro-abortion apologetics. Let her be afraid, and tell her she’s not alone. (Better yet: Mean it.)

Once we acknowledge her fear—and, if she’ll allow it, pray for her—we can start to talk through potential solutions to her various worries.

These fears are all understandable. But because the life of another human being is involved, financial distress does not justify abortion. It does mean that women who choose to keep and raise their children instead of choosing adoption need support and help. There are pro-life organizations in the U.S., including pregnancy resource centers (which outnumber abortion clinics), Young Lives (a branch of Young Life), Students for Life, and Feminists for Life, that offer support for pregnant and parenting students. LifeNews reports, “College pro-life groups also have been working to make campuses more friendly, welcoming environments for student-parents by advocating for diaper changing tables in restrooms, offering free babysitting, and encouraging the school to adopt policies to accommodate pregnant/parenting students.”

Feminists for Life addresses the situation of a pregnant woman who is poor and lacks support:

A woman who is pregnant needs to know that there are perfect strangers who will care for her even if the people she counts on the most have let her down. She needs information about child support laws that prohibit coercion by the father either by physical force or by threats to withhold child support.

…We do not eliminate poverty by eliminating poor women’s children. It is degrading to poor women to expect or imply that their children aren’t welcome. We believe that poor women deserve the same support and life-affirming alternatives as wealthy women.

…Abortion is not an enriching experience. An abortion won’t get a woman a better job or get her out of a bad (for example, abusive) situation.

Completing school and working are desirable things in many cases, and perhaps even necessary financially. Pregnancy can make them difficult. But a woman normally can continue school and work during pregnancy. If she places her child for adoption, she need not give up school or work. If she chooses to raise the child herself, there are childcare options available if she must work outside the home. Help is available in many forms.

I am not suggesting this is ideal, nor do I say it callously. I have worked with and helped single mothers and know their difficulties. I am simply pointing out there are alternatives, any one of which is preferable to an innocent child’s death and the undesirable consequences to her mother. Regardless of the challenges, one person’s right to a preferred lifestyle is not greater than another person’s right to a life.

Furthermore, when the only choice presented is abortion, a woman is frequently kept in a negative cycle which can result in multiple abortions. Having and raising a child or choosing adoption can be an enriching and growing experience in taking responsibility, thereby possibly resulting in better choices in the future.

Is Adoption: a “Regrettable Punishment”?
I am amazed at the negative light in which adoption is often portrayed in abortion rights literature. Pro-choice advocates Carole Anderson and Lee Campbell say of adoption, “The unnecessary separation of mothers and children is a cruel, but regrettably usual, punishment that can last a lifetime.”

Adoption is hardly a punishment to a woman carrying a child. It is a heaven-sent alternative to raising a child she is unprepared to raise, or to killing that same child. Adoption is a fine alternative that saves a life and makes another family happy; it’s tragic that adoption is so infrequently chosen as an alternative to abortion. (There are two million families waiting to adopt, and newborns are especially desired by adoptive families.)

Maria Baer writes,

Women may fear…adoption. Though morally clear, the thought is often experientially vague: It seems, or feels, much less repugnant to have a hidden medical procedure in the first weeks of pregnancy than to consciously hand over a smiling, babbling baby to a woman whose body never knew him or her. It’s cognitive dissonance, sure, but it’s a real—and understandable—fear.

One way of addressing a woman’s fear is to demonstrate the beauty and courage of allowing another family to adopt. Because a woman has not yet bonded with her child, the abortion might seem like an easy solution, while parting with her child after birth might be emotionally difficult. But the child’s life is just as real before bonding as after.

I’ve talked with several women considering abortions who had identical reactions to the suggestion of adoption: “What kind of mother would I be to give up a child for adoption?” The better question, which we need to gently help her ask, is, “What kind of mother would I be to kill my baby by abortion?”

The reason the former question is asked more often than the latter is our capacity to deny reality. Pregnant women who think “I don’t want to be a mother” tell themselves, under the influence of pro-choice rhetoric, that they still have a choice about becoming a mother. There are certainly choices open to them, including whether or not to raise their child themselves or place their child for adoption. Both choices require sacrificial love, for sure. But the fact is, they have no choice about whether or not they are mothers. That ship sailed the moment they became pregnant—the moment the baby was conceived.

