You would think after 279 years of performances, we would all get tired of Handel’s Messiah, but I went back to see a live performance at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (because the COVID police allowed us to gather again). And it was a packed house on a Saturday night. We are not tired of it.
Handel’s Messiah is the ultimate lectio divina and this performance was only the Christmas portions which park you primarily in Isaiah and Malachi. There are few times in my day-to-day life where I choose to be stuck with just a few Scripture verses over several hours which perhaps is the appeal of this performance to a believer like me. The Messiah musically is an old friend, but lyrically is my oldest and closest friend and I always notice something amazing when I hear the familiar, comforting scriptures being sung.
The Chorus portions are my favorite especially the repetition of Malachi 3:3:
“And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.”
I’m sitting in my chair, crammed in the back of the ASO between Mel and my church friend Cheryl thinking, “But how? How did he purify the sons of Levi? How did they ever bring an offering in righteousness?”
The history of the Levites is rather storied, and it doesn’t have some tidy ending of the temple finally being the holy habitation where good priests do the right thing–unless you know some history I do not. How does a righteous offering come into the hands of the sons of Levi?
Levi was Leah’s third son, the son she named hoping her partial-to-Rachel husband would finally come around to love her instead (Genesis 29:34). And Levi helps avenge Dinah by ethnically cleansing the males of Shechem (Genesis 34) and gets a curse from his father Jacob of all his descendants being “scattered in Israel” (Gen. 49: 7) The namesake of this tribe wasn’t pure.
Half a millennium later, after Moses kills an Egyptian, flees Egypt for 40 years, and returns per God’s directive, he begins a new legacy for Levites.
Don’t misunderstand God. GOD LOVES THE SONS OF LEVI:
“Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” (Numbers 3:12-13)
But Levites don’t seem pure and from the get-go seem to be in conflict with God:
“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.” (Leviticus 10:1-3)
Nadab and Abihu set a precedent for ungodliness, disobedience, and issues the sons of Levi will have not limited to:
Graphic gang rape/murder of concubine of Levite and dissection of her body (Judges 19)
Eli, a Levite’s family is cursed because they blaspheme God (1 Samuel 3)
Uzzah (a Benjamite) dies because Levites aren’t doing their job of carrying ark (2 Samuel 6)
King Jeroboam has non-Levites set up fake worship (1 Kings 12)
Levites weren’t getting paid so they couldn’t keep up temple duties (Nehemiah 13)
Levites failed at shepherding Israel and are indicted (Ezekiel 34)
Levites found intermarrying with foreigners (Ezra 9)
It would seem to me that for almost 2,000 years, the “sons of Levi” hadn’t been very pure, and had abjectly failed at most of their duties of presenting offerings to God in righteousness and atone for the sins of a nation.
So the last words of God before 400 years of silence with a promise, “And He shall purify the sons of Levi” seems like an impossible thing.
I’m sitting in my cramped chair at the ASO and realize again, our Messiah from a new vantage, the purifier as well as the righteous offering.
Jesus became the righteous offering, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53)
Jesus offers purity for all (not even just the Levites) who confess (1 John 1:9)
Jesus lets anyone experience the Holy Presence God, not just a Levite
Jesus did his sacrificial duties once for all and sat down, done, no more sacrifices
Jesus never fails at shepherding his people, like the Levites did
Jesus doesn’t intermarry, but he has one bride for life, the church (Revelation 22) who he would never throw out to a mob of rapists, but cares for perfectly.
Lord, thank you for always having a plan for the sons of Levi, from the difficult beginning of a son with an unloved mom, to all the rough times this people experienced and for becoming success in their failures. Thank you for calling me a priest, a holy priesthood that can serve you in righteousness. You have the best plans in our pains to shepherd us through the darkness of this world.
What’s your reaction when a scandal breaks? Or when you find out someone close to you had a secret sin that unearthed? Why does the revealing of the sin thwack your heart and send a shock through it? As I read the comments sections on Facebook, and read blog posts trickling out about Ravi Zacharias, the shock, the hurt comes out in various ways. First defensiveness comes out, odd ways of justifying evil, and then often acceptance of reality. As the past decade in the Christian online world has dealt with the third generation of Americans dealing with the sexual revolution’s tornado of destruction, we have a whole genre of purity culture “survivors,” we have backlash against misogyny in complementarian denominations, we have black Christians who are “leaving loud” the evangelical movements. And in the midst of this, the #MeToo and #BLM inform how we are to discuss sexuality and racism. We try to use the PC words and identify the PC problems.
I read about power and abuse and Christian ministries with what often amounts to dumb, lazy board members allowing bad behavior from leaders and we all wonder,
“What can we do to prevent this evil from happening again?”
“What can we do to make sure evil comes to light sooner rather than later?”
“Let’s prevent another Ravi Zacharias.”
Good for us. Let’s prevent covered-up of evil leaders. That is noble and important part of purifying the church and protecting the weak from the 2 Timothy 3:6 kind, “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires.” Yes, get out, hidden evil.
