The Legacy Coalition – The Next Wave?

Only take heed to yourself, … lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, … And teach them to your children and your grandchildren… Deuteronomy 4:9 (NKJV)

Seventy years ago Billy Graham entered the world stage as a Christian evangelist to reach the lost.  A decade later Youth For Christ became a massive movement of young people being trained in principles of Biblical lifestyles.  In the 1980s Bill Gothard advanced the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts to rallies of tens of thousands across the USA.  Another decade passed and Promise Keepers became the venue in stadiums all around the country to encourage godliness and racial reconciliation among American men.

In this decade The Legacy Coalition is coming in as the next evangelical wave to promote Intentional Christian Grandparenting.  An AARP report on grandparents described grandparenting in the USA:

  • About one-third of all adults are grandparents.
  • The average age of becoming a grandparent is around 47.
  • The average age of grandparents is around 64. (note: average age of death in the USA continues to rise, now almost 74)
  • The average grandparent has six grandchildren.
  • About 77% of grandparents are married.
  • About half are still working.
  • A slight majority, 54%, have at least some college education.
  • About 6% of grandparents have a grandchild living in their home.
  • Parents are not present in around 43% of those homes, a phenomenon known as a skip-generation family.
  • About 15% provide regular childcare for grandchildren in their homes.
  • More than half of grandparents help with grandchildren’s educational expenses.
  • A quarter of grandparents help pay for medical or dental care for their grandchildren.
  • More than half of all grandparents believe they play a very important role in their grandchildren’s lives.

Founded in 2016 by Larry Fowler, author of Overcoming Grandparenting Barriers, the vision of The Legacy Coalition is for grandparents to be more than the babysitters and the “fun old people” in children’s lives.  Instead, he advocates training this elder generation to be purposeful in guiding the spiritual development up to the third and fourth generations after them.

Last week a friend of mine showed a picture of a great-great-grandmother with her daughter, her granddaughter, her great-grandson (my friend) and his baby.  While few of us will live to be 103 as this woman has, most of us will live to see our grandchildren.  The goal of The Legacy Coalition is to promote teaching Biblical living to the second generation after yourself and to envision the third and fourth generation, to prepare your kids and your grandkids to teach their grandchildren.

To that end The Legacy Coalition has grown from its first days into an international outreach to thousands of grandparents from many walks of life with strategies for every stage of grandparenting.  Their website includes many free resources such as blogs, podcasts and recorded radio programs.  Under Events, there is also a link to the free registration for Grand Monday Nights, a weekly webinar platform featuring many different speakers addressing a variety of topics affecting relationships of grandparents to their children and grandchildren.  Other courses, speakers and materials are available for reasonable charges.

October 19-20, 2023, Tony Evans’ Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas will host the live Legacy Coalition Summit, which can be livestreamed anywhere in the world.  Fees and instructions are here and the list of speakers and sites for simulcasting will be updated as the dates approach, but a couple of speakers are already on board with more to be announced soon.  For a preview of the quality of presenters they invite, just look at the list of participants for 2022!  These included Ann Graham Lotz, Arlene Pellicane, Crawford Loritts and Gordon MacDonald among other evangelical teachers.

You can get on their email list for updates individually or as a church organization here.  There will be a no-obligation host-site informational Zoom meeting on February 9, 2023, for anyone interested in hosting, even if you are not the decision maker for your church.  Simply enter your information on the Get Host Info button and they will contact you about the Zoom.

In any case, if you have grandchildren, are about to become a grandparent, or if you have children whom you want to raise to be godly parents, consider contacting The Legacy Coalition via a field representative (such as Brent Nelson for the southeast US [866-461-0197]) or the national organization via their website.  Internationally, The Legacy Coalition has already begun work in Australia, Dominican Republic, Greece, Spain, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan.  Perhaps YOU can be the first in your city or your nation to connect to the next wave of spreading the gospel to every generation!

Here is a sample of the promotional video from 2022:

Never On a Sunday

Dad and Mother will be turning over in their graves this weekend.  They passed into Heaven in 1973 and 1999 respectively.  Christmases in ’66 and ’94, the last ones to arrive on Sundays prior to their deaths, were cause for special celebration as Dad and Mother considered Sunday to be a “Sabbath” (although they knew the Jewish practice of the true Sabbath being from Friday at 6pm to Saturday at 6pm).  However, since Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, Christians shortly after began meeting on Sunday rather than the Sabbath, and this was cemented in minds after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as we Gentiles became the predominant population of Christ-followers.

Throughout the 1900s this coincidence of Jesus’ birth and our weekly worship time was a delight to ministers who would see crowds gather in greater number than any other time of the year (except possibly Easter).  But something changed as we headed into the new century.  Maybe it was the reaction to covid, or the development of the “Mega-Church” and the explosion of church staffs and production qualities that rival Academy Awards shows.  The modern “worship service” takes more people and more tech than the Death Star development in Star Wars, especially if it is broadcast over multiple campuses and the internet!  Why not just pre-record it?

Add that this year we have a “bomb cyclone❗” hitting the middle of the nation on Christmas “Adam.” (That’s the day before Christmas Eve… get it, Adam came before Eve? 😄)  It seems like the weather forecasters need to cooperate with the fear-mongers at every level of government and large institutions, so they chose the most horrific words to describe what we used to call “a winter storm.”  Yeah, yeah, big whoop, like we never dealt with snow and wind before. 🙄

When Christmas and Sunday rendezvous, some churches now feel the need to cancel Sunday worship so that the true meaning of Christmas can be experienced in all its fantastic, fabulous luxuriousness.  After all, we know Christmas is about family and Santa Claus and presents … and eggnog!  At least that’s what the agnostics and atheists say, and by actions (which speak louder than words) so does the Church when it cancels Jesus’ worship “in honor of Jesus’ birth.”  Like my brother asks, “Why would I want to host a party in MY house on MY birthday!?” 😏
Happy Birthday, Jesus.  We’re going to the movies rather than Your house today after we open all our presents we gave each other and not You.

