Tuesday, July 31, 2012


A while back I started out to review a book on marriage, but somehow got sidetracked into writing about my own marriage (WHAT ABOUT MARRIAGE) which I felt was necessary before beginning to write this review.

The book is Real Marriage; the Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll.  Mark is the pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch in Seattle, which he and Grace started in 1996.

[Actually the reason I chose to read the book is that I was asked to watch the video series of the same name on the internet.  I was informed by friends that it had been of tremendous help in their marriages.  As I couldn’t imagine staring at a computer screen for hours, I decided to buy the book instead.  The fact is that I find sermons a bit boring, especially on a small screen.  With a book, I can pick it up or put it down at my leisure; I can also highlight or mark areas which I want to question or discuss.  And after putting off writing this review for a few weeks, a book is much easier to go back over.  Besides all that, I’m a dinosaur.  I’m more comfortable with a book in my hand than a laptop.]

This book has apparently been of help in many marriages and comes highly recommended by pastors, teachers and authors – 3 pages of enthusiastic blurbs.

The Preface was in some ways encouraging to my skeptical eyes.  It sets the pace for our reading of the book with a series of “don’ts” explaining to us “some ways not to read it.”

Unfortunately, as I read the book, I was drawn back to some of these “don’ts.”
·        “Don’t read as a voyeur trying to figure out our sex life.”  Sorry, but  Mark and Grace reveal so much about their sex life that one doesn’t need to be a voyeur to try to figure it out.  Their story of her shame and his inability to forgive was difficult for me to comprehend.  They freely tell of their sexual activities before marriage, but somehow one act by Grace became a crisis leading to her shame and his unforgiving spirit.
·        “Don’t read as a critic trying to find where you think we might be wrong.”  Again, I’m sorry but that’s the way I read.  I read a book like this as a pastor, teacher and counselor.  I seek to sort out the good from the bad – not just the useless, but that which I feel might be in some way harmful to the undiscerning reader.
·        Some of the other “don’ts” seem to be claims of authority for this book that it doesn’t really have.  This bothers me.
·        I agreed with the final one:  “Don’t copy our methods.  The principles … are more important than the methods.  Principles are timeless and unchanging.  Methods vary … Hold fast to biblical principles and remain flexible and teachable with methods for your marriage.”  A great exhortation to the reader.  However, the authors themselves often fail to make the distinction between biblical principles and simple methods of applying those principles.  And they don’t always make the distinction between biblical principles and those principles derived from other sources.  This failure is one of the great weaknesses of the book.

The first five chapters (Part 1 MARRIAGE) are mostly ramblings, containing personal stories, good advice and a few biblical principles, although one must be careful and “examine the Scriptures … to see whether these things are so” (Acts 17:11).  Some of the handling of biblical texts is downright sloppy.  One example is Grace’s retelling of the story of Esther to picture her as an “example (that) illustrates the repeated command across all Scripture that wives respectfully submit to their husbands” (page 65).  It does no such thing!

It is in Part 2 SEX, that the book comes close to living up to its reputation for both openness and controversy.  It is here, I am told, that it speaks to the present generation.  And certainly, I’d say, it tries to be more open and frank.

Chapter:  Sex:  God, Gross, or Gift? Is probably the best chapter in the book and it does speak well to the present generation which, though saturated with sexual images,  stimuli  and “freedoms” has as many or more hang-ups as my generation.

I did resent the statement that “… one source of the sex-as-gross view is religious and sexually prudish older women who … teach younger women that sex is for husbands and babies but not for personal pleasure” (page 117).  I happen to be married to a “religious” but not “sexually prudish older woman.”  In my personal experience I have found sexual hang-ups just as common among younger people - even the irreligious - who have disconnected sex from love.

Chapters 7 and 8 on abuse and porn are well done and Chapter 9, Selfish Lovers and Servant Lovers, is excellent.  I would strongly disagree, however, with one item in the list “Ways We Are Selfish Lovers” (pages 165-167).  Somehow, to “only have sex when we both feel like it at the same time” does not seem to me to be selfish.  I cannot imagine sex with my wife when either of us did not feel like it.  Apparently this generation has forgotten the concept of “wooing” and “flirting” with one’s spouse.  Of course, sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t.  It is then we must respect the other’s lack of desire.