Many years ago we took a pregnant teenage girl into our home. Though she’d had two abortions, she chose to carry this baby and, with our help and support, placed him for adoption. It was not easy, but this wonderful woman (one husband and three more children later) told me: “I look back at the three babies I no longer have, but with very different feelings. The two I aborted fill me with grief and regret. But when I think of the one I gave up for adoption, I’m filled with joy, because I know he’s being raised by a wonderful family that wanted him.” Several years ago she was able to meet her grown biological son, in a gathering arranged by his adopted mother. My wife, Nanci, and I were invited to attend this reunion. It was one of the most unforgettable and truly wonderful experiences of our lives. We witnessed the beautiful result of a painful but courageous decision made 33 years earlier. Everyone present at this reunion, without exception, had great reason to celebrate!

A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy has no easy options. She has three choices—have her child and raise him, have her child and allow another family to raise him, or kill her child through abortion. Two of these options are reasonable and constructive. One is not. I believe it’s a moral imperative that we clearly tell pregnant women, “You can choose life and goodness and a future for your child without raising him or her yourself.”

Tragically, too often “pro-choice” ends up meaning “no choice but abortion.” Let’s do all we can to show women the real choices besides abortion—which are far superior, with outcomes involving life, not death.

Randy Alcorn

Crash and Turn

Growing up in Colorado, I used to be an avid skier and would go skiing numerous times every winter. On December 29, 1993, my view of skiing, and more importantly, my view of God’s plan for my life, changed dramatically.

Two of my friends and I, all three of us very good skiers, had been tackling black diamond (difficult) runs all morning. We decided to race down a blue (intermediate) run. Wanting to win the race, I was essentially skiing straight down the mountain. I have no idea how fast I was going, but it was fast. Right when I recognized that I was on the edge of being completely out of control, I saw a sharp turn forced by trees quickly approaching. I knew I needed to slow way down. I decided to attempt a giant hockey stop/slide, and it didn’t end well. I crashed badly, and while I tumbled down the mountain, I felt my leg bend as if a new joint had formed in the middle of my shin. I instantly knew my leg was broken.

I finally slid to a stop and waited there until my friends caught up with me. Not knowing I was injured, they both sprayed me with snow and jokingly criticized me for littering my ski equipment all over the slope. Once I convinced them that my leg was indeed broken (one of them actually told me to get up and shake it off, not realizing that might have actually been literally possible at that moment), they skied down the remainder of the run, got the ski patrol, and came back to where I was lying. The ski patrol positioned me on a sled and took me down to the lodge.

I knew my leg was broken, but I didn’t know how badly it was broken until I saw the look on the ski patrol guy’s face when he cut open the leg of my ski pants. I looked down and saw my tibia sticking out of the skin. I had what is known in the skiing world as a “boot break,” a compound open fracture of both my tibia and fibula (the two bones in the lower part of the leg).

I had surgery that evening. Surgery was followed by two months in a cast from my waist to my toes, followed by six weeks in a walking boot (with minimal walking allowed), followed by another four weeks in the walking boot (with more walking allowed). Praise God, I made a full recovery and the injury rarely bothers me.

I went skiing the following winter, but quickly realized that I had turned into a very different skier. Instead of black diamonds, moguls, and jumps, I was simply making big S’s down intermediate runs. The crash, injury, and recovery had ended my love for skiing. I still enjoy it somewhat, but I have no passion for it. I am open to going skiing. But, I seriously doubt I will ever be an avid skier again.

Far more important than how the injury changed my view of skiing, God used the recovery time to change my view of His plan for my life. The injury occurred during the Christmas break of my freshman year of college. I knew God wanted me to go to Bible college, but I was fighting it. I was resisting what I knew was God’s desire, partly out of uncertainty of what I wanted to be when I grew up, and partly out of a desire to finally win the heart of a particular girl I had a huge crush on (which never happened). But, whatever the reason, I was outside of God’s plan. I had the wrong priorities, the wrong plans, and the wrong perspective.

