Is "Pure" the Right Word?

Christian young people are encouraged to keep themselves sexually pure. At a first pass, that seems like sound advice. But I’m not comfortable with the use of the word “pure”.

Suppose I’m taking a walk across a grassy hillside on a bright Spring morning, and I come by a lad and lassie making out on the grass. They’re having sex! Apart from the fact they haven’t taken enough care with privacy, I might be inclined to smile and discreetly walk on. Trouble is, their wedding isn’t until a week on Thursday. So I shake my head sadly, and say, “Impure”.

Three weeks later, I’m taking the same walk, and lo and behold, here they are again! Same place, same couple, same activity. This time with shiny new rings on their fingers. So this time I smile, and say “Pure”.

True, something fundamental has changed – they are now firmly installed in their covenant relationship with each other and with God. Let’s hope their sexual understanding and maturity will grow exponentially. But the use of the word “pure” doesn’t seem to work does it? The activity has not magically changed from nasty, grubby, tainted to holy and pure. It’s now appropriate, whereas before it wasn’t. But “impure” to “pure”?

The discussion is a subtle one, because there are places where these words do seem to fit better. A gang rape for example. Or a young woman being pressured, shamed, cajoled into sexual activity she doesn’t really want. These situations provoke our anger, so that “impure” becomes too weak a word.

Christian young people, and indeed the church as a whole, are sadly in need of renewed understanding and vision concerning all things sexual. Words and phrases like sexual integrity, relational integrity, respect, glad acceptance of my own body and sexuality, and many more need to gain currency and appreciation. But let’s be careful with “pure” and “impure”.

GMB

More on Christian dating, sex, romance ......

It’s been a week of discovery! I found another Juli Slattery appearance on Boundless, that gave a far more favorable impression than I reported last week. In fact, the whole episode was just excellent. I’ll give you the link - https://www.boundless.org/podcast/great-sex-pectations-episode-247/  An episode discussing preparation for the wedding night.

Then I discovered that this episode was from October 2011. It’s old! Where have I been the last eight years, while great material like this is going to air?? I tried surveying other episodes from back then, but their website seems to be needing a little repair for retrieving archived episodes. But apart from little details like that, the Boundless Show is nearly always good. The link is https://www.boundless.org

Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow’s ministry promoting a fresh new vision of God’s design for sexuality is Authentic Intimacy.  The link there is https://www.authenticintimacy.com

It’s so exciting to me to see the great material being produced – books, DVDs, Webinars, Podcasts. It’s a new discovery so maybe my praise will become more reserved, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a big YES!

As I discussed two weeks ago, I think there’s more to be discussed about the Purity Narrative message young people have been given in the past, but broadly I agree that this message was misleading. As I also commented, many may see A Thousand Tears from Home as supporting the Purity Narrative. I would love to know what you think. Shoot me a message on Facebook!

GMB

 


The Purity Narrative

This is a continuation of last week’s blog on the “Chastity Cult”. I’m glad of what I wrote last week, though the discussion I began there is a subtle one, with eddies and counter-currents, fraught with invitations to misconstrue.

I came across an article by Juli Slattery on the Boundless webpage, entitled Promise Rings and Purity Talks Aren’t Enough. Juli coins the term “purity narrative” to describe the teaching on sexual purity promoted by the Christian community for several decades, identifying its message as simply “save sex for marriage.” I would agree that for 2000 years, the message of the church regarding sexuality has been chiefly “Don’t! Don’t even think of it, not until you’re married.” A legalistic, totally inadequate message, that has kept sex under covers of shame, hypocrisy and ignorance down the centuries. As described by Juli, the purity narrative is just a relatively recent expression of that obscurantism.

I think it has been more than that, and I regret Juli’s comment that its spokespersons have had “arguably good intentions.” How’s that for damning with faint praise? However, I agree that the purity narrative has not done nearly enough to make advances on the old “Don’t!” message. I agree with most of Juli’s criticisms.

I’m a marriage and family therapist, specializing in Christian sex therapy. As such, I have a huge focus on marriage and sex and romance. Part of my job is promoting a renewed, rich, Biblical vision of God’s gift of sex. As a story teller, I seek to inspire sexual hope, and gladness and wisdom.