But as I’ve processed the Ravis, the Driscolls, the Tchividjians (and there are so many more—like 2 SBC pastors recently fired over child porn possession) over the past decade plus, I find it’s easy to blame far, far away board members, and elders, and people outside of my sphere for the tarnishing of the name of Christ. It’s nice to blame the nebulous “evangelical culture” for “allowing and fostering abusers.” But what about the rest of us? What I’ve come to realize when I take a look in the mirror, is I need to ask myself, “What am I doing about the evil I do know about.” I literally couldn’t do anything about Ravi even though I lived 20 minutes away from the Ravi Zacharias headquarters. I’ve driven by the strip malls the infamous spas were located at where he abused women. I’ve spent money on events and retreats at RZIM headquarters. I had no idea he was an evil man and serial abuser. That was in the dark. But what evil is lit up, brightly, in my face that I do not complain about, that I do nothing about, that I pretend I cannot see? What evil am I tolerating (see Revelation 2:20 on the sins Thyatira tolerated)?
Want the dirty secret? We don’t want to do anything! We love muttering to ourselves, “Oh my word, terrible, terrible, we never could’ve known, how awful, awful, I hope this never happens again, my oh my!”
And we can go back to our comfortable, lazy, passive lives. We take a moment to feel sorry for the victims, the unemployed, we hope they get good therapy, and we get back to our Netflix.
God doesn’t call you to be God, to be all-knowing, so he call us instead to, “finally be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might,” (Ephesians 6) and to be aware that most evil is obvious.
I like to think about most medical issues that end up ending lives are usually by a constellation of comorbidities. What ends life are a host of issues that finally lead to death. For forty years, a man smoked cigarettes, which causes gradual development of emphysema, which led to his chronic hypoxemia, which led to myocardial dysfunction, which led to congestive heart failure, etc. When that man is finally in the ICU on a ventilator moments from his family pulling the plug and his death, no good intensivist is surprised. Chronic diseases cause most deaths. The evidences of 40 years of choices finally had the final say.
Most deaths don’t shock us. And that’s the same with the slow deaths of sins around us. God knows this about our sins, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5)
God isn’t calling most Christians to detective work and surveillance of preventing big, public scandals. Just like most doctors aren’t called to resurrect people. Life takes a toll. Sinfulness takes a toll. Please, stop acting surprised at hidden evil when you do nothing about evident evil. No good doctor lies to their patients about the effects of their choice to smoke, drink too much, and be fat.
What are evident evils I live and interact with daily I do nothing about? What are the chronic comorbidities leading to deaths around me?
Abortion – babies die from the abortion pill 10 minutes from my house. I rarely stand as a peaceful presence to engage families killing their babies. Why am I so heartless?
Pornography – statistics tell me about 47% of American families report pornography as a problem in their home. Over half of pastors look at pornography regularly. Why don’t I say more? Do more for the few awesome organizations standing up against our pornification of America?
Greed –the average US household gives less than 4% of their income to charity. How greedy am I? Do I encourage Christians to be generous?
Desecration of marriage— Friends and family members cohabitate, they get divorced, young people and old people alike have sex outside of marriage and go to church. Am I checking in on my dating friends? Do I care enough to confront people living outside of God’s design? Why am I so passive? Why am I more scared of people than God and his beautiful design for sex?
Addiction— The alcohol and drug industries had landmark profitable years in 2020 with the lockdowns. How many people I love are alcoholics, abusing illegal and legal drugs? Do I check in on my patients and their narcotic use? Do I care enough about those in recovery to pray for them and be a good, solid friend in their journeys to be clean?
Sloth – The Bible is clear that if a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat. If you don’t provide for your household, you’re worse than a nonbeliever. Am I encouraging people to work? Do I invest in training men to find meaningful work? Am I mentoring to foster hardworking, diligent church members? Do I turn a blind eye at lazy Christians and not confront their blatant sin?
Perhaps the real scandal of Christianity isn’t all of our lofty leader’s hard falls, but it’s our own hardness of heart. I’m a human and I love a good gossip session, but I’m ready to change my focus from what I can’t see to what I can. There will always be gross things happening in secret, but what about the gross, chronic evils oozing right in front of our faces, on our little distracting screens? Why are we so callous?
I’ll end with what Paul says to do in Ephesians 5,
“Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. 7 Therefore, do not become their partners. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light[c] results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— 10 discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret. 13 Everything exposed by the light is made clear, 14 for what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said:
Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you”
Who are you? I think when you’re asked that question, most of us answer with our name, first name first, then maybe our last name, then perhaps our gender, maybe our relationship status, our ethnicity, our nationality, our chosen career path.
I’m Caroline Adobah, I’m a female, I’m an American PA…that’s who I am…
The past ten years has been marked by identity politics, the idea of tapping into a specific aspect of one’s identity and politicizing it to a point you can sway people into voting on a platform based on an identity so you can gain power. Monetize identities for your own gain. Demonize groups of people. Brilliant. People love themselves and power-hungry people love power. Everyone wins!
