As I was scanning the airwaves on the drive home from work this afternoon, I was once again taken aback by the incessant message of sexual deviancy that is promoted on seemingly every available channel, except the few Christian music stations, if of course you can find them on the radio dial. As the message of “sexual freedom” and license poured through every option on the radio, I was struck by how our society has become so accepting of this approach to life. Think about the last 50 years of television for example. On television, we have gone from Leave it to Beaver and The Waltons to Two and a Half Men and The Family Guy. In Hollywood, we have gone from A Roman Holiday to Brokeback Mountain. In the music industry we have gone from Elvis, who at the time was considered outrageously sexual by some to Miley Cyrus gyrating on stage with giant stuffed bears while licking a hammer. What in the world has this world come to? While we can certainly point with disdain to any number of sexually related issues in our society, the bigger question, at least for me and my family is what to do about it? What are alternatives to the din of digression found on television, movies, and the radio, not to mention the printed page?
Having a 12 year old daughter certainly brings this issue to the forefront as a parent. My wife and I are constantly bombarded with questions from our daughter such as “What is wrong with Usher” or “What is the big deal….why I can’t listen to rap music….it has a cool beat.” For those of you who have no clue who Usher is, he is what you would label as a pop music artist. If you don’t know what that means you will just have to Google it. So with those types of questions being asked, we could easily say to our daughter, “You can’t listen to that music because we said so” and leave it at that. After all, we are the parents and what we say goes. While that is certainly a valid approach, does it really help her understand the ramifications of listening to sexually explicit music or even music with clear sexual overtones? In my humble opinion, it does not. As I began to ponder this issue a bit more today, I felt the need to share some viable alternatives to the pornified entertainment culture of our day.
1. Turn off the radio, television, or entertainment device. Seems rather obvious right? It is the quickest way to circumvent trash coming into your home, car, or brains. That little thing known as the power button is a powerful tool and should be used far more often than it is in most households.
2. Have a conversation. As a parent, it is increasingly clear my wife and I cannot house our child in a protective bubble where nothing of ill repute will interact with her. While we would love that, it quite simply is unrealistic and ultimately it will not prepare her for adulthood and how to act in a mature biblical manner. She will go to school where other kids who are also inundated with the trash our society has embraced and most likely discussions of that trash will ensue. When these topics come up, be prepared to have that needed conversation with your child about why your family does not watch or listen to that garbage. Break out that book that may have some dust on it called the Bible. Read as a family what God says about seeking after what is good, holy, and just.
3. Have family devotions. The Puritans called this “Family Worship.” Gather together on a regular basis as a family and read and study God’s word and pray. This is powerful stuff folks. It is also the best alternative available to combat that garbage we have been talking about. You know the old saying “Garbage In/Garbage Out.” The opposite is true as well and that is “Biblical Truth In/Biblical Truth Out.” The only thing that can shine through the darkness that is our current societal mess is the light of God’s Word. How does that light shine? It shines by God’s people devouring His Word to the extent that it shines through every fiber of our being. With God’s Word occupying every aspect of our life, there will be no available room for trash to be a part of who we are or what we do.
4. Look for positive alternative activities. Rather than plopping down in front of the television at night or on the weekends, a device we all know is nothing more than a propaganda tool for perversion, do something together as a family. As a culture, we have forgotten about the great outdoors. Go play catch, take a jog with your child, put a puzzle together, dust off those board games, or read a book.
5. Listen to positive music and watch positive movies. If you must turn on the radio, locate that long lost Christian music or Christian talk station in your local town. Find that local Christian bookstore or explore Amazon.com for Christian music options. There are plenty of styles to choose from anything from Christian rap to Christian country to Christian rock. As with anything, be observant and attentive to your musical choices because not everything labeled as Christian is exactly music that glorifies God. There are also many great classic movies from the days of yesteryear available that are wonderful family oriented alternatives to the heaps of garbage paraded from Hollywood these days.