I have mixed feeling about Chapter 10 Can We ________?  The ageistic prejudices of the authors show in the put-down (disguised as a warning) in the opening paragraphs “If you are older, from a highly conservative religious background, live far away from a major city, do not spend much time on the Internet, or do not have cable television, the odds are that you will want to read this chapter while sitting down, with the medics ready on speed dial” (page 177).  Follow this up with the introduction to 1 Corinthians which begins on the same page.  The list of the Corinthians’ questions mentioned on pages 177 and 178 is pure fiction.

In this chapter are a number of questions regarding sexual activities between a married couple.  The questions are in regard to various sexual practices, many of which might seem normal to some, while to others they might seem downright kinky! 

To each of these activities the authors apply three questions taken from 1 Corinthians 6:12.  These are excellent and I believe should be used in every ethical decision we make, not just in the area of sex.  The questions are:
·        Is it lawful?
·        Is it helpful?
·        Is it enslaving?

However, if I may, I’d like to add some comments from an older generation’s perspective.
·        First, love must be the prevailing motive.  As the previous chapter makes clear, we are to be servant lovers.  Many of these activities will be seen as at best distasteful to one (if not both) of the partners.  If so, they should be off the table (or to be accurate, the bed).
·        Secondly, though variety may spice up our sexual activity, it should not be our main goal.  Sooner or later, everything becomes old hat.  Do the math.  If a couple has sex only twice a week, by the time they have been married for 20 years, they will have had sex 20x52x2=2080 times!  There’s bound to be some repetition.
·        Sometimes the familiar is the most comforting and pleasurable.
·        I fear that variety itself could be enslaving and desire for it could lead to seeking it elsewhere.

The last chapter (11) is entitled:  “Reverse Engineering Your Life and Marriage.”  This one seemed to me to be rather bizarre.  It involves homework (Mark gives it to Grace, of course) and questions about various issues in marriage, looking back over a couple’s marriage.  This is to me just a series of useless exercises and can become a form of legalism.  As Uni and I look back from near the last days of our lives and marriage, we have no regrets that we have spent little time making lists.  (We have spent a lot of time talking; why make lists? - Uni)

So, now as I look back over what I have written I have to ask if I would recommend this book.

Well not to the ones it is apparently written for – those with troubled marriages.  While some portions of it would definitely be helpful, others might add to the confusion.  I would recommend the book with reservations to those whose marriages are not troubled and who are also able to discern what is biblical and what is not and what is wise and what is not.

It is difficult to argue with the successes claimed for this book and the video series.  However, I do know that the Holy Spirit is able to take our flawed efforts and use them for God’s glory.  If He has done this in those successful marriages claimed, then so be it.  To Him be the glory!

If anyone desires to read more of my thoughts on these matters, simply click on the words “love” and “marriage” in the topics column of this blog.

Friday, July 27, 2012


A fragment of an ancient manuscript, probably dating back to the 1st century, has recently been discovered, which contains a large portion of the ancient New Testament epistle of James – the first 13 verses of the second chapter.  However, this manuscript differs considerably from all other copies of James’ epistle, in that other words are interspersed among the words of the canonical epistle.  It appears that while our canonical epistle contains only the words of James himself, this newly discovered document also has the words of the persons whom James is addressing.  It seems to be a dialog and I will attempt to translate it below as such.  Though it seems clear who the parties are in the dialog, I have labeled the two speakers with a Jas for James and an Int for interlocutor.

Jas:  “My brothers don’t have your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with favoritism” (verse 1).

Int:  “We agree brother James, favoritism is a no-no.  It would be incompatible with that Law of Love that Jesus was always talking about.”

Jas:  “For if a man wearing gold rings and flashy clothes enters into your assembly … (verse 2a),

Int:  “Ah, yes, brother James.  Doesn’t happen often.  You know, those rich folks are very busy people.  But when it does happen we will be sure to show him the love of Jesus.  We’ll actually love him more than ourselves.”

Jas: “… and a poor man wearing filthy clothes also enters” (verse 2b),

Int:  “Yes, that does happen.  You know our assembly isn’t located in exactly the best neighborhood.”

Jas:  “and you look at the one wearing the flashy clothes and you say, ‘You sit here in a good place’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there’ or “You sit here under my footstool” (verse 3),

Int:  “Yes, yes!”  That’s exactly what we’d do.  You can never be too careful about people like that filthy smelly guy.  We get quite a few of those.  You have to put them somewhere you can keep your eye on them.”