We are living in a world where you can even pick a new name, a new gender, you can pick you nationality (until you can’t), and you can pick your ethnicity (until you can’t).
Why this much confusion?
The answers can be found in asking the right questions: What does God say about people? How does God want us to view the world? In all the “church and racism” dialogue on the internet or the “church and gender,” I haven’t seen many articles on how God categorizes people. The Bible actually speaks to this. God categorizes people in specific ways and in specific patterns. I would love to have a conversation with you about how I categorize people and how I view them. I have strong biases that would make some of you cringe and some of you nod in agreement and it would probably be fun–more fun than what I’m about to do. But ultimately, who cares what I think in this moment in history and the buzz words I use because of the co-opting of language by the loudest voices? In the next 60 years, my finite brain will be in a box in the ground or in ashes in a little box on a wall. God lasts forever. What does God say compared to the world?
God says people are special creations
World’s Lie: Homo sapiens evolved from early hominid predecessors between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago.
Genesis 2:7 The Lord God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life and thus man became a living being.
Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
If you claim to be a Christian, but you still believe you’ve just “evolved,” I’m sorry! You’re so much more special than that! God created you and he took special time and care to crown his creation on the sixth day with people and your soul will live on forever. If we are just clumps of cells, why bother with trying? No wonder suicide is rampant. I am very special. All humans are because they’re made in the imprint of the Divine. If we lose this, we lose the most important foundation there is for existence.
2. God says people are male and female
World’s Lie: Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.” –World Health Organization
God’s Words: Genesis 5:2 “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Manwhen they were created.”
As a passionate medical professional, this lie has truly caught me off guard. There are so many foundational scientific realities that take zero acknowledgement of the Divine regarding gender. I have to understand the OLD DEFINITION of gender to love and care for the sick and this is not an area that anyone should be confused about. But it is. The WHO may squeeze me into casting off reality, but I want to understand people how God understands people and people are male and people are female. God understands us that way and so will I. And side note: God invented Gender Studies
3. God says he chooses certain people to be His people
World’s Lie: People have religion because of their cultural context. Christianity is a “white man’s religion” and because of your environment, you uphold a religious tradition and believe the dogma you were raised on in order to conform.
God chose the Jews
Deuteronomy 7:7-8 “The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the nations on the earth, to be His own. 7 The Lord did not give you His love and choose you because you were more people than any of the nations. For the number of your people was less than all nations. 8 But it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the promise He made to your fathers.”
God chose His Church
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Christianity isn’t a cultural tradition, it’s not just a set of beliefs or customs because it’s multinational and global and can conform to all cultures and identities. It’s divinely unique. It’s not just a religion. There are two types of people in the world: those who know Jesus and those who do not know Jesus. God sees people as His or not His. And according to Ephesians 1, he’s ALWAYS seen people as either His or Not His (“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world…”). No, we don’t always know this distinction but we have the mind of Christ so start looking at people in God’s categories as either lost or found. Jesus thought this way. He called people sheep (found) and goats (lost). Start thinking like Jesus.
4. God says people are nationally, tribally, people-grouped, and linguistically unique
World’s Lie: Humans should be categorized according to race, or traits linked with physical characteristics, such as hair texture or skin color and covers a relatively narrow range of options, such as a definition by anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, who divided humanity into five races: Negroid (Black) race, Australoid (Australian Aborigine and Papuan) race, Capoid (Bushmen/Hottentots) race, Mongoloid (Oriental/Amerindian) race, Caucasoid (White) race.
Genesis 11:9 “Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confusedthe language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”
Acts 17:26 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,”
Revelation 7:4 “And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel”
Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”
Revelation 13:7 “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,”
Revelation 14:6 “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people”
I’m excited about this point because the way God talks people is NOT WHAT I’M READING ON THE INTERNET.
If you read the minor prophets, God does have specific things to say to specific nations: judgments on Assyria, judgements on Egypt, judgements on Babylon. Nations matter and God does see nationality as an identifier.
If you read all about Israel, tribes matter. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. In Revelation 7, God has chosen people from tribes to be in heaven.
God invented languages. It was God’s idea to scatter people according to their language. Your linguistic identity is a category God created for humanity.
When you’re interacting with other people, do you think beyond physical appearance, and actually acknowledge nationality, tribe, and language? Are you curious enough to dig into national history, linguistic history, and tribal history of humanity? When you pray for “racial reconciliation,” are you praying like Ephesians 3 prays, for “every family” (aka people-group with common ancestry). Instead of praying for “racial reconciliation” can you prayer for inter-national, inter-tribal, and inter-linguistic reconciliation? God scattered humanity so there would be diversity. His home he created for us will be diverse. But not because of physical traits, but because of nationality, tribes, languages—some of which obviously do manifest in physical ways, but not always. God always wants this kind of diversity. We aren’t animals, we don’t breed, like the founders of Planned Parenthood believed, but we are people with national, tribal, linguistic identities that matter to our God and will finally be united in his throne room as one church. Stop thinking like the world tells you to think. I want a new mind because the internet and the world is so confused and so hateful. White supremacy, Black Power, ____Lives Matter, etc. What does God say about humans? The world is telling you to “do the work” of understanding racism in the West. Please, read history (and be choosy in your books, please—lies abound). Read about Rwanda. Read about the Holocaust. See God’s thread of salvation through the evil history of chattel slavery over the past 500 years. Understand how Genocides start (key theme: with coopting language). But will you also “do the work” of reading the Redemptive History God lays out in his word on how to think about humanity? What work will last? What do you need to do to love the sheep (Jesus’ people) and the goats (not Jesus people) in your life (the ultimate way God categorizes people)?
