Category: CULTURE


  • SCIENCE & SCRIPTURE: ENEMIES OR FRIENDS?

    By Doug Ponder on Aug. 30, 2017

    What We Think About Science and Scripture If you want to know what pop culture thinks about an issue, Google’s Autocomplete Me is a wonderful tool. (For those who aren’t familiar with how this works, when you begin typing in the Google search box the search engine shows a list of popular words that may complete your intended search. The suggested words or phrases are a reflection of what other people have searched for or written on. Thus, Autocomplete Me gives you a window into what people think about an issue.) I recently used Autocomplete Me to confirm what I already suspected to be true concerning what most people think about science and the Bible. Here’s what it came up with: science proves the bible wrong science proves god is fake science disproves god science disproves religion science disproves christianity Just to be clear, no respectable scientist would ever claim that empirical research can disprove the existence of God. They might say that science can’t prove that God exists, or that we don’t have enough evidence to believe in God. But they would never say anything like what I found through Autocomplete Me. Even famed agnostics like Richard Dawkins qualify their claims, saying, “There is probably no God.” So what should we make of the results of Autocomplete Me? At the very least, they show us what many (or even most) people think about science and the Bible. That is, most people believe that science and Scripture are incompatible. They think one is true and the other is false, but they can’t both be true. Many people think this way, including those who call themselves Christians and those who consider themselves to be agnostic or atheistic. All these have one thing in common: they’re completely wrong. The Roles of Science and Scripture For much of the past several centuries, many of the best scientists in the Western world were people who loved the Scriptures. They believed Scripture, and saw no real contradiction between what they observed in the world and what they read in the Bible. In other words, they believed that Scripture and science are friends. They are “partners” who, when doing what each was designed to do, shed light on different areas or spheres of life. It’s a little bit of an oversimplification, but usually science is good at answering “What?” and “How?” questions, while Scripture is good at answering “Who?” and “Why?” questions. For example, Scripture can’t help me identity what kind of tissue I’m looking at under a microscope. Nor does Scripture tell me anything about how the neural synapses function in my brain. But the Scriptures do tell me who created brains and why God created them in the first place, whereas science could only guess about these things. Science tells us how many different species of beetles there are (over 400,000!), while Scripture tells us why God created beetles—and plants and clouds and people. Science tells us what takes places during sexual reproduction, while Scripture tells us why sex was created and who sex was created for. Science tells us how people die (biologically), while Scripture tells us why people die in the first place (the wages of sin is death). Dilemmas and Debates So why all the fuss? If Christians have believed for centuries that Scripture and science are friends, then what is the problem today? Why are there some many debates? There are two problems. First, one problem is that there are some areas where the apparent claims of Scripture and the contemporary findings of science seem to contradict each other. We will look at one of these areas in a moment. The second problem is that many people are happy to point out the natural limitations of Scripture without fairly admitting the natural limitations of science. For example, Scripture is of no help for getting someone to the moon. It isn’t a book on calculus, rocket science, or orbital trajectories. But no Christian expects it to be that, either. Why would they? That isn’t the purpose of Scripture according to Scripture. But notice what happens when you begin to talk about the limitations of science. Some people get antsy. They start suspecting that you are trying to “force religion on them.” All you are doing, though, is questioning the limitations of science. You are exploring where the helpfulness of science ends, and where the need for some other discipline might begin (like philosophy or theology, for example). The Limitations of Science Remember the scientific method from your days in school? (Identify a problem. Research the issue. Make a hypothesis. Test the hypothesis with an experiment. Analyze the results.) Well, notice what the scientific method is designed to test: observable, measurable, repeatable phenomena. This means that the scientific method is incapable of analyzing nonphysical objects (things without mass or movement) because its methods of discovery are limited to only that which can be observed, measured, and repeated (i.e., empirical data). From the outset, therefore, the scientific method prevents itself from discovering things such as God, angels, souls or minds, abstract numbers, ideas, propositional statements, consciousness, mental images,  personal agency, and first-person identity. The point is not that all of those must exist because science cannot disprove them. The point is simply that science can say nothing about them. It cannot discover them, even if they do exist. And here’s where the problem gets worse. It is a huge assumption to say that because science cannot speak to the existence or non-existence of any of those things, that they must not be real or important. That is circular reasoning. It is like saying, “The only things that are real or important are those that science can discover.” How do you know that? “Because if they were real or important, then science would be able to discover them.” Do you see how viciously circular that is? That kind of thinking is not science; it’s what we will call scientism. Scientism believes that the scientific method is the only appropriate way of discovering truth in the world, and that science by itself is able to explain the world we live in. The following is a widely quoted statement from Richard Lewontin, a famous scientist. Note how he admits that many such scientists hold their beliefs with rigid dogmatism: “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” (Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 7, 1997, 31). If you are willing to continue to believe in the ability of science to answer all important questions in life in spite of its apparent absurdity, its well-known failures, and its obvious limitations, then science has become a religion for you. You are an adherent of scientism who is no longer open to the possibility that science might not be able to explain everything. You have become truly close-minded in the very worst way. God and Science A common objection usually comes up at this point that goes something like this. “If science can’t prove or disprove the existence of God, are you suggesting that I should just believe in God with blind faith?” That’s not what I’m suggesting. Rather, I’m saying that we should let reality determine our methodology or way of learning, instead of allowing a predetermined way of learning (e.g., the scientific method) to determine what is real or what counts for evidence. To say this another way, you cannot know the best way to study what exists until you are adequately acquainted with what exists. 1. That means we must begin with a casual acquaintance with the object under investigation, 2. for the purpose of learning more about the nature of the object, 3. which allows the object of investigation to determine the best way to further investigate it, 4. resulting in the development of a method of study best suited to the object’s nature. In other words, I’m saying that reality should inform us of how to study it, instead of our deciding beforehand how we will study reality. For example, if the God of the Bible is real, then I shouldn’t expect to find him in a test tube or under a microscope. For he is both Spirit (nonmaterial), and he is the author of everything else in creation. His does not exist as a part of his natural creation, but as someone who relates to it through supernatural means. What I’m saying is this. If God exists, then my relationship to him is not that of an observer studying the facts of the world for “traces of God.” Rather, my relationship to God is more like Shakespeare’s relationship to Hamlet. What could Hamlet know about Shakespeare? And how could Hamlet know these things? He could only know Shakespeare if the author had written something about himself into the story. Hamlet would never be able to find out anything else about his author in any other way. This led Christian author C. S. Lewis to conclude that we won’t be able to find God through the scientific method. We’ll only know about God if he has written something about himself into our life, into our world. And that, of course, is precisely what the Christian faith believes he did. In the person of Jesus, God wrote himself into the pages of history. By becoming a human being, he stepped into our world and lived among us. The people who saw Jesus, therefore, saw God. They ate with him. They talked with him. They watched him die on the cross. And then, several hundred people in several different cities over the course of several weeks saw him after he rose from the dead—something that can’t be repeated or measured by the scientific method, but something that people saw and believed. They didn’t just see it, either. Their lives (and the lives of billions of others since) have been changed forever by the God who rose from the dead. So how can you investigate Christianity to see if it's true? You can't "go back" to see Jesus for yourself, but you can read about him in the pages of the Bible. As you do so, try viewing the world through the eyes of Scripture, just as you should try to do through the eyes of scientism. See which "lens" (scientism or Scripture) makes the world look clearer. Like billions of people in the world today, I think you'll find that Scripture can account for much that scientism can't. Not only that, Scripture makes room for true science to flourish in its proper role, without expecting it to address the kinds of questions that it isn't designed (or able) to answer. What About the Contradictions? Maybe you’re thinking, “What about the contradictions between Scripture and science that you mentioned?” Well, technically, they’re just apparent contradictions. That is, they are things that seem to contradict each other but actually don’t. Take the infamous example of the creation story in the book of Genesis. For years people have been getting into arguments about creation and evolution. Does science contradict the creation story in Genesis? Hardly. Although, there are many who think so. As a result, these people either throw out science altogether (which is a horribly unhelpful thing to do), or else they throw out the Bible altogether (which is eternally unwise). The problem is usually that someone has rigidly accepted one of two things: (1) a certain interpretation of the creation story or (2) a certain scientific interpretation of the data. It should be noted, however, that in both cases interpretations are being made. The Bible and the data itself (the evidence in the world) are not the problem. They simply are what they are. Our problem lies with the fact that we sometimes interpret information wrongly. This happens with both Scripture and with science. Interpretive mistakes in science are many. We are constantly overturning old theories to explain how the world works. None of that makes science bad, but it does means that we should hold on to scientific theories with humility. We may be wrong about lots of things, and even at this moment there are many theories competing to explain the data we have available. Not all of them can be right, and it’s possible that all of them may be wrong. This is why we need to be conscious of our role as fallible interpreters. The same is true with Scripture, though, and Christians should not forget this. The Bible means what it means, but our interpretation of what it means can be wrong (just like scientific interpretations). For example, Christians have disagreed for years whether or not the creation story should be seen as poetry or as history. This had been going on long before concerns about evolution arose. The reason for the debates have changed in every age, but the debates have always been there. Case in point, one man named Augustine wondered why it took God six days to create the world. He thought six days seemed far too long, believing that God could have created everything in a moment. Augustine noted that the phrase, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” seems to suggest that God created everything in a moment. So, he reasoned that perhaps the rest of the story was a poetic way of describing why God created, not what or how God created. Christians and Science Today For the record, I don’t think Augustine got it quite right. But I do think it’s important to point out that many Christian theologians debated the meaning of the creation story long before the theory of evolution came on the scene. Still today there are Christians who hold to one of several contrasting views. Some Christians believe the six days of the creation account are literal, twenty-four hour periods of time. Other Christians believe the six days are poetic ways of describing longer ages of time. Other Christians believe the entire account is a poetic arrangement, giving us theology instead of history. Still other Christians believe that the story is actually an account of the creation of the promised land, not of the whole world (since the whole world’s creation is already recorded in the first two verses). Not all of these can be right, but all those who hold them can still be Christians (people who follow Jesus by trusting him and listening to what he says). Just because there are many theories or interpretations doesn't mean that we are free to pick the ones that we like, either in Scripture or in science. We must make good interpretive judgments based on all the available evidence to us. It’s also important to point out that not all Christians are “comprising their faith” if they believe that the creation story is a poetic account of how God created all that exists. You can’t say that someone “doesn’t believe the Bible” if they merely disagree with you about the best way to interpret what is written. They may be wrong (or you may be), but neither of you are trying to deny the Bible; you are simply disagreeing about what it means. Does this land us in uncertainty? Are we left with guesses and the possibility of discovering that all we believe and care about will actually turn out to be false? I don’t think so. If the God who raised Jesus from the dead is real, then here’s something we can bank on: When all the facts are known and rightly interpreted, there will be no final conflict between science and Scripture. For the same God who made this world, wrote the Bible. Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.
  • COMMUNICATING FOR A CHANGE