It’s true, sexual purity is about much more than whether you’ve had extramarital sex – it begins in the heart, it’s rooted in your relationship with Jesus. It’s about being proud of your own sexuality, proud enough to set strong boundaries. And huge respect for the boundaries of others. But “save sex for marriage” is still an important message. Juli and others like her fail to make it clear enough that this message is not being discarded, but is being absorbed into something stronger, more demanding, more fulfilling and comprehensive. Juli makes a couple of comments affirming physical sexual integrity, but she fails to inspire me. The fairytale image of the virgin bride, in her gorgeous white dress, walking down the aisle to meet her strong man of integrity may be sentimental, but it’s loaded with idealism and values that mustn’t be lost.

GMB.

A Chastity Cult?

The foreword to A Thousand Tears from Home hints that this tale prompts significant talking points. One discussion point is around the notion that my friend Dr. Doug Rosenau calls The Chastity Cult, or The Virginity Cult.

Dr. Doug is close to publishing a second edition of the book he co-authored with Michael Todd Wilson, Soul Virgins. The new edition is called Single and Sexually Whole. Developing ideas raised earlier in Soul Virgins,he refers to the popular belief that sexual purity or chastity centers around penile-vaginal intercourse. If you have committed this act outside of marriage, you are not chaste. Otherwise you are chaste. Doug says the idea “that this hypocritical purity must be maintained at all cost is dangerous. We have created a simplistic virginity cult that is not working for singles!”

He argues rather that true virginity begins in the heart. “We need to paint a bigger picture of chastity that is not defined by banning one behavior and making it an idol. …. Virginity must radiate from the redeemed heart and be part of who we are – not simply what we don’t do.”

It isn’t that what we do and don’t do is unimportant – it’s very important, and loaded with consequences. But our behavior doesn’t flow from rules – it flows from a heart united with Jesus.

So ….. does A Thousand Tears from Home promote the Chastity Cult? I think many may say it does. I disagree. Grab a copy, and let’s know what you think!

 GMB.

Who or What is a Christian?

My wife and I were discussing that question this morning. Right across the spectrum of Christian expression, the answer seems to be, a Christian is a person who will end up in heaven after they die. For most people, that seems to be the underlying assumption. But how do you get to be included?

At one end of the Christian continuum, the answer is, make sure you’ve fulfilled all the requirements of mother church, like being baptized as a baby, being confirmed, trying not to be too mean or nasty and maybe going to church sometimes. A greater engagement might be nice, but so long as you’ve seen to those essentials, you’re good to go.

At the ‘evangelical’ end, the important thing is that you’ve accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If there’s a little Calvinism in the mix, this is initiated solely by God, signed and sealed by him – it’s irrevocable. A greater engagement might be nice, but so long as you’ve seen to those essentials, you’re good to go.

Both these assessments may seem like a parody of Christian belief, but it seems to me that many pews in many churches are occupied by people who believe roughly as I’ve stated.

You may guess that I’m not happy with either of these. Firstly, I don’t think that going to heaven when you die is the point. Yes, our destiny, living gladly for ever in the unimaginable presence of God is central to Christian faith, but that isn’t what it’s all about. C. S. Lewis commented, I think in Surprised by Joy, that he counts it among his greatest blessings that he was permitted to go a full year from his conversion without ever thinking of an afterlife.

And secondly, that bit about a greater engagement being a ‘nice to have.’ Nope, the Old Testament declares, and the New Testament shouts, that commitment to Jesus changes everything. It’s demanding to the max, it’s risky, often confusing, it’s exhilarating, fulfilling. Do not expect an easy ride. The Hillsong track Where Feet may Fail repeats over and over the lines, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you may lead me.” The ultimately daring prayer. Do you dare pray it?

All the Christian doctrines, disciplines, service, hope of heaven flow from this.

GMB

Why is Prayer so Difficult?

At one level, it isn’t. Many of us chatter to God all day, turning to him at a moment’s notice. No, I’m talking about time spent waiting on God, seeking to deeply enter his presence, to worship, to listen to him. Dangerous prayer, that changes us.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced just enough of this listening prayer to whet your appetite, to make you long for more. Yet there have also been many times when you’ve sat, your mind going in all directions, not much sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit, nothing that sounds much like Jesus’ words to your soul.

Why is it so difficult?

I’m privileged to be a Beta reader for a friend who is writing on soul formation. To be honest, it’s not an area that I’ve related to well in the past, though my friend has a different way of making her point – her book is drawing me in. Especially her section on listening prayer. So I’ve been inspired to reengage.