Why would churches cancel worship on Sunday when it collides with Christmas?

  1. Does the Bible say we should?  No.  I’ve read the entire library a few times, and neither the celebration of Christ’s birth nor Sunday worship is mentioned.
  2. Perhaps Christians around the world are complaining, “We can’t go to church Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day!  That’s just too much worship.”
  3. Maybe they are thinking, “Well, commercial places are closed on Christmas! Why should we stay open?”
  4. Folks really need time to marvel at Santa’s empty cookie plate, open presents, go out to eat, and still have time to go to the movies and it’s hard to fit all that in with an extra worship service on Christmas Eve.

It seems the only folks who actually say, “Let’s cancel Sunday worship if Christmas falls on Sunday” are church employees, including some ministers.  After all, they spend their workdays all week celebrating Jesus; they deserve a day off from such tiring spirituality, right?  But as another blogger pointed out, the extra work is “not as hard as being beheaded by ISIS for your faith or being a Christian in Saudi Arabia or India, but it is really, reeeally hard.” 😢

During the 20th century, the 25th of December was on a Sunday 14 times (*see list below).  This century has started off with 2005, 2011, 2016 and now this year, 2022.  Actually, I cannot recall any churches cancelling Christmas Day services before this year, but several in our fair city and many in other places are.  The next time Christmas and Sunday bump into each other will be 2033 (2028 is a leap year).  The following years* will probably have me watching from Heaven, unless Jesus has returned.

However, a big business needs to evaluate cost-benefit analyses, and if less than half of a church’s parishioners show up for Christmas Sunday, is the effort worth it?  Don’t I recall something about “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them?”   In any case, I suspect MANY people would show up for Christmas Day services at a church building:

  1. Nominally religious people who want to show off and need to be told the Gospel again.
  2. Christ-followers who love to meet with other believers who love to celebrate Jesus.
  3. Lonely people for whom the “family” orientation of the day exacerbates their loneliness; they need the body of Christ!
  4. Politicians: these folks need the Gospel more than our votes, but they’ll show up to garner them from the gullible.
  5. “Out-of-town” family members who are in town for the holiday visits.
  6. Atheists who are wondering, “What do those people do at a church meeting on a holiday?”
  7. People who love celebrations with beautiful Christmas music.

Perhaps we are buying into the secularization of Christmas and are idolizing our families over the One who said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

How do we claim, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” if we add, “unless His birthday falls on the day we usually gather to worship Him,” without looking silly, inconsistent and inconsequential?  So celebrate Christmas this year with worship of the God Who Is and who loves us so much that He came to live as one of us, to experience our pain, sorrows and loss, and to die in our places.  Yes, celebrate Christ’s birth … but Never On a Sunday.

*Christmas fell on a Sunday in these years:1904, 1910, 1921, 1927, 1932, 1938, 1949, 1955, 1960, 1966, 1977, 1983, 1988, 1994.
*In the 21st century, this will occur again in 2033, 2039, 2044, 2050, 2061, 2067, 2072, 2078, 2089, 2095.

This Day in History – The Death of C.S. Lewis

This Day in History: The Death of C. S. Lewis
November 22, 2022 by: Harry Lee Poe in Crossway.org
His Heart Attack
On Sunday, July 14, 1963, Lewis was not well enough to go to church when Walter Hooper arrived at the Kilns. Without his brother Warnie anymore as a reliable helper with his correspondence, and feeling his own steady decline, Lewis asked Hooper if he would consider serving as his private secretary. After discussing it, Hooper agreed to resign his post at the University of Kentucky at the end of the fall semester and return to help Lewis. In the meantime, he would help Lewis through the summer.1 The next day, on Monday, July 15, at five in the afternoon, Lewis arrived at the Acland Nursing Home, where he promptly had a heart attack and went into a coma.2

With Warnie away, Lewis must have given Kay and Austin Farrer as his emergency contacts, for the Acland notified them of Lewis’s condition. They contacted Douglas Gresham and Walter Hooper. On Tuesday afternoon, July 16, Lewis received extreme unction from Rev. Michael Watts of the Church of St Mary Magdalen. Then he woke up and asked for a cup of tea.3

For two days, Lewis appeared to be doing better, but then he slipped into what he called his “black period.” For a week he suffered from nightmares, hallucinations, and a general disorientation interspersed with lucid moments.4 Several of his oldest and dearest friends visited him in the Acland, including Tolkien, Alastair Fowler, Douglas and David Gresham, James Dundas-Grant, John Walsh, Maureen Moore Blake, and George Sayer. When Dundas-Grant visited Lewis, he suggested that Lewis write a book on prayer, to which Lewis replied with a twinkle in his eye, “I might.”5 Dundas-Grant did not know that Lewis had just finished writing Letters to Malcolm, which suggests how far the remaining Inklings had departed from being a writing club aware of what each other was writing.

Beginning on July 17, Hooper undertook the handling of Lewis’s correspondence. He picked up the mail every day at the Kilns and took it to the Acland, where Lewis, when his mind was clear, dictated his letters to Hooper. At Lewis’s behest, Hooper wrote letters to Lewis’s friends who had not yet learned of his hospitalization, including Roger Lancelyn Green. Lewis asked Hooper to write Green a letter and explain that Hooper was a collector of “Lewisiana” like Green and to work out with Green if they were “competitors or collaborators.”6 Time would prove that they were the best of collaborators as coauthors of the first true biography of Lewis, C. S. Lewis: A Biography (1974).