    By Doug Ponder on Sept. 20, 2017

    Cross-Cultural Confusion Suppose a man takes a boat to travel halfway across the world in an effort to tell some people the good news about Jesus. He has studied the area where they live. He knows a great deal about their lifestyle and customs. And he knows that they've never heard the gospel. What he doesn’t know, however, is how to speak their language. After several days of preaching (in English) to villagers with puzzled looks on their faces, the man packs up his things to return home. He’s a little discouraged by the complete lack of “decisions for Christ,” but he tries to cheer himself with the thought that he has faithfully preached the good news about Jesus to them. But has he really done so? Kinda. Sorta. Not really. The man tried to preach about Jesus, but since he couldn’t speak the people’s language—and since they didn’t understand English—the man didn’t really communicate anything about Jesus to the people. They are just as ignorant of Christ as they were before the man came. The moral of that story is not, “Learn to speak the native tongue when serving as a missionary.” That much should be obvious. Rather, the point is that we all see the significance of an audience’s ability to understand what we are saying. This is true even when both you and your hearers speak the same language. If you talk about the truth in a way that your hearers can’t understand, then you aren't really communicating the truth to them. Know Your Hearers Well One of the leading theologians of the last century put it like this, “Preaching is not exposition only, but communication, not just the exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to a living people who need to hear it” (John Stott, Between Two Worlds, 137). Now, he was talking about the kind of preaching that occurs in a local church gathering, but his main point is true for all of us who want to talk with others about Jesus. We must know our hearers well. We must anticipate their most likely misunderstandings, talking in such a way that the gospel stands out clearly against the backdrop of the various errors of the culture in which we find ourselves. For example, I remember hearing a story in seminary about a missionary in rural India. After befriending one of the men in the village, the missionary gave him The Jesus Film, a movie based on the teachings of the Gospel narratives. After a few days, the missionary bumped into the man in the marketplace. When he asked him what he thought of the film, the villager responded, “It was very good. I have placed the video of Jesus alongside my other gods.” For a Hindu who believes in thousands and thousands of gods, Jesus was just one god among many. His incarnation was just another of the many incarnations of the god Vishnu. His death and resurrection were just another in a series of divine acts intended to bring salvation to faithful Hindus. The missionary did not communicate the gospel to that Hindu man, because he failed to consider how his message would be heard. Jesus and His Hearers Jesus himself understood this better than anyone. His own teachings are full of symbols and messages that spoke directly to the people of his day. Jesus knew exactly how his hearers would understand him, so he crafted his messages to fit the audience. The most-well known example of this is perhaps the story of the prodigal son. Although we usually focus on the return of the rebellious son who ran away, Jesus concludes by focusing on the older son whose hardheartedness causes him to miss out on the party. Here’s the set up for Jesus’ parable: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable…” (Luke 15:1-3). Do you see what Jesus was doing? He tells a specific parable targeted right at his religious, hardhearted hearers who were mad that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. Just imagine the looks on their faces when Jesus concluded the story by having the father welcome the rebellious son and throw him a feast, while the religious older brother is left outside of what the father is doing! Jesus knew if he had only told the story about the prodigal son who ran away, his religious hearers would think, “Well, we haven’t rebelled like that. We’re better than him. Surely, God accepts us and will give us a reward.” But they were wrong. Their rebellion was of a different kind. They refused to see themselves as sinful and in need of the Father’s mercy, just as much as the openly rebellious son who ran away. In all their law-making and rule-keeping, they never supposed that they needed the grace of God. Communication: Anticipation and Clarification What this means for us is that when we tell others the good news about Jesus—the good news about the God who came into the world to conquer sin through death and conquer death through life for all who trust in him—we must try our best to anticipate how the message might sound to our hearers. Our goal is not merely to speak the truth, but to communicate the truth such that it is rightly heard and truly understood. That doesn’t mean that everyone will like what we have to say. But we ought to make sure that it's the real Jesus, and not a caricature of him, that others are rejecting. In our conversations with others about Jesus we must be sure that we are clear about the meaning of very basic words. Don’t take anything for granted. Take the time to define words like “sin,” “faith,” “grace,” “love,” “salvation/saved,” and even “God.” A majority of people—even many who consider themselves Christians—don’t have a biblical understanding of these terms. So don't just spout off Bible verses, for they won’t make much sense to someone who doesn’t understand what those terms mean. (Just imagine trying to read Ephesians 2:4-9 without any of the words we’ve mentioned above.) You might find it helpful to ask questions like the ones below: “When I say the word ‘God’ what comes to mind? Who do you think God is? What is God like? Can God be known? Do you think that Jesus was/is God? How do you know any of these things?” "When I say the word ‘sin’ what comes to mind? What do you think sin is? Might sin be more than just breaking rules? Do you think a loving God can let sin continue making a mess of his creation forever? Do you think it’s just for a judge to let a convicted criminal off the hook without some kind of judgment?” “When I say the word ‘salvation’ what comes to mind? What do you think salvation is? What if I told you that salvation involves more than just forgiveness and heaven? How do you think people are saved? Do you think that you are saved? How do you know for sure?” “When I say the word ‘grace’ what comes to mind? What do you think grace is? Can we earn grace? If yes, how? If not, what decides where saving grace is applied and where it isn’t? Do you believe that you have received God’s grace? How can you know for sure?” “When I say the word ‘faith’ what comes to mind? What do you think faith is? The Bible makes a clear distinction between ‘dead faith’ and ‘saving faith’—what’s the difference? The Bible says that even the demons believe that Jesus is God’s Son and the savior of the world—what makes your faith different than theirs?” “When I say the word ‘love’ as in, ‘Jesus loves you,’ what comes to mind? What do you think that kind of love means? Do you think it’s possible for God to love and punish someone at the same time? (If it’s possible for parents, why not God?) Do you think that God loves you? If no, why not? If yes, why? How can you know for sure?” Gospel Communication Never forget that the power to change belief lies not in your persuasion, but in the gospel itself (Rom. 1:16). As the Scriptures say, “faith comes through hearing the message about Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Of course, the Scriptures also say that the message has to be understood (Neh. 8:8). That means your job is to make the gospel understandable. Leave the rest up to the Spirit. He’s really good at what he does. Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.
  • WHAT WOULD JESUS EAT?

    By Doug Ponder on Oct. 4, 2017

    What Would Jesus Eat? No one who lived through the 90s escaped without encountering WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? The question-turned-slogan was plastered on car bumpers and car windows, on T-shirts and Trapper Keepers, and especially on bracelets. The question was meant to serve as a reminder for Christians to imitate the life of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21; 1 Cor. 11:1). But once its meaning became unmoored from the author’s original intent, a mostly helpful question became a mostly harmful way of thinking about the Christian faith. For there is much that Jesus meant when he called us to imitate his life, but his diet was not one of them (nor was his choice of dress, his style of hair, his native tongue, and many other accidental qualities). This conclusion falls under the “common sense” heading, but sin is sometimes stronger than common sense. Behold the vast number of authors urging us to imitate the diet of Jesus: The Jesus Diet The Jesus Diet (same title, different book) The Food and Feasts of Jesus: The Original Mediterranean Diet Cooking with the Bible: Recipes for Biblical Meals Eating the Bible: Over 50 Delicious Recipes to Feed Your Body and Nourish Your Soul What the Bible Says about Healthy Living Miracle Food Cures from the Bible The Good Book Cookbook None of These Diseases: The Bible’s Health Secrets for the 21st Century What Would Jesus Eat? The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book (If you insist on locating these books, they can be found in Amazon’s “Missing the Point” category.) Not What, But How Surprisingly, perhaps, the relevant question is not actually, “What would Jesus eat?”, but, “How would Jesus eat?” (And I don’t mean ‘with his hands’.) God cares more about how we eat than what we eat, and we know this because God tells us so himself. Jesus told his disciples, “Eat whatever is set before you” (Luke 10:8). God told the apostle Paul to write the same, saying, “Eat anything sold in the market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’… Eat whatever is put before you” (1 Cor. 10:25-27). The apostle Peter ignored God’s command and did raise questions of conscience, being quite worried that certain foods would contaminate him. So God rebuked Peter, saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Lest we go placing GMOs on the “impure” list, the Gospel of Mark tells us, “Jesus declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:20). Paul sums the Bible’s basic teaching on food in one verse: “Everything God created is good, and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Tim. 4:4) In view of all these verses, the main message in the Bible about food is not “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col. 2:21). Paul says that approach may seem wise on the surface, but it’s actually “self-imposed worship,” “false humility,” and “a harsh treatment of the body” (Col. 2:23). Instead, the main message of the Bible about food is give thanks. “No food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). This means if you are someone who grows your own heirloom tomatoes, drinks raw milk from a cow you bought a share in, makes your own kombucha, participates in a local co-op, and buys organic from the farmer’s market, God calls you to give thanks. And it also means that if you are someone who eats potted meat on Saltine crackers, Vienna sausages straight from the jar, McDonald’s on the regular, non-organic pasteurized milk, and high fructose corn syrup by the bottle, then God calls you to give thanks too. The one thing that you may not do is pass self-righteous judgment on your brother or sister (Rom. 14:10-13). God says, “Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died… For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:15, 17). Colluding with the Enemy Because God’s kingdom is one of joy and peace, he will punish those who disturb the joy and peace of his people—and that includes those who make loud assertions about what is “right” or “good” or “acceptable” to eat. These assertions could come from either side of the fence, but the corn syrup crowd has proven to be much more laissez-faire than the organic-only crew, who act like their life mission is to “inform” the world about what is healthy. (It would be more accurate to say “evangelize.”) Ironically, Christians are some of the worst culprits here. Believing that God made the world good (Gen. 1:31), we forget that God also made the world with pre-loaded potential (Gen. 1:28), the kind that can make coffee from coffee beans, wine from grapes, clothing from cotton, houses from wood, lecithin from soy beans, and high fructose corn syrup from corn. Instead of celebrating the grace of God in the ingenuity of his image-bearers, these food Pharisees pick up the weapons of the devil—fear, guilt, and shame—which they use to intimidate God’s people into eating this instead of that. “This food causes cancer.” “If you eat that, you will die.” “Jesus only ate organic.” “Processed food is not from God.” “Eating animals is wrong.” “Don’t you know what’s in that?” “This will make you fat.” “That’s not ‘real’ food.” “I would never serve that to my kids.” “I used to eat differently before I knew better.” “#healthymeals #glutenfree #imamazing” Those words are found nowhere in the Scriptures, but they are found in the deadly cocktail of fear, guilt, and shame that apostles of the appetite drink daily with a spoonful of essential oil (to help the body absorb everything). And they are not content to destroy only themselves but are compelled to “share” their “knowledge” with others. Claiming to be wise, they become fools and exchange the glory of God’s “yes” to all foods for a self-righteous “no” to most foods. Recalibrating the Scales None of this should be taken to mean that you could eat fried chicken every day and not have to worry about heart disease. We live in a world of cause and effect, and such laws were put in place by God too. But don’t get your scales out of balance. Even though our bodies matter greatly, our spiritual health is more important than our physical health (1 Tim. 4:8). For a man who dies with heart disease and faith in the grace of Jesus will be with Jesus forever, while someone who enjoys “healthy living” through their 70s and 80s but doesn’t have a clue about grace, will suffer eternally for their arrogance. The difference can be illustrated like this: Two men sat down in their break room to eat, one an overweight factory worker, the other a self-styled nutritionist. The self-styled nutritionist looked at the overweight man’s food and thought to himself, “God, I’m so glad I don’t eat like him—processed meals, fried foods, and none of it organic or natural. I eat three healthy meals a day, and I blog about it, too.” The overweight man saw the look of disgust on the self-styled nutritionist’s face, and he felt shame. He couldn’t bring himself to look the self-styled nutritionist in the eyes, so he kept his head bowed even after he had finished praying, “Father, thank you for this food. Please bless it, and use it to strengthen my body.” When Jesus told a story very much like this one, he concluded with words like these: ‘I tell you that the overweight man, not the self-styled nutritionist, went home justified before God. For all who exalt their diet will be humbled, but those who humbly give thanks will be exalted’ (cf. Luke 18:9-14). The difference is plain. The overweight man thanked God for provision in the form of daily breadsticks. He went home justified because he understood his meal had been fried in pure grace. The self-styled nutritionist, on the other hand, was the kind of man who was “confident in his own righteousness, and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9). So while there was nothing wrong with what he ate, there was everything wrong with how he ate it. His self-righteousness had reached the bottomless pit stage, and with every GMO-free kale chip that went into his mouth, his proud heart hardened just a little bit more. So, What Would Jesus Eat? If Jesus were alive today, what would he eat? Based on all that we’ve seen, it’s safe to say that Jesus would eat kefir, coconut oil, and organic kale, if they were served to him. He would also eat Twinkies, Dr. Pepper, and white bread if those were served instead. Jesus wouldn’t be a glutton (Matt. 11:19), but he wouldn’t let anyone speak evil about food that God calls good, either (Rom. 14:16). The point is that no matter what Jesus would eat or drink, he would do so with gratitude to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). How we eat matters more than what we eat. “No food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). That places all of us in the same boat, with lives so full of God’s grace that our hearts ought to overflow with gratitude and generosity. For we worship a God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17), and that includes Moon Pies and gluten-free brownies, agave syrup and corn syrup, almond milk and skim milk, grass-fed beef and corn-fed beef, mesclun greens and McDonald’s—yes, even McDonald’s. It’s all grace, so let’s give thanks. Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
  • TV: TRIVIAL VEGGING