5. God says people will last forever but the earth won’t
World’s Lie: Planet earth is 4.53 billion years old and by 2050 violent storms and devastating blazes could be the least of the world’s troubles. Civilization itself will be at risk because of anthropomorphic global climate change. Humans will destroy their own planet.
God’s Words: 2 Peter 3:10-11 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.”
I don’t know exactly how the world will end, and I definitely do not know when, but I know humans will not destroy planet earth like God will destroy planet earth. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1) and if He made it, He can sustain it, and He can let nothing thwart his plans for His stuff. If you’re more worried about the planet’s history than people’s history, you aren’t thinking like God thinks. Peter says everything will be destroyed except what? Except people. God is a people-oriented God.
I’m tired of Christians latching on to the way the world thinks about people, but I’m more tired of me latching onto the way the world thinks about people. Most days I’m wrong. I’m a drifter (Hebrews 2:1). I see people in black and white (double-meaning intended), and I don’t see them as nations, tribes, tongues, and peoples. I see people ungendered, unspecial, un-eternal, and unchosen. I’m tired of doing the work the world wants me to do, and feeling like I should read their books, use their language, and use their ideas. I’m ready to rebel against the ideas of this age and their -isms. I’m ready for a revolution of thought. I’m ready for the light to shine into my dark thinking.
If you’re ready for a revolution, join me in doing the work of thinking God’s thoughts after Him. You’ll be a weirdo and I guarantee that you will be seen as special in the worst possible way to this world.
I was texting with a friend and the response from January 6, 2021, was naturally, “What the heck is happening?” As I try to interpret the meaning of the events of my own nation’s most sacred building being breached by thugs and enforcement’s initial powerlessness to act, I reflected to her, “To be honest, I never thought America would last till I was forty. I don’t mean this to be cynical in any way, there will be some “form” of America (maybe we will all learn Mandarin?), but I never expected the childhood I had to be repeated, in part because of the childhood I had was very unique. Besides being generally magical, the childhood I had involved my mom reading out loud a book by Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom called the Hiding Place. Though I cannot recall details 25 years later, the overarching narrative became a script for my life. Corrie had a wonderful father, a wonderful family, but her life ended up impossibly hard because of political powers outside of her control. But her faith never wavered. I adopted that expectation from my life: that somehow, like Corrie, the future could be filled with a slaughter in my own back yard, and I could play a part in rescue, but if and when you object to a cultural wave of killing, you end up in a concentration camp.
That was what my six-year-old brain expected out of my adult life. I’ve never expected some sunny retirement with grandchildren because that is an exception–it would seem that Corrie’s adult life was more of the rule. I don’t know that all this political unrest and turmoil and epic-paced race into socialism means for me personally. Will my childhood expectation be fulfilled and I’ll become a dissident to a government entrenched in godlessness? Will I be an enemy of the state because I hold to Biblical views of the sanctity of life and sacredness of marriage? What will a lawless, Marxist mindset married with a hyper-sexualized, pornified American mindset mean for my neighborhood? And as I prayed this morning, I asked myself, “Is there a script for this?” And God answered with flashes of redemptive history across my imagination. There is a great script for national decline, for persecution, for exile, and it’s larger than life in my imagination and heart. We’re ready. If you know the script beforehand, you’re ready for anything afterwards. The script is one of disaster and dismay, sort of like how I felt yesterday, and flashes in the pan of miracles and light. It’s a great script with a greater ending. Do you ever just think through you Bible big picture, and the let the names and words roll over your mind, and let details be drawn out as you sort of sweep across the timeline of what God deemed to be important to record for us? I encourage this exercise often, daily. Just think through the pages of your Bible and as your mind runs through it, what does God show you? I’ll give you an example for how I practice this imaginative overview of my God’s Word to me, his daughter,
Beautiful garden, perfect, despair at the first family and the first murder, so many long, long lives.
Old, old people, so much evil, such a big boat, stinky animals, so much rain, only 8 people, muddy vineyard, drunk old man, languages confused, a mighty hunter building cities…
Poor Job, bereft of kids, lame wife, lame friends, all because of damn Satan, so much loss. God answers with 42 questions, think about those mountain goats giving births, mountains, sea depths, what’s a Leviathan? How much suffering? But he had more kids and it ended ok, but I don’t understand God, but that’s the point. Creation groans but God uses it to show how he sustains everything.
