Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight

Raiders of the Lost Ark scene

There is a famous scene in the first Indiana Jones movie in which Jones, fresh off a fast-moving battle against a dozen attackers, is suddenly confronted by one more adversary: a massive, sword-wielding warrior. The director had planned a final, climatic fight with Indiana’s whip pitted against the sword of his opponent.

Instead, Harrison Ford simply pulled out a hidden pistol and shot the huge swordsman in the chest.

Ford knew his character was too tired to play around in that scene. He needed his best weapon against a dangerous adversary.

Being a Christian in a fallen world means you and I are also surrounded by dangerous adversaries, but too often we start the fight by tossing away our most powerful weapons. The problem is ultimately one of faith. The Bible calls us to arm ourselves with righteousness, faith, and prayer, but these don’t look very impressive arrayed against the world’s wisdom and power—so we throw down the weapons with “divine power to destroy strongholds” (II Cor 10:4) and snatch up the world’s shiny tin swords.

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Men, Church, and ‘Laboring Alongside’

Men working

I have a challenge for men out there: Spend a couple hours working with another guy on some project at which you’re both pretty competent. It doesn’t matter what it is. While you’re working you are not allowed to talk about yourselves or about anything other than the project itself. Just pound in the nails or debug the code or do whatever it is you’re doing. Then, when you’re done, try not to feel a sense of respect and comradery with your work-buddy.

I doubt you’ll be able to prevent it.

It has become almost a cliché to point out that men naturally relate to one another side by side, while women relate face to face. Generally speaking, men bond though shared effort. Women bond through shared emotion. It’s not an absolute distinction, of course, but it’s a strong tendency. It’s just how we’re built.

It’s worth thinking about how this affects our faith and our churches. When you think of church, what comes to mind? A loving, welcoming, friendly place? What about when you think of God? A loving heavenly Father who welcomes our worship and listens when we talk to him? American Christianity has a lot of face to face, but not much side by side.

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Don’t Let a Fight Against Error Kill Your Love

Caution cone on keyboard

Last week’s article wasn’t supposed to be an article. I started out writing an opening illustration for a different point, but it took on a life of its own and I ended up with a whole post about the dangers of getting so caught up in the fight against racism, sexism, and other ugly -isms that we forget Jesus’ command to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies. We must always remember that Satan loves to tempt us to fight the right fight in the wrong way… Which I suppose still works as an opening observation to bring us around to what I meant to talk about last Monday. Because there is more than one “good fight” which can become an idol. For many conservative, Bible-believing Christians, one of the most potentially dangerous good fights is the battle against error in the church.

Are you entirely satisfied with everything taught by every part of the American church? I thought not. Neither am I. From churches which don’t bother to teach the Bible to churches which outright teach against the Bible, there is every reason to be concerned about the spiritual health of many of the professing Christians around us. And such caution is appropriate and biblical. Paul warned Roman believers, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom 16:17). Corruption in the church is the worst kind of corruption, because it dishonors the name of Christ and destroys our witness to the world. Vigilance is essential—but vigilance has a way of killing our love.

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Servants Don’t Take Offense

Potter with clay

A couple years ago, an academic and writer who was researching the role of women in Reformed churches flew in for a day to attend a presbytery meeting in my little part of the Christian world. Her subsequent scathing report generated quite a bit of discussion and controversy, with particular outrage over her revelation that the women’s restroom was temporarily labeled for male use. What kind of church, readers demanded, would care so little about female concerns as to refuse to even give them restroom facilities? The account of the omission was one of the most dramatic parts of her report, with three paragraphs devoted to describing and analyzing the way in which “women’s physical needs were considered unimportant and inconvenient.” It was a damning indictment—and perhaps a tad overstated.

Frankly, the bathroom labeling was thoughtless, creating an uncomfortable situation for any women who had to remove the sign and wait for the bathroom to clear before using it. But in a denomination which does not have female elders, everyone knows there are going to be hardly any women at a presbytery meeting. As someone who has run large events in the past, I have a great deal of sympathy for the harried organizer, worrying the night before about the prospect of long bathroom lines snaking through the foyer of a small church, who hastily tried to solve the problem with the “Men’s Restroom” sign which was shortly to become a thing of infamy. (Had the same organizer been running a women’s conference, I expect we’d have seen a “Women’s Restroom” sign on the men’s room.) Was it a less-than-ideal solution? Yes. Was it a significant sign of underlying sexism on the part of everyone associated with the meeting? Perhaps… not?

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You Have Enough Time

Hurrying crowd

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
~ Matthew 6:25-33

For most Americans, Jesus’ promise of provision in the Sermon on the Mount may seem like a nice abstraction. It’s lovely to think of God providing for our physical needs, but how many urgent needs do most of us really feel? How many of us have really had to worry about the next meal or whether we’ll have someplace to spend the night? Of course, for some in America and for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, these assurances are a much more urgent and wonderful thing, but for most Americans they are promises to meet a need they have never really felt.