As part of that, I picked up  “Let’s Talk”, a booklet on prayer by Bill Crowder. I found him asking the same questions. “If prayer is so important ….   why do we so often find it so difficult? Why do we sometimes find it unsatisfying? Why do we struggle to experience the freshness and the wonder of our God when sincerely trying to enter his presence?”

It was the first phrase that struck me. “If prayer is so important ….” Yes, we know how important prayer is. Both personal and corporate. So, from what we know of the Christian journey, wouldn’t we expect it also to be difficult? Of course! It’s fairly obvious, but it came as a new insight.

Liszt’s piano piece “Campanella” is excruciatingly difficult, and excruciatingly beautiful. Is it worth the trouble? To the pianist who has won through to flawless performance, the answer is, “Oh yes! Oh  my goodness yes!”

So, a new engagement with listening prayer. Anyone coming with me?

GMB

A Tale of an Ordinary Saint.

A teacher who came to my Discipleship Training School in YWAM told this tale. It was about his experience attending one of the soul-formation camps headed by Neville Winger on Great Barrier Island, east of North Auckland, New Zealand.

“My work duty time usually had me outside, working on the grounds. Most days, as I weeded, or cleared, or trimmed, I would notice some camper trudging up the hill to Neville’s office, with head bowed, shoulders slumped. One by one, as God brought to the surface old issues to be healed, each would seek prayer and guidance from our beloved Neville. An hour or so later I would see the person emerge, back straighter, head held higher, hope stirring in their eyes.

“The day came when it was my turn. I too shuffled up the hill to knock on that door. Neville called for me to come in, then motioned me to a seat. He was sitting behind his desk, with Bible open. I sat in front of his desk. Neville said nothing for the longest time, but sat with head bowed over his Bible.

“Eventually, he began praying. He hadn’t asked me anything about what was on my heart, yet he began praying into exactly the issues that were weighing on me. I was amazed. Neville was so clearly a man who listens to God. About an hour later, I walked back down the hill from his office, with hope rekindled.”

How do you feel when you read of a saint who hears so confidently from God? A little skeptical? That he doesn’t sound real, not like one of us ordinary mortals?

Firstly, let me assure you that Neville Winger did not have an infallible hotline to God. None of us does. But he was a man with long experience sitting in God’s presence, waiting on him, listening to him.

Secondly, Neville’s close friendship with God doesn’t make him extraordinary, like an exhibit at a museum. No, God sees that kind of devotion as just ordinary. It’s what we’re all called to. Neville’s story might inspire us, but it doesn’t put him in a different category. Outrageous devotion to God is simply what the Christian life is about. The New Testament, indeed the whole Bible, makes this so plain.

Young person, or not-so-young person, are you becoming caught up in a Romance? The road you are taking is so loaded with significance, you dare not take it without waiting long and often in the presence of Jesus.

Poignant.

Poignant. A word we don’t use too much these days. Do you need to grab a dictionary?

Just the sound of the word, just the fact that it’s dropping into disuse, is, well, poignant.

An idea, a memory, an echo from the past, that brings nostalgia, an indefinable longing for, for …. Something. We’re not quite sure what. A piercing feeling, tinged with gladness, tinged with pain, tinged with sadness. Something that touches us to our core. A snatch of an almost forgotten melody perhaps.

A lone piper on the misty battlements of Edinburgh Castle.

The heading note above Proverbs Chapter 30 tells us that these are the words of Agur Ben Yakeh. Probably not an Israelite.

Proverbs 30:18-19. (NIV)

18 “There are three things that are too amazing for me,
    four that I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a maiden.”

Agur is reflecting on four things that amaze and mystify him. An eagle, effortlessly lifting and soaring on the wind. A snake, gracefully moving across a smooth, warm rock. Whose soul has not been moved by a four-master heeling to the breeze? And the gentle blossoming of love between a young man and a young maid.

Poignant.

Most commentators, especially the hoary ones, read the final line as the crafty cad despoiling the beautiful girl. But I think they are wrong. That meaning is discordant with the three preceding lines. Properly understood, and wisely practiced, romance is amazing, vibrant, soul-building. Poignant.

Readers are telling me they discover that poignancy in ‘A Thousand Tears from Home’. Check it out  athousandtearsfromhome.com

Poverty and Comfort.