Abram was brave to leave his homeland, but his poor barren wife, no kids in a culture where that mattered so much. I would’ve laughed too. Abused Hagar, but she’s once a slave and always a slave. Isaac must have thought his dad would kill him, maybe, being on the altar. And God showing us the beauty of provision of Jesus. So so so far back. They had no idea they were just a picture of something so beautiful.
I could obviously go on, but as you walk through the Bible, it gets harder. 400 years of slavery. A horrific struggle with entrenched enemies in Israel’s destined territory. Truly Israel/Judah’s “good” kings can be named on one hand. Think our Congress is bad, greedy, and totally unhinged? Let me tell you about some kings of Israel! Think our bloody baby killing in our neighborhoods is gross? Let me tell you about burning children on high places to a god Molech. And want to see hard living? Elijah and Elisha spoke truth to power and it seemed like the worst job you could have. This is it though, this is real life.
There is a script for what we are going through. Countries rise and fall and there’s always this odd, tiny remnant that doesn’t get swept away in a global flood, or in fire from heaven consuming your twin cities, or you’re just a really, really old lady who was widowed really, really young, and you just pray all day every day at a temple that was “restored” (but pathetically, without gold or former glory), until you see a little baby boy. Then you can die? Wow, that’s a life? Yes, that is a faithful life. No sex life, lots of prayer. And that’s who God exalts in his script.
I’m trying to think more eternally in 2021. Last year I kept getting bogged down in the Great American decline and how ridiculously compliant people were with “new normal” tyrants and lawlessness, and kept forgetting about the amazing room Jesus promised he was prepping for me in heaven. And when I think eternally, my mind runs through the ending and the resolution of a tree in the garden with leaves for the healing of the nations.
Never doubt God is a national God intrinsically involved in the rising and falling of nations. His script has lots of say about non-Israel nations risings and fallings. He’s the God of the individuals Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, because he’s the God of all the nations. The pain and loss at national identity is to be expected because he literally confused languages so people wouldn’t have a one-world government. God wanted us to form cultures and national identities (see Acts 17:26) and the dramatic ending to all of this will involve a very scary global power that will be worshipped (Revelation 13:8). God ends his script with a one world government and religion hellish nightmare.
I want to get into the script because it’s the only place I’ll find peace. I’ll have hard days of watching America fall, and easier days, but this earthly life is blessedly short. I’m so glad we don’t live long on this fallen planet. The 900 years people used to have to live would’ve killed me! My future is bright, just like Corrie Ten Booms was, when she was a little girl in happy Holland, and when she was in awful Auschwitz. My name is scripted in the Lamb’s book of life and that book isn’t going anywhere and neither is the lamb. And maybe in the meantime, I can be like Corrie and know,
“There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s Kingdom. His timing is perfect. his will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it.”
Sadly for me, I had zero quarantine days in 2020 and even less time off so my reading took a hit, but I’ve just finished up two newish releases and would love for some fellow-readers to discuss these two books. These books won’t diminish any panic you’re feeling about the state of the world, it will only worsen it, so I recommend we all start of 2021 with a deep dive into John’s Vision in Revelation to go back to the future and know how all things will shake out.
In the meantime, I read Rod Dreher’s Live Not By Lies and Mark Regnrus’s The Future of Christian Marriage.
I only review Dreher because the infamous Christianity Today gave it the most unfair treatment, I want to write my own opinions.
First: LIVE NOT BY LIES
Interestingly, Regnrus quotes Dreher’s most popular book, The Benedict Option, so they are definitely like-minded scholars in some sense. Dreher doesn’t say anything that a sentient Biblical Christian who knows a smidgen of history wouldn’t believe to be true. The West, particularly the US, is in such a plummeting moral and social decline and world history teaches us that instability can lead to totalitarianism, and quickly. If you do not believe America is in decline or that lies are believed, you will not appreciate anything else Dreher has to say. Yes, America is exceptional, but humanity is humanity, fallen and desperately wicked. Dreher’s research took him to Eastern Europe where he interviewed citizens and ex-pats of former Soviet-Bloc countries who understand how you get to Communism, what it does you individuals and groups, and how to survive it faith intact (think Richard Wurbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs). Destabilization happens fast and it happens even when just a small group of young idealists react to corruption (Bolshevik revolution). I love Dreher because he masterfully tells stories and if you’re a reader of martyr stories, prison narratives, persecuted church news, these stories will inspire. He tells of a Christian priest who was thrown into prison in Romania and the rough prison-inmates demanded, “If your God is real, pray we get some cigarettes.” So the priest had all his co-prisoners gather around, and he prayed, “Lord, give these men cigarettes.” Not 20 minutes later, a guard came by and threw in packs of cigarettes into the communal cell. The response of the prisoners was of course belief that this priest’s God was real. Dreher posits we are living in a “soft” totalitarianism where lies are rampant (think mainstream media, academia), and where dissenting can results in personal cost. This may only worsen into something harder, something harsher, because his interviewees, all raised in Communism who saw its downfall, see the exact patterns of lying in American culture they saw in their own cultures. I found it to be a practical and inspiring book. I’ve never been naïve that religious liberty would last forever as I see my generation reject God and I see the church capitulate to culture on basic Biblical doctrines, especially the weak response in general of churches to the COVID lockdowns. How can we last as a free society? “Everywhere else” will become here so I appreciated the strong call that Dreher echoes of Solzhenitsyn to live not by lies. I won’t stand for lies and I won’t live in them, not in my home, not in my church, not in my clinic. I will point them out loudly and it will cost me. And I’m prepared, like the brave cloud of witnesses that Dreher highlights, to perhaps lay down my life. Jesus died for the truth and so can his followers.