6. Become more involved in your local church. There are hopefully many positive activities to involve yourself and family in at your local church. If not, see what other churches are up to in your community. Have your kids become involved in children’s activities or youth group. Get them around other bible believing kids their age so they can develop lasting positive friendships.
I am sure there are many other suggestions that could be made and things we can do to deal with the pornification of our society but hopefully these are enough to get you started. One thing is certain and that is this sexualization of our culture is not going to cease. Sadly, it is only to get worse. Instead of being like the proverbial ostrich with our head in the sand hoping it all goes away, let’s get out in front of the issue in our respective families and put in place positive godly alternatives to what the world is offering. In doing so, we will be following the biblical mandate to “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:7) (By the way, that passage is from the front of the book, a place far too few people explore these days.) Parents, we are commanded by God to promote a godly atmosphere in our homes. We are commanded to speak of God and His word at all times in our homes. It should be something we desire to do because God is the only solution to the depravity we face today.
One will never get anywhere in life without discipline be it in the arts, business, athletics or academics. This is doubly so in spiritual matters. In other areas we may be able to claim some innate advantage. An athlete may be born with a strong body, a musician with a perfect pitch, or an artist with an eye for perspective. But none of us can claim an innate spiritual advantage. In reality, we are all equally disadvantaged. None of us naturally seeks after God, none is inherently righteous, none instinctively does good (Romans 3:9-18). Therefore, as children of grace our spiritual discipline is everything—everything!
Paul on Discipline
This being so, the statement from Paul to Timothy regarding spiritual discipline in 1 Timothy 4:7 “train yourself to be godly” – takes on not only transcending importance but also personal urgency. There are no other passages which teach discipline but this is the classic text of Scripture. The word “train” comes from the word gumnos which means “naked” and is the word from which we derive our English word gymnasium. In traditional Greek athletic contests, the participants competed without clothing, so as not to be encumbered. Therefore, the word ‘train” originally carried the literal meaning, “to exercise naked.” By New Testament times it referred to exercise and training in general. But even then it was, and is, a word with the smell of the gym in it—the sweat of a good workout. “Gymnasticize (exercise, work out, train) yourself for the purpose of godliness” conveys the feel of what Paul is saying.
In a word, he is calling for some spiritual sweat! Just as the athletes discarded everything and competed in gumnos—free from everything that could possibly burden them—so we must get rid of every encumbrance, every association, habit, and tendency which impedes godliness. If we are to excel, we must strip ourselves to a lean, spiritual nakedness. The writer of Hebrews explains it like this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). Men, we will never get anywhere spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are holding us back. What things are weight you down? The call to discipline demands that you throw it off. Are you man enough?
The call to train ourselves for godliness also suggests directing all of our energy toward godliness. Paul pictures this elsewhere in 1st Corinthians 9:25-27, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Intense, energetic sweat! We should singularly note that a sentence later in the context of Paul’s command to “train yourself to be godly,” he comments on the command and the intervening words, saying “for this we labor and strive.” “Labor” means “strenuous toil,” and “strive” is the Greek word from which we get “agonize.” Toil and agony are called for if one is to be godly.
When one seriously trains, he willingly undergoes hours of discipline and even pain so as to win the prize—running 10,00 miles to run 100 yards at one’s best. The successful Christian life is a sweaty affair.
No mainliness no maturity! No discipline no discipline! No sweat no sainthood!
Why the Disciplines
First, in today’s world and the church, disciplined Christian lives are the exception not the rule. This goes for men, women, and the professional clergy. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying this has always been the case. It has not! As to why this is so, several common-sense reasons could be tendered, such as poor teaching or individual sloth. But underlying much of the conscious rejection of spiritual discipline is the fear of legalism. For many, spiritual discipline means putting oneself back under the Law with a series of Draconian rules which no one can live up to—and which spawn frustration and spiritual death.
