Covenant Vows

A covenant is a binding agreement. Our world acknowledges a myriad of secular covenants, particularly in the financial realm. Financial covenants, like a mortgage or business partnership, aren’t to be entered lightly, and it is good that there are serious consequences to those who break such financially binding agreements. Economies can fail when parties default on such agreements, particularly en masse.

Secular covenants give us a tiny glimpse of the importance of spiritual covenants. The covenant vows of Christian marriage are a serious thing. We stand before God, friends and family as our witnesses, and repeat vows to another person. In sickness and in health. For richer and for poorer. Til death do us part. The ordained minister of the gospel speaks a final word of blessing and warning, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

But in the 1970’s California became the first state to pass no fault divorce laws. What God had joined together became much easier for man to put asunder without Biblical cause or process. Soon, believers who benefit from God’s faithful covenant with themselves began taking advantage as much as unbelievers of the government’s easy path to undo such covenant vows.

Marriage vows are not the only covenants we make with another. My denomination takes the vow of church membership quite seriously. I covenant with pastors, elders, and other church members to pursue the purity and peace of my church. I covenant with them that they can count on me, and they in return covenant that I can count on them.

I’ve made covenant vows to my children as well. When I chose to bring them into this world and not give them up for adoption, I committed, at least in God’s and the government’s sight, to protect and provide for them. My commitment to my children feels a lot like God’s to Abraham in Genesis 12-17. God took both sides of the vow with Abraham. He would fulfill His covenant with Abraham because God was faithful, not because Abraham was. Similarly, I bear the heaviest weight of my covenant with my children. They may rebel, but I will remain their mother. They may run from me, but I will pursue them nonetheless. To do less would be to abdicate my responsibilities in their lives.

We tend to make covenant vows, particularly the marriage kind, in the filtered sunlight of a warm (but not hot) spring day. We make them as the sun shines and the flowers bloom. Loved ones smile warmly around us. And the ones with whom we are entering covenant welcome us toward them.

But the shining starts of our covenants aren’t the point of these covenants. They aren’t the reason for these covenants. The vows we make in front of God and family in our white dresses and tuxes, with filtered spring sunlight illuminating our pictures, aren’t for these days. The sweet days of filtered sunlight and happy smiles don’t require binding agreements to keep folks together. No one has to twist your arm to love your spouse, care for your child, or persevere with your church on such beautiful days glowing with the warmth of new hope and promise for the future. No, covenants aren’t for those days at all.

Covenants are for storms.

Covenants are for deserts.

Covenants are for drought.

Covenants are for prison.

Covenants are for pain.

I had a medical procedure recently that eventually required morphine. I tried to be strong. I wanted to avoid narcotics and the side effects they cause me. But, I couldn’t endure the pain of the procedure. I kept physically moving away from the pain, a natural response. I needed something to help me endure.

It is natural to move away from pain, be it physical pain from a medical procedure, or spiritual/emotional pain from a relationship. The role of covenant vows is to keep us from breaking faith when pain threatens our relationships, when we are naturally tempted to move away and avoid. Societies can not function with the breaking of vows. Neither can our churches or homes. This is why our government has laws for defaulting on a contract. Our economy would fail if folks could default on mortgages or break agreements in a business without consequences. When the going gets rough, we need incentive for following through with our commitments.

In Christian relationships, particularly in the home and church, covenant vows serve a serious, necessary purpose. They call us to stay engaged, work through problems, persevere, and look for solutions. They call us to do it not just for a week or a month, but for a lifetime. Moving away from pain is natural. Writing others off who cause such pain is the easy way out. For a season. But such avoidance is devastating to societies, it’s devastating to homes, and it’s devastating to churches.

In a society that tells you to take the path that leads you away from pain, I want to encourage you that if you’ve made a covenant vow to someone, you, your family, and your church will be better off if you can stay engaged. During my medical procedure, the issue causing the pain had to be addressed. Avoidance of pain was possible. But avoidance of pain without dealing with the underlying issues that caused the pain would have led to far worse consequences.

Doing the hard work of staying engaged in a painful relationship isn’t easy.1 It requires perseverance. It requires spiritual nourishment. It requires confidence in a worthy finish line despite the dehydration, painful blisters, and debilitating muscle cramps along the way of the marathon to get there. It requires hope in something better that gives perspective to the pain of current days. God instituted binding covenant vows to help us stay engaged in such times.