SECOND The Future of Christian Marriage.
I just got married, but I tried to get married (off and on) for over a decade, so marriage rates, the church’s voice to singleness, what popular culture has been saying about marriage—topics I’ve been listening to closely since my college years. While reading this book, I was looking in a mirror. I’m a huge part of the problems identified in this book. I’ve lived out a lot of the fallacies and pitfalls that are squelching marriage rates today. If you are like me and wonder, “What the heck is wrong with people and why aren’t they getting married?” I recommend you read this book. Or if you are a pastor or elder, I recommend you understand how marriageable people are thinking today. I am in the camp of lamenting the lack of church-attending males and Regnerus addresses that real gap. I feel less insane and like I’m screaming into an empty void after reading this. I’m not insane. Marriage is declining, marriageable men are declining (as well as what we assess as females to be marriageable), and this book leaves no stone unturned.
Regnerus interviewed about 200 millennials in seven countries as research to report in his book. He does a seamless job quoting the subjects and their views while weaving in broad marriage statistics. The most important finding that is highlighted is the global shift of marriage as a foundation to your life into marriage as a capstone. A foundational marriage presumes that a couple will support and grow towards mutual and distinct successes together. A capstone marriage is something you acquire after having achieved a level of success educationally or occupationally. With capstone marriages, marriage becomes a more elite status because only the successful can attain it, something we observe with marriage being most common among wealthy Westerners. And the irony is that marriage allows easier wealth building so the capstone marriage idea that the culture has influenced the church with tends only to poverty.
Regnerus also trends the rise in cohabitation, something I’ve witnessed in my adult life among peers. Cohabitation doesn’t result in stronger marriages and ends up delaying marriage and childbirth, but among Christians, it is not viewed on equal footing with marriage. Cohabitation is not commitment. Christians still wanted marriage, even if they were currently cohabitating and they saw the pitfalls it involved even while justifying it as a norm. As I’m sure you’ve witnessed, when a couple cohabitates, their participation in religious life plummets and Regnerus has statistics to back this up. An example of his apt use of quotations would be from an American speaking of her cousin’s cohabitation relationship, ”He just doesn’t want to marry her. . . . He just doesn’t. “What’s the difference?” he thinks. “I will have to give you an expensive ring.” [Do you think she’s happy in that situation?] No! She hates it! She wants to get married. You know this is what happens. You’re already like a married couple. Without being married you have everything you need.”
The trend in cohabitation does affect Christian marriage and participation and Regnerus urges a cultural shift of clergy to see this as a fundamental threat to thriving church communities because cohabitation threatens marriages and any threat to marriage, is a threat to church participation, and future thriving. And, as I’m again sure you’ve witnessed, women especially prefer marriage to cohabitating and Regnerus’ subjects reflect that desire, but many are ambivalent that cohabitating before marriage is the most sensible thing to avoid divorce (not backed up statistically).
Regnerus spends a small amount of time addressing the shift of “traditional” marriage and the post-Obergefell world but he doesn’t believe that it is as much a threat to marriage as a stabilizing force. Marriage is still desirable and normative and that is because it is the unity in the diversity of the sexes. There is no replacement for the institution though the liberal Left may try, there is no trend in the positive feelings all cultures have toward a man and a woman’s union legally and or religiously. I found that heartening.
In all of his astute analysis, Regnerus gets slightly bogged down into the legal vs. religious definitions of marriage, but it was somewhat enlightening to me. I didn’t realize the Protestant Reformation was the driving force of pushing marriage into the state, away from a church-only institution. That has some pitfalls today obviously with the church having so little legal pull in marriage when it is so vital to its survival.
The book was absolutely academic, don’t look for warm fuzzy stories. There was no Biblical commentary, no lofty diatribes into the essence of marriage. It was factual and seemingly non-biased. The author did insert his opinions and prophecies about what will happen to marriage (it’s not going to go away, but it will recede), and I disagreed with his point that adult children should live with their parents to be able to better “afford” marriage. Regnerus steered clear of the blame game, but he pulled punches with the Cheap Sex world we live in (title of his other book). Men do have the upper hand in religious communities and the online dating sphere. The decline of marriage hurts women worse, of course. Nothing new to use living in reality, but good to reinforce reality.