Because of the injury, I had to drop out of the spring semester of college. I was stranded at home and had a lot of time to myself. My youth pastor gave me a stack of books to read, with the Bible on top, of course. I had never really read and studied the Bible for myself. I think I read most of the Bible during my recovery time. God seemed to especially focus my study of His Word on the importance of eternal things, taking my eyes off of the things of this world and instead living for things that matter for eternity (Matthew 6:19-21).

I don’t remember all the books my youth pastor gave me to read, but I vividly remember reading the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The way Screwtape and Wormwood conspired to distract “the Patient” from following Christ was eye-opening. By the end of my recovery, I not only knew God wanted me to go to Bible college, but I wanted to go to Bible college. I didn’t know what God had planned for my life, but I knew I wanted His plan.

I’m sure I had pity-parties after the injury. I am sure there were some “why me?” and “how could You do this to me?” moments. But, by the end, I knew why God had allowed it to happen. God used the crash, the injury, and the recovery to turn my life in a different direction. He used it to change my heart and open my eyes. While I still wish I could have learned the lesson from someone else’s mistake, instead of by my own reckless stupidity, I can now say without any hesitation that I am glad I broke my leg.

I refer to it, lovingly, as my “crash and turn” moment.

S. Michael Houdmann

We Are So Not Into History

It’s increasingly obvious that the modern West has become antihistorical. The past is no longer seen as a useful guide to the present or future, but a misleading, unreliable one. Those who lived in the past are more likely to be dishonored than honored. The study of history itself is often seen as wasteful or even dangerous. When reading Carl Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies, I was interested to see his explanation of how we have arrived at such a point. He offers four reasons.

The first reason is the dominance of science. Many people today understand science to be the only way to achieve objective knowledge. When we reject the notion that truth is available through Scripture or anything else, we are left only with the narrative of science, which assumes that the present is superior to the past and the future will be superior to the present. After all, new scientific discoveries almost invariably supplant those from the past and lead us to greater knowledge, greater wealth, greater health, greater safety. Surely, then, our focus should be on the future far more than the past. Surely one is more important and reliable than the other.

The second reason is related to technology. In former times technology was the domain of the elderly who would instruct young people in its use (such as when a father would teach his son how to use a loom). Today, though, technology is the domain of the young who constantly need to instruct their elders in how to master it and integrate it into their lives. Thus “it invests the young with wisdom and power and makes the old look inept and incompetent.” This helps create and foster a spirit in which we believe there is little wisdom to be gained from the past or from those who have lived in it. Rather, the old must cede to the wisdom of the young.

The third reason relates to the dominance of capitalism and consumerism. They are built upon innovation and, thus, the constant creation and recreation of markets. They also promote commodities that have their own obsolescence built into them. Fashion and phones are equally meant to be temporary rather than permanent, to loosen our grip on the past and present in favor of the future. Yesterday’s wisdom is surely as unfashionable as yesterday’s styles; yesterday’s lessons are surely as useless as yesterday’s computers, for everything is fleeting, everything from the past is soon supplanted by something in the future.

The fourth reason is the rise of the critical attitude embedded in Marxism and postmodernism. These ideologies see history as little more than propaganda that is meant to defend the power of the strong over the marginalized. Added to that is the suspicion that language even has the ability to convey meaning and that a historian can do anything more than manipulate his or her readers according to ideology. In such a context “the writing of history looks like a murky and disreputable trade indeed.” As this critical attitude moves from the minds of the philosophers to the universities, grade schools, and board rooms, it carries its ideologies and skepticisms with it.

Trueman, as a natural contrarian and a trained historian, disputes such antihistorical tendencies and insists that understanding the past is necessary if we are to thrive in the future. “In short, I believe we have a choice. We can ignore history, and thus doom ourselves to understanding our own small world as reflecting nature, just the way things are, and by so doing doom ourselves to be enslaved to the forces around us that remain unseen but which nonetheless exert a powerful pressure on us. Or we can study history, and in so doing, simultaneously relativize ourselves and our times and, ironically, somewhat liberate ourselves in such a way that we understand more of our world and how we fit into it. Only the man who knows the forces that shape the way he thinks is capable of resisting those forces; and history is a great help in identifying and exposing such hidden things.” As for me, I’m with him…

Tim Challies

I Still Thank God for You

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4).

