Hating evil without being hateful

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O LORD.
For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
O you who love the LORD, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
(Psalm 97:8-10 ESV)

God’s people are supposed to love what is good and hate what is evil. We’re to rejoice at God’s righteous judgments, including his judgment against sin.

God’s people are also supposed to be marked by our love, by our eagerness to forgive, by our mercy toward sinner and victim alike. We’re to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (and, by implication, for those who are neutral toward us as well).

So there has to be a way to hate evil without being hateful.

To be sure, we will at times be misunderstood. There are some opinions you cannot hold without being called hateful, no matter how nice you are. That fact tempts us not to hate evil, or at least to change the subject whenever possible. But then we’re not being faithful, just like we’re not being faithful when we demonize those we’re supposed to pray for. If we only stand up for socially acceptable truths, our faith isn’t worth much.

We must hate evil. Hate it. We must not be hateful toward people created in God’s image.

As in so many things, I suspect the key to getting this right has to do with being amazed that God would save sinners like us. A sinner like me.

Good fences and good neighbors

I go to a monthly ecumenical prayer meeting for English-speaking pastors in Prague. It looks like the setup for a joke: couple of Baptists, a Catholic, a Pentecostal, assorted parachurch folks.

Denominations get a bad rap. Many people don’t see why we can’t just all get along, why there have to be so many different churches. (Actually my city could use more, but that’s another post.) But every month at this prayer meeting, I’m grateful to belong to a denomination.

Now that sounds bad. Allow me to explain.

It’s not that I think my denomination is the best, or that my flavor of Christianity is the only viable one. There are lots of great churches and groups represented at this meeting, a lot of people who love Jesus and are doing amazing things to proclaim him in Prague. There are also a lot of different perspectives. A couple of charismatic guys who pray in tongues under their breath. Several Baptists who would not have enjoyed seeing me baptize 4 young kids on Easter Sunday. A few female pastors who may or may not know where I stand on women’s ordination.  My favorite of the lot, for goodness’ sake, is the Roman Catholic priest whose ideological forebears tried to kill mine. And me, the Presbyterian desperately trying not to come across as a stodgy Presbyterian and keeping his theological humor to himself. (Although there’s been some promising banter with the Catholic priest.)

I respect all these people. I’m glad to pray with them for Jesus to be lifted up in our city. And if we tried to pastor the same church, it would be a train wreck. On second-level-but-still-very-important matters, we’d have no consensus, and we’d spend lots of time arguing and trying to force agreement when there wasn’t any.

As it is, we’re each free to search the Scriptures and follow Jesus the best we can. We can work more effectively, within the structure that best suits our personality and convictions, while wishing the best for each other and coming together to support each other in many different ways. We don’t debate theology at our monthly meetings; that’s not what they’re for. We don’t have to.

Yes, denominations exist in part because of sin and finitude. Yes, it’s bad to think our church is the only real one. But if you have a hard time with all the different flavors of Christianity, remember the proverb: “Good fences make good neighbors.” And when the fences are good, it’s nice to have a neighborly visit.

“This man is not from God, for ________”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
(John 9:16)

Jesus has just healed a man who had been blind his whole life. But, as is so often the case, the Pharisees aren’t happy. This time it’s because he’s healed on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees had lots of rules about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. We’re not talking about biblical rules here, God’s rules– we’re talking extra rules added to make double-sure the people didn’t break God’s rules. Healing was work, Jesus healed on the Sabbath, therefore Jesus worked on the Sabbath, therefore Jesus doesn’t keep the Sabbath, therefore Jesus isn’t from God.

Problem: the Pharisees are wrong. Not wrong because Jesus doesn’t care about the Sabbath. Wrong because their interpretation of the Sabbath isn’t the same as God’s interpretation. Theological error leading to spiritual abuse of God’s people, and worse, rejection of God’s Son.

We do this too: write people off because they don’t check all the boxes we think they should.

  • “This man is not from God, for he’s not a 6-day creationist.”
  • “This man is not from God, for he is a 6-day creationist.”
  • “This man is not from God, for he’s in favor of female deacons.”
  • “This man is not from God, for his church has a steeple and he wears a robe.”
  • “This man is not from God, for he wears product in his hair and preaches on a screen.”

Of course, any time the Pharisees criticized Jesus they were wrong. That’s not the case with us– we can have entirely legitimate critiques of pretty much anybody. There are good times, good reasons and good forums to confront or debate on those critiques. When we’re deciding who to work with, who to read or listen to, who to recommend, these things matter.

But we should remember: we have our own issues too. Chances are we’re actually wrong on some of the issues we’re passionate about, and most of the people on the other side are doing good work for the Kingdom. Remember how the Pharisees missed the boat entirely, and don’t miss God’s work through people who think and work differently.