If a man or woman’s word is their bond, then vows made to others before God, friends, and family become the safety net keeping us from breaking faith when pain and struggle leave us weary, without energy to persevere. In those moments, don’t look longingly for escape from the vows. Remember that faithfulness to vows are how successful societies function. Others may break their vows to us, but by God’s grace, we won’t break ours to them. We pursue the good of the community over what seems the good of self. And you know why that works in the Christian community? Because ultimately, individuals flourish when communities flourish. Satan whispers that there is peace in freedom from hard relationships with others. And in some sense there is–for a season. But Satan doesn’t also whisper to you the caveats, the consequences that follow the temporary refreshment of freedom. Breaking faith with others comes with deep, harmful consequences – to societies, to churches, to families, and to you the individual.

Persevering in covenant vows has upfront costs. It requires death to self and endurance through pain. But it has long term rewards, for our children and grandchildren, for our churches and those who come after it in our pews. And know it has long term rewards for you as well. When your family, church, and society flourish, you will too!

We were made in the image of our God, a God who makes covenants and follows through on them every last time. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:13, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” We were created in His image, and it is worth meditating on what His faithfulness in hard relationships means for our own. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

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1 I am not dealing here with issues of domestic violence or abuse. If you or your children are not safe, no relationship can flourish. Your first priority is getting to a safe place. If you need help getting out of a physically abusive situation, I recommend contacting the folks at giveherwings.com.

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Encouraging Obedience in Community: Thoughts on #Revoice18

Folks are gathering in St. Louis this weekend for a new conference for gay and same-sex attracted Christians intent on obeying the historic Christian understanding of sex and marriage. But it has not been without controversy from both sides of the aisle. Current debate from conservatives around the Revoice conference has centered on the morality not of homosexual acts but of homosexual temptation and orientation. Is homosexual temptation itself sinful even if you hold to and obey a historic Christian understanding of sex and marriage between a man and a woman? And what does it mean to be gay if not that you are sexually attracted to your own biological sex?

Debaters I’ve read all agree on putting off homosexual sexual practice. But do the “put off” instructions in Scripture apply to temptations as well as acts? Can you put off temptation to sin? And what do you put on in place of homosexual temptation if God does not replace homosexual attraction with heterosexual attraction?

If nothing else, the debate has shown that the words—temptation, attraction, desire, and love—are defined and used differently even among folks seemingly on the same “side.” But the Bible itself particularly uses the words temptation and love in different ways, so this wrestling over meaning of terms is not surprising.

The debate online often gets into categories hard for the average person in the pew to follow. One shouldn’t have to have a M.Div. to either give or receive truth from Scripture on this topic. Having walked with several close friends through this issue—some holding on to the historic understanding of sex and marriage, others abandoning it, and none having a masters level understanding of theology—I have a vested interest in seeing this handled well in local congregations, among non seminary trained believers that make up the majority of our local churches. I have witnessed many stumbling blocks in the form of careless words and dehumanizing mischaracterizations put in front of Christians who experience same-sex attraction as they struggle to find their place in God’s kingdom. We need to make sure that any weights that come from our words are the weights associated with the true cost of obedience to Scripture, not additional weights we have added because we don’t think Scripture goes far enough in its prohibitions. With that in mind, I hope to offer here some helpful Scriptural parameters for thinking through a topic that has serious implications for many dear brothers and sisters in the faith.

Setting the Parameters

Scripture teaches us much about temptation and persevering against sin. When we survey Scripture on the topic, we have necessary parameters for the discussion, but we aren’t left with the systematic clarity that some would like. It’s important then, as we give testimony of how God has helped us individually persevere against heterosexual or homosexual temptation to sin (or any other sin), not to allow our personal experience to add a dogmatism to things Scripture doesn’t explicitly say. Just because God worked in a particular person a particular way doesn’t mean He will work identically in the next person experiencing similar temptation. Unless Scripture explicitly says He will.

The first Scriptural parameter is that we are required to love the soul struggling to persevere in a historic Christian understanding of prohibitions on any sin, including homosexual practice. Loving our neighbors as ourselves means in part thinking through what would encourage us to persevere in faith and obedience to Scripture in a temptation whose persistence in our lives becomes a trial of faith. That is the commanded starting point Christ taught in the gospels, on which all further laws and instructions in Scripture hang (Matt. 22:36-40).