Nothing in this book should shock you, but how refreshing to be armed with reality as we forge further into this desolate landscape of moral decline. The book will be referenced often for at least a decade and so read it now while it’s fresh.
Don’t ignore reality, live in it and act in it with good data, with good stories. While reading this book, I had to face my own sins, my own capitulation to the culture, my own personally difficult story with trying to find marriage. I have to face that I’m a victim of the capstone marriage mentality which has affected my ability to bear children in the most medically advisable years of my life, even put myself at higher risk for certain cancers. Yes, I could blame Cheap Sex, the church’s lack of gumption in saying all that much against cohabitation, or capstone marriages, but each marriage is its own story. Regnerus reassures the reader that those stories matter in influencing marriage outcomes. I am compelled to boldly tell my marriage story and also awaken to the truth that everything in our lives, everything is influenced by our surrounding environment. What environment do you choose to live in? What culture will influence your pivotal decisions? Will you take time to learn about the future of Christian marriage?
Easter is my favorite and it seems like the COVID-19 has stolen even this from us, doesn’t it? It’s ironic that the great billion-people-worldwide holiday is now a day of small, mostly silent, in-home, screen “events.” And if you don’t have a screen like many in the world, what then? Holy week seems so…
Like the Passion narrative.
“But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.” (Mark 14:61)
“Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty tomb.” (Luke 24:12)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
I have grown accustomed to walking through Holy Week trying to pray through, imagine, relive the events of my savior in the City of David and when we live in this way, it is actually a grim, dark week. Holy Week is hard: betrayal, mock-trials, floggings, cowardice, abandonment, bloody-sweat… Holy Week is not joyous if we meditate on the events without the endings.
So here we are in the dark, dark days before our collective solo sunrise services Sunday. And will you live now in this present darkness? Will you weep and stress like your own Savior did? Will you ask, “Father, if it is your will, let this cup pass? Not my will, but yours be done?”
Perhaps if we do, and we embrace the victory of the ending, the world can say of us like they said of Jesus’ dear friends, “These men do not stop speaking of the resurrection!”
I believe God has gifted some of us with dramatic souls, with deep access to emotional valleys of our lives, and enraptured heights of joy. We all respond to personal and corporate crises from an emotional vantage no matter how we try to deny it. I may perceive myself to be rational, but I know I roller-coaster along more than flat line most seasons of my life. Because of the way God has shaped my response to internal and external circumstances, he put good friends around me through the years. He’s prepared me for every job, every service opportunity, and every ministry, and more often than not, that preparation looks like a saint who wrote. We as human beings needs human heroes. We need human heroes who had Jesus. We need human beings who wrote what it felt to be human in hard times. I am putting my short list of books recommendations of authors who have been friends to me, the drama-queen (who felt the recession of 2008 in a personal way, who tears up when I hear anything about 9/11, who takes it personally when another baby gets aborted without anyone mourning).
Here are some great books:
The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald
Well known children’s author who was quarantined for Tuberculosis in the 1950s.
Man’s Search for Meaningby Viktor Frankl
Holocaust survivor whose method of maintaining mental clarity in unspeakable suffering has helped millions develop resilience internally regardless of circumstances.
Imprisoned in Iran by Dan Baumann
Feel like you’re in jail? Dan honestly explains how to maintain intimacy with Jesus in hardship
Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
The best cancer memoir in print.
How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher
Struggling with reconciling who you are in your family dynamics? Dante could save your life.
God’s Hostage by Andrew Brunson
Have anxiety and depression and need medications even though you’ve been a “super Christian” your whole life? So does Andrew. Let’s all admit that life throws us curves and our health can collapse because life is hard.
When Breath Becomes Airby Paul Kalanithi
Second best cancer memoir in print.
Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin
God will use the Covid 19 for his glory and God’s Insanity isn’t anything new.
This Glorious Weaknessby Alia Joy
Imagine what it’s like to have bipoloar and not get out of bed for days and days. And still love Jesus and yourself. Maybe our weaknesses are for God’s strength.
A Path Through Sufferingby Elisabeth Elliot
She’s my missionary hero and she knows a little about loss (martyred husband, second husband died of cancer, etc.)
A Mother’s Ordeal by Steven Mosher
Want to understand a little about China’s history and propaganda? Nothing like a memoir.
Spiritual Depression, Its Causes and Cure by Martin Lloyd Jones
Pastors can be depressed too. Spiritual depression isn’t the end and it’s not a shameful disease.
Compassion by Henri Nouwen
Love like Jesus loves and dance through Nouwen’s perfect prose.
Season of Waiting by Besty Childs Howard
We are all waiting for something. Really.
Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser
It’s never too late to learn to be honest with God. Feelings need to be felt. It’s not the pain Olympics.
What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard this political cycle? It can get nauseating. What is real anymore? I think if you’re weary of any sort of chaos, in your life or in your life’s periphery, Lent could become your season of rest. Do something. Give up something. Give something. Focus.