A snippet from a recent conversation with a friend (slightly paraphrased) :-

Friend. It’s irritating, frustrating when I’m poor. When I don’t have a bit of spare cash in my pocket, or I’m concerned about paying the bills.

Me. Is that because we have a sense that being poor isn’t how it’s supposed to be? We think that having comfort, convenience, security, enough for our needs and most of our wants is how it’s supposed to be, so it seems there’s something fundamentally wrong when life isn’t that way.

Friend, after a long pause. No, I don’t think that’s right, because if living comfortably is not “how it’s supposed to be”, then living in poverty must be the way it’s supposed to be.

Hmm. My turn to think deeply. No, I don’t think poverty is the way things are supposed to be. So it seems I’m wanting to reject both the statement, and its antithesis.

Okay, I’ll leave the logicians to sort that out. I guess where I’m going is this. God allows some of us to be afflicted by poverty, and he allows some of us to be afflicted by wealth. Except we don’t usually regard the latter as an affliction.

Firstly, those of us in the developed world don’t usually think of ourselves as wealthy. But we are. The USA is the wealthiest nation that has ever existed, and most of us who live here are wealthy by almost any comparison. Something similar goes for the rest of the developed world. Comfort and convenience we take for granted; we get to feel they are our right. I know – me too.

If we can accept that, then we need to accept also that Jesus told us life for us is difficult. It’s so difficult for us to live authentic Kingdom lives, it’s like trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle. Really. It seems wealth is a more dangerous affliction than poverty.

As I said, I participate in the desire, and the push, to maximize comfort, convenience, and even the surplus to fufill a few of life’s dreams. And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. But I need to know what Jesus’ words mean for me. He made a pretty strong statement! And I feel discomfort with the comment my friend made. The comment I started with. Do you feel it too?

How to start sorting out this dilemma? One thought is that the wealthier we are (and as above, we are wealthy) the harder it is for us to firstly recognize the dilemma, and secondly to do anything about it. There’s too much at stake.

What do you think? I’d be glad for you to go to https://www.athousandtearsfromhome.com/  scroll down to the Facebook link, and post a response.

GMB

Beckoning or Jabbing?

My church is participating in an initiative to begin 2019 with 21 Days of Prayer. We each have a booklet that gives for each day a Bible verse, some commentary, and a few questions to meditate on. I’m finding that the Bible verse each day beckons to me. It finds a place in my heart. But the commentary tends to be brittle. It jabs at me.

Am I a beckoner, or a jabber? Maybe I’m sensitive about the brittleness of the commentary because there’s still much about me that is brittle.

Each day, the first question in the booklet is, “What am I Learning?” Today my response is that I’m learning to beckon, like Jesus does. Not to poke, to push, to jab.

I so wish I’d been more aware of the ways Jesus has beckoned me over the years. More aware of all he wanted me to understand. What if you had done more jabbing and jolting Jesus? Would I have taken notice?

He did give me a serious jab once. Very serious, and very necessary. I think I responded well, though I needed many more years of beckoning and coaxing. And I’m still so in need of his constant, glad invitation to deeper trust in him.

GMB

What God Said To Me This Morning.

As I drive to work, I’m usually listening to a local Christian radio station. One feature of the morning program each weekday is a Hymn Classic. Some hymn, beloved by generations, is described and played.

This morning’s selection was a relatively recent ‘classic’ released in the early nineties by a well-known song writer and singer.  It’s not one of my favorites, though that might say more about me than it does about the song. However that may be, the word that came to mind as I listened was ‘sentimental’. I thought the song too sentimental for my taste.

Which is fine. It’s OK for me to have that opinion. But the Holy Spirit gave me a nudge. I realized there was an attitude lurking under that thought. One of those attitudes that doesn’t come to the mind as a fully formed thought. You don’t put words to it until you stop to pay attention. And when you do take notice, and put words to the deeper thought, you are embarrassed.

As I put words to my underlying attitude this morning, it sounded something like this. “We sophisticated people, we know when a song is too sentimental. So we give a small, indulgent smile, and allow all those less sophisticated people to like this song if they want to.”

Ouch! Thank you Lord, for revealing something of my heart this morning.

Marriage, Sexuality and the Family.

The Breakpoint Daily posted on December 26, 2018 begins with these words

 As we approach the new year, we wanted to take a look back at 2018 with some of the best and most-viewed BreakPoint commentaries on the issues of marriage, sexuality, and the family.