Lewis probably recognized his condition better than most. He knew he would die sooner or later. Not wishing to create a burden for Cambridge University and Magdalene College, his academic home for nine years, he sent a letter resigning his chair, probably as soon as he returned home.7 On August 12 and 13, Lewis wrote to Jock Burnet, the bursar of Magdalene College, to make arrangements for Hooper to pack his things and remove them from the college. He apologized for the trouble he was causing, but he explained that his “situation [was] rather desperate.”8 The college needed to reclaim its furniture and sell Lewis’s. He also asked that the painting of his grandfather Hamilton be sent to St Mark’s Church, Dundela, Belfast, where he had served as rector. It still hangs in the Parish Hall today.

Toward the end of August, Tolkien wanted to see Lewis again. Tolkien’s eldest son, Father John Tolkien, took Tolkien to see Lewis at the Kilns. Father John recalled: “We drove over to the Kilns for what turned out to be a very excellent time together for about an hour. I remember the conversation was very much about the Morte d’Arthur and whether trees died.”9

Ready for Death
Walter Hooper was back in the United States when Lewis wrote to him on September 3 to let him know that all was well at the Kilns. Though Warnie was still in Ireland behaving badly, the gardener and handyman, Fred Paxford, slept in the house in case Lewis had trouble during the night.10 After much wringing of hands and worry about his looming poverty, Lewis offered Hooper five pounds a week when he would return the first week of January 1964 to resume his work as Lewis’s secretary, now that Warnie had proved such an unreliable disappointment.11 To others, Jack regularly referred to himself as an “extinct volcano.”12 When asked how he managed his retirement, he came up with another line he rather liked. He said he would never have to read A. L. Rowse on Shakespeare’s sonnets, but he could reread the Iliad instead.13 On a deeper level, he had something to say to many about how close he came to death. The nurses all thought he had come to the Acland one last time to die. He said to many of his correspondents that it was a pity he had come to the very gates of Heaven so easily not to be allowed to enter. Now he would have to go through it all over again.14 Warnie finally returned home in early October.15 His return meant some relief from what Lewis regarded as the worst part of his invalid existence. The newspapers had reported Lewis’s illness and retirement, so he was flooded with letters of condolence, to which he felt obligated to reply.16 In spite of everything, he remained cheerful and grateful. He especially valued his friends who came to see him.17

Just as Jack had gone through anticipatory grief over Joy’s coming death, Warnie had gone through the same thing in his own way over Jack’s inevitable death. Yet he had pulled himself together and returned to the Kilns. His company would have meant so much to Jack. Of those last days together, Warnie wrote:

Joy had left us, and once again—as in the earliest days—we could turn for comfort only to each other. The wheel had come full circle: once again we were together in the little end room at home, shutting out from our talk the ever-present knowledge that the holidays were ending, that a new term fraught with unknown possibilities awaited us both. Jack faced the prospect bravely and calmly. “I have done all I wanted to do, and I’m ready to go,” he said to me one evening.18

The End
Warnie was always famous for preparing the tea on Thursday nights when the Inklings had gathered so long ago. He also brought the late-night tea to Jack and any guest he might have as they talked away. Even with Mrs. Miller in the house, Warnie brought Jack his tea in the afternoons that last autumn. He described the last time in the memoir he wrote that became a foundational piece of biography Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper would build upon, along with Surprised by Joy, when they wrote their biography of Lewis. Warnie said:

Friday, the 22nd of November 1963, began much as other days: there was breakfast, then letters and the crossword puzzle. After lunch he fell asleep in his chair: I suggested that he would be more comfortable in bed, and he went there. At four I took in his tea and found him drowsy but comfortable. Our few words then were the last: at five-thirty I heard a crash and ran in, to find him lying unconscious at the foot of his bed. He ceased to breathe some three or four minutes later.19

He was a week shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.

The death of C. S. Lewis came on the same day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, and all the news media were focused on that event, which gripped not only the United States but people around the world. Word of Lewis’s death had not gotten out. Douglas called Walter Hooper in the United States, and Hooper notified those he knew of who should be told.20 David Gresham had gone to New York to study at Mesivta Rabbi Chaim Berlin Talmudical college when he finished his studies in London, so he could not attend the funeral.21 Warnie was too intoxicated and overwhelmed by grief to attend. The funeral took place on November 26 at Holy Trinity Church, the parish church where Jack and Warnie had attended since moving to the Kilns. Only a small group attended. Ronald Head, the vicar of Holy Trinity, led the service, and Austin Farrer read the lesson, so we may assume that Kay was with him.22 The small party of mourners included Owen Barfield, Cecil Harwood, Ronald Tolkien, Colin Hardie, Robert “Humphrey” Havard, James Dundas-Grant, John Lawlor, Peter Bayley, Peter Bide, Molly and Len Miller, Fred Paxford, Maureen (Lady Dunbar) and Leonard Blake, and Douglas Gresham.23

A large gravestone covers the length and breadth of the grave of C. S. Lewis. When Flora Hamilton Lewis died in 1908, the quotation for the day on her Shakespearean calendar came from King Lear:
Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither;
Ripeness is all.24

A large gravestone covers the length and breadth of the grave of C. S. Lewis.

On Lewis’s gravestone, Warnie had the epitaph engraved:

Harry Lee Poe (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University, where he has taught a course on C. S. Lewis for over twenty years. He is the author of twenty books, including The Inklings of Oxford and C. S. Lewis Remembered, as well as numerous articles on Lewis and the Inklings. Poe hosts the annual Inklings Weekend in Montreat, North Carolina, and is a regular speaker on Lewis at universities and other venues worldwide.

Thanxgiving Approaches

Thanxgiving later next week remains the last of America’s truly “family holidays.”  There was a time when almost all holidays were family times, oriented around a dad, mom and progeny that were born to them; perhaps some extensions with uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents if one was fortunate enough to meet the octogenarians of previous generations.  As a child, if a family did not have their groceries and details in order for any holiday, from New Years Day to Independence Day to Christmas, you could anticipate sitting at home for the day with nothing to do or eat!