But even if God’s rich provision for our nation means that you never have to worry about food or clothing, studying Jesus’ promises in Matthew 6 offers a helpful, encouraging template for thinking about another resource, one which we always seem to be needing more of: our time.

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After We Sin

Kneeling man

There are few more famous sins in the Bible than David’s adultery with Bathsheba, followed by the murder of her husband. Yahweh’s anointed king, “the man after God’s own heart,” showed the ugliness that lurks in every one of Adam’s sons, and the Lord’s response was swift and angry. II Samuel 12 describes the scene as the prophet Nathan challenged King David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” The account only includes the initial, simple response of the stricken king: “I have sinned against the Lord,” but Psalm 51 conveys the depth of David’s repentance and grief as he writes,

I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

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Repentance and Adjustment

A fork in the road

New Year’s resolutions can’t help having a gimmicky feel, but there is real value in a day which reminds us to always be pursuing excellence—and which reminds us that excellence is the product of our choices. New Year’s Day may not spark any new resolutions for you, but the Bible’s call to become more like Christ should.

The first question is always one of identification: What kind of problem is calling for a change? Is it a question of repentance, or of what we might call adjustment?

The Bible teaches us to be ruthless with our sins. It leaves no room for accommodation or half-measures; only repentance. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “From now on sin no more” (John 8:11). In the Sermon on the Mount, he declared, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48), warning, “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (5:30).

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Thanks for Nothing

Praying woman

I spent the latter part of last week down with one of those nasty bugs which herald the changing of the seasons, so I decided to revisit an old post rather than writing a new article for today. I first published this piece almost exactly five years ago. –DV

It’s almost Thanksgiving, so you’ve probably been thinking more than usual about the things you have to be thankful for. Most of our lists will have roughly the same shape: gratitude for life and salvation, for friends and family, for work and leisure time, for troubles lifted and prayers answered. We’ll laugh and nod as we consider all the good that we and others have received, and we’ll feel a bit guilty for failing to be as grateful as we ought during the rest of the year when we don’t have a national holiday to help us remember, so we’ll resolve to be more aware of our blessings in the coming year. Even if some troubles weren’t lifted and some prayers went unanswered, we’ll try to focus on the good and give thanks for what we’ve been given. Yet in all this thanksgiving, we may well forget to give thanks for nothing.

Nothing is a gift we’ve all received at one time or another. It came to John the Baptist after he was arrested by Herod. The one about whom Jesus said, “among those born of women there is no one greater” lay in prison for months, stolen from his wilderness of river and desert to decay in a hole in the ground. He sent to the Messiah, the one of whom he’d prophesied, the one whom he’d baptized, and his only answer was “blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” Nothing.

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‘The Least of These’

Homeless person asleep

When you think of doing “Kingdom work,” what comes to mind? If you are like most American Christians, you think of evangelism—going out to share the gospel with the lost and call them to Christ. It’s the work we train our children for, giving them apologetics books to read and sending them on short-term missions trips. And it is good, necessary work! But it is not the only Kingdom work.

I have always been struck by Jesus’ choice in the famous parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. There are many different kinds of Christian traits which he could have chosen to characterize his followers, but as he describes the Judgment Day he says his sheep will be marked by their pattern of caring for the hungry and thirsty, of welcoming the strangers, of clothing the naked, of visiting the sick and imprisoned. That, Jesus says, is what defines his people.

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On Overcoming Ourselves

Ramsey confronting Kirby

In the classic movie You Can’t Take It With You, the climatic scene is a confrontation between the brutally capitalistic Anthony P. Kirby and his competitor and one-time friend, Ramsey, whose business Kirby has just destroyed. Kirby is on top of the world, about to sign a hard-won deal which will make him fantastically rich, when a broken Ramsey bursts into his office with a prophetic warning.

I have suddenly realized that I haven’t lost a thing; that I never gained one moment’s happiness out of it. And I warn you, Anthony, neither will you. In spite of your victories, you can’t shut out every decent impulse and survive. You’re top-heavy with power right now, Anthony, but you’re going to crack under it. You’re bound to crack under it… You’ll scream for help and suddenly find yourself alone in the world. You’ll wriggle on the hook and find that nobody gives a hang. I know—because that’s what happened to me. And it’ll happen to you. That’s what happens to all men like us, Anthony; it’s coming to us.

Kirby listens quietly to the hoarse warning and watches impassively as his old friend collapses on the boardroom table before being helped out of the room. Moments later, in the sort of instant reinforcement which only happens in the movies, the businessman’s only son, Tony Jr., comes to tell him he’s leaving, unwilling to follow in his father’s footsteps. He departs, and the great Anthony P. Kirby sighs, gathers himself to his feet, and walks into the elevator that will take him up to the top floor to sign the deal.

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