There is a theological point to make from this verse, because Paul is thanking God for his grace to believers. As he does continually in his letters, Paul is reminding the saints at Corinth that their faith, and their faithfulness, is by God’s grace and through Jesus Christ.

Yet there is also a personal point not to be missed in this passage: Paul is thanking God for the saints at Corinth. And his gratefulness for genuine believers extends beyond just that church, as he has already in verse 2 included everyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord.

Paul is thankful for every recipient of God’s sovereign grace!

Paul’s passion was not to make little Pauls, but to make disciples of Jesus.

Paul is not just thankful for the ones that come from his background, or the ones that agree with him, or the ones that are most holy and mature.

Paul’s passion was not to make little Pauls, but to make disciples of Jesus; so he was able to truly say, from his heart, that he was thankful for every believer in Jesus Christ — even though the very ones he is writing to in Corinth have messy problems and major maturity issues.

What is your attitude toward other believers in Jesus Christ? Do they have to agree with you, or reach a certain level of maturity, or come from a certain background for you to joyfully thank God for them?

We also need to grow and mature, and we also have some messy problems and maturity issues.

Of course we are not happy for sin that we see in the lives of others; and of course we should desire to point others to greater knowledge of Christ and greater pursuit of Christ-likeness. But we should be genuinely thankful for every other believer in Jesus Christ, even though some are in less-than-ideal situations. Because of course the truth is that we also need to grow and mature, and we also have some messy problems and maturity issues.

With all the troubles and strife within the Corinthian body, still Paul calls it the church of God; and Paul says he is thankful to God for his grace in their lives!

Show Some Respect

When I was twenty one, *Henry, a good friend from the Middle East, came to the US on a summer exchange program. I was excited to see him again and eager to see how he was doing in his young and still mostly-secret faith. He had not been willing to gather with other believers yet, which was disappointing, and he was terrified to tell his family. Still, like a Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, his faith had continued. I was relieved when we met up and he was eager to pull me aside to talk in hushed tones about spiritual things.

His hosting situation was a peculiar one. He was staying with an elderly couple, the husband a retired pastor in a liberal mainline denomination. Another student, a conservative Muslim from Egypt, was also staying there. This Egyptian student was eager to ply the elderly pastor with hard questions about Christianity. His host was mostly willing to engage his questions, but with an inclusivist air that made the answers quite disappointing for the Egyptian – and for me. Now, this elderly couple was wonderfully kind and hospitable, admirably so, hosting two young Muslims (or so they thought) during the height of the War on Terror. But having had very little interaction with liberal American Christianity, I found myself growing more and more concerned that his answers were so, well, squishy. Did this man actually believe that Christianity was true? If so, where was his backbone, where was his conviction, where was his Bible? The Egyptian’s bias against Christianity was only being confirmed by this man’s very NPR-style politically correct responses. Henry, for his part, was not going to jump in and risk revealing to his Muslim Brotherhood-influenced roommate that he himself had apostatized.

I listened respectfully to their conversation, observing the retired pastor with a good deal of inner astonishment – and hoped that Henry would not be led astray by this well-meaning but watered-down Christianity. And I prayed for a chance to get to talk with the Egyptian myself. Thankfully, after a pleasant dinner and evening together, we got our chance as the three of us ended up bunking in the same room. Out came the polemics. The Bible has been changed. Christians Believe in three gods. Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God. The Bible prophesies Mohammad. And finally, out came the Bibles.

We discussed Christianity and Islam late into the night, open Bibles in front of us. Even Henry got into it, making some good points here and there while never quite revealing his own faith. Long after midnight we got into the concept of the Trinity. It was a rousing debate. Both the Egyptian and I loved it. We loved it because, young though we were, we both knew that truth matters. We both knew that Islam and Christianity make exclusive truth claims. We both believed that an honorable believer doesn’t insult his opponent by pretending that the differences aren’t real. We knew that the promises of squishy humanism were coming up empty. Somehow, strangely, we knew we were “older” than our elders and that we must muddle forward together in the pursuit of absolute truth. We debated and muddled until we finally called it a night around 2 a.m. To my great joy, Henry’s heart was freshly encouraged in the gospel.