Like the last gasps of a dying patient before he leaves the world of the living, Turkey Day is getting a small reprieve from the incessant march of materialism and identity politics that are trampling the “old world” underfoot.  Many stores are closing this Thanxgiving, more than in previous years.

Walmarts, even though started by a man who claimed to be a Christian, have been open on TG Day since the 1980s, but like many retailers, closed for the holiday during covid’s run in 2020 and ’21.  Now, they and others like Target have decided to keep the fourth Thursday of November as a true holiday with closed stores.

Yahoo News reports that stores closed for Thanksgiving 2022 will include Aldi’s, Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, HomeGoods, Penney’s, Kohl’s, Marshalls, Sam’s Club, Staples, Target and Walmart.  Even the entire Fayette Mall will be closed!   And Lowe’s and Home Depot have always been closed on TG Day since their founding, so no surprises there… yet.  Only a handful of national chains like 7-11 or drug stores plan to open this Thanksgiving.

But do not let this small respite this year deceive you.  The retailers are boasting all kinds of “Black Friday” deals and special times of openings on the day after.  And I suspect it will only be a matter of a few years before they start competing again for Thanxgiving Day dollars, opening earlier and earlier until it will seem as ludicrous to be closed on Thanxgiving as Kohl’s found it when they started opening in Lexington at midnight as Thursday turned into Friday.  Now the stores all offer “Black Friday Deals” starting the week before Thanxgiving!

Add to that the constant slowing of the beep-beep of the nation’s heart-monitor as the family becomes more distant and dissected by unmarried young people who, though living together, are divorced from real family relationships that call for commitment and tenacity to maintain the vitality of a tribal identity.  And many people are actually getting tired of the battles for in-person best deals on Black Friday as online shopping has taken off so well over the past two years.

It may seem bleak to those of us who remember gathering with family for all of the holidays past: Christmas at Grandpa’s farm in Paradise, Kansas; New Year’s Eve at a “watchnight” service in a local church that would find people at the altar praying instead of counting down the ball-drop with Dick Clark on TV; President’s Day that combined Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays into one day in February; St. Patrick’s Day parades downtown; Easter with pageantry of the Crucifixion and Resurrection played out by Sunday School teachers dressed in bath robes; Memorial Day when we would decorate the graves of deceased family members; Independence Day with parades and fireworks; the long eventless summer with only family and sometimes a week at camp.  Then the fall would kick off a new season with Veteran’s Day parades and honors for our war dead as we went back to school; Halloween would push us into “THE holidays” with Christmas decorations still in storage until after Thanxgiving Day.

And every one of these “holy-days” were spent with family, whether at a graveside or cheering a high school band in a parade; whether at a church meeting or dressed in Dad’s overalls and washable dots for whiskers for a costume.
We were always together as a family.

But those days are gone, and likely not coming back.  These are not just the musings of a man reaching old age.  It is an observation of the desert of relationships to which society is inexorably moving, and of the times in which we live.

History is reaching a tipping point from which there is no return.   We will not be like gods, the way many are expecting.  From TED talks to Disney productions, mankind has drunk from the devil’s kool-aid, and Father in Heaven is getting ready to say, “That is quite enough of that.”   The devil’s lie is still what it was in the Garden of Eden: “YOU can be like GOD!” (Genesis 3:5)

Whether it is age-defying creams for sale at Walgreen’s, diets to prolong life in Men’s Health or movies that portray survivors of cataclysms (Greenland), humans still want to believe they are limitless.

History is not repeating itself (though it does rhyme); i.e., no century on earth has ever seen the technological and global developments we are witnessing.  At no time in our past have we every reached the 8,000,000,000th person, which ethnographers believe we attained on November 15.  Before our time, no one even expected this until Robert Frolich wrote The P-Bomb in 1968, which proved to be a farsical over-simplification of human resourcefulness.

All indications point to a mark in history soon to occur: the return of Jesus, called the Christ, at which time the Last Age of the Earth will begin.  This is not the fantasy of Hollywood movies, but the trajectory of God’s timeline revealed in the Bible, where not a single prophecy has ever been demonstrated to not occur.  The only ones left to be fulfilled are those that refer to this final chapter of this world’s story.  So gather with your family this Thanxgiving and thank The God Who Is for revealing His love, holiness, grace and truth in Jesus, and for promising to come back and take those who have put their faith in Him to be with Him forever.

If you do not know Jesus, please, please, please, consider praying to Him to invite Him into your life today.  Contact me if you want to know more or to find out how this will radically affect your life, relationships and future . . . while there is still time.

Maranatha, even so, come Lord Jesus.

Rated PG-13: Christianity and Sex

Why Do Christians Make Such a Big Deal about Sex?
September 26, 2022 by: Rebecca McLaughlin (in Crossway.org, an excellent free resource for book reviews.)

Beliefs about Sex
One day, to try and catch him in his words, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3).  Some Jewish rabbis allowed divorce for any reason.  Others only allowed it in cases of adultery.  The casualties of the more permissive view were women, who could be abandoned freely.  Jesus replied, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:4–6)

Jesus goes right back to the beginning of the Bible, when God creates us — “male and female” — in his image. (Gen. 1:28)  These are the first words the Bible says about humanity.  They are also the first planks in the raft of human equality.  We tend to see equality for men and women as a self-evident truth.  But it is not.  It started as a Judeo-Christian belief.1

Beliefs about Equality
Jesus connects God’s creation of male and female in Genesis 1 to a pivotal verse in Genesis 2.  God makes man first, but then says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18)  This role is not inferior.  In the rest of the Old Testament, God himself is most often described as a helper.  What is more, the creation of the woman is not an afterthought.  In Genesis 1, humanity is told to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).  It is literally impossible for man to accomplish this mission without woman!