Why the cross is loving

In worship we sing a lot of songs about the cross. We call it “wondrous” and “mighty”. We sing about how it’s powerful, how it cleanses us, how it displays God’s amazing love.

This is all true. But it’s good to stop and think: Why?

The cross was an instrument of torture and death. When we sing about Jesus’ death, we’re celebrating the wrongful execution of an innocent man. Why?

We sing about how cross shows God’s love. Why?

We sing about how the cross means we’re healed and forgiven. Why?

Even some non-Christians are inspired by Jesus’ example of innocent suffering. But why? Jesus was accused of blasphemy, that’s what he was executed for. Was he really a blasphemer? Or is it particularly virtuous to let yourself be executed when you haven’t done anything wrong? Why?

Why was the cross loving? To adapt an illustration from (I think) D.A. Carson, if I ran onto the Charles Bridge and announced “I love you all! And I’m going to prove how much!”, then jumped into the Vltava, nobody would be amazed at my act of selfless love.

The words we use are so familiar that we need to remind ourselves what they mean. There’s a reason Jesus’ death is good, a reason it’s loving, a reason it’s beautiful. Isaiah tells us:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Jesu’ death was beautiful and loving and good because it was for us in a very specific way: He was found guilty of our sin, took the punishment we deserve. He bore our griefs, our sorrows, our iniquities.

He did not lay down his life to make a general point about passive resistance, or to express the truism that love conquers evil. His love did conquer evil. It conquered evil in a specific way: by satisfying perfect justice. Blood was shed to atone for sin.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” The guilt is ours. And yet, “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” So when he died, our debt was paid. The breach between God and man was closed.

This “worked” because he had no transgressions of his own for which to be pierced, no iniquities of his own for which to be crushed. He was a substitute. He stood in our place, taking the punishment that by all rights was ours. He took the poison cup out of our hand and drained it to the dregs.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is how God showed his love for the world: by putting his Son to death. So that whoever comes to Christ in faith has death swallowed up in victory. This is why the cross is loving: because Jesus takes our punishment on himself. He opens the door for us.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” His chastisement has brought us peace. By his wounds we are healed.

Sex makes smart people do stupid things

There’s no shortage of stories of sex scandals involving famous people, but one that sticks out to me is David Petraeus.  You’re probably familiar: He’s an American 4-star general who led (at different times) the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, then served as head of the CIA. A brilliant guy. He literally wrote the book on counter-insurgent warfare. He was touted as presidential candidate without people even really knowing what his political views were.

Then, just after last November’s election, Petraeus suddenly resigned after only a year at the CIA. It turned out he had had an extramarital affair with a woman who wrote his biography. The affair was discovered by CIA investigators, who look into these things because the last thing you want in the intelligence community is skeletons in the closet that open you up to blackmail.

Now this guy is talented, high-achieving, promising, disciplined, and smart. (One of my favorite stories: In the early 90’s, Petraeus was accidentally shot in the chest with M-16 rifle during a training exercise. He had major surgery, then left the hospital early after showing doctors he could do 50 pushups, without a break, a few days after being shot in the chest with an M-16.) He knows how to defeat terrorist organizations on their own turf. Yet he was brought down by a run-of-the-mill sex scandal, a series of stupid decisions, and some embarrassing emails with an attractive woman who fawned over him.

A fairly obvious point from this: Sex makes very smart, very wise, very competent people do very stupid things. That’s because sex is very good and very powerful. It’s kind of like a nuclear power plant: very good when working properly, very difficult to restrain when things get out of hand.

It’s designed that way.

adapted from the intro to a recent sermon on the 7th Commandment

500

This is my 500th post at Wiser Time.

I’m a little proud and a little embarrassed. Proud because to have written something and said “Here, I made this” 500 times is hard and good. Embarrassed because, well, it’s taken over 5 years, and there have been lots of dry spells.

If there’s anyone who was reading years ago and still is, you’ve noticed that I tend to write regularly for a while, then go dark, then start up again. That’s because I get busy/lazy, then decide to get serious about writing, then fizzle out. I don’t want it to always be like this. But a friend once told me “Blessed is the man who never stops starting family devotions,” and I think the same holds for writing.

I started this blog for 2 main reasons. First, I was running a bookstore, and I realized that if I reviewed books I could 1) sell books and 2) get free books. I’m just being honest. Second, I’ve always loved to write, and blogging was the thing back then. I guess it still is for some real writers, so I hang in there. Even without the free books.