The next morning we attended the mainline church where our hosts were members. Having grown up a Baptist in Melanesia and having recently been part of underground house churches in the Middle East, it was just as much a cultural spectacle for me as it was for my Middle Eastern friends. I had never been part of a liberal mainline service before. I was encouraged that so much truth was still remnant in the liturgy, but discouraged that no one seemed to take it seriously, not even the female pastor. At the end of the service, she called us up to the front. She wanted to welcome us as guests and to present the three of us to the elderly congregation. She let us introduce ourselves and when we were finished, turned to the congregation.

“Pastor *Smith,” she said with a smile, “who is hosting these young men, tells me they were up until 2 a.m. discussing, of all things… the Trinity!”

The congregation erupted into chortles of laughter and knowing smiles. The pastor egged them on.

“Well, boys, when you’ve figured it out, be sure to come and let us know!” More laughter. More respectable snickering.

There we were – the secret young believer, the Egyptian who would later become a mullah, the young American missionary – the brunt of a joke because we took the Trinity seriously.

We stood there awkwardly as the laughter died away. I looked at Henry and at my new Egyptian friend, realizing in that moment that we had more in common with one another than we did with all these chuckling church-goers. In fact, we lived in a different world. As a believer, I had more in common with my Muslim friends like this Egyptian than I did with many of my own countrymen who claimed to be Christians. What a strange and tragic thing.

There have been few moments where I’ve been more ashamed of Christianity in my homeland than I was that day. Though as Machen rightly maintained in Christianity and Liberalism, it was not Christianity at all, but a new religion entirely, gutted of the gospel. What would these cultural Christians say if Henry’s family found out about his faith and kicked him out, or tried to kill him? Would they try to comfort him by telling him that “We all really believe the same thing, after all?” What would they say to my other Middle Eastern friends who had lost everything for the sake of Jesus, for holding to beliefs that these wealthy westerners had long ago dismissed as intolerant or not progressive enough? For all of the residue of truth that clung to that church because of its once-faithful tradition, it had become a community impotent. Impotent to represent Jesus to serious Muslim theists, and even more impotent to mentor those who could lose their lives for their faith. Just a shell of what is was supposed to be, full of nice and polite grey-haired members who chuckled at the silly young men who thought it was worth it to stay up late and debate the nature of God.

It’s not always easy to live among Muslims. Sometimes we want to pull out our hair in frustration at how illogical Islamic belief and practice are. But there are many times when we actually find ourselves strange bedfellows with our Muslim neighbors, scratching our heads side by side at the absurd but confident assertions of Western modernity. It’s frankly refreshing to live in a society where the existence of God is strongly believed by most, where male and female still mean male and female, and where the question most wrestle with is What is the truth? rather than What is truth?

My neighbors largely believe that God exists, that he created the world, that he sent prophets and holy books, that heaven and hell are real, and that we should strive to live according to God’s will. This is not a bad theistic starting point, even given all of the distortions that Islam introduces. For many Muslims, like Henry, they are not far from the kingdom of God. They need a friend. One who will tell them of Jesus, open the Bible with them, and pray until the miracle of the new birth crashes in and changes everything.

Woe to the many respectable, progressive, and nice church-goers of the West. For while they chuckle and exchange the power of the gospel for niceness, it is the scrappy Middle Easterners who will get into the kingdom of Heaven before they do.

A.W. Workman

Why Do Men Cheat?

Over the years I have heard several Christian teachers essentially tell women whose husbands had recently cheated on them that “men will be men” and “if a wife makes the home a wonderful place and/or is good in bed, a husband is far less likely to cheat.” Sadly, I was guilty of saying something close to that once as well (in a Song of Solomon class in Bible College, nonetheless).

It is never right to blame wives for husbands who wander. Let me say this loud and clear, if a husband commits adultery, it is his fault. He is to blame. While there may be contributing factors, there is no justifiable excuse for adultery.