Yes, it strikes a chord with me when issues of marriage, sexuality and the family are among the most-viewed issues of Breakpoint. I’m a marriage and family therapist. I care deeply about the restoration of marriage, sex, and the family, all of which have been heavily besieged for … for how long? In one way or another, since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. There have been bright spots since then, like The Song of Songs, or Paul’s surprising words on marriage, but on the whole, God’s people have not done a good job of both guarding and celebrating this package. Yes, I said “celebrating”. Knowing the interplay of modesty and abandonment.

BUT – we live in exciting times. Personally, I’m excited about A Thousand Tears from Home, a story that celebrates renewed vision of how marriage and sex can begin to embrace all the promise God intended for them. Stories are powerful. I’m humbled and grateful to see this story shining a new glimmer of light in a very dark world.  https://www.athousandtearsfromhome.com/

And it is a dark world. As mentioned, marriage, sexuality and the family have been tossed hither and yon throughout all history, but never more so than in the 21st Century. Yet at the darkest times, new and beautiful points of light appear. Besides A Thousand Tears from Home, other writers, like Eric and Leslie Ludy, and many others, along with my alma mater https://www.richmont.edu/human-sexuality/ represent a renewal of insight that may be unprecedented since the dawn of time. Is that exciting or what?

A Thought in Lieu of a Blog.

I’m off to New York in a few minutes, and will have 3 days away from home next week. So I can’t see me contributing anything for a while forward.

So in place of my usual offering, here is a little piece I composed some months ago. Ponder and respond!

Commit to your Creator God, with all your heart and mind and soul and strength. That is the only choice that makes any sense. Or, if you reject Him completely, you are wrong, but at least you have made a bold choice. If you believe, but without the certainty of total commitment, or if you dally indefinitely between belief and unbelief, you are of all men, most to be pitied.                       

GMB.

He Who Commands?

In Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands, and remain in his love.”

Okay, what did Jesus command us to do? I bet you’re thinking the answer must run to at least 4 typewritten pages, double-sided, single spaced? In fact, if you go looking for “commands” in the gospels, you find just this one, a couple of verses on from the quote above: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”

Yep! That’s it. John repeats this command of Jesus several times, but that’s the only one. And the other gospel writers don’t even have that much.

It’s true that in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read of Jesus endorsing the Old Testament command to love the Lord God with heart and mind and soul and strength, along with the next in importance, love your neighbor as yourself. But this is a restatement of John’s words, along with the command of even greater importance, namely, loving our Creator with all our being.

So that’s it. Love God like your life depends on it (it does), and actively love people. All sorts of people.

Now there is another piece to this. The quote I started with has “commands” in the plural, suggesting that there’s more than one. And Jesus’ last words recorded in Matthew tell us to go into all the world, teaching people “to obey all that I have commanded you.” All the Scripture versions, including J. B. Phillips and Eugene Peterson, use the word “commanded”, suggesting that this instruction does indeed carry all the weight of a command. And the word “all” tells us that there are many commands.

How are we to understand this? The commission Jesus gives us at the end of Matthew must refer to all the teachings and instructions he left us. Like, you must repent. You must forgive if you are to be forgiven. Abide in me. And many more.

Jesus is not kidding. He expects us to take these teachings seriously. Yet he doesn’t use words like “order” or “command.” I think it’s rather like the situation with your boss at work. Maybe she says, “I want you to give priority to this task. Complete that before you do anything else.” She isn’t kidding. Her words come with the weight of a command. But she doesn’t say, “I order you.” Or “I command you.” If she does talk like that, you’re probably looking for a different job.

Just so, I think Jesus doesn’t want to be thought of as “he who commands.” He is our friend. Although his words to us come with the weight of command, when we use that word I think we give an edge to his authority that he doesn’t want to own.

The Power of Story

Stories are powerful. I’m thinking mostly of written prose stories, though theater, movies and poetry can touch us in deep ways too. I know therapists who regularly use movie clips in therapy sessions.

Sally Lloyd Jones, talking to Charles Morris on A Haven Today, once commented, “If it’s not a love story, it doesn’t have the power to change your life.” (Her use of ‘love story’ included, but was not limited to, romantic love.)

On the back cover of my new novel, ‘A Thousand Tears from Home’, I mentioned the need for stories that inspire and raise vision. I recently made a new video clip about what energizes me, citing the need for poignant stories that distill truth into our hearts.