Jas:  “haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?”  (verse 4)

Int:  “James, you apparently don’t understand.  That rich guy deserves preferential treatment.  After all, he earned his money.  He worked hard for it!  And we here in this assembly can sure benefit from a guy like that.  We’re not the wealthiest congregation you know.  We could use a little trickle down.  And as for that poor guy, for one thing he could clean up a little to come to church.  Soap is cheap!  And besides he probably doesn’t even have a job.  Lazy.  Probably on drugs.  Welfare.  Food stamps.  He looks like he could even be an illegal!  If he doesn’t like where we tell him to sit, he can just find another place to worship – with his own kind.”

Jas:  “Listen my beloved brothers, didn’t God choose the poor of the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor!”  (verses 5, 6a)

Int:  “I thought that that just meant the spiritually poor.  You know, those people who know they need Jesus.  I don’t think that means worthless people like this guy.  We’d never dishonor someone who’s really spiritually poor.”

Jas:  “Aren’t the rich the ones who oppress you and personally haul you into court?”  (verse 6b)

Int:  “I wouldn’t call their actions oppression.  And those of us who get hauled into court probably deserve it!”

Jas:  “Don’t they blaspheme the beautiful Name that is called on you?”  (verse 7)

Int:  “Well, yes – but aren’t we supposed to love them as ourselves like Jesus said?  Aren’t we fulfilling His Royal Law?”

Jas:  “If you really fulfill the Royal Law according to the Scripture, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself, you’re doing fine.       But if you practice favoritism, you’re committing sin and are convicted by the Law as transgressors” (verses 8, 9).

Int:  “I don’t understand.  I did love the rich guy as myself.  Isn’t that enough?  Do you
expect me to treat that other worthless bum in the same way?  Aren’t there limits to this love business?”

Jas:  “For whoever keeps the whole Law, but stumbles in one point has become guilty of the whole thing.  (For He who said, ‘Don’t commit adultery’ also said, ‘Don’t commit murder!’  Now if you don’t commit adultery, but do commit murder, you’ve become a transgressor of the Law) (verses 10, 11).

Int:  “Let me get this straight.  You’re saying that the Law of Love is kind of like the Law of Moses.  If those under that Law broke one rule they were guilty of breaking the whole thing.  Are you saying that if I don’t love every person I meet in the same way that I showed love to that rich guy, I’m guilty of breaking the Law of Love?   Wow!  That’s bizarre!”

Jas:  “So speak and behave as those who are going to be judged according to the Law of Freedom!        For judgment is merciless to the one who didn’t show mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment” (verses 12, 13).

Along with this discovery there was also a smaller fragment containing a few more verses, with the same format.

Jas:  “If a brother or sister is without clothes and in need of daily food …” (verse 15).

Int:  “I’d say to him, ‘Get a job!  Then you can feed and clothe yourself!  Why should you come to me?’  God helps those who help themselves.”

Jas:  “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and fed and you don’t give them what they need for their body, what good is that?”  (verse 16).

Int:  “Like I said … “

The remainder of the fragment is missing.  However, now that this document is published, it should change our thinking about how to deal with the “poor.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


When I taught theology in college, I would attempt to illustrate a theological system by drawing a suitcase on the board.  (Those were the days before PowerPoint.)  The suitcase, I would explain to my students, represented our theological system.  In it we would try to “pack” in a neat order, all of our essential clothing – biblical and other necessary data.

Unfortunately, however, the suitcase seems never to be able to contain all the articles of clothing.  So I would then draw a sock or two (or three), a pair of boxer shorts, a necktie, all hanging from the closed suitcase.

“What do we do?” I would inquire.  “You want all these items packed for your trip.”

One answer might be, “Open it up and repack it!”

So with a few swipes of the eraser I’d wipe out the offending articles.  Then I’d immediately draw some different ones hanging out in other places.  “Looks like it didn’t work.  When we get these all packed in, others pop out.  What next?”

Another reply would be, “Just take out those items that don’t fit and leave them home.  You can probably get along without them.”

“But if I open it again, other things might fall out,” I’d reply.

The discussion would continue, but when I saw that it might be getting boring, I’d draw a pair of scissors and with my eraser, snip off the protuberances.  “There!” I’d exclaim.