In Confronting Jesus, this follow-up to Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin shares important biblical context to help all readers explore who Jesus really is and understand why the Gospels should be taken seriously as historical documents.

Right after God says he’s going to make a helper, he brings the animals to the man and gives him the chance to name them.  But no animal is a fit helper for the man (Gen. 2:20).  God does not discover this by trial and error.  (Maybe an orangutan? Nope. How about a chimpanzee? Nope.)  God already made the animals before he said he would make a helper for the man.  Parading the animals before the man emphasizes that the woman is different from them.  Instead of being like an animal, she is like the man.  To underscore this point, Genesis describes God putting the man to sleep, taking a part of his side — almost like taking a cutting from a plant — and making the woman.  On seeing her, the man exclaims, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.” (Gen. 2:23)

Just like in English, the Hebrew word for woman (ishshah) includes the word for man (ish).  The first words God speaks about humans in the Bible were that he would make them — male and female — in his image.  The first words a human speaks in the Bible celebrate the relationship between male and female.  They are followed by the verse that Jesus quotes in his response to the Pharisees: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24)

Man and woman are cut from the same cloth.  Marriage is in one sense a reunion, as man and woman become “one flesh.”  In case we missed the role of sex, the narrative concludes, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen. 2:25)  This is the picture to which Jesus points when he’s asked about divorce.  If a husband and a wife are “no longer two but one flesh,” if God himself has joined them together, then who are we to tear them apart?  But we do.

The Spiritual Significance of Sex
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful short story, Zikora, begins with a woman in labor.  As the story and the labor progress, we see Zikora texting the father of her baby.  He was her long-term boyfriend who abandoned her when she declined his proposal — not of marriage, but of abortion. 

“’I’ll take care of everything,’ he said.”2  She had told him she was stopping birth control and thought he was on board.  But he had said they had miscommunicated.  “‘Kwame,’ I said finally, in a plea and a prayer, looking at him, loving him. Our conversation felt juvenile; an unreal air hung over us. I wanted to say, ‘I’m thirty-nine and you’re thirty-seven, employed and stable, I have a key to your apartment, your clothes are in my closet, and I’m not sure what conversation we should be having, but it shouldn’t be this one.’”3

We find out later that Zikora had an abortion at age nineteen.  She was pregnant by a guy she had met in college.  “’I don’t do commitment,’ he had said, ‘but I didn’t hear what he said, Zikora recalls; ‘I heard what I wanted to hear: he hadn’t done commitment yet.’”4 

In the first century, poverty and fatherlessness often led to infants being left outside to die.  Today, they are the biggest drivers of abortion — which is often less the flower of a woman’s so-called right to choose and more a bitter fruit served up to women who feel like they don’t have a choice.5

Jesus locates sex in the one-flesh union of marriage between a man and a woman and gives it spiritual significance.

In some ways, the divorce of sex from marriage that we’ve witnessed in the twenty-first-century West is not unprecedented.  Some form of commitment-free sex for men has been a feature of most societies throughout history, and women have borne the consequences: social, emotional, and physical.  But Jesus locates sex in the one-flesh union of marriage between a man and a woman and gives it spiritual significance.  This makes sense of his hard words about adultery and other forms of sexual immorality.  Sex is not just a pleasurable act.  It is not even just a means for having kids.  It is an expression of a one-flesh unity, made by God to picture Jesus’ love for us.

The Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (Matt. 19:7).  Jesus replies, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:8–9)  This teaching protected women and children from being abandoned.  It presents marriage as a permanent commitment that can only be undone by adultery.  As usual, Jesus takes what the Old Testament law said about sexual ethics and tightens it up.  Even his own disciples are shocked (Matt. 19:10).  So why does Jesus — who never married — see marriage in these uncompromising terms?  Because it is a picture of his own love for his church.

Whenever people ask me why Christians are so weird about sex, I first point out that we are weirder than they think.  The fundamental reason why Christians believe that sex belongs only in the permanent bond of male-female marriage is because of the metaphor of Jesus’ love for his church.  It is a love in which two become one flesh.  It is a love that connects across sameness and radical differences: the sameness of our shared humanity and the radical difference of Jesus from us.  It is a love in which husbands are called not to exploit, abuse, or abandon their wives, but to love and sacrifice for them, as Jesus did for us.  In Adichie’s story, Zikora’s college boyfriend often said, “‘I don’t do commitment’ with a rhythm in his voice, as if miming a rap song.”6  With the same consistent rhythm in his teaching, life, and death, Jesus says to us, “I do.”

Notes:

  1. Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, vol. 2, trans. J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914), 65.
  2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zikora: A Short Story (Seattle, WA: Amazon, 2020), Kindle.
  3. Adichie, Zikora.
  4. Adichie, Zikora.
  5. For more on this, see Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging 5 Contemporary Claims (Austin, TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021), 75–80.
  6. Adichie, Zikora.

This article is adapted from Confronting Jesus: 9 Encounters with the Hero of the Gospels by Rebecca McLaughlin for Crossway.
Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin (PhD, Cambridge University) is the author of Confronting Christianity, named Christianity Today’s 2020 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year. Her subsequent works include 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about ChristianityThe Secular Creed; and Jesus through the Eyes of Women.

 

Wordless Wednesday – Life Found!

Can you imagine the excitement if scientists find one living cell on Mars?
The headlines would shout out, LIFE FOUND!
A baby begins with two living cells, a sperm and ovum.

2022-07-13 Baby's Development

Guest Blog: My Six-Month Experiment with Christianity Turned into 12 Months, Then 24 …

How the son of a Hindu priest gradually made his peace with the “unfairness” of the Cross.
by Dr. Chris Goswami

2022-01-08 Chris Goswami

Even at the distance of over 40 years, I still remember having my fingerprints documented for my criminal record. It was the first time in my life I had felt ashamed about anything.