In Breakpoint on November 29, John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith showcased Madeline L’Engel and C. S. Lewis, story-tellers who shared the same birthday. Their theme was the power of story.

It seems this motif is all around us just now.

The Breakpoint included this quote from Andrew Peterson:-

 “If you want someone to know the truth, you tell them. If you want someone to love the truth, you tell them a story.”

 Wow. That is my experience. And that is me – I too am a story-teller. I am grateful.

Powerful but Gracious - a Conclusion.

I’ve been musing the last two weeks about a commitment to Christian worldview, to the Gospel, to Jesus himself, that is powerful and passionate. I see more and more clearly that this is what being ‘saved’ really means. But for all its passion, the message by and large needs to be delivered with humility and compassion. Otherwise it doesn’t edify. It doesn’t even land well.

Just yesterday I had a phone conversation with a person who is confused, aggressive, unlistening. As with nearly all conversations with this person, it was unfruitful. Afterwards he texted me, saying that he is praying for me, with my ‘finger-pointing’ style. Initially I shrugged off that response as just more of the same. But then the Holy Spirit nudged me. I texted back, thanking him for his prayers, acknowledging that I needed them.

I said that I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

Firstly, James 3:1. Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. In other words, if you’re talking the talk, you’d better be wholeheartedly walking the walk yourself. If so, there’s a gentleness and humility about you. I think I’m not terrible at walking my talk, but apparently there’s some growth needed.

Secondly, there’s a spiritual dynamic at work here. My tendency to sound overbearing has a long history, and there have been times when I’ve felt something dark take over my demeanor. I know, I’m brushing against controversy here – in what ways, if any, can a Christian be affected by demons? I’m not about to take up that discussion, but I do believe that I need some prayer to break a spiritual oppression. I will be seeking prayer support for that.

Alright, nuff said on all this. Let’s see what I find for next week.

Powerful but Gracious - More on Fire and Fervor.

Continuing from last week where I tried to pinpoint a personal characteristic, namely my ‘gift’ for making others slightly uncomfortable when I hold forth on deeply significant topics. For example, in my opinion, most evangelicals would reject blatant ‘decisionism’, yet it seems that we are usually relatively untroubled by those who show very little evidence of regeneration. There! Did I manage to express that opinion without the undercurrent of judgement that often gets smuggled in? Is that powerful but gracious? I hope it might be, so maybe these musings are paying off!

I dare to hope when I’m talking that the point I’m making is usually a nugget of significant truth. It’s something about the mode of expression that sabotages it. Perhaps in words chosen, or voice tone, or body language. Or all the above. So the problem can be subtle. Though the discomfort I engender may not be so subtle.

I have wondered how much it matters that others feel discomfort when I deliver what I see as the truth. For example, when Jesus used a whip to drive shysters out of the temple, he wasn’t concerned about their anger. So apparently, this is sometimes the appropriate way to deal with error and ignorance. Powerful, but not so gracious. But this response is unusual, it’s not normative. So yes, usually it does matter that the way I express myself causes some uneasiness.

I wonder too about those who have championed great causes. For example William Wilberforce. Clearly a man with a passion, who aroused opposition. But was the opposition due more to his message, or the way he expressed himself? I listened to one of his speeches, and concluded it was definitely the message, not the delivery.

I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. But this is getting a little lengthy, so watch this space for this theme to be wrapped up next week! 

Of Fire, Fervor and Friends

Yesterday morning I was at a men’s group I attend each week. We meet over breakfast, and talk about issues we are experiencing, what God has been saying, generally encouraging and supporting each other. This time we talked for a bit about the place of corporate prayer in the respective churches we attend. Is prayer basic to the life of the church, or is it patchy, left to the faithful few? Is it vital or boring?

 Over a long period now, I have come to identify Christian faith with vitality, authenticity, fire in the belly. Afterall, the first and greatest commandment is about loving God with heart and mind and soul and strength. Nothing half-hearted there! If Jesus doesn’t mean everything, he doesn’t mean anything. I’ve come to see this theme more and more clearly throughout the Bible.

 Yes, I know there’s such a person as a ‘baby Christian’. But that’s in terms of experience, understanding and behavior, not in terms of motivation. The choice to become a Jesus follower brings with it the gift of the Holy Spirit. What more could you possibly want than that??!!