    By Doug Ponder on Oct. 24, 2017

    The Boob Tube In the early days of its life, TV was known as the “boob tube.” This had nothing to do with what television showed (nudity was unthinkable territory in those days) and everything to do with what television did. Too much TV turned you into a boob of the old-school variety: a fool, a dunce, an idiot, an imbecile. “All things in moderation,” we demur, as we get on with our immoderate amounts of viewing. Even in the age of the Internet, the typical American still watches an average of 5 hours of TV per day—which is really hard to do Monday through Friday, so we must be making up for it on the weekends. That works out to an average of 35 hours of TV per week—almost a full time job. And this doesn’t include how many hours we spend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. That's a lot of entertainment! Addicted to Amusement Most of us already know about how much TV we watch. We don’t have a knowledge problem; we have an addiction problem. And it may be worse than we realize. Hanging out with friends and there’s a lull in the conversation? How quickly we grab our phones… Is that pile of assignments staring bleakly at you? Where’s that remote… Is your professor uninteresting? Just log onto Facebook… Are you bored and have “nothing to do”? I heard there’s a new show on Netflix this month… When entertainment becomes your means of escape from virtually any inconvenience in life, it has moved from harmless amusement to harmful addiction. It is our "drug of choice" when we want to drown our guilt over sin, tune out the “still small voice” of God, forget the friction in our relationships, or escape (for a moment) from the anxiety of work. To be sure, entertainment as a category is not the problem. The capacity for pleasure is part of the wonder of God’s world and the need for leisure is part of the way God has made us. To speak plainly, the TV isn’t the issue—we are. Our theological view of TV is fine; our viewing habits are anything but. One Slave's Story The never-ending “need” for entertainment is a form of self-enslavement. I'm speaking from experience. In college I played more than 60 hours of video games per week, in addition to watching TV shows and movies with friends. I nearly failed out of school one semester. I gained more than 50 pounds. I lost contact with several friends. And I was deeply, deeply unhappy. I was restless in spite of all my leisurely activities. The difficulties of life I tried to dodge were still waiting for me when the screen turned off. I only felt momentary relief while I was engaged in these entertaining distractions—but I knew nothing of the joy that lasts through sorrow and pain. Entertainment had over-promised and under-delivered. It beckoned me with its offers of “fun” and relaxation, but it never gave me rest or joy or peace. Freedom from TV: Trivial Vegging In truth, I think that entertainment can only be pursued rightly by those who already have joy and peace because they know the Source of joy and peace himself. He breaks the enslaving power of our addiction to entertainment with several key ingredients. (Note: They are "ingredients" and not "steps" because, like a cake, they all need to be present for the finished product to turn out alright.) The first ingredient is admitting you have a problem. You’ll never seek help if you don’t think you need it. TV, videogames, social media—these truly are all fine in moderation. But are you really using them in moderation? If not, confession is first ingredient for freedom. The second ingredient is remembering that God is the ultimate source of gratification. “At his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). He is not trying to kill your joy; he is trying to fulfill it (John 15:11). So when this God calls us to trust him, obey him, and die daily to ourselves, he is not ruining our lives—he is saving them. The third ingredient is taking time to immerse yourselves in the Scriptures even when you don’t feel like it. How else can you learn to trust God, obey God, or live for God if you do not know who he is, what he has done for you in Christ, or how he asks you to live in return? The fourth ingredient is belonging to a church that preaches the gospel and shows how it's the key to change. For Jesus is Lord, and his saving rule extends over every aspect of our lives. There is no stone left unturned, no practice left untouched. The gospel changes everything. The final ingredient is to think more often about your death. As pastor John Piper often says, “You have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.” Remembering all that shouldn't cut out TV entirely, but it should absolutely cut back our trivial vegging! Remembering the brevity of life and the gravity of eternity has a way of setting us free from the tyranny of the moment by pointing us to the reality of the future. For no one will say on their deathbed, “I wish that I’d watched a little more Netflix.” Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.
  • FREEDOM IN, BUT NOT FREEDOM FROM

    By Jessica Ponder on Dec. 13, 2017

    How I Found 'Freedom In, Not Freedom From' It’s rare that you read poignant words on Facebook. My friend Lauren penned this in a status update: “Why is freedom so easily associated with ‘freedom from’ everything? To be truly free is ‘freedom in’.” That was three years ago, and I’m still thinking about that phrase freedom in, not freedom from. Her words ring true, because our culture truly does celebrate “freedom from” virtually everything: We want freedom from authority and accountability, as our deep suspicion and distrust of people in power shows. We want freedom from work and responsibility, so we idolize rest, complain about our jobs, and 'live for the weekend.' We increasingly want freedom from the constraints of Christian community (that actually exist for our good)—which is why many are leaving the church in droves. The rise of deliberate childlessness among married couples, the reality of absentee dads, and the tragedy of broken families further show that we want freedom from consequences and freedom from commitment. In all these we look for an escape from things instead of seeking joy in things. Looking for an Escape And this is not an abstract problem for other people “out there.” Our own hearts constantly look for an escape: Our social media activity, our complaints to friends, and our internal dialogue reveal that our hearts naturally seek “freedom from” responsibility rather than “freedom in” what God has given us. “If I could just get away from my job for a few weeks, everything would be OK.” “If I could just get one night of sleep alone away from my kids or spouse, I could be more patient with them.” “If I could just have more ‘me time,’ then I would be OK.” “If I could just get out of this city or this neighborhood… this house… this school… this situation… then I would be free to live a different life.” “If I could have married a different person, then I wouldn’t be so unhappy.” “If I could just have a little more money like _____, then I’d be more joyful.” “If I could just go back to work for a little while, I’d feel like a woman instead of a mom.” “If I could just be my own boss, then I wouldn’t hate my job.” “If I could just hire a maid to clean my house…” “If I could just stop having to pay bills…” “If I could just be able to do whatever I want…” “If I could run away from it all…” This escapist “freedom from” and “grass is greener” mentality shows that we typically blame our situation and think that “freedom from” our circumstances is the solution to our problems and the path to a happy life. Of course, there certainly are challenging circumstances in life, and there is nothing wrong with seeking to be proactive about such things. However, when we spend all of our time longing for a different situation, or when we are discontent and bitter in the midst of these circumstances, then we all know there’s something sinister at work in our hearts. But this restlessness in our hearts can never be cured by fewer children, a different job, a different spouse, fewer bills, endless luxury or even a fresh start. Contentment and joy cannot be found in a life of escape. The “freedom from” route never brings what it seems to promise, and the reason is because what we are running from, in most cases, is actually part of God’s good design. The Goodness of God's Design When you consider how God created the world, it’s clear that he invites us to a life of “freedom in” the callings and responsibilities he has given us, not “freedom from” them. When God placed us in the Garden of Eden, he placed us under his authority and his blessing, gave us work, gave us family, and gave us community. He also gave us a mission, and he said all this was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Before Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced freedom in all of these things. God’s purpose and design for us was (and is) beautiful and good. In a way, the very first of humanity’s many sins was seeking freedom from God’s design for life instead of finding freedom in living with the grain of creation. Adam and Eve sought freedom from God’s authority and tried to establish their own. They wanted freedom from God’s command, while (ironically) they were already free in every other respect! The rest of the Bible is filled with similar examples of people making selfish and destructive choices based in a desire to find freedom from the design and purposes of God. Our sin hasn’t changed God’s design—what God calls good is still good—but sin has changed our ability to experience the goodness of what God’s creation and his callings in our lives. Left to ourselves, we would never find joy in this life no matter how much “freedom from” we might accrue. But we haven’t been left to ourselves. Jesus Came to Bring True Freedom Jesus came to give us freedom in God’s design, not freedom from it. When Jesus said that he came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18), he was speaking about our slavery to sin (Rom. 6:20-22). In other words, he came to free us from wanting “freedom from” God’s wise design and his good purposes. We have been set free from sin that we might now be free to obey God from the heart (Rom. 6:17). After all, the “abundant life” we shared with God before our fall into sin was a life filled with responsibility for the world, care for family members, involvement in community, and yes, even work! Jesus did not come to abolish these things, but to restore our joy in the midst of them all (John 15:11). And Jesus does so not by changing our circumstances, but by changing us. He gives us a new heart, new desires, and new perseverance through the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:12-13). As we trust Jesus, we begin to find joy in God’s wise design and beautiful plan for the world. We come to see that we have been given certain callings and commands both for God’s glory and for our good (Deut. 6:24). We do not experience joy in spite of such responsibilities, but through them. Jesus brings freedom in work, freedom in submission, freedom in lifelong marriage, freedom in parenthood during the toddler years and the teenage years, freedom in challenging work, freedom in community, and freedom in sacrifice. In all this Jesus leads us to find “freedom in” the goodness of God’s design, not freedom from it. Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to three. She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.
  • THE HEART OF MASCULINITY

    By Doug Ponder on Jan. 10, 2018

    Masculine Males The heart of masculinity is the joyful acceptance of sacrificial responsibility. But that statement is as dense as a North Jersey smog, so we need to consider each part carefully. First, masculine and male are not the same word, and they don't have the same meaning. All men are male, for example, but not all men are masculine. This is because “male” is a biological term, while “masculine” is a relational and vocational term. Someone is male if he simply has an X and a Y chromosome, but a man is only masculine if he acts in accordance with the role that God has given to men. This means a man’s maleness is automatic and unchanging: he has an X and a Y chromosome, so he will always be male. But a man’s masculinity is not automatic and unchanging; it must be embraced and developed. This works a bit like the difference between physical growth and spiritual growth. Physical growth is automatic. For young boys to become men, all they have to do is wait for their bodies to grow naturally. But that’s not how it is with spiritual growth, including the development of masculinity (1 Cor. 15:10). Masculinity is not automatic; it must be embraced and developed. Avoiding Two Ditches Talk of masculinity today typically veers into one of two ditches, both of which are full of dead men’s bones: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 16:25). The first is the there-is-no-such-thing-as-masculinity ditch. Put another way, this is the ditch for those who say, “Masculinity is whatever you make it.” This is not an actual answer. It is masculinity nihilism. It is a giant black hole that devours every distinction between men and women, claiming that such words are just “labels” or “social constructs.” The second is the machismo ditch. Those who veer into this ditch have confused common male sins for the heart of masculinity itself. This would include sins like unbridled aggression, misused strength, self-serving sense of entitlement, etc. The ditch is full of über-macho males and men who take pride in being male (as if that were something to brag about). Both ditches are the way to death, but when we live in a society that only ever warns us about one of the ditches—as our society does—then that means we have probably made our home in the other ditch. This is an important point to make, because it means that what God says to us about masculinity will seem to our darkened minds like we are heading for the other ditch. “Don’t go right!” the ditch-dwellers will scream. “There’s a horrible ditch over there!” This is quite true, and it must be avoided. But when you’re in the ditch on the left side of the road, heading to the right is the only way to get out of the ditch you are currently in. Acceptance of Responsibility We have said that the heart of masculinity is the joyful acceptance of sacrificial responsibility. This is because, like the first man, all men have been called by God to provide and protect—to “work” and to “keep” as the biblical language says (Gen. 2:15). Work has to do with cultivation and provision, while protection refers to a man’s duty to be a fortress of safety and stability for his family. Both of these are ways of accepting responsibility in a masculine way. Note that God was the one who chose these functions for the first man and for every man made in his likeness. That means the dual-calling of “provider and protector” is not a human invention, a religious tradition, of a social construct. The masculine calling is an essential part of God’s design for men. That is why God tells us about it in the first pages of the Bible. Evidence of the masculine calling to accept responsibility is found all through the Bible. God created man first as the provider and protector (Gen. 2:7), and he created woman second to be the one he would accept responsibility to protect and provide for (Gen. 2:21-24). And when the man and woman fell into sin, God held Adam responsible and addressed him first (Gen. 3:10). The Bible also speaks of men “taking a wife,” but never speaks of women “taking a husband,” which makes sense if the masculine calling involves accepting responsibility for others. The most important example of the masculine calling to accept responsibility as provider and protector is seen in Jesus himself. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, God speaks through the apostle Paul to tell us that every marriage is patterned after the roles of Jesus and his bride, the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Jesus provides his bride with all things and protects her from every harm. That is why God says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). Practically speaking, a man’s acceptance of responsibility means taking the initiative in providing things like food and clothing for himself and for his family. That means the man needs to get a job and not be a stay-at-home dad. God says this is so serious that a man who refuses to provide for himself and his family in these ways “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). A man is also called to provide for his family spiritually, washing his wife with the water of God’s word (Eph. 5:26), and bringing up his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4)—which can’t happen if the man sinfully seeks to avoid responsibility by never having any children to begin with. The acceptance of responsibility also means protecting his wife and children from physical, emotional, and spiritual harm. The man should be tough on sin, especially his own, yet tender with his wife and patient with his children. Mature men also honor the differences between them and their wives, using their greater physical strength and size to serve and protect, never to threaten or to harm (1 Pet. 3:7). Sacrificial Responsibility The responsibility that God calls men to take upon themselves is a sacrificial responsibility. This is because Jesus loved us with a love that knows how to bleed, and husbands are called to love their wives in the same way. That is to say, when Jesus died he was not just inconvenienced in a minor way. When Jesus died he was not briefly interrupted. When Jesus died he gave his bride all that he had to give: his own life. That is the model for husbands, and it is an example that should humble every man, yet not to the point of despair. For when the humble man cries out to his gracious God, he also trusts that the Lord will enable him to fulfill his calling. To speak in practical terms again, sacrificial responsibility means hard work. It means that a masculine husband is the kind of man who gets up early and stays up late when necessary. He pulls his weight around the house and doesn’t expect his wife to have to act like his mother. He gets a second job, if needed, in order to provide for his family. He labors diligently to create an abundance for his family, and if lean times come, he takes the smallest share and maintains a sense of gratitude in the home. Sacrificial responsibility also means the man puts himself last, and the needs of his wife and children first, just as Jesus did with the church. Joyful Acceptance Finally, masculinity is not just the acceptance of sacrificial responsibility, but the joyful acceptance of sacrificial responsibility. This means men recognize that the masculine calling is something God designed them for and blessed them with for their good. God is not ruing our lives; he is saving them. And one of the main ways that God rescues a man from a wasted life of irresponsible self-indulgence (whether video games, endless sports viewing, or any other fruitless activity) is to entrust the man with a wife and children to care for. This means a wife is God’s grace to the man (just as he is God’s grace to her in a different way). In other words, the easiest way to lead a man away from laziness, away from unbridled lust, away from a life of sinful self-indulgence is to lead him to a wife. But don’t get it twisted. A woman is not a ‘reward’ for becoming responsible. On the contrary, almost all men (with very few exceptions, even in the Bible) must marry in order to become responsible adults. Thus a wife is a sanctifying agent straight from God—which is why it behooves single men who can’t stop fondling themselves and their video game controllers to seek one pronto (1 Cor. 7:9). As one author puts it, “Just as the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, so also is the love of a good woman the beginning of male responsibility.” In this way God’s role for men matches God’s design for men, which means that men are a lot like trucks: they drive smoother and straighter when carrying a load. Men who know this truth can accept sacrificial responsibility with joy because they accept them with the eyes of faith. They believe that God is good to the core, that he loves us, and that he has given us all things so that we might be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). That “all things” includes masculinity and the roles God attached to it, and the man who embraces God’s design with faith will find there is joy at the end of the tether. And there’s more than enough to share. Update: Our society is in the midst of a masculinity crisis, and the evidence of this is that we can no longer see how many of our problems are related to the loss of masculine men. For this reason I encourage every man to read Father Hunger by pastor Doug Wilson. It is the clearest, frankest, and most practical book on the subject of masculinity that I have ever read. Almost all of what I have written in this article was influenced that book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
  • WORK IS NOT A CURSE