But nothing could be farther from the truth if you understand what discipline and legalism are. The difference is one of motivation: legalism is self-centered; discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God.” The disciplined heart says, “I will do this thing because I love God and want to please Him.” There is an infinite difference between the motivation of legalism and discipline! Paul knew this implicitly and fought the legalistic bare-knuckled all the way across Asia Minor, never giving an inch. And now he shouts to us, “Train [discipline] yourself to be godly”! If we confuse legalism and discipline, we do so to our soul’s peril.
Men are so much less spiritually inclined and spiritually disciplined than women. Women are concerned about the spiritual welfare of their mates than vice versa. All this is sustained by hard statistics. A Gallup Poll conducted in June 1990 revealed that 71 percent of the women surveyed believed religion can answer today’s problems, while only 55 percent of the men agreed.[i] The typical church service has 59 percent female verses 41 percent male attenders.[ii] Furthermore, married women who attend church without their husbands outnumber by four to one the men attending without their wives.[iii]
Why certainly the pervasive American male credo of self-sufficiency and individualism contributes. Some of this may also be due to the male avoidance of anything relational (which, of course, Christianity is!) But we do not concede that women are simply more spiritual by nature. The parade of great saints (male and female) down through the centuries, as well as spiritually exemplary men in some of our churches today, clearly refutes this idea. But the fact remains that men today need far more help in building spiritual discipline than women.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of this call to spiritual discipline. Listen to Paul again from 1st Timothy 4:7-8, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Whether or not we have disciplined ourselves will make a huge difference in this life. We are all members of one another, and we are each either elevated or depressed by the inner lives of one another. Some of us affect others like a joyous tied, lifting them upward, but some of us are like undertows to the body of Christ. If you are married, the presence or lack of spiritual discipline can serve to sanctify or harm your children and grandchildren. Spiritual discipline, therefore, holds huge promise.
As for “the life to come,” spiritual discipline builds the enduring architecture of one’s soul on the foundation of Christ—gold, silver, and precious stones which will survive the fires of judgment and remain a monument to Christ for eternity (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
Some may minimize the importance of spiritual discipline now, but no one will then! Godliness has value for all things. The disciplined Christian gives and gets the best of both worlds—the world now and the world to come.
The word discipline may raise the feeling of stultifying constraint in some minds—suggesting a claustrophobic, restricted life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The obsessive, almost manic discipline of Mike Singletary liberated him to play like a wild man on the football field. Hemingway’s angst over the right word freed him to leave a mark on the English language second only to Shakespeare. The billion sketches of the Renaissance greats set Michelangelo free to create the skies of the Sistine Chapel. Churchill’s painstaking preparation freed him to give great ‘impromptu” speeches and brilliant ripostes. The disciplined drudgery of the musical great released their genius. And brothers in Christ, spiritual discipline frees us from the gravity of this present age and allows us to soar with the saints and angels.
Do we have the sweat in us? Will we enter the gymnasium of divine discipline? Will we strip away the things that hold us back? Will we discipline ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit? God is looking for a few good men!
[i] Gallup Poll, Emerging trends, a publication of Princeton Religion Research Center.
[ii] Leadership, Winter 1991, Vol. 12, No. 1, p. 17.
[iii] Ibid, p.18
Over the past year or so I’ve written a lot on pornography. One of the reasons for this should be obvious as I believe the Bible teaches that God created sex to be within the confines of the marriage relationship. Whether it is pre-marital sex, homosexuality, pornography or any other sexual perversion, I believe anything short of sex within the confines of marriage between one man and one woman is wrong and dishonors God. It dishonors God because He created marriage. Some people feel in our culture that we are just “prudes” and “bigots” but really it goes much further than this. When people accuse Christians of being bigots and prudes what they are really saying is they disagree with what the Bible teaches. Sadly, most of these people then come to the Bible to justify their behavior. The truth though is there is no justification for homosexuality or any other deviant sexual behavior. The Bible roundly and repeatedly condemns sexual sin because it dishonors God who created and sustains the world we inhabit.