The second parameter is that we know from Scripture that there exists a category of believers that are gifted toward celibacy (Matt. 19:12). What is the positive element of Christian human flourishing for a single not attracted to the opposite sex? Does this category and their purposes in the church give insight for human flourishing for those who experience ongoing attraction to their same sex rather than the opposite sex?

The third parameter comes from Hebrews.

For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. Heb 2:18 CSB

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Heb. 4:15 CSB

We can gather several things from Hebrews 2 and 4. First, there is an element of suffering that comes with temptation. Second, Jesus was tempted in every way as we are. Third, Jesus therefore is able to help (succor in the KJV) those who are tempted. He is able to sympathize with our weakness and nourish us when we are tempted. The language of these passages in Hebrews reminds us of Parameter 1—our command to love those struggling to persevere in the faith in light of ongoing homosexual attraction. Jesus loves and nourishes us. We too, in His image, must love and encourage others in obedience.

A Complicating Factor

The fourth parameter seems a contradiction to the third. It comes from James 1.

13 No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.

With this seeming contradiction, we might be tempted to throw the book of James into the river as it is reported that Martin Luther once did. But it is better that we use the paradox between Hebrews and James on temptation to give us necessary boundaries for understanding the whole counsel of God on this issue.

This seeming contradiction between Hebrews and James concerning temptation reminds me of a scientific conundrum I have referenced on this blog before, the seeming contradiction between Newtonian physics and Quantum physics. Most of us (even artists, poets, and theologians who don’t think they are) are familiar with Newtonian physics. It centers on the concept of gravity. An apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head in the late 1600’s, causing him to develop his account of gravity. Large objects (like our earth) pull smaller objects toward them (like an apple being pulled back to the earth or the moon being held in orbit by the gravitational pull of the earth), and the foundation of Newtonian physics was laid. Much in our world fits Newtonian physics, and it has become a great tool for understanding the universe.

From the moon circling the earth to humans walking along the ground, it seems that our universe is fundamentally held together by gravity. I was even taught in high school in the 1980’s that electrons orbited around neutrons in atoms similar to the planets around the sun. The idea was that the neutron held the electrons in orbit through the gravitational pull of the neutron.

The problem is that scientists have discovered that electrons and neutrons don’t actually work like that. In fact, you can’t even measure how an electron travels in an atom. All of our world does not, in fact, obey Newtonian physics, particularly at the micro level. So we have a universe that follows one principle while the tiny parts that make up that universe defy it.

Albert Einstein and others after him sought for a Unified Field Theory, something that explained how the universe worked on a macro and micro level. How could the big parts of the Universe work together in a way that the small parts making them up defied? There has to be a bigger principle at work, one that explains both.

Do you see where I’m going here? The fact that there seems a discrepancy between Hebrews and James on temptation doesn’t mean that there actually is. And we have to hold the two together in faith until we understand how to fully reconcile them.

Holding It All Together

Jesus was tempted in all points as we are and nourishes us when we are tempted so that we can endure and persevere in the faith. But we can’t blame our temptations on God. And there is temptation that starts with evil desires, for example lust, that progresses to sin and death. We must guard ourselves from that progression. We must put it off.

Ephesians 4 teaches us that when we put off sin, there is a corresponding action to put on. This speaks into questions raised around Revoice. What do believers putting off homosexual practice put on in its place?

20 But that is not how you came to know Christ, 21 assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.

25 Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the devil an opportunity. 28 Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. 29 No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:20-29

Put off and put on go together. We put off lying, and we put on speaking the truth. We put off stealing, and we put on honest work that we share with others. We put off foul language and put on language that instead builds up those around us.

What do we put on in place of homosexual practice and lust? Do we put off homosexual sex and put on heterosexual marriage? Are Ruth and Boaz the goal? That has certainly been a blessed progression for some. Like an alcoholic miraculously healed from a desire to drink, such folks give amazing testimonies of transformation. But they can also be uniquely frustrating to those who have not experienced such a miracle concerning temptation, those still struggling daily to obey.

Others who have put off homosexual practice and lust have not experienced a miraculous change of attraction. They have “put to death” the sin of homosexual practice, but the question of what to put on in its place is worth considering. Can we “put off” homosexual lust and practice and “put on” same-sex Christian friendship? That has been the progression for others. Jonathan, knit to the soul of David, becomes an example (1 Samuel 18:1). Or the disciple Jesus loved resting on Jesus’s bosom (John 12:23). When believers putting off same sex lust and practice and put on non-sexual love for their brother or sister in its place, they become a countercultural example of what deep, loyal, affectionate Christian friendship was always supposed to be.