    By Doug Ponder on Jan. 31, 2018

    Work Is Not a Curse Imagine paradise. Really. Take a moment imagine you are in paradise. What do you see? Maybe you picture a remote tropical island with water clearer than a swimming pool. You can almost feel your toes sinking into the white sands warmed by the sun. Or maybe you imagine yourself reclining in an over-sized Adirondack chair. The fire in the stone hearth provides the perfect respite from the crisp mountain air as you curl up to spend the day reading a book. Though pictures of paradise will vary from one person to another, one thing seems to remain constant in them all: just about everyone agrees that ‘paradise = freedom from work.’ Everybody but God, that is. In the beginning, God created work. It’s true. One of the first things we learn about how God made us is that he designed us for work. “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), God said. And just so we didn’t miss his point, the author tells us, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). That’s not just some past-tense paradise, either. The biblical prophets also describe the future paradise being prepared for God’s people as a time when people turn their weapons of war into farming tools (Isa. 2:1-5; Micah 4:1-5). So, the Bible begins with humans working in paradise and it ends with humans working in paradise! In light of all this it should be obvious that work  is not a curse. Instead, God shows us that work is part of his perfect design for our lives. But what does this mean? Click here to finish reading this article, which has been featured at Christianity.com. Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.
  • THE HEART OF FEMININITY

    By Doug Ponder on Feb. 7, 2018

    The Only Thing That Wasn’t Good When God looked out on everything that he had made, there was only one thing about which he said, “Not good.” That one thing was the absence of a woman (Gen. 2:18). With all that we know about God, that verse alone should be enough to show us how glorious the feminine calling is. Because of sin, however, we will have to say much more than that, as we did with the masculine calling for men. For starters, we should note that the denigration of femininity is nothing new. Since shortly after the creation of the first woman, men and women both have rebelled against God’s design and demeaned women in the process. Men do this when they treat women like inferiors or accessories or anything other than what they are: a literal Godsend. Women demean themselves when they reject their God-designed differences from men and aim to create a world where women and men are identical. Ironically, that vision for a unisex world is the same state of life that first led God to say, “Not good.” So you might say that both feminism and male chauvinism are tragic examples of what happens when sinful people ignore God’s wise design. For when God said that it was “not good” for man to be alone without a corresponding helper, it’s foolish to think God resolved that dilemma with a person exactly like the man. “And behold, God saw that the man was alone, without a helper corresponding to him, so he created another person to be exactly like the first one.” Different by Design What we are saying is not just that men and women are different—which everyone already knew, unless they were duped by that freshman course on human sexuality. No, we are saying that men and women are different on purpose as part of God’s glorious design. As we explore God’s design, we’ll see that the heart of femininity is joyful submission to and support of their husband’s Christ-like leadership. As women embrace this calling, they will find fulfillment and joy. This is another way of saying that all women are female, but not all women are feminine. That’s because “female” is a biological term, while “feminine” is a relational and vocational term. A women’s ‘femaleness’ is automatic and unchanging. She is genetically a woman by birth, so she will always be female. But a woman’s femininity is not automatic or unchanging; femininity is a calling that must be embraced and developed. Two Ditches, Revisited As with masculinity, talk of femininity today almost always veers off the road into one of two ditches. These ditches are so normalized by sin that people have made their homes in them and given them proper names as if they were great paths that will take us someplace wonderful. In reality, these ditches only lead to confusion, frustration, depression, and spiritual death (Prov. 16:25). The name of the first deadly ditch is Egalitarianism, which technically means “equal-ism,” but actually means “sameness-ism.” True equality is wonderful, and those who oppose equality are opposing God himself (Rom. 2:11; James 2:1,9). But being equal does not mean being the same. Your left and right shoes are equal in size, color, and importance, but they are not reversible because they are not the same. Knives and forks are equally needed when cutting meat, but they have differing parts to play. The needle and the thread are equally important when sewing, but they differ by design. In each of these cases—whether shoes or silverware or sewing—a pair of objects possess equal dignity despite their differing designs. Egalitarianism is confused about this point because it (wrongly) thinks that differences in function or role mean a difference in value or importance or worth. Women who believe the gospel know that their value and worth come from who they are in Christ, not from anything they do. Thus Christian women are free to delight in the feminine calling to submit and support—and they can do this without seeing it as a “lesser calling,” as egalitarianism says, because they know their worth, value, significance, importance is not found in their role but in their redemption. The name of the second deadly ditch is Chauvinism, which comes in both male and female varieties. Chauvinism is sexism, or the belief that one of the sexes is better than the other. Ironically, chauvinism has the same starting place as egalitarianism, believing that equality means sameness. The difference between them is this: chauvinism concludes that differences between men and women mean that one of the sexes truly is more valuable, more important, and more worthy of honor, whereas egalitarianism tries to ignore or downplay the differences between men and women altogether. Chauvinism leads to death just as easily as egalitarianism, though, because it locks men and women in an eternal battle-of-the-sexes to determine who is better, instead of appreciating the differences between men and women as gifts from God. Christian women reject chauvinism for the same reason they reject egalitarianism, for they know that men are not more valuable or worthy because of the calling they have been given, nor are women more valuable or worthy for the calling they have been given. Both are equally loved, equally valued, and equally part of God’s glorious design for the sexes. It’s very important to see that we live in a society that only ever warns about one of the ditches, and so that means that we have made our home in the other ditch. That is why our culture quickly points the finger at chauvinism but almost never recognizes the evil of egalitarianism. So when we embrace God’s design for femininity, it will seem to people infected with egalitarian ideas (as so many are) that we are drifting into the other ditch. We are not! For when you are stuck in a ditch on the left, you have to move right in order to get out of there. But that doesn’t mean that you have to fall into the ditch on the right side of the road, either. Joyful Submission Once again, the heart of femininity is joyful submission to and support of their husband’s Christ-like leadership. (This still applies to women who do not yet have a husband in the same way that the masculine calling applies to single men. For example, a single lady should seek to become the kind of woman who would respond with submission and support to the Christ-like leadership of her future husband.) Words like “submission” or “submit” aren’t popular, but they are the words that God uses. That means there is no rebelling against these words, since to do so would be to rebel against God himself. He says: “Wives, submit yourselves to your on husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). God also calls wives to follow the example of the holy women of the Scriptures “by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham” (1 Pet. 3:5-6). And this does not come naturally to us, but is something that God says older women to teach younger women how to do: “Train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4-5). So there can be no doubt that submission is at the heart of the feminine calling. But what does it mean to submit? Based on how it is used throughout the Bible, we know that the word “submit” means to arrange oneself under the leadership of another, to respect them, to yield to them, even to obey them (1 Pet. 3:6). The most significant example of femininity is found in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. God says there that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. In response, women are called to respect their husbands and to follow their Christ-like leadership (Eph. 5:22-24, 33). Because Jesus and the church can never switch roles, neither can the husband and the wife. Each steps into the role God has given them, receiving them for what they are: a calling from God intended to bless us. The church’s submission to Jesus paints a picture that touches upon both a woman’s attitude and her actions. A submissive attitude is the respectful recognition of the masculine calling to accept sacrificial responsibility with a posture that leans in the direction of readiness to follow her husband’s lead and willingness to support his initiative. It says, “I respect the responsibility that you accept for our family, and I delight when you take the initiative and serve with sacrificial love. I flourish in the relationship when you take the lead.” But submission is not just an attitude that stays stillborn in the heart; it is an attitude that gives way to action. Submission is therefore not just the willingness to trust and follow their husband, but the actual doing of those things, too. Submission says, as Jesus did, “Not what I want, but what you want. Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). What Submission Is Not 1. Submission does not mean following your husband into sin. Husbands are not in authority full stop. Husbands are men in authority who are also under authority. They are accountable to Jesus for how they lead their wives and children. So while they have been given the authority and responsibility to oversee the wellbeing of their family, God says this is an “authority that the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you” (2 Cor. 10:8). That is why the heart of femininity is the joyful submission to… their husband’s Christ-like leadership, not submission to some sinful dictatorship. 2. Submission is not permission for abuse. God’s strongest punishments in the Scriptures are reserved for those who harm others that were entrusted to their care. Since wives are entrusted to husbands for their care, these biblical warning extend to them. God takes abuse very seriously. It is punished in one of two ways: the death of Jesus for sins or hell. 3. Submission is not a way of saying the husband is always right. Nor is submission a way of saying that the husband is just fine the way he is and nothing about him needs to change. We know this because God tells us that husbands do need to change—and amazingly, counter-intuitively—God uses the submission of a Christian wife to change her husband (1 Pet. 3:1-2). Joyful Support The very first thing we learn about men in the Scriptures is that God designed them with a job in mind, and that job was to provide and protect (Gen. 2:15). Just a few verses later, we are introduced to the first woman and told about God’s design for her, too: “For Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while Adam was sleeping, God took one of his ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:20-22). Thus men were designed to provide and protect, and women were designed as a “suitable helper” for them. The word suitable refers to the woman’s complementary strengths. Women are strong in some areas where men are weak, and vice versa. This is not an accident. God didn’t call men to carry heavy things because they have broader shoulders; God gave men broader shoulders so that they could carry heavy things. In the same way, God didn’t “accidentally” give women a body that can support and nurture life. It’s the other way around: God bestows the ability to have children upon women precisely because he designed them with nurturing and supporting in mind. In fact, every act of sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife put their differences on display. The design of our sexual anatomy guarantees that there is always an initiator or giver (husbands) and a responder or receiver (wives). These bodily differences are not arbitrary; they mirror the design of our souls and our respective callings from God that correspond to how he has made us. Now the word helper is not a denigrating term like sidekick. Rather, the word helper is used to describe God in some places, and Jesus even gives the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the official name of “Helper” (John 14:16). This means the kind of help that God designed women to give is a necessary help. It was “not good” for the man to be alone, remember? So God fixed this ‘not good’ with something very good: the creation of women with gifts and a calling to complement the gifts and the calling of men. Practically speaking, the calling to submit to her husband’s Christ-like leadership means that wives delight for their husbands to take the initiative, and they look for ways to support him in this with the kind of strength that helps them succeed together. This is why God says that women must pursue the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:4). This is not a quietness that results from being told to “shut up and learn their place” (an idiotic saying if ever there was one). Instead, this gentleness and quietness is the result of women have been set free by the gospel so they no longer feel like they have to justify themselves or prove their strength. They already know they are precious to the Lord, and so they demonstrate their faith by rejoicing in the calling that God designed them to fulfill. The Path to Joy God did not create differences between men and women so that we would argue about which is better. For that would be like asking which is better: water or sunlight? We need them both, but we need them both to be what they are. We need water to act like water and sunlight to act like sunlight. They are equally needed for life, but they only bring life when they function in the roles God has given them. In the same way, God created men and women so that we could thrive together. Because God created both, we know that he loves both. It may sound strange to say it, but this means God likes masculinity and femininity. He likes it when men and women act like the people he created us to be. We might even say that God celebrates the distinctness of males and females by honoring each with unique and irreversible roles. And when we embrace his design with the eyes of faith, then we find we are met with all the grace and strength we need to fulfill the callings God has given to us. And as we said of men, the gospel frees women to receive these truths with joy because they accept them with the eyes of faith. They believe that God is good to the core, that he loves us, and that he has given us all things so that we might be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). That “all things” includes femininity and the roles God attached to it, and the woman who embraces God’s design with faith will find that what the world says is the path to death is actually the path to a joyful life. Update: Women (or men) looking to clear up any remaining confusion about God's design for femininity and masculinity should listen to this sermon from Remnant Church. To read more about how egalitarianism and feminism have demeaned and confused women, checkout Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World. Finally, moms who want encouragement and guidance should read Loving the Little Years and Fit to Burst, both by Rachel Jankovic. They are amazingly helpful and mercifully short! Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
  • VIRTUAL FRIENDSHIPS