The young police constable was pleasant enough as he gently guided me through the process of fingers, thumbs, and ink pads. He was sensitive to the sense of grief originating from a single sound in the room: the uncontrollable weeping of my distraught mother sitting a few feet away, as my father tried quietly calming her.

As recent immigrants to the UK from India, they were confused and shocked. They had wrenched themselves from established lives as schoolteachers. They had traveled to England by sea, working in a shoe factory and selling bus tickets so that my brother and I could go to school. For families immigrating from the Indian subcontinent, providing an education for their children was (and still is) the driving priority. So when my parents discovered that their teenage son had spent years secretly engaging in arson and shoplifting just “for fun,” they could barely comprehend it.

Sometimes it takes the tears of a loved one to stop us in our tracks and focus our minds on where we’ve gone wrong. But what exactly was I ashamed of? My mother’s grief had brought sudden clarity about the damage I had caused to my family — shameful, lasting damage. It dawned on me that there really is a moral law in the universe, and I had overstepped it. Actions had consequences, just as my family had taught me. The Hindu idea of karma, I had learned, is that you get what you deserve. Here was karma, spectacularly demonstrated.

Debating Christianity
I am the son of a Hindu priest who was himself the son of a Hindu priest. In the working-class English town where I grew up, life revolved around our close-knit Indian community. We regularly met in temples or public halls to celebrate religious festivals and holidays. I never once heard the gospel in my first 18 years. My understanding had always been that “Christian” meant you were white and British, and no one ever suggested otherwise.

But then I left home for university and — by some divinely orchestrated coincidence — got to know a bunch of Christians. To me, they were do-gooders: nice enough people who just did not have their heads screwed on straight when it came to being rational. They would take me along to meetings where someone would present a Christian message or testimony. Afterwards, we would debate what seemed (to me) like the many holes in their arguments. Despite my skepticism, these good Christian students adopted me as some kind of “project.” I did not share their faith, but their friendship and concern moved me.

You see, there was always one roadblock on my journey to understanding Christianity, one concept that, in my view, was immoral and unacceptable: the idea of grace. The notion of someone else suffering shame and pain for the wrongs I had chalked up was absurd and repugnant. To me, grace and karma were complete opposites. Karma is logical; it feels right. It is fair. Karma is what happened in the police station that day.

This attitude persisted for some time, until one of my friends, Alex, commented thoughtfully, “Chris, you can argue forever about the unfairness of the Cross. In many ways you’re absolutely right. Or, you can accept that this man Jesus died because he loves you. It’s up to you.”

Still carrying my doubts, I worked out a way to give this Christian thing a try: Make the commitment, say the prayer, and see what happens over the next six months. I reckoned I would know in that time if it was true or not. What was there to lose?

The six months became 12, and then 24 (mainly because I continued to enjoy the social life of church). I graduated in engineering and began studying toward a PhD. But I was a lazy Christian. I barely picked up a Bible, prayer was an annoying afterthought, and I only went to church if I felt like it, which was not often.

One day, my Anglican minister, David, made a suggestion. He said I should get baptized. I was appalled at the thought. Genuinely horrified. The exact words in my head were: “Baptism is something you Brits do to your babies — why are you talking to me about this?” I had seen infant baptisms on TV — was this fellow seriously suggesting wrapping me up in a white gown and dunking my head in a bowl?

Despite my recoiling, David persisted, and he showed me in Scripture where the baptism of adults took place. I was still unnerved by the whole thing. It sounded crazy. But David gently advised that I should make a decision: Accept the faith, all of it, or reject it. Eventually, I consented. And so, one quiet evening in March 1984, I found myself at the first baptism service I ever attended — my own. I still recall my bewilderment as I noticed the sprinkling of water falling from my head onto the pages of the service book in my hands and wondered, for a second, if I might get into trouble. I did not! And God honored that small act of obedience.

The Wilderness Year
Within days, even hours, of my baptism, I felt a restless urge to quit studying and “do something different.” (Only much later would I come to understand what it means to experience a baptism of the Holy Spirit.) After a few unsuccessful applications for jobs in Zambia and Kenya, I got a position lecturing at an engineering college in India.

I had grand ideas — mainly based on English college life — of what my sojourn in India would look like. However, it was nothing like that. The school, only partially built, was located in a remote part of the country. I was told to teach computing with no computers, and for several months I had a “laboratory” with nothing in it — just a bare room. Meanwhile, I lived in a small village outside the college town, in a humble dwelling with intermittent power, no running water, and scary wildlife — including “snakes and scorpions” (Luke 10:19) — wandering around outside.

Worst of all, I felt suddenly and terribly alone. Though eventually I made some truly great friends, those first few weeks were unbearably lonely. There was no church, and there were no other Christians. In short, I hated it. In the evenings, I could just see airplanes flying into the horizon toward distant lands. I dearly wished I was on board. There were frequent tears — I couldn’t understand what I was doing.

Later in my faith journey, I could see that this was a “wilderness” experience of the sort many other Christians have shared. It’s a model we receive from Jesus himself. Sometimes it is exactly what God needs to break through a hard heart.

After some weeks, I discovered a small fellowship that met in another town. Every Sunday morning, I would ride a jam-packed bus to get there, which involved struggling mightily just to climb aboard. This was hard but encouraging all at once. I remember distinctly hearing God say, “Chris, when your fellowship was a short walk down the road in England, you could not be bothered to go. Now you will fight to go.” I was broken, but I was also being remade.

Those surprised and wonderful Indian Christians welcomed me from the day they set eyes on me. Every Sunday became an entire day at their house, complete with meals, conversations, love, and support. During those months, with their help, I grew enormously in faith. I began devouring Scripture — sometimes for hours in a day — and I discovered a God who wanted me to depend on him, a God who knew me and spoke to me. A God who was not a six-month experiment.