Maybe it’s not so complicated after all.

Jars of Clay

I had a hard emotional breakdown when I received my first insulin pump, at the age of 29. I had been a brittle type 1 diabetic for four years at that point, and the insulin pump was a definite upgrade to the three to four shots a day I had previously been giving myself to control my blood sugar levels. But with the shots, I only had to think about being a diabetic three to four times a day. In between, I tended to slip back into “normal” mode, forgetting my health issues until time to check by blood sugars at the next meal. In contrast, I wore my new insulin pump all day every day. Now that I’m used to it, I don’t even realize my pump is there half the time. But in the early days of using it, I felt its weight against my waistline 24 hours a day, 60 minutes an hour, 60 seconds a minute. That constant reminder that my body wasn’t normal, that I had a life threatening condition, undid me emotionally for a bit.

But God spoke to me clearly through His revelation of Himself to His children. Through John 9, He reminded me that our illnesses aren’t punishments, but conduits of God’s grace to us for the praise of His glory. And through 2 Corinthians 4, He reminded me that the reason God’s glory can be so clearly seen through individuals is tied to the fact that this glory is housed in broken conduits, in jars of clay.

Broken Vessels

I was at Edisto Beach Baptist Church two weeks ago, and the interim preacher told a poignant story of his mother’s last days battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. When she could no longer speak, she’d hold up four fingers. And when she could no longer hold up four fingers, she would blink four times. He knew what she wanted. She wanted him to read to her 2 Corinthians 4.

5 For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake. 6 For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; 9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life in you.

That preacher’s story was poignant for me at the time since my own surgery for uterine cancer was scheduled 12 days later.

Clay jars. Broken pots. Earthen vessels. Given over to death.

Light of knowledge. God’s glory. Face of Christ. Extraordinary power.

The contrast in these two lines is the very point.

I had my surgery Friday, and though there was a 40% chance that I had more cancer than the original precancerous cells they found before surgery, tests during the surgery showed I did not. We are still waiting the final official word, but it seems I am cancer free in this area at least. I thank God very much. But my vessel is still very much made of deteriorating clay. I’ve had three abdominal surgeries in 9 months, 5 total counting my two c-sections. My abdomen looks like a gaming board. And, I still have that insulin pump. And I still had breast cancer that spread to a lymph node. I am moving forward, but it will forever be with a limp.

The neat thing in all of this is that God didn’t leave me as an orphan to figure out my illnesses for myself. He didn’t leave me to come up with a strategy on my own to make my peace with it. In my regular reading of the Scriptures, God taught me how to think about my various illnesses and how to hope for a future with them, even if my body was compromised by them. He did for that pastor’s mom as well. He did it for Paul. And He’ll do it for you or your loved one who is wrestling through such things.

We have deep treasures in Christ, but the temple of the Holy Spirit housing these deep treasures is breaking down. Every one of our temples is returning to dust even if some are further along that continuum than others. There’s a lot implied in that contrast between the eternal treasures and the broken down temple that houses them. The contrast itself is important. And though we fight against deteriorating bodies, rightly resisting death as the abnormal phenomenon that it is, it is good to stop and marvel at the eternal light we house IN those deteriorating bodies. The more your body deteriorates, the more the contrast with that light is heightened. The glory of the light becomes clearer, and the path toward death and decay loses its sting. Some call that the thinning of the veil. I feel more settled after it all. It hasn’t been a bad thing in my life. Maybe that’s the real miracle.

Wolves in Ewes’ Clothing

Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them.    Acts 20:30 CSB

In the wake of recent controversy around Paige Patterson’s comments on women and abuse, I want to draw attention to the public writings of his wife, Dorothy. Are Dorothy and her husband wolves? I don’t have any authority to say that they are, but I mention the concept of wolf from Acts 20:29-30 to remind us all that Paul specifically warned believers to be aware that some will rise up and distort the truth from WITHIN our own cohort of believers. Dorothy Patterson’s writings consistently distort the truth of Scripture, claiming “biblical” womanhood while simultaneously stating that multiple verses from the Bible say something they actually do not say.1 Whether this constitutes what Paul meant by wolf or not, we can at least agree that all those who submit to the authority of the Scripture for faith and practice must take such distortions seriously.