    By Doug Ponder on April 18, 2018

    The Reality of Virtual Friendships Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Foursquare, Flickr, LinkedIn, Reddit, Tumblr, Imgur, or whatever comes next—social media have changed our relationships in significant ways. With the touch of a button on a small device I carry in my pocket, I can instantly discover what’s happening with friends on the other side of the world. And yet, drawing from personal experience, pastoral conversations, and recent sociological studies, I’m willing to wager that social media’s impact on our relationships has been equally wonderful and detrimental, introducing lots of new opportunities and lots of unforeseen challenges for Christians who use them... Click here to finish reading this article, which has been featured at Christianity.com. Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.
  • DIFFERENT BY DESIGN

    By Doug Ponder on May 2, 2018

    The Problem with the Biebs In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Sometime after that God created humanity in his image to reflect him and represent him in all of creation. To succeed in our glory-reflecting mission, God created us as male and female. It’s worth noting that God didn’t have to make us that way. God could have made humans to be like single-celled amoebas (which are asexual), or hermaphroditic earthworms (which are both sexes at the same time), or some kind of indeterminate middle sex (like Justin Bieber). But he didn’t. Apparently God likes maleness and femaleness. He not only made his image bearers male and female, God also filled the plant and animal kingdoms with males and females too—like millions and millions of little reminders of the glory of man and woman, who are the image of God. It may seem obvious to say it, but God likes it when men and women act in accordance with his design. We know this because God celebrates the differences between men and women by honoring each with unique and irreversible roles. The outward appearances of these roles may change slightly from culture to culture, but the basic roles never change. As an obvious example: men are not designed to give birth to children, because God gave the role of motherhood to women. When Equal Is Not the Same Sadly, not everyone likes the beauty of the differences between men and women as much as God does. Take most of history, for example. For far too long many societies treated women like second-class citizens. Even cultures that had a strong presence of the Christian faith sometimes ignored the fact that God had made men and women equally good, equally important, and equally human beings. Today, however, the pendulum seems to have swung in the opposite direction. The distinctness of men and women is not celebrated very often anymore. Instead, we live in a society that tries to minimize, downplay, or ignore the differences between men and women in virtually every area. This battle against God’s design goes by many names. Sometimes it’s called “feminism,” and sometimes it’s called “egalitarianism.” The latter is a big word which basically means “equalism.” Nothing is wrong with being equal, of course. The poison in that word is found in the ism part. Here’s what I mean. Men and women should be regarded as equals. Gender, race, income bracket, etc., should not affect how we are judged in a court of law. Being equal in that sense is great, and being unequal in that sense is a great injustice. But (grab your thinking hats, kids) being equal and being the same are totally different categories. A and B are equally letters, but they are not the same letter. Chickens are turkeys are equally birds, but they do not taste the same. Screws and screwdrivers are equally tools, but they have different (complementary) uses. Shirts and pants are equally clothing, but they have different ‘jobs’ when covering your body. Likewise men and women are equal in value, equal in dignity, equal in their need for salvation, equal in Christ, and so on. Men and women really are equal, but they’re not the same. This is so simple that every child can see and understand this point. Now sometimes children express their understanding of these differences accurately, and sometimes they say things like, “Boys don’t wear pink.” We know that some boys do wear pink, but at least the child understands that boys and girls are different. If that child grows up with a dad who acts like a man and a mom who acts like a woman, then they’ll soon sort out their prejudice against pink. They’ll learn that the differences between men and women go much deeper than cultural practices, running right to core of who we are and how God wants us to live in his world. But if that child learns about manhood and womanhood from a gender studies course at an overpriced college, then rest assured that they’ll confuse being “equal” (which is good and right) with being “the same” (which is obviously wrong), and all manner of nonsense is sure to follow. Here is where people cry, “Foul! Foul!” when there is no foul. If men and women really are different by design—that is, if men and women are equal but not the same—then to respect men as men and to respect women as women means that we must understand and celebrate their God-given differences. (To respect the design of the screwdriver means not treating it like a screw. You honor both the screw and the screwdriver by using them in accordance with their design.) Different by Design If we were to search the Scriptures for all that God says about what he created men to be and to do, our summary might go something like this: God has designed and called men to lead, provide, and protect. Now leading doesn’t mean doing everything. In fact, the best leaders know their own weaknesses and call upon the strengths of others around them to get the job done. Rather, leadership means initiative. Men are called to take the initiative in serving others, providing for others, and protecting others with the strength that God has given them. Complementary to the others-centered, benevolent initiative of men, the Scriptures show us that women are designed by God to receive, nurture, and support. Women do not “just so happen” to have the reproductive organs for receiving, nurturing, and supporting life. That’s backwards. Women have the reproductive organs for receiving, nurturing, and supporting because that is what God designed and called women to do in every sphere of life. Speaking of reproductive organs, it’s folly to think that they are an accident too. God designed sex such that one partner is the initiator and the other partner is the receiver. It is anatomically impossible to get around giving and taking, initiating and receiving, because the shape of our sexual organs mirrors the shape of our souls. Disagreeing with God All of this reminds us that God knows what he’s doing, and he knows what he’s talking about when he speaks to how we were designed to live as men and as women. In fact, to ignore what God says about how we’ve been made would be like rejecting the manufacturer’s instructions on a very complex invention. Doing so only sets us up for needless pain, frustration, and heartache. When we are confused about something as deeply intrinsic to our lives as our sexual identity, men and women will always be affected by this cultural confusion. None of this catches God by surprise, nor does it reflect his original design. In fact, the very first act of disobedience (sin) followed from a reversal of roles. Instead of leading and protecting his wife, Adam deferred his responsibility to Eve and they both fell into sin. When God speaks to them in the next chapter (Gen. 3), he explains how their sin will cause the peace of God’s world to unravel. Notice, too, that the heart of God’s explanation is how sin will effect men and women in their callings. Their roles did not change because of sin, but sin would now make it harder to fulfill them. God warned that men would now struggle to provide and protect (Gen. 3:17-19), while women would struggle to be mothers and wives who receive and support their husband’s leadership (Gen. 3:16). History has proven God right on this point time and time again. Instead of leading, protecting, and providing for their families, many men succumb to laziness, while others become abusive and domineering. Likewise, women have increasingly begun to act like men, thinking that “freedom” will be found in doing what they want instead of being who God designed them to be. But that's kind of like the "freedom" of being unencumbered by a parachute. Sure, you're technically more free to move about the cabin, but you're actually a slave to gravity. Let the reader understand. Humbly Listening to Jesus In Jesus, men can become the leaders, providers, and protectors they are created and called to be. As the apostle Paul explains, this looks like the life of Jesus himself. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). In other words, men are called to love with a love that bleeds. This is a self-sacrificial love. Men sacrifice by working hard, and by using their strength to heal and protect instead of harm or destroy. Men sacrifice by taking the initiative, instead of waiting passively for others to act. Husbands sacrifice by pursuing their wives as friends and lovers, instead of making them beg for conversation or romance. Husbands sacrifice by guarding their eyes and their hearts from lust, thus keeping faithful to the promise they made to their wives. Husbands sacrifice by serving and helping around the home. Husbands sacrifice by being humble, patient, and kind toward their wives, remembering that they are fellow heirs to the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7). In Jesus, women can become the receivers, nurturers, and supporters they are created and called to be. As the apostle Paul explains, this looks like the church’s response to Jesus: “As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24). Now the idea of submission can be confusing for people in the 21st Century, especially since the word is so often abused. Yet the meaning of the term should be taken not from cultural misunderstanding but from God’s original design. As we have already seen, this means women are called to support. Far from being a denigrating term, the word used of women in Genesis 2 (“helper”) is actually a word that is sometimes used of God in the Scriptures. This means women are called to often the kind of support that helps and strengthens those around them. This may be spiritual support, as in encouraging and building up others. It may be economic support, as when a wife works from home or in the marketplace (Proverbs 31). In marriage feminine support includes praying for your husband, not withholding yourself from him sexually, helping around the house with the basic needs of the home, raising the children, etc. When men and women trust Christ, receive his Spirit, and listen to what he says, they are enabled to act like the men and women that God created them to be. In turn, they honor God, bless each other, and benefit the world by celebrating and embracing their distinct roles according to God’s wonderful design. Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.
  • YOUTOPIA