I’d then explain that many of us build our theological systems in the same way that we pack our suitcases.  As we study Scripture and as we observe the world around us, we are confronted with massive amounts of data, which we attempt to fit into our worldview or theological system.  But it doesn’t all seem to fit!  There always appear to be loose ends – some Scriptures or some of the events we observe around us.  So we may open up our system for reexamination, but often when we resolve some mystery or reconcile some seeming contradiction, other questions appear.

So what do we do?

We can leave out those items that “don’t fit”; we can simply ignore those questions that trouble us and behave as though they did not exist.  From my lifetime of study, reading and observation, I’ve come to the conclusion that those nice neatly packed systems do just that – the systems that claim to have all the answers.  Not just the heresies but even “orthodox” systems such as Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology.

We can continue “packing” and “repacking,” recognizing that we’ll never be able to get all our stuff in.  I believe this is something we ought to do regularly.  We must continually examine and reexamine our systems and our interpretation in the light of the Scriptures.

But I believe we need to learn to be content with those loose ends.  We need to recognize our ignorance.  And not ours only, but the ignorance of those experts on whom we are tempted to rely.

Last week, we were confronted with a horrible evil, the mass murder that occurred in a theater in Aurora, CO.

A well armed and armored gunman entered the theater, massacred 12 people and critically wounded many others.  This happened within 15 years and 15 miles of a mass shooting in a school and just short of a year after a massacre of 70 young people in Norway.

At the same time that we were mourning over the horrors of that night, we comforted ourselves with the reports of great acts of heroism.  Young men died when they deliberately shielded their friends and girlfriends from the killer’s bullets; a teenage girl attempted desperately to give CPR to a dying child.  These are just normal human beings who somehow exercised great courage.  Was the perpetrator of the crimes also just a normal human being?

The news media, as well as the social media, were filled not only with attempts to explain the actual events that occurred, but also with attempts to explain why these events occurred.  I need not review what was said.  I couldn’t.  So many comments by so many – some wise, some downright foolish.

And we realize that the events in Aurora are not unique.  Events such as these occur almost daily somewhere in the world:  In Syria, Iraq and other war-torn nations in the middle east or Africa; in our larger American cities:  Chicago and New Orleans.  Nowhere is there safety.  Everywhere there is violence.

So how do we who are believers fit all these things into our system of belief?  How do we “pack our suitcase”?

We believe that God is sovereign, that He is all powerful, that nothing that occurs is out of His control.  We also believe that God is good, that He is love.  We believe what Paul says, “We know that to those who love God, He works all things together for good, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  And these horrible events continue to occur.  Evil exists!

I had planned to write something here about evil, about the fall, about the nature of humankind, created in God’s image and fallen yet retaining something of that image.  That would help get the suitcase a little more neatly packed.

Yet I realize that even if I did so (and I’ve done it many times), there would still be articles hanging out of the suitcase.  There always will be – at least until the Lord returns.  As Paul says in his great love poem, “Now I know in part, but then I will fully know, just as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12b).

As for those matters we do not and will not understand, faith allows us to live with them.  We believe because of the truths we know, those that are clear to us.  And faith allows us, even forces us, to trust where matters are not that clear.

I want to thank the members of the Beholders’ Sunday school class for the insights on these matters that were shared this past Sunday.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I saw a movie a while back called The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, based on an actual event that occurred in the late 19th century.  As I pondered the present situation in our country, I couldn’t help but notice some parallels and contrasts between the two situations.

The original story as I recall it goes something like this:

Jesse James and his gang were running out of places to rob in his home state of Missouri.  Add to that the fact that Jesse’s reputation as a great Robin Hood sort of hero was getting a bit tarnished.  People were getting somewhat weary of losing their hard-earned savings as well as friends and family members who happened to be collateral damage during Jesse and company’s exploits.

The James brothers along with the Younger brothers and their combined associates decided it was time to expand their enterprises into the northern states.  It came to their knowledge that the quiet town of Northfield, Minnesota had a number of banks just awaiting their business.  What’s more, the town and its environs were populated with peace-loving farmers who would undoubtedly be unable and uninclined to resist the gang’s efforts.

So the gang came riding furiously into the peaceful town with six-guns blazing and proceeded to go about their trade of plundering and murder.