In the early days I was honest-to-goodness trying to be a big deal, A-list Christian blogger. (Spoiler alert: nothing close.) Back then I wanted to be a big deal in lots of ways. I don’t anymore, at least not on my better days. But I do love to write, and I do love the things I write about, and I love to have created something. So I hang in there, and we’ll see if anything bigger ever comes.

Here are some of my favorite posts and stories.

***

The best kind of heartache” is, I think, my favorite thing I’ve ever written. That day we had toured the hospital where Eliza would be born. It was fine, but to us it was foreign, and that was a little scary. Then the doctor told us she thought it wouldn’t be long, and it hit me that this was all actually going to happen. Another kid, another million ways to have our hearts ripped out of our chests. I went back to the office and wrote this as sort of external processing, which is not normally my scene. Having a family is the hardest and best thing that has ever happened to me.

I still laugh out loud when I read “You don’t know what it’s like out here.” Because I’m the kind of guy who laughs at my own jokes, sometimes when no one else does. (Also, I really miss going out for beers with Tyler on Tuesdays when he finished RUF.)

One day, just before we moved to Prague, I started getting emails that people were commenting on “Coexist?“, a post from several months before. Like, lots of emails. It turned out I had been linked by one of my favorite political writers on my favorite political blog. I had 30,000 visitors that day, and was called lots of fun names. I later swapped several emails with the big-deal guy when he was visiting Prague. He remembered me. So I got that goin’ for me.

I Will This Day Most Joyfully Die,” a post about Jan Hus, means that I am officially an award-winning writer. I have the Charles Spurgeon caricature poster to prove it.

And another one about these “feelings” things I sometimes have: “Music = home.

***

Thanks for reading. Seriously.

95 5 Theses on kids and ministry

I jotted these down in 2010 as we were starting out in Prague. As our kids get older they’re becoming more relevant. They’re especially true for us as “professionals” (sorry Dr. Piper), but I think they’d apply to any family seeking to serve Jesus in their daily life.

1. Kids are not a distraction from ministry; in fact our kids are our first and most important ministry. They will sacrifice for the kingdom like we will, but we will not do ministry at the expense of raising our children in the nuture and admonition of the Lord. Sometimes we’ll have to say no to good ideas because our kids need us.

2. Our family is called to serve the God’s kingdom together. We want to involve the kids in this service and teach them it’s our joy to lay down our lives for the sake of the kingdom.

3. Letting others see our family loving each other well, including repenting and forgiving, is a great opportunity for ministry both to believers and nonbelievers.

4. Integrating our kids into ministry will give us the opportunity to bless those who long for family, especially singles and young marrieds, by welcoming them into ours.

5. Being joyfully involved in our kids’ lives will give us opportunities to get to know other families, including parents we otherwise wouldn’t have an inroad with.

Indulgences

The Protestant Reformation was kicked off on the issue of indulgences. This was a practice of the medieval Roman Catholic Church: to oversimplify, the pope could release your soul, or someone else’s, from time in purgatory as a reward for you doing a good deed. Like, mmm, I don’t know, giving money to the church. Just thinking out loud.

Pretty tidy arrangement. Do whatever bad deed you’re into, pony up a little cash and you’re good.

We still have these today, especially for the rich and famous. So Al Gore’s house can have a carbon footprint the size of Montana, but it’s OK, because he buys carbon offsets. (He owns stock in a company that sells the carbon offsets, but that’s neither here nor there.) Bono can spend over a grand to fly his hat first-class because he also spends a lot of time asking other people to give their money to the poor. Obama can run a drone war and get a pass, because he’s not George Bush he supports gay marriage (now).

But that’s just the low-hanging fruit. We do this too. I don’t want all the moral demands of worshiping the living God, but I do give money to charity, so I’m good. I dealt with Hard Person A earlier today, so I should be OK to ignore Hard Person B tonight. I’ve already moved 5000 miles for Jesus; do I really have to engage with the homeless guy I pass on the way to work?

Indulgences are just one more way we seek to justify ourselves. One more dead-end street. There is none righteous, no, not one. The less we try to explain that away, the better the Remedy will look to us.

Greener grass

A couple of weeks ago Melissa had a guest post on our friend Annie’s blog. Side note: our friend Annie is a real writer, and a good one. Check out her book, especially if you have tween or teenage girls.

Melissa’s post was about how single women can love their mom friends. We’ve heard a good bit of advice on how married folks can love (and be sensitive to) singles– advice we need and appreciate– and not much going the other way. I am far from objective but thought her post was terrific. Also, Annie the Real Writer had a good response the next day.

One theme that emerged in the comments was that singles and parents want what each other has. Parents (myself included) look at our single friends and see sleeping late on Saturdays, spontaneous dinners out, freedom from worrying about whether somebody should go to the doctor, etc. But mostly the sleep. I cannot emphasize this enough.