    By Doug Ponder on May 30, 2018

    Youtopia: The Perfect You? The word utopia today means “a perfect place.” But when the word was first used in the early 1500s, it meant “nowhere.” Both definitions are fitting, in a way, since a perfect place does not exist on this earth. The same is true of the perfect ‘you.’ You’re flawed. You mess up. You’re not who you would like to be. And you’re not alone in this regard. Second only to erotica and “romance” novels, self-help books continue to be among the best sellers every year. This shouldn’t be surprising, since I have never met anyone who doesn’t want to change. In fact, every January 1st people around the world write lists of what they would like to change (with varying degrees of successful follow-up!). It seems this near-universal desire to change is a strong indicator that we all know (even if only as a feeling of restlessness) that we are not who we should be. That much we agree on. But there is much less agreement on what has gone wrong and how it can be made right. Disney's Modern Fable  Disney’s Zootopia movie, gets right to the heart of the same issue. On the surface, the movie seems to be mainly about prejudice. But at its deepest level, the movie is more about our identity. Does your past define you? Where do your dreams and desires fit in? What makes you you? The movie opens with a scene from a children’s stage play. This storytelling device informs the audience that the predators and prey in this anthropomorphic animal kingdom once lived as savages, controlled by their biological instincts, hunting and being hunted, hating one another and being hated by one another. But now they have evolved beyond all that to a higher state of existence in which predators and prey now live together in harmony (for the most part). No longer afraid of being eaten, small animals are now free to pursue their dreams. All this this is good news for Judy, a female bunny who has always dreamed of becoming a police officer in the urban metropolis of Zootopia—a city whose official slogan is, “Anyone can be anything.” Yet Judy soon learns that not everyone really believes that anyone can be anything. She meets another character (a fox named Nick) who holds an opposing outlook on life. “Everyone comes to Zootopia thinking they could be anything they want,” he says cynically. “But you can't. You can only be what you are.” These characters, and their relationship, form a microcosm of the entire animal world—and our own. They are meant to present us with two options for understanding how to think about our identity. Can anyone be anything? Or can we only be what we are? Zootopia's Dead-ends I won’t tell you how the film ends, but I will tell you how the two options presented in the movie end up for everyone. If you follow Nick’s lead (“You can only be who you are”), you’ll walk the path of apathetic acceptance, viewing your life (and the lives of others) with a kind of gloomy resignation: “I’ve always been like this. I’ll always be like this. The world will never get better, and I won’t either. The more things ‘change,’ the more the stay the same. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can get on with life.” The end of that outlook on life isn’t one of joyful contentment. On the contrary, this path only leads to bitterness, resentment, depression, and crippling pessimism. Which is why most people today don’t sound like Nick. Most people I meet sound much more like Judy. Yet it doesn’t take long before the naïve optimism of “Anyone can be anything” crashes into the real-life limitations of the world we live in. And this is where the film really fails us. Although the monologue of the final scene briefly addresses our limitations, the only obstacles to Judy’s dream in the film were other people—almost as if to say, “So long as other people don’t hold you back, anyone can be anything.” Not only does this seriously overlook our flaws and failures and practical impossibilities, it also puts all the power of success on you. And that sounds nice in theory, until you don’t actually succeed—or worse: you do succeed, but it doesn’t bring you the happiness and satisfaction that you though it would, leaving you feeling even more empty than before. God’s Glorious Alternative There is a third alternative that is tragically lacking in Zootopia. I’m talking, of course, about the good news of the gospel, which speaks a better word than “You can only be what you are” or “Anyone can be anything.” Instead, the gospel promises—promises!—that you will be who you were created to be. This is what the gospel promises: the glorious self that you were created to be—a human who is fully alive to God and all the splendor of his world, free from the stain of sin, removed from the bondage of decay and death—that person is who you will become in Christ. Indeed, that is what salvation is; it is God’s longterm project of (re)making you into the person you were always meant to be but have been unable to become because of your slavery to sin (Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:9-10). Throughout our life God continually reshapes us and remolds us through the rhythm of faith and repentance until, at last, we are resurrected to be with Jesus, when God glorifies us and renews us completely (Rev. 21:5). Because that glorious work is God's doing, the gospel is good news that frees us to confess our sins and flaws (unlike Judy’s naïve optimism), while being equally emphatic about the hope of change for the better (unlike Nick’s crippling pessimism). The gospel also frees from the snare of Nick’s self-doubt and the false promise of Judy’s self-confidence. In place of both we have confidence in Christ, a deep trust that he will keep his promise to make us new. Finally, the gospel rejects Judy’s attempt at self-definition (God sets the limits; he defines who we are) and it rejects Nick’s self-loathing (you are made and loved by God). Instead of self-hatred and self-discovery, we are invited to find our true self in Christ. Change starts with him. And it's just not possible; it's promised!
  • WORKING MOMS

    By Doug Ponder on July 4, 2018

    Working Moms She said, “So what will you do with all your time once you’re not working anymore?” The lady was talking about my wife’s former job teaching college classes online, but she was implying (whether she knew it or not) that there are two kinds of moms out there: those who do what’s important—i.e., have a career—and those who don’t. I’m pretty sure she meant well, but I’m equally sure that she is very confused about what my wife does when she’s “not working.” You see, I have the privilege of working from home most days. Much of my reading, writing, and counseling takes place in my home office. This room affords enough privacy to do my work, while also being close enough to the rest of the house to make me vaguely aware of how much my wife actually does. Which is a lot. She truly is a working mom—although her work looks very different from what the most of the Western world tends to think is honorable or impressive or noteworthy. Every day she works from home, cleaning up after little ones, wiping their noses (and other parts), feeding them, reading to them, playing with them, and teaching them about God’s world. She reaches out to the ladies in our community group, and she often has friends over—which means even more cleaning before (and after) they leave. She works hard at planning meals for our family and for the frequent visitors we have in our home. She works when she takes two toddlers to the grocery store by herself—while being pregnant with our third. She works when she keeps those toddlers occupied while cooking dinner for the family. And she is still working when the clock strikes five, carrying on her work until about the time her head hits the pillow. If there’s one thing my wife does, it’s work! Tragic Cultural Confusion This why that woman’s question seems so misguided, and I know she’s not alone. Our culture is disastrously confused about all these things on many levels. For starters, we are confused about the beauty of womanhood. Feminism has faded into a little more than a “me too” movement, repeatedly revealing that it has nothing constructive to say about what it means to be a woman. Their best attempts result in “Anything a man can do, we can do too!” Such an approach is doomed from the start, baptizing flawed versions of masculinity in the name womanhood (like the all-girl Ghostbusters remake and the new Bond, Jane Bond). Surely we can do better than this. Second, we lack an understanding of who we are. In this identity vacuum, we cling to anything that makes us feel respected and valuable and appreciated. Careers are a common culprit here. They tantalize us with the promise of feeling significant, of feeling like our work “really matters,” that we did something that helped somebody, and so on. But if you have to rely on what you do in order to feel good about who you are, then your work will never satisfy. (And that’s true for stay-at-home moms, too.) Finally, our culture has a thinly veiled hatred of children. (And hatred isn’t too strong a word.) Eyes roll when a family comes into the restaurant. Snarky remarks are made about the kids of other families. Nursery volunteers are always the hardest to come by in any church. Couples delay having children until well into their 30s. Deliberate childlessness is on the rise, with the number of children born per couple is the lowest in our country’s history. Millions of abortions are still carried out each year. On and on and on. The truth is that Jesus loves the little children, but we don’t. So no wonder we think it’s odd that someone would want to devote their primary time and attention to caring for such people. Motherhood, as It Really Is Together those confusions explain why so many struggle to see the glory in a mother choosing to work at home with her children. This confusion reflects a stunning reversal of significance, a tragic inversion of priorities. But this isn’t anything new. The British author G. K. Chesterton apparently faced a similar scenario about a hundred years ago. So, he wrote about motherhood as it really is to set the record straight: “When people begin to talk about motherhood as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up... For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. For instance, when motherhood is called ‘drudgery,’ I have difficult understanding what they mean. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman works dreadfully hard in the home... But if drudgery means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give up! For a mother is Queen Elizabeth in one area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; she is a Manufacturer in another area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes, and books; she is Aristotle within another area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene. I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it! How can it be a great career to teach other people’s children, and a small career to teach one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No! A woman’s work is laborious because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.” (Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World, with minor updates to verbiage and grammar) Moms, I get it. Most days you might not feel like a queen or a manufacturer or an instructor, but that’s how God sees you—because that’s who he made you to be. You’re a working mom, and God uses the work you do at home to help shape souls for a lifetime. What could be more glorious than that? Postscript: These days you can’t say something positive about one group of people without another group getting offended. “He said stay-at-home moms are great, so that means he thinks moms who work outside the home are Hitler.” But that's not true. And besides, the Bible praises several women who worked outside the home (Prov. 31:4; Acts 16:14). It seems they were so good at caring for their husbands and children (Titus 2:4, 1 Timothy 5:14) that they had time leftover for other outside-the-home endeavors. I think that’s fantastic! The world could use all the women like that can we find.
  • THE POWER OF AN ORDINARY LIFE

    By Doug Ponder on July 11, 2018

    The Tug of War Inside Us All There exists within all of us both a longing for greatness and a misunderstanding about the power of an ordinary life. Or as several have said in various ways: Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to do the dishes. There may be some debate as to how we got to this point, but at least one factor seems to be that people started listening. That is, for decades we’ve told every rising generation: “Don’t settle.” “Reach for the stars.” “You can be anything you want to be.” “You can change the world.” And they have finally believed us. Now everybody wants to be somebody. Somebody who does ‘big things.’ Somebody who ‘makes a difference.’ Somebody whose life ‘really mattered.’ This is about more than merely wanting to avoid a wasted life. It’s deep longing to be known and accepted and admired. The trouble is that most of us know better than to openly crave fame, so instead we talk about “doing great things.” We have become masters of self-deception, twisting the inner impulse, the drive, the yearning for greatness into various shapes and sizes until at last we hardly recognize what it is that we’re doing. But it’s still there. And for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, it only takes a little honest self-reflection to see this cancer-like spot on the soul: Maybe you get extremely excited when others recognize your achievements—or you get angry when they don’t. Maybe you check your Facebook status several times after each post, closely monitoring how many interactions it receives. Maybe you spend a lot of time measuring yourself against others to see if you’re a better mom… or employee… or sibling… or friend… or whatever. Maybe you send a text to your family and friends to tell them about how someone famous replied to you on Twitter. (The Internet didn’t create the yearning for greatness, by the way. It merely gives us the platform that fans it into a raging inferno.) Maybe you check your blog’s view count often—even daily—to see how many people are reading you. Maybe you don’t have a blog, but you’ve often thought about starting one. Maybe you daydreamed about being interviewed on TV or written about in the newspaper or going viral on YouTube because of something you’ve said or done. Or maybe you’re turned off by all of that, so you’ve repudiated those ways of life in the hopes, ironically, of influencing others to do the same. I know these well because I feel the tug in my own heart. With every sermon I preach or article I write—even this one—the siren call of success and fame is always lurking somewhere in the depths of my heart. I suppose you could write me off as narcissistic, but I’ve spoken to enough people to know I’m not alone. In fact, this is an age-old problem. The Dangerous Dream One of the first stories in the Bible recounts an episode in early humanity when some people got together and said, “Come, let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). Their story ends in irony: they are remembered, but without an ounce of the glory they craved. This story reminds us that the yearning for greatness, the longing to be extraordinary, to stand out, to be glorified, is woven deeply into the human experience. No one is exempt from this natural hunger for greatness or the longing to be known. This reality is precisely what makes our desire to change the world such a dangerous dream. Those who begin with best intentions are often devoured along the way. Even those who appear to succeed often succumb in the end, winning the whole world while losing their own soul. This is why you will not see Jesus anywhere telling his followers to aspire to greatness, fame, or even success. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) This is also why all the Christian ministries named “radical” or “epic” or “extreme” seem to be hurtling down the wrong path. They are unintentionally feeding your inner impulse for greatness with "The Next Big Thing" in Christianity, promising to take you to "The Next Level" (whatever that means). Yet Jesus didn't talk like this. He was not (and is not) interested in feeding our yearning for greatness with the promise of Christian success (or any other kind, for that matter). Instead, Jesus gives us a different goal altogether. He shows us a better way. An Ordinary Life God’s solution to our dangerous dreams of extraordinary greatness is an ordinary life. We come to him with great aspirations, but he says to us: “Aspire to lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11) where you “work quietly and earn your own living” (2 Thess. 3:12). We may hate the idea of the ordinary, but the church has long spoken of “ordinary means of grace,” the regular old run-of-the-mill ways that God has been growing his people for thousands of years: weekly church gatherings, prayer and Scripture reading, humble service, diverse vocations, conversations with friends, simple bread and wine—these are how God changes the world. He breathes life into dust and forms the clay, turning his ordinary church into the extraordinary people of God, a community set apart for the ‘radical’ work of everyday faithfulness. When we realize this truth, two things happen. First, we are set free to aim for faithfulness instead of success. The desire to be "great" is thus replaced with the desire to greatly please the God who loved you and gave himself up for you on the cross. Second, we come to see that our aspirations of ‘changing the world’ or ‘doing something great’ may have been a way of avoiding the more difficult work of honoring God and enriching the lives of others through the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly routines of life—which is where lasting change most often happens. Our lives are more than a few big decisions and “life-changing moments” separated by long stretches of time. No, the story of our lives is written in the millions of seemingly insignificant things that we carry on for decades. It’s in the everyday of life where God meets us, working through ordinary means to accomplish his extraordinary purposes in the world. This means that laundry matters for more than just whether or not you’ll have clean underwear tomorrow (though that definitely matters, too). It means your job is filled to the brim with opportunities to bless others and serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord himself—because you actually are (Col. 3:23-24). It means that cutting your grass and paying your taxes and doing well in school all matter. It means that sharing the gospel and wiping little hands and mouths after every meal both matter to God. An ordinary life probably won’t sell books or even make for very interesting blog posts. Truth be told, if you live an ordinary life you probably won’t be remembered long after your last grandchild passes away. But you will change the world. And you will also be changed in the process, having been molded and shaped by the Spirit in the crucible of the “quiet life,” as he conformed you to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
  • FREE SEX