However, the outlaws had underestimated the good German and Scandinavian farmers of the town and its surroundings.  These sturdy folks did not consider Jesse and company as Robin Hoods, but as robbing hoods.  They grabbed their shotguns and hunting rifles and anything else they could find and set up a heavy resistance, such as the James gang had never encountered.

Anyway when the smoke cleared, the gang was (literally) decimated.  A number were killed, others captured (some to be hanged later).  Jesse and his brother Frank slunk off in defeat, Jesse himself dressed as a woman.  (According to the movie, he murdered a sweet sympathetic old lady to acquire this disguise.)

In today’s version as I would imagine it, matters are a bit different.

Jesse James, his family and associates are respected citizens of Northfield.  They are engaged, however, in a similar business.  Only now Jesse James owns the banks.  He still plunders people of their life’s savings, but he does so in a less violent fashion.  He forces the farmers off their farms and throws people out of their homes.  He doesn’t do an awful lot of shooting and killing.  The economy does not look good for Northfield, however.  People are homeless and wander the streets begging.

The good citizens of Northfield are concerned.  But they do not take up arms.  They have elected a City Council to attend to these matters.  The council and the newly elected Mayor act swiftly.  They reach into the tax coffers and donate the funds to the banks.  Mr. James and his associates, in gratitude to the people of Northfield, take a great amount of this money for themselves as performance bonuses for their hard work.

Somehow, the townspeople do not understand and complain that the members of the Council have not done enough.  The Council, of course, blames the Mayor, who in turns blames them.  The Council decides to hold a series of hearings and invite Mr. James and associates.  Many people assume that the Council will treat the bankers harshly, which of course, the Council could not do.  After all, they’re not a group of 19th century farmers!

So at the hearing the Council members question Mr. James as to what can be done to spur the economy of Northfield.

Council:  “Mr. James – do you mind if we call you Jesse?  A number of the good people of Northfield feel that you and your associates are at least partially to blame for our present slump.”

Jesse James:  “Yes, you may call me Jesse.  All my friends do (especially those to whose reelection funds I have contributed).  I am deeply saddened by the feelings of some malcontents in the community who seem to be engaging in class warfare.”

Council:  “Some of our constituents – those whom you’d refer to as malcontents – are actually saying some radical things, such as that you and your associates should actually pay taxes.”

Jesse James:  “As you know, I and my associates have contributed a great deal to the community.  (Wink)  I actually like to think of myself as a ‘job creator.’  After all, some businesses have actually been hiring of late.  The coffin factory has done quite well.  I saw an ad posted for funeral directors.  The soup kitchen is just bursting at the seams.  And those little buckets that the beggars use – I actually am working on a contract to have them imported from China.”

Council:  “Jesse, uh Mr. James, we apologize if anything we’ve said has been perceived as hurtful to you and your family.  What do you feel we, as a Council can do to make things better for you and your business?”

Jesse James:  “Well, there’s one thing I believe that needs to be taken care of.  There are just too many regulations!  Just think about it.  If I didn’t have to contend with all these rules I could go about my business in a much more efficient manner.  I wouldn’t have to worry about whom and when I could kill or whom and when I could rob.  And I wouldn’t have to hire all those lawyers.”

Council:  “Thank you Jesse for your time.  We know you’re a busy man, while we have very little to do except get ourselves reelected.”

Jesse James:  “I’ll see how I can help with that.”  (Wink)

And so the people of Northfield reelected their Council and everyone lived happily ever after.

(NOTE:  My apologies to the good people of Northfield, Minnesota and to those readers who don’t appreciate my attempts at satire.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


A story from the past came to mind this morning while Uni and I were discussing some Scripture passages related to suffering and while we were praying for some friends who are undergoing cancer treatment.  The incident occurred while I was serving as a volunteer chaplain in the hospital in a small city in central Texas about 25 or so years ago.  (See:  MY FRIEND.)  Please pardon me if some of the details are less than clear and accurate.

As I entered a floor I would first stop at the nurses’ station to inquire as to where my services were most needed.  On this day I was told that I definitely needed to visit a lady in the room right across the hall from the station.  (I can’t remember her name or the room number.)

“What’s her problem?” I inquired.

“Just go in and see her,” the head nurse replied.  The other nurses nodded in agreement, with solemn expressions on their faces.

So I walked into the room, where an elderly lady lay flat on her back in her bed.  As I recall, she seemed to be of great age and her body was thin and immobile.  I did not know what her affliction was.