That year included another unexpected blessing: a chance to travel north overnight and meet my previously unknown set of cousins, aunts, and uncles. They are Christian. (My mother had actually given up her nominal Christian faith when she married my Hindu father.) And they were able to introduce me to a much wider range of Indian church experiences.

At the end of that year, on my return to the UK, folks in that small Anglican church (who had also supported me through the year with letters and recordings) barely recognized me. “You’ve completely changed!” they would invariably say.

Incomprehensible Grace
Since then, I have married my lovely Christian wife, Alison (I think she also adopted me as a project!). We now have three wonderful daughters in their 20s. Around 10 years ago, while working in the telecommunications industry, I began training as a Baptist minister. Today, I help lead a small English church while keeping a part-time role in the tech world.

God has answered many prayers over the years, while leaving many others unanswered. We have endured our share of family crises, but in Christ I have an anchor in those storms. If you’re looking for an easy ticket through life, the Christian faith is not it. But if you want purpose, meaning, and direction, here is a narrative, a grand story, in which you have your own essential part to play. And most importantly, you get the incomparable privilege of intimately knowing the Author.

I should say that my mother’s driving ambition was also fulfilled. I ended up with a bunch of university degrees — I really hope it makes up for that day in the police station! But she got more than she bargained for, becoming a Christian during her own life crisis, after my father left us in my teens amid considerable family sadness. She passed away a few years ago as part of a loving, faithful congregation in that same small town where we grew up.

I don’t understand grace, even now. The Cross is appallingly unfair. I suspect I’ll never have it entirely figured out, at least in this lifetime. But I’m thankful that because of God’s grace, I can love Him and commit my life to Him even as He and his grace lie outside my capacity to fully understand.
____________________________________
Chris Goswami, PhD, is Associate Pastor at Lymm Baptist Church, Vice President of Communications at Enea Openwave. His writing appears on his website, 7minutes.net.

A Last Look at Love, Marriage and Sex in 2021

Today I will take a last look (for the present time) at love as it applies to marriage and then next week we will begin to look at some current issues in the news.

2021-12-04 Wedding BandsAs I have mentioned in previous blogs, there is one and only one distinctive that defines a marriage.  Every service and provision except one that a husband and wife give to each other can be done by another.  This is evident in how The 5 Love Languages and Love and Respect can easily be applied to other relationships.  Even in His Needs, Her Needs, many of the emotional needs can be met by someone other than one’s spouse.  In fact, that is what Dr. Harley warns against, simply because if someone other than one’s spouse meets some of those needs, this could result in the development of an affair.  Thus his text is subtitled, Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.

Yet, many spouses may be handicapped or have some disability that prevents them from supplying one or more of those basic emotional needs, and there are people who make their living supplementing what a spouse cannot; e.g., companions who take people to shop or provide recreational outlets, financial advisors who regulate purchases and manage a spouse’s money, housekeepers who supply domestic support, etc..  But there is one service that others cannot supply without significant consequences.

James notes that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”  That is to say that all sin IS sin, and that the most important issue is WHO is sinned against.  In his thinking, there is no difference between the various sins listed in the law as all of them are offenses against God’s holiness.  However, the apostle Paul makes a distinction of one sin that is different from any others,  He says in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that “Every sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”  Furthermore, Jesus even indicated there are differences in ‘levels of sin’ when He told Pilate, “He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)

So it is that the distinct aspect of sexual copulation is reserved for those in a committed relationship, a covenant of marriage.  This is more than a contract.  In a contract, Party 1 says, I will perform function A if Party 2 performs function B; Party 2 agrees to perform function B as long as Party 1 performs function A.  Contracts are mutually accepted constraints and responsibilities that remain dependent on the performers.  If Party 1 fails to provide function A, Party 2 is released from being required to provide function B, and vice versa.

But the Bible sets up marriage differently: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  (Genesis 2:24)    Notice, the first responsibility is on the husband; nothing is said in Genesis about a wife’s role in the marriage, other than the sexual union of becoming one flesh.

This is consistent with the rest of Scripture that puts the onus on a husband to love his wife as he loves his own body; to be faithful to the point that even the Lord’s disciples said, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)  There is a mutuality to this relationship as Paul explains in his letter to the Corinthians, but it starts with a man’s responsibility to provide conjugal relations and affection for his wife, and then moves on to instruct that neither the husband nor the wife has final say about their own bodies, but rather the other party is in charge.

So where does that leave us in the covenant?  The current emphasis on “covenanting” in marriage is that even if one party does nothing to fulfill his or her part, the other party is still fully responsible for doing whatever they agreed to in the marriage ceremony: to love, honor, cherish, keep oneself only for one’s spouse, etc.  One friend once explained, “Any marriage that is based on a 50-50 agreement is dangerously close to dissolution.  Only a marriage based on 100-100 is safe.”

Drs. Harley and Eggerichs both point out in their books and websites that if someone attempts to do the exercise of providing for a spouse’s needs based on the idea, “I’ll try this for a couple of weeks and see if I get feedback that is acceptable,” he or she is likely to be sadly disappointed.  The issue is not to get your way in the marriage, as if The 5 Love Languages, the Energizing Cycle or supplying emotional needs for a spouse were means to manipulate a spouse into doing what you want them to do!

The bottom line for the Christ-follower, whether man or woman, is to please our Master, Jesus.   Suppose a husband said to his wife, “Let’s not talk any more.  We have enough memories of all our conversations and I have no desire to converse.  We can always text, email or even write letters, but let’s stop talking.”  Or imagine a wife who says, “Let’s not have sex anymore.  We have enough memories from our bedroom and I have no desire to do it anymore. We can always cuddle and hug, but let’s stop lovemaking.”