At the same time, singles look at families and see love with security, a deep sense of home, belonging. For many, the family with kids and all the craziness that whole scene brings is the picture of what they want, and fear they might not get. I remember how much I ached for kids of my own, even when surrounded by friends’ kids I loved.

The grass is always greener on the other side.

It’s tempting to respond to this tendency with a sort of equivalency argument. “Well, some things are better about being single; some things are better about being married with kids.” But that’s kind of cheap. It’s not a zero sum game. I do miss sleep (and Melissa misses a lot more of it), but I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything. I love our family life, but it means other relationships go on the back burner. Less time to do things that are fun and good. There are gains and there are losses, and to try to equal them out cheapens both.

When we have our “grass is greener” moments, we shouldn’t indulge them and grow bitter at those who have what we want. But maybe we shouldn’t talk ourselves out of them with “well, at least” arguments, either. I think, instead, we must acknowledge that there is much that is beautiful and much that is hard in every season. The hard doesn’t take away the beauty, nor the beauty the hardness. They’re both just there. We can relish one, mourn the other, and know that most of both is temporary. The greenest pastures here have nothing on those beyond. And there we’ll get all the rest we need.

Thoughts on Les Misérables

It might surprise some readers to learn that I went through a pretty serious musical theater phase in high school. (It will surprise me to learn that there are some readers.) That phase was dominated by a love for and fascination with Les Misérables. It was the first show I saw on Broadway. I bought the CD’s on the way out, devoured the libretto, read the novel (really, the whole thing), you name it. So seeing the movie was like sitting down with old friends. I hadn’t listened to the music in well over 10 years, and it was delightful. Here are some thoughts.

***

It was just a beautifully done film. Faithful to the musical (I mean, basically it was the musical, but still), told the story well, the singing didn’t seem awkward like I feared. Just excellent.

***

Hathaway. Jackman. Oscar.

***

Seriously, Anne Hathaway was terrific. I’ve seen the show on stage three times, I think, and the anniversary concert, and listened to the original cast a bunch, but Hathaway was far and away the best Fantine I’ve heard. Her tortured, wistful, bitter “I Dreamed A Dream” rescued the song from the audition-piece cliché it’s become. Her voice was good enough that I stopped thinking about whether or not she could sing. None of the other Hollywood actors in the movie pulled that off.

***

If she doesn’t get Best Actress, they should create a new Oscar called “Knocking It Out Of The Park In Two Movies In A Single Year.” Then, because that’s a bad title, after this year they could call it the Hathaway Oscar.

***

My only real complaint was with the pace. It seemed like there was a need to shave the time, but they didn’t want to cut songs, so they’d do a little of each song. That made it seem hurried to me. I mean, why do “Drink With Me” if you’re only going to do two lines of it? I wouldn’t have minded some songs just not showing up if it let the story move a little more gradually.

***

OK, another complaint: In the book, musical and film, it doesn’t make any sense how Valjean all of a sudden decides he has to still be punished once Marius and Cosette get together. I’ve always thought this. Throughout his life he’s this picture of receiving and extending grace, and then he seems to revert to some uber-Catholic notion of needing to be purged of his guilt. This is probably me wanting to make Hugo a Protestant instead of merely an anti-Catholic, but it also shows one often cannot shake the influence of worldviews one is trying to throw off.

***

When I was in high school I thought Marius was terrific and that he and Cosette had a great love story. Watching the movie I thought “Who is this sentimental fool, and what is he good for other than preening in front of beautiful women?” Probably the difference between being a fairly dramatic and romantic 16-year-old and being 30+ with a wife, kids and job. (Incidentally the 30+ me is much happier and loves much more deeply.)

***

Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop just absolutely made my week. I’m still thinking about it. Such a perfect pick. Brilliant. Totally took me by surprise, and I sat there grinning like an idiot through his whole scene.

***

Other characters: The adult Cosette was fine, but sort of forgettable. I think it might be the character, not the actress. The Thenárdiers were great; Helena Bonham Carter sort of overshadowed Sacha Baron Cohen, I thought, which is quite an accomplishment. The revolutionaries all blended together, and we don’t know why one of them was especially broken over Gavroche’s death.

***

Bless Russell Crowe’s heart. He just doesn’t have the best voice, but he put it out there. I felt like it worked, perhaps made him an even better Javert. (Trivia: “Stars” was my cliché audition piece. Shockingly it never really got me anywhere.) He played the self-confidence, the vindictiveness, then the confusion and lost-ness very well.

***

I’m ready to see it again.

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