“Hello,” I said.  “My name is Bill Ball.  I’m the hospital chaplain.  Is there anything I can do for you?”  As she didn’t answer immediately, I asked if she had any need that I could pray for.

She slowly and with what appeared to be great pain, turned her head slightly toward me.  And she smiled – a great, genuine, pleasant smile.  She spoke slowly and carefully in her weak creaky voice.

“God is so good to me!” were the first words out of her mouth.  “The people here have been so kind; the doctors and the nurses have been just so helpful and kind.  They’ve treated me so well.  It’s so pleasant here.”  She continued relating the pleasantness of her stay in the hospital and of the goodness of God.  She told how God had been with her for most of her many years and how He had never failed her.  I stayed in the room for quite a while, though I never did ascertain what her affliction was.  I prayed with her and thanked the Father for allowing me to have this wonderful lady enter into my life.

As I walked out of the room, tears trickling down my cheeks, I glanced over at the nurses’ station where I saw the nurses watching with big grins on their faces.  Some were even snickering.

“Y’all set me up, didn’t you?” I asked.  “You knew that was going to happen. “  They just looked back at me with a feigned ignorance.

“Thanks!” I said.  “I needed that.” (I really did.)

I’ve dealt with many suffering people - people who’ve felt pain and pains of many kinds.  I’ve seen all sorts of different reactions, but none as beautiful as that of this dear saint.  Many have questioned the goodness of a God who would allow suffering.  I haven’t always had a pat answer.  I’ve not suffered much.  It seems that we expect God to protect us from any kind of pain.  And when it comes we ask why.

But this sweet lady not only accepted her suffering without questions, she actually seemed to delight in it.  Not in the suffering itself, but in all that she had gained while suffering.

The passage I had been reading that brought this story to mind was Philippians 1:29, where Paul tells his readers, “ … to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for Him.”  The Greek word translated “granted” is CHARITOO, which is related to CHARIS, “grace.”

That brought to mind a passage in 1 Peter, where Peter speaks to servants about submission to their masters, both the good and the bad.  What he counsels them seems quite strange to us:  “For this is grace (CHARIS) if for the sake of conscience toward God, one bears grief, though suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it you endure when you sin and are beaten?  But if you endure when you do good and suffer, this is grace in the presence of God!” (1 Peter 2:19, 20)

When we think of God’s grace, we usually think of His saving us through the death of His Son, or of His day-to-day grace as seen in all the good things that happen to us.  But both Paul and Peter agree that God’s grace is also seen in the suffering He allows (or brings?) in our lives.

The lady whose name I can’t remember was an example and a demonstration of God’s grace.  I believe that that day she taught me – and a few nurses – a bit more about what grace really is.

Friday, July 13, 2012


I started out to review a popular book I had recently read on marriage.  I have been teaching a Bible class on man/woman relationships in the Bible.  Uni and I have recently been giving informal counsel to some friends and I have also been doing premarital counseling with a couple at whose wedding I am to officiate.  So I thought this was an appropriate time to read and review the book.  However, before I could begin, I felt I needed to say a few words about where I’m coming from.

Uni and I have been married for nearly 56 years and have been close friends for nearly 59.  We got married before all the self-help books were popular.  Books on marriage were few and Christian books on marriage were, as far as I know, nonexistent.  There were few marriage seminars and no marriage retreats or marriage classes to prepare us.  We did, however, attend a three session class presented by the YMCA.  Otherwise, we just leaped into marriage as two teenagers in love.

Our marriage somehow lasted and we raised two reasonably normal kids, both of whom were born before our 22nd birthdays.  We struggled, financially and otherwise.  We fought.  We made plenty of mistakes.  (And we still do – all of the above – though a lot less than we used to.)

Yet I can honestly say that I don’t think there is or has been a better, happier marriage than ours.  At least none that I know of.

We still have never attended any of those weekend marriage seminars, and the only marriage retreats we attended were when I was the main speaker.  Although I did take Howard Hendricks’ class on the Christian home when I attended seminary -- of course, by that time we had been married for 20 years.

We’ve read very few books on marriage and those we did were primarily to learn what others were thinking.  Not that we didn’t find some of them useful.  But most could be subtitled, “This works for us, so it should work for you.”  Most are some combination of biblical principles (often out of context), practical advice, common sense (all too uncommon), the latest in pop psychology and the authors’ personal experiences.