The responsibility to provide your spouse’s needs are not dependent on their willingness to provide for yours!  Our responsibility is to the author of life, our Creator, and He will judge or reward us according to what we have done while in these bodies.  NOTE: this is not about salvation, which is accomplished by the blood of Jesus and His resurrection, but He will reward us based on the work we have done as His followers. (See 1 Corinthians 3:10-14.)

So whatever your relation to your spouse is like, it is up to you to fulfill your responsibility to speak your spouse’s Love Language, to show Love and Respect unconditionally, to provide for their basic emotional needs, and to enjoy The Gift of Sex that is exclusively reserved for those in a covenant of marriage.  It is that which expresses most clearly our relationship to Christ as part of His church.  It is the distinctive that defines a marriage and no one else is allowed by the Creator to supply.

The Gift of Sex – A Review

The last three weeks (1, 2, 3) I covered book reviews of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love And Respect by Emerson Eggerichs and His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley.  Today’s book review, The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner, more than any of the others, is for married people, although singles can benefit by understanding some of their married friends’ issues.  Remember, the best expert on ANY relationship is Jesus, who was an adult single and never experienced sex, even though He “invented” it.

Gift of Sex“Men and women are different.  Women desire sex and open up sexually when they feel loved by and connected with their husbands; men connect and feel loved through sex.”  This preliminary explanation in the preface sets the tone and direction for the rest of the text.  Men traditionally start this connection by asking a woman for a date and getting to know her.  The Penners compare this process to Christ loving the Church and initiating the model by which a man is supposed to love his wife illustrated in Ephesians 5:22-33.

“The husband loves, adores, and connects with his wife;
His adoration allows her to open up sexually;
His affirmation ignites her passion;
She invites him sexually;
He feels validated, so they both end up happy;
It’s a win, win!”

Two major contentions of the Penners are 1) that a man is never truly satisfied unless his wife is; 2) that a woman must believe she is worthy of pleasure and that she has a right to be sexual; her body is designed not just for reproduction, but also for sexual satisfaction and pleasure.  They note that there are many individual permutations of the assumptions they lay out in the book, but there are general principles that can be applied to enhance sexual function in marriage to make the partnership most satisfying to both.

2021-11-27 Milky Way LoveThe first major section of the book is subtitled “A Biblical Perspective.”  They point out that sex was not a result of the fall or a human idea.  Maleness and femaleness was God’s design to enable humans to understand the relationship between Him and His creation.  “It is part of the original perfect creation of mankind.”  There is nothing dirty or sinful about sex as long as it is practiced in the guidelines the Designer set up: an exclusive monogamous husband and wife in a covenant commitment for as long as they both live.  Throughout Scripture the husband-wife sexual relationship is used to symbolize the Divine-human one.

The Bible teaches sex is for unity, procreation and pleasure and assumes a healthy passion.  “Our sexuality is not something to be diminished as we become more ‘spiritual.’  It is part of us as spiritual, godly persons and is good.”  Its guiding foundation is that men and women are equal – not identical in either roles or behavior, but in terms of value, ability and position before God.  We are expected to give ourselves to each other in marriage under the mutual command of 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband… Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time.”

Paul recognized, that while he would prefer people to be unmarried as he was (he was most likely a widower), human passions are very strong and for many, marriage is the best way to avoid falling into sins of adultery or fornication.  “Let them marry (i.e., and enjoy sexual release) – it is no sin.”  (7:36)

From this basis, Penners go on to describe as clinicians in “The Physical Dimension,” the body parts involved, with more details about the sex organs than many need to read.  However, this also provides helpful material, especially if one is in any measure uninformed about sexual responsiveness of the opposite sex from a biological perspective.

Following this, Penners characterize “The Total Experience” with such chapter titles as “Getting Interested,” “Having Fun,”… “Meshing Your Worlds,” … “By Invitation Only,” “Letting Go,”… and “Cleaning Up.”  With skills developed by teaching hundreds of Christian Perspectives in Sexual Enjoyment seminars, they adeptly address pragmatic details many texts on marriage relations omit, usually on the assumption that Christ-followers will discuss intimate details – an assumption that is often inaccurate.  Frequent references back to the basics of 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5 ground their advice solidly in Scripture.

2021-11-27 When Sex Is Not WorkingAlthough “The Total Experience” mentions a few obstacles that may come up, “When Sex Isn’t Working” goes into great detail to help couples find and explore the roots, evidences, and solutions to problems in a sexual relationship.  The longest section in the book suggests that there are lots of dysfunctions that may occur within marriages.  From “You Want To Do What?” to “Pornography and the Internet,” the Penners take us on a survey of some of the most common obstacles to sexual fulfillment in marriage.

Parts of this section hark back to The 5 Love Languages, Love and Respect, and His Needs, Her Needs“The starting point for resolving any difficulty is always effective communication.”  While the Bible strictly confines sexual activity to the marriage relationship, no guidelines are given about what is acceptable in lovemaking activity.  Again, using Biblical ethics (e.g., Paul’s concern not to offend a brother by eating meat sacrificed to an idol; see Romans 14:13-16) they proficiently address differences in views husbands and wives may hold toward lovemaking actions and move a couple toward a satisfying acceptance of each other.  The entire section is filled with very practical and explicit advice for how to meet and overcome apparent dilemmas in sexual satisfaction.

2021-11-27 Happy CoupleThe final brief section, “Enhancing the Sexual Experience,” explores how to invite God into the bedroom.  Remembering that sex was His idea, the Penners go on to address how to talk lovingly with each other about sexual issues, if outside help in the form of counseling is needed, and they close with some questions asked in various seminars.

Good reading for any couple considering marriage, for enhancing an already good one, and great helps for any in conflict over sexual issues.  And it is helpful for the unmarried to sympathize with married friends.  The underlying assumption, only addressed specifically in Love and Respect, is that the involved parties are people of good will toward each other.  If this in not the case in your life, there are other issues that need resolution first, with books and resources available to help.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”  Hebrews 13:4