    By Doug Ponder on July 18, 2018

    The ‘Free Sex’ That Costs You Dearly In the 1960s it wasn’t polite to talk about sex, so people talked about “love.” People especially talked about “free love,” which again, really meant “free sex.” Spurred on by the development of “the pill” and the growing disdain for the hollow moralism of the 1950s, the 60s free love movement was part of a broader sexual revolution that sought to free sex from the “burden” of children, from the “constraints” of marriage, and from the stigmas associated with promiscuity. In other words, people thought sex should be free from consequences, free from commitments, and free from the criticism of anyone. It seems we hoped that being free to enjoy sex on our terms, we would finally make ourselves be happy and whole. The free love movement was a big dream, and it never made good on its promise. Divorce rates have continued to increase since then, as have rates of sexually transmitted diseases. On top of this, cases of guilt and shame stemming from sexual experiences continue to flood counselor’s offices. Even now we are just discovering the seriously crippling effects of pornography—which purports to be the “freest” sex of all. Worst of all, a movement promising “free” love has actually cost millions of people their lives: babies sacrificed on the altar of sexual freedom. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. By God’s design, sex is free. Sex That’s Free From Guilt The gospel of Jesus is the life-changing good news that you are forgiven, fully and freely, by his death in your place. “Every sin on him was laid,” the prophet Isaiah reminds us (Isa. 53:6)—and that includes sexual sin. I like to tell the couples that I meet with for premarital counseling that no one enters the marriage the bed personally innocent, not even virgins. There is none of us who can say that we haven’t looked on another with lust (Matt. 5:28). After all, lust has been around long before pornography; it was lust that gave birth to pornography (not the other way around). This means that virgins and “veterans” are equally in need of forgiveness for sexual sin. And yet—here’s the good news again—virgins and “veterans” are also equally forgiven in Christ. The church, who is the bride of Christ, will wear white on her wedding day. Not because of her personal innocence or faithfulness, but because of the forgiving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Christians understand this glorious truth, and really believe it, they are set free from the lingering feelings of guilt. Though they were guilty, they are not reckoned as guilty any longer. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). That is the good news that sets spouses free from feeling like they “owe” something to their spouse or to God for whatever sexual sins they may have committed in the past. “Jesus paid it all” means that every debt has been removed. Sex That’s Free from Shame Sin brings shame, and sexual sin brings a special kind of shame. In fact, we feel shame even when sexual sins were committed against us. In the case of rape or sexual abuse victims often express feeling “dirty” or “worthless,” words that are the vocabulary of shame. Shame attaches itself like a leach to good things in creation, sucking all the joy and pleasure from God’s design until only disgust or despair or depression is leftover. In other words, sex itself isn’t wrong, but shame causes spouses to think of sex as “dirty” or “wrong” because it was experienced at the wrong time (before marriage) or in the wrong way (abuse of some kind). The power of shame is long-lasting. The couples I counsel can usually wrap their minds around the fact that they are forgiven. Almost invariably, however, they struggle to realize that they are also free from shame. There is no reason to feel “bad” or “gross” or “dirty” about sex in marriage. After all, sex is God’s idea of a good time. Even more than that, the deepest reason we don’t have to feel shame is that the same sacrifice that forgives us our sins also makes us clean. Jesus has not only forgiven us, he has “washed us” completely (Eph. 5:26-27). Christ has purified the Christian marriage bed. There’s no cause for shame! Sex That’s Free from Fear Sex outside of marriage is fraught with fear. What will they think of me? Was I good enough? Am I big enough? Am I skinny enough? Am I sexy enough? How do I compare with their previous partners? What if they only want me for sex? Will I catch some kind of disease? If I get pregnant/get her pregnant, who will raise the children? The list goes on. Sex and fear are so closely related that most people who engage in sex apart from marriage do so under the heavy influence of alcohol or other drugs. These things help keep the fear at bay, but they never remove fear completely (and they can’t even touch our guilt or shame). Jesus, on the other hand, completely removes our fears regarding sex. Indeed, God’s design for sex is by nature a fear-reducing enterprise. He calls spouses to refrain from sex until after they have already promised to love one another and stay with one another forever—“for better or for worse.” The marital promise removes the fear-inducing elements of sex and replaces them with unbridled joy. Christian couples are free to laugh together when things don’t go as planned. They are free to talk about their needs without feeling guilty or shameful. And they are free to experience sex without the fear of rejection, since they are giving their body to someone who has already promised to give them their entire life! Enjoying Free Sex There are only two ways to enjoy sex as God intended. First, we must remember that Jesus, not sex, is God's greatest gift to us. Everything God makes is good and is intended for our good. But, as one pastor has said, "If you take a good thing and make it a 'God' thing, that's a bad thing." He meant that the fundamental sin of humanity is something called idolatry, which means looking to something in creation to bring us the kind of joy and fulfillment and satisfaction that only God can bring. The gift is never greater than the Giver. Second, enjoying truly free sex therefore requires that both spouses believe the gospel and apply it in their lives. When feelings of guilt creep back into your mind, you must remind yourself that you and your spouse are equally forgiven by Christ. You owe nothing to each other, except love (Rom. 13:8). You don't have to "atone" for former sexual sins. Jesus has paid it all! Similarly, there is no need to feel dirty about sex anymore. Sex itself was never wrong, and you have been fully cleansed by whatever sexual sins you have committed. This means you are free to talk with your spouse about your needs and your preferences. Finally, there is no room for fear in your marriage bed. The gospel drives it out with the promise that God is at work in you to help you and your spouse keep the promises you made to never leave or forsake one another. When we receive all this with the arms of faith, the result is always freedom: we are free from our slavery to guilt and shame and fear, and we are free to enjoy the goodness of God's design.
  • ALWAYS AND FOR EVERYTHING

    By Doug Ponder on Aug. 15, 2018

    What “Thank You” Means “Thank you” is among the first phrases we teach our children. We offer prayers of thanks before meals. We express thanks for our civic freedoms or for the soldiers who have fought to secure them. In acceptance speeches for receiving public awards, almost every actor and musician extends ‘a big thanks to God and to everyone who made this possible.’ It seems saying “thank you” is so deeply ingrained in us that we say it habitually, without awareness and even without any real feelings of gratitude! But what if “thank you” is not just a throwaway phrase? What if saying “thank you” is more than some arbitrary code of manners, and even strikes at the heart of what it means to be human? What if God’s command to “giv[e] thanks always and for everything” (Eph 5:20) is not meant to be another action to check off the list, but a basic posture for all of life? And what if all of these “what ifs” aren’t actually questions, but statements about the way things truly are? Whether we realize it or not, to say “thank you” (and truly mean it) is to acknowledge three things: (1) the giver of a gift, (2) the gift that was given, and (3) our glad reception of the gift. In other words, our urge to say “thanks” is connected to the fabric of the world, and it invites us to ask three questions: Who has given to us? What has been given? How do we receive it? God as Giver God is ultimate giver, from whom and through whom and to whom are all things (Rom 11:36). All things begin with God, are upheld by God, and return to God like endless waves of credit and honor and glory all flowing back to their original source in him (Col 1:15-20). As our Creator, God is literally the “author of life” (Acts 3:15) and the fountain of everything good and beautiful and true.. Hence “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (Jas 1:17), from the overflow of his grace and love. The World as Gift The whole world is God’s gift, including our capacity for experiencing the goodness of his world. This means the very fact that we feel pleasure is owing to how God made us. It also means that there is nothing good we possess that cannot be traced back to the hand of God, whether directly or indirectly. Gifts of modern medicine, for example, are still gifts from God, coming into existence by applying our God-given creativity to the God-given resources of this world. But the greatest gift from God, of course, is the gift of his Son, Jesus. In fact, this gift is so precious that Paul says it is the proof that God will keep giving us grace. “For if he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). The Christian Life as Grateful Response On the human level, when someone gives us a great fit we naturally feel some obligation to thank them, to please them, or to show appreciation to them in some way. But we must be careful that this does not turn into the debtor’s ethic when it comes to God, as if we spend our lives groveling before him saying, “How could we ever repay you? We’re unworthy!” Look, it’s true that we’re unworthy of grace and never could repay God—but that’s the whole point. Grace means you don’t have to. The simple acknowledgement of where grace comes from is the first way to respond to God in gratitude. Every gift God has given is like a ray of light that points to his glory—the Giver is always greater than his gifts. Therefore, we must train our minds to trace every sunbeam of pleasure back to its source in the sun. Second, we ought to feel joy for being loved as we are. If the love of God for you doesn’t make your heart sing, then you must not understand it yet. By remembering the costly nature of God’s love and his total willingness to give us all things—especially his Son—we find our own hearts filled with love for the One who loved us first. Finally, we respond to God with faith and obedience for all his gifts. How could we not trust him? If he gives even his Son to spare us, hasn’t he proven himself trustworthy? If he gives us all that we need and more, should we not seek to please him instead of continuing in our sin? Yes a million times over! To receive God’s gifts, therefore, means remembering that all good things come from God, feeling gratitude toward God for his grace, and honoring him by responding with faith and obedience. In other words, it means growing more and more into the kind of person who can “giv[e] thanks always and for everything to God the father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:20).
  • EDUCATING YOUR CHILDREN