So how can a couple who are deeply skeptical, almost cynical about all the marriage data out there have such a terrific marriage?  I have no simple answers, no “seven easy steps”; if I did I’d write my own book.  But here are a few thoughts.

The Bible has been our primary textbook, not only on marriage, but on every aspect of life.  If the experts have anything correct and helpful to tell us, it is in some way derived from, or at least in agreement with, the Scriptures.  As Uni has often commented, people wouldn’t need to read so many how-to books if they’d just read their Bibles.”

Of course, the Scriptures must be studied and correctly interpreted.  The Bible is not just a treasury of verses to be mined for whatever the situation requires.  It is a textbook for living.  The passages having to do with marriage are all found in a greater context.  To tear out a few verses to use as “proof texts” is, I believe, to do violence to their original meanings.

For instance, Paul’s commands to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5:22-33 are part of the greater context of the filling of the Spirit (verse 8) and its accompanying characteristics, which itself is in the greater context of the behavior that Paul calls a “walk,” “worthy of the calling with which you’ve been called” (4:1).  In other words, the behavior of those chosen by God and redeemed by the Son (1:3-8).

When Peter gives his instructions on the behavior of wives and husbands in 1 Peter 3:1-7, he is giving specifics of his command to “keep your behavior excellent (or beautiful) among the Gentiles” (2:12).  When he writes of wifely submission it is in the context of this behavior and his great illustration is the submission of Christ Himself (2:21).

I could go on.  But I must give credit to my wife Uni.  Her example changed my thinking, attitudes and behavior.  It wasn’t just her keeping of certain biblical “rules,” but her living out the life of Christ as she saw it in the Scriptures.  She has been reading through that book over and over for more than 60 years and it shows.

We must also live out our husband/wife relationships as an aspect of the greater demands of Christ.  He is the Lord of our lives and He demands total allegiance.  I’m not saying that Uni and I are there yet, but our “success” is directly proportional to the depth of that commitment.  When Jesus demanded of His disciples that they love Him more than any other human relationship, He meant it (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26)!  As I have said many times before, if my wife did not love Jesus more than she loves me, she would not love me as much as she does.

And then there’s the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” repeated over and over by Jesus and the apostles.  As Paul said, this is the summation of all law (Romans 13:8-10).  Our marital love for each other is one aspect of that love.

There are of course, many more things that I could say and have said.  But I believe marital relations are a lot simpler than we recognize.

I guess I’ll have to write the review of the book later.

Also see:
            WHAT IS LOVE?
            I LOVE YOU LORD

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I received the following comment on my previous post by e-mail:

Have finished reading your comments on 'taking a stand.'  I found it interesting; however, I believe that this when done in a public way is wrong because it tries to change someone’s behaviour while forgetting that many do not hold the same precepts as you. Thus, any moralising that is public to people of all beliefs should be conducted in a secular format because everyone is arguing from same fundamentals such as scientific laws.”

This is my reply:  I think you and perhaps others may have misunderstood my previous post, so I’ll try to clarify.

I have not forgotten that many do not hold the same precepts as I do.  But if you’ll notice, I was speaking of what I referred to as “a huge deficiency in evangelical Christian thinking, behavior and preaching.”  In other words, I was speaking to a particular audience.

We, who are, or claim to be Christians, have a common frame of reference – the Bible, which we believe is the Word of God.  This, especially the New Testament, is to be the basis for our ethics.  And this can be boiled down to one law, quoted over and over by Jesus and the New Testament writers.  As the Apostle Paul summed up in Romans 13:8-10:

“Owe no one anything except to love one another; for the one who loves the other has fulfilled the Law.
For this:  ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there’s any other commandment, it’s summed up in this one, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Love does not do wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

When I criticized the vengeance, greed and slander that I see practiced by Christians, I have a biblical basis for doing so.  And you’ll notice that I include myself in this criticism.

I also made the observation that, “There are those who do not even profess faith, who sometimes have a greater sense of right and wrong than those who do.”  I recognize that there are those who hold to similar ethical standards as Christians even though the derivation claimed for these standards may be radically different than ours.  Were I attempting to moralize “to people of all beliefs,” I would undoubtedly seek some common ground or grounds, whether religious or secular.  However, this was not my intent.