Most who are regular readers know my burdens for this blog. Because I by conviction hold to an orthodox understanding of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, I am gravely burdened that it is not the folks who deny that Scripture is authoritative that are most at fault for pushing others out of the church, but those that pervert/distort that truth, claiming that something is biblical that is not actually supported by a close examination of Scripture. My closest personal experience of this was around the fallout from Mars Hill in Seattle. If I know one, I know a hundred women (and/or their families) who no longer trust the authority of Scripture because Scripture was misinterpreted and misused to support an agenda. It’s a serious stewardship, this teaching of Scripture, and it is morally right to expose misuses of Scripture for what they are.

I can say confidently, though soberly with grief, that based on the evidence I have seen from his wife’s commentary, Paige Patterson’s comments encouraging a woman to stay in a situation in which she was further abused and drawing attention to the sexual beauty of an adolescent girl were not thoughtless words given on the fly. Rather, they are consistent with a system of thought he and his wife have taught for years, one they claim is biblical.

I will only offer a brief look into the Old Testament Women’s Evangelical Commentary by Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley (Dorothy’s sister-in-law). There is an overwhelming amount of bad teaching in that commentary in my opinion, but I will limit what I share here to a few key problems that mirror the things for which Paige Patterson is currently under fire. Patterson has vehemently denied that he counsels wives to endure abuse, but the Patterson’s long track record of teaching show their belief that abusive situations are a thing for wives to endure to reflect God’s created order, which they present as the essence of what it means to be a Biblical man or woman.

On Vashti’s lack of submission

Her flat and unqualified refusal was public—no private note or whispered message. Some have tried to make this pagan queen into a heroine who was responding with her own modesty, but again there is no basis for this virtue in the text or in any logical approach to the history of pagan queens. In Vashti’s response to a foolish command, she may have responded unwisely more from personal pride even if under the guise of modesty.”

And a few pages later …

“… the conclusion of the pagan advisers of the king coincides with the creation order of God Himself: All women will honor [Hb. yeqar, “precious, heavy” in the sense of having weighty and thus high responsibility] their husbands (v. 20). The plan of God from creation is expressed as calling for the husband’s loving headship and wife’s responding gracious submission, firmly established as the divine mandate long before the time of Ahasuerus and the wise men of Persia.”

Summary: Patterson teaches that Vashti’s refusal to flaunt herself in front of her husband’s drunken party violated God’s created order and design for Biblical manhood and womanhood. She and Kelley further teach that the unbelieving leaders of this godless kingdom nevertheless reflected God’s created order in perfection in what they expected of the women in their court, particularly Vashti and Esther.

On Naaman’s slave girl as an example of wifely submission

“This young girl in Naaman’s household was a slave, separated from her family and country, yet she accepted her situation. She gladly yielded to be an instrument of great blessing to her master in order to honor the Lord. This young girl models the principle of submission (wives are called to submit to their husbands for the glory of God; likewise, daughters are called to submit to their parents, Eph 5:22; 6:1). However, submission does not suggest lack of worth or usefulness.”

Summary: Patterson and Kelley teach humble perseverance under oppressed servitude as a righteous example of wifely submission.  Similar ideas show up in their comments regarding Hagar and Esther as well.

Patterson and Kelley present a world view in which a “biblical” understanding of submission and femininity is based on the created ORDER (man first, woman second). Woman’s identity at every turn is then defined by how she submits to male leadership (including to literally being owned by a man) because she was created second, in response to the man. Though caveats are given (abuse is bad, this doesn’t mean servitude, etc.), the actual examples used show that submission to abuse and even slavery is good/rewarding/faithful and it does in fact, in Dorothy and Rhonda’s worldview, include servitude. Submission to abuse, rather than standing against it, is the more noble way in the Patterson/Kelley paradigm.

These entries reflect the Pattersons’ long history of teaching wifely submission as a permeating piece of the woman’s nature based on the created order. The examples given in this commentary of good wifely submission clearly show that their line of reasoning results in encouraging women to submit to abuse as part of a woman’s essential role in society.

In response to this, some will point out Southwestern’s and other’s recent statements of repudiation of abuse. I am glad to see those statements. But just recognize that those recent statements contradict decades of teaching readily available in the Pattersons’ own works that reveal the pressure they put on women to endure abuse with a submissive spirit.