    By Doug Ponder on Aug. 29, 2018

    THE DESIRE FOR EDUCATION Few things seem to matter as much today as education. What else do people move across the country for, go into great debt to obtain, restructure their family’s schedule and living situation around, argue about at every political level, and even measure people’s worth or intelligence or giftedness by? Education is clearly essential. There’s a great reason for this, even if people don’t realize it: We value education because we are knowers by nature, having been created by God to know him, know ourselves, and know his world. Yet we aren’t born with such knowledge already in us, like a computer preloaded with software. In order to know God and his world, we have to learn about them. And that means education. Like everything else in God’s world, therefore, education is something that can (and must!) be undertaken to the glory of God. Usually when thinking about education for their children, parents often start with the question: Where?—as in homeschool? public school? private school? Ironically, this is probably the least helpful question to start with! For you can’t answer Where? unless you first know the who, what, and why of education. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? The Scriptures make it clear that God holds parents accountable for the education their children receive, for parents are the guardians of their children’s hearts and minds. In the most specific place, God tells fathers to ‘bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph 6:4). That includes so much more than Bible stories before bedtime or prayers before meals, because “the instruction of the Lord” is so much more than the gospel and the Ten Commandments. God calls parents to teach their children think well about everything, which means giving them the tools they will need to grow as lifelong learners to the glory of God. Now this doesn’t mean that parents are the only ones who teach their children. Pastors, community group leaders, schoolteachers, and other adults may all be part of the process. But even when parents invite someone else to help educate their children—whether a pastor on Sunday or a schoolteacher on Monday—the parents are still the ones who must make sure their child’s education is sound. A child may have many teachers, but he has only two parents whom God holds accountable for the education (whether good or bad). WHAT IS A GOOD EDUCATION? Jesus is Lord over everything, including math and science and literature and art. As the psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps 24:1; 1 Cor 10:26). That means God’s world is not divided into “sacred” and “secular” spheres, as if the gospel changes how we think about philosophy but has no impact on biology or math. All subjects should be part of a child’s education, but we must ensure they are not learned as if Jesus were irrelevant to the subject matter. For example, are numbers arbitrary constructs of human ingenuity and convenience, or are they representative realities of the inherent order of creation? The difference between these two frameworks cuts the core of what we think knowledge is for. Furthermore, the Christian vision of life and learning has a specific starting place. Put another way, the foundation for a Christian education is the Bible because God has spoken, we can trust him, and his Word works to shape our minds and hearts to engage his world rightly as we discover and cultivate and create. This differs from the foundation (or starting point) of secular philosophies of education, which begin with what man can discover for himself, unaided by divine revelation. This approach, which masquerades under the guise of neutrality, is actually loaded with assumptions about humanity (that we are able to discover truth on our own), about what counts as truth (that only what can be seen, measured, or recorded is true), and about whether virtues, morals, and religious beliefs have any positive role in the holistic formation of a student (hint: they do). WHY DOES EDUCATION MATTER? Every education philosophy has specific goal or purpose, the “so what” of education. For many people education is purely pragmatic: you get an education to get a job to make money to live life. Certainly those are all important, but if that’s all that education is good for, you will have a difficult time convincing an 8 year-old boy why he should care about spelling today when the consequences you are talking about are still more than a decade away. Meanwhile, the Christian vision of education includes the exciting realization that every aspect of learning—down to the smallest detail—is an opportunity to learn more about God and his world. The ultimate telos, or end goal, of Christian education therefore is worship. We educate our children in the hopes that they would grow to know and love God. And this includes teaching them about math and science and history and everything else. Math and chemistry study God’s orderliness and consistency. Science studies of God’s creativity and in creation. History is the story of world events, full of the sins of men and the redeeming providence of God. Spelling studies the wonder of human language, and the capacity for humans to read and write (unlike any other animal). Far from being random facts, these subjects pour the fuel of knowledge onto the fire of worship, engaging our minds and exciting our hearts with thoughts of the God who creates and redeems. WHERE SHOULD I EDUCATE MY CHILDREN? None of what we have said necessarily directs parents to an exclusive course of action when it comes to the well-worn debates about public school vs. private school vs. homeschooling. Simply put, there is no “thou shalt homeschool” from the Lord, and Christian parents have the freedom to utilize any of educational context. At the same time, this doesn’t mean every institution is equally good at educating your children with a comprehensively Christian education. This fact seems equally undeniable. The question parents must ask is this: Is where my child receives his or her education the kind of institution that will instill in them a true vision of life and learning? If it is not, parents must be prepared to equip their children with what is lacking in such contexts. This may mean parents provide supplemental lessons, or at the very least, parents make it a habit to sort through all the material their children are learning at school, correcting what is erroneous and connecting what is good to Christ and his Word. This goes for public school, private school, and even homeschool. Every parent is called by God to help their children learn what is good, right, and true Monday through Sunday.
  • BEAUTY WILL SAVE THE WORLD

    By Doug Ponder on Oct. 17, 2018

    What Culture Is Made Of The three “ingredients” of culture are truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth deals with facts, with the way things are. Goodness speaks to what is morally right, or the way things ought to be. Beauty relates to what is pleasing and to what can be imagined. It’s no surprise that Christians are lovers of truth and goodness. After all, Jesus himself said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Meanwhile the Scriptures are filled with clear words from God about what is good that is to be emulated and upheld, as well as what is evil that is to be avoided and restrained. When it comes to beauty, however, the church has a bit of a rocky relationship. We seem unsure of its role and importance in the Christian life. We’re apathetic about beauty, and we tend to be suspicious of those who call for a consideration of its significance. This mindset has left most Christians with a view of God’s world that works about as well as a two-legged stool. Obviously, the truthfulness of a claim and the goodness of an action are not dependent upon the beauty of either. That is to say, without beauty, truth and goodness are still true and good. There is nothing wrong with those “ingredients.” But without beauty, the cultural “recipe” is incomplete. What Beauty ‘Does’ A man named Blaise Pascal made some important observations along these lines many years ago. He was a Christian thinker whose mind was an unending spring of brilliance and profundity. (Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of him, though. He made his living as a mathematician, and he was a Frenchman by birth, two strikes against him on the count of some.) In his brief essay “The Art of Persuasion,” Pascal wrote, “Every man is almost always led to believe not through proof, but through that which is attractive” (“The Art of Persuasion,” II). He adds, “[T]he mind and the heart are like gateways through which [truths] are received by the soul, but very few enter through the mind...” (“The Art of Persuasion,” V). His claims have driven some to anger and others to fear. They wonder, “Won’t we lose the hard edges of truth and the firm lines of goodness if we reduce our persuasion to that which is appealing?” Make no mistake, Pascal is not arguing for “sugar coating” morality or “watering down” the truth. Rather, he is claiming that all people—whether we like it or not—are mainly led by their passions and not by propositions. You may hate that fact. You may decry that state of affairs. You may diligently labor to demonstrate the truthfulness of the truth apart from beauty. But in all this people will still “believe almost only in the things [they] like” (“The Art of Persuasion,” IV). The Way Forward Emphasizing truth and morality, we have tried to show that the Christian view of the world is reasonable (to the mind) and beneficial (for society). These aims are both good and necessary; we dare not abandon either. Without emphasizing beauty, however, we have failed to show that Christianity is attractive, that it is beautiful. We must not fear the idea that true beauty is an indication of truth and goodness, for God himself designed it this way. After all, he dwells in stunning splendor and clothes himself with awe-inspiring majesty (Job. 37:22). His glory is beyond compare. Moreover, all God’s actions tend to the beautification of his people (Psalm 149:4), the bride of Christ who is arrayed in stain-free gown of dazzling white, adorned with beauty for the return of the long-awaited bridegroom (Rev. 21:2). What this means is that Christians should not only seek to convince others with truth and compel them with morality, but we must also seek to attract with beauty. In other words, in addition to defending Christianity as being both true and good, we must also present it as beautiful—because it is. We’ve got the truth and goodness bit down when it comes to logic and moral laws. What we need is a portrait of truth and goodness as beautiful and compelling as God says it really is. Since God is inherently beautiful, we must be able to speak about him “in spirit and in truth.” What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of the who is Truth-in-the-flesh, Jesus. After all, it is no accident that Jesus himself said his followers would be known not by their truth claims or their righteousness (both of which are important), but by their love for one another (John 13:35). And shortly after Jesus uttered those words, his predictions were already coming true. Roman officials were astonished by the early Christians, not because of their claims to truth and their moral codes of living, but by the beauty of their love for each other. As the early Christians cared for the members of their community, the Roman officials exclaimed, “See how they love each other!” Of course, we ought never abandon the truth of the faith. Jesus really died and rose for us. If that didn’t happen, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the Christian story may be. Secondly, we should never think that God’s moral commands are irrelevant. “So long as we know the truth and we try to love people…” No, that won’t work. God’s commands are not suggestions. They are designed to show us what is good, and they illustrate what a beautiful world would look like. All three of these “ingredients” work together to shape and form us as well as the culture around us. But without beauty, truth and goodness seem cold, callously, rigid, and harsh. What the world needs is to see a community who believes the truth and embraces God’s commands in such a way that it shows the intrinsic beauty of Jesus’ way of life. In this way beauty will save the world.
  • OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (YOUR LIFE IN CHRIST)

    By Doug Ponder on Nov. 14, 2018

    Rolling Stones And Replanted Trees Many have heard the old proverb, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” but not very many seem to misunderstand what it means. Because ours is a highly-transient, always-busy, easily-distracted, instant-gratification culture, most think “a rolling stone gathers no moss” is like saying: “Don’t be lazy.” “Never settle.” “Keep on keeping on.” “Do whatever it takes to reach your goals.” “Never stop.” Yet none of those are even close to the proverb’s actual meaning. We know this because the author compared his proverb to a (then) well-known Latin saying: Saepius plantata arbor fructum profert exiguum, which means, “A tree replanted too often produces little fruit.” In the same way, “A rolling stone gathers no moss” is a not warning against stagnation, but against excessive movement. Now it ought to make us wonder—with sober self-examination—whenever our culture has led us to read into a quote almost exactly its opposite meaning. This is usually a sign that we are blind to something that previous generations clearly saw. To be sure, they had blind spots too, but the revealing power of hindsight has cleared up most of theirs. Our problem is that we act as if they had blind spots while we do not. We love identifying specks in the eyes of our ancestors; yet we do not recognize the log that sticks out of our own (Matt. 7:3). The Transient Life The particular blind spot we are concerned with here is the fruitlessness of the transient life. The transient life is the “here today, gone tomorrow” life, instead of the “here to stay” life. It’s a life spent chasing things that don’t last (like bigger paychecks, fame, recognition, status) instead of pouring time into things that do last (like relationships with God’s people, which will last forever). The transient life is a life that values whatever is taking us away from our neighbors, our friends, and our churches above our those neighbors, friends, and churches. The transient life is lived by someone who relocates every time they are offered a promotion in another city, even if they already make plenty of money. The transient life is lived by people who hop from church to church to church, always looking for something that suits their selfish preferences. They go on searching, but never finding, and eventually they abandon going to church altogether. The transient life is lived by the person who moves from house to house to house, always on the hunt for a bigger home in a “nicer” neighbor—which is usually code for ‘an upper-middle class white neighborhood’ or for more land, far away from people who might actually have needs or make requests of us. The transient life is lived by pastors who move from one congregation to another, which tragically seems always to move in the direction of more people in attendance and more dollars on their pay stubs. The reason the transient life is bad is because it is a fruitless life. It keeps people from putting down roots and staying committed to a specific people for long enough to make a difference. This matters because Jesus did not die to rescue isolated individuals, but to create a new community of people who live for him (Titus 2:14). That truth has many important implications, but one of them is that we must learn to see that the local church is God’s chosen context for our lives. Everything we do is done with a view to how it affects the people in the church where we are members. This makes sense because the church is central to what God is doing in the world (Eph. 3:7-12). The church is the end goal of God’s saving plan. It’s where everything is headed. The church is God’s final destination; it is his eternal home (Eph. 2:19-21). Thus when John wrote about eternity, he talked about the people of God (Rev. 21:1-3). The people are the point! Saved from Fruitlessness Tragically, our sin causes us to view our lives through lens of Me and My. We tend to think about our decisions solely in terms of how they will affect me, increase my opportunities, advance my career, further my enjoyment, give me more travel time, and so on and so on. This is radically different from the salvation that God intends to bring into our lives. He tells us that people whose eyes have been opened by the gospel are people who “no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose for their sake” (2 Cor. 5:15). That’s another way of saying that the gospel changes our focus from Me/My to Jesus and his people. In other words, when God saves us he turns people with rolling stone hearts into firmly planted oaks of righteousness (Isa. 61:3). For example, we begin to ask questions like, “How will my presence affect others? How will my decisions help or hurt the people in my family, my church, and my community? Will spending this money on that thing I don’t really need decrease my chances to be generous with others? How will traveling every weekend or for months at time mean cause relationships with people in my church and my neighborhood to suffer from my absence? Will turning down a promotion in another city give me a chance to keep building on the relationships that God has given me?” These questions sound crazy to a Me/My world, but they don’t sound crazy to people who “no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose for their sake.” Thus God replaces our selfish tendency toward the transient me-focused life with an others-centered rooted life. Instead of the transient life of “here today, gone tomorrow,” the rooted life is “here to stay.” And this rooted life is a reflection of the gospel itself, since the gospel is not a message about a “here today, gone tomorrow” God. Rather, the gospel is a message about the God who is “here to stay,” who never leaves us or forsakes us (Heb. 13:5). The Beauty of a Rooted Life There are many people in our church who have turned down better-paying jobs so that they could keep pouring into relationships with their neighbors, co-workers, friends, and church family members. One man turned down a job that made three times as much as his current salary. Another is leaving his job that would have required him move, and he is taking a lesser paying job so that he can stay. Another man moved his family to Richmond in order to plant their lives in a healthy church, because there were none in their hometown. Because of Jesus, these people are choosing to live the rooted life, to become oaks of righteousness in their church and community, with branches that extend to bless those who are near them. Imagine the kind of impact that people like this will have after decades of faithfulness in the same community and church. Imagine the beauty of friendships that are fifty years old and all that they have shared together as members of the same church and same community. Imagine what it would be like if people who had to move became the rare exception. Imagine the kind of power that this sort of life has before a watching world that is filled with people living the transient life. Imagine’ people who know that a “a tree replanted too often produces little fruit,” and so they make a concerted effort—so far as it depends upon them—to plant their lives in one church and one city in order to grow deep roots and strong branches that will truly bless the lives of others for years and years and years.