Here’s the rub and I think it’s an important point: Those who advocate for sex outside of marriage are more than dishonoring God. What they are doing is seeking to establish their own rules and justification for their sin. Maybe you think I am being too harsh, but I am speaking from personal experience. As a Christian of over twenty years I’ve struggled with sexual sin. While I no longer struggle with sexual sin by the grace of God, the love of a godly wife, and the protection of good pornography software, I know well that I could struggle very easily. It is easy to lust after things I want and to look at unrighteous images. That is just a fact. The only deterrent to looking at images and other things that pull at my heart is the Gospel. When those images from my past come back (and they do), I have to preach the Gospel to myself. I have to put on the armor of God every day. While I’ve been forgiven and washed in the blood of Jesus, I earnestly believe I will still have to deal with the consequences of my sin violating my conscience over and over again. That is not a message that is popular in Christianity today. The reason that is the case is because we have an extremely low view of sin and a very low view of God. This has occurred because we are spoon fed self-help and self-esteem messages that run counter to the Gospel. The fact is as Martin Luther once said, “We are both saints and sinners”.
As saints we are forgiven totally and completely by our Savior. This includes our justification, adoption, and all that entails. Yet, we are still sinners. We are forgiven and yet we need to daily repent of sin. Martin Luther again is helpful when he noted in the beginning of his 95 thesis that the Christian life is a life of ongoing repentance. By ongoing repentance what Luther meant was the Christian needs to constantly turn away from sin due to the fact we are still sinners. We still battle against the flesh, the world and the devil. If you don’t think that you still struggle with sin, you are deceived by Satan. The truth of the matter is our flesh wants to be gratified. We are too quick to blame Satan when we should blame our flesh. Our flesh is strong and wants to be satisfied by indulging in worldly pleasures which is why we must daily submit ourselves to the Word and to the work of the Son. To do so is to humble ourselves before God and ask Him to continue to cleanse and purify us. This is at the heart of what it means to grow and progressively becoming like Jesus Christ, the process of sanctification. This is the old paths the Puritans described time and time again: repent of sin and grow to be like Jesus. To become more like Jesus necessarily involves growing in holiness. To not grow in holiness is to disregard and use the grace of God as a license to sin. We desperately need a high view of God, a high view of sin and a low view of ourselves if we are ever to see the radicalness of the grace of God that Paul described. It is precisely because of such a lack of understanding God and sin that many Christians are struggling with sexual sin. Rather than reveling and basking in wonder at God’s grace, they abuse the grace of God thinking they can do whatever they want and live however they like. Yet there is no justification for this behavior as a Christian. You’ve been saved for a purpose and that purpose is to grow in the grace of God.
I know well what it means to abuse the grace of God. When I went through a particular hard time in my life, I started drinking and doing things I should not have done. While this was many years ago, the reason I behaved that way is I justified my behavior. I said, “It is okay” but it wasn’t, and as a seasoned Christian I knew better. I got convicted in short order and God changed my heart immediately. It was painful and I lost a lot of friends from high school during this time because I just couldn’t do the things they were doing. While I tried to explain my change of lifestyle, I probably did so in a way that was offensive and unloving. Thankfully, some of my friends understood but overtime we slowly drifted away as I got married and became more focused on my marriage and ministry. Yet, as I’ve thought recently about this period of justifying my sin, I’ve also come to realize that I am not the only one who attempts to justify their sin.
I recently wrote an article about pornography for a popular Christian website that I highly respect (http://cbmw.org/men/manhood/overcoming-an-addiction-to-pornography-and-embracing-purity-part-1/ and http://cbmw.org/men/manhood/overcoming-an-addiction-to-pornography-and-embracing-purity-part-2/ ). Thankfully that article was well-received but it got me thinking also about how we hide from our sin rather than placing it under the scope of God’s presence. I think one of the biggest struggles for Christians like me who’ve grown up in the Church is justifying and becoming apathetic towards sin. Rather than using our maturity and freedom in Christ to disciple newer Christians, we instead recuse ourselves to the sidelines. To be perfectly frank with you, this saddens me and is why I am writing this article with tears in my eyes.