The Pattersons as People

A friend shared with me this article full of personal anecdotes written in defense of Dr. Patterson. I understood the sentiment expressed in that article very much. I experienced similar emotions when Mark Driscoll received criticism early in my time at Mars Hill. Mark and his wife had received me at their house at midnight a few years before when I was overcome with exhaustion while sitting with my husband in intensive care at the hospital. They were sweet and compassionate, and I believe they showed their genuine heart of ministry in that moment. When others criticized Mark in popular media outlets, I saw Mark as a convenient, misunderstood punching bag for liberals. It took long examination over the years of what Mark actually taught for me to recognize the harmful ways it diverged from Scripture and the rotten fruit it produced down the road.

The more I look at Paige and Dorothy Patterson’s writings, the more it reveals a worldview on men and women that they manipulated Scripture to uphold, reverse engineering at least this Bible commentary to say what they wanted it to say, rather than the other way around. They are a team, and we understand the work of one by examining the work of the other. I hope they can own that they have treated oppression of a woman by a man as an essential part of biblical femininity and a noble thing for a woman to endure. Their teaching has projected shame on women who stand up against abuse. May they confess that and repair with those who have been harmed by this teaching.

 

Endnotes

1 For example, in their discussion of Proverbs 31’s statement that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, they say, “There is no decrying of feminine “charm and beauty,” which is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture (cp. Pr 4:7-9; 1 Sm 25:3; Jb 42:15; Sg 2:14), …” Dorothy Kelley Patterson & Rhonda Harrington Kelley. Women’s Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament (Kindle Locations 32788-32794).

If you look up these references that the authors cite as affirming physical beauty (which for some odd reason seems really important to the Pattersons), zero of them  actually do so. It’s disturbing, and not the only example of this.

Vindicated

     Sometimes a news story guts me, usually because I can empathize with some aspect of the feelings of those involved. This week’s news of the conviction of Bill Cosby of drugging and assaulting a woman did not actually gut me. But what did cause me to suck in my breath and tear up in response was the video of his other accusers in the courtroom overcome with gut wrenching sobs at the announcement.

     I was sobered that he was convicted, with all the lessons that his fall from grace symbolize. But I was ripped open by the women overwhelmed with emotion at the verdict.

     For decades, these women had been maligned as money hungry women, seeking to sully the reputation of America’s Dad by claiming consensual sex was actually rape. Woman … after woman … after woman had identical stories. While two or three witnesses is the standard in Scripture, Bill Cosby had 60 women who accused him. Yet decades passed after the assaults. Bill Cosby flourished professionally, while his accusers were maligned, their reputations sullied. With this verdict, they were vindicated. They have been proven “right, reasonable, and justified.”

Vindicate me, God, and champion my cause
against an unfaithful nation;
rescue me from the deceitful and unjust person.

Ps. 43:1

     The Bible records many cries of believers longing for vindication. While Christians value perseverance in unjust situations, our belief system is one founded on the concept of objective truth. Our faith gives us hope when we must endure hardship, when we are maligned or even persecuted for our beliefs. But, fundamentally, we believe God is just, and that He will not tolerate those who break His laws and malign the victims that cry out for justice.

Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble;
you will strengthen their hearts.
You will listen carefully,
doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed
so that mere humans from the earth may terrify them no more.

Ps. 10:17-18

     When someone is vindicated, those around them come to agree with them on the truth of a situation and put a stop to future oppression. Do not minimize the spiritual value of such a moment!

     This is why a nation was transfixed by Rachael Denhollander’s victim statement at Larry Nasser’s sentencing.

     It is why a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama recently opened to acknowledge and lament the victims of lynching.

     And for those of us in reformed evangelical circles, this is why accusations against Mark Driscoll made back in 2007 didn’t go away, and why accusations against Sovereign Grace Ministries still today won’t go away. It’s because they literally CAN NOT go away without an agreement on what is the truth of the situation. Without an investigation by an unbiased third party who evaluates what did and did not happen based on the Biblical standards of witnesses and evidence, the cloud over SGM and CJ Mahaney will never go away.

     Vindication, truth, confession, and repentance are concepts that are inextricably tied together in the Christian faith. As both Nasser’s and Cosby’s verdicts illustrate, truth eventually prevails. We must always as believers choose to be on the side of it, believing in objective truth even if we don’t yet know exactly what it is in a given situation.

 

 

The Gospel for Single Moms

I don’t want to be a single mom, but I am one. I am in good standing with my elders, and if anyone has a concern about that, my elders welcome questions on my behalf. But the fact that I have to add that last sentence highlights why we don’t see many orthodox Christian writers addressing the subject of single moms in the church. …

Read the rest at gospelcenteredwoman.com.