 And so with regard to the prayer life of the church, how can we possibly settle for a boring prayer meeting, to which just a handful of people show up? No, the prayer meeting needs to be shot through with worship, with glad thanksgiving, the expectation that we will meet with God, and be enlivened by him.

 Hmm! Do you hear it? The undercurrent of judgement, coercion. You’re feeling uncomfortable that I seem to be prescribing to you the way your heart must be. That was the theme when our discussion ended at my meeting yesterday morning. Dear friends were telling me that my fervor tends to become prickly, unattractive. Oh!

 I see it, but I’m not sure what to do with it. I don’t want to become less fervent. I don’t want to lower the bar – that would just trivialize the Gospel. It’s partly about cultivating humility. Partly about trusting that God is in charge. But there’s much more to it all than that.

 So that is my current struggle. Many other thoughts swirl around all this. Perhaps I’ll get back to them in another blog.

Gordon M. Baker

A Tale of Two Cars

On Friday I was driving to East Hartford. It was raining, and road spray kicked up from US Interstate 84 mingled with the rain. Some vehicle incident had occurred up ahead, and cars were stopped on the highway. You don’t expect to find vehicles stopped dead still on that bit of highway. I didn’t notice in time. My tires made impressive noises on the wet road as the wheels locked, but I could see I wouldn’t stop in time. Lanes were full of traffic, so there was nowhere to go.

I was probably travelling at less than 15 mph. at impact, but it was enough. Fortunately, neither I nor the driver of the other car were hurt, but the hood of my Dodge Caravan was crumpled, the radiator was pushed back, body panels and headlights were awry. A newer car would have been worth repairing, but not this venerable conveyance. It was a write-off.

So the last two days have been a whirl of insurance, rental car, disposal of a wreck, finding replacement transport, DMV. Where do you go to find a car, as reliable as $1500 or so will buy? You pray! And so do your friends.

Well, I found one. At least I’m trusting it will be satisfactory. A little Civic del sol. Rather old, but only 68,000 miles, and no rust! Rather different from my Caravan – much lower to the road!

Actually, I have known for some time that the days of my faithful car were numbered. It was needing repairs well beyond its value. So I had been praying, “Lord, if this car breaks down today, how will I respond? Will I be overcome with anxiety? Will I be able to pray in a spirit of worship and gratitude, as Paul teaches the Christians at Philippi?”

Well, it wasn’t quite as I imagined it might be, but yes, there was gratitude, even some worship, and not too much fear or anxiety. Not to my credit, but in answer to those prayers. So I am grateful for that.

By the way, the Hartford policemen who attended the accident were professional, courteous, helpful. If either of them happen to read this, “Thank you!”

A Truly Amazing Thought

Last week I mused on the fact that there are still people in the world whom we admire. Those who are honest, authentic and trustworthy. The largely pessimistic world around us tacitly admits that such a category exists, but cynically estimates that there’s hardly a person alive who occupies it.

Now it’s true that the Christian will agree that no person is truly good. But the basic characteristic of a Christian is that he is passionate about so living with, and being filled by, his perfect Creator that he is being daily remade into something more whole, and real and good. And his behavior by and large demonstrates his genuineness. I personally know many such people.

These thoughts reminded me of a young man I have been talking with. He is troubled by the old question of how a loving, benevolent God can have created a world that has shown so much darkness, agony and wickedness throughout most of its history. I talked with him about imaging a balance. On one side of the balance is the total sum of all the pain, betrayal, and treachery of the ages. On the other side is the value of free choice that God has endowed us with, and the potential for each of us to regain true unity with our Creator God, in all of his authenticity and splendor. Which side of the balance is heavier?

The doubter feels immediately that this question drastically underestimates the weight of wickedness endured since the beginning of history. And it’s true, that weight of wickedness is unimaginable. None of us can imagine the depth of suffering of, for example, the holocaust. And that is just a speck in the whole saga of history.

But what of the other side of the balance? I think our error is not in underestimating the weight of wickedness, but in how miniscule is our understanding of what C S Lewis called the Weight of Glory. The weightiness of those who have chosen to become Sons of God.

And, wait for it, here’s the truly breathtaking thought. What if only one person, through all of history, had made that choice. Would just one true saint outweigh the total sum of suffering? I think the answer might just be Yes. Does that give us just a hint of how tiny our understanding is of the real meaning of “Sons of God”? It’s like comparing one hydrogen atom with the whole universe. But I have a feeling that that is how it is.