Are men more prone to sexual temptation? Generally speaking, yes. In most marriages, the husband has a stronger sex drive and is more stimulated by the sight of the opposite gender—and therefore is more tempted by sexual sins (for more information, please read the article on sexual temptation). But a strong sex drive is no excuse. Adultery is always a sin. Sex outside of marriage is always a sin (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7).

So, yes, men being men is a contributing factor for why men cheat on their wives, but that is not an excuse.

If a husband is not finding happiness and satisfaction at home, yes, it will increase the temptation to look for happiness and satisfaction elsewhere. Yes, if a wife is willing to make herself available sexually regularly, it will decrease her husband’s temptation to stray. But, with that said, if a husband commits adultery, it is not the wife’s fault. No matter how bad a marriage is, adultery is inexcusable. No matter how infrequent the sex within the marriage, it is still always a sin to engage in sex outside of the marriage.

An unhappy marriage and/or an unfulfilling marital sex life is cause for counseling, reconciliation, compromise, forgiveness, and restoration. It is not an excuse for adultery.

Men and women, if you commit adultery, you are sinning against God, your spouse, and yourself (1 Corinthians 6:18; Colossians 3:5). Yes, things in your life may have conspired against you to make the temptation more difficult to resist, but if you fail to take advantage of the way of escape God provides, you have no one to blame but yourself (1 Corinthians 10:13).

S. Michael Houdmann

The Age of the Tattoo

It’s the age of the tattoo, isn’t it? It has become something of a rite of passage for older teenagers or younger adults to get inked. Whatever we parents think about this trend, I expect we’re unanimous in at least wanting our children to wait until they are old enough to count the cost—to grow up enough to have some sense of what it will mean to permanently mark their bodies. We want our kids to wait because we know that in this area, as in all of life, they are prone to seeing the benefits but not the drawbacks, the opportunity but not the risk.

What is true of teens and tattoos is true of many other demographics and many other areas of life, perhaps especially when it comes to technology. We human beings are famous for inventing, accepting, and integrating new technologies without thoroughly assessing how they will impact us for good and for ill. We tend to see the benefits immediately but only grow wise to the risks much later on. And, in a world like this, it’s a sure thing that there will be both. Let me offer just a few examples of times we failed to count the cost.

Pornography. In the 1980s everyone told families they just had to have a computer, so parents went out and dutifully bought their first family PC. Then in the 1990s, everyone told these same families they just had to get the internet. So parents signed up with AOL or a local service provider and connected their family computer to the internet. And an entire generation of boys got hooked on internet pornography. Parents saw the opportunity that would come with computers and connectivity but failed to see the risk. What is so obvious today—that boys + computers + connectivity = pornography—was missed by a billion parents. They failed to count the cost.

Live streaming. As the internet matured and wormed its way into every part of our lives, we saw the opportunities that would come with livestreaming video. YouTube, Facebook, and a host of lesser platforms began to offer it to their users as a primary feature. We came to appreciate and crave the opportunities it presented. But we failed to see the risk of live-streamed murders, rapes, suicides, even massacres. Streaming has had benefits, as many churches have discovered through lockdowns, but it has also come with terrible risks, significant drawbacks. But we only learned about those as time went on when it was already too late.

PowerPoint. A couple of decades ago churches began to migrate away from hymnals in favor of PowerPoint. Instead of having songs printed in books, we began to project them on screens. This allowed churches to reduce costs, to rid themselves of unwieldy books, to easily add new songs to their repertoire. But it came at the cost of removing the sheet music and singing the parts; of allowing people to have their own copies to sing at home; of making it possible to add new songs so quickly that we stopped singing any song long enough to memorize it, to make it our own possession.

Time would fail me to speak of email and the way it has utterly eradicated our ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes without checking our inboxes, or social media and the way it has polarized everything from politics to theology. In every case there are benefits and there are drawbacks—benefits that we embrace quickly and drawbacks we awaken to slowly.

I am often asked, “What technology is next? What’s the next big thing?” I don’t know what it is, though it seems likely that it will offer even tighter integration between our bodies and our devices, between our physical selves and our technological selves. Whatever it is, our past and current experiences with technology should warn us of the likelihood that we will be quick to see all its wonderful benefits but slow, too slow, to see its inevitable drawbacks. Whatever it is, I’m skeptical that we will see it problems before they’ve already made a deep impact upon us.