As for “everyone arguing from fundamentals such as scientific laws,” I believe this is an impossibility, for a number of reasons, the first being that we don’t all hold to the same fundamentals as standards for conduct.  As I stated above, Christian ethics are derived from different sources than non-Christian ethics.

And “scientific laws” can only tell us the way things are; they do not tell us the way things ought to be.  Though they may tell us why we behave as we do, they cannot tell us how we should behave.  As has been said before, we cannot derive an “ought” from an “is.”

I hope we can continue this conversation.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Calvin Coolidge, our 29th president was known as a man of few words – very few!  Probably the most famous story (probably apocryphal) about “Silent Cal” concerned his attendance at church alone one Sunday when his wife was unable to go.  When he returned, she asked if he had enjoyed the preacher’s sermon.
            “Yes,” he replied.”
            “And what was it about?” she asked.
            “But what did he say?”
            “He was against it!”
(Presidential Anecdotes by Paul F. Boller, Jr.)

On my previous post I quoted my friend’s question about my thoughts on people cheering when persons are found guilty or executed for their crimes.  He asked, “Should the church be taking a stand on this behavior?”  I replied that I’d “think on this one a while.”

To be truthful, for years I have shied away from the idea of “taking a stand.”  I spent my late teens and my twenties in a church where this was a well-worn expression.  Stands were taken against all sorts of activities:  drinking; smoking; make-up; movies; rock and roll music; and, dancing.  Many of these were perceived as “worldly” and leading to “fornication.”  (Ironically, with so many activities forbidden, sex in a parked car was about all there was left for teenagers to do for fun.)

Sadly, though the Bible was preached and these worldly activities proscribed, there was little teaching about sin itself.  We were so busy trying to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV) that we didn’t really try to understand evil itself.  Or avoid it.

Then we (Uni and I and our family) were liberated from this by a geographical move.  We found a church where the Bible was clearly taught and where our freedom in Christ was taught.  Our new church was not concerned about “taking a stand.”  We grew in grace and knowledge.  I went to seminary and entered the ministry.

Yet there were always those who took stands and felt that a stand needed to be taken on some matter or another.  There were issues to be dealt with.  Only it seems that these later stands were becoming more and more politicized.

Sadly, though the churches, with which I have been involved in my later years, were an improvement in many ways over the church of my teens, they all, even the ones I pastored, suffer from the same lack.  And I’d suggest that this lack is common throughout the church.

We hesitate to behave and preach like Calvin Coolidge’s pastor.  We don’t take a stand on sin!  At least not about the sin or sins that we are guilty of.

Vengeance – the one that seems to be the springboard for the last post.  Over and over we are told in the New Testament that personal vengeance is sin.  Paul exhorts his readers over and over to put it aside and rather forgive.  Jesus even said we are to love our enemies.  There’s no place for cheering whey they get theirs!

Greed – that which has brought our nation down.  Again in the Bible we are told over and over of its evils.  Yet we keep living under its control.

Slander and gossip – e-mails, Facebook, Twitter, all have become vehicles for passing on malicious and hateful lies about people we don’t like.

I’m not planning on starting a new list of “The Seven Deadly Sins.”  That’s not my goal.  What I am trying to do is point out what I believe is a huge deficiency in Evangelical Christian thinking, behavior and preaching.

Our modern Christianity is about self-improvement.  The teaching we give and receive may or may not come directly from the pages of the Bible.  But it’s softened!

So my answer to the question is Yes.  The church should “take a stand” on the behaviors mentioned as well as others.  They should be condemned from our pulpits, discussed in our Bible studies and in our books and our blogs.  And we need to particularly examine our own lives regarding these things.

Perhaps this sounds harsh and judgmental to our modern ears.  But sometimes we need to be told that some behavior is just flat wrong!  There are at least two very real dangers that cannot be avoided if we don’t call sin sin!

·        First, if we do not understand there is something wrong we can never take steps to correct it.  We can become like those spoiled kids who are in the cart in front of us at the supermarket checkout.  The mother hasn’t a clue what to do when the child throws a fit for something he or she wants.  The mother can’t say “NO!”  And the child is miserable.
·        Secondly, the world is watching.  There are those who do not even profess faith, who sometimes have a greater sense of right and wrong than those who do.  And as Paul said to the Jews of his day so it can be true of us, “The name of God is slandered among the nations because of you!” (Romans 2:24)