Easter is coming and Easter means a resurrection. I’ve worked for over a year in oncology and people die. I get to know people and they get sick, and stop breathing and I miss them. One patient in particular just died and it leaves a hole in my life. I miss him so much. Some days the sorrow feels normal, but some days it feels awful. The resurrection has always been the main thing for all of us who possess Christ, but it becomes even more so as we get closer to our own deaths, day by day. Acts speaks of the early believers being unable to stop speaking about the resurrection (Acts 4:20). Imagine how insane it was for them: their dead friend who claimed to be God, came alive and didn’t die! Their friend Jesus didn’t ever die. Do you hear what I just said, “A dead guy who claimed to be God, came back to life and never died”???
That’s insane. If your friend came back to life, you would probably want to tell some people. It’s so bizarre; it’s so simple. A dead guy who was God died, and then came back to life. Can you stop speaking about this? Can you stop meditating on the implications? Paul couldn’t and his life was insane!
Do you want an insane life? I can’t say my life is necessarily boring, but it’s not yet insane. I want some more of what Paul got and I think the best place to start is Matthew 5-7. It’s the best sermon on a hill ever taught and if you literally do what it says, you’re well on your way to:
Speaking obsessively about a dead guy who didn’t stay dead
An insane life
I want those two things leading up to Easter. The sermon on the mount has become more and more personal to me as I’ve actually literally obeyed it. So my Lenten offering up is to just read it. Every day. Forty days of the most insane sermon every preached by the Son of God. What will that do for my outlook? How will that impact my brain? Will I be a little more ready to celebrate the dead guy who didn’t stay dead and ascended into heaven to save me from my own death from my own sins? I think so! Ready, Set, Lent!
I’m thirty, never been married, and grew up with no brothers. I have a demanding career in healthcare and my profession leans upwards of 80% female. I see male and female patients and I have had a mix of male and female bosses. I’ve always attended complementation, conservative churches and I’ve dated and though it’s never gone great, I’ve never been abused or raped. Physical boundaries were crossed I regret but I see many instances I was complicit. I receive grace. I have a fantastic relationship with my dad and respect him immensely. Yet despite being a blessed, statistical anomaly, men are hard for me. I have a lot of fear. I read statistics of porn use in men in church, rates of molestation, etc. And when I worked in women’s health I saw the shakedown of the infidelity manifested in sobbing women needing STD testing because they’d been cheated on. And young girls starting sexual activity way to early and calling CPS for statutory rape. As a prolifer, I’d talked to dozens of boyfriends who admitted to pressuring their partners into the abortion. I’d seen church elders completely mishandle male harassment of a friend in my local church. I’ve talked to so many peers with troubled relationships with their fathers. I’ve heard friends’ sexual assault stories. There’s a lot of stereotypes that are there for a reason. And it hurts. I can’t fix any of it. I mourn. Not because it’s anything new under the sun (honestly, before ubiquitous internet porn, we still had rampant global prostitution), but rather because brokenness is old and tiring.
But there are good men I know who pray.
And that changes everything.
Wednesday morning for the past three years, one hour each week, has been a class on what true manhood is. It’s a church context where men outnumber women. The men who come pray are all employed in full-time ministry or retirement (which is busier than work ever was). Brother Paul prepares a text or topic each week. And we just sit in a circle and ask God big things. Week after week. Year after year. It’s honest. I’m honest. I’ve prayed for wisdom in dating in this circle, prayed for a new job in this circle, prayed for miraculous healings in this circle. I only see these men once a week with my eyes shut in prayer but they’re faithful. They’re full of the spirit. And they’re not young. All of them have experienced the knock-downs life throws at us: children straying from Jesus, lost jobs, deaths, financial victories and terrors, marriage highs and low-lows. It’s the wisdom that life experience brings and yet they’re there, week after week, knowing the priority is the Manifest Presence of God. In prayer. I want to know God like each of them know God. We all have seen men be great leaders, and terrible leaders. But I never saw men humble themselves week after week and know by their words and their action shown to show up week after week that God is their Leader. If His Presence doesn’t go with John, Jon, Paul, and Jim, then John, Jon, Paul, and Jim don’t want to go.
I don’t know what kind of community you’re in. But if you’re able, ask God for the big thing of finding men who pray that you can join up with. It will likely heal the broken places you never knew were there.
In this world, Caroline may have trouble with mankind, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world!
The middle of January, work to do between the rains, something to chew instead of grains,
Field empty, muddy, quiet,
Field mice lost their burrow,
and the snakes have been hiding four days from the rain.
And the bales just sit there, waiting
to be dressed in synthetic plastic jackets,
then trucked off to a centralized farm.
Waiting to be made useful.
Waiting to be unrolled.
Waiting to be desiccated,
Hay so green, now so dead.
*** The idea to write this came to me in my own neighborhood where I had seen hay bales on a run. Then, driving through the countryside I just wrote down my thoughts. I prayed, “God, give me some hay bales to take a picture of.” I found just a couple and took a photo, but then came upon the photos you see above. How sweet, God wanted me to see rows and rows of hay bales, something I just imagined for the poem and then found in real life***