Tim Challies

The Weak Made Strong

We have to be very careful in how we wage spiritual war. Thanks to some fanciful fictions and inspirational clichés, a lot of bad theology has crept into the Church’s thinking on these matters. The way some people talk about prayer owes more to New Age spirituality than biblical Christianity. Many of us were even taught in our church classes about “spiritual warfare” in ways that seem foreign to the Bible!

Sometimes God and Satan are cast as warring opposites, a kind of yin and yang balancing each other out, even while squaring off. Which side will win in the battle over your soul and the fate of the universe? Well, whichever side you support, of course. Obviously it sounds a little silly when put that way. But books, songs, and movies were made for the evangelical subculture that reflected just that kind of warped theology of the spiritual plane. Jesus sometimes sounds like a version of Tinkerbell, needing our “applause” to gain strength and prevail over defeat.

When the apostle James says that “the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (5:16), we need to take great care to notice that “in its effect” gives a shape to the prayer. Literally, this verse can be expressed this way: “the prayers that work”—or, “the effective prayers”—“are very powerful.” This tells us two things. First, some prayers don’t “work.” By this, I assume it is meant that we don’t always get what we ask for when we pray. We may ask God to provide a certain desire or heal a certain wound. Sometimes he says no. But second, we notice that the prayers that have effect, have great power. Where could that come from? Paul tells us:

Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough in Him to speak as I should. (Ephesians 6:18-20)

The power comes not from us, but from God himself. The Holy Spirit inspires our prayers and empowers our prayers and receives our prayers and applies our prayers.

You know when you’re frustrated in traffic, irritated with your family, triggered by a reminder of your past, tripped up by a recurring sin, or depressed by an inconsolable loneliness that “great power” is not something that comes to you naturally. It isn’t found “within”—at least, not within your natural self. This is also something to stay alert about.

We practice awareness of our own weakness that we might simultaneously practice awareness of the Spirit’s presence. This is what prayerlessness is, essentially—forgetfulness of God. We don’t pray more often because we too often think, “I’ve got this.” But the power that effective prayer has is nothing and nobody less than the Holy Spirit of God, who not only hears the prayer, but carries the prayer and replies to the prayer, and even inspires the prayer!

But let’s take it a step further. Prayer isn’t magic, because we have no power in and of ourselves. Prayer is expressed helplessness. But also, prayer isn’t magic, because God isn’t helpless without our moving him or unleashing him or activating him in some way. I cringe every time I hear some well-intentioned preacher use the phrase “let God”—as in, “You have to let God take control of your life” and “You need to let God be God.”

First of all, God doesn’t need you to let him do anything. He isn’t restrained or controlled by you. God isn’t like some tethered toddler on a parental leash at the mall, struggling for freedom to have at the world around him. We have forgotten whose armor we have on if we think we have the power to “let God” do anything. He’s God. We’re not. Period.

So in prayer, you are not commanding the Spirit or summoning the Spirit like he’s a cosmic butler. In prayer, you are not in the place of control but in the place of submission. Through prayer we bare our hearts, minds, and souls to the God who wants to be our friend and deliverer. And the more we do this baring, the more we will experience of his power, even in our lowest and weakest of moments. Prayer is essentially weaponized weakness.

No, prayer isn’t magic, because we have no power in and of ourselves. Prayer is expressed helplessness. It is a verbalized acknowledgment of our own lack of power, of our own weakness. And it is in our weakness that God’s power is perfected (2 Cor. 12:9).

It is for this reason that Christ’s model prayer given to his disciples in teaching them how to pray includes an acknowledgment that the kingdom is God’s, not ours. We will not prevail if God does not prevail. And since he will prevail, the only way for us to prevail with him is to put our prayers of faith in him.

Apart from Christ, we can accomplish nothing. But in Christ—having prevailed through him over the enemy, having been strengthened to withstand spiritual attacks, and having direct access to his powerful presence through prayer—we are more than conquerors. Because of the blessings of the gospel, we who once were weak are now eternally strong!

Jared C. Wilson

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