A Tale of Two Pastors

Pastor A started Church X in a basement in Seattle around the same time Pastor B started Church Y. Both paid homage to the Seattle music scene made famous by Nirvana. Both spoke gritty sermons that resonated with grunge culture. Church X and Church Y began growing beyond expectations, and both Pastor A and Pastor B were regularly invited to church planting and denominational conferences.

But just a few years into their church plants, Pastor B had a moral failure. Church Y was devastated. The faith of their core group was challenged at a foundational level. Church Y stopped being cool. It lost its edge, and the folks that remained struggled to persevere with hope. Thankfully, the denomination held it together until a new pastor, Pastor C, could be found.

Pastor A and Church X kept on their phenomenal path of exponential growth. From 20 people, to 800, to 3000, to 10,000 over a twelve year period. I attended Church X and sat under Pastor A for six years, experiencing their phenomenal growth. In my early years, when attendance was around 800 people, I learned much from sermon series through Galatians, Jonah, and Ephesians. But when the church bought a new building and growth took off to 3000 and then 5000 and then 7000, sermons changed. Though the gritty trappings remained the same, the cultural wrapping paper no longer held deep reformed, theological truths. The theology that used to be regularly present, spoken in ways that grunge and hipster attendees could hear and understand, was replaced with watered-down content. While the presentation levels went up like they were on steroids, the actual doctrinal content went down in a similar fashion to a body builder on steroids who loses other core masculine parts.

During that season, I began attending Church Y and sitting under the regular teaching of Pastor C. By this point, Church Y had lost its cultural bells and whistles. It didn’t put up cultural barriers, but gone were the candles and dark worship that called to the independent music scene of Seattle. Church Y had two reasonably full services until they planted another church in the city. We sent off friends, saddened by the smaller attendance for our services for a bit. But eventually, we made it to two services again. We sent away our assistant pastor to plant a church in New York City. Again, we were saddened by the loss of this important family in our congregation, but over time, Church Y brought in two more staff members and slowly continued to grow.

I sat under the slow and steady teaching of Pastor C, thirty minute sermons that taught through a book of the Bible week in and week out. Pastor C taught clearly with relevant applications, but he was not a firebrand. I learned though. Slowly and methodically, I learned.

A few years later, exciting, flamboyant Pastor A resigned in disgrace. Though Church X had thousands of attendees at the time, it dissolved, selling off buildings and shuttering a number of its campuses. But Pastor C and Church Y plodded on—sending out members and staff to new works year by year, slowly growing themselves, or as the psalmist puts it in Ps. 37:3, cultivating faithfulness.

I think of Pastor A and Pastor C, Church X and Church Y, a lot as I now live on the other side of the nation and am once again involved with a young church plant. Pastor A and Church X represent the dream of many church planters – dynamic sermons and exponential growth. Their success was seductive. And deceptive. For the tale of these two pastors and their churches has a moral as old as Aesop’s Fables. The race goes to the tortoise.

The problem, of course, is that the tortoise is not glamorous. The tortoise is slow, plodding, methodical. Sometimes, it’s boring. But if you keep an eye on the end goal, you get the perspective you need to value the tortoise.

We all want fruit. Church X saw fruit. Pastor A’s sermons resulted in fruit.

But Jesus whets our appetite for something more than simple fruit. Jesus speaks of “fruit that remains” (John 15:16).

So here I sit sixteen years after I darkened the doors of Church X and ten years after I stepped in the doors of Church Y. One’s doors are still opened. One has enduring fruit that wasn’t choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth (Mark 4:19).

The lessons from these two church plants mean much to me as I now sit in another small service, two years into another new church, on the opposite coast from Church X and Church Y. No bells. No whistles. Just the ordinary means of grace—prayer, Bible study, communion, fellowship. My new church doesn’t garner the attention of Mother Jones or Slate (or even our local newspaper, The Times and Democrat). Our sermons aren’t downloaded by thousands each week. But young fathers are being mentored by older ones. The unemployed are receiving help to find jobs. The hungry are fed, the poor are helped. Bible stories are taught and application is made, disciples slowly trained up in the Scriptures. There isn’t anything grand or glorious in this church plant.

Except maybe the most glorious thing of all, fruit that remains.

You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. John 15:16