The time for justifying ourselves, for being apathetic and sitting on the sidelines needs to cease. The Kingdom of God is both now and future. It is now that we are given the time to proclaim the Good news of the Gospel. In the future, it will be our joy to sit before the throne of Jesus and enjoy an eternity sitting at His feet worshiping the Lamb who is worthy of all glory and honor. Yet now we have a charge to sit at the feet of His under-shepherds and hear His perfect Word preached from finite man and to worship with other sinners who have yet to be glorified. All of this is truly good news. God wants us to grow in His grace, to sit ultimately at His feet, and to share His Word in His power, under His authority to the praise of the Triune God. Don’t make excuses for why you are struggling with your discipleship anymore but rather step out in faith, daily repent of your sin, and engage the work God has given you to do for His glory. There will come a day when all our work will cease but for now there is much work to be done. It should be our prayer that we be found faithfully working for the Master.
Rather than sitting on the sidelines, seasoned Christians should find ways they can serve in their respective churches and communities. There are always hurting people to pray for. If you can write reasonably well then get a blog. If you can speak well consider prayerfully seeking the Lord about opportunities He may give you to minister to others. There is always street ministry, homeless shelters, pregnancy centers and many other opportunities to minister to the lost and hurting. Pray and seek the Lord about where and what He would have you do. There is much work to be done for the Kingdom in these days, but there are still very few laborers. Don’t sit on the sidelines and be apathetic and complain, but rather get up off your seat, get out into the ripened fields and by His grace get busy for the Kingdom of God spreading the fame of Jesus to all people that they might be saved and grow in His grace for His glory.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1Sa 8:4-5)
Samuel takes their demands personally, as a rejection – possibly even an indictment – of the job that Samuel has done in his years as judge over Israel. On some level, it probably was. Samuel’s sons were not godly men (1 Samuel 8:1-3). In fact, Samuel seems to have this in common with his old mentor, Eli. Samuel’s sons are known to wicked, greedy men, taking bribes and perverting the justice of God. Angry and hurt, Samuel takes his pain before the Lord:
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. (1Sa 8:6)
God does not respond by reaffirming Samuel’s calling or the job he’s done as judge, nor does he reprimand Samuel for the sons he has raised. Instead, helps Samuel out by giving him a bit of perspective:
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1Sa 8:7-9)
“They haven’t rejected you,” God says. “They’ve rejected me.” And really, he points out, if there’s anybody who understands rejection, it’s God. God’s dealings with His people – with all of mankind – are one long story of His reaching out to them and them rejecting him for false gods, temporary pleasures, and hollow realities.
This, like all of Israel’s other rejections, is remarkably short-sighted. Can God deliver Israel from their enemies without using a king? Of course He can. Does trading the leadership of Samuel’s corrupt sons for a hereditary monarchy really ensure more fairness and less oppression? Of course not.
But like all of our other calloused rejections of our Creator, God has anticipated this. He has provided for it in His law and he has made it a part of his divine redemptive plan. “Obey their voice,” God says. “Only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” Yes, God has forseen this. Yes, God is working with this. But that in no way negates the consequences of rejecting God – consequences which, as we will see in our next post, will have a destructive impact on generations to come.
Recently, we discussed the growing scope of national threats that formed the catalyst for Israel’s demand for a king. This helped us understand why they rejected God’s original model of government. In today’s post, we’ll look at the consequences of Israel’s demand: how God treated it, used it, and judged it.
God’s original plan
God’s original plan for Israel was that it should be a theocracy, with God Himself at its head, his will expressed through specific revelation and through the Law. The administrative functions of the government would be carried out by the priests and Levites, while the magisterial functions would be performed by “judges” – men and women that God raised up specifically for that purpose.
“If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. (Deu 17:8-9)
But God knew that they day would come when, seeking to be more like the nations around them, Israel would desire a king:
“When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose… (Deu 17:14-15a)
In His mercy, God provides for the eventuality of a king. The remainder of Deuteronomy 17 details the requirements for the man who would be king